Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip may just feel a little less isolated today. Israel is bowing to international pressure and rejigging its embargo on the enclave in the wake of the bloodshed 3 weeks ago when it enforced a longstanding maritime blockade.
But earlier this month, taking my leave at the end of a 3-year assignment, I reflected while walking the half-mile (700-metre) cage (picture, right) that separates Gaza from Israel on how the barriers that surround and divide this region have, if anything, grown higher, deepening the isolation of the rival parties. That may make any kind of reconciliation more difficult as time goes on. I wrote about this earlier today.
Since Israel pulled out troops from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took control in 2007, the 1.5 million people in the 40-km (25-mile) sliver of Mediterranean coast, have been cut off. But they’re not the only ones. Israel is itself a virtual island in the Arab world. Though it has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, contact with them seems if anything to be retreating. Relations look little more vigorous at times than they are across the frontlines with Lebanon and Syria. Israeli dreams, backed by some serious cash lately, of re-establishing a regional rail transport hub, seem far-fetched.
The frontier lines weave their way around and among Israeli and Palestinian populations that live lives in parallel but now rarely meet after a decade in which peace hopes faded amid bloodshed. New divisions among Palestinians, between Hamas and Fatah, have left Gaza virtually at war with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israelis, too, have seen sharper confrontations within their nation, notably between secular and religious Jews. Inside the West Bank and across Jerusalem, I’ve also watched new physical barriers going up and the battle for territory has heated up. Today’s revival of Israeli building plans in the annexed Arab east of the city is the latest development to stir angry passions.
It’s a reality television show whose contestants are isolated from the outside world, but “Big Brother” in Israel has managed to set off yet another controversy over Palestine policies.
Cameras at the studio-cum-commune outside Jerusalem caught Edna Canetti, a 54-year-old liberal activist, telling fellow residents over the weekend she wanted to see a peaceful popular campaign against Israel’s West Bank occupation.
A group of Gazan women are beating high unemployment, achieving self-empowerment, and raising environmental awareness, all with a rather unconventional resource: garbage.
With funding from USAID, the Organisation for Supporters of Palestinian Environment launched a project that trains and assists 24 women in creating craft items for sale out of household garbage.
Living conditions seem to be improving in the West Bank. Thanks to a recently gained sense of security and availability of funding, Palestinian farmers are diversifying their crop portfolio away from staples like tomatoes, for a competitive edge. Palestinians have announced the launch of one of their most ambitious real estate projects to date in the central West Bank. Nablus, long the industrial hub of the West Bank, the city’s once ubiquitous soapmakers who have survived a sharp decline in sales are eyeing new markets abroad for their all-natural product. A recent International Monetary Fund report projects real GDP in the West Bank to rise by about 7 percent this year, provided that remaining Israeli military restrictions are lifted. This growth will mark “the first substantial increase in living standards since 2005″, the IMF says. Cafes in Ramallah are bustling with business, and unemployment is down.
Five years ago, such positive economic climate could not have been imagined. The West Bank’s economy had been weak and dwindling under checkpoints and roadblocks imposed by Israel following the Palestinian uprising of 2000. Things started changing this summer, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easing travel within the West Bank as part of an “economic peace” that he described as a prelude to a fuller accord with the Palestinians. Consolidating that vision despite his own reservations about Israel’s long-term intentions, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a 65-page plan for building the institutions and infrastructure of the future state of Palestine.
A youth group in the Gaza Strip held a mock trial for the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. The Youth Parliament, a group under the media department of the Islamist group Hamas, prosecuted Abbas on charge of “betraying the blood of the martyrs and the injured”.
The charge was in reference to Abbas’s agreement to defer the vote on the Goldstone Report at the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month. Many human rights groups have been pressing nations to endorse the UN report critical of the Gaza War seeing it as a way to hold both Israel and Hamas accountable for the hundreds of civilian deaths in the devastating war. The vote on the Goldstone Report was delayed to next March, which looked like a victory for Israel, and some Palestinians charged his decision had raised serious questions about Abbas’s leadership. Abbas, doing some damage control, pledged to push for an exceptional UNHCR session, which is being held on Wednesday. (Read more here.)
Palestinian children in Gaza received a very special treat today. They had the opportunity to see a zebra in flesh. Well, a “zebra”.
A small Gaza zoo dyed two female donkeys white and striped the two using women’s hair-dye and a paint brush. It charged $15 for a full busload of children to meet the zebras – a bargain for an animal that would have cost $40,000 to bring to the Israel-blockaded Gaza.
(Read the English transcript of Shalit’s video message here.)
It’s been two days since the exchange of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s proof-of-life video for Israel’s release of 20 Palestinian female prisoners. The final prisoner of the 20 was freed today as the last step to the soldier-video swap.
After being made public, the video has been replayed nonstop on television, radio, and video web-hosting sites. As of Monday, the endless number of video uploads by individual users on Youtube had each been viewed over at least 40,000 times.
According to International Peace Institute’s (IPI) new poll conducted in both Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank administered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, Palestinians still offer substantial support for the Islamist Hamas group for being “the party of resistance”.
IPI said 55 percent of Palestinians favor a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which shows a shift in Palestinian public opinion towards greater willingness to accept “the overall package and of provisions for Israeli withdrawal, Palestinian demilitarization, and mutual recognition.”
Israeli media reacted strongly to the report issued by the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which criticised both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants for actions that could be considered war crimes during the December-January Gaza War. A “declaration of war” and “classic anti-Semitism” against Israel were some of the descriptions used by the Israeli media . (Read more about the report here.)
The media reports noted that Justice Richard Goldstone, a South African, is Jewish.