Monday, December 30, 2013

The Last Straw

This is Israel's Ambassador's response to a screed by Jack Straw in The Times of London (see below):

Israeli response, 30 December 2013.

‘Jack Straw refuses to countenance the possibility that anyone other than Israel might have a part to play in the plight of the Palestinians’
Sir, Jack Straw (Opinion, Dec 26) asserts that Palestinian shacks in the South Hebron hills are being gratuitously demolished by Israel while their residents are charged exorbitant sums for water.
In fact, although these structures were built without regard to planning permission, the Israeli authorities, which under the Israeli-Palestinian agreements are charged with responsibility for planning regulations in the area, invited the residents to submit a master plan to regularise the situation.
The proposed master plan which was submitted was rejected. Not, as Straw suggests, because of gratuitous harassment, but because the planning committee found that it did not provide adequately for welfare services for the residents, and in particular would deprive Palestinian women of access to educational and professional opportunities. The committee has invited the residents to make an amended application.
The price of water is determined by the Palestinian Water Authority, not by Israel. Jack Straw refuses to countenance the possibility that anyone other than Israel might have a part to play in the plight of the Palestinians. Far more damaging than the castigation of Israel, however, is the effect of such condescension and low expectations on the Palestinian side.
Ultimately, the most effective way of dealing with the issue of the South Hebron hills is for the two sides to reach a final status agreement. But ignoring the fact that the Palestinians too have responsibilities will not help bring that agreement closer.
Daniel Taub
Ambassador of Israel to the Court of St James’s

This was mine, which was not published:

"Shocked" by what Jack Straw, Member of Parliament for Blackburn, saw in the South Hebron hills at a Jewish community renewed at Susya, Britain's former Foreign Minister, who two months ago was criticised by the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, moderate on the issue of Jewish residency beyond the Green Line, which said his 'Jewish power' remark seemed to “echo some of the oldest and ugliest prejudices...and go far beyond mere criticism of Israel”, and who, last month, admitted to a "spectacular mistake", now fulminates and presents what he hopes his readers will accept as facts in his "Israel must learn that cruelty does not pay" (Dec 27) .

In the first place, the uncovered Second Period synagogue there, constructed around the 5th century and which pre-dates the Arab occupation of the country by centuries, a building Charles Warren and Claude Conder labeled in 1875 as an 'Important public structure', indicates that not only is Jewish residency not illegal at Susya but perhaps it is the Arabs that need to address such issues.  In fact, the Arab Susya is a squatters' settlement.  It's residents have been there for less than decades, as aerial photographs presented in court prove.

In the second place, to deal with the matter of Staw's claim of Arabs being required to pay for water from tanker and such.  Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit approved 22 water projects in 2011 after having received approval from the Joint Water Committee.  Israel has done much throughout Judea and Samaria to improve basic infrastructure but there are difficulties.  At times, the Palestinian Authority refuses to cooperate, such as in the matter of polluting waste disposal.  Some 95 percent of the per year sewage produced by the Palestinians is not treated at all although they are responsible for this.  At least one-third of the water being pumped out of the ground by the Arabs in these areas is wasted through leakage and mismanagement as estimated by the Palestinian Water Authority itself.  There is no recycling of water.  There is, unfortunately, extensive theft of water by individual Arabs, done by simply connecting to the water lines of Israel’s Mekorot national water company, as well as even by official Palestinian Authority personnel.

All this and much more is documented in Prof. Haim Gvirtzman's January 2012 report entitled, "The Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: An Israeli Perspective" which is available online and the reports of the Regavim NGO, certainly no less a resource than the NGO upon which Mr. Straw depends.

It would behoove Mr. Straw to review all the relevant material and perhaps contribute another article, one in which he again would admit a mistake.

The original piece:

Israel must learn that cruelty does not pay

West Bank families should be given building permits but not gratuitously harassed
I was in the middle of my Law finals, in June 1967, when the Six-Day War erupted. Neither I nor my friends shed a tear when the Egyptians and their allies were decisively beaten by Israel. Support for this young country was, if anything, stronger on the left in Britain than it was on the right.
I still support Israel, and its right to live securely within its international borders. But my reservations about its conduct towards the Palestinians have grown year by year.
On a visit this month I was shocked by what I saw of the Israelis’ actions towards Palestinian shepherd families in the South Hebron hills. The Israeli daily Haaretz described its Government’s explanation for these actions, as “sugar-coated lies”, which had won “this month’s George Orwell Prize for misleading language”.
Sixty kilometres south of Jerusalem, in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, there sits on a hill the large Israeli settlement of Susiya. The settlement is illegal in international law, condemned in those terms by the British Government. Still, it’s there, and has all modern conveniences, including water and electricity.
Some Israeli settlers in these hills breed chickens. They have piped water, and electricity from the grid. But families in the Palestinian village of Susiya, just down the hill from the main Israeli settlement, have neither, even though the water pipes go through their land. The settlers pay 9 shekels (£1.57) a cubic metre for their water, piped. The Palestinians have to pay up to 35 shekels (£6.14) per cubic metre — from a tanker.
These Palestinian families, scattered across the bleak landscape, are now about 250 in all. They once had warm dry homes, built into caves in the hillsides. The Israeli Defence Force filled them in. They used to have many cisterns, large tanks excavated from the rocks. The IDF have filled many of those in, too. Meanwhile the families have to live in temporary structures — scaffold frames covered in plastic sheeting.
This land is the Palestinians’. They tell me they can prove their title back to Ottoman days. Ah, claims the Israeli Government, but as the occupying powers we have to follow the planning law of the Jordanians, the sovereign power before the 1967 war. The Palestinians have to have a permit for any structure. They don’t, so the structures have to come down.
The Palestinians say they won’t leave their land. They rebuild their tents. Their plight is repeated by other local herding communities and Bedouin across the West Bank.
These communities fight to stay, not by force of arms but by force of argument. They are supported in their fight by some courageous groups of Israelis: such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Breaking the Silence, a group of veterans from the IDF, who have broken the silence culturally expected of all who serve in the Israeli armed forces.
It was one member of this group who took me to Susiya. He told me of the patrols of his fellow soldiers in neighbouring Hebron to “make their presence felt”— through nocturnal break-ins to random Palestinian houses, pour encourager les autres.
With the help of these Israeli groups, the Palestinian shepherd families in Susiya applied for building permits. They were turned down. Try for a “master plan”, they were told. They did, to be turned down again, with language whose implausibility would not only have graced Orwell’s pages, but Kafka’s too. “The current [master] plan constitutes yet another attempt to keep a weak and downtrodden population from having the possibility of making progress,” said the Israeli Civil Administration sub-committee, in its rejection decision.
This population is not “weak”. I’ve rarely met such determined people. “Downtrodden” they are — by the Israelis. But that could easily be resolved if the IDF stopped trashing their land, and the Administration did what they do for Israeli Jewish settlers in similar circumstances — gave them building permits and connected them to the water and electricity grids.
If this happened, Israel would start to regain the natural support it had in 1967, but which by its own gratuitous actions it has been so carelessly throwing away.


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