Israeli occupation Middle East peace process Palestinians Progressive Jews

Peace Now: Remove most, but not all, checkpoints

I took a deep breath and opened up a can of worms by discussing checkpoints and the wall in my previous post. The dilemma that confronts ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who won’t want to rely on glib rhetoric or simplistic solutions is how to reconcile two moral imperatives: the imperative of ending the occupation and the need to protect Israelis, right now, when there is no political solution in sight. I was not defending any particular course of action by the Israeli military and Border Police, just the need to do SOMETHING tangible. If constructing a temporary barrier along the Green Line was begrudgingly accepted by moderate Fatah leaders at one point, that seemed like a reasonable option. As for checkpoints, I’m glad to point out that Peace Now, which, let us remember, was founded by Israeli reserve officers, recently called for Israel to leave all but 35 of the manned checkpoints and almost all of the 467 unmanned roadblocks that now exist.

Are they right? Would their prescriptions protect Hannah and her family? Would they protect my relatives in Israel? Beats me. Anyone who isn’t an expert on the terrain and Palestinian politics and the inner workings of Islamic Jihad et. al. has no business agreeing or disagreeing with specific plans. But we can welcome this attempt to confront a terrible dilemma head on. Here’s the BBC report on Peace Now’s recent declaration:

BBC News: “Israel urged to leave checkpoints”

Israeli peace activists are calling for dozens of military checkpoints and hundreds of unmanned roadblocks to be dismantled in the occupied West Bank.
Peace Now said if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was serious about negotiations with the Palestinians, he should begin by removing the internal obstacles.

A spokeswoman said such controls were unnecessary for securing Israel and would improve Palestinian daily life.

The call applies to 58 manned barriers and almost all the 467 roadblocks.

Peace Now says only 35 checkpoints can be justified as controlling access between Israel and the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

The permanent roadblocks established by the army included gates, earth mounds and cement blocks.

They restrict the freedom of movement for the majority of Palestinians and turn short journeys into lengthy trips which involve waiting periods at each checkpoint, the group says.

Trips between Palestinian cities in the West Bank which used to take just one hour can now take three times that because of delays at checkpoints, the group says.

It adds that for the Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints there are dangers from coming into close contact with the Palestinian population, increasing the risk of suicide attacks.

The Israel government defends its travel restrictions as being necessary to prevent such attacks on Israel and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The settlements are illegal in the eyes of international law, although Israel disputes its jurisdiction.

    Checkpoints to Israel (manned): 35
    Internal West Bank checkpoints (manned): 58
    Permanent unmanned roadblocks: 467
    Source: Peace Now

8 thoughts on “Peace Now: Remove most, but not all, checkpoints

  1. Picking up from the previous post… this one looked so lonely with no comments.

    Dan, your comments to me interestingly begin with your dismissal of my choice of words to describe the edifice(s) that are built by Israel on and along and inside the West Bank in recent years. That’s interesting, since you yourself began with the same term I use – the wall – in the title of your post. Suddenly calling it a wall turns into a signifier of my servile parroting of Israel-haters? Fine… so you prefer “obstacles”. I myself am only using the term as it is used by people who live there – in both Arabic and Hebrew the term is “wall” (Jidar/Geder). More interestingly, the official name in Hebrew is “Geder Hafrada” – as I’m sure you know Hafrada is Hebrew for separation or separate-ness, which in Dutch would be apartheid. I don’t mean to make too much of this point – you’ll note I didn’t use the term “apartheid wall” even though it’s an accurate translation (if into two languages) of the Hebrew name for your “obstacles”. Perhaps we can agree then just to call it the wall of separation. If you wish to quibble over the actual materiality of the obstacle, we’ll just have to go into the unpleasant details, with the robot towers that can detect and shoot people that come too close, or the military access roads that clear out hundreds of yards of land from both sides of the imaginary new border of Israel. Let’s just call it a wall, it actually makes it less onerous than it is.

    Now to my second point – your defense of the wall on security grounds makes no sense to me. You claim that in 2003/2004, when there were only disconnected fragments of the wall built along and in the northern WB, that these unconnected bits prevented presumably numerous attacks from occurring. So someone dedicated enough to kill himself in a suicide operation couldn’t be bothered to just go and cross the green line at some open access point (of the many that existed then) that at that point were not blocked by a portion of the wall? It makes no sense. The wall as a seal around the WB (in concert with the network of checkpoints) has only really fully been implemented in 2005 or later.

    So why were there less attacks in this period? Perhaps there’s a political logic to suicide bombings. Ah, there’s a thought – not a “blood feud” with Jew-killing as an end to itself, but rather a reprehensible yet essentially political logic that rationalizes such actions. Of course Palestinians haven’t been blowing themselves up willy nilly among Israelis all along – as a tactic it has a particular history and thus a kind of logic to itself. I think you’ll find the reason for the abandonment of the tactic (at least for now) within pressures both within and without Palestinian society, and surrounding the leadership of Hamas as it has evolved and changed. I don’t mean changed as in transformed into some sort of butterfly, but I mean changed in the way that nearly all radical revolutionary groups do when they realize that some sort of political engagement is necessary in order for them to survive.

    So, to summarize – the wall is illegal (ICC ruling), and breeds hopelessness, punishes collectively, and IS a land and resource grab. (I have much to say about your 90% figure but this is getting way too long already.) It serves no purpose but to advance the essentially racist agenda of taking the land and squeezing the people in the WB – which is an old plan from Dayan’s days and is no secret in Israel at all. Only “liberals” such as yourself can’t call it what it is, because it’s painful to accept. But that’s what it is, and that’s what end it serves. And yet you would still defend it? That’s very sad.

  2. Kevin,

    You haven’t answered Dan’s questions. 1)What should Israel do, right now, before there is a political solution to protect people from infiltration by suicide bombers? The political wing of Hamas is not the only potential source of terrorism. There are more radical groups and cells that neither Hamas nor Fatah control.

    2) Do you accept Peace Now’s plans, or do you want to have no obstacles, no checkpoints on the Green Line itself? Or is it that you don’t believe in the Green Line either? You want to snap your fingers and create one, bi-national state right now, this instant, is that it?

    If you don’t have answers, all you are doing is denouncing a policy but not presenting an alternative answer to Dan’s “dilemma.”

    Yossi Alpher has some interesting things to say about the “fence” in Bitter Lemons, March 12, 2007 ( Among oher things, he reminds us that 50% of Palestinians support suicide bombings. I might agree completely with you on the reasons why they support it, the desparation about the lack of any progress, the sense that nothing else has worked. But that doesn’t mean Israel should be expected to do nothing about this tangible threat. Here is Alpher:


    The Israeli security fence project has, in the course of some five years of construction and operation, provided a rather incredible vehicle for Palestinians and other opponents of Israel to malign it. The way Israel has been pilloried over the fence offers a unique and telling study of the facility with which our Palestinian neighbors (and many others who simply don’t know better) grasp and manipulate symbols of the conflict in order to gain a propaganda advantage, excuse their own excesses and failings and satisfy their need for Israel-bashing.

    Bearing in mind that only eight percent of the currently existing barrier (and but four percent when the entire barrier is completed in a year or so) are constructed in the form of a movable concrete wall and the remaining 92 percent is metal fencing, it is quite an achievement for Palestinian public diplomacy to have labeled the barrier internationally “the wall”. Walls, as in the Berlin Wall, have more negative connotations than fences (remember “good fences make good neighbors”?)…

    …The fence currently attaches less than 10 percent of the West Bank to Israel. This figure is not far from that more or less agreed in talks between President Clinton, PM Ehud Barak and Chairman Yasser Arafat as the amount of West Bank land Israel would annex in a final status agreement within the framework of “land swaps”.

    Moreover, the fence is temporary in structure: in accordance with Israel High Court decisions it has already been moved countless times. Yet Israel is constantly accused of abusing the fence to cantonize the West Bank and prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.

    Undoubtedly, Israeli mistakes have made it easier to demonize Israel by means of the fence project. Initially the fence was placed deep in Palestinian territory in several areas, thereby lending credence to the claim that it was being abused for a land-grab (it was later moved closer to the green line). And Israel foolishly never bothered to show up at the ICJ deliberations in The Hague in order to counter deceptive Palestinian claims.

    These mistakes have at times distorted the real and vital need for the fence. It was built to stop the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign that had begun to generate real panic in Israel in 2002. Coupled with additional military measures inside the West Bank, it has worked to a surprising extent, considering that only a little more than half of it has thus far been constructed and operationalized: no suicide bombers have ever successfully crossed the Gaza or West Bank fences. Here it is important to note that, while virtually all Palestinians condemn the fence, around 50 percent of Palestinians still support suicide bombings.

    In this regard, what I wrote in these virtual pages three and four years ago remains just as true today: if there were no suicide bombers there would be no fence. Since that is not the case, we have to protect ourselves and we are doing it the right way.

    Except in one region. If Palestinians were to concentrate their criticism of the fence on the Jerusalem area, they would find in me an ally.

    Everywhere else, the fence not only stops suicide bombers but, broadly speaking, separates Palestinians from Israelis, thereby keeping alive the option of a two-state solution based on the existence of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state. In Jerusalem, sadly, these rationales do not appear to apply. In Jerusalem, misguided ideology trumps genuine security logic, and in the name of “united Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel” some 250,000 Palestinians are being forcibly attached to Israel and separated from Palestine.

    The result is extensive hardship and inconvenience for Palestinians and ongoing damage to the concept of two states for two peoples. The fence/wall in Jerusalem could ultimately create far more angry terrorists inside the city than it keeps out of the city. There is nothing united and nothing eternal in this arrangement.- Published 12/3/2007 ©

  3. What should Israel do right now? Well, I’d say any choice it makes in any case should a) follow common and international law, b) should not punish or victimize innocent people, and c) should contribute to a process of reconciliation and work towards ending the occupation. If you think that Israel can defensibly carry out actions that don’t follow these general frameworks, then why not just argue for other possible “solutions” to Israel’s security problems? After all, if the Palestinians were simply “transferred” or better yet eliminated altogether, then – by this logic – Israel would be safe and without problems. Let’s face it, for most zionists that’s the real problem; that Palestinians exist. If only they weren’t there. If only they were elsewhere.

    Now, I do hope that you do recoil from these kinds of “solutions” to Israel’s security problems – but it’s interesting to me that you don’t you recoil from the wall? Do you find the level of misery it creates something that you can live with, as a presumably ethical person? You have no worries about the fact that it cuts thousands of Palestinians off from their land and property, that it divides and destroys communities, that it encircles entire cities and makes them into mass prisons? Where do we draw the line in the supposed name of security?

    I suggest a more holistic approach – injustice breeds insecurity, justice promotes security. The wall victimizes the innocent, yes and that’s the worst aspect of it, but in addition it’s also going to be a huge liability for Israel in the future. It already is.

    One last note – all that you seem concerned with is the precious security of Israelis, not a word about the security of Palestinians. After all they die in much higher numbers (even if only counting civilians) – children, women, etc. – in Israeli attacks. But who cares, just a bunch of Arabs, right? But the spectre of terror would justify to you all sorts of egregious acts, violating the rights of an entire population, all in the name of Israeli security? Now that’s truly tribal thinking. Again, very sad.

  4. Of course I recoil from it. So do Hannah and so does Dan. I also recoil from the slaughter of innocent people in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa and West Jerusalem. There was a wave of suicide bombings after the beginning of the second intifadeh and nothing stopped it. The wall/security barrier have helped to stop it and all your obfuscations can’t change that.

    If you think a “holistic approach” that somehow topples the wall will stop it, then you either don’t remember or don’t know about the first half of 1996. That was before it was clear that the Oslo process would fail. That was while it still appeared to have a chance, which is why the vast majority of Palestinians supported it. But Hamas blew people up on buses and in other places. Indeed, there were many other moments when there seemed to be hope for diplomatic progress during the 1990s, and Hamas responded by blowing people up. Some of that was done to embarass Arafat and Fatah. Some of it was done to thwart any hope of territorial compromise. You choose to bet on a few articles in Ha’aretz and assert that the Hamasniks have changed their stripes. You have the luxury of making that bet. Israeli don’t.

    A diplomatic process that is motivated by an understandable yearning for justice is called for, don’t get me wrong…I share your yearning, But a vaguely defined “holistic approach” that summarily topples the wall will create more death, more reprisals, more agony for both sides.

  5. By the way, I agree that Israel should “a0 follow common and international law, b) should not punish or victimize innocent people, and c) should contribute to a process of reconciliation and work towards ending the occupation.”

    That is why changing the route of the security barrier so it doesn’t divide Palestinian lands and cause the traumas you describe, is called for. That is why withdrawing from most of the checkpoints and roadblocks, as Shalom Achsav recommends, but retaining control of access west of the Green Line makes sense.

    And stopping, once and for all, the settlers from ruining any chance for peace, makes sense. That is my “holistic approach” that would build the kind of atomosphere that could encourage moderates on both sides. I fear tha whatever short-term approach you are contemplating will have the opposite effect.

  6. Kevin,
    Actually the status of the territories under international law is not all that clear. Egypt never annexed Gaza but merely administered it. Jordan annexed the West Bank, but this was only recognized by only two other countries, Pakistan and Britain (?). The previous recognized legitimate occupant was the Palestine mandate. Israel is a legal successor to the mandate. Thus, a case can be made that under international law, in a defensive war after Jordan shelled West Jerusalem, Israel does have rights in the territories. As far as settlement goes, the original background for the prohibition of occupiers was the Nazi settlement of Germans into Czech and Polish occupied territories. In circumstances where there is no displacement of the original population, such as in the Jordan Valley, settlements may be legal.

    These arguments aren’t recognized by most countries, which have a vested interest in appeasing the Arabs. But there is a sizeable number of international lawyers in America, many of them not Jewish, who recognize their validity.

  7. Oh lovely, “actually” a “sizeable number” of lawyers (what’s that 5, 15, 200?) recognize the validity of the claim that Israel isn’t actually occupying the WB and Gaza after all. Well, you know there are a “sizeable number” of lawyers/clerics/fishmongers who think that 9/11 was the work of “the Jews”, but it just don’t make it so.

    But of course the the US government, the UN, the ICC, respected international lawyers in major universities in the US and around the world all have a “vested interest in appeasing the Arabs” (cf. “the Jews,” above). So it’s a big conspiracy, eh? A bunch of hook-nosed semites ruling the world agenda? Sounds familiar.

    Let’s stick to sensible talk here. We all know Israel is legally considered by countries from the US to Monaco to be occupying these areas. If you want to talk conjecture, conspiracy (involving “the Arabs”) and such, there are plenty of other forums for you to amuse yourself in.

  8. Kevin,
    I never claimed that Israel wasn’t occupying the West Bank. What I’m saying is that the legal status is complicated and so it isn’t clear that the Israeli occupation is illegal per se as you claim. Most of the countries are making their decisions on a political rather than a legal basis. This is not new and not surprising. The solution to a political problem is a political one. The problem is caused when people confuse votes in the General Assembly for definitive legal opinions.

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