look past the barbed wire

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

KARMEL, West­Bank— The Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion of theWest Bank is widely ac­knowl­edged to be un­sus­tain­able and costly to the coun­try’s im­age. But onemore blunt truth must be ac­knowl­edged: The oc­cu­pa­tion is­morally repug­nant.

On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the south­ernHe­bron hills is the Be­douin vil­lage of Um­mal-Kheir, where Pales­tini­ans live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t al­lowed to con­nect to the elec­tri­cal grid, and Is­rael won’t per­mit themto build homes, barns for their an­i­mals or even toi­lets. When the vil­lagers build per­ma­nent struc­tures, the Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties come and de­mol­ish them, ac­cord­ing to vil­lagers and Is­raeli hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish set­tle­ment of Karmel, a lovely green oa­sis that looks like anAmer­i­can sub­urb. It has lush gar­dens, kids rid­ing bikes and air-con­di­tioned homes. It also has a gleam­ing, elec­tri­fied poul­try barn that it runs as a busi­ness.

Elad Orian, an Is­raeli hu­man rights ac­tivist, nod­ded to­ward the poul­try barn and noted: “Those chick­ens get­more elec­tric­ity andwater than all the Pales­tini­ans around here.”

It’s fair to ac­knowl­edge that there are dou­ble stan­dards in the Mid­dle East, with par­tic­u­lar scru­tiny on Is­raeli abuses. Af­ter all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Mid­dle East has noth­ing to dowith Pales­tini­ans: It isMorocco’s rob­bery of the re­source-rich Western Sa­hara from the peo­ple who live there.

None of that changes the ugly truth that our ally, Is­rael, is us­ingAmer­i­can­mil­i­tary sup­port tomain­tain an oc­cu­pa­tion that is both op­pres­sive and un­just. Is­rael has eased check­points this year— a real im­prove­ment in qual­ity of life — but the sys­tem is in­trin­si­cally ma­lig­nant.

B’Tse­lem, an Is­raeli hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion that I’ve long ad­mired, took me to the south­ern He­bron hills to see the par­tic­u­larly se­ri­ous in­equities Pales­tini­ans face here. Ap­par­ently be­cause it cov­ets this area for set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion, Is­rael has con­cocted a se­ries of fee­ble ex­cuses to drive out Pales­tini­ans from vil­lages here or make their lives so wretched that they leave on their own.

“It’s an on­go­ing at­tempt by the au­thor­i­ties to push peo­ple out,” said Sarit Michaeli, a B’Tse­lem spokes­woman.

In the vil­lage of Tuba, somePales­tini­an­farm­ers live in caves off the grid be­cause per­ma­nent struc­tures are de­stroyed for want of build­ing per­mits that are never granted. The farm­ers seethe as they strug­gle to col­lect rain­wa­ter while a nearby set­tle­ment, Maon, lux­u­ri­ates in wa­ter piped in by the Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties.

“They plant trees and gar­dens and have plenty of wa­ter,” com­plained IbrahimJundiya, who raises sheep and camels in Tuba. “Andwe don’t even have enough to drink. Even though we were here be­fore them.”

Jundiya said that when rain­wa­ter runs out, his fam­i­ly­must buy tankers of wa­ter at a price of $11 per cu­bicme­ter. That’s at least four times what many Is­raelis and set­tlers pay.

Vi­o­lent clashes with Is­raeli set­tlers add to the bur­den. In Tuba, Pales­tinian chil­dren walk­ing to ele­men­tary school have some­times been at­tacked by Is­raeli set­tlers. To pro­tect the chil­dren, for­eign vol­un­teers from Chris­tian Peace­maker Teams andOper­a­tion Dove be­gan es­cort­ing the chil­dren in the 2004-05 school year — and then set­tlers beat the vol­un­teers with chains and clubs, ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights re­ports and a news ac­count from the time.

Attacks on for­eign vol­un­teers get more at­ten­tion than attacks on Pales­tini­ans, so the Is­raeli Army then be­gan to es­cort the Pales­tinian chil­dren of Tuba to and fromele­men­tary school. But the sol­diers don’t al­ways show up, the chil­dren say, and then the kids take an hour and a half round­about path to school to avoid go­ing near the set­tlers.

For their part, set­tlers com­plain about vi­o­lence by Pales­tini­ans, and it’s true that there were sev­eral in­ci­dents in this area be­tween 1998 and 2002 in which set­tlers were killed. Partly be­cause of rock-throw­ing clashes be­tween Arabs and Is­raelis, the Is­raeli Army of­ten keeps Pales­tini­an­swell away fromIs­raeli set­tle­ments — even if Pales­tinian farm­ers then can­not farm their own land.

Mean­while, the set­tle­ments con­tinue to grow, seem­ingly in­ex­orably — and that may be the most odi­ous as­pect of the oc­cu­pa­tion.

In other re­spects, some progress is ev­i­dent. Orian’s Is­raeli aid group — Com­mu­nity, En­ergy and Technology in theMid­dle East— has in­stalled­wind­mills and so­lar pan­els to pro­vide a bit of elec­tric­ity for Pales­tini­ans kept off the grid. And attacks from set­tlers have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly, in part be­cause B’Tse­lem has equipped­many Pales­tinian fam­i­lieswith video cam­eras to doc­u­ment and de­ter as­saults.

Still, a preg­nant 19-year-old Pales­tini­an­woman in the vil­lage of At-Tuwani­was hos­pi­tal­ized this month af­ter an at­tack by set­tlers.

Is­rael has a point when it ar­gues that re­lin­quish­ing the West Bank would raise real se­cu­rity con­cerns. But we must not lose sight of the most ba­sic fact about the oc­cu­pa­tion: It’s wrong.

Muhammed Muheisen

Pales­tinian chil­dren dash past part of Is­rael’s sep­a­ra­tion bar­rier in the West Bank town of Aram.

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