b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    September 12, 2005 Edition 33                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Settlements and the conflict
. Settlements are the occupation        by Ghassan Khatib
Israel's settlement policy is the manifest expression of the occupation and the main obstacle to any peaceful settlement.
  . The settlers' mistakes        by Yossi Alpher
The settlers failed to recognize that their enterprise would be perceived as an extension of Israel's occupation of another people.
. Only half the problem        by Joharah Baker
The notion of an ethno-religiously pure nation state is so very nineteenth century, whatever the ethnicity or religion.
  . Hurricane "Arik"        by Eyal Megged
That's when I got it: the settlers are our scapegoat. They're our expiation.

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Settlements are the occupation
by Ghassan Khatib

The Israeli disengagement from Gaza and some areas of the northern West Bank, involving as it does the evacuation of a few settlements, has brought back to the forefront the role Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory play in the conflict in general. Indeed, the fact that an Israeli withdrawal from part of Palestinian territory manifested itself as an evacuation of settlements confirms the common understanding among Palestinians that settlements are the occupation.

Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 and regardless of the different pretexts that were proffered, the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza were used chiefly to consolidate that occupation and if possible make it permanent. One can discern two main phases of that settlement policy. The first was based on the Israeli Labor vision of the future of the territories that foresaw some kind of territorial division. Thus the location and expansion of settlements was concentrated in areas that successive Labor governments planned to keep as an extension and part of Israel, including notably Jerusalem and environs.

The second phase started when the Israeli Likud party began imposing its newfound influence. That phase marked a growing arbitrariness in the Israeli settlement policy, reflecting the fact that the Likud was not interested in a solution based on territorial compromise. Settlements were now built functionally, that is, with the notion that Israel would maintain varying degrees of control over all the occupied territories.

That approach, however, eventually brought the Likud strategy up against the so-called "demographic factor": maintaining Israeli control over all the territories left Israel with the problem of having to rule too many Palestinians. For obvious reasons, the more densely populated the area, the greater the security problem for Israel. That was especially true in Gaza. Thus, current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to introduce modifications to the Likud vision, notably by taking the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated Palestinian area under Israeli occupation, out of the equation. In the West Bank, meanwhile, rather than trying to impose direct control over all the territory, the Israeli government is pursuing a policy of control by segregation by building a wall to surround and isolate populated Palestinian areas and still maintain around half the West Bank for the future expansion of illegal settlements.

This strategy achieves more than one aim. The first is to prevent the possibility of one contiguous Palestinian state emerging, because Palestinians will end up in at least two closed and separate areas: the West Bank inside the wall and the Gaza Strip. Second, preventing the creation of an independent Palestinian state allows Israel to maintain some kind of control over Gaza by keeping control of Gaza's borders and the borders of the West Bank inside the wall. The third objective is the de facto annexation of roughly half of the West Bank outside the wall.

Right from the beginning, the Israeli settlement policy has been an important tool to manipulate the situation in the Palestinian territories and to achieve different Israeli strategies. The policy is notably about consolidating the occupation, but many other aims were achieved, including asserting control over water resources and surrounding populated Palestinian areas to prevent them expanding and becoming contiguous. In other words, Israel's settlement policy is the manifest expression of the occupation and consequently the main obstacle to any peaceful settlement. Ongoing settlement expansion will be responsible, if continued, for preventing the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. Such a state, in turn, is the sine qua non for peace. - Published 12/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

The settlers' mistakes
by Yossi Alpher

The settlements issue did not have to become synonymous with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, this dispute between two peoples over one land began long before settlements were built in the post-1967 era, and there is no guarantee it won't outlive the settlements. After 1977 Israel didn't begin building settlements in earnest until many were persuaded the Palestinians were not interested in a reasonable solution. And it was the expansion of these same settlements, as much as any other factor, that convinced the PLO to accept a two-state solution before there would be no land left to bicker over with Israel.

Why, then, are the settlements such a central issue, to the extent that Israel has begun dismantling them unilaterally? And why did the settlers lose so badly--politically, publicly, internationally, geographically, ideologically--in the course of the recent Gaza disengagement? If I were one of the leaders of the settler movement, sitting in one of their many recent soul-searching sessions, I would offer the following thoughts as to where the movement went wrong.

First and foremost, the post-1967 religious-ideological settlers of the West Bank and Gaza thought they could "repeat history"--the history of the pre-1948 secular Zionist settlements in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948-1967 expansion of Jewish settlement, often on abandoned or expropriated Palestinian Arab property, inside the state of Israel. They completely failed to understand that what was acceptable, even appropriate Zionist behavior in the pre- and early-state periods--acceptable to most Israelis and to the world within the context of a (Jewish) national liberation movement, sanctioned first by the League of Nations and then by the United Nations--would be seen as an immoral, illegal, and wrongheaded exploitation of raw power in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The settlers keep telling the rest of us that they have simply become the vanguard of the movement we founded over 100 years ago. In fact, they are totally out of step with history--local, regional, and global.

In this regard, the settlers failed to recognize that their enterprise would of necessity be perceived as merely an extension of Israel's military occupation of another people. We might have been able to justify the occupation itself for several decades--but not the settlements. Here too, the contrast with pre-1967 settlement building is stark, because prior to 1967 settlements were not an expression of occupation, but rather a sovereign enterprise on sovereign land.

Another contrast suggests itself in this respect. There is far less fuss over Israeli settlement on the Golan, even though that territory is universally recognized as sovereign Syrian land, whereas the West Bank and Gaza settlements have ostensibly benefited from the lack of clarity over the sovereign status of those lands. This is because the Golan settlements are not perceived as evolving and expanding at the expense of a local population laboring under military conquest.

This points to yet another conceptual mistake on the part of the settler movement: demography. Try as they might, the settlers cannot explain to the rest of us Israelis why it makes sense to deploy the settlements in such a way that they create a geographic interlock between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. The settler leaders have no real solution for the demographic impasse they have produced--certainly no solution that passes a minimal test of democracy and decency in relations between two peoples in the twenty-first century.

Yet another failure of the settlements is economic: they cost huge sums of money, with veteran settlers by and large living better than the average Israeli, yet for the most part the settlements don't appear to be self-sustaining. The majority of settlers either commute to major Israeli cities to work, or are employed in one form or another by the state. This explains why the Gaza settlers who attracted the most sympathy were the farmers: they were the only ones who appeared to have struck roots in the land.

Finally, the ideological settler leadership, the settler rabbis and the politicians, are religious fundamentalists. They believe they have discovered an absolute truth about how to bring redemption for us all. The level of indoctrination of their youth is frightening. They display a marked sense of superiority over us normal Jewish mortals, the vast majority of Israelis. They are "quality" people, with "values" the rest of us lack. Even those of us who grew up with an ingrained ancestral sense of deference toward rabbis and have a healthy respect for Jews who proclaim themselves pioneers, find this self-conceit repulsive. - Published 12/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Only half the problem
by Joharah Baker

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is by all accounts expected to receive a standing ovation at the UN General Assembly this week for carrying out his unilateral disengagement plan. He will be lauded, as he already has been in some quarters, as a "man of peace" who has made a significant contribution to furthering the prospects of a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The irony of this, needless to say, is so heavy you could use it to demolish houses.

The tragedy is that the withdrawal of just 8,000 settlers from a few settlements in five percent of occupied Palestinian territory, that is, about one percent of historical Palestine, should elicit such hysterical hyperbole. It is a measure of how successful Israel has been in deflecting attention from two of the most important issues that need to be tackled for this conflict to be settled.

In and of itself, the withdrawal from Gaza Strip settlements and military positions is welcome, whatever may come next. It will tangibly ease conditions for Gazans and make life less dangerous and more bearable. But it must not be allowed to deflect attention from the ever-tightening stranglehold Israel is exerting on the West Bank. One only needs to take a brief glimpse at the new "terminal" at Qalandiya to understand what Israel has in mind here.

If one believes that by acting unilaterally, even if it means giving up on the greater Israel idea, Israel is in any way furthering the prospects of peace, one is delusional. But forget unilateral: the very fact that any negotiations should be held over the status of any part of the West Bank including East Jerusalem is a testament to the weakness of the Palestinian position and the cowardliness of the international community. That the major settlement blocs are already, with a nudge and a wink, implicitly understood to belong to Israel is a travesty.

But there is more. Yes, the illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 are a major obstacle to peace. They prevent the emergence of a viable and contiguous state on the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Yes, Israel has made it so difficult to remove these settlements that even evacuating the above mentioned minor Gaza Strip settlements left Palestinian factions scrapping to claim "victory" and the international community lauding a "major step toward peace".

But a vast majority of Palestinians are refugees. Their homes, their lands and their livelihoods were in what is now considered Israel. The fate of these refugees, while ostensibly and outrageously also something to be negotiated, seems to have been already decided and not with a nudge and a wink. Never mind international law, human rights or simple common decency. It is an even bigger travesty of justice, and it doesn't matter how many times and to how many people it has happened before.

Travesties of justice make for a shaky basis for any lasting peace. The notion of an ethno-religiously pure nation state is so very nineteenth century, whatever the ethnicity or religion. Let Jews make aliya and let Palestinians return. Bring us into the modern age. - Published 12/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Joharah Baker is the editor-in-chief of the weekly online Palestine Report.

Hurricane "Arik"
by Eyal Megged

Two images have haunted me since the nightmare we went through in recent weeks--the nightmare given the sterile title "disengagement", that was in fact no less than a hurricane, hurricane "Arik". One image is of a secular woman, very un-settler-like, standing with great reserve outside her house in Rafiah Yam as a bulldozer attacked it. Then, suddenly, as if the realization of what she sees strikes her like lightning, she cries: "Why?! Why?!", like the shout of the child in The Emperor's New Clothes.

The second image is of a young pregnant widow from Homesh in the northern West Bank who recently lost her husband in a terrorist attack, screaming at the soldiers who are removing her from her home: "Whom did you come to fight? Tell me, whom did you come to fight?!"

Two declarations that go beyond the medley of words: "Why?!" and "Whom did you come to fight?!"

With us, unlike elsewhere in the world, this catastrophe was not a natural disaster, something unpreventable, but rather a human act. It was a mythological, surrealistic vision, a unique historical event: a civil war without bloodshed; a civil war accompanied by hugs and sympathy.

Despite everything, it turns out something is different with us Jews, something very deep.

We are witness these days to an unprecedented act of brainwashing, one that is leading the public to perceive the opponents of the "moderate" step called "disengagement"--which in fact is nothing but destruction, uprooting, and exile--as extremists. In contrast, anyone who considers the uprooting and destruction--which in fact were intended only to rebuff international pressures for a few months and to distract attention from personal corruption--as a wise and humanistic step, is considered a moderate.

We read articles, advertisements, appeals: Sharon, continue! I ask myself, what do they want him to continue with: the destruction and devastation? The uprooting with no recompense? The terrible schism that has been created? The damage to a public known for its vitality, its roots, its values, that is now licking its wounds?

The question as to the logic behind this sterile expulsion won't let me go.

We are told: This is how to save the Jewish state, the "Jewish nature" of Israel. And you think, what Judaism do they mean, what Jew do they see in their mind's eye--after all, the country they destroyed and uprooted, that they are still destroying and uprooting, is the real Jewish state, and not our Israel, which is pleasuring itself to death.

For many long months I've been searching for an answer to this difficult issue--how did this madness fall upon us--and then one day recently I found myself in a taxi with a well known writer on our way to a seminar concerning the initiative to allow settlers to remain in place under Palestinian rule. En route, the author surfed the waves of his memory and told me about the shock he felt when, right after the Six-Day War, he saw Jews dancing on the roof of a house in Silwan, after the Arab family living in it had been evicted: Jews dancing and shouting in full view of crying Arab children and weeping women.

I asked him: And when you danced way back in the 1950s at a Purim party in the restaurant in Ein Hod that was once a mosque, and were hosted by friends in houses restored on the ruins of people who had been uprooted and expelled? What's the difference between Ein Hod and Silwan--just the date? Why did what happened after 1967 differ from what happened after 1948?

That's when I got it: the settlers are our scapegoat. They're our expiation. Their hidden role in the eyes of part of Israeli society is to atone for a sin, the repressed sin that we refused to deal with. The "peace now" establishment coming from the kibbutzim that coveted Arab lands in the years following the War of Independence, whose origins are in the philosophers who fell all over themselves appropriating and fixing up abandoned Arab houses, happily grabbed at the opportunity to cleanse their consciences following the Six-Day War.

From herein declare: those who coveted and stole, those who murdered and inherited, are the settlers of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the religious right, Gush Emmunim; it is they who must be expelled from the land so that salvation may arrive.

This, then, is the deceit behind the "peace now"-like lie. A self-delusion that may work with part of the Israeli public, but under no circumstances with the Palestinians. They don't buy this lie. They know exactly who settled on their ruins and their lands, and who settled on rocks in empty land. The proof is that they fix their gaze not on the Qatif bloc but on Ashkelon; not on Efrat but on Katamon; not on Betar Elit but on Malcha. From their standpoint, if someone should be uprooted it is we who live safely within the "legal" green line, on the ruins of their national memory. From their standpoint it is we who are first in line. Because as we have seen, the original sin is not in the "territories", but here: in Lachish, Jaffa, Haifa, the Galilee, and the Sharon region.

But Arik Sharon, who in the dusk of his days craves to eat his breakfast while basking in the light of an adoring media, has become the Paul of the "peace now" false messianism: the great unbeliever who suddenly saw the light on the road to Damascus and did an about face. The problem is that in this case it is not light but darkness. The road to peace, if there is one, is through engagement and not disengagement, while depravity will always be depravity and will never bring glad tidings.

Today one could say to the settlers, you had a great historic role to fill in the eyes of the left: to be the cleansers of its conscience. A mission was imposed upon you, to cleanse the conscience of those who dwell in the houses of Arabs and on their lands in Katamon and Talbieh, in Baqa and Abu Tor, in Biram and Yad Mordechai and Sheikh Munis. What do you say to rising as one and declaring instead: our historic mission is the opposite--not to be uprooted but to stay; to remain in our places even under another regime (as a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state, in parallel with the Arab minority in Israel) and to serve as a bridge to peace. It is we who will determine which way the Palestinian neighbor is heading: toward reconciliation or more conflict. There is no better touchstone.

Most of you settlers got where you are with a sense of mission, in accordance with an idea and a faith. Dangerous it always was; you were always surrounded by hostile neighbors. But you had a mission and there was faith, and these enabled you to continue to bear the risks. Now, in a different way and from a different standpoint, you perhaps have another opportunity for a life characterized by "mission" and "significance".

Pragmatists, politicians, lawyers, have thus far not succeeded in pulling the wagon out of the mud. We're stuck with these pragmatists. I believe that an idea originating with men of letters, paradoxically, can sometimes produce a different spirit, one that will get things moving. It may not be too late to dilute the disengagement--that act that is nothing but patchwork, plugging of leaks, destruction on top of destruction--with a message, an act of hope. For a long time our creative imagination has not been ignited. Perhaps this idea will turn on the light at the end of the disengagement.- Published 12/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Eyal Megged has published 10 volumes of poetry and six novels. He was awarded the Book Publishers' Association's Golden and Platinum Book Prizes for his novels Everlasting Life and Saving Grace.

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