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Radical Settler Terrorism

Radical Settler Terrorism

In a week which marks the return to school for Israeli children, three 12-13 year olds stood accused in an Israeli courtroom, their pixellated faces appearing on the front of this morning’s national papers. Their crime, the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi in the West Bank – an incident that left six Palestinians injured. Their friends joined them in the court, interrupting proceedings with signs of support shouting “Be strong,” and “We’ll blow them apart.”

This attack is the latest in growing trend of violent attacks by radical Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Today I catched a podcast from the Council on Foreign Relations titled, “Radical Settler Terrorism”, which ties in with an article published in this month’s Foreign Affairs by Daniel Byman and Natan Sachs, “The Rise of Settler Terrorism: The West Bank’s Others Violent Extremist” – both worth the listen/read.

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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 

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Christmastime in the Holy Land.

Spending so many years abroad I have gotten used to alternative Christmases. Spending it in Israel is particularly interesting.

Although a lot people in Israel do celebrate Christmas – mainly Arab-Christians, Russian immigrants and other overseas migrants – the majority of Israelis do not celebrate Christmas. Generally in across Israel Christmas can pass you by without a Christmas tree or a Santa Claus in sight or hearing a ‘festive’ tune over the radio.

This is to expected as 92% of the population is either Jewish (76%) or Muslim (12%). But with Bethlehem, the focal point of Christmas celebrations, just down the road it is still perplexing how little attention Christmas celebration receives, at least in the parts of Israel I find myself in.

Honestly, I’m fine missing out on Christmas every once in a while. If nothing else it makes it all the more special when I do get to celebrate it a home – seemingly every four years now á la the Summer Olympics. As with previous years we happily make do with our small plastic Christmas tree, a few presents flown in from Denmark, and online access to an endless array of Christmas songs. And as in previous years Christmas Eve is topped off by attending midnight mass at the St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church.

Our Modest Christmas Tree

Initially it had been my plan to visit Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. I have been their once before in the days leading up to Christmas but never on the actual evening itself. But as Christmas Eve closed in, the temperature dropped and the heavens opened (lashing much-needed rain over the Judean Hills) I think I might have made the right choice…

Of course visiting Bethlehem, for all it’s allure, especially around Christmas retains very little of the idyllic biblical imagery we probably can all remember from our religious lessons and nativity plays. Once a small village surrounded by open pasture, modern-day Bethlehem is now a concrete city surrounded by the trappings of modern-day occupation and  security paranoia: 8 meter high concrete walls, barbed wire, observation posts, automated sensing devices and military check points. Bethlehem anno 2011 feels nothing like the city of hope and peace eulogized in countless Christmas carols and hymns.

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Back inside the warming confines of St.Andrew’s church the Scottish Minister tip-toed diplomatically around this contradiction. Half the congregation consisted of Jewish Israelis attending the service out of curiosity. So this was probably not the time or place to moralize one way or the other. Instead, and carefully introduced between hymns, the messages of hope and peace associated with Christmas were juxtaposed with the reality that makes Bethlehem nowadays just as well-known as a symbol of injustice and violence in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it is for its role in Christianity. He talked of the shared value of peace among people in the Holy Land, but how the definition of peace naturally varies between the powerful and the powerless. Whereas the powerful define peace by the simple absence of disquiet, the powerless define peace in realization of justice. So while the (powerful) Israelis enjoy a relative level of peace unprecedented in recent decades, the (powerless) Palestinians still live without the peace, justice and statehood they deserve.

It all adds up to a dangerous status quo that cannot and should not last… Who knows what 2012 will bring.

 

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Banging Your Head Against ‘The Wall’

Banging Your Head Against ‘The Wall’

This Wednesday morning I found myself on the Palestinian side of the Qalandiya check-point staring out across a section of Israeli-West Bank separation barrier. I know relatively very little of the Palestinian West Bank but I am sure that there are few places as bleak and depressing – especially on an uncharacteristically dark, grey and cold winter’s afternoon. It’s at moments like this where you can’t help but feel disheartened that all attempts to change the status quo and the occupation have been seemingly futile and ineffective. Where to go from here…?

Thankfully the rest of the day in nearby Ramallah was more uplifting as we spent the morning finalising the work plan of a € 220,000 Palestinian business project (improving export capacities) with PalTrade, the Palestinian Trade Center. It might not change the situation much, but at least it’s something…

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Meeting the President

President Shimon Peres made a short visit to the Peres Center to toast in the Jewish New Year and meet employees at the Center he founded. Whatever your opinions of him are, it was still a special day to see him in the flesh, shake his hand and have my photograph taken with him.

I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the founder of the organisation I am interning with make an appearance for one of the Jewish calendar’s biggest celebrations, Jewish New Year (we’re now in the year 5772). Asking around the office though it seems his appearances at the Center are few and far between nowadays.

Shimon Peres and The Peres Center

At the ripe old age of 88 and with plenty of official duties to carry out as the President of Israel it’s understandable that he’s no longer deeply involved in the Center’s work. Cynics might argue that it’s no longer politically rewarding for him to be associated with projects aimed at bridging the Israeli-Palestinian divide. A far cry from the days when the Peres Center was founded in 1996 when prospects for peace were as high as they have ever been: the Oslo Accords, a peace treaty with Jordan and Shimon Peres with the political capital of a Nobel Peace Prize. How times have changed…

Although it’s undeniable Peres in his times as Prime Minister and in government was tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine as much as any other Israeli leader he is now seen, at home and abroad, as the ‘moderate’ Israeli face – in stark contrast to the hawkish and right-wing traits of the current Netanyahu government.

So although his involvement in the Center is now minimal his name in the organisation’s title is a priceless asset when it comes to opening doors and attracting funding, here in Israel and abroad.

A Political Leader, or a Human Wax Statue?

After an initial tour of the premises, a few brief speeches and the celebratory toast it was time for him to be wheeled off to his next assignment. In an tortuously slow escape for the exit, row after row of employees and assorted family members gathered around him, in hope of catching a single photo alongside the old man.

Okay so I was as guilty as anyone for trying to get a photograph next to him but I couldn’t help but feel slightly awkward about it all. After decades of highly influential political life it seems his role in Israeli public life is to act as a human wax statue for people to take their photographs with. Has it come to this? And on the occasions that Netanyahu ships him off abroad things aren’t much better. His role – to placate foreign leaders with conciliatory views and assurances that we all know, Peres included, Netanyahu has no intention of ever keeping.

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Internship at the Peres Center

 

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50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State

Last week, the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum launched a new campaign: “50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State” Their aim: to garner Israeli public support for the ongoing Palestinian UN bid for statehood and the 2-state solution. After a summer of energized activism on social issues (Israeli social justice protests), unseen in modern Israeli history, it’s time for the country to re-engage with Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State

We Already Live in 2-States

Okay, so it’s a hard sell. Israeli society has become so detached from the Palestinian issue that it’s a tough to ask getting the average Israeli to proactively engage with the issue.  With the social justice campaign the average Israeli didn’t need an NGO manifesto to realize that they were suffering – the growing inequalities in Israeli society are easily visible.  But for most Israelis, the Palestinian issue is a distant one that has little or no influence on their daily lives. For them, even though they might not admit to it, the partition between Israel and the West Bank & Gaza (physically and mentally) is so stark that it’s almost as if we live in two separate states. Unfortunately it’s only the Israeli side that can enjoy the freedoms that go hand-in-hand with being a fully sovereign and independent state,

For this reason the campaign has produced a list of 50 reasons why a 2-state solution is worth fighting for; not only as means to end the conflict  but also – in my opinion – to highlight how the more popular fight, the struggle for social justice in Israel, is both unachievable and unsustainable without the succesful creation of a Palestinian state.

Don’t Lobby at the UN; Lobby the Israeli Public

Re-hashing the 101 arguments for and against the Palestinian UN bid is pointless. Everyone knows that once the dust settles and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders return home, with or without some form of UN recognition, the facts on the ground will remain much the same. Of course gaining the support of the international community will provide the Palestinians with added leverage in future negotiations, but the UN decision is essentially a side-show, a distraction. Why are we getting worked up over whether far-away countries like Gabon or Colombia vote for or against Palestine? The real decision-makers, the parties all proponents of the 2-state solution should be lobbying intensively are not hidden away in the bowels of the UN, but right here, down on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and up and down this fraught land. Only an Israeli public convinced of the benefits of a 2-state solution can truly grant Palestinians the state they legitimately demand – any amount of international pressure and isolation will do little to change the current inflexible Israeli position.

Of course trying to convince the Israeli public to support a 2-state solution is a different matter entirely. Whilst polls indicate that a majority of Israelis are willing to accept some form of 2-state solution getting any percentage of this majority to demand of their government an end the occupation has failed – hence the ability of the Netanyahu government to continue, with ease, the policy of maintaining the status quo.

It’s for this reason that campaigns such as the “50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State” are so important.

The Reasons:

Here are just some of the reasons – the full list can be found here: 50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State). They also have a Facebook page.

The Israeli Peace NGO Forum is launching a campaign in support of Palestinian statehood leading up to the Palestinian Authority’s request for recognition in the UN General Assembly, planned for September 20th 2011.

3. We will be available to nurture social solidarity and rehabilitate Israeli society.

5. The establishment of a Palestinian state will open the door for all of Arab world to recognize Israeland implement the decision of 22 Arab League member states to normalize relations with Israel.

9. The establishment of a Palestinian state will end the occupation that corrupts us and harms Israel’s strength.

11. The Palestinian state will allow a dramatic improvement in relations between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, allowing us to engage in processes that will bring equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

14. Establishing an agreed upon Palestinian state will silence those who are using the Palestinians as a reason for war and boycotts against us.

19. In Tel Aviv, Ramallah,Cairo and Damascus a young, secular, technological generation is growing, that believes in its own power to affect change and despises governments’ falsely injected fears.

21. Only a Palestinian state can prevent us from becoming the next apartheid state.

26. Establishing a Palestinian state is an act of justice. Palestinians are a people and deserve a state.

31. The two-state solution is supported by both Israelis and Palestinians in all surveys in recent years.

32. It will create great economic opportunities for Israelis and the entire Middle East that do not exist today because of the conflict.

40. If South Sudan can have a state, why not Palestine?

42. Because you can not demand rights for Israelis and not recognize Palestinians’ right to a state.

46. We will finally live in a democratic moral country which respects its minorities with equal rights.

48. Because a situation of military occupation and the ‘settlers’ state can not continue forever, it endangers us, and does not correlate with universal humanistic Jewish values.

50. Because it is the only viable solution, and you know it.

 

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The Peres Center for Peace:The start of a new experience…

As many of you may well know I’ve started a 4-month internship at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. Founded by former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, the organisation attempts to encourage socio-economic cooperation and development between Israelis and Palestinians. I am working in the Business & Economics Department which at the moment is working on business-to-business cooperation projects across the divide as well as economic academic research and advocacy based on the principles of a 2-state solution – goals and projects which can seem entirely out-of-place in the current environment where reaching out to “the other” is often deemed a highly contentious act in itself.

It’s been a tough old first week, not least getting used to the 2 ½ hour commute between our home and their offices magically located on the seafront in Jaffa (the Arab part of Tel Aviv). Thankfully the work has been challenging and far from the menial administrative tasks you fear you might end up doing as intern. A mixture of editing, translating, writing newspaper opinion pieces, attending budgets meeting with the EU, as well as the odd business lunch with Israeli and Palestinian academics (discussing water rights in the West Bank) in a swanky East Jerusalem hotel thrown in for good measure – all of which has made the first week an interesting one.

Hopefully I’ll have some good stories and experiences to tell over the coming months. Until then I leave you with this rapidly re-written op-ed piece I was assigned to draft for two academics who are publishing a paper on the upcoming UN bid by the Palestinians. It’s basically about the economic potential of Palestine and the dire economic consequences that it would continue to face should meaningful negotiations remain….well non-existent. It’s a hard task translating a 50-page economics paper full with graphs, tables and lofty economic rhetoric into something relatively catchy and approachable for the general public. Anyway I gave it my best shot and tried to relate it to the ongoing social protests in Israel as means to engage the average Israeli.

Op-Ed: September as a Cross-Road

As much as we try to erect walls, physical and psychological, between ourselves, the future economic prosperity of both our nations remains intrinsically intertwined. The social protests in Israel may have tactically avoided the issue but if social justice is to be based on a fairer division of the economic pie, Israelis must recognize that the size of the economic pie depends on long-term peace between Israeli and Palestine.

Aspirations for social justice are not limited to the protestors on Rothschild Av. but extend to the occupied territories. Whilst on Rothschild Av. the protestors legitimately protested against the millionaire tycoons and decades of neoliberal policies, so Palestinians feel legitimately compelled to protest against the economically restrictive measures intrinsically interwoven into the status quo. Furthermore, the political impasse is endangering the two-state solution by deterring international aid – so long the life-line of the Palestinian economy. This in turn risks stirring up a highly dangerous situation where Palestinian political instability and a depressed economy couple with the frustrated aspirations for a Palestinian state.

Thus we approach September’s UN Palestinian bid with the hope that the “September Process” will revive the peace process. It is true that tensions are likely to be running high in the coming weeks. At the UN Israel is bracing itself for a diplomatic “tsunami” as the General Assembly is set to upgrade the Palestinian’s status. At home Israelis are bracing themselves for the possibility that peaceful Palestinian outpourings of celebration and/or demonstrations will spillover into violent confrontations with the IDF and settlers. However, these legitimate concerns in the short-term must not blind our long-term aspirations

For all the obstacles the occupation places on Palestinian economic activity the potential for a vibrant and sustainable economy remains within our reach. A new economic regime betweenIsraelandPalestine, with a free trade agreement at its core, would reignite the Palestinian economy, 11-12% annual growth over the next decade. A stable sovereignPalestinestate with a prosperous economy will be a dynamic economic partner forIsrael. Israeli companies will benefit from the Palestinian need for Israeli technological know-how and advanced industrial infrastructure and products. Equally Israeli consumers can expect to benefit from the introduction cost effective Palestinian products to the Israeli market. Finally, the prospect of a viable solution to the conflict will enhance stability in the region and in turn provide international investors the guarantees they need for boost investment in Israel.

The peace process (or lack of) need not be framed as an insidious battle to see which side can extract the largest concessions from the opposing party. Instead we should use the window of opportunity afforded to us by the September Process to refocus our negotiations on the win-win situation that can be achieved by economic cooperation and the economic prosperity it can sustain for both Israelis and Palestinians.

 

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Long Live the Peace Process: “A Palestinian State is a Disaster for Israel”

Whilst US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu exchanged blows from their respective soapboxes this past week, life in the state of Israel/Palestine continued pretty much as normal. Two nations slowly sleepwalking towards a September showdown – a showdown to which we here in Jerusalem are guaranteed front row seats.

   The international community may well speak of a two-state solution, but on the ground the prospect of such a solution seems very far off for a multitude of reasons. A couple of months ago Chabad, an ultra-orthodox Jewish organisation, ran a poster campaign (see below) on buses across Jerusalem warning that a Palestinian state would be a disaster for Israel. While it’s right to not criticise the running of such adverts on the basis of freedom of speech, it’s depressing that such views continue to be spread throughout Israel especially when both sides are meant to refrain from propagating fear and hatred of the other side. The peace-process may have stalled on the diplomatic front, but in Israel it’s hard to see how the idea of a Palestinian could ever be sold to the electorate. Things don’t bode well…

"A Palestinian State is a Disaster for Israel"

 
 

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