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Archive for January, 2009

As documented in the Villages Group blog, at the end of October 2008, there were home demolitions carried out in Umm-Al-Kheir the home of some Bedouin families that live incredibly close to the settlement of Karmel.  I have been there myself, and have taken some pictures.

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This is a view of the Karmel settlement from the edge of Umm-Al-Kheir.

I remember one of the first times I was there, I met an elder of the village.  He was upset because of the difficult economic situation there.  Apparently, the settlers used to hire them for work, but now they only bring in foreign workers, and don’t employ the Palestinians at all.

I think the ultimate reason the settlers do this is to drive the Palestinians away.  The Palestinians become isolated, and the settlers act as if the Palestinians do not exist, and have no normal interaction with them, such as in the context of work.  In such a situation, eventually the Palestinians will be driven to move to an area where they can get work, and are not living next to hostile neighbors.

Here is a picture of some housing units the settlers built close to Umm-Al-Kheir.

Karmel Housing Units

Karmel Housing Units

You may notice that on the left side of all of these houses, there are no windows.  There are no windows towards the Palestinians, only windows facing each other.  It gave me a strange feeling looking at these houses.  The view that they do not see is a beautiful one of desert and hills.

A final point I want to mention refers back to the home demolitions.  These photos are from before the demolitions took place.  I did not include some pictures because the buildings in them may no longer be standing.

There is a Palestinian named Eid who is from this village.  I have talked to him on a few occasions, and he had always impressed me with his atittude.  He said repeatedly that he wants peace, and that this desire for peace has been instilled in him from his family.  He has always been optimistic about the future, at the same time acknowledging that there are Israelis and Palestinians who don’t want peace.

Well, the last time I saw him was in November, and this was about a week after his family’s home was demolished.  I had heard what happened before I saw him, and was unsure in what state he would be.  When he came over to me to say hello, his demeanor and attitude were completely unchanged.  He talked the same way as he had every other time I saw him.  It was one of the most amazing demonstrations of a commitment to values.

For days after, I was impressed with his mental strength, and it encouraged me to not lose hope, because here was a man who actually faced real personal hardship, and his outlook was unchanged.

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Although not yet official, several news outlets are reporting that Obama will choose George Mitchell as his Mideast envoy. Mitchell is a man with experience in negotiations, having worked on peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.  He also is familiar with the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  He issued a report in 2001 recommending a freeze on settlements, and a Palestinian crackdown on terrorist activities.

Apparently, The ADL’s Abe Foxman thinks Mitchell is too ‘fair’ and ‘even-handed’ to serve as Middle East envoy. Pretty interesting statement from Foxman.  I’ll let it speak for itself.

In my opinion, Mitchell is an important choice because the Bush Administration seriously damaged the Arab world’s faith in America as a fair mediator in peace negotiations.  Mitchell is half-Lebanese, which is different from having all American Jews, which has often been the case when America sends negotiators.  In itself, there is nothing wrong with that, but it probably does not serve to reassure the Arab parties of America’s goodwill.

Apparently Dennis Ross may be kept in some capacity in the Middle East, and that’s fine, considering his extensive experience, but I think it is wise not to put him directly in charge of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

As always, we just have to wait and see what will happen, but I think it is a positive first step from the Obama Administration.

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Israeli and Palestinian talking

(Above: Israeli and Palestinian talking)

The initial reason I decided to write a blog was to recount my experiences in the South Mount Hebron area of the West Bank.  Not many people know what is going on there, and I wanted to help disseminate information.

I sometimes go out with members of the Israeli-Palestinian group Taayush, which works for relations and cooperation between Jews and Arabs.  The specific activities vary, but involve establishing relationships with Palestinians in the area, and in trying to prevent settler violence.

This Saturday, I went out with the group to the very small Palestinian village of Susya.  It used to be larger and in a different location, which settlers now occupy.  On Saturday our group (Israelis and Palestinians) went to look at a new outpost being built called Givat Hadegel.  This outpost is an extension of the settlement of Susya (not to be confused with the village) and is illegal even under Israeli law.

With us was the Palestinian man who owns the land Givat Hadegel is being built on.  He even has the appropriate documentation to prove it, but the army still allows the settlers to build their outpost.

The Outpost

The Outpost

Above is a view of Givat Hadegel.  In the background the settlement of Susya is visible on the next hilltop.  Not visible in the valley is the illegal outpost of Havat Ya’ir.  Effectively Givat Hadegel will serve as another hilltop the settlers control, and they will then be able to take the places in between in order to connect them.

Givat Hadegel is still clearly not a real settlement, but this is how the outposts often start.  First they make a sort of hang-out spot

"Lounge"

"Lounge"

As you can see, there is a cot, a stove-top and such.  There were also a couple other places where people could sleep.  So the settlers might start hanging out here, and then sleeping here sometimes, and then, suddenly, they put up a real structure, get water and electricity connected,  and it becomes an extension of the settlement.

A 'flag' of sorts

A 'flag' of sorts

I want to stress again that this land is indisputably owned by a Palestinian.  Nevertheless, the IDF and the police are unwilling to remove the settlers or the structures they put up.

Despite the recent violence in Gaza and all the other problems, there are still Jews and Arabs who meet, work together, and desire peace.  I want to remind everyone that there are people to talk to on both sides, and there are people struggling to improve the situation, through small acts of peace.

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So now both Hamas and Israel have declared a cease-fire of sorts.  I hope it lasts, but I am not overly optimistic.  There has been tremendous destruction in Gaza, and a very high civilian death toll among the Palestinians, maybe half of the 1200 or so killed.

And what has Israel accomplished, aside from harming its very soul? Well, it has surely damaged its reputation, perhaps irrevocably. I have heard some people say, “Everyone hates Israel anyway, so what does it matter?”  It matters.  This may be a turning point in many people’s view of the state, and it certainly doesn’t look like Israel is making many efforts in the way of peace.

Speaking of which, I have read people suggesting that this may bring a new stage of peace negotiations.  Let’s just say in theory that some negotiations are accomplished soon, what is the impact of the military action in itself?  I would expect that the Palestinians view of Israel will become even more hostile, and that possible relations between the two peoples will become more distant on a personal level.

The real question for me now is, what will be the result of all this?  Will Hamas’ popularity in Gaza and the West Bank rise after this? Is Israel setting a precedent in terms of its military responses?  Will the humanitarian situation in Gaza improve? etc.

I don’t want to make any predictions on these, but I want to note a Pew Research poll that says Hamas’ popularity was declining before the IDF assault. We can only wait to see if this decline will sharpen or reverse.

I want to end by bringing attention to the plight of Palestinian civilians in this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLUJ4fF2HN4

This might be all in Hebrew, but it is horrifying to listen to.  A doctor from Gaza, who works in an Israeli hospital, is speaking on the phone after 3 of his daughters and his niece are killed by an Israeli shell.  It’s hard for me to see how anything can justify this.

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So, after the military assault on Gaza has been going on for 19 days, bringing the death toll in Gaza to apparently more than 1000 people, Barak and Livni think their job is done. Olmert ignoring calls from Barak, Livni for immediate Gaza truce – Haaretz – Israel News.

Livni and Barak can congratulate themselves for the deaths of more than 300 Palestinian children.  However, it seems that Ehud Olmert has not had enough.  It’s hard to see how his time as Prime Minister could be more successful.  He is the first PM to start TWO wars of choice, and within 3 years.

He has had to resign his post because of corruption charges, but it seems he wants to do as much as possible before his time is up.

Additionally, this war, unsurprisingly, is not really helping Israel’s PR.  According to an article in Haaretz, Israel’s actions in Gaza may have caused the state’s reputation to hit a new low, that the country may not recover from quickly.

Personally, I have received some comments and questions from friends in Europe and the US that indicate the concern and discomfort with Israel’s actions is unusually high.  Most of my friends are supportive of Israel, or neutral, but I can understand that these last 19 days may have changed their minds.

(I will comment more on the Palestinian situation in my next post)

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Shameful

Today Israel has banned Arab parties from running in upcoming elections – Haaretz – Israel News.  I had thought of writing of this possibility yesterday, but just hoped that it wouldn’t happen.

So Israel has further damaged its democracy, in a time of fear and heightened emotions because of the military operations in Gaza.  A democracy cannot allow the oppression or stifling of a minority.  The Arab citizens of Israel are not being permitted to express themselves politically as they would like.  The effect of this is likely to further alienate Israel’s Arab population and increase tensions with the Jewish majority.

It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of the right wing.  They claim that the Arab citizens are a ‘fifth column’.  I think this is a disgusting claim, but honestly, if the government continues to delegitimize the political expression of Arabs, the problems between the two groups may increase.

Other than the Arab parties, the only party to be banned in Israel is Meir Kahane’s Kach party.  Kahane was a man on a racist platform who advocated violence against Arabs.   There is no comparison at all between the parties. It seems to me that right-wing parties like Yisrael Beitenu is not so different from Kach.  I am not in favor of banning any party or in censorship.  However, Kach was banned because of its incitement to racism, and Yisrael Beitenu does the same thing with its condemnation of Israel’s Arabs.

Unfortunately, it was not only Yisrael Beitenu responsible for this vote.  I am not clear on what the breakdown was by party, but at least some Knesset members of Kadima supported it, and it seems that the same goes for Labor, which is supposed to be the liberal party.  Israel is hurting itself and its democracy more than it is hurting any Arab politicians.

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I came across this song just a couple days ago.  It’s as if I picked the title of this blog with the song in mind.

Here is Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt performing the song “Across the Borderline”.  Unfortunately the video is not good, but the audio is, so probably best to listen and not watch.

Here is the first two verses

Theres a place where Ive been told
Every street is paved with gold
And its just across the borderline
And when its time to take your turn
Heres one lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than youll ever hope to find

When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then youll know that its too late to change your mind
cause youve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And youre still just across the borderline

The line “You could lose more than you ever hope to find” makes me think of one of the tragedies of Israel’s actions, the settlements.  As more and more land is being grabbed by the settlers, the state itself is losing  its morality and creating an unhealthy mind-set in the Israeli population.  Much more is being lost through the policies of settlement building, and treatment of the Palestinians, than is gained in land or security.

The term, “broken promised land” is obviously powerful, and it reminds me of something.  Around two years ago, I went out on my first “peace activity”, which was helping some Palestinians to harvest their olives.  Along on the trip was Udi Adiv (Wikipedia entry).  He is an Israeli who was imprisoned for 12 years for spying for Syria.  What seems to have happened is that he was foolish, and trying to establish a dialogue, not be a spy.

Anyway, he was generally quiet, but he came up to me, and the first thing he said was, “What are you doing in this Unholy Land”.  Needless to say, I was stunned, and came out with the reply, “I’m doing an ulpan at [kibbutz] Hazorea”.  (An ulpan by the way, is an intensive Hebrew course).  Well, we didn’t talk much after that, but his provocative question was burned into my mind, and I don’t think I’ll forget it.

Any comments or interpretations on the lyrics to the song would be appreciated.

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