Friday, January 4, 2008

Amira Hass Speaks Truth

Our violent presence
By Amira Hass
Ha'aretz --
Thursday - January 3, 2008

There is no Israeli whose presence in the West Bank is neutral. Civilian or armed, soldier or woman settler, resident of a quality-of-life settlement or a nearby outpost, MahsomWatch activist or guest at a settlement, Bezek worker or client at a Palestinian garage. All of them, all of us, are in this Palestinian territory, in the West Bank, because our state occupied it in 1967.

The presence of every Israeli in the West Bank is based on a regime of privilege that developed out of that primary act of occupation. We have the privilege of hiking in Palestinian areas to our heart's content, of buying subsidized housing for Jews only on the lands of Bethlehem, of raising cherries and grapes in the wadis of Hebron, of quarrying on the mountain slopes, of driving on roads whose land was expropriated from the indigenous inhabitants for public use.

The Palestinians, in contrast to us, not only are not allowed to move from Hebron to Tel Aviv, because they like the sea, for example; they are not even allowed to visit the lands and homes their family owned before 1948, nor are they allowed to tour Galilee and visit relatives. The regime of travel permits that has been in place since 1991 deprives all Palestinians of the right to freedom of movement in Israel while the system of roadblocks limits their movement in their own territories.

The right to travel the land is a basic human right, and like any right, when it is not universal, it is a mutilated right, that is, it becomes a privilege. That is a fact, even if most Israelis repress or ignore it. Our presence in the Palestinian territories, which is based on military and political superiority, is therefore violent and arrogant by its very nature, even when it is expressed in pleasant ways, like cultivating gardens in settlements or taking a pre-Shabbat hike.

How do the Palestinians deal with this violence and arrogance? Some take up arms and hope to kill Israelis. However, most choose other ways, civilian and not military, to deal with our non-neutral presence, with the daily violence that is at the basis of every occupying regime. But let us not fool ourselves: most understand those who take up arms.

Therefore when the prime minister of the Ramallah government, Salam Fayyad, expressed his sorrow over the killing of two young [Israeli] armed hikers from Kiryat Arba last Friday, he managed to anger his public. "Any death is unnecessary" he was quoted in Haaretz as saying.

These are wise and humane words. If those who are angry at him listened carefully, they would have heard him teaching the Israelis that the death of every Palestinian is also unnecessary. It is not his responsibility that Prime Minster Ehud Olmert did not express sorrow that Israeli soldiers killed Khaldiya Hamdan, a 51-year-old Gaza woman returning from Mecca via the Erez crossing.

But Fayyad did not make do with an expression of regret. According to the Palestinian daily Al Quds he said, "the military action was carried out on Palestinian land" and that the authority must "meet its security obligations." Haaretz reported that Fayyad said the authority had already arrested suspects and was cooperating with the Israeli security forces. Now the Shin Bet claims that the two individuals in custody (who gave themselves up) are connected to the Palestinian security services (which the Palestinians deny).

Fayyad suited his response to Israeli and American expectations from the Palestinian Authority. Despite the fact that the Israel Defense Forces is the sole sovereign over the West Bank, the PA is expected to protect Israeli citizens; that is, to act as a sub-contractor for the IDF and the Shin Bet.

But Fayyad cannot meet these expectations, because they completely contradict the harshness of the basic experience of every Palestinian he is said to represent - which is the violence of our presence.