Jeff Halper: Ramadan Kareem from the Netanyahu and Obama Administrations

Mamilla cemetery - grave of Ahmad Agha Duzdar al-Asali, mayor of Jerusalem in the 19th Century

Mamilla cemetery - grave of Ahmad Agha Duzdar al-Asali, mayor of Jerusalem in the 19th Century (Wikipedia)

By Jeff Halper – 11 Aug 2010
(distributed by email)

Yesterday, the day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, at 2:30 in
the morning, workers sent by the Israeli authorities, protected by dozens of
police, destroyed the tombstones in the last portion of the Mamilla
cemetery
, an historic Muslim burial ground with graves going back to the 7th
Century, hitherto left untouched. The government of Israel has always been
fully cognizant of the sanctity and historic significance of the site.
Already in 1948, when control of the cemetery reverted to Israel, the
Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized Mamilla “to be one of the most
prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of
[Saladin’s] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars. Israel will
always know to protect and respect this site.” For all that, and despite
(proper) Israeli outrage when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated anywhere in
the world, the dismantlement of the Mamilla cemetery has been systematic. In
the 1960s “Independence Park” was built over a portion of it; subsequently
an urban road was built through it, major electrical cables were laid over
graves and a parking lot constructed over yet another piece. Now some 1,500
Muslim graves have been cleared in several nighttime operations to make way
For…a $100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity, a project of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. (Ironically, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the
Wiesenthal Center’s Director, appeared on Fox News to express his opposition
to the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, because the
site of the 9/11 attack “is a cemetery.”)

The month-long period between Netanyahu’s July 6th visit to Washington and
the start of Ramadan has provided Israel with a window to “clear the table”
after a frustrating hiatus on home demolitions imposed by the “old,” mildly
critical Obama Administration – although there is no guarantee that Israel
will not demolish during Ramadan, especially if it wants to exploit the
period until the November elections, knowing that until then Obama will not
overtly oppose anything it does in the Occupied Territories. In fact, the
process of demolishing Palestinian homes never ceased. On June 6th, for
example, a year after the demolition of more than 65 structures and the
forced displacement of more than 120 people, including 66 children, nine
families of Khirbet Ar Ras Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, totaling 70 people,
received a new round of “evacuation orders.” A week later the Israeli High
Court ordered the Civil Administration to “step up enforcement against
illegal Palestinian structures” in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under
full Israeli control.   And so, on July 13th, upon Netanyahu’s return
(Palestinian homes are not demolished without an OK from the Prime
Minister’s Office), three homes were demolished in the Palestinian East
Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, followed by three more homes in Beit
Hanina. The Jerusalem Municipality also announced the planned demolition of
19 more homes in Issawiya this month. In the West Bank, the Israeli “Civil”
Administration demolished 55 structures belonging to 22 Palestinian families
in the Hmayer area of Al Farisiye in the northern Jordan Valley, including
22 residential tents and 30 other structures used to shelter animals and
store agricultural equipment. According to the UN’s Office of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA): “This week [July 14-20, the week of Netanyahu’s return from
Washington] there was a significant increase in the number of demolitions in
Area C, with at least 86 structures demolished in the Jordan Valley and the
southern West Bank, including Bethlehem and Hebron districts. In 2010, at
least 230 Palestinian structures have been demolished in Area C, forcibly
displacing 1100 people, including 400 children. Approximately 600 others
have been otherwise affected.” Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have
occurred since Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. More than 3,000 demolition
orders are outstanding in the West Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian
East Jerusalem.

The demolition of homes is, of course, only a small, if painful, part of the
destruction Israel wreaks daily on the Palestinian population. Over the past
few weeks a violent campaign has been waged against Palestinian farmers in
one of the most fertile agricultural areas of the West Bank, the Baka
Valley, steadily being encroached upon by large suburbs of the settlement of
Kiryat Arba, in Hebron. Israel already takes 85% of the West Bank’s water
for its own use, either for settlements (settlers use five times more water
per capita as do Palestinians, and Ma’aleh Adumim is currently building a
water park in addition to its four municipal swimming pools and the huge
fountains constantly flowing in the city center) or to be pumped into Israel
proper – all in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which
prohibits an Occupying Power from using the resources of an occupied
territory.

Accusing the farmers of “stealing water” – their own water – the Israel
water company Mekorot, supported by the Civil Administration and the IDF,
has in recent weeks destroyed dozens of wells, some of them ancient, and
reservoirs used to collect rain water, which is also “illegal.” Hundreds of
hectares of agricultural land have dried up as irrigation pipes have been
pulled out and confiscated by the Civil Administration. Fields of tomatoes,
beans, eggplants and cucumbers are dying just before they can be harvested,
and the grape industry in this rich valley is threatened with destruction.
“I’m watching my life dry up before my eyes,” Ata Jaber, a Palestinian
farmer who has had his home demolished twice, most of whose land lies buried
under the Givat Harsina neighborhood of Kiryat Arba and whose plastic drip
irrigation pipes are destroyed annually by the Civil Administration just
before he can harvest. “I had hoped to sell my crop for at least $2000
before Ramadan, but all is gone.”

(You can see a BBC report on the destruction of Palestinian reservoirs on
YouTube <Earth Report – 2003 – Conflict over water in Israel/Palestine> and
a heart-rending scene filmed just a week ago when Ata’s cousin was arrested
in front of his small child for resisting the destruction of his water
system <Hebron Palestinian Child’s Torment Caught On TV>.)

Settlements continue to be built, of course. The much-trumpeted “settlement
freeze” amounted to no less than a temporary lull in construction. (Indeed,
Netanyahu never used the word “freeze”; in Hebrew he refers only to a
“pause.”) According to the August report of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, at
least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over
60 different settlements – meaning that the rate of construction is about
half of that during the same period in an average year when there is no
freeze. Given that the approval process has never been halted – the Israeli
government announced the planned building of 1600 housing units in the
settlements when Vice President Biden was visiting, if you recall – making
up for lost time when the “freeze” ends in late September will be an easy
task. According to Ha’aretz, some 2,700 housing units are waiting to be
constructed.

The fact that the so-called settlement freeze did not really end settlement
construction is obvious. The American government seems ready to accept
lip-service only from Israel, as against overt and brutal threats towards
the Palestinians if they do not acquiesce to the charade. Palestinian
negotiators revealed last week the Obama Administration threatened to cut
all ties with the Palestinian Authority, political and financial, if they
continued to insist on a genuine freeze on settlements or even clear
parameters on what the sides will negotiate. (Netanyahu refuses to accept
even the elementary principle of the 1967 borders being the basis of talks.)

Just as destructive of any real peace process, however, is the fact that the
focus on settlement freeze deflects attention from attempts by Israel to
create “irreversible facts on the ground” which will defeat the very process
of negotiation. Even if Israel did respect a settlement freeze, there is no
demand, no expectation, absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing to
build the Wall (the enclosing of the Shuafat refugee camp inside Jerusalem
and the town of Anata is being completed in these very days, and the village
of Wallajeh, some of which spills into Jerusalem, is losing its lands,
ancient olive trees and homes even as we speak). Nothing is preventing
Israel from continuing to impoverish and imprison the Palestinian population
through its twenty-year economic “closure,” including the siege on Gaza,
having reduced the Palestinian economy to ashes. Nothing stands in the way
of completing a system of parallel (though not equal in size and quality)
apartheid highways, big ones, going through Palestinian lands, for Israelis;
narrow ones for Palestinians. Nothing keeps Israel from expelling
Palestinian from their homes so that Jewish settlers can move in – on July
29th nine families living in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, returning
home at night from a wedding, found themselves locked out of their homes by
settlers and prevented from entering by the police. (Palestinians, of
course, have no legal recourse to reclaiming their properties, whole
villages, towns and urban neighborhoods, farms, factories and commercial
buildings, confiscated from them in 1948 and after.)

Nothing prevents Israel from terrorizing the Palestinian population, whether
by its own army or the surrogate militia founded by the US and run by the
Palestinian Authority to pacify its own population, whether by settlers who
shoot and beat Palestinians and burn their crops with no fear of arrest, or
by undercover agents, aided by thousands of Palestinian forced to become
collaborators, many simply so that their children could receive medical care
or so they could have a roof over their heads; whether by expulsion or the
myriad administrative constraints of an invisible yet Kafkaesque system of
total control and intimidation. Nothing opposes Israel’s boycott of the
Palestinian people, isolated from the world by Israeli-controlled borders,
or policies that effectively boycott Palestinian schools and universities by
preventing their proper functioning. And nothing, absolutely nothing, stops
Israel from demolishing Palestinian homes – 24,000 in the Occupied
Territories since 1967, and counting.

Perhaps this way of welcoming Ramadan comes at no surprise in terms of the
Occupied Territories. It took on an entirely different cast when, on July
26th, more than 1,300 Israeli Border Police, the shock-troops of the
police’s Yassam “special operations” unit and regular police, accompanied by
helicopters, descended upon the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, just north of
Beer-Sheva, a community within Israel inhabited by Israeli citizens.
Forty-five homes were demolished, 300 people forcibly displaced. One of the
most grotesque and dismaying parts of this operation was the use of Israeli
Jewish high school students, volunteers with the civil guard, to remove the
belongings of their fellow citizens from their homes before the demolition.
Besides reports of vandalism and contempt for their victims the students
were photographed lounging in the residents’ furniture in plain sight of its
owners. Finally, when the bulldozers began demolishing the homes, the
volunteers cheered and celebrated. Over the next week, as Israeli activists
helped the residents pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes, the Jewish
National Fund, the Israeli Land Authority, the Ministry of the Interior and
the “Green Patrol” of the Ministry of Agriculture (established by Ariel
Sharon to prevent Bedouin “take-over” of the Negev) sent in police and
bulldozers and had the village demolished twice more.

Although al-Arakib is one of 44 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev
– of which only eleven have even rudimentary education and medical services,
no electricity, extremely limited access to water and none have paved roads
(see http://rcuv.wordpress.com) – it is nevertheless populated by Israeli
citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli army. While demolitions of Arab
homes within Israel is not a new phenomenon – last year the Israeli
government demolished three times more houses of Israeli (Arab) citizens
inside Israel as it did in the Occupied Territories (the destruction of up
to 8,000 homes in the Gaza invasion aside) – it signifies that the term
“occupation” cannot be restricted to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza
(and the Golan Heights) alone. The situation of Arab citizens of Israel is
almost as insecure as that of the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories,
and their exclusion from Israeli society almost as complete. While around
1,000 cities, towns and agricultural villages have been established in
Israel since 1948 exclusively for Jews, not a single new Arab settlement has
been established, with the exception of seven housing projects for Bedouins
in the Negev where none of the residents are allowed to farm or own animals.
Indeed, regulations and zoning prohibit Palestinian citizens of Israel from
living on 96% of the country’s land, which is reserved for Jews only.

The message of the bulldozers is clear: Israel has created one bi-national
entity between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which one
population (the Jews) has separated itself from the other (the Arabs) and
instituted a regime of permanent domination. That is precisely the
definition of apartheid. And the message is delivered clearly in the weeks
and days leading up to Ramadan. It is papered over with fine words.
Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “We mark this important month amid
attempts to achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance
peace treaties with our Arab neighbors. I know you are partners in this goal
and I ask for your support both in prayers and in any other joint effort to
really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence.” Obama and Clinton also
sent their greetings to the Muslim world, Obama observing that Ramadan
“remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in
advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human
beings.” Both the White House and the State Department will hold Iftar
meals. But the bulldozers and other expressions of apartheid and warehousing
tell a much different story.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <jeff@icahd.org>.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and
has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Please visit The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions websites:
www.icahd.org
www.icahduk.org
www.icahdusa.org


The complete IOA coverage of the Mamilla Cemetery

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