Wednesday, September 14, 2005

That's Occupation!

I spent a fascinating Shabbat in the settlement of Ma'ale Shomron, with Susan and Noki, my uncle's sister and brother-in-law, and their three kids.

As we drove past the yellow gates on the road past Alfei Menashe and Qalqilya, and climbed into the hills of Samaria (Shomron), I looked around the barren but beautiful landscape, and saw a few villages on hilltops. Noki told me which ones were Jewish and which were Arab. He remarked wryly to me how heartless the colonialist Israelis had been to implant so many Jews in such an overcrowded area.

Over the course of the weekend we had many fascinating discussions about the political situation and how it affected them in Ma'ale Shomron, which was built on an empty hillside in the 1980s, and now finds itself on the wrong side of the security fence. It boiled down to a couple of interesting anecdotes.

In the days before the first intifada in 1987, the road to the settlements went through Qalqilya, where there were regular traffic jams as Jewish shoppers clogged up the narrow streets as they rushed to spend money in Palestinian shops. They were doing their bit to bolster what was the fastest-growing economy anywhere in the world between 1967 and 1987 - yes, that's right!

He also told me about surveys carried out regularly in Palestinian towns and villages, on who they want to lead them. Given that there is still a fear of the various factions, and that voting in elections and surveys is done largely on the basis of what the voter thinks the pollster wants them to do, due to the ramifications on life and livelihood for not doing so, the results are fascinating.

The question posed was "who would you most like to see as your leader?". Around 30% supported the PA leadership. Another 30% supported Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other more religious and radical groups. A further 10% rallied behind other local alternatives or unheard-of groups of their choice. And most interesting, 30% stated "none of the above".

To reiterate; this means that 3 out of 10 people were prepared to ignore any perceived or real threat against their wellbeing by stating that NONE of the options were what they were looking for. It implies that many more might back this position if they felt less intimidated. But what does it suggest they choose instead?

There seem to be two possibilities: they want a totally new Palestinian leadership and structure that is neither corrupt, theocratic or pseudo-democratic, that can lead them to a state in sensible borders that can live alongside Israel and thrive on its own merits rather than handouts, or they are happy with NO Palestinian leadership at all. In other words, they would prefer livelihood to statehood, education and health provision to corrupt institutions that fail their constituents. This is what they had back in 1987, before the first intifada.

Could it be that a sizeable proportion of "Palestinians" accept that they are better off without "Palestine"? Again, Noki had an excellent and revealing anecdote.

He was visiting Washington DC in the early 1990s, around the time of the Madrid and Oslo Accords, and caught a cab from the airport. The driver asked where he had come from and he replied "Israel". The cabbie said "I'm Palestinian - isn't it great that soon we will be living side by side in peace?" Noki replied that Arafat and the Palestinians were stealing the Jews' birthright from under their noses. Naturally, the driver said that it was time to be optimistic but Noki pressed him on his origins in Palestine.

The driver said he had been born near Amman (that's in Jordan by the way), in a Palestinian refugee camp. Noki asked where his parents were from - the driver said they lived near Jerusalem. Noki asked how long they had lived there - he said it had been many years. But where were they from? "They're Palestinian". But where from? After pressing him for a while, the driver conceded that neither were from any point between the Jordan and the Med. Noki asked if it seemed fair that Israel was giving up land to a group who are not one people, have no historical tie to the land, and have consistently waged war and terror to take more than they have been offered.

The driver conceded that in fact the Oslo Accord was a Trojan horse for Arafat, and that the Palestinians had pulled the wool over the world's eyes.

Roll forward 15 years, and the Palestinians are claiming more, having had a decade of spoiling for war and 5 years of intifada. Still, the world believes every word they say, be it about their apparent historic right to a state, their claims of genocides and massacres, or their insistence that Israel is not keeping its side of the bargain whilst they are trying so hard.

And if you believe it there, you'll believe it when "Sir" Iqbal Sacranie makes similar statements in London. And if the former is hurting the Jews of Israel, the latter will hurt the Jews of Britain.

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