Jerusalem Watch: Crackdown in Palestinian Territories

Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

Jerusalem Watch: Crackdown in Palestinian Territories

Olmert’s latest attempt to create a Palestinian state; the greatest threat facing Jerusalem; plus, look who’s violating human rights in the West Bank and Gaza.

JERUSALEM—The other day, I bumped into an American contractor while crossing into Jordan’s southernmost city of Aqaba. As we were leaving Israel, the man seemed relieved.

“I can’t believe the unbearable conditions Palestinians are forced to live under in the West Bank,” he intoned. He told us there were 640 Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank. We had just passed through three checkpoints on our three-hour drive through the West Bank, from Jerusalem to Eilat.

When we asked him about his source for the 640 figure, he said he got it from the United Nations. That prompted this response from one of my co-workers: “Do you believe everything the United Nations tells you?”

That ended the conversation.

Even if the figure is grossly inflated, no one, of course, can argue that checkpoints and security barriers don’t make it inconvenient for honest, hard-working Palestinians (or tourists, for that matter). But from Israel’s perspective, it’s hard to argue with the impact these restrictions have had on preventing terror attacks. Since constructing its “wall of defense” in response to the second intifada, suicide bombings have virtually ground to a halt. Last year, for example, Palestinian terrorists killed 13 Israelis, compared to 426 in 2002.

At the same time, Israel’s Gaza pullout in 2005 and its latest offer of 93 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority indicates Israel is determined to give away territory if it thinks it will result in peace.

In the Palestinian territories, meanwhile, the situation on the ground is fast becoming unbearable, but not because of long lines and interrogations at Israeli checkpoints. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid summarized the internecine violence in the Palestinian territories since the start of the second intifada eight years ago: “122 killed in the streets (suspected collaborators), 41 by capital punishment, 34 honor killings, 48 stabbed to death, seven beaten to death, 258 killed under mysterious circumstances and 818 cases of gunfire. So far no one has been charged let alone tried for any of these unlawful killings” (emphasis mine).

As Robert Fulford recently wrote in Canada’s National Post, “The appalling fact, only fitfully reported in North America, is that the two major Palestinian factions are committed to an often murderous conflict.”

In recent weeks, the violence has only worsened. According to an Associated Press report on Tuesday, there has been a “widening crackdown” against dissent in the Palestinian territories led by Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. The ap wrote,

The crackdown began after a July 25 beachside bomb killed five Hamas militants in Gaza. Hamas blamed Western-backed Fatah and rounded up scores of Fatah activists in Gaza. Fatah-allied security forces in the West Bank responded by seizing dozens of Hamas supporters.The U.S. and Europe have said little about violations in the West Bank, even as they’re spending millions of dollars on police training to help lay the foundations of a democratic Palestine.

Hamas and Fatah claim that these are just routine “security” measures, the article says. But according to at least two human rights reports, security forces in both territories have been systematically torturing their detainees. “Analysts say a desire to prevent the West Bank from falling to Islamists appears to override other Western concerns,” ap wrote.

In the case of Western media outlets, anti-Israeli bias appears to be overriding concerns about Palestinian human rights violations. As Sharansky and Eid pointed out in their piece,

When one of us [Bassem Eid] worked for Israel’s Betselem cataloging Israel’s human-rights violations, the international community embraced every report. But when intellectual honesty demanded that he monitor Palestinian human-rights violations according to the same standards, no one was interested. Those reports were dismissed as undermining the Palestinian leaders—first Arafat and now Mr. Abbas—who would make peace with Israel.

Beside that, there have been reported cases where Palestinians forcibly prevent journalists from observing the facts. ap notes,

Last week, Hamas imposed a closed military zone in the Gaza City neighborhood where Hamas forces had raided a Fatah-allied stronghold after hours of heavy fighting. The ban prevented photographers and camera crews from documenting often violent house-to-house searches. Several residents alleged that money, gold and computers were stolen by Hamas troops.

These human rights violations make Israeli checkpoints seem like a day at the amusement park.

Palestinians Reject Olmert’s Offer

On Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 93 percent of the West Bank for a future Palestinian state. In return for the 7 percent Israel would keep (where its largest settlements are located), the Palestinians would receive a strip of land in the Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The proposed border would pretty much follow the route of the security barrier Israel has already erected. The plan would require around 70,000 settlers living east of the fence to be removed from their homes—about nine times the number that were removed from the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians would also be given a checkpoint-free passageway connecting the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

The Israeli proposal, however, would not take effect until Abbas’s Fatah forces regained control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas. It also failed to settle the final status of Jerusalem.

As an excellent gauge of how far apart the two sides are from ever establishing side-by-side states through negotiation, one only need examine the Palestinians’ quick and emphatic response to Olmert’s offer. The reported details of the agreement were “baseless,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told Agence France Presse. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Olmert’s proposal was “not acceptable,” called it “a waste of time” and said it demonstrated a “lack of seriousness” on Israel’s part.

Erakat outlined Palestinian demands in his interview: “We want a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and agreement on all the final status questions.”

With Olmert desperate to get a deal in place before he leaves office—which doesn’t exactly allow him to operate from a position of strength—expect the Palestinians to hold out for their demands without budging an inch.

In 2000, remember, Yasser Arafat held his ground with Ehud Barak until the Palestinians had most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem—including more than half of the Old City—within their grasp. Even then, Arafat rejected U.S.-Israeli proposals, saying, “I will not agree to any Israeli sovereign presence in Jerusalem, neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the al-Aqsa Mosque, neither in Via Dolorosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem” (memri, Aug. 28, 2000).

Instead of giving his people their own state, Arafat ordered a violent uprising that triggered the second intifada, killing more than 1,000 Jews over the next five years.

Jerusalem’s Greatest Threat

Last Sunday was Tisha B’Av in Israel, when Jews fast to commemorate the destruction of both the first and second temples. The book of Jeremiah says that Babylon burned Solomon’s temple and the houses of Jerusalem on the 10th of Av (Jeremiah 52:12-14), but according to the Jewish tradition, the destruction began on the 9th and the city was finally consumed by fire the next day.

The same is true for the second temple, destroyed by the Romans on the 9th and 10th of Av, in a.d. 70, according to the Talmud.

In synagogues on Tisha B’Av, Jews read from the Old Testament book of Lamentations. “It was written by the Prophet Jeremiah,” Arutz Sheva writes, “who warned Jews to repent to prevent the fall of Jerusalem, which he [prophesied]. His advice not only was ignored, but he also was imprisoned for stating views that threatened the king’s power.”

Even though a third temple has not been built in Jerusalem, says “there are people who are already concerned with the next destruction.” According to a survey conducted by the website, 42 percent of Israeli respondents believe the possible division of Jerusalem is the greatest threat to the city’s existence.

As our regular readers know, Bible prophecy says the city will be cut in half and that it will ultimately lead to the city’s destruction (Zechariah 14:1-2). What happened in Jerusalem during the sixth century b.c., and then again in a.d. 70, was only a type of what God says will happen again in this end time.

Final Thought

After spending the summer in Jerusalem, I will be returning to America this weekend., however, still has two contributors staffing our Jerusalem office. With their help, we hope to continue with these weekly dispatches so that you might continue watching Jerusalem.