While the Cats Are Away…
While the cats are away, it is guaranteed that the mice will go out and play. Of course, the analogy here refers to media, short-span attentions, and Israel’s latest occupation-cementing activities. While the world was focusing on Gaza and the devastation taking place there at the hands of a lethal Israeli army, other alarming events were going on largely unnoticed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel may not have appreciated its forces being under critical limelight in Gaza, but they were certainly able to take advantage of a distracted media trying to cope with reporting on the rapidly rising death toll there.
In the weeks during and immediately after Operation ‘Cast Lead’, Israeli occupation forces were very busy in the West Bank and east Jerusalem doing what occupation forces apparently do – conducting incursions and raids, arrests, demolitions and land confiscations. In the period just before December 27 and leading up to this week, Israeli forces have killed 10 Palestinians in the West Bank, including children, and arrested at least 214 others (also including children). Moreover, they arrested 584 Palestinians who were working without permits in Israel proper, along with some 16 Israeli employers. Troops also conducted a minimum of 138 incursions into various villages and towns around the West Bank.
Of course, raids and arrests are the norm for Palestinians. What is more disturbing, however, is the amount of land, the thousands of dunums that were expropriated while Palestinians, Arabs and the world were looking towards Gaza. Three thousand dunums of land was confiscated in Yatta, a village south of Hebron, for the purpose of illegal settlement expansion. Another 23 dunums were taken over near Bethlehem, including 13.4 dunums stolen from the nearby villages of Hussan and Nahalin. In Jerusalem, yet another 500 dunums were confiscated in the neighborhood of Abu Dis in east Jerusalem. Bear in mind here that a dunum is 1,000 square meters, which means that well over three million square meters of land was stolen. Obviously, the 78 percent of historical Palestine Israel has now isn’t enough, as they insist on grabbing more land from the remaining 22 percent which was earmarked to be a Palestinian state.
Israeli bulldozers were also busy demolishing homes and issuing orders for more planned demolitions. On January 19, Israeli troops raided the houses of the Abu Duheim family in the Jabal el-Mukabber neighborhood of east Jerusalem, forcing the 18 residents of four apartments out on the street. They then demolished the apartments and closed the remainder of the building using concrete. The four apartments comprised the second and third floors of the four-storey apartment building.
Early on the morning of January 28, troops and bulldozers moved into the Wadi Qaddoum quarter of Silwan, a village overlooked by the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. They demolished the top floor of a three-storey house belonging to Talal al-Shwaiki, claiming that it was built without a valid permit. That same morning, they also entered the Tal al-Foul area of Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem and demolished a residential building belonging to Mohammed Eid al-Jaabari, in which 45 people from five families were living. Once again, the usual excuse that the building was constructed without a permit was given.
On February 1, two more homes owned by a Palestinian family were surrounded and destroyed in the Shufat neighborhood of Jerusalem. The homes were owned by the Ghith family. The Israeli authorities say that the homes were built without the required planning permits. Later that day, the Israeli army bulldozed four dunums of land belonging to the Al-Abbasi family in the Al-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, which led to clashes between Silwan residents and occupation forces.
It is important to note that planning permits for Palestinians are almost impossible to come by. Many a Palestinian has spent thousands of shekels and wasted years waiting for planning permission from the Israelis. Alas, almost all of the time, they receive a resounding “NO”. Palestinian natural growth and expansion is a non-existent concept in Israel.
While this may look like the usual laundry list of illegal occupation-perpetuating activities, it worried Palestinians enough to host a conference earlier this week in east Jerusalem under the title “Aggression on Gaza and the Targeting of Jerusalem”. In addition to the land confiscation and home demolitions, Israel has stepped up its excavations under Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Al-Haram El-Sharif compound, Islam’s third holiest site, as well as excavating on land in the village of Silwan. Leaders of the conference stressed that the dangers surrounding the city were large and looming, and that the timing of the assault on Gaza also gave Israel the chance to further its illegal settlement expansion plans. Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Conference, took the opportunity during the conference to stress that the Israeli excavations under the Al-Haram El-Sharif compound “threaten heritage, history and civilization.” Sheikh Taysir Al Tamimi, Jerusalem’s Muslim chief justice, also said, “The world must take immediate action to save the city and its Islamic and Christian sanctities.”
Settlement expansion, confiscations and demolitions have reached such an alarming pace that when George Mitchell, the newly appointed US envoy to the Middle East, met Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei, it was reported that he was actually shocked by Qurei’s expressions of desperation and despair. Qurei briefed Mitchell on Israel’s plan to construct 3,500 housing units and invest hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure to build a new Jewish neighborhood in occupied east Jerusalem, calling it “a way to kill negotiations and a violation of all laws, conventions and principles of international legitimacy”.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if the world is paying attention or not. Israel will continue to do what it wishes, flying in the face of criticism, conventions, and international law. A distracted media just makes their job a little easier, allowing them to throw around random comments unabashedly, including the latest from Israeli prime ministerial contender and current defense minister Ehud Barak, who suggested that Israel dig a 48 kilometer tunnel for the Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank to achieve the territorial continuity Israel is destroying above ground. To ‘sweeten’ the suggestion, Barak added, "Palestinians would have unlimited access to the tunnel, and would be able to travel it undisturbed.”
A distracted media also makes it easier for Israel to allow the convening of the World Jewish Congress and its 600 delegates in Jerusalem under the slogan, 'We Stand by Israel', while preventing Palestinians from celebrating Jerusalem as the Arab capital of culture this year. There is definitely something wrong when such celebrations have to be organized in secret and at the last minute to prevent Israeli forces from disrupting and cancelling them.
The fact is that there is so much wrong with the way Israel treats the Palestinians that it is overwhelming, and only a fraction of Israel’s transgressions are reported to the world. For Palestinians, comments and statistics that would have shocked them weeks, months, or years ago don’t even make them pause now. Reading the newspaper and watching the news has merely become a game to see how much worse things can get, because every time Palestinians think they have seen the worst, the next day they will be proven wrong again. Israel’s audacity truly knows no bounds.