In Israel, We Do Not Trust

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There is an old Arabic barb that pokes fun at men. Of course, it is used mostly by disgruntled women, especially when their husbands cheat on them or break some other sacred pact of marriage. “Trusting men is like water through a sieve.” It rhymes in Arabic but the message is clear. No matter how many promises men may make, never fully trust them. While this may be a bit harsh in terms of the men in our lives, it is certainly applicable to Israel.

Today, newspapers are full of disheartening news about Israel renewing the administrative detention orders of Palestinian parliamentarians for the second, third and even fourth times. Other news reports are about prisoners either still on hunger strike –” Mahmoud Sarsak has entered his 74th day –” or who are threatening to go back to starving themselves because Israel has broken its agreement with the prisoners.Other prisoners have found themselves back in solitary confinement. And over the past few weeks, there have been scattered news reports about Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit prisoner swap and who have been rearrested by Israeli authorities, no reasons given.

According to the prisoner deal, Israel agreed to negotiate three basic things: to move to end solitary confinement of prisoners, to allow families from Gaza to visit their family members in prison and not to charge anyone with administrative detention without trial. In exchange, prisoners would end their hunger strike and agree not to engage in any political activity inside prison. While prisoners hailed the agreement as a success, Israel left enough loopholes to ensure that it could breach the agreement right and left.

Ask Mahmoud Sarsak, the soccer player on Palestine’s national team who was arrested at the Erez Crossing on his way to Nablus for a soccer match in August of 2009 and who has been in jail ever since without trial. Or Mousa Abu Sisi, 42, who just yesterday was sent back into solitary confinement. Israel claims he is too dangerous to be let loose among other prisoners and would pose a threat to the security of the state.

Or ask HananShalabi, the young woman who spent two years in administrative detention and was released in the prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel in October 2011 only to be rearrested again in February 2012. Once again, she was slapped with an administrative detention order of four months.

Shalabi decided to follow in the footsteps of Khader Adnan and went on a 47-day hunger strike before cutting a deal that exiled her to Gaza for three years in exchange for her release.

The prisoners are not the only ones suffering from Israel’s lack of commitment to its promises. Gaza’s fishermen continue to suffer from Israel’s breach of agreements over the distance they are allowed to fish in off of Gaza’s shore. A Euro-Mediterranean human rights observer report published this week said Israel’s restrictions on fishermen had led to an increasingly impoverished situation for over 70,000 Gazans dependent on fishing as their source of livelihood, adding that the restrictions were in “clear violation” to deals signed with the Palestinian Authority. It charged Israel with seeking ‘in recent years to completely destroy the fishing profession’. According to agreements between the two sides, Palestinians are allowed to fish within a 20-nautical mile radius off of Gaza’s seashore. That distance unilaterally went down to 10 after Israeli soldier GiladShalit was captured and then diminished to a meager 3-mile radius after the Gaza war in 2008-2009. As a result, fishermen have been shot at, arrested and their boats confiscated by Israeli naval guards not to mention the scarcity of fish in the small area allowed.

Israel breaches and twists agreements with the Palestinians all the time. We saw the worst of this in the Oslo Accords, which did not specifically stipulate that settlements must be stopped but rather that neither side should do anything to change the status quo of the territories until a final settlement could be reached. The end result was that settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem doubled in the 10 years after Oslo. Israel said it breached nothing. It had found the mother of all loopholes.

The bottom line is that Israel breaks its promises and deals just because it can. There is no one to hold it accountable in the ways that really matter. Condemnations mean nothing to a prisoner who had a small taste of freedom only to be snatched up again months later. Neither do they count to the Palestinian farmer whose land has been confiscated to make room for one more settlement neighborhood. The Palestinians know by now that Israel cannot be trusted. The question is, how long will it take for the world to come to that same conclusion?

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