Recently in Israel '05 - Part 4: Retrospective Category

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On the Hebron Road is a checkpoint, a couple hundred meters from the actual gap in the Separation Barrier. Through this interstitial runs a barbed wire-lined road, flanked by an IDF installation and a cargo screening facility that might become active should the Israelis ever ease the restrictions on movement in the West Bank. 2005:06:06 06:28:41

A while back the BBC posted a gallery of photographs highlighting attempts ranging from graffiti to comissioned murals to annotate The Wall. This one in particular struck me, in an "I've stood right there" kind of way.

Recall that shortly before leaving Israel I walked the eight-ish kilometers down the Hebron Road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. In most places the Green Line itself is demarcated hardly if at all; technically the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem crosses it twice without visible indication. Likewise on the Hebron Road there is no way of telling when Israel proper ends and the West Bank begins. The first few kilometers of the walk are dominated by Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, and are lands that every Israeli assumes will be incorporated into West Jerusalem in any final peace treaty. It is the Separation Barrier, as it is properly known, that indicates the transition to unequivically Palestinian lands. I had first seen it some months before, from a distance. But on this final excursion I touched it and crossed it.

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The Barrier cuts right through the outer neighborhoods and fields of Bethlehem, and my guide was more than happy to drive me along the road paralleling it on the Palestinian side, stopping to point out where his family's fields, which he hasn't been allowed to visit in years, would be. It is often compared to the Berlin Wall, but let's be serious. Berlin had nothing on this thing. (Click for a larger version.) 2005:06:06 06:43:38
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Seen wandering between the Wall and the checkpoint, I still wonder where this donkey belonged, and whether its owner was even allowed to follow it here to retrieve it. 2005:06:06 06:29:35

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Graffiti that has been stenciled on the gate at the opening in the Barrier. It's hard to make out, but I'm pretty sure the dark blob next to Jabba is supposed to be Sharon. If you look closely at the photos of this gate in the BBC gallery, this stenciling is there, too. 2005:06:06 09:53:29

Let's have no illusions here: I deplore the barrier. It is Palestinian lands, not Israeli, that are expropriated for its construction, and Palestinians who are cut off from jobs, markets, fields, and relatives; thus it smells like collective economic punishment. Palestinians, not Israelis, are harassed, searched, arbitrarily denied passage, and occasionally shot at the checkpoints; so it looks like their human rights are being denied. It forms a de facto border well inside territority that nominally belongs to the future Palestinian state, and since the Palestinians have minimal power to negotiate the route, it must inevitably complicate any final settlement between the two sides. Not that either side is well-served by wedding itself to the Green Line, but it is a useful spatiopolitical fulcrum that ought not be unilaterally or casually tossed aside. Israelis would do well to keep in mind that their own roadmaps are the only maps in the world that do not demarcate the Green Line as something like an international border.

However, the Middle East would be a simpler place than it is were it possible to routinely paint issues in black and white. Reasonable people disagree over the Separation Fence as well. While the terrorist attacks against Israelis are tragic, they are at most sporadic, so there is surely a limit to the hardship that the Palestinians can be made to endure as prevention. Similarly the barrier is a problem, but especially in light of the Israeli Supreme Court's interventions to correct the worst faults, it cannot be said that no atrocity would warrant its emplacement. Justice depends on identifying and adhering to a fair balance -- one that I do not think the Fence as it is presently conceived can easily satisfy.

Incidentally, her failure to recognize this reality is just one of the many reasons why I'm not inclined to support Senator Clinton's probable bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. It's emblematic of her larger failure to confront, or even seriously consider, difficult positions.

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Not everywhere is the Barrier a ten meter concrete wall. Along much of its planned route, it is still just a road, a no-mans-land, and an electrified barbed wire fence. From a Bethlehem hillside one can see how the town is hemmed in by less visible barriers of this kind. Across the Fence, Jewish settlements are spreading like wildfire. 2005:06:06 07:43:16

Don't Punish the Palestinians

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A heavily damaged factory building near where the Separation Fence slices through Bethlehem. My guide indicated that it has been hit by an Israeli shell or missile several months back. Between restrictions on movement and the tendency for things to get blown up, it's no wonder the PA is nearly the only economic game in town. 2005:06:06 14:44:59

Taking the day-to-day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a familiar point of departure, let's talk about Hamas. As everyone on the planet has heard by now, Hamas won an absolute majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in last month's elections, somewhat to the dismay of essentially everyone involved. There followed a bit of debate in the international community about the appropriate response, the choices being to either engage with the PLO via Abbas and bypass Hamas until it can be prodded into moderating its positions, or else to squeeze and isolate the Palestinian government so Hamas cannot govern and thus force new elections. That new legislature has now been sworn in, and most of the world has opted for engagement. Israel, and to a lesser extent the USA, have decided to basically push for a do-over of the elections by bankrupting the Palestinian Authority. Unless replacement funds can be found in Europe and the Muslim world, the Territories will lose their single largest employer and a good deal of infrastructure.

Jimmy Carter has issued another of his absurdly sensible editorials, Don't Punish the Palestinians, pointing out that dramatically damaging (further) the Palestinians' quality of life is probably not the best strategy. Forcing them to rely heavily on Iran the the Arab League for financial support is probably also counterproductive. And all in all, encouraging democracy and then punishing peoples for their choices is not much better than previous administrations' support of friendly autocrats. Given the history of the region, it's a bit rich all in all to expect Arabs to elect secular pro-Western liberals when given the choice.

Even in Israel, some commenters get this, but especially as elections are impending the political classes are falling over themselves to look aggressive. Which, come to think of it, probably explains the USA's stance as well.

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The view south from west Jerusalem, near the Knesset. As far as the eye can see, Jerusalem suburbs cover the hilltops. Many of which are on the Palestinian side of the Green Line and are thus, technically, illegal "settlements." 2004:10:22 16:34:51

In March, 2005 ...

The equinox is just next month, and what with the unusual weather patterns of late, you'd almost think spring has nearly arrived. Punxsutawney Phil notwithstanding. As Connor asked, what were you doing in March 2005?


As March kicked in, we were about midway through the season of Lent. The desert had bloomed and the country was still green, but no longer vibrant. Summer would soon be upon the Levant. As of March, I had been in Israel longer than planned when I left the States.

Presently, I made by first overnight trip to Jerusalem. Friday was shopping and then walking the Via Dolorosa with the Franciscans. After more exploration, eating and finally sleep at a Hebrew University dorm high atop Mt. Scopus, overlooking the entire city. Saturday was for tooling around the Old City taking photographs until Shabbat ended and the buses started up again. We walked the length of West Jerusalem then, from the Green Line to the central bus depot on its western edge. I would be back.

Eventually Easter came. For the first time in my life, I wasn't at church. Services are generally Saturday evening to coincide with Shabbat, but the buses don't run until after sundown. I couldn't figure out how to get to one in time, which I considered a deep personal failure.

March was also the month I marched in Tel Aviv with the Israeli left in favor of the disengagement from Gaza. I hoisted a sign I could barely read, and let firey speeches I couldn't hope to follow wash over me. A futile and largely unnecessary gesture in terms of politics, but educational for me. I had not before been in Tel Aviv after dark, after the train home stopped running, without a local holding my hand.

I was Father Christmas at a Purim party, photographer at a farewell party, and host to a dinner party or two. I knew enough Hebrew to get by and to get around. I was beginning to adapt, to no longer feel like a guest in a foreign country, but like I'd found a bit of a home away from home (away from home...). And as of March, I did not know for how much longer I would live in Israel.

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Ariela, the woman in the middle, headed back to Argentina the next day, so a farewell party was in order. From left to right behind her, myself, Lynn, Miriam, Sergei, Olivia, Jimmy, and Christiaan. 2005:03:30 01:09:24

Holidays

Happy Day of Atonement!

Okay, maybe that's not quite the right tone for a solemn day of fasting and repentence. But, if not precisely festive, it is not meant to be a sad or somber occasion, and it is after all preceeded by a large feast. Anyway, now that the sun has set, Yom Kippur has begun, bringing to a close the Days of Awe (yamim noraim, ײמים נרהים, more commonly known by the catchy but inaccurate English translation, High Holy Days).

This means that next week, Sukkot kicks in. Nominally it commemorates the 40 years of wandering in the desert, but it's basically an agricultural harvest festival week. Last year Sukkot fell right at the beginning of October, and I arrived in Israel in the middle of it. Since half the country takes the week off, that meant I had to muddle through my first week there without so much as a key to the physics building. Of course, that means Yom Kippur happened the week before I landed, so I can't much comment on that.

Basically, there's just a lot of holiday right towards the beginning of the Jewish new year. Not entirely unlike the months leading up to the Gregorian new year, for that matter. Autumn's just a good time to party, over all. (Or looked at another way, it's an echo of what earlier peoples probably said to each other this time of year: "Harvest's in, we're flush with food, and we probably won't all make it through the winter. Let's get fat!")

While we're on the topic, here's part 1 and part 2 of some interesting reporting out of Israel. With the settlers gone, it seems Gaza is becoming a bit more accessible to journalists. Still, it clearly took some work to get the grand tour from the folks who dig the smuggling tunnels to Egypt.

Ah, Sharon

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First a note: I think I've unravelled the confusion in the previous post about when the creationists are coming. Upshot is, we're all right!


Ah, Sharon. Even when he seems to have the best of intentions, he can't seem to do anything perfectly honestly. Now that the disengagement is past for the time being, he's clearly not even trying.

From Ha'aretz:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised illegal campaign funds during his just-completed trip to New York, Channel Ten reported Monday.

...Sharon was in New York to attend the annual General Assembly session.

Channel 10 showed footage of the entrance to a swanky Fifth Avenue apartment building in Manhattan, where Sharon met wealthy supporters for dinner on Sunday evening.

A Channel 10 reporter read from an invitation sent by Nina Rosenwald, identified as the heiress of the Sears empire, stating that people attending the dinner with Sharon in her apartment would be expected to contribute at least $10,000 to Sharon's campaign to retain Likud leadership against a challenge from former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The election law limits such contributions to a primary election campaign to $7,800.

In most well-regulated states, of course, the maximum allowed contribution from a foreigner to the campain of a candidate for high public office is $0. I recall Clinton getting into trouble over fundraisers that merely seemed to be hosted by foreigners, for instance. However, even Israelis will agree that Israel is anything but a well-regulated state; most would point out in all fairness that Sharon's political opponents were just as dishonest and corrupt when they were in power.

Then again, all Jews anywhere in the world are eligible to make al'lyiah under the Law of Return. Perhaps the contributions from the Jews in the room are then okay, since they could become Israeli citizens any time they feel like it. (If you plan ahead, this is by far the easiest way to immigrate to Israel. Those who arrive and then try to convert (a) are treated with considerable suspicion by the immigration authorities, and (b) usually can only do so in strict Orthodox communities, which can get their citizenship revoked if they can't take it.)

Parallels to Evacuation

The evacuation of New Orleans is principally significant due to its scale and scope, without recent precedent. Hundreds of thousands displaced, at least tens of thousands of whom are living as literal refugees. Most will not return home for many months, many will never return. Large sections of a sprawling, modern city devastated, just one community along a sprawling first-world coastline of towns, ports, and infrastructure wrecked.

An order of magnitude less devastation than the St. Steven's Day tsunami, but strangely more inescapable. Perhaps because NBC doesn't exactly have a Banda Aceh bureau. There, haphazard and mismanaged though the recovery has been, it seems that those rebuilding the province have managed to build a bit of long-awaited peace while they were at it. The rebuilding of the Mississippi Delta will be a fiscal calamity -- let's just take that as a given, considering the administration that will be running the show. But we should still hope for, and look for, the unexpected blessing.

Orders of magnitude, still, beyond August's other evacuation, struting on the world stage out of all proportion to the numbers involved. In the aftermath of the Israeli military's departure a few days ago, the one-time settlements looked exactly like the wreckage of a hurricane. In accordance with court rulings, bulldozers knocked down the houses, but nothing more. So on the day that the last soldier left, Palestinians completed the image: streaming across the no-mans-land from adjacent camps and packed cities they wandered blinking in the sun through the rubble. Some combed the debris for remaining valuables, such as wire or fixtures, while others simply walked on the beach for the first time in 38 years.

Although it's Palestinians who currently fill the refugee camps, Israeli settlers are the ones most recently evacuated. In New Orleans the departure came like a thunderclap -- get out in the next 18 hours or you will probably die, the announcements daintily minced around actually saying. I recently founds myself rereading a bittersweet column in Ha'aretz from just before the evacuation was set to begin. A journalist living for a while in one of the settlements gradually shifts from third to first person, but as an outsider is denied the brief comfort of denial. For weeks he lives there, knowing exactly what is to come.

Here I have once again been thrust between roles: reporter and resident, guest and host, observer from the sidelines and participant. Since last March, when Haaretz rented an apartment here, I have been playing all the roles at once, and I belong to two different communities. I am one of about 3,500 residents of Neveh Dekalim, the largest and most important of the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Like the other residents, I am no longer upset by the thunder of the rockets, I carry on a routine conversation with the neighbor hanging up the laundry, and if I have some free time on a hot hamsin day, I hop over to the beach.

The other community comprises about a dozen reporters and photographers who moved to Gush Katif a few months before the evacuation - most of them photographers with the international news agencies - in order to cover the implementation of the disengagement from up close. In spite of the competition, here too a consolidated community has been formed, socially speaking. There is no end to the contradictions between these different groups and their aims: One is suffused with faith and fighting for survival, the other is skeptical and has come to record the last months of Gush Katif.

If you read any of the links I've posted, read that last one.

So It Begins

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The road is closed; you cannot pass. Image from Ha'aretz article of 15 August.

As of just about now, the Gaza Strip is closed to all civilians; the Disengagement Law has gone into effect.

I would expect rapid development, and it's worth paying attention. In rough order of usefulness, I go by the English-language coverage at

Ha'aretz

The Jerusalem Post

BBC World News - Middle East

and various blogs and other newspapers as I run across them. If all the Hebrew place names confuse you, open this interactive map of the Gaza settlements. Also, take a moment and flip through this photo gallery. By way of interpretation: orange means you oppose the disengagement, and rabbis wear sackcloth when they're sad and being dramatic about it.

Yesterday was Tesha B'Av, a day of mourning that traditionally coincides with catastrophe for the Jewish people (the First and Second Temples were destroyed on this day; the Jews were expelled from Spain; the Bar Kochba revolt was defeated; World War I began). The anti-pullout publicists are having a field day. Settlers and soldiers are already fighting, and at least one has gotten some attention by trying to declare independence. But nothing too serious, so far.

[Update 15 Aug '05]: How interesting! I seem to have accidentally used a link that returns whatever image is currently on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. Unintended, but kinda cool.


Coming to a Head

Haven't written much about Israel lately, I notice. Not for lack of interest or attention; I've just been busy. But as this year's drama rattles on towards climax, it seems a good time to take a quick look about.

For those playing along at home, we're in the final days of disengagement fever. Letters have been sent to every Israeli (officially) living in the Gaza Strip to inform them that as of the 15th, their continued presence there will be illegal. On or about the 17th, the Israeli military will begin forcably evacuating anyone who remains. As the summer wears on, the actual settlers to be removed seem to have accepted the inevitability of this, and have mellowed considerably. At the same time, though, the Israeli far right has whipped itself into an advanced state of froth, exploiting every trick in the book to make trouble. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have vascillated between coordinating with and shunning the Israelis, while the Palestinian Authority walks a knife edge between a resumption of hostilities with Israel and civil war with the Arab militants.

Which means that this is actually a major sign of progress.

The Gaza Strip is under military closure now, meaning that it is almost completely sealed off to Israelis. This proved necessary since the grand strategy of the Yesha Council had been all along to flood Katif with so many radicals that any troops sent to evacuate the settlements would be overwhelmed. They never specified exactly how this was to take place, since they theoretically repudiate violence against other Jews. All told somewhere shy of 3,000 managed to infiltrate the Strip, some under the cover of massive demonstrations in towns near the border (causing, among other things, some tense moments when settler kids tripped the security sensors at the borders of the settlements they were sneaking into -- I can only imagine the howls if one of them had been shot by an IDF soldier), and others posing as (or actually as) relatives on a visit. That won't be enough, and quite likely doesn't even replace those who have already left. So the new strategy is to blocade the blocade, as it were. If they can't get in, neither can the evacuation forces.

All this is leading to a culture of lawlessness and alienation from the state among the nationalist Zionist Right that looks extremely dangerous to many. That tens of thousands show up to complain to God at the Western Wall is fine and even admirable, but when even more show up more-or-less publically announcing plans to sabotoge a military operation, the State has a very large problem indeed.

On a lighter note, remember that "This Land is Your Land" parody from the presidential elections last year? If anyone thought that the wide world of Flash animations as political commentary was confined to the United States, think again. The game is in Hebrew, but easy to figure out. And this game is a vaguely checkers or go-like attempt to dominate a blocked highway with cars flying your side's banner. (Press the שחק button to play.) And most bizzare of all, here is a game so odd it got a special mention in Ha'aretz -- you play Ariel Sharon, clearing settler kids from a roadblock with a mattress-equipped bulldozer and raining pigs.

Partition of Jerusalem

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The Bethlehem crossing, seen from the West Bank side. This is the actual opening in the Separation Fence; a roadblock and checkpoint lie on the other side, a little ways down a barbed wire lined street. 2005:06:06 09:53:46

Today several thousand anti-disengagement protesters spent their third day penned up in the dusty little town of Kfar Maimon, surrounded by barbed wire and twice their number of police and IDF troops. Thankfully, they do not seem to be generating the kind of sympathetic coverage that such a scene was designed to evoke. Late reports suggest that they are beginning to disperse.

To backtrack, the Yesha Council (an umbrella organization of settlers in the occupied territories) planned for tens of thousands of settler sympathizers to march on the Gaza Strip, defy the military closure of the Gush Katif, and flood the area with zealots sure to relentlessly oppose the evacuation when the time comes. The IDF strongly suggested that they not do this. Still, they came, they marched, and they were cut off at the pass (Kfar Maimon, that is) by a human wall of perhaps as many as 20,000 police and soldiers. The Israeli government (and, well, pretty much everyone else) was convinced that things would turn ugly, but so far they have not. However, is sounds like the families, the working adults ... the responsible people, in general ... have had enough and are leaving, replaced in part by orange-shirted kids. When the mob has dwindled to a hard core of several hundred versus the army, worry.

Here is a story that broke just before I left town, but which I am only now getting to:

The usual problem with the Separation Fence is that it cuts deep into the West Bank in places, so as to keep Jewish settlements on the Israeli side. This tends to cut off Palestinian communities from each other and from their lands, especially considering that the Fence routinely winds up slicing right through (Arab) towns and neighborhoods. It is generally a double curse to be in a so-called "envelope zone" as one must navigate unpredictable Israeli checkpoints to travel either east into the West Bank or west across the Green Line.

In Jerusalem, as usual, the rules are different and more complex.

Rose-tint

My question about this article is, what does Ha'aretz (or the ADL, for that matter) have to gain my making Israelis think that American opinion of them is more positive than it is?

ADL polls: Americans back Israel, Europeans don't By Amiram Barkat

Americans continue to stand solidly behind Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians, and overwhelmingly support the disengagement from Gaza as "a bold step for peace," according to an Anti-Defamation League survey released yesterday.

According to the survey of American attitudes toward Israel and the Middle East, 71 percent of those polled expressed support for the disengagement plan, 52 percent believed Israel was working harder for peace than the Palestinians, and 43 percent said they sympathized with Israel.

"It is apparent from the survey that Israel's bold initiatives to bring security and peace to its people resonate with the American people," said Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director, at a Jerusalem press conference.

"The consistency of the high level of support for Israel by Americans, and their improved views of the new Palestinian leadership, show them to be fair in their assessment and understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite ongoing propaganda campaigns and efforts to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state," he added.

I ask you, would this lede be any less representative:

Americans Generally Ambivalent Towards Israel by Y.T.

While standing more solidly behind Israel than their European counterparts, an ADL poll of Americans reveals ambivalence towards the state and its policies. According to the survey, an overwhelming 71 percent of those surveyed view the disengagement from Gaza as "a bold step for peace." However, barely half feel that Israel is working harder for peace than the Palestinians, and 57 percent sympathized with either the Palestinians or neither side in the conflict.

Israelis know that they lost European public opinion some time ago, although I'd point out that, while 39 percent of Europeans viewed Sharon negatively, 42 percent reported no opinion either way. There may be considerable room for winning over undecided European opinion, if someone appropriately placed wants to do that. The article observes correctly, though, that further radical Islamist attacks in Europe won't help the matter.

However, you'd think that if Israel's support in America was wavering, it would be in the best interests of the Israelis to loudly advertise this fact. (I'd compare what, say, the Jerusalem Post had to say about this poll, but I can't get articles to load on their site tonight. Oh well.)

One possibility is that we're caught in a round of dueling polls. The number that does have the Israeli government on the edge of its seat, after all, is approval of the disengagement, both at home and in important backer countries like the U.S.

Sun Chasing

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Posting from my own house in Minneapolis; I made the trip home in just about 24 hours door-to-door in the end. Didn't sleep much on the planes, so I've effectively been awake for over 40 hours now. Bright sunlight for over 24 hours will do interesting things to the internal clock. (At least in the Arctic there's a discernible 'midday' and 'midnight' -- whereas thanks to all the flying west I've done today, it's been bouncing around between about noon and 4 pm all day for me.)

In other news, consider me a permanent ex-El Al customer.

Last Post

From Israel, anyway. Unless I have more down-time tonight than I'm expecting.

Shutting down the computers, cleaning off the desk, it's time to go. Wheels up in 15 hours, and I've got a bit to do before that.

It's been interesting. In the coming weeks, I'll endeavor to elaborate on that.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Israel '05 - Part 4: Retrospective category.

Israel '05 - Part 3: Excursions is the previous category.

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