November 2008

Almost unnoticed, Israel and the White House signed a deal over the summer to station an early-warning missile radar system, staffed with US military personnel, in Israel’s Negev desert. The media here described the Joint Tactical Ground Station, which brings Israel under the US protective umbrella against missile attack, as a “parting gift” from President Bush as he prepared to leave office. The siting of what is likely to become America’s first permanent base on Israeli soil was apparently not easily agreed by local defense officials.

The middle-of-the-night eviction last week of an elderly Palestinian couple from their home in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers is a demonstration of Israeli intent towards a future peace deal with the Palestinians. Mohammed and Fawziya Khurd are now on the street, living in a tent. The couple have been living in the same property in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood since the mid-1950s. The United Nations allotted them the land after they were expelled from their homes in territory that was seized by Israel during the 1948 war.

The latest tightening of Israel’s chokehold on Gaza – ending all supplies into the Strip for more than a week – has produced immediate and shocking consequences for Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants. The refusal to allow in fuel has forced the shutting down of Gaza’s only power station, creating a blackout that pushed Palestinians bearing candles on to the streets in protest last week. A water and sanitation crisis are expected to follow. And on Thursday, the United Nations announced it had run out of the food essentials it supplies to 750,000 desperately needy Gazans.

The sun is sinking fast behind the trees of an olive grove on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Nilin. After a day of confrontations between the Israeli army and the Palestinian villagers over Israel’s building of its separation wall on Nilin’s land, the soldiers appear finally to have gone. Overlooked by the homes of the neighbouring Jewish settlement of Hashmonaim, a handful of Nilin’s braver teenagers finally come out to work. Jamal and Abed are sweating from their efforts to beat both nightfall and the return of the army.

Israel seems to have little time for the irony that a modern Jewish shrine to “coexistence and tolerance” is being built on the graves of the city’s Muslim forefathers. The Israeli Supreme Court’s approval last week of the building of a Jewish Museum of Tolerance over an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem is the latest in a series of legal and physical assaults on Islamic holy places since Israel’s founding in 1948.