Saturday, January 8, 2005
Kathleen Christison: The Trouble with Optimism
"Today's optimism is merely a diversion for those who refuse to think and observe. Palestinians are still dying, still being made homeless, still losing land and livelihoods to Israel's inexorable expansionism. Forcing reforms in the Palestinian political system, however necessary some reform may be, will not bring peace, will not end the Israeli violence. Palestinian farmers in the small West Bank town of Jayyous, which lost three-quarters of its agricultural land and all of its fresh water wells to Israel when the separation wall was built through the village a year ago, recently told a correspondent that peace would be wonderful but reform and elections are meaningless to them when they no longer have a livelihood and cannot even provide their families with water.
The obstacle to peace has always been Israel's occupation, not Arafat or any other Palestinian leader; the source of violence is not Palestinian "terrorism," but Israel's occupation and everything that goes with it: the land confiscations, the settler depredations, the house demolitions, the wall, the destruction of property, the checkpoints, the Israeli-only roads, the ethnic cleansing. It is Israel that is not a partner for peace, Israel's violence that impedes peace.
Today's optimism is a diversion from these continuing realities. Optimism allows us, allows politicians and commentators, to ignore the real situation on the ground; it allows us all to ignore Israel's explicitly stated intention never to relinquish its domination of the West Bank (most recently elucidated by Sharon's senior political adviser Dov Weisglass, who crowed openly about having put the Palestinian issue in "formaldehyde" and, with full U.S. knowledge and support, frozen the peace process so that "you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem indefinitely"); it allows us all to ignore the gross land hunger and racism inherent in Israel's occupation policies.
Those who demand so much of the Palestinians fail or refuse to recognize the Palestinian situation on the ground. Almost three years ago, during the April 2002 siege of the West Bank, Israeli forces rampaged through the territory, destroying the entire infrastructure of Palestinian civil society: Israeli soldiers laid waste Palestinian civil ministries for education and health and agriculture; smeared feces throughout the Ministry of Culture; destroyed computers and hard disks and, with them, the entire written record of Palestinian society; ransacked Palestinian businesses and banks; bulldozed whole housing blocks; destroyed land registry maps and census records, as if to erase all trace of Palestinian existence. Yet Western commentators and Western politicians like Bush and Blair wonder why the Palestinians may not be running their government at the peak of efficiency.
Gaza is largely in ruins, a Middle Eastern Dresden, thanks to repeated Israeli air and bulldozer assaults. Nearly two thousand homes have been demolished in Gaza since the intifada began, leaving many more thousands of innocent civilians homeless, and Israeli helicopter gunship attacks and assassination operations have wrought still more destruction. Israel controls Gaza's southern border with Egypt and its Mediterranean coastline and fences off the other two sides of the Gaza Strip with razor wire and electronic cages, a system of domination that will continue even if Israel "disengages" from Gaza and removes the 8,000 Israeli settlers who now control one-third of the tiny territory. Gaza is where, within the space of two months in 2003, Israel killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie, British peace activist Tom Hurndall, and British journalist James Miller -- killing off the witnesses, so that George Bush and Tony Blair and commentators like Jackson Diehl do not have to know what goes on in this prison. And because they choose to know nothing, they can glibly demand that the Palestinians install "proper" institutions and make "proper" reforms and run a "proper" economy.
Israel's separation wall has destroyed prime Palestinian agricultural land, bulldozed hundreds of thousands of Palestinian olive trees, destroyed or more often appropriated for Israeli use most Palestinian water wells, destroyed Palestinian markets and halted commerce, destroyed Palestinian homes. Israeli closure policies have prevented most Palestinians from working inside Israel since the beginning of the peace process a dozen years ago. Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank impede movement and halt commerce. Movement of people and goods into and out of both the West Bank and Gaza is totally at the mercy of Israel. Yet the West wonders why the Palestinian economy is not thriving.
Israel has reduced every Palestinian security headquarters throughout the West Bank and in Gaza to rubble. These structures, which served not only as security headquarters but as the center of municipal governance, with mayor's offices, jails, and health clinics, were large compounds serving multiple purposes, the locus of what Tony Blair would call "proper" infrastructure -- now mere heaps of concrete. Arafat's own headquarters in Ramallah, the Muqata, was a multi-structure compound covering one or two city blocks, in which Israel imprisoned Arafat for three years and where during the assault of 2002 Israel's military left only one building undamaged. Yet Blair and the rest of the West wonder why the Palestinians do not have proper control over their security apparatus -- and why many have no particular incentive to prevent violence in any case, nonviolence being a rather unilateral Palestinian enterprise at this point.
Can the Blairs and Bushes and Walkers and the media commentators who preach to the Palestinians possibly not be aware of what is going on on the ground in Palestine?"