Seth Freedman | The Guardian
26 November 2009
The architects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank are highly skilled at the art of needlework, deftly stitching up land inside Israel proper and disputed territory over the Green Line as though it was the most natural thing in the world. According to their logic, it should be possible to seamlessly suture together the two parts without raising eyebrows either at home or abroad, regardless of the contravention of both international law and basic morality that such actions entail.
All that is required is a healthy dose of chutzpah, combined with a drip-drip effect in which a steady stream of expropriating activities are undertaken at a slow but relentless pace, in the hope that insufficient feathers are ruffled to put a halt to the overarching campaign of annexation.
The Jerusalem light railway is a case in point: in isolation, few Israelis would be too perturbed by the idea of providing a rail link between the city centre and outlying towns and suburbs on the periphery of the capital. However, in doing so, the authorities are simultaneously declaring their view that settlements such as French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev are integral parts of Jerusalem and banging yet another nail into the coffin of a viable Palestinian state.
Under the guise of a desire to ease traffic congestion on Jerusalem’s streets, the project bears all the hallmarks of previous efforts to stake a permanent and intractable claim to areas that once might have been considered as appropriate territory to concede as part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. As the Alternative Information Centre notes, “by providing direct access to [these locations], the main illegal settlements will finally be linked with the centre and western part of the City. The adverse effects of this will serve to diminish any chance of East Jerusalem becoming the future capital of a Palestinian state under a two-state solution”.
Palestinian officials this week issued a call for overseas assistance in preventing the completion of the rail link, having recognised that without such external pressure there is no hope of putting a halt to the illegal construction. Basing their opposition on statutes that deem such building work a violation of international law, the Palestinian Authority urged all Arab countries to end their links with companies associated with the light railway – including French conglomerates Veolia and Alstom – in the hope that such a stance would encourage the corporations involved to pull out of the project.
The Palestinians know full well that the rail link’s presence will further ingrain in Israelis’ minds the idea that every affected township over the Green Line is to be viewed simply as a benign part of Greater Jerusalem, rather than a malignant settlement that threatens the security of both Israelis and Palestinians in the long term. To confirm their fears, they need only look as far as Gilo or Har Homa, both areas built over the Green Line outside Jerusalem’s original city limits, but now treated as no more contentious than Rehavia or the German Colony when it comes to Israel’s continued construction there.
Last week’s international criticism of plans to build a further 900 homes in Gilo raised hackles among the Israeli public. Many Israelis have become so accustomed to the idea that Gilo is part of Israel proper that they cannot for the life of them understand why anyone should deny them the right to construct houses there at will. Such a mind-set did not develop overnight; rather, it took years of patient joining of the dots by successive Israeli governments – by way of transport links, forging social ties between Gilo and other parts of Jerusalem, and so on – to convince Israelis that Gilo had come in from the cold and was now Jerusalem through and through.
When my army unit was based in Har Gilo (a suburb of Gilo even deeper into West Bank territory), none of the residents living alongside our headquarters saw themselves as settlers. Those to whom we spoke thought of themselves as simply Jerusalemites with no more reason to feel guilty about the location of their homes than those dwelling in Tel Aviv or Haifa. The fact that their houses were a stone’s throw from Palestinian towns such as Bet-Jalla did little to change their minds: the Israeli government had thrown a comforting arm around their shoulders and told them all was well, and that was what mattered. But all is not well – whether in terms of Israel’s relationship with the outside world, the spectre looming of a third Palestinian intifada, or the fact that Israelis are unquestioningly becoming more and more used to their collective status as perpetual oppressors of another people – and time is not on the peace camp’s side.
The light railway and the construction plans for Gilo are not deal-breakers on their own, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when it comes to the annexation of the West Bank, and all interested parties should be doing their utmost to oppose anything that further cements an Israeli presence in the area. To sit back and do nothing is to be complicit with the insidious plans of those who seek never to accommodate Palestinian needs in terms of their statehood. Israelis, Palestinians and outsiders alike must continue to stand up to the occupation machine’s operators, before the rot sets in completely and for ever.