Facts on the ground
-- I was humbled by my ignorance. But even the ignorant quickly learns that
studying maps and learning the lay of the land is central to understanding the
you only look at what is called the 'peace process,' from the political point of
view, you get a certain picture," Jeff Halper explained in his Jerusalem
an American-born Israeli Jew, is a professor of anthropology at Ben Gurion
University. He's been part of the Israeli peace movement for over 25 years and
now heads up an organization called the Israeli Committee Against (Palestinian)
dismissing the good things that have come from the "peace process"
Halper, with humility and painstaking thoroughness, illustrates that if you
focus only on the political rhetoric the picture you get of the conflict is
at the generous offer that Israel made the Palestinians - 95 percent of the West
Bank, dividing Jerusalem" - a typical American (and Israeli) reaction to
news reports about the "peace process," Halper said.
he asked, "How do you explain the Palestinian reaction to that?" When
the Barak government first started negotiating, they were offering 42 percent of
the West Bank and the Palestinian negotiating team rejected the proposal.
"You see or hear about these advances and think Israel has come around and
then the Palestinians start shooting. It doesn't make any sense to people,"
you have to plug into the equation is what's happening on the ground.
"Unless you can understand the maps, unless you can understand why 95
percent isn't a good deal for Palestinians, or what the other five percent
means, then it's impossible to evaluate what's going on. Why are the
Palestinians behaving the way they are? Is Barak really generous?"
left Halper's house for a three-hour tour of parts of "Metropolitan
Jerusalem," which I later learned encompasses, not just the city of
Jerusalem, but 40 percent of the West Bank, including large Palestinian towns
and villages -- Ramalla, El Bireh, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, to
name a few.
one has to understand about Jerusalem is that it is being transformed from a
city into a larger region by the Israeli government. This has three effects. 1)
It divides the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part. 2) It
isolates Jerusalem's Palestinian population from fellow Palestinians and 3) it
creates a corridor from Tel Aviv to Amman, Jordan. All of this ensures Israeli
control over any Palestinian state that might emerge from the "peace
Halper started talking about something called E1 -- an Israeli government plan
that annexes Palestinian land to create a contiguous urban strip between
Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. E1 effectively cuts
the West Bank in half, which, when and if its completed, will prevent the free
movement of Palestinians and their goods and therefore make a viable Palestinian
to the Master Plan approved by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, E1 calls for
1,500 exclusively Jewish housing units, an industrial park, offices,
entertainment and sports centers, 10 hotels, health and academic facilities and
a regional cemetery.
of the Israeli "settlers" are being used as pawns, Halper said. The
Israeli government builds these subsidized settlements for poor and working-poor
Israelis as an incentive for them to move into Palestinian areas. "I call
them economic settlers. They're not religious settlers as in other settlements.
If the government built homes for them inside Israel proper, they would
also known as Plan 420/4 Ma'aleh Adumim, is illegal in international law to the
extent that it promotes the settlement of an occupying power in occupied
territories. It violates Israeli Supreme Court decisions that settlements can
only be established for security purposes and it violates the Interim Agreement
of Oslo that obligates Israel to preserve the status quo and territorial
integrity of the West Bank pending final negotiations.
creates facts on the ground by unalterably integrating Israeli settlement and
infrastructure on the West Bank into Israel proper," Halper said.
"Keep in mind that the settlement population has doubled since the Oslo
accords were signed."
of this is to say that Israel doesn't have a right to exist or that fringe
Palestinian violence is justified. But if you want to understand Palestinian
rejection of Barak's "generous" offer, you must understand the
"facts on the ground." Add to this the fact that it's all being
imposed by US-supported military might and you'll understand a small piece of
what it is that Palestinians are rejecting. Breeding ground for terrorism
HEBRON -- When talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the
various perspectives involved, it doesn't take long for grown intelligent people
to start talking like kids about who did what to whom, first.
life in Israel and the Occupied Territories is not some John Wayne flick where
the forces of heavenly good are up against pure evil. It's more like a Clint
Eastwood western, where moral shades of gray are the norm; the protagonist and
antagonist both fighting inner demons, even as they interact with one another.
aside from divine intervention, the state of Israel is here to stay, at least
for the foreseeable future. In talking with hundreds of Palestinians from across
the West Bank and Gaza, it's clear to me that they too have accepted this
reality. Time brings change. After all, 60 percent of the Palestinian population
now living in the West Bank and Gaza is under the age of 30.
I walked around the Old City of Jerusalem, and then in visiting the Wailing
Wall, it struck me how wonderful it must feel to be a Jew in a place where you
can revel in your Jewish-ness with the relative security that you won't be
expelled or exterminated en mass for just being Jewish.
flip side is: establishing the secular nation-state of Israel has brought with
it the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian natives. And for
Palestinians who didn't flee, it has meant 52 years under military occupation by
a vastly superior military force. Think Mike Tyson in a fistfight with Elian
the city of Hebron, which is in the West Bank, just down the street from where
Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob are buried, is the office and home of the
Christian Peacemaker Team - a small group of American and Canadian Mennonites.
Besides offering counseling services to Palestinians, CPT members patrol the
streets engaging in nonviolent interventions whenever they see some physical
violence about to erupt between Israeli "settlers" or soldiers and
Palestinian villagers - a routine occurrence, most often being committed by the
former against the latter.
Fast, a CPT staff member, told us it is a common occurrence for "the
settlers," many of them toting guns on their hips, to harass and intimidate
Palestinian villagers by tipping over their vegetable carts in the market,
throwing rotten vegetables, spitting or yelling racist insults at them. An
American lawyer we met a few days later just outside Nazareth commented:
"It's like Mississippi 1930 over here. apartheid. I had no idea it was like
this before I came."
the 6.3 million Israelis who live in Isreal and the Occupied Territories,
195,000 of them are "settlers" who live in these beautiful
"settlements" throughout Occupied Palestine, outside of Israel Proper.
But the word "settlements" brings to mind some old-Western gold rush
village. They're nothing like that -- except for the guns. Picture one of those
private-gated communities you see in suburban America surrounded by several
thousand soldiers with guns, tanks, sandbags, US supplied helicopters and other
"settlers," Anita explained, verbally and physically attack
Palestinians on a regular basis. It usually goes the settlers' way, not because
Palestinians are a bunch of Dalai Lamas (although Palestinians are very friendly
and hospitable people). It has more to do with the presence of the Israeli
Defense Force posted in strategic military outposts along the streets and on
IDF completely controls the roads, the air and the sea. So, let's say a
"settler" is senselessly killed by a Palestinian gunmen. The typical
IDF response is: road closures, trapping Palestinians in their village. A
20-hour, stay-in-your-house curfew is also imposed on every Palestinian in the
village. This after the IDF shells an entire neighborhood suspected to be the
area from where the gunmen fired. I'm talking tank and helicopter attacks for up
to six hours -- clearly a campaign not to catch the gunman but to terrorize
people whose only crime is that they happen to live in the vicinity and are
is known as "collective punishment," meted out because of the
desperate violent act of some hope-lost Palestinian, unrelated to the
Palestinians being bombed and shot at by IDF forces.
up a central street in the old city of Hebron with a Palestinian journalist, we
passed by two soldiers standing on the sidewalk next to two teenage Israeli
"settlers." Smirks on their face, the "settler" kids gave
the newsman the middle-fingered salute and said some nasty things about his
father. He said something nasty about their mother.
you know them," I asked. "No, I've never seen them before," he
said, shrugging it off as if they were just saying hello to one another. Now I
realize: They were saying hello to each other.
'settlers' peace settlement EFRATZ -- We went to the Efratz settlement to
meet with its spokesman, Efraim Mayer. After having visited the West Bank and
Gaza, we wanted to hear a Zionist viewpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"pro-Israeli" Americans (some of whom have angrily emailed me in
recent weeks) would argue that any talk of Palestinian oppression is mere
propaganda. So it is revealing to note that Efraim -- a former IDF soldier and
now a "hawkish," conservative, religious, Israeli settler -- confirmed
what we had seen, that, indeed, Palestinians are forced to "live like
dogs" in the name of Israeli defense.
didn't get a chance to ask if he thought it a contradiction to speak in terms of
"defense" while at the same time acknowledging that the enemy is being
forced to "live like dogs?" Let's just say he wasn't exactly
encouraging us to ask probing questions. He wanted to talk, hoping - knowing -
that we would go back and tell our American friends his truth.
came from the Bible," he said. "This is our document to show all over
the world that we got this land from God."
were sitting under clear blue skies in what looked like one of those picnic
areas you see at a nice public park. Kneeling on the ground a few picnic tables
away was an old Palestinian man, quietly replacing bricks under one of the
Arabs believe this land belongs to them. But in the Bible, we can find the
Palestinian people as murderers -- descendents of Ishmael," Efraim said.
still having a difficult time trying to distinguish between his feelings about
Palestinians and the "Christian" American white supremacist who points
to the biblical "curse of Ham" to justify black oppression.
have Rabin. We have Barak. This is what we call garbage. They break the
proud-ness of Israel in the last generation." These political leaders have
turned their back on God, Efraim explained. "They think that in talking to
a murderer you can get peace."
has only one-way: to start to fight.It (doesn't make sense) to sit and talk with
people when you know exactly that after the discussions, they are taking you and
killing you -- your children, your family, everyone in the world," he
have two sons in the army. I tell my children -- we tell our children in the
schools, starting in kindergarten -- to live in the fatherland you have to
are very satisfied that Clinton isn't president anymore because we thought he
brought problems here, the same thing with the father Bush - very anti-Semitic.
We believe that friendship with the United States -- friendship with other lands
-- must be on the basis that Israel belongs to the Jewish Israeli-nation. We are
going to break this mindset all over the world that Israel can be split up with
he compared the formation and defense of the state of Israel as being similar to
America's founding and what happened to Native Americans at the hands of the
people in the United States are not going to ask for a piece of land. They are
not going to do any intifada to pick up from the United States pieces of Los
Angeles. I'm waiting for the moment when someone goes to the government of the
United States and says: 'we are going to fight for a piece of land,' and then
starts to take pieces of land in the capital of the United States. It will be
the last time that this guy opens his mouth in the democratic land of the United
me explain to you who are the Palestinian people - the people you are loving so
much. We are talking about murder groups. Terror groups. Nothing else..Now if
you are with me we are going to go up. If not, we are going to fight.
Palestinian people are not a nation. Remember what I am telling you. They are
group of terrorists and guerillas of nothing with nothing - also in the eyes of
told us that 55 percent of Israelis share his views. I hope he's wrong because
if you follow the logical extension of Efraim's reasoning, Palestinians are not
real people because they have no country and even Arab nations reject them. And
a people with no land are prone to be violent, living, as they do, like dogs.
Three obvious options come to mind. 1) Accept all Palestinians, including refugees, as equal citizens in a single bi-national democratic nation. 2) Set up a sovereign, democratically viable Palestinian state or, 3) exterminate the enemy. Apparently, Efraim dismisses the first two options.