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95% of Palestine - Great Deal?

JERUSALEM -- 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.

"If 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.

Halper, 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.

Without 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.

"Look 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 said.

Then 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.

What 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 really generous?"

We 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.

What 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."

Then 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.

According 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.

Many 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."

E1, 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.

"E1 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."

None 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.

Breeding ground for terrorism

HEBRON -- 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.

But 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.

Recognize: 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.

As 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Anita 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."

Of 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.

The "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.

The 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 are Palestinian.

This 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.

Walking 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.

"Do 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.

A 'settlers' peace settlement

EFRATZ -- 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.

Many "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.

We 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.

"Efratz came from the Bible," he said. "This is our document to show all over the world that we got this land from God."

We 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.

"The Arabs believe this land belongs to them. But in the Bible, we can find the Palestinian people as murderers -- descendents of Ishmael," Efraim said.

I'm 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.

"We 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."

"Israel 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.

"I 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."

"We 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 Palestinians."

Then 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.

"Indian 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."

"Let 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."

Efraim 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.

Three 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 two options.

Source: http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/palestine/capecodtimesWin2001.html

 

 


 

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