Bethlehem recently got a spring-clean. The frenzied rubbish collection and freshly painted road markings meant only one thing – important visitors were expected. This week, an estimated 1,000 foreign representatives from hundreds of companies gathered in the West Bank city for the Palestine investment conference, to discuss private-sector projects valued at around $2bn.
According to the conference organisers, the three-day event, co-ordinated by the Palestinian Authority, had a simple slogan: “You can do business in Palestine.” Scheduled speakers included Tony Blair, in his role as the Quartet’s special envoy, the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, and the United Arab Emirates minister of economy, Sheikha Lubna Khalid Sultan al-Qasimi. Read more
Last year, I experienced at first hand Israel’s new-look occupation. Intending to cross into Israel from the northern West Bank, I arrived at the Jalama checkpoint expecting the usual token passport check. Instead, I was told that it was forbidden for me to use this particular crossing point. For six hours I sat under the watchful eye of two soldiers, making calls to the British consulate, which, in turn, called various Israeli military officials.
During my extended visit, I had plenty of time to observe my surroundings. One of the new “terminals” that Israel has built, Jalama is on the “Green Line”, but there are others that lie well inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). These new checkpoints are built like international borders, with metal detectors, turnstiles, winding passages and the disembodied voices of security personnel. Read more
Before leaving for Palestine earlier in the summer, a friend of mine gave me a postcard by a Palestinian artist that expressed, he said, the fact that “the situation in the Middle East always seems to get worse, never better”. Sadly, three months in Palestine seemed to confirm this grim reality, as with each passing day, the occupation’s grip becomes tighter and ‘Palestine’ gets smaller. As 2006 begins to draw to a close it is useful to take a step back from the daily horrors in Gaza or the arrest raids in the West Bank, to assess three broad Israeli strategies vis à vis the Palestinians, and how they might be resisted. Read more
AMID THE OLIVE trees and rocks, in the stone amphitheaters and shaded groves, young residents of Bethlehem’s refugee camps working alongside European volunteers presented “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s immortal drama of the warring Capulet and Montague families. Families and friends followed the cast around, enjoying the fruits of the children’s summer camp project. As the play came to a close, “Juliet” lay motionless on the sarcophagus; on the hillside behind her could be seen the red roofs of the Neve Daniel settlement. Read more
The West Bank, despite its centrality to Israeli designs and Palestinian aspirations, is often overshadowed by other events in the Middle East. Last summer, Gaza ‘disengagement’ grabbed the headlines, and indeed since then, Qassam fire and Israeli military operations in the Strip have stayed at the top of the news agenda. When you also consider more recent events in Lebanon, and a general regional focus on Syria-Iran, West Bank Palestinians have continued their lives under Israeli occupation without international publicity or outcry. Often, when concerned friends from the West contact those they know in Bethlehem to ensure they are not in danger, we reply that here, everything is ‘normal’. Read more
An oft-repeated pattern was made visible once again this week, as acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of his plans for Israel’s future borders in interviews with the Israeli press. Settlements that began as outposts, colonies that started life as military bases, are now to be annexed by the Separation Barrier as irreversible ‘realities’.
It has been a central tenet of the Zionist movement throughout its history; establish ‘facts on the ground’ through power disparity, facts which then form the new minimum position or status quo for any potential negotiations. This principle was evident when Palestinian refugees did not return after their expulsion in 1948, when settlement construction began after the 1967 war in the newly conquered territory, and with the ongoing erection of the Separation Barrier. Read more
The withdrawal of the Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip has led to many ironies. This week we had the sight of anti-disengagement Israelis complaining at how inconvenient the checkpoints were to their desire to reach the Gush Katif colony. Another irony – Israeli military officials suggesting that soldiers need psychological training to evict Jews from their homes, because it is such a traumatic experience for the evictors and evictees. Read more
Returning to Bethlehem after an absence of around nine months, one of the first things I noticed were the new posters. Even by the summer of 2004, the pictures of the shahid were fading, and recent additions were few and far between. A year on, and the faces of martyrs have been replaced by aspiring politicians, a reminder of the local elections that took place in the Bethlehem district not so long ago. Perhaps this is an example of the kind of ‘reform’ urged on the Palestinians by the U.S. and her allies. Read more