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Not-So-Silent Night

Israel's lack of interest in advancing a peace process




To understand what is happening today in Israel/Palestine, one must know that all the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, including occupied Palestinian territory, is ultimately controlled by Israel. All internal travel and travel to and from the country, including the occupied West Bank, is controlled by Israel, and the exit from Gaza to Egypt is extremely limited due to Israeli and American pressure. All trade is controlled by the Israelis. And Israel maintains this control with the fifth most powerful military in the world.

The Green Line, marking the borders between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, is widely recognized by the international community as a starting point for any two-state peace agreement. Yet Israel continues to expand beyond the Green Line, making peace impossible.

The expansion is achieved by Israel in several ways. One method is the construction of large housing developments, or settlements, and the infrastructure associated with them. These are Jewish settlements within Palestinian territory. Only Jews can live in these homes.

Many members of the Israeli Knesset make no apology for such discrimination. In fact, one group of far-right ministers embraced the segregation in a recent letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu: "We, Likud ministers and Knesset faction members," it stated, "express our opposition to the building freeze in the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria."

But religion not only determines which homes are available to a family; it also limits access to roads connecting them. A Palestinian behind the Green Line in Palestinian territory, whose community may have farmed this land for centuries, is forbidden to drive on the new roads. Any Jew from around the world, however, is encouraged to emigrate there, and often is paid by the Israeli government to do so.

Expansion is also achieved when Jewish settlers use biased courts to evict Palestinians from their homes in established Arab neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem. Here again, any Jew is welcomed by Israel to engage in this kind of activity and can do so with the full protection of the Israeli military. Hundreds of soldiers will come to observe a handful of young Jewish fundamentalists evict Palestinians, remove their belongings and begin to occupy the residence.

I recently visited the al-Kurd family in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. The family had lived in their home there for over 50 years. They have a deed issued from Jordan proving ownership of the property. But Israeli courts would not recognize the deed, and months ago armed young American and Israeli fundamentalist civilians physically evicted the family, including the 87-year-old great grandmother and her young great grandchildren. Israel sent soldiers there to protect the settlers as they removed the family and the furniture from the home in the early morning hours. Unfortunately, this has been going on for decades and the story is not unique to Palestinians throughout the West Bank.

I also recently spent time in Hebron, where the military keeps busy protecting approximately 1,100 settlers in a city of approximately 100,000. In Hebron's Old City, the ancient streets house a shrinking number of Palestinian businesses. Many of them have been closed by the military, the doors welded shut. The upper stories of the streets have been taken over by settlers who taunt and insult their neighbors. Metal fencing has been installed overhead to protect pedestrians from trash and debris thrown by Jewish settlers onto the streets and pedestrians below. These settlers are armed and all the while vigorously protected by young Israeli soldiers.

When Israel speaks of security, it has an expansive viewpoint. It isn't merely referring to protecting itself from attacks on Israel proper, but about protecting settlers who chose to live in Palestinian territory for the purpose of expanding Israel and driving Palestinians from their land. Many regard such ethnic cleansing as divinely ordained. This perverse outlook perpetuates the conflict.

A meaningful peace process would quickly require a halt to these cruel and illegal activities. Israel must either allow all Palestinians between the river and sea to have equal rights and a vote in elections, or withdraw from the occupied territories in order to establish a viable Palestinian state with control over its own seaport, airports and borders. Tragically, Israel is not willing to do either.

Deppen Webber is a human rights advocate living in Rohnert Park. He is an active member of the NorCal International Solidarity Movement, the Free Palestine Movement and the North Bay Coalition for Palestine Support at the Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County.

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