Thursday, May 13, 2004


Master Plans?

In his Settlements and Master Plans column in today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel: "There is nothing wrong with Ariel that a mere shift in location would not fix." This view of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza whitewashes serious matters that are at the essence of what is "wrong" with the settlements. What could be wrong, Cohen asks, with a city that has clean streets, crisp air, and wireless internet? The fact that Palestinian homes and land were confiscated, in violation of international law one might add, farm lands ruined, trees uprooted, the fact that the settlements recieve and use disproportionate levels of the scarce water resources in the West Bank, the fact that in the name of security for the settlements Palestinians are highly restricted in their movements by roadblocks and closures, the destruction of roads available to Palestinians and the construction of roads reserved only for Jews. "It is easy enough to call the effect 'apartheid,' but to residents of Ariel and indeed much of Israel," Cohen writes of the Jewish-only roads, "it is tantamount to merely locking your door at night." The paralyzing effects on Palestinian society be damned, if a brutal form of institutionalized racism helps the residents of Ariel and indeed much of Israel sleep a bit easier at night who could argue with that? The fact that occupation has become such a fundamental part of much of Israeli society that it is tantamount to locking the door at night is a sad reflection on the state of affairs.

Unfortunately, the "solution" to the "problem" of Ariel's location that settlers, and the pro-settlement Likud government of Ariel Sharon, has devised is just as toxic. Instead of "shifting" the location of Ariel to put it inside Israel proper, Israel has undertaken the process of "shifting" Israel to fit it around Ariel. This is happening through the continued building and expanding of settlements in the West Bank, the construction of the separation barrier through the West Bank, and now has the blessing of the United States with George W. Bush's letter of assurances to Prime Minister Sharon. Cohen is right when he writes that most people think of the settlements as shabby hill-top outposts rather than the sprawling concrete cities they are. A change in thinking is needed: not that these settlements are actually permanent, but that they are viewed as such by the settlers who live in them and the Israeli governments that build them, and that these parties are working hard to make them so.

My major problem with Cohen's column is that it reduces the settlement issue to the grounds of opposing extremist groups: Jewish and Christian religious zealots on one side and dedicated Palestinian terrorists on the other. Totally disregarded by Cohen are the majority of Palestinians who face an unbearable Israeli occupation of settlements and Israeli military installations to provide them with "security".

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