Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Jerusalem…The East Side Story (2007)
Dispossession, Occupation, and a Challenge to Survive
By Sam Bahour
October 31, 2007
Was it sheer coincidence, sad irony, or just another day in Palestinian life under Israeli military occupation? It was hard to tell. My father and I drove through the last Israeli checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem while heading to the Palestinian National Theatre at the invitation of The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) to attend the premiere of a new documentary on Jerusalem. The car radio switched from music to a news report – another Palestinian home in Jerusalem was demolished this morning by Israeli occupation authorities, leaving yet another Palestinian family homeless. We listened in disgust, sighed, but did not comment to each other for we would only be repeating ourselves.
As we entered the plaza of the theatre, we were met by film director Mohammed Alatar. Mohammed is known for his outstanding previous documentary, The Iron Wall , which depicted the systematic Israeli strategy of creating facts on the ground – facts that are rapidly making any chance for a negotiated peace between Palestinians and Israelis increasingly unlikely.
Tonight, the theatre was packed tight. Young and old local Palestinian Jerusalemites, staff from the dozens of international agencies based in Jerusalem, donor representatives, foreign representatives, media, and the crew that produced the film were all present. The audience anxiously awaited the lights to be turned out and the film to start. One constituency that was clearly missing was Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Those from Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, Gaza, Rafah, and Hebron are all prohibited by Israeli regulations from entering Jerusalem without special permits that are rarely issued. The Iron Wall and tonight’s film, Jerusalem…The East Side Story, reveal the strategic policies that aim to Judaize the city and control Palestinian demographic growth. The resulting collective punishment is part of a larger scheme to pressure Palestinians into submission or flight.
Jerusalem…The East Side Story is a documentary that squeezes nearly 100 years of history into an hour or so of cinema. It mainly exposes the past 40 years of Israeli military occupation policies in Jerusalem and their devastating impact on the city and its peoples.
The producer of the film, Ms. Terry Boullata, stated at the outset of the evening that the intention of the documentary is to bring the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence to the Western audience who has shown by way of its acquiescence to the ongoing Israeli military occupation that it still needs to be educated.
The film kicks off with a rapid-fire collage of a normal day in Jerusalem. The famous Jerusalem sesame-seed round loaf of bread, people from all walks of life, from all religions worshiping their Gods, the traffic, the city dwellers, the Old City shops, Jewish kids playing, Moslem kids playing, Christian kids playing, and on and on. The collage happens in a way that makes it difficult to decipher who is who. If it were not for a few abnormal shots – soldiers, weapons, checkpoints, settlements, arrests, confrontation, Jewish-only settlements, house demolitions, and many other trappings of a military occupation peppered throughout what can be considered normal life – one could falsely imagine that coexistence already existed.
One at a time, the film picks up on these abnormal scenes – concisely, succinctly, and with a clear effort to maintain utmost accuracy. Before taking on each issue, a load of history is presented using black-and-white footage. Some of the shots are from the United Nations hall where General Assembly Resolution 181 to partition Palestine was voted on in 1947; the battles in Jerusalem in 1967, which ended with Israel militarily occupying all of East Jerusalem; and Palestinian refugees streaming over the border to Jordan in order to flee the fighting. This rarely seen footage strikes a raw nerve in most Palestinians as could be witnessed by many in the audience just shaking their heads at the scenes of violent dispossession in action.
The film brings many Jerusalemites, including many Jewish Israelis, to tell their story firsthand. Several accounts caught my attention. The first was that of Mr. Meron Benvenisti , an Israeli political scientist who was deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1971 to 1978. Mr. Benvenisti makes a case for the more than 10,000 Palestinians who were displaced by Israel from West Jerusalem after Israel was created in 1948, and became internally displaced persons while still in their city – albeit forced to the east side.
The other moving personal account is of a Palestinian woman from West Jerusalem, Mrs. Nahla Assali, who walks the audience around the home that her family fled in 1948, only to come back after the war to find a Jewish family living in it and a plush Israeli neighbourhood replacing her childhood environs. Mrs. Assali ends her sombre account with a sentence that speaks volumes. She says, “We live in fantasy, they live in denial, and one day we should both come to reality.”
Another personality who appears throughout the film to add his insight is the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land , the Rt. Rev. Munib Younan. Rev. Younan speaks with the clarity expected from a man of the cloth and is unwavering in his demand for both a moral and legal compass to be used to bring Jerusalem out of its dangerous disorientation.
Throughout the film, the selection of music is superb. Arabic and English clips take the audience from one issue to the next, but each song is a deep reflection of the issue at hand. One tune that is repeated throughout is, “ I Still Haven't Found What I've Been Looking for ” by the band U2 – a relevant choice for anyone looking for peaceful coexistence in Jerusalem in the 21st century.
One of the most moving parts of the film is its coverage of the phenomenon of house demolitions. The film meticulously goes through the process of how the Israeli occupation authorities have administratively installed a system of occupation that is sugar-coated with a legal wrap, but leads to the same end as all the other measures of the occupation: to contain and control Palestinian demographic growth through destroying Palestinian livelihood and creating a reality that is designed to encourage the Palestinians to choose to exit rather than stay and demand their rights. One young schoolgirl explains how she came home from school one day to find her family’s home demolished by Israeli bulldozers. Her mother explains how she sat in the rubble waiting for her daughter to return home from school fearing the shock that her daughter was about to experience. This account brought tears to my eyes.
Experts on the subject of house demolitions state in the film that once a demolition order is issued by the Israeli authorities, the Palestinian home may be demolished in 24 hours or 24 years. The film attempts to depict what a nerve-wracking reality this creates for hundreds of Palestinian families in Jerusalem whose homes are already marked for demolition.
The film explains in bite-size history lessons how Jerusalem was not only conquered by force, but also how the State of Israel took distinct annexation measures to enlarge the city boundaries in order to block the possibility of a sustainable Palestinian presence in the city. Meshed with this discussion is the most recent manifestation of Israel’s separation policy: the illegal separation barrier – part wall and part fence – which cuts through Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and leaves Palestinian Jerusalemites in utter limbo.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is interviewed and equates the Israeli policy in Jerusalem with that of “ethnic cleansing.” His statement is bound to catch the ear of all those on the Israeli right and in the U.S. Congress who would like no better than to label President Abbas a non-partner in peace negotiations, as they successfully did with Yasser Arafat.
I’ve only mentioned a few samples of what this film presents. The most shocking ones I’ll leave to your viewing, especially the episode that relates to activities carried out by the Jewish settler movement inside the walled Old City, in collusion with official Israeli authorities.
If you have a desire for justice, you will exit this film with your blood boiling. Then you may recall that, in the face of all of this, Palestinians have remained steadfast for decades while they have been acted upon as if they were mice in a laboratory experiment. Saluting the resilience of Palestinians will be a natural reaction to all these emotions. However, if you hold a U.S. passport and recall that it is U.S. political support and funding that has allowed things to reach this level of inhumanity, you will walk away disgraced, rightfully so. This feeling of disgrace toward the U.S. will also be felt as the audience bursts out in laughter when President Bush is shown speaking – or rather stuttering – about Israel’s illegal separation barrier and says, “This wall is … uh … a problem ...”
I also watched the film premiere a second time in Ramallah for those in the West Bank, given that they could not freely travel to Jerusalem. It was another packed house, with the walls of the Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque in Ramallah taking the standing overflow of the audience.
Next to me in the first row sat a young family: Laura, a beautiful six-year-old girl, and her parents. I was pleasantly disturbed when, throughout the film, Laura repeatedly whispered to her mother “What’s this?” She asked this when the screen showed Palestinians being arrested, when homes were being demolished, when people were being harassed at checkpoints, and at other times. Seeing this young girl nag her mom for an explanation at every one of these scenes gave me a tremendous sense of relief that today’s globalised generation of Palestinians will not drop the torch of this just cause. Knowing that Palestinian mothers across the occupied territory and throughout refugee camps in Palestine and abroad are explaining our just cause to yet another generation (regretfully I’m sure) somehow makes up for the lack of coherence and leadership today.
Director Mohammed Alatar made a few comments following the Jerusalem premiere. He said that he did not make the film so that people would like it, because there is nothing to like in military occupation; but rather he hopes and prays that people will wake up to today’s bitter reality in the historic city of Jerusalem and do what it takes to bring peace to this troubled city. His remarks echoed the closing of the film which, instead of taking sides, noted that the ultimate loser in this conflict is Jerusalem, the city. One of the closing statements by the narrator is, “When the stones of Jerusalem become more holy than its people, doesn’t it lose its holiness? – A question well worth reflecting upon.
Don’t miss this one.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in El-Bireh/Ramallah and may be reached at email@example.com. The DVD of the film may be found at http://www.eastsidestory.ps (soon to be operational) and will be showing before the end of the year in the cities of London, Paris, Brussels, Houston, San Antonio, and Chicago, among others.
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Friday, October 26, 2007
The Boston Globe
Realizing God's dream for the Holy Land
By Desmond Tutu | October 26, 2007
WHENEVER I am asked if I am optimistic about an end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I say that I am not. Optimism requires clear signs that things are changing - meaningful words and unambiguous actions that point to real progress. I do not yet hear enough meaningful words, nor do I yet see enough unambiguous deeds to justify optimism.
However, that does not mean I am without hope. I am a Christian. I am constrained by my faith to hope against hope, placing my trust in things as yet unseen. Hope persists in the face of evidence to the contrary, undeterred by setbacks and disappointment. Hoping against hope, then, I do believe that a resolution will be found. It will not be perfect, but it can be just; and if it is just, it will usher in a future of peace.
My hope for peace is not amorphous. It has a shape. It is not the shape of a particular political solution, although there are some political solutions that I believe to be more just than others.
Neither does my hope take the shape of a particular people, although I have pleaded tirelessly for international attention to be paid to the misery of Palestinians, and I have roundly condemned the injustices of certain Israeli policies that compound that misery. Thus I am often accused of siding with Palestinians against Israeli Jews, naively exonerating the one and unfairly demonizing the other.
Nevertheless, I insist that the hope in which I persist is not reducible to politics or identified with a people. It has a more encompassing shape. I like to call it "God's dream."
God has a dream for all his children. It is about a day when all people enjoy fundamental security and live free of fear. It is about a day when all people have a hospitable land in which to establish a future. More than anything else, God's dream is about a day when all people are accorded equal dignity because they are human beings. In God's beautiful dream, no other reason is required.
God's dream begins when we begin to know each other differently, as bearers of a common humanity, not as statistics to be counted, problems to be solved, enemies to be vanquished or animals to be caged. God's dream begins the moment one adversary looks another in the eye and sees himself reflected there.
All things become possible when hearts fixed in mutual contempt begin to grasp a transforming truth; namely, that this person I fear and despise is not an alien, something less than human. This person is very much like me, and enjoys and suffers, loves and fears, wonders, worries, and hopes. Just as I do, this person longs for well-being in a world of peace.
God's dream begins with this mutual recognition - we are not strangers, we are kin. It culminates in the defeat of oppression perpetrated in the name of security, and of violence inflicted in the name of liberation. God's dream routs the cynicism and despair that once cleared the path for hate to have its corrosive way with us, and for ravenous violence to devour everything in sight.
God's dream comes to flower when everyone who claims to be wholly innocent relinquishes that illusion, when everyone who places absolute blame on another renounces that lie, and when differing stories are told at last as one shared story of human aspiration. God's dream ends in healing and reconciliation. Its finest fruit is human wholeness flourishing in a moral universe.
In the meanwhile, between the root of human solidarity and the fruit of human wholeness, there is the hard work of telling the truth.
From my experience in South Africa I know that truth-telling is hard. It has grave consequences for one's life and reputation. It stretches one's faith, tests one's capacity to love, and pushes hope to the limit. At times, the difficulty of this work can make you wonder if people are right about you, that you are a fool.
No one takes up this work on a do-gooder's whim. It is not a choice. One feels compelled into it. Neither is it work for a little while, but rather for a lifetime - and for more than a lifetime. It is a project bigger than any one life. This long view is a source of encouragement and perseverance. The knowledge that the work preceded us and will go on after us is a fountain of deep gladness that no circumstance can alter.
Nothing, however, diminishes the fear and trembling that accompany speaking the truth to power in love. An acute awareness of fallibility is a constant companion in this task, but because nothing is more important in the current situation than to speak as truthfully as one can, there can be no shrinking from testifying to what one sees and hears.
What do I see and hear in the Holy Land? Some people cannot move freely from one place to another. A wall separates them from their families and from their incomes. They cannot tend to their gardens at home or to their lessons at school. They are arbitrarily demeaned at checkpoints and unnecessarily beleaguered by capricious applications of bureaucratic red tape. I grieve for the damage being done daily to people's souls and bodies. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the yoke of oppression that was once our burden in South Africa.
I see and hear that ancient olive trees are uprooted. Flocks are cut off from their pastures and shepherds. The homes of some people are bulldozed even as new homes for others are illegally constructed on other people's land. I grieve for the land that suffers such violence, the marring of its beauty, the loss of its comforts, the despoiling of its yield. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the bitter days of uprooting and despoiling in my own country.
I see and hear that young people believe that it is heroic and pious to kill others by killing themselves. They strap bombs to their torsos to achieve liberation. They do not know that liberation achieved by brutality will defraud in the end. I grieve the waste of their lives and of the lives they take, the loss of personal and communal security they cause, and the lust for revenge that follows their crimes, crowding out all reason and restraint. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the explosive anger that inflamed South Africa, too.
Some people are enraged by comparisons between the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what happened in South Africa. There are differences between the two situations, but a comparison need not be exact in every feature to yield clarity about what is going on. Moreover, for those of us who lived through the dehumanizing horrors of the apartheid era, the comparison seems not only apt, it is also necessary. It is necessary if we are to persevere in our hope that things can change.
Indeed, because of what I experienced in South Africa, I harbor a vast, unreasoning hope for Israel and the Palestinian territories. South Africans, after all, had no reason to suppose that the evil system and the cycles of violence that were sapping the soul of our nation would ever change. There was nothing special or different about South Africans to deserve the appearance of the very thing for which we prayed and worked and suffered so long.
Most South Africans did not believe they would live to see a day of liberation. They did not believe that their children's children would see it. They did not believe that such a day even existed, except in fantasy. But we have seen it. We are living now in the day we longed for.
It is not a cloudless day. The divine arc that bends toward a truly just and whole society has not yet stretched fully across my country's sky like a rainbow of peace. It is not finished, it does not always live up to its promise, it is not perfect - but it is new. A brand new thing, like a dream of God, has come about to replace the old story of mutual hatred and oppression.
I have seen it and heard it, and so to this truth, too, I am compelled to testify - if it can happen in South Africa, it can happen with the Israelis and Palestinians. There is not much reason to be optimistic, but there is every reason to hope.
Desmond Tutu is the former archbishop of Cape Town, chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Palestinians pessimistic on peace talks
By Sharmila Devi in Jerusalem
Published: October 17 2007 21:22 | Last updated: October 17 2007 21:22
As a series of high-profile international visitors, including Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair, traipse through the Holy Land, Palestinians are looking on with a mixture of indifference and despair.
The US secretary of state and former British prime minister are spear- heading efforts to prod Israel and the Palestinians towards meaningful peace talks and reform of Palestinian institutions and economy.
But Palestinians say their lack of optimism is based on internal shortcomings including lack of leadership as well as Israeli actions on the ground that are consistently backed by the US.
There is an overwhelming belief that the US administration in its final year in office is spurred more by a desire to form a united front against Iranian nuclear ambitions and create a legacy other than the quagmire in Iraq, rather than justice and viable statehood for the Palestinians.
Ms Rice on Wednesday visited Christian sites in Bethlehem, passing through the high concrete wall that forms part of Israel’s separation barrier around the West Bank city. Mr Blair, who took over as international envoy, has also been spending time acquainting himself with the Palestinian reality in the occupied territories.
“These moves [by Ms Rice and Mr Blair] are not unimportant but I don’t want us just to become a university for people to learn how bad things are in Palestine,” said Sam Bahour, a leading businessman in Ramallah. “Palestinians are beyond statements. The Palestinian reality is overwhelming any real hope.”
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are trying to prepare a joint document of principles before a US-sponsored peace meeting that is likely to take place next month or December. Ms Rice, meanwhile, is trying to bridge the vast gaps between the two sides on practically every issue relating to Palestinian statehood.
“Palestinians can clearly see the divergent interests and expectations between the US and Israel on one side and the Palestinians on the other,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. “Israel wants any joint document to be vague on territory but specific on the Palestinians giving up the right of return [for refugees]. The Palestinians want specifics on territory but to remain vague on the right of return.”
Palestinians say they have little confidence in Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, the ex-prime minister who is leading the team of Palestinian negotiators.
His apparent comeback after his Fatah party lost parliamentary elections to Hamas, the Islamic movement, last year has left many Palestinians feeling bemused at best. “Abu Ala’s negotiating team failed in the old Oslo era so people have a huge lack of confidence,” said Mr Bahour.
The Oslo accords of the 1990s gave the Palestinians limited self-rule but failed to specify a limit to Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied territories.
A Palestinian close to the talks between Israel, the Palestinians and the US said US officials were unimpressed with Mr Qurei and only grudgingly accepted him.
He is part of the “old guard” Fatah leadership the US had wanted replaced as part of Fatah reforms. These ambitions, along with the drive for democracy in the Middle East, were dropped as the US and Israel sought to defeat Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip.
Mustafa Barghouthi, a former Palestinian information minister, said in the time between George W. Bush, US president, announcing the peace meeting on July 16 and last Monday, the Israeli military had killed 104 Palestinians, in-cluding 12 children. Yesterday an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian were killed in the Gaza Strip.
Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, said time was running out for an agreement with Israel. “It’s impossible to go to the [US] conference at any price,” he said after meeting Ms Rice.
The Palestinian close to the recent talks said Mr Abbas would likely survive any failure of the US- sponsored meeting but his Fatah party would increase pressure to wrest power from Salam Fayyad, the independent prime minister who has little control over the negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinian said Mr Fayyad believed the minimum requirement for success in the talks was for the US to exact from Israel a freeze on settlement construction but hopes were not high.
Mr Bahour said: “If these talks fail, it’s unlikely there would be an organised third uprising [intifada]. But acts of despair by individuals can be even more fearful.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
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Thursday, October 11, 2007
The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition
'I didn't suggest we kill Palestinians'
Ruthie Blum , THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 10, 2007
Arnon Soffer arrives at our meeting armed with a stack of books and papers. Among them is a copy of an interview I conducted with him three and a half years ago ("It's the demography, stupid," May 21, 2004), and print-outs of angry responses the geostrategist from the University of Haifa says he continues to receive "from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context."
The passage that aroused the most ire was as follows: "When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day."
A lot has happened since Soffer made that statement, most notably the very withdrawal from Gaza he was referring to and so championed. In fact, the impetus for the pull-out has been attributed, at least in part, to Soffer's decades-long doomsaying about the danger the Palestinian womb posed to Israeli democracy.
The venue of our follow-up interview last month - initiated by Soffer to gloat about his "predictions having panned out perfectly" - is the Dan Accadia Hotel. Though selected due to its proximity to the IDF's National Defense College, where Soffer lectures and serves as head of research, it couldn't be a more ironic location. It was here, after all, that former prime minister Ariel Sharon announced his disengagement plan to the Herzliya Conference.
While nothing seems to be the same since that fateful day in December 2003, Soffer's convictions haven't budged an iota. He still holds a deep - what critics might call delusional - devotion to the notion that exiting Palestinian-populated territories is the key to fending off the country's otherwise destined demise. Well, that, and a fence to keep a majority of settlers in and a flow of inevitable Arab intruders out.
"Israel is like the Titanic," Soffer bellows with cheerful self-assurance. "I am trying to change its course - prevent it from crashing into the iceberg - and allow it to continue safely on its journey. But up on the Tel Aviv deck, they're having a big party - a stock-market orgy. And when I try to warn them of the fast-approaching disaster, they tell me I'm being ridiculous or that I'm exaggerating."
To prove his point, Soffer repeatedly whips out maps to back up his pronouncements, many of which sound purposefully outrageous, such as: "Jerusalem is no longer Jewish-Zionist," and "Iran is so weak and vulnerable that it's unbelievable."
And, in spite of his speaking in absolutes, Soffer does deign to concede that he's changed his mind about a couple of issues: the Jordan Valley and the Philadelphi Corridor. He no longer supports relinquishing the former, and now believes the latter has to be repossessed.
No small matter, but no matter. The 71-year-old father of four and grandfather of eight still supports every other aspect of what he considers to be a "brilliant maneuver" by Sharon to guarantee a Jewish majority in Israel, with the blessing of the United States.
Challenged, as he was during our previous interview, on Israel's willingness to do what he prescribes is necessary in the war against Palestinian aggression - i.e. put a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to climb over the security fence - Soffer shrugs. "If we don't," he reiterates, "We'll cease to exist."
In our previous interview, you made many assertions about what could and should be expected to happen following the disengagement from Gaza. You claim now that everything has played out the way you said it would.
Yes. I said, "The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill."
That statement caused a huge stir at the time, and it's amazing to see how many dozens of angry, ignorant responses I continue to receive from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context. I didn't recommend that we kill Palestinians. I said we'll have to kill them.
I was right about mounting demographic pressures. I am also entitled to defend myself and my country. So today, I would update the headline you gave my last interview and call this one: "It's the demography and anti-Semitism, stupid."
What about answering critics from the Right, who would argue that in spite of incessant Kassam attacks on Sderot and kibbutzim in the Negev, Israel has barely reacted at all, let alone by "killing, killing and killing"?
Since before the withdrawal from Gaza, I have been saying that we have to fire missiles at anyone who fires them at us; we haven't been doing that enough.
During our last interview, I asked you whether - with CNN cameras pointing at the security fence - Israel would be prepared to retaliate in the event of missile fire. Your response was: "If we don't kill, we will cease to exist."
We are living in a 100-year period of terrorism, and we have another 100 years of terrorism ahead of us. We will forever be forced to live by the sword. We are not wanted in the Middle East, which is why we will have to continue to fight.
The purpose of disengagement was not to put an end to terrorism or Kassam fire. Its purpose was to stop being responsible for a million and a half Arabs who continue to multiply in conditions of poverty and madness. I am thrilled that we are out of there. The Kassams do not constitute a strategic threat, and the Palestinians will get the blow they deserve - though we do have to be cautious, because the situation is complex.
There are many members of the Knesset, and even the government, who continue to consider us responsible for what goes on in Gaza, as the debate over the right response to the Kassams indicates.
Our government has woken up. The only ones making noise are leftists and so-called human rights lawyers who only care about the well-being of cats, dogs and Palestinians, but never about Jews.
It is true, however, that we are faced with a dilemma on how to respond, which is part of the delicate game we have to play.
But, as I said then and say now, the demographic pressure is only growing in Gaza. Wisely, through disengagement, the government was trying to direct that pressure to Egypt-the- horrible, from where arms and missiles flow into Gaza. This way, Egypt would have to deal with it, not us. And that's what we're doing.
Hasn't the flow of arms and missiles from Egypt into Gaza been detrimental to Israel? Isn't Egypt's control of the tunnels allowing for an al-Qaida state to be blossoming there? Doesn't all of this actually endanger Israel?
Al-Qaida's presence in Gaza endangers both Israel and Egypt, but first and foremost it endangers Egypt. The Egyptians will learn this the hard way, because they know full well what is being smuggled into Gaza.
But Israel gave Egypt control over that border.
That's true, but let me ask you this: What were the alternatives? They were either for us to be responsible for Gaza or for them to be. Let them wrack their brains over it. Let them be stuck with the consequences.
But are they "wracking their brains over it"? Are they "stuck with the consequences"?
Yes, because when the arms from el-Arish reach Rafah, some go to Nueiba and Sharm e- Sheikh, where there are suicide bombers. Indeed, there are al-Qaida cells throughout the Sinai. We've seen how much blood has been spilled there over the past few years. Egypt is paying for that and will continue to pay for it.
When you refer to Egypt, you are talking about President Hosni Mubarak. But what about the Muslim Brotherhood - a powerful and spreading force there?
Every morning, when I read the papers and see that Jordanian King Abdullah II is healthy and Mubarak is still alive, I know we've earned another day. I live with the sense that one day we will wake up to the news of a coup in Jordan and Egypt. And woe is the day when insane Islam takes over those two countries. In other words, in spite of everything he does, Mubarak is still among our friends. He's also got problems.
So, you have said that there is a demographic pressure cooker; that Israel will have to live by the sword for at least another 100 years; and that when Mubarak and Abdullah die, we're in for worse trouble. Is your response to all of this that Israel needs to keep withdrawing from territory? And if so, then what?
My geostrategic assessment is that Israel is like the Titanic. I am trying to change its course - prevent it from crashing into the iceberg - and allow it to continue safely on its journey. But up on the Tel Aviv deck, they're having a big party - a stock-market orgy. And when I try to warn them of the fast-approaching disaster, they tell me I'm being ridiculous or that I'm exaggerating. It is said that intellectuals are the most ignorant of all people, and it's true, because they're off in their art galleries and don't know what's really going on around them. All they see is a mirage.
Look [he takes out a population map of Israel]: First of all, the Israeli Arabs are enclosing the country from the Upper Galilee all the way around. And here in the center, there is the rich, cynical, cosmopolitan "state of Tel Aviv."
As for the Arabs of the South: They're the bridge between Gaza and Judea-Samaria. And I want to tell you, if we fail to keep that bridge closed, Katyushas will be launched from Kalkilya to Tel Aviv - right onto the Stock Exchange. Then the party will be over.
What has to be done to keep that bridge closed?
I've written a whole booklet on what we have to do to save the State of Israel. Yes, to save it. This "state of Tel Aviv" - this hermetically sealed state - has to be weakened and fast in order to save Jerusalem, which is no longer Jewish-Zionist. As we speak, Jerusalem - a mere 60 kilometers from Tel Aviv - is being betrayed by the 220,000 Jews who ran away from it. It is a national disaster.
How can Tel Aviv be "weakened"?
The government has to decide to close it for the next five years.
Not allowing people to move there sounds pretty totalitarian.
No, I'm not saying we should do what Stalin did. I'm for democracy. What I'm saying is that the government should announce that for the next several years not a single agora of the state budget goes to Gush Dan [greater Tel Aviv]. All money for roads and railways has to go to the periphery. All construction in the center has to cease, while increasing construction in Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. And, after that, in the Negev. People will be able to live outside Tel Aviv and commute to work and recreation by train. Believe me, once there are half a million Israelis living in Beersheba, there will be plenty of hoity-toity trendy restaurants there, too.
As someone so concerned about demography, how do you see the Beduin of the Negev fitting into this?
If half a million Jews end up living in Beersheba - today, there are 200,000 - it will develop and spread out, reaching the Beduin-populated areas. The Beduin will benefit by becoming part of the larger melting pot of Beersheba.
If the Beduin can become part of the larger melting pot of Beersheba, why can't the Palestinians become part of the larger melting pot of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem?
Good question. As long as the entire Israeli-Arab population, including the Beduin, comes to 1.4 million, in a country of seven million total, Jews have a 70-80 percent majority.
In spite of Arab birthrates?
Yes, because Jewish birthrates are on the rise, and Arab birthrates are on the decline. That's why there's no danger inside Israel. But once you add the territories, Jews and Arabs are in a demographic tie.
Because of the withdrawal from Gaza, today Jews make up 60% of the Israeli population and Arabs only 40%. If we we wait 20 years, the tie will return.
Is this why you favor further withdrawals? If Israel returns to the '67 borders - guaranteeing a clear Jewish majority - what then?
That's not necessary. Thanks to this completely crazy security fence [here he points to another map, and runs his finger along the jagged line delineating it], we have succeeded in reducing the suicide bombings to zero. This by itself is a huge accomplishment. But [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon's real achievement, which the public doesn't appreciate, is having included Modi'in, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim in Israel. In other words, 180,000 Jews remain within greater Jerusalem with American support.
Today there are 270,000 settlers in the territories, and their numbers are increasing, through natural growth and due to Bnei Akiva members moving there. Through Sharon's cleverness, Jerusalem remains in Israel and 210,000 settlers are within the fence. Only 60,000 remain outside. In other words, 86% of the settlers are at home. This is an unbelievable victory.
So, now you're asking me - and rightly so - whether we have to evacuate the rest of the territories. Since our last interview, I have changed my mind about the Jordan Valley. I said then that we were probably going to have to relinquish it. I had been persuaded that there was no longer an eastern-front threat, now that Iraq had become friendly, that Syria was rusty and that our strategic peace with Jordan was sound. But then, suddenly, in November 2005, there was a suicide attack in Amman, which showed that there are al-Qaida cells there.
I also said that we would have to hold on to the Philadelphi Corridor in order to prevent an Egyptian-Gazan connection. Now, if we put our hands to our hearts, we have to admit that the IDF failed to secure Philadelphi - a 200-meter wide and 10-kilometer long area, on one side of which is a terrible country like Egypt, and on the other side of which is Iran. According to reliable sources, Iran was already in Gaza 10 months before disengagement. Why am I bringing this up in connection with the Jordan Valley? [President of the Council on Foreign Relations] Richard Haass, who was director of policy planning for the US State Department at the time, told me personally: "We'll allow Israel to establish a 'Philadelphi Corridor' in the Jordan Valley, to guarantee the neutralization and demilitarization of Judea and Samaria."
But because we failed to secure Philadelphi in Gaza, of course we would also fail in the Jordan Valley.
Aren't you being unfair to the IDF? Isn't it the policy that failed?
Look, when England sent the British army to fight Gallipoli [in World War I], the policy was to win. The same applies here.
But the policy in this case was to give Egypt control over the Philadelphi Corridor and the tunnels. It was a political deal between Israel and Egypt.
No. It's because the IDF failed that we made that deal. That's why today I think we have to retain control of both the Philadelphi Corridor and the Jordan Valley.
And if we return to Philadelphi, it will no longer be a mere 200 meters. It will have to be widened at the expense of the refugee camps in Rafah, which we will have to destroy, destroy and destroy.
You just said that the beauty of Sharon's disengagement plan was that America was behind it. But the United States would support neither an Israeli return to the Philadelphi Corridor nor Israel's retaining of the Jordan Valley.
You're right. But my gut feeling is that Bush is going to attack Iran before he finishes his term in office.
Recently, when I told members of the [Israeli] government that we will have to hold on to the Jordan Valley, they all said, "It's too late."
I say that when it comes to our security, there's no such thing as "too late."
In the meantime, we have no choice but to keep Hamas out through military operations like Defensive Shield.
What about Fatah? Is it any less bent on destroying Israel than Hamas?
No. But neither are Israeli Arabs any different in that respect. No Palestinian wants us here. No Muslim wants us here. No Arab wants us here.
Not even Christian Arabs?
[He guffaws sarcastically.] Are there any of those left in the Middle East? They're absconding! They, who used to be the founding fathers of pan-Arab nationalism, have become victims of radical Islam.
Returning to Iran, you believe that demographic imbalance is Israel's greatest danger in the long term. But isn't Iran's soon-to-be nuclear capability a much more immediate and comprehensive threat?
Personally, I don't believe that if Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear weapon, it will actually use it. Even the most suicidal of those nuts understands that if even a single missile is launched in Israel's direction, it will provide the opportunity for Israel or for America to execute the strike we're all waiting for.
Are you saying that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't mean what he says about wiping Israel off the map?
Everything that madman says indicates he is hysterical.
Hitler was also hysterical, but that didn't prevent him from carrying out his plan.
Hitler was hysterical, but in this case, Iran is closed off 360 degrees by the "cowboy" America. I want to tell you: Two missiles on the Iranian islands of Karaj and Siri, and Iran's entire oil revenue drops from $60 billion to zero. Iran is so weak and vulnerable that it's unbelievable.
You're saying that Iran does not constitute a threat.
That's right. I think it's much ado about nothing.
So, why would Bush strike before leaving office?
Ahhh... great question. The answer is that I have been speaking as an Israeli, and Iran won't jeopardize its interests so totally just in order to harm us. Furthermore, if it does direct a nuclear bomb at Israel, it would destroy Jerusalem and the Arabs they care about. It's not logical. Not only that. The second strike would come from us and the free world, and then there would be no more Iran. Iran won't commit suicide.
But Bush's considerations are a different story. The world's superpower cannot accept that 2/3 of the world's oil is in the hands of a crazy person like Ahmadinejad.
Your geostrategic assessments don't seem to take religion into account - global Islam as a genuine ideology on the one hand, and the Jewish belief in the right to the Land of Israel on the other. You even speak of Jerusalem from a demographic perspective, rather than its being the heart of the Jewish homeland.
I definitely do take global Islam into account, as I do the Jewish people's affinity for Jerusalem. That is why I call Tel Aviv the enemy that betrayed it.
Are you saying that by wanting to live in Tel Aviv, Israelis have brought about the necessity to divide Israel's capital?
Right you are.
But a person can love Jerusalem without wanting to live there. If, as you agreed, people can't be forced by the government to reside in a particular place, what are you suggesting - other than territorial withdrawal?
The first thing I'd do is finish the fast train line to Jerusalem. Next, I'd move the IDF Spokesman's Office, Army Radio, the defense colleges and the offices of the General Staff there, as well as all government industries. Finally, I'd give subsidies for development and hi- tech.
Still, you favor further territorial withdrawals.
I'm originally a Mapainik, which means I'm a pragmatist. Today, I'm in the center, which is why both the Left and the Right attack me. The point is that our young people are leaving the country and we are an island in a sea of Middle Eastern countries. This is why we have to fortify ourselves with a fence. Then, whoever tries to cross it gets a bullet to the head.
But, while Israel is prepared to complete the fence, it is not keen on giving anyone a bullet to the head.
Well, then, we'll cease to exist.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com
Copyright 1995- 2007 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/
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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
"We’re from the party of bread"
“If we don’t work, we can’t live,” he said. “Sad to say, but our life is the garbage. Our future is the garbage.”
The New York Times
September 2, 2007
West Bank Boys Dig a Living in Settler Trash
By STEVEN ERLANGER
NOTE: Slideshow of article's pictures at:
Digging for Little Treasures in Settler Trash
AD DEIRAT, West Bank, Aug. 30 — As the truck unloads, the children pounce on the garbage like flies. Some swing aloft on the hydraulic pistons that open the back, then drop onto the mound of trash to grab a piece of metal, a crushed can, a soda bottle or a stinking T-shirt.
One boy slips and disappears for a moment beneath the garbage as the truck lumbers forward to dump more of its load. He scrambles up again, losing his footing on a pile of animal intestines, grabbing onto a thicket of shrubbery cut from someone’s garden.
Another boy finds a small nylon Israeli flag and tries to tear it with his teeth; yet another unearths a small lilac umbrella, which he holds over his head and shows off to his friends. Most dig diligently for metal, which they dump into the ripped nylon sacks they carry.
Nearby, on a hill of garbage 10 feet high, a boy sat alone. He had found a plastic pack of crackers; he chewed them slowly, almost thoughtfully.
The boys are part of a loose-knit colony of scavengers, nearly 250 people who scramble over fetid hills of other people’s trash to eke out a living for their families and themselves. Most are younger than 16; some sleep here during the week to maximize the hours they can hunt for goods to sell. Many are related, from a few large clans, and they have a kind of organization, with a 23-year-old bulldozer driver who settles disputes, and a code of conduct, so that every digger’s finds are respected.
For all the agonizing about nearby Hebron — how far Israel should go to resolve competing Jewish and Palestinian claims to the city — this desolate spot is a symbol of the impact of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and of the dire economic state of the Palestinian territories, where about a third of adults are without work.
Many of the adults working the site have been unable to get jobs in Israel since 2000 and the second intifada, when Israel instituted stronger security measures to try to prevent suicide bombings.
This dump has become a lifeline, and informal workplace, for them and for the children helping to support poor families in the southern West Bank. The scene is reminiscent of the third world, of places like Manila’s notorious garbage mountain, but this desperate place is next door to a country with the highest per capita income in the Middle East: Israel.
For the moment, the diggers are disappointed — this truck carries Palestinian garbage, from Hebron. The real treasures, they say, come from the Israeli settlements in this area of the occupied West Bank. It is settler trash that keeps them alive — and, in an odd way, entertained.
Mahmoud Ibrahim, 10, found a pair of angel’s wings, apparently from a costume party or a ballet performance. He wore them upside down but happily, flitting around the dump while the other boys applauded.
His brother, Muhammad, 11, who fancies himself a model from the magazines he salvages, wore a discarded suit, several sizes too large, that appeared to have been from a bar mitzvah. If you wiped away the grime, from both the suit and the boy, he would make a mother proud.
Youssef Rabai, 18, found a bright orange ribbon, the symbol of settler resistance to the Israeli pullout from Gaza, and wound it around his forehead; the ends flopped onto the grimy kaffiyeh around his neck. Asked if he knew what the orange meant, he shrugged. When told, he laughed. “I’m a settler here,” he said.
The dump, formally run by the Hebron municipality, is set in the rocky, dusty hills near the village of Ad Deirat; it is used both by Palestinian cities like Hebron and Yatta and by the Israeli settlements that mark the area, from Kiryat Arba to Karmel and Maon.
On a good day, working here from 5 a.m. until dusk, the boys make about $4.75.
Muhammad Rabai, 23, in salvaged camouflage pants and a dirty baseball cap with the gothic “D” of the Detroit Tigers, is the unacknowledged boss of the dump. He drives the bulldozer here and gets a small city salary, but he and three relatives also salvage trash, trying to feed a family of 25. “It’s a very difficult life,” he said. “But don’t call me the boss. We try to be friends here; we try to be equals.”
Rabah Rabai, from the same large clan, used to work in Israel as a builder, making more than $650 a month, but he can no longer get an entry permit. He is 48, with a grizzly gray beard, an asthma inhaler and thickly scarred arms. He sat in an old Ford tractor, once blue, pulling a small cart.
“It’s our taxi,” he said. “It’s our Jaguar.” He comes every morning before dawn with three children from a village eight miles away. Most of the other children walk, some of them 15 miles, then sleep here in makeshift shacks or blanket tents, before walking home again for the Muslim Sabbath.
He wore a stained cap bearing the symbol of Fatah. He said he found it in the trash. Muhammad Rabai interrupted, saying: “We don’t care for any of them, for Fatah or Hamas. We’re from the party of bread.”
Muhammad al-Ammour, 42, used to work in Israel as a painter, making $35 to $50 a day. Working here with two of his children, he brings home around $12. Most of the income is from scrap metal, sold for 2.2 cents a pound.
“If we don’t work, we can’t live,” he said. “Sad to say, but our life is the garbage. Our future is the garbage.”
Asked if the Palestinian Authority helps them, he laughed. “No one from the authority comes to check on us; no one really cares,” he said. “The Palestinian nation gets aid and help from abroad, but we never see any.”
Like all the men and boys here, only a few of whom have gloves, Mr. Ammour is covered with scars, especially on his hands, arms and legs, from sharp metal and broken glass. Many wear salvaged hats against the sun and scarves to cover their mouths from the fumes and acrid smoke of the nearly nightly fires that burn the picked-over garbage. Many of the boys seem malnourished, with filmy eyes staring from filthy faces.
Last week, Hijazi Rabai, 27, married with four children, died here when his old tractor fell over and crushed him. He was a sheik of his village, and everyone said he had a beautiful voice when he made the call for evening prayer.
“Even people close to me, my relatives, mock and humiliate my family,” Mr. Ammour said. “Whoever works in the garbage is garbage himself, that’s what they think. But some of those people work as spies, collaborators and thieves, but they consider us — the honest workers — less than them.”
Mr. Ammour has eight children. But he is known as Abu Fadi, the father of Fadi, 19, his eldest son, one of triplets.
Fadi, who has the bright green eyes of his clan, is trying to go to college. He has worked here since he was little, he said, along with his father and two brothers. He started college, then quit for lack of money. Now, he is taking courses in the evening, through Al Quds Open University in Yatta, along with his brother Tamer. Everyone in this little world is proud of them.
Halima, their triplet sister, is engaged to a cousin. Their mother, Sabah, 37, said: “She will not get married soon. They need to wait and establish themselves. It will be a long time until they manage to do that.”
The Ammour home in Yatta has two rooms for the family of 10 and no windows, just holes in the walls covered with yellow fabric that does little to block the sun.
The larger room is covered in mattresses. In the smaller room, set carefully on a green, sparkly cloth, is Fadi’s prized possession: a computer, which he patched together from parts salvaged from the dump. With a small boxy screen, and wires showing through cracks in the plastic, it functions.
Fadi, scrubbed clean, set the computer to play some music; his little brother, 5, did a break dance. Then Fadi and Tamer joined in. “You see?” Fadi said, smiling large. “Good things come out of the garbage.”
Reem Makhoul contributed reporting.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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