Friday, March 23, 2007

It's more than a game to Palestinians

When England fans arrive in Tel Aviv to watch tomorrow’s Euro 2008 qualifier with Israel, they’ll be entering a country in political turmoil. The Olmert government is mired in corruption and facing a devastating report into last year’s attack on Lebanon, which will show that although it was planned well in advance, it was a disastrous adventure. Israel’s government is increasingly isolated and facing organisations like the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign, which will hold a vigil in London to coincide with the England match. The vigil will commemorate those Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces while playing football. From September 2000 to December 2006, 869 Palestinian children have been killed, a quarter of those were under twelve. Every month an average of fourteen will die. Many have been killed just kicking a ball around.

Meanwhile, observers inside and outside Israel – including former US president Jimmy Carter, whose new book is called Palestine Peace Not Apartheid - are attacking the regime, which is desperately trying to maintain the diplomatic boycott and economic strangulation of the new Palestinian unity government. This was imposed by the major powers following the election which swept Hamas to power in January 2006. Carter lays the blame for the crisis squarely on past and present Israeli leaders. Inside Israel, a major study of Israeli settlement practices by the respected Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem concluded: "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality" A recent publication on the road system Israel has established in the West Bank again concluded that it "bears striking similarities to the racist apartheid regime," and even "entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa". Discrimination is also applied internally to so-called Israeli Arabs, Palestinians who live inside the country. For example, the education system spends on an Arab child one fifth of what it spends on a Jewish one. The health system spends on an Arab citizen much less than on a Jew. Almost all Arab local councils are bankrupt, one of the reasons being that the government pays them per capita much less than Jewish councils. An Arab citizen cannot get land from the Land Authority, which holds almost all the land in Israel.

Though the new Palestinian government is ready to recognise the state of Israel - within the boundaries existing before the 1967 war, Olmert has flatly refused the offer of a total bilateral ceasefire involving a mutual cessation of violence. For 15 months Israel has denied the Palestinian Authority $60 million dollars a month raised in taxes on trade in Palestinian goods which can only pass through Israeli-held docks, airports and borders. This was the main source of income for more than one million of the 3.8 million population, and has deepened the strangulation of the economy which suffers millions of working hours lost through delays imposed at the military checkpoints which encircle the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Olmert’s wretched policies are supported by the United States and Britain, which bizarrely say will only talk to non-Hamas ministers in the new Palestinian government and have still not resumed the aid cut off when Hamas won the 2006 elections. Ultimately, most Israeli politicians will always try to find an excuse to deny the Palestinians their right to statehood. But their policies have created a dead-end in Israel itself. Olmert has the support of only 3% of the electorate and faced a general strike this week. Most Israelis simply want peace. The case for a single, secular state in the area in which Jews and Palestinians can live together grows stronger by the day.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

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