June 2003

At the checkpoint at the entrance to the West Bank town of Qalqilya, Monder Nazzar was slumped over the wheel of his ambulance. His 19-year-old patient, Ahmed, was next to him in the passenger seat, creased up in pain from a gastric infection. Behind them, lying on a stretcher, was Ahmed’s mother, looking pale and dazed. “We’ve been sitting here half an hour while the soldiers check our papers,” Nazzar said. He had brought his patient from the nearby city of Nablus for emergency treatment via bumpy back roads to avoid as many checkpoints as possible along the way. “He’s in agony from all the movement and his mother is car sick,” he said.

Familiar terrain

19 June 2003

The roadmap looked dead last week, wrecked by the combined actions of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the militant Palestinian factions as they launched a series of tit-for-tat strikes. This week, following heavy American pressure, the roadmap was resuscitated. But while the words of the document remain unchanged, its guiding spirit has emerged in much sharper relief. The lofty vision articulated at Aqaba on 4 June, when Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas promised to force their two nations onto the path of peace and reconciliation, has been replaced by much more familiar terrain as the Palestinians found themselves once again hostage to joint political manoeuvrings by the US and Israel.

Whose security?

12 June 2003

It took only two days from last week’s handshakes at the Aqaba summit between US President George W Bush and the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, setting the seal on the latest peace initiative for the Middle East, for the folds of the so-called “roadmap” to start falling apart. The plan, building on President Bush’s speech of last summer, is designed to create a “viable” Palestinian state living alongside a “secure” Israel by 2005. But the moment the summit closed, Israel and the three most active armed Palestinian groups succeeded in erecting a series of roadblocks that make the route ahead look impassable.

Dummy outposts

6 June 2003

More than 1,000 Israeli police officers and soldiers struggled all day last week to remove an “illegal” outpost — home to 10 settlers — on a hilltop south of the Palestinian city of Nablus. Hundreds of other settlers, mainly Jewish religious extremists, came to defend Mitzpe Yitzhar after a court order preventing the dismantling of the site was finally lifted on Thursday. It was the first inhabited settlement to be taken down. It looked — and was meant to look — like a turning point in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s relationship with the decades-old settlement project in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel’s veteran politician, 79- year-old Shimon Peres, donned the mantle of Labour Party leader once again last week. Famously, Peres has led Labour five times into elections and never won, although for extraordinary reasons he has been prime minister twice. Peres won against two minor figures last Thursday with 49 per cent of the central committee vote, a lukewarm endorsement for a man widely seen as a holding measure while the party struggles to rehabilitate itself. Fewer than half of the 2,400 committee members turned out to vote. The internal election was forced after Labour Chairman Amram Mitzna resigned in early May, following a humiliating general election defeat on 28 January at the hands of incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Israel’s image as a democratic state took a further heavy battering last week as two separate reports were issued, the first by Amnesty International into Israeli military policies in the occupied territories, and the second by a United Nations watchdog monitoring Israel’s commitment to human rights. Both reports follow on the heels of a survey last month by the Israeli Democracy Institute, an academic think-tank in Jerusalem, that ranked Israel close to bottom of 32 countries in terms of the value its politicians and citizens put on democratic participation. The results showed a particularly weak identification by the Jewish majority with the values of pluralism, with 53 per cent believing Arabs should be denied equal rights and slightly more, 57 per cent, wanting Arabs transferred out of the country. Only 77 per cent of respondents thought democracy was the best system of governance.

Anti-Semitism, like some plague-inducing virus, is “evolving” — or so warns Holocaust scholar Daniel J. Goldhagen. His article is one of the latest contributions to a growing body of reports by American and Israeli journalists and research centers purporting to show that a powerful new strain of racism is sweeping the globe. None of the authors is as disinterested as he claims: each hopes to silence criticism of both Israel and the muscular Zionist lobby groups within Washington that support Israel.