LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
An Ashcroft Fable,
Article published in The Forward
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,
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
"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.
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. Some of
the revisions I would have chosen are below in ALL
WHAT PALESTINIANS NEED IN ORDER TO BELIEVE IN THE
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 /
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
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
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
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.
 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
 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
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
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 /
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."
Next: Rescue Divers!