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.

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?

Apartheid denial

5 September, 2010 at 09:22 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Politics | 1 Comment
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Excessive, almost abusive, use of the word “Apartheid”

South African patriots, as well as human rights activists throughout the world, should be very concerned about the abuse of the word “Apartheid” and the excessive comparison of the South African dark page in history to conflicts and problems elsewhere in the world. While comparisons and analogies are necessary tools for understanding phenomena and problems and choosing the right way to deal with them, they are too often abused for propagandist purposes. In fact, this is why Jews are shocked when the Holocaust is compared with other events in history or recent time. Most Jews (and many non-Jews as well) regard such a comparison as taboo, because even in cases where it is justified to a certain extent, and perhaps even useful for stopping a tragedy, it is still likely to herald a future abuse of the memory of the Holocaust and its victims (who, by the way, include many non-Jews as well).

Labeling Israel by efficient propaganda

Multilingual signs in Israel for serving all communities vs. old sign in South Africa for a different puprose

Multilingual signs in IL for serving all communities vs. old sign in SA for a different purpose

The main victim of the abusive use of the word “Apartheid” is currently Israel, mainly due to the efficiency of the Palestinian campaign groups in Europe. This situation is hardly new. In 1975, Arab countries were able to pass a strangely phrased resolution at the UN General Assembly, arguing that “Zionism is a form of racism”. The General Assembly did not term other nationalist movements “racist”, which begs the question, if Quebec nationalism, for  example,  is okay, let alone Palestinian nationalism, why not Zionism? And how should one settle this resolution with GA resolution 181, which implies Zionism is legitimate and welcomed? I suppose erring is human – In 1991 the General Assembly revoked the 1975 resolution. By the way, the GA never declared Bolshevism as a form of racism or oppression. I wonder why.

Banalizing “Racism” then moving on the “Apartheid”

Time goes by, and the term “racism” became too banal due to overuse. When the adjective “racist” is used to describe even a person who prefers feeding only white street-cats on his porch, it is hardly surprising that campaigners look for another word with stronger impact. But how this affects the way we view Apartheid in South Africa’s history and our ability to learn the lesson? Sadly, it means that we are going to become indifferent to this word, treating it as another buzz word of political mouthpieces.

Common errors about “Apartheid”

Talking about Apartheid, it might be useful to shed light on some common errors. I found some of these reading an article by Leila Farsakh on Le Monde Diplomatique.

  1. Apartheid is not about “colonialists” versus “indigenous peoples”. It is about profound racial discrimination and segregation. If the French Government decided to segregate and discriminate Muslim Algerian immigrants in the same manner dark-skin people were discriminated in South Africa, would it not be Apartheid?
  2. To continue the first point above, dark-skin and white-skin peoples arrived in South Africa more-or-less at the same time in history. The former came via land from the north, the latter came by ships from the south.
  3. The Arab population of Israel/Palestine cannot be called “indigenous”, because many of its members are descendants of immigrants from other parts of the Middle East. Of course the Arab culture and ethnicity has been part of this country from ancient time, but so has the Jewish culture and ethnicity, and even to a greater extent.
  4. The population of Israel/Palestine was indeed very small when the Zionist movement started advocating for a Jewish homeland. It was not empty of course, but it was not very populated either. Furthermore, most of the initial Zionist territorial demands were rejected, first when the 1917 Balfour Declaration was limited to a territory of approx. 27 thousand sq km, then when it was further limited to about 55% of this territory in 1947. Eventually Israel was recognized on land stretching on approximately 21 thousand sq km. The reason for these limitation was indeed the fact that the local Arab community has its rights too, including the right for self-determination.
  5. One cannot judge an action or a policy unless considering the circumstances surrounding it. I don’t know about the specific circumstances in South Africa, but I do know that Arabs regarded themselves as enemies of Israel and Zionism. Arab Palestinian leaders went as far as developing deep relations with the Nazi-Germany and about 20 years later declared that “armed struggle” was the only way to “liberate Palestine”. Strong suspiciousness toward Arabs in general is an extremely sad, yet hard-to-evade, consequence. However, when the late Egyptian President, Anwar A-Sadat, took a noble courageous step and talked with the Israeli People from the Knesset’s podium, Israel was washed with wave of tolerance and even enthusiasm toward the Egyptian and Arab culture, and Israeli citizens were willing to accept almost all of the Egyptian demands.

Some interesting quotes

  • Mohammed S. Wattad, Zafed Law School, SPME Legal Task Force

    (…) I came to realize that those who argue of Israel as a regime of apartheid – even if they have a good argument, and I do not believe so – still do not have sufficient evidence, based on the reality and facts on the ground in Israel. Among the weirdest arguments against Israel I heard of Israel granting its Arab population a different marked passport than the one granted to Israeli Jews. Moreover, it has been argued that a regime of segregation exists in Israel public transportation, public educational institutes etc. Such arguments only prove that the presenters of Israel as a regime of apartheid lack the basic knowledge of what have been taking place in reality.

  • Ontario, Canada: “MPPs unite to condemn ‘odious’ Israeli Apartheid Week” (“The Star”, by Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, 25 February 2010)

    ‘Resolutions in the Ontario Legislature send a message. They are about moral suasion,’ said [MPP Peter] Shurman, adding ‘it is close to hate speech’ to liken democratic Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.

  • Irshad Manji: Modern Israel is a far cry from old South Africa (The Australian, 9 February, 2007)
  • (…) Of course, certain Israeli politicians have spewed venom at Palestinians, as have some Arab leaders towards Jews, but Israel is far more complex – and diverse – than slogans about the occupation would suggest. In a state practising apartheid, would Arab Muslim legislators wield veto power over anything? At only 20per cent of the population, would Arabs even be eligible for election if they squirmed under the thumb of apartheid? Would an apartheid state extend voting rights to women and thepoor in local elections, which Israel didfor the first time in the history of Palestinian Arabs?

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