Who will are the change agents of our world? Is it our elected officials and politicians or the ones who march in the streets in order to hold them accountable? These questions were clarified for me in profound ways during my recent trip to the West Bank as part of a delegation of Chicago-area Jews and Palestinian Americans.
The focus of our delegation was the Palestinian popular resistance movement in the West Bank, a phenomenon that is sadly unfamiliar to the majority of Americans and American Jews. In a world far removed from the images reflected in the mainstream media and the postures of political elites, we discovered a decidedly different reality: ordinary men and women struggling to live lives of dignity while actively resisting an inequitable and oppressive military occupation.
During our weeklong stay, we were hosted in Bil’in, a village that is has, along with many other villages throughout the West Bank, long been holding weekly popular demonstrations against the occupation over the past ten years. In Bil’in, as in most villages in this movement, the focus of the protests are Israel’s Separation Wall which cuts into the heart of numerous Palestinian populations centers, devastating these communities by cutting them off from their olive groves and farmland.
These weekly demonstrations have become part of the fabric of West Bank life for the past ten years, though few Americans are even aware of their existence. They have consistently been met with overwhelming military force from the IDF. Scores of Palestinians have been injured or killed in these protests, largely from high velocity tear gas canisters, coated steel bullets and live ammunition fired directly into crowds of unarmed protesters.
As we quickly came to see, the violence faced by Palestinians under occupation is a palpable and all-encompassing aspect of their lives. While the political parameters of this conflict are often characterized by Israel’s demand for Palestinian leaders to renounce and rein in Palestinian violence, the view from the ground reveals a different picture entirely: it is the Palestinians who live within a constant daily context of violence.
This is a difficult concept to grasp for those who have not visited or lived in the Occupied Territories. Every day Palestinian mothers, fathers and children experience physical violence from soldiers and settlers who attack them with impunity. Every day, moment they experience the structural violence of checkpoints, land confiscation, and home demolitions.
Our delegation experienced three violent encounters with the IDF during our short one-week stay. While touring the refugee camp of Aida, we inadvertently walked into the line of fire as the IDF shot tear gas canisters directly at local children. One morning in Bil’in we awoke to the sounds of explosions and gunshots. When we ran outside we found the entire village shrouded in thick, choking tear gas. We later learned that the IDF had chased a suspect in a bus bombing into the area and had killed him in a cave on the edge of Bil’in. Before they left, they bulldozed olive trees, shot up the elementary school and shot tear gas throughout the entire village.
It was almost a moving moment. A Palestinian child, only 6 years old, goes up to a Jewish child of Israeli settlers and offers him a handshake.
The Palestinian boy isn’t even supposed to be there. The Israel Defense Forces closed off this area of the restive West Bank a few months ago to avoid having to deal with confrontations provoked by the settlers, who often try to drive Palestinian farmers away.
The two lock hands and the Palestinian child quickly turns and walks away. His family cheers for him for the gutsy little gesture. A small aberration from the norm of occupation.
But then the Jewish child picks up a rock. Effortlessly and naturally, he throws it in the direction of the Palestinian kid; and then another one.
It’s not even like he seems concerned with actually hitting him. It’s a reflex, almost as if he was programmed to do so, he just picks up and throws. It doesn’t matter what happened just a moment earlier, or what will happen afterwards.
It’s Olive War season. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a gourmet reality television show, but rather a several-week period of clashes where Palestinians and settlers try to hit each other in their pockets, via their olive groves.
In recent years, attacks by Palestinians on settler groves and vice-versa have increased significantly. Of course, it’s more than just a financial warfare — it’s about deflating morale, flexing muscles, and spreading fear as well.
The harvest is about to get in to full swing, and both sides are already getting defensive. The Samaria Residents’ Council, a grassroots settlers’, organization, is urging Jews in the West Bank to get cameras ready to record “provocations that are bound to come.” Among the Palestinians, there are already reports of settler vandalism, with Bethlehem-based Maan News claiming that settlers destroyed over 50 olive trees today in the south Hebron hills.
Recent months have seen the start of some ugly Palestinian-Israeli confrontations in Jerusalem, which have been calmed and contained quickly. However, out in what some commentators call the Wild West Bank, where tensions are less carefully managed, mutual olive grove attacks could conceivably spur nastier violence.
Every olive harvest puts the West Bank on edge, but this one in particular, with both settlers and Palestinians feeling frustrated with the international community, their own leaders, and the other side, will prove particularly challenging.
Two years after the Tel Aviv social protest movement was born out of anger at high property prices, Israelis have been told that they’ve misunderstood the problem all along. It is, the new Housing Minister insists, that there’s too little settlement activity.
“The key to immediately stopping the rise in home prices is massive building in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria,” Uri Ariel, who represents the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, claimed in a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday.
In his view, measures that are underway to ease the housing crisis will yield results in one to two years, “whereas in Judea and Samaria, we can immediately market tens of thousands of housing units.”
There’s a pie-in-the-sky optimism in his suggestion that current measures will yield results within a couple of years — even if they are far weaker than anything that the protest movement had in mind. But more importantly, his mixing up of Israel’s deep social problems with jingoistic policy statements relating to the West Bank raises important questions about the direction of the Housing Ministry.
Firstly, there’s the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Having a Housing Minister with such zeal to build the West Bank obviously increases tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and her international allies. If he manages to realize his plans the reaction would be strong — but even if he doesn’t the statements reverberate around the Arab and international media.
But secondly there are the less obvious internal ramifications for Israel. With Ariel so set on a West Bank agenda, the main and most challenging task of the Housing Minister, namely easing the housing crisis within Israel’s 1967 borders, where the vast majority of the population lives, could play second fiddle, and suffer as a result.
In the long term, if Ariel succeeds in settling settlement building as a solution to the housing crisis, it could prove an expensive exercise. After all, if the homes are one day evacuated in a peace deal, it’ll be the state that foots the bill.
Ramadan has just started, and an estimated 1 million Muslims from the West Bank will enter Israel to spend part of the holiday with relations here. The defense establishment has become more confident about giving access to Israel for Arab holidays — and for the main part things have been smooth.
The opening of the checkpoints for mass travel underscores one of the interesting contrasts in the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the moment. While diplomatic channel between Jerusalem and Ramallah is sluggish and while there’s much friction and little movement on the peace process, on some day-to-day issues Israel is making significant efforts.
Of course, Jerusalem’s ability to do so reflects another fact of Israeli-Palestinian relations — political connections may be poor, but security cooperation is still strong.
Yet despite the upbeat attitude of security forces and the good level of cooperation, Ramadan this year poses a unique challenge. Not only does it fall at the height of summer (unlike Jewish festivals Ramadan isn’t fixed in a particular season).
There is also an unfortunate coincidence between Ramadan and the Fast of Av in the Jewish calendar.
Why unfortunate? Because during Ramadan Muslims converge on Temple Mount, and given that the Fast of Av is the holiday when Jews commemorate the destruction of the ancient Jerusalem Temples, a larger-than-normal contingency of Jews will head to Temple Mount.
Of course, if the observance of different religious holidays can happen in parallel and peacefully, it would be a boon to coexistence. Yet there is a real danger that the groups could clash.
The religious-Zionist right is becoming increasingly focused on the idea of asserting itself on Temple Mount, and the Fast of Av gives particularly strong expression to this desire. And Palestinians are especially sensitive at the moment to any violations of what they see as their rightful control of the Mount.
Add in the significance of the time-of-year consideration — people from both religions depriving themselves of food and water for an extremely long day in the sweltering sun and you get a potentially explosive situation.
A calm Tuesday could well point to a calm summer in Jerusalem, but if conflict is on the cards for this summer, Tuesday could well be the day that it beaks out.
Israelis awoke this morning to hear that four Palestinian rockets were launched towards Israel from Gaza and two had slammed in to the town of Sderot, without causing injuries. After months of quiet on the border following Israel’s Gaza operation in November, the Gaza militants who launched the rockets clearly intended to send a strong message to Obama.
It goes something like this. You may arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, talk at length with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the American-Israeli security partnership, and inspect the Iron Dome missile defense system that you have funded. But it can’t completely seal the Israeli south from attacks – you can’t ignore us.
There’s more. The second part of the message refers to internal Palestinian politics, and goes like this. You’re going to Ramallah today to talk to the Palestinian Authority. Don’t imagine that you can reach an agreement with the PA and ignore us and our opposition – we’re here, and ready and willing to unleash violence.
The rockets followed demonstrations against the visit in Gaza, which involved the burning of photographs of Obama and American flags. “We are out here today to say enough to the ongoing pressure on the Palestinian people and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority seeking to impose a unilateral settlement, and US preconditions forcing the PA to make more concessions,” declared Khalid al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader. Hamas voiced similar views.
With news of the rocket attack, Obama began the second day of his trip. After a day yesterday of back patting and banter with Bibi, and competition with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to see which president could be more complimentary to the other, he ventured in to stormy Palestinian politics. (First he visited the Israel Museum INSERT LINK). The demonstrations that awaited him yesterday in Jerusalem were relatively sedate affairs calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is in a US prison as punishment for spying for Israel. But in the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians dug in their heels at a camp in E1, a 4.6-square-mile piece of the West Bank just outside Jerusalem where Netanyahu wants to build, protesting the occupation and Israeli policies.
There was also anger in Hebron, where around two-dozen minors were arrested by the Israeli military. Palestinians alleged that some were under the minimum age for detention, 12, and said that the arrests were unjustified. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement that the arrests were unjustified. However, Israeli military spokesman Eytan Buchman told the Forward: “There was rioting in the area and they were involved in rioting.”
In central Ramallah, as Obama arrived, around 250 people protested against his visit and push towards peace with Israel. Some held shoes, a sign that they wanted him to leave Palestinian territory. Slogans included the claim that the U.S. “voted for occupation” when it opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations in November.
Even as Obama was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after being greeted by a Palestinian guard of honor, Hamas was trying to grab the Palestinian headlines. Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, declared: “We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace,” adding: “The PA must realize that they have to abide by national principles and reconciliation.”
The story about Nabi Saleh was framed in the context of a Palestinian village testing “the limits of unarmed resistance.” Those were the words Times’ editors placed on the cover of the Sunday magazine (yeah, I’m old-fashioned, and still read in print) and it was the concept that undergirded Ehrenreich’s story. I questioned that because, to me, regularly throwing stones at other people is not unarmed resistance. Stone-throwers may be at a disadvantage when faced with guns and tanks, but they can still inflict harm and still commit acts of violence.
If the villagers of Nabi Saleh were able to stand up to the Israeli occupation without arms, and if Palestinians across the West Bank were to do the same, I believe that they would change the conversation entirely, and shame both Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a real negotiated settlement. But that’s not what is happening.
Evidently what really galled Gharib, though, was the way I questioned Ehrenreich’s credibility because of a strongly anti-Zionist opinion piece he published a few years ago. Gharib said I should say why. I thought that was obvious.
My husband has long argued that if the Palestinians really wanted a state side-by-side with Israel, all they would have to do is adopt a nationwide, non-violent strategy. Peaceful demonstrations up and down the West Bank, continuously, steadfastly, would prick the world’s consciousness and give Israeli and Palestinian leaders no choice but to negotiate and do what they needed to do to end the occupation and secure Israel’s democratic future.
My husband may be engaging in wishful thinking, but it’s a powerful and attractive idea. The same thought may have occurred to whoever commissioned, edited and published Ben Ehrenreich’s cover story in the Sunday New York Times, lauding the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh and what the Times called its “path of unarmed resistance.”
Just a couple of problems. Ehrenreich is hardly a disinterested observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Nabi Saleh’s protests are hardly non-violent.
We have Chemi Shalev, based in New York for Haaretz, to credit for pointing out Ehrenreich’s recent troubling opinions about Israel. As Shalev wrote in his Sunday column:
“In 2009, Ehrenreich published a direct attack on Zionism in the Los Angeles Times entitled ‘Zionism is the Problem’. In the article, Ehrenreich castigates not only the ‘deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank’ but ‘the Zionist tenets on which the state was founded’ as well.”
President Obama’s itinerary for his upcoming visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank contains messages both direct and subtle. And one of the subtler messages seems to be embedded in his decision to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Jerusalem.
In case the intended message passes you by: When President Obama spoke to the Arab world in his June 2009 Cairo speech, Jewish leaders watched warily, and then issued their complaints. Most had to do with the fact that Obama chose to give his first major international speech in Egypt and did not make a stop in Jerusalem while in the region. Others took issue with the President’s strong language against Israel’s settlement activity, and some were bothered by what they saw as Obama’s attempt to ignore Jewish historical ties to the Holy Land.
This argument was based on Obama’s reference, in his speech, to U.S.-Israel ties being cultural and historical in nature and on Obama’s recognition “that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
By invoking the Holocaust as the root rationale for Israel’s creation, argued Obama’s critics, the president ignored the claims of the Jewish people to the land as something going back to the time of Abraham. Some even claimed that by not mentioning this historical tie, Obama was, in fact, supporting the anti-Zionist narrative, which views the Jews as outsiders who came to Palestine after being chased out of Europe only to make the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Nazis.
With barely two weeks to go before President Obama’s scheduled visit to Jerusalem, the Israeli right seems to be gearing up to prepare as hostile a welcome as possible.
Round one is a dubious claim that received considerable coverage Monday in the Israeli media, according to which Obama is demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu give him a detailed “timetable for Israel withdrawal from the West Bank” when he arrives March 20.
The claim was first reported in a right-wing Washington news outlet, the World Tribune, which based it on anonymous “sources” in Jerusalem. The Tribune report was then widely re-reported in the Israeli media, including such mainstream outlets as the Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post and Ynet.
The World Tribune quoted its sources as saying that the Israeli plan “would be considered in what could be an imminent U.S. initiative to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2014.” The report said Obama had indicated to Netanyahu (given an “implication,” the report said) that “if Israel won’t give him something he can work with, then he’ll act on his own.”
Is it “Palestine” yet?
Following the November 29 United Nations vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Palestinian Authority reportedly decided to officially change its name, and from now on to be referred to simply as “Palestine.” The term Palestinian Authority is a product of the 1993 Oslo Accords in which Israel and the PLO agreed to establish an entity which would rule the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is one of many monikers used by the international community to describe the Palestinians. The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is widely used by the U.N. and other international organizations. The Palestinian Territories is commonly used by the United States and European countries. The media, including the Forward, usually strives to simply refer to the Palestinians. Some Israelis call the West Bank by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, which ignore the Palestinians and refers only to the area.
Should the U.N. vote put an end to this discussion? After all, if an overwhelming majority of nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, then one could deduce that it is a state, the state of Palestine.
Eight years after Israel promised America to start removing outposts and six years since the activist group Peace Now petitioned the courts to compel the government to evacuate the oldest outposts, it looks set to actually happen.
Settlers have tried to save the outpost and the government has tried to give it a stay of execution, but this week the High Court said that there’s no longer any wiggle room, and it must be evacuated by Tuesday.
Migron is the iconic outpost, meaning a settlement that is viewed as illegal by Israeli law as well as international law (which regards all settlements as illegal). Migron was build without the necessary government permits and licenses, and according to an official Israeli report stands on privately-owned Palestinian land. Its evacuation is a major victory to Peace Now and the Israeli left, and a huge blow to the settler right.
The key question today is, presuming that neither settlers nor the government manages to avert the evacuation at the last minute, what the West Bank look like on Wednesday.
Irving Moskowitz, a major donor to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, has given $1 million to the Karl Rove-linked Republican super PAC American Crossroads.
The donation, made in mid-February, was the subject of a lengthy Huffington Post report published April 12.
Moskowitz, 83, is best known for funding efforts to establish Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In January 2011 he ignited worldwide controversy by demolishing an iconic East Jerusalem hotel he owned in order to make way for Jewish housing.
Moskowitz made his fortune operating a casino and bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. In 2004 he was the subject of a grand jury inquiry into allegations of business improprieties.
The American Crossroads donation is by far Moskowitz’s biggest political intervention in the United States. He has, however, been active as a Republican donor, and has been a supporter of Florida Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a prominent hawk on Middle East issues.
Moskowitz himself has kept a low profile in recent years. His wife Cherna Moskowitz appears to have taken the reins of his foundation.
American Crossroards has raised $22 million and spent $4 million in the current election cycle. Its ads have mostly targeted House Democrats, and the group began running television advertisements in swing states targeting President Obama early this week.
With his New York Times op-ed today, Judge Richard Goldstone continues his long march towards insuring that his name no longer be synonymous with self-hating, Israel-bashing Jew. He has written to argue — from his vantage point of having been a judge in apartheid-era South Africa — that the attempt to label the situation in Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians as a form of “apartheid” is pernicious and destructive and just plain inaccurate.
He tries to debunk what the headline refers to as “the apartheid slander,” in a methodical way, by looking first at the situation of Israeli Arabs and then at Palestinians in the occupied territories.
When it comes to the first case, it is airtight. As Goldstone correctly notes, “Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.”
Then he turns to the West Bank and Gaza. Goldstone takes as his benchmark of apartheid a definition from the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
Every week seems to bring some new manufactured scandal that’s supposed to prove that the Palestinians aren’t really ready for peace. The latest is the phony blow-up over the statement by the Washington representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Maen Areikat, in which he’s supposed to have called for a “Jew-free” Palestinian state. Josh Rogin at ForeignPolicy.com has Areikat’s denial that he said anything of the sort, but Rogin doesn’t quite explain how this thing got started. Well-meaning Westerners are continually asking whether it wouldn’t be possible to avoid a traumatic relocation of Israeli settlers back into Israel after a peace agreement by allowing them to stay on as citizens of Palestine.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike regard that as a non-starter for a variety of reasons: The most militant settlers, who mostly are the ones deepest inside Palestinian-populated areas and would have to be relocated, didn’t go there for the scenery, the weather or the rent, but to assert Israeli sovereignty over holy soil, and the vast majority have no intention of being good citizens of another sovereignty. The Palestinians regard the settlements as illegal. Israeli politicians worry that they would be targets for Palestinian violence. Israeli intelligence worries that they would welcome attacks, possibly even provoke them, in order to draw Israeli forces back in and scuttle the agreement. Here’s the thing: When Palestinians and Israelis speak of the different populations in political terms, they tend to refer to them as “the Arabs” and “the Jews.” To American ears, such discussions have immediate connotations of bigotry, since we here associate “Jews” with “inoffensive minority” as opposed to “empowered sovereignty.” So a perfectly reasonable political discussion about future Middle Eastern borders and sovereignties gets caught up in an entirely unrelated anxiety about medieval European prejudice. We American Jews haven’t quite gotten our minds around Herzl’s dream of Jews being normalized among the nations.
Exactly which settlers are we talking about? Which settlements would be candidates for dismantlement, and which are in those mysterious “settlement blocs” that Israel expects to keep? And where in the world is Israel supposed to find the land to hand over in that one-for-one match of which the diplomats speak? Good question. And David Makovsky, the estimable journalist-scholar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and former Jerusalem Post editor and Haaretz correspondent) has answers: