Abu Abed can’t make a profit, and although 54 years old, he still has not married. “I can’t pay my rent, I can’t afford a wedding.”
His shop, roughly 3m by 4m, costs him more than 3,500 dollars a year in rent alone.
His wares are laid out on tables on a busy pedestrian street in the Saha market area in Gaza City. The goods, plastic toys and running shoes imported from China, were brought in via the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, at a high price.
One large bag of grain filled with the cheaply made toys cost 30 dollars to purchase, but the tunnel trip added another 70 dollars to Abu Abed’s expenditures. “I can make maybe 20 dollars when I sell these toys, but that will take two or three months.”
Now that the month of Ramadan is under way, festive decorations and toys are among his stock. Yet with unemployment in Gaza hovering near 50 percent, and searing poverty at 80 percent, few can afford the luxury of such items, at now grossly inflated prices.
“That toy is 20 shekels,” Abed says pointing to a plastic toy. “It should only cost maybe five or six shekels. People don’t want to buy it.” But if Abu Abed wants to break even, he cannot sell the toy for less than 20 shekels.
For Ghazi Attab, a fruit vendor in Saha market, regular crossing procedures couldn’t come quickly enough. He estimates that 30 percent of his produce is spoiled due to long hours in the sun waiting for Israeli clearance to enter Gaza.
“The Israelis don’t allow the fruit to enter Gaza right away. It sits at the crossings for five or six hours under the sun,” he said, pointing to a box of rotted mangos.
Hazem, father of four, has a store in a different region of Saha. The shelves are stocked with shampoo, hair and skin creams, cosmetics, toothpaste, cleaning products, and other everyday items. All of his stock was brought through the tunnels, at a high price.
Before the Israeli siege on Gaza, Hazem used to import goods via Israeli crossings.
“I’d buy goods coming from China, and when they arrived at Ashdod, it would take just another week for them to be checked and to enter Gaza.”
After Hamas took power in Gaza in June 2007, following its election victory in early 2006, there was a noticeable delay in the arrival of imported goods.
“Suddenly it was taking two months for imports to enter Gaza,” Hazem said. From two-month delays it came to entering only around Ramadan, to not entering at all.
Aside from losing a direct route of importing, Hazem has more than 80,000 dollars at stake.
“When I bought goods from China in October 2008, the items weren’t forbidden,” he says, referring to the Israeli-imposed restrictions on what can enter Gaza. According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz in May 2009, only 30 to 40 items are being allowed into Gaza.
The majority of items on Hazem’s list are banned. Two containers full of these items sit in a storage facility in Ashdod, for which he has had to pay 550 dollars per month since October 2008.
Among the items are underwear, socks, caps, gloves, belts, perfumes, toothpicks, toothbrushes, scarves.
“We have to pay import tax to Israel. I paid 1,468 dollars on my goods, plus paid for the actual goods themselves.” That is in addition to storage charges for the containers.
“But I can’t send the stuff back to China,” he adds. He pays the rent, he says, in hope of importing the goods one day and digging himself out of debt.
According to the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in Gaza, there are currently over 1,700 containers of imported goods ordered by Gaza merchants being stored in Israel and the West Bank until they are allowed into Gaza. A breakdown of the items listed by the Chamber of Commerce includes clothing, shoes, electronics and toys.
Over half of the containers have been held in storage since 2007. The Chamber of Commerce reports direct losses of an estimated 10 million dollars, including storage and handling costs, and indirect losses in losing contracts and ties with outside suppliers.
On Aug 23, the new school year began for nearly 450,000 school children in Gaza. Many of these children will attend classes unprepared, as notebooks and other items needed for school have not been allowed into Gaza. Nor has the construction material needed to repair the many schools damaged by Israeli shelling and bombing during Israel’s three-week war on Gaza last December-January.
Currently, the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing is the only entrance point for commercial goods after the better equipped and larger Karni crossing was closed by Israeli authorities. Karem Abu Salem does not operate at full capacity, and there are long delays in inspection of Gaza-bound goods.
A report this month by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that during the first five months of 2007, an average of 583 trucks entered Gaza per day. Now, the daily average is 112, of which 70 percent are food products.
OCHA further notes that “95 percent of the industrial establishments, or 3,750 establishments, were forced to shut down, and the remaining five percent were forced to reduce their level of activity.”
With crossings closed or barely functioning, most of Gaza’s goods are brought in at steep prices via the tunnels. Last week Egyptian authorities announced a seizure of such goods bound for Gaza before the start of Ramadan. Among the millions of dollars worth of goods seized were wood, glass, electronic equipment and appliances, tyres, carpets, and large quantities of sweets, nuts, and foodstuffs used during Ramadan.
HOW MUCH did the boycott of South Africa actually contribute to the fall of the racist regime? This week I talked with Desmond Tutu about this question, which has been on my mind for a long time.
No one is better qualified to answer this question than he. Tutu, the South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel prize laureate, was one of the leaders of the fight against apartheid and, later, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated the crimes of the regime. This week he visited Israel with the “Elders”, an organization of elder statesmen from all over the world set up by Nelson Mandela.
The matter of the boycott came up again this week after an article by Dr. Neve Gordon appeared in the Los Angeles Times, calling for a world-wide boycott of Israel. He cited the example of South Africa to show how a world-wide boycott could compel Israel to put an end to the occupation, which he compared to the apartheid regime.
I have known and respected Neve Gordon for many years. Before becoming a lecturer at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, he organized many demonstrations against the Separation Wall in the Jerusalem area, in which I, too, took part.
I am sorry that I cannot agree with him this time – neither about the similarity with South Africa nor about the efficacy of a boycott of Israel.
There are several opinions about the contribution of the boycott to the success of the anti-apartheid struggle. According to one view, it was decisive. Another view claims its impact was marginal. Some believe that it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that was the decisive factor. After that, the US and its allies no longer had any reason for support the regime in South Africa, which until then had been viewed as a pillar of the world-wide struggle against Communism.
“THE BOYCOTT was immensely important,” Tutu told me. “Much more than the armed struggle.”
It should be remembered that, unlike Mandela, Tutu was an advocate of non-violent struggle. During the 28 years Mandela languished in prison, he could have walked free at any moment, if he had only agreed to sign a statement condemning “terrorism”. He refused.
“The importance of the boycott was not only economic,” the archbishop explained, “but also moral. South Africans are, for example, crazy about sports. The boycott, which prevented their teams from competing abroad, hit them very hard. But the main thing was that it gave us the feeling that we are not alone, that the whole world is with us. That gave us the strength to continue.”
To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story: In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederic Willem de Klerk, was elected President of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?”
IT SEEMS to me that Tutu’s answer emphasizes the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today.
The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.
In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.
They will not feel the “the whole world is with us”, but rather that “the whole world is against us”.
In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-Semitic world”. (The boycott would, of course, have a different impact on the Palestinians, but that is not the aim of those who advocate it.)
Peoples are not the same everywhere. It seems that the Blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis, and from the Palestinians, too. The collapse of the oppressive racist regime did not lead to a bloodbath, as could have been predicted, but on the contrary: to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Instead of revenge, forgiveness. Those who appeared before the commission and admitted their misdeeds were pardoned. That was in tune with Christian belief, and that was also in tune with the Jewish Biblical promise: “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh [his sins] shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
I told the bishop that I admire not only the leaders who chose this path but also the people who accepted it.
ONE OF the profound differences between the two conflicts concerns the Holocaust.
Centuries of pogroms have imprinted on the consciousness of the Jews the conviction that the whole world is out to get them. This belief was reinforced a hundredfold by the Holocaust. Every Jewish Israeli child learns in school that “the entire world was silent” when the six million were murdered. This belief is anchored in the deepest recesses of the Jewish soul. Even when it is dormant, it is easy to arouse it.
(That is the conviction which made it possible for Avigdor Lieberman, last week, to accuse the entire Swedish nation of cooperating with the Nazis, because of one idiotic article in a Swedish tabloid.)
It may well be that the Jewish conviction that “the whole world is against us” is irrational. But in the life of nations, as indeed in the life of individuals, it is irrational to ignore the irrational.
The Holocaust will have a decisive impact on any call for a boycott of Israel. The leaders of the racist regime in South Africa openly sympathized with the Nazis and were even interned for this in World War II. Apartheid was based on the same racist theories as inspired Adolf Hitler. It was easy to get the civilized world to boycott such a disgusting regime. The Israelis, on the other hand, are seen as the victims of Nazism. The call for a boycott will remind many people around the world of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” - don’t buy from Jews.
That does not apply to every kind of boycott. Some 11 years ago, the Gush Shalom movement, in which I am active, called for a boycott of the product of the settlements. Its intention was to separate the settlers from the Israeli public, and to show that there are two kinds of Israelis. The boycott was designed to strengthen those Israelis who oppose the occupation, without becoming anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. Since then, the European Union has been working hard to close the gates of the EU to the products of the settlers, and almost nobody has accused it of anti-Semitism.
ONE OF the main battlefields in our fight for peace is Israeli public opinion. Most Israelis believe nowadays that peace is desirable but impossible (because of the Arabs, of course.) We must convince them not that peace would be good for Israel, but that it is realistically achievable.
When the archbishop asked what we, the Israeli peace activists, are hoping for, I told him: We hope for Barack Obama to publish a comprehensive and detailed peace plan and to use the full persuasive power of the United States to convince the parties to accept it. We hope that the entire world will rally behind this endeavor. And we hope that this will help to set the Israeli peace movement back on its feet and convince our public that it is both possible and worthwhile to follow the path of peace with Palestine.
No one who entertains this hope can support the call for boycotting Israel. Those who call for a boycott act out of despair. And that is the root of the matter.
Neve Gordon and his partners in this effort have despaired of the Israelis. They have reached the conclusion that there is no chance of changing Israeli public opinion. According to them, no salvation will come from within. One must ignore the Israeli public and concentrate on mobilizing the world against the State of Israel. (Some of them believe anyhow that the State of Israel should be dismantled and replaced by a bi-national state.)
I do not share either view – neither the despair of the Israeli people, to which I belong, nor the hope that the world will stand up and compel Israel to change its ways against its will. For this to happen, the boycott must gather world-wide momentum, the US must join it, the Israeli economy must collapse and the morale of the Israeli public must break.
How long will this take? Twenty Years? Fifty years? Forever?
I AM afraid that this is an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.
True, the Israeli occupation and the South African apartheid system have certain similar characteristics. In the West Bank, there are roads “for Israelis only”. But the Israeli policy is not based on race theories, but on a national conflict. A small but significant example: in South Africa, a white man and a black woman (or the other way round) could not marry, and sexual relations between them were a crime. In Israel there is no such prohibition. On the other hand, an Arab Israeli citizen who marries an Arab woman from the occupied territories (or the other way round) cannot bring his or her spouse to Israel. The reason: safeguarding the Jewish majority in Israel. Both cases are reprehensible, but basically different.
In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.
In this country, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common – not a common national feeling, not a common religion, not a common culture and not a common language. The vast majority of the Israelis want a Jewish (or Hebrew) state. The vast majority of the Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state. Israel is not dependent on Palestinian workers – on the contrary, it drives the Palestinians out of the working place. Because of this, there is now a world-wide consensus that the solution lies in the creation of the Palestinian state next to Israel.
In short: the two conflicts are fundamentally different. Therefore, the methods of struggle, too, must necessarily be different.
BACK TO the archbishop, an attractive person whom it is impossible not to like on sight. He told me that he prays frequently, and that his favorite prayer goes like this (I quote from memory):
“Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.”
Australia: We Are Not Bigots; The Aborignes Themselves Are Responsible For Their Own Oppression, Discrimination, and Poverty
Now here's a weird story from Cairo. Or rather from Geneva. Or wherever ex-Colonel Mohamed el-Ghanem, formerly a senior officer in the Egyptian interior ministry, happens to be. Just over nine years ago, when we met behind the old Marriott Hotel on the Nile, he had been newly fired by his Egyptian spookmasters. And he was having a little problem. Every time he went to Cairo airport for an international flight, the cops put an exit stamp in his passport – then told him he wasn't allowed to leave. Some of the policemen were his own former students at the Cairo police academy.
He wanted, you see, to claim political asylum, first in Italy and then in Switzerland. He holds a PhD in law from Rome University and published a book on "the law and terrorism" in 1991, a work he said formed the basis of much recent Egyptian legislation. He used to run the police insurance fund and was head of the interior ministry's legal department. An unlikely whistleblower, you may say. But he was furious at Egyptian government corruption, nepotism, fraudulent charges against Egyptian journalists, torture in Egyptian jails, human rights abuses – even the unfair treatment of Christian Coptic Egyptians when they wanted to build a church in majority Muslim Egypt. Can you ask Amnesty for help, he pleaded with me?
I published a long report on his campaign, along with his photograph. This appeared to be one brave man. Then we lost touch. It was a year later that he called me from Geneva to say that the Swiss had granted him temporary political asylum. All well and good, I thought. Then strange things happened. The general again called me up in Beirut in 2003 to say that the Swiss secret police were trying to force him to penetrate al-Qa'ida and Switzerland's Arab community, that he had refused – and that the Swiss secret police were threatening him.
The Swiss secret police, I hear readers ask? The Swiss secret police? It was a bit like telling me that the Luxembourg intelligence service was abusing human rights. But then I said, hold on a minute. It's not many years since the Swiss cops uncovered an Israeli spy cell in Geneva where it was trying to bug the home of an alleged Hizbollah member – these not very intelligent Israeli intelligence men had got a male and female agent to snog in a car across the road to give a warning if the cops came, and a very proper Swiss lady called the police to say that a couple were behaving improperly in her street.
The Israelis were allowed to go quietly back to Tel Aviv on condition they didn't return – but one of them did, posing as a businessman. And – so says one of my best sources in Beirut – was punished by the Swiss by being betrayed to Hizbollah, who arranged a sting operation to persuade him to go to Beirut to rescue captured Israeli soldiers. He ended up sharing their jail until exchanged in a prisoner swap. So maybe the Swiss lads (I suppose there are lasses as well) should be taken a bit more seriously.
But back to our Egyptian colonel. By 2005, he was supposedly authoring an article, alleging that Switzerland was "the most contemptible among the enemies of Islam" since it supported the American occupation of Iraq, stood behind Mubarak's "renegade regime" and was putting pressure on Turkey because its government had become "half-Islamic". Switzerland was part of an "international pact of the cross" and was trying – and here comes the interesting bit – "to penetrate Muslim society to collect intelligence".
El-Ghanem's article apparently turned up on jihadist websites and the Swiss authorities were not amused – not least, I imagine, because the article, if genuine, included the words "the day we strike the big stroke, we will avenge". The Swiss told the UN's "Enforced and Voluntary Disappearances" experts that he had been locked up in January, 2007, for what they called – in the English version of their reply – "his dangerousness". (In French, this wonderful word expression came out as dangerosité.)
Then last year, el-Ghanem's brother Ali rang me up in Beirut from his home in Washington DC to tell me that Mohamed el-Ghanem had disappeared. He was being held, he claimed, in a Swiss prison, without any contact with his family or friends. Ali said he was told Mohamed did not want to talk to him. The UN became involved and demanded to know from the Swiss authorities where he was. I can reveal that he is in the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva, that he was placed there by the Chambre d'accusation of the canton of Geneva on 12 March 2007, and that he is still there to this day. No charges, it seems.
Now, I've got nothing against Switzerland – indeed I have massive respect for the International Red Cross which is headquartered in Geneva (though their Second World War behaviour was pretty pathetic). But I also recall that during that unfortunate conflict, the Swiss asked the Germans to stamp Jewish-German passports with a J so they could be turned round at the border when they sought refuge. Indeed, they even had a Swiss Red Cross team treating German troops on the eastern front – while not being allowed to look after dying Soviet soldiers. And I'm still amazed – reader, doubt it not – that the pre-war Swiss Nazi Party (it was called, of course, the National Front) had a supporter called Maurice Bavaud who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1938 because he didn't think the Führer was anti-Semitic enough!
But back to the present, when all that seems to upset the Swiss are American attempts to find out what secret US citizens' accounts their banks may be holding. Why on earth is el-Ghanem being held? When I met him in Cairo, he was campaigning for Christian Copts to have equal rights with Muslims. Is this really the man who would write the tract I've quoted above? And the Swiss have denied his disappearance.
So why is he locked up in Geneva? If he's imprisoned incommunicado and can't talk to anyone, then he surely has disappeared. As el-Ghanem's lawyer might say – if he had one – I rest my case.
Every Friday for the past four and a half years, several hundred demonstrators — Palestinian villagers, foreign volunteers and Israeli activists — have walked in unison to the Israeli barrier separating this tiny village from the burgeoning settlement of Modiin Illit, part of which is built on the village’s land. One hundred feet away, Israeli soldiers watch and wait.
The protesters chant and shout and, inevitably, a few throw stones. Then just as inevitably, the soldiers open fire with tear gas and water jets, lately including a putrid oil-based liquid that makes the entire area stink.
It is one of the longest-running and best organized protest operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has turned this once anonymous farming village into a symbol of Palestinian civil disobedience, a model that many supporters of the Palestinian cause would like to see spread and prosper.
For that reason, a group of famous left-leaning elder statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter — who caused controversy by suggesting that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank amounted to apartheid — came to Bilin on Thursday and told the local organizers how much they admired their work and why it was vital to keep it going.
The retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also on the visit, said, “Just as a simple man named Gandhi led the successful nonviolent struggle in India and simple people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the struggle for civil rights in the United States, simple people here in Bilin are leading a nonviolent struggle that will bring them their freedom.”
Mr. Tutu, a South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, spoke on rocky soil, surrounded by the remains of tear gas canisters and in front of coils of barbed wire, part of the barrier that Israel began building in 2002 across the West Bank as a violent Palestinian uprising was under way. Israel said its main purpose was to stop suicide bombers from crossing into Israel, but the route of the barrier — a mix of fencing, guard towers and concrete wall — dug deep into the West Bank in places, and Palestinian anger over the barrier is as much about lost land as about lost freedom.
Bilin lost half its land to the settlement of Modiin Illit and the barrier and took its complaint to Israel’s highest court. Two years ago, the court handed it an unusual victory. It ordered the settlement to stop building its new neighborhood and ordered the Israeli military to move the route of the barrier back toward Israel, thereby returning about half the lost land to the village.
“The villagers danced in the street,” recalled Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer who worked on the case for the village. “Unfortunately, it has been two years since the decision, and the wall has not moved.”
The village is back in court trying, so far in vain, to get the orders put into effect.
Ms. Schaeffer was explaining the case to the visitors, who go by the name The Elders. The group was founded two years ago by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa and is paid for by donors, including Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay. Its goal is to “support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.”
Both Mr. Branson and Mr. Skoll were on the visit to Bilin, as were Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland; Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil; and Ela Bhatt, an Indian advocate for the poor and women’s rights. Their visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories has also included meetings with young Israelis and young Palestinians.
Mr. Cardoso said that he had long heard about the conflict but that seeing it on the ground had made a lasting impression on him. The barrier, he said, serves to imprison the Palestinians.
Like every element of the conflict here, there is no agreement over the nature of what goes on here every Friday. Palestinians hail the protest as nonviolent, and it was cited recently by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as a key step forward in the struggle for a Palestinian state. Recently, one of the leaders here, Mohammed Khatib, set up a committee of a dozen villages to share his strategies.
But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.
“Rioters hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires at defense forces and the security fence,” the military said in a statement when asked why it had taken to arresting village leaders in the middle of the night. “Since the beginning of 2008, about 170 members of the defense forces have been injured in these villages,” it added, including three soldiers who were so badly hurt they could no longer serve in the army. It also said that at Bilin itself, some $60,000 worth of damage had been done to the barrier in the past year and a half.
Abdullah Abu Rahma, a village teacher and one of the organizers of the weekly protests, said he was amazed at the military’s assertions as well as at its continuing arrests and imprisonment of village leaders.
“They want to destroy our movement because it is nonviolent,” he said. He added that some villagers might have tried, out of frustration, to cut through the fence since the court had ordered it moved and nothing had happened. But that is not the essence of the popular movement that he has helped lead.
“We need our land,” he told his visitors. “It is how we make our living. Our message to the world is that this wall is destroying our lives, and the occupation wants to kill our struggle.”
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar
Wants to take pupils to Jerusalem
In order to
“Imbue them with values”.
Will they also visit
The Palestinian families
In the Sheikh-Jarakh quarter
Who were thrown out of their homes
In the middle of the night
To be replaced by settlers?
Ad published in Haaretz, August 28, 2009
Again and again, the city of tunnels is crumbling after the tunnels have rapidly become on the increase and the spaces among them have been abated, in addition to other factors which still lurch that city such as the Israeli bombardment. Three Palestinian brothers were killed on Friday in the collapse of a tunnel along the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, medics said.A fourth Palestinian, who was also working in the tunnel near Rafah, was seriously wounded, the sources said.
Deadly cave-ins are common in the tunnels used to smuggle food, goods and, according to Israel, weapons and explosives into the besieged Gaza Strip. But, tunnels mostly used for Food stuff as the crossings are closed most of the time.
The Palestinians started working in tunnels successively after Hamas' takeover amid July 2007. Since then, Israel's stringent blockade forced Gazans to make tunnels as a public phenomenon with by-laws even if not written.
Ahmed, 27 years old, a contributor to a border tunnel, complained the strict Egyptian procedures which obliged him increase his tunnel to 400 meters towards Egypt not to lose his lifeblood. He said "Digging our tunnel cost us around $ 100.000 and still it needs $ 20.000 to inaugurate it. We haven't used any entry item so far; the bombardment of the recent war obliged us to stop digging for our safety."
Ahmed continued that after three years of his graduation, he didn't find an appropriate work in Gaza Strip, until he found partners to accompany his new project "Digging a tunnel", in spite of, as he acknowledged, this project may not be gold as it might have been before.
He went on to say "Before the recent Israeli war, working at tunnels was so comfortable and profitable at the same time, but having such a security follow-up did create intricacy and heavy losses."
To him, like many other tunnels' owners in Rafah City south of Gaza, tunnels operate more than 6000 laborers directly, while the local market has become heavily dependent upon them, notably during the recent months.
“The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns,” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa told Haaretz Thursday.
Commenting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement in Germany Thursday that the lesson of the Holocaust is that Israel should always defend itself, Tutu noted that “in South Africa, they tried to get security from the barrel of a gun. They never got it. They got security when the human rights of all were recognized and respected.”
The Nobel Prize laureate spoke to Haaretz in Jerusalem as the organization The Elders concluded its tour of Israel and the West Bank. He said the West was consumed with guilt and regret toward Israel because of the Holocaust, “as it should be.”
“But who pays the penance? The penance is being paid by the Arabs, by the Palestinians. I once met a German ambassador who said Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians.”
He also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses.
“That is unfortunate, because my own positions are actually derived from the Torah. You know God created you in God’s image. And we have a God who is always biased in favor of the oppressed.”
Tutu also commented on the call by Ben-Gurion University professor Neve Gordon to apply selective sanctions on Israel.
“I always say to people that sanctions were important in the South African case for several reasons. We had a sports boycott, and since we are a sports-mad country, it hit ordinary people. It was one of the most psychologically powerful instruments.
“Secondly, it actually did hit the pocket of the South African government. I mean, when we had the arms embargo and the economic boycott.”
He said that when F.W. de Klerk became president he telephoned congratulations. “The very first thing he said to me was ‘well now will you call off sanctions?’ Although they kept saying, oh well, these things don’t affect us at all. That was not true.
“And another important reason was that it gave hope to our people that the world cared. You know. That this was a form of identification.”
Earlier in the day, Tutu and the rest of the delegation visited the village of Bil’in, where protests against the separation fence, built in part on the village’s land, take place every week.
“We used to take our children in Swaziland and had to go through border checkpoints in South Africa and face almost the same conduct, where you’re at the mercy of a police officer. They can decide when they’re going to process you and they can turn you back for something inconsequential. But on the other hand, we didn’t have collective punishment. We didn’t have the demolition of homes because of the suspicion that one of the members of the household might or might not be a terrorist.”
He said the activists in Bil’in reminded him of Ghandi, who managed to overthrow British rule in India by nonviolent means, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who took up the struggle of a black woman who was too tired to go to the back of a segregated bus.
He stressed his belief that no situation was hopeless, praising the success of the Northern Irish peace process. The process was mediated by Senator George Mitchell, who now serves as the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East.
Asked about the controversy in Petah Tikva, where several elementary schools have refused to receive Ethiopian school children, Tutu said that “I hope that your society will evolve.”
On Tuesday, 25 August 2009, at around 2:00 in the morning, a hundred Israeli soldiers with 8 jeeps invaded the Palestinian village of Ni’lin. They went directly to two family houses.
The Israeli army came to the house of Abdallah As’ad Amira (19 years old), located at the main street of the village. At around 3:00 am, 6 soldiers came into his house and forced the rest of the family (5 sisters and his mother) to go into one room. Three soldiers stayed in the room with them, while other three went directly to the room of Abdallah and picked him up. They handcuffed, blind-folded him and put him into a military jeep. Outside of their home, another 10 soldiers surrounded the house. “Everything happened very fast, the soldiers seemed to know perfectly where Abdallah’s room was. We tried to give him water but the soldiers didn’t allow us”, remember one of his sisters. Abdallah was taken to an unknown location. As’ad Amereh family has lost all of their land (30 dunums with hundred-year-old olive trees) due to the construction of a checkpoint on the settler road 446 and the Hashmonaim settlement. This is the second time that soldiers came to his family home looking for Abdallah. The first time, on November 2008, the army took Abdallah’s brother by mistake, and released him few days after.
At the same time, another group of soldiers invaded the house of Mohammed Attalah Amira (19 years old). His 4 sisters, mother and 2 nephews were at home when 8 soldiers came. Four soldiers forced the family to stay in one room, while the rest came to the terrace of the house. There were around 30 soldiers surrounding the home simultaneously. The harassment from the army lasted 20 minutes, after which the soldiers exited leaving two papers, one for Mohammed and another for Hassan Awad Amereh, Mohammed’s brother-in-law. These papers demanded that both show up at the Israeli Ofer prison the next day at 10:00 am, for interrogation. Hassan, 27 years old, went to Offer this morning and was released after an interrogation about the demonstrations in the village. He and his family have suffered harassment for several months with night invasions and phone calls from “Captain Foad.” The Attalah Amira family lost all their land because of the illegal construction of settlements around the village. In 1997 during a protest against the illegal expropriation of Palestinian land from people of Ni’lin, Mohammed’s father was killed by an Israeli soldier.
As the soldiers were leaving the village at around 3:30 am, they broke the back glass of a car that was parked in front of Mohammed’s house. The owner of the car is Hassan, a teacher in the Ni’lin girl’s school.
The Israeli arrest and intimidation campaigns on West Bank villages that demonstrate against the Wall, have led to the arrests of over 76 Palestinians in Ni’lin alone as of June 2009.
Around 12:30 on Friday, 140 Ni’lin villagers, together with international and Israeli solidarity activists, gathered after the prayer to demonstrate against the Apartheid Wall. The march went through the fields of Ni’lin and reached the wall site without incident. The Wall was finished in May 2009 as an electric fence with video cameras and a road where the army patrol. Although it seems finished, last Monday Israeli forces began adding 8 meter high blocks of concrete. Right after the demonstrators have reached the wall, several army jeeps started shooting, using the multiple tear gas machine. Israeli soldiers kept shooting tear gas grenades from the road at the demonstrators and eventually they came into the fields through a Wall gate and threatened the protesters with live ammunition guns. All internationals and Israelis left around 5pm, although the demonstration went until 7pm. During the time that there were just Palestinians in the fields, Israeli soldiers used the high velocity tear gas projectile and live ammunition. The high-velocity tear gas canister was not used in Ni’lin since the end of May when Basem Abu Rahme, a Bil’in demonstrator was murdered with one.
Israeli forces commonly use tear-gas canisters, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition against demonstrators.
To date, Israeli occupation forces have murdered 5 Palestinian residents and critically injured 1 international solidarity activist during unarmed demonstrations in Ni’lin. In total, 19 people have been killed during demonstrations against the Wall.
- 5 June 2009: Yousef Akil Srour (36) was shot in the chest with 0.22 caliber live ammunition and pronounced dead upon arrival at a Ramallah hospital.
- 13 March 2009: Tristan Anderson (37), an American citizen, was shot in the head with a high velocity tear gas projectile. He is currently at Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv with uncertain prospects for his recovery.
- 28 December 2008: Mohammed Khawaje (20) was shot in the head with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition. He died in a Ramallah hospital 3 days later on 31 December 2008.
- 28 December 2008: Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) was shot in the back with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and pronounced dead upon arrival at a Ramallah hospital.
- 30 July 2008: Yousef Amira (17) was shot in the head with two rubber coated steel bullets. He died in a Ramallah hospital 5 days later on 4 August 2008.
- 29 July 2008: Ahmed Mousa (10) was shot in the forehead with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and pronounced dead upon arrival at a Ramallah hospital.
In total, 38 people have been shot by Israeli forces with live ammunition in Ni’lin: 9 were shot with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and 29 were shot with 0.22 caliber live ammunition.
Additionally, Israeli arrest and intimidation campaigns on West Bank villages that demonstrate against the Wall, have led to the arrests of over 76 Palestinians in Ni’lin alone as of June 2009.
Since May 2008, residents of Ni’lin have been organizing and participating in unarmed demonstrations against construction of the Apartheid Wall. Despite being deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, the Occupation continues to build the Wall, further annexing Palestinian land.
Ni’lin will lose approximately 2,500 dunums of agricultural land when construction of the Wall is completed. Israel annexed 40,000 of Ni’lin’s 58,000 dunums in 1948. After the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the illegal settlements and infrastructure of Kiryat Sefer, Mattityahu and Maccabim were built on village lands and Ni’lin lost another 8,000 dunums. Of the remaining 10,000 dunums, the Occupation will confiscate 2,500 for the Wall and 200 for a tunnel to be built under the segregated settler-only road 446. Ni’lin will be left with 7,300 dunums.
The current entrance to the village will be closed and replaced by a tunnel to be built under Road 446. This tunnel will allow for the closure of the road to Palestinian vehicles, turning road 446 into a segregated settler-only road . Ni’lin will be effectively split into 2 parts (upper Ni’lin and lower Ni’lin), as road 446 runs between the village. The tunnel is designed to give Israeli occupation forces control of movement over Ni’lin residents, as it can be blocked with a single military vehicle.
You know how sometimes, someone just hands you a blog post/content on a silver platter?
The other day I decided to use a coupon Yousuf got from the local library and take the kiddos to a local play place called Playwise Kids. It is pricey, even with the coupon, so we decided to take full advantage of our time there and spend the afternoon there.
I noticed a woman with two young boys there too, around our kids age. I noticed her because she was continuously casting cautious glances at me, which I tried to ignore nevertheless. Eventually we ended up in the same corner-with the kids stacking large Styrofoam bricks into a make-believe house (insert comment here about whether a toy truck demolished the make-believe house…).
Now, me being me, I often like to shatter people’s stereotypes or presumptions or whatnot of what I might sound or look or act like right off the bat. So without thinking twice, I start a conversation with the otherwise reticent, fearful woman.
“How old is he?” I asked of her older child, who was playing with Yousuf.
“5 1/2″ she replied, somewhat wearily, with a grimace plastered to her face.
Ignoring her body language, I continued “tall for his age, eh?”
“Yes, he takes after his father”
“Where are you from” I asked, detecting an East European accent
She hesitated a moment, put her head to the ground and blurted out “from Israel -PLEASE DON’T KILL ME”
Stunned, I replied without hesitation “And.. why exactly would I do that?”. I immediately pondered all the smart replies I could have made, but decided to stay composed.
Clearly uncomfortable with the situation, she nervously asked “well, where are you from?”
“Gaza” I said
“Well, see, that’s why” she declared, as though this single fact clearly explained her irrational, racist outburst.
I pretended I didn’t hear that and went on.
“My parents just came from there you know last week. Took them 4 months of trying and 4 days across the border.”
“Oh why is that?” she responded blankly
“Be-cause of the siege?” I asked both dumbfounded and unclear whether she was just stupid or ignorant or both. “You do know Gaza is under illegal Israel occupation and siege?”
“oh, still? I thought that ended?”
“Still going strong, I’m afraid”, briefing her on the situation much to her disinterest.
“You know its funny, I’ve never met a Palestinian my whole life. Not to mention one from Gaza. Funny I should have to travel half way across the world to meet one.”
Gee, I wonder whey that is, I thought to myself.
I then directed her to my blog. She responded with terrified little nods and finally withdrew, saying she wanted to get something for her younger son from the cafeteria and leaving her older son behind. She watched cautiously from afar, making sure I guess I wouldn’t take him captive or something.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have said or done anything differently. There are always thing we wish you could have said-like, not all Palestinians/Muslims/Arabs bite; or, shouldn’t it be ME whose afraid of being killed given the Israeli track record of violence against Palestinians-1300 in one month!
But it was Ramadan, and I was somewhat restrained with my blood sugar so low; I suppose I also always want to make the point that we-Palestinian/Muslims/Arabs since she was clearly lumping us all together-have no problem with Jews, only illegal occupation, house demolitions, land theft, and so on; A friend of mine in Nazareth once told me her grandmother put it to her like this: While we were serving our new Jewish neighbors tea and labneh sandwiches in 1940s, they were stealing our land.
I have very little patience for feigned or real stupidity when it comes to what’s happening in Palestine, particularly by the occupiers. Its one thing if you really don’t know what’s going on, but Disengagement and willful blindness to a reality you create and support is quite another.
As many of you know, I twittered about the encounter, and asked for the best replies to the woman. I’m going to mention a few here of my favorites here:
KABOBfest: “Usually people get really scared when they see my horns and my tail. You’re lucky I dress modestly.”
jillylovsdurham said: Tell her you’ve been hunting down local Israelis one at a time. You even brought your kids to use as human shields!
digitalgypsy said: Act like Renfield. Claw-like hands, hump-backed limp “MMwa-a-a-a”.
magicspin said: “Scared of me? I get that a lot. All that pesky grief & emotional turmoil are so hard to hide”…*smile*
shamz82 said: yes…RUNNNN..
norabf id you ask her if she was about to steal your home and bomb the playground?
mushon said: respond to Gazaphobic Israeli women: “Kol Haolam Kulo, Gesher Tzar Meod. Vehaikar, Vehaikar – Lo Lefached Klal’ (a hassidic song (very known in Israel and the whole Jewish world) by the Rabbi from Braslew that says: “The whole wide world, is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing, is not to fear at all”)
On Saturday night, August 29, 2009, at 21:00, a protest vigil and candle-lit parade will take place in the Sheikh Jarrah Neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, to protest the eviction of the Palestinian Hannoun and Gawi families from their homes, which were then taken over by Israeli settlers. The families have since then been living in tents erected outside their occupied homes. Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators will demand to rectify this blatant injustice and return the families to their homes. Among the organizing groups are Rabbis For Human Rights and Gush Shalom and the Committee Against House Demolitions. The eviction of the Sheikh Jarrah families had been sharply condemned by the United States and the European Union.
Transportation: Tel Aviv – 19:50 Arlozorov St. Railway Station (former El Al Terminal) West Jerusalem 20:45 Parking lot, Liberty Bell Park (Gan Ha'Paamon)
In addition, Israeli organizers together with the families decided that every day between 16:00 and 18:00 all are welcome to visit and express solidarity.
Contact: Adam 054-2340749, Yehiel 050-2110639
Bil’in village, West Bank: Former US president Jimmy Carter, Mrs. Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa visited the site of the Apartheid Wall on the land of the village of Bil’in.
The Carters and Archbishop Tutu came to Bil’in together with their colleagues from The “Elders” delegation, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland, former Irish president and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Indian human rights activist Ela Bhatt, and renowned businessmen Richard Branson and Jeff Skoll.
Former president Carter pointed to the land on the other side of the wall where the settlement of Modi’in Illit is being built: “This is not Israel; this is Palestine and settlements must be removed from Palestinian land so that justice will be restored in the area.”
Desmond Tutu encouraged the Palestinian activists: “ Just as a simple man named Ghandi led the successful non-violent struggle in India and simple people such as Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela led the struggle for civil rights in the United States, simple people here in Bil’in are leading a non-violent struggle that will bring them their freedom. The South Africa experience proves that injustice can be dismantled.”
The “Elders” placed symbolic stones on the monument commemorating Bassem Abu Rahme, a non-violent activist who was shot dead on the 17th April 2009 while attempting to speak with Israeli soldiers during a non-violent demonstration. (A video can be seen on http://palsolidarity.org/2009/04/6185)
The Bil’in popular committee and their friends including Luisa Morgantini, the former vice president of the European Parliament, and Israeli activists welcomed the delegation and invited them to participate in Bil’in’s annual conference for non-violent popular resistance. The delegation met Raja Abu Rahme, the daughter of Adib Abu Rahme, a leading non-violent activist from Bil’in. Adib was arrested on 10th July during a non-violent demonstration and is being held in Ofer military prison (see: http://palsolidarity.org/2009/07/7652). Raja told them about her father’s arrest and about the night raid arrests that the Israeli military began in Bil’in on 23rd June 2009.
Bil’in will be holding its weekly demonstration tomorrow, on Friday, the 28th August at 1:00 PM. The Palestinian village of Bil’in has become an international symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle. For almost 5 years, its residents have been continuously struggling against the de facto annexation of more then 50% of their farmlands and the construction of the apartheid wall on it. In a celebrated decision, the Israeli Supreme court ruled on the 4 September 2007 that the current route of the wall in Bil’in was illegal and needs to be dismantled; the ruling however has not been implemented.
For days the Israeli political establishment and mainstream media engaged in an unrestrained campaign of demonization of Sweden. Only after having already castigated Swedes as "antisemites" did mass circulation newspaper Yediot Aharonot take the elementary journalistic step of sending a reporter to check the facts. Ronny Shaked's Aug. 24 article revealed no organ harvesting horror - but showed quite clearly how such a story could emerge from the grim occupation reality.
It is an old story, going back seventeen years, the story of a young man named Bilal Ahmad Ghanem from the small West Bank village of Amatin. Ghanem was one of those which official Israel castigates as terrorists and their own people praise as freedom fighters. In the early 1990's he figured on the Israeli "wanted" list.
In May 1992 Israel was in the midst of a crucial elections campaign. Opposition leader Yitzchak Rabin was asking for the voters' mandate on a pledge to make peace with the Palestinians - a pledge he would eventually seriously try to implement and for which he would pay with his own life three and a half years later. All of that was part of a future, which Bilal Ahmad Ghanem would not live to see. On the night of May 13, 1992, Israeli hunters ambushed him outside his parents' home, and killed him on the spot with a bullet directly to the heart. This in itself excludes the possibility that Ghanem's organs were used for transplantation. It is an elementary medical fact that organs are taken from brain-dead patients whose heart is still beating.
There was not, and could not have been, a "harvesting of organs". But it is true that Ghanem's body was taken away, restored to the family only after a week, in which it evidently was subjected to an autopsy, to which the family did not consent nor was asked for consent. (In Israel itself, an autopsy is only performed with the consent of the family or by court order, but such rules do not apply in military-ruled territory). When at last the body was given back, the family was shocked to see a scar running from his neck down to his abdomen. They were not given much time to speculate, and nobody was there to answer questions. Soldiers on the spot urged them to get on with the funeral and disperse to their homes. A Swedish journalist made some photos of Ghanem's scarred body - arousing the ire of the soldiers, who promptly confiscated his camera. But he had managed to extract the film and throw it among the bushes. On the following day he returned, recovered the photos and recorded the angry and pained reactions of Ghanem's mother, who could not be expected to know or care about medical facts and the conditions where organ transplanting is or is not possible.
The photos and report were published in 1992 Sweden, without getting much attention. They were included as one of many items in an 2001 book on the situation in the Occupied Territories, to whose publication the Government of Sweden apparently contributed though it was unlikely to have closely and minutely supervised its contents. Again, not many people noticed or paid attention. And now it has surfaced again and became - seventeen years after the fact - the center of a raging storm.
Why resurrect this affair at exactly this time? Possibly because the mass killing of civilians in the recent Gaza war, which is an undoubted fact, has made also implausible Israeli atrocities seem plausible. But even so, a newspaper should have carefully checked its facts, and any doctor could have told them that this particular accusation could not be true. There had been a month ago an ugly case of illicit trade in organs for transplantation, in which the American citizens implicated happened to be Jewish. But linking this affair with the misconduct of the armed forces of Israel was an ugly and unacceptable analogy which the editors of "Aftonbladet" should have avoided. Still, there was no need for the Netanyahu Government to blow it up to a head-on confrontation between the two countries. Indeed, the leaders of the Jewish community in Sweden were far from pleased with the Israeli overreaction. But the Israeli government did not act out of concern for them. It had its own specific agenda for making the maximum noise.
Almost from the first day he assumed power, Netanyahu is under constant pressure from President Barack Obama to cease all settlement activity in the occupied territories. The fanatic hardliners in his cabinet call for Israel to defy all pressures, continue and extend the building of Jewish settlements and tell the Americans to go to hell. Deep in his heart Netanyahu might sympathize - but he knows well enough that such a course would be suicidal, and that it would be Israel which would get to hell in short order. Sweden is a convenient alternative target, which could be attacked with relative impunity. Moreover, Sweden - having the Presidency of European Union - has itself quite recently lodged a strong protest about the settlements and the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes is the Sheikh Jarah Neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. It makes perfect sense for Netanyahu to try and put the Swedish government on the defensive.
The row also helps to divert the criticism on Netanyahu from inside his government coalition. Israel's historically-loaden ambivalent relation to Europe is a Pandora box easily opened.
On the one hand, Israelis like to think of themselves as belonging to Europe; on the other hand when encountering criticism, wild accusations of antisemitism immediately fly around and the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust is very selectively referenced.
Israelis are delighted that their country was admitted to the European Song Festival and that their football and basketball teams can participate in European championships. But the same people would not opt for Israel becoming subject to the authority of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, and to have that court give the actions of the Israeli armed forces the kind of scrutiny it gave to the British army in North Ireland.
In today's Europe it is taken for granted that a democratic state is, by definition, "The State of All Its Citizens". The Israeli mainstream would like Israel to be accepted as a European State while rejecting any such definition and insisting that "A State of All Its Citizens" is a subversive and extremist idea where Israel is concerned.
The present confrontation with Sweden is the latest - and probably not the last - of such cases.
Written at the invitation of the Swedish weekly 'Efter Arbetet' for its Aug. 28 edition
There is a hilltop east of Jerusalem with striking views down into Jericho, across the dry slopes of the West Bank and on to the Dead Sea. From the red ochre of the rock came the name Ma’ale Adumim, Hebrew for the Red Ascent.
Today it is a city of more than 30,000 people, with red-roofed apartment blocks, shopping malls, a public swimming pool and ancient olive trees sitting on neat roundabouts. A major highway runs down the hill, across the valley up into the centre of Jerusalem and beyond, connecting conveniently to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coast.
The rise of Ma’ale Adumim captures the success of Israel’s vast settlement project and the extent of the challenge posed to any future Palestinian state by the settlements and the often overlooked infrastructure of Israel’s occupation.
In March 1975 there was no Ma’ale Adumim. After Israel captured and occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war the site was earmarked as a an industrial park. A group of activist settlers from the Gush Emunim — the Bloc of the Faithful — arrived one morning and built a water tower and simple concrete hut. They were removed that day by soldiers, but in December that year the first settler families moved in for good. The city then grew exponentially.
The site is a compelling example of how infrastructure is used to extend Israel’s reach around and well beyond the settlement. Ma’ale Adumim’s buildings seem to cover one main hilltop, but the municipal area of the settlement is nearly 20 square miles, the size of Tel Aviv. Then there are the Israeli-built roads connecting Ma’ale Adumim with nearby smaller, satellite settlements, as well as a major highway running further east past Jericho and cutting across the West Bank until it reaches the Jordanian border. Israel is now building its steel and concrete West Bank barrier around Ma’ale Adumim and the other smaller settlements, effectively incorporating them on the “Israeli” side and by doing so taking another 24 square miles of the West Bank.
To the north and south of Ma’ale Adumim stretches a swath of land that is a closed military area, where access for Palestinians is prohibited. Just across the valley is an area known as E1, where hillsides have been terraced, a police station built and roads laid in preparation for a further 3,500 settler housing units, as well as offices, sports centres, 10 hotels and a cemetery. Other land nearby is designated Area C, a creation of the Oslo accords of the early 1990s, meaning Israel has full administrative and security control. In effect that means no Palestinians can build.
So while the apartment blocks of Ma’ale Adumim seem to have a limited though strategic footprint, Israel’s actual control extends much further and deeper into the West Bank. It is a pattern repeated again and again across the West Bank.
None of this should be a surprise. It becomes quickly obvious to those who have ever travelled through the West Bank. There are also countless reports from the UN, the World Bank and Israeli and Palestinian groups documenting the reality on the ground.
Then there are the often striking admissions from within the establishment. Two years ago Haggai Alon, an adviser to the then Israeli defence minister Amir Peretz, told Ha’aretz that Israel was using the West Bank barrier to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state and that the Israel Defence Force was carrying out an “apartheid policy” in emptying the city of Hebron of Palestinians, setting up roadblocks across the West Bank and co-operating with settlers. “The actual policy of the IDF, especially in recent years, is creating profound changes that threaten to make it impossible to leave the West Bank,” Alon said. “We cannot allow the executive ranks to get us stuck in an irreversible binational situation.”
Or look at what Ariel Sharon, former prime minister and self-described pragmatic Zionist, wrote of his post-1967 plans for the Palestinian territories and the importance of control: “What I thought was that, regardless of whatever political solution the future might hold, we would have to keep the high controlling terrain — to protect and give depth to the tiny heartland along the coast, to be able to defend ourselves on the line of the river Jordan, and to secure Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people forever. That was an indispensable, necessary minimum.”
In the 42 years since Israel captured the land, its control has grown apace. There are 149 settlements, together with at least another 100 “outposts” — smaller settlements unauthorised even by the Israeli government. Nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to protect the settlements and, as Israel argues, to impose law and order, came a series of what the UN calls “multi-layered restrictions”: checkpoints, trenches, earth mounds, road gates, roadblocks and a large restricted road network which Palestinians cannot use. Put together they seriously inhibit ordinary life for millions of Palestinians.
Then there is the West Bank barrier, begun at the height of the violence of the second intifada and today nearly 60% complete. When finished it will be 450 miles long, running inside the West Bank for 86% of its length.
It effectively attaches many of the major settlements to Israel and in doing so places nearly 10% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the “Israeli” side. When finished it will leave 35,000 Palestinians living in “closed areas” cut off from the rest of the West Bank and caught between the 1949 armistice line and the barrier.
Added to that are the large nature reserves and military closed areas, which Palestinians cannot enter and which are mainly in the Jordan Valley or near the Dead Sea. There are also 48 Israeli military bases. Beyond that, Israel has full control over Area C, which makes up nearly two-thirds of the West Bank. Planning restrictions are tight: 94% of building permit applications have been refused between 2000 and 2007, according to the UN. Today there are around 3,000 pending demolition orders across the West Bank.
Instead, the Palestinians are confined to their fragmented urban areas, often behind checkpoints and where talk of a future contiguous, viable Palestinian state seems ever more remote. The effect of this political geography is so striking that even George Bush, who was perhaps the US president most supportive of Israel, was moved early last year to say of a future Palestine: “Swiss cheese isn’t going to work when it comes to the outline of a state.”
Others are more direct. In their study Lords of the Land, Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli academic and a journalist, write: “The Jewish settlement, at God’s command and at the government’s will, has thus caused continuing and extensive damage to the basic human rights of the Palestinians who live in the territories, among them the rights to personal liberty, freedom of movement, and property; it has also thwarted any possibility for the realisation of the collective rights of those who lived in the territory before the intrusion of the Israeli forces, such as the right to national self-determination, including statehood.”