Bearing Witness

The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank

Israel’s targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall proves the two-state solution is now just a meaningless slogan.

It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been “occupation as normal”, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.

For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.

Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.

Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as “state land”. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.

Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten.

Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.

Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty.

During the coverage of the Israeli elections, while it was clear that Palestinians mostly did not care which of the candidates for PM won, the reason for this apathy was not explained. Labor, Likud and Kadima alike, Israeli governments without fail have continued or intensified the colonisation of the occupied territories, entrenching Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule, a reality belied by the false “dove”/”hawk” dichotomy.

Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves.

The fact that the West Bank reality means the end of the two-state paradigm has started to be picked up by mainstream, liberal commentators in the US, in the wake of the Israeli elections. Juan Cole, the history professor and blogger, recently pointed out that there are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: “apartheid”, “expulsion”, or “one state”.

The path of the wall, and the number of Palestinians it directly and indirectly affects, continues to make a mockery of any plan for Palestinian statehood. Jayyous is just one example of the way in which the Israeli-planned, fenced-in Palestinian “state-lets” are at odds with the stated intention of the quartet and so many others, of two viable states, “side by side”. As the World Bank pointed out (pdf), land colonisation is not conducive to economic prosperity or basic independence.

In occupied East Jerusalem meanwhile, Israel has continued its process of Judaisation, enforced through bureaucracy and bulldozers. The latest tightening of the noose in Ar-Ram is one example of where Palestinian Jerusalemites are at risk of losing their residency status, victims of what is politely known as the “demographic battle”.

It is impossible to imagine Palestinians accepting a “state” shaped by the contours of Israel’s wall, disconnected not only from East Jerusalem but even from parts of itself. Yet this is the essence of the “solution” being advanced by Israeli leaders across party lines. For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza.

This article was written by Ben White for the Guardian and was first published on Friday 20th February 2009.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking over Jerusalem

A couple of months ago I spent a fortnight in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement – activists who help Palestinians non-violently resist Israeli oppression. The most pressing of many issues during my stay was the attempts by an Israeli settler company, Nahalat Shimon, backed by the Israeli courts, to cleanse East Jerusalem of its Arab population, focusing its efforts at that time on the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

I spent a week sleeping on a floor in the house of the Hanoun family – a husband and wife and their three children. Longer-term activists were sleeping there as well, ready to document their inevitable eviction. Well, last Saturday at 5.30am the Israeli border police did come and forceably evict them (so forceably that the son Rami had to be taken to hospital). The activists were arrested, as were protesters who subsequently took to the streets. The Hanouns were offered a tent by the Red Cross.

Sheikh Jarrah is in a valley down from the American Colony hotel where Tony Blair stays in a luxury suite when visiting Jerusalem as the Quartet’s “Peace Envoy”. When you look out of the Hanouns’ window, you can see Blair’s hotel 30 metres away; Blair can probably see the Hanouns’ house during his morning swim. He has said nothing.

The most disturbing fact about Israel’s eviction programme is that when you look around East Jerusalem and the surrounding area there are considerable plots of land without homes. If they wanted to build new illegal settlements without kicking out Palestinians in the area they could do so. The targeting of Sheikh Jarrah and other areas is actually a process of racial purification, the transformation of East Jerusalem into a unified Jewish Jerusalem.

The Hanoun family have been the victims of terror for decades as they have fought off Israel’s attempts to take their homes. Maher Hanoun’s father was a refugee from the nakba (or “the catastophe”, as Palestinians call the founding of Israel in 1948). The Jordanian government gave them the property in 1956 as compensation and transferred the ownership to them in 1962. Maher was born in 1958 so has spent his whole life, and bought up all his children, in his home.

As in other parts of East Jerusalem, Maher was offered payment if he would go quietly. He refused. “This is my home,” he said to me. “I would never respect myself if I sold my home for money. They want to build a settlement on our hearts, on our dreams.”

Across the way, there is a makeshift tent where a 62-year-old woman now lives after settlers took over her house. Initially they only took two parts of her house so she was literally living next to them. Then she was kicked out. Her husband had a heart attack when their house was violently repossessed with the help of more than 50 soldiers (on the night of Barack Obama’s US election victory). After spending some time in hospital, her husband had another attack two weeks later and died. The family again refused money to leave their homes. “I don’t have a life now,” she said from her tent. “With my husband and house gone, there is no life. I just hope with the help of God that this occupation will stop and we can return to our homes.”

I don’t know what happened to this women in the eviction on Saturday night, but one report I read said even her tent had been destroyed.

The one good thing about the Netanyahu-Lieberman administration is that they are much more honest about their colonisation programme than their “centrist” predecessors. The Netanyahu administration is now willing to get rid of some “outposts”, in return for continued expansion in East Jerusalem and “natural growth” in existing settlements throughout the West Bank. That was the policy negotiated by Ehud Olmert and George Bush before the Annapolis conference in 2007. Netanyahu is just more honest in saying that it obviates the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Maher agrees: “I can’t see how we can have a capital if there is no land, no houses, no people,” he said.

The next stop in this attempt to cleanse the putative future capital of Palestine of its indigenous population is the Bustan area of Silwan which sits in the valley down from the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. When I first arrived in Israel I went on the City of David tour, which functions as a three-hour Israeli propaganda extravaganza (dressed up as an archeological experience). King David in Biblical lore is said to have been the first Jewish leader to settle the land in Jerusalem and his son King Solomon is said to have built the First Temple in 960 BC.

In 2005, some archeological finds purported to provide evidence that the lore was true. Now, the Israeli government wants to turn the homes of the people of Silwan into an archaeological theme park. Eighty-eight houses are due for demolition, home to about 1,500 Palestinians.

* This article was writen by Matt Kennard and first published in the Guardian news paper on  Wednesday 5 August 2009.

August 6, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tour of my favourite Middle Eastern cities

To finish my time in the Middle East I decided to do a tour of my favourite cities, starting in Beirut and going through Damascus, Jerusalem and finally back to Nablus to say goodbye to the many wonderful people I meet while I was there.

Beirut made the list for different reasons than the rest of the cities, where as the other cities on the tour where there because of their dramatic histories and difference from anything I had seen before – Beirut made for it’s similarities to my home town Sydney. Great bars, good restaurants, fantastic climate and fine women. I spent five days in total in Beirut and only did the tourist thing on the fist day – Jitta Grotto and the cable  car. The other four days where spent relaxing during day and parting at night. I even got to play a short set on the last night in a bar in Hamra, I had befriend the DJ there through our mutual love of hip hop. He mainly play house, but told me if I got there early enough on my last night, ie before to many people turned up, he would bring in some hip hop and we could play back to back. As I only new some of the music he brought and was playing on CD decks for only the second time my mixes where a bit ruff – but it was great fun.

I then return to Damascus for a couple of days, I walked the souqs, visited the Hammam and ate fantastic ice cream covered in nuts – mmm nuts. I also need to make a correction to my last post on Damascus, apparently it is not the oldest constantly inhabited city in the world – Jericho in the West Bank holds that honor. But none the less Damascus is still my favourite city in the Middle East, wondrous.

Next stop was Jerusalem where I spent most of time in the old city. I returned to  Dome of the rock, had diner at Papa Andres with it’s superb s of the old city and took a day trip to the Dead Sea, Jericho and Masada – the only day I got my camera out the whole ten days of the tour. I also visited Yad Vashem the Holocaust Museum, which has a comprehensive history of the Holocaust and moving tribute to it’s victims. I also went to the Museum on the Seam – an art gallery on the green line that used to divide Jerusalem before th six day war in 1967. It is run by a group called coexistence, however there where no paintings by Palestinian artists, perhaps that’s what Israeli’s think coexistence is – complete domination.

However my time in Jerusalem was soured by being assaulted by undercover Israel Police, my only crime was wearing a Palestinian  koufeya. They approached me saying something in Hebrew, the only word I understood was Fatah as they pointed to my koufeya. They then surrounded me and one of the five guys tried to put his hands into my pocket. As they had failed to show me any ID at this stage I though I was been mugged and resisted. They then pinned me up against a wall – slamming my head  into the wall in the process. They then showed me thier police ID quickly and when I stated I had not seen it properly I was told I had and the guy who had me pinned against the wall drove his forearm further into my throat. After being thoroughly search and my passport checked. I was told “next time I wanted a souvenir to buy a fucking t-shirt”, when I responded by telling him “buying a  koufeya was not a crime”, he open his jacket showing me his pistol and placed his hand on it and stated “it is to me”. I Don’t know how Palestinians live with this brutality and worse on daily basis.

Then finally back to Nablus, which while the city it’s self was not my favourite city in the Middle East, it was where I made the most friends and had some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was great to catch up with my friends and have familiar faces around again, as much of the last month had been spent travailing by myself. I will miss Nablus the most out of all the places I visited on this trip and insharlla I will return one day to celebrate an independent Palestinian state, so long over due.

View of the Dead Sea From Masada

View of the Dead Sea From Masada

Just floating around

Just floating around

Sunset over the ruins at Jericho

Sunset over the ruins at Jericho

February 4, 2009 Posted by | My Travels | , , , | Leave a comment

Jerusalem

I have just arrived back in Nablus after spending the last two days in Jerusalem. It was, and I know I am bordering on over use of this word to describe my trip so far, incredible. I spent the first day doing the tourist thing – camera constantly out taking photos at every opportunity, almost every time I turned the corner there was another sight of something that warranted a photo. From holy sites, to amazing souqs, to ancient arch ways. After finding some where to stay, I headed for Jaffa Gate to take the Ramparts walk, along the way I saw the tower of David.
 
The Ramparts Walk takes you from Jaffa Gate to Lions Gate via New, Damascus and Herod’s Gates – along the top of the walls of the Old City – I highly recommend taking it if your ever in Jerusalem, it provides great views of the new and old cities and helps you get your bearings.
 
I then toured the holy sights, staring at the Western [Wailing] Wall. The only remnant of Judaism’s holiest shrine, the “Wailing” moniker stems from Jewish sorrow over the destruction of the temple Herod built in 20 BC by the Romans.
 
From There I headed to the Temple Mount, know locally as Haram ash-Sharif. The massive stone platform was built over the biblical Mt Moriah, the site of Solomon’s first and Herod’s second temples. it is also the site where Abraham was instructedby God to sacrifice his son Isaac in a test of his faith. For Muslim, the Temple mount is revered for it’s association with Mohammed’s mystical night journey [isra], in which the Prophet dreamed of flying to heaven from the mount to take his place alongside Allah – all this combined means that the site holds special significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians. I know from first hand experience that the Temple Mount is heavily revered by all Palestinian’s [Christian or Muslim], as I am yet to enter a house in Palestine that does not have a photo or a painting on the wall of the Temple Mount. The highlight of the Temple Mount for me was the Dome of the Rock, which was completed in 691 AD. It has, as most of you I’m sure would know, a large gold dome – which is amazing. Unfortunately as a Non-Muslim I was not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock, however just walking around it was incredible – that word again – as it glistened in the day light. The Dome of the Rock also has the most amazing tiling covering most of the structure.
 
Then, even as a lapsed Christian, I had to go a see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The original Byzantine structure was extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders and it has numerous magnificent alters – although as I could not afford a walking tour and most of the writing was in another language I am not sure of their significance. Incredible though it’s not everyday you get to visit the holiest sites of the worlds three main religions.
 
I then toured the Armenian Quarter as I had not passed it in my tour of the holy sites. It was the quietest of the four quarter and I did not explore it to much as by that stage my legs where starting to give way. My favourite was the Muslim Quarter, as to me it felt the most authentic with traditional souqs and a real character, some parts of the Jewish Quarter almost seemed brand new.
  
After going back to my hostel for a shower and a rest, I headed out again for some dinner. I went to Papa Andrea’s, which has a rooftop section and provides great views of the Old City. the food was great, not to mention the fact I could drink. During dinner one of the waiters who was not that busy due to the lack of customers on the night started to play a traditional Arab drum, he was phenomenal, and after complementing him on his abilities we started talking and the next thing I know where drinking Arak and he is trying try to teach me how to play the drum. an amazing end to an INCREDIBLE ! day.
 
The next morning after waking up a little the worst for ware, after way to much Arak. I headed out for breakfast, in the Christian Quarter, as I figured I might find my traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs – which I did. I also was fortunate enough to get a another friendlywaiter who I began talking to after he admonished the leader of a walking tour, who in his opinion was revising history in accordance with her own political views. I would like to leave with you with a statement he made about the occupation. He summed it up simply and beautifully “it’s not just a military occupation, it’s tax’s, it’s movement and infrastructure. They can try a crush the people but never the idea that this is our home”
 
 * The dates and facts in this post are taken from Lonely Planet – Middle East.
  

Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate

 

Tower of David

Tower of David

   

Ramparts Walk

Ramparts Walk

   

The Wailing Wall

The Wailing Wall

   

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

    

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

November 21, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | | Leave a comment