Posts Tagged 'Palestine'

Israel Grows Uneasy Over Reliance on Migrant Labor

New York Times, July 8, 2010

Israel Grows Uneasy Over Reliance on Migrant Labor

TEL AVIV — Perched 22 stories above an affluent suburb of this prosperous seaside city, three Chinese construction workers inched their way along the arm of a crane last autumn and refused to budge. Facing deportation because of expiring visas, theirs was an act of desperation aimed at getting thousands of dollars in wages they claimed their Israeli employer had illegally withheld.

The daredevil protest had the desired effect: after the men spent nine hours on the crane, the construction company agreed to pay each the equivalent of $1,000. Satisfied, they climbed down and voluntarily headed to the airport.

For Israelis, the crane standoff — the second in a matter of months — was an unwanted reminder of their country’s troubled economic experiment with foreign labor. Since the first intifada of the early 1990s, more than a million migrants from the developing world have come to Israel to replace the Palestinians, who were the country’s original source of cheap labor.

At least 250,000 foreign laborers, about half of them illegal, are living in the country, according to the Israeli government. They include Chinese construction workers, Filipino home health care aides and Thai farmhands, as well as other Asians, and Africans and Eastern Europeans, working as maids, cooks and nannies.

“Israelis won’t do this work, so they bring us,” said Wang Yingzhong, 40, a construction worker from Jiangsu Province in China who arrived in 2006.

But even as foreign workers have become a mainstay of the economy, their presence has increasingly clashed with Israel’s Zionist ideology, causing growing political unease over the future of the Jewish state and their place in it.

The government has lurched through a series of contradictory policies that encourage the temporary employment of migrants while seeking to impose tight visa and labor restrictions that can leave them vulnerable to abusive employers, advocates for the workers say.

Those who overstay their visas and try to remain in Israel live in fear of the Oz Unit, a recently created division of immigration police officers who hunt down illegal migrants and assist in their deportation.

The government insists it wants unskilled jobs to go to unemployed Israelis, especially Arab citizens and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Critics say the policies are hypocritical and racist because they treat foreign workers as undeserving of legal protection.

“All too often we have to fight to make Israelis see that these foreign workers are human beings,” said Dana Shaked, the coordinator for Chinese laborers at Kav LaOved, a workers’ rights group.

Although the Israeli government issued a record 120,000 foreign work permits in 2009, the country’s political leaders say they want to phase out migrant labor. “We have created a Jewish and democratic nation, and we cannot let it turn into a nation of foreign workers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a conference of the Israel Manufacturers Association in January.

The No. 1 target is the Chinese, who in recent years have received nearly all of the construction work permits. Chinese accounted for a quarter of all deportations from 2003 to 2008, more than any other foreign group. The rate was expected to soar as 3,000 of those permits lapsed at the end of June.

The Chinese end up in the most desperate straits here partly because they are recruited through a murky network of manpower companies that rights groups say operate like human trafficking rings. Chinese pay up to $31,000 in illegal recruitment fees, the highest fees of all foreign workers, according to Kav LaOved, which says the money ends up in the pockets of go-betweens and government agencies in both countries.

The Chinese must work for an average of two years just to repay the money they borrow to afford those fees. Unaware of their rights and unable to speak Hebrew or English, many fall victim to a minefield of abuse like squalid living conditions, withheld wages and the early termination of work permits, which make them liable for deportation before they have repaid the recruitment fees or saved money for themselves.

Most Chinese endure the injustices more quietly than the workers who staged the dramatic crane protests last year. Some, like Liu Shiqi, 39, said he showed up to his job as a cook one March morning to find the restaurant closed and the owner gone without paying him. “They know we’re alone and don’t speak Hebrew, so they take advantage of us,” he said.

Worker advocates say the Chinese Embassy has long been indifferent or even hostile to the workers’ plight. When 170 construction workers went on strike in 2001 seeking back pay, embassy officials warned them that they would be imprisoned upon their return to China for breaching their contracts and breaking Chinese labor law. The men who protested on the crane did so after the embassy ignored their pleas, they told Kav LaOved.

Yang Jianchu, the Chinese consul for immigration affairs, says his staff does all it can to help those in trouble. He also dismissed accusations by worker advocates that the Chinese government profits from the exorbitant recruitment fees. “We don’t know where the money goes,” Mr. Yang said. “This is the truth.”

Laborers who become illegal after losing their jobs or overstaying their visas say they are easily exploited by Israeli bosses.

One 40-year-old Chinese worker from Jiangsu Province said he was once forced to sleep in a shipping crate. Fears of being arrested by the immigration police consume him. “When I sleep, they catch me in my dreams,” said the man, surnamed Jiang, who asked that his full name not be printed.

The government has quietly begun to replace Chinese with other non-Israelis, issuing 15,000 construction permits to Palestinians this year. This comes as right-wing politicians have heightened accusations that foreign workers are stealing Israeli jobs and threatening the nation’s Jewish character, an assertion many on the left dismiss.

“Saying foreign workers are diluting the Jewish state is racism,” said Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the Israeli Parliament and a critic of the foreign-worker policy. “On one hand, Israel is bringing them here and making money off their backs, and on other they face all sorts of harassment.”

Even if the law is changed, it will be too late for people like Lin Qingde, a Chinese construction worker who is one of 26 plaintiffs to sue an Israeli-Arab merchant accused of stealing $1.7 million from hundreds of workers, money that he was supposed to wire to their families in China. The police arrested the businessman, but, while waiting to testify at the trial, Mr. Lin’s work visa expired and he was also arrested.

Stuck behind bars for five months and afraid he might be killed in China for failing to repay a $40,000 debt, Mr. Lin was finally called into court in May to give his account. A few days later, he was deported.

Hay Haber, the lawyer for Mr. Lin and the other plaintiffs, said he was ashamed of Israel’s justice system. “These workers, unfortunately, have no place in Israel,” Mr. Haber said, surrounded by stacks of evidence files in his Tel Aviv office. “Here they are nothing but cheap slaves.”

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A Gaza Freedom March Participant Tells Her Story

SF Gray Panthers Newsletter, February, 2010, p 5

Our Own GP Foreign Correspondent’s Eyewitness Report from Cairo

In late December 2008, Israel embarked on its brutal assault on the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, killing approximately 1400 Palestinians. A year later, in late December 2009, approximately 1400 international nonviolence activists from over 40 countries, converged in Cairo, Egypt, with the goal of entering the Gaza Strip to march with the people of Gaza in the Gaza Freedom March (GFM), calling for an end to the siege of Gaza.

From the time they arrived in Cairo, the international solidarity activists—including SF Gray Panther Arla S. Ertz—met with hurdles thrown up by the Egyptian government that prohibited the group not only from entering Gaza, but even from setting out on previously chartered buses to the Egyptian town of Al-Arish, near the Gazan border. Moreover, the Egyptian government revoked all permits for venues the GFM organizers had arranged for the international group’s meetings in Cairo.

Arla and co-marchers with police behind

Arla and co-marchers after police stopped a march through Cairo. See below.

GFM delegates came up with creative ways to communicate, meet, and organize to counter Egypt’s attempt to stop the march.  First, delegates headed in small groups to a bridge across the Nile, where they tied flowers and cards bearing messages memorializing the Gazans who had died a year ago, winning support from Egyptian passers-by, until the police caught on and abruptly ended the tribute, ripping the cards and flowers from the bridge’s railings. Later delegates moved on to the next action—releasing 1400 memorial candles in biodegradable cups into the Nile from dozens of feluccas, traditional open sailboats—but the police ordered the boat owners to cancel their rentals to the group. Undeterred, they conducted a candlelight procession on the sidewalk along the Nile, with much impassioned chanting and singing, lasting for hours into the evening. Egyptian motorists in the heavily traveled area witnessed the strong international support for Gaza.

Succeeding days brought increasingly intensified actions, including a highly spirited rally outside the World Trade Center building, which houses the local UN office. Three representatives, including Philippine parliament member Walden Bello, met with UN officials to persuade them to urge the Egyptian government to reverse its prohibition and allow passage to Gaza, without success. Also, many delegates approached their respective embassies. One day, Arla met with diplomats at the US Embassy, but no amount of discussion would move them to take steps on the group’s behalf. Another day, a group returned to the US Embassy, only to be held in detention by Egyptian police for five hours! Repeated calls to officials inside the US Embassy failed to garner their release. A highlight action was a rousing rally held by Egyptians on the steps of the Journalists’ Syndicate, with internationals present in support, especially moving because speaking out this way is highly risky for Egyptians under their repressive government.

A rally at the Syndicate of Journalists

A rally at the Syndicate of Journalists

Huge banners at rally at Syndicate of Journalists

Huge banners at the rally at the Syndicate of Journalists

In the end, delegates decided that if they couldn’t march in Gaza, they would march to Gaza, and organized the march for December 31. Small groups headed for the Egyptian Museum, posing as ordinary tourists, and gathered relatively inconspicuously in various spots nearby. On signal, they converged, whipped out banners and flags, and began to march! For some minutes, they marched for Gaza.

March under way, represetative from S. Africa

The march under way, representative from Congress of South African Trade Unions carries olive branch.

The march under way.

The march under way.

Then, the police surged on the marchers en masse, using force to stop them. Plainclothes officers dragged Arla by the arms through the street, tossing her on the sidewalk. Police dragged and beat other delegates, finally cordoning all the marchers into one area, which delegates declared “Free Gaza Square,” and held a rally with heart-felt speeches by internationals from various countries.

Police stop, contain GFM marchers

Police stop and contain the Gaza Freedom Marchers, isolating them by holding hands.

Although the GFM was fraught with difficulties and disappointments, positive outcomes rose from it. For one, the GFM closed by adopting the Cairo Declaration, a position statement developed by the South African contingent. For another, the GFM events in Cairo cast a spotlight on Egypt’s undeniable complicity in the siege of Gaza along with Israel, with the US backing both of them. We must all call attention to the underground steel wall Egypt is building, with US financial and technical support, designed to cut off Gaza’s lifeline by blocking the tunnels that provide the only way for Gazans to receive the supplies they need for daily living, such as food, pure water, construction materials, and school supplies. We need to call upon our government to investigate alleged violations of the US Arms Export Control Act by Israel in its assaults on Gaza.  JUSTICE FOR GAZA!


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Israel: No turning back from the apartheid state

“(By)  preclud(ing) the possibility of a two-state solution,   Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.  …  It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles — that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal.  Olmert  said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But the relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition. Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

The Nation, January 25,  2010

Imposing Middle East Peace

Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank, a drive that continues in violation of even the limited settlement freeze to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself, seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement,” one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

The inevitability of such a transformation has been held out not by “Israel bashers” but by the country’s own leaders. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referred to that danger, as did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who warned that Israel could not escape turning into an apartheid state if it did not relinquish “almost all the territories, if not all,” including the Arab parts of East Jerusalem.

Olmert ridiculed Israeli defense strategists who, he said, had learned nothing from past experiences and were stuck in the mindset of the 1948 war of independence. “With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless. Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles–although denied by Israel’s government–that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal (except for a few isolated and sparsely populated ones) by this or any future Israeli government unless compelled to do so by international intervention, an eventuality until now considered entirely unlikely.

It is not only the settlements’ proliferation and size that have made their dismantlement impossible. Equally decisive have been the influence of Israel’s settler-security-industrial complex, which conceived and implemented this policy; the recent disappearance of a viable pro-peace political party in Israel; and the infiltration by settlers and their supporters in the religious-national camp into key leadership positions in Israel’s security and military establishments.

Olmert was mistaken in one respect, for he said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But the relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition. Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

When a state’s denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent, it ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population’s ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid, or racism, not much different from the one that characterized South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. By definition, democracy reserved for privileged citizens–while all others are kept behind checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls commanded by the Israeli army–is not democracy but its opposite.

The Jewish settlements and their supporting infrastructure, which span the West Bank from east to west and north to south, are not a wild growth, like weeds in a garden. They have been carefully planned, financed and protected by successive Israeli governments and Israel’s military. Their purpose has been to deny the Palestinian people independence and statehood–or to put it more precisely, to retain Israeli control of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” an objective that precludes the existence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state east of Israel’s pre-1967 border.

A vivid recollection from the time I headed the American Jewish Congress is a helicopter trip over the West Bank on which I was taken by Ariel Sharon. With large, worn maps in hand, he pointed out to me strategic locations of present and future settlements on east-west and north-south axes that, Sharon assured me, would rule out a future Palestinian state.

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, then defense minister, described Israel’s plan for the future of the territories as “the current reality.” “The plan is being implemented in actual fact,” he said. “What exists today must remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.” Ten years later, at a conference in Tel Aviv whose theme was finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Dayan said: “The question is not, What is the solution? but, How do we live without a solution?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would leave under Israel’s control Palestine’s international borders and airspace, as well as the entire Jordan Valley; would leave most of the settlers in place; and would fragment the contiguity of the territory remaining for such a state. His conditions would also deny Palestinians even those parts of East Jerusalem that Israel unilaterally annexed to the city immediately following the 1967 war–land that had never been part of Jerusalem before the war. In other words, Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would meet Dayan’s goal of leaving Israel’s de facto occupation in place.

From Dayan’s prescription for the permanence of the status quo to Netanyahu’s prescription for a two-state solution, Israel has lived “without a solution,” not because of uncertainty or neglect but as a matter of deliberate policy, clandestinely driving settlement expansion to the point of irreversibility while pretending to search for “a Palestinian partner for peace.”

Sooner or later the White House, Congress and the American public–not to speak of a Jewish establishment that is largely out of touch with the younger Jewish generation’s changing perceptions of Israel’s behavior–will have to face the fact that America’s “special relationship” with Israel is sustaining a colonial enterprise.

President Barack Obama’s capitulation to Netanyahu on the settlement freeze was widely seen as the collapse of the latest hope for achievement of a two-state agreement. It thoroughly discredited the notion that Palestinian moderation is the path to statehood, and therefore also discredited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, moderation’s leading Palestinian advocate, who announced his intention not to run in the coming presidential elections.

Netanyahu’s “limited” freeze was described by the Obama administration as “unprecedented,” even though the exceptions to it–3,000 housing units whose foundations had supposedly already been laid, public buildings and unlimited construction in East Jerusalem–brought total construction to where it would have been without a freeze. Indeed, Netanyahu assured the settler leadership and his cabinet that construction will resume after the ten-month freeze–according to minister Benny Begin, at a rate “faster and more than before”–even if Abbas agrees to return to talks. In fact, the Israeli press has reported that the freeze notwithstanding, new construction in the settlements is “booming.” None of this has elicited the Obama administration’s public rebuke, much less the kinds of sanctions imposed on Palestinians when they violate agreements.

But what is widely believed to have been the final blow to a two-state solution may in fact turn out to be the necessary condition for its eventual achievement. That condition is abandonment of the utterly wrongheaded idea that a Palestinian state can arise without forceful outside intervention. The international community has shown signs of exasperation with Israel’s deceptions and stonewalling, and also with Washington’s failure to demonstrate that there are consequences not only for Palestinian violations of agreements but for Israeli ones as well. The last thing many in the international community want is a resumption of predictably meaningless negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas. Instead, they are focusing on forceful third-party intervention, a concept that is no longer taboo.

Ironically, it is Netanyahu who now insists on the resumption of peace talks. For him, a prolonged breakdown of talks risks exposing the irreversibility of the settlements, and therefore the loss of Israel’s democratic character, and legitimizing outside intervention as the only alternative to an unstable and dangerous status quo. While the Obama administration may be reluctant to support such initiatives, it may no longer wish to block them.

These are not fanciful fears. Israeli chiefs of military intelligence, the Shin Bet and other defense officials told Netanyahu’s security cabinet on December 9 that the stalled peace process has led to a dangerous vacuum “into which a number of different states are putting their own initiatives, none of which are in Israel’s favor.” They stressed that “the fact that the US has also reached a dead-end in its efforts only worsens the problem.”

If these fears are realized and the international community abandons a moribund peace process in favor of determined third-party initiatives, a two-state outcome may yet be possible. A recent proposal by the Swedish presidency of the European Union is perhaps the first indication of the international community’s determination to react more meaningfully to Netanyahu’s intransigence. The proposal, adopted by the EU’s foreign ministers on December 8, reaffirmed an earlier declaration of the European Council that the EU would not recognize unilateral Israeli changes in the pre-1967 borders. The resolution also opposes Israeli measures to deny a prospective Palestinian state any presence in Jerusalem. The statement’s endorsement of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year institution-building initiative suggests a future willingness to act favorably on a Palestinian declaration of statehood following the initiative’s projected completion. In her first pronouncement on the Israel-Palestine conflict as the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton declared, “We cannot and nor, I doubt, can the region tolerate another round of fruitless negotiations.”

An imposed solution has risks, but these do not begin to compare with the risks of the conflict’s unchecked continuation. Furthermore, since the adversaries are not being asked to accept anything they have not already committed themselves to in formal accords, the international community is not imposing its own ideas but insisting the parties live up to existing obligations. That kind of intervention, or “imposition,” is hardly unprecedented; it is the daily fare of international diplomacy. It defines America’s relations with allies and unfriendly countries alike.

It would not take extraordinary audacity for Obama to reaffirm the official position of every previous US administration–including that of George W. Bush–that no matter how desirable or necessary certain changes in the pre-1967 status may seem, they cannot be made unilaterally. Even Bush, celebrated in Israel as “the best American president Israel ever had,” stated categorically that this inviolable principle applies even to the settlement blocs that Israel insists it will annex. Speaking of these blocs at a May 2005 press conference, Bush affirmed that “changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to,” a qualification largely ignored by Israeli governments (and by Bush himself). The next year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even more explicit. She stated that “the president did say that at the time of final status, it will be necessary to take into account new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967, but under no circumstances…should anyone try and do that in a pre-emptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.”

Of course, Obama should leave no doubt that it is inconceivable for the United States not to be fully responsive to Israel’s genuine security needs, no matter how displeased it may be with a particular Israeli government’s policies. But he must also leave no doubt that it is equally inconceivable he would abandon America’s core values or compromise its strategic interests to keep Netanyahu’s government in power, particularly when support for this government means supporting a regime that would permanently disenfranchise and dispossess the Palestinian people.

In short, Middle East peacemaking efforts will continue to fail, and the possibility of a two-state solution will disappear, if US policy continues to ignore developments on the ground in the occupied territories and within Israel, which now can be reversed only through outside intervention. President Obama is uniquely positioned to help Israel reclaim Jewish and democratic ideals on which the state was founded–if he does not continue “politics as usual.” But was it not his promise to reject just such a politics that swept Obama into the presidency and captured the amazement and respect of the entire world?

About Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

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Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank, a drive that continues in violation of even the limited settlement freeze to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself, seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement,” one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

» More

The inevitability of such a transformation has been held out not by “Israel bashers” but by the country’s own leaders. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referred to that danger, as did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who warned that Israel could not escape turning into an apartheid state if it did not relinquish “almost all the territories, if not all,” including the Arab parts of East Jerusalem.Olmert ridiculed Israeli defense strategists who, he said, had learned nothing from past experiences and were stuck in the mindset of the 1948 war of independence. “With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless. Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles–although denied by Israel’s government–that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal (except for a few isolated and sparsely populated ones) by this or any future Israeli government unless compelled to do so by international intervention, an eventuality until now considered entirely unlikely.

It is not only the settlements’ proliferation and size that have made their dismantlement impossible. Equally decisive have been the influence of Israel’s settler-security-industrial complex, which conceived and implemented this policy; the recent disappearance of a viable pro-peace political party in Israel; and the infiltration by settlers and their supporters in the religious-national camp into key leadership positions in Israel’s security and military establishments.

Olmert was mistaken in one respect, for he said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But the relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition. Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

When a state’s denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent, it ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population’s ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid, or racism, not much different from the one that characterized South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. By definition, democracy reserved for privileged citizens–while all others are kept behind checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls commanded by the Israeli army–is not democracy but its opposite.

The Jewish settlements and their supporting infrastructure, which span the West Bank from east to west and north to south, are not a wild growth, like weeds in a garden. They have been carefully planned, financed and protected by successive Israeli governments and Israel’s military. Their purpose has been to deny the Palestinian people independence and statehood–or to put it more precisely, to retain Israeli control of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” an objective that precludes the existence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state east of Israel’s pre-1967 border.

A vivid recollection from the time I headed the American Jewish Congress is a helicopter trip over the West Bank on which I was taken by Ariel Sharon. With large, worn maps in hand, he pointed out to me strategic locations of present and future settlements on east-west and north-south axes that, Sharon assured me, would rule out a future Palestinian state.

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, then defense minister, described Israel’s plan for the future of the territories as “the current reality.” “The plan is being implemented in actual fact,” he said. “What exists today must remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.” Ten years later, at a conference in Tel Aviv whose theme was finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Dayan said: “The question is not, What is the solution? but, How do we live without a solution?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would leave under Israel’s control Palestine’s international borders and airspace, as well as the entire Jordan Valley; would leave most of the settlers in place; and would fragment the contiguity of the territory remaining for such a state. His conditions would also deny Palestinians even those parts of East Jerusalem that Israel unilaterally annexed to the city immediately following the 1967 war–land that had never been part of Jerusalem before the war. In other words, Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would meet Dayan’s goal of leaving Israel’s de facto occupation in place.

From Dayan’s prescription for the permanence of the status quo to Netanyahu’s prescription for a two-state solution, Israel has lived “without a solution,” not because of uncertainty or neglect but as a matter of deliberate policy, clandestinely driving settlement expansion to the point of irreversibility while pretending to search for “a Palestinian partner for peace.”

Sooner or later the White House, Congress and the American public–not to speak of a Jewish establishment that is largely out of touch with the younger Jewish generation’s changing perceptions of Israel’s behavior–will have to face the fact that America’s “special relationship” with Israel is sustaining a colonial enterprise.

President Barack Obama’s capitulation to Netanyahu on the settlement freeze was widely seen as the collapse of the latest hope for achievement of a two-state agreement. It thoroughly discredited the notion that Palestinian moderation is the path to statehood, and therefore also discredited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, moderation’s leading Palestinian advocate, who announced his intention not to run in the coming presidential elections.

Netanyahu’s “limited” freeze was described by the Obama administration as “unprecedented,” even though the exceptions to it–3,000 housing units whose foundations had supposedly already been laid, public buildings and unlimited construction in East Jerusalem–brought total construction to where it would have been without a freeze. Indeed, Netanyahu assured the settler leadership and his cabinet that construction will resume after the ten-month freeze–according to minister Benny Begin, at a rate “faster and more than before”–even if Abbas agrees to return to talks. In fact, the Israeli press has reported that the freeze notwithstanding, new construction in the settlements is “booming.” None of this has elicited the Obama administration’s public rebuke, much less the kinds of sanctions imposed on Palestinians when they violate agreements.

But what is widely believed to have been the final blow to a two-state solution may in fact turn out to be the necessary condition for its eventual achievement. That condition is abandonment of the utterly wrongheaded idea that a Palestinian state can arise without forceful outside intervention. The international community has shown signs of exasperation with Israel’s deceptions and stonewalling, and also with Washington’s failure to demonstrate that there are consequences not only for Palestinian violations of agreements but for Israeli ones as well. The last thing many in the international community want is a resumption of predictably meaningless negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas. Instead, they are focusing on forceful third-party intervention, a concept that is no longer taboo.

Ironically, it is Netanyahu who now insists on the resumption of peace talks. For him, a prolonged breakdown of talks risks exposing the irreversibility of the settlements, and therefore the loss of Israel’s democratic character, and legitimizing outside intervention as the only alternative to an unstable and dangerous status quo. While the Obama administration may be reluctant to support such initiatives, it may no longer wish to block them.

These are not fanciful fears. Israeli chiefs of military intelligence, the Shin Bet and other defense officials told Netanyahu’s security cabinet on December 9 that the stalled peace process has led to a dangerous vacuum “into which a number of different states are putting their own initiatives, none of which are in Israel’s favor.” They stressed that “the fact that the US has also reached a dead-end in its efforts only worsens the problem.”

If these fears are realized and the international community abandons a moribund peace process in favor of determined third-party initiatives, a two-state outcome may yet be possible. A recent proposal by the Swedish presidency of the European Union is perhaps the first indication of the international community’s determination to react more meaningfully to Netanyahu’s intransigence. The proposal, adopted by the EU’s foreign ministers on December 8, reaffirmed an earlier declaration of the European Council that the EU would not recognize unilateral Israeli changes in the pre-1967 borders. The resolution also opposes Israeli measures to deny a prospective Palestinian state any presence in Jerusalem. The statement’s endorsement of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year institution-building initiative suggests a future willingness to act favorably on a Palestinian declaration of statehood following the initiative’s projected completion. In her first pronouncement on the Israel-Palestine conflict as the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton declared, “We cannot and nor, I doubt, can the region tolerate another round of fruitless negotiations.”

An imposed solution has risks, but these do not begin to compare with the risks of the conflict’s unchecked continuation. Furthermore, since the adversaries are not being asked to accept anything they have not already committed themselves to in formal accords, the international community is not imposing its own ideas but insisting the parties live up to existing obligations. That kind of intervention, or “imposition,” is hardly unprecedented; it is the daily fare of international diplomacy. It defines America’s relations with allies and unfriendly countries alike.

It would not take extraordinary audacity for Obama to reaffirm the official position of every previous US administration–including that of George W. Bush–that no matter how desirable or necessary certain changes in the pre-1967 status may seem, they cannot be made unilaterally. Even Bush, celebrated in Israel as “the best American president Israel ever had,” stated categorically that this inviolable principle applies even to the settlement blocs that Israel insists it will annex. Speaking of these blocs at a May 2005 press conference, Bush affirmed that “changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to,” a qualification largely ignored by Israeli governments (and by Bush himself). The next year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even more explicit. She stated that “the president did say that at the time of final status, it will be necessary to take into account new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967, but under no circumstances…should anyone try and do that in a pre-emptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.”

Of course, Obama should leave no doubt that it is inconceivable for the United States not to be fully responsive to Israel’s genuine security needs, no matter how displeased it may be with a particular Israeli government’s policies. But he must also leave no doubt that it is equally inconceivable he would abandon America’s core values or compromise its strategic interests to keep Netanyahu’s government in power, particularly when support for this government means supporting a regime that would permanently disenfranchise and dispossess the Palestinian people.

In short, Middle East peacemaking efforts will continue to fail, and the possibility of a two-state solution will disappear, if US policy continues to ignore developments on the ground in the occupied territories and within Israel, which now can be reversed only through outside intervention. President Obama is uniquely positioned to help Israel reclaim Jewish and democratic ideals on which the state was founded–if he does not continue “politics as usual.” But was it not his promise to reject just such a politics that swept Obama into the presidency and captured the amazement and respect of the entire world?

About Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

Israeli Jews and the one-state solution

The Electronic Intifada, November 10, 2009

Israeli Jews and the one-state solution

Anyone who rejects the two-state solution, won’t bring a one-state solution. They will instead bring one war, not one state. A bloody war with no end. — Israeli President Shimon Peres, 7 November 2009.

One of the most commonly voiced objections to a one-state solution for Palestine/Israel stems from the accurate observation that the vast majority of Israeli Jews reject it, and fear being “swamped” by a Palestinian majority. Across the political spectrum, Israeli Jews insist on maintaining a separate Jewish-majority state.

But with the total collapse of the Obama Administration’s peace efforts, and relentless Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank, the reality is dawning rapidly that the two-state solution is no more than a slogan that has no chance of being implemented or altering the reality of a de facto binational state in Palestine/Israel.

This places an obligation on all who care about the future of Palestine/Israel to seriously consider the democratic alternatives. I have long argued that the systems in post-apartheid South Africa (a unitary democratic state), and Northern Ireland (consociational democracy) — offer hopeful, real-life models.

But does solid Israeli Jewish opposition to a one-state solution mean that a peaceful one-state outcome is so unlikely that Palestinians should not pursue it, and should instead focus only on “pragmatic” solutions that would be less fiercely resisted by Israeli Jews?

The experience in South Africa suggests otherwise. In 1994, white-minority rule — apartheid — came to a peaceful, negotiated end, and was replaced (after a transitional period of power-sharing) with a unitary democratic state with a one person, one vote system. Before this happened, how likely did this outcome look? Was there any significant constituency of whites prepared to contemplate it, and what if the African National Congress (ANC) had only advanced political solutions that whites told pollsters they would accept?

Until close to the end of apartheid, the vast majority of whites, including many of the system’s liberal critics, completely rejected a one person, one vote system, predicting that any attempt to impose it would lead to a bloodbath. As late as 1989, F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid president, described a one person, one vote system as the “death knell” for South Africa.

A 1988 study by political scientist Pierre Hugo documented the widespread fears among South African whites that a transition to majority rule would entail not only a loss of political power and socioeconomic status, but engendered “physical dread” and fear of “violence, total collapse, expulsion and flight.” Successive surveys showed that four out of five whites thought that majority rule would threaten their “physical safety.” Such fears were frequently heightened by common racist tropes of inherently savage and violent Africans, but the departure of more than a million white colons from Algeria and the airlifting of 300,000 whites from Angola during decolonization set terrifying precedents (“Towards darkness and death: racial demonology in South Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 26(4), 1988).

Throughout the 1980s, polls showed that even as whites increasingly understood that apartheid could not last, only a small minority ever supported majority rule and a one person, one vote system. In a March 1986 survey, for example, 47 percent of whites said they would favor some form of “mixed-race” government, but 83 percent said they would opt for continued white domination of the government if they had the choice (Peter Goodspeed, “Afrikaners cling to their all-white dream,” The Toronto Star, 5 October 1986).

A 1990 nationwide survey of Afrikaner whites (native speakers of Afrikaans, as opposed to English, and who traditionally formed the backbone of the apartheid state), found just 2.2 percent were willing to accept a “universal franchise with majority rule” (Kate Manzo and Pat McGowan, “Afrikaner fears and the politics of despair: Understanding change in South Africa,” International Studies Quarterly, 36, 1992).

Perhaps an enlightened white elite was able to lead the white masses to higher ground? This was not the case either. A 1988 academic survey of more than 400 white politicians, business and media leaders, top civil servants, academics and clergy found that just 4.8 percent were prepared to accept a unitary state with a universal voting franchise and two-thirds considered such an outcome “unacceptable.” According to Manzo and McGowan, white elites reflected the sentiments and biases of the rest of the society and overwhelmingly considered whites inherently more civilized and culturally superior to black Africans. Just more than half of prominent whites were prepared to accept “a federal state in which power is shared between white and non-white groups and areas so that no one group dominates.”

During the 1980s, the white electorate in South Africa moved to the right, as Israel’s Jewish electorate is doing today. Support seeped from the National Party, which had established formal apartheid in 1948, to the even more extreme Conservative Party. Yet, “on the issue of majority rule,” Hugo observed, “supporters of the National Party and the Conservative Party, as well as most white voters to the ‘left’ of these organizations, ha[d] little quarrel with each other.”

The vast majority of whites, wracked with existential fears, were simply unable to contemplate relinquishing effective control, or at least a veto, over political decision-making in South Africa.

Yet, the African National Congress insisted firmly on a one person, one vote system with no white veto. As the township protests and strikes and international pressure mounted, The Economist observed in an extensive 1986 survey of South Africa published on 1 February of that year, that many “enlightened” whites “still fondly argue that a dramatic improvement in the quality of black life may take the revolutionary sting out of the black townships — and persuade ‘responsible’ blacks, led by the emergent black middle class, to accept some power-sharing formula.”

Schemes to stabilize the apartheid system abounded, and bear a strong resemblance to the current Israeli government’s vision of “economic peace” in which a collaborationist Palestinian Authority leadership would manage a still-subjugated Palestinian population anesthetized by consumer goods and shopping malls.

Because of the staunch opposition of whites to a unitary democratic state, the ANC heard no shortage of advice from western liberals that it should seek a “realistic” political accommodation with the apartheid regime, and that no amount of pressure could force whites to succumb to the ANC’s political demands. The ANC was warned that insistence on majority rule would force Afrikaners into the “laager” — they would retreat into a militarized garrison state and siege economy, preferring death before surrender.

Even the late Helen Suzman, one of apartheid’s fiercest liberal critics, predicted in 1987, as quoted by Hugo, “The Zimbabwe conflict took 15 years … and cost 20,000 lives and I can assure you that the South African transfer of power will take a good deal more than that, both in time and I am afraid lives.”

But as The Economist observed, the view that whites would prefer “collective suicide” was something of a caricature. The vast majority of Afrikaners were “no longer bible-thumping boers.” They were “part of a spoilt, affluent suburban society, whose economic pain threshold may prove to be rather low.”

The Economist concluded that if whites would only come so far voluntarily, then it was perfectly reasonable for the anti-apartheid movement to bring them the rest of the way through “coercion” in the form of sanctions and other forms of pressure. “The quicker the white tribe submits,” the magazine wrote, “the better its chance of a bearable future in a black-ruled South Africa.”

Ultimately, as we now know, the combination of internal resistance and international isolation did force whites to abandon political apartheid and accept majority rule. However, it is important to note that the combined strength of the anti-apartheid movement never seriously threatened the physical integrity of the white regime.

Even after the massive township uprisings of 1985-86, the South African regime was secure. “So far there is no real physical threat to white power,” The Economist noted, “so far there is little threat to white lives. … The white state is mighty, and well-equipped. It has the capacity to repress the township revolts far more bloodily. The blacks have virtually no urban or rural guerrilla capacity, practically no guns, few safe havens within South Africa or without.”

This balance never changed, and a similar equation could be written today about the relative power of a massively-armed — and much more ruthless — Israeli state, and lightly armed Palestinian resistance factions.

What did change for South Africa, and what all the weapons in the world were not able to prevent, was the complete loss of legitimacy of the apartheid regime and its practices. Once this legitimacy was gone, whites lost the will to maintain a system that relied on repression and violence and rendered them international pariahs; they negotiated a way out and lived to tell the tale. It all happened much more quickly and with considerably less violence than even the most optimistic predictions of the time. But this outcome could not have been predicted based on what whites said they were willing to accept, and it would not have occurred had the ANC been guided by opinion polls rather than the democratic principles of the Freedom Charter.

Zionism — as many Israelis openly worry — is suffering a similar, terminal loss of legitimacy as Israel is ever more isolated as a result of its actions. Israel’s self-image as a liberal “Jewish and democratic state” is proving impossible to maintain against the reality of a militarized, ultra-nationalist Jewish sectarian settler-colony that must carry out frequent and escalating massacres of “enemy” civilians (Lebanon and Gaza 2006, Gaza 2009) in a losing effort to check the resistance of the region’s indigenous people. Zionism cannot bomb, kidnap, assassinate, expel, demolish, settle and lie its way to legitimacy and acceptance.

Already difficult to disguise, the loss of legitimacy becomes impossible to conceal once Palestinians are a demographic majority ruled by a Jewish minority. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” is in effect an acknowledgement of failure: without Palestinian consent, something which is unlikely ever to be granted, the Zionist project of a Jewish ethnocracy in Palestine has grim long-term prospects.

Similarly, South African whites typically attempted to justify their opposition to democracy, not in terms of a desire to preserve their privilege and power, but using liberal arguments about protecting distinctive cultural differences. Hendrik Verwoerd Jr., the son of assassinated Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid’s founder, expressed the problem in these terms in 1986, as reported by The Toronto Star, stating that, “These two people, the Afrikaner and the black, are not capable of becoming one nation. Our differences are unique, cultural and deep. The only way a man can be happy, can live in peace, is really when he is among his own people, when he shares cultural values.”

The younger Verwoerd was on the far-right of South African politics, leading a quixotic effort to carve out a whites-only homeland in the heart of South Africa. But his reasoning sounds remarkably similar to liberal Zionist defenses of the “two-state solution” today. The Economist clarified the use of such language at the time, stating that “One of the weirder products of apartheid is the crippling of language in a maw of hypocrisy, euphemism and sociologese. You talk about the Afrikaner ‘right to self-determination’ — meaning power over everybody else.”

Zionism’s claim for “Jewish self-determination” amidst an intermixed population, is in effect a demand to preserve and legitimize a status quo in which Israeli Jews exercise power in perpetuity. But there’s little reason to expect that Israeli Jews would abandon this quest voluntarily any more than South African whites did. As in South Africa, coercion is necessary — and the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is one of the most powerful, nonviolent, legitimate and proven tools of coercion that Palestinians possess. Israel’s vulnerabilities may be different from those of apartheid South Africa, but Israel is not invulnerable to pressure.

Coercion is not enough, however; as I have long argued, and sought to do, Palestinians must also put forward a positive vision. Neither can Palestinians advocating a one-state solution simply disregard the views of Israeli Jews. We must recognize that the opposition of Israeli Jews to any solution that threatens their power and privilege stems from at least two sources. One is irrational, racist fears of black and brown hordes (in this case, Arab Muslims) stoked by decades of colonial, racist demonization. The other source — certainly heightened by the former — are normal human concerns about personal and family dislocation, loss of socioeconomic status and community security: change is scary.

But change will come. Without indulging Israeli racism or preserving undue privilege, the legitimate concerns of ordinary Israeli Jews can be addressed directly in any negotiated transition to ensure that the shift to democracy is orderly, and essential redistributive policies are carried out fairly. Inevitably, decolonization will cause some pain as Israeli Jews lose power and privilege, but there are few reasons to believe it cannot be a well-managed process, or that the vast majority of Israeli Jews, like white South Africans, would not be prepared to make the adjustment for the sake of a normality and legitimacy they cannot have any other way.

This is where the wealth of research and real-life experience about the successes, failures, difficulties and opportunities of managing such transitions at the level of national and local politics, neighborhoods, schools and universities, workplaces, state institutions and policing, emerging from South Africa and Northern Ireland, will be of enormous value.

Every situation has unique features, and although there are patterns in history, it never repeats itself exactly. But what we can conclude from studying the pasts and presents of others is that Palestinians and Israelis are no less capable of writing themselves a post-colonial future that gives everyone a chance at a life worth living in a single, democratic state.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Jewish Voice for Peace comments:

Ali Abunimah is a prominent defender of a single democratic state in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In this article he makes the now quite common – though also controversial – comparison with Apartheid South Africa. Usually the question this comparison raises is whether Israeli treatment of Palestinians is really analogous to or as bad as the Apartheid regime’s treatment of its black majority, and the comparison is often used to support the use of tactics of resistance like BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) modeled on the anti-Apartheid campaigns of the 1980s.  But Abunimah instead hones narrowly in on the hostility of the white minority in South Africa to a multi-racial democratic state, a hostility that persisted until surprisingly shortly before change was initiated. It is this that he compares, in a wealth of detail, with Jewish Israeli fears of a single state solution. If change could occur in South Africa in spite of such widespread rejection in the white community, why, Abuminah argues, should change not occur in Israel despite the fears of the Jewish community? It won’t happen, he recognizes without outside pressure (and he supports BDS); but current Jewish Israeli rejection need not make it impossible.

This is surely true, but ‘not necessarily impossible’ is very far from showing that a one-state solution ought to be the aspiration of activist movements, Palestinian, Jewish or otherwise. As his banner quotation from Shimon Peres – a barely veiled threat – makes clear, it remains quite possible that a one-state ‘solution’ will involve no diminution of violence towards or oppression of Palestinians. One state is, after all, what there is now. What might make it important to explore a one state possibility is the fact, clearly motivating Abunimah, that two viable states are now impossible. Certainly he is correct to say that there is presently no political will in the Israeli or US administrations to move in the direction of a viable Palestinian state and reasonable opinions can differ on whether the current ‘facts on the ground’ make it impossible to eke out such a state. But it is also surely true that activist pressure can be brought to bear both on that political
will and even on the facts on the ground and this pressure has a natural point of application in the official commitment of Israel, the US, the PA (and even Hamas) to two states. If change is possible, as Abunimah argues, on the one state solution, then it is certainly possible for two states. But if two states can be achieved, then this removes a big chunk of the motivation for directing one’s energies to one state. Indeed, aiming for two viable states in the medium term is not inconsistent with seeking to build consensus, along the lines Abunimah suggests, for single state in the long term.

The question is by no means an obvious one to resolve, but it is important to consider where activist energies are most likely to have an effect, and avoid directions that absorb energy with little hope of result. Indeed some commentators have suggested that the one state solution has become increasingly acceptable in the mainstream US  media precisely because it is so unlikely to come about that it represents – from the point of view of the status quo – a harmless safety valve through which to discharge otherwise potentially dangerous activist pressure.

Alistair Welchman

Mahmoud Abbas’ chronic submissiveness

Haaretz,  October 5, 2009

Mahmoud Abbas’ chronic submissiveness

By Amira Hass

In a single phone call to his man in Geneva, Mahmoud Abbas has demonstrated his disregard for popular action, and his lack of faith in its accumulative power and the place of mass movements in processes of change.

For nine months, thousands of people – Palestinians, their supporters abroad and Israeli anti-occupation activists – toiled to ensure that the legacy of Israel’s military offensive against Gaza would not be consigned to the garbage bin of occupying nations obsessed with their feelings of superiority.

Thanks to the Goldstone report, even in Israel voices began to stammer about the need for an independent inquiry into the assault. But shortly after Abbas was visited by the American consul-general on Thursday, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization got on the phone to instruct his representative on the United Nations Human Rights Council to ask his colleagues to postpone the vote on the adoption of the report’s conclusions.

Heavy American pressure and the resumption of peace negotiations were the reasons for Abbas’ move, it was said. Palestinian spokespeople spun various versions over the weekend in an attempt to make the move kosher, explaining that it was not a cancelation but a six-month postponement that Abbas was seeking.

Will the American and European representatives in Geneva support the adoption of the report in six months’ time? Will Israel heed international law in the coming months, stop building in the settlements and announce immediate negotiations on their dismantlement and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories? Is this what adoption of the report would have endangered? Of course not.

A great deal of political folly and short-sightedness was bared by that phone call, on the eve of Hamas’s celebration of its victory in securing the release of 20 female prisoners. Precisely on that day, Abbas put Gaza in the headlines within the context of the PLO’s defeatism and of spitting in the face of the victims of the attack – that is how they felt in Gaza and elsewhere.

Abbas confirmed in fact that Hamas is the real national leadership, and gave ammunition to those who claim that its path – the path of armed struggle – yields results that negotiations do not.

This was not an isolated gaffe, but a pattern that has endured since the PLO leadership concocted, together with naive Norwegians and shrewd Israeli lawyers, the Oslo Accords. Disregard for, and lack of interest in the knowledge and experience accumulated in the inhabitants of the occupied territories’ prolonged popular struggle led to the first errors: the absence of an explicit statement that the aim was the establishment of a state within defined borders, not insisting on a construction freeze in the settlements, forgetting about the prisoners, endorsing the Area C arrangement, etc.

The chronic submissiveness is always explained by a desire to “make progress.” But for the PLO and Fatah, progress is the very continued existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is now functioning more than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Civil Administration.

This is a leadership that has been convinced that armed struggle – certainly in the face of Israeli military superiority – cannot bring independence. And indeed, the disastrous repercussions of the Second Intifada are proof of this position. This is a leadership that believes in negotiation as a strategic path to obtaining a state and integration in the world that the United States is shaping.

But in such a world there is personal gain that accrues from chronic submissiveness – benefits enjoyed by the leaders and their immediate circles. This personal gain shapes the tactics.

Is the choice really only between negotiations and armed-struggle theater, the way the Palestinian leadership makes it out to be? No.

The true choice is between negotiations as part of a popular struggle anchored in the language of the universal culture of equality and rights, and negotiations between business partners with the junior partner submissively expressing his gratitude to the senior partner for his generosity.

Israel evicts Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, Settlers immediate occupy houses

Aljazeera English, August 3, 2009

Israel evicts Palestinian families

Israeli security forces have forcibly evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem after a court rejected an appeal against their eviction.

The al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun families who were evicted on Sunday have been living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood since 1956.

Israel has reportedly set aside the land their houses were built on for a planned hotel project.

The eviction comes amid international calls for Israel to halt settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.

A large police force was involved in the operation in Sheikh Jarrah, one of the most sensitive and upmarket Arab neighbourhoods closest to the so-called Green Line which separates east and west Jerusalem.

Violent ‘scuffles’

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in East Jerusalem, said: “According to the Hanoun family, the members that I have spoken to, at about 6am as they were sleeping inside the house, Israeli police officers broke in and we can see the shattered glass all over the floor outside.

“They say that the police were armed and they forcibly evicted both the international activists that were staying at the house and members of the family themselves.

“Members of the family say the police officers beat them with batons and children as young as six were man-handled … scuffles were seen and heard between the police and the two families trying to get back into their houses,” she said.

Tadros said the international activists were arrested and personal items belonging to the families such as cameras, laptops and computers have all been confiscated.

‘Blatant violation of law’

Residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, composed of 28 Palestinian families, held a press conference on May 6 in order to raise awareness regarding the Israeli District Court decision to issue an ultimatum to the al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun families giving them 10 days to evacuate their homes or face punitive measures, including forcible expulsion.

Maher Hanoun, one of 53 family members of the two families affected by the court decision said in a statement: “The al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun cases are part of an ongoing attempt by the two Jewish settler organisations to take over 28 housing units built in 1956 to house refugees and to turn it into a Jewish colony.

“Israel’s measures against the two families constitute blatant violations of international law including the 4th Geneva Convention that obligates the occupying authorities, Israel, to maintain the geographic and demographic characteristics of occupied East Jerusalem,” he said.

Hanoun appealed to the “international community, human rights organisations, and the EU to exert pressure on Israel to stop it from pursuing its plan to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of its Palestinian population”.

In 1982, Israeli settler organisations began demanding rent from the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah, who at that point had been living in the neighbourhood for almost 30 years – and when many of the families refused to pay this rent, the first eviction orders were issued.

The legal proceedings continued over the years, and in 2006 it was ruled by court that the settler organisations did not have rights to the land, and the Israeli land registration department agreed to revoke the settler associations’ ownership.

Settlement expansion

Despite pending appeals and the lack of legal ownership of land in the neighbourhood, the settler organisations sold their property claim in 2008 to an investment company that plans to demolish the 28 Palestinian homes and build 200 settlement units for new Jewish immigrants.

Further reports state that two additional construction plans being currently reviewed by the Jerusalem municipality would create an additional 150 housing units, for a total of 350 new housing units for Israelis, as well as a synagogue in Sheikh Jarrah.

Settlements have emerged as a major sticking point in relations between Israel and the administration of Barack Obama, the US president.

Although Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, recently yielded to US pressure to conditionally endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has consistently resisted US demands for a total freeze on settlement expansion.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the whole city its capital after the 1967 Six Day War, a move not recognised by the international community

Deportations spark outcry

Earlier on Saturday, thousands of Israeli and migrant workers, including children, formed a human chain in Tel Aviv in protest at Israel’s decision to deport families of illegal aliens, most of them from Africa.

Israel had set an August 1 deadline to expel illegal migrants and their children, even those who grew up in the country, triggering an outcry among human rights groups.

According to the interior ministry, some 300,000 illegal aliens – including 100,000 migrants, tourists who overstayed their visit and Palestinians – live in Israel which is home to seven million inhabitants.

But human rights groups have said that these figures are inflated.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Joel

Joel Beinin, of Jewish Peace News,  adds:

Stand Up for Jerusalem has posted videos <http://bit.ly/xu92J> of Israeli police evicting two Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem at 5:00 am on August 2.  One of the families, the Hijazi family, claims to have deeds to the property dating to the 19th century.  The Sephardic Community Committee also claims to have owned the properties before the 1948 War.  Twenty-eight Palestinian refugee families were resettled in Sheikh Jarrah by the UN and the Jordanian government, which occupied East Jerusalem during the war.  After Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 they were granted the status of “protected” tenants (meaning ordinarily they could not be evicted).  The putative Jewish owners claimed the two families were delinquent in their rent and therefore subject to eviction.  With the consent of the Sephardic Community Committee, settlers have already occupied the homes.

This appears to be a further step in the process of “judaizing” Sheikh Jarrah, a project which has been under way for some time.  Nahalat Shimon International, a settler-related real estate group which also claims to have an Ottoman-era deed, has been seeking to build a 200-unit settlement named Shimon Ha-Tzadik in the area. Settlers already occupy several other houses in the neighborhood.

A full report on the legal background to the case is available at the website of ‘Ir ‘Amim, an NGO that seeks an equitable and shared Jerusalem in the framework of an agreed political future. <http://bit.ly/1bu3Fd>

The Sheikh Jarrah evictions have aroused a storm of international protest from the USA, UK, the EU, Sweden, Egypt, and others. Secretary of State Clinton called the eviction “a very regrettable action,” and the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, was called in for a scolding.  Verbal protests seem unlikely to be enough to halt the Netanyahu government’s determination to build more Jewish colonies in East Jerusalem.

Israeli Journalist Amira Hass on the state of relations between Israel and Palestine

Both Israelis and Palestinians needed to exaggerate the Palestinian military threat to Israel for their own reasons. There is no way the Israeli figures about combatants among those killed are correct. And Hamas doesn’t want to break the myth that they could stand up against the Israeli army. …  About 58,800 housing units have been built with government approval in the West Bank over the [past] 40 years. An additional 46,500 have already obtained Defense Ministry approval within the existing master plans. Others say that it’s too late now to dismantle the settlements. So, actually, any solution which is based on the two states is obsolete.

Democracy Now, June 2, 2009

Israeli Journalist Amira Hass on the Start of the UN’s Probe into Possible Israeli War Crimes during Gaza War

The actions of the Israeli army during its twenty-two-day assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year are back in the spotlight with the arrival of a United Nations delegation in Gaza this Monday. The fifteen-member team will be investigating possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel’s military assault. It’s headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, who was the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Israel opposes the investigation and denied the delegation visas, forcing them to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing.

This is a conversation between Democracy Now host Amy Goodman and Amira Hass, author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege and Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land. Her latest book, out later this month from Haymarket Books, is a diary written by her mother, Hanna Levy-Hass, of surviving the notorious Nazi concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. It’s called Diary of Bergen-Belsen, 1944-1945.

AMY GOODMAN: The actions of the Israeli army during the twenty-two-day assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year are back in the spotlight with the arrival of the UN delegation in Gaza this Monday. The fifteen-member team will be investigating whether possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel’s military assault. It’s headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, who was the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Israel opposes the investigation, denies the delegation visas, forcing them to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York Monday and said the UN should investigate Hamas’s rockets and not alleged war crimes by Israel. He later told reporters Israel would not cooperate with the investigation, saying “From our experience, we well know that they will never be able to talk to the other side and to penetrate or to interrogate the series of terrorist operations along years, including thousands of rockets and missiles fell upon the heads of Israeli citizens, in order to get a unbiased conclusion. And knowing the procedures by which such operations are taken, I don’t think that Israel has to or will cooperate with this interrogation.

Human rights groups and Palestinian officials say over 1,400 Palestinians, including over 900 civilians, were killed in what Israel calls “Operation Cast Lead.” Israel disputes the figures, claiming less than 300 civilian deaths. The Israeli Defense Forces-led investigation concluded last month there was no evidence of serious misconduct by its troops.

I’m joined now by the renowned Israeli journalist Amira Hass, regular columnist for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper. She has spent more than a decade living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank, the only Israeli journalist to do this, and returned to Gaza this year a few days after the official end of Israel’s assault. She spent the next four months living in Gaza, documenting accounts of the war and its aftermath.  Welcome to Democracy Now!

AMIRA HASS: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. The latest news of the UN delegation, headed by the jurist Richard Goldstone of South Africa, being denied visas, so they’re going through the Rafah border controlled by Egypt.

AMIRA HASS: This is not the first delegation and the first investigation committee that has been denied Israeli cooperation. There was one by the Arab League that came in February and also did not receive any cooperation on the Israeli part. And it’s very strange. If they didn’t have anything to hide, if the Israelis didn’t have anything to hide, they would have gladly cooperated and given information to those very esteemed jurists, who have been—who have done a lot of important work dealing with other investigations all over the world. John Dugard led the other delegation, the first delegation of the Arab League. John Dugard is South African, just as Richard Goldstone is. And Richard Goldstone is also a Jew. And it is quite telling, or it is even incriminating, the Israeli refusal to cooperate with them.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think they’re hiding?

AMIRA HASS: The truth. The truth that it was not an attack against the military threat, because the military threat that Hamas poses is very minor. Israel, for years, has had the need to exaggerate the Palestinian military threat. It served not only Israeli needs, it very often served also internal Palestinian needs, to exaggerate their own threat to Israel, because that’s how they could maybe get more popularity in the Arab world, outside and inside the Palestinian community. So both—this exaggeration served both parties.

And, of course, Israel wants to hide—Israel built a presentation of the reality, not—it didn’t allow the reality to come out easily, the reality of indiscriminate attacks against civilians, mostly civilians. I was there for four months. I found it hard to find—I mean, the majority of people that I met, bereft families, people whose houses were destroyed, people whose houses were occupied by the army, people who were victims to missiles, attacks either by drones or helicopters, or bombs dropped, or being killed or wounded by bombs dropped by war jets. I found it hard to find Hamas—direct Hamas activists, let alone combatants or people who are known to be combatants. There is no way to hide this—there is no way that the Israeli figures about casualties is correct.

I mean, I asked the Israeli army to give me their list of—which they say about 700 casualties that they claim, or 1,000—I don’t remember now. They refused to give me their list. I wanted the list to check name by name and then to compare with the list that Palestinian human rights organizations compiled and to see where the differences are. And they said they could not give me the list, because this would disclose their sources. In one specific question about two women who were killed in short—by short range from a tank, I asked, “Are these two women included in your list of casualties?” I didn’t get an answer. So, the Israeli refusal to cooperate with information is very telling.

It’s true that also Hamas are not telling much. But by being there, of course, you learn a lot. They don’t tell much, because I think they don’t want to tell that—or they don’t want to break the myth that they could stand up against the Israeli army. They could not the Israeli army. And this is not shame. I mean, the discussion is whether one should—whether if you want to get to liberate the Palestinians from the Israeli occupation, whether the armed struggle or the—I call it the symbolic armed struggle, is indeed the way. This is the discussion. They have not—when you look at their abilities, when you look at their—the weapons that were smuggled in, those who sent them weapons did not send them sophisticated weapons at all. And there is no way they could stand up against the Israeli army. And this is something that the Israelis—both the Israelis and Hamas, I think, want to hide.

AMY GOODMAN: And Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, meeting with Ban Ki-moon Monday, saying the UN should investigate Hamas’s rockets, not the alleged war crimes by Israel?

AMIRA HASS: I think that they have—I mean, everybody was talking about the rockets, and I think that the—let me ask you, you know the city of Sderot, right? You are familiar with this. Do you know Ben-e Have you ever mentioned in your program the village Bani Suhaila? How many people know about Beit Hanoun? How many people knew about Abasan? All these—how many people know—knew about Zeitoun? All these Palestinian neighborhoods and villages which were a victim of Israeli attacks. We only know about Sderot.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s interesting. Journalists could get to Sderot.

AMIRA HASS: Exactly, yes, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli military let them get to Sderot, but not to Gaza.

AMIRA HASS: Exactly, and not to Abasan in order to see and not to—yeah. So it’s a chutzpah. I mean, really, it’s even tiring to discuss it. So, everybody knows about the rockets, Hamas rockets, on the country. People had the impression that the whole thing—that history started with the rockets, that the history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict started with the rockets, which is, of course—which doesn’t mean, you know—there is a lot of criticism, internal criticism, within the Palestinian society about the rockets, the use of rockets. It’s obvious that rockets did not liberate Gaza, did not liberate Palestine, and they cause more harm to the Palestinians than they even cause to the Israelis.

I asked once two activists of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, of the Hamas armed wing, I asked them, “Why do you do that?” I mean, it was back in 2003, 2004. And they told me, “We want to teach the Israelis a lesson. We want them to be afraid, just as we are, just as—not we, but just as our women and children are afraid.” This was very interesting. So it is a competition about who can instill more fear. I asked this time when I was in Gaza, I asked an activist in the Islamic jihad, I said, “So, who is more afraid? You or the Israelis?” And he admitted that in this competition over fear, also the Palestinians are the losers.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, there’s an article in the New York Times that says, “According to […] newly disclosed data, about 58,800 housing units have been built with government approval in the West Bank […] over the [past] 40 years. An additional 46,500 have already obtained Defense Ministry approval within the existing master plans, awaiting nothing more than a government decision to build.” We’re talking about a doubling almost—

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —of the settlements in the West Bank.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says there will be no new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and illegal outposts there will be dismantled.

AMIRA HASS: Look, all settlement is illegal. So when we use the term “illegal outposts,” it’s misleading. It’s unauthorized illegal settlements, while you have the authorized illegal settlements. This is the real distinction.

And the real problem is not these outposts. They are tiny. Most of them are tiny. And they just distract our attention from the real construction. Yeah, this has been Israeli success. And this is, by the way, one of the things I ask the Palestinians, and that’s a problem. Neither the Palestinian so-called armed struggle—I call it symbolic armed struggle—and suicide—and terrorist attacks, both guerrilla and—guerrilla attacks and terror attacks against civilians, both these and Palestinian negotiation strategy have not stopped the settlements. On the contrary, the settlements grew in parallel, in tandem with the Oslo process and with the process of negotiations.

So, actually, Israel—you know, I asked once a Peace Now activist, and it was in ’95 or so, I asked him, “Why did you drop the slogan that you had before ’91 or before ’93, the slogan of ‘no peace with the settlements’?” And he said, “If the Palestinians accept the settlements, actually, if Abu Mazen accepted some settlements, who are we to oppose him or to say differently?” It’s true that with the Oslo agreement, Palestinians gave the impression that they could live with the settlements. And then you had the Geneva—Geneva talks or whatever, not talks, but the convention of some groups, that accepted the existence of two major settlements: Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev. So, indeed, the Palestinians gave an impression that they will tolerate these settlements. And we—no, some Palestinians, not all, of course. Others say that it’s too late now to dismantle the settlements. So, actually, it is—any solution which is based on the two states is obsolete.

AMY GOODMAN: Your evaluation, assessment of President Obama so far on the Israel-Palestine conflict, as he heads now to the Middle East, first to Saudi Arabia, then to Egypt?

AMIRA HASS: It’s—

AMY GOODMAN: And then to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah. My evaluation, it’s—so far I see more hope invested in him than I see real inclinations to pressure Israel. I mean, all the statements that were said so far are encouraging, in the sense that he understands or his administration understands that there must be a way out of this deadlock. But there must be measures taken, such as freeze of sales of arms to Israel, freeze or stoppage of all support, financial support of Israel as long as it continues to build in the settlements. So these things are yet to be seen.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, I hope this is part one of our conversation this week, that when you come back to New York City, you’ll be with us later in the week, because I particularly also want to talk about your mother’s book that’s out posthumously, Diary of Bergen-Belsen, as President Obama visits a concentration camp, as well. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Our guest, Amira Hass, columnist for Ha’aretz newspaper, renowned Israeli journalist.


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