Sunday, May 4, 2014

Israel/Palestine 10: Area C and a Lack of Trust

The border with Lebanon is called “the quiet border.”  It used to be so before Hezbollah.  However, after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and an 18-year occupation there, UN watch-towers overlook a security zone in the Southern Bekaa valley: the term when applied to the northern border is an anachronism.  Today, “Jordan is the real quiet border,” say our kibbutznick friends Dudu and Shaul.  They, like every Israeli we have met on this trip, are satisfied with the effectiveness of the separation wall.  “It has worked and that is good enough for me,” says Dudu.  

The residents of Kibbutz Ashdod Ya'acov get on well with their Jordanian neighbors.  “It’s peaceful, but it’s a cold peace,” says Shaul.  Indeed, they have no interaction with their neighbors across the river valley; and there is no opportunity for contact.  Still, even though it's quiet, they feel the need for the fence: “The violence moves around; today it’s in Gaza,” offers Dudu, implying tomorrow it might come back to Kibbutz Ashdod Ya’acov. 

“What should be done with the West Bank,” we query.  They shrug for not knowing what to do.  Dudu is partial to giving it back to Jordan.  Not that Jordan would be receptive to such an offer if made.  And not that it looks like Israel is prepared to give up control of the West Bank anytime soon.  

Shaul spent time in an Israeli prison for refusing to perform border duty in the territories while he was in the IDF.  Today, after Munich, the Yom Kippur war, the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada, ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza, and extreme rhetoric from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also from some in the West Bank, he is less sure about his stance.  “We know that if they don’t vigorously pull suspects out of bed, we’ll have more attacks,” says Dudu. The belief is strong that this is so.  You hear it again and again. 

The lack of trust carries over toward Muslim Israelis (20 percent of the population).  All Isrealis are required to serve in the army upon turning 18.  However, Muslim Israelis get an exemption.  They may volunteer, but almost none do; and if they do volunteer they are not generally allowed to serve in regular units.  “We don’t trust them,” is the universal Israeli Jewish consensus.  

There are reasons for the lack of trust.  But lack of trust makes the conflict intractable.  A Jewish army for a Jewish state is a natural thing, but it is not likely to help overcome mututal distrust in the foreseeable future.  Driving down the Jordan Valley through the West Bank the road lies entirely in Area C, IDF controlled territory.  Yet there is hardly any IDF presence in this part of the Jordan Valley.  There are large Israeli farming operations and several Israeli settlements.  There is no border control.  There are Israeli Regional Councils.  It’s clear that the Jordan Valley is, de facto, a part of Israel.   The border is east along the fence with Jordan and the country extends from there to the Mediterranean Sea.  Here is a graphic of Area C. 

This past week there was talk by mainstream Israeli politicians about annexing Area C in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks.  It is not surprising: the two state solution is dead.  As we drive to dinner with friends in Modi'in we pass "the Green Line," the pre 1967 border.  Today there is no trace of this line.  This area is fully within Israel. The same is true for Latrun, where we purchased a nice Syrah from an old monastery.  Even though Area C includes 60% of the West Bank, it contains only ~150,000 people.  Israel can grant full citizenship to those inhabitants without upsetting the applecart of a Jewish majority.  What’s left of the West Bank after the annexation of Area C are the enclaves of Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and some smaller pockets in between: 2.2 million people without citizenship, without the right to travel freely, without substantial hope for the future, and at risk of being hauled out of bed at the point of a gun by the IDF at 3:00 a.m.

How do you build trust?  It’s a two way street; but the street is blocked by IDF check-points.  There is hardly a trickle of traffic on this road to peace.  The guide books make it sound like you can visit the territories like any part of Israel.  You certainly can’t from Jerusalem.  You may be able to freely go past checkpoints to Bethlehem from the Jordan Valley, but certainly not to Nablus or Ramallah.  Our rental car contract prohibits us from traveling to any part of the territories.  It's no accident.  Israel feels very safe, but the idea of travel to the territories on your own feels less safe.  How much of this is imagined? How much is real?  No one here can tell us, because they don’t venture there, and the Palestinians living there are hemmed in.  Israelis don’t trust them. 

Israelis are generally satisfied with the current security situation.  They’ve built a great and vibrant country that is safe.  The Hebrew language has been fully revived, the economy is growing at a healthy clip.  Israel is prominent in high tech, energy production, and now in biotechnology as well.  There is a strong feeling of family among all Jewish Israelis.  For now they are ignoring the problem in their midst.  


  1. I suggest you take a trip yourself to the Palestinian territories and see how you'll be treated there. Don't take the Israelis' word for it!
    And to the question as to how to build trust, when the Palestinians remove from their statutes the destruction of Israel as a goal, when they stop educating their children for hatred in their schools and their TV programs, when they take responsibility for their own problems and corrupt government, maybe, maybe, one can begin to think of trusting them. Until then, Israel should be kept safe.

  2. Dear A: Thanks, for reading. I would like to be able to have the opportunity to meet and discuss with people in the territories. If you have visited there and had experiences, I would like to hear about it. You can email if you wish. Regarding safety. Yes, of course, Israel should be kept safe. The present security measures accomplish that for now, at considerable expense to Israeli youth who are required to man check-points and considerable expense to Palestinians, most of whom have no involvement in terror of any kind; I do not advocate abandoning the security measures today. However, I don't think it's a solution. Standing on the mound at Tel Gezer, a beautiful spot, you can feel it, and it stares you in face.

  3. I think you must have forgotten the images of the Palestinians celebrating 9/11, or when they were celebrating every time a "martyr" killed Israelis.
    It doesn't signify that they are terrorists and I didn't imply that in anything I said.
    The Germans claimed that they weren't responsible for the Holocaust and not all of them were Nazis either. The majority of the Palestinians aren't terrorist, but they certainly are not condemning any of the terrorist acts done against Israel. On the contrary.
    When people like you will acknowledge what the problem really is instead of wishing for an utopia, the whole Peace Process will continue to be wishful thinking.
    I suggest you study the history of the British Mandate, the relationship between the Arabs in Palestine and Hitler, the birth of the Zionist movement, and all the wars against Israel.
    After that I would like to see you pledge the return of all the lands Americans took from the Indians and return California to Mexico.
    If your only banner is with the Jews and the Palestinians and you don't write about China and Tibet, Russia and Ukraine, not to mention the Christians being massacred in the Arab countries, the genocide and displacement of over 1 million Arabs from Syria, and on and on, I think you should take a long hard look in the mirror and acknowledge your motivations. To me they are obvious. I

    1. Anonymous:

      "People like you" and "I suggest you study history" and "You should take a long hard look in the mirror and examine you motivation" which you claim to know, does not meaningfully apply to me. I am sharing my honest impressions of the country, which I believe is fantastically vibrant and has accomplished a tremendous amount in its 66 years.

      You are not being clear as to what you are objecting to, and it seems to me you are shooting at the messenger instead of grappling with the problem. 2.2 million Arabs without any rights on the West Bank, most of which bas been de facto annexed by Israel, is a problem whether you feel they can be trusted to refrain from terror, or not. The security situation makes matters that much more complicated, but it's not the core of the problem.

      Once the two state solution is gone, (and feel free to offer reasons what that might mean and why it remains viable) the fact that Israel is warehousing 4.0 million Palestinians (about 40% of them under 14 years of age)(CIA World Factbook for WB and Gaza) is a problem whether they are ululating at terror attacks or not.

  4. My main objection is you putting the burden of the peace process on Israel's shoulder. That is why I suggested you go back to the history of the PLO and what their goals are.
    There is NO two states solution.
    The Palestinians were never interested in it and will never be interested in it.
    Israel in their well intentioned and hopeful naiveté at one point offered Arafat everything he wanted and Arafat refused for fear for his life and launched the second Intifada instead.
    Fatah hates and fears Hamas. Hamas murdered hundreds and hundreds of Palestinians to take power in Gaza. Just on that score, there is no viable Palestinian State.
    The arab countries will not launch a war against Israel and risk raising the world's sympathy towards Israel again. They're waiting for either Israel to attack in self defense and hoping the European armies or Russia will intervene, or they're waiting for Iran to have the bomb and finish Israel. One way or another, the arabs never wanted and still don't want Israel there.
    So, if you believe that Israel has the right to exist I'm surprised that you haven't mentioned any of this in your blog, unless you believe that they shouldn't be there in the first place, and in this case all that you write makes sense.
    I used to be against the building of settlements. But after Israel left Gaza and I saw the horrible pictures and videos of the Israeli army removing and expelling Jews from their homes to show the Palestinians they meant business, and the Palestinians still refused, no, not only refused, but came back with more and more demands and violence, it became even more obvious they don't want peace. Israel might as well build more settlements. They're wrong is they do, they're wrong if they don't, might just as well. The Palestinians don't want any Jews amongst them. Or Christians for that matter. They have already expelled or compelled the Christian population to leave the Palestinian controlled areas. The ones who remained don't have where else to go.
    Trying to solve this with a western mentally is not going to work and obviously hasn't worked. Many brilliant heads of State have failed.
    "Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations… We shall not rest until the day when we return to our home, and until we destroy Israel." Arafat
    "The PLO will now concentrate on splitting Israel psychologically into two camps... We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. Jews will not want to live among Arabs. I have no use for Jews. They are and remain Jews. We now need all the help we can get from you in our battle for a united Palestine under Arab rule." Arafat
    "Our basic aim is to liberate the land from the Mediterranean Seas to the Jordan River. We are not concerned with what took place in June 1967 or in eliminating the consequences of the June war. The Palestinian revolution's basic concern is the uprooting of the Zionist entity from our land and liberating it." Arafat
    I don't believe that the Palestinians will ever want peace with Israel or want Israel to exist.
    But if you'd like to continue to write about peace between them, and to be taken seriously and not be perceived as bigoted or even anti semitic, I would suggest you start also writing about the responsibility the Palestinians have and have had for their own destiny.
    In the meantime I pray that I'm wrong and that Israel will be able to find peace one day.
    Shalom to you.

    1. O.k. Thanks for elucidating.

      Arafat, of course, is ten years dead. Undated and out-of-context Arafat quotes are not particularly germane to the question whether the Palestinians--and let's focus on the West Bank for now--were ever, or are now, interested in peace.

      The Oslo declaration by Fatah, recognizing the right of Israel to exist and accepting UN resolutions 242 and 338 are relevant. What Abbas and other current leaders are saying today is relevant. We, and I include the most assiduous readers of the western press, don't have a good grasp of the political situation on the ground in the West Bank.

      The assumption, which is widespread, and which you appear to share, that Palestinians never have been and never will be interested in peace, strikes me as profoundly mistaken. But whether it's mistaken, or not, there is not choice but to continue to work on that assumption because the status quo will not be sustainable forever.

      Israel should take action to make it worthwhile for the Palestinians to make peace. They should do so because it is in Israel's best interest. And yes, taking those steps is on Israel's shoulders, because they have the power. They have to make peace worthwhile for the Palestinians. I don't know what that is, but I know only Israel can give it to them.

  5. The Oslo accord was signed by the so 10 years dead Arafat, who was more moderate than Mahmud Abbas and certainly Khaled Meshaal, and still made all those comments after signing the accord at Oslo. But we'll leave that aside for now.
    Given that you believe that the power is all on Israel's side, how do you envision a peace between them? In your opinion what should Israel offer the Palestinians that they haven't offered before?

  6. I also suggest you visit the Palestinian territories if you can, and see for yourself how people treat you. I have visited hundreds of times since 2003, and I lived there for two years (based in Ramallah) -- some of the best times of my life. A lot of amazing friends and incredibly inspiring people. The way they are vilified by the world is a gross distortion.

    I never had a rental car, I always took public transportation (and occasionally got rides from friends), and I was never once threatened in any way by a Palestinian. Israeli soldiers are another matter. Four of the five times I most feared for my life were because of Israeli soldiers. (Shelling of a neighborhood I was in in Gaza, twice having guns pointed at me, and once being hit by a concussion grenade when I was taking notes at a demonstration in Bil'in way in the back, not even demonstrating.)

    I wrote a book about my experiences called Fast Times in Palestine. I'll be glad to give you a copy if you can let me know a good way to contact you. Or you can contact me via my website:

    Peace, and thanks for the thoughtful posts.