12 March 2007

Reporting from the West Bank

No matter what one’s views are on the Middle Eastern problems (and there are many, not just one) one cannot help feeling sorry for the Palestinian people. Whichever way one looks, they are the victims – victims of other Arab states, who encourage them to fight Israel and refuse to help them or allow them to settle anywhere; victims of their leaders, who have stolen all the money that have been donated to the Palestine either to feather their own nests or to create more terrorist militias; victims, often, of their own poor ability to make choices.

And yes, they are often victims of Israeli violence, though this could be solved relatively easily: an acceptance of that country’s right to exist, an end to terrorist activity, meaningful peace negotiations would do it.

There is another body of people that victimizes the Palestinians: the journalists of the MSM, who refuses to write the truth about the situation, thus making it impossible for the people there to face up to it. We witnessed this in the extraordinary infantilization of the Palestinians after the election that brought Hamas to power. Many in the media cried out against the notion that western aid should cease until Hamas agrees to the three conditions that can lead to peace in the area.

On the one hand, we were told, the West must accept the results of a (reasonably) democratic elections (give or take the presence of a few militias and other armed groups), which is not unreasonable. But accepting the results does not mean handing over large amounts of money.

On the other hand, we were also told, the Palestinian people must not be punished for … well … as it happens for their electoral choice, as if they were all two-year old children who know no better. The trouble with that argument is that if they really do not know any better then how can they run a state. If, on the other hand, they can run a state, then they can take the consequences of their electoral behaviour.

Not much has changed.

Today’s International Herald Tribune carries a long and interesting article about the “Children of the Palestinian intifada – the lost generation”. It is worth reading the piece in full, as there are many interesting points there.

Somehow, even this article finds it hard to acknowledge exactly how the second intifada came about, putting together words that would mean that it just simply happened. It did not simply happen but was the chose course of action taken by the late unlamented Chairman Yasser Arafat, who broke off negotiations in 2000.

The outcome of the intifada has been considerably tougher for the Palestinians than for the Israelis.
Israeli checkpoints, barriers and closures, installed by Israelis trying to protect their own citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers, have lowered their horizons, shrunk their Palestine and taken away virtually any informal interaction with outsiders, let alone with ordinary Israelis. The security measures have become even tighter since the election to power a year ago of the Islamist group Hamas, which preaches eternal "resistance" to Israeli occupation and rejects Israel's right to permanent existence on this land.

During most of the 1980's and 90's, as many as 150,000 Palestinians came into Israel daily to work, study and shop. And while they were not treated as equals, many learned Hebrew and established relationships. Now, the only Israelis Palestinians see are armed soldiers and settlers. The West Bank is cut into three parts by checkpoints and permits; Gazan men under 30 are virtually unable to leave their tiny, poor and overcrowded territory. Few talk of peace, only of a lifetime of "resistance."
What is so terrifying about the reasonably objective report is the feeling one gets that nobody in the West Bank considers that there might be another possible solution to anything, but, then it might be hard to think of one when generations have been schooled in the thought that they are eternal victims, whose only weapon is terrorism or cosmic despair that induces guilt.

Curiously enough, another story from the West Bank caught my eye. “Misery tempts Palestinian Christians to flee”, says Reuters, originally headlined as “Palestinian Christians flee Israel”. Well, actually, no, they do not flee Israel, where the Christian population has been growing.

They are leaving the West Bank in some numbers, according to the Reuters journalist, despairing of getting anywhere under Israeli occupation. Not only that:
A towering concrete wall is closing in on Bethlehem as part of a barrier, which Israel is erecting, which it calls a defense against suicide bombers from the occupied West Bank. Much of it is built on Palestinian land.
Calls a defence against suicide bombers? Calls? Really, I had thought we have managed to get over that one.

It is a defence against suicide bombers, whose number has gone down dramatically since the barrier has been erected. Apart from anything else, this preserves the lives of terrified Palestinian children who are persuaded or bullied into blowing themselves and Israeli children up.

Reuters assures us that there is no pressure on the Palestinian Christians either from the majority Muslims or from the Israelis. Really? This is not the way one hears the story from other sources. Here is an interesting article from Khaled Abu Toameh, himself a Palestinian Muslim who writes in the Jerusalem Post about Christians in Bethlehem:
A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city.

The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of "intimidation" for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded "collaborators" with Israel.

But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.
Read the rest of the article. It is of some interest and it tells a tale that is sadly missing from all the normal accounts of the horrors of life in the West Bank.

Incidentally, I do not recall seeing too much in the British media about the fact that the Egyptian government has this year forbidden the country’s Christians to make a pilgrimage to East Jerusalem during this year’s Easter celebrations. No, it has nothing to do with the Palestinians but with the arrest of Mohamed Essam Ghoneim El Attar, an Egyptian currently standing trial for allegedly spying for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.