Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Succot in Sderot and Hebron and a temporary reversed destruction

Yesterday morning there was an unusual event in the town of Sderot on the Gaza Strip border . Fifteen activists of Masad, the Social Democratic Coalition, celebrated the holiday of Sukkot. They set up in the town  center a Peace Tabernacle with the declared goal of "Expressing  support for the Peace Talks, as only peace can bring an end to bloodshed”.  And they also came to express support for the factory workers of Sderot ‘s "Negev Textiles ", who stand to lose their jobs .

Workers of the threatened factory arrived, headed by the Arab woman engineer Rodina Milsah who became the leader of their struggle, and held aloft the placard: "Give grants to factories, not  to settlers”. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who boasts of the huge budgets he procured for settlements in the Occupied Territories and for Yeshiva seminaries, refuses to transfer the comparatively minute grant of three million shekels required to save the plant.

Still, a public action to Support the Peace Talks is far from a simple thing to undertake in Israeli society as of now (or for that matter, in the Palestinian society today) . Only a very optimistic and tireless person would undertake it, such as the veteran activist Naftali Raz, the driving force of Masad, who always reiterates the words of the Song of Peace from the 1970’s: " Do not say 'A day will come’ – bring the day!" .

Meanwhile, the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians do not get much media coverage , and what occasionally leaks out does not exactly arouse a thrill. The talks are conducted quietly and deliberately kept low profile, while the center stage is taken by events that do not really conduct to the spirit of peace.

In the weeks since Secretary of State Kerry managed to let negotiations resume, there are often heard bitter voices on the Palestinian side. " What peace talks are these, when at the same time the Israelis go on building and expanding settlements, when every night their soldiers raid towns and villages and refugee camps, arrest people, shoot and injure and kill?" These kind of voices were heard also this week from Palestinians, but on the Israeli side there were heard parallel bitter voices : "What peace talks are these when they go and kill two of our soldiers?". Within forty-eight hours two Israeli soldiers killed. The Israeli media tended to lump the two cases together, but in fact they were quite different from each other .

Sergeant Tomer Chazan died very far from his place of service and his military capacity. When working as a dishwasher in a restaurant while on leave, a Palestinian fellow worker lured him to come to a Palestinian village in the West Bank and there killed him. A despicable act by any standard, which seems almost deliberately designed to spoil whatever good collegial relations between Israelis and Palestinians there are.

Sergeant Gal ( Gabriel ) Kobi was killed in the line of his duty in the army of occupation. He was sent by his superiors to guard the enclave of Israeli settlers in Hebron, an especially heavy task during Sukkot . On that occasion the settlers every year invite hordes of supporters from across the country, to take part in the aggressive dancing intended to show that Hebron belongs to the Jews and to them only. Sergeant Kobi was conscripted two years ago and had a high motivation for service in the Israel Defense Forces. A few day before he was killed by a sniper shot  he wrote on his Facebook page: " Once again I find myself at night in the villages of the Arabs. What will be the end?"

"Is this a new wave? Is this going to be the new Palestinian modus operandi?" wondered the media commentators. "There is no indication of any coordinated planning. This is a tragic coincidence" stated Chief of Staff Ganz. Did he manage to reassure all the soldiers’ parents? For his part, Netanyahu promised to hasten the transfer of another house in Hebron to the settlers, and generally stated that "With one hand we are fighting terrorism and with the other  we strengthen the settlement of our land."  Negotiations with the Palestinians are apparently dealt with by the Prime Minister’s feet.

Is there a connection between the fact that some Palestinians kill Israeli soldiers and the fact that Israeli soldiers sometimes destroy Palestinian villages? It is likely that the average Israeli, if asked such a question, will  outright and angrily reject any such connection. Indeed, there does not seem any reason to assume a direct causal connection between the killing of two soldiers within 48 hours at the beginning of this week and the destruction of the village of Khirbet Makhoul at the beginning of the previous week. Apart from the fact that it is all connected with the same occupation.

Even very few activists had heard of this village until last week; there was even a  debate about how its name should be spelled. A small place, home to about one hundred and twenty adults and children, living the poor life of shepherds . Like with other villages in the Jordan Valley, the occupation authorities consider Khirbet Makhoul an annoyance to be gotten rid of – especially when negotiations are taking place in which Israel demands to hold on to the Jordan Valley.   Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued an unenlightened ruling which did not get much attention, approving the demolition of the village. Within a few days,  soldiers and bulldozers arrived and wiped it off the face of the earth.

It was Gideon Levy, who specializes in casting light on dark places, who arrived on the scene first and met the people who were left homeless and destitute. Levy wrote an extensive report for the Sukkot holiday issue of "Haaretz." The Red Cross arrived and gave tents - but the army returned two days later and confiscated the tents, too. No big news.

Then occurred the incident which made headlines - diplomats from the European Union and France , the UK , Ireland , Spain and Australia all got directly involved, more directly than was the habit  on similar cases in the past. They went to Khirbet Makhoul with a new shipment of tents and emergency supplies, and the troops received them with volleys of concussion  grenades  - which is the long-established army reaction to foreign busybodies from Human Rights organizations . The tents were confiscated by the soldiers, and Reuters flashed worldwide the image of Marion Castaing, Cultural Attaché at the French consulate in East Jerusalem, lying on the ground with a soldier pointing his gun at her.

Probably the soldiers did not know that this was an official representative of the government of France and that they were violating the Vienna Convention which requires states to respect the diplomatic immunity of foreign representatives. The French government filed a protest, as did the European Union. Israeli government officials were far from ready to apologize, but rather threatened to expel Castaing: "The role of diplomats is to build bridges and not to make provocations." However, the French Consulate in East Jerusalem is not accredited to Israel, and serves essentially as the de-facto French Embassy to the future State of Palestine. It could be said that Ms. Castaing did fulfill quite effectively the role of building bridges with the Palestinians.

This morning there was going to be a major show of solidarity by Israeli peace activists, a convoy of buses going to Khirbet Makhoul by the same route where the diplomats were blocked. Ilana Hammerman published in "Haaretz” an  article about this, under the title "There are laws which must be broken".  But yesterday afternoon the news came that Adv. Tawfiq Jabbarin got the same Supreme Court now to issue a temporary injunction, for the time being forbidding the military from destroying houses or expelling inhabitants. The sword was removed from the throat - at least until pending further judicial proceedings.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What is and what isn’t remembered on Yom Kippur

Afternoon , Friday, 13 September 2013. The eve of Yom Kippur . In the street outside the sound of the last cars is diminishing to silence. In a few hours we would hear the happy cries of children racing their bicycles in the center of the road. This is the secular Israeli Yom Kippur which has nothing to do with any Jewish tradition and no parallel in any Jewish community outside this country.  It came about accidentally, due to an odd compromise . Secular and traditional Israelis were willing to accept the demand of their religious fellow citizens: “Can’t you give up your cars, for at least one day in the year?" and so, without anybody planning it, the State of Israel got what environmentalists in Europe and America dream of. A Day Without Cars in which the bikes reign supreme even on the intercity highways. The bikes , and the roller skates, and skate boards,  and baby strollers pushed by mothers and grandmothers and young couples, and the old women quietly walking their dogs in the middle of the road. There are cars to be seen traveling there - but only the tiny toy cars driven by the swinging legs of enthusiastic kids. The Rabbis greatly disliked all this, and have firmly stated again and again bicycle riding is also a desecration of the Holy Day, and roller skates too. But it was too late, the Israelis just refused to listen.

Today could have looked completely different. We might have woken up this morning to a ceaseless stream of the radio news flashes of American Tomahawk missiles raining down on targets in Syria , and an endless debate among experts about whether or not Assad will retaliate by firing missiles at Israel. Right now, our ears would have been straining to hear air raid sirens which might sound any second, and mothers would have sternly warned their children not to dare leave the house , and the little bikes would have remain forgotten in a corner. In such a  situation we would most likely have been, had George W. Bush still been in the White House.

But  President Obama did not really want to stage a military attack, and he deliberately left open the option of a diplomatic solution. While his Presidential visit to Russia looked like a Cold War style direct confrontation, Vladimir Putin was given the time to suggest a dignified way out and prevent the attack which  no one in America really wanted. The sigh of relief could be heard from the White House and Capitol Hill and the American public at large and in fact from most of the world. Only In Israel did ​​the government and many of the commentators voice disappointment and criticism of Obama for not properly fulfilling his duties as a the policeman of the world.

"If I’m not for myself - who will be for me?" said Netanyahu, citing the ancient Rabbi Hillel (some said he grossly misrepresented the intent of one of the greatest of all Jewish sages). So, is Netanyahu worried that one who didn’t bomb Damascus in punishment for the use of gas probably is also not going to send American planes to destroy the Iranian nuclear project ? And does  Netanyahu intend to take this task upon himself and the Israeli Air Force? Meanwhile, in the short term the Prime Minister is going to hold at the UN General Assembly a verbal duel with the new Iranian president. Rohani is going to make a big effort to show to the world a moderate and compromising face. Netanyahu will try to convince everybody that he is cheating, but it will be difficult. Where is Ahmadinejad when you need him?

Meanwhile , Syria has come down from the headlines and Iran has not yet gotten into them, and the media focuses on the traumatic war of 1973,  exactly forty years ago now. Old battle stories come up and get published again, and there are some new disclosures . For example, that on war's second day  Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was filled with panic, felt that all was lost and contemplated using non conventional weapons ( What kind of weapons, exactly? This the now published diaries of General Bar Lev do not specify). And on the last day of the war, after cease-fire had already been declared, Dayan sent troops to conquer the city of Suez, without sufficient planning and preparation, in order  to “gain a prestigious achievement”. A prestigious achievement there was not, and eighty soldiers did not come back alive from the ambush into which they rushed head-on. Moshe Dayan, who had gained unprecedented fame and admiration in six days of war in 1967, lost everything in the three weeks of 1973. Also after him there were Israeli generals who successfully entered politics , but thank God none of them gained so much enthusiastic and blind support as Dayan had between 1967 and 1973.

Very many articles and discussion and commentaries about the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War . And very few articles on the other anniversary which fell on this very day, the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. The twentieth anniversary of the moment when Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn and I was sitting here in this room at this table and writing an article entitled "Hope Reborn” .  

Hope was indeed reborn then. There was then an atmosphere of enthusiasm and euphoria among Israelis and Palestinians alike, peace seemed at hand and its opponents were marginalized . An atmosphere which melted away and disappeared long since, buried under a huge pile of disappointments and frustrations and accusations and counter-accusations . And very  much bloodshed - three bullets which were fired at a square in the heart of Tel Aviv on the night of November 4, 1995, and buses exploding in Israeli cities, and a rain of bombs falling on Gaza, and a lot of smaller incidents of bloodshed now remembered only by the families of the dead Israelis and the dead Palestinians. And on both sides people say the "Peace? That’s impossible, they don’t want peace." They, the Palestinians, say the Israelis. They, the Israelis, the Palestinians say .

It happened that exactly on this week, the Twentieth Anniversary of Oslo which  few bother to remember, I had two very similar conversations with two people who have never met each other, though I know both of them quite well.

"These negotiations which the Americans began are not going anywhere" said G., owner of a small electrical appliances store in the center of Holon. "And if we get out of the Territories, what then? They will fire missiles at us, like after we left Gaza. Missiles on Tel Aviv, on Haifa, everywhere. Why give them a chance to do that? Peace? What peace? They will not honor any agreement , we have already seen what they are like." And N., a  Ramallah resident whose husband was involved in the First Intifada and who herself participated in many demonstrations against the occupation, told me :" What if there is an agreement ? Believe me, it will do nothing but make our situation worse. They will not give us a state with territorial contiguity. Not on your life! What could happen is that they will draw for us horrible borders, borders of strangulation. More checkpoints , more pressure, they will put us under siege as in Gaza. I don’t  want my girls to grow up in the same kind of horror as the children of Gaza ! Is that the agreement I am supposed to hope for? "

This week, Secretary of State John Kerry re-affirmed to Arab Foreign Ministers in Paris that the purpose of the negotiations is to reach a full agreement between Israel and the Palestinians within nine months. No partial agreement , nor an interim agreement , nor a "Palestinian state with provisional borders ," but a full, comprehensive peace agreement solving to mutual satisfaction all aspects of the conflict. To do that , he would have to pull a very big rabbit out of the hat...

Meanwhile, on September 13 - the Oslo anniversary - Israeli  troops escorted hundreds of settlers and Orthodox Jewish believers into the Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus , in order to hold prayers at the holy site known as Joseph's Tomb . The entry of the settlers and the army into the refugee camp sparked off riots and clashes and stone throwing and shooting and several woundings. "The IDF is committed to the Freedom of Religious Worship ," said a military spokesman.  But Major Avi Ohayon, who commanded the escorting military force, revealed in an interview with the extreme-right newspaper "Makor Rishon" : "Jews have a deep spiritual experience here at the tomb of one of the Fathers of the Nation, and to the army this gives an opportunity to increase the military presence in Samaria. More than an entire battalion is involved in the accompaniment of the worshipers - regular troops , recon, reserve forces and intelligence. The more soldiers in this area, the better for the settlements’ security”.

Also this week the army closed the investigation regarding Bassem Abu Rahme, Bil'in resident who was killed in April 2009 when hit in the chest  by a tear gas canister during a demonstration against the Separation Fence. Three videos filmed during the demonstration proved that Abu Rahma had not used violence or endangered  the soldiers in any way , but they were not sufficient to identify any soldier who could be held responsible for his death and or stand trial for it.

Not so the case of Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner, who had hit a demonstrator from Denmark with his rifle butt and for whose guilt the footage from the event left no doubt. But he did get a plea bargain. He will do two months of community service, will not be promoted any further and retire from the army in a year and a half. Rightists made a loud outcry about this trial and claimed that this was “an abject surrender to Anarchists” and that it may deter officers from fulfilling their duties .

And then some good news from the courts - the verdict rendered in the libel suit filed by the movement “Im Tirzu” (“If You Will It”) movement. Members of this movement waged a widespread public campaign against the Human Rights groups and against theaters and cultural institutions and against anyone who they considered as not being sufficiently Zionist or Israeli patriotic. They demanded of the  universities in Israel to impose a Zionist and Israeli Patriotic control on the curriculum and lectures in the various faculties, especially in the Humanities, and to fire professors judged by them as to be non-Zionist or non-Patriotic or helping Israel's enemies. When the Hebrew Wikipedia defined “Im Tirzu” as  a right-wing organization, the organization so defined threatened to file a libel suit against the Wikipedia editors. And when eight young people organized a Facebook group called " If You Will It, a Fascist movement is here", the movement to whose name a reference was made did file for libel. After protracted and complicated proceedings, the court rejected seven of the eight libel charges, determining that there indeed existed certain parallels between the ideology and activities of “Im Tirzu” and those of Fascist movements . Only one charge was accepted by the judge, who ruled that no correlation was found between “Im Tirzu” and the Nazi race theory, and therefore asserting such was indeed libelous. One should not go too far.

Another good surprise: a hearing was concluded over an  incident which took place in the midst of the "Cast Lead” bombings in the  Gaza Strip. Specifically, on the early morning  hours of January 2, 2009,  beginning at 6:34 am, near the entrance to the Air Force base at Sde Dov in north Tel Aviv. As the indictment noted, "There was a gathering of nearly 20 young people there, including the defendants , [who came] to express protest at the IDF operation in Gaza. Most of them were dressed in white robes stained red and wearing masks on their faces, some carrying signs condemning the operation. Most participants lay down on the road or threw at soldiers standing at the gate flyers with the headline ‘War Crimes’.” According to the police, even if the whole thing lasted just a few minutes, but people "carried signs, on which were written harsh statements about the conduct of the IDF in Gaza, and wore provocative outfits designed to convey the message that the IDF was committing an improper massacre (sic) in Gaza and in this way they tried to inspire others to respond in ways which could have led to disturbing the peace”. Therefore, the police was justified in immediately arresting all of them, keeping them for several days in detention and prosecuting them. The Court, however, ruled otherwise this week, dismissing all charges and finding all defendants completely innocent.

A bit of encouragement towards protesting the next war…

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A troubled first week & the good sewage news

Rosh Hashana. The Jewish New Year. A national holiday throughout Israel. People greet each other with “Shana Tova”, Happy New Year, and the media is busy summing up the passing year in politics and economy and sports. Still, few Israelis outside the religiously observant minority could tell without looking it up what year it was which ended and which is the new one. Heh Tav Shin Ayin Dalet, which according to the numerical value of Hebrew character translates into 5774 – 5774 years after the creation of the world. An average Tel Avivian, when asked what year is it, would most likely answer: 2013 – the Civil Year which still has three months to run, and whose end on December 31, the Sylvester Night, would be marked by quite a lot of young Israelis even though it is not a national holiday and though the Chief Rabbinate greatly frowns at those marking it.

Count the coming week as we would  – as the first week of 5774 or the second one in the last quarter of 2013 – it would see some momentous events. Within a few days we might witness the launching of an American military strike at the Assad regime in Syria. And it could turn to be as advertised, a simple and quick affair lasting no more than a few days. Or it could turn out to have unpredictable effects and results and implications and complications, some of which might be quite nasty, and some might touch directly upon us in Israel. (It was Helmuth von Moltke, well-known 19th German general with a considerable experience of making battle plans and implementing them, who formulated the maxim that "No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy").

Alternatively, the coming week might mark no military confrontation in the Middle East, but rather a major public humiliation administered to the President of the United States by his country’s Congress. And next week’s vote might go further than the issue of what the rest of Barack Obama’s second term would look like, and extend into an effective  abdication of the United States from the Global Imperial role which was assumed in 1945. Which would also carry very many weighty implications for Israel, as for the whole Middle East and the entire world.

All of which does not mean that everybody in this country is waiting with bated breath for the vote due on Capitol Hill. Our own affairs go on full steam ahead, while the world looks elsewhere. For example, a sizeable number of Israel’s Religious Nationalists found the New Year’s eve an auspicious time to stage a major provocation at  one of the most sensitive spots in the whole world: The compound in the Old City of Jerusalem which Judaism venerates as Temple Mount, the site of the Temple destroyed by the Romans two thousand years ago, while for a billion Muslims it is Haram A Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary from where the Prophet ascended up to Heaven.   

To mark the New Year, some three thousand of the “Temple Mount Seekers” marched round and round this sensitive compound, blowing the shofar ram’s horns as loudly as they could. The notorious Rabbi Shamuel Eliyahu, undaunted by his failure to become Chief Rabbi, proclaimed “On Rosh HaShana we crown God, and the Mount will become God’s Palace”. And in order for it to become God’s Palace,  the venerable 1300-year old Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam third holiest site, would “in one way or another disappear”.

Sheikh Ra’ed Salah of Umm El Fahm has long been warning the Muslim faithful that “Al-Aqsa is in danger!”. The shofar-blowing march and Rabbi Eliyahu’s speech added credibility and urgency to the Sheikh’s warning, and many of his followers were aroused to a march of their own. Israeli police promptly arrested Sheikh Salah on charges of “making inflammatory speeches”, but many of his followers did make it to the Mount, and there followed several days of violent clashes, stone throwing and large-scale arrests. Not an auspicious time for the holding of yet another round of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (but when has there been such a time?). Though unlike on several previous occasions, police took care not to use live ammunition and create new Palestinian martyrs.

There were more jarring notes accompanying this week’s round of talks. Last week’s round was accompanied by the announcement of new construction of houses in Israeli settlements on the West Bank. This week there was its mirror image – the demolition of Palestinian homes.
Specifically, the home of the Rashayda Family in the Jordan Valley.

Unlike the events in Jerusalem, this was not about an especially holy site. It was of importance mainly to the family of twelve who built the house and lived in it, who would have liked to get a building permit from the Israeli authorities but found this to be impossible, and who perforce had built without a permit. Not a holy site, but dear to family members who tried to defend it as best as they could. Also and especially the family’s women. Five of these women were wounded in confrontation with the soldiers and taken to hospital. With them out of the way, the Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer made short work of the family home.

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Dr. Saeb Erakat must have felt uncomfortable going on the same day into the negotiating room with the representatives of the Netanyahu Government. At least, he issued a strong condemnation stating that  “This new act of aggression, today's brutal escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians, is further proof that members of the Israeli government wish to undermine the negotiations process.”

The veil placed on the negotiations as per Kerry’s guidelines a month ago was this week drawn aside by well-placed leaks from the Palestinian side. As could have been predicted, there was not so much to reveal. So far, it seems that in fact negotiations had not really started, the two sides engaging mainly in a debate about setting the agenda.

Palestinian negotiators wanted to hear a clear Israeli position about the future border between Israel and Palestine, and specifically whether or not Netnayahu is ready to accept the principle of the 1967.  Had Tzipi Livni been speaking for herself, she might have taken up this challenge. Speaking as Netanyahu’s emissary without any real power base of her own, she proposed instead to talk first of “Security Arrangements” – read, continued presence of Israeli troops in considerable parts of the West Bank. Chief among these, and not by chance, is the Jordan Valley where the Rashayda Family home was destroyed, and where there is a long-standing policy to regard the presence of Palestinians as a nuisance to be gotten rid of.

Alternately, there was an Israeli offer to discuss borders – but only “temporary ones”. Netanyhau would be ready to accept  a “Palestinian State in Temporary Borders”, comprising about 60% of the West Bank.
Pending a future discussion of the permanent borders, which would take place, either before or after the coming of the Messiah, Israel would be left in possession of about 40% of the West Bank: settlements, military bases, strategic highways and – once again – the whole of the Jordan Valley. Needless to say, the Palestinians found this generous offer completely unacceptable.

None of this is surprising or unexpected. In fact, it is what commentators predicted virtually unanimously in advance, on the basis of extensive previous experience.  From the start, it was assumed that the negotiations could only bear any fruit if there was a high-profile American involvement . In practice Secretary of State Kerry, having invested considerable  personal attention and energy in re-launching the negotiations, had since then let them drift rudderless.

Reportedly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has asked for an urgent meeting with Kerry, to take up the situation of the negotiations, and it seems that they are to meet in London, Most likely,  Abbas would bring a copy of the letter which Kerry sent him two months ago, committing the US to support negotiations based on the 1967 borders, and ask how seriously should such American obligations be taken. But that would be on the very eve of the crucial vote on Syria, with Kerry more than any other member of the Obama Administration committed to punishing Assad for the use of chemical weapons in Damascus.  So, it would be quite surprising at this moment to see a full-fledged, high-level US involvement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Where the involvement of the American government is uncertain at best, one can look for some flickering lights elsewhere. For example, to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, of whose composition and orientation the right wing (so far) failed to seize control, and whose rulings on at least some occasions serve to block the most blatant abuses.

A case in point was this week’s proceeding regarding the Palestinians of the South Hebron Hills, which suffer untold daily harassment from army and settlers – due to this area, like the Jordan Valley, being slated for eventual annexation to Israel and Arabs being considered, also there, a nuisance . About a thousand people in this area, have been living for fourteen years under the constant threat of wholesale deportation.  Twelve tiny Palestinian communities, poor and marginal in the Palestinian society itself and with some of them actually living in caves, are threatened with destruction, In the eyes of the state, they are “squatters without rights” and the area, known as “Fire Zone 918”, was proclaimed a vital training area for the army’s ground troops.

Israeli and international peace activists, human rights groups and prominent artists, writers and academics have been conducting an intensive campaign in the media and an ongoing presence on the ground. Towards the crucial Supreme Court session, the signatures of
Nobel Peace Laureates and other international VIP’s were obtained. And for their part, the state representatives made some cynical statements such as that “if the Arabs are allowed to stay, soldiers will have to travel longer to and from training”.

The Supreme Court  judges were plainly unhappy with the entire hot potato falling into their lap, and suggested that the state enter into a mediation process with the villagers and their lawyers. While not completely removing the Damocles’ Sword from above their heads, at least  it was moved  further away. 

A small ray of light also came this week from the Netherlands, concerning such a prosaic subject as sewage treatment.  

Raw sewage in and around Jerusalem is flowing into the Kidron, a creek which had been a nice and scenic place (it is even mentioned in the Bible), Some of this sewage comes from Palestinian communities and others from Israeli settlements – both being inhabited by human beings having indoor plumbing in their houses. Therefore, a respectable Dutch company named Royal Haskoning was asked by the government of Israel to prepare for the  construction of a wastewater treatment plant.

As envisioned by the government planners, a system of sewage treatment would be constructed dealing with the settlements and the Palestinian communities as a single system. Implicitly, the plan took for granted that the settlements are there to stay, that overall Israeli control is there to stay, and that strategic planning decisions (in this as in other fields) would be taken by Israeli officials, who would then condescend to  inform the Palestinians of what they decided.

Like other European companies concerned with settlement-related projects on the West Bank, Royal Haskoning was pressured by its government to terminate such involvement. For their part, the company’s  Israeli government interlocutors asked the company’s directors to “forget about politics and get on with the sewage treatment project”.

To no avail. Yesterday, Royal Haskoning officially “advised the client of termination of the Kidron contract”, since “Royal Haskoning carries out its work with the highest regard for integrity and in compliance with international laws and regulations. In the course of the project, and after due consultation with various stakeholders, the company came to understand that future involvement in the project could be in violation of international law.”

It’s harder and harder to get rid of occupation sewage.