Palestinian-made Israeli settlements

1 October, 2010 at 18:12 | Posted in Israeli journalism, Israeli-Arab conflict | Leave a comment
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Qedumim settlement up close

Qedumim, Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank, near Kafr Qaddum - the settlements are actually built by Palestinians (Image by michaelramallah via Flickr)

The veteran Israeli journalist, Nahum Barnea, went t0 Gush Etzion to see with his own eyes the end of the moratorium on construction works in the Israeli West Bank settlements. He published a report today, on his weekly column in Yedioth Aharonoth‘s weekend supplement (Ha-Musaf Le-Shabbat, 1 Oct 2010 ). Nahum Barnea reveals a phenomenon that should not come as as a surprise to anyone who is acquainted with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories are actually being built by Palestinian Arabs. The Israelis provide the plans, of course, but it is local Palestinian contractors and workers who carry out the building projects. No one can force them to do this job, they come out of their own free will. When asked why, they say it is the only way to make a living. In Nahum Barnea’s report today, the Palestinian contractor says that in Hebron, where he lives, everyone builds his own house, so construction workers are hardly needed. Nahum Barnea points out to new plans for construction of tower blocks in Ramallah, but the Palestinian constructor dismisses these plans as unserious. Nevertheless, he refuses to be photographed saying that the Palestinian Authority “makes troubles” to those who work at the settlements. Barnea explains that the PA plans to forbid the Palestinians who live under its jurisdiction from working at the settlements.

The Palestinians have a simple way to extend the “settlements moratorium” – they can refuse building the settlements. What about the economic damage to Palestinian families? First of all, the Palestinian were willing in the past to launch wide-scale attacks on Israelis. This attacks brought about a serious crisis in the Palestinian economy, and yet the Palestinian deemed these attacks necessary (by their logic). Refusing to build in the settlement seems much less harmful and less damaging to all sides than launching armed attacks. But there is another thing – it is time that the Palestinians stopped relying on either Israel, Arab countries or foreign wealthy nations for economic support. The Palestinian have never been economically independent, not even in the days of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palestinian economy has always relied on the Jewish Zionist economy (which has later become the Israeli economy), on wealthy Arab countries (most particularly the Gulf countries before the 1991 Gulf War), on UNRWA (the special UN agency for taking care of Palestinian refugees) and on donations from Europe. Considering this situation, it is hardly surprising that most of the Palestinians are poor, and that the Palestinian People cannot establish an independent state of its own.

Barnea’s account also reveals the hypocrisy of pro-Palestinian campaigners in Europe. Flotillas are relatively easy to organize, and they create a lot of fuss. So are demonstrations and calls to boycott Israel. It is much harder to think of ways to help Palestinians reach economic independence. Communication lines are numerous and free these days. Pro-Palestinian organizations could give preference to Palestinian Arabs in various works that can be sent over computer networks. Translations into Arabic are often needed in Europe, and they can be easily sent via email. Programming from a distance is also a possibility. If special courses are needed, they can also be performed online and  in video conferences. European publishers can support Palestinian artists by publishing and distributing them. This are some very basic ideas, I’m sure many more could be found. Perhaps they are not so relevant to construction workers, but their children who might have received better formal education and get along with computers, could make some much needed money in such projects and provide for their families.

I know chanting “boycott Israel” is much more fun, and condemning the end of the settlement moratorium is something one can do without fund raising and without disturbance to his quiet afternoon rest, but there is little help for the Palestinians in such actions. The real help, which, by the way, would also be beneficial for Israelis and other inhabitants of the Middle East, is finding creative ways to help the Palestinian civil economy.

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Hanan Ashrawi – from pragmatism to extremism?

27 September, 2010 at 06:50 | Posted in Inter-faith relations, Israeli journalism, Israeli-Arab conflict, Politics | Leave a comment
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Dr. Hanan Ashrawi - leaving the pragmatic approach in favor of the extremists? (Image via Wikipedia)

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi - leaving the pragmatic approach in favor of the extremists? (Image via Wikipedia)

 

A friend of mine recommended I read a recent interview with the senior Palestinian activist, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Dr. Ashrawi gave this interview to the Israeli Maariv-affiliated local newspaper “Zman Yerushalayim”, issued in Jerusalem in Hebrew. Commenting in English on an interview published in Hebrew might seem a bit unfair, and yet Ashrawi’s statements have been heard in various languages from many Palestinian mouthpieces, and it is important to reveal the acute problems embedded in them.

Dr. Ashrawi is considered one of the most intelligent, eloquent and pragmatic among Palestinian activists. She seems like the ideal person with whom to reach a peaceful settlement and end years of misery. And yet, in this interview, and despite the resumption of direct peace negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, Dr. Ashrawi joins the extremists among Palestinian Arabs. Her eloquent diplomatic language might fool certain people, but for the common Israeli, her words are frustrating and echoes some of the harsh statements of the 1964 Palestinian National Convenant.

“Everything can be worked out”

The interview starts from its end, the interviewer Eli Oshrov says he told Dr. Ashrawi at the end of the interview that the provisions she stipulated throughout the interview would be unacceptable to most Israelis. “Everything can be worked out”, she replies, but to be honest, I don’t see how, unless she was trying to present high Palestinian demands as a kind of tactic. If it is indeed a tactic, it is a dangerous one, and Ashrawi should do without it.

UN GA resolution 194

Dr. Ashrawi starts with the Palestinian demand to let the Palestinian refugees resettle in the Israeli territory, and cites the UN General Assembly resolution 194 from December 1948. Dr. Ashrawi reiterates an old Palestinian claim as if there were an international resolution ordering Israel to accept “the right of return” of Palestinian refugees. There is little truth in this claim. First of all, the resolution is merely a recommendation, not a compelling decision. The resolution does not talk about “right” of return, but merely calls for the repatriation of refugees who wish to live in peace with their neighbors. Needless to say, the Palestinian leadership did not accept the latter condition at the time, and the Jordanian Government ignored many other paragraphs in the resolution, like the call to allow free access to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and make them cities under international rule.  Furthermore, in December 1948, the State of Israel was about seven months old. The UN did not recognize it yet, and the resolution still uses the old British Mandate terminology. In 1949 the UN recognized Israel as a sovereign state and UN member, a recognition that makes GA resolution 194 obsolete, at least within the “Green Line” boundaries.

The war between Israel and its neighboring countries was still ongoing in December 1948 (even though it reached its last stages). It seems quite reasonable to call for the repatriation of refugees when a war is still ongoing or has just reached its end. It seems totally unreasonable to do so more than 60 years later, during 40 of which the Palestinian party called for “armed struggle” for the “liberation of Palestine”, contrary to the stipulations of GA resolution 194 that calls for restoring peace and establishing reconciliatory committee.

Ashrawi: Jewish state means racist state

When asked about the demand that the Palestinian leadership recognize the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, Hanan Ashrawi tells the Israelis, “if you insist on being racist and discriminatory, good for you”. She says she struggles for a secular Palestinian state, so she cannot accept a Jewish state. There are two problems here. First of all, Israel is a Jewish secular state. “Jewish” is a polysemy which refers to a nation, an ethnic group and a religion. The name “Israel” was chosen for the Jewish state in order to avoid confusion between the national and religious senses of the term “Jewish” (there were other reason for this choice too). Israel is defined in its basic laws as a Jewish and democratic state, which is exactly the formula which Ashrawi wishes to adopt for the future Palestinian state, while replacing “Jewish” with “Palestinian”. And there is another problem – in the basic laws of the Palestinian National Authority, Palestine is defined as Arab and Muslim. The Palestinian law, according to this document, is inspired by the shari’a, namely the Islamic religious law. So, like it or not, the Palestinian National Authority, of which Dr. Ashrawi is part, is not secular nor egalitarian with regard to Palestinian Christians. The Israeli law, by the way, is based upon secular doctrines, except for matrimonial law, in which religious law applies, but all religions have equal status for this matter.

“Sovereignty is not based upon religion”

When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, Dr. Ashrawi says “sovereignty is not based upon religion” but rather it is a political issue. Very well, but who says Palestinians have precedence over Israelis when it comes to sovereignty on Jerusalem? Dr. Ashrawi says the Western Wall (a.k.a. Wailing Wall) should be under Palestinian sovereignty. Why not Israeli? Dr. Ashrawi does not explain. She accuses Israel of behaving like an “occupying force” in Jerusalem, while ignoring the fact that all Palestinian Jerusalemites received permanent resident status in Israel, which means they are entitled to more-or-less the same rights as Israeli citizens (almost all of them refused accepting full citizenship and preferred to keep their Jordanian passports, until Jordan stripped them of their citizenship leaving them stateless). She says “why do you need a guard” at the entrance to the Western Wall site, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of attacks on civilians, particularly suicide bombing, were carried out by Palestinians, even in holy sites and during holidays. She also ignores the fact that Israel respect the status of the Palestinian Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount, allowing it to administer the place independently. The Israeli police is stationed outside the religious complex and confiscate prayer books from Jews who wish to visit the place. Jewish prayers are considered to be dangerous provocation, hence are strictly forbidden on the Temple Mount by the Israeli authorities. I wonder if the Palestinians showed similar respect to other religious and national groups should they gain control over Jerusalem.

So, Dr. Ashrawi, can we really work things out? Or perhaps someone on the Palestinian side should come up with more reasonable line of thought before making demands from the Israeli side?

Listening to a nightly interview with Shlomi Eldar

21 September, 2010 at 00:50 | Posted in Israeli journalism, Israeli-Arab conflict | Leave a comment
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Shlomi Eldar, Israeli journalist covering Gaza Strip

Shlomi Eldar, Israeli journalist covering Gaza Strip (Image via Wikipedia)

I am currently listening to a radio interview of Kobi Meidan with Shlomi Eldar on Galei Tzahal. Kobi Meidan is one of the most prominent TV and radio interviewers in Israel, and Shlomi Eldar is one of the best and most appreciated among Israeli Hebrew-speaking journalists. Eldar has been covering the Palestinian Territories, particularly the Gaza Strip, for the Israeli Hebrew-speaking media during the past twenty years or so.

Shlomi Eldar is the perfect journalist – he is very courageous and extremely sensitive both to people as individuals and to public trends. He relies not on official statements or briefings but on information he collects meticulously with his bare hands and from ordinary Palestinians who act as his contact persons. He avoids falling into the trap of taking sides and preaching. He says he tries to capture the complex picture of this delicate Israeli-Palestinian situation, and in his case you can believe it because his reports leave you with clear deep thoughts rather than futile rage or stupid schadenfreude.

The main topic of the interview with Kobi Meidan, to which I currently listen, is Eldar’s new documentary film about a Palestinian baby with serious genetic immunodeficiency who has been treated in Israel after his two brothers lost their lives to the disease shortly after their birth. Eldar says he became emotionally involved with the subjects of his films, to a degree that he made his best efforts to facilitate the treatment. He says he nearly abandoned the project when the baby’s mother said before cameras that she would happily send her child to be a suicide-bomber. Then he realized that he should understand the deep streams that cause this paradox of a woman trying to save her baby and at the same time wishes him to become a suicide-bomber rather than get angry and abandon the scene. Kobi Meidan suggested that the mother tried to be “more Catholic than the pope”, namely that she has to make extremist statements in order not to be suspected with collaboration.

Two very important points I heard in this interview relate to the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit in June 2006 and to “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008. Eldar says he managed to reach the kidnappers of Gilad Schalit through one of his contact persons in Gaza. The contact person did not want to be the courier. “You Israelis are mad”, he said, implying that the Israel Defense Forces might relate him to the kidnapping and kill him. Eldar eventually convinced him. He came back with the following information: The kidnappers are confused and frightened. They want to end this affair as quickly as possible and ask for a low “price” (much lower than the current demands of the Hamas kidnappers, according to Eldar). Eldar further says that when he delivered this message to Israeli military officials they told him to mind his own business. This story reminded me of another report, according to which Israeli military investigators knew almost for sure that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev had been killed during Hizbollah’s invasion into northern Israel in July 2006, i.e. Hizbollah kidnapped dead bodies rather than living soldiers, but this crucial information did not reach the higher-rank officials.

Apparently Israel has good intelligence, good professionals and it succeeded in having strong deterrence against its adversaries. This begs the question: why doesn’t Israel make wise use of these assets? Why does it let itself fall into traps set by organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah when it has all the information and measures needed to avoid them? Why does it let an Israeli soldiers remain at the hands of his kidnappers when it can end the affair within a short while? Why isn’t it more prudent about using force when it has the capability to carefully assess the benefit against the damage? In short – the brain is there, the means are there, so how come the decision making is so poor?

Shlomi Eldar went on telling about consequences of the bloodcurdling phone call he received while on air from Dr. Abu al-Aish, a Palestinian Gazan physician who used to work at Tel HaShomer medical center in Israel. Dr. Abu al-Aish told Shlomi Eldar with heart rending cries about the killing of his daughters from an Israeli shell, while Israeli television viewers hear it all live through their TV sets. Eldar says the then-Israeli Prime Minister shed some tears when hearing the broadcast. A ceasefire was declared the next day. Israel had every right to attack Gaza, Eldar says, pointing out to the Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot and southern Israel. But at the same time he said Israel used too much force. He says he was condemned for his view during the first days of Operation “Cast Lead”, but not after the phone call from Dr. Abu al-Aish. People like Shlomi Eldar can and should be more common in our society.

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