the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 3)

Thursday 25 March 2010

So while the U.S. continues to talk about the health care reform bill(s) (my comments come next week), the p/i show continues!  First, some recent news articles on the issue:
Mon 22 Mar: Clinton accuses Israel of hurting U.S. credibility (AP)
Wed 24 Mar: Israel approves new building in East Jerusalem (AP)
Thurs 25 Mar: U.S. Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Dispute (NY Times)

On to today’s post!

Both the blogs in pt. 1 and pt. 2 on this topic talked about Israeli policy in relation to Palestine and Palestinians, and in this blog I want to focus mainly on whether or not those policies are actually positive for Israel’s future, brought about by an Op-Ed by Uri Dromi, who was spokesman for the Israeli governments from 1992 to 1996, titled “Will Israel Join the March of Folly?

Dromi begins this way:

“Barbara Tuchman, in her classic book “March of Folly,” examined four cases in history when governments acted contrary to their own best interests: the Trojans who let the Greeks bring the fatal horse into their midst; the papacy, which allowed and even brought about the Protestant secession; the British who lost America, and America, which lost the war in Vietnam.”

He continues shortly after with his thesis at hand:

“By expanding settlements instead of separating from the Palestinians while we still can, we Israelis are dooming ourselves to lose the Jewish and democratic state that has been won with so much sacrifice. In other words, we are immersed in our own march of folly. And we are doing it with our eyes open.”

I went to a session last fall that detailed some strategies for talking with members of Congress about the Palestine/Israel issue and conflict, and one of the main points to suggested to use was that a sustained people, involving a Palestinian state, was in the best interests of the the U.S. and Israel.  And that is Dromi’s point, too.  However, the current Israeli policies are running counter to that objective and leave Israel open to continued critism and possibly, in the end, it’s own downfall.

This week continued the dispute of the last two, and Britain joined in the criticism, too (see Israel Absorbs Twin Rebukes From Top Allies).

Dromi’s point comes to a head this way:

Consider the following scenario: The Palestinians decide to do nothing, just wait patiently until there is no way to divide the land anymore. The country just becomes one, binational state.

Then, assuming that the Israelis wouldn’t dare or wouldn’t be allowed by the rest of the world to run the country as an apartheid state, the Palestinians start voting in elections and running for Parliament.

Thus, the existence of a Jewish national state, which many people do desire (I’m not against it, actually; I just want justice for all), is no more.  Do you see why the U.S. needs to continue it’s rebukes?

So while the settlements in the West Bank may pose the most problems for a Palestinian state, as I said in pt. 2, Jerusalem is likely the final sticking point for any agreement.  It may be that Palestinians will not even begin peace talks until settlement construction and home takeovers in East Jerusalem cease, and with the current Israeli policy of a unified Jerusalem, can peace ever happen?

This Map of Settlements Around Jerusalem shows one reason the Palestinians are so mad.  If you click on the map, you can see a red dotted line that demarcates what Israel claims to be Jerusalem, much of which is on the Palestinian side of the 1967 Green Line.  I counted a dozen settlements Israel considers part of Jerusalem that are on what many would consider the Palestinian side of the boundary for a future state.  There are also Palestinian towns inside this boundary, and even one in the bottom left corner you can see that is planned to be encircled by the wall/barrier Israel is constructing.  (Read about that town, the village of Al-Walaja, here.)

It would be impossible to simply reverse the last 40+ years since the 1967 Six-Day War.  However, if Israel continues forward with it’s current policy, Israel as a Jewish state may soon cease to exist.  If that’s not how you want the future shaping up, I suggest you make your voice heard and do something about it.

(Also, I have here a link to another Op-Ed I thought I’d want to write more on by Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States which mainly just says that the U.S. and Israel are best buds and it needs to remain that way (especially from an Israeli perspective).  Read his take on things here:
For Israel and America, a Disagreement, Not a Crisis)

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the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 2)

Sunday 21 March 2010

OK, so if you haven’t read pt. 1 yet, please do that now…

Ready for part 2?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news the past two weeks, I’m sure you’re at least semi-familiar with this whole U.S./Israel “spat,” “feud,” or whatever you want to call what’s been happening these past couple of weeks.  In case you’re not (or to get you back in the mood), here are two options:

The situation in news articles (I’m big on the AP and NY Times these days) (please click at least one — it’s time consuming to link all these articles!):
Tues 9 Mar: As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements (NYT)
Thurs 11 Mar: Biden to Leave Mideast Amid Unease (NYT)
Fri 12 Mar: Clinton Rebukes Israel on Housing Announcement (NYT);
Clinton slams Israel on housing announcement (AP)
Sun 14 Mar: Israeli settlement action ‘an insult’: Obama aide (AP)
Mon 15 Mar: Israel Feeling Rising Anger From the U.S. (NYT);
US Israel criticism ignites firestorm in Congress (AP)
Tues 16 Mar: US envoy cancels Mideast trip, Israel feud deepens (AP) ;
US, Israel try to back away from the brink (AP)

Fri 19 Mar: Clinton Calls Israel’s Moves to Ease Tension ‘Useful’ (NYT)
Sat 20 Mar: UN Chief says Israeli settlements must be stopped (AP) (OK, so this one is a little off topic, but still in the vein of all the rest, perhaps the best to read!)
Sun 21 Mar: Israel: No building restrictions in east Jerusalem (AP)

What brought about the curious events of the past two weeks was simply an announcement of  a planned building project that occurred when Joe Biden was visiting prior to planned mediated peace talks scheduled for last week.  Then Biden, upon hearing the announcement, condemned the plan, and the spat began.  Members of Congress and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. criticized the criticism, and the back and forth began.  When you break down this whole fiasco, though, it really comes down to the issue alluded to in that last article: Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Just as the West Bank was land Israel took control of during the Six-Day War in 1967, so were the lands we currently refer to as East Jerusalem.  While most people can understand and accept that Palestinians living in the West Bank desire this land for a future state.  However, the issue of Jerusalem is definitely much murkier, specifically because it’s hard to think of a city being divided between two countries, as it was between 1948 and 1967.  However, it is also unacceptable for either Palestinians or Israelis to give up what was under their control during that 20-year span.

However, this quote speaks volumes:

“As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv” and there would be no restrictions, Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

Later in the article we here this:

Netanyahu has always opposed compromise over Jerusalem. Israel captured the city’s eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, a move not recognized by any other country. Over four decades, Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods around the Arab section of the city.

Jerusalem may, in the end, but the one sticking point that can’t be overcome.  One past plan included Jerusalem being an “international” city, belonging to no country in particular but under unified control by a body such as or similar to the United Nations.  However, with Jerusalem the current capital of Israel and East Jerusalem usually declared the capital of any future Palestinian state, we seem to have a problem.

The question is whether, knowing this and all the other issues needing to be resolved, the U.S. will show some force in using its power of influence politically and monetarily (or withholding money from Israel, as the case may be) to make true change happen.

I have more to say, but since I like to keep these pretty short, I’ll hold off for a part 3.  Before I close, though, I wanted to pull a few quotes from a NY Times feature, “Room For Debate,” which features multiple people talking about a particular subject.  In this case, the issue was titled, “Israel’s Challenge to the U.S.”  Read on, and click the article title link here for more on this topic.

From Amjad Atallah

The United States has been sending its messages with carrots and great diplomatic restraint. The current Israeli government, in stark contrast, has been responding like a petulant child, outraged that it hasn’t been able to get U.S. acquiescence to its own short-term political strategy.

There is a great deal at stake in this public and private dispute between Israel and the United States. President Obama should consider responding in a similar manner, by creating his own facts on the ground, and ending all forms of U.S. cover and support of the settlement enterprise and other policies that sustain the occupation.

From Daoud Kuttab

All attempts to appease and reward Israel for its acquisition by war has resulted in pushing peace away. If President George W. Bush truly believed, and President Obama truly believes — as they both publicly stated — that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state is in the “national interest” of the United States, Washington must resolve once and for all that any Jewish settlement built on Palestinian territory forcefully taken in 1967 will not be tolerated.

Once America regains its resolve in this area, the peace train can proceed to its destination.


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 1)

Friday 19 March 2010

Well… This blog post has been a long time coming. I starting compiling articles to link and use for this post over a week ago, and I’ve been trying to continue to keep up with them ever since, but it’s been a challenge.

I wanted to write some of my thoughts on the whole U.S./Israel “dispute,” and the commentary and articles written on the subject just kept on coming!  However, in looking at all my articles, I realized that this “spat” has overshadowed and not really included an event that happened a few weeks before the U.S./Israel “issue” began and which has caused much more concern for Palestinians but not such a”sexy” news story for Americans — thus, the reason you’ve likely not heard of it!

On 21 February 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu issued a list of Israeli national heritage sites that included two West Bank sites of importance to Palestinians (Muslims in particular, though they’re significant for Jews, Christians, and Muslims).  As the NY Times said,

“[Mr. Netanyahu] said he intended to include the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as Ibrahimi Mosque, the Hebron shrine revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians as the burial place of Abraham, on the list of about 150 sites. In 1994, a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, fatally shot 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers inside the shrine.

“Mr. Netanyahu said he also planned to include Rachel’s Tomb, a shrine just inside the West Bank city of Bethlehem.”

(The full article is titled “Israel’s Plans for 2 Sites Stir Unrest in West Bank.” — I actually couldn’t find an article solely about the announcement, only was an article written once the “unrest” began… interesting.)

Oh, and did I mention that this announcement came the very same week as the anniversary of the Goldstein rampage mentioned?

Which leads to this: Israel Seals Off West Bank

“JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel because of fears of unrest.

“There have been clashes after Friday prayers at mosques in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent weeks, sparked by deadlock in peace talks and Israel’s inclusion of two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.

“Several Palestinians have been badly wounded and dozens of protesters and Israeli policemen have suffered light injuries.

“Police say only men over 50 will be allowed to pray Friday at the shrine at the center of the disturbances — the Jerusalem compound Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. There are no limitations on women.

“The closure began at midnight Thursday and will end at midnight Saturday.”

Right, so Israel basically makes an announcement that they’re going to continue to impose themselves in the West Bank, it riles up Palestinians (and shouldn’t it?) for a few weeks (likely a bit more than those summer health care town hall meetings, I’d think), and then Israel, out of  “safety concerns,” shuts down the West Bank for the weekend (for men under 50).

Oh, and then, days later, the big U.S./Israel spat begins, and the world forgets about this issue — but the Palestinians don’t.

Now for my opining: That seems to be how things work in the Middle East.  There’s a lot of slight of hand, “Quick, look over there!” happening on and it just leads us to forget about what really happening — Israel is slowly making the “facts on the ground” such that removal of Israel and Israelis from the West Bank will simply be unfeasible, and then what?  Either it’s an Israeli/Palestinian joint state (rights of all TBD) or Palestinians are somehow forced out.  Either way, this “two-state solution” everyone seems to think is the way to go isn’t the outcome.

I’m convinced there’s more than one way to peace in the Middle East, just as there’s more than one way to crack an egg (a nice non-violent alternative to that “other” euphemism).  But if the U.S. and the rest of the world continue to turn a blind eye to the oppression and injustice occurring in the West Bank, the bigger the challenge will become.

Have the events of the past 2-ish weeks shown that maybe the U.S. is taking notice to Israel’s slow infiltration of the West Bank?  Come back for pt. 2 of the Palestine/Israel show late Sunday — it only get’s better!  (And now with a part 3!)

(And if/while you’re waiting, read some comments to the NY Times article about restricted access to Muslim holy sites.)


O Little Town of Bethelehem…

Friday 26 December 2008

… How still we see thee lie!”

Or so the Christmas carol goes.  Unfortunately, Bethlehem is not the peaceful and quiet locale it likely was 2000 years ago.  To travel between Jerusalem to Bethlehem, you must pass through a checkpoint to get through “the separation/apartheid/annexation wall,” not the most peaceful experience in the world (especially if you’re a Palestinian entering Israel, which I might add, only a few lucky ones even have the ability to do so).  If you’re traveling from elsewhere in the West Bank, you’ll likely have your vehicle stopped at a checkpoint, too, and possibly stopped for hours, and if you’re truly unlucky, taken away to a jail somewhere.

The thought of Bethlehem, and thus Christmas, have had a different feeling for me this year since I traveled to the Holy Lands in the Spring.  When I sang the first hymn at our Christmas Eve service, I teared up to sing: “Oh, come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant! Oh come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem.” Amidst the reality that is the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it’s hard to think about being joyful and triumphant when traveling in the region.  Even though (at least most of the time) there are no Israeli soldiers stationed in Bethlehem, that doesn’t mean the occupation still isn’t felt in Bethlehem, and similar towns in the area.

Many who live in Bethlehem and used to work in Israel are no longer able to travel to Jerusalem since the wall construction began in 2002.  The town is nearly completely surrounded by the wall, and artisans and others have signified such reality by adding the wall to nativity scenes people set out at Christmas time.

As the world turns to think this season about the birth of Christ and the little town of his birth some 2000 year ago, let’s not forget the current reality for Palestinians living there — and remember, too, that the little baby born would have been a Palestinian himself.


Elephants and The Segregation Wall

Thursday 10 April 2008

Elephants: gray and towering over humans.  The Segregation Wall: gray and towering over humans.
And they both get old fast.

At least that’s the connection I was making in my head as I rode from Bethlehem to Ramallah, only a few days into my trip to the West Bank.

During one of the days my group was in Africa, we were able to take a day-long excursion to a park and go “on safari.”  The morning was spent on a little “water viewer,” and we got to see lots of nice animals, but the elephants were the most exciting — at least when we first saw them.  We had gone past a spot and then turned around to follow two elephants that had entered the water and began to play and head to a small island in the river.  We were all enthralled, watching them for 20 or more minutes, but we had to move on and check things out further down the river — which meant more and more elephants.  In the afternoon we traveled on land, seeking on new creatures, and when we saw elephants, the sentiment was mostly, “been there, done that.”

That “been there, done that” mentality was kind of how I felt about the Segregation Wall (picture) only a few days into my travels.  I had my first morning went through the large “Gilo 300” checkpoint on my way to Bethlehem, which was my first “up close and personal” encounter with the wall.  After we went through, we drove for a bit and I was able to view the Wall’s construction in the distance, and it looked much the same as we drove past it most of the way to Ramallah.

I’m not sure the exact route we took, but as this map suggests, virtually the entire trip included a view of the Wall, which was nice for the video camera but not so nice for the driving time.  But soon it will be much worse!  Since the car drivers must stay east of the Wall — remaining on the “Palestinian side” — if the Segregation Wall is completed, the route of which is indicated at the top of this map, it will require an extra 25 km (15 m) or more to drive around the snakelike wall as it stretches halfway to Jericho!  You may have heard that this Wall is for protection, but in the way it snakes around it acts to separate the Palestinians from their land and from one another more than anything else and pulls West Bank land into “Israel proper.”  For this reason — as well as the fact that it certainly does not follow the Green Line, the border that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War — it is many times also called “The Annexation Wall.”

It was sad for me as I realized how easily  The Segregation Wall had become an accepted reality of this place for me after only a few days.  The fact that it is not my land that is being stolen and it is not my olive trees that are being cut down makes it too easy for me to accept this Wall.  But accepting its presence as present reality doesn’t change in my mind the illegality and ugliness of its presence or my commitment to the work of ending its construction and the establishment of a situation where the current structure will be dismantled.

The falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is one of my first vivid memories.  I pray that the falling of the Segregation Wall will not be one of my last — or worse still, a memory I don’t get to have at all.