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Issue Date:  May 13, 2005


Shame over settlements is in short supply


In The Drowned and the Saved, a reflection on life in a concentration camp, Italian Jew Primo Levi discussed the sense of shame survivors felt after being liberated. “When all was over,” Levi wrote, “the awareness emerged that we had not done anything, or not enough, against the system into which we had been absorbed.” Certainly, others, namely the Nazis and their collaborators, bore infinitely more responsibility for the horrors that transpired than those imprisoned did. Acknowledging this, Levi still spoke of “having failed in terms of human solidarity” with fellow inmates. Regret haunted him years after his release.

Of course, there was nothing that those who emerged from the hell of the concentration camps could do afterward to help their former companions who had been systematically murdered. Shame after the fact is unproductive and sometimes dangerous. Guilty feelings drove some Holocaust survivors to suicide. Guilt over the United States not having done more and acted sooner to end the Holocaust in part led President Truman to support the creation of Israel in 1948, during which time about 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes to escape invading or approaching Jewish colonists.

On the other hand, shame that arises during an act of wrongdoing can be beneficial if it leads to action to stop that wrongdoing. Unfortunately, shame seems to be in short supply these days. Witness the recent announcement by the government of Israel that it will add 6,000 homes in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank in violation of the U.S.-backed Road Map. More than half of the 6,000 new homes will be built in the E-1 corridor, linking the contested holy city of Jerusalem to the massive West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and solidifying Israeli control over Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

Even as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas complies with U.S. and Israeli expectations under the Road Map and the latest round of peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his cabinet violate the climate of trust that must be nurtured if real peace and justice are to flourish.

A seemingly encouraging sign is Israel’s plan to disband settlements and redeploy soldiers stationed in the Gaza Strip. However, leaders of the Yesha Settlers Council say they intend to resist efforts to disband 21 illegal settlements built on stolen Palestinian land there. Meanwhile Prime Minister Sharon continues to redraw the boundaries of Jerusalem and build an apartheid wall inside the West Bank. He hypocritically pressures President Abbas to stamp out Palestinian militancy even as the Israeli Defense Forces continue to impose sweeping curfews on Palestinians, assail civilians and destroy homes and farmland.

Where is the shame of the people in the Israeli military who commit these incursions and otherwise support state-sponsored terrorism? Where is the shame of Israeli citizens whose so-called security comes at the expense of Palestinian lives and livelihood?

U.S. taxpayers fund Israeli terror to the tune of at least $3 billion in military aid annually. The mainstream media emphasizes the deaths of Israelis and ignores Palestinian deaths or refers to “a period of relative calm” even as the Israeli military attacks Palestinian children, women and the elderly. (Between Jan. 1 and March 30, 2005, there were 200 Palestinian injuries and 78 deaths as a result of Israeli military action, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.) Where is our collective shame over these actions being carried out in our name?

Like the Holocaust survivors Levi wrote about who were ashamed at not having acted more humanely toward their fellow inmates, we may later be overcome with guilt for our role in quietly permitting injustice to continue in Palestine. By then it may be too late. The Wall will be completed, the settlements will grow larger and Palestinian cities, towns and villages will be turned into disconnected enclaves with little possibility of sustaining themselves. These situations are already fast being realized as we stay silent.

Instead, we can direct our rightful shame and outrage toward a goal: ending the 38-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and supporting Palestinian self-determination. We can join in human solidarity with other concerned people -- including embattled Muslims and Arabs and principled Jews and Israelis -- dedicated to bringing peace to the Middle East. We can speak out and act. Not to do so would be shameful.

Lauren M. Anzaldo is a teacher and global justice activist who has traveled twice to the occupied West Bank. She is one of the founders of the Florida Palestine Solidarity Network (

Expanding settlements are part of the battle for Jerusalem


There was a dramatic tone to some of the media reports on the eve of the April 11 “Crawford Summit” about the question of settlement expansion. A conflict was brewing, it was argued, over the Bush administration’s displeasure with Israeli plans to build 3,500 housing units in an area known as E-1. This would constitute an extension westward of the town of Ma’aleh Adumim and would create an urban link to Jerusalem. The differences over this plan are real enough and long-standing, but it is not at all certain that they merit the attention given at this time.

The real agenda of this crucial meeting at the president’s ranch concerned the urgent need for action on the Iranian nuclear effort as well as other aspects of the administration’s broader regional agenda, and the more immediate questions related to the implementation within the next three months of the Disengagement Plan. But all these items seemed to be overshadowed by the “E-1 question” and by the forceful Palestinian complaint that this project, if carried out, would slice the West Bank in two and would render it impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state.

However, a closer look at the map, and at the timetables, would indicate that what is at stake is not the possibility of implementing Stage II of the Road Map but rather the decisive, though not necessarily immediate, battle for the future of Jerusalem, which is perhaps the most delicate and explosive of all Stage III (permanent status) issues. Ma’aleh Adumim, whether linked to Jerusalem by a narrow road or by a broad built-up zone, does not cut in half the West Bank; it is quite conceivable to construct a good road that will carry people and goods from Ramallah to Bethlehem either under Ma’aleh Adumim or around it to the east so that the Palestinians do not have to go through Israeli checkpoints. On the other hand, the construction at E-1 would indeed tighten Israeli control over the eastern approaches of Jerusalem, thus making it more difficult to re-divide the city, which is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s intent.

The battle for Jerusalem, which has always been at the core of the conflict, is thus reemerging, well in advance of the actual resumption of negotiations. The clashes with far-right Jewish elements who wanted to use the Temple Mount to trigger a crisis that would derail the disengagement; the equally ugly responses by some Muslims, who do not want the feet of Jews to “defile” the Haram al-Sharif; the E-1 controversy; and the attempt by Palestinian Authority leadership to move directly to Permanent Status negotiations, including Jerusalem, all are opening shots in this new round of political warfare, which, for now at least, have not been translated into actual fighting, beyond the unrelated deterioration in Gaza.

Was it wise, however, for the Israeli government to add fuel to the crisis by reviving the debate over the E-1 plans? After all, the construction itself will not start for some years, and the present timing, apparently harmful to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his internal struggle with Hamas, could not have been worse. Explanations based on sheer folly or inattention to detail are indeed, often, the most plausible. Yet there is another way of looking at this “crisis,” which may have been somewhat more orchestrated than meets the eye. If timing is at the root of the trouble here, timing, that is, an agreement to delay, could easily be part of the solution. Meanwhile, the overt pressure on Israel could be used by the United States to show President Abbas that there is some degree of evenhandedness at work; and thus it would make it easier for President Bush to require him:

  • To help coordinate disengagement plans with Israel, particularly on the security framework;
  • To break the present mold of inaction and take effective measures against the terrorists who are still raining mortar shells on Gush Katif;
  • To abandon the unworkable push for “Stage III Now!” and prepare the ground for an acceptable interim agreement, once the preconditions (an end to terror) are met.

This is reminiscent of the Jewish folktale about a poor man who comes to his rabbi to cry over the incredible crush he and his large family are enduring in a small one-room hovel; the rabbi’s advice, much to the man’s surprise, is to add a goat to the household! Two weeks later, when told they may now send the goat out, the family suddenly feels so much better, breathing fresh air in their tiny but comfortable home.

The E-1 plan, in other words, may not mean much on the ground for years to come, but it has proved a useful device in demonstrating to the Palestinians that Israel is ready to struggle for Jerusalem while at the same time showing that the United States is not automatically allied with Israel on all issues. If taken off the agenda (for the time being) under U.S. pressure, E-1 could become the Palestinians’ “rabbi’s goat,” that is, the extra element whose removal makes it easier to adjust to other demands.

Dr. Eran Lerman is director of the Israel/Middle East Office of the American Jewish Committee.

National Catholic Reporter, May 13, 2005

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