Here’s a punchline the Obama administration could affix to the Middle East right now: With allies like these, who needs enemies?
If you happen to be in that administration, that region must seem like an increasingly phantasmagorical place. America’s closest allies, Israel and the Saudis, have been expressing something close to loathing for President Obama and his policies. In fact, you could think of the Saudi rulers as the John McCains of the Arabian Peninsula. Appalled to find Washington in something approaching a tacit alliance with their Iranian enemies in Iraq and actively negotiating a no-sanctions-for-nuclear-restrictions deal with that country, the Saudis launched a war of their own in Yemen and essentially forced the Obama administration into supporting it. Then they visibly ignored Washington’s pressure to end their bombing campaign — or rather claimed they were cutting back on it without evidently doing so — which has been devastating to Yemeni civilians and ineffective in stopping the advances of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Though there’s been relatively little in-depth media coverage of this curious moment in Riyadh-Washington relations, when the inside story does come out, it will undoubtedly prove to be a spectacle.
On the other hand, coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hijinks vis-à-vis Washington and the president’s Iran policy has been unending, involving open hostility played out on a global stage as well as in front of the American Congress. No wonder that, at the recent White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner, the president joked, “I look so old, John Boehner has already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”
While Secretary of State John Kerry publicly expresses a kind of fealty to the Saudi war effort in Yemen that a worried administration clearly doesn’t feel, its officials are now holding their noses, gagging a bit, and — to smooth the way for a possible future Iran nuclear deal — trying to tamp down the ongoing controversy with Netanyahu and the much-publicized rift with Israel.
Watching the Obama administration handle these strange new animosities and alliances is like seeing a contortionist tie himself in knots, while across the Middle East the chaos only increases on the principle of: every state a failed state. In such chaos, with its closest allies playing fast and loose with Washington, with terror groups rising and animosities swirling, it’s easy to lose sight of what might be considered the ur-struggle of our era in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So today, TomDispatch turns back to that never-ending struggle, offering a report from Sandy Tolan on the aspect we in the U.S. hear least about: the increasing hemming in of Palestinians in what no longer looks like a future state, but a sliced and diced occupied land. Tolan’s new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music In a Hard Land, is a moving account of one Palestinian’s efforts to create a little breathing space in a landscape that otherwise couldn’t be more claustrophobic by founding a music school amid all the dissonance. Tom Engelhardt
The flute at the checkpoint
The everyday politics of confinement in Palestine
By Sandy Tolan
The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia. Fellow musicians are gathering there that afternoon to perform in the ruins of an amphitheater built during Roman times. In the back seat, his wife, Celine, tends their one-year-old son, Hussein, his blond locks curling over the collar of his soccer jersey.
Ramzi is in a hurry to set up for the concert, but it doesn’t matter. The soldier promptly informs him that he cannot pass. “Those are the orders,” he adds without further explanation, directing him to another entrance 45 minutes away. Turning the car around, Ramzi then drives beneath Shavei Shomron, a red-roofed Israeli settlement perched high on a hill, and then an “outpost” of hilltop trailers planted by a new wave of settlers. Finally, he passes through a series of barriers and looping barbed wire, reaching the designated entrance, where another soldier waves him through. He arrives in time for the concert.
Israel declared its independence in 1948. Less than twenty years later it expanded its territorial control across the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai).
What has subsequently come to be referred to as “The Occupation” has referred to the status quo which (with a few modifications) has endured for the overwhelming majority of Israel’s existence.
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, and the so-called “peace process” which followed, have merely provided political cover for the relentless expansion of Jewish settlement and Palestinian dispossession across the West Bank.
What right-wing Zionists refer to as Judea and Samaria is not an aspiration — it is the political reality of a state in which full democratic rights are granted to Jews but not Palestinians.
While the mantras of ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements have tirelessly been repeated, year after year, the settlements have grown.
Both the terms settlement and occupation, mask with seeming impermanence a reality that has been set in reinforced concrete.
Given that over the course of more than twenty years, no progress whatsoever has been made towards the implementation of a two-state solution, the fact that it has now been rejected by Benjamin Netanyahu is a non-event. Yet this is a non-event that is deeply upsetting to many American Jews.
It’s not that they believed that peace was just around the corner. On the contrary, the value of the two-state solution has never derived from expectations about the future. Instead, its value is based very much in the present.
For liberal Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — the two-state solution ideologically sanitized Israel by ostensibly embodying the desire that the political aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians could be recognized. If this promise is taken away, liberals are deprived of a fiction that allowed them to avoid confronting the illiberal nature of the Jewish state.
Americans want to be able to say they support Israel and democracy and Israel is forcing them to choose between the two.
Noam Sheizaf provided a reality check for participants at the J Street conference in Washington DC this week, when he said:
In Israel, we’ve got to the point where arguing for a state for all its citizens — equal rights for everyone — is a form of ‘Arab nationalism’ that should be made illegal. While arguing for an ethnic state that gives privileges to one group over the other is ‘democracy’…
I am 40 and I only know one Israel — and that’s from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea. And in which there live Palestinians and Jews, roughly the same size of populations — they’re totally mixed with each other. They’re mixed in the Galilee, they’re mixed along the coast, they’re mixed in the West Bank by now, they’re mixed in the Negev — everywhere Jews living next to Palestinians.
One group has everything — all the rights — the other one has privileges given to it according to a complicated system of citizenship and where they happen to live and where their grandparents were in ’48…
I think we need to start looking at this in civil rights issues, if that’s what we believe in — and that’s the kind of activism I’m looking for. Not redrawing maps in a way that will keep some people in and some people out so that we can call themself [a] democracy.
Sheizaf also took J Street to task for its failure to talk about Gaza:
Eve Fairbanks writes: On 15 August last year, five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Hagai El-Ad, the director of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, appeared on a morning radio show to discuss the conflict. Throughout the fighting, B’Tselem did what it has done for 25 years since it was founded during the first Palestinian intifada: document human rights violations by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. It compiled film and testimony gathered by volunteer field researchers on the ground, tallied daily casualty figures that were used by the local and international press, and released names of individual Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
B’Tselem’s founders intended it to serve a purpose unlike any other organisation in Israel’s fractious political atmosphere: to provide pure information about the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians, without commentary or political agenda. But by last summer, this stance had become a source of controversy. For many Israelis, identifying human-rights violations by the Israeli military, but not its enemies, was tantamount to treason. When B’Tselem tried to run radio ads listing the names and ages of 20 Palestinian children killed in Gaza, Israel’s national broadcasting authority banned them on the grounds that they constituted a political message masquerading as neutral information. A group called Mothers of Soldiers Against B’Tselem was formed; Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, endorsed one of their protests.
That morning on the radio, the host, a journalist named Sharon Gal, pressed El-Ad over and over to agree that he believed Hamas is a “terrorist organisation”. El-Ad reminded Gal that B’Tselem, by its very core principles, declined to make that kind of characterisation because it believed doing so would be a political act. “We’re talking about armed Palestinian organisations; that is the professional term, and we criticise their activities when they are illegal,” he said. Gal responded that Israel was locked in a battle for its survival; at such a moment, he argued, refusing to call Hamas a terrorist group was a political – and disloyal – act. Newspaper columnists were still talking about it a month later. “Hagai El-Ad has essentially become a Hamas apologist,” one declared.
Three and a half months after the end of the Gaza war, in early December, I met El-Ad at Talbia, a wine bar beneath the Jerusalem Theatre. Forty-five years old, he looks barely over 30. He has a soft, almost hushed voice, glasses that press down on the tops of his ears, making them flop over like wings, and a frequent, mirthful smile. “Don’t sneeze,” he laughed, as a waitress propped a cork under a wobbly leg of our table, creating a fragile balance. El-Ad arrived at B’Tselem last May after spells as the director of Jerusalem Open House, Jerusalem’s premier gay-advocacy group, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
B’Tselem, in Hebrew, means “in His image,” from the line in the Book of Genesis: “And God made man in His image.” El-Ad possesses a fierce belief in Israelis’ ability – and duty – to live up to their human godliness by being just and manifesting an expansive empathy. “I self-identify as a Jew who cares deeply about the Jewish future and the Jewish identity,” he told me. “To be Jewish is to treat people with dignity.” He grew up in Haifa, on the Israeli coast, and takes as the basis for his personal creed an anecdote from a visit Golda Meir paid to the city during the 1948 Israeli war for independence, when she noted that scenes of Palestinians fleeing their homes reminded her of images of Jews fleeing Poland before the second world war. “If Golda Meir could notice the similarities,” he said, smiling, “then anybody can recognise Palestinians as human beings who ought to be treated with equal rights.” [Continue reading…]
Reuters: Israel set a 10-year record last year for the number of tenders it issued for construction in settlements on occupied land in the Palestinian territories, the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said on Monday.
In a report published as Benjamin Netanyahu is running a close race for re-election on March 17, Peace Now blamed Israel’s settlement housing plans for scuttling U.S.-brokered peace talks that collapsed in April.
The report said the invitations to bid for building contracts in the settlements had tripled since 2013 on average compared to the 2009-2013 period of Netanyahu’s previous administration.
The Associated Press reports: The population of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank has continued to surge during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s years in office, growing at more than twice the pace of Israel’s overall population, according to newly obtained official figures.
Settlement growth also was strong beyond Israel’s separation barrier, seen by many as the basis for a border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
The figures reflect Netanyahu’s continued support for settlement construction, even while repeatedly stating his commitment to the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. They also could be a topic of discussion as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Netanyahu and European officials this week over a promised U.N. Security Council proposal dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Continue reading…]
Nathan Thrall writes: What the government of Israel calls its eternal, undivided capital is among the most precarious, divided cities in the world. When it conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem and the West Bank – both administered by Jordan – in 1967, Israel expanded the city’s municipal boundaries threefold. As a result, approximately 37 per cent of Jerusalem’s current residents are Palestinian. They have separate buses, schools, health facilities, commercial centres, and speak a different language. In their neighbourhoods, Israeli settlers and border police are frequently pelted with stones, while Palestinians have on several occasions recently been beaten by Jewish nationalist youths in the western half of the city. Balloons equipped with cameras hover above East Jerusalem, maintaining surveillance over the Palestinian population. Most Israelis have never visited and don’t even know the names of the Palestinian areas their government insists on calling its own. Municipal workers come to these neighbourhoods with police escorts.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship, but in order to acquire it they have to demonstrate a moderate acquaintance with Hebrew, renounce their Jordanian or other citizenship and swear loyalty to Israel. More than 95 per cent have refused to do this, on the grounds that it would signal acquiescence in and legitimation of Israel’s occupation. Since the city was first occupied 47 years ago, more than 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked. As permanent residents, Palestinians in Jerusalem are entitled to vote in municipal (but not Israeli national) elections, yet more than 99 per cent boycott them. With no electoral incentive to satisfy the needs of Palestinians, the city’s politicians neglect them.
All Jerusalemites pay taxes, but the proportion of the municipal budget allocated to the roughly 300,000 Palestinian residents of a city with a population of 815,000 doesn’t exceed 10 per cent. Service provision is grossly unequal. In the East, there are five benefit offices compared to the West’s 18; four health centres for mothers and babies compared to the West’s 25; and 11 mail carriers compared to the West’s 133. Roads are mostly in disrepair and often too narrow to accommodate garbage trucks, forcing Palestinians to burn rubbish outside their homes. A shortage of sewage pipes means that Palestinian residents have to use septic tanks which often overflow. Students are stuffed into overcrowded schools or converted apartments; 2200 additional classrooms are needed. More than three-quarters of the city’s Palestinians live below the poverty line. [Continue reading…]
Amira Hass writes: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the synagogue attack. His condemnation was honest and genuine, for both moral and pragmatic reasons. In besieged, destroyed Gaza, spokesmen for several Palestinian organizations congratulated the martyrs and voiced support and understanding for their deed. But among the broader public, the main reaction was silence.
When PLO and Fatah representatives are making the rounds of European capitals to encourage votes in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state, most people understand that such an attack could undermine the Palestinian cause, if only for a few weeks. Killing Jewish worshippers in a synagogue looks bad when Palestinian human rights groups are pushing Abbas to join the International Criminal Court so Israeli officials can be indicted for war crimes and violating international law.
Palestinians believe that all means, including armed struggle, are legitimate to fight the occupation. But in private conversations, even those who support killing Israelis seem embarrassed by an attack on civilians at prayer.
So why are those who oppose murdering civilians at prayer keeping silent now? Because they share the despair and anger that pushed the Abu Jamals to attack Jews in a synagogue. Like the Abu Jamals, they feel themselves under assault: The Israeli nation is constantly attacking them with all the tools at its disposal.
The Har Nof neighborhood, where the attack took place, is built on the lands of the former Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. Those who are keeping silent now see the murder as a response to an Israeli policy toward the Palestinians that has been one long chain of attacks, dispossessions and expulsions since 1948.
Noam Sheizaf writes: Following this morning’s horrifying terror attack, it’s not so difficult to imagine how Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Liberman or Benjamin Netanyahu might describe the current government if they weren’t its leaders. You can almost see them showing up at the scene of the attack and screaming into the microphones denouncing the “wicked government,” recalling every last pogrom in Jewish history.
But no dice. Netanyahu has been prime minister for five years now and Liberman and the settlers, his partners in it. This is all taking place on their watch. If they think that Mahmoud Abbas is the problem — as their public statements declared this morning — then they should deal with him. We all know that’s not going to happen. This government needs Abbas much more than the Palestinians need him. The Palestinian leader has a dual role: he maintains quiet in the West Bank, and is also the punching bag the Israeli Right uses to explain away its reverberating failures.
Netanyahu promised Israelis prosperity and quiet without having to solve the Palestinian conflict. That has been his promise since the 1990s. To Netanyahu, terrorism is just card we’ve been dealt, and only military force can resolve it. There is no problem with continuing to build in the settlements, including inside the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, because there is no connection between the settlements and the actions of the Palestinians. That’s what Netanyahu has been saying for decades already — both to the world and to Israelis. There’s no reason to give Palestinians their rights because that endangers Israel: they can make due with “economic peace.” It’s okay to discriminate and legislate against Israel’s Arab citizens. Hell, they should be saying thank you that we even let them live here; things are much worse in every other country in the Middle East. The government is here to serve the Jews, and the Jews only. And if we continue to act this way, aggressively and determinedly, we’ll enjoy stability, security and economic prosperity. That’s Netanyahu’s theory, and the Israeli public bought it because the price was so low and the payoff sky high. We’re not responsible for anything that happens and we don’t have to make any compromises on anything.
At this point any reasonable person should realize what nonsense Bibi has been selling. In recent years Netanyahu has benefited from mere coincidence: Palestinians were tired from the intifada; Abbas decided to try the diplomatic track; the Arab world imploded; and Israel’s high-tech economy was booming. It seems as if Netanyahu has been delivering, but none of those things had anything to do with him. It was all an illusion, an ongoing deception. Since this June we have woken up to the true meaning of Netanyahu’s vision, in which Israel rules over 6 million Palestinians — Israeli citizens, East Jerusalem residents, the subjects of military rule in the West Bank and those besieged in Gaza — and the only thing he’s offering them is more of the same: the cruel hand of the military law, discrimination, violence, land expropriation, home demolitions, mass arrests and bombs from the sky. [Continue reading…]
Philip Weiss reports: Palestinians across East Jerusalem say that the violence that is shaking Jerusalem is not an intifada — yet. It is an unorganized Palestinian response to Israeli aggressive actions, including the visits by religious Jews to the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount in the Old City. But it is not an uprising all over Palestine, as a third intifada would be.
That could begin in the blink of an eye. “Before you will open your eyes– it is a third intifada and bigger than the first and the second,” said Said Radi abu Snad, 75, a man whose house has six times been demolished in Silwan.
I interviewed two dozen Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods over the last week, and many said that they hope for another intifada. “During the first intifada my shop was only open three hours a day,” a Palestinian businessman who wished to be anonymous explained to me. “But I am crying for those days. We need a third intifada to end the occupation.” He said even businessmen feel they have nothing to lose because Israel has so encircled Jerusalem with checkpoints and Jewish settlements that the Palestinian economy is choked.
A second businessman entered his store and shook his head at the idea. “An intifada will makes things worse. It won’t end the occupation.”
It may be more accurate to describe the violence of the last three months as Benjamin Netanyahu’s intifada. The Israeli prime minister has escalated violent tensions again and again. He encouraged Jewish revenge for the three Israeli teens’ abduction and murders in June, creating fear across East Jerusalem; he conducted raids across the West Bank in June and July before escalating a conflict with Gaza leading to the massacres of hundreds; and lately he has encouraged far-right Jewish zealots to assert their claims at the Al Aqsa mosque and used Palestinian children’s stone-throwing in East Jerusalem to clamp down on those neighborhoods.
“People are willing to do anything because they are losing the hope. I think it could be worse than first intifada,” says Jawad Siyam, an activist against the occupation in Silwan who has been arrested many times. “The Israelis will not take a step back. They will keep attacking Al Aqsa.” [Continue reading…]
Dimi Reider writes: [O]ver 8 percent of Israel’s Jewish population already lives beyond the Green Line, the armistice line separating Israel from the territories it occupied in 1967. Those who do not live there have family, friends and relatives who do.
As a result, the view of settlements as a crazed project by religious fanatics dragging with them reluctant Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is increasingly out of date. Key posts in the IDF and in other branches of government are occupied by settlers, and the settlements themselves appear ever more normal to the Israeli eye.
The Israeli real estate bubble, which has fueled a rising gap between prices within the Green Line are those outside it, makes the dismantling and evacuating of settlements seem all the more unlikely.
So how will the settlements affect the direction the peace process takes?
The reality is that the settlements — Israeli-only communities, often wedged deep in Palestinian territory – make the chances of a genuinely independent Palestinian state in the foreseeable future virtually non-existent.
This does not mean that peace, along with Palestinian political rights, is necessarily ruled out. There remains the possibility of one-state solution. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: An Israeli ministerial committee has approved a proposed bill that would ensure the wholesale application of Israeli law to Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a move sponsored by politicians who want Israel to annex part of the territory
The bill needs to be submitted to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for voting and must pass three readings before becoming law.
However, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians that collapsed in April, said she would appeal against the decision, effectively putting parliamentary ratification on indefinite hold, the Reuters news agency reported on Sunday.
Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank are currently formally subject to military rule.
However, the area’s 350,000 settlers are effectively under the jurisdiction of civilian courts in Israel because parliament has already applied a clutch of laws, primarily criminal and tax laws and military conscription, to them.
At present, to ensure that other Israeli laws are binding on settlers in the West Bank, the military commander there has to transpose them, at his discretion, into military regulations.
The new draft bill would make it mandatory for the commander to issue, within 45 days of a law’s passage in parliament, an identically-phrased military order, effectively ensuring that all ratified legislation also applies to settlers.
According to the new bill, Israelis living in the occupied West Bank will be under Israeli law, while Palestinians who live in the same areas would remain under military rule. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The United States sees Israel’s announcement on Sunday of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts and urges the Israeli government to reverse the decision, a State Department official said.
Israel laid claim to nearly a thousand acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.
“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” the U.S. official said. “ This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” [Continue reading…]