British journalist and author Victoria Brittain traveled to the Jordan Valley to see the actual conditions and latest developments in one of the areas under discussion in the peace negotiations John Kerry is conducting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
A people under military occupation, prisoners in their own land, controlled by outside forces, live in the area in which Victoria Brittain traveled.
She later wrote of her mid-January trip and the people she met in Open Democracy. One man she interviewed was Burhan Bisharat (above), whose home in the village of Kirbet al Makhoul has been destroyed four times.
Brittain began her trip northeast of the Palestinian city of Nablus, traveling along a road toward the northern Jordan Valley and the international border with the country of Jordan. The area through which she traveled contains rocky brown hills, riddled with what she describes as “concrete posts every hundred yards inscribed ‘DANGER’ Firing Zone”.
Her journey covered one part of Area C, designated as land under Israeli total control under an earlier agreement reached under President Bill Clinton known as Oslo 2. One particular part of Area C in which Brittain traveled is described on UN maps with the occupier’s euphemism, “Israel’s Nature Reserve”. Much of the area map is shaded with the equally euphemistic identification, “an Israeli closed military area”.
In her trip report, entitled The Fourth Destruction: Stolen Land and Childhood, she writes:
Every few miles there are tents or simple structures of Palestinian farms with sheep and cows in makeshift pens visible, set back below the hills. In recent weeks and months defenseless families in this remote place have had their homes and farms repeatedly destroyed by military bulldozers in dawn raids.
Traumatised barefoot children, silent exhausted mothers, desperate fathers, now living in new shelters, spoke of their every-present fear of army and settler violence.
Main stream media reports on the Kerry negotiations do not include references to Area C, nor are there any references to the suffering of Palestinians under occupation. Instead, the MSM focuses almost exclusively on Israeli demands which shift as often as a carnival con man shifts his three cups under which he claims he has hidden a pea.
You know the game: At the con man’s invitation, the sucker chooses one of the three cups. The sucker bets on which cup contains the pea. He or she, always loses because the cups and pea are under the control of the fast moving hands of the con man.
Who are the suckers in the current peace negotiations? Start with the American government and travel down the chain of command to the American tax payer. U.S. tax money floods annually into Israeli coffers. Your tax dollar at work, busily destroying villages in the Jordan Valley.
In this current game of cups and the pea, also called peace negotiations, Israel had introduced two new, never before included in negotiations, demands.
The two new Israeli demands are, first, the Palestinians must acknowledge Israel as a “Jewish State”, in spite of the obvious fact that a large minority of citizens in any “Jewish State” would be non-Jewish.
The Washington Post pushes the “security claim”.
The Israelis are insisting that their troops remain in the Jordan Valley corridor in any future Palestinian entity, and since this demand is new — and was not a core issue in the last serious negotiations in 2000 and 2007 — it represents a real test for the Obama team’s diplomatic ingenuity.
The second new Israeli demand is the retention of a large chunk of the Jordan River Valley, a “necessity” for Israel’s “security”. The land Israel claims to need for its “security” expands with each new move of the negotiation cups.
In Area C construction is prohibited, no water or electricity connection allowed, schools and water pumps put up by aid agencies are destroyed, health care is almost absent. Israeli settlements, outposts and military bases proliferate. Five thousand Palestinians live in 38 communities in parts of Area C, like these designated as “firing zones” for military training.”
Burhan Bisharat’s village of Kirbet al Makhoul was destroyed four times in two weeks in late September last year. With no warning or demolition notices the bulldozers drove up the dirt road before dawn and brought down tin homes, hay sheds, animal pens, water troughs and a playground with swings belonging to the twelve families.
Today Bisharat, his wife, and youngest daughter, are visibly traumatised and he spoke softly of how the psychological pressure, especially of the fourth destruction [of his home], was very, very difficult for him. He saw relief tents brought by the ICRC put up and immediately brought down by a bulldozer in front of the aid agency staff.
[The picture at the top shows Bisharat sitting in his ruined home. It was taken in October, 2013]
The three now live in another almost empty replacement home half the size of what they had before and which Burhan built himself in two days, bringing an aluminium roof from Nablus. But every day is lived under the shadow of another onslaught that they know can hit their lives any time.
This is a father who took the very difficult decision to send his seven older girls to live a few miles away in a small town where they go to school. His oldest daughter is 17 and in the twelfth grade and is in charge of the little household of children.
“I want my children to have a better life through education…it is best to keep them away, though it is very tough for them to be alone, and (with a gesture to his silent wife) for their mother.” Burhan is only 38, but the harshness of his life has made him look and seem a generation older.”
Israel repeatedly, and illegally, destroys the Basharat home because Israel wants to clear the land for what it wants as a future Israeli state. This repeated action takes place at the time when negotiators are discussing the future “ownership” of the land.
Palestinian right to this land is not in dispute; it is land that is illegally occupied by Israel. Furthermore, the mistreatment of Palestinians like Basharat and his family is illegal. In a world where justice has meaning, such mistreatment is considered to be a crime.
Who are the guilty parties in this crime? Israel, of course, but Israel is aided and abetted by every U.S. President and Congress and every American tax payer who elects pro-Israel governments. We are all guilty because we tolerate or encourage the permanent intimidation of our public officials by Israel and its American allies.
There was a time when a few major U.S. political leaders spoke against that intimidation.
In his new book, The Brothers, Stephen Kinzer offers a remarkably candid quote from one of the brothers in his book, John Foster Dulles, then the U.S. Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration. Israel took advantage of the Suez Crisis in 1956-57, sending its army across the Sinai Desert toward the Egyptian border. Dulles angrily insistsx that Israel withdraw.
In response, Dulles used words no recent Secretary of State would dare use:
“I am aware how almost impossible it is in this country to carry out a foreign policy not approved by the Jews. . . . The Israeli embassy is practically dictating to the Congress through influential Jewish people in this country.” (p. 244).
Kinzer does not offer a source for this quote, so before using it, I checked Google, which promptly led me to the ever-valuable and always reliable Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA). I found a report published in WRMEA’s February/March 1996 issue.
The writer was Donald Neff, (at left) who worked for Time magazine for 15 years. From 1975 to 1978, Neff was Time’s Jerusalem bureau chief. After leaving Time, Neff wrote extensively on the Middle East for magazines like WRMEA. He also wrote a Middle East war trilogy, Warriors Against Israel, Warriors for Jerusalem, and Warriors at Suez.
A collection of his WRMEA columns is available in another book, 50 Years of Israel. His WRMEA report from February/March 1996, looked back at a significant moment in history. It includes the Dulles quote, and a good deal more.
Donald Neff wrote about the Israeli-Palestinian situation with a veteran journalist’s passionate need to tell the full story. It was headed, Ike Forces Israel to End Occupation After Sinai Crisis. It begins:
It was 29 years ago, on March 16, 1957, that Israel withdrew under unrelenting U.S. pressure from all the territory it had occupied in the Sinai peninsula during its invasion of Egypt less than five months earlier. As Israeli forces pulled out, they ignored pleas from U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold and displayed their contempt for U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s policy by systematically destroying all surfaced roads, railway tracks and telephone lines. All buildings in the tiny villages of Abu Ageila and El Quseima were destroyed, as were the military buildings around El Arish.
Israel’s dogged insistence on keeping by military occupation parts of the Sinai had led to increasingly tense relations between Eisenhower and Israeli Prime Minister David Bed-Gurion. From the very beginning of what became known as the Suez crisis, Eisenhower had forcefully opposed the secret plot by Britain, France and Israel to invade Egypt. Against great political pressures, Ike had managed to stop the ill-considered invasion – but not before Israeli troops grabbed Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in a lightning surprise attack starting Oct. 29, 1956.
Britain and France followed Eisenhower’s firm advice and quickly removed their troops from Egypt. But Israel insisted on retaining parts of the peninsula. Despite repeated U.S. urgings, Ben-Gurion refused to withdraw Israeli troops. In retaliation, Eisenhower joined with 75 other nations in the U.N. General Assembly in passing a resolution on Feb. 2, 1957, “Deploring” Israel’s occupation. Only two nations opposed: France and Israel.
Still, Ben-Gurion refused to move his troops. On Feb. 11, Eisenhower sent a forceful note to Ben-Gurion to withdraw. Again Ben-Gurion refused. At the same time, the influence of Israel’s supporters became intense. The White House was besieged by efforts to halt its pressure on the Jewish state; 41 Republican and 75 Democratic congressmen signed a letter urging support for Israel.
In reaction to mounting pressures against his policy, Eisenhower on Feb. 20 called a meeting of the congressional leadership to seek their support for his position. But the lawmakers, sensitive to the influence of the Israeli lobby, refused to help, causing Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to complain to a friend.
“I am aware how almost impossible it is in this country to carry out a foreign policy [in the Middle East] not approved by Jews.” In other conversations around the same time, Dulles remarked on the “terrific control the Jews have over the news media and the barrage which the Jews have built up on congressmen…I am very much concerned over the fact that the Jewish influence here is completely dominating the scene and making it almost impossible to get Congress to do anything they don’t approve of. The Israeli Embassy is practically dictating to the Congress through influential Jewish people in the country.”
Disgusted with Congress’s timidity, Eisenhower boldly decided to take his case directly to the American people. He went on national television on the evening of Feb. 20 and explained:
“Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of United Nations disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its own withdrawal? If we agree that armed attack can properly achieve the purposes of the assailant, then I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order.”
Ike’s concluding paragraph asks a question that demands to be heard again as negotiations continue over Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territory.
The picture (at top) of Burhan Basharat, is from Activestills.org.