Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Colonization of Palestine

Written by Josh:

Daoud Nasser understands the dilemma of settlements all too well. Residing on a hill engulfed from every direction by Israeli settlements, he knows first hand how complex life can get. For twenty years, Nasser explained to us, the Israeli government has been trying every possible method to expel him from the land his family has thrived on since 1914 in order to expand the nearby settlement Newe Daniel. Initially, Israel commenced a lengthy legal battle against Nasser, claiming that his ownership of the land is not documented. One would think that living for nearly a hundred years on the specified land would be enough to sway this matter, but all too frequently Palestinians discover that this does not in fact hold up in court.

Luckily, Nasser's family is one of few that still owns the land deed, written up during the Ottoman rule. Since Israel could not legally remove his family, a series of restrictions have been placed on them, so as to "force them off." They are forbidden to have running water. They are forbidden to have electricity. They are forbidden to drive their car off of their property. They are forbidden to even build permanent structures, such as a home, and thus are forced to live in tents and caves.

His family has remained steadfast in lieu of these restrictions, but far too frequently Palestinians succumb to Israel's desires and resettle elsewhere.

One thing I have yet to understand is how and why Westerners continue to defend settlements. For one, they are ILLEGAL according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. I'm not as surprised by Israel's blatant disregard for International Law, as history proves that when Israel has an agenda, in this case, the expansion of the Jewish state, they are not the type of country to be deterred by something as menial as International Law.

Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank are the reason for the Israeli-only roads, the reason why this year Palestinians were restricted from building on 44% of their lands, the reason for the separation wall, and one of the main reasons for the ongoing occupation of Palestine. Settlements are also a huge stumbling block to the idea of a two-state solution; how could an independent Palestine exist when there are hundred's of thousands of settlers living there: settlers who follow Israeli law and refuse to recognize Palestine.

Fortunately, many Israeli's understand exactly how much of a problem these illegal "colonies" are. At a "Combatants for Peace" demonstration in Walaji, another area that Israel has been attempting to pave to expand nearby settlements, both Israelis and Palestinians were represented, old and young, meeting under the banner of peace. This was also our first encounter with the Israeli left. We met a lot of great and interesting people. Out of chance, we ran into a journalist from our home town of Baltimore, another Jewish individual who has long been studying and reporting ( on the conflict.

We also met an individual in his 80's, who after escaping from Nazi Germany as a child, came to settle in what was then Palestine, and who has been living in the country for most of his life. His shirt and hat, displaying both Israeli and Palestinian flags, clearly express his views on the conflict. We even met a young man who had been drafted into the Israeli military, yet when Israel launched the Gaza offensive. On moral grounds, he refused to serve, thus joining in with the "Shministim."

Seeing so many individuals from such different background gives me much more hope that a solution and end to the conflict can be achieved.


  1. I'm glad to see you're writing again...welcome back, and thanks for your contribution to a discussion that is too infrequent in my circles.

  2. Josh, the main reason for the Israeli only roads is that the other roads are not safe for Israelis -- many having been murdered.

    I also am proud that the Palestinian family you mentioned was able to have a legal battle against the state of Israel since that would not have been allowed in other Arab countries. Also, I need to question your statement as to whether 100 years on the land without proof is enough for ownership. It wouldn't be in the United States (complicated squatters laws aside).

    That said, I do agree that the state of Israel is shafting this family (from what you have reported). If they are entitled to the land according to the courts then they are entitled to water, electricity, etc.

    The real issue -- and I don't negate the true human suffering of so many Palestinians -- is that the Palestinians keep failing to "dare the Israelis into peace." Israel, as a democracy, has proven before that it has a peace constituency willing to take risks. But sadly, until the Palestinians control the radicals in their midst (and they are very real -- and I don't think they represent a majority, but they do have a stranglehold as I'm sure you're learning) -- Israelis will be very reluctant to give more.

    You know the arguments well. The question is not how can we arrive at an overall peace, which may never happen. The question is how to make tomorrow better than today.

    Keep writing!

  3. First off, I do think what you're doing is awesome. I see little direct harm coming from what you and Michael are doing. I'm also enjoying the enrichment you two are granting me with by offering an inside look. That being said, I do disagree with you on a number of points. While an insider perspective has the potential to enlighten, there is also a risk it will blind one to the greater picture. It is important to critically analyze people's claims.

    In this case, judging from what I know about the Israeli Supreme Court (i.e. it is very left wing) I find it hard to imagine that such actions could be as widespread as they are made out to be in this article. For instance, the Supreme Court recently required that the army find alternative security measures so that Palestinians who had land taken as an act of eminent domain would be permitted to use a highway that had been built on what had been their land (this basically means that a government is allowed to seize individuals land in order to bring about general good in that area, highly complicated issue of course, but as far as I know it is common government practice, again, not to get distracted, it is of course potentially more complicated as the Palestinians are not full citizens, but that's another issue) The fact that such a ruling, in a case that is levels more complex than what is described in this article, was issued by the Court leads me to believe that the situation you describe is likely much more complex than the explanation you received. At the very least, why has this man, and others affected by the lack of water and electricity, brought an issue to the Israeli court system?

  4. I'm not trying to belittle or demean the individual who you met. Not at all, it is clear to me that there is suffering. I just think that people's perceptions of events can be tinged by personal involvement. It is important to develop an opinion based on as many sources as possible, not only from first hand accounts of those involved in the situation, but also from a more zoomed out perspective. Of course, on the other hand, there is the risk involved with zooming out, that being that forgetting the nature of history as the the collective story of a great multitude of individuals can be disastrous.

    I do feel for the Palestinian people. Most certainly children born into the situation must elicit some ounce of mercy, even from the most cruel-hearted individuals. I agree with the premise that poor conditions breed extremism, but I would disagree with you on when that extremism was conceived, and claim that it is merely an extension of the Arab Uprisings of the late 1920s, and not a more recent development. Further, a group that is in dire straits, as you describe the Palestinians as being, would be expected to accept any and all agreements that they thought would ease their difficult situation. However, until now that has not been the case. While there are legitimate arguments of the extent of past agreements such as those at Camp David, there is no doubt that the entity that those very agreements would have created would have given the Palestinians considerably more autonomy that they currently possess, and by your logic, brought more prosperity. Yet their leader, Yasser Arafar, who as you saw is absolutely venerated, did not accept the terms of the agreement. Why should a group adore a leader to such an extent when it could be argued that his decision's brought more harm to them than good. Although I cannot be certain, and honestly you in your situation would be best suited to research the topic in more depth (that is, unless you would be putting yourself at risk by speaking up in any matter that suggested Israel was in the right, as opposed to the reality in Israel where there is a vocal and active left wing), it seems to me that the true inspiration for their actions lies in what is a religious/cultural connection to the region. A type and intensity of connection that mirror the love many Jews feel for the land. Many Israelis do in fact see a Palestinian state as a legitimate future entity, but it is other fair for these citizens to be guaranteed their safety. After all, ultimately a person is charged with protecting them self and their family before others. Until it becomes clear that the radical elements within Palestinian society will be willing to accept a partial state as a final solution (bit unfortunate word choice there but, eh).

    Peace man, and see ya in a few months!

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  6. But Arafat is not long gone. He is still looked at quite highly, to say the least. Either in one of these posts or in conversation Josh has mentioned the intense respect, near veneration, of Arafat. Further, one could make the argument that Abu Mazin is only in power by riding Arafat's coat tails. The man may be dead and gone, but his influence is most certainly not.

    I agree with you, that truly children cannot be held entirely responsible for their situation, but at a certain point, Israelis must consider the safety of their families before the well being of others. Such is the way of the world.

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  8. Howard and Yoni,

    Thanks for your thought provoking and respectfully presented dialogue, a dialogue that stimulates the careful consideration of a variety of viewpoints and that rejects the "all or nothing" approach that has come to characterize most discussion of these issues.