Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A shift in elite opinion?

I read a rather bizarre article in the NYT this morning regarding illegal Israel annexations of the West Bank. It was strange in many different ways. For one thing the New York Times never reports this time of thing, although it was not correctly reported anyway. The context of the illegality of Israeli colonies on the West Bank is that they are illegal under Israeli law. Because in the American media, international law is unheard of, no matter what the subject. Even Israeli papers widely discuss things in the context of international law. For example Israel is building a massive wall in the West Bank they say is for security reasons to block suicide bombers. Except, the wall isnt along the Israeli/West Bank border. It goes INSIDE the west bank, twists and curves, trapping thousands and thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side. Like if the US built a security wall to block Mexicans from coming in, but we built the wall turned into Mexico and wrapped around Mexican cities, putting them on OUR side. It just doesnt make sense. Its widely acknowledged in the Israeli and world press that this is obviously an annexation scheme. Thats not mentioned in American media. The World Court ruled it illegal because its not ON the border, reported in Israeli and world press, not American. Finally the Israeli Supreme Court ruled it illegal (and ordered the route somewhat adjusted), also reported everywhere but the American media. So this article today in the NYT, while very much misreported, is still suprising that its reported. I'll give a brief summary and the context.

It starts off with "An Israeli advocacy group, using maps and figures leaked from inside the government, says that 39 percent of the land held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians." First, applause for Peace Now, one of many Israeli advocacy groups (Gush Shalom, Jews for Peace) that protest government policies in the Palestinian Territories. They are almost entirely ignored in American media but their newsletters are free to everyone and highly informative.

Second, a correction. The problem, according to the NYT, is that 39% of land Israeli settlements on the West Bank is owned by Palestinians, which (as the article says) is illegal. What it does not say is that its illegal under Israeli law. What Peace Now has been saying for a long time, and what is reported everywhere in the world and something everyone except Americans know, is that 100% of the land Israeli "settlements" occupy is illegal under international law. You cannot confiscate land and build on it. The "settlements" are illegal colonies. They are not only illegal under international law but the daily expansion of them is illegal under the "Road Map".

Here is one of the most interesting parts in the article:

"Mr. Olmert says Israel will keep some 10 percent of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, possibly in a swap for land elsewhere. The area Israel intends to keep is roughly marked by the route of the unfinished separation barrier, which cuts through the West Bank and is intended, Israel says, to stop suicide bombers. Mr. Olmert, however, describes it as a putative border."
Lets take a closer look. "Mr. Olmert says Israel will keep some 10 percent of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, possibly in a swap for land elsewhere." The idea of Israel taking part of the West Bank in exchange for a land swap elsewhere has been widely discussed by Israelis and Palestinians. There were intense negotiations at Taba in 2000-01 which led to an unofficial delegation of high ranking Israelis and Palestinians coming up with the "Geneva Accords" that propose such a solution, which is widely accepted by most of the world, which was widely reported everywhere, except, of course, for the US. But the far-right "Kadima" party (which everyone knows is really Likud) does not want to negotiate with the Palestnians and Mr Olmert would prefer to unilaterally draw the final borders. Which is why the United States and Israel are involved in a sick collective punishment of Gaza currently. Gaza, for those who dont know, is right now cut off from the world by land, air and sea. The electricity grid has been out of order since it was bombed in June, meaning clean water is also a rareity. The United States effectively got the world to cut off all financial aid so the Gazan people are not only starving, but they have no government services (ie garbage collection.) And while the Gaza strip is only 15 miles long (one of the most densely populated areas in the world) the Israeli air force feels the need to fly super-sonic jets over the area every night, causing massive sonic booms at 2am, smashing windows and traumatizing children. It is important to mention that there are still terrorist groups in Gaza that have been able to fire rockets into civilian areas of Israel . But I personally dont believe 1.5 million Palestinian civilians should be punished for it (collective punishment is also illegal under international law.)
3. "The area Israel intends to keep is roughly marked by the route of the unfinished separation barrier, which cuts through the West Bank and is intended, Israel says, to stop suicide bombers. Mr. Olmert, however, describes it as a putative border. " You have to be kidding me. The "separation barier" (a massive wall) roughly marks the land Israel intends to keep but is intended to stop suicide bombers? What WHAT a coicidence that the massive wall which goes into the west bank, to stop suicide bombers, also demarcates the future border of Israel. What a concidence thats so weird. Only the NYT
3. "Nearly 80,000 Jews live in settlements beyond the route of the barrier, but some 180,000 live in settlements within the barrier, while another 200,000 live in East Jerusalem." OK, and what about the Palestinians? 12,000 are trapped on the ISRAELI side because the wall (its commonly known as the apartheid wall) goes into the west bank. In 2004 a report was done to research the effects the wall had on these Palestinians, "researched and written by a team of experts under the direction of the Local Aid Coordination Committee’s (LACC) Humanitarian and Emergency Policy Group, which includes the European Union, Norway, the United States, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and the World Bank."
The report concluded "When completed, as many as approximately 12,000 Palestinians could be left on the western, Israel-facing side of the wall, cut-off from their land, workplaces and essential social services...In addition, the Government of Israel states that the construction of the wall is a temporary measure but its extent, nature and cost and, in particular its location inside the West Bank and east of the Green Line suggest to Palestinians that the project has more permanent implications...The report notes that the 1995 Interim Agreement between the two sides states that neither party “will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations” and that “the integrity and status” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip “will be preserved during the interim period.” It adds that Israel argues that the wall is a temporary measure and therefore compatible with the Agreement." Notice how none of this is mentioned in the NYT article.
Lastly the NYT provides a map of the West Bank showing scattered illegal Israeli settlements throughout the land (it seems to me a lot are missing too). It fails to mention one crucial aspect of this. While these settlements are scattered all throughout the west bank, they are all actually connected. Special Israeli Only roads and highways connect every single one of them. If a Palestinian wishes to cross one of them to say, go to the hospital, they must wait at a checkpoint, which arnt always open, and which may have an hours long wait. This is why people refer to the "Bantustanization" of the West Bank (Bantustans were apartheid villages in South Africa).
But in the end its nice the NYT published this article at all, and cheers to the efforts of the Israeli Peace Groups who put this on the table. Hopefully a resolution will come soon, although I sincerely doubt it will come with George Bush and Ehud Olmert in power. But who knows, stranger things have happened.

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