February 2004

Future backward

26 February 2004

It was a momentous week for the Jewish state. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics published the latest census figures for the year 2013 showing that the Arab population in Greater Israel was the smallest ever at just 687,000 compared to a Jewish population of a fraction over eight million. Who could have imagined 10 years ago — when then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was grappling with an evacuation of settlers in Gaza — that only a decade later the demographic time bomb would have been so completely defused? At the time, let’s recall, the media was full of dire predictions that soon the Palestinians — in what were often distinguished separately as the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper — would outnumber Jews in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

Four crop-spraying planes circling overhead have brought silent death to the fields of wheat and barley that Shaikh Salih Abu Darim and his beduin tribe will need to feed themselves and their goats and sheep for the year. The Araqib tribe have farmed the land close to the city of Beer Sheva in southern Israel for generations. But in the past year the Israeli government has declared war on them and some 70,000 other beduin living in 45 communities it refuses to recognise in the Negev (al-Naqab). On 15 January the authorities stepped up the pressure on the Araqib to leave by spraying powerful herbicides on their crops, making the young shoots shrivel and die in the following weeks.

Another dead end

12 February 2004

Palestinians are discovering that Ariel Sharon’s announcement of “unilateral disengagement” from Gaza is a cleverly constructed trap, writes Jonathan Cook Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s announcement that most of the 7,500 Jewish settlers living in the Gaza Strip would be soon evacuated came as Palestinians were celebrating Eid Al-Adha. That coincident, and the understandable caution which nowadays greets every “painful concession” Sharon makes for his neighbours’ benefit, may explain why it took so long for the Palestinian leadership to digest the news.

The recent prisoner swap between Israel and Hizbullah has exposed some worrying truths about conditions endured by political prisoners, and raises questions about who are behind these bars today. Tel Aviv lawyer Zvi Reich let out a small sigh of relief as the office television showed his client — one of the figures most reviled by the Israeli public — safely stepping out of his plane on to the tarmac of Beirut airport last Thursday night, to the crack of fireworks and the cheers of flag-waving crowds. Mustafa Dirani, once a leader of the Lebanese militia group Amal, had been held in Israeli prisons since he was abducted from his home in the Bekaa Valley by commandoes 10 years ago. In the early months of his detention, interrogators tortured him for news of an Israeli airman, Ron Arad, who was captured in 1986 after his plane was downed over Lebanon.

Skirting the issue

5 February 2004

Israel’s furious diplomatic activity to sabotage a decision taken by the United Nations General Assembly last December to seek the opinion of its highest judicial body, the International Court of Justice, on the legality of Israel building its separation wall across large swaths of occupied Palestinian territory began to pay dividends at the weekend. By the Friday deadline for submitting affidavits, 31 states had joined Israel in rejecting the court’s authority to rule in the matter: 15 member states of the European Union, 10 further members-in-waiting, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, South Africa and Cameroon. Britain, Germany and France presented their own, separately written affidavits.

Jesus’s Bathhouse

1 February 2004

Przekroj magazine (Warsaw) - February 2004 In the centre of Nazareth, a stone’s throw from Mary’s Well, the place where the mother of Jesus is believed to have drawn the family’s water each day, is to be found a small souvenir shop called Cactus. Its owners, a local Christian Arab, Elias Shama, and his Belgian wife […]