Olmert disavows “Greater Israel”; settlers attack Palestinian villages

<em>Ancient walls of Awarta, West Bank</em>” title=”<em>Ancient walls of Awarta, West Bank</em>” class=”image thumbnail” height=”63″ width=”100″></a><span class=Ancient walls of Awarta, West BankOutgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the dream of a “Greater Israel” was over this month—a day after settlers raided the Palestinian village of Assira Qabaliya, in the northern West Bank, causing extensive damage and wounding several people, in what was a reprisal attack. Police said an investigation was launched, but no arrests made. The Knesset internal affairs committee convened an urgent meeting to discuss the raid, reportedly sparked when a Palestinian stabbed a boy and burned a house at a settlement outpost. Video footage showed settlers attacking the village with Israeli soldiers present. “If the army is here or not, the settlers will attack,” a Palestinian resident told the UN news agency IRIN.

The Israeli military issued a statement saying: “The command and commanders’ orders are that a soldier shall not stand by and will act to prevent violent disturbances.” A security source said two firearms were confiscated from settlers who attacked the village.

“There will be no pogroms against non-Jewish residents,” the outgoing premier told his cabinet Sept. 14, the day after the attack. Shortly after Olmert’s speech, settlers went to Awarta, another town, and burnt down more than 400 Palestinian olive trees, according to residents. “The trees burned for hours,” said Asad Loolah, who told IRIN he lost about 50 trees.

It took almost an hour for a fire engine to reach the scene, due to the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank. In addition, residents reported that Palestinian ambulances were delayed in reaching the injured the day before in Assira.

Attacks on the rise
In August, “37 people were injured as a result of attacks carried out by Israeli settlers, the largest number recorded since January 2005,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories said. “The lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities seems to be a key factor contributing to the persistence of the settler violence phenomenon over years,” the agency wrote in its recent Humanitarian Monitor.

With the olive harvest set to begin after Eid el-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, in early October, many Palestinian farmers are concerned about his yields, an important part of their livelihood. With access to their lands greatly restricted by the Israeli military, they have been unable to effectively maintain even those groves which have survived settler attacks. “I need to get coordination from the [Israeli] military to access my land,” said Loolah. “They give me access only two or three days a year. I don’t have the chance to prune or water the trees and not enough time to pick the olives.” (IRIN, Sept. 21)

See our last posts on the Palestine and the West Bank.

  1. Olmert: Israel must leave West Bank
    From the New York Times, Sept. 30:

    JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published on Monday that Israel must withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem to attain peace with the Palestinians and that any occupied land it held onto would have to be exchanged for the same quantity of Israeli territory.

    He also dismissed as “megalomania” any thought that Israel would or should attack Iran on its own to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, saying the international community and not Israel alone was charged with handling the issue.

    In an unusually frank and soul-searching interview granted after he resigned to fight corruption charges — he remains interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in — Mr. Olmert discarded longstanding Israeli defense doctrine and called for radical new thinking, in words that are sure to stir controversy as his expected successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, tries to build a coalition.

    “What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me,” Mr. Olmert told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot in the interview on the occasion of the Jewish new year, observed from Monday evening till Wednesday evening. “The time has come to say these things.”

    He said that traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and that they seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 war of independence.

    “With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”

    He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

    Over the last year, Mr. Olmert has publicly castigated himself for his earlier right-wing views and he did so again in this interview. On Jerusalem, for example, he said: “I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

    He said that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s official policy, would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. It would mean a continuing risk of terrorist attacks against civilians like those carried out this year by Jerusalem Palestinian residents with front-end loaders.

    “A decision has to be made,” he said. “This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

    The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.