Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 8, 2010

Proposed Prisoner Exchange: Reading the Fine Print

Filed under: American attitudes,Netanyahu government's policy,West Bank — quinnconnors @ 8:40 am

The imprisonment of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip is a tragic event.  But even more upsetting than his situation is how simplistically his captivity is portrayed by major American media outlets.

Recently, calls have increased for the release of Gilad Shalit and PM Netanyahu has agreed on the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s release. Answering such a proposal, especially given the seemingly generous terms for the Palestinians, appears a no-brainer.   But American news stories about this exchange leave out some crucial details which make the release of these 1,000 imprisoned Palestinian men, women, and children rather unpalatable.

According to regional media sources, such as Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu’s offer has two conditions attached.  The first is that dangerous terrorists would not be released, a precaution against future Palestinian attacks on Israelis.  The second condition would disallow the released Palestinians from entering the West Bank, even if that is where they and their families live.  Instead, according to Netanyahu, the Palestinians would  go to the over-crowded Gaza Strip or Tunisia.  In agreeing to this proposal, an exchange of prisoners would happily reunite one man with his family and in fact exile or resettle 1,000 other people.

Israel’s offer thus counters what many Palestinians desire, reunion with loved ones, as these 1,000 men and women would be sent to far-away locations.  Such resettlement, to the Gaza Strip, Tunisia or other foreign locations, would provide many barriers to the possibility of any future reunion.

When it comes to the Middle East, and especially Israel-Palestine, the situation is never clear-cut and simple.  The American media should thus read through the fine print and at least attempt to portray the complicating circumstances in each situation instead of omitting crucial details that unfairly skew events.

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June 24, 2010

Budrus

Yesterday, I attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that showcased the documentary “Budrus.

Budrus is a small, relatively unknown Palestinian village located near Ramallah with a population of about 1,500.  The documentary tells the story of the community’s struggle with the state of Israel in 2003 against plans to build part of the separation barrier through the village.  The proposed plan would have surrounded the village and confiscated 40% of the land.

The documentary follows a local leader, Ayed Morrar, who united the community to try and block the plans through nonviolent means.  He brought together an unlikely group, comprising of members of Hamas and Fatah as well as Palestinians, Israelis, men, and women.

Perhaps most crucial was the role of women.  Morrar was unable to mobilize the community until his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam brought women to the movement.  The women would stand in front of bulldozers or lie in front of olive trees, and IDF soldiers did not know  how to deal with them.  The documentary actually shows some soldiers beating women.  As a result, a woman IDF soldier was called in to handle them.

Israelis played a crucial role in the nonviolent movement as well.  Iltezam states how she did not think she would ever have an Israeli friend before; she never knew any, only IDF soldiers.  Morrar, who was at the event yesterday, commented on how through this event, he was able to see the good side of Israelis. He was able to see and meet Israeli that want peace and who want to raise their children in peace based on justice, not peace based on what Morrar calls the relationship between the slave and master.  Israelis are very important in the nonviolent movement, as they give credence to the Palestinian struggle by questioning the actions of their own state.

Also unlikely was the cooperation of Fatah and Hamas members.  Morrar recounted how politics were temporarily put aside, as both parties, even if they differed ideologically, desired the same results.  Politics is indeed an important issue in the struggle for nonviolent protest.  The pockets of resistance in villages such as Budrus do not have any national leadership yet, and the role of the PA in the nonviolent movement is still questionable.

Though the movie documents the struggle of just one village, its message offers hope for what is possible: eventual freedom.  The producers of the film, Just Vision, are trying to spread this message.  Just Vision is currently on a six month promotion tour through the U.S.  For Screenings of “Budrus” in your area, click here.

Spoiler Alert:

In the end, the villagers of Budrus, after 10 months of nonviolent protest, forced the IDF to move the separation barrier out of the village.  They saved 95% of the land, and the barrier was built almost entirely on the Green Line.  Some parts even went into the No Man’s Land area.  However Israel will not acknowledge the efforts of the Budrus villagers.  The official response from the government is that the barrier was not moved because of the villagers’ efforts, but for other reasons.

June 10, 2010

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

June 8, 2010

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)

May 25, 2010

An Update on Negotiations

As George Mitchell has returned fruitless from the first round of proximity talks, prospects for success of the four month long project have already dwindled.  A bleak atmosphere of cynicism surrounds Israel and the West Bank, as both Jews and Palestinians believe the talks will be exercises in futility.

The proximity talks seemed doomed from the beginning.  The spirit of negotiations was  dampened  months ago, when in March Netanyahu  announced the building of 1,600 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement, and President Abbas retaliated by announcing that negotiations with Israel would not take place unless there was a freeze on settlement building.  However, the subsequent scolding and cajoling by the U.S. resulted in both men decreasing the intensity of their agendas, for the sake of possible negotiations. (more…)

May 18, 2010

Nonviolence: a feasible strategy?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.” But can nonviolence be the answer to the contentious issue of occupation in the West Bank?

Over the past few months, a grassroots boycott of settlement-produced goods has gripped Palestinians in the West Bank.  The boycott has recently become more organized, with volunteers (mostly students) campaigning door-to-door, distributing brochures, and burning settlement-products.  So far, the boycott of over one thousand products has resulted in the destruction of $5 million worth of settlement products.  It is estimated that $200 million worth of settlement goods are sold in the West Bank each year, which is a small portion of to Israel’s $200 billion GDP.  Although the economic effects of the boycott have been relatively minimal, it is the social and political effects that are crucial. (more…)

March 30, 2010

Congress: Obama should not be allowed to make peace

During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the Israeli PM met with members of Congress as part of a PR offensive to marginalize recent criticism from the Obama Administration over the announced East Jerusalem settlements. In sharp contrast to the insulted frustration echoed by Administration officials in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by Minority Leader John Boehner and the Israeli Prime Minister while declaring; “We in Congress stand by Israel..In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.” Obama later met with Netanyahu at the White House without posing with the Israel PM for the cameras.

The House leadership’s public posture shows a clear divide between the Obama Administration’s approach to dealing with Netanyahu and that of Congress. While Administration officials directly deal with the diplomatic consequences of Israeli expansion into Palestinian areas, the House leaders pay lip service to ‘furthering the peace process’ while allocating $3 billion annually to help Netanyahu expand and maintain the settlements. (more…)

February 11, 2010

“When there is no coverage, the first victim is the truth…”

Filed under: Activism,Global concerns,Humanitarian challenges,West Bank — colbyconnelly @ 1:47 pm

Those were the recent words of Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, in response to disparaging Israeli media coverage of his country and its policies towards Israel.  During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s most recent assault on the Gaza Strip, to which Minister Store was referring, international media was denied access and the ability to disseminate independent information on an event of great importance. Minister Store’s evaluation of this predicament is correct. As demonstrated by the reactions to the Goldstone report, much of what took place in Gaza is still disputed between Israel, Gazans themselves, and the international community.

Yet the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in danger of facing their own kind of blockade, and the international press is largely ignoring the story. Israel has ceased to issue “B1” work visas to employees of international non governmental organizations (INGOs) operating not in Gaza, but in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (more…)

Martyr Iconography

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Gaza,Hamas,Iran,Lebanon,Palestinian politics,West Bank — Kimberly Doyle @ 12:52 pm

“Faces on the walls – martyrs freshly emerging from life and the printing presses, a death which is a remake of itself. One martyr replacing the face of another, taking his place on the wall, until displaced by yet another or by rain.” Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, accurately captured the culture of martyrdom and the phenomenon of martyr iconography in his book Memory for Forgetfulness. He understood how these images can create a vicious cycle of violence.

Martyrs exist throughout the world, but their images are increasingly used in places of crisis, and especially in the Middle East, to reflect social changes, shape society, and prolong violence. In the West Bank, Gaza, and the refugee camps in Lebanon the walls and streets are plastered with the faces of martyrs killed in the struggle against Israel. Posters, billboards, signs, and hand-painted murals with the images or names of martyrs are constant visual reminders of the struggle. On television, videos of martyrs pronouncing their last words fill the airspace. And in houses, pictures of heroic martyrs line the walls and children collect cards with the stats of martyrs, like baseball cards. Martyr iconography in these areas symbolizes the resistance struggle and the opposition to the current situation.

In Iran martyrs are national icons, symbolizing the struggles of the Islamic Revolution. On a wall near Tehran University there is a painting of a twelve-year-old boy, Hussein Fahmideh, who blew himself up in front of an Iraqi tank during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. And this image, according to a former professor of mine, was plastered on billboards and inscribed into history books throughout the nation. Fahmideh became a symbol of the new Islamic Republic and was immortalized as a hero. His struggle was emblematic of the greater struggle of the new Iranian government and his death was a sacrifice for this cause. In Iran martyrs are not symbolic of resistance or opposition, but of the hardships faced by the Islamic Republic. (more…)

February 5, 2010

“You can’t eradicate poverty whilst you have an occupation” ~ Oxfam officer

Filed under: Human rights,Palestinian economy,West Bank — Katya Reed @ 11:21 am

~ by Katya Reed, from the occupied West Bank

(Interview with John Prideaux-Brune, Country Director for the OPT and Israel at Oxfam GB, Part 2.  Part 1, on Gaza, was here.)

“You can have development under an occupation but you can’t eradicate poverty.” That thought-provoking statement came from John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam GB’s Country Director for Israel and the OPTs, during the interview I conducted with him January 12 in his office in East Jerusalem.

Prideaux-Brune explained that impoverishment is now widely recognized to be a condition where one is denied control over one’s life. Poverty is about being denied a voice. “You can be the richest person in the world but if you have no voice you are still in poverty,” he said.

Military rule anywhere, of course, denies a voice to citizens. But rule by an occupying foreign army does so even more, as is generally recognized in the special provisions international humanitarian law makes to try to protect the welfare of people living under foreign military occupation.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the 4.3 million civilian residents have now been living under foreign military occupation for nearly 43 years– and the mechanisms for sustaining that occupation have become extremely complex over time.  In the West Bank, the land mass has been sliced and diced into five different kinds of governance zones:

  • East Jerusalem has been outright annexed by Israel.
  • Israel has also, more quietly, extended its civil law system to the many large areas occupied or controlled by Israel’s illegal settlements, which thereby, in effect, annexes them.
  • In other areas, not directly controlled by the settlement blocs, the Palestinian population comes under the undiluted control of the IDF’s ‘civil affairs’ branch. These expanses of land– which total around 60% of the West Bank’s entire terrain– were designated, under Oslo, as ‘Area C’.
  • Other areas of land were designated ‘Area B’. In these patches, the (‘interim’) Palestinian Authority exercises control over civilian functions while the IDF retains control over security affairs.
  • In the other small patches designated ‘Area A’, the PA is supposed to control both civilian functions and security– though in practice, the IDF still moves and operates quite freely within the cities and towns that are designated ‘Area A’.

In the interview with Prideaux-Brune, he expressed particular concern for the situation of Palestinians in Area C.  In those areas, he noted, the Israeli government continues to deny Oxfam GB and their local partners permission for water storage tanks during a drought and the rehabilitation of tin shacks for impoverished Bedouin communities.

He concluded wryly that in some portions of Area C,  “Pretty soon you’re going to have to have a permit to breathe”.

ISRAEL STOPS WORK VISAS FOR OXFAM & OTHER NGOS IN OPT

At around the time I conducted the interview, the Israeli authorities were introducing tight new restrictions on the ability of international humanitiarian-aid and development groups like Oxfam to operate in the OPTs. In early January the Interior Ministry announced that it would no longer grant work permits to Oxfam and other major international organizations working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  Instead, Israel issues employees like Prideaux-Brune only ‘B-1’ tourist visas that don’t formally allow the holder the right to work, even though Israeli officials have assured these employees that Israel understands their work in the OPT will continue.

The new visa restrictions do not apply to those organizations working in Israel or the settlements throughout the West Bank, in which case NGOs are simply granted work visas for Israel.  What Prideaux-Brune and others are gravely concerned about is the “slippery slope” that such policies might portend.

While at this point the tourist visas may be granted to employees on a reliable basis, Prideaux-Brune voiced his grave concern about this pattern of further constrictions on international NGOs in the OPT.  Having no legal basis to work in the country you are based in increases the stress on staff and also makes recruitment much more difficult.

“YOU CAN’T ERADICATE POVERTY WHILST YOU HAVE AN OCCUPATION”

Prideaux-Brune began summarizing Oxfam GB’s work in the West Bank with a disclaimer.  He emphasized that while Oxfam GB does believe it can meaningfully support Palestinian development efforts, it is well aware that no matter how expansive development efforts are, poverty will persist as long as the occupation continues.

(more…)

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