Friday, February 18, 2005


On Home Demolitions, Disengagement, and the Wall: The Israeli PR Machine Clicks On All Cylinders

Yesterday Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared that the IDF would stop demolishing homes belonging to suicide bombers and other attackers. Based on the findings of a committee, it was determined that the demolitions did little to deter violence against Israel and, indeed, served only to inflame anger and hostility against it. Furthermore, this does not mean an end to all home demolitions, nor even most of them. Home demolitions justified by the IDF to destroy homes that provide cover for militants, or in efforts to find smuggling tunnels, or to create "security zones" -- none of these were deemed unnecessary or counterproductive.

I think it should have been obvious to anybody with half a brain that the home demolitions never served as a deterent but rather as a form of collective punishment. In the United States, it is never suggested that demolishing the home belonging to the family of a criminal be demolished to deter crime. The mere idea is ludicrous. But to avoid admitting that it used the demolitions as a form of collective punishment, the IDF has now had a committee tell it that it's in its own best interests to halt some of the demolitions. However, places like the LA Times are coming out and hailing the measure as "the latest on a growing list of goodwill gestures by Israel." And so the IDF has it's cake and eats it, too. The demolitions were never collective punishment, they had just outlived their usefulness (according to their own reasoning, which is, of course, what gets reported in the US press). At the same time, though, halting them is reported as a "goodwill gesture."

It speaks to the ability of the Israeli PR machine. Because I think that's what lies at the heart of this announcement. Given that there is a declared "end of hostilities" between the two parties as announced at Sharm al-Sheikh, there should be no need for any home demolitions in the near future. But guess what is coming up on Sunday. A Knesset vote on two things: first is Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan. The second is the route of the wall through the West Bank. The route that is being voted on would incorporate the vast Gush Etzion settlement bloc 12 miles south of Jerusalem and deep within occupied Palestinian territory (to borrow language from the Graham Usher article I'll link to below). As Ha'aretz reported, and I wrote about earlier, Sharon is using the disengagement vote, and its passage in the Knesset, as a means of heading off any criticism (or even attention) regarding the route of the wall. The announcement of the altered demolition policy gives the Israelis a bit of positive momentum heading into the Sunday Knesset vote also.

However, as Graham Usher writes in al-Ahram, Abu Mazin may be able to maintain a relative cease-fire for the moment, but the decision on the route of the wall is going to make his job a whole hell of a lot harder. After detailing the difficulty Abu Mazin faced in trying to hold a relative cease-fire together, the opposition not just from Hamas but from several Palestinian factions and their supporting constituencies in Palestinian society, Usher writes that there is nothing Abu Mazin will be able to do to contend with the sentiment that will arise from the de facto incorporation of large parts of the West Bank into Israel by means of the wall.
The truce may survive these violations. But it is unlikely to survive the cabinet decision. If executed, the wall will not only integrate Gush Etzion into Israeli proper but also six villages with 19,000 Palestinians and large swathes of land belonging to Palestinians in Bethlehem. This is combined with policies that aim to "assert an Israeli hegemony over East Jerusalem in ways that no Israeli government has dared to do in the past", says Israeli lawyer Daniel Seiderman, who represents Palestinian landowners in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem.

These include not only the ongoing construction of the wall at East Jerusalem's northern and southern entrances and of settlements to buttress them but also "unprecedented rates of house demolitions, restrictive zoning plans for Palestinian neighbourhoods and a new permit system" that will deny East Jerusalem Palestinians access to their kin, businesses and lands in Ramallah. The sum effect, says Seiderman, will be to "extricate Palestinian East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland".

If this is the future, it is not going to work says the mayor of Qalqiliya, Marouf Zahran, who has seen 83 per cent of the municipality's land become lost or isolated by the wall. It would also sound the death knell for Abbas's leadership, which, as a Fatah member, he supports.

"Abu Mazen's strategy is plain," he says. "In exchange for giving Israel security he expects the US, the European Union and Arab states like Egypt and Jordan to oblige Israel to stop building the wall and withdraw from our land. But it is up to them, and especially America, to deliver that trade. Anything less will be unacceptable to the Palestinians -- and I don't mean only Hamas".
And so Sunday, despite the "goodwill gestures," despite the cease-fire, despite the planned prisoner release (supposedly to get sorted out on Monday, but who knows), despite Abu Mazin, and despite Sharm al-Sheikh, the newfound "peace process" may find itself dead in the water. And, knowing this, the Israeli PR machine has prepared the ground to put the blame squarely and surely once again on the shoulders of the Palestinians.

Yes, and what's so terribly sad is that I can imagine those anonymous shoulders simply giving way under that weight. The suicide bombers, the Hamas hotheads, those people are limited. The outcome is going to be the loss of a people who once had quiet anonymous lives, with houses and trees and little farms, kids and goats and kitties. All gone. But hey! small price to pay for preserving the one true democracy in the Middle East, right?

Aunt Deb
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