No free lunches from Bush
Between the hugs and pats he has been sending Ariel Sharon since the pullout from the Gaza Strip, behind the scenes, President Bush is twisting the prime minister's arm. More than all the compliments, it is important for Sharon that the U.S. administration recognize Israel's departure from the Gaza Strip as the official end of the occupation in that area. From there it is just a short way to a UN declaration that Israel no longer bears responsibility for what happens in the Gaza Strip. So long as the international community, led by the U.S., does not recognize the withdrawal as the end of the occupation, it means Israel lost the communities there, ceded military control there and still continues to be seen as the occupier, with all the legal and political ramifications of that status. Bush, with all his friendship for Sharon, is not offering any free lunches; the price for recognizing the end of the occupation in Gaza will be allowing freedom of movement in the West Bank and free passage between it and Gaza.
Suddenly it is possible to remove roadblocks and open roads. Suddenly, the Defense Ministry discovered the secret of disparate numbers - 143 roadblocks and earthen barriers - appearing on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) maps, which the Israeli Defense Ministry maps have no record of whatsoever. A careful review recently conducted there found that since Operation Defensive Shield, in the spring of 2002, every battalion commander has acted like a king in his area of jurisdiction. If he wants, he closes a traffic artery; if he wants to, he lifts the siege of a village. Usually, they don't bother to report this to their superiors. It is no wonder senior defense and government officials for all these years denied diplomats' claims and human rights organizations' reports of an increased number of roadblocks.
The addiction to roadblocks makes it harder for the military and government officials to wean themselves from sealing off the Gaza Strip, even after the residents were evacuated and the IDF has completed its preparations to get out of there. There are signs that Sharon himself has not internalized the new reality created in Gaza. After 38 years of occupation, Israel is about to lose its total freedom of operation in this parcel of land. One indication is the resignation of national security adviser, Giora Eiland, who tried to work out arrangements with the Palestinian Authority regarding relations the day after the withdrawal, and who was neutralized by the Defense Ministry. He will not be around for the search for those responsible for the foot-dragging in building border crossings and customs offices along the border between Gaza and Israel and the West Bank.
Eiland will not be around when they search for those who promised the crossing from Egypt to Gaza would be at a new Israeli border terminal to be built at Kerem Shalom. Why aren't the Palestinians making a fuss? Firstly, they know the terminal will not be ready on time. Secondly, what could Israel do when it turns out that the Rafah terminal is not just an exit point from Gaza, but also an entry point? Return to the Gaza Strip? The same is true of the airport. When a China Airlines plane requests permission to land in the refurbished Gaza airport, will Dan Halutz send his air force buddies to intercept it?
Who is a hostile terrorist?
A short time after the shooting of passengers on a Shfaram bus, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described the soldier from Tapuah, Eden Natan Zada as "a bloodthirsty terrorist, who sought to harm innocent Israeli citizens." In order to eliminate any doubt, Sharon added, "This terrorist incident is an intentional effort to damage the fabric of relations among all citizens of Israel." And he continued, "Terrorism perpetrated by citizens against citizens is the most dangerous thing for the future of the State of Israel and the stability of its democracy." Sharon did not make do with talk. He rushed to announce that he had instructed the National Insurance Institute to recognize those killed and injured in the attack as victims of a hostile action. Presumably, the prime minister did not know that in order to "benefit" from the compensation law for victims of hostile actions, it is not enough to be shot at by "a bloodthirsty terrorist who sought to harm innocent Israeli citizens"; one has to make sure the terrorist was a card-carrying member of an organization hostile to Israel. The chances of that happening are slim when the murderer is a member of the Jewish religion.
The defense minister's office said in response that according to the authorities' accepted understanding, including the previous attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, who was asked to address this matter, the legislative body's intent in using the definition "hostile to Israel" is hostile solely to the existence of the state - and not to its values and interests or to Knesset decisions. According to this understanding, Eden Natan Zada, and Yigal Amir as well, were not members of hostile organizations and therefore their victims are not entitled to compensation reserved for victims of terrorism. After all, they acted in the belief that their actions not only did not harm the existence of the state, but were actually reinforcing it.
Rubinstein suggested revising the law or setting up an inter-ministerial committee authorized to approve special cases of compensation "beyond the letter of the law." The government decided to go with the second option and appointed a committee comprised of representatives from the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the National Insurance Institute.
Had Natan Zada been a member of Islamic Jihad, the parents of sisters Hazar and Dina Turki, the widow and children of Nadr Hayk and the dozen injured (the bus driver, Michel Bahout, was recognized as the victim of a work accident) would be eligible for reparations given to the family of a soldier who fell in a war according to the Families of Soldiers Who Fell in Battle Law (reparations and rehabilitation) 1950. Because the killer was active in a Kahanist organization, they will have to settle for a one-time payment "beyond the letter of the law." The Defense Ministry said the payment is calculated by capitalizing the usual sum of monthly compensation and that the difference "is not large." It will be interesting to see how the ministry treats the orphans of the four Palestinian laborers from Sinjil who were the victims of Asher Weisgan of Shvut Rachel.
MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) sees a direct link between the law that discriminates against Israeli Arabs injured by Jewish terrorists and the Knesset's decision to absolve the state of the obligation to compensate innocent Palestinian civilians injured as a result of IDF operations in the territories. He expects Sharon to uphold his promise to Shfaram residents by initiating an amendment to the victims of hostile acts law that will stipulate that an organization "hostile to Israel" is any organization that preaches harming Israeli citizens, for political or religious motives. He means, for example, the Kahanist organizations, such as Meir Ledavid. A newsletter circulated by this organization calls on the public to contribute to the construction of an "educational center" now underway in Kfar Tapuah, that will disseminate the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane. The newsletter reports that the Israeli government matches contributions dollar for dollar.
A Jew expels a Hebron resident
In the new school year, Palestinian schools in area H2, which borders the Jewish community in Hebron, are not suffering from a shortage of classrooms. However, the physical and emotional distress of the students increases each year. According to a new OCHA report, the number of students at three schools in the area has been reduced by about half since September 2000. At the Cordoba school, the number of students in 2004-2005 dropped from 194 to 88; at the al-Fiah school, it dropped from 327 to 222 and at the al-Ibrahimiya school it plummeted from 532 to 352 students. There was a sharp decline in students' achievements as well. According to PA Education Ministry data, grades of students in Area H2 are significantly lower than the average grades of students in the city. Two of the schools in the area are ranked 40 and 41 among the 43 schools in Hebron.
The reason for this is not a decline in natural population growth or in demand for education, but in the growing migration away from the city and the rising fear index of parents and children. The UN's OCHA reports systematical assaults by the Jewish residents of Hebron against their Arab neighbors - children and adults - in an attempt to get them out of the Old City of Hebron. More than anyone else, the families living near Baruch Marzel and his neighbors, who maintain their stronghold in Tel Rumeida, suffer the most. Palestinian residents dare not leave home without an escort of IDF soldiers. Many families could not deal with the pressure and left their homes. The closing of shops in the retail market, for fear of the settlers, hastened the descent of the local population to well below the poverty line. The average monthly household income does not exceed NIS 700. Some 2,500 families in the neighborhood are the last residents of the West Bank receiving food packages from the International Red Cross. The security restrictions make it harder for the emergency services to provide aid to the besieged. Over the last five years, there has been a significant drop in ambulance calls - from three a day, to one a day. Women in the final stages of pregnancy stay with relatives or friends, whose neighbors' balconies are not covered with signs that say, "A Jew does not expel a Jew."