After Obama?

yes-we-killWhat did President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East actually achieve? Although many people dared expect him to express stronger views on the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, Obama used his ‘charm offensive’ to assure Israelis that the United States remains on their side.

As helicopters circled the skies, and Jerusalem and Ramallah were closed off to all non residents, Obama’s speech in Ramallah played down the Jewish-only settlements by saying that the US does not see them as ‘constructive’ or ‘appropriate’ for peace, but stopping short of calling for their dismantling, which prompted the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to uncharacteristically interject in describing them as illegitimate and more than an obstacle to peace.

In Israel Obama did all the usual things, including the obligatory visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. But attention was focused on his speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre to thousands of Israeli students and academics. One of the phrases he used, in Hebrew, was ‘you are not alone’ – though using no similar phrase in Arabic when he spoke in Ramallah. Israeli Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy saw in this speech much hope because, after assuring Israel that the US is still on its side, Obama insisted that the only way forward is peace and a two states solution. Obama also stressed that the Iran threat is not only Israel’s problem, insisting that Israel must not go it alone and attack Iran without US approval. Continue reading “After Obama?”

Israel-Palestine: Banal Apartheid

palestinian-busesOn 28 February, an Israeli activist with Checkpoint Watch, a movement of Israeli women peace activists who oppose the Israeli occupation and the denial of Palestinians’ rights to move freely in their land, and who conduct daily observations of Israeli army checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, was at the bus terminal in Oraniot on highway number 5. At 5 pm, she writes, two police vehicles and two army trucks arrived at the terminal, and a sergeant ordered all the Palestinians to get off bus number 286, on its way to the Jewish settlement of Ariel. The soldiers collected identity documents and permits from all the Palestinian workers on the bus; the workers were told to get off, sit on the cold floor and wait. At first some of them managed to catch another bus (although they have to pay double fares), but the soldiers found out and made them march on foot for the Azoun-Othma checkpoint two and a half kilometres away.

It was cold, the sun had set. Most of these Palestinian workers had got up at three AM to catch their transportation to work inside Israel. Most live within a few kilometres and all they wanted was to be allowed to stay on the bus for a stop or two. They had paid the bus fare and 8,000 Israeli shekels (€1,670) for the permit. You have to work very hard before you can cover such expense and earn your first shekel.

Continue reading “Israel-Palestine: Banal Apartheid”