The Israel-Palestine Conflict

The great Charlie Glass

In the elegant and incisive style that characterizes all of his writing, James Carroll set out in these pages (“The wandering Jew and the mad Saracen,” Views, Aug. 12) the theological genesis of the dispute in Israel-Palestine. Mr. Carroll presented a compelling vision of Christian religious prejudice against both Jews and Muslims that he believes informs this seemingly intractable conflict. Christian insistence from St. Augustine onward that “Jewish exile was a matter of theological proof,” he wrote, animates Christian hostility to Zionism.

“As the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has continued, international sympathy for the besieged Palestinian population has intensified, but something else than genuine feeling for the downtrodden is at work,” Mr. Carroll wrote. “An ongoing and unconscious Western unease about Jews in Palestine, especially Jerusalem, is part of this concern. The legitimacy of the state of Israel is still at issue.”

This ignores longstanding Christian support for Zionism, which predates the Zionist movement itself. Speaking long before Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, the British Christian philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury popularized the phrase coined by the Rev. Dr. Alexander Keith, “a land without a people for a people without a land,” and urged European Jews to move to Palestine.

International sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs today is limited to neither the Christian West nor Muslim East. Among those expressing compassion for the Palestinians’ plight are Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, atheists and others untouched by Christian prejudice. International sympathy has not prevented the dispossession of a single West Bank Palestinian from his land to make way for an Israeli settler. Nor has it lifted the siege of Gaza.

International sympathy, confronted with Israel’s determination to go its own way with the territories it occupied in 1967, is irrelevant. So, too — and I write this with respect for James Carroll — is theology.

What is at stake in the conflict over Israel and Palestine are land and sovereignty — the traditional core issues of colonial and anti-colonial rivalry — not theology.

When a Palestinian olive grower weeps at the sight of Israeli settlers uprooting his trees, it is not because the Bible or Koran tells him to. It is because he no longer has olives to press into oil. Without that cash crop, he cannot feed, clothe and house his family. A Palestinian mother who laments the confiscation and destruction of her house and garden near Jenin that is given to a settlement populated by immigrants from the United States might be Christian, Muslim or atheist. It would not matter to her if the settlers were Chinese. What matters is that she has been dispossessed.

We have seen this conflict before, not in the Bible or the Koran, but in every land where settlers have displaced indigenous populations. The United States knows more about land confiscation and dispossession of natives than most countries. When the indigenes of North America fought, it was not for religion but for survival. The South African and then-Rhodesian blacks resisted dispossession, not because of their animist or recently acquired Christian faith, but because they could not live if they allowed another people to take and govern their land.

Struggles between earlier inhabitants and those entering a country with the intention of taking it over have recurred throughout history.

In Palestine and Israel, there is an opportunity to find an equitable solution without, as too often has been the case, annihilating the native population or exiling — as in Algeria and Zimbabwe — all of the settlers.

Until the United States withholds the subsidies that Israel uses to pay for the confiscation and settlement of Palestinian land, there will be no resolution to the conflict in Palestine-Israel. Until Israel gives back what it has taken and agrees to live peacefully beside a state in which the Palestinians exercise self-determination, there will be no peace. For their part, the Palestinians must convince Israelis that they would not use an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza as a base for future attacks. These issues are secular, political and capable of solution.

James Carroll writes, “At stake in their dealings now, beyond all that they hold against one another, is nothing less than an ultimate and long overdue exorcism of demons set loose when Christians got it so wrong.”

Raising a dispute over land and livelihoods to a metaphysical plane renders it insoluble, which I am certain is not Mr. Carroll’s intention. Palestinians and Israelis, whether they are believers or good agnostics, carry a burden of recent political history that is heavy enough. Adding two millennia of Christian-Jewish torment to the mix will not bring peace or justice any sooner. Indeed, religious fanatics on both sides can delay mutual recognition until Judgement Day, if we let them.

Charles Glass was the ABC News chief Middle East correspondent from 1983 to 1993. He is the author, most recently of “Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944.”

The ultimate mission: Join real-life Nazis as they starve Jews in Warsaw. Help a Nazi shove an elderly Jew into an oven. Set fire to a crematorium and watch the ashes of a Jewish newborn come out the chimney. Then travel with the Wehrmacht to the Russian front and watch the Nazis exterminate Slavs. (And I do so hope, sincerely and truly, that when these tourists look out over a Hezbollah position, a Party of God missile dispatches them to their Maker.)

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What we can do

Dear Poyan,

Imagine watching helplessly as your entire community is destroyed, all of your friends, family members, and neighbors made homeless at the same time. How would you feel?

That is exactly what happened on July 27 in the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in Israel. A 60 year old community of 300 villagers, mostly children, was demolished down to the ground. The Israeli Lands Administration (ILA) sent 1,500 soldiers to forcibly remove the people and destroy their homes, sheep pens, fruit orchards, and olive tree groves.  And when it was rebuilt by the villagers, their neighbors, and concerned Israelis, the government demolished it twice more. It intends to plant a forest on the land and settle more Israeli Jews in the region.

2,000 Israelis have called on their government to do the right thing and end these outrages. Now we join other American Jewish groups such as Tikkun and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America in an initiative launched by the Jewish Alliance for Change, adding our voices to their petition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in support of human rights and equality for the Bedouin people in Israel. You have already told our Jewish leaders here in the United States to speak out against other Israeli government abuses.  Please sign here to speak out against the destruction of this village and the plans to destroy others, the denial of basic services to the Bedouin, and the expulsion of the children of migrant workers in Israel. Such actions do nothing to secure the rights of Israeli Jews or Israeli democracy. No more demolitions.  

With gratitude,

Jesse Bacon,
Editor, The Only Democracy?
Jewish Voice for Peace

Hear live interviews from the destruction and rebuilding of Al-Arakib.

News from Bil’in

Dozens of People Suffer from Tear gas, Sound bombs and Rubber Coated Steel Bullets on the First Friday of Ramadan.

The Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall yet again led the weekly civilian demonstration against the apartheid wall, after local Palestinians prayed Jummah on the first Friday of Ramadan. Fifty international supporters along with Israeli activists joined non-violent Palestinian demonstrators to protest the Israeli occupation. Together, they marched with Palestinian flags and posters of political prisoners from the village, many arrested through night raids. These prisoners have mostly been arrested for the sole “crime” of being active organizers in the non-violent popular struggle.

As the demonstrators marched towards the apartheid fence, they chanted phrases to stop the construction of the wall that is annexing land from Bi’iln in order for Israel to build illegal settlements. When the demonstrators reached the apartheid fence, large numbers of Israeli soldiers were waiting armed with weapon and riot gear. After protestors and the Israeli army met face to face, the soldiers began shooting tear gas and sound bombs into the crowd. They continued to shoot tear gas up on the hill where spectators thought they were in safe range. Eventually, the IDF ran into part of the crowd and began shooting rubber coated steel bullets. One Israeli woman was hit by a tear gas canister in her leg. Dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation as soldiers attempted to arrest demonstrators. However, nobody was arrested. The demonstration lasted about two hours, and huge success considering multiple protestors were fasting for Ramadan.

Iyad Burnat-

Bil’in Popular Committee



May each and every one of these Israeli Nazis burn in hell

News from Bil’in

Today 30 July 2010 the people of Bil’in were joined by several groups of internationals, including a group of rappers from Britain and the US. A large part of the demonstrators
managed to approach the soldiers who had already entered the gate. Two people were detained for a while, following large amounts of tear gas, eventually forcing the protestors back towards the village. One Israeli protestor was hit by a tear gas canister in his leg, causing pain, while another British citizen was dragged several meters by soldier, causing his back bruising and bleeding.

About 200 protestors; Palestinians, Israeli and Internationals were today carrying posters asking for a boycott of Israel, and also honoring Rachel Corrie’s hometown Olympia, that recently introduced a boycott of Israeli goods. 45 people were from Spain, another group from Italy and France, in addition to individuals coming to show solidarity. People were singing and dancing all the way up to the road leading to the illegal Wall. As the protestors were coming closer, a number of soldiers ran through the gate and lined up on the road, preventing people from coming closer to the gate. A large group of protestors started singing, and a truck with speakers approached playing music. Protestors asked to cross the soldier’s barrier, but were prevented, and pushed back while trying to continue walking towards the gate, on Bil’in’s land.

At one point the soldiers attacked one international protestor, and following that people tried to help him, they detained another. This British citizen was dragged several meters by the soldiers, causing damage to his back. He was heavily bruised and suffered from pain afterwards. In the middle of the chaos the army started shooting and throwing tear gas and stun grenades to the protestors. As people ran back towards the village, tear gas continued to be shot, making it hard to see and breathe. One Israeli was hit by a low flying tear gas canister in his leg, causing pain, though no medical treatment was needed.

Again the army showed that they don’t hesitate to use brutality and violence again non-violent protestors in Bil’in. Also today there were two fires caused by tear gas canisters in the field, and luckily people were able to put it out. The demonstration was ended by the performance of one MC, coming with a group of other rappers in solidarity with Bil’in and Palestine. Bil’in is thankful for the great support this Friday, and welcomes anyone who wants to participate in the weekly demonstration in the future.

Iyad Burnat

From a correspondent who just visited my comrade and friend Musa

Dear Dr. Finkelstein,

Yesterday my wife and I had the good fortune to meet your friend Musa in Hebron. It was great to meet him. No words can express the visit. It was possibly the first time in my life I have met a real hero. We also met his son who is studying in Russia and also one of his daughters. We hope to return soon for another visit.

For the first time in many months I see some hope for Israel. This hope comes not from any Israelis, but from the kind-heartedness of the Palestinians.

Now when people tell me “That’s not true, none of what you are saying is true.” My response will be “Yes, I agree. The truth is much worse.”


Report from Bil’in

An eye witness account of the July 16, 2010 Bil’in Demonstration

Micky B Cobrin

The ten-month settlement moratorium on “new” construction in the West Bank has been described by the Prime Minister as a “painful concession”. Luckily for him the agony will cease with the termination of the freeze this coming September. In Bil’in, however, I doubt much will change. The future without the moratorium may not prove to be much more difficult than the past ten months have been under it. The separation wall protecting the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit and its future extension, Mattiyahu East, sits currently on 60% of Bil’in’s farmland. Freeze or no freeze, every day that the barrier exists represents another day that the farmers of Bil’in have limited access to their land. To my knowledge this painful concession was not expressed in the White House press room.
This past Friday –as every Friday for the past five years- local demonstrators accompanied by Israeli and international peace activists took the one kilometer walk from the center of the village down to the construction area of the separation fence. These people can make a rare claim for activists: they have seen some success. Thanks to the September 4, 2007 court ruling ordering for a rerouting of the wall, the villager’s are supposed to see 40% of their stolen land returned. As of today, however, this has not occurred and as one veteran peace activist told the group in a pre-demo briefing, “This is no solution”.

Bil’in has also garnered occasional attention in the news due to the killing of Bassem abu-Rahma last April. After being hit in the chest from close range by an IDF fired tear gas canister, abu-Rahma died on the spot. The army claimed that he was throwing stones thus provoking the soldiers to fire tear gas into the demonstration. This past Monday, however, in the face of overwhelming video footage to the contrary the Military Advocate General ordered the undertaking of a criminal investigation.
Despite the over 800 injuries sustained by the activists I was told that Bil’in is considered “a relatively non-confrontational demonstration site” meaning that the IDF is not as aggressive as in various other West Bank villages. On the other hand, as we journeyed towards the fence, one activist noted the unusually high number of soldiers present.
“How do they determine how many soldiers are necessary on any given day?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” the activist responded. “Maybe it depends on how much tear gas they have to spare.”

The walk which begins from the home of Abdullah abu-Rahma -who has been held in detention since December 2009 on obscure charges- first weaves around an olive grove and then begins to head down a long hill which bottoms out at a valley just one hundred meters from the slightly elevated steel and barbed wire separation fence. The villagers lead the international activists down the hill while waving Palestinian flags and chanting rhythmic songs of liberation. Many carry signs in remembrance of their deceased or detained compatriots. As the demonstrators approached the bottom of the hill, the IDF soldiers began to spread out around the edge of the fence, weapons drawn. It was less than a minute after the demonstrators approached the area of the fence that the first tear gas canister went whistling through the air. I, naively, was shocked.
No stones. No provocation.

I cannot attest to any soldier firing at any particular individual. Rather the soldiers, now lined around the southwest corner of the horseshoe shaped fence indiscriminately fired innumerable tear gas canisters –flaming projectiles- into the center of the crowd of peaceful protestors. As clouds of gas erupted from the many canisters the crowd began to disperse in various directions, mainly back up the hill. The initial canisters could be sighted early and dodged by the demonstrators fairly easily, but as the amount of gas increased it became quite difficult to see and follow their projectiles. More canisters continued to rain down. The conditions unfortunately favored the IDF today as the wind was blowing from the west carrying the tear gas up the hill in pursuit of the fleeing group of elderly, women, children, and even the disabled. Virtually everyone was tearing profusely from the eyes, coughing and choking while half-running, half-walking their way to safety.
The protest was finished. The army was not.

The hill approaching the fence runs east-west. As the activists continued to flee in an eastward direction I noticed two soldiers to the north side of the fence standing between two trees in the distance firing teargas canisters at the people on the hill who were now hundreds of meters from the fence. The demonstrators still coming up the hill were forced to run through more tear gas in order to escape the range of fire–avoiding the potentially deadly tear gas canisters obviously being the primary objective before avoiding the temporary effects of the tear gas itself. For the soldiers there was no way of knowing who they may or may not hit and if they did happen to hit someone I doubt that they would know. I wondered what could make someone treat human lives like a game –we human beings must have appeared as ants fleeing pesticide.

A number of Palestinian youth stayed in harm’s way in order to remove the canisters from the ground which I was told can sometimes “set the trees on fire and burn the field.” These youngsters, sometimes without any cover for their mouth or nose, navigate their way through the smoke in order to remove the still flaming canisters from the ground and toss them to the other side of the fence.
At the ground level by this time the army had opened up the fence and entered the interior hoping to arrest any straggling activists. They have, over the past five years, arrested over 40 Bil’in residents -9 remain in detention today (not to mention Israeli and international activists who usually spend only a night in jail or less). On this particular day the army continued to move towards the base of the hill firing only the occasional tear gas canister but by now most of the demonstrators had made it back to the village and were making sure that all of their friends were accounted for.

The above is just one story of the many Palestinian villages whose future is in jeopardy. I was only a visitor and cannot comment on what it must feel like to be defenseless as your world evaporates. I can only imagine. The regional conflict often takes center stage in media outlets throughout the world- yet few have heard of Bil’in. Few have heard of the nearby Nil’in or Al Masarah. Nobody talks about Beit Ommar or Al Walaje. While Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama take photo ops in Washington and pundits debate on the meaning of the word ‘the’ in UN Resolution 242, these people wonder if they will be here in the future. And while the right wing complains about a settlement freeze and the pain it causes them to endure the wall is being constructed, looming evidence of the scarcity of tomorrow for Bil’in. Every Friday the people of Bil’in stand in the face of these ‘facts on the ground’ demanding for the right of their village and its 1800 inhabitants to exist. They stand in peace, unarmed; yet week in and week out they are attacked with tear gas, sometimes rubber bullets, and sometimes live ammunition. Many have been injured, many arrested, and some even killed. Yet week in and week out they continue to return because the price of failure is too costly.
Painful concessions indeed.

Micky Cobrin is a 25 year old Graduate Student in Tel Aviv University. He was born in Chicago, IL . and moved to Israel in 2008.

Worth reading

MISHOR ADUMIM, Palestinian Territories : Israeli settler and industrialist Avi Elkayam, 35, has no patience with the Palestinian boycott of settlement products. “It’s economic terrorism,” he shouts shaking his fist.

The months-old campaign has had a limited financial impact so far but it has a catastrophic potential, he says.

“It’s economic terrorism that will lead to real terror when thousands of people lose their jobs,” says Elkayam, who heads the bosses union in Mishor Adumim, the largest Israeli industrial park in the occupied West Bank.

A new Palestinian law imposes prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to 22,000 dollars (18,000 euros) for trading in settlement goods, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) has yet to pass a proposed legislation that would severely punish Palestinians working for settlers.

The 3,000 Palestinians, out of a total of 4,000 employees, in Mishor Adumim, outside Jerusalem, could be forced to quit their jobs if the PA makes good on its threat to ban settlement work.

With 22,000 Palestinians working in Israeli settlements, the ban would have serious repercussions both for the Palestinian economy, where unemployment is high, and for settler businesses, many of which would be forced to shut down.

The presence of nearly a half million Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, has long been one of the thorniest issues in the Middle East peace process.

The international community considers all West Bank settlements illegal because they are built on Palestinian territory which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But while 72 percent of Palestinians support the boycott on products, according to a recent opinion poll, 60 percent oppose the ban on settlement work.

Business leaders in the settlements insist they contribute to the Palestinian economy, by offering pay well above West Bank levels — though lower than Israeli wages.

And Elkayam is convinced he has a deep bond with his employees, saying they are “like brothers.”

“For 20 years we have managed to create peaceful coexistence. This decision to boycott will end it,” he says, his angry tone raising eyebrows among patrons in Avi’s Restaurant, one of his businesses in the industrial park on the dusty edge of the Judaean desert.

Even so, he is not worried about the immediate financial impact of the boycott.

“Officially no one here is selling to the Palestinian territories,” he says, adding that about five percent of the 300,000 dollars a month his sweets factory rakes in comes from Palestinians.

“We use our Jewish ingenuity, for example by labelling the goods as coming from Tel Aviv.”

The practice of fake labels of origin is widespread, according to a senior executive at a Mishor Adumim factory, who asked not to be identified.

In some cases it is also used for exports to countries like Saudi Arabia, which not only object to settlements but profess little love for Israel itself, she says.

She too is unfazed by the boycott of products, but admits she is seriously worried about the possibility the PA could enact a law banning Palestinians from working in settlements as of January 1.

“That could force us to close down,” she says. Other plants would find themselves in the same situation and thousands of Palestinians would find themselves jobless.

At the Gush Etzion junction, in the heart of Israel’s emblematic settlement bloc whose name it bears, Musa Johar shrugs off the anti-settlement campaign.

“If I don’t work, who’ll feed my children?” the 55-year-old Palestinian construction worker asks, adding that it is by necessity and not choice that he helps build homes for settlers.

Sitting at a gas station cafe, he points to the supermarket behind him, the latest Rami Levy — a chain named after its millionaire Israeli owner — to open in a West Bank settlement.

“Even Palestinian police shop here,” he says.

Many of the employees are Palestinian. Among the shoppers, many wear traditional Arab robes and headscarves.

An Israeli cashier looks stunned when asked about the anti-settlement campaign.

“There’s a boycott?” she asks.

And store manager Ovadia Levy says he can’t understand what the whole fuss is about.

“Shoppers come from Hebron, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, they come here happily and with no fear,” he says.

“It’s clean, it’s beautiful, prices are good, there’s a large selection — they have nothing like this where they come from.”

– AFP /ls