Zvi Bar'el wrote an article the other day for Ha’aretz on the theme that I had touched upon in my Beit Hanun post, i.e. the Israeli government’s tendency to treat in isolation individual acts of Palestinian violence – in this case the firing of Qassam rockets – as if they have nothing to do with the wider act of occupation, settlement and annexation going on at the same time in the Occupied Territories as a whole. I was particularly struck by this comment:
[W]e withdrew from Gaza so the Palestinians would start a diplomatic process, explained the popular Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in a radio interview on Thursday…
This is a common and distorting Israeli assertion. The Israel Defense Forces withdrew from Gaza in order to preserve the assets in the West Bank.
-- Just one more deception by Zvi Bar'el; Ha'aretz, 12 Nov 2006.
It’s not striking because he is writing anything unusually controversial here. We already know that the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza was not carried out a gesture of goodwill to kickstart a diplomatic process, but just the opposite. It was carried out because Ariel Sharon was afraid in late 2003 that the U.S. was going to stop its unquestioning support for his policy of “if force doesn’t work on the Palestinians, try more force”, and start demanding that he come up with a diplomatic horizon, at a time when the Geneva Accord was becoming increasingly popular in Israel. The Sharon government came up with the disengagement from Gaza not as a first step in opening negotiations, but in order to forestall the danger of ever having to enter into Geneva-type negotiations for a two-state solution, that would have involved getting out of not only Gaza, but also the West Bank. We know that, because they told us so, openly, at the time:
"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Haaretz… “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde," he said. "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."
Asked why the disengagement plan had been hatched, Weisglass replied: "Because in the fall of 2003 we understood that everything was stuck. And although by the way the Americans read the situation, the blame fell on the Palestinians, not on us, Arik [Sharon] grasped that this state of affairs could not last, that they wouldn't leave us alone, wouldn't get off our case. Time was not on our side. There was international erosion, internal erosion. Domestically, in the meantime, everything was collapsing. The economy was stagnant, and the Geneva Initiative had gained broad support….
Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a "legitimate manner."
"That is exactly what happened," he said. "You know, the term 'peace process' is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The peace process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The peace process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.... what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did."
-- Gaza plan aims to freeze the peace process by Ari Shavit; Ha'aretz, 10 Nov 2005.
So disengagement from Gaza was never a plan to start a diplomatic process, but a plan designed to prevent one. When Israeli government ministers like Tzipi Livni suggest today that it was a gesture for peace, to which Palestinians inexplicably responded by firing Qassams, she is not being honest; and Zvi Bar'el said so. And that’s what is striking to someone like me who generally reads U.S. or U.K. newspapers. An American or British journalist with any mainstream newspaper would not have said that but, in line with the he-said-she-said school of journalism that predominates today in the U.S. (and in the U.K. when the subject is Israel), would have included the minister's assertion for “balance”, and let it stand unchallenged despite the fact that Weisglass' "formaldehyde" interview is widely known.
The main difficulty in posting about this phenomenon is not finding an example of what I am talking about, but knowing which one to choose. First I thought of going with an article in the Washington Post on 26 October 2006, which repeats without comment the Israeli government's assertion that it has been forced by specific security threats to keep Gaza's only outlet to the outside world closed for the last three months... ignoring the fact that Israeli Defence Ministry documents already leaked and published in Israel strongly suggest that the "security threats" rationale is a pretext, and that Israel is instead deliberately keeping the Gaza Strip blockaded as an act of collective punishment on the population in retaliation for the capture of Gilad Shalit (Israel using Rafah crossing to pressure PA on Shalit release; Ha'aretz, 30 Aug 2006).
Then I thought of writing about the BBC's habit of following up any reference to the illegality of the Israeli settlements with a balancing comment along the lines of "the Israeli side doesn't accept this" - as in this report on 21 November 2006 - which leaves open the possibility that there may be some legitimate legal argument over they’re really illegal, or maybe some ambiguity in the law that means perhaps they're not. But that suggestion is false. No country in the world has ever accepted the convoluted understanding of the 4th Geneva Convention that Israel invented to pretend that the Occupied Territories aren't really occupied and that illegal settlements there aren't really illegal. And when the International Court of Justice considered the legality of the West Bank wall in July 2004, it utterly rejected Israel's esoteric argument that the 4th Geneva Convention - which bans in its 49th Article the building of settlements on occupied land - didn't apply to it. The very basis for the Court's ruling that the wall is illegal where it is built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was its finding that these areas are not "controversial" or "contested" or "disputed " territories, as Israel likes to call them, but are in fact "OCCUPIED" territories in the precise legal sense of that word, making their Palestinian population protected persons under the 4th Geneva Convention. So there is no he - said - she - said - let’s - hear - both - sides - of - the - story when it comes to the legality of the settlements, no matter how much Israel would like there to be. There is simply international law, and Israel’s almost 40-year-old refusal to abide by it. The correct way to report that reality is not - as the BBC puts it - "Settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law although Israel rejects this", but "Settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law". Full stop. Period. Punto finale.
In the end I went with this innocuous-looking comment from Rory McCarthy's article about the impact on Palestinian farmers of the West Bank wall, published in the UK Guardian newspaper on 30 October 2006:
The 437-mile barrier is halfway complete and work continues despite a July 2004 advisory opinion from the international court of justice in The Hague, which said it was a violation of international law and should be taken down where it crosses into the West Bank. Israel argues that the barrier is a necessary security measure that has reduced the number of suicide bombings.
-- Israeli barrier and settlement to leave West Bank village with nowhere to go by Rory McCarthy; The Guardian, 30 Oct 2006.
I picked this example - specifically the part about how effective the wall is against suicide bombers - simply because this morning (1 December, as I'm writing this), I happened to read this comment from Gideon Samet in Ha'aretz: The security considerations along the Green Line are ridiculous when the security fence, that enterprise that was so full of promises, is breached along its entire length. Now, that's a strikingly different impression of how effective a security measure the wall (and its associated checkpoints) have proved to be, but it's one that is not uncommon if you read what Israeli journalists are writing for a home audience rather than listen to what official Israeli spokespersons are saying to the English-language media. In fact, even before any sections of the wall were completed, some prominent Israelis - most notably (then) Meretz MK Yossi Sarid - pointed out that greed for Palestinian land was motivating Israel to build its wall deep inside the West Bank, resulting in a wall that was twice the length that it would have been if it were on the Green Line, making it impossible for the IDF to adequately police. (Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations alluded to same point in early 2004, when he remarked that:
[N]o one I know of in Israel's government, including the IDF and the security services, would deny that a fence whose purpose is the protection of Israel's citizens would be far more effective if it were constructed along Israel's pre-1967 border rather than snaking its way around Israeli settlements deep inside Palestinian territory. The argument that the fence's intrusions into Palestinian territory are necessary to protect the settlements establishes a new standard for chutzpah. In effect, Palestinians are being told that Israel must steal more Palestinian land to protect Israelis living on previously stolen Palestinian land.)
But in the he - said - she - said world of The Guardian, the official Israeli assertion has to be reproduced without contradiction (for "balance"), as if the fact that the Israeli government says it means it must be credible.
In fact, an informed news reader or journalist should know that there are good grounds to question how credible that claim is, and to suspect that what we have here is another example of what Zvi Bar'el did not hesitate to call "a common and distorting Israeli assertion".
Let's think for a moment about what we know about the Separation Wall. We know that the Israeli government is building a wall in the Occupied Territories, ostensibly to keep suicide bombers out of Israel. (I'm not going to go into the fact that if that is really its purpose, it would be build on the Green Line, not in the Occupied Territories; that's of fundamental importance to the whole issue of the wall, but it's not the purpose of this specific post). Let's just note that they're building a wall, that it's about halfway complete, and let's also note that there has been a dramatic fall in the number of Israelis killed by suicide bombings in Israel over the past two years. BUT: let's also bear in mind that, because the wall is built on other people's land, the ICJ has ruled that wherever it encroaches on occupied territory, it must be removed, with compensation for those Palestinians who have been adversely affected by it. Then let's add into the mix the fact that for unacknowledged territorial purposes, the Israeli government would like to legitimize its illegal wall in the eyes of the international community, and it hopes to do so by suggesting that its illegality - and its disastrous effects on the Palestinian economy, society and territorial integrity - are nullified because it brings overwhelming security benefits (benefits that would accrue equally from building the barrier on the Green Line, but once again, let's not go there). So it is very important for the Israeli government to suggest that the relationship between the (semi-) construction of the wall and the dramatic decrease in suicide bombings is causal. The Israeli government has a self-interested reason for making that case, whether or not it is true. And knowing that the Israeli government has its own self-interested reasons for exaggerating the security benefits of the wall, in order to excuse its own illegal actions, should give a serious journalist some pause for thought before uncritically reproducing Israeli claims about the extent of those security benefits.
How might a journalist weigh the credibility of those claims? Well, perhaps firstly by using some common sense, and secondly by comparing what the Israeli authorities say to Western news media with what they say back home, as reported in Israel's own news media.
From the common sense point of view, we could start by thinking about what we know about the Palestinian economy. After six years of intifada and blockade, the economy of the Occupied Territories is in tatters. Thousands of West Bank Palestinians, with no other way to provide for their families, work for extremely low wages at menial jobs inside Israel. To further its goal of "separation" from the Palestinians, Israel has over the last six years reduced by over 80% the number of Palestinians it allows to enter Israel for work. But they still go; they just go illegally, without the permits that would allow them to pass openly into Israel through the wall and the checkpoints. Every day, Israeli police arrest and expel back to the West Bank Palestinian labourers who have entered Israel illegally and are working without a permit. In periodic sweeps against undocumented Palestinian workers, they can apprehend literally hundreds in a single day. (And when its prisons get overcrowded, Israel uses these labourers to pad the numbers of Palestinians it sends home in prisoner releases that it trumpets loudly as "goodwill gestures" to the PA).
In November 2004, Ha'aretz reported that the police were making 2,400 arrests every week of Palestinians working illegally in Israel, and estimated that between 15,000 and 30,000 permit-less West Bank workers were in the country at any one time. In July 2005, Israel's Workers' Advice Centre interviewed undocumented Palestinians openly looking for work at the Geha Junction near Tel Aviv, including one who had just re-entered Israel despite being recently incarcerated with up to 2,000 other Palestinians arrested for working without permits in Israel. In June 2006, Border Police commander Hasin Fares told the Associated Press that Israel apprehends about 4,000 undocumented Palestinian workers every week "and the number is growing". In the same report, Shlomo Dror - the Israeli Military Coordinator of Activities in the Occupied Territories - said that Israel issues only about 11,000 work permits to Palestinians, but "tens of thousands more enter Israel illegally, mostly from the West Bank".
So, although it is impossible to give an exact figure, it is reasonable to suggest that during the last two years, while Israel has been enjoying a considerable respite from suicide bombings, the number of undocumented workers coming into the country illegally from the West Bank has been in the low tens of thousands.
You can see where I'm going with this, can't you? If suicide bombings are greatly reduced because suicide bombers can't get past the wall, then how are tens of thousands of undocumented workers from the West Bank still getting in? I can understand that the wall is very effective at stopping certain kinds of activity: retired IDF General Shlomo Lahat inspected the wall and the checkpoints in the northern West Bank and noticed how effective they were at bringing Palestinian economic activity to a halt (after all, you can't take a truck off-road to evade a checkpoint or slip it through a gap in the wall). And I am sure it is very effective at keeping farmers away from their farmland, so that Israel can declared it abandoned and seize it for settlement (after all, a farmer without a permit might slip through the wall or evade a checkpoint, but then has to work openly on the land, leaving him susceptible to arrest). But suicide bombers don't face the same constraints as a truck driver or a farmer; their situation is much more like that of the undocumented worker, who needs to slip unnoticed into Israel and then quickly disappear. And undocumented workers continue to find ways to do just that (BBC News followed one of them in a report - Finding holes in the West Bank Barrier - just two weeks ago). In fact, for all those months and years that Israelis have been enjoying reduced suicide bombings in Israel, undocumented Palestinian workers - and all sorts of other West Bank Palestinians who have no other way of maintaining the semblance of a normal life - have continued to enter Israel (or the parts of the Occupied Territories that find themselves on the western side of the wall) by finding ways to circumvent the wall. This is what Gideon Samet means when he says that the security fence, that enterprise that was so full of promises, is breached along its entire length. Out of necessity, West Bank Palestinians have been bypassing it where it is completed:
A Palestinian boy crawls under a gate in the separation barrier in Masha village, near Qalqilia, 29 July 2004. (Associated Press)
They have been bypassing it where it is semi-completed:
A Palestinian woman climbs over the concrete blocks that separate in two the West Bank town of Abu Dis, on her way to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque complex for prayers on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, October 18, 2004. (AFP/Pedro Ugarte)
Palestinian Hana Saleh, 19, center, covering her face, rides a bus to work in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 31, 2006. With few jobs in the Palestinian areas, Saleh and tens of thousands of other West Bank Palestinians are forced to climb clandestinely around Israel's separation barrier to find work. At least once a week Saleh is caught, detained for two hours and sent back home. But since she is the main breadwinner for her family of 13, she is willing to take the risk day after day. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Two Palestinian schoolgirls going to school through a hole in the Separation Wall, on the first day of the new school year, 2 Sept 2006. (PNN).
And they have been bypassing it where it is not yet constructed:
Palestinian migrant workers entering the Jewish settlement of Gilo, Jerusalem. (Jewish Weekly Review, Feb. 10, 2005)
A Palestinian man sneaking to Israel crosses from Bethlehem, right, into Jerusalem, left, Monday, May 15, 2006. Tens of thousands of Palestinians without work permits are willing to risk detention or beating by Israeli patrols to get jobs in Israel. Jobs and money in the West Bank are increasingly scarce because of a Western economic boycott and tightened Israeli travel restrictions. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
Backdropped by the Jewish settlement of Hashmona'im, Palestinian workers who sneaked illegally from the West Bank through the village of Ni'alan to work in Israel, wait for transportation at the edge of the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Sefer, Sunday, June 4, 2006. With few jobs in the Palestinian areas, tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians are forced to climb clandestinely around Israel's separation barrier to find work. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
So what would the Israeli government have us conclude from this? What would The Guardian have us conclude from this? That Palestinian kids have worked out how to squeeze through or under the barrier to get to school, that Palestinian workers have worked out how to walk around it to get jobs in Israel, that Palestinian taxi drivers know which backroads will circumvent it, but suicide bombers haven't worked out how to do those things? That worshippers determined to pray at al-Aqsa mosque are willing to risk arrest by climbing over it, that undocumented workers will risk a beating and imprisonment if they're caught sneaking around it, that families separated by it are willing to risk being caught squeezing through gaps in order to see each other, but suicide bombers - who would be entering Israel with the intention of dying there - are not willing to take the risk of being apprehended entering Israel without a permit?
Does that pass your common sense test? It doesn't do much for mine. I think if we set aside self-interested Israeli official logic in favour of, well, real logic, we can easily come up with a rationale for the fall in terrorism-related deaths in Israel that makes much more sense.
It doesn't get much of a mention in U.S. or U.K. media, but the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority made a commitment at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit of 8 February 2005 to enter into a mutual truce, halting “all acts of violence against Israelis and Palestinians wherever they exist”. Israel, as one would expect, has simply ignored its Sharm el-Sheikh commitments, as Tanya Reinhart, [then] Professor of Linguistics and Media Studies at Tel Aviv University, observed in Yediot Ahronot, on 24 May 2005: [T]he fact still remains that the Sharm al-Sheikh understandings determine that Israel will stop all military actions against Palestinians. Nothing of this was realized. The Israeli army continues to arrest, to assassinate, to enter villages and to kill even children.
But how have the Palestinians lived up to their Sharm commitments? Probably the best answer is “imperfectly”. It is true that Palestinian Islamic Jihad refused from the beginning to commit itself to what the Palestinians call their period of “calm”, and have continued to sporadically carry out suicide bombings in Israel. But it is also true that Palestinian Islamic Jihad has always been very much the junior partner in suicide attacks on Israel. The principal perpetrator of suicide bombings in Israel has always been Hamas, and Hamas accepted the truce. In fact, as Chris McGreal noted, when the IDF shot dead two Palestinian children in the last week of January 2006, those two deaths represented twice the number of Israelis that Hamas had killed in the previous year. So, if at the beginning of 2005 the Palestinian group responsible for most of the suicide bombings of Israelis entered into a truce, and if since the beginning of 2005 there has been a dramatic fall in the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers, isn’t it quite probable that those two things are connected? If we are looking for a causal link, isn’t it more likely to exist between the Hamas truce and the fall in terrorism-related deaths, than between the fall in terrorism-related deaths and the construction of an incomplete security barrier that thousands of Palestinian civilians have, out of necessity, been circumventing ever since its first sections were completed?
And if that makes sense, then isn’t it quite likely that the Israeli authorities are telling us that the wall is the key factor in an improving security situation not because they actually believe that is true, but because it is better for PR purposes to say that than to admit the real reason they are building that wall in the West Bank, which is to illegally annex to Israel the West Bank’s water and arable land resources and its economic hub in East Jerusalem, without which there is no possibility of a Palestinian independent state? And if that is so, is it really the job of our news media to help facilitate that policy by reproducing without contradiction the propaganda used to justify it?
Actually, at this point we can dispense with the question marks and the conjecture about whether the Israeli authorities really believe what they tell the Western media about the efficacy of the wall in reducing terrorism. We can use the second second criterion I suggested for Western journalists to use in weighing the credibility of official Israeli claims, i.e. comparing those claims with what is reported in Israel's own news media. We already know the Israeli authorities' estimation of the importance of the wall in bringing about the end of the suicide bombing, because it has been openly reported in Israel, and it’s quite different from the soundbite we are fed over here. This is what the relevant Israeli authorities really think about why terrorist attacks in Israel have fallen in the last two years:
Shin Bet: Palestinian truce main cause for reduced terror
By Amos Harel, Ha'aretz, 2 Jan 2006.
The Shin Bet's statistics on terror attacks confirm the public perception that terrorist activity in 2005 dropped considerably compared to the previous four and a half years. The main reason for the sharp decline is the truce in the territories, the security service said yesterday…
The security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it. The fence does make it harder for them, but the flawed inspection procedures at its checkpoints, the gaps and uncompleted sections enable suicide bombers to enter Israel.
Five suicide bombings took place this year - two in Netanya, one in Hadera, one in Tel Aviv and one, with no fatalities, in Be'er Sheva - compared to only two in 2004. The number of fatalities resulting from these attacks has risen a little, from 14 to 21.
But the main reason for the reduction in terrorist acts over the past year is the truce in the territories, as partial as it may be. The fact that Hamas, in general, stopped engaging in terror activities changed the picture. The Islamic Jihad network in the West Bank upgraded its capability and was responsible for the murder of 23 Israelis in 2005, but during that time, Hamas - the leading terror organization in recent years - has scaled back its engagement in terror. Its focus on the political arena and the preparations for the Palestinian parliamentary elections have limited its active involvement in terror to a large extent....
Now, I know I'm going on at length about this, but it really isn't just a stylistic quibble. Probably ninety-five per cent of the world has a remarkably different view from us of what is happening in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and I think that the tendency of a deferential English-language news media [footnote] to reproduce uncritically Israeli government claims until they become established "conventional wisdom" is part of it.
I don't think there is any conflict in the world in which our perceptions are dominated by regurgitated conventional wisdom, rather than critical thinking and hard facts, more than the Arab-Israeli conflict. We know what we know about Israelis and Palestinians not because we know history and facts, but because we know what "everybody knows". There was a time when what "everybody knows" was that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land", and that the Palestinians "left" in 1948 because they didn't want to live with Jews. We know better now (at least most of us do) that those were self-serving lies, but it took three generations to dispel the myths, and the harm they inflicted is long-since done. And now we have a new generation of misleading and inciting myths to wrap around the conflict and obscure the rather straightforward - if rather unpalatable from a pro-Zionist perspective - core issues.
Today, "everybody knows" that Ehud Barak offered them everything and they refused, even if he didn't. Everybody knows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the map, even if he didn't. Everybody knows Hassan Nasrallah said Hizbullah would wipe out the Jews, even if he didn't. Everybody knows the UN said there was no massacre at Jenin, even if it didn't. Everybody knows the shooting of Mohammed al-Durra was faked, except it wasn't. Everybody knows Martin Luther King said anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, even if he didn't. Everybody knows Nasser, or was it Arafat, said he would drive the Jews into the sea, even if he didn't. Everybody knows the Qana ambulance footage was faked, except it wasn't. Everybody knows that Palestinian schoolbooks teach hate and incitement, even if they don't, etc. etc. And before you know it, every American who reads the English-language press will know it's just a security barrier, and it was really very effective at bringing an end to the suicide bombings....
How is it that in this country "everybody knows" so much about Israelis and Palestinians, but knows so little about it that is actually well, you know, factually based? Admittedly, part of it is that as a nation we don't really think that it's worth the effort to learn about the rest of the world, so we don't bother. And that leaves us collectively vulnerable to organised disinformation amplified by a pro-Zionist echo chamber of advocacy groups and the seedier branches of our mainstream news media. And for some reason, we also as a nation seem more susceptible than most to believing in the clearcut and interesting world of the conspiracy theory, in preference to the shades of grey in an often drab and mundane real world. Both of those things I think explain why the most blatant examples of disinformation manage to enter our conventional wisdom on the Middle East. But what about the less blatantly looney stuff: the not obviously lunatic but still not actually true stuff, like "we offered them everything and they refused" or, most applicable to this post, "[W]e withdrew from Gaza so the Palestinians would start a diplomatic process"? I think we swallow those things precisely because of the he - said - she - said journalistic practices that I've talked about in this post. We believe them because they get repeated over and over again unchallenged in our so-called respectable news outlets, that are too scared of ruffling the wrong feathers to actually say, "Well, not really". When you choose safety over controversy, you do it at the price of promoting ignorance. What "everybody knows" in this country about the Middle East is where you inevitably end up when your "serious" news media convinces itself that repeating what Israeli politicians and their apologists say is the same thing as reporting news, while elsewhere in the world - even in Zvi Bar'el's Israel - reporting the news is not just repeating what they say but also, when necessary, pointing out when what they say conflicts with what actually is.
(It might seem a little unfair that I have lumped British media in with the American throughout this post, and I wouldn't want to suggest that they do the out-and-out cheerleading for Israel that we get in the U.S., but I do think the quality of the U.K. reporting is over-rated in this country - perhaps because the only thing we have to compare it to is the godawful stuff we see on Fox News and American CNN. Compared to Fox News, the BBC [which is what we generally get over here] might well be a breath of fresh air, but if you measure it against a more meaningful standard - i.e. how well-informed viewers are after watching British news - then the results are lot less rosy. Professor Greg Philo, research director of the Glasgow University Media Group, surveyed a sample of young British adults who listed TV news as their main source of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and found that even though the violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories was an almost-daily feature on the news, most viewers had very little idea what was actually going on. Eighty per cent of those surveyed didn't know where the Palestinian refugees had come from or how they had become refugees; many did not understand that the Palestinians were living under a military occupation; seventy-one per cent did not know that it was the Israelis who were occupying the Occupied Territories, and only nine (yes, nine) per cent knew that the settlers were Israeli. In fact, there were actually more people (11%) who believed that the Palestinians were occupying the territories and that the settlers were Palestinian!
So, even if you acknowledge that the British news media doesn't blatantly cheerlead like Fox News, you still have to admit that if they have been reporting on the Occupation for almost forty years, but a large majority of their viewers still don't know that there is actually an Israeli occupation and settlement programme going on in the Palestinian areas - and that this is the context within which the apparently-incomprehensible daily routine of violence is taking place - then by the simple standard of how well they keep their viewers informed about what is going on in the Middle East, British news media have failed dismally).
Theater of the absurd by Gideon Levy; Ha'aretz Magazine, 17 December 2005.Is the checkpoint closed? Not really. It can be crossed. Not by walking a few hundred meters, as usual, but via a very costly and prolonged ride in a taxi - 50 kilometers and an hour and a half in each direction - to bypass the closed checkpoint, involving a trip almost all over the West Bank. You drive north, in order to drive south for a few hundred meters, until you reach the other side of the checkpoint....
After 48 kilometers and exactly an hour and a quarter, we have arrived at our destination: the Qalandiyah checkpoint, from which we started out, but on the other side.
The fence will never be completed by Amira Hass; Ha'aretz, 9 March 2005.Israeli policy makers manipulated the fear and still do. They presented the threat on Israeli citizens as a strategic threat on the very existence of the state. They took advantage of the justified personal dread of many people to advance their solution to the fear and threat: a separation fence.
They used the consensus of fear that the suicide bombings created in order to present the fence, in its invasive, destructive route, as the only possible solution. However, the character of the fence and its route were determined not on the basis of the real threat, but on the basis of Israel's political and real estate plans.
Living beside the checkpoints by Amira Hass; Ha'aretz, July 22 2004.The Palestinians have a lot of ways to overcome their stolen freedom of movement. There are those who ride donkeys, others walk for hours. Some plead with soldiers. Some have parents who make a supreme effort and rent rooms in the city, so their student children won't lose any studies at the university. Others manage to get travel passes - don't ask how - and some find their way through the olive groves.
Some of the methods are used by those who want to get an explosives belt out of the city. For each of them there are hundreds of people who use the methods to continue with their lives...
Let's dismantle the fence by Yoel Esteron; Ha'aretz, 7 July 2004.Anyone who wants to live without terror, to live in peace, has to oppose the fence. Not when peace, or the messiah, comes. Now. Anyone who supports the fence, or remains silent, cannot console himself that he is supporting a route that is reasonable. Anyone who doesn't oppose the fence is in effect accepting Sharon's fence.
The result will be more and more terror that circumvents the fence; the longer the occupation continues, the more horrible the terror. The fence will not stop it for long, it will only make it more sophisticated and more terrible. Here is an urgent proposal to the agenda for Israelis from the center and leftward: Let's dismantle the fence.
A Wall as a Weapon by Noam Chomsky; The New York Times, 23 February 2004.It is a virtual reflex for governments to plead security concerns when they undertake any controversial action, often as a pretext for something else. Careful scrutiny is always in order. Israel's so-called security fence, which is the subject of hearings starting today at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, is a case in point...
A secret hudna? by Danny Rubinstein; Ha'aretz, 13 January 2004.Last Wednesday, for example, a report appeared about an operation in the center of the country to arrest residents of the territories who were working in Israel without permits. No fewer than 1,150 workers were detained in one day. According to the Palestinian journalist who reported the figures, for every Palestinian worker who is arrested in an operation of this kind, there are at least 10 others who successfully hide and evade the security forces. In other words, despite all the fences and roadblocks, the raids and the punitive measures, thousands (some say tens of thousands) of Palestinians continue to infiltrate into Israel illegally to look for work. And if they can do it, there is no doubt that every youngster who is bent on committing suicide in the course of inflicting casualties on Israelis can do it just as easily.
Widening the Jordan Valley by Akiva Eldar; Ha'aretz, 6 January 2004.Since the eastern fence has yet to be brought to the government for its approval, there is no official route that can show which parts of that sector are part of Sharon's plan for disengagement and which parts are designated for annexation. However, it doesn't take much effort to sketch out the prime minister's disengagement map in that area. All that's required is clicking into the Web site of the World Zionist Organization's settlement division and read the rules for the "Populating Jordan Valley - Second Stage."...
This map has a significance that goes far beyond the chance of reaching an agreement on the territorial issue. The Jordan Valley is the only land reserve available to the Palestinian Authority for absorbing refugees. It's where the PA's Planning Ministry designated some 700,000 refugees would be settled over seven years of development. In short, Sharon's disengagement plan is a plan to disengage from any hope of reaching a settlement in the future.
Breeding Grounds for Hatred by Shlomo Lahat; Ha'aretz, 5 January 2004.Two weeks ago, together with my friend Brigadier General (res.) Yitzhak Elron, I visited 13 Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, near the cities of Nablus, Tul Karm and Qalqilyah...
In summary: I am doubtful whether the checkpoints have in fact prevented the passage of a terrorist or of weapons. Every checkpoint can be bypassed. I have the impression that the only purpose of the checkpoints is to make things hard for the Palestinian population. I am convinced that the checkpoints constitute a breeding ground for hatred for Israel, and harm an innocent population in an inhumane manner.
Trying to hide the dark backyard by Gideon Levy; Ha'aretz, 7 December 2003.[I]f the fence had gone up on the Green Line it would have been impossible to complain about a nation trying to defend itself, and despite the serious problems that fence would have created, it would have been possible to live with it. But the fence is being built in a large part of Palestinian territory. On that route, nobody can accept the argument that the fence is apolitical. Like other occupation measures - especially the settlements and checkpoints - the fence is being justified by security rationales that only provide cover for their real purpose. That is, smashing the last chance for an agreed upon arrangement between the sides.
The reality and legality of Israel's wall; EI, 24 November 2003.The Wall is commonly thought to be a way of preventing suicide bombers from the West Bank from reaching Israel. The basis for this is apparent success of a similar wall that surrounds Gaza...
However, an official Israeli Government report has cast doubt on the application of this assumption to the wall in the West Bank. The Israel State Comptroller is an independent audit body that reports to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. In July 2002 the State Comptroller produced a report on the seam area that stated: "[Israel Defence Force] documents indicate that most of the suicide terrorists and the car bombs crossed the seam area into Israel through the checkpoints, where they underwent faulty and even shoddy checks." More recently, the suicide bomber that killed 19 people in a Haifa restaurant on the 4 October 2003 apparently travelled from Jenin in the North of the West Bank and through the completed section of the wall with little difficulty.
One Wall, One Man, One Vote by Tom Friedman; NY Times, 14 September 2003.If the Israelis were building a fence around the West Bank, and then removing all the checkpoints inside, it would make great sense. But they can't, because the West Bank Jewish settlements also have to be protected — hence the fences and checkpoints all over the place, which are choking commerce and creating cages that will become factories of despair. As Palestinians find themselves isolated in pockets next to Jewish settlers — who have the rule of law, the right to vote, welfare, jobs, etc. — and as hope for a contiguous Palestinian state fades, it's inevitable that many of them will throw in the towel and ask for the right to vote in Israel.
Behind The Barrier: Human Rights Violations As a Result of Israel's Separation Barrier by B'Tselem, April 2003. (Link is to Word document).Although most of the Palestinians who perpetrated attacks in Israel entered the country through the checkpoints situated along the Green Line, and not through the open areas between the checkpoints, Israel decided to erect the barrier before it solved the problems that were found in the operation of the checkpoints. Also, the IDF did not take any meaningful action in the seam area that would prevent Palestinians from entering Israel, and gave low priority to this objective in comparison with other objectives, such as attacking Palestinian Authority institutions and protecting the settlements...
The overall features of the separation-barrier project give the impression that Israel is once again relying on security arguments to unilaterally establish facts on the ground that will affect any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. In the past, Israel used "imperative military needs" to justify expropriation of land to establish settlements and argued that the action was temporary. The settlements have for some time been facts on the ground and Israel now demands that some of them be annexed into Israel. It is reasonable to assume that, as in the case of the settlements, the separation barrier will become a permanent fact to support Israel's future claim to annex territories.