Pre-Disengagement Thoughts

Pamela Olson
25 July 2005

Headline seen on Google News on July 7, 2005:

I wonder how many people read it and, like me, thought for about four-tenths of a second that the bombing had somehow precipitated a civil war in England. I laughed but was vaguely disturbed that not much of anything would surprise me these days.


I spent this weekend on the beach at Herzliyya Petuach, a beautiful area north of Tel Aviv, with an Israeli friend from university. Lunch was a heaping guacamole cheeseburger and chocolate fudge souffle sundae, then we hit the beach. It was lovely to get some sun and run around all day in shorts and a tank top. The waves were big enough to body surf a little, and my friend and I played the hit-a-rubber-ball-back-and-forth-with-wooden-paddles game that's so popular on Israeli beaches. It was my first time playing, but it's not a competitive sport, and my friend was good enough to hustle and get a lot of my wild shots.

The living room of his apartment has glass walls on three sides, so it was like hanging out in a bubble high above the sea. Very Coruscant. The view of the sunset was spectacular.

Things in Ramallah are about the same, normal happy everyday life overshadowed by anxiety and uncertainty and dread and hope. The massive new "terminal" (a dressed-up checkpoint that Israel wants to pretend is an international border, unilaterally as usual) at Qalandia is about to open, and no one knows if access to Jerusalem will suddenly change. The Jerusalem Wall will be completed soon, and when it is, hundreds of thousands of people will suddenly be cut off from their homes, families, businesses, holy places, administrative centers, lives. Tensions are huge.

Similarly, no one has any idea what's going to happen after the disengagement. A World Bank-funded fantasyland of construction and tourism? Mogadishu-type chaos? Total Israeli lockdown, i.e. control over borders, shores, or airspace, and thus the (continued) miserable imprisonment of over a million people? A massive Israeli air assault? Will there be safe passage to the West Bank? Will they allow the Palestinians to build a port or airport? Will Palestinians be able to export anything even if they do rally their economy and start producing?

No one has any idea. Sharon's is keeping everyone in the dark and on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, quietly waiting to see what rabbit he'll pull out of his hat at the end of August. We all hope it will be good, of course, but given Sharon's track record and current actions in the West Bank, skeptics can't really be blamed. No one in the media has the time or inclination to cover the continued theft and destruction and violence in the West Bank with the settlers providing such an impassioned and brightly-colored sideshow.

I have a vision that at the end of August, when the settlers are mostly out, everyone will suddenly wake up as if from a trance and say, "What's been happening all these months while we've been obsessing over the poor, crazy settlers?" And very few people will like what they see. People with any interest in peace and justice will be horrified by what's been going on in the West Bank. And Israeli right wingers will be horrified when the world starts knocking on their door and asking, "What next?"

The next step is obvious -- final status negotiations followed by phased withdrawal from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This is what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians and most people in the world know must happen. But if you think Gaza was bad, try convincing the deluded Orangies (and the Likudniks and Laborites who spawned them) that Ariel, Itamar, Beit El, and Efrata are next. And Kiryat Arba and East Jerusalem.

I wonder what cruel and mendacious tricks they'll come up with to postpone the inevitable once again. And how much blood will be spilled for it. For years and years, it's always been something.

Now that Arafat's gone, their favorite trick is to weaken Abbas to the point where he can't offer his people anything. Sharon has reneged, outright or in spirit, on all the agreements he made at Sharm el-Sheikh in February. If Sharon's giant army couldn't quash dissent in the Territories during four years of open conflict, the only way Abbas could hope to pull off the same in six months would be if Israel were to show the Palestinian people that non-violence works, and that the political process espoused by their elected president can result in peace and justice.

The end game is fairly obvious -- something along the lines of the Geneva Accords, a Palestinian state on the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem with minor agreed-upon border adjustments. Most people on all sides would rather get there the sane, political, non-violent way.

But Sharon is taking that option away from us.

While Palestinians, for the most part, are holding their fire and waiting for Sharon to keep his end of the bargain, Israel has killed over fifty Palestinians (including 15 kids), resumed its illegal targeted assassination policy, invaded and reoccupied towns nominally given over to Palestinian Authority control, built the illegal and devastating Wall as quickly as it could, demolished homes in East Jerusalem, and arrested more people than it freed during the much-vaunted prisoner releases. New settlements are being built all over the place even though Bush and Rice specifically told Sharon to quit creating facts on the ground that might prejudice final status negotiations.

When Palestinians demonstrate non-violently against the Wall, they get hammered by tear gas and rubber bullets and often live ammunition, arrested, their towns invaded in retribution, their groves bulldozed that much faster.

What are Palestinians supposed to make of this? Israel is playing them for suckers.

The lesson of Lebanon is still fresh. Only organized violence drove the Israelis out of that coveted territory, only five years ago. When Israel finally took the logically obvious option and withdrew, the violence ceased (except for the Shabaa Farms area, which Israel still occupies). It took them twenty years of bloodshed and heartache before they finally got fed up with the body bags coming in from Lebanon and did the obvious and honorable thing. How long will it take in the West Bank? Is it too much to ask a civilized country to learn from its mistakes, be reasonable, and save some lives?

Some Palestinian militant factions have broken the ceasefire agreement, too, although they haven't done 5% as much damage to Israel as Israel has done to Palestine since February. But it has to be understood that:

  • incitement from Israel has never stopped since the day after the Sharm agreements. Body counts have gone down, but other than that it's humiliating, sickening, thieving, blockaded, violent business as usual,

  • almost every Palestinian militant attack (note: it's Palestinian militants working against the wishes of the Palestinian Authority who have broken the ceasefire, not the PA itself) was in response to a specific Israeli violation of the ceasefire (which makes you wonder why there weren't more attacks, since there were certainly more Israeli violations than Palestinian attacks),

  • Sharon will not allow Abbas' policemen to be armed adequately to keep the militants under control until they first get the militants under control (...there's only one catch...)*, one of Sharon's most absurd but effective tactics yet to shift all pressure to Abbas by demanding he accomplish the impossible,

  • the militants will never be brought under full control, by anyone, unless they see an acceptable final status deal on the horizon, and

  • the Palestinian militant factions who've done most of the ceasefire breaking are largely loose collectives of thugs, fanatics, and patriots, most of whose intelligent and strategically competent leaders have been assassinated by Israel, while Israel is supposedly a Western democratic government. For Israel to hold itself up to the same standards as militant thugs is just embarrassing. Israel has all the power in this conflict. It's their place to take the high road if they are truly interested in peace.

  • Any small thing to genuinely improve people's lives would be so welcome and take so much pressure off. It would delegitimize the thugs completely if people really thought better things were possible without the use of force. Israel letting a few people drill wells on their own land, letting a few farmers have unlimited access to their own fields, clearing out a couple of the most egregious settlers from Hebron's Old City, taking down just a few of the most devastating internal checkpoints, releasing some of the women and children political prisoners from jail, or at least not transferring them to worse facilities in the Negev Desert, canceling all home demolition orders, promising an airport for Gaza and a safe passage to the West Bank, slowing down or stopping the Wall and the expansion of settlements... something. None of these things pose any security risk whatsoever.

    Instead, it's been nothing but stonewalling and making things worse all the way, making it obvious to everyone here that Sharon is aiming to take whatever he can get. And he's getting away with it. While the world talks about peace on the horizon, the Palestinians only see the Wall and settlements elbowing them out of their lands and making their lives in the West Bank impoverished if not impossible. The government of Israel is pushing the envelope dangerously. Likely as not this will mean that Israel will still be hanging onto the territories when there's a clear Palestinian majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and then there's no choice but outright Apartheid or a one-state solution.

    Palestinians won't leave, and the international community, one can only hope, will not let them sit inside Walled-in ghettoes and starve while Israel plows all their land into cookie-cutter duplexes for Jews only. Actually, Palestinians are currently sitting in Walled-in ghettoes and many are suffering from severe malnutrition while Israel is plowing their land into cookie-cutter duplexes for Jews only. But how much longer can a civilized world watch such a macabre and disgusting spectacle? The answer will say a lot about our civilization.

    All hopes are on the international community, on America being smart enough to realize that a secure, peaceful, democratic Palestine is about the best buffer against terrorism out there. The sheer and unmistakeable and brazen injustice and humiliation of the situation in Palestine has been a prime recruitment tool for terrorist organizations. If international law is completely ineffective and there seems to be no protection for the powerless, it's only natural that some people will want to strike back.

    (The 50 people killed in London was horrific and tragic and unsupportable. But 50 people killed in a horrific city bombing is just another Thursday in Baghdad. That wasn't happening before we went in, and it won't stop until we leave. The only better arena than Palestine for attracting disaffected young men to lethal action these days is the apocalypse we've created out of Iraq.)

    The world is getting smarter, albeit slowly, about Israel and Palestine and Iraq, and once the Gaza settlers are moved to their new luxury beach houses fifteen miles north and the world doesn't come to an end, we're hoping the world will step in and help us end this mess and get to the logical and obvious conclusion as quickly and bloodlessly as possible.

    It's astounding to think how many resources an end to this conflict will free up for both societies. (Getting our $200 billion back from the Iraq fiasco would be pretty sweet, too, but oh well, bygones.)

    Palestinians will finally be able farm their land and build their homes without fears of Israel stealing them and knocking them down. They'll be able to drive up to Nablus for a quick bite of kunafe any day of the week, or fly to Paris to visit friends and family, or take a road trip down to Gaza to lay out on their own little stretch of the Med and watch the sun sink into the sea. They'll never be stripped and beaten and denied medical treatment by foreign teenagers again. They'll finally be free and independent human beings with the full rights and privileges of citizenship in a sovereign country.

    And Israel can finally rest easy with a hegemonically powerful army and secure and recognized borders around 78% of historic Palestine, which is 23% more than the UN proposed giving to them in 1948. They can start going to cafes again without having their bags searched and their boyfriends frisked by cute Russian blondes.

    Most countries in the Middle East have agreed to normalize relations with Israel contingent on the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Once this happens, the whole region will open up like a flower. In the next generation, there might once again be long scenic train rides from Beirut to Tel Aviv to Cairo, from Jerusalem to Damascus.

    If they'll only quit pushing the envelope, Israel will have won in a big way and securely established itself as a fully-recognized member of the community of nations on one of the most beautiful, fascinating, and strategic tracts of land in the Middle East.

    To gamble all that for a bunch of illegal settlements is nuts.

    * * * * *

    The next bit of news is equal parts awful and hilarious for someone who has lived here and seen the Israeli army and government in action for so long. C'est absolument typique.

    On July 4 of this month, the Caravan for Justice in Palestine set out from the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France. The Caravan consisted of 150 mostly European activists who had grown frustrated with the world ignoring international law and allowing Israel to terrorize and steal from Palestinians on a daily basis and murder at least hundreds of innocent civilians including over 700 children.

    The law is clear, and Israel is obligated to dismantle its Wall, compensate all victims, and negotiate full withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Israel ignores all this, thumbing its nose at international law, and the world just looks on.

    This sets a terrible example for the rest of the world. Most people agree with the tenets of the UN charter and its resolutions and human rights treaties. But when the powerful countries ignore these rulings and do whatever they please in a way that profoundly negatively affects the lives of entire nations, and there's no high court to turn to or higher power to appeal to, victims and their supporters are faced with a terrible choice: to submit to injustice and humiliation quietly or to fight against a vastly stronger force. And since the powerless of the world have no armies, they resort to guerrilla warfare and terrorism. And when massive numbers of people have been stripped of their homes, jobs, families, and/or dignity, it's not hard to find recruits. These things follow like dominoes; it's just common sense.

    So anyway, these intrepid European hippies set out on a two-week road trip through France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan on their way to deliver a message of peace and love to Jerusalem, where they planned to meet with Israeli and Palestinian doves and hold press conferences and stuff. Fair enough, and who wouldn't go for a two-week road trip through lovely places like Switzerland, Croatia, and Syria? They held marches and solidarity meetings all along the way, and apart from being roughed up once by some Croatian heavies, everything went smoothly and pleasantly.

    Of course, it would have an impact on international politics roughly equivalent to that of a cream pie dropped from approximately 2.5 feet. But why not? Civil society's got to make a showing somehow and let the world know that even if European governments quietly trade goods and arms with Israel and give it a wink, the European people are sick and tired of being party to heart-sickening injustice and one of the most effective recruitment tools for terrorism in the world.

    Syria still has no formal relations with Israel, reflected in its irritating policy of not allowing anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport to enter their country. But they greeted the Caravaners with open arms and legendary hospitality, especially the Palestinians in the refugee camps they visited. I'm nostalgic for Syria just thinking about it.

    And then they got to the Allenby Bridge, the border between Jordan and Israel. Here's what happened:

    After two days of negotiations and detention on July 20 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Allenby Bridge border crossing terminal, Israeli soldiers deported 120 members of the Caravan for Justice in Palestine, including three children, and forced them to return to Jordan. (30 had already gone through to Israel/Palestine on foot in small batches.)

    Israel brought extra security forces onto the scene to carry out the forced evacuation. The soldiers stamped their passports with a mark that will prohibit them from entering Israel or the Palestinian Territories for the rest of their lives (or maybe only for the next five years, it wasn't clear). Soldiers beat and pushed and dragged many of the Caravaners and confiscated one of their cameras as they were forcing them onto the buses.

    Their feel-good peace-and-love road trip to the Holy Land was unceremoniously aborted by the same guys who man our checkpoints and invade our cities. At least they got a first-hand experience of what checkpoints and closures are like.

    There was no formal explanation given by Israel for the mass deportation.

    Three of the women who managed to get through gave a joint press conference with Dr. Barghouthi the day before the debacle at Allenby, and they were cute old birds, all about fifty years old, one of them wearing way too many Palestinian flag stickers and another whose cell phone went off during the press conference, which made her blush. The third looked like a backpacker or amateur cyclist.

    Now why would mighty Israel be so scared of a few dozen upper middle class Euro-peaceniks with too much time on their hands?

    * * * * *

    An excellent International Herald Tribune article (and by excellent I mean it agrees with me) was published on Monday by Henry Siegman, a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former executive head of the American Jewish Congress.

    Paul Krugman has recently been writing great columns in the NYTimes that clearly and openly and calmly challenge pretty much everything the Bush administration has done and everything it stands for, from the war to the economy. Krugman seems like one of the most credible, reasonable voices for mainstream America out there, and his columns are regularly one of the top-five emailed from the Times.

    Here is an archive of Krugman's columns.

    I especially enjoy his coverage of the Karl Rove fiasco. The boys got cocky. Cockiness only gets you so far. For the sake of everyone who's ever been bullied by cocky sociopaths, I hope these guys get taken to the cleaners.

    I think it would be the feel-good spectacle of this young century if the chickenhawk psychopaths could be fully exposed. Everyone already knows about their criminal activities (which is weird, if you think about it -- what prevents us and our media from calling a spade a spade, even when it's so big and so obviously spade-shaped?), but to have it right out there on the table, in the courts, in Congress, when even Fox News runs out of spins, and Rumsfeld is fully disgraced**...

    It usually takes a crisis to wake people up, and Bush and the Gang are plenty good at creating those.

    The world is just starting to wake up. There are definite glimmers of that, even though there's a massively long way to go. It's very heartening to see.



    * From an article entitled "[Palestinian] Security Forces Weak as Withdrawal Looms" by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post (July 1, 2005):

    "Israeli officials have drawn the line at providing lethal weapons to the Palestinian security. They have pointedly told their Palestinian counterparts that if they need weapons, they should simply collect the illegal ones on the streets."

    So. The sticking point in Israel moving forward with negotiations is Palestinian reigning in their militants. And yet Israel refuses to allow the Palestinians the means to reign in their militants until they've reigned in their militants.

      I can see it now...

    Palestinian police officer: "Excuse me, Mr. Militant? I know that your weapon is a symbol of your manhood, and you perceive it to be the only thing protecting you and your family from Israeli soldiers and rival gangs, but... can I have it please?"

    Militant: "Piss off."

    Palestinian police officer: "Yes, sir."


    Palestinian police officer: "Mr. Sharon, the militants won't give me their guns. I think I might need more than my powers of persuasion to 'reign them in' as per your request."

    Sharon: "What?! You see, America? These Palestinians aren't even trying to fight terrorism in the territories that they control! How can I hand sovereignty over to these terrorists? They're terrorists!"

    Palestinian police officer: "But, Mr. Sharon, to be fair, you have one of the most powerful and state-of-the-art militaries in the world. You just spent five years bombing the bejeezus out of us and assassinating militants in their cars and homes. You've arrested half the male population of Palestine at one point or another, and even you couldn't get rid of the militants. And you did blow up most of our police stations and prisons and court houses during the invasions of 2002-2003, so we don't have any kind law-enforcement infrastructure to do the things you are demanding. How am I supposed to bring this quagmire under control with my bare hands, especially when you've reneged on all your agreements with us and given us no reason to hope that a fair peace process might be on the horizon?"

    Sharon: "Heh heh heh..."

    Palestinian police officer: "Mr. Sharon?"

    Sharon: "What? Sorry. Try asking harder."

    Palestinian police officer: "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

    Sharon: "Heh heh heh..."

    * * * * *

    ** Recent Doonesbury comic:

    Donald Rumsfeld is giving a press conference. A reporter named Gary says to a reporter named Mark, "Mark, have you noticed that Rumsfeld has lost a lot of his swagger in recent week?"

    Mark: "Can't say that I have."

    Rumsfeld: "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen."

    Gary [to Mark]: "Really? He doesn't seem a bit chastened to you?"

    Mark: "No, but let's test that hypothesis..."

    Rumsfeld: "Yes, Mark."

    Mark: "Mr. Secretary, there seems to be growing agreement that this war has become ruinous -- militarily, fiscally, politically, and morally... and that, as in Vietnam, it's no longer a question of IF we withdraw in disgrace, but WHEN. Sir, how many more young Americans will have to die to save face for the chicken hawks who dreamt up this war?"

    Rumsfeld: "I don't know. I'll try to get that figure for you."

    Gary [to Mark]: "See?"

    Mark: "I'll be darned."

    Next: Grapes of Aboud

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