Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Village on the Line

Here's the second part of Alex Stein's story on the Palestinian village of Al Nue'man and what Israel's "security wall" is doing to it. Read it. Spread the word.

We have been reduced to yelling away. The current administration’s plans for the Occupied Territories are now clear; it is extraordinary that anyone deigns to paint them in a different light. Yet we still hear it said that the Israeli government is only waiting for the Palestinians to demonstrate its commitment to compromise, and it will then eagerly seize the opportunity to fairly bring the conflict to an end. To those who still cherish this myth, I ask only that you wander over the green line, without the military accompanying you, where you will be able to see very clearly exactly what is going on. Despite Olmert’s claims to the contrary, the annexation programme (otherwise known as disengagement), continues with haste. Al Nue’man is that plan in microcosm.

The Al-Nue’man story is as follows: In 1967 the village was annexed to Jerusalem, and thus to Israel. The village’s residents, however, were listed in the census of that year as residents of Umm al-Tala, which was not annexed. As a result, the municipality did not provide services, collect taxes or enforce building codes. The villages made only cursory efforts to resolve this anomalous situation, such as collectively applying to the Supreme Court for permanent residence. In 1992, bureaucracy caught up with the village. Building of any kind was prohibited. The children were made to leave their neighbouring school of Umm Tuba, which belonged to the Jerusalem municipality.

Where there is tragedy, farce is never far behind. And so it proved. In 1993, as Oslo promised peace, closures began in the Occupied Territories. Special permits were required for Palestinians seeking to enter Israel from the territories. It was now illegal - according to Israeli law - for the residents of Al-Nu’eman to live in their own homes. This theory was occasionally matched in practice – in 2003 the men of the village were occasionally arrested and charged with illegal presence in Israel. The municipality charges heavy fines to the residents for building their homes, two of which have been demolished. Further demolitions are pending. There are often roadblocks on the road to Umm Tuba and Jerusalem. With the construction of the wall, the road to Bethlehem is also now off-limits. The residents of Al-Nue’man are hemmed in from both sides.

The end-game is now in sight. Israeli plans for Al-Nue’man are clear. In March 2003, a representative from the government arrived at the village. He told residents the decision had been taken to ‘clear’ the village of its residents. He offered financial compensation to those who were willing to leave immediately. Those who stay, he said, ‘will be like a tree without water’. The people of Al-Nue’man are to be cleared to make way for Har Homa D, and the new Jerusalem ring-road. Needless to say, these projects are due to take place on land which has been occupied by Israel in contradiction of all international legal norms and morals. This is theft, taking place under the guise of security.

It is astounding that the self-defence myth is still peddled. To repeat for the umpteenth time, the barrier represents a clear attempt to annex valuable land, particularly areas containing water resources, under the legitimate pretext of security. This is self-evident. All one needs to do is look at a map or take a walk around the outskirts of Jerusalem. It defies belief that anyone still believes otherwise. Aside from the politics, Har Homa is a horrific structure, a place people where will only live because it’s dirt cheap. The idea that the twenty two houses of Al-Nue’man will be knocked down to build Har Homa D, as well as a ring-road, is deeply distressing. It reminds me of the eco-wars in 1990’s Britain, except that those were consisted of trees, not people, being made to make way for roads.

And yes, it is only twenty two homes. If this was the only act of dispossession that Israel was undertaking, maybe that would be a tolerable price to pay. But this process is being repeated all over the West Bank, ad infinitum. In the same week that Israeli officials talked up the road-map as the only game in town, they were happily contravening its requirements. The text clearly states that, during Phase One, “Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report.” And, to clear up any ambiguity, the Mitchell Report states that “The Government of Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements.”

Last week, at the same time as Israel was declaring its commitment to the road-map, it was announcing its intention to build 690 apartments in Beitar Ilit and Ma’aleh Adumim. One of the pretexts that is often offered in justification of Israel’s road-map transgressions is the Palestinian failure to dismantle terrorist organisations, which is also required by the text. This failure is also despicable. But the idea that it somehow legitimises Israel’s breaking of the road-map’s provisions is laughable. The requirements of the Israeli and Palestinian governments, according to Phase One, are not chronologically dependent. That is to say, both parties are obligated to keep to its demands irrespective of the behaviour of the other side.

If Israel was really interested in peace, it would stop all settlement construction, and make a big deal of it. It would say to the world – “look, we’ve stopped expanding settlements, and we are waiting for the Palestinians to stop attacking us in order to make progress.” Such a posture would attract widespread sympathy. Instead, my government continues to rob, plunder and destroy, all under the pretext of saving my life. When will enough be enough? Is there any hope that the left can muster enough force to save the country from itself?

The prospects are slim to none. There were only six Israelis on the tour of Al-Nue’man. While only twenty minutes from where I write these words, it is a world away. The residents of Tekoa eagerly await the construction of the ‘Lieberman Road’, which will speed their transit to Jerusalem. The government knows that the homes of Har Homa D will be too cheap for the country’s poor to resist. The twenty two homes of Al-Nue’man will truly be wiped off the map. It will be another nail in the coffin of Israeli-Arab rapprochement, and more evidence of the injustice that has so often permeated the Zionist enterprise. For those of us who will argue to the death that this injustice has never been inherent to the project, the task gets harder by the day.

Read the first part here.

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