23 January 2004
On Gaza, the Fence, Public Poll, Boston demonstration, Winnipeg lecture, George Soros, Mazal Tov and Congratulations + Misc
Dear friends and colleagues,
Following my last communications on Gaza First, I received a message from Yossi Sarid MK, the head of my party, Meretz (the Civil Rights Party), saying that Meretz had raised the issue several time in the Knesset, without much success. Yossi reassured me that they will keep trying and pushing the issue forward. Unfortunately, Meretz is now in the opposition. Not for very long, I hope.
On the same day of my last communication, two more soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip. They are there to protect settlers, most of whom wish to leave if given a decent alternative, all with no future there. This insanity needs to stop, the sooner the better!
On January 5, 2004, Akiva Eldar of Haaretz published an article saying that in spite of generous benefits designed to tempt Israelis seeking a house with a garden, 36 years of settlement have brought the ratio of Jews to Palestinians in the West Bank to only 1:10 (in the Gaza Strip it's 1:200). The areas most attractive to about half of all the 220,000 Israelis living in the West Bank are the blocs of settlement nearest the Green Line, which are those with the greatest chance to be annexed in case of an exchange of lands.
According to numbers provided by Peace Now, at least two-thirds of the rest of the settlers are families that sought to improve their quality of life at the time, and now are having trouble selling their homes. Among these prisoners of settlement are thousands of non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox who solved their housing problems in Bnei Brak by moving to Immanuel. According to a study conducted in June 2003 by the Hopp Research Company, headed by Dr. Micha Hopp (and facilitated by three professors from Tel Aviv University), 83 percent of all settlers are willing to leave the territories in exchange for compensation or alternative housing. Only 9 percent said that they might take illegal steps, including passive physical opposition, to prevent their evacuation. This is the "hard kernel," which includes no more than 5,000 adults. Only 1 percent, some 500 people, said they would go so far as to oppose evacuation violently.
The outposts in Samaria and in the Hebron mountains are populated by a handful of zealots, who are fully immersed in the teachings of racism and transfer. They have unleashed the fear of civil war on an entire people. Settlement leaders have learned to draft the primordial fear of war of Jew against Jew into service in order to cut off any chance of peace between Jews and Arabs. The fear of a "rupture in the people" prevented the Rabin government from removing the Kahanist invaders of Tel Rumeida in Hebron the morning after the massacre perpetrated by Dr. Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Today, with their representatives in power, the evacuation refuseniks throw "the will of the people" in the faces of those who refuse to serve in the territories and call them traitors.
Sami Michael, President of the Civil Right Movement in Israel, wrote a letter to each and every MK regarding the fence. Due to its importance I find it appropriate to quote it in full.
TRANSLATION 07 January 2004
13 Tevet 5764
To: Members of Knesset
Re: Route of the Separation Barrier
I am writing to you about the route of the separation barrier that is currently being built, and to warn you of its serious consequences.
The State of Israel is obligated to protect its citizens and preserve their wellbeing. Yet the means selected to achieve this goal must not indiscriminately and mortally violate basic human rights, including the rights to livelihood, health, movement, education, property ownership, and a minimally dignified human existence. It’s superfluous to point out that a population that has its rights denied in such a serious, indiscriminate and constant manner cannot be a “good neighbor”.
According to its current route, the barrier does not separate between Palestinians and Israelis, as its name implies and as could be understood from the security rationale put forth as the basis for its establishment, but rather between Palestinians themselves, and between Palestinians and their lands. The vast majority of the barrier’s route does not pass along the Green Line, but within the West Bank, annexing from the western side both Palestinian residents (17,000 Palestinian residents are expected to live between the barrier and the Green Line, in the “seam zone”) and agricultural land owned by Palestinians (16.6% of the West Bank area will be enclosed between the barrier and the State of Israel). This annexed area is the most fertile agricultural land in the West Bank, providing a significant portion of agricultural production for the West Bank, and containing many sources of water. In addition, thousands of residents are imprisoned in enclaves that the barrier itself creates, surrounding entire communities and disconnecting them from their environs. 56,000 inhabitants are imprisoned in enclaves created by the barrier – including 40,000 residents of the city of Qalqilya – and upon completion, the figure expected to be imprisoned in enclaves will reach close to 160,000 people.
Because of the route of the barrier, which passes through Palestinian living space, 47 gates have been established that are supposed to enable daily movement of farmers to their lands, students and teachers to their schools, businessmen and merchants to their places of work, and more. Furthermore, these gates are open at the most one hour a day at inconsistent hours. What’s more, all traffic beyond the barrier and any presence on the western side of the barrier (the “seam zone”) – even for someone who lives in the seam zone, which has been declared a “closed military area” – requires a permit from the army. As a result, freedom of movement for Palestinians, whose lives are now run against their will on both sides of the barrier, is drastically restricted.
This reality creates total disorder in the lives of the Palestinian civilian population living adjacent to the barrier, and prevents Palestinians from maintaining any semblance of a normal lifestyle. The barrier limits and sometimes prevents access of farmers to their lands, which are the source of their family’s livelihood, access of students and teachers to schools on the other side of the barrier, access of patients to health services, as well as the ability of Palestinians to maintain ongoing contact with their social, familial, economic and cultural environments. This is in addition to the direct violation of the rights of property ownership and the ability to earn a living from agriculture, as a result of the expropriation of lands for the barrier (actually a system of barriers, walls and channels with a width of dozens of meters, that at some points reaches 100 meters in breadth). According to data published by the Secretary General of the United Nations, due to the portion of the barrier that has been established to date, the residents of over 30 Palestinian communities have been separated from their regular health services, residents of 22 communities have been separated from their schools, residents of 8 communities have been disconnected from their sources of water, and the residents of 3 communities have been disconnected from the electrical grid. Because of this barrier, 25,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank have been added to the rolls of those requiring assistance in obtaining basic food items.
In Jerusalem, where the separation barrier is called “the Jerusalem envelope”, the situation is a bit different, but the results are the same: the route of the barrier coincides to a great degree, though not entirely, with the jurisdictional borders of Jerusalem. This border constitutes an administrative border that was established unilaterally, with no consideration for the geographic and social reality on the ground, which never reflected a natural border from the standpoint of the texture of life of the Palestinian population living in the Jerusalem area, due to the vibrant community, commercial, cultural and social life that exists on both sides of this border. Thus, for example, many residents of East Jerusalem were forced to move to its suburbs because of the dearth of housing and limitations on construction in East Jerusalem, but have kept their identification cards as residents of Jerusalem, while maintaining all their connections to East Jerusalem – studies, work, services, and family ties. Therefore, establishing a physical barrier along this border has similar implications to those mentioned above regarding the general barrier: severing Palestinians from their families, places of employment, educational institutions, hospitals and services. Here, also, the security justification is an unclear basis for the particular route of this barrier, which leaves thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the barrier.
Many public figures who have a security background share these claims. Thus, for example, Avraham Bendor-Shalom, former head of the GSS (“Haaretz” 28Nov03), claims not only that there is no security justification for the barrier, but also that “a barrier of this nature could increase terror and attacks”. “In order not to endanger the guards at the transit points, it will be necessary to conduct thorough checks, i.e., slowly. At each transit point there will be daily unrest and fits of rage, and it is clear that there will be attempts to attack, with dead and wounded.”
Most of the separation barrier has yet to be built, and it is not too late to stop construction of the next stages of the planned route. It is important to emphasize that as a human rights organization, ACRI does not express any opinion regarding the decision to build the separation barrier or regarding the idea of separation itself. ACRI stands in opposition to the plan to establish a separation barrier on the currently planned route. This plan mortally and unjustifiably violates the most basic human rights of the Palestinians, damage that is impossible to live with over time, and that in the end will also undermine the security of the residents of Israel.
We see the separation barrier that is being built as important and central to our work. We are available to provide additional details, to meet and to expand upon the issue.
For additional information: Daniela Bamberger-Enosh, Policy Advocacy Liaison, tel: 051-673570.
Gratitude to Dan Yakir for arranging the translation.
Sharon, it seems, is determined to continue with his plan of a two state solution: one as large as possible; the other as small as possible. Defence is a red herring that exploits the Palestinians. For some obscure reason he thinks that he would be allowed to do this without interruption. He continues to underestimate the Palestinians and world pressure. The Palestinians are not fool. There is no reason in the world for them to allow this to happen. They will continue to fight for a more just solution, and rightly so. Israel spends millions of dollars, at the expense of everything else – education, tourism, health, housing, transportation – in erecting the fence, only to see it going down in later time. What a shame.
I am still hoping that Sharon will one day surprise me. I always remember that he offered Yossi Sarid the no. 2 position in his newly formed party, Shlomzion. Yossi kindly declined the invitation. True, this was a while ago, but Sharon is arguably more of a pragmatist than many politicians I know.
A Public Poll
A recent public poll conducted at Tel Aviv University shows that given the ongoing difficulties in renewing the political negotiations, a clear majority of the Jewish public (59 percent) prefer a swift, unilateral separation by Israel from the Palestinians, with the other alternative being to work for an agreement with the Palestinians even if the process takes a long time (today only 29 percent favor that, and 12 percent have no clear preference). 50 percent are prepared to evacuate the Gaza settlements even in the context of a unilateral separation, but 30 percent are prepared to evacuate them only in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians (14 percent oppose evacuating them in any situation and 6 percent do not know). Thus, it emerges that 80 percent are prepared to evacuate all the Gaza settlements in the context of a peace agreement.
As for the West Bank settlements, only 29 percent are prepared to evacuate most of the settlements in the context of a unilateral separation, whereas 37 percent are prepared for such an evacuation in the framework of a peace agreement (27 percent oppose evacuating most of these settlements in any situation and 7 percent do not know). As for evacuating the remote and isolated settlements, 51 percent are already prepared for it even in a unilateral framework, 27 percent only in the framework of an agreement, 14 percent not in any situation, and 8 percent do not know.
A clear majority of the Jewish public (59 percent) prefer a swift, unilateral separation by Israel from the Palestinians. The broad support for separation apparently stems from the very widespread fear (73 percent) that if a solution to the conflict is not found in the near future and Israeli control of the territories continues, the Palestinians will eventually become a demographic majority west of the Jordan and a de facto "binational state" will emerge.
My family and I spent the last week of December 2003 in New England. It was nice to visit places like Gloucester, Ipswich, Manchester, Essex. If I cannot be in my second homeland, at least have a feel for England in the US. Rockport is also a pearl worth visiting. We then traveled to Boston and spent New Year Eve, like thousands of Bostonians, at the Boston Common. At the very entrance of the park there were some dozen demonstrators. What did they demonstrate about? Santa Clause not arriving on time? Commercialization of festivities? More fireworks? Free parking? Or maybe hunger in Africa? War in Iraq? No. Those people exploited the opportunity to protest against Israeli occupation, carrying signs like "Soldiers who kill children is a form of terrorism," "Israel: The New Apartheid State," "US give such and such dollars each day to Israel, at your expense," "US sponsors Israeli Apartheid and Terror," "Another Jew Against Occupation." What can I say? It did not warm my heart. As much as I am against occupation, and think it should not exist anywhere in the world, damaging Israel in such a way does not gain my sympathy. It saddened me.
My gratitude to Fran and Ed Lambeth for facilitating our trip, and to Mindy and Ian Noyes and Kathy and Fred Lawrence for their kind hospitality.
I just returned from Winnipeg where I was invited to deliver a few lectures, one of them concerned with the incitement campaign against Yitzhak Rabin, leading to his assassination. I called to exclude incitement from the protection of the Free Speech Principle. To my perfect surprise, during question time two people asked why I did not speak of Palestinian incitement against Jews, and why I am showing pictures of Jews hating Jews. It seems that the debate is becoming more and more polarized. I delivered this lecture before quite a few times in different parts of the world, and no one had ever asked me those questions. Everything is becoming politicized, and scrutiny is quick to appear if your views do not conform to a certain ideology. Some people are unable to separate between the relevant to the irrelevant, allowing their political views to shadow all discussion, and exerting pressure to exclude views they conceive "harmful" from the realm of opinions. This truly saddens me.
My gratitude is granted to Barney Sneiderman for his kind invitation, and to him, his family and colleagues for their nice hospitality.
I have completed reading George Soros's biography by Michael Kaufman (Knopf, 2002). Kaufman outlines Soros's life and achievements in detail, focusing especially on his philanthropy. What I find impressive about the man is not only his extraordinary generosity but also his imagination and creative thinking. Soros sent 200 photo copiers to Hungary to promote free expression and to fight censorship in 1984. He gave $100 million to connect every regional university in Russia to the Internet. Soros donated further $100 million to save Russian science from bankruptcy; established the Central European University; gave $50 million to help the Sarajevo citizens withstand the harsh siege during the Bosnian war; created the "Death in America" project to stimulate and promote awareness, discussion and exchange on death and dying; initiated generous support programs for South Africa, China, Eastern Europe, Albania, the former Soviet republics, and the city of Baltimore. To think that one man takes upon himself the role of a humanitarian state is truly amazing. We need more of his kind on this planet.
Mazal Tov and Congratulations
Congratulations to Irwin Cotler, who was recently nominated to Minister of Justice in Canada. I was truly delighted to hear about Irwin's nomination and I am certain he will promote justice and human rights in his country and elsewhere. Mazal tov and good luck.
Cass R. Sunstein, Why Societies Need Dissent? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).
Leonard Weinberg and Ami Pedhazur, Political Parties and Terrorist Groups (London: Routledge, 2003).
Stephen Newman (ed.), Constitutional Politics in Canada and the United States (NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) as part of their Constitutional Politics series.
Please consider ordering these books to your libraries.
Those wishing to alert readers of their new books are welcome to send me the pertinent information or, even better, send me the books!! I am never tired of reading good stuff. My gratitude is granted.
Howard Dean reminds me more and more of Bibi Netanyahu.
Radio talk show
Those living in the Baltimore area may like to know that on Sunday, January 25, between 8:20 and 9 a.m. (I know. It's early) I am invited to voice my political views on radio AM 1300.
The book, I was told, is very good. The film won't warm your heart; still you won't see many films better than this one. A perfect candidate for the Oscar. Kidman shines whenever she appears on the screen, and so is the film.
Shabbat Shalom. Have a beautiful weekend.
With my very best wishes,
My last communications are available on http://almagor.blogspot.com
Earlier posts at my home page: http://lib-stu.haifa.ac.il/staff/rcohen-Almagor