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Archive for October, 2009

Here is an article from Ha’aretz recounting some of yesterday’s activity.

What follows are sections of an account written by Professor David Shulman, who took part yesterday.

“No settlers anywhere nearby, no soldiers, nothing will happen today”— Ezra keeps reassuring our Palestinian friends on the cell phone as we drive down to south Hebron in the early morning.  By the time we reach our meeting point near Samu’a, a good group is in place: some twenty Palestinians and another eight or nine Ta’ayush activists. Most of the Palestinians belong to Samu’a, and the fields we were heading toward through the wadis belong to them, though they have no access to them any more. The “illegal outpost” of Asa’el, one of the uglier and more malignant in this area, has stolen them. …

We begin working with pick-axes and our bare hands, and as always there is the joy of doing it and especially of seeing the rightful owners of this land returning, at last, to care for it. I’m especially moved watching a middle-aged Palestinian woman working, face partly covered, hands heavy with thorns and stones, beside me. Of course we can’t remove all the rocks, but the plot is looking more inviting by the minute, and soon we drift to the next terrace up, and the next one, getting closer at every step to the outer perimeter of the settlement on top of the hill. Naturally, we haven’t gone unnoticed. A heavy-set settler in his Shabbat white is staring down at us, and beside him there are soldiers, first only a few, then more and more, and in less than an hour, with the horrid sense of inevitability that so often signals human folly, they are clumsily descending in our direction. They are proudly waving the piece of paper that can only be the order declaring this area a Closed Military Zone.

The senior officer, bearded, young, opaque, reads it out: “By the authority legally vested in me, etc. etc.” He gives us exactly ten minutes to desist from our subversive activity and to disappear. Well drilled in these rituals, we argue with him. If this is a CMZ and we are supposed to leave, we say, then why do those settlers on the hilltop get to stay? Ah yes, “by the authority vested in me, those whom I allow to stay can stay. You now have nine and a half minutes.” Amiel leaps to the occasion. He carries with him, always, the text of the Supreme Court’s ruling that local military commanders have no right to declare these closed military zones whenever the whim strikes them, and above all they are prohibited from using this mechanism to keep farmers away from their lands. Amiel reads out the text of the court’s decision. The officer is utterly unimpressed. “You have eight minutes left.”

We go back to work, and now each rock I pry from the recalcitrant soil seems to have some special meaning, as if defiance, however quixotic, were imprinted on it. The Palestinians also accelerate their pace. As always, the South Hebron hills are a good place for unexpected encounters. One of the soldiers, smiling, suddenly greets me by name. I don’t recognize him at first, in his fancy-dress costume—helmet, uniform, rifle—but he tells me his name:  Spartak, a former student. He studied Sanskrit with me, wrote a very good M.A. thesis. I haven’t seen him for some years, but I announce at once to whoever wants to hear:  “I don’t mind being arrested, but only if Spartak carries out the order.” It would be nice to hear his views on the task he is engaged in. “Seven and a half minutes.” By now a genial policeman whom we know well from many such occasions has also turned up and announced, in his mild-mannered way, that by refusing to leave the CMZ we are committing a crime, hindering a public servant in discharging his duty (shades of Judge Ziskind). I figure this merits a response, so I say to him: “And what about those settlers? Their very presence here is a crime by international law and by any ethical standard.” He smiles and nods. To my surprise, he agrees with me. “True,” he says, “but that’s not relevant now.” “How could it not be relevant?” “Six minutes left before we start making arrests.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Soon afterward, three Palestinians were detained and five Israelis were arrested.  The Ta’ayush members are held in the Kiryat Arba police station for about 8 hours before being released.

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I want to take this opportunity to introduce people to the group COMET-ME (Community, Energy, and Technology development in the Middle East). On their website, the group states its mission as  building

renewable energy systems for communities that are not connected to the electricity grid because of political reasons and build local capacity to install and maintain those systems. The provision of renewable energy to off-grid communities answers a social, economic and environmental need. This is by no means a luxury issue but rather a matter of life-support in a particularly harsh situation.

One of these communities is Palestinian Susya, a village Ta’ayush has been going to for years.  Because of the installation of a solar panel and a wind turbine, the village has been able to store goats milk in a refrigerator that would spoil otherwise.  This month, volunteers from Comet-ME and villagers from Susya flew kites in the village. A video can be seen here. I urge everyone to vote for the group in the BBC World Challenge. Your vote could help the group expand its work in providing power to Palestinians who are off the grid.

More information on the group can be found in this article by the New York Times and this one published in Ha’aretz.

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Increasing attention is being paid to the upcoming J Street conference taking place in Washington DC on October 25-28.  I will be attending this conference and am greatly looking forward to it.  A recent article from The Forward, reprinted on the Ha’aretz website, called Sure, J Street is pro-peace – but is it pro-Israel? illustrates pretty clearly the problem of the current Israeli government.  The article says J Street

is still struggling to prove its pro-Israel credentials.  The latest bump in the road was the refusal of Israel’s ambassador to the United States to meet with the group, citing concerns that J Street’s views might harm Israel’s interests.

The problem here is that the Israeli government has not proven that it is truly interested in making any efforts to engage in real negotiations.  The simple dismissal that has come from the Israeli embassy does not bolster their case.  No specifics are offered as to what they don’t like, and instead of engaging in discussion, the ambassador chooses to ignore the group’s invitation.

I think J Street is a pretty moderate group that clearly supports the State of Israel.  I know people on the left who are skeptical of the group because of their strong support of the country.  In my opinion, J Street is acting pragmatically and I have real hope for the group.

If the Israeli government really regarded peace as an important goal, it would at least claim to support J Street’s aims.  Israel has a history of undermining American Jewish groups that advocate for peace efforts.  In the 1970s Israeli officials spoke out against the group Breira, which urged Israel to make greater efforts for peace with the Arab world.

Today’s Ha’aretz has an article elaborating on the Israeli response, and the positive reception by the Obama Administration. It’s encouraging and perfectly understandable that the Obama Administration would see J Street in a positive light, particularly as the Israeli government has been less than honest with the American government.  As pointed out in an article from a few days ago pointing out that ‘despite promises to Obama, construction continues in dozens of W. Bank settlements’ .  It’s difficult to take claims by Netanyahu seriously when he constantly thumbs his nose at the US.  A group like J Street is needed for those who genuinely care about Israel.  The Israeli’s seem set on driving off a cliff, and J Street is trying to stop them.

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