Bullets, stones, leaders, words

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Sep 27, 2010
*Special to asia!

Against the backdrop of renewed violence and construction in the West Bank, all the words of the leaders in the so-called peace process are sounding hollow, compared to the arguments of an elderly Israeli who's almost seen it all.

Cars went ablaze and rocks were flung through bus windows this week at the edge of Jerusalem's Old City. Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have remained somewhat contained here in the last couple of years, till last Wednesday.

A Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli guard in the restive East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. During his funeral, riots broke out. The pot of troubles finally simmered over here.

Jerusalem is a city where every last dunum of real estate is being fought over by Israelis and Palestinians in their quest for control of the land. Since 2004, 88 Palestinian families in Silwan have been fighting the orders given to them by the Jerusalem municipality. They were to leave their homes which will then be turned over for the construction of a Jewish archaeological park.

 

One of the buildings in Silwan, where the Palestinians residents have been given orders by the Jerusalem municipality to leave.

 

An extreme Jewish religious group behind the proposed park has nonetheless invaded into Silwan. They added their own private security detail to ensure their safety among the locals, and it was one of these that shot to death the Palestinian man on Wednesday.

According to the guard, a group of Palestinian men approached him throwing stones, when his car would not start. he opened fire to try to disperse them. That was how the killing happened.

The Silwan residents are rejecting his version of events. More doubt has also been cast on the guard's testimony, after surveillance footage of the area was released.

 

WE WILL BUILD IN THE SETTLEMENTS

The Silwan incident preluded the end of Israel's declared freeze of construction in its West Bank settlements on Sunday. For nine months, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a ban on  new building in Israeli neighbourhoods created previously on what international law regards as occupied Palestinian territory.

This was to have been a gesture of goodwill towards the Palestinians, an attempt to revive peace negotiations which have been stalled for a decade. In practice however, Netanyahu has either been unable or unwilling to make it happen. The Ministry of Defence acknowledges that the freeze has been breached by almost 30 settlements.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he will walk out, if Netanyahu did not extend even this freeze-in-name. Netanyahu adamantly refused, complying to the right-wingers in his government, who believe in the right of Israel to build in the settlements, even if they are located in land that could constitute a future Palestinian state, even if it contravenes international law.

Israeli newspapers report that those living in the settlements are waiting anxiously to restart construction of their homes, when the so-called freeze ends.

Barack Obama urged Netanyahu to continue the freeze, while trying to keep Abbas from walking out of these peace talks. He maintained both Netanyahu and Abbas have the courage to reach an agreement.

In an address to the United Nations last week, (Full text here) he said he was “struck by the words of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.”

“Netanyahu said, 'I came here today to find a historic compromise that will enable both people to live in peace, security, and dignity.'  And President Abbas said, 'We will spare no effort and we will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure these negotiations achieve their cause.'”

Around here, among both Israelis and Palestinians, it is hard to find anyone who shares Obama's optimism.

 

WHO STRIKES YOU?

While Obama was busy getting “struck” by promises of Abbas and Netanyahu , it's the words of an 83-year-old man I met a year ago, that strikes me today.

I met Benny last year at a peace demonstration. He was one of the Israelis protesting against plans by American Jewish magnate Irving Moskowitz to develop a piece of land in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians are contesting as the capital of their future state.

Benny Gefen has suffered the full Israeli experience of living in a state of perpetual conflict. He served in the Palmach, an elite Israeli force that fought before and during the 1948 War of Independence. He rescued boats of refugees arriving in the newly formed state of Israel after the Holocaust, and for 32 years, dedicated himself to reserve duty in the Israeli Army.

Benny's son and daughter too were army officers. Then in 1975, he suffered the worst nightmare of any Israeli parent. His other son, a member of the elite Golani unit, was killed in action in the Lebanon War.

When I met Benny, he was holding this sign:

 

Benny Gefen holding a sign

Benny Gefen at a demonstration against construction in Palestinian part of Jerusalem

 

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

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