By Jeff Halper
[On August 10], the day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, at 2:30 in the morning, workers sent by the Israeli authorities destroyed the tombstones in the last portion of the Mamilla cemetery, an historic Muslim burial ground [in Jerusalem]. Some 1,500 Muslim graves have been cleared in several nighttime operations to make way for a $100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity.
The month-long period between [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s July 6 visit to Washington and the start of Ramadan has provided Israel with a window to “clear the table” after a frustrating hiatus on home demolitions imposed by the mildly critical Obama Administration.
According to the UN’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): “[July 14-20, the week of Netanyahu’s return from Washington] there was a significant increase in the number of demolitions in Area C, with at least 86 structures demolished in the Jordan Valley and the southern West Bank, including Bethlehem and Hebron districts.”
Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have occurred since Netanyahu’s meeting with [President] Obama. More than 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding in the West Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem.
The demolition of homes is, of course, only a small, if painful, part of the destruction. The much-trumpeted “settlement freeze” amounted to no less than a temporary lull in construction. According to Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, at least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over 60 different settlements. According to Ha’aretz, some 2,700 housing units are waiting to be constructed.
The fact that the so-called settlement freeze did not really end settlement construction is obvious. The American government seems ready to accept lip-service from Israel, as against overt threats towards the Palestinians if they do not acquiesce. Palestinian negotiators revealed [in August] the Obama Administration threatened to cut all ties with the Palestinian Authority, political and financial, if they continued to insist on a genuine freeze on settlements or even clear parameters on what the sides will negotiate.
Just as destructive of any real peace process, however, is the fact that the focus on settlement freeze deflects attention from attempts by Israel to create “irreversible facts on the ground” which will defeat the very process of negotiation.
In the weeks and days leading up to Ramadan [this reality was] papered over with fine words. Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “We mark this important month amid attempts to achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance peace treaties with our Arab neighbors. I know you are partners in this goal and I ask for your support both in prayers and in any other joint effort to really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence.”
Obama and [Secretary of State] Clinton also sent their greetings to the Muslim world, Obama observing that Ramadan “reminds us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.” Both the White House and the State Department will hold Iftar meals. But the bulldozers tell a much different story.
Excerpted with permission from an article entitled “Ramadan Kareem from the Netanyahu and Obama Administrations.” Jeff Halper is an Israeli who serves as Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Learn more at icahd.org.