Palestinian Territories / Places We Go

Occupied Palestine

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…

separation 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…

palestinian arrested

…that one can also produce an image of the complete opposite:

soldier with kitten

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…

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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:

the green line security fence

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:

Avner-Gvaryahu

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.

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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:

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:

west bank settlement

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:

israel watchtower

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”…

west bank settlement expansion

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:

Qalandia checkpoint

A view out over the checkpoint with Ramallah in the background:

ramallah border crossing

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:

palestine border crossing

Most people must exit the vehicles and are herded across a no man’s land that you can see below…

ramallah border crossing

…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:

occupied palestine

Reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, the barrier walls are covered in murals on the Palestinian side:

separation wall murals

west bank separation barrier

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:

occupied west bank

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…

occupied palestine

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:

donkey killed by settlers

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:

settlement-security-coordinator

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:

security fence west bank

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.

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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:

occupied west bank

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.

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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:

west bank olive orchard susiya

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:

occupied west bank

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:

barrel agriculture 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.

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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

qiryat arba settlement

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:

kiryat arba

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:

breaking the silence

The view out from the top of Lucifer Farm:

occupied palestine

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:

Avigayil outpost

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:

Avigayil

Avigayil

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:

havat maon

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:

maon settlement

This is a view of the settlement of Maon:

maon-settlement

Should one proceed farther down Route 317, one will soon come to the settlement of Carmel:

carmel settlement

Carmel was established in 1980 and today houses approximately 70 families.

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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.

separation barrier palestine

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36 thoughts on “Occupied Palestine

  1. Palestine used to be a paradise on earth. Heaven. The land of milk and honey and olives. PARADISE!! Israel ruined everything and palestine will be a paradise again when it is free. You don’t write enough about that.

    • Come on, RHAY… Paradise? I’m not saying that things have improved under the Israel occupation (the subject of the post above), but let’s not drift into fantasy land either. I doubt that unhappy people and poverty were nonexistent before the arrival of the Israelis.

      And for you to be an authority on this matter, you must be very, very old to have seen Palestine at a time when it was “free”. Just off of the top of my head, I can go back at least several hundred years when some outside force has always been in charge of Palestine. So, Palestine hasn’t been “free” for a long time before the Israelis showed up.

  2. You are way too easy on the Israeli military and police. You know they are evil. Monsters. They care nothing for the Palestinians.

    • I didn’t think I would find myself in the position of defending Israel with this post, but here we are…

      Sami, your claim that all members of the IDF and the Israeli police are evil is absurd. It is this type of thinking that is part of the problem in the conflict. Not ALL of the IDF and the Israeli police support the occupation. What about Breaking the Silence? They are made up of former IDF soldiers.

      And don’t forget that the extremist settlers hate the police and the IDF just as much, if not more, than the Palestinians. The settlers frequently attack the police and IDF as well for getting in the way of their abuse of the Palestinians… Look at some of the videos on YouTube. What do you see? Most of the time you see the police and IDF in the middle taking abuse from both sides.

      I believe your criticism would be better directed at the extremist settlers and the Israeli government officials that make the policy that the IDF and police are then ordered to carry out.

      • It’s rated ironic that you can easily excuse the actions of the israeli police/IDF because they merely follow orders that are handed down from higher authorities. Im sure you are familiar with that same logic that was given as an excuse by various SS nazi soldiers at the nuremburg trials. They figured that they were innocent of the atrocities they may have commited because they were only doing their job and “following orders”.

        Your article is very informative in many ways and I definitely consider it a good read over all; however, your views on the IDF soldiers are absurd. Any of those Israeli soldiers that commit acts against palestinian people are every bit as guilty as their higher-ups that give them the orders to do so. God has given all humans a brain and free-will and those soldiers can and should choose not to fulfill orders that are essentially immoral and unjust.

      • Thank you for your comment, NAS… I understand your point and if I gave the impression that I am “easily excus[ing]” the actions of the IDF and police, that was not my intention. However, I believe you are oversimplifying the situation.

        The majority of Israeli soldiers are not “committing acts” against Palestinians… Those that do, are certainly worthy of condemnation and criticism. But, I believe it is a mistake to generalize and to view the entire IDF as mindless robots and a force for evil. The IDF and police are made up of individuals. And every individual comes from a different background and has different opinions. Don’t lose sight of the human component. There are many Israelis (including current and former IDF personnel) that are working to improve things for the Palestinians and to get their government to change its policies.

        There are, obviously, some vile individuals serving in the IDF and the police force (Really, given the nature of the profession and the type of people it attracts, this is true of any country in the world) and I do not forgive or excuse the unforgivable things they have done. But, you are no doubt aware that military service is compulsory in Israel. Some confused eighteen-year-old conscript is not going to start disobeying orders and taking a moral stand that carries huge penalties for themselves. They just want to fit in at that age… That is human nature. I believe it is when they mature and can look back on what they did in the West Bank and what the realities in Palestine are that a sense of remorse and understanding for the need to change forms in some of their minds. And these are, potentially, some of the strongest voices for change. The government cannot easily dismiss and ridicule the voices of its own soldiers. Rather than seeing them as evil, they should be a demographic that is reached out to…

        And even if I am completely wrong, absurdly naive and wildly overoptimistic in the above statement, what is being done now is not working either… So, I am at least no more wrong than those stuck in the same, tired policies of today.

    • So many accounts have been written on the Palestinian territories (to me, it is simply Palestine), and it is still very difficult to try and write an “objective” and definitive summary that would be accepted by everyone.
      I agree with Ames 100%. Not every Israeli is an ass-extremist, not every soldier bits and humiliates Palestinians.

      Don’t forget that war is made by two, and even Arafat had quite a few skeletons in his closet that helped to prevent a sort of peaceful agreement, when peace was merely possible.

  3. Thanks for the pictures. Had not seen this area in photo before. Makes it much more real. It reminds me of a volcano with a magma dome pushing up in the crater. This is a good place to stay out of – can’t see any real solution.

    • No, I don’t see a solution either… But I also don’t believe matters can continue as they have indefinitely. It’s like your volcano analogy – I can’t predict when the volcano will blow, but when it does, I wouldn’t want to be in its path…

      The photos in this post were primarily focused on the subject of the conflict. If you’re interested in a more comprehensive view of what Palestine looks like, I created a separate post of photos (the link is below) that focuses on what the area looks like away from the symbols of the conflict:

      https://thevelvetrocket.com/2012/05/04/the-landscapes-of-palestine/

  4. Sadly, 99.9% of the people who talks about the Palestinian – Israeli issue don’t know simple facts like dates, numbers, agreements, declarations etc.

    Most the common Arab (and Jews) and of course the ‘knowing all’ western reporters don’t know history or the origin of the “occupation problem”.

    Israel didn’t take the land from Arab state. It was under the Turks and Brits regime for 500 years and then delivered to the futuristic Jewish State by the Balfour declaration; than Jordan holds it for short period (but never claimed ownership).

    Israel didn’t take the land from any Arab nation. Even the small local population didn’t call themselves Palestinians until the 1920’s! In fact, they refuse to be called “Palestinians” by the foreign nations because the name includes other people who lived in the place (including Jews, Christians and more) and preferred to be called simply Arabs.

    So what people actually means by saying “occupation”-when no country, no state and no nation involved?

    • You’re simply playing with semantics… And dwelling on what happened under the Turks or the British does not mean that Israel does not face a problem today.

      Use whatever terms you like to describe them, but the fact of the matter is that TODAY there is a large group of people living in Gaza and the West Bank that are not Israeli or Jewish. I understand that you do not want them there, but arguing about how they got there or who was where and when is irrelevant. They are there now.

      And I do not believe that the way many of the settlers and the Israeli government are treating them at present is fair.

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  7. The article goes bananas right from the second sentence: “Although Israel has the Gaza Strip tightly encircled […]”. Have another look at the map and you will see Egypt bordering Gaza. So Israel can’t encircle Gaza (tightly or not) unless there’s another war with Egypt. The rest of the piece is just as fantastic.

    • Israel, of course, has the land borders of Gaza on lockdown aside from the edge bordering Egypt that you mentioned, but they also tightly control sea traffic in and out of Gaza. I am confident that if you asked any military strategist if they had their enemy surrounded on three sides, if they would consider the enemy “encircled” that they would answer in the affirmative.

      Simply telling me that I am wrong doesn’t impress me much. Give me some specific facts on which I am wrong. I’m a reasonable person and I have no stake in this fight. So, if you show me something I have wrong, I’ll change it.

      However, either way, I’m glad to receive your comment. In the previous comments, I was getting beaten up for being too pro-Israel and so your comment means that both sides are criticizing me. This is exactly what I want because if both sides are unhappy it means I probably have gotten as close as possible to the truth by ending up in the middle.

      I don’t know if you live in Israel or not, but I would guess that you do (or have) given your point of view. So, tell me, have you ever traveled through the West Bank?

      • How specific do you want the facts? Let’s start with a dictionary.

        http://www.thefreedictionary.com/encircled

        en·cir·cle (ĕn-sûr′kəl)
        tr.v. en·cir·cled, en·cir·cling, en·cir·cles
        1. To form a circle around; surround. See Synonyms at surround.
        2. To move or go around completely; make a circuit of.

        Now to the term “lockdown”:

        http://gisha.org/updates/1965
        October 20, 2013. The restrictions on Rafah Crossing led to a strange turn of events in September: Erez Crossing has now become the main gateway into and out of the Gaza Strip. […] nearly 5,000 exits by Palestinians were recorded at Erez Crossing during the month of September, reflecting a 20% increase from the 4,150 monthly average in the first half of 2013.

        Quote from you: “In the West Bank, it is normally only Israelis that are allowed to dig wells […]”

        The water issue is extensively discussed here:
        http://missingpeace.eu/en/wp-content/uploads-pmpeace1/2013/01/MT_Lauro-Burkart.pdf
        and here:
        http://www.biu.ac.il/SOC/besa/MSPS94.pdf

        Since the Oslo Agreements, dozens, if not hunderds of new wells have been approved by the Joint Water Committee for the Palestinians. So no, it is not so that only Israelis are allowed to dig wells. But the water catchment and storage areas are a joint asset and have to be managed jointly, so unauthorized wells that drain and pollute aquifers are being destroyed, as they should be.

        Another quote from you: “And, of course, no Palestinians are allowed to own weapons.” Say what? How about their own police?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_National_Security_Forces

        More quotes:
        “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 […]”

        Firstly, Gilo is a neighbourhood of Jerusalem, so you don’t actually leave Jerusalem to go to Gilo. Secondly, even if you don’t consider it to be part of the city, it is to the South, not to the East. Lastly, even if you call these neighbourhoods of Jerusalem “settlements”, they are by no means exclusively Jewish – Arabs live there as well. The term “Israeli communities” would be much more descriptive.

        And so on and on. If you can’t even remember the Palestinian Police carries weapons or know South from East, your writing can not be taken very seriously.

        I lived in Israel for many years, most of which in Ariel, in Samaria. So I know the area quite well, yes. In those years, by the way, I’ve met local Arabs as well, for example, as colleagues of mine in a factory where I used to work. So I know their life, too.

      • Ahh, yes, that’s better this time…

        RE: Encirclement. This is simply playing with semantics. As the definition you cited mentions, a synonym for encirclement is “surround”. Israel frequently describes itself as being “surrounded” by hostile powers. However, one side of Israel faces the ocean. Therefore, Israel really only has potentially hostile powers on three sides. Regardless, I believe it is fair for them to say that they are “surrounded” or “encircled” as any strategist would. Ask Vlad Putin if he would consider Russia “encircled” if NATO countries were pressing in on three sides of Russia.

        You are no doubt aware that the population of Gaza is slightly under 2 million people. Or, to be more exact, 1,763,387 people to use a 2013 estimate. And yet, for the ENTIRE month of September 2013 less than 5,000 people were permitted to exit. Do you not see that your own data is making my point for me? Do you understand what a minuscule sliver of the population that is? And you didn’t mention the fact that a permit is needed to exit Gaza. Now, you will undoubtedly argue that this is fair since Israel has the right to allow whom they want into their country. However, the Erez Crossing is the only land crossing for the movement of people between Gaza and Israel and the West Bank. And, yet, Gaza and the West Bank are supposedly the same country? Consider if Israelis needed special permission to travel from Eilat to Tel Aviv from a hostile foreign power. How well would that go over? Or suppose that Israelis needed special permission (permission that is extremely difficult to obtain) to exit Israel at all. You know that comparisons would immediately be made to concentration camps and the Jewish ghettos of World War II. Where does the line between a glorified prison camp and a free country rest in your mind? And, just for the record, I’m not arguing that Israel should be compelled to just allow anyone in. However, a better solution than the one currently being utilized surely exists.

        Your comments about water make me think that you have a good sense of humor, Michael. Again, your data makes my point for me. Dozens of wells? The population of the West Bank is in the millions. How can dozens or even hundreds of wells be adequate for a population of that size? How many wells have Israelis dug? Have you examined the per capita usage of water between “Israeli communities” – as you euphemistically put it – and those of “Palestinian communities”? Why do Israelis get to use more water? Why is it Israelis that decide on water usage in Palestine at all?

        I thought it was clear in my comment about weapons that I was referring to civilians, but in case that is not obvious, I will revise the sentence to clarify this.

        First of all, I never said that Gilo is to the east. I said that once one passes into East Jerusalem that they will begin to encounter settlements. Then I have a picture of Gilo – which happens to be a settlement. It also happens to be in East Jerusalem. If one heads east from the center of Jerusalem, will they not find themselves in East Jerusalem? Therefore, even though you twisted my words, it is not inaccurate to state that Gilo is east of Jerusalem proper. No matter, these are absolute trivialities and you know it. It is irrelevant if Gilo is north, south, east, west or underneath Jerusalem. Even if Gilo didn’t exist at all, the substance of the article does not change.

        Further, your preference for the term “Israeli communities” seems odd. The West Bank is supposed to be a separate country. Why are “Israeli communities” in another country? How many “Jordanian communities” or “Egyptian communities” does one find scattered throughout Israel?

        Lastly, on this point, since you lived in Ariel you are no doubt aware that it is not as simple as you make it sound for Arabs to even get near the settlements, let alone to live in them. Specific to your former community, there exist several plots of privately owned Palestinian land within the boundaries of Ariel. And, yet, the owners are not allowed access to them. If I recall correctly, this is a circumstance that even Wikipedia mentions on their post on Ariel. You know as well as I do, that that is not fair.

        By playing with semantics and trying to pick at trivialities, you leave the impression that you are crudely attempting to deflect from the simple fact that an unfair double standard exists in the West Bank. Do you really not see any problems with the current way of doing things? Your own data should give you cause for reflection that perhaps the points you are arguing are self-serving. Most settlements are illegal even under Israeli law. Why would that be the case if everything was as rosy on the West Bank as you attempt to imply?

      • Hi Michael,
        I was checking on the pdf you attach regarding water issues between Israel and West Bank/Gaza, I find the first one interesting although it overlooks basic facts:
        first of all the reference of Water Wars not being related to politics is bullshit, the term ‘water wars’ was coined with Bolivia in 1998 and it 100% a political issue, aggravated because of mismanagement and corruption.

        The problem that this paper presents to me is that it oversees the basic facts such as: Israel controls 85% of water sources in the West Bank, diverts most of the natural date flow into Israel itself; its blockage on Gaza has led to serious water sanitation issues. In Gaza water issues are in part due to the blockage but also because Israel is carrying out desalination process and it’s over-pumping water through Gaza.

        The West Bank, unlike Gaza, is very rich in water resources, basically because of hills and rainfall of the Jordan Valley, but Israel controls 85% of it and sets water quotas to the Palestinians, to use their own water. Despite of what the Oslo agreement states, Israel has built tons of pipes that divert the flow of water into their side, leaving the Palestinians with not even 20% (some say not even 14%) of the water they need for drinking and agriculture.
        There are in fact vetos to drill for Palestinians and the prohibition to enable the wells that have been broken. I witnessed one of them in Al Walaja, right in front of Har Gilo settlement as the farmer we visited that day showed us the papers that forbid the construction of wells in the area. When he did try to do something about it, guess what? Vandals came and burnt his trees. And to clear, Har Gilo is a settlement, not a Jerusalem proper, it is one the fastest growing illegal settlements in the West Bank. Not accurate when you say that Arabs reside in settlements too since each one of these colonies are heavily guarded by military posts that closely watch the security of settlers, even when they go around beating people or burning trees. Again. Settlements, not communities. Let’s not be biased here and look the fact with objective eye.

        Israel has kept on destroying cisterns, the latest ones where in 2012 with more than 20 cisterns I think that were demolished probably in order to disable any attempt for building infrastructure in the Palestinian Territories. There’s no joint management on these wells, not even in Nablus, where technically the idea was discussed. Same thing happened in 1967 where more than 100 Palestinian wells were destroyed to divert water into Israeli pipes.
        The Oslo Agreement states that the Palestinians should have more water access, but Israel disagrees of course, therefore they prevented the Palestinians in Nablus (just one example) to access the wells by placing check-points, how surprising.. Check-points that by the way, I’m sure you know, have regulations and policies for the Palestinians that change almost every week.

        The big issues come when summer hits. did you ever hear of Mekorot? Israeli/Dutch water company that every year in June closes several valves they supply water to the Palestinian towns but not to the settlements.

        You say you were in Ariel, right? So I’m sure you know that Ariel is one of the settlements that are taking seat right on a big aquifer, where there is also a Palestinian agriculture district. Ariel is also where the Wall cuts more into the ground, limiting the flow of water up to surface. I haven’t been there but a friend who volunteered with us has and he showed us the photos. It’s quite impressive.

        As per the literature, I found the first paper you propose quite interesting even though it skips lots of facts. The second one you put in your reply to Justin is written by a Zionist… how neutral can that be?
        I’ll be happy to contribute with literature and figures on the water issues that will not have a fanatic or religious pre-set.

  8. To Justin:

    1- I din’t imply in any way everything was rosy, so don’t put words in my mouth.

    2- The “West Bank” is not a separate country. And there are illegal Arab communities in Israel. Illegal construction by Jews or Arabs is dealt with as to the Israeli law.
    Sometimes with more, sometimes less success.

    3- I never referred to how easy it is for Arabs to get near Ariel (or other Israeli towns and villages). I do know there are many Arabs studying in the university in Ariel. And many Arabs from surrounding villages work there and in industrial zones nearby.

    4 – “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” – obviously, you imply Gilo is to the East of Jerusalem and not in “East Jerusalem” (whatever that is). You misread your own words – “heading east from Jerusalem” is not “into East Jerusalem”. How can East Jerusalem be to the South of Jerusalem? Thats not semantics or triviality, thats basic geography. And Gilo is a neighbourhood of the city of Jerusalem, the one and only.

    5- Wells in the modern world are drilled, not dug. I merely quoted your phrasing. Such wells are industrial sites, not the ones you envisage as a hole in the ground with a bucket (a European image, not seen a lot in the MidEast where ground water is too deep for such wells). Per capita water consumption in Israel: 170 m3/year. Palestinians in Judea & Samaria: 129 m3/year. 2006 figures from the second paper I quoted. That paper also lists the water plants and wells in Judea and Samaria. Have a look at it. Oh and in 1967 those figures were 508 m3/year in Israel and 93 m3/year for Palestinians in Judea & Samaria. Israel has reduced its water consuption 3 times! A unique feat by any standard. There is a signed agreement on the water issues between Israel and the PA, and Israel has fulfilled all its commitments it signed.

    6- Gaza is at war with Israel and complaining about travel restrictions by your enemy in wartime is a bit weird to say the least. Even the UN admits Israel’s restrictions such as the naval blockade on Gaza are legal. Israel is kind enough to allow movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, facilitates the export of Gaza produce and treats Gazans in its hospitals. Israel supplies Gaza with fuel and medicines. Its more than any other country has done for its enemy at wartime ever. Gaza and Judea and Samaria are not a single country. They are distinct territories ruled by different governments.

    7- That brings us to the final (and first) point again. Israel does not encircle Gaza. Egypt has a border with Gaza. Its not semantics nor a triviality. Israel is at war with Gaza and Egypt is not. Gazans wishing to exit (or enter) Gaza are kindly invited to do so via the Egyptian border. The movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is Egypt’s headache.

    • 1) Ok, so how do you see things? Rather than attack my view, share what yours is… Further, I’d love to know your solution(s)? And I’m not being facetious.

      2) You’re making my points for me again… No, the West Bank is not a country. That’s the problem. It is supposed to be. Gaza and the West Bank are supposed to be one country – the State of Palestine – with its capital in Ramallah.

      Oh, and with few exceptions you know that illegal Jewish communities are dealt with very differently than Palestinian communities.

      3) Fair enough. Nothing to add to this one… However, I would be curious to hear more about what day-to-day life in Ariel was like.

      4) Ha, this is becoming very silly… I misread my own words? Is it possible I might understand my own words better than you and that perhaps you misread them? And that now pride is preventing you from conceding this point? You claim not to be familiar with East Jerusalem? Google “East Jerusalem” and you’ll be able to learn quite a lot about it. The first thing that will come up is the Wikipedia entry. Take a look at the map and what do you see? Gilo is on the map of East Jerusalem…

      5) Actually, you will still find many wells across the Middle East that are excavated by hand. Poke around some of the other countries on this site and you will find quite a few examples.

      “Israel has fulfilled all its commitments”… You breeze through that one, but it is a fairly important point. According to whom has Israel fulfilled its commitments other than Israeli or settler representatives? And, again, why is Israel making decisions at all on Palestinian water issues when these decisions should be made by the State of Palestine?

      6) You didn’t read my previous comments on this very carefully as you are simply rehashing what I already stated yesterday… I would simply reiterate that there has to be a better way than the current way of doing things.

      Yes, Gaza and the West Bank are ruled by different governments, but they are not supposed to be. Are you not aware of the fighting between Fatah and Hamas that culminated in 2007 with Hamas seizing control of Gaza? Google “Palestinian Civil War” or “Fatah-Hamas Conflict”. This issue remains unresolved. Now, personally, I think it is totally unworkable to have Gaza and the West Bank run as the same country (I would draw a comparison to Pakistan and East Pakistan which didn’t work out so well either), but, again, that is the way that it is supposed to be.

      7) I’m not even sure what the disagreement is here except over the meaning of the word “encircle”. If you look at a world map, there aren’t many countries that have three or more of their borders (land or sea) controlled by another country. I, as would almost any strategist, would argue that any such country finding itself in that position is “encircled”. But, if “encircled” or “surrounded” has a different meaning to you, that’s fine.

      • I did not say I can offer solutions, I was just pointing out inaccuracies in your reasoning. As to the governance of Gaza and Judea and Samaria – I was about to make the reference to Pakistan but you’ve done the job already.

        “Supposed to be one country” – why? You even say it is unworkable, but stick to unworkable solution – who’s being silly here?

        “East Jerusalem” – just because some parts of Jerusalem were occupied by Jordan for two decades doesn’t make them a separate city. Jerusalem has more than 3000 years of history as a united city and 20 years of separation don’t just erase that.

        Decisions on water issues are not made unilaterally when water catchments, aquifers and downstream areas cross boundaries. So no, decisions are not to be made unilaterally by any state on these matters. Like Ethiopia can’t just shut off the Nile flow to Sudan and Egypt.

        As to the final point – I keep coming back to it because you just can’t admit Israel is not encircling Gaza, nor keeping it in lockdown. Aside from Gaza’s borders with Israel being partially open to people and goods, Gaza still borders Egypt and you keep ignoring that as if Egypt does not exist.

      • The “inaccuracies” you reference are pedantic. And yet you remain silent on issues of substance such as separate legal systems in the West Bank and Israel proper, you remain silent on barrel agriculture, you remain silent on former IDF soldiers speaking out against Israel’s activities in the West Bank, you remain silent on “barrel agriculture”, you remain silent on Havat Maon, you remain silent on security zones being established around illegal outposts in order to drive Palestinians off of their land, you remain silent on the continued expansion of Israeli outposts and settlements despite the majority of them being illegal even under Israeli laws, etc., etc.

        I say “supposed to be one country” because that is the goal for Gaza and the West Bank that Israel itself has agreed to. That isn’t something that I dreamed up. I stated that I don’t believe the two – Gaza and the West Bank – can work as one country, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t millions of Palestinians living there now that are getting a raw deal with the way things are being run now.

        Given your comments about East Jerusalem and your use of the names Judea and Samaria, I am left with the impression that you believe the West Bank should belong entirely to Israel. Well, in slow motion, that is becoming a reality. This has happened before as many Palestinians were driven from their homes during the founding of Israel in 1948. Certainly, Israel is not alone in this sort of behavior. Few countries exist where one population did not drive out another at some point in their history (such as the United States did to the Native Americans). However, this doesn’t make it right. And Israel itself has stated as much by instituting laws that make the majority of settlements and outposts illegal and by paying lip service to the idea of a separate country – led by the Palestinian Authority – being established in the West Bank.

        East Jerusalem exists beyond the 1948-1967 period. East Jerusalem today represents the boundary where Jerusalem becomes part of the West Bank. That is not an arbitrary point since the West Bank is an acknowledged entity. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I wish things worked that way because then I wouldn’t pay taxes and I wouldn’t have drivers in front of me blocking the passing lane.

        I absolutely agree that water issues impacting multiple parties should not be made unilaterally, which is why I and many others have been critical of the current state of affairs in the West Bank. I’m glad you’re coming around on this one…

        Israel, not Egypt, controls all maritime traffic in and out of Gaza. Israel, not Egypt, controls all air traffic in and out of Gaza. Israel controls all land around Gaza aside from a narrow section at the bottom bordering Egypt. I remain quite comfortable in stating that Israel has Gaza locked down and surrounded (and I would reiterate my earlier point about issues of substance being ignored by you).

  9. Justin, I didn’t sign up to correct all the faults in your article, just pointed out a few. I’m not your research assistant. The so-called West Bank is just a label assigned to the territory illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948-1967. Its not a country nor will it be. Even if Israel evacuated all the Jews living there and all its soldiers and the PA would announce the Palestinian state, it would be overrun by salafist extremists within about 30 seconds, which would not benefit the Arab population in any way (see Syria).

    I don’t know what you mean by my “coming around” on the water issues. I still know Israel has done what it could and had to establish joint water management and the PA has wasted and/or stolen all the money it got from donations to built water infrastructure and now blames Israel for lack of clean water.

    At least say that Israel AND Egypt keep Gaza “locked down”, even if Gaza is not “locked down” (the Emir of Qatar has recently visited).

    • Resolving what to do with a conquered population is indeed a thorny problem… However, I would encourage you to contemplate whether what you’re advocating is really fair and just. The Palestinians are not new arrivals to the area you refer to as Judea and Samaria and they have a connection to the land as well.

      “territory illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948-1967”

      What makes the Jordanian occupation illegal, but the Israeli occupation legal? Both Jordan and Israel conquered the territory. Therefore, both occupations should be legal or illegal. Do you not see the double standards inherent in such comments?

      And who occupied that territory before Jordan? It wasn’t Israel… Surely, you are not suggesting that because Jewish communities (among others) existed in the West Bank thousands of years ago that that now that gives modern Israel full rights to the land regardless of who lives there now? You know, the Romans were there for a while too. By your logic, Italy could rightfully invade and throw all of the Israelis and Palestinians out of the West Bank despite the slight changes in circumstances over the past thousands of years.

      The Europeans eventually gave up (most of) their colonies after deciding that the blood and treasure being invested in them wasn’t worth it. I wonder if Israel may make the same calculation in the future?

      During this discussion I’ve noticed you employ the following tactics, in full or in part:

      1) Fallacy of relevance – the classic “red herring” or distraction: You try to divert attention from the argument at hand and avoid debating the issue of fairness directly.

      2) Ad hominem logical fallacy: You try attacking the messenger and not debating the message.

      By employing such evasive tactics you unwittingly admit the correctness of my original argument by implication.

      I suspect that is because even you recognize that making the Palestinians a permanent underclass is not a fair solution.

      • “…it would be overrun by salafist extremists within about 30 seconds, which would not benefit the Arab population in any way (see Syria).”

        Oh, I forgot to touch on this point… With the demographics being what they are, if you think that the current policy of cramming the Palestinians into ghettos in Hebron, Nablus, etc. won’t produce its share of head hackers, I’m afraid you’re sorely mistaken.

      • The territory of the British Mandate was intended by the international community (represented by the League of Nations) for the creation of a Jewish state. That alone makes the possession of these areas by Israel legal. Calling Jerusalem, the cradle of Jewish culture and civilization a “colony”, is as silly as calling London an Anglo-Saxon colony and demanding it to be exchanged for peace with the Scottish (or sabre tooth tigers, who were there even earlier). And yes, you are doing that – the Old City of Jerusalem was in the Jordanian occupation zone and is in what you call “East Jerusalem”, so all Jews living there are, according to you, are in an “illegal settlement”. And who cares if the Jews of Jerusalem were purged by the conquering Jordanians.

        The so-called “Palestinian people” could have their own independent state long time ago. They were offered opportunities in 1937, 1948, 1990’s, 2000 and so on. Their leadership refused each time, claiming the whole land and claiming it Jew-free, too. Each time they were left with less and less, and will end up with nothing.

        I haven’t heard suggestions for solutions from you either, by the way. But since you insist… There are possible solutions, a number of them.

        There is already a Palestinian state on 80% of the territory intended for the Jewish homeland – its called Jordan. Israeli-Jordanian confederation, for example. Let’s not forget that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria are Jordanian citizens (the evocation of citizenship by Jordan was of course illegal and is completely meaningless). Evacuation of the Arabs to Arab states and their rehabilitation and resettlement there is another option, the Arab states surely can and must pay for that as a compensation for the forced expulsion of their Jewish citizens. Far-reaching autonomy for the local Arabs is also an option (the poorly written Oslo agreements were a move in that direction). There are other options too, but…

        All possible solutions have two things in common – the Arabs must give up their goal of destroying the Jewish state and they must acknowledge responsibility for their fate and their mistakes in the past. I don’t see either happening, and you’re making it less probable. First step in resolving the conflict is getting the facts straight. You do not have the facts straight, as I have pointed out. Instead, you repeat vile anti-Israel propaganda. Your article is not contributing to a solution, but deepens the conflict.

  10. Michael, Michael, Michael… We were making such good progress and now, aside from distorting my words, you’re trying to distort history as well?

    Rather than wasting an hour of a lovely Sunday picking apart your points one by one, let’s just say that, regardless of how you try to justify it, I remain firmly of the belief that it is unfair to throw someone off of their land whose family has been there for generations…

    • So the Jews of Hebron, Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are entirely in their right to return to the plots of their anscestors. Good to hear you’ve seen the logic of that.

      Since you consistently refrain from responding to the content of my criticism of your writing (namely that you’ve got major facts wrong), I see no point in further discussion. Have a nice day.

      • It took you a while, but you make this much simpler by finally admitting your true feelings.

        This discussion could go on for eternity, but there is no need for that because it will always follow this same formula:

        Michael: Because of A, B and C, it is perfectly acceptable to throw all of the Palestinians off of their land.

        Justin: Well, you’ve distorted the facts on A, B and C, but, regardless, I think it is unfair to throw the Palestinians off of the land they have lived on for many generations.

        Michael: Well, because of X, Y & Z, the Palestinians deserve it and it is perfectly acceptable to throw them off of their land.

        Justin: Well, you’ve not quite got X, Y & Z right, but, regardless, I think it is unfair to throw the Palestinians off of the land they have lived on for many generations.

        Michael: Well, because of D, E & F, it is perfectly acceptable to throw… etc., etc.

        The crux of the matter is a moral question, not one that you can easily squirm around or obfuscate with attacks, distortions and logical fallacies. In fact, it’s even a very simple moral question:

        Is it acceptable to throw someone off of land they and their family have lived on for generations?

        I don’t want to make assumptions about your motivations, but whatever they are, you have admitted that you find this to be completely acceptable.

        I do not.

        Believe me, I’m a realist. I know that the one with the gun makes the rules and I accept that our world works that way. But, that doesn’t make it right.

        There’s really nothing else to say. No amount of argument from me can provide you with a conscience and no amount of argument from you will ever get me to abandon mine.

  11. Justin, for the record, I have not said anything like you claim I have said. But since you’re not using direct quotes from my texts (like I used from yours), you already know that. Keep going banana’s, and have a nice day.

    • Seriously, Michael? You’ve stated above that you don’t even acknowledge the existence of Palestine:

      “…The so-called West Bank is just a label assigned to the territory illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948-1967. Its not a country nor will it be…”

      Not exactly a call to arms for defending the rights of Palestinians, is it? You can’t even bring yourself to call them Palestinians, instead referring to them as “Arabs” throughout your comments. The status quo, which you have consistently defended, is one of continually expanding settlements and displacement of Palestinians to urban ghettos.

      In the comment directly above this one, you confirm your belief that:

      “…the Jews of Hebron, Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are entirely in their right to return to the plots of their anscestors (sic)…”

      For them to continue to “return”, obviously those living there now must be displaced.

      Or how about this line in which you propose:

      “…Evacuation of the Arabs to Arab states and their rehabilitation and resettlement there…”

      I’m not your research assistant and so I won’t trouble myself with continuing, but you (or anyone else) can go back and see for yourself…

      I understand. I’d be embarrassed as well if I’d said some of the things that you did. However, your previous comments are there for all to see and those statements from you are not ambiguous.

      • I was merely quoting PLO sources.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuheir_Mohsen

        “Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese there are no differences. We are all part of ONE people, the Arab nation. Look, I have family members with Palestinian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian citizenship. We are ONE people. Just for political reasons we carefully underwrite our Palestinian identity.”

        I did not defend the status quo, again, you’re attributing to me views I have not expressed. Further, you contradict yourself by claiming I advocate “throwing Palestinians off their land” – not exactly status quo, is it?

        You said “I remain firmly of the belief that it is unfair to throw someone off of their land whose family has been there for generations…” – I followed on your thought by applying it to those Jews expelled from Jerusalem and Gush Etzion in 1948 and from Hebron in the 1930’s, and I said they have the right to return there. I guess I should have been more specific with the dates, perhaps you’re not familiar with the destiny of the Jews who lived in areas occupied by the invading Jordanian army in 1948 and those massacred in Hebron in the 1930’s.

        You said “obviously those living there now must be displaced”. I said nothing of the kind. Do you believe it is impossible for Jews and Arabs to live in the same place? What about Haifa or Acco or Jaffa? Don’t Jews and Arabs live there side by side peacefully?

        You challenged me to suggest possible solutions to the conflict, I provided them to you. You may like or dislike them, but I believe they are feasible under the conditions I listed – that the Arabs must give up their goal of destroying the Jewish state and they must acknowledge responsibility for their fate and their mistakes in the past. In the meantime, I haven’t heard a single meaningful suggestion from you as to what can or should be done.

        Returning to my very first point – the “encirclement” of Gaza. Any military strategist will say that a blockade is only as strong as its weakest point. So without Egyptian blockade of Gaza, Israel’s efforts would be meaningless. Any reference to the “blockade” of Gaza should include Egypt’s efforts.

        You’re closing with “those statements from you are not unambiguous.” So my statements are ambiguos? You mean I am incosistent? That I didn’t get.

  12. I can’t believe how arrogant Michael comes across. He is not helping his cause at all by behaving in such a way. He is completely wrong about the water issues in Palestine too. This article by Charlotte Silver talks about it –

    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/03/israel-water-miracle-palestine-20143247252981587.html

    Israel’s water miracle that wasn’t
    Covering up a crime in plain sight: The dual function of Israel’s water industry.
    Last updated: 30 Mar 2014 11:25

    It was impressive at first: Long stretches of seemingly barren, beige hills punctuated by abundantly fertile farms growing oranges, dates and watermelons, first appearing in southern Israel in the middle of the 20th century. Unlike the gaudy, fake lakes and gushing fountains of Las Vegas plopped in the middle of the Mojave desert, this prodigious agricultural production was not meant to signal decadence; rather, it was a testament to Israel’s prudent husbandry of the land, an intelligence and expertise that not only enriched the region but legitimised the presence of Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians.

    Israel credits its use of desalination plants and drip-irrigation with enabling the desert to bloom – the iconic image reinforcing the still-lingering notion that the land of historic Palestine was a dry one, while further impressing Israel’s world audience with the young country’s wizardry with water.

    Less attention is given to the Knesset report commissioned in 2002, nearly four decades after Israel’s national water carrier began diverting the Jordan river to Israeli citrus orchards in the Negev region. The report concluded that the region’s ongoing water crisis – a desiccated Jordan river and shrinking Dead Sea – was “primarily man-made”.

    Less attention is given to the Knesset report commissioned in 2002, nearly four decades after Israel’s national water carrier began diverting the Jordan river to Israeli citrus orchards in the Negev. The report concluded that the region’s ongoing water crisis – a desiccated Jordan river and shrinking Dead Sea – was ‘primarily man-made’.

    In December 2011, Ben Ehrenreich reported the unrecuperated cost of such agricultural opulence: It required half of Israel’s water while providing only three percent of the country’s GDP. Nevertheless, the extravagance was deemed necessary by the commission, which determined it held a “Zionist-strategic-political value, which goes beyond its economic contribution”.

    But there is another motive behind peddling the myth of eternal water scarcity in Palestine: If you argue that you’re creating potable water out of what was nothing, you’ve already successfully obscured your theft of something.

    In fact, Palestinians have not historically wanted for water. But the characterisation of Palestine as a desperately arid land has, as Clemens Messerschmid wrote in 2011, “naturalised” the water crisis that Palestinians experience every day. Gaza, which is currently subsisting off of a water source that is 95 percent non-potable, long served as an oasis for travellers crossing from Cairo to Damascus. This history – and more – is important to consider amid the recent enthusiastic clamour over Israel’s miraculous water surplus that promises to provide a glimmer of hope for peace and cooperation, but is, in truth, a helpful cover-up for its ongoing theft and exploitation.

    The mythology is currently in a renaissance.

    At the beginning of this month, Netanyahu paid a visit to California – which has experienced record-low rainfall this year – to create a pact with Governor Jerry Brown that vaguely promised a collaboration on future projects, especially those concerning water conservation and production. To nervous Californians, Netanyahu crowed, “Israel doesn’t have a water problem!” – no doubt expecting to dazzle his audience with this miracle before trotting out the virtues of his country’s innovation and industry.

    The statement was a stunning show of hubris and mendacity in light of the fact that Netanyahu’s country has long deprived Palestinians of their own water.

    The visit – and the message it carried – are just the latest in the PR ploys aptly called “bluewashing”. Israel doesn’t have a “water problem” because it steals water from Palestinians.

    The theft

    The Israeli military has governed all sources of water in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 and 1974, respectively. Originally gained by military conquest, its control has subsequently been affirmed through the Oslo Accords and, increasingly, the work of the Palestinian Authority and international NGOs.

    A brief review of the state’s dominion over water resources shows that Israel diverts the Jordan river into Lake Tiberias, as do Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon to their respective territories, leaving the Dead Sea with a declining sea-level. Flaunting international laws against the pillage of occupied lands, Israel controls the mountain aquifer – 80 percent of which lies beneath the West Bank – and over-extracts it for agriculture, as well as settlers’ pools and verdant lawns. In 2009, the Mountain Aquifer supplied 40 percent of Israel’s agricultural needs and 50 percent of its population’s drinking water.

    Israel also takes more than its share from the coastal aquifer that lies beneath Gaza, and diverts the Wadi Gaza into Israel’s Negev desert, just before it reaches Gaza. Lastly, Israel’s wall conveniently envelops wells and springs that lie east of the Green Line.

    With all these sources of water, it’s no miracle that Israelis can comfortably consume about five times as much water as Palestinians.

    In 1982, the Ministry of Defence – then led by Ariel Sharon – sold the entirety of the West Bank’s water infrastructure to semi-private Mekorot for one symbolic shekel. What was once a military acquisition became the property of a state-owned company; today the Palestinians in the West Bank buy over half of their water from Mekorot, often at a higher price than nearby settlers.

    Founded in 1937, Israel’s water company, Mekorot, has been crucial to the Zionist state-building project, and to that end has aided in Israel’s erasure of its original boundaries. Israeli occupation watchdog group, Who Profits, notes that on Mekorot’s map of its National Water System, there is no Green Line.

    Mekorot’s governance of water ensures Palestinians remain on their knees of dependence on Israel – prohibited from using the water flowing beneath their feet or develop their own water infrastructure.

    Mekorot’s governance of water ensures Palestinians remain on their knees of dependence on Israel – prohibited from using the water flowing beneath their feet or develop their own water infrastructure. The years immediately following Israel’s usurpation of Palestine’s water resources saw a sharp 20 percent decline in Palestine’s agricultural production. Nearly 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have no access to running water, nor do Palestinians have the ability to collect water themselves without explicit permission, which is rarely granted.

    Mekorot executes this crime of theft all the while Israel maintains that it has the solutions to scant rainfall and scarcity of water, and that Mekorot provides humanitarian assistance to parched and needy Palestinians.

    March 22 marked World Water Day, a day commemorated globally every year since 1993. This year, the day was intentionally chosen to kick off a week-long protest against Mekorot – dubbed International Week Against Mekorot – that will end on March 30, Palestine’s Land Day. The campaign is crucial amid the current amplification of Israel’s trumpeting its water tech prowess.

    Mekorot began expanding internationally in 2005; a year that also saw the launch of Brand Israel Group, a multimillion-dollar initiative to improve the country’s image abroad, in which the exporting of commodities plays a useful role. Israel is presented as the country that provides an answer to one of the globe’s most ominous threats – global warming, drought, and water scarcity.

    “Israel has taken the challenge of water scarcity and built an export industry in water tech,” Will Sarni of Deloitte Consulting, recently wrote, noting that the industry saw a 170 percent increase in exports in six years. McKinsey has estimated that the global water market is the third or fourth largest commodity market in the world.

    And, while the Palestinian Authority long resisted desalination projects as a substitute for restoring water rights to Palestinians, today it has embraced these technical solutions – yet another indication of its impotence as a political entity.

    Yet in spite of all this, not everyone is buying Israel’s campaign of bluster and braggadocio. Proponents of BDS, a movement calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel, have already scored significant victories against Mekorot: The Netherlands and Argentina recently cancelled contracts with Mekorot, citing Mekorot’s violation of international law.

    The significance of these successes cannot be overstated: A clear indication that the call for BDS is reaching the ears of government leaders and, perhaps more important, that Zionists are failing in their ceaseless quest to make the world forget their crimes against Palestinians.

    Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist in San Francisco. She was formerly based in the Occupied West Bank, Palestine.

  13. Pingback: Ramallah | The Velvet Rocket

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