Wednesday, January 29

MCC Palestine Update #71

MCC Palestine Update #71

January 29, 2003

The Israeli elections, by the time you receive this, will have come and gone. The coming Israeli government will be the most right-wing in its history. The Israeli Labor Party, a nominally left-of-center, suffered a major collapse, while allegations of financial corruption against Likud chairman Ariel Sharon did nothing to weaken his popularity. The previous Sharon government was elected on the promise of security. His iron fist policies have delivered neither security nor peace.

That Israelis have apparently chosen a government which will deliver only more of the same simply indicates the level of despair among average Israelis at being able to attain peace and security and a conviction that the best that can be hoped for is a managing of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through massive force.

A minority of Israelis, of course, speak of another path, one of not simply managing the situation through force but of reconciliation through justice, one which does not view Palestinians as a problem which must be dealt with but as partners with whom to share the land of Palestine/Israel. That more and more Palestinians are calling for an end to military attacks inside Israeli and are questioning the use of suicide bombings indicates that a Palestinian awareness that Israelis must be future partners and that attacks on Israeli civilians do not foster a spirit of partnership.

These most recent Israeli elections have not, unfortunately, moved Israelis and Palestinians closer to a future of reconciliation and justice, peace and security, Instead, they have paved the way for more aggressive settlement construction and continued building of the “separation fence”/apartheid wall in the occupied territories: in short, they have perhaps been the nail in the coffin of a viable two-state solution. The nations of the world, led by the United States, will probably try hard to push for the creation of a Palestinian state in parts of the occupied territories in the coming months, but if that state will be circumscribed by the walls, fences and settlements of the past 35 years, it will not be a step towards resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but will be yet another means of avoiding a just and viable settlement of the conflict in accordance with international law and resolutions.

Below you will find two articles which highlight the ongoing problems which current “peace processes,” such as they are, studiously avoid: the Israeli matrix of control in the occupied territories and the questionable aspects of Israeli democracy. The first piece, by Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass, captures the meticulous planning that has gone into creating an Israeli matrix of control in the occupied territories, particularly through the planning and building of roads to connect illegal Israeli colonies/settlements while fencing in Palestinian population centers. The second, by Gideon Levy, a writer for Ha’aretz, explores the “half a democracy” that is the State of Israel.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. You Can Drive Along and Never See an Arab
Amira Hass,
Ha’aretz, January 22, 2003

Monday marked the official opening of a tunnel that greatly reduces the distance from Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem and from the Jordan Valley to the center of the country. Or, to be more precise, that reduces the distance for Jews traveling from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Now, Ma'aleh Adumim is almost touching Jerusalem, which embraces Har Homa, which abuts Gilo, and the latter two, thanks to fast roads that have already been or are now being paved, touch Efrat, which is continuously expanding along a row of hilltops, like a train to which a new car is added every month, and is gradually approaching Tekoa: The travel time is constantly decreasing. Similarly, other settlements, large and small, old and new, are being connected by a network of wide, comfortable, traffic-free roads, completely devoid of Arabs. There is no Green Line: There is no difference between a neighborhood and a settlement, between a settlement and a city, between the campaign posters along roads inside Israel that urge the public to vote for Baruch Marzel and Herut or Avigdor Lieberman and between the same posters on roads in the West Bank, between what Ehud Barak called "isolated settlements" and what he called "settlement blocs." Northeast of Ma'aleh Adumim, Pisgat Ze'ev (an integral part of Jerusalem the capital, never mind that it was built on lands annexed in 1967 from the Palestinian villages of Shuafat and Hizma), kisses the settlement of Geva, whose houses have been expanding southward and westward so that it will soon border the Sha'ar Binyamin industrial park. The industrial park is separated by only a short road from Kochav Ya'akov and Psagot, which are linked by another main road to Beit El and Ofra, which in turn are linked by other Arab-free roads to Givat Ze'ev, which stretches from Ramot almost all the way to Maccabim-Re'ut - and so on and so forth. A person could travel the length and breadth of the West Bank without ever knowing - not only the names of the villages and cities whose lands were confiscated in order to build the Jewish settlements and neighborhoods, but even the fact that they exist. Most of their names cannot be found on the road signs. And from a distance, the calls of the muezzins and the streets empty of people (after all, there is nothing to go out for) seem like an aesthetic decoration. A Jew traveling on the almost empty roads of the West Bank would think that there no longer are any Arabs: They do not travel on the wide roads used by the Jews. Very few Israelis who live in Israel proper travel through the West Bank. They did not go there even before the bloody struggle erupted anew, and they do not go there today, while it is at its height. Therefore, they have no way of knowing how mistaken they are in their beliefs about the decision-making processes in Israel over the last 35 years. The average Israeli - meaning one who does not live in Savion or Ramat Aviv Gimmel - judges according to what he sees around him, within the borders of the Green Line: a lot of confusion, tremendous lack of planning, here and there neglect, a lack of long-term vision, friction between the authorities, budget cuts, lack of judgment, waste. But if more Israelis took the trouble to go to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, they would be astonished by Israel's planning abilities, its long-term vision, its attention to detail, the way the huge sums allocated for the development and defense of Israelis in the territories have been translated into rivers of asphalt, high-quality street lights and military patrols around the Jewish settlements. If one looks carefully at the network of roads that have been and are being built up and down the West Bank and Gaza, for the benefit of the Jews, one might think they had been planned 20 years ago or more to prevent the Palestinians from rising up against the settlements. In other words, the people who began then to plan innumerable Jewish settlements throughout the territories, to nurture them, to subsidize them, to build clinics and kindergartens and colleges in them, knew that in time the "natives" would not be able to endure the ongoing erosion of their lands and of their chances for an independent existence. The people who planned the settlements, large and small, 20 years ago or more also knew that they must prevent the "natives" from harming the settlements or their residents - in other words, that they must build roads that would isolate every Palestinian city and village, that would divide them from each other and from the main roads, to such an extent that now all it takes is an earthen barrier to block a village's access to the road or to its olive groves, or a city's access to its industrial zone. Israel's decision-makers, who over the last 20 years have carefully planned the location of every Jewish settlement in the West Bank and every water pipe and electricity pylon, also knew how to plan a ramified network of roads that would become a key weapon against the Palestinians. If you are good children and accept the dictate of the settlements, you can use the roads. If you are bad children - we will lock you into the tiny prisons that these roads so cleverly created.

2 Half a Democracy
Gideon Levy
Ha’aretz, January 26, 2003

What sort of democracy is this, if exactly half the state's residents don't benefit from it? Indeed, can the term "democratic" be applied to a state in which many of the residents live under a military regime or are deprived of civil rights? Can there be democracy without equality, with a lengthy occupation and with foreign workers who have no rights? And what about the racism? The storm that was engendered by the leak of a document to the press by an attorney in the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office, Liora Glatt-Berkovich, and by the police interrogation, under caution to boot, of Ha'aretz correspondent Baruch Kra was perfectly justified. More and more cracks are becoming apparent in the democratic regime. Kra's interrogation was an ominous portent, the all-out assault on attorney Glatt-Berkovich is terrifying, and the conduct of the attorney-general, Elyakim Rubinstein, is disgraceful. We must not lightly let these phenomena pass by. We must not forget that the entire structure is wobbly. Once Israel became an occupying state, it ceased to be a democracy. There is no such thing: Israel's claims about its democratic character are empty boasts. Just as there is no such thing as a partial pregnancy, there is no such thing as a partial democracy, either. No democracy exists only as far as a particular territorial line within the country, and no democracy is reserved exclusively for a particular religion or nationality. In a truly democratic regime, everyone enjoys his freedoms and rights in equal measure. That is not the case in Israel. More than 10 million people live between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, in the state and in its occupied territories. The separation between the occupied areas and the state is anachronistic: Israel has existed for far more years with the occupation than without it, and the territories are an integral part of it, with all this entails. Some 3.5 million Palestinians have been living under a brutal, rigorous military occupation for well over three decades. Surely no one will try to claim that they are free. Another 300,000 to 400,000 foreign workers live among us and are also without basic rights. They, too, are not part of a democracy. Nor can anyone serious maintain that the 1.3 million Arabs who live in Israel are equal citizens. With the exception of the right to vote and the right to stand for office, which was almost taken from some of their representatives this month, there is hardly a sphere in which they can be said to be citizens of a democracy. They are discriminated against in every realm of life, and they are excluded from the democratic public discourse. One of their newspapers was recently shut down for two years by the interior minister and a mass movement of the Arab population is under threat of being outlawed. "Democracy" doesn't seem to be the appropriate word here, either. Even some of the new immigrants do not share in Israeli democracy. A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces named Michael Gorkin cannot become an Israeli citizen only because he is not a Jew. The father of an immigrant from Ethiopia named Yisraeli Isham could not attend his daughter's wedding because the Interior Ministry cast doubt on his Jewishness. A regime that treats its people in this way cannot be called democratic. What's left? Democracy exists only for the state's (proven) Jewish residents. That is, for about 5.3 million people, half of the 10.6 million people who live here. They are the only intended beneficiaries of the rule of law, freedom of _expression, civic freedoms, equality before the law and a fair and just legal system. Cracks have appeared in this democracy of late. The rule of law has been breached, the corruption scandals and the way they have been treated are raising serious questions, the government is trying to intimidate the press, social justice is a lost cause and equality, too, is far from being a fact. We have to fight with all our might to get rid of all these ills, but, above all, the lying impression that we are democratic must be quashed. It is impossible to be both occupiers and democrats; there is no such thing as enlightened exploiters and racists. Those are unresolvable contradictions, flagrant oxymorons. Even if propriety is restored and the attorney-general no longer betrays his trust, the Supreme Court becomes a beacon of justice, the Knesset enacts only just laws and the government rules according to the law, the conditions for democracy will not yet exist in Israel. On the day after tomorrow, when tanks guard the voters in Yitzhar and other West Bank settlements, when curfew protects the election process in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, when thousands of soldiers will defend the roads on which the polling stations will be transported and when foreign workers with no rights will sweep our streets, we should remember that this is half a democracy, no more.

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