Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

More settler encroachments under the cover of war

One can see why the Israeli state is so war-happy, nay bellicose – it maintains critical political support for more land theft. The way it is framed even in this article: “questioning the wisdom of abandoning more territory” also reinforces the misperception that Israel is “giving it away” rather than “giving it back“.

The narrative is infused with the lie of generosity rather than the reality of responsibility (some would say culpability). That is, sentiments we see such as ‘Look how generous we are and this is what we get for our “generosity”‘ which falsely impute a causal link between ostensible Israeli generosity returned only with greater Palestinian force, and thus the inherently false conclusion that withdrawal somehow “produces” greater violence and resistance. For a recent example of rejection of potential peace and dialogue with its neighbours, see Israel shrugs off Syrian overtures

War Turns the Tide For Israeli Settlers
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 25, 2006; A01

AMONA, West Bank — The movement to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which only a few months ago appeared to be a divided, waning political force, is experiencing a revival after a summer of war that caused many Israelis to question the wisdom of abandoning more territory.

Little more than a year ago, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew all Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip. After Sharon’s debilitating stroke in January, his deputy, Ehud Olmert, won national elections in March on a promise to evacuate dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to uproot the smaller, unauthorized communities known as outposts in a bid to define Israel’s final borders.

But after a month-long war in southern Lebanon and as sporadic fighting continues in Gaza, a highly unpopular Olmert has put his West Bank withdrawal plan on hold. His government has stepped up construction in the large settlement blocs, including areas the Bush administration has warned Israel against developing, and the West Bank settlement population of a quarter-million people is growing.

“This state does not operate by a policy,” said Yehuda Yifrach, 30, who still lives with his wife, Ayelet, and three children on this windblown hilltop even though in February Israeli military bulldozers demolished the shipping container that was their home. “They only go by the polls at the time.”

The settlers’ change of fortune stems from Israel’s conflicts in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, regions the country had occupied and abandoned in the recent past. Islamic gunmen staged cross-border raids from those areas this summer, capturing three Israeli soldiers who are still being held.

Some Israelis are drawing lessons from the war that have helped vindicate the settlers, whose large financial claim on the national treasury and strident opposition to an independent state for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have angered many here over the years. Israel occupied those regions in the 1967 Middle East war.

“The Lebanon war may have bought them time,” said Dror Etkes of Peace Now, a group that opposes Israel’s settlement policy. “But the demographics and the overarching view of an Israeli majority about what the state should look like has not changed. So neither has the precarious nature of the settlements.”

In evacuating the Gaza settlements last year, Sharon said he was seeking to define more defensible borders and protect Israel’s Jewish majority by jettisoning the strip’s 1.4 million Palestinians, who might someday demand the right to vote in Israel if not given a state of their own.

Soon after, Sharon, Olmert and others quit the Likud party, leaving the settlers’ most powerful sponsor in shambles. The new party they founded, Kadima, easily won the most seats in the March elections, while Likud finished tied for a distant third.

But guerrillas in Gaza have continued to pepper southern Israel with crude rockets, and the radical Islamic movement Hamas, whose stronghold is Gaza, has been elected to lead the Palestinian government. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist even within its pre-1967 borders, nor does Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia whose seizure of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 touched off the recent war.

“The settlements are Israel’s anchor in these places,” said Effie Eitam, a legislator from the National Union, the settlers’ political arm, who was injured in Amona in February when settlers clashed with police. “Israel is about to review its entire defense doctrine,” he added, “and most Israelis understand it is time to rethink the whole paradigm of giving up land for things less certain.”

A poll published Thursday in the Haaretz newspaper showed Olmert’s job approval rating at 22 percent and indicated Kadima would lose 13 of its 29 parliamentary seats if elections were held today. Meanwhile, Likud, led by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, would double its strength in the legislature to 24 seats, making it the largest faction.

But Shaul Goldstein, a settler leader who is identified with the movement’s pragmatic wing, said he expects Olmert to resurrect the West Bank withdrawal plan as soon as he determines that prospects are slim for successful peace talks with the Palestinians or Syria.

In the meantime, he said, the movement will consider whether to form a new party to influence the withdrawal plan or to fight it by other means. The hard-line wing, embodied by Eitam, has proposed more-radical options that appear to have little chance of winning public support.

During a memorial service this month for a soldier killed in Lebanon, Eitam, a former general who commanded a brigade in Gaza, told the gathering that “we will have to expel a large majority of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria,” using Israeli terminology for the West Bank.

“We are still very divided,” said Goldstein, who is chairman of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. “The whole right-wing movement in Israel is frustrated, even though many in the left wing can now see that our warnings about withdrawing from Gaza were not simply propaganda.”

A state commission last year identified more than 100 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank and Gaza before its evacuation. Unlike larger Jewish settlements in the territories — all of which are deemed illegal under international law — the outposts were built without the explicit approval of the Israeli government.

Outposts are usually no more than a few shipping containers and trailers that often expand the boundaries of established settlements to neighboring hilltops. Many of them, including Amona, are built on private Palestinian land.

Sharon promised the Bush administration that he would raze about two dozen outposts erected since he took office in March 2001, although none has been dismantled to date. Less than a month after taking over from Sharon, Olmert ordered Israeli soldiers and border police to remove nine trailers from this outpost. Pro-settlement demonstrators pelted the soldiers with rocks, sand and paint; scores of people were injured. The rest of Amona was left standing.

Last week, Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered the military to raze 47 illegal buildings in some West Bank outposts, which Peace Now says contain thousands of illegal structures. The order, which has yet to be carried out, also called for the demolition of 39 buildings that Israel says the Palestinians constructed illegally.

At the same time, Olmert has this month alone advertised for bids to build 854 new housing units in West Bank settlements, most of them in the large blocs he intends to keep. The construction runs counter to the U.S.-backed peace blueprint known as the “road map,” which Olmert says he supports as the best way to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

In addition to the new housing, a large Israeli police headquarters has been nearly completed on a parcel of land east of Jerusalem where the Bush administration has long opposed any Israeli construction. Senior U.S. officials have warned that building in the so-called E-1 area would cut off the southern West Bank from economic centers in the north and further complicate the creation of a coherent Palestinian state.

“No settlement will be dismantled until we get legitimacy for the settlement blocs,” said Otniel Schneller, a Kadima lawmaker and settler involved in planning the West Bank withdrawal. “The Americans’ lack of flexibility is now causing this stalemate. If they would say yes to the settlement blocs, then there would be areas that we could develop and other areas we could not. If the U.S. does not understand this, the government will be in a stalemate.”

Stewart Tuttle, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, said the United States does not have “a separate policy for this or that settlement, or this or that area. Our policy is the same across the board. Israel, like the Palestinians, has obligations under the road map. Israel’s is to cease settlement activity and dismantle illegal outposts.”

In Amona, the structure that was to have been the outpost’s first concrete house sits unfinished, the work frozen. The road remains unpaved, and the 35 families here remain uncertain whether to develop their hilltop or prepare to abandon it.

In front of a trailer, the wood frame for a swing set is taking shape alongside a barbecue and a baby carriage. Moti and Yael, a husband and wife who declined to give their last name, said the new playground for their three children was a step toward moving ahead with a life that has been in a kind of limbo for months.

Yael, who teaches high school English in the adjacent settlement of Ofra, predicted that the West Bank withdrawal would resurface soon. She said a “left-wing” friend from Haifa, the coastal city pounded by Hezbollah rockets during the war, already wants Olmert to dust off his plan.

“This settlement has a feel of being stuck,” said Yael, 33. “But things change quickly here. Soon the country will forget the war.”

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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This entry was posted on 25 September, 2006 by in Asia, Empire, War and Terror, International Relations, Israel, Militarism general, National liberation, Palestine, Syria.

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"