Thursday, July 29, 2010

Israel can't survive without the settlements

Noticed this headline from the Desertpeace site.  It's a bit misleading, in that it what it actually reports is that Netanyahu told the Spanish foreign minister that his government cannot survive any continuation of the settlement freeze after the scheduled 26 September expiration.  In other words, "Bibi"'s putative motive for rejecting a continuation of the freeze is political expediency - ensuring his political survival.

Meanwhile, PA president Mahmud Abbas is under a lot of pressure from the Obama administration to enter direct negotiations with the Israelis, even though Obama has to know by this point that for Abbas to do so would completely destroy whatever tattered shreds of credibility he might still have in the West Bank. Abbas has gotten nothing - nothing - for the Palestinians after several years now of fruitless meetings with Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Ehud Olmert, except for a bunch of smiley-face photos of him looking "presidential" in their presence.

Obama's motive for the push?  How about political expediency? - his need to shore up support for Democrats as November elections approach.  By pressuring Abbas back to the table, Obama gets at least some small peg upon which to hang his "I'm committed to Israel's security" hat.  In the eyes of Israel's supporters here in the US, Obama scuffed up that hat with his Cairo outreach speech and his subsequent demands for the settlement freeze.  Now the elections are coming - and Democratic congressmen are facing an electorate that's angry about so much with the Democrat-led government, and - as at least one major recent poll has shown - that overwhelmingly supports Israel against Palestinian claims to the West Bank.

This, of course, despite the fact that international law comes down strongly against Israel when it comes to their ever-expanding occupation of the West Bank.  Meanwhile, as the WaPo recently reported, Israel's overtly racist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman (who is himself a settler), only a few days ago "was planting a tree in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank -- an indication of permanence that few Palestinians would welcome." He also reassured his audience:
"When we took the decision on the settlement freeze, we said explicitly that it was only for 10 months and that afterward life would return to the way it was. We think people here, who were sent here by previous Israeli governments to live, have a right to live normal lives."
That right to normal lives evidently must include the "right" of Jewish  settler hooligans to torch Palestinians' olive trees.  (The WaPo noted that "From the bulletproof window of his bus, Lieberman could see Palestinian olive trees burning on a hillside that settler youths had torched.")  Adding more fuel to that fire, Lieberman also told one of the settlers of his intention to bring mobile homes to the settlement to house new immigrants from Russia (who, in Lieberman's view, have more of a right to live in the West Bank than do Palestinian families who have lived there for generations.

Meanwhile, around the same time that Lieberman was encouraging those West Bank settlers, in the Negev Desert,
Israeli bulldozers, flanked by helicopters and throngs of police, demolished the entire Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev desert. Despite their land rights cases still pending in the court system, hundreds of al-Araqib villagers were instantly made homeless a month after Israeli police posted demolition orders.

Eyewitness reports say the police were accompanied by several busloads of right-wing Israeli civilians who cheered during the demolitions.
An Arab opposition group has stated:
"The destruction's declared aim is to facilitate plans by the Jewish National Fund to plant a [forest] on the site. We regard this demolition as a criminal act. Bedouin citizens of Israel are not enemies, and forestation of the Negev is not a reasonable pretext for destroying a community which is more than 60 years old, dispossessing its residents and violating the basic rights of hundreds of Israeli civilians, men, women and children."

"This act by the state authorities is no 'law enforcement' -- it is an act of war, such as is undertaken against an enemy. This act cannot be dissociated from yesterday's statement by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who at the cabinet meeting sounded a warning about 'a situation in which a demand for national rights will be made from some quarters inside Israel, for example in the Negev, should the area be left without a Jewish majority. Such things happened in the Balkans, and it is a real threat.' Presenting the Bedouin citizens of Israel as 'a real threat' gives legitimacy to the expulsion of Israel's Bedouin citizens from the Negev in order to 'Judaize' it. We call on all who care for democracy to give their support to this threatened community."

It's not only local Arabs who protest Israel's shabby, arguably racist treatment of Arabs who live either in Israel itself or in the West Bank.  (I won't even mention the prison camp into which Israel has turned Gaza.)  Note the case of this American Jewish student who, while visiting Israel, decided to act:
A macabre legal wrangle is under way over who should pay the hospital bill for an American art student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli border police officer at a Palestinian-led protest in the West Bank.

The student, Emily Henochowicz, 21, was injured on May 31 after she joined Palestinian and foreign activists protesting that morning’s deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a Turkish boat trying to breach the blockade of Gaza. Israeli security forces fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration after a few Palestinian youths threw rocks.

Witnesses at the protest, by the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, said that a border police officer had fired the tear-gas directly at the demonstrators, rather than into the air in line with regulations. The Israeli police have begun a criminal investigation.

But the lawyer representing Ms. Henochowicz, Michael Sfard, recently received a letter from the Israeli Ministry of Defense rejecting any demand for compensation or payment of hospital costs. The reason, the ministry stated, was that the protest was violent and that the tear-gas canister was not fired directly but had ricocheted off a concrete barricade.

Ms. Henochowicz, who is Jewish and is a student at the Cooper Union in New York, arrived in Israel in February for what was supposed to be a six-month student exchange. Her father was born in Israel to Holocaust survivors whom he described as “ardent Zionists.”
Ms. Henochowicz, who was treated at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, had her left eye removed and suffered fractures that required the insertion of titanium plates. She returned to the United States in early June, where she is continuing to visit doctors and specialists.

But more than the cost of the treatment in Israel, which amounted to about $10,000, there are clearly legal principles and interests at stake.

The student’s father, Dr. Stuart Henochowicz, said by telephone that he had not yet explored the question of whether his daughter’s insurance would cover the bill, because he was under the impression that it would be paid by the Ministry of Defense.

On Tuesday, the ministry stated that according to preliminary checks, the border police dealt lawfully with the “violent protest at Qalandiya,” and that the firing of tear gas was justified. While expressing sorrow over Ms. Henochowicz’s injury, the ministry added that it did not cover hospitalization expenses in circumstances such as these.

After her arrival in Israel, Ms. Henochowicz, who came to Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, got involved with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement after meeting activists at a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where settlers have won court cases and evicted several Palestinian families from their homes.

From Sheikh Jarrah, Ms. Henochowicz frequented the regular Palestinian protest spots in the West Bank like Bilin, Nilin and Nabi Saleh. The late May protest was her first at Qalandiya. “I did not know what it would be like,” she said.

The demonstration came hours after Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla. Violent clashes broke out on the Turkish boat and nine activists — eight Turks and an American-Turkish youth — were killed.

Ms. Henochowicz said she was not standing near the stone throwers. She was holding a Turkish and an Austrian flag when she was struck.

Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli journalist from the newspaper Haaretz, was watching the demonstration. “The police fired a tear-gas grenade, and then another and another,” he wrote in June “I remember that what surprised me was the volley of grenade fire directly aimed directly at the demonstrators, not at the sky. After the fourth grenade, if I am not mistaken, a shout was heard about 100 meters away.”

Unusual for a foreign activist in a conflict where battle lines are often starkly drawn, Ms. Henochowicz says she feels a certain affinity with both sides. She said she had wanted to help the Palestinians, but because of her background, she said she also felt “very attached” to Israel “in lots of ways.”

She added, “If I did not really care about what was happening in the country, I would have hung out on the beach all day.”

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