In Occupied Territory, Reality Check at Ground Zero

"We just came by for a cozy chat..." (Photo: Angela Godfrey-Goldstein)

In Occupied Territory, Reality Check at Ground Zero

The fate of a Bedouin village spotlights the cruelty of the Israeli occupation

Here at the grassroots, where real life is lived, things look very different. The Bedouin of the village of Khan al Ahmar are anxiously awaiting Israeli military bulldozers, not olive branches of peace. Named "gatekeepers of Jerusalem" by the late President Arafat, the continued Bedouin presence on the periphery of Jerusalem is key to keeping the two state solution on the table, despite Israeli settler colonialism and creeping Israeli annexation--each designed to prevent a viable Palestinian state from ever arising.

Last year, Bedouin, Palestinians, internationals and Israeli activists, including an organization I co-direct, Jahalin Solidarity, waged a major campaign to prevent the war crime of forcible displacement and the demolition of Khan al Ahmar village and its ecological school, constructed from old car tires and mud, which has put that village so firmly on the map.

The tiny hamlet hosted thousands of activists, as well as virtually the entire diplomatic echelon accompanied by a huge, daily media presence, joining a non-violent campaign to save the iconic school that's been ongoing for a decade but previously had been fought mainly in the Israeli High Court. On more than one occasion, there were massive demonstrations as bulldozers prepared for demolition. The village was sealed off by the military, shining a spotlight on the coercive environment 300,000 Palestinians are forced to live in, without civil rights, in Area C, which constitutes some 60 percent of the West Bank.

Having had the issue of forcible displacement of Bedouin refugees under its review since 2016, even the International Criminal Court at The Hague waded in, stating, "Evacuation by force now appears imminent, and with it the prospects for further escalation and violence. It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute."

Bear in mind, too, that--contrary to an Israeli High Court ruling--the Israeli army pitched up at Khan al Ahmar on January 1st, M16 semi-automatics undermining their claim to have come just for a cozy chat, stating: "You can't stay here. You have to leave, and you will go to Nabi Musa." So much for the rule of law, another democratic value we're supposed to share with the West. Its absence is as obvious on the ground as is lack of freedom for The Other. Or, by default, for us.

Oh, and the site on offer at Nabi Musa, near Jericho, just happens to be 400 meters from the regional sewage farm serving the entire Greater Jerusalem area. It comes after the targeted Bedouin vigorously rejected the Israeli government's previous "generous offer" to move them next to Jerusalem's major garbage dump, where in the '90s over a thousand were forcibly displaced. Those Israeli actions are indeed defined as war crimes.

All of which runs counter to recent statements about the imminent launch of a "Deal of the Century" made by real estate businessman/presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt, or bankruptcy lawyer/US ambassador/settler colonialism donor David Friedman. Anyone listening should be shocked by these parallel worlds. Throw money at the Palestinians and they'll be free? Or, in that fictional freedom, we Israelis will finally understand our freedom depends on theirs? More likely, we will keep seeing freedom merely as a version of escape. Or carte blanche for criminal anarchy and a sly land grab in the spirit of cynical realpolitik.

Even as we celebrated Passover, our exodus into freedom from slavery in Egypt, we deny freedom to those under our rule of force. While Khan al Ahmar is on notice of imminent destruction, the government placed under transport curfew for the entire holiday week the most densely populated Palestinian area of Jerusalem, Silwan, whose 50,000 residents live next to the Al Aqsa Mosque, just outside the Old City walls. Meanwhile, our young flood back to Egypt--80,000 Israelis celebrated this Passover in South Sinai, adding to a trend now acceptable--leaving Israel in search of a normal life.

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu electioneered on a ticket of partial annexation of the West Bank, with Gush Etzion settlement bloc (a major water source) named as first target. Ongoing policies are in place to force the Palestinians to surrender. Compare such policies to David Ben-Gurion's strategy for total domination in 1948: "conquest and destruction of the rural areas surrounding most of the towns," which led to the collapse and surrender of those starved towns and cities.

Israel's de facto, creeping annexation of Area C, which under "Oslo" was supposedly under temporary Israeli control only until 1999, has had a similar outcome, and was probably deliberately engineered. Then consider the impact of Israeli annexation resulting from Kushner's wheeler-dealer efforts, keeping the occupation fully in place, and Israelis in a fear-mongered and fearful state, absent peace and absolutely absent freedom.

Remember our assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin? "We're strong enough to come out of the ghetto," he declared, whereas Bibi preaches fear, denying us Israelis and Palestinians a future worth living for; encouraging, instead, Christian Zionist nihilism (just don't mention Jesus Christ's Beatitudes), neo-fascist militarism, alliances with anti-Semites, apartheid and war crimes that, by their nature, create conditions in which terror thrives.

The Bedouin's semi-nomadic, pastoral herding culture enshrines freedom at its core. Traditional, desert landowners, they move seasonally on their own wilderness lands, contrary to the "official" Israeli narrative which names them "nomads" in order to dispossess them of land ownership in public discourse. Their rich culture of sustainability is under attack by Israeli settler colonialism, which covets even those desert lands under a rubric of military "security" which, again, has little to do with real security or regional integration.

Civil society still calls on the international community, including the US Congress, to take urgent action to prevent the demolition of Khan al Ahmar and its iconic school.

Demolition of this peaceful village undermines prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recklessly endangers Israeli and regional security. Demolition sends a destabilizing message to the region that the "Deal of the Century" is not a peace plan, is unresponsive to Palestinian suffering, and is greenlighting the most oppressive Israeli policies of demolition, settler colonialism and control of all vital resources while undermining America's standing in the region, and any future ability to lead.

Readers should ask their own duty-bearers whether they have the moral courage to uphold the real values of freedom, civil rights or international law and champion the Bedouin's rights. Or whether they intend to continue kicking the ever more volatile can down the road. When will it explode? And maybe even render Armageddon to death cultist Christian Zionists "where the kings of the earth under demonic leadership will wage war on the forces of God at the end of history."

Normal life, anyone?

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