Friday, August 19, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Fifty years ago, soldiers began to coil barbed wire and light fencing along a nearly 100 miles long border. Eventually, the barbed wire would be replaced with concrete divides up to 11 feet tall, fortified fences and heavily armed watchtowers. The border would be closed for 28 years, separating countrymen, neighbors and family from one another. Almost 150 people would die trying to breach the wall – to find a better life or just to visit a loved one.
Sound familiar? The wall, of course, is the infamous Berlin Wall between East and West Germany, erected by the German Democratic Republic, ostensibly as an “anti-fascist” protection measure against West German domination. It took almost two decades for the wall to be torn down, for east and west Berlin to be reunited and for the wounds to begin to heal. Looking back, there is no doubt Germans who lived through World War II and who experienced the division of their country understand what it means to be separated by force, to not see a relative for years or be unable to reach places in your own country that were previously minutes away.
Fortunately for Germans, that period of their past is over. With much fanfare, the wall was torn down in 1989 and the two sectors of Berlin were united. But while the wall in Berlin was being torn down, the plan for another wall was being conceived, a scheme hatched in Israel’s highest echelons of power. Less than a decade after Berlin’s wall became history, Israel’s West Bank separation wall became a grim and ugly reality. This wall however, is hundreds of miles long, cuts off communities, families, farmland and livelihood for thousands of people and, by all standards, is Israel’s de facto border between itself and the Palestinians.
While it has not been 28 years since Israel began erecting its wall –construction of the wall started in 2002 – it does not look like it will come down any time soon. Not only because Israel has no intention of tearing down something it put so much effort into building, but because there are not enough voices calling for its destruction. Each year, people celebrate the wall’s demise and on this anniversary of its erection world leaders call for the memory of the wall to be a “reminder to stand up for freedom and democracy” so that atrocities such as these “never happen again.”
Are the Palestinians not considered citizens of the world? What about their freedom? It is not even a question of whether this will ever “happen again” but rather how to handle it “happening now.” The Palestinians have long called Israel out on the illegality of the wall, debunking Israel’s initial pretext for building it, which is keeping out potential suicide bombers. If this were true, the wall would not have cut deep into the West Bank for the purpose of protecting the Jewish settlements there but would have run along the Green Line, or the 1948 border.
Even the International Court of Justice agreed with the Palestinians in an advisory opinion given in July, 2004, deeming the sections of the wall built in the West Bank illegal and saying it should be dismantled.
This of course, did not happen. Israel has continued to build the wall with impunity. The concrete and barbed wire edifice has disrupted thousands of lives, cutting people off from their land and means of survival, from work places, schools, relatives and places of worship. The outcry against the wall has come mostly from grassroots groups around the world who work actively for justice and freedom for the Palestinians and for all people. It has not come actively from governments or from international bodies who purportedly stand for the values of justice and equality.
We Palestinians are happy that the Berlin wall came down and that people stand for freedom and democracy. We, unlike others, know what it is like to have a wall disrupt lives, keeping people separated and divided. We know how damaging it can be. But we also know that if those who call for freedom and democracy do not advocate these principles for all peoples, atrocities like the Berlin wall and the West Bank wall will continue to be erected and deny thousands of people the very things they claim to stand for.
Joharah Baker is Director of the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Information: Ghaith al-Omari
August 15, 2011 - 12:00am
The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) today urged the US government to use its influence to prevent the construction of a series of recently announced major Israeli settlement expansions in the occupied territories. In its most recent announcement, the Israeli government says it has approved 277 new housing units in Ariel, a settlement that cuts deeply into Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank. This follows several other recent and highly provocative settlement expansion plan announcements, including final approval for 1,600 proposed new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. The Ramat Shlomo plans were initially made public during a 2010 visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden, an announcement described by Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton as “an insult to the United States.”
Other recent settlement expansion plans include 930 new housing units in “Har Homa C,” a hilltop ridge technically in Israel's definition of the “Jerusalem municipality” but that is directly adjacent to Bethlehem and deep into the occupied West Bank. It is part of a ring of settlements around the southern flank of occupied East Jerusalem that threatens to cut the city off from the rest of the West Bank. Plans have also reportedly been proceeding for two other areas in occupied East Jerusalem, involving 2,000 new housing units in the Givat HaMatos settlement, and 700 more in the Pisgat Zeev settlement.
In response to the announcements, the US State Department said such unilateral actions “undercut trust.” A State Department official pointed out, “Jerusalem is one of the final-status issues, and therefore the disposition of Jerusalem should be decided by the parties in negotiations. Unilateral actions by the Israelis or Palestinians that appear to prejudice the outcome of the negotiations are counterproductive. These types of construction are illegitimate and not in the best interest of getting back to negotiations.” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added that such settlement expansion "threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and undermines ongoing efforts to resume negotiations."
ATFP strongly opposes the building of these settlements and believes that these announcements are extremely provocative, particularly at a very sensitive time in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Such settlement activity, if completed, would undermine the prospects for a two-state peace agreement, and the credibility and viability of both negotiations and negotiators. ATFP noted the strong American national interest in restarting negotiations and securing a two-state peace agreement. The Task Force said the United States should use its influence with Israel to ensure that these proposed settlement expansions are not completed, and that the Israeli government also refrain from additional provocative announcements.
My letter to the Guardian RE Understanding is key to a two-state future for Israelis and Palestinians
Balancing "needs" and narratives can not mean that Israel (or any other country) is free to oppress, impoverish and/or ethnically cleanse targeted ethnic or religious groups in order to build a preferred demographic majority... One state or two, Israel must step up to respect universal basic human rights including but not limited to the Palestinian refugees individual and inalienable right to return to original homes and lands.
Understanding that is key to understanding modern civilization.
Anne Selden Annab
"Palestinian refugees must be given the option to exercise their right of return (as well as receive compensation for their losses arising from their dispossession and displacement) though refugees may prefer other options such as: (i) resettlement in third countries, (ii) resettlement in a newly independent Palestine (even though they originate from that part of Palestine which became Israel) or (iii) normalization of their legal status in the host country where they currently reside. What is important is that individual refugees decide for themselves which option they prefer – a decision must not be imposed upon them." http://plodelegation.us/palestine/core-issues/