Monday, August 24, 2009

West Bank: slowly, determinedly, settlers bid to build new town.

As Netanyahu prepares for a series of meetings in London, including a meeting with the White House's special envoy, George Mitchell, the Guardian are reporting on what is currently taking place in the West Bank.

Early in the morning, Nadia Matar drove to the hills south of Jerusalem, near the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, and turned into a dusty, unmarked road. There she planted a sign which read "Welcome to Shdema". She drove on, stopping every few metres along the route to jam into the rocky ground a series of fluttering blue and white Israeli flags. Israeli soldiers let her pass unhindered as she drove up to the concrete ruins of what was until a few years ago the Israeli military base of Shdema.

Here, just a stone's throw from Palestinian homes and only a few minutes from the city of Bethlehem, Matar and her friends are intent on building a Jewish community, the next settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank.

It is a glaring challenge to the Obama administration, which is trying to halt all Israeli settlement growth as a precursor to renewed peace talks. But recent history suggests it is the highly-motivated settlers like Matar, 43, a mother of six born in Belgium and now living in the settlement of Efrat, who may in the end triumph on this particular dusty patch of land.

This is taking place despite the presence of the IDF, who appear to be - to some extent - placating the settlers.

At first, after the army withdrew from the base three years ago, soldiers closed the area off and prevented all settlers from approaching. But the settlers sneaked in and kept coming. Eventually Matar, a leader of the group Women in Green, and her supporters convinced the military to allow them in just once a week, on a Friday. They cleaned the buildings up, painted over graffiti, tidied the rooms and held workshops and discussions. Sometimes they have stayed the night, sometimes they have been allowed to come twice a week and eventually, they believe, settlers will begin to live here.

Similar struggles take place every week on other hilltops across the West Bank.

And Matar's justification for what she and others are doing?
"The Land of Israel was given by God to the people of Israel," she said. "Some will tell you God gave it to us, others will say Jewish history of 4,000 years is our historical right … You don't have to be a religious Englishman to see London belongs to the British."
I have no idea how one begins to reason with someone coming from such an insane viewpoint. And Netanyahu's biggest problem is that for years he has actually encouraged this type of religious madness.

All I know is that the minute people start telling me that they have rights - which supersede international law - because God gave things to them, then my eyes begin to glaze over.

But, this story also reveals how the IDF, far from their initial role of preventing the settlers, eventually begin to work at protecting them.

Now every time they come the army far from preventing them in fact provides them with security, deploying several soldiers and armoured vehicles but not interfering with their activities. In April the military also halted the construction of a Palestinian park, part funded by the US government, because it was at the foot of the hill claimed by the settlers at Shdema.

Already the settlers have produced a glossy brochure with architectural plans of the Shdema they would like to see: it has grassy lawns, lines of trees, a cultural centre and a small but thriving Jewish community.

The settlers, backed by the IDF, are now preventing the building of US sponsored projects in the West Bank. There couldn't be a more direct challenge to Obama's order for illegal settlement building to cease.

As Netanyahu comes to London, one can see that there will be no easy way for him to deal with such people.

They described themselves as a frontline in a wider struggle against what they see as radical Islam, insisting that settler outposts protect the larger settlement blocs, which in turn protect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and which in turn protect the Western world.

"People like to present us like crazy lunatics," said Matar. "But one day these people in the West will see. The Muslims are taking over there too. You better be on our side for your sake, but you guys in Europe are not. Those who curse Israel will be cursed, and those who bless Israel will be blessed."

But, for years Netanyahu has built his political base by encouraging this kind of lunacy. Which is why he finds himself in his current predicament. I have no sympathy for him. Nor should Mitchell or any of the others who he meets with whilst in London.

He needs to be reminded of his obligations under international law. And of the fact that international public opinion is now strongly against the kind of illegality which he has, for decades, encouraged.

And, by coming to London, he will quickly discover - as he discovered recently in Paris - that the views of Obama are much more widely held than he previously believed.

Click title for full article.

No comments: