In 1967 Israel’s government was headed by Levi Eshkol, a politician said to be easygoing, weak and indecisive, who four years earlier had replaced the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, as prime minister. The Israeli public, tired of Ben-Gurion’s authoritarianism and constant exhortations to greater and greater sacrifice, had greeted Eshkol’s appointment with a sigh of relief. Israel’s chief Arab adversary at the time, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, sought to take advantage of the Eshkol government’s reputed lassitude in order to annul Israel’s achievements in the 1956 Suez campaign: the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula and the opening of the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
Two weeks into the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, the United States stands with only two other countries—Israel and Britain—in opposing an immediate ceasefire. Even Iraqi Prime Minister Jawad al-Maliki, in Washington for reassurances that the Bush administration will “stay the course” in its Mesopotamian misadventure, demanded that the bombing be halted forthwith.
There is an oft-told Palestinian allegory about a family who complained their house was small and cramped. In response, the father brought the farm animals inside — the goat, the sheep and the chickens all crowded into the house.
Then, one by one, he moved the animals back outside. By the time the last chicken left, the family felt such relief they never complained of the lack of elbow room again.
No doubt, the recent release of Palestinian tax receipts by Israel, some of which will be used to pay Palestinian civil servants who received only partial wages for the last 16 months, felt like the last chicken leaving.
In the summer of 2006, two border incidents were invoked by Israel, with strong US diplomatic support and material assistance, to justify a prolonged military offensive in Gaza and a crushing “shock and awe” assault on Lebanon. The main international response, effectively orchestrated by Washington, was built around the bland assertion that Israel has the “right to defend itself.”
Since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent Middle East tour concluded without concrete results, and unity talks between Fatah and Hamas remain at a standstill, the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian political compromise appears bleaker than ever. But Palestinian lives and livelihoods should no longer be held hostage to the reigning diplomatic stagnation.
President Bush and many other supporters of the current Israeli assault on Lebanon and its reoccupation of the Gaza Strip justify these military actions on the grounds that Hamas and Hezbollah do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Negotiating with “terrorists” is impossible, they claim, because Hamas and Hezbollah exist only to destroy Israel.
The captivity of Israeli solider Gilad Shalit is over two weeks old, with no sign of a breakthrough, and a second front with Hizbullah now threatens to divert world attention from the conflagration in Gaza.
Following Israel’s grievously disproportionate military rejoinder to Shalit’s capture, over 70 Palestinians, including several civilians, and one Israeli soldier lie dead. A Gazan power plant insured by American taxpayers lies in ruins. Even Time magazine wants to know: “Where is the U.S.?”
Five-year-old Layan cupped her hands over her ears and screwed her eyes shut when she tried to describe the effect of a sonic boom. She said the sound scares her, even though her father, Muntasir Bahja, 32, a translator, has told her “a small lie to calm her”—that the boom is nothing more than a big balloon released by a plane and then popped.
The two successive strokes and the cerebral hemorrhage that struck down Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came just a few weeks after the somber ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The causes of the two occurrences were very different, and so was the actual physical outcome, for Rabin died within minutes of sustaining his wounds, while doctors still hold out glimmers of hope for Sharon’s survival, albeit with grave handicaps.
In March 2005, Hamas, the largest Islamist party in Palestine, joined its main secular rival Fatah and 11 other Palestinian organizations in endorsing a document that seemed to embody the greatest harmony achieved within the Palestinian national movement in almost two decades. By the terms of the Cairo Declaration, Hamas agreed to “maintain an atmosphere of calm”—halt attacks on Israel—for the rest of the year, participate in Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for July and commence discussions about joining the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Israel’s national colors are blue and white. In the summer of 2005, however, an Israeli driver adorning his vehicle with ribbons in those hues runs the risk of a broken antenna or a vandal’s scratches in the paint job. Conversely, the motorist would be far safer joining what appears to be the general trend by accepting the strips of bright orange proffered at every main intersection by eager youngsters in orange T-shirts. Indeed, so dominant is the orange that one may be forgiven for suspecting a mass takeover by Protestant militants from Ulster.
To say that things are getting worse in Gaza, one of the poorest places on Earth, is a bit like saying it is getting hotter in hell. But over the past few years, things have gotten significantly worse in this sliver of Palestinian territory along the Mediterranean Sea—with alarming implications for the prospect of a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Since September 2000, when the current Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began, the Gazan economy has entered what the World Bank calls “one of the deepest recessions in modern history.” The joblessness rate among males aged 15-24 is 43 percent and as many as 70 percent of job market entrants are unemployed. These conditions are creating a generation of isolated and disaffected youth.
Two weeks after 60,000 Likud Party members voted against a pullout from the Gaza Strip, about 150,000 Israelis filled Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, calling on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to proceed with the withdrawal plan. Those opposing the pullout from Gaza support the vision of a Greater Israel, while those favoring the pullout support the state of Israel. The first group believes that without Gaza, Israel will be destroyed; the second believes that with it, Israel will be destroyed.
As President Bush’s diplomacy with Israeli and Palestinian leaders continues, so does Israel’s construction of the so-called separation wall in the West Bank. The Israeli public views the wall as necessary protection from attacks on civilians by Palestinian militant groups. But is this wall really about security? And what impact will it have on the US-backed “road map” aiming toward resolution of the conflict and a Palestinian state?
In late October 2000, the intifada was in its then bloodiest throes. In his offices in Stockholm harbor, architect Alexis Pontvik followed the news from the Middle East with growing disquiet but little surprise. What perhaps would have been his most prominent project to date had already been stowed in a large steel drawer, but he had pored over it often enough to understand the frustrations that eventually came to a boil in the Palestinian territories.