May 25, 2013
State of Denial: Searching for Peace in Israel
Posted on Feb 12, 2010
By Robert Fisk
Well, yes, I suppose they could be “bothersome”, like those pesky minarets which the Swiss rightly decided to object to. Or the wall – longer, taller, than the Berlin Wall so let’s call it The Wall – which snakes into the occupied West Bank and steals yet more Arab land for Israel. It is true – it is a fact – that it has decreased the number of suicide bombers in Israel, but it is an outrage, as internationally illegal as it is a blinding, ugly scar on the face of the Holy Land. True, the Ottomans built walls round Jerusalem, just as the Protestant once built walls round Derry, but this thing is an excrescence, not so much Prince Charles’ carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend as the wall of a vast ghetto. Just who is inside the ghetto – the Palestinians or the Israelis – I am not quite sure. But it is a monument to failure, proof positive that there is no Middle East peace. Proof, indeed, that there will not be a peace between ‘Palestine’ – which, as we all know, does not exist – and Israel.
I travel to Bethlehem, to Area ‘A’, controlled – if that word can ever have licence in the Middle East – by Fayyad’s ‘Palestinian Authority’, and there, in the grotty coffee-shop beside the Church of the Nativity is Salah Atamari, former governor (no longer – for reasons hedged in uncertainty) of this little town and, in a former life, head of the 12,000 prisoners in the notorious Ansar prison in Lebanon. We have met before – though he doesn’t remember this – and Atamari struck up a friendship in 1982 with the Israeli commander of the camp, a certain Colonel Meir Rosenfeld, who lived in Nazareth (Israeli friends insist he is still alive) and was “a courageous and straightforward man – his family perished in Auschwitz”. The Holocaust is part of the grammar of Israel. Gantz told us that his mother, who died eight months ago, was a Holocaust survivor. “When a rocket fell near her home [during the Gaza war], she said to me on the telephone: “Don’t stop sending them food – but don’t stop fighting them.”
And I remembered my own mother (who was not a Holocaust survivor but who joined the RAF in 1940) telling me during the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut that I should stay in the west of the city because if – as the Israelis insisted – journalists should leave the Lebanese capital, it would allow the Israeli army to kill more civilians. I think my Mum was right. Benny Gantz thought his Mum was right. But back to Salah Atamari.
“Obama is not a sultan in an isolated, deserted oasis. He cannot go against the establishment. Can Hamas and Fatah be mature? Maturity means breaking away from innocence. I am against Hamas, ideologically and intellectually speaking ... They turned their back on their heritage as Palestinians. They thought they could turn it into Islamic rule. I am in favour of elections. Let Hamas rule if they can. As a Fatah member, we always advocated a one-state solution where we live with Israelis with equal rights in one democratic state. I think this is inevitable, after maybe 50, or 100 years. Peace is inevitable. I know that the Israelis go crazy when you talk of a one-state solution. But one day they may come to us and say: ‘Let’s stop this stupid, bloody conflict. Let’s live together.’ The two-state solution is passing.”
I look to Atamari to rid me of this argument. “I am a Bethlehemite. This means something. It means deep faith in the inevitability of peace and justice. I believe our focus should be the unity of our society ... We should empower our civil establishment and be an active part of our human society.” Yitzak Rabin was killed because of his opposition to the Jewish settlements, Atamari says, and the suicide bombings of the Palestinians made them losers at both the Israeli and the international level. “I was part of the Palestinian Authority ... now we are doing well, but we cannot build our authority under occupation, with 11,000 prisoners in jail.” Atamari looks away. He talks about the Ansar prison camp, about the Israeli bulldozer which mutilated the bodies of four prisoners who were hiding in the camp. “There were no informers in the camp,” he says. “I issued a statement to the prisoners, that if you have any information about any prisoner, you must inform our leadership.” But Ansar was infamous for its informers. Atamari met John Le Carré in Sidon in December of 1981, and told him – so he says – “the other side of the story”. But what is the “other side”? I travel around ‘Area C’, the huge area – more than 60 per cent – of the West Bank which is already lost to the Palestinians, and I look at The Wall. It snakes across orchards, through villages, over hills like a beast, a confidence trick, a massive indictment of political failure. Is this to be here forever? Or is it – as Netanyahu claims – temporary; which means that it can move further east, towards the Jordan river rather than away from it? I drive to Gaza. It’s as bad as they say. Schools, hotels, companies are sliding into the ‘Islamist’ Hamas regime. Headscarved women, a strict schooling for children, no serious political debate. When I hand over my passport to the lady from Hamas, I notice the warning on the wall behind her: “ON THE INSTRUCTION OF THE MINISTRY OF INTERIOR TO PREVENT ALL FORMS OF LIQUOR (the capital letters now disappear) are confiscated immediately be seized and destroyed and poured in front of their owners.” Ye Gods! The Palestinians of Gaza are besieged; they are under the most odious sanctions; they have to build their homes from mud. And they threaten infidels that liquor will be destroyed? In front of their owners? Has Hamas lost its moral compass? Or is this part of the lunatic law in which we must now believe?
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