As I watched the video of the Israeli soldiers and police blowing up one of the 13 residential buildings demolished this week in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of Sur Bahir in east Jerusalem, I wanted to bury myself in shame. When the building imploded and the soldiers laughed as we heard the screams and cries from the Palestinians who became homeless, my shame turned to pure outrage and the urge to be violent. But I will not step down to that level. I will not be violent. But I will not hold back, I will not forget and I will not forgive. What we did, what the State of Israel did, what we do in the name of the Jewish state is becoming pure evil.
My first thoughts about what I see in the daily reality of east Jerusalem, and the West Bank and Gaza – things such as the Sur Bahir home demolitions; the removal of Palestinians from their homes in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, and the moving in of Jewish settlers in their place; settlement expansion and building at a faster pace than I have seen in many years; unauthorized settlements being built, budgeted and hooked up to Israeli infrastructure; massive police presence all over the West Bank ticketing hundreds of Palestinian cars (not cars of settlers); and the ongoing strangling the Palestinian economy in full coordination with the US government – all of these actions and more are leading to a definite explosion. My thought: Maybe that is exactly what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants? This is the perfect backdrop for Election Day. Could even Netanyahu be so cynical? I thought to myself – this can’t be.
Some of the right-wing politicians have been open and direct about their strategies – they will find ways of encouraging Palestinians to leave their homes and their country. This is what our transportation minister has been saying for years. This is what some of the Likud MKs say and believe. We don’t need Meir Kahane’s followers to force the Palestinians to leave against their will – that is what the government of Israel is carrying out. The policies being implemented on the ground, for years now, are working in that direction. But very few of the Palestinians are actually leaving. The majority of them are staying and they are suffering, and they will not forget or forgive.
SOME OF MY right-wing friends criticize my posts on Israel’s shameless and criminal behavior. They tell me that Israel does it under the rules of Oslo. They say that the Palestinians agreed to give up their authority in Jerusalem in the Oslo Accords. They say that the Palestinians agreed to give us Area C – 62% of the West Bank. They say that Israel has the legal right to demolish those homes in Area A, and that this, too, is part of Oslo. All of these claims are lies and false. Let us all remember the truth – Oslo was an interim meant to last five years, not 25 years. The designation of Area A, Area B and Area C were temporary. Even Area C, where Israel took full civil and security authority, was supposed to be a very small part of the West Bank, including only those areas designated as connected to permanent status negotiations (meaning the settlements), which then constituted about 2% of the West Bank, and “specified military locations” constituting about 1% of the West Bank. According to Oslo, Israel was supposed to withdraw from all of the rest of the territories and transfer them to the Palestinian Authority. That never happened and that was Israel’s most fundamental breach of its commitments to the Oslo Accords. Israel did not implement what it took upon itself to implement – that is pure and simple fact.
It was never stated in the Oslo Accords that Israel could not build more settlements. It didn’t need to be written. Israel was supposed to turn over most of the West Bank to the Palestinians even before permanent status negotiations were to be concluded. Who could have imagined that Israel would continue building in areas that it was supposed to withdraw from?
As I travel all over the West Bank – which I do several days a week, going to Palestinian towns and villages from the South to the North – I see the settlements on the hilltops. This week, I visited several typical Palestinian towns – not far from Modi’in. They are poor, underdeveloped, short of land, short of water, short of electricity and short of money. I looked around at the settlements and saw prosperity, villas, gardens, swimming pools, community centers, and modern large schools and health clinics – in short, paradise.
I know why the settlers fight so hard to stay where they are and it has nothing to do with God’s promises to the Jewish people and it has absolutely nothing to do with the security of the State of Israel. They have a great deal. Very affordable very large housing with high quality of life, and the Israeli taxpayers foot a large part of the bill. They build on land that is not theirs. They use modern infrastructure that they do not pay for. They live under the laws of a state that is not sovereign there. Of course they want to stay. Of course they use their political power to protect their interests, and they do this all the way to crying to the public that they are discriminated against.
They were all against Oslo, but they continue to claim and use Oslo as justification for the criminal policies of Israel of removing Palestinians from their homes, demolishing others, strangling their economy, closing roads to them, stealing Palestinian land, burning Palestinian crops, cutting down Palestinian olive trees, chasing shepherds from their land, bulldozing water wells and working toward erasing entire villages. This is the height of being cynical.
WE HAVE no shame. But wait, Palestinians can go to court – there is a system of justice, right? A system of justice run by a military government with military courts under military law is not a system of justice. A Palestinian has little chance of getting justice in an Israeli military court. But wait – what about Israel’s Supreme Court? The High Court of Justice? This is the same court that, back in 1967, decided that international law does not guide its judgments. This is the court that “legalized” illegal settlement building. This is the court that legalized house demolitions. This is one of the examples that former chief justice Aharon Barak said that he struggles with – the decision to “legally” remove families from their home and demolish it. This is called a war crime in international law.
Even international law does not know how to respond to the Israeli occupation. The Fourth Geneva Conventions, which are supposed to provide the international legal basis for enabling military occupations to function and to protect and provide services to the occupied peoples and their lands, did not imagine a scenario of a military occupation lasting more than 50 years. International law recognizes the commander of the Israeli Forces in Judea and Samaria as the legal sovereign whose main task is to deal with the protection of civilians in a war zone – meaning the Palestinians occupied by Israel. The Israeli military commanders work against the protection of the civilians in the war zone and have worked on behalf of Israeli annexationist interests for a very long time. It is these interests that have put the largest distance between us and peace.
In the scene of the soldiers forcing the Palestinians from their homes, in every demonstration I have been at in the past years in the occupied territories, you see the horrible site of solders with black masks over their faces. They look like figures out of the darkest periods of our own history. They say it is to protect our soldiers. I think maybe it is because we should be so ashamed of what we have become they don’t want to show their faces. Maybe they feel the shame? Probably not. You can’t keep a military occupation of millions of people going on for years without becoming the essence of evil. That is what we have become and now we don’t even have shame in what we do.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.