Will it be a merry Christmas for Palestinian Christians this year? The answer is that it depends who you ask.
According to some the picture is bleak. Take, for example, this report about Santa having to “ditch his sleigh in Egypt and crawl through a smuggling tunnel to bring a little Christmas joy to the Gaza Strip.” Or this piece about new nativity scene sculptures on sale in Bethlehem that sum up local frustrations — they show Joseph, Mary, crib, wise men and large Israeli concrete wall with military watchtower.
Others are more upbeat. The Bintel Blog has already reported that Palestinian hotels are experiencing something of a boom. This article discusses flourishing tourism in Bethlehem, with four times the number of visitors this year than in 2007, and reports on a new event meant to draw people in — the town’s first Christmas rock concert.
There has been wide-scale building in the settlements this week. In some settlements, including most of the Etzion bloc which straddles the Green Line as well as some deep inside the West Bank such as Beth El, there has been almost one new unit built per family.
You probably figured it out. These are religious settlements and the structures being built aren’t permanent, but rather sukkahs — temporary huts — for the festival of Sukkot which begins tomorrow night.
The question is though, with so much media attention on settlement building, will some international journalist see people busily building in the West Bank and get the wrong idea? Stranger things have happened. When my parents moved in to their first home — many many miles from the West Bank — the neighbors, who had never met Jews before, welcomed them to the area. Asked if they were happy in the house, my parents replied that they were, though they hoped to build an extension.
At last we have it. An answer to the million-dollar question: How do you bring Israelis and Palestinians together?
And it is … crime.
A bank in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of Ramallah was robbed last week, and the thieves made off with the equivalent of $30,000.
Palestinian police have revealed that of the six thieves, three were Palestinians, two were Israeli Arabs, and one was an Israeli Jew. Now isn’t that just a picture of a harmonious interdenominational group?
Palestinian police Colonel Adnan al-Damiri has reportedly said that the Israeli Jew “was the mastermind of the operation.” He said that coordination between Arabs and Jews could signal a “dangerous” trend in crime.
There is a more legal — though equally quirky — proposal for bringing together Israelis and Palestinians being put forward at the moment.
A group of American and Israeli Frisbee enthusiasts think their sport could be the answer to this region’s troubles.
Ultimate Peace, which they are organizing this week, is an Ultimate Frisbee festival which will bring together disadvantaged youth from Palestinian and Jewish communities from the West Bank and within Israel.
The idea followed a visit to Israel by the American Ultimate Frisbee team, the Matza Balls. During that visit, the team taught Israeli children and promoted the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. The American visitors returned home happy at what they achieved with Israeli youngsters but upset that their game was not being played by Palestinians.
The American Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts are joining forces with Israeli enthusiasts and the Peres Center for Peace to run the event. Gal Peleg, Director of Sports at the Peres Center for Peace, says on the event website: “Sport has an unparalleled ability to overcome barriers of language, politics and religion. Especially a sport like Ultimate Frisbee, which emphasizes fair-play, team cooperation and mutual respect, and offers a unique chance for Israeli and Palestinian youngsters to set aside their differences and work together to achieve a common goal.”
Peleg’s department has produced this video on its ethos of using sport to bridge gaps between communities:
Thomas Friedman of The New York Times writes:
When I reported from Israel in the mid-1980s, the big debate here was whether Israel’s settlement-building in the West Bank had passed a point of no return — a point where any serious withdrawal became virtually impossible to imagine. The question was often framed as: “Is it five minutes to midnight or five minutes after midnight?” Well, having taken a little drive through part of the West Bank, as I always do when I visit, it strikes me more than ever that it’s not only five after midnight, it’s five after midnight and a whole week later.
The West Bank today is an ugly quilt of high walls, Israeli checkpoints, “legal” and “illegal” Jewish settlements, Arab villages, Jewish roads that only Israeli settlers use, Arab roads and roadblocks. This hard and heavy reality on the ground is not going to be reversed by any conventional peace process. “The two-state solution is disappearing,” said Mansour Tahboub, senior editor, at the West Bank newspaper Al-Ayyam.
Indeed, we are at a point now where the only thing that might work is what I would call “radical pragmatism” — a pragmatism that is as radical and energetic as the extremism that it hopes to nullify. Without that, I fear, Israel will remain permanently pregnant with a stillborn Palestinian state in its belly.
His answer? Bring in the Jordanians.
So the settlers have a different vision of Zionism that includes the right to live in an ancestral homeland—
No. That’s not what they say. Or perhaps that’s what they say but not what they mean. They speak about rights to the ancestral homeland, but they don’t mean rights, they mean duty. Let me explain the difference. If I stand by a zebra crossing, the light is green, and a policeman gestures that I should cross the road now, I obviously have the right to cross the road. But if I see a van dashing my way at 80 miles an hour, I also have the right not to exercise my right. I see the van. The settlers ignore the van because they say they have a duty to be on that road.
They believe God will intervene and stop the van. There is a good Jewish joke about the belief in miracles. A certain rabbi is drowning in the sea; he can’t swim. A speed boat comes by and offers him to climb in and he says, “No, I’m going to be saved by a miracle, not by a boat.” Then a helicopter gestures to him to climb up and he says, “No, I am going to be saved by a miracle, not by a helicopter.” Finally, he drowns, goes to heaven, and is quick to complain to God: “A righteous man like me—how come you didn’t work a miracle for me?’ And God says, “I sent you a boat. I sent you a helicopter. What else could I do?”
Ha’aretz editorializes in response to an investigative broadcast that exposed abuse of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank:
This time, it was regular soldiers in the Kfir Brigade. They exposed their backsides and sexual organs to Palestinians, pressed an electric heater to the face of a young boy, beat young boys senseless, recorded everything on their mobile phones and sent it to their friends. One of their “mischievous acts” was to test how long a Palestinian who was being choked could survive without breathing. When he passed out, the experiment was stopped. The soldiers described activities to “break the routine” that consisted entirely of abuse. It was enough for a boy “to look at us the wrong way” for him to be beaten.
Earlier, at the trial of First Lieutenant Yaakov Gigi, officers spoke of burnout, of “something bad happening to the brigade,” of a Wild West, of a moral crisis. The commander of the brigade, Colonel Itai Virov, said “we failed on several parameters.” His words reflect a denial of the depth of the failure. This continuing routine, far from the eyes of the commanders, must lead to a series of investigations, and perhaps to dismissals as well. It is unconscionable for the head of the Hebron Brigade, the division commander, the GOC Central Command and even the chief of staff to ignore the ongoing behavior of soldiers in the brigade responsible for routine security in the West Bank. Colonel Virov admitted that there was a conspiracy of silence in the brigade - in other words, a norm of abuse and its concealment. To change norms, one has to shock and be shocked, not be satisfied with a few imprisonments and empty words about a loss of values.
Perfectly ordinary people, as the American psychologist said of the Abu Ghraib abusers, are capable of behaving like monsters when they receive a message from the top that it is permissible to abuse, beat, choke, burn, make people miserable and generally do anything that man’s evil genius is capable of inventing to others who are under their control. Something bad is happening to us, they are saying in the Kfir Brigade. That “something” is the occupation.
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