LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
* * * * *
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
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
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
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
* 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.
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
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,
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
Gary [to Mark]: "See?"
Mark: "I'll be darned."
Next: Grapes of Aboud