This last week the stories of two women brought home to me the pains inflicted by the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. One is is Sharihan Hannoun, a young woman who has been living on the street in Jerusalem after her home was seized and occupied by Israeli settlers. The second, a student at Bethlehem University named Berlanty Azzam, was peremptorily deported by Israeli authorities to Gaza.
A third woman, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, demonstrated how, when unmoored from history and experience, American policy in the Middle East can cause pain to all those who had come to hope for change from the Obama administration. Secretary Clinton backed away from the administration’s demand for an end to Israeli settlement activity with a proposal for both sides to take up peace negotiations without pre-conditions.
Pressed at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, she shifted her position once again, but not without praising purported Israeli willingness “to restrain settlement activity” as “unprecedented,” though it allows for the planned-for construction of 3,000 new homes. Agreeing to Israeli terms indicates a diplomatic innocence that is uncomprehending of the history of the Israel-Palestinian struggle and the relentless dispossession of Palestinians from the land.
Sheikh Jarrah is a neighborhood of East Jerusalem just inside the Green Line, the old 1949 armistice line between East and West Jerusalem. But in the late 1990s, Jewish settlers, with the support of authorities, began grabbing Palestinian land there. In a few years many once-Palestinian homes were flying the blue and white Israeli flag, and empty lots were sprouting new construction sponsored by overseas “investors.”
In recent months, in contravention of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli government has been conducting expulsions and home demolitions in East Jerusalem neighborhoods to consolidate Israeli control of the city.
Ms. Hannoun told me how the settlers awoke her last Aug. 2 at 5 in the morning and gave her 20 minutes to move out. Within two hours the settlers had moved in, and her family’s furniture was on the street. According to Catholic News Service, she said police told her they were seizing the house “because you are Palestinian...” and added, “We can take any houses we want...without any papers...because we are Israeli.”
If you think this expulsion is a recent phenomenon, I recommend reading Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld); and Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall (Norton).
On Oct. 28 Berlanty Azzam, a Christian fourth year business administration student at the Vatican-run Bethlehem University, was seized by the Israeli military, handcuffed, blindfolded and deported to Gaza against the advice of military lawyers. No charges were lodged against her. Her apparent offense: She was born in Gaza City.
Like the settlers’ expulsion of Ms. Shanoun, the deportation of Ms. Azzam is an example of the arbitrary treatment inflicted on ordinary Palestinians at the hands of Israeli officials. Any expectation that “unprecedented” limitations on settlement construction, as Mrs. Clinton called them, will hold back Israeli expansion under the leadership of the wily Mr. Netanyahu is a pipe dream. Over many years he has used every available tactic to evade restrictions on Israeli expansion.
For now, hard pressure against settlements is a wiser, more realistic policy than Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without pre-conditions. Better a modicum of justice than a phony, one-sided peace.