Friday, July 31, 2009

West Bank Segregated Roads

The original version of this article was published in the Los Angeles Jewish Observer

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Despite the new White House administration’s adamant refusal to accept any more settlement construction President Obama has allowed USAID to continue funding the segregated road network that links the settlements to Israel. This continues to be a major impediment to any meaningful progress towards a Palestinian State.

Both ‘Israeli’ only and ‘Palestinian only’ roads are growing throughout the West Bank , restricting Palestinians to ever smaller  transportation options while allowing greater freedom for settlers throughout the Occupied Territories.

The Israeli-only roads facilitate high-speed transit from the settlements into Israel proper, enhancing the Israeli economy with the speedy passage of commercial products to market, and commuters to their jobs. Most settlers work inside Israel, and many ‘made in Israel’ export products are either manufactured or have value added, in settlement industrial zones and agricultural areas.

Israeli government policies are aimed at segregating Arab and Jewish traffic throughout most of the Occupied Territories and to create four Israeli-only highways cutting east/west and north/south corridors through the West Bank. The east/west annexed strips were on the Camp David 2000 maps that President Arafat rejected.  Route 1 from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is already complete. It will become segregated when the adjacent Arab road is completed through the E1 Zone between Jerusalem and the luxurious Central West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim (pop. 35,000).

Route 5 from Tel Aviv was completed in 2008 as a segregated road to the settlement of Ariel (pop. 25,000) in the Central West Bank, and construction is continuing on the next phase to the Jordan Valley. Route 90 running the length of the Jordan Valley and Route 60 north and south from Jerusalem are also rapidly becoming restricted roads.

The Arab roads are lined with walls and barbed wire when they transit a settler zone.  They connect Palestinian towns and villages through tunnels under the settler roads, and in one case, Gvat Ze’ev, under the settlement itself through a 400-meter (1,200 feet) tunnel. The segregated roads are even inside Jerusalem, connecting Palestinian ghetto neighborhoods to Ramallah. A notorious example is the walled-in community of Bir Naballa, a largely Bedouin Jerusalem suburb of about 7,000 people that was a major commercial center until the Israelis enclosed it and restricted access.

The Israeli government, and apparently the Obama administration, justify these roads since they enable Palestinians to travel between the enclaves without encountering checkpoints or settlers. This allows Israel to remove a few checkpoints, gaining political points, while containing the Palestinian population in essentially large open-air prisons while the settlements and their connecting roads continue to expand.

A USAID official in Israel recently argued that since the roads facilitate more efficient transportation between the Palestinian areas, the West Bank economy will improve and the Palestinian Authority will be strengthened. However this line of reasoning ignores the rationale for the roads in the first place, and supports the permanent institutionalization of the Israel’s Occupation infrastructure into an improved version of Apartheid, or ‘Hafrada’ as the Israeli government calls it. ‘Hafrada’ means separation in Hebrew, as ‘Apartheid’ means separation in Africaans.

Israel has established the ‘Geder Hafrada’ (Separation Wall), and ‘Kvishei Hafrada’ (Separation Roads).  The roads separate Palestinians and Israelis in a manner that never existed in South Africa even at the height of Apartheid. All South Africans mingled on the roads, in the cities and the workplaces, despite the constitutional discrimination, travel restrictions, and violence. 

The relationship between USAID and the Palestinian contractors who build the roads is also questionable. By providing millions of dollars per year to West Bank contractors the Obama administration is continuing relationships with companies affiliated with Palestinian Authority officials, awarding many contracts to their relatives and friends.

An April 22nd Reuter’s report detailed how over 2 million dollars in USAID contracts have been awarded to companies owned by Tarek Abbas and Yasser Mahmoud Abbas, sons of the Palestinian President. Colorado-based engineering giant CH2M HILL is also the prime contractor for many USAID projects in the West Bank and subcontracts to these local companies. USAID officials have stated that the contracts were awarded through competitive bidding.

All the agreements since the Oslo process in 1993 have stipulated that settlement expansion must cease. This has been a consistent theme From the Road Map, to the Annapolis Agreement to the Arab League Initiative to President Obama’s latest pronouncements. Yet the White House has been silent on the roads, and continues to allow USAID to fund them. One wonders why?

Fred Schlomka is an Israeli businessman and the proprietor of www.ToursinEnglish.com.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New York Times-False Hope for West Bank Economy

Both the New York Times and the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz published articles recently touting an economic revival in the West Bank, Nablus in particular.

In 'Signs of Hope Emerge in the West Bank', Ethan Bronner writes that the opening of movie theaters and deployment US-trained police are creating conditions of calm and optimism. However despite the projected 7% increase in the West Bank economy for 2009,  there are ominous rumblings in the Palestinian Street.

A colleague in Bethlehem told me last week that the situation may become similar to the period before the first intifada. He predicted that the next uprising will come from the people, from the bottom up. While the core of Ramallah and Nablus may have the appearance of an economic boom, ordinary people find their lives without prosperity or hope for freedom. In the Jerusalem area many Palestinian communities have become walled-in Ghettos. The settlements and segregated roads continue to rapidly expand in the 56% of the West Bank that Israel controls completely.

Virtually all the new prosperity in the West Bank flows into the pockets of the Palestinian business and political elite. This situation, coupled with the close relationship now existing between Palestinian and Israeli security forces will not bring real peace, only more anger and resentment. For those of you who like to compare the Israel/Palestine situation with Apartheid, the parallels are now coming in to more focus since the former 'kings' of the South African Bantustans also collaborated with their white overlords in repressing their people and lining their pockets with cash.

However the Northern West Bank, and the Ramallah district have become havens for Palestinians. They have a critical mass of population to enable people to live their lives within the confines of the cantons without directly encountering elements of the Occupation. This will certainly buy Israel more time, for as long as the PA can keep the lid on the rest of the population. Netanyahu's 'Economic Peace' may indeed have some short term success, but at some point the lid will be blown off and political turmoil and violence may erupt again. Maybe next week, next month or next year . . . . . . ?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

18,000 homes Campaign



The 18,000 Homes Campaign was a project of ICAHD: the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions between 2007 and 2009. The project publicized the history and ongoing policy of home demolitions by the Israeli government in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

The project also supported  ICAHD's ongoing rebuilding project, The Constructing Peace Campaign, which has provided new homes to over 140 Palestinian families while also serving as a vehicle for protest and resistance by Israelis against the government's policies.

The Director of Toursinenglish.com, Fred Schlomka, was the Project Liaison Officer of The Constructing Peace Campaign (CPC), in 2007 and 2008. ICAHD has been rebuilding Palestinian homes for ten years, but the scale of the CPC was unprecedented. From the Negev Desert, Hebron, Jerusalem and villages north of Ramallah, ICAHD employed dozens of Palestinians to rebuild homes destroyed by the Israeli government.

A project partnership was formed between ICAHD and ICAHD-USA, an independent non-profit established in 2005, to conduct education and outreach in the United States, and to help raise funds for ICAHD’s projects in Israel. ICAHD-USA became the primary fiscal sponsor for the Constructing Peace Campaign. ICAHD-UK has also provided ongoing support for the Campaign.

By the end of May 2007, funds began to arrive in Israel and the project was up and running with several staffers dedicated to its success. The first three months were a rollercoaster ride as ICAHD staff rose to the occasion and put in place new fiscal and management frameworks, hired additional staff, engaged contractors, and initiated a family selection program.

Fred also initiated the annual rebuilding camp, operating since 2002, which attracts people from all over the world every summer for two weeks of learning and work. The camp is based in Anata on the edge of Jerusalem, in the former home of the Shawamreh family which has had their home demolished and rebuilt four times. One or two new homes are built in two weeks during the camp, now in its seventh year.

ICAHD continues to rebuild homes, and provides information and analysis about the ongoing Occupation of Palestinian lands.

Donations are still being accepted to help with the ongoing work of ICAHD.

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