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 her Open Democracy report, Victoria Brittain (right), a former associate foreign editor of the Guardian, describes conditions that now prevail in the Jordan Valley’s Area C:
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.
A searing, infuriating report, Jim. Thank you. We — all — simply must put an end to this dalliance with political/militant Zionism that always hides behind collective guilt trips, the Holocaust industry, control of vital sectors of our and other nations, etc. We are impoverished — monetarily, morally, spiritually, legally — by this dalliance more correctly identified by President Jefferson’s words of warning against any “entangling alliance.” We are strangled by it. Enough already! Viva Burhan Bisharat! Viva Palestine!
Good report on what’s going on in the Jordan Valley Jim. The injustice and cruelty is always disturbing. The US government is the enabler of all of this, so in a way it is our fault. We support apartheid and ethnic cleansing by giving billions of our tax dollars to Israel.
Our Congress works for AIPAC and the rest of the Israel Lobby. They rule on this issue. Until Americans decide to play by the rules of AIPAC, and have billionaires counteracting AIPAC influence it’s hard to see anything changing in American policy and in the oppression and ethnic cleansing of what remains of Palestine.
The forces for justice don’t seem to be able to compete with the well funded and and tightly organized Israel Lobby. The Israel Lobby has a stranglehold on our government and has triumphed for Israel. Our political system is based on money. This is the root sickness of American “democracy”
Your excellent column, Jim, turns a spotlight not only on the Israeli land-grab along the Jordan River–in the heart of territory essential for a viable Palestinian state–but on the false claim that it is for security. Of all its borders, this is Israel’s safest. And furthermore, Israel has already defined its border and built a so called security wall. No Palestinian wants to live forever in a prison, surrounded by Israel’s aggressive settlement policies.
The world needs to make it clear to the Israeli politicians who seek to convince their own people to be paranoid as a mask for claiming the right to the most fertile land.
In Ike’s days, the Israeli embassy channeled its diktats through Congress, but still the Pres did not surrender his dignity. Those were the days when career diplomats were still in position of authority in the State Department as well as the British Foreign Office. Alas, all changed when Clinton became president and appointed – what the Palestinians called – a cabinet of rabbis. As for Blair, he replaced all Arabists in the FO and even appointed a personal representative for the Middle East who had a son serving the then Israel prime minister!
Jim, thanks for your article that infuriates all those of us who are for a peaceful and just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
As it relates to Israel’s 1956 invasion of Sinai (as separate from Israel’s 1967 invasion of Sinai), there are at least 2 very significant points that mainstream media continues to hide:
1- After Israel’s forced withdrawal from Sinai in 1957, Israel illegally held on to an Arab village called, Abu Rishrash, on the Gulf of Aqaba. Consequently, and for the first time, Israel was able to illegally establish a full-fledged Israeli port called, Eilat. This, illegally, opened up Israel to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea and opened up new horizons for its trade with East Africa and Asia.
2- Also, for the first time, Israel clinched the “right” to allow its ships to navigate through the Suez Canal. This was not accessible to Israel, prior to its invasion of Sinai, on grounds that Egypt and Israel were still in a state of war.
Re-the Jordan Valley, in Palestine’s West Bank, this is outright ethnic cleansing and highway robbery that should never be allowed to pass.
A whole new Arab strategy has to be devised and the entire question of Palestine-Israel should be totally revamped.
Thanks Jim for this excellent article. You have outdone yourself in this one, especially for exposing the difference between an American president and administration who had guts and those who have been hostage to foreign policy which very often sacrificed the welfare of the US and drained its resources.
While reading this account, I can’t help but wonder who is taken in by the Friends of the Earth Middle East effort to “clean up the Jordan River” using partnerships between Palestinians and Jordanians. They can’t even GET to the river! How on earth are they to clean it up? I can only think that FOEME’s tour of the U.S. last fall was intended to generate public opinion in favor of their goal, but they neglected to mention the problems they face. I fully support their hopes to clean up the river, but why not tell the U.S. what the real problem is? The so-called security zone and Israel’s refusal to permit decent life to exist in that region, even as they plant banana and date trees and maintain lush farming zones for themselves. Thanks, Jim, for raising my ire again!