Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

After the Talk, Walking the Walk

Posted by rabbibrian on June 9, 2009

President Obama’s inspiring speech in Cairo articulated a new vision of the relationship between the U.S and the Islamic world and of the role of the United States in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Now the truly difficult part begins.  Now it is time to “walk the walk”

For decades various Israeli governments have continued building settlements on the West Bank and around Jerusalem.  When challenged,  the Israeli government often responded with  obfuscations about “outposts” and “natural growth.”   While officially committed to a peace process   the Israeli government has relentlessly continued to create facts on the ground.   During the Oslo peace process, the number of settlers on the West Bank doubled.  U.S. government response to this in the past has been, to say the least, very weak.

Aaron David Miller wrote:

“In 25 years of working on this issue for six secretaries of state, I can’t recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity-including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions-does to the peacemaking process.”

In light of this history it was a relief  to hear Secretary of State Clinton  say recently that  President Obama  told Israel’s Prime Minister that he wants a complete freeze on settlements, “not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”

U.S. policy  has always been that settlements are illegal and an obstruction to peace.  Just getting the  the Israeli government to abide by American policy will be a big change. I fear that the Israeli government will continue to deceive Americans by focusing on the “painful” concessions of removing one or several “outposts”  which they should not have permitted, subsidized and promoted in the first place.  There must a complete freeze on all settlement activity.

This is only the first step which must be followed by serious negotiation about the dismantling of settlements, not only in the West Bank, but also in and around Jerusalem.   The goal of the settlements is to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.  Without the dismantling of many of the settlements, the two state solution is not a possibility.

In 1996 I participated with Israeli peace and human rights groups in a demonstration against plans announced by the then newly-elected  Netanyahu government for a settlement in Har Homa, south of Jerusalem.  We  stood opposite a beautiful wooded hill, one of the few open green areas in Jerusalem.  Last year, in November I visited the Palestinian town of Bet Sahur from where we saw the hill covered in buildings.  No more trees, no green area, just another large neighborhood built for Jews reaching almost to the border of the Palestinian town.  Now Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel  again.   Will the U.S. follow through on the commitment to put an end to this unjust settlement policy, itself an act of violence,  that perpetuates the conflict?  Will we walk the walk?

You can find reliable information about the settlements on the West Bank on the Peace Now Settlement Watch website.

For information on Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem check out Ir Amim.


6 Responses to “After the Talk, Walking the Walk”

  1. Carol said

    I tried very hard to see the “glass” of Mideast peace as as a few drops full and not almost totally empty — but then I saw for myself the huge fortress of Har Homa dominating the landscape above Bet Sahur. I can’t begin to imagine the resentment I would feel if I remembered it as the wooded hill it once was. It’s one thing to freeze building more settlements or alleged “natural growth” within settlements — and, of course, it would be a significant move and worth insisting upon. But I can’t help but look ahead and wonder how it will be possible to dismantle these huge apartment complexes/fortresses. I guess that’s what’s meant by “facts on the ground.”

    • Ellen said

      Absent engagement, there’s no hope of peace, so I’m encouraged that this administration appears determined to engage firmly with all parties, most especially with Israel. Israel’s assertion that Obama is doing this because he needs to provoke a public confrontation with Israel so Arab countries will respect the U.S. and rein in Iran is discouraging. Israel sees every party excepting itself as part of a game of posturing and manipulating loyalties; it winks at its friends whilst lying to them or sees their criticisms as misguided or bluffs or flat out ignorance; it attacks its enemies without diplomacy or mercy; it disdains and rebuffs everyone else.

      Israel planted Har Homa (with our help) on what was a pine forest, it planted trees (with our help) on what once were Palestinian villages. What about Palestinians moving into the settlements like Israelis moved into their homes after ’48?

      There is a dance within Israel to keep warring parties at bay, and a diplomatic dance outside Israel, largely with its U.S. partner, to appear cooperative. I think the “walk” of the U.S. now is to keep up the pressure and to withdraw the funds that support settlements. If Israelis see the threat of the settlements to Israel’s place in the community of nations as greater than the threat posed to Israel’s existence by their real and imagined enemies, then Israelis will have to confront Israelis, militant settlers and pragmatic settlers and city dwellers and peacemakers. It’s intriguing, and horrifying, that when radical settlers feel threatened by the Israeli government they attack and kill Palestinians. Can U.S. pressure can break the gruesome hold settlers have on the soul of Israelis? Any Israeli government, Netanyahu’s or the next, will likely contend with civil war because of this settlement monster it has created and nurtured, the golem of our time. I hope that the U.S. partner can persistently change its step, so the nature of the dance is forever changed. Maybe Obama’s new definition of “we” can bring down the “us/them” paradigm that is killing Israel and Palestinians.

  2. just joan said

    I worked as a volunteer throughout 1997 and looked out from my window on the grounds of Tantur on Bethlehem Road onto that lovely wooded hill in the wilderness of Judea of which you write so eloquently.

    I was aware that every nation in the world except my own country, the U.S., suggested that Israel NOT build a settlement on Har Homa. Then I watched the bulldozers begin the stripping process. In 2000 I led a tour to the Holy Land and saw the “completed” settlement. I returned for five weeks last November and shuddered and wept to see Har Homa extended almost to Jerusalem and almost to Bethlehem. And I wept to see Jerusalem intensely Judaized – no longer the International CIty, and now with no apparent regard for the archaeological value of these holy lands into which they dig relentlessly for ongoing modernization and Judaization and in East Jerusalem outright land acquisition.

    In addition, I had learned that the settlements had been expanded, but when I traveled north in November and December, I was stunned to see the historic character of the land vanished as between and amongst the settlements are huge “plantations” of industrial agriculture – both livestock and vegetation. Facts on the ground, indeed.

    Marvelous film just out – “Holy Land: Common Ground” is about Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to be enemies. I recommend you buy it, show it in living rooms, synagogues, coffee shops, churches, for service organizations, schools, peace and justice groups, in other words – everywhere!

    To inquire about the film, please tell him I sent you when you contact the film’s Director at Edward.Gaffney@valpo.edu

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks Joan for your personal reflection on Har Homa. I met Ed Gaffney at the Rabbis for Human Rights conference last year and admire and respect his work. I look forward to seeing the film. We, as Americans must join Israelis and Palestinians in refusing to be enemies. We, as Americans are not enemies to Palestinians, Fatah, Hamas or in between. Obama’s essential message was that America is not an enemy of the Muslim world even though his Administration officially still refuses to meet with Hamas until they pledge non-violence, recognize Israel etc. We, as citizens, need to make connections, build bridges, create relationships and resist our governments that want us to remain enemies, to refuse to talk and to engage. Rabbi Marc Gopin, whose blog is listed on my bloglist does some amazing work on this kind of citizen to citizen diplomacy. As Ellen points out in her comment, engagement is the first step to peace.

  3. Louis Frankenthaler said

    Hi Brian,

    Your posts are insightful and essential to expanding thought and discourse surrounding what I see as the disastrous path that Israel is taking, especially since 1967. I wanted to share this brief letter I wrote to the IHT:

    While Israel claims that it “cannot freeze” life in the settlements, Palestinian life surrounding the settlements is in a state of perpetual suspension, strangled by the Israeli occupation. Denying Palestinians access to civil life, systematically violating their human rights and treating them like colonial subjects, Israel demands President Obama’s acquiescence to allow its occupation to “grow naturally.”
    One of the important marks of President Obama’s efforts to re-configure the U.S. Middle East policy will be his revocation of the ongoing presidential pardon of Israeli settlement activity.


    From West Jerusalem

  4. Hi Brian, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.

    I am trying hard to remain optimistic in the wake of Obama’s speech, but I continue to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I fear especially that this latest push, valiant as it is, is simply too little too late. Since Oslo, the settlement infrastructure in the West Bank has more than quadrupled and the settlement bureaucracy has become a juggernaut. It’s doubtful that Netanyahu could even stop its momentum if he wanted to (which he clearly doesn’t.) In the meantime, the Israeli public has grown drifted rightward and the left has become thoroughly demoralized. The Palestinian leadership is also more divided than ever. This is inevitable result of peace delayed – it grows farther and farther from our reach. How long can we reasonably say that the window of opportunity for a two state solution is closing before we have to honestly admit that it has actually closed?

    Obama said all the right words, but they are still ultimately just that: words. Until now we have been judging him for what he says rather than what he does. I hate to sound pessimistic, but there you have it. For now I believe we have no choice but to support his efforts, but you are absolutely right: now the truly difficult part begins…

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