Disengagement Fever

Pamela Olson
19 August 2005

The disengagement is underway. I put together a basic fact sheet about it.

And here's one Gaza Palestinian's perspective on it.

And an op-ed about the implications of the disengagement by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi just published in the International Herald Tribune.

This is another time, like Arafat's funeral or the presidential elections, when things are moving and history is being made. The feeling in my gut at these times is very similar to what it was on the night before Christmas when I was a kid.

The settlers are being evacuated, and the hardcore minority among them are publicly making grotesque fools of themselves with their spectacular mass-tantrums and gratuitous references to the Holocaust.

As The New Standard of New York rather drily reported, "[Some] settlers continued the theme of comparing their plight with that of Jews under the fist of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and '40s... The Gaza settlers, by contrast to European Jews apprehended by Hitler's forces, are eligible for large sums of money [up to $1 million according to Haaretz] with which to relocate in Jewish neighborhoods in Israel or in other settlements [rather than to concentration camps]."

Before I start, I should make it clear that when I say 'settlers' here, I'm generally referring to the militant Jewish-supremacist minority who are causing most of the problems. They have always been sponsored and usually granted impunity from the law by Israel when they have repeatedly carried out terrible attacks against defenseless Palestinian civilians. The Israeli government shares a significant part of the blame for what they do.

And all settlers, by definition, even the ones lured more by subsidized housing and free public transport than messianic or colonialist ambitions, live illegally on forcibly occupied and colonized land, much of it stolen Palestinian private property, mostly in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem. Settlers are, according to the U.S. government, the biggest obstacle to peace in Israel and Palestine.

And now finally, after all their state-sponsored impunity, after beating up school children and building on other people's private property using Israeli and American taxpayer money, after constantly breaking Israeli and international law and in return receiving a wink, a nudge, and a generous subsidy from the Israeli government, for once in their sheltered little lives, they are not getting exactly their own way.

After carrying out their crimes under the radar for so long -- building toxic Israeli garbage dumps near Palestinian villages for profit, poisoning Palestinian water wells with dead animals, burning Palestinian olive groves and shooting live ammunition at olive pickers, and on and on (and I know these crimes sound gratuitous to the point of unbelievability, but all that I'm citing here has been reported in the Israeli paper Haaretz if not seen personally by me) -- now they are the ones taking their delusional pathology to the airwaves, hoping at last, when all else has failed, to play for public sympathy.

Meanwhile the terrorism against Palestinians has intensified. Two attacks by what Sharon called "Jewish terrorists" killed eight Palestinian civilians in the past two weeks, in addition to the ordinary everyday beatings and theft in Hebron and elsewhere. The Shfaram bus massacre killed four, two Christians and two Muslims. And yesterday a West Bank settler opened fire on unarmed Palestinian workers, whose cheap and captive labor was being exploited at his settlement, and killed four men. He said he was not sorry and he hoped someone would kill Sharon as well.

In any case, after 38 years of forward march on all the best Palestinian real estate, the settlers are being forced to retreat from Gaza -- 6% of the occupied Palestinian territories. Which leave 94% still under complete military control, but hey, it's a step in the right direction.

And for the loss of this 6% of the settlers' colonialist ambitions (1% of historic Palestine), what an orgy of self-pity they're putting on! Cry for me, I lost my villa by the sea that was built on stolen land. I lost my fat government subsidies and the cheap stolen land, cheap labor, and cheap piped-in water that made my little boutique business catering to the Orthodox community so fabulously profitable. I'm going to have to give this beautiful piece of land back to its rightful owners, those Arabs that I hate so much.

I imagine the hardcore supporters of Apartheid similarly tearing their hair and bemoaning their terrible fate of having to share rights and resources with black South Africans.

Of course it's awful to be evicted from your home, and I especially feel bad for the kids caught in the middle of all this. But the settlers are in desperate need of some perspective. Some settler parents have pinned orange stars of David to their children's clothing and told them to walk out of their settlements with their hands up, reminiscent of photographs of Jews being taken from their homes during the Holocaust.

A thief can wail for losing his booty, but why psychologically abuse your kids?

And how many Palestinians would have *dreamed* of having a year and a half to prepare and then being handed eviction notices and millions of shekels, instead of waking up one night to armored bulldozers pulling their home down with all their possessions inside, and no compensation whatsoever? Over 23,000 Gaza Palestinians have lost their homes to Israeli invasions and bulldozers in the past five years, and none of them were given beachside caravillas. Most of them ended up in tent cities until they could find alternate lodging in one of the poorest and most crowded places on earth. Where was the media coverage then?

How many poor Israelis inside Israel are unceremoniously evicted from their homes because Netanyahu's policies have widened the divide between the rich and the poor, and welfare goes to rich fanatic settlers instead of working families who can't make ends meet? Settlers are enjoying the plushest relocation of already-pampered people any Palestinian or starving Israeli single mother can imagine -- and still they act like the world's biggest victims.

They weep for the loss of their way of life, yet ignore the fact that the Palestinians' way of life in Gaza because of them has been an unadulterated, imprisoned, impoverished, invaded hell. People in Khan Younis and Rafah, just a mile or two from the sea, have not walked along the beach for five or more years because the settlements and their sniper towers have blocked the way. Many of the children in these towns and camps have never gone swimming in their lives. They've been bathed in more blood than Mediterranean Sea waters in their young lives. Some never even got that far, as they were born and died at Israeli checkpoints, unable to reach life-saving medicines at the nearest hospital.

And yet the settlers are the ones complaining, the surfers with their $40 board shorts threatening suicide! It's one of the most stomach-turning displays I've ever seen. And the cameras can't lap it up fast enough, with 24-hour live coverage.

Palestinians weeping for the loss of their children and protesting non-violently against the destruction of their way of life and massacres of their civilians could never dream of the kind of media coverage the settlers are getting. Instead of having cameras pointed at them in their times of grief and rebellion against injustice, they are usually surrounded by lethal weapons. Or helicopter bombed from above like the 14 peaceful protestors, including two children, who were killed in Rafah in May of last year. They were protesting a deadly invasion into a neighboring refugee camp at the time.

No mainstream reporters openly praise and admire the "pluck" and "will" and "determination" of young Palestinian protestors. If Palestinians threw eggs and paint and watermelons and acid at soldiers or tried to stab them or threatened them with needles they claimed were infected with AIDS, the way some settlers are doing, they'd very likely be shot dead.

Last week a concussion grenade (aka sound bomb) was thrown at me by a soldier at a non-violent protest of the Apartheid Wall that's stealing the land of the village of Bil'in. Sound bombs don't throw shrapnel, but they can cause burn injuries. Luckily it exploded a safe distance behind me after bouncing off my retreating leg and I escaped with only a nasty bruise. I wasn't even protesting at the time. I was standing around about thirty yards from the action curiously observing Israeli soldiers roughing up Israeli, Palestinian, and international activists who had dared to voice their opposition to an illegal anti-peace initiative of dispossession. Completely unprovoked, the soldiers turned their projectiles on us bystanders.

Did the settlers who threw paint and eggs at the soldiers and scream at them and call them Nazis get sound bombs thrown at them?

My favorite news item today was this from a Haaretz briefing:

"Earlier Thursday, Kfar Yam settlers - supporters of Yitzhaki [an armed right-wing extremist settler leader who threatened Thursday afternoon to open fire on any soldiers who attempt to enter his settlement house] - headed out to the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Muasi around noon, and the settlers and Palestinians threw stones at each other. Afterward the army imposed a closure on Muasi."

I wonder if the editor printed this without blushing. It is completely typical. Whenever settlers behave badly, it's always the Palestinians who are punished, put under curfew or closure. "For their own protection." The West Bank was under full closure after the Shfaram massacre, for example. The IDF regularly kicks Hebronites out of areas of Hebron where settlers behave particularly badly. The settlers, of course, take over these areas and keep on advancing.

Ironically enough, the IDF, who until now have served as the settlers' abettors and protectors, are the ones who now have to confront them and toss them out. While most seem to be doing their new job with empathy and professionalism, some IDF soldiers have been repeatedly caught looting abandoned settler homes in the Gaza Strip, according to Haaretz. Recent Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem reports revealed at least several sections of the IDF as an unaccountable, undisciplined army that regularly murders with impunity.

A World Bank report last week characterized Israel as the second-most corrupt Western country after Italy, with an "unstable, inefficient regime, low accountability, a relatively high rate of state corruption and poor law enforcement." This corruption, while much more devastating for Palestinians, is also bad for ordinary Israelis.

The Sasson Report this spring revealed the Israeli government's illegal complicity in using public monies to set up outposts all over the West Bank that soon ballooned into full-scale illegal settlements, the biggest obstacles to peace.

And check out this scathing report on the full cost of Israel's settlements and who foots the bill, posted in USA Today.

The ugly underbelly of this country, which we in the occupied territories see in spades every day, is finally being exposed to the world.

CNN World the other night, despite gratuitously juxtaposing Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidwa's talking head with file footage of Palestinian militants burning an Israeli flag, seemed to tacitly acknowledge that the settlements are illegal, that ordinary Palestinians do not deserve to be treated like animals, and that the hardcore settlers and the MKs who support them are blind, racist, unreasonable people. If only they can take this attitude to the West Bank as well. Taboos are being broken one by one.

And Diana Buttu (communications director of the Palestinian Technical Team on Israel's Evacuation who's appeared on CNN a couple of times) is just hot.

The disengagement will be practically meaningless unless the international community pressures Sharon to give up control over the border between Gaza and Egypt as well as the coastline. Sharon also reserves the right to invade Gaza at will even after the last settlers and troops are pulled out. It can't be called a true withdrawal as of yet.

And it will be worse than meaningless if Sharon is allowed to barter this "concession" (which is nothing more than a decision to selectively obey international law so that he can continue breaking it elsewhere) for vast and vital areas of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem. This would destroy the dream of Palestinian statehood and replace it with a nightmare of isolated, impoverished cantons, similar to the bantustans that black South Africans rejected under apartheid. It would almost certainly mean a Third Intifada.

But at the very least a few little Rafah kids will get their first chance to play in the waves.

Sometimes, reality wins. Insha'Allah it will keep on winning.

Said Nehemia Strasler in Haaretz today:

"Not only did we not invest [in occupied Gaza], not only did we not build or develop, but we exploited them as a cheap labor force, we sold them our 'Grade B' and 'freshness date expired,' and we did not enable them to build up an industry that might have competed with its Israeli counterpart, heaven forbid. In Gush Katif, 7,500 people gained control over 20 percent of the land in Gaza, and over more than 20 percent of the water. If that is not cruel colonialism, then what is?"

Legally, physically, morally, the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements have exactly as many legs to stand on as the ones being emptied out in Gaza. Maybe even less, because Gaza settlers tend not to engage in as many massacres against Palestinian civilians. It's West Bank settler infiltrators who are causing all the trouble in Gaza right now.

The West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements will be a lot harder to get rid of, or at least turn over to Palestinian sovereignty, or at the very least be swapped for equally desireable land in Israel under a negotiated solution based on international law and International Court of Justice resolutions. Some say impossible. Roughly 200,000 illegal settlers live scattered all over the West Bank, and 180,000 more are concentrated in Arab East Jerusalem settlements, with new ones being built almost daily with the generous help of the Israeli government. The newest settlement project, Nof Zion, built on land belonging to the Palestinian neighborhood of Jebel Mukaber, has already sold 30 units to wealthy New York Jews as holiday homes.

Even if 2% of all settlers are violent fanatics, that's still a lot of violent fanatics, and they won't go quietly. Successive Israeli governments have created quite a beast with their settlement enterprise.

But unless Israelis are content to live under an illegal, unsustainable, violent apartheid system for the foreseeable future, imposing misery on their Palestinian brothers and sisters to prop up an untenable ideology, that's what has to happen.



Next: Music, Resistance, and the Turning Tides

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