Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On building settlements and breaking down walls in Palestine

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told al-Jazeera that "Washington wants an end to illegal Israeli settlements." The words rang hollow, however, with her praise for Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's "unprecedented restraint," which came "despite his refusal to halt settlement expansion," and her insistence that a halt to settlement expansion "was not a precondition for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians." Clinton's aim, as Obama's on several occasions past, is to offer concilliatory words whilst US-Israeli rejectionism continues apace.

At the same time, other developments within Israel offer a suggestion of what is to come. According to the Independent, "the Israeli education minister has unveiled plans to take teams of senior army officers to high schools across the country to help teachers "foster the motivation" of pupils to serve in combat units following a decline in conscription rates." The announcement has "infuriated liberals," but minister Gideon Saar is unrepentant, and has "also said that he would experiment with publishing individual schools' conscription rates, a move aimed at embarrassing those with a higher than average proportion of "draft dodgers"."

The move, according to the Independent, comes amid "growing right-wing criticism of draft evasion, coupled with dissatisfaction among part of the public that not serving in the army has become more accepted in the society than in the past." To the contrary, however, recent events suggest that Israeli society is becoming ever-more hawkish.

On Tuesday, BBC News reported that "four Israeli soldiers have been disciplined for protesting against the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank." Those involved "received sentences ranging from three weeks in jail to confinement to their base for hanging an anti-eviction banner at their barracks near Hebron." The action is only "the latest in a series of anti-evacuation protests by some soldiers," with "some high-ranking officials" "concerned at the increasing number of religious Jewish soldiers who have refused to take part in the planned evacuation of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank."

However, this does appear to be at least partly propaganda. Considering that the building of illegal settlements and converse eviction of Palestinians continues apace, reports of pro-settler "dissent," such as Haaretz's story that "two Israel Defense Forces soldiers were expelled from their brigade and given 20 days in military prison, just a few days after they waved a pro-settler banner during their swearing-in ceremony," seem conveniently timed. Not that the media are lying, since the Israeli press is perhaps more honest than western outlets in reporting the situation in Palestine. But, certainly the actual disciplinary acts seem calculated to draw maximum press attention at a time when the settlements are drawing (mild, non-committal) criticism from the United States. As former minister Yossi Sarid arued in relation to the presence of the IDF in schools, "this plan says something about the militaristic character of Israeli society. It is definitely getting more militaristic."

The prospects for future peace, then, do not look healthy. However, there are still those willing to resist. Friday saw the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Unreported in the mass media, Anarchists Against the Wall marked this occasion with mass demonstrations, during which "demonstrators brought down a section of the eight meters tall concrete wall that cuts through the village [of Ni'ilin]'s land." The action was not without consequences, as "soldiers, positioned at the other side of the wall, fired scores of live rounds at the demonstrators as well as tear gas, and sprayed them with the "skunk-bomb" (a foul-smelling liquid)." Nonetheless, the event is a promising one.

As demonstrator Moheeb Khawaja said during the protest, "twenty years ago no one had thought the monster that divided Berlin into two could be brought down, but in only two days in November, it did. Today we have proven that this can also be done here and now. It is our land beyond this wall, and we will not give up on it. We will win for a simple reason - justice is on our side."