It seems that the Israeli Defense Forces, far from repressing Palestinians under their control, are just trying to help. This is what we learn from a recent report by Isabel Kershner in The New York Times. In the occupied West Bank, she writes, the military is making an effort to provide Palestinians with “economic stability and revive the local economy.”
In “Israel’s Military Faces Delicate Balance in West Bank,” Kershner quotes an Israeli general who claims that the army has allowed freer movement of Palestinians in an effort to “offset the growing economic hardship.” This, says Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, is being done even though it involves “some security risks.”
Readers who pay even minimal attention to alternative media will sense serious dissonance here. This talk of easing the burden contrasts with accounts of some very different activities on the part of Israeli forces: the demolition of homes, the confiscation of equipment, the destruction of water systems, the uprooting of olive trees and other activities that directly threaten the livelihoods of Palestinians.
Just last week, for example, the army entered Khan al Ahmar, a Bedouin community outside Jerusalem, and removed a dozen solar panels. The panels had been donated by an organization that promotes sustainability and were the only source of electricity for the village and a school serving all the Bedouin communities in the area. B’Tselem, an Israeli rights organization, reported that the last of the panels had been put in place the same day the army arrived to take them away.
The following day Israeli officers uprooted and confiscated 120 olive trees near Salfit in the northern West Bank, claiming that the farmers who owned the trees had been told to evacuate their land. This came on top of a one-week period last month when the army destroyed 492 trees in three communities across the West Bank. The orchards, according to the army, had been declared “state land.”
The same week that Israeli forces were uprooting nearly 500 olive trees, officers confiscated water tanks in the northern Jordan Valley farming community of al Farisiyah, which is not connected to a water supply network. Another Jordan Valley community lost its water supply in late January when the army confiscated all its recently installed water pipes.
The IDF is responsible for all of this, whether in its role as the Civil Administration (a branch of the military) or as troops guarding the agency’s workers.
Yet Kershner reports in the Times that these same Israeli forces who are devastating homes, fields, solar panels and water tanks are trying to bolster the economy of the West Bank. Without a hint of irony she quotes General Alon as saying that the government has instructed his army to “maintain security, civilian and economic stability as much as we can.”
Kershner blames at least part of the West Bank’s economic problems on the Israeli government’s decision to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, a punitive measure taken after Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court at the beginning of this year. There is no mention of the fact that army officials are tasked with destroying the most basic amenities in West Bank communities.
Nor is anything said about home demolitions, which have driven East Jerusalem families out of their neighborhoods and forced a number of West Bank Palestinians to take shelter in caves. Some 15 families in the village of Al Mafqara near Hebron are now living in mountainside caves after the army destroyed the homes they were building. The army raids also destroyed a generator, the only source of electricity for the village.
It would take only minimal efforts to alleviate the burdens of Palestinians who now live without electricity or piped water, but this is not part of the mitigation plan described by General Alon. Israel’s “effort to offset economic hardship” involves two policy changes: allowing Palestinians with permits to enter Israel simply by showing their identity cards and by lowering the age of permit applicants from 24 to 22.
Even this is a “risk,” according to Alon, but apparently it is seen as a safety valve, a way to prevent Palestinian unrest. Readers would never know from this story and others in the Times that Palestinians are the ones at constant risk of harassment, loss and damages.
Kershner writes that her interview with General Alon was a “rare” opportunity and came only as he was leaving his tour of duty as top commander in the West Bank. Here was a chance to ask some urgent questions concerning army abuses in the territory—the arrest, mistreatment and detention of Palestinian children, for instance, and the excessive use of deadly force during demonstrations, both well-documented by monitoring agencies.
But none of this was on Kershner’s radar. General Alon was allowed to hold forth on his efforts to “offset the economic hardship” in the West Bank, apparently without any unwelcome questions from the Times’ reporter. The result is a story with blinders on, one that turns away from the facts on the ground and gives voice to a claim that is ultimately absurd.