Update 1 on prisoners and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the halls of the State Department: Last week, the United States considered releasing Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of espionage on behalf of Israel, in exchange for Israel doing, as political analyst Yousef Munayyer put it, “several things it already should have done long ago,” including releasing both short- and long-term Palestinian prisoners. The media attention to the Pollard case is just another distraction from the wider issue of Palestinian political prisoners, whose incarceration affects thousands of families every day.
American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of the past or future of Israel — by far the largest recipient ever of US foreign aid — a taboo. To call this quite literally the last taboo in American public life would not be an exaggeration. Abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, even the sacrosanct military budget can be discussed with some freedom. The extermination of native Americans can be admitted, the morality of Hiroshima attacked, the national flag publicly committed to the flames. But the systematic continuity of Israel’s 52-year-old oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative that has no permission to appear.
When Israeli security forces arrived in the middle of the night at the Tamimi house in Nabi Salih, the occupied West Bank, the family was already in bed. The raid was not unexpected, as news had traveled around the village on that day in January 2011: Soldiers were coming to houses at night, demanding that young children be roused from sleep to be photographed for military records (to assist, they said, in the identification of stone throwers). Bilal Tamimi, Nabi Salih’s most experienced videographer, had his own camcorder at the ready by his bedside table when he was awoken by the knock on the door.
A Palestinian political prisoner, Arafat Jaradat, died in Israeli custody on February 22.
The Shinbet, Israel’s internal intelligence service, claims that Jaradat, 30, died of natural causes. Palestinian authorities suspect foul play, and the Palestinian prime minister in the West Bank, Salam Fayyad, expressed “shock” at the news. Somewhat more proactively, ‘Isa Qaraqa‘, the Ramallah PA minister in charge of prisoner affairs, demanded an “international commission of inquiry to probe the circumstances of [Jaradat’s] death.”
In September 2012, declining living standards ignited a firestorm of street protests and strikes in the West Bank. The immediate spark was a sharp increase in fuel prices, alongside an increase in the value-added tax (VAT) rate. It seems that the protesters had a message for Palestinian Authority (PA) policymakers: It is no longer acceptable to blame all of Palestine’s economic woes on Israeli occupation. Demonstrators were demanding that the PA manage the economy better, the occupation notwithstanding.
On June 6, 2012, the Jerusalem Development Authority launched its fourth annual Jerusalem Festival of Light in the Old City. The previous year’s show had been a resounding success, according to sponsors quoted in the Jerusalem Post, with over 250,000 visitors enjoying “art installations bursting with light and 3-D movies splayed across the city’s ancient walls and buildings.” In 2011, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City was included within the festival’s purview for the first time, with Damascus Gate retooled as the backdrop for a massive video projection.
“To believe in a democratic Jewish state today is to be caught between the jaws of a pincer,” writes Peter Beinart in his widely circulated and hotly debated op-ed. Indeed — but it was ever thus.
Today the pincer is not, as Beinart would have it, the incongruity of the “democratic Israel” inside the Green Line and the “undemocratic Israel” outside it. It is the discrepancy between the notions that Israel — whether a Greater Israel encompassing West Bank settlements or the pre-1967 Israel for which Beinart pines — is both “democratic” and a “Jewish state.”
The New York Times has done it again. For the second time in a month its op-ed page features an article calling for a (qualified) boycott of Israeli products. The latest installment, “To Stop Israel, Boycott the Settlements,” is from Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic, former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and now senior political writer at the Daily Beast. In addition to Beinart’s impressive credentials as a left-of-center Establishment thinker, he is also a practicing Orthodox Jew and sends his children to Jewish school, as his article informs us.
Shir Hever, The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation (Pluto, 2010).
There is a latter-day tendency to see the 44-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories as the organic outward growth of the Zionist idea — as though the aspiration to hold the entirety of the land, embedded in Labor Zionist doctrine, was in fact a certainty, simply waiting for time to catch up. With the occupation deepened since the 1993 Oslo accord, and the remainder of the Palestinian populace crowded into a scattering of bantustans in the West Bank and one big one in Gaza, one can understand the diffusion of this way of thinking. It appears that the Zionist drive to dominion has neared completion.
For an informal smuggling route, the tunnel complex underneath Gaza’s border with Egypt is remarkably formal. A security cordon of chicken-wire fencing surrounds the Gazan side of the site, barring entrance from Rafah town a few hundred meters away. At each exit a squad in military fatigues monitors the round-the-clock traffic for blacklisted goods. At one checkpoint, Hamas security men frisked a youth in jeans and a baggy T-shirt, discovering a colored paper bag taped to his waist. Inside were 16 packets of tramadol, an opioid painkiller that can be purchased over the counter in Egypt but is sold by the pill in Gaza. The young man’s stash would have fetched 6,000 shekels (over $1,600) on the streets.
When President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2010, he sounded hopeful that by the following year there would be “an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” Sure enough, in September 2011, the Palestinians asked the UN Security Council to recognize a state of Palestine — but Obama ordered the US delegate to veto the request. What gives?
When a project mixes the feel-good words of jobs, economic development and Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, how can anyone complain? These things are some of what the international community has been promising to deliver through the construction of industrial free trade zones in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The free trade zone model has been promoted locally and globally by powerful third parties like the United States, France, Germany, Turkey and Japan for two decades, but none has much to show for the enormous efforts and amounts of money spent to bring these zones to life. Nonetheless, the project’s proponents expect the zones to constitute the economic foundation for a future Palestinian state. They hope that, by bolstering Palestine’s economy, the zones will make Palestinians less prone to social upheaval, less insistent on their national rights and more amenable to the status quo. The idea is that a peace agreement with Israel will ensue.
Article VI, Item 2 of the 1993 Oslo accords concluded between Israel and the Palestinians states, “After the entry into force of this Declaration of Principles and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho area, with the view to promoting economic development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, authority will be transferred to the Palestinians in the following spheres: education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation and tourism.”
“Rolling into Gaza I had a feeling of homecoming,” writes the novelist Alice Walker. “There is a flavor to the ghetto. To the bantustan. To the ‘rez.’ To the ‘colored section.’” In a poetic vein, Walker captures the confinement and marginality one senses in the Gaza Strip, and its familiarity to those who have lived in segregated spaces in the United States and South Africa. It is the latter parallel that has captured the collective imagination in the early 2000s.
On July 5, 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said something that had many rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Reviewing his government’s first 100 days, he pronounced, “We have managed to create a national agreement about the concept of ‘two states for two peoples.’” Can it be that the hardline leader of the Likud, known for opposing almost every withdrawal from occupied territory Israel has ever undertaken, now believes in a peaceful two-state solution?
Olive oil has been a central element of Palestinian agriculture for centuries. It is a relatively durable food commodity, unlike fresh produce such as strawberries or tomatoes, which rot quickly in the sun. Unlike wine, however, olive oil does not improve with age, and is best consumed within a year or two of its production. It is extremely sensitive to exposure to heat, air and light, which cause the quality of the oil to deteriorate rapidly. It is also expensive to store and ship; the days of the Roman terracotta amphorae are gone, and now olive oil is often stored in glass bottles, heavy and easily breakable.
Back before the 1991 Gulf war, Palestinians could move fairly easily between the cities and provinces of the West Bank. The trip from Ramallah, in the north, and Hebron, in the south, lasted 50 minutes at most. These days, the luckiest traveler will spend something like two hours on the road.
It’s easy to forget, but the United States has a pressing year-end deadline to meet in Israel-Palestine as well as in Iraq. At Annapolis in November 2007, President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to “make every effort” to hammer out a comprehensive peace accord “before the end of 2008.” For Bush, the joint statement underlined a previous vow, uttered soon after the 2004 election, “to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States” on creating a Palestinian state.