Israel’s politicians target minorities: The ‘demographic time bomb’

27 November 2002

JERUSALEM: The adoption of the dovish Amram Mitzna as leader by Israel’s Labor Party opens up the central fault line between Israel’s left and right for the elections: the question of whether Israel should stay in the Palestinian territories or begin some kind of separation. Although this row overshadows all else – at least in the foreign media coverage – another debate is raging that will play an equally important part in determining the outcome of the election and hence the face of the next coalition government. It is the urgent question of how to preserve the ethnic purity of the Jewish state, how to prevent Israel from being dominated by non-Jews.

Alone with the settlers

21 November 2002

For the past month the tiny village of Yanun, south-east of Nablus, has breathed deeply the air of liberation that has followed its briefly being thrust into the limelight. Children play on the rocky track that winds up from the wide valley below, men sit on low stone walls smoking, while women lean chatting in huddles on the balconies of their homes. The relaxed atmosphere is, all of them are aware, as temporary as it is contrived. A few weeks ago the alleys of this West Bank village were empty, the last families having fled under a relentless campaign of attacks from neighbouring Israeli settlers. Today, the villagers’ safety is ensured only by the heavy presence of outsiders.

Bloody electioneering

14 November 2002

The horrific shooting spree in which two brothers aged four and five were sprayed with bullets, along with their mother, by a lone Palestinian gunman who later slipped back into the West Bank marked the wretched start to the election campaign between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his rival for the Likud leadership, Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu joined the cabinet last week after being cornered by Sharon into accepting the post of foreign minister or risk appearing driven more by personal ambition than the country’s good. Sharon hopes the job will limit Netanyahu’s room for criticising him in the run-up to 28 November Likud leadership primary.

Finishing the job

14 November 2002

hat caused Benny Morris’s recent conversion to the racist ideology of transfer? The “new historian” who began unravelling Israel’s narrative of the war of 1948 — that the Palestinians fled rather than that most were expelled or terrorised from their homes — says he now believes David Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, made a grievous mistake in not finishing the job of clearing the land of Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In an article in The Guardian (October 3, 2002) Morris concludes that peace in the Middle East might have been possible had the entire Arab population been removed from historic Palestine to make way for a Greater Israel.

Labor fakes it again – and the settlers stay on

12 November 2002

JERUSALEM: Israel’s 19-month unholy alliance between Likud and Labor finally unraveled Oct. 30, ostensibly over funding for the settlements. The Labor leader, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, had spent the previous few weeks distancing himself very publicly from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the issue. First Ben-Eliezer, the unity government’s defense minister, waged a campaign to dismantle what are known in Israel as “illegal outposts,” huddles of caravans illegal under Israeli law established close to West Bank “parent” settlements that fall foul of international law. Then when Sharon pledged to continue the heavy subsidies in the budget for his settler allies, Ben-Eliezer quit his post, taking Labor with him.

Of fences and crossings

7 November 2002

Small red ribbons fluttered in the early evening breeze among the olive groves of the West Bank village of Falamia, leading like a child’s paper trail from the greenhouses and fields of vegetables up a gentle rocky slope towards the brow of a wide hill. There the trail ended and the devastation began. Olive trees lay upended or their trunks had been cut close to the ground, the leaves on the branches already shrivelling in the late sun. “The ribbons mark the path of the fence Israel wants to build through our lands,” said 29-year-old Sami Dahir, a civil engineer whose family owns 250 dunums (60 acres) of farmland. “Each day they inch closer. If we don’t do something soon, they will reach the wadi and we will lose everything.”

Shocking Israel

31 October 2002

The fragile bond of trust between Israel and the country’s Bedouin was in danger of tearing apart over the case of a senior Israeli army officer accused of spying for Hizbullah, writes Jonathan Cook from Nazareth Lieutenant-Colonel Omar Hayeb, from the Bedouin village of Zarzir in the Galilee, was arrested six weeks ago but the secrecy surrounding this espionage case only lifted last week when he was charged in a Nazareth court. Hayeb, 40, is the most senior officer in Israel’s history to be accused of espionage and treason. According to the charge sheet, he passed military secrets to Hizbullah in return for drugs and money.

Arab legislators aren’t equal

29 October 2002

Israel calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East, a description readily accepted in the West. Only critics in the Arab world and a handful of radical Israeli academics have challenged this orthodoxy, observing that the country is really a democracy only if you are a Jew. Azmi Bishara, a former philosophy professor and now an Arab member of the Knesset, calls Israel a “tribal democracy.” Not included in the tribe, he says, are the country’s million Arab citizens, a fifth of the population. Although they have the vote, they have long complained that they are excluded from participation in the government. Since the mid-1990s they have campaigned for the Jewish state to become a state of all its citizens. The Jewish Israeli public and political establishment angrily oppose such reforms, claiming that they would destroy Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

Unwelcome citizens of a racist state

26 October 2002

Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister whose approval of his political rival Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Haram Al-Sharif two years ago unleashed the Intifada, recently gave his first full interview to an Israeli newspaper since his defeat at the polls in February 2001. Concerned only to justify his part in the events that led to the current violent confrontation between the Israeli army and the Palestinians, he refused to express regret or contrition. Of the much shorter-lived clash between the Israeli police and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, in which 13 members of the Arab minority were shot dead, he had nothing to say at all. Instead Barak told the Ha’aretz daily newspaper that he counted the violence that followed the failure to reach an agreement with Palestinian negotiators at Camp David, and a few months later at Taba, as a personal achievement.

Democracy within the tribe

24 October 2002

Israel is a state for only some of its citizens, says a new report investigating violations of the political rights of the “Jewish State’s” Palestinian citizens. Report co-author Jonathan Cook sums up its findings Israel calls itself a democracy: by its own reckoning, the only one to be found in the Middle East. It is a self-description readily accepted in the West. It has fallen to critics in the Arab world and a handful of radical Israeli academics to challenge this orthodoxy, calling Israel an “ethnic democracy”, a democracy only if you are a Jew. Azmi Bishara, a former philosophy professor and Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, has made the same point more simply, calling Israel a “tribal democracy”.

Selling snakeoil

24 October 2002

Like a travelling salesman, US Middle East envoy William Burns arrived in the region at the weekend on the start of a 12-nation tour carrying in his briefcase a magic formula for ending the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His “Road Map” — a six-page draft document based on talks last month between the United States and its Quartet partners from Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — proposes a new diplomatic track for resuscitating the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and for creating a Palestinian state by 2005. The US plan, on which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was consulted at length during his two-day visit to Washington last week, sets out three stages for the gradual consolidation of Palestinian statehood over the next three years, building on a commitment President George W Bush made in a speech in June.

Selling anti-Semitism

18 October 2002

For many months Israel’s liberal daily newspaper Haaretz has included a special compilation of reports on the “New Anti-Semitism” on its website. Some commentators have pointed out that Israel’s current preoccupation with anti-Semitism dangerously conflates two separate, and very different, trends: the first a harsher ideological climate in Europe towards Israel’s military assault on the Palestinians; and the second a wave of attacks on synagogues and Jews, often committed by Muslim youths angry at what they see as Western indifference to this assault.

Israel’s broken promise seals a village’s fate

9 October 2002

BIRAM, Israel: Biram’s cemetery, nestling amid apple and olive trees in the rolling blue hills of the Upper Galilee in northern Israel, is carefully tended each day by Abrahim Iassa, 68, even though the village it once served no longer exists. The 1,000 Christian inhabitants of Biram were asked to leave their homes by the Israeli army in October 1948 – a few months after the establishment of the Jewish state – while soldiers cleared the area of enemy forces. Today, 54 years later, they are still waiting for permission to return. Iassa is increasingly pessimistic about his chances. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “I think there is only one way they will let me back to my village – and that is in a coffin.”

Destroying the soul

3 October 2002

Damon sits atop a wooded ridge of the Carmel mountain overlooking the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean near the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The view is the most pleasant part of a visit to the prison, an old farmhouse-turned-jail that was closed three years ago after the government deemed it unfit for human habitation. During the Intifada it has been hurriedly pressed back into service. Visiting times are fixed — sessions on Tuesday morning — but not strictly observed. A metal three door bars entry, leaving visitors to sit on the dusty ground by the whitewashed outer wall in the heat and glare of the late morning. It is difficult to know precisely how many Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli detention.

Olives and lives

1 October 2002

Isaac Shabati was back in the West Bank last weekend for the first time since he completed his Israeli military service in the reserves more than a decade ago. But this time he found himself on the “wrong” side of the ethnic divide of the occupation — with the Palestinians rather than the Israeli army. Shabati, a 54-year-old marketing manager from the village of Vradim in central Galilee, was among a small group of Israelis who had come to Kfar Yasuf to help protect Palestinian farmers with their olive harvest. The village, one of several close to Nablus that over the past month have been at the receiving end of violence from settlers, was the first to hit the headlines, at the start of October, when local settlers tried to steal the crop two weeks before the olives were ripe.

Heavy price for occupation and resistance

26 September 2002

The luxury Renaissance hotel in Nazareth, completed only months before the outbreak of the Intifada, is perched on a dramatic cliff above the Jezreel Valley in the Lower Galilee. Designed to accommodate pilgrims visiting the town in which Christ was raised, there are 250 air-conditioned rooms, a large outdoor swimming pool, and bars and restaurants with spectacular views of Mount Tabor. But the Renaissance, like most hotels in Israel, has barely had an occupant in the past two years. This month the management announced that it was to be put to new use. It is to become a detention centre for foreign workers, mainly Thais, Filipinos, Koreans and Nigerians, whose work permits have expired and are due to be deported.

The impossible state?

26 September 2002

PLO officials have completed their first maps of the West Bank detailing Israel’s plans for its 360km security fence and have concluded that Israel is rapidly destroying any negotiating options for the Palestinians, particularly over the long- running stumbling block of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Task Force, working for Abu Mazen’s negotiation affairs department, which presented Palestinian positions at the Camp David and Taba talks, says the completion of the electronic fence will make the realisation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel impossible. President George W Bush has repeatedly stated that he favours the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

A Nelson Mandela for the Palestinians?

24 September 2002

JERUSALEM: Back in January when Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank’s Fatah leader, was still a free man, he penned a commentary in The Washington Post (IHT, Jan. 18) which rather exaggerated the likelihood of his death. Warning that he would probably pay with his life for his advocacy of the Palestinian right to resist Israeli occupation, he concluded: “So let my position be clear in order that my death not be lightly dismissed by the world as just one more statistic in Israel’s war on terrorism.” But Barghouti is not resting in a Palestinian cemetery, another victim of targeted assassination. Instead he is on trial, surrounded by the world’s media, charged with terrorism offenses.

Flexing democratic muscles

19 September 2002

It was the final nail in Yasser Arafat’s coffin, or so some observers in Israel confidently asserted. The forced resignation of all 21 members of Arafat’s cabinet, effectively the collapse of his government, was the dramatic climax to the three- day meeting of the Palestinian Parliament, the Legislative Council, in Ramallah last week. Arafat had suspected that he would face grievances from the delegates, who have had to endure enforced impotence during most of the Intifada, unable to meet or voice growing complaints about Arafat’s autocratic style, the widespread corruption among his ministers and the Palestinian failure to stop or challenge Israel’s reoccupation of West Bank cities.

The ‘enemy’ within

12 September 2002

Israel’s lengthy Or Commission ended hurriedly last month, as Arab lawyers produced last-minute evidence of ministerial cover-ups, political intrigues and a secret police document suggesting that commanders had adopted a policy of treating the country’s Arab minority as an enemy since 1994, in what were the early days of the Oslo peace process when Israel was supposed to be reaching a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. The inquiry, which has been taking place over the past 18 months, has been examining events at the start of the Intifada in early October 2000 when the country’s police force shot dead 13 Palestinian citizens.