Thursday, March 29, 2007
Avaaz Petition for real Peace Talks
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 3:56 PM
Arab leaders are making a serious peace offer, and the world supports them. Ordinary Israelis want negotiations too - but their leaders risk losing this rare chance. Talks just about security will never bring peace. Tell Israeli and Arab leaders to make an urgent date for real talks – and we’ll put your message on billboards in Jerusalem where decision-makers will see it. Time is short - sign the petition and act now
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Gaza Sewage Tsunami
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 10:40 AM
A sewage reservoir in the northern Gaza Strip burst its banks yesterday; flooding the nearby Bedouin village of Umm Naser and killing 5 people, including two toddlers, two elderly women and one teenaged girl. A further 35 people were injured and 200 houses were damaged or destroyed as the wave of putrid water and excrement rolled over the village.

This is a disaster that has been waiting to happen for some time, due to the shocking state of Gaza's wastewater infrastructure. The sewage plant in question serves two densely populated areas: Beit Lahiya and Jabalya, and has for many years been stretched way beyond its capacity. Development agencies and water engineers have been aware of this specific problem for years, and projects have been designed to improve facilities. However, all such projects stalled in 2005 due to the international aid boycott of the Palestinian Territories and escalating violence in the region.

The sewage problem in Gaza is extremely severe. 80% of sewage is discharged untreated into the environment and such treatment facilities as there are are overburdened to breaking point. Not only does this directly threaten human health; but it also causes severe and potentially irreversible environmental degradation, contaminating soil and groundwater supplies.

Last year the Israeli aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip followed by the ground invasion destroyed millions of dollars worth of infrastructure, further setting back development efforts. Maintenance personnel were unable to access facilities to collect waste or repair damage.

This situation is an infringement of basic human rights and urgent action must be taken to remediate it. The fact that Tuesday's disaster was allowed to happen is a disgrace to both Israel and the international aid community; who have been well aware of the danger for years.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Honouring Past Agreements: Environmental Justice and Facts on the Ground in Palestine

by Frubious Bandersnatch

With the formation of a new Palestinian Unity government opening up the possibility of a shift in Palestine’s diplomatic relations, both with Israel and with the wider international community, there has been much focus in recent weeks upon the willingness of the new Palestinian government to submit to international pressure (particularly from the ‘Quartet’ which includes the US, the EU, Russia and the UN) to “acknowledge Israel, renounce violence and abide by past peace agreements”. These are the conditions for relaxing the international aid embargo that has been in force for the last year, throttling the Palestinian economy and causing widespread hardship throughout Palestinian society; and for resumption of peace negotiations with Israel, which could bring about an end to the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and the formation of a Palestinian State.

However, there has been no focus on the content of past peace agreements and hence the implications of adhering to them; neither has there been any similar pressure placed on Israel, or any examination, indeed scarcely even a mention, of Israel’s track record in keeping past agreements. With regard to the content of the agreements which it is demanded that Palestinians must abide by, this is a particularly serious omission, and does not bode well for the success of any future agreements. The pervading attitude in the international media appears to be a somewhat simplistic interpretation that unwillingness to honour the letter of past agreements implies unwillingness to make peace.

This is a totally misguided interpretation. The peace agreements in question, principally the Oslo Accords and the Road Map to Peace, cover not just undertakings to bring about the cessation of violence but also access to and control over natural resources and land, which are pivotal both to the daily lives of Palestinians and to the viability of a future Palestinian State. There are extremely good reasons for a Palestinian government to avoid committing themselves to abiding by the letter of past agreements with Israel. Namely that currently the agreements preclude Palestinians from effectively accessing resources that are vital for life, and from exercising effective environmental management, causing serious and potentially irreversible degradation of their homeland; and at the same time leave loopholes for Zionist expansionism, which are exploited by Israel. There is a need for recognition of the shortcomings of past agreements if future negotiations are to be effective in bringing about an end to the conflict. Where there is no justice, it is unlikely that peace will follow. What has been seriously lacking from past agreements is a concept of environmental justice, and this has undermined prospects for peace from the outset.

Oslo and the Palestinian Environment
In 1993, the year of the first Oslo Agreement, the World Bank published a report entitled “Developing the Occupied Territories: An Investment in Peace” in which it described the provision of public services and infrastructure in the Occupied Territories as ‘highly inadequate’. Water, solid waste and wastewater infrastructure were practically non-existent; hence the standard of living in Palestinian localities lagged way behind that enjoyed within Israel and also in other Middle Eastern countries; and poor waste management threatened the environment with serious pollution and degradation. The reason for this was essentially neglect and underinvestment during the Israeli Administration from 1967 to 1993. It is pointed out in the report that the investment in Palestinian infrastructure by the Israeli Civil Administration was not equal to the amount payed in taxes by Palestinians. Thus from its inception, the Palestinian administration had a gargantuan task in front of it to develop Palestinian infrastructure, bringing about a decent standard of living for Palestinians; and to implement programs of environmental protection, and halt the degradation of the Palestinian environment.

Despite high investment by many international donors, progress on the ground has been much slower than it ought to have been. This is due to the deficiencies and ambiguities in the Oslo Agreement, and the way in which it has been interpreted and implemented (and violated) by successive Israeli Administrations. More recently development has been as good as halted by escalating violence and the international aid boycott.

Oslo and Land:
The key to understanding how the Oslo Agreement has prevented Palestinians from exercising effective environmental management is the division of control of land under Oslo. According to the Oslo Interim Agreement (1995) the West Bank was divided up into three zones: Areas A, B and C. In Area A, which comprised 4 % of the land area of the West Bank, complete authority was granted to the PA. In Area B, which comprised 25 % of the West Bank, civil authority was given to the PA and military authority retained by Israel; whereas in Area C, some 71 % of the West Bank, Israel retained total control[1]. Under the Oslo Interim Agreement (1995) it was envisaged that Israel would gradually withdraw its military presence in three phases starting with Area A (major Palestinian towns to be evacuated before elections could take place), then Area B, followed by most of Area C, excluding settlements and military bases, over a period of 18 months:

“The two sides agree that West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will come under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Council in a phased manner, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council.” (Oslo Interim Agreement, Article XI, Paragraph 2)

However, the exact nature of the redeployment of Israel’s military presence after withdrawal from Area A is not specified, nor is the amount of land they will withdraw from quantified. Today Area A comprises 17.8 % of the West Bank’s land area (up 13.8 % from 1995), Area B comprises 18.3 % (down 6.7 % from 1995), Area C comprises 61.5 % (down 9.5 % from 1995) and 3 % is classified as Nature Reserves. Thus whilst there has been some redeployment and some transfer of authority over some areas, the ability of Palestinians to control and develop their environment has been and continues to be extremely limited and has not lived up to the spirit of the peace agreements, which envisaged a transition from an occupied territory to a viable state. Instead, the Palestinian Territories are becoming a series of rotting Bantustans, without adequate access to resources to sustain themselves.

Urban centres in Areas A and B are becoming increasingly crowded as people migrate from the countryside, forced off their land by settlement expansion, land confiscation, military closures, lack of security and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions. The urban economy is not robust enough to absorb the influx of people and unemployment and poverty are escalating. Population density in Palestinian cities is among the highest in the world, exceeding 6000 people per square kilometre[2]. Provision of public services, already inadequate in the early 1990s, lags behind population growth. Sewage systems are strained and overflowing, and unmanaged dumping and burning of waste is an endemic problem in urban landscapes. This causes soil, water and air pollution; which in turn threaten public health.

Access to land is needed to develop sanitary landfill sites and sewage treatment facilities. However, this access is frequently delayed by cumbersome beaurocratic procedures or outright denied by Israeli authorities, who cite security concerns as a reason to prevent development from going forward. Closure of large tracts of land has increased pressure on the remaining open areas, encouraging intensive farming practices and overgrazing; which cause soil degradation and erosion, and loss of biodiversity. Since 2002, these problems have been exacerbated and escalated by the construction of the ‘Security Fence’ or ‘Segregation Wall’; which snakes deep inside Palestinian Territory, escalating land confiscation and environmental destruction, imposing worse movement restrictions, decreasing access to land, ghettoizing urban communities and isolating and impoverishing rural ones.

Oslo and Water
When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the second military order passed declared all water resources in the region to be ‘Israeli State Property’. Several subsequent military orders essentially froze water development in Palestine, fixing pumping quotas and prohibiting rehabilitation of wells or drilling of new wells without a permit. Additionally, all Palestinian pumping stations on the Jordan River were destroyed or confiscated, and Palestinians have had no access to the river since then. At the same time, Israel moved to exploit the water resources of the West Bank for its own ends, drilling 38 wells deep wells, largely to supply settlements. Between 1967 and 1990 only 23 permits were issued to Palestinians for drilling wells in the West Bank, of which 20 were for domestic use only[3]. The number of working wells in decreased from 413 in 1967 to 300 in 1983[4]. This was due to drying out of wells caused by the dropping water table and the drilling of deeper wells by Israel and also because owners could not obtain permits to rehabilitate wells or equipment.

By 1993, Palestinians had access to only 20 % of the water of the Mountain Aquifer system underlying the West Bank and no access to the Jordan River. Average water supply totalled just 60 litres per person per day[5], way below World Health Organization recommendations of 150 litres per person per day; and many Palestinian towns and villages were not even connected to the water network. Israel was utilizing 80 % of the Mountain Aquifer, both to supply settlements and communities in Israel. Disastrously for water starved Palestinian communities, the Oslo Interim Agreement did nothing the redress this inequality, and in fact reinforced it. Annex III, Article 40 of the agreement states that Israel "recognizes the Palestinian water rights in the West Bank" but that "these will be negotiated in the Permanent Status Agreement relating to the various water resources". In the meantime, it was agreed that "existing quantities of utilization" were to be maintained; although Palestinian were to be allowed to develop some additional water resources from the Eastern part of the Mountain Aquifer system (a total of 70-80 MCM per year). Israel’s exploitation of 80% of the Mountain Aquifer water was formally endorsed in the Oslo Agreement, until such a time as the Final Status Negotiation should take place.

It was further agreed that development of water and sewage systems would be coordinated by a Joint Water Committee a management institution containing equal numbers of Israeli and Palestinian representatives. All development of water resources in the West Bank must be approved by the JWC before it can go ahead. This includes rehabilitation of wells, drilling of new wells, increasing abstraction from any source, and construction of wastewater infrastructure and treatment plants. Furthermore, construction of pipelines in Israeli controlled areas and areas under joint control (Areas B and C) cannot go ahead without approval. Absolute authority over water resources is retained by the Water Officer of the Israeli Civil Administration, who has the power to veto JWC decisions.

There has been much criticism of the JWC since it began work, with accusations from the Palestinian side of obstruction and lack of cooperation by the Israelis[6]. It is undoubtedly the case that, despite appearing to be egalitarian in structure, containing as it does equal numbers of representatives from each side, the JWC in fact confers a large advantage to the Israelis for the simple reason that the Palestinians stand in much greater need of developing their water resources and distribution systems. The Israeli settler population of the West Bank number between 0.2 and 0.25 million (not including East Jerusalem settlers) and have access to ample water supplies – possibly up to 9 times as much per capita as an average West Bank Palestinian[7]. Therefore the capacity for Israelis to obstruct desperately needed Palestinian water developments is much greater than vice versa. In fact, what has ensued is a modus operandi whereby Palestinians have been forced to agree to new water infrastructure for illegal Israeli settlements in return for Israeli agreement to water developments for water starved Palestinian communities. In addition, wastewater treatment developments have been blocked unless Israeli settlements are also networked to them. The Oslo Agreement on water has been used as a tool to entrench Israeli Settlements in the West Bank.

To date the Oslo Agreement on water has not been fully implemented. However, even if it was, the quantity of water allotted to the Palestinians (including additional quantities) is not enough to meet the basic needs of the current population; and takes no account of population growth and economic development. Currently 13 % of the population of the West Bank remain unconnected to the water network[8], and only 46% of communities who are connected receive 100% coverage[9]. Lack of access to water is crippling the agricultural economy and decreasing overall food security. There is only one functioning wastewater treatment plant to serve a population of more than 2 million people, and wastewater collection infrastructure is far from adequate. In addition, construction of the Israeli Segregation Wall has caused the destruction of 29 wells and 32 springs and 35 km of water pipes as well as many cisterns and reservoirs[10]. Furthermore, 50 wells and 200 cisterns have been isolated behind the wall or confiscated for ‘security reasons’[11]. Thus the growing Palestinian population’s access to water is ever more restricted and present per capita availability of water is the lowest of all the countries in the Middle East.

Oslo and Settlements:
Since 1993, Israel has expanded civilian presence in the West Bank, creating a series of ‘facts on the ground’ which make eventual withdrawal seem increasingly unlikely. Existing settlements have been expanded, new settlements built, and a network of roads for the exclusive use of Israelis put into place, further fragmenting the Palestinian environment, and causing the destruction of thousands of acres of farmland (See Map). Furthermore, the construction of the Segregation Wall to protect these settlement blocks will annex 10 % of the West Bank to Israel (555 km2), and has already directly caused the destruction of over 1 million trees, thousands of acres of farmland and over 50 wells; causing a serious downturn in the rural economy and the quality of life in rural areas.

Besides this, the Settlements themselves constitute a serious environmental hazard as few of them implement any form of waste management or wastewater treatment; and in many cases both solid waste and untreated sewage are discharged into the surrounding Palestinian environment. In addition, over 160 Israeli industrial sites are attached to settlements, taking advantage of the lack of enforcement of environmental standards in the West Bank. These discharge industrial waste and effluents into the Palestinian environment, causing pollution of soil, water and air[12]. Damage to Palestinian farmland in the form of soil pollution from industrial effluents and untreated wastewater has further harmed the already struggling Palestinian agricultural sector[13].

The failure of the Oslo Accords to explicitly ban Settlement growth in the Occupied Territories is a serious flaw in the agreement. Article XXXI, Clause 7 of the Interim Agreement states that: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” It has been argued by Palestinians that Settlement expansion is a direct contravention of this provision; however, Israelis have argued that expansion is due to ‘natural population growth’ (although in reality it far exceeds it), and that settlements do not constitute a ‘change in the status of the West Bank’, as they are not permanent structures. Although the Wall clearly does alter the status of the West Bank, it is justified by Israel under Article XII Clause 1 of the Oslo Interim Agreement which states: “Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility…..for overall security of Israelis and Settlements, for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order, and will have all the powers to take the steps necessary to meet this responsibility.”

Settlements are essentially a tool used by Israel to appropriate land and resources in the West Bank, whilst systematically undermining the viability of the Palestinian State: fragmenting and degrading the Palestinian environment and turning it into a dumping ground for Israeli industries.

The Road Map to Peace
Following the collapse of the Oslo Process and the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in September 2000 (largely as a result of the failure of Oslo to deliver promised improvements in standard of living and continuing Israeli Settlement expansion), the Road Map to Peace was drawn up by the Quartet in 2002, and implementation began in 2003. In its own words the Road Map is a “performance based and goal driven [agreement], with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields….. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005”.

The Road Map was to be a two phase process, in which the first phase sought to create the conditions for Final Status Negotiation to take place in the second phase, which would conclude in the creation of an independent Palestinian State, living in peace with Israel. The first phase was to include a cessation in all terrorist activities by the Palestinians, and a freeze in all Settlement activity (including natural growth) by Israelis. Phase II was scheduled to begin between June and December of 2003, and was to include an International Conference to promote Palestinian economic recovery, a revival of multi-lateral cooperation on issues such as water, environment and arms control, and eventually, creation of an independent Palestinian State. Essentially it was an attempt to revert from the violence of the Intifada to the ‘peace process’ that had been in force before it broke out, and with the exception of banning settlement expansion, addressed none of the problems which had made Oslo such an unsatisfactory agreement in the first place. Like Oslo, it deferred resolution of these issues to ‘Final Status Negotiations’, which would take place at the end of the second phase.

The second phase of the Road Map never came about, and the timelines and target dates of the first phase are all long surpassed. The Hudna (ceasefire) that was called in 2003 has well and truly broken down, and settlement expansion in the West Bank continues apace, both on an official (Israeli government approved) and unofficial basis. For example, in February this year it was revealed that Israeli government bodies are currently promoting a plan to build a neighbourhood of 11 000 housing units in Arab East Jerusalem[14]; and in October 2006, a Haaretz exposé revealed that “a secret, two year investigation by the [Israeli] defense establishment shows that there has been rampant illegal construction in dozens of settlements, in many cases involving privately owned Palestinian properties”, as well as 107 new settlement outposts.[15]

Environmental Justice and the viability of the Palestinian State
While peace negotiations stall and the international community continue their aid boycott, environmental and humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian Territories are steadily worsening; and the dream of a viable, independent Palestinian state is receding further and further into the distance. Soil degradation, pollution of groundwater and air pollution are all consequences of poor waste management practices in Palestinian towns and Israeli settlements. Palestinians are hampered in dealing with these problems by the conditions imposed under past peace agreements, the ongoing conflict, Israeli obstruction and economic hardship. At the same time, Palestinian access to environmental goods and services is being eroded by land closure, settlement expansion, construction of Israeli by-pass roads and construction of the Segregation Wall.

Viability is intimately intertwined with sustainability and environmental justice. In order for a Palestinian State to be viable it must exist within an environment that allows it to sustain itself, with sufficient access to environmental goods and services to allow a decent standard of living for the Palestinian people. Environmental justice has been defined as: “a condition….when environmental risks and hazards and investments and benefits are equally distributed with a lack of discrimination, whether direct or indirect, at any jurisdictional level; and when access to environmental investments, benefits, and natural resources are equally distributed; and when access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice in environment-related matters are enjoyed by all.”[16]

No past peace deal between Israel and Palestine has successfully incorporated this concept, and the situation in the Palestinian Territories today encapsulates environmental injustice. All past agreements have deferred definition of environmental rights to elusive ‘Final Status Negotiations’ which have never taken place. In order to address pressing environmental problems, which are also impacting severely on public health it is vitally important that these negotiations take place without further delay. A return to the status quo of Oslo is not adequate. A new deal is needed, that recognizes and addresses contemporary conditions in the Palestinian Territories, confers sufficient sovereignty on the Palestinian Authority to manage and develop the Palestinian environment and recognizes the environmental rights of the Palestinian people.

Suggestions that Final Status talks should take place at a recent US brokered tripartite summit in February this year were dismissed out of hand by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.[17] Currently the Israeli government refuses to recognize the Palestinian Unity government, and is calling on the International Community to continue the aid boycott which is stalling many desperately needed development projects and causing widespread economic hardship in the Palestinian population. In the meantime, Israeli settlement expansion continues, expanding Israeli control over Palestinian land and resources, and eroding the viability of the future Palestinian State. By turning all the focus on the Palestinian Governments’ willingness to abide by past peace agreements whilst ignoring Israeli violations, the international community create an unfavourable dynamic for the success of future negotiations, creating ideal conditions for yet another temporary peace with no justice.

[1] Avi Shlaim, 2001. Peace confounded. In: Index on Censorship 1, pp 50-55.
[2] Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, 2007. Status of the Environment in the Palestinian Territories. (In press)
[3] Yousef Nasser, Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, 2003. . Palestinian Water Needs and Rights in the Context of Past and Future Development. In: Water in Palestine: Problems – Politics – Prospects.
[4] Ibid.
[5] World Bank, Washington DC, September 1993. Developing the Palestinian Territories: An Investment in Peace.
[6] Directorate General of Resources and Planning, Palestinian Water Authority, 2003. Status of Wells in the Drilling Sub-Committee.
[7] Foundation for Middle East Peace, Washington DC, 1998. The Socioeconomic impact of Settlement on land, water and the Palestinian Economy
[8] Directorate General of Resources and Planning, Palestinian Water Authority, 2005. Quantities of Water Supply in the West Bank Governorates.
[9]Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Monitoring Project, Palestinian Hydrology Group, 2005. Water for Life: Continued Israeli Assault on Palestinian Water, Sanitation and Hygiene during the Intifada.
[10] Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, 2006. Database on the Palestinian Environmental Conditions.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Foundation for Middle East Peace, 1998
[13] Applied Redearch Institute – Jerusalem, 2007
[14] Meron Rapoport, Haaretz Correspondent, February 28th, 2007. Government promoting plan for new Ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighbourhood.
[15] Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, October 24th, 2006. Settlements grow on Arab land despite promises made to US.
[16] Wikipedia,
[17] Gil Ronen, Arutz Sheva – Israel National News, February 13th 2007. Israel – No Final Status Talks at Summit.
From the people of Gillingham to the people of Bethlehem.....
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 7:31 PM
Thanks to Peacewurzel for this report:

On Wednesday March 21st I visited the land of Bethlehem farmer Ibrahim Sbeih to plant 55 olive trees sponsored by the community of Gillingham, Dorset. The trees were principally sponsored by the congregation of St Mary’s Church, and Orchard Park Garden Centre, as well as a few individual sponsors.

Ibrahim Sbeih lives in Al Khader, a small farming community very near to the city of Bethlehem. He has been a farmer all his life and has a large family, including ten children of his own as well as several elderly dependents. He and his two brothers own land between Efrat settlement and Al Khader village. Currently their livelihood is threatened both by construction of the Segregation wall along the border of Al Khader village; and by illegal expansion of Efrat Settlement.

Ibrahim Sbeih, Al Khader farmer

When the Wall is finished, Israeli authorities say that farmers from Al Khader will be allowed to access their land through a tunnel that is being constructed that will pass underneath the Wall, and a gate that will be manned by Israeli security personnel. Farmers will be allowed to pass the gate on foot, when it is open, subject to security checks. In other parts of the West Bank such as Jayyous village in the north of the West Bank, similar promises have been made and broken. When I visited Jayyous in February 2005, farmers there told me of how they waited every morning for the gate allowing access to their land to be opened. Often they waited for hours before being allowed through. When they started to send one person to keep watch and call everyone when the gate was open, they were told that it would not be opened unless everyone was present. The farmers of Jayyous have lost thousands of dollars worth of productivity every year since the Wall was built.

Ibrahim’s land, besides being in the seam zone – between the Segregation Wall and the Green Line, is also bordered by Efrat Settlement, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank. Construction of Efrat began in the 1990s, with just a few houses and caravans. Now it is a large town with over 7000 residents, and it is still growing.

Efrat Settlement on the hilltop, seen across Ibrahim’s land

Ibrahim and his brothers have been asked repeatedly to sell their land to the settlers, but have refused. Now the settlers are taking it from them by force. They have already taken 18 dunums (1.8 hectares) of prime farming land; bulldozing the olive trees and fruit orchards to build more houses. A further 16 dunums (1.6 hectares) are threatened with destruction today.

On Wednesday we walked to Ibrahim’s land from Al Khader. Farm vehicles are no longer allowed access, so farmers must use public transport to get near to their land and then carry all their tools with them; or alternatively use donkeys and mules. This adds hours to their travel time every day and obviously hampers productivity. When the harvest time comes, the business of transporting produce from the fields to the village is back-breaking labour. The olive trees that were planted on Wednesday were transported on donkeys for 7 km across rugged terrain.

We followed with Ibrahim’s brother several hours later, and were stopped by armed security guards as we neared the land. They belong to a private security firm hired by the Settlers. They took our passports and the ID cards of our Palestinian escort, and we waited for over half an hour while they ascertained our identities, before being allowed to continue. Apparently this is a routine occurrence, and sometimes the land owners are not allowed to access their land at all.

On reaching the land we joined in the last of the olive tree planting (most of the work having been done by the time we got there), before touring Ibrahim’s land, right up to where it borders Efrat Settlement, and bulldozers are even now levelling the orchards on the upper terraces to build more houses, an activity that expressly contravenes previous peace deals made by Israel including the Road Map and the Oslo Agreement. Here things became somewhat surreal as Ibrahim greeted the bulldozer drivers in a friendly manner, before telling us that they are Palestinians from Hebron. This is the only work they can get at this time of economic strife in Palestine.

Ibrahim surveys the destruction of his land (left and talks to the construction workers (below).

“They have families too”, Ibrahim explains to us. “Everybody has to eat”. Apparently this too is common place. The only work many Palestinians can get is construction or destruction work on the Settlements that are expanding all over the West Bank, frequently on privately owned Palestinian land, such as Ibrahim’s. The stark choice facing them is between betrayal of their neighbours or betrayal of their families. With the settlements comes an infrastructure of settlement roads that Palestinians are not allowed to use, and sometimes not allowed to cross due to security fences that are erected. Every road has a buffer zone of 7-10 m. The quantity of land that is being lost is astronomical, and the roads isolate small rural communities one from the other; besides creating a nightmare in logistics for many farmers.

We return to the olive trees that were planted today – so fragile a shield to halt the destruction that threatens to beggar Ibrahim and his family. Next week we will return with the marble plaque that states that these are internationally sponsored olive trees; a gift from the people of Gillingham to the people of Bethlehem; to say that we are here, we are looking and we are listening. We are sharing, just a little, in the struggle and the pain of the Palestinian people, and we believe in a better future.

This was the last planting action of this year’s Olive Tree Campaign. More than 7000 trees have been planted throughout the Palestinian Territories this year; some in threatened land, others to replace some of the more than 500 000 uprooted trees that have been casualties of the Separation Wall. Any further money collected this year will be used to plant more trees next year. Details of the Olive Tree Campaign can be found online at .

A big thank you to the people of Gillingham for supporting Bethlehem’s farming community, and helping to keep hope alive.
Planting Olive Trees near Al Khader
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 7:12 PM
Thanks to Michael and the Peacewurzel for this vid:

Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Is Israel Falling Apart?
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 10:24 AM
By Dror Wahrman, March 5th, 2007

Mr. Wahrman is Ruth N. Halls Professor of History and
Director of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies
at the Indiana University History Department (adjunct
in English, Jewish Studies, Cultural Studies).

Foreign observers of Israel tend to focus so intently on the dangers the country faces from its Arab neighbours that they have largely missed an astonishing story that has been accelerating over the past few months: that of the Jewish state's possible move toward internal collapse. If you consider this an exaggeration, just take note of what the past couple ofweeks have brought about. A few days ago the chief ofthe Israeli police resigned after an investigation that found several of Israel's highest police officers guilty of corruption and negligence. This came within a week of the forced resignation of Israel's Chief ofStaff from the military because of the fiascos of the second Lebanon war. It was also some ten days afterIsrael's minister of justice was convicted of sexual assault while on duty, and a couple of weeks afterIsrael's president -- who holds a largely symbolic position -- resigned temporarily following charges of rape and sexual misconduct. It was also the same day that the head of Israel's tax authority resigned because of possible corruption charges. In the meantime, several other investigations are still pending, not least two or three directed at the Prime Minister himself, Ehud Olmert, concerning corruption and favoritism. And an appeal to the Supreme Court has already been filed against the minister of police's choice for a new police chief -- again, because of old charges of corruption of which the nominee had been acquitted only through a particularly narrow benefit of the doubt.

Do these events really presage the collapse of the Israeli system of governance and democracy? There certainly has never been such a deep crisis of leadership in the country that touts itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. The leader of the ruling parliamentary coalition, Avigdor Yitzhaki, said so publicly a few days ago. And the Minister of Education has suggested that all schools devote special classes to the "government crisis", so that children can speakout about what might well seem to them like a total collapse of all systems that control their lives. Suddenly the Palestinians and the Hizbullah, and even Iranian nukes, have taken a back seat: Israel doesindeed seem in danger of imploding from within, at least as a viable democracy.

There are at least two narratives that can help situate why Israel finds itself in such a worrying place on the eve of its sixtieth birthday. For convenience we can tag them by the country's most decisive formative moments: the story of 1948 and the story of 1967.

The story of 1948 is that of a country that underwent an almost miraculous process of birth and growth despite limited resources. From a tiny nation brought into the world by the twin handmaidens of war and seige, and immediately thereafter deluged with waves of immigration several times greater than its 1948 population, Israel managed to become in almost no time a thriving economic, scientific and military power. This unprecedented leap could not be achieved by following the rules. Not that there were too many rules to follow -- even those still had to be created. But the main ethos of Israel's founding fathers was one of in-the-field activism: to a man on the job -- and in those days it was always imagined to be a man, not a woman, undertaking a task that was indubitably essential to the building of the nation -- everything was permissible. In those early and exciting days, the most powerful compliment you could give an Israeli leader was to describe him as a "bulldozer": someone who was right there on the ground, moving mountains and paving roads, unstoppable by anything. Intertwined with the myth of the creation of Israel was a culturally sanctioned encouragement to disregard the rules.

The story continues, typically, that the founding fathers never abused this permission to transcend norms and regulations for their private gain. The supposed proof of this claim, endlessly and nostalgically reiterated, is Yitzhak Rabin's resignation from his first term as prime minister in 1976. It had been discovered that Rabin's wife retained a bank account abroad, which was prohibited by Israel's foreign currency laws at that time: a minor infraction that nonetheless led Rabin to throw in the towel. And yet the disregard for limitations on action, the lack of effective supervisory mechanisms, the advantage of local initiative, and the fact that activities were all undertaken by a small group of people who knew each other intimately, could easily shade into more serious forms of corruption. When Israel's most legendary soldier, Moshe Dayan, developed a penchant for archeology, not only did he allow himself to take home nearly any antiquity his heart desired, but when this antiquity happened to be sitting on top of Masada --the archeological dig that itself came to symbolize Israel's success -- he had no compunctions about enlisting an IDF helicopter to help lift it off the cliff. Few of these facts were secret; after Dayan's death the state paid a million dollars to his widow to move his antiquities collection to the Israel Museum, where it should have been all along. Public outrage was minimal.

The story of 1967 is darker. It is the story of occupation. To see the connection, here are two other news items from this past week, though neither has made it into the front pages. The Israeli courts are trying gingerly to evict a group of settlers who used shady real estate manipulation to invade a Palestinian village just south of the Old City of Jerusalem, and who built without a permit a seven story building(inside a traditional village!) for settler families. Meanwhile, inside the Old City, it was revealed that the Israeli government is withholding its formal recognition of the new leader of the Greek-Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, Patriarch Theophilus, because it wants him to sell prime real estate near Jaffa Gate to settlers as a condition for recognizing his official status. Both acts brazenly ignore Israeli law. Based on past experience, however, both are likely to succeed. And such events are common, the tail end of a history of forty years of illegal appropriations under occupation.

The infinite variety of devices through which Israel has condoned and often actively encouraged the breaking of the rules in its drive to expropriate Palestinian occupied land against both Israeli and international law has been documented not only by journalists,scholars and observers on the left: it was also the subject of a thick government judicial document, known as the "Sasson Report," which created something of a furore when it was handed to prime minister Ariel Sharon in March 2005. Within months, however, theSasson Report joined the mounting pile of legal and normative documents that have been effortlessly side-stepped by the settlers and their supporters in multiple branches of the government. It was only a matter of time, inevitably, before the lawlessness of the occupied territories -- and their support networks throughout the Israeli state apparatus -- began infecting Israel proper.

Both stories of disregard for law and norms, the nation- building drive of 1948 and the land-grabbing drive of 1967, have come together above all in one particular figure, mythological already in his lifetime: Ariel Sharon. Sharon was the ur-bulldozer. His name is virtually synonymous with dogged action combined with disrespect for law and authority. His public career as a soldier and as a civilian was built out of repeated acts of disobedience and of establishing facts on the ground; the first Lebanon War is only the most famous and disastrous example. In the occupied territories, nobody did more for the settlement movement than Sharon, who taught its leaders techniques to railroad the opposition. And then he did the same to them, in turn, when he suddenly shifted his loyalties and embarked on his "disengagement plan" in 2004.

It is therefore hardly a coincidence that Sharon's rise to the highest office in the state marked a decisive moment in this process of collapse: the moment when corruption and normlessness suddenly seemed to take over the system in all its nooks and crannies. Sharon's tenure in office was more autocratic than any Israel had previously seen. He bypassed even his own government and ministers through a small cabal of friends and family that came to be know as "The Ranch Forum" (named after Sharon's private ranch in theNegev, itself a manifestation of quasi-corrupt privilege). It also turned out that Sharon's unstoppable drive easily bled into self-serving corruption, funneling millions into his family's bank accounts. And yet, despite the multiple corruption scandals that swirled over his head, Sharon himself remained largely unscathed, saved in part by his mythical status, and in part by his conversion to the disengagement plan which suddenly gave his many critics on the left a surprising stake in his survival. He was also saved, in a sense, by falling into a coma in January 2006: only this personal catastrophe prevented him from seeing a few weeks later his son and political amanuensis, Omri Sharon, being carted off to jail for corruption charges.

So if Sharon's reign was the epitome of success for the activism of both 1948 and 1967, the reign of his successors has been the time of collapse and of reckoning. With Sharon's departure Israel has been left with a weak cadre of second-rate politicians, who seem even more puny in the shadow of Sharon's towering figure and tragic exit. The corrupt practices are all there, but no higher motives can be claimed for them,and no protection from public outrage can be afforded to their perpetrators. They are simply as petty and ugly as they look. Even when Dan Chaluz, the Army Chief of Staff, resigned for reasons ostensibly linked to the failed war in Lebanon, the one act of his that will be remembered with particular public disgust is that even as he ordered the bombing of Southern Lebanon on the 12th of July 2006, he paused to instruct his stockbroker to sell his portfolio; a callous, greedy mistake Sharon would never have committed.

So let us ask again: is Israeli democracy in danger? This democracy is young, evolving, and certainly not indestructible. For a while it has been showing clear signs of strain; not least, the inability to maintain reasonable political stability amid the frequent turnovers of ministers and administrations. Now it is showing even clearer signs of deep crisis. According to every survey and poll, levels of popular confidence in the system have never been so low. People are turning their backs on politics as never before. Indeed, the very violence with which the public is pouncing on every falling public figure is a sign of how deep the anger runs. The present void might well encourage those who promise a radical cleansing of the Augean stables in return for a different kind of political rule -- and is it such a stretch of the imagination to see them succeeding?

Two figures, indeed, have already been making such a pitch, and should therefore be listened to carefully. Both, probably not coincidentally, are Russian immigrants -- and thus even less wed to the Israeli democratic tradition, such as it is. One is a minister in the current Israeli government, Avigdor Lieberman, a self-proclaimed "strong man" with an abiding hatred of the legal system (and a few brushes with it in his past) who has already put forth a suggestion to turn Israel into more of a presidential system with few restraints on the chief executive (as Ben Lynfield reported in the Nation, Dec. 26th 2006). Lieberman's popularity keeps going up even as that of the political system falls. But in terms of being the most authentic symptom of how deep the malaise goes, as well as having the greater potential to change the rules of the game, Lieberman pales in comparison to a man who chose this same past week to announce his own arrival on the political scene: Arkadi Gaydamak.

Gaydamak is a Russian born billionaire who owes his wealth in part to shady arms dealings in Angola that led the French to issue arrest warrants for illegal arms dealings and money laundering. Having successfully fended off extradition to France, the oligarch has turned his attention in recent years to philanthropic work in Israel, with a keen interest on using it to create a public image for himself. When it turned out during the 2006 Lebanon war that the government was ineffective in caring for the civilian population under missile attacks in the north of Israel, Gaydamak stepped into the void and set up a 'tent city' on the Mediterranean beach for refugees, thus becoming Israel's most popular public figure at precisely the moment the political class was experiencing its greatest failure. No less dramatically -- and Gaydamak has nothing if not a flair for dramatic public relations -- when Sderot, a small town near the border with Gaza that is home to Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, was showered with Kassam missiles in the fall of 2006 and Peretz and his colleagues in government were wringing their hands, Gaydamak sent buses to take several thousand inhabitants for a vacation at the Red Sea. Peretz's angry reaction to this public gesture only underscored how impotent the establishment looked by comparison to this philanthropist with his bottomless pockets.

A couple of days ago Gaydamak announced, in a lavishly organized event, the foundation of a new political party called "Social Justice." At a moment when all other politicians are seen as guilty, at least by association, for sticking their hand in the till (or somewhere else where it does not belong), the founder of "Social Justice" is the gift that keeps on giving, rather than taking. Gaydamak does not want to enter politics himself -- or so he says. Indeed, he cannot even speak Hebrew -- his speeches are all translated. What Gaydamak wants, and says almost explicitly, is to use his money to become the king maker of Israeli politics: he wants to choose single handedly the next Israeli prime minister. And based on current polls, his ambitions cannot be set aside lightly. But if Gaydamak is convinced that the Israeli electorate is for sale, and if the voters are willing to prove him right; and if this transaction is now happening in the public eye, and met with more applause than dismay; then the problem is not one of the political class alone. Israeli democracy is in severe crisis: the friends of the Jewish state should be mobilizing post-haste to help Israeli citizens, jaded, disappointed and angry as they might be, ensure it is not a fatal one.