Friday, June 29, 2007

"Off the Map" will Blair consider the whole picture?

A couple of days ago, just as Mr Blair and Mr Brown were changing places, I took a taxi to Waterloo. As I usually do I got chatting the the driver about politics, Iraq, Blair's new job and the situation in Israel/Palestine. He came up with the sort of nonsense I had been brought up with as a former Zionist..........namely, there was no such thing as a Palestinian before 1967 and that before 1948 the land was an uncultivated wasteland. It got me reminiscing about my first visit to Mar Elias, when I drove with Abuna Chacour (now Archbishop) to his ruined village of Biram in Upper Galilee. On the way we drove through neglected olive groves and he was close to tears as he told this story. He told us these had been his father's olive groves. He explained that when a Palestinian plants a tree it is rather like having a baby. His father lay on his back to push the boulders to clear the land. He then dug the holes for the trees and had to bring water from the stream in heavy clay pitchers to water the saplings. He nurtured these trees until his land was stolen and his village destroyed.

In May 2003 I visited the Negev for the first time. It was a time when allegedly we had "won" the war in Iraq, when we were all having the "Roadmap" dangled in front of us to make us feel better about the travesty which was Iraq. It was a moving experience for me and I wrote an article at the time entitled "Off the Map" which reflects a little of my anger and frustration about a community who although Israeli citizens, are being treated like scum to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Israeli citizens who have occupied the Negev for centuries and yet, for those who live in the 45 "unrecognised villages" which do not even appear on the map, there is by law, no access to water or electricity. No roads and few schools or health care facilities, houses regularly demolished and crops sprayed to destroy them. Earlier this week I wrote about the latest demolitions, demolitions in order to steal land on which only Jewish Israelis will be allowed to live.

The reason I take such an interest in the Neqev is because I believe it gives the lie to current Israeli policy. There is no Intafada in the Negev, no suicide bombers, no rocket launchers. And yet, on a smaller scale admittedly, the Bedouin are suffering similar injustices to those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Houses demolished, land confiscated, crops destroyed.............and no excuse that it is as the result of terrorism. Let's be very clear, this is about the Judaization of the land. The Israeli government and some Israeli Jewish citizens would far rather there were no Palestinians in the land, that Israel was just for the Jews. On one of my early visits to Israel to attend a conference on behalf of the British Council, I was surprised that one of the seminars was on the demographics of Jerusalem. But of course, as someone once said, the biggest threat to Israel is not the terrorist bomb but the Palestinian womb.

In my article I quoted Moshe Shohat, the Bedouin Educational Authority Director, speaking in 2001 - "Bedouins are a bloodthirsty people who commit polygamy, have 30 children, and continue to expand their illegal settlements."

When challenged about providing indoor plumbing in Bedouin schools he responded...
"In their culture they take care of their needs outdoors. They don't even know how to flush a toilet."

And yet, there are many committed Israeli Jews who work for the human rights of the Bedouin, because as Devorah Brous from Bustan would say, that is in the long term interests of the state of Israel.

Elijah Trust, for whom I am a trustee, partners with Mossawa a human rights organisation based in Haifa. Their site contains a lot more background information about the work they are doing to challenge injustice and inequality in Israel.

So, if Mr Blair is to take his new role seriously I hope he will consider the big picture. We are inviting him to accompany us on our next visit to see for himself........I wait with baited breath to see if he accepts!

No comments: