Former CIA political analysts
It all quickly comes together traveling through the West Bank: the separation wall encircling Anata; the verdant natural spring in the Israeli settlement of Anatot — the spring, along with the mountains and wadis surrounding it and even the settlement’s very name, all stolen from Palestinians by Israel and its settlers; the wall encroaching on the small, heroic village of Bil’in; the Israeli trash and garbage heaps that loom over Wadi Fuqin and other Palestinian villages, wherever there is a settlement under construction or expanding; the Israeli construction everywhere, everywhere, cutting through the land, destroying the land, building for Israelis, destroying what is Palestinian; the ecological devastation throughout the West Bank.
You cannot travel around the West Bank for more than a day or two without seeing all of this, without knowing what it means, without knowing how Israel is committing a kind of slow ethnocide — perhaps, over the longer term, even genocide — against Palestinians. You cannot see the extent of this without wondering how it can ever be turned around.
The village of Anata is as good a place as any to start. Just outside the Jerusalem city limits (in fact, in one of the many weird anomalies of the occupation, part of the town is inside the municipal limits, most of it outside), Anata’s land once encompassed several thousand dunams, including a natural spring where villagers once gathered clean fresh water, some farmland where a wheat crop was grown, and tens of square miles of spectacular desert wilderness. The land now “belongs” to four Israeli settlements that encircle the town, including the tiny settlement of Anatot. All taken without so much as a by-your-leave.
We set out in search of the spring, an out-of-the-way spot known only to locals. After standing on a hilltop above Anata to get a perspective on the town and its surroundings — its neighboring Palestinian refugee camp of Shu’afat, the very large Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev that sits on some of Anata’s land, and the huge concrete wall rapidly snaking its way in and out of these areas — we come down off the hill, crossing an area of now-fallow wheat fields, and approach the guard post at the entrance of Anatot. The Israeli guard, dressed in civilian clothes but armed with a rifle, seems unfazed when our Palestinian friend Ahmad says he is taking his “tourist” passengers to the spring. Ahmad speaks Hebrew and English as well as Arabic and, because his wife is an Israeli Palestinian from Haifa, his car sports yellow license plates, the color of Israeli plates. These yellow plates give him an access denied to most Palestinians. They mean that he is not instantly recognizable as a Palestinian until he drives right up to a checkpoint, and they allow him to drive on the Israeli-only settler roads in the West Bank.
We are allowed to drive in. A few twists and turns, and we come upon a makeshift toll booth at the top of a winding road that drops down precipitously to the wadi and the spring below. The scene ahead of us is the startlingly beautiful mountainscape of the Judean desert, fading in the distant haze into soft shades of blue. This toll booth is manned by a young settler woman, also armed. The charge for visiting the spring is 17 shekels per person, about $3.75. Before the occupation, before the settlement, there was no charge, this was free land, the life-giving waters of the spring available to everyone.
Ahmad works a deal with the young Israeli woman. Telling her he doesn’t want to pay for this, he gives her a 50-shekel note and tells her he would like it back if we return within fifteen minutes. He is very soft-spoken and charming, and she agrees. As we inch down the hairpin turns of the very narrow road, we pass a pipeline used to move spring water up to the settlement. A little way down, we pass a small cluster of stone houses clinging to the mountainside, all obviously Palestinian by their style. They are abandoned, their inhabitants forced out, Ahmad says. At the bottom we come to an oasis in the desert, a very green place with several tall trees and a small waterfall feeding some natural pools and a brook. This is Ain Fara, which leads farther east to Wadi Qelt. It is a place where, before the Israelis came, the people of Anata and other nearby villages used to come for water and where Ahmad used to hike as a teenager. Now it is Israel’s, where Israelis go to swim and picnic, and where a settlement pipes the water out.
Ten minutes later, having retrieved his 50 shekels at the toll booth, Ahmad gives his perspective on what is happening. It is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the West Bank. First, he says, they take the land, appropriating it for the settlement; then they take the water; then they kick out the Palestinians who live there on the mountainside; then they begin to charge a fee to visit. Those from Anata who once farmed some of this land can no longer get to their fields; those who once came here for water can no longer do so. Everyone from Anata has been barred from this land for years. And now, Israel is not merely keeping them out of their land but, with the wall, is enclosing them within the municipal area of the town, walling them into a ghetto. “They push them out, push them out, push them out, push them out,” Ahmad intones, echoing the steady monotony of precisely the process of ethnic cleansing represented by Israel’s absorption of the West Bank.
Bil’in is a heroic little village, only 1,800 strong, a rural agricultural village that few would ever have heard of had it not been for Israel’s wall. Situated in a mountainous area just inside the West Bank, nine miles west of Ramallah, a mere ten miles as the crow flies east of Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, and literally in the shadow of the massive Israeli settlement of Modi’in Illit, which now houses 35,000 people and is planned to expand to 150,000 by 2020, Bil’in is fighting an uphill battle against Israel’s encroachment. Because it is inconveniently close to Modi’in Illit, Bil’in has lost three-quarters of its agricultural land to the wall. Israel claims the wall will provide security for the settlement, but it is clear that Bil’in is being hemmed in, its land taken, in order to give Modi’in Illit even more room for expansion. Of Bil’in’s original 4,200 dunams (slightly more than 1,000 acres), 3,000 have been confiscated and, because it is forbidden to use any land within 500 meters of the wall, another half of what is left to the village will be unusable.
We sit in the shade of a pomegranate and some other fruit trees in the front yard of the mayor’s house, drinking tea and talking about Bil’in. This is his “office”; there is no finely appointed municipal office in this tiny village. He has just come up the hill, hot and sweating, from helping build a new village school. His youngest child and some of his grandchildren are arriving home from school, still dressed in their school uniforms. Right now, there is only one school, for both boys and girls; the girls will get the new building. The mayor talks about what Bil’in has lost: hundreds of olive trees bulldozed or cut down and taken to Israel; other hundreds now inaccessible on the Israeli side of the wall (the mayor used to own some olive trees himself and sold the olives and the, oil but now he owns nothing but his house and has no way to make a living); cattle and sheep now with no land on which to graze; and, perhaps most important, no space anymore for a growing village to expand.
The mayor has nine children and many grandchildren, and he wonders what the future will be like for the next generation when the village begins to burst at the seams without any place to grow. “We want the future for the kids,” he says, obviously not hopeful. “We are people who want a future to live in peace. We don’t want war and blood and killing.” He believes it’s the Israelis who want to kill. “Everyone says Palestinians are terrorists, criminals, killing the Jewish. But,” he protests, “we are just sitting in our houses, in our village, and they come and attack us.”
Since February, when Israel started construction of the wall, Bil’in and its supporters among Palestinian activists, Israeli peace groups, and the International Solidarity Movement have staged protests at least weekly and sometimes more often, always non-violent but encountering violence at increasing levels from Israeli military and police. Palestinian boys have begun with increasing frequency to throw stones at Israeli soldiers, but this is unusually only in response to Israeli shooting.
Every Friday in September has seen a step-up in harsh measures by the Israelis — rubber-coated bullets, bullets made of some compacted substance like salt or sand that adheres to the skin, teargas, arrests, beatings, a total curfew on the village, total closure of the road leading to the village — and every Friday a step-up in anti-wall protests. When a massive show of Israeli military force on the first Friday stopped a small group of protesters, organizers gathered several hundred for the next week’s demonstration. When the road was completely closed off on that second Friday, over 200 mostly Israeli protesters walked miles across rocky, mountainous terrain, bypassing the soldiers and sneaking into the village from another direction, joining some international activists and the Palestinians already there. When direct confrontation with soldiers seemed futile, the forces of peace turned to music. In the days preceding the third Friday’s protest, organizers took a piano to Bil’in, placing it in the spot where bulldozers work on the wall, and a Dutch pianist, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Israel in his twenties but left because he felt Israel was becoming too nationalistic and militaristic, gave a concert on Friday at noon. Others also played the piano and guitars.
Having ourselves failed to get in to the village on the second Friday, we try the next week. The Israelis are letting some people in this time, mostly Palestinians and anyone with a press pass. We go with a Japanese journalist, hoping to be allowed in on the basis of his pass. No such luck. Our friend Ahmad drops us off at the Israeli checkpoint outside town and takes the journalist into town. No amount of arguing with the young Israeli soldier who commands the eight soldiers and police at this checkpoint does any good. It’s a “closed military zone,” he says, and we cannot go in because there’s a protest demonstration there. Ahmad, who comes back for a while to keep us company, tells him we simply want to watch, not to take part in the protest — a slight lie — but that does no good. Bill gets angry, telling the soldier that some day U.S. aid for this Israeli crap is going to stop and reminding him that we pay his salary, but this does no good either. The soldier is a child, but he has learned the power of helplessness: he just shrugs, tells us he is only following orders and doesn’t even know the person who gave the orders. It’s an old story.
We stand around in the sun for two hours, watching as the Israelis stop every passing car, turning most back but allowing some to pass after a period of negotiation. We are kept company for a while by a group of five Israeli women from an organization called Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch who have no press passes but are allowed in after an hour’s wait. For quite a long time, we are watched by a tiny lizard, no more than two inches long, who suns himself and keeps watch curiously on a nearby rock. After nearly two hours, it gets momentarily more exciting. The Israeli soldiers begin to shout and scurry around, and we look upward to see a group of about a dozen Palestinian boys on a ridge above us throwing stones at the Israelis. They are far enough away that few of their stones hit their mark, but a couple boink off the top of the small Israeli personnel carrier or land on the ground nearby. The Israelis, who have been casually lounging around, all don helmets and pick up their rifles. One aims at the kids above but doesn’t fire. As many pile into the vehicle as can fit, and the others walk along on the protected side as the jeep slowly begins to drive down the mountain road to the next curve, out of range of the stone-throwers.
It’s fun to watch them retreat, although only momentarily satisfying. A minute later, Ahmad returns with the Japanese journalist, who has his story and has to return to Jerusalem to file it. We realize that, with the soldiers now downhill of us, there is no checkpoint between us and Bil’in and that we could probably drive right in, but we don’t try. Enough is enough, which is exactly what the Israelis want.
Earlier, at our meeting with the mayor, he has urged us to get the word out about what Bil’in is enduring. “You will help me if you write a good word about Bil’in and what we are suffering from the Jewish,” he pleads. Bil’in is being squeezed, losing its livelihood, losing its future. “Where is the future for this child?” he wonders, pointing to his youngest son, a boy of about eleven. We have no answer for him. The protests are inspiring, a powerful symbol of Palestinians helping other Palestinians, of Israelis helping Palestinians, of internationals helping Palestinians. But the mainstream international media ignore the protests, ignore the plight of Bil’in and all the other Bil’ins throughout Palestine (the Japanese journalist tells us he has seen several American journalists throughout the protests but no one from large papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, no one from CNN, and no one from other television networks). And the bulldozers keep on going.
And this is exactly the point. The bulldozers keep on going, for Israel is trying to destroy the future for the mayor’s eleven-year-old son, to destroy the future for Palestine. Israel wants to squeeze Bil’in until it expires, without any agricultural capability anymore, without a place for its livestock to graze, without a place for its people to grow. All so that Israel can create room for Israeli Jews to spread across the land. Anywhere else in the world, this would be widely known for what it is — racism, dispossession, ethnic cleansing.
Ha’aretz correspondent Gideon Levy recently said it outright: this pogrom against the Palestinians is the shame of Israel. Levy was writing of Hebron, where 450 malicious Israeli settlers, backed up by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and the full power of the Israeli state, harass and intimidate, physically attack, throw slop on, and steal from 150,000 Palestinians, but what he says applies to Israel’s actions throughout the West Bank. Hebron is the worst but by no means the only horror in Israel’s long catalog of horrors. Each day that the pogrom in Hebron continues, Levy wrote, “is another day of shame for the State of Israel” — a day in which “Israel cannot be considered a state ruled by law, or a democracy.”
But theft is theft, pogroms are pogroms, and if the pogroms in Anata and Bil’in are “better” than the atrocities taking place in Hebron, they are only marginally so.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. They can be reached at email@example.com.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005