September 22 – December 1, 2005
Film Series: “Finding Hope in Unexpected Places”



A Community Film Series
September 22 – Uncovered: The War on Iraq
October 20 – Rana’s Wedding
November 10 – Hidden in Plain Sight
December 1 – Until When . . .

Edgewood College, Predolin Humanities Center, Anderson Auditorium
7:00 pm for all showings

“The Arts Go to War”, an Edgewood human issues class; the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and the School of the Americas Watch — Madison join forces to bring you four thought-provoking, disturbing, and enlightening films. An audience discussion will follow each film. All films are free and open to the public.

September 22 – Uncovered: The War on Iraq
Documentary; Director: Robert Greenwald; 2004; 87 minutes
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald chronicles the Bush Administration’s case to invade Iraq following Sept. 11, 2001. The film examines the administration’s argument for war through interviews with U.S intelligence and defense officials, foreign service experts and U.N. weapons inspectors — including a former CIA director, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and President Bush’s Secretary of the Army.

“When the Bush Administration’s case for war in Iraq shifted from the existence of weapons of mass destruction to the existence of ‘weapons of mass destruction-related activities’, director Robert Greenwald got angry. Uncovered: The War On Iraq is his response; a powerful, well-constructed and sober documentary that – via a dense collection of interviews with intelligence experts, diplomats, weapons inspectors, and politicians – painstakingly and ruthlessly takes apart the American government’s changing arguments for invasion.” – Jonathan Trout, BBC

October 20 – Rana’s Wedding
Feature; Director: Hany Abu-Assad; 2002; 90 minutes
Shot on location in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and checkpoints in between, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the eyes of a young woman who, with only ten hours to marry, must negotiate her way around roadblocks, soldiers, stonethrowers, overworked officials and into the heart of an elusive lover.

Roger Ebert says Rana’s Wedding is ” . . . fascinating as a document. It gives a more complete visual picture of the borders, the Palestinian settlements and the streets of Jerusalem than we ever see on the news . . .” Phil Hall of Film Threat says Rana’s Wedding is “among the finest films made in the Middle East.”

November 10 – Hidden in Plain Sight
Documentary; Director: John H. Smihula; 2003; 90 minutes
Hidden in Plain Sight is a feature-length documentary that looks at the nature of U.S. policy in Latin America through the prism of the School of the Americas (renamed, in January of 2001, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), the controversial military school that trains Latin American soldiers in the USA.

Demonstrators denounce the SOA as a “School of Assassins,” but Army officials argue that the school has played a crucial role in bringing democracy and stability to Latin America. On this issue, the U.S. Congress is sharply divided. Enter noted scholars Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Christopher Hitchens, and Michael Parenti, who broaden the debate to include such subjects as militarism, globalization, national security, and international terrorism. Personal accounts from victims of the violence and repression in Latin America raise questions and concerns about the true aims of U.S. foreign policy.

Informative and provocative, this documentary presents different points of view which illuminate the turbulent reality of Latin America, demystify the policy-making process, and shed light on some of the most complex and urgent problems facing U.S. citizens today.

December 1 – Until When . . .
Documentary; Director: Dahna Abourahme; 2004; 76 minutes
Until When . . . explores the lives of four Palestinian families who live in Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. People share their experiences with the Israeli occupation and how it affects their lives. Director Dahna Abourahme integrates archival photographs, map animations, and informational text into the film’s historical journey. The personal stories convey sadness, frustration and nostalgia for absent family members. However, they live and marry, so the families dance and ululate when they celebrate momentous occasions.

Sonia Nettnin writes in Scoop: “Palestinians affirm their human rights to freedom from oppression now and for future generations. Their shared feelings weave a narrative thread that leads to hope.”

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Ain’t gonna study war no more

Bill Lueders, Isthmus, September 1, 2005

Camp Shalom had children pretend to be Israeli soldiers

It was the face paint that tipped Tsele Barr off. Early this summer, she was picking up her two sons from Camp Shalom, a day camp run by the Madison Jewish Community Council, and noticed that some of the children had paint on their faces. She asked her youngest son, Izak, what this was about and he explained, “We were playing Israeli army.”

This, Barr learned from Izak, involved “doing drills and such.” Then her older son, Jasper, told her that similar training was part of his camp experience the summer before, and had included shooting make-believe guns.

Barr, a freelance graphic designer, was deeply troubled by this news and placed some calls to other parents. She also spoke to the camp director, Lynn Kaplan, and to Shirin Ezekial, a cultural ambassador from Israel who led the children in this activity.

“Although they listened to my concerns, I got the impression that they didn’t see what the big deal was,” relates Barr. “I really think it’s appalling that a camp that calls itself Camp Shalom [the word means peace] would glorify the Israeli army” — which, she says, “repeatedly commits human-rights abuses.”

Other parents also contacted Kaplan. Susan Cook, a professor at the UW-Madison School of Music, says her son reported that, during this year’s simulation, he raised his hand to ask a question, only to be told: “Soldiers don’t ask questions, they follow orders.”

“That is something I do not teach my children — to blindly follow orders,” says Cook. She thought Kaplan was initially defensive but ultimately seemed to grasp the reasons for her discomfit: “I came away feeling very good about her response.”

Both parents stress that Camp Shalom is an excellent camp and that they have no problem with a component that teaches children about life in Israel. But they object to what Cook calls “inculcating militaristic beliefs.”

So do others in the community. “I just feel really outraged that at Camp Peace, the kids were playing Israeli army,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, the founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister-City Project. “When I heard about it, I was just livid.”

George Arida, an Arab American member of Loewenstein’s group (whose efforts to establish a formal sister-city link were voraciously opposed by the Madison Jewish Community Council), has this to say: “If there was an Islamic kids’ camp and it had even a hint of playing Islamic war games, there would be a huge public outcry and rightly so.”

Kaplan, in a brief phone interview, disputed an overview of the parents’ accounts (without giving any specifics) but admitted they “did raise a concern and it was a very valid concern” about a camp “activity.” Kaplan, saying she was too busy to talk, promised to call back later but never did, ignoring a follow-up message.

Marc Rosenthal, whose son attended a subsequent session of Camp Shalom, says the Israel soldier role-playing was apparently not repeated. Which is fine by him. “This is not what we want our kids doing. This is not what Camp Shalom is all about.”

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Israeli Wall to Ruin Palestinian Economy

Al Jazeera, August 26, 2005

The Palestinian economy has deteriorated sharply since the start of the
uprising in 2000, and Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank will
depress it further, a United Nations agency said.

The economy shrank 1% in 2004, one in three Palestinian workers was jobless
at the end of last year and 61% of households had income below the poverty
line of $350 per month, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said in
its annual report on the occupied territories on Thursday.

“Put simply, in the wake of the past four years of Israeli occupation and
war, the Palestinian economy invests and produces less and therefore
consumes more imports, especially those from Israel,” the report said.

Palestinian net imports from Israel represent two-thirds of the total trade
deficit of $2.6 billion, it said. Some 80,000 workers formerly employed in
Israel must also be absorbed.

The Palestinian Authority must now focus on reducing widespread poverty and
boosting production to revive its war-torn economy, the UNCTAD report said.

Ability to Produce

But the barrier or wall Israel is building inside the West Bank will further
erode the fragmented Palestinian production base and resources and “people’s
ability to feed themselves,” it said.

Israel says the wall is a security measure and is intended to keep out
bombers.

Earlier this week Israel finished evacuating all 21 Jewish settlements in
Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank, part of its plan to withdraw
completely from Gaza, where some 8500 Israeli settlers lived close to 1.4
million Palestinians.

The Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza, broke out in 2000 when peace talks stalled. Israel had
occupied both territories since the 1967 Middle East war.

Occupation-related Distortions

“The top priority at this stage of the Palestinian economy’s development is
to focus on poverty reduction while nurturing productive capacity,
eliminating occupation-related distortions and laying the ground for
sustainable economic recovery,” the UNCTAD report said. Continue reading

Jobless in Gaza

Mehammed Mack, L.A. Weekly, August 25, 2005

A somber note for many Gazans witnessing the Israeli pullout was the prospect of losing jobs. Al-Jazeera profiled the closure of one of the last remaining monuments of Oslo-era cooperation, the Erez industrial park, a multidisciplinary Gaza manufacturing facility that had employed more than 4,000 Arab workers. One of the newly redundant vented to Al-Jazeera cameras: “This is a cruel decision for us, I have worked here for 10 years,” he said. “I don’t have any work in Gaza, I am going to have to sit around doing nothing.” According to Israeli Gaza correspondent Amira Hass, the settlements employed around 3,200 Palestinians whose cheap labor (salaries averaging about a third of the Israeli minimum wage) inflated the wealth of Israeli farmers and entrepreneurs. The international LinkTV, whose Middle Eastern–themed programming attracts many Arab viewers because of shows like the Peabody award–winning newsreel Mosaic, ran a documentary peering into the life of a Palestinian family working on a Gaza agricultural settlement, remarkable for its unintentional echoes of the Old South. One memorable image showed the enthusiastic Palestinian father speaking in Hebrew of the brotherly bond between Arabs and Jews, while seated at a table with the settler couple that had given him a good job and food to eat.

Overall, the Arab media approached last week’s Israeli withdrawal from Gaza from an almost unanimously critical perspective. But the Middle East’s satellite commentators and editorial pages were anything but monolithic in content, sharply disagreeing over what the week’s “disengagement” meant and, more importantly, portends. Reading a sampling of reports and opinion from the region’s main Arabic and English presses, it would be difficult to decide whether the Gaza pullout was cause for Palestinian celebration or gloom.

Neglecting economics, Arab papers had particular scorn for the Western media’s “soft” treatment of previously belligerent settlers. Rami Khouri, of Lebanon’s Daily Star, wondered in his column if everyone had forgotten who the victim was: “The widespread press descriptions of the Gaza settler’s ‘emotional pain’ at being sent back to their own country of Israel lack both credibility and relevance.” Khouri, among other acerbic commentators, noted the glorification of Ariel Sharon’s “heroic” masochism in reneging on his legacy as father of the settlements: “It is outrageous that Sharon would say, even as he was evacuating Gaza, that he prefers to keep it.” The paper’s editorial, however, rationalized Sharon’s promise to “continue and develop” settlement activity in the West Bank as the words of a man trying to appease his public: “We can partly excuse the imperialist hostility of his statement by acknowledging that the pullout has stirred strong sentiments in Israel, and Sharon is now facing considerable domestic pressure and even a potential challenge to his premiership.”

Despite a few overtures, the main attitude spanning the Arab media is one of extreme vigilance and suspicion. Discussion around the seemingly benevolent withdrawal has turned to what the “catch” will be, a dreaded prospect that has precluded widespread Palestinian celebration, for fear of indicating partnership in a bargain that might mean the loss of the West Bank. A fearful Daily Star editorial raised the empty threat of international law against Sharon’s PR maneuvering: “He cannot continue to ignore his responsibilities to the international community under the ‘road map’ to peace, nor can he speak two different messages — one of peace to the international community and one of conquest to his Israeli public.” Speculation as to Sharon’s true disengagement motives was far-reaching and almost unanimously bleak. Khouri called the pullout “an expedient, grudging, defensive, reluctant endeavor” that “does not have the compelling ring of authenticity and honesty that characterized the white South Africans’ coming to terms with black majority rule.”

As Western anchors gaped at Ariel Sharon’s incredible personal sacrifice, getting teary over the drama of internecine Jewish conflict, Al-Jazeera sat back like a pessimistic theater critic and waxed unenthusiastic: “The question of the evacuation of the settlements has not come with the difficulty the Israeli government is trying to project,” sighed Palestinian correspondent Shereen Abu Aqla. More curious to Al-Jazeera was the soldiers’ “excessive sensitivity” in evicting the settlers, and all the “images of self-control, patience and kindness that the eye has not witnessed before from the Israeli forces,” especially in comparison to the Israel Defense Forces’ callous and sometimes deadly management of Israeli Arab protests. An article on the Al-Jazeera Web site had six references to Israeli “tears” and seemed to make much of the sympathy-provoking practice by which settlers would wave their children in front of phlegmatic soldiers, portraying their behavior as a kind of child endangerment similar to Michael Jackson’s toddler-dangling. One report read, “Another man who had been forced onto a bus held his infant nephew out of the window, shouting to the soldiers, ‘You want him?’”

Veteran journalist Daoud Kuttab, writing in the Jordan Times, cautioned against believing that the withdrawal came in response to Palestinian resistance, especially during the current climate of ambiguity: “It would be a mistake to attribute the Israeli withdrawal exclusively to Palestinian attacks,” he explained. “After all, this bittersweet Israeli action was neither a clear result of military defeat nor a consequence of political negotiations.” He acknowledged the political stakes of Sharon’s decision, stopping short of using the word “courage”: “There is no doubt that the evacuation of Jewish settlers in areas that Israelis consider part of their God-given territory represents a huge ideological reversal.” One analogy that kept re-appearing throughout media speculation of Sharon’s pullout motives was that of military strategizing, as in the words of Ghassan Sharbal, editor in chief of the influential pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat: “Sometimes a warrior is forced to retreat a step. But that doesn’t mean he wants peace,” he wrote. “The retreat aims to redraw the lines, a redeployment to strengthen his ability to fight the next battle.” The Al-Ahram Weekly viewed the withdrawal as a smoke screen to distract from accelerated construction in Palestinian East Jerusalem, where new settlements and the growing Separation Wall threaten to imminently cut the civic and economic heart of Palestine out of the West Bank. The paper quoted the somber prediction of professor Ali Jarbawy, from Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University: “By giving up Gaza, the Israelis are winning 15 years’ advance in materializing their project,” he explained. “The formula for Sharon now is not land for peace, but land for time.” The disengagement has expanded the almost-deaf disconnect between the sides, with both dreaming up isolated and unrealistic endings to the story that begins with Gaza, as Cairo’s Al-Ahram Weekly’s Sherine Bahaa described.

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The Gaza Evacuations

Disengagement or Tactical Military Redeployment?

SHAMAI K. LEIBOWITZ and KATERINA HELLER, CounterPunch, August 24, 2005

The imminent handover of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority and the evacuation of a small portion of the West Bank from Israeli settlers has been billed by the international media as a turning point in the violent history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through well-planned media strategies, which included inviting the world media to capture images of Israelis dragging men, women and children out of their homes in the illegal settlements they occupied for thirty-eight years, the Israeli government has succeeded in marketing the Unilateral Disengagement Plan as a great “concession” on Israel’s part and a revival of the “peace process.”

But the Unilateral Disengagement Plan will turn out to be no such thing as it is no more than a tactical military redeployment of Israel’s Occupation Forces. This is evident from Israel’s decision to retain military control over the would-be evacuated areas in the West Bank and control over airspace, coastline and border crossings of the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s decision to continue with the building of the West Bank Wall deep inside the West Bank.

In a December 2004 report, the World Bank predicted that by continuing to control the flow of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, rather than offering Gaza inhabitants economic progress, the Disengagement will worsen the already dire economic situation of the Gaza Strip.

Effectively, the Disengagement Plan will turn Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison with 1.3 million Palestinian inmates. The result will be a continuation, if not an increase, of the bloodshed and violence. Similarly, the removal of 4 out of 130 Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank while building and expanding others, at the expense of 2 million Palestinians who continue to live without human or civil rights, does not signal an end to the Israeli Occupation but, rather, its perpetuation.

Despite its severe flaws, can the Disengagement be beneficial toward peace? Yes, if the international community would demand from Israel a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in the mean time, deploy an international peacekeeping force to serve as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians.

In 1999, when East Timor began its transition from Indonesian occupation toward independence, the UN deployed an International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) consisting of 8,000 peacekeeping troops to quell the violence in the region. They successfully maintained the peace and served as a buffer between Indonesia and the East Timorese, allowing the latter to develop their independence peacefully.

Based on this precedent, the UN Security Council should issue a similar resolution to deploy “INTERFIP- International Forces in Israel/Palestine”, which would be stationed in the West Bank and Gaza, monitor Gaza’s border crossings, airports and coastline, while serving as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians. These forces would terminate the system of closures, curfews and arbitrary restrictions imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinian movement which have devastated the Palestinian economy. This would allow for economic growth and progress in the West Bank and Gaza, and foster a peacebuilding environment on both sides.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the World Bank and the European Union, have publicly supported international intervention, whether in the form of a UN-based force or a NATO force. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed this idea. There remains a “small” problem: The Israeli government has objected to it.

Israel should learn from its past mistakes. The deterioration and eventual collapse of the Oslo Accords have been attributed mainly to the absence of international armed peacekeeping forces to enforce the agreements and prevent human rights abuses. To prevent the same mistake from happening twice, the international community must economically pressure Israel to agree to the deployment of a neutral armed peacekeeping force. This has the power to transform Disengagement into a peacebuilding operation, leading the way to the implementation of the “Road Map to Peace” – the plan, sponsored by the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the U.N., to establish an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state by 2005.

As Israelis, we are proud of our country’s decision to start complying with international law, but we are terribly worried this will not bring peace and security to our people. We urgently need the support of the international community – by deploying peacekeeping troops now.

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Amira Hass: The Remaining 99.5 Percent

For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed – worthy of wonderment indeed.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Aug 24, 2005

“I want to ask you as a Jew to a Jewess,” the young man said a few days ago. In these days, a beginning such as this invites a dialogue of the kind in which we have been drowning for several weeks now – a dialogue in which the definition “Jew” has been appropriated to describe some type of unique entity, one that is set apart from the other human species, a superior one. Sometimes it’s the Jewish boy with his arms raised from the Warsaw Ghetto; sometimes it’s the young girl whose orange shirt bears the slogan, “We won’t forget and we won’t forgive;” and sometimes it’s the soldier who refuses to evacuate a Jew. A unique entity of ties of blood, sacredness and land.

“As a Jew to a Jewess,” said the young man, who turned out to be a tourist from South America who has family in Israel and also understands Hebrew. It was at the Erez crossing, among the barbed-wire fencing, the locked gates, the revolving gates, the intimidating guard towers, the soldiers using special cameras to keep an eye on the handful of individuals passing through, and the booming loudspeakers through which they bark out their orders in Hebrew to women who have been waiting in the heat for five hours to go visit their sons imprisoned at the Be’er Sheva jail.

“Is it possible,” he continued with his question, “that the Israelis, who are so nice and good – after all, I have family here – are unaware of the injustice they have caused here?” The images of destruction left behind by Israel in Palestinian Gaza and witnessed by him in the past few days have left a look of shock in his eyes. “I am a Jew, and my father is a Holocaust survivor, and I grew up on totally different values of Judaism – social justice, equality and concern for one’s fellow man.”

As naive as it may have been, the question was like a breath of fresh air. Here was a Jew who was voicing his opinion on the fate of 1,300,000 people, while the entire world appeared to be focused on every one of the 8,000 Jews who are moving house. Here was a Jew who was moved by what have become dry numbers – 1,719 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip from the end of September 2000 until today; and according to various estimates, some two-thirds of them were unarmed and were not killed in battles or during the course of attempts to attack a military position or a settlement.

Based on figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, of those killed, 379 were children under the age of 18; 236 were younger than 16; 96 were women; and 102 were the objectives of targeted liquidations during the course of which the Israel Defense Forces also killed another 95 individuals who, according to the military too, were “innocent bystanders.”

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Praying with Their Eyes Closed

Reflections on the Disengagement from Gaza

Sara Roy, MIFTAH, August 20, 2005

Israel’s disengagement plan is widely hailed by the international community, led by the United States, as a first step toward the final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. This essay is a refutation of that view. After presenting the current situation of Gaza as the result of deliberate Israeli policies of economic integration, deinstitutionalization, and closure, the author demonstrates how provisions of the plan itself preclude the establishment of a viable economy in the Strip. Examining the plan’s implications for the West Bank, the author argues that the occupation, far from ending, will actually be consolidated. She concludes with a look at the disengagement within the context of previous agreements, particularly Oslo—all shaped by Israel’s overwhelming power—and the steadily shrinking possibilities offered to the Palestinians.

When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, we had the Bible in our hand, and they had the land.
—Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya

On 9 June 2005, the last legal hurdle to implementing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza was cleared when the Israeli High Court approved the plan and its removal of all the Jewish settlements there. The settlers, though angered by the decision, were not surprised and vowed to oppose their coerced departure with all means possible. Considerable media attention in the United States has been devoted to the suffering of the Jewish settlers and the personal costs for them of the disengagement. This attention has served to thaw and then humanize the often violent and zealous settler population, and in so doing, to illustrate and amplify the sacrifices Israel is making for peace.

By now a great deal has been written about the disengagement plan by both supporters and opponents. Many of the arguments in favor focus on the redeployment as an opportunity to break the near five-year-old political impasse between Palestinians and Israelis and usher in a new era of stability and peace. In April 2005, for example, President Bush stated that Israel’s withdrawal will allow the establishment of “a democratic state in the Gaza” and open the door for democracy in the Middle East. Tom Friedman was more explicit, arguing that “[t]he issue for Palestinians is no longer about how they resist the Israeli occupation in Gaza, but whether they build a decent mini-state there—a Dubai on the Mediterranean. Because if they do, it will fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.”

Embedded in both statements are a set of assumptions: that Palestinians will be free to build their own democracy, that Israel will eventually cede the West Bank (or even consider the possibility), that Israel’s “withdrawal” will strengthen the Palestinian position in negotiations over the West Bank, that the occupation will end or become increasingly irrelevant, that the gross asymmetries between the two protagonists will be redressed. Hence, the Gaza disengagement plan—if implemented “properly”—will provide a real (perhaps the only) opportunity for resolving the conflict and creating a Palestinian state. It follows that Palestinians will be responsible for their success, and that if they fail to build a “democratic” or “decent mini-state” in Gaza, the fault will be theirs and theirs alone.

Dubai on the Mediterranean?

It would be useful to consider what the Palestinians in Gaza have to work with to achieve success.

Today, there are over 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Strip. By 2010 this number will reach close to two million. The Gaza Strip has the highest level of fertility in the region—5.5–6.0 children per woman—and the population grows at a very high rate of 3–5 percent annually. Fifty years ago, 80 percent of the population had not yet been born. Fifty percent of Gazans are 15 years old or younger, with rapidly declining access to health care and education. The half of the territory in which the population is concentrated has one of the highest population densities in the world. In the Jabalya refugee camp alone, there are 74,000 persons per square kilometer, compared with 25,000 persons per square kilometer in Manhattan.

Palestinians are currently experiencing the worst economic depression in modern history, according to the World Bank, primarily caused by long-standing Israeli restrictions (especially closure) that have dramatically reduced Gaza’s trade levels (especially exports) and virtually cut off Gaza’s labor force from their jobs inside Israel. This has resulted in unprecedented levels of unemployment ranging from 35 to 40 percent. Some 65 to 75 percent of Gazans are impoverished (compared to 30 percent in 2000), and many are hungry.

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The settlers’ retreat was the theatre of the cynical

There was no ‘sensitivity training’ when bulldozers went into Rafah

Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, August 19, 2005

Contrast the world’s overwhelming coverage, especially on television, of the departure of Israeli settlers from Gaza with the minimal reporting of larger and more brutal evictions in previous months.
There was no “sensitivity training” for Israeli troops, no buses to drive the expellees away, no generous deadlines to get ready, no compensation packages for their homes, and no promise of government-subsidised alternative housing when the bulldozers went into Rafah.

Within sight of the Gush Katif settlements that have been handled with such kid gloves this week, families in Rafah were usually given a maximum of five minutes’ warning before their houses, and life savings, were crushed. Many people did not even have time to go upstairs to collect belongings when the barking of loudspeakers ordered them out, sometimes before dawn. Fleeing with their children in the night, they risked being shot if they turned round or delayed.

As many as 13,350 Palestinians were made homeless in the Gaza Strip in the first 10 months of last year by Israel’s giant armour-plated Caterpillar bulldozers – a total that easily exceeds the 8,500 leaving Israeli settlements this week. In Rafah alone, according to figures from the UN relief agency Unrwa, the rate of house demolitions rose from 15 per month in 2002 to 77 per month between January and October 2004.

Parts of Rafah now resemble areas of Kabul or Grozny. Facing Israeli army watchtowers and the concrete wall that runs close to the Gaza Strip’s boundary, rows of rubble and ruined homes stretch for hundreds of yards.

The house where I stayed three years ago, which was then one row back from the frontline, has gone. So have three more lines of houses behind it, thanks to Israel’s remorseless policy of clearing the zone for “security” reasons even after Ariel Sharon announced his plan to leave Gaza.

Palestinians who visit the ruins or try to use one or two rooms that survived the onslaught risk their lives from Israeli bullets. A warning shot rang out as one homeowner took me on to his roof in broad daylight last month to survey the miserable scene. We quickly came down.

These cruel evictions have of course been reported, and some foreigners who tried to block or record them, such as Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall and James Miller, paid with their lives alongside scores of murdered local Palestinians. But coverage was never as comprehensive or intense as this week’s removals of Israelis. Sharon wanted the world’s media to see the protracted agony of the settlers, so as to make the (spurious) point that if it is hard to get 8,500 to leave Gaza, getting 400,000 to withdraw from the West Bank and east Jerusalem will be impossible. However sincere the settlers’ grief is at leaving their homes, for the organisers of the retreat it was theatre of the cynical.

The exaggerated focus on the settlement evictions has some benefits. Those who claim, genuinely or dishonestly, that the world’s media are biased in favour of Palestinians had their argument collapse this week. TV viewers around the world have also been exposed to the ugly sight of rampant religious fundamentalism.

As they were dragged off, some Israeli zealots had no shame in minimising the Holocaust, absurdly comparing unarmed Israeli police to the Gestapo. Others used racist insults. “Jews do not expel Jews,” they shouted, presumably wanting to imply that only non-Jews do it. They apparently did not realise that most people will see the irony in terms of contemporary rather than historical events – “Jews do not expel Jews … Jews expel Arabs.”

Perhaps the ugliest part of the Israeli settlers’ behaviour was their corruption of youth, with parents instigating their children to wrap themselves in prayer shawls and sob or shriek defiance.
No one who spends time in Gaza’s Palestinian communities can avoid being saddened by the ubiquitous focus on the gun, which also diverts children from normal growing up. It appears on graffiti everywhere alongside the names and faces of those who died by violence, in suicide attacks or shot down by Israeli fire. Almost every teenage boy aspires to use a Kalashnikov or hand grenade. At a recent wedding, I saw a dancing mother twirl a rifle in both hands above her head like the baton of a majorette.

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