An Ashcroft Fable,

Article published in The Forward

Pamela Olson
21 February 2005

First, a quick fable of the Ashcroft Age, a popular email forward in Palestine lately:


An old Arab lived close to New York City for more than 40 years. One day he decided that he would love to plant potatoes and herbs in his garden, but he knew he was alone and too old and weak.

His son was in college in Paris, so the old man sent him an e-mail explaining the problem:

"Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can't plant potatoes in my garden. I am sure, if only you were here, that you would help me and dig up the garden for me. I love you, your father."

The following day, the old man received a response e-mail from his son:

"Beloved father, please don't touch the garden. That is where I have hidden 'the THING'. I love you, too, Ahmed."

At 4pm the US Army, the Marines, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the OHS, and the Rangers visited the house of the old man and took the whole garden apart, searching every inch. But they couldn't find anything. Disappointed, they left the house.

The next day, the old man received another e-mail from his son:

"Beloved father, I hope the garden is dug up by now and you can plant your potatoes. That is all I could do for you from here. Your loving son, Ahmed."


The article below was officially written by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, but actually ghostwritten by me (using his outline and thesis), looked over by him, and edited and published by Forward, a prominent New York-based American Jewish publication since 1897.[1]

The editing was a little more than I would like, but we were on a deadline, and there wasn't time to give all my counter-revisions a hearing. So it's a little bit watered-down in its final version. For one thing, they changed all my uses of the term 'annexation wall' into 'separation wall,' claiming it was a more neutral term. More neutral maybe, but not true.[2] Some of the revisions I would have chosen are below in ALL CAPS.



By Mustafa Barghouti
February 18, 2005

Since a cease-fire was declared February 8 in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Palestinian people have demonstrated their desire to end the bloodshed with Israel. We have acknowledged that the security of Israeli and Palestinian civilians is a legitimate concern. Moreover, the recent elections in Palestine have demonstrated to the world that the Palestinian people are committed to democracy and fully capable of governing their own independent state.

But let us be clear: The security of Israelis cannot reasonably be divorced from that of Palestinian civilians, whose collective security has been shattered by 38 years of Israeli occupation. If peace is to have a chance of truly taking hold, Israel cannot SIMPLY demand a seemingly endless list of security concessions from the Palestinians while ignoring the core issues of the conflict.

The occupation has placed overwhelming restrictions on millions of lives for almost four decades. It has severely disfigured, if not destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families, neighborhoods and livelihoods. Even during the Oslo years, the settlers [I would have said 'the settlement enterprise' - we can't blame just the settlers, as the whole thing was government-sponsored] more than doubled their population and vastly intensified their stranglehold over Palestinian land, water and movement — a stranglehold that the separation wall being built by Israel is set to entrench even further.

[This is an example of where the term 'separation wall' is confusing - how can a separation wall entrench a stranglehold over Palestinian land, water, and movement? This statement makes no sense except in terms of an annexation / ghettoization / collective-imprisonment wall.]

Israel's tunnellike focus on security at the expense of core issues has repeatedly proven to be a recipe for failure and disaster. FORCING A CALM WITHOUT ADDRESSING LEGITIMATE AND PRESSING GRIEVANCES — AND VERY OFTEN WHILE ACTIVELY EXACERBATING THEM — pushes the Palestinian Authority into a corner by forcing it to become a security subcontractor for occupation — a police state against its own people. This situation is not only untenable, unstable and dangerous to both Palestinians and Israelis, but it is also the direct opposite of democracy and justice.

There is a clear majority in Palestinian society, as well as in most of the world and hopefully in Israel, regarding what the minimum of justice for Palestinians looks like: a fully sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the Green Line as its border, the dismantling of settlements and of the separation wall, and a practical solution to the refugee problem.

Simply put, Palestinian support for the peace process will depend on the perceived chances for this vision to be implemented within a reasonable timeframe.

Prime Minister Sharon's words at last week's Sharm el-Sheikh summit, unfortunately, give little cause for optimism. He said nothing that contradicted his plan to annex large chunks of the West Bank by routing the separation wall away from the Green Line. And he did not even mention the continued expansion of settlements on Palestinian land. These actions are ACTS OF BRUTE THEFT AS WELL AS severe and direct threats to the VIABILITY OF A FUTURE PALESTINIAN STATE AND THUS TO THE peace process.

Israeli sources have admitted in the face of overwhelming evidence* that the routing of the separation wall is not about security, but rather about unilaterally imposing borders and expropriating as much Palestinian land as possible before negotiations on final-status issues can begin. Doesn't Sharon realize that this is a blatant violation of the Road Map and of international law?

*[A typical Israeli source: "While the state [of Israel] remains silent, the [Israeli] High Court of Justice shapes its future borders by ruling where the separation fence should be built." ~ Whose Fence is it Anyway? Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz, 9 Feb 2005.]

The peace process has only just begun, and it is already dangerously deformed. Palestinians are fulfilling their obligations, while Israel has granted only a few token concessions and continues to implement plans that are diametrically antithetical to peace and justice.

Sharon knows that he must choose between the separation wall and a viable Palestinian state. To continue building the wall during this fragile window of opportunity is a devastating vote of no confidence for the prospect of peaceful coexistence. It is inconceivable that his tactic of talking peace while obviating justice will be allowed to go on for very much longer without consequences.

If what Sharon means by the "end of the occupation" is the completion of the separation wall and the carving up of the West Bank into noncontiguous, NON-VIABLE, GHETTO-LIKE areas ['non-contiguous' by itself sounds too innocuous when the reality is so untenable, brutal, and dangerous] areas to be fatuously called a "Palestinian state," such an end will only be the beginning of a new generation of devastating conflicts that could easily boil over into regional war.

Three preliminary signs will be taken as evidence that Israel is truly interested in peace, and will be necessary to give Palestinians the hope and confidence they need to support the process and end violence at all levels. First, Israel's formal acceptance of and commitment to the Road Map — which means, at a minimum, immediately freezing all settlement construction [as stipulated by the Road Map and requested by the American government] and dismantling all illegal outposts [a few smaller ones built without state approval and ruled illegal by the Israeli high court and under standing orders to be dismantled, which the Sharon gov't continues to ignore].

Second, freezing construction of the separation wall in anticipation of the day when Israel will conform to the International Court of Justice ruling by dismantling the wall completely and compensating all victims. And third, immediate engagement in final-status negotiations, including the status of East Jerusalem, the final borders of the Palestinian state and a solution for refugees.

[On the face of things, this is not much to ask: Just a show of good faith and following a couple of international (and Israeli!) laws.]

Israel today faces no existential threat, and it has no easily demonizable counterpart at the Muqata. Sharon's government is out of excuses. It is now faced with the simple question of whether or not it is willing to be a good neighbor in the Middle East, or whether it prefers other people's property over peace and security.

For the sake of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, it is imperative that the international community not allow this precious window of opportunity to go to waste. The best way to escape from the dead end of another mendacious interim deal [like the 'Oslo Peace Process', during which settlements doubled and whose land designations are neatly followed by the Annexation Wall] destined to lead to another devastating crisis [like the Second Intifada] is an international peace conference resulting in a resolution based on international law.

In considering this proposal, it is important to remember that the Palestinian people are not bargaining for concessions or spoils, but rather for the minimum of justice that has been denied to them during 57 cataclysmic years of war, dispossession and occupation. We are only asking to live in peace and freedom on 23% of historic Palestine.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a candidate for Palestinian Authority president in the January election, was a delegate to the Madrid peace talks in 1991.


The fact that such an article was published in an American Jewish publication speaks volumes about the editors' interest in getting the whole story and seeing the other side, which is heartening and admirable.

A lot of Israeli and Jewish and American people have a real desire for peace and justice, which I look to with the greatest of hope and admiration. An article published by an American Jewish woman in a Jordanian paper, called "Speaking Out about Israel to Save the Jewish Soul," is similarly heartening.

But as long as Sharon (and others like him) is still killing and stealing with relative impunity, there's no rest for those who do not wish to be complicit in illegal acts of inhumanity.


The article is posted here: http://www.forward.com/articles/2722

You can use my username (pamwilson) and password (pamwilson) to access it.


[1] THE FORWARD is a legendary name in American journalism and a revered institution in American Jewish life. Launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forward entered the din of New York's immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism. The Jewish Daily Forward... came to be known as the voice of the Jewish immigrant and the conscience of the ghetto. It fought for social justice, helped generations of immigrants to enter American life, broke some of the most significant news stories of the century, and was among the nation's most eloquent defenders of democracy and Jewish rights. ~From their website www.forward.com.

[2] I wrote to the Forward in a Letter to the Editor, "'Separation wall' is not a neutral term because 'separation' indicates that it is a wall to separate Israelis from Palestinians, which implies that the wall is located on the Green Line. As we know, this is not the case. The Wall is built deep inside Palestinian territory, separating Palestinians from their land, livelihoods, social services, and each other.

It has been called a humanitarian health disaster by Medecins du Monde of France and Physicians for Human Rights of Israel. And that's just the health care access issue. There are also the issues of access to education (women are disproportionately denied education by the Wall), critical water shortages, destroyed livelihoods, lost property, culture, and picnic spots...

This kind of Wall is something never quite seen by the world, and it’s very difficult to sum up all that it implies and embodies in only two words. Because of all it does to destroy Palestinian life, land, and society, as well as Israeli security in the long run, I would prefer to call it an annexation / apartheid / collective-imprisonment / ghettoization / health-care-and-education-denying / mental-health-deteriorating / anti-peace wall. Maybe we can just call it the Wall, capitalized.

I do applaud your efforts to use neutral terms and let the facts and opinions speak for themselves. And perhaps separation wall is the most neutral available. But I would just like to note that it’s not quite neutral either. I have noted one instance where the term ‘separation wall’ is confusing and misleading. But I understand if you have no other good choice of term to use."

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