More than a ‘problem’

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The use by President George Bush of the word “problem” to describe the apartheid wall Israel is building in the West Bank drew some positive reactions this week and generated a modicum of encouragement and optimism among Palestinians. However, the continued building of the wall, notwithstanding American reservations, is effectively killing hopes for any just and equitable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“This is not a security or separation wall. This is Israel’s means to effect ethnic cleansing and steal more Palestinian land and prevent the creation of a genuine and viable Palestinian state,” said Mustafa Barghouthi, head of the Palestinian National Initiative, a non-governmental group dedicated to resisting Israeli apartheid and colonialist occupation.

“This criminal wall will bisect the West Bank into closed ghettos and townships that are cut off from each other. There is absolutely no way a Palestinian state can be established with this wall in place.”

Barghouthi’s views are shared by nearly all the Palestinians as well as by a growing number of peace-minded Israelis.

Even the US, Israel’s guardian/ally, is beginning to get the message, as evidenced by Bush’s remarks.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to insist that the wall is no more than a “security wall” aimed at preventing Palestinian guerrillas from infiltrating into Israel.

This claim, dismissed by Palestinians as a cheap, malicious lie, seems also to be losing currency in Washington, although not to the extent desired by the Palestinians, or required to stop the wall from destroying the entire peace process.

Bush, responding to a reporter’s question during his joint press conference with visiting Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas last Friday described the wall as “a problem” saying he had discussed the issue with Sharon and that he planned to discuss it again with him during their White House meeting on Tuesday.

“It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank.”

Bush’s words apparently had little or no impact on Sharon’s thinking or, indeed, on his government’s actions.

On 28 July, just 24 hours before Sharon and Bush met at the White House, the Israeli government decided to allocate another $170 million for the completion of the wall in the northern West Bank.

The provocative measure indicates that Sharon is either not taking Bush’s remarks seriously enough or that he is actually willing to confront and even defy the American administration.

In any case, Israeli actions on the ground speak louder than any statements by Israeli or American officials.

On Monday, Israeli soldiers opened fire on a group of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, protesting what one north American student described as the “crime of our time”. Eight protesters were injured by rubber-coated bullets, one seriously.

The brutal suppression of the symbolic protest demonstrated Sharon’s determination to impose his own roadmap on the Palestinians, irrespective of what the Americans and the rest of the world may or may not think.

Meanwhile, Israel has been continuing its repression of the Palestinians on a daily basis, while claiming to be “relaxing” restrictions on them. This week, the Israeli government announced that the Jewish settler population in the West Bank had increased by nearly 5000 people since the beginning of 2003.

Moreover, the Israeli peace movement Peace Now has published fresh reports revealing how Sharon’s government is continuing to encourage settlers to build more settlement outposts in lieu of those outposts removed by the Israeli army.

Seeking to divert attention from the bleak reality in the West Bank, the Israeli government this week highlighted the removal of three roadblocks in the Ramallah region. Both Israeli officials and the Hebrew media presented the removal of the three dirt mounds, known as the Surda and Ein Arik roadblocks, as a great Israeli concessions for peace.

However, the measure didn’t impress the Palestinians who said that Israel removed only three out of 162 roadblocks erected outside Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps all over the West Bank and manned by trigger-happy soldiers who don’t hesitate to open fire, with or without reason, with the intent of killing Palestinians.

Indeed, as the PA premier was meeting with Bush at the White House on Friday, one of these trigger-happy soldiers guarding a roadblock in the northern West Bank fired a burst of machine- gun fire on a passenger car, killing four-year-old Ghassan Kabaha and injuring his six- and seven- year-old sisters.

Seeking to evade the crime, the Israeli army described the “incident” as a “mishap”, very much like the estimated other 408 mishaps in which 408 Palestinian children lost their lives to Israeli soldiers’ bullets during the past 30 months.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), one in five Palestinians killed by the Israeli army and paramilitary Jewish terrorists is a child. Though the rate of killing since the beginning of the current truce has dropped sharply, the Israeli army continues to fire heavy machine- guns into Palestinian population centres, particularly in the Gaza Strip, on an almost daily basis.

Among the latest victims of this indiscriminate shooting were three teenagers and an eight-year- old, Youssef Abu Jaza, who was hit in the knee when soldiers shot at a group of youngsters and children playing football in Khan Younis.

Palestinian officials have actually ridiculed the Israeli decision to remove the three Ramallah roadblocks, dismissing the measure as a public relations tactic aimed at deceiving world public opinion and distracting attention from the construction of the apartheid wall.

“They have removed three and left 159 others in place. This means that it will take another 53 meetings between Bush and Sharon to remove all the remaining roadblocks,” said PA official Saeb Ereikat.

“Then imagine how many meetings it would take to overcome other issues pertaining to Jewish settlements, borders, Jerusalem and the refugees”

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