Friday, February 2, 2007
By Matthew Taylor
It is heartening to learn that many readers of the Daily Planet understand the reality of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Others say they plan to approach Jimmy Carter’s new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, with an open and inquisitive mind. Below, I respond to Dan Spitzer’s and Rachel Neuwirth’s criticisms of my Jan. 9th op-ed on the subject.
Mr. Spitzer’s letter is littered with ad hominem attacks, in which he insinuates that I am not one of “the sharpest nails in the shed,” that I smoke opiates, and that former President Carter is a “Peanut Brain.” I fail to see how such comments are useful or relevant.
Mr. Spitzer’s letter does not respond in any substantive measure to the central thesis of both Mr. Carter’s book, and my op-ed: that “the primary obstacle to peace is Israel's unending colonial project.”
The closest Mr. Spitzer comes to a response is his inaccurate assertion that I “parrot Palestinian propaganda without any substantiation.” Perhaps Mr. Spitzer might choose to re-read my op-ed, in which I offer a specific, personally witnessed instance of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. I saw Israel’s army bulldoze a Palestinian man’s home for one reason: in order to build a road only Israeli colonizers are allowed to access. In one fell swoop, this action combines the crimes of land theft (colonization) with forced dislocation of the inhabitants (ethnic cleansing) and the building of Jewish-only public works projects (Apartheid).
Such home demolitions are systemic Israeli policy, and are extensively documented by Israeli watchdogs such as Rabbis for Human Rights (http://rhr.israel.net). Home demolitions are a key part of the stated plan of many Israeli political leaders past and present: to confiscate as much of the West Bank as they can get away with.
Here’s what Arik Asherman of Rabbis for Human Rights had to say about a recent such home demolition in December of 2006:
“Little Yousef is again homeless, and shortly his sister will again come home from school to discover that the home she left in the morning is now rubble…. This time the family was all alone with their tears. I was not there to stand in front of the bulldozers and nobody from the RHR staff was able to get through the cordon of border police protecting the demolition…. I have promised Ahmed Musa Dari that this is not the end. We will not abandon him and his family. If we simply express our anger, the Mayor [of Jerusalem] will still have succeeded and will continue to harden his heart. He will have been mistaken if you leave the message not only that you are outraged but that you are contributing to the rebuilding of 10 homes and demanding that your country’s officials take action.”
Asherman requests letters and phone calls to the mayor of Jerusalem, and donations to help rebuild homes. Visit the RHR website for more information at: http://rhr.israel.net/darkness-has-struck-again
Other instances of Israel’s ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and colonization project in the West Bank have been documented ad nauseam by Israeli human rights organizations such as B’Tselem (www.btselem.org) and Machsom (“Movement Barrier”) Watch (www.machsomwatch.org). To find out more about the Palestinian women who have given “birth” to stillborn babies at movement barriers because they are denied the ability to travel to a hospital, simply visit B’Tselem’s website, listed above, and type in the search terms: Palestinian pregnant checkpoint. Similarly, B’Tselem reports that “The shortage of drinking water [for Palestinians] can cause dehydration and the inability to maintain proper hygiene and thus lead to illness,” whereas Israelis have enough to fill swimming pools.
To clarify: according to Carter, Apartheid applies only to Israel’s policies in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories: East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza Strip. However, for at least some Palestinians in pre-1967 Israel, the term is quite relevant. A significant number of Palestinian villages inside Israel are “unrecognized” and are officially denied “any basic services such as running water, electricity, proper education and health services and access roads—constituting a gross violation of human rights.” (See the “Association of 40” at www.assoc40.org.) They don’t even appear on a map. Further, Bedouins have been subjected to the worst forms of Israeli oppression, including on Jan. 9 of this year the destruction of an entire Bedouin village, Tawil Abu Jarwal in the Negev, documented by the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (www.icahd.org).
Mr. Spitzer makes a number of inaccurate claims, including that I cite a “fabricated quote.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statement imploring the colonizers to “grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements” appears in Carter’s book—Agence France Presse is the source. It is a matter of extensive public record that Sharon was a fervent supporter of Israel’s illegal colonies during his entire career.
Mr. Spitzer refers to Israel’s wall, which unilaterally steals Palestinian land. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the wall is illegal and must be dismantled. If its purpose were Israel’s security, it would be built on the 1967 border—but it cuts deep into the West Bank and has permitted, for example, Mod’in Illit to expand at a furious pace on stolen Palestinian farmland.
Mr. Spitzer’s claim that the West Bank and Gaza are “Palestinian ruled” are patently false. Both are under a nearly 40-year-old Israeli military occupation! The Palestinian Authority cannot possibly “rule” (or even govern) a land over which it has no real sovereignty. Gaza is now the world’s largest open-air prison, and the Israeli air force bombs civilian population centers at will, killing 200 civilians in November 2006 alone, half women and children. The West Bank is being sliced up into territorially discontiguous “Bantustans,” a Swiss cheese surrounded by a sea of illegal Israeli colonies.
Mr. Spitzer attempts to change the subject and avoid dealing with the realities of Israel’s systematic dispossession of the Palestinian people by raising the specter of the election of Hamas, a movement that arose in 1988 as a response to 21 years of illegal occupation and colonization. While Hamas’ tactics are deplorable, they are also comprehensible as a desperate and misguided response to oppression. Mr. Spitzer’s comments are a misleading “blame the victim” approach. Statements by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya indicate that Hamas appears inclined to recognize Israel in exchange for a full withdrawl to the 1967 borders and a two-state resolution to the conflict.
To backtrack for a moment, it would undoubtedly have been best for all involved parties had Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon listened to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ repeated pleas following Abbas’ election in January of 2005 to meet and negotiate a final status agreement. However, Sharon refused to do so because his intention was not to achieve a just peace, but to steal as much West Bank land as he could—which is precisely what he did. By refusing to meet with Abbas, Israel helped guarantee the election of Hamas a year later, the outcome it claims it least desired. But does that give Israel the political cover it needs to further ignore Abbas as a partner for peace and steal more land?
In short, Israel has chosen—and continues to choose—colonization instead of peace. Uri Avnery’s analysis at Gush Shalom (www.gush-shalom.org) is well worth a read.
One development that offers tremendous hope is Combatants for Peace, a group of former Israeli and Palestinian warriors who have set down their guns and are working together to end the occupation and all forms of violence. Read about their movement at www.combatantsforpeace.org and in the latest issue of PeacePower, available online at www.calpeacepower.org.
Perhaps Mr. Spitzer, and interested readers, might wish to spend time researching the matter first-hand by visiting both Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank. For American Jews, Birthright Unplugged is a Jewish-led organization that offers guided tours of the West Bank (www.birthrightunplugged.org). Or visit Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, a Palestinian nonviolent activism organization that offers opportunities to live with Palestinian families (www.holylandtrust.org). In film, John Pilger’s insightful documentary “Palestine is Still the Issue” is now available online at www.youtube.com.
I find Rachel Neuwirth’s commentary quite unsettling. She is the President of Middle East Solutions, which proposes a “win-win peaceful outcome” to the conflict: the ethnic cleansing (“resettlement”) of Palestinians from historical Palestine, and their removal to a new “Palestinian state” in Saudi Arabia. This “Plan for Arab-Israeli Reconciliation,” as she puts it, is outlined at www.middleeastsolutions.com.
Ms. Neuwirth’s claim that I did not engage “in the slightest effort at fact finding” is obviously false—as mentioned, I have seen Israel’s Apartheid activities with my own eyes. Neuwirth changes the subject from Israel’s current oppression of Palestinians (the main point of Carter’s book) to interpretations of a colonial document issued ninety years ago. She neglects to mention that the document in question specifically states: “Nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Her assertion that the entirety of Palestine “was exclusively allocated to the Jewish nation by international law” could not be more inaccurate—the mandate called for a “homeland” for the Jewish people, but not one that was “exclusive” (or one that would involve the expulsion or mistreatment of the current population).
Finally, Mr. Spitzer and Ms. Neuwirth both attack UC Berkeley’s Peace and Conflict Studies program (PACS). Mr. Spitzer claims that it is “laughed at” by “most responsible UCB professors.” I’m not sure which UCB professors he has spoken to, or what his criteria is for determining whether or not a professor is “responsible,” but I perceive our program to be held in extremely high esteem. Students have initiated several well-regarded projects recently, including PeacePower, a nominee for UTNE Reader’s “Best New Publication of 2006,” and the Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center (http://conflict.berkeley.edu), a student-led program that addresses student conflict on campus. I am a co-founder of both.
PACS has been described as a “mission major,” akin to the Department of Public Health. Just as Public Health seeks to eradicate all forms of disease, PACS seeks to eradicate all forms of violence. As Susan Collin Marks of Search for Common Ground says, “violent conflict destroys everything.” Someday, Palestinian children and Israeli children will grow up together, love each other, and be sisters and brothers together. It is up to us to start a nonviolent movement to make that possible, is it not? As Yonatan Shapira of Combatants for Peace has said, we must liberate Palestinians from Israel’s occupation, and free Israel from its role as an occupier.
Matthew Taylor is a fifth-year Peace and Conflict Studies student at UC Berkeley, editor of PeacePower magazine (www.calpeacepower.org), and Jewish.