When I use the term “Occupied Palestine”, I am referring to the West Bank. Although Israel and Egypt have the Gaza Strip tightly encircled, Hamas runs Gaza. And if Israel does enter Gaza, they must do so with a full-scale military invasion. That is not the case in the West Bank, which is firmly under Israeli control.
The West Bank barrier — a Middle Eastern variation on the Berlin Wall…
Before I dive into this subject, I wish to state my perspective and biases upfront, so that everyone understands where I am coming from…
I do not have a stake in this conflict. The outcome does not affect me. I have Israeli friends and I have Palestinian friends. I do not subscribe to any religion. In response to my prior posts on Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I have received almost equal amounts of hate mail accusing me of being either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I do not believe that either side is as good as it thinks it is or as bad as the other side claims they are. I believe that the majority of Israelis and Israeli soldiers are kind and normal people. I also believe the same of the Palestinians.
I believe that for every emotionally-charged image we are presented with of Israelis or Palestinians doing something unpleasant…
…that one can also produce an image of the complete opposite:
But, I also believe in fair play. And I do not believe the Israeli government is pursuing a policy of fair play in the Palestinian Territories at this time.
Why I feel that way is the subject of this post…
Despite my interest in the subject, in this post I do not intend to delve deeply into the history of the Middle East as rivers of ink have already been spilled on that topic. And, more importantly, who lived where thousands of years ago – a subject to which great significance is attached by many participants in the Israeli/Palestinian commotion – is completely irrelevant to the current conflict.
However, I will touch upon history long enough to observe that, ironically, Israel’s greatest victory, the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, laid the foundations for today’s stalemate in the West Bank.
Israel gained East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1979, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt as part of the Camp David peace treaty. In 1980, invoking the area’s strategic importance, it effectively annexed East Jerusalem. This was followed by an annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. That leaves the West Bank…
The Green Line as it looks today:
Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, described the realities of Israel’s conquests better than I am capable of in a recent article as follows:
“To exercise control over the land without giving up its Jewish identity, Israel has embraced various policies of ‘separation.’ It has separate legal systems for traditional Israeli territory and for the territory it occupies; it divides those who reside in occupied lands based on ethnic identity; it has retained control over occupied lands but evaded responsibility for the people living there; and it has created a conceptual distinction between its democratic principles and its actual practices in the occupied territories. These separations have allowed Israel to manage the occupation for forty-five years while maintaining its identity and international status. No other state in the twenty-first century has been able to get away with this, but it works for Israel, which has little incentive to change it.”
That’s the framework of the entire Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a paragraph, but let’s be more specific…
WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE ON THE GROUND?
For the first segment of our exploration of the Palestinian Territories, we enlisted the help of Avner Gvaryahu. Avner served as a paratrooper with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the West Bank from 2004-07 and attained the rank of staff sergeant:
These days he is working with an organization named Breaking the Silence, which was formed by IDF soldiers in an effort, through former Israeli soldiers, to raise awareness of the realities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The project started with an exhibition at a Tel Aviv gallery and has since grown to include the personal testimonies of more than 700 former members of the IDF who served in the Palestinian Territories.
Avner and Breaking the Silence demonstrate the unfairness of those that issue blanket condemnations of Israel or the IDF. Breaking the Silence demonstrates that it is the Israeli government and extremist settlers that deserve criticism and not necessarily individual soldiers that are compelled to carry out orders they may not agree with. There are many Israelis fighting for better conditions for the Palestinians.
Our time with Avner was spent in the South Hebron Hills as that area exemplifies what is taking place across the entire West Bank. Later, we would explore the rest of the West Bank on our own.
Jerusalem is a good starting point for an exploration of the West Bank (It wasn’t our starting point, but it is a good one).
Almost as soon as one begins heading east from Jerusalem, one will pass into the West Bank and will begin encountering the Jewish Settlements.
This large settlement, for example, is Gilo:
A “ring neighborhood,” Gilo was established in 1973 on land Israel claims was Jewish-owned prior to the 1948 war. Today, its population of 40,000 is a mix of secular, traditional, and ultra-Orthodox Israelis.
There are plenty of other settlements ringing Jerusalem as well, such as Har Homa.
The settlements are an interesting phenomenon and there is a reason I started off with them… That is because they really stand at the forefront of the conflict and they, and their extremist inhabitants, have probably done the most damage to Israel’s reputation.
According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the International Court of Justice, and several United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements and outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal.
Being a realist though, I know that this does not mean anything because nation states only use international law when it suits there purposes.
What is interesting though is that most settlement and outposts, including many I will show you below, are also considered illegal under Israeli law.
And yet, these illegal outposts still receive services and tacit government support – services and support which are denied to adjacent Palestinian communities…
WHY DO WE FIND THIS AMBIGUOUS RESPONSE FROM THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT?
Well, the short answer is that following the conquests in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, a curious alliance took shape in Israeli society. The secular state sought effective ways to pacify (or at least control) the occupied territories. And a fundamentalist element in Israeli society considered living in these newly conquered areas a religious right, if not a duty.
In other words, there is something of a “wink wink” relationship between the government and settlers that serves as the policy for illegal outposts established for strategic purposes.
SO HOW DO THE SETTLEMENTS AND OUTPOSTS ESTABLISH THEMSELVES AND EXPAND?
Here’s how it works… There is an unspoken understanding that the government will make noises about new outposts being illegal, but will eventually make them legal. And, of course, as mentioned above, even illegal outposts are provided with military protection and more by the Israeli government.
Once an “outpost” eventually becomes legal, it becomes a “settlement” and is provided with a designated area for future development and a wider zone of protection. So, once the settlement has been established, satellite outposts spring up on the outskirts of the settlement. The outposts enlarge the buffer zone to be protected and, of particular importance, the roads leading to the outposts. The presence of just one or two settlers on Palestinian land is sufficient for the IDF to declare the area a closed military zone and evacuate the Palestinians in the area – with the result being that the Palestinians are barred from working what used to be their farmland or grazing their herds.
Below, for example, you’ll see (click on the image to enlarge it) a settlement on top of a hill. Because of its position, all of those orchards and farm fields to the left will now be inaccessible to Palestinians:
Many outposts in the West Bank are little more than Potemkin villages, but this is not particularly relevant, since the roads leading to them, according to official policy, require constant protection, in order to ensure the safety of the inhabitants (even if they consist of just one or two families). After all, the fewer the number of settlers, the more vulnerable they are, and thus, of course, they need heavier protection. “Protecting” a road means preventing the Palestinians from getting near either side of it and regulating their movement by means of barriers on those roads that they are allowed to use.
An Israeli watchtower overlooking a road:
The roads are one of the primary methods by which the West Bank is fragmented, allowing almost no mobility for the Palestinians who end up effectively locked in their enclaves.
So, in other words, the expansion of Israeli control of the West Bank is not determined so much by the number of settlers, but by the extent of the zones, from which Palestinians are excluded.
Even titled land can be requisitioned by the government of Israel for military or security reasons or for what is referred to as “public need”. In practice, much of this land is used for the expansion of outposts and settlements or to construct roads that serve them.
And so, the settlements continue to expand and establish “facts on the ground”…
HARASSMENT AS OFFICIAL POLICY?
To better understand how this looks and what this feels like on the ground, we first need to cover our ABCs… Specifically, I am referring to Zones A, B and C.
The West Bank is essentially under martial law and is divided into three different Areas: A, B and C, designating the amount of civil and military power the Israeli and Palestinians respectively exercise in each.
AREA A (about 18 % of the West Bank) Under full Palestinian civil and military control; you’ll see Israeli military signs forbidding Israelis from entering. Includes the cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Jericho, parts of Hebron and some smaller towns.
AREA B (about 22% of the West Bank) Consists mostly of roads in rural Palestinian areas. Under Palestinian civil control, but Israeli military control.
AREA C (about 60% of the West Bank) Under full Israeli control. Includes many sparsely populated areas, outskirts of towns and villages and the highway network running through the West Bank.
The crossing from Area C to Area A at the Qalandia checkpoint into Ramallah offers a good sense of how seriously the divisions between these different Areas are taken. The whole experience very much has a maximum-security prison feel to it:
A view out over the checkpoint with Ramallah in the background:
Should one wish to go the other way – from Area A to Area C – matters are far more complicated.
Vehicles and their drivers pass through this section pictured below, but, of course special permits are needed to pass between Areas A, B and C:
Most people must exit the vehicles and are herded across a no man’s land that you can see below…
…into long, slow-moving lines facing a series of tunnels. One at a time, an individual will be permitted to enter the concrete tunnel, while a mechanized voice, echoing off of the concrete walls, barks out instructions. After passing through two security doors, one passes their identification through a slot in the concrete wall. The mechanized voice will then fire questions at the owner of the identity documents and if the responses are found wanting, one will be sent back to Area A without apology or explanation. If one’s answers are deemed acceptable, one will be permitted to proceed and have their person and belongings thoroughly inspected. This is a rigorous process. I remember watching carefully wrapped gifts belonging to a family in front of us ripped open so that the contents of the packages could be more closely examined. If one passes this process as well, one may finally enter Area C.
Obviously, I would have taken a picture of the proceedings I just described if I could have.
Once through the tunnels, it is extremely unlikely that the transportation one used to arrive at the checkpoint will still be available. And so one will need to hitchhike (as we did) or flag down a passing taxi or minibus.
And don’t think it is just Palestinians that must go through this process when passing from Areas A to C… Obviously, I was speaking from personal experience when describing the above, but I also watched, with no small amount of amusement, a French diplomat being hauled off of a bus (along with the rest of the passengers) we had been traveling on and subjected to the full treatment. For someone with the coveted black diplomatic passport, she should have been permitted to pass as freely as those with the necessary permits do. However, despite her outrage and protestations, a 19-year-old kid with an M4 really doesn’t care about the nuances of the myriad laws regarding diplomats and one is just serving as an annoyance if they protest this. Any effort to pursue the matter will, of course, be disregarded by officials and since nothing will ever happen, people just go along with it. I cheerfully advised the diplomat that this presented her with a chance to experience what the Palestinians experience on a regular basis. However, she failed to appreciate the opportunity.
Below are the barriers separating Ramallah (Area A and the capital of the Palestinian Territories) from Area C… Someone that did not know where this was could not be blamed for believing that this was a picture of a prison camp:
Reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, the barrier walls are covered in murals on the Palestinian side:
So, what is the point of all of these zones and ABCs and restricted areas? “Security” is the answer that is given, but is really about control… What we’re observing is a slow-motion campaign of ethnic cleansing effected through a campaign of harassment.
Instead of driving Palestinians out by force – as was done in 1948 – the goal is simply to make life increasingly untenable over time, so that they will gradually leave their ancestral homelands of their own accord.
Emphasis is placed on areas that will amalgamate existing outposts and settlements and will carve the Palestinian Territories up into increasingly isolated sections – isolated sections which have difficulty coordinating and resisting the advancing settlers. Think of this as a physical manifestation of the old “divide and conquer” strategy.
I mentioned the ABCs above… The unspoken goal of many of the extremist settlers and those in the Israeli government appears to be to push all of the Palestinians into dense, urban ghettos, such as Hebron and Ramallah, where they can become the problem of the Palestinian Authority, while Israel enjoys the opportunity to exploit the new lands opened up in the West Bank. The euphemistic description of this process is to “mobilize” the Palestinian community into the cities.
A lone Palestinian:
This process is lubricated by a confusing and self-serving set of laws Israel established to control the West Bank. After Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war, it established military courts independent of the army command. They draw on laws from the former Ottoman Empire, Jordanian law, on the laws from the period of British rule and on a plethora of military orders issued over the past four decades.
So what sort of reality does that create in the West Bank? A reality of security barriers, settlements, checkpoints, restrictions, roadblocks, closed military areas, security zones…
On the official side, the Palestinians face every imaginable annoyance and harassment possible from the petty to the severe – Arbitrary arrests, a maddening array of restrictions and blockades, home demolitions…
Israeli officials claim that the home demolitions are merely an appropriate response to “illegal” construction. However, despite the illegality of outposts, Israelis are allowed to install electricity and establish services.
Palestinians that attempt the same will have their homes demolished.
It’s this sort of treatment, where Israelis are allowed to do things that Palestinians are not, that has produced the term “Israeli Apartheid”.
And there are all manner of such rules – streets that Israelis are allowed to walk down but Palestinians can’t. Roads that only Israelis are permitted to drive on.
In the West Bank, it is normally only Israelis that are allowed to dig wells, construct water towers, establish an electrical grid, depart the Palestinian Territories without permission, etc. And, of course, no Palestinian civilians are allowed to own weapons. Settlers, by contrast, are permitted to own fully automatic assault rifles.
The above describes just some of the official harassment. Harassment from extremist settlers can be far more brutal. And malicious…
Over the past several years, there has been a dramatic increase in Palestinians being attacked by fanatics in the settler community. This increase in violence has also been matched by a corresponding increase in arson attacks on Palestinian fields, the uprooting and chainsawing of olive orchards belonging to Palestinians and much more.
Palestinians we met told us about settlers that had shot their dogs and goats simply for the sake of cruelty. Others spoke of donkeys and chickens that had been killed. They had pictures too. Pictures just like these that can be found in seconds with a simple search online:
Other Palestinian families told us of having their sheep poisoned with blue-green pellets of barley coated with rat poison. There is also substantial documentation of this online. And it is not a pleasant death for the sheep.
Others showed us cisterns that had been destroyed by settlers and irrigation systems that had been ripped out by settlers.
Still others showed us pictures of dead animals that had been thrown into wells in order to contaminate the water.
Destroyed wells, of course, require that water be purchased. Prices for water that has to be trucked in to the West Bank are astronomical given the countless roadblocks and restrictions that must be contended with. Being compelled to pay such high prices for water that used to come for free from a well is yet another pressure point, pushing Palestinians in rural areas to give up and move to the cities.
I can already predict that my critics will scream that the above is propaganda and that I am being deceived…
However, rural Palestinians are desperately poor. They would not destroy their livelihoods for a bit of useless sympathy from a gullible Westerner. And it is not as if plenty of documentation of the above cannot be found ranging from the testimonies of the IDF soldiers that spoke with Breaking the Silence to countless UN reports to simple footage on YouTube.
This thuggish behavior from the settlers is met with compulsory inaction (more on that in a moment) by the Israeli military. One of the IDF’s primary objectives in the West Bank is to protect Israeli settlers and their property, and to this end, officers on the ground take direction from Settlement Security Coordinators – civilian liaisons who are themselves settlers.
A settlement security coordinator we encountered:
Despite numerous documented incidents of theft, vandalism and assault on the part of settler groups against Palestinian villagers (some of them children on their way to school), soldiers do not exercise force against settlers for fear of penalty.
An unfortunate amount of testimony from Breaking the Silence reads like this excerpt from a First Sergeant with the Lavi Battalion:
“I saw the settlers from Susiya beating up the Palestinians. And we tried to prevent it but it wasn’t possible…You don’t have authority over the settlers at the end of the day, that’s the issue. You can try and separate them and try not to get hit. Anything else you do… you don’t know whether you’ll end up being punished.”
That’s right. Despite their dominant and ubiquitous presence in the West Bank, the IDF has no authority over the settlers… Unlike Palestinians, Israeli civilians living in the Palestinian Territories are not subject to military or local law, but are prosecuted according to Israeli penal law. This has led to a double standard in which Israelis are given more legal rights and are punished more lightly than the Palestinians who are subject to military and local law.
And so, a soldier standing at his post can watch a settler beating up a Palestinian and all he can do is stand between them to act as a buffer and get on the radio to summon the police.
A security fence in the West Bank, helping to establish sterile areas:
Despite their inability to act against the settlers, the military is quite active in other matters though…
As mentioned above, the Israeli military is the enforcement arm of the convoluted Israeli legal regime that exists in the West Bank. Thus, they are in charge of property demolitions and the policing of settlement borders.
Avner told us that an unstated objective of the military is to instill a sense of fear in the local Palestinian populations in order to keep them in line. There are various ways of doing this, including “mock arrests” (supposedly for training purposes) and “straw widows” (the practice of temporarily taking over a home for use as an army post and keeping the family in one room or even removing them entirely).
Many Palestinians do not bother to file a complaint against Israeli soldiers or police officers though. Filing a complaint is cumbersome and can take many hours. Also when an investigator summons the complainant to give testimony, the complainant may have to wait hours at the entrance to the District Coordination and Liaison office (DCL).
Many others do not file complaints because they do not have faith that the Israeli criminal-justice system, which tends not to believe them and to protect those who harmed them, will bring them to justice. As a result, not all cases of violence are reported. And, as is, over 90 per cent of the complaints filed by Palestinians have been closed without action being taken according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Of all of the pictures I took, I believe this one below (I encourage you to click on the image to enlarge it) best encapsulates the disparities that exist… On the right, you can see the wealthy, prosperous Jewish settlement. And, on the left, you can see the squalid living conditions of the Palestinians – allowed no permanent structures and essentially just permitted to exist:
You should know that the location where the settlement on the right is now, used to be covered in olive orchards. The orchards used to belong to those you see on the left. However, the orchards were bulldozed to make way for the settlement.
And since olives were brought up, let’s talk about olives for a moment… Palestine is known as the “Land of Olives” and so, as you can probably imagine, olives are rather important to the area:
I mentioned above that Palestinians will frequently have their olive orchards destroyed.
In 2012 alone, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that settlers were guilty of vandalizing more than 7,500 trees. And according to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, Israel has uprooted 1.2 million Palestinian olive trees since 1967.
The olive oil industry is of paramount importance for Palestinians, making up 14 per cent of the agricultural income of the Palestinian Territories and supporting the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families.
Given their importance, the policy of harassment that I described above, naturally extends to olives as well. In addition to settler attacks, the olive industry specifically, and the agricultural sector at large, is affected by a stringent permit system that prevents thousands of Palestinians from accessing their land for much of the year and even during the harvest.
Often permits are only awarded (if at all) for very short periods of time, or when they are finally issued, they come too late. And, according to the UN, in 2011, 42 per cent of applications for permits to access olive groves behind the wall submitted prior to the harvest season were rejected, compared to 39 per cent in 2010.
Even when permits are granted, they are usually only valid for a few days and the Palestinian farmers are still frequently attacked by settlers.
Below is a classic example of the situation I just described… The olive orchards have been completely sealed off:
The settlers grow olives too. But the way they do it, and their motivations for doing so, are a tad different than those of the Palestinians.
See those barrels with the runty olive trees planted inside of them? Their humble appearance belies their significance. This is known as “barrel agriculture” in the West Bank:
According to Israel’s rather self-serving interpretation of Ottoman-era laws described above, land that has been left uncultivated for three years, reverts to ownership by the Sultan. Since this is not a part of the Ottoman Empire anymore, the “Sultan” is replaced by the Israeli government.
It is important to understand though that uncultivated land in the West Bank usually becomes so only because it has been placed within a “closed military zone” or rendered inaccessible by roadblocks or has an owner that is not included in the Israeli population registry (As joint land ownership is common in Palestinian communities and registration of private land is costly and time-consuming, the majority of Palestinian property in the area is not formally titled, leaving it vulnerable to seizure).
For settlers to then take ownership of the land, all they have to do is to start “working the land”. This can be accomplished by simply putting a barrel with an olive tree in it on the four corners of the land they wish to acquire. The olive tree growing in the barrel is being “cultivated” and, therefore, the land is considered under Israeli law to be cultivated as well. After seven years of maintaining the trees and paying the necessary fees, the land comes into permanent possession of the settler. One will observe dozens or even tens of dozens of these plots on a drive through the West Bank.
By this point you are probably at least slightly curious about the settlements themselves…
I must preface this section though by noting that the settlers are not one, monolithic block and that the majority of them are not violent fanatics. The reality is that each settlement possesses its own culture and reputation. Some outposts are indeed known for violent extremism, while many more settlements are inhabited by farmers or relaxed professionals, just seeking cheaper rent and attractive views.
The more established settlements are usually indistinguishable from a modern housing tract in California’s Orange County – cookie-cutter stucco homes densely packed together… The outposts, by contrast, are usually more primitive. The outposts often start off as simple caravans or plywood shacks or even just an abandoned bus before more permanent structures begin to appear.
Below are some of the specific settlements and outposts we visited in the South Hebron Hills…
Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, straddles the Judean Hills in the very center of the southern portion of the Palestinian Territories. The city is home to 165,000 Palestinians, as well as approximately 500 Israeli settlers who have lived in and around its old quarter since 1968.
Hebron is also home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, where tradition holds that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives are buried. Like the city itself, it is divided down the middle. The cave complex is the second holiest site in Judaism, but roughly half of it is set aside for Muslim worship as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
On Hebron’s outskirts can be found the settlement of Kiryat Arba that now numbers 7,200 people.
Some views of Kiryat Arba:
Kiryat Arba is a sensitive subject in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict… In early 1994, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, a Brooklyn-born Kiryat Arba resident named Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslims at prayer in Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29 worshippers and wounding 125 before he was overwhelmed by the survivors and beaten to death.
Goldstein is buried in Kiryat Arba and his grave has become a pilgrimage site for Jewish extremists; a plaque near the grave reads “To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel.”
In the weeks following the massacre, hundreds of Israelis traveled to Goldstein’s grave to celebrate Goldstein’s actions. Some visitors kissed and hugged the gravestone and even kissed the earth under which Goldstein was buried, declaring him a “saint” and “hero of Israel”.
Extremist Jewish settlers continue to venerate Goldstein and to celebrate the anniversary of the massacre in the West Bank, sometimes even dressing themselves, or their children, up to look like Goldstein:
An interesting illegal outpost not too far away is Lucifer Farm, which is also referred to sometimes as Nof Nesher (Lucifer Farm, by the way, is the name the settlers themselves use and is not a nickname the Palestinians came up with)…
The owner of Lucifer Farm is Yaakov Talia, a South African who suddenly decided he was Jewish at the end of apartheid, and moved with his family to Israel. He is apparently rather charismatic and attracts many religious young people. They spend time on his farm working and helping to take over more land.
The outpost is in the background on the left behind Avner… And there is actually a slightly better view of it in my initial picture of Avner:
The view out from the top of Lucifer Farm:
Continuing down Route 317 for a kilometer or two, one will come to the settler outpost of Avigayil (known officially as Hilltop 850). This is the entrance:
Established in 2001 by Israeli soldiers finishing their compulsory service, Avigayil is home today to about 50 people, primarily young couples recently out of the army.
By the way, I found this picture of Avigayil from back in 2002 and it illustrates quite well the comment I made earlier about many outposts consisting of little more than shacks when they are first established:
Even in 2012, Avigayil consists of little more than a ramshackle collection of modular homes and trailers. However, it is cheap. One can rent a trailer here for as little as the equivalent of $300 a month.
The residents of Avigayil are quite open about their desire to assert land claims for the Israeli state and to create a buffer zone along a “line of settlements” that includes Susiya, Maon and Carmel. A brochure we picked up in Avigayil explained to us the settlement’s crucial role in cutting off Arab settlements and provided visitors with instructions on how to make donations.
A short journey farther down Route 317 and one will find the settlement of Maon and the outpost of Havat Maon. Havat Maon has a reputation for being the most violent outpost in the entire West Bank.
In the image below, Havat Maon is located in the pines on the right (Hill 833) and Maon is off to the left:
Over the years there have been numerous cases of attacks by Havat Maon settlers on Palestinians, Israeli activists and Palestinian property, such as olive trees and sheep.
An Israeli we met in Tel Aviv relayed to us his own experiences of seeing children in Havat Maon, no older than 8 or 9, who spend their Saturdays cursing at Palestinian children who pass by and throwing rocks at them, as their parents look on or even encourage them.
The situation is so bad in Havat Maon, in fact, that since 2005, Palestinian children from the village of Tuba are compelled to wait every morning for an Israeli army escort to accompany them to their school in At Tuwani. The IDF escort is necessary in order to protect the children from the violence of the Israeli settlers of Havat Maon.
Unfortunately, many of the settlers in such places are motivated by religious ideas; that the Palestinians are subhuman and they do not belong. It is not an argument one can reason with.
You’ll notice the olive orchard in the gully below Havat Maon… This serves as a good example of the harassment and vandalism that I described above. Since the beginning of 2012, over 125 olive trees have been destroyed in this area near Havat Maon:
This is a view of the settlement of Maon:
Should one proceed farther down Route 317, one will soon come to the settlement of Carmel:
Carmel was established in 1980 and today houses approximately 70 families.
The network of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is by now so dense that a unilateral Israeli withdrawal seems utterly implausible. The religion-inspired obduracy of a large segment of the settler community would make even the smallest concession unthinkable.
Therefore, if a final settlement is reached, present circumstance suggests it will be imposed by Israel on an unwilling Palestinian Authority.
However, it seems relevant to ask what chance a country with the landlocked archipelago shape of the Palestinian Territories really has of becoming a viable nation-state? And let us not forget about Gaza – the biggest island in the Palestinian archipelago – which is completely cut off from the West Bank.
The political strategy of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been premised on the idea that security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government would make Israel feel safer and remove its primary justification for continuing to occupy the West Bank – thereby clearing the way for a Palestinian state. Ironically, owing to the success of his efforts, many Israelis have had the luxury of forgetting that there is even an occupation at all.
Thanks to the primarily American and European-financed peace that the government of Mr. Abbas has been keeping in the West Bank, Israelis have come to believe they can have their cake and eat it too. Israel, having benefited considerably from the unprecedented efforts of the Palestinian Authority to create “a good situation” for Israel in the West Bank, now appears to take Mr. Abbas for granted and lacks incentives to agree to any change.
However, Israel seems reckless to assume that the West Bank Palestinian leadership will always remain moderate, secular and pro-Western.
Palestinians today see their current leadership accomplishing nothing, hoping against reason that a bit more good behavior will bring about an independent state.
Voices wiser than mine remind us that humiliation remains the single most powerful human emotion… With that in mind, it seems unlikely this situation, the harassment and the stifling of free movement and free enterprise, is one that the Palestinians will tolerate forever.
And, in fact, for many Palestinians, longstanding debates over how best to achieve national liberation — by comforting Israel or confronting it — have been resolved by the circumstances just described. The impression that a third intifada is perhaps inevitable has begun to solidify.
The average Palestinian has lost all hope that Israel will grant them a state. Each attempt to exert what little leverage Palestinians possess has been thwarted or has proved ineffective.
Although there exists widespread apathy among Palestinians, and hundreds of thousands are financially dependent on the Palestinian Authority’s continued existence, a substantial number would welcome the prospect of an escalation, especially many supporters of Hamas, who argue that violence has been the most effective tactic in forcing Israel and the international community to act.
These individuals believe that rocks, Molotov cocktails and mass protests pushed Israel to sign the Oslo Accords in 1993; that deadly strikes against Israeli troops in Lebanon led Israel to withdraw in 2000; that the bloodshed of the second intifada pressured George W. Bush to declare his support for Palestinian statehood and prodded the international community to produce the Arab Peace Initiative, the Geneva Initiative, and the Road Map for Middle East Peace. They are also convinced that arms pressured Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister, to evacuate settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005.
For more militant Palestinian leaders, who never believed in the peace process to begin with, the lesson is clear:
“Not an inch of Palestinian land will be liberated,” Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, has stated, “while Israelis feel that controlling it exacts few costs.”
Israel argues that it cannot make peace while there is violence, and when there is no violence it sees little reason to make peace. It is an impossible situation.
WHY HAVE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT LEADERS AND CITIZENS NOT DONE MORE TO ADDRESS THE POISONOUS DISPUTE OVER THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES?
Avner commented that the separation of the day-to-day lives of most Jews – even those in the Palestinian Territories – from what Palestinians experience is total. “I have many friends who live in the West Bank, who are moral people, humanists, and they still manage to disconnect,” he added.
A former IDF soldier we met, who kindly invited us to join in the picnic he was enjoying with his girlfriend in Megiddo, summed it up even more simply when he said, “No one knows about what goes on in the West Bank. No one cares. You don’t care when you live in Tel Aviv.”
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust was the founding of a safe haven for one persecuted people at the expense of another people who themselves became persecuted in turn. If it did not have a tragic element, it would almost be comical, wouldn’t it? Given the history of suffering experienced by the Jews, one would think the Israeli government would take a more enlightened view of the situation, but I suppose human nature trumps all…
However, apartheid didn’t work in South Africa and, even just based on demographics alone, it is difficult to see how it can work permanently in the Palestinian Territories as well. But, perhaps more importantly, the festering situation in the Palestinian Territories is antithetical to the values that we in the West are supposed to represent and, in the long run, this serves to delegitimize not just Israel, but also those countries that support Israel (And, dear critics, don’t worry, for I know all about what the American government did to the Native Americans or what the British have done in Northern Ireland. But, I condemn those events as well).
Israel has proven itself capable of great things – both in the military and civilian realm.
Israel can do better than they are doing now in the Palestinian Territories.