95% of Palestine
- Great Deal?
-- I was humbled by my ignorance. But even the ignorant quickly
learns that studying maps and learning the lay of the land is central
to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
you only look at what is called the 'peace process,' from the political
point of view, you get a certain picture," Jeff Halper explained
in his Jerusalem living room.
an American-born Israeli Jew, is a professor of anthropology at
Ben Gurion University. He's been part of the Israeli peace movement
for over 25 years and now heads up an organization called the Israeli
Committee Against (Palestinian) House Demolitions.
dismissing the good things that have come from the "peace process"
Halper, with humility and painstaking thoroughness, illustrates
that if you focus only on the political rhetoric the picture you
get of the conflict is severely distorted.
at the generous offer that Israel made the Palestinians -- 95 percent
of the West Bank, dividing Jerusalem" -- a typical American (and
Israeli) reaction to news reports about the "peace process," Halper
he asked, "How do you explain the Palestinian reaction to that?"
When the Barak government first started negotiating, they were offering
42 percent of the West Bank and the Palestinian negotiating team
rejected the proposal. "You see or hear about these advances and
think Israel has come around and then the Palestinians start shooting.
It doesn't make any sense to people," he continued.
you have to plug into the equation is what's happening on the ground.
"Unless you can understand the maps, unless you can understand why
95 percent isn't a good deal for Palestinians, or what the other
five percent means, then it's impossible to evaluate what's going
on. Why are the Palestinians behaving the way they are? Is Barak
left Halper's house for a three-hour tour of parts of "Metropolitan
Jerusalem," which I later learned encompasses, not just the city
of Jerusalem, but 40 percent of the West Bank, including large Palestinian
towns and villages -- Ramalla, El Bireh, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem
and Beit Jalla, to name a few.
one has to understand about Jerusalem is that it is being transformed
from a city into a larger region by the Israeli government. This
has three effects. 1) It divides the northern part of the West Bank
from the southern part. 2) It isolates Jerusalem's Palestinian population
from fellow Palestinians and 3) it creates a corridor from Tel Aviv
to Amman, Jordan. All of this ensures Israeli control over any Palestinian
state that might emerge from the "peace process."
Halper started talking about something called E1 -- an Israeli government
plan that annexes Palestinian land to create a contiguous urban
strip between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh
Adumim. E1 effectively cuts the West Bank in half, which, when and
if its completed, will prevent the free movement of Palestinians
and their goods and therefore make a viable Palestinian state impossible.
to the Master Plan approved by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens,
E1 calls for 1,500 exclusively Jewish housing units, an industrial
park, offices, entertainment and sports centers, 10 hotels, health
and academic facilities and a regional cemetery.
of the Israeli "settlers" are being used as pawns, Halper said.
The Israeli government builds these subsidized settlements for poor
and working-poor Israelis as an incentive for them to move into
Palestinian areas. "I call them economic settlers. They're not religious
settlers as in other settlements. If the government built homes
for them inside Israel proper, they would move."
also known as Plan 420/4 Ma'aleh Adumim, is illegal in international
law to the extent that it promotes the settlement of an occupying
power in occupied territories. It violates Israeli Supreme Court
decisions that settlements can only be established for security
purposes and it violates the Interim Agreement of Oslo that obligates
Israel to preserve the status quo and territorial integrity of the
West Bank pending final negotiations.
creates facts on the ground by unalterably integrating Israeli settlement
and infrastructure on the West Bank into Israel proper," Halper
said. "Keep in mind that the settlement population has doubled since
the Oslo accords were signed."
of this is to say that Israel doesn't have a right to exist or that
fringe Palestinian violence is justified. But if you want to understand
Palestinian rejection of Barak's "generous" offer, you must understand
the "facts on the ground." Add to this the fact that it's all being
imposed by US-supported military might and you'll understand a small
piece of what it is that Palestinians are rejecting.
ground for terrorism
-- When talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the various
perspectives involved, it doesn't take long for grown intelligent
people to start talking like kids about who did what to whom, first.
life in Israel and the Occupied Territories is not some John Wayne
flick where the forces of heavenly good are up against pure evil.
It's more like a Clint Eastwood western, where moral shades of gray
are the norm; the protagonist and antagonist both fighting inner
demons, even as they interact with one another.
aside from divine intervention, the state of Israel is here to stay,
at least for the foreseeable future. In talking with hundreds of
Palestinians from across the West Bank and Gaza, it's clear to me
that they too have accepted this reality. Time brings change. After
all, 60 percent of the Palestinian population now living in the
West Bank and Gaza is under the age of 30.
I walked around the Old City of Jerusalem, and then in visiting
the Wailing Wall, it struck me how wonderful it must feel to be
a Jew in a place where you can revel in your Jewish-ness with the
relative security that you won't be expelled or exterminated en
mass for just being Jewish.
flip side is: establishing the secular nation-state of Israel has
brought with it the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian
natives. And for Palestinians who didn't flee, it has meant 52 years
under military occupation by a vastly superior military force. Think
Mike Tyson in a fistfight with Elian Gonzales.
the city of Hebron, which is in the West Bank, just down the street
from where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob are buried, is the office
and home of the Christian Peacemaker Team -- a small group of American
and Canadian Mennonites. Besides offering counseling services to
Palestinians, CPT members patrol the streets engaging in nonviolent
interventions whenever they see some physical violence about to
erupt between Israeli "settlers" or soldiers and Palestinian villagers
-- a routine occurrence, most often being committed by the former
against the latter.
Fast, a CPT staff member, told us it is a common occurrence for
"the settlers," many of them toting guns on their hips, to harass
and intimidate Palestinian villagers by tipping over their vegetable
carts in the market, throwing rotten vegetables, spitting or yelling
racist insults at them. An American lawyer we met a few days later
just outside Nazareth commented: "It's like Mississippi 1930 over
here. apartheid. I had no idea it was like this before I came."
the 6.3 million Israelis who live in Isreal and the Occupied Territories,
195,000 of them are "settlers" who live in these beautiful "settlements"
throughout Occupied Palestine, outside of Israel Proper. But the
word "settlements" brings to mind some old-Western gold rush village.
They're nothing like that -- except for the guns. Picture one of
those private-gated communities you see in suburban America surrounded
by several thousand soldiers with guns, tanks, sandbags, US supplied
helicopters and other assorted weaponry.
"settlers," Anita explained, verbally and physically attack Palestinians
on a regular basis. It usually goes the settlers' way, not because
Palestinians are a bunch of Dalai Lamas (although Palestinians are
very friendly and hospitable people). It has more to do with the
presence of the Israeli Defense Force posted in strategic military
outposts along the streets and on rooftops everywhere.
IDF completely controls the roads, the air and the sea. So, let's
say a "settler" is senselessly killed by a Palestinian gunmen. The
typical IDF response is: road closures, trapping Palestinians in
their village. A 20-hour, stay-in-your-house curfew is also imposed
on every Palestinian in the village. This after the IDF shells an
entire neighborhood suspected to be the area from where the gunmen
fired. I'm talking tank and helicopter attacks for up to six hours
-- clearly a campaign not to catch the gunman but to terrorize people
whose only crime is that they happen to live in the vicinity and
is known as "collective punishment," meted out because of the desperate
violent act of some hope-lost Palestinian, unrelated to the Palestinians
being bombed and shot at by IDF forces.
up a central street in the old city of Hebron with a Palestinian
journalist, we passed by two soldiers standing on the sidewalk next
to two teenage Israeli "settlers." Smirks on their face, the "settler"
kids gave the newsman the middle-fingered salute and said some nasty
things about his father. He said something nasty about their mother.
you know them," I asked. "No, I've never seen them before," he said,
shrugging it off as if they were just saying hello to one another.
Now I realize: They were saying hello to each other.
'settlers' peace settlement
-- We went to the Efratz settlement to meet with its spokesman,
Efraim Mayer. After having visited the West Bank and Gaza, we wanted
to hear a Zionist viewpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"pro-Israeli" Americans (some of whom have angrily emailed me in
recent weeks) would argue that any talk of Palestinian oppression
is mere propaganda. So it is revealing to note that Efraim -- a
former IDF soldier and now a "hawkish," conservative, religious,
Israeli settler -- confirmed what we had seen, that, indeed, Palestinians
are forced to "live like dogs" in the name of Israeli defense.
didn't get a chance to ask if he thought it a contradiction to speak
in terms of "defense" while at the same time acknowledging that
the enemy is being forced to "live like dogs?" Let's just say he
wasn't exactly encouraging us to ask probing questions. He wanted
to talk, hoping -- knowing -- that we would go back and tell our
American friends his truth.
came from the Bible," he said. "This is our document to show all
over the world that we got this land from God."
were sitting under clear blue skies in what looked like one of those
picnic areas you see at a nice public park. Kneeling on the ground
a few picnic tables away was an old Palestinian man, quietly replacing
bricks under one of the tables.
Arabs believe this land belongs to them. But in the Bible, we can
find the Palestinian people as murderers -- descendents of Ishmael,"
still having a difficult time trying to distinguish between his
feelings about Palestinians and the "Christian" American white supremacist
who points to the biblical "curse of Ham" to justify black oppression.
have Rabin. We have Barak. This is what we call garbage. They break
the proud-ness of Israel in the last generation." These political
leaders have turned their back on God, Efraim explained. "They think
that in talking to a murderer you can get peace."
has only one-way: to start to fight.It (doesn't make sense) to sit
and talk with people when you know exactly that after the discussions,
they are taking you and killing you -- your children, your family,
everyone in the world," he continued.
have two sons in the army. I tell my children -- we tell our children
in the schools, starting in kindergarten -- to live in the fatherland
you have to fight."
are very satisfied that Clinton isn't president anymore because
we thought he brought problems here, the same thing with the father
Bush - very anti-Semitic. We believe that friendship with the United
States -- friendship with other lands -- must be on the basis that
Israel belongs to the Jewish Israeli-nation. We are going to break
this mindset all over the world that Israel can be split up with
he compared the formation and defense of the state of Israel as
being similar to America's founding and what happened to Native
Americans at the hands of the European settlers.
people in the United States are not going to ask for a piece of
land. They are not going to do any intifada to pick up from the
United States pieces of Los Angeles. I'm waiting for the moment
when someone goes to the government of the United States and says:
'we are going to fight for a piece of land,' and then starts to
take pieces of land in the capital of the United States. It will
be the last time that this guy opens his mouth in the democratic
land of the United States."
me explain to you who are the Palestinian people -- the people you
are loving so much. We are talking about murder groups. Terror groups.
Nothing else..Now if you are with me we are going to go up. If not,
we are going to fight. Palestinian people are not a nation. Remember
what I am telling you. They are group of terrorists and guerillas
of nothing with nothing -- also in the eyes of Arab nations."
told us that 55 percent of Israelis share his views. I hope he's
wrong because if you follow the logical extension of Efraim's reasoning,
Palestinians are not real people because they have no country and
even Arab nations reject them. And a people with no land are prone
to be violent, living, as they do, like dogs.
obvious options come to mind. 1) Accept all Palestinians, including
refugees, as equal citizens in a single bi-national democratic nation.
2) Set up a sovereign, democratically viable Palestinian state or,
3) exterminate the enemy. Apparently, Efraim dismisses the first