When you can’t choose your neighbors
by Fadi Abu Sada
Not long ago, and not much more than a 100 meters from the house in which I grew up and where I still live, lay the greenest hill around Bethlehem. Jebel Abu Gheneim is no longer green. Instead the view–and so much more–has been spoiled by Bethlehem-area settlement number 19, better known as Har Homa.
Har Homa was originally designed to house 60,000 settlers, a figure that does not include the 750 new “housing units” Israel is now planning to add to it. The number 19 signifies the number of settlements encircling Bethlehem.
Surrounding this eyesore is an army road. This road is off limits to locals. We cannot cross it or near it. We cannot pick our olives at harvest time. The road is in constant use by Israeli army jeeps that waste little opportunity to disturb us with their horns and loudspeakers.
Living next to Har Homa for so long, I have been able to observe the transformation of this once green hill. It is odd to think that it took us 25 years to have lights installed on the main road from my house to nearby Beit Sahour, or Shepherds’ Field, while, since only 2002, Jebel Abu Gheneim has been transformed into a mountain of light and concrete.
But the energy with which the Israeli government provides for its settlers on our land is the least of the worries for those of us living nearby. More immediate concerns arise when we have to take our children to hospital and there is a closure, or fighting breaks out. When, as a father, you are prevented from looking after your own children, you soon realize the anger that powerlessness can bring and the shame of not even being able to explain to your children why their lives are so precarious.
Of course, Bethlehem has it better than other places. In Hebron, 400 settlers live in the middle of the city amid half a million Palestinians, destroying the commercial center in the old city and making inhabitants’ lives hell. This happens under the protection of an Israeli army that answers to a government that now claims it is serious in suing for peace with us.
The latest research by The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem shows that nine new settlement outposts were established since the November 2007 Annapolis conference kick-started negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis on reaching a final settlement. At the end of 2006, the total number of settlements on occupied territory numbered 144.
As such, these “final status” negotiations have not yet gone beyond the settlement issue, and matters get worse every time a new tender is announced and Israel clarifies exactly what it intends to happen to these settlements. Jerusalem, for example, is a “special case” because Israel considers that it has annexed the whole city and therefore settlements there are not covered by obligations under the roadmap. Meanwhile, Israel also considers only settlement outposts illegal. All other settlements were established with government approval and therefore must, at a minimum, be allowed construction for “natural growth”.
But all settlements in occupied territory are illegal according to international law (and this includes occupied East Jerusalem). And although the Palestinian side has agreed to discuss settlements in negotiations, the fact that Israel is unwilling to freeze all settlement construction (natural growth, inward growth or whatever other pseudonym for expansion Israeli officials use) is a signal to most Palestinians that this issue is preordained and Israel has no intention of negotiating the fate of settlements.
The settlement issue should be fairly straightforward to resolve, compared to other issues such as water, borders and refugees. Yet, the establishment of settlements ended the hope of Oslo and could well end hopes for this round of negotiations.
I still believe that peace can be reached one day. I believe there are hundreds of possible solutions not only for the settlements but for all the issues. But every time I look out my window at the neighbors that were imposed on me I find it more and more difficult to convince myself.- Published 31/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Fadi Abu Sada is director of the Palestine News Network, PNN.
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