July 10, 2009

After I got to Ramallah and sorted out my housing situation, I still had a week to go until my room would open up on July 1. So I went to Haifa to visit an old friend, a Russian-Israeli named Dan. It was fantastic catching up. He has a knack for finding beautiful, out-of-the-way places to talk, meditate, do yoga, and watch the sunset, and we had an amazing time without spending a cent (the way I like it) except for a lavish dinner at an Arabic place on the ridge of the Carmel hills above Haifa after an afternoon of playing in the waves on the beach. He’s going to Technion University now (the top university in Israel), and it was fun walking around the hilltop campus and seeing the mixture of students, Arabs and Israelis and Russians, though they seemed to congregate with their own kind for the most part.

Dan (like many immigrants to Israel) came in a time of relative peace without being told what the situation was really like. The first map he bought for getting around Israel didn’t even have the West Bank delineated — only the settlements and their roads indicated, with West Bank Palestinian towns and villages placed on the map as if they, too, were in Israel, except for a few small areas shaded in grey — so-called Area A, the 17% of the West Bank that Palestinians supposedly have autonomy over and Israeli civilians aren’t allowed to enter. (The army, of course, goes in any time it wants.)

The Second Intifada erupted shortly after Dan got here, and I’m sure it seemed like a bolt from the blue at the time. In 2003 he met me, and I brought him to a Palestinian area in the West Bank to show him what the situation was like on the other side. He was horrified by the situation and charmed by the Palestinians’ hospitality, but he faced in Israel the same problem I face in America — the stories people already have in their heads are so radically different from reality, almost no one believed him or even wanted to hear it.

Part of me feels bad for laying this burden on him. But I guess I hold with Henry Thoreau that “Any truth is better than make-believe,” and it’s our job as adults to learn to live in reality, even if the fantasies of our cultures and the proclamations of our leaders and newscasters might be more simple and self-satisfying. Reality is actually a lot more friendly and interesting than the dim world I grew up in, full of strange foreign enemies, inevitability, images with nothing behind them, and rational economic actors (‘rationality’ being defined in large part by the folks who control the most capital, with many results that defy all logic or common sense). To each his own, I suppose, although it bothers me how often one person is compelled to suffer on account of someone else’s ignorance.

There was a nice article in the New York Times recently about a gay Israeli plumber who helps Palestinian farmers remain on their land despite persecution by Israeli settlers and soldiers. He’s being persecuted by the Israeli government and hounded by the settlers, and he’s likely to go to jail in Israel soon on the usual trumped-up charges.

What struck me most, though, was something he said: “I don’t consider my work political. I don’t have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”

That’s the kind of moral and intellectual courage we need more of — a simple, public “This is wrong” when something feels and seems deeply wrong and/or absurd. The ability to judge these things for ourselves instead of falling in line behind Wolf Blitzer or David Gregory or whoever else fancies him or herself an arbiter of mainstream truth and morality — I think this is a defining characteristic of humanity, and I don’t know why we don’t use it more often, especially after so many thousands of lessons and examples throughout history of what happens when millions of people abdicate their conscience to the state.

After leaving Haifa, I headed for Nablus. It’s only about 60 miles from Haifa, but because I had to travel all the way down to Jerusalem and then back up to Nablus due to the Wall (alternatively, I could have taken a settler bus into the settlement of Ariel in the middle of the northern West Bank and then walked to a Palestinian road and taken a cab from there, but I didn’t feel like dealing with settlers), the trip was more than three times longer than it should have been and took five hours.

As my bus from Ramallah to Nablus passed settlement areas in the West Bank, I noticed that a poster has been put up showing President Obama wearing an Arafat-style keffiya. I couldn’t read the Hebrew (and I personally thought the President looked dashing in the black-and-white scarf), but the implications were clear: The American president was an Arab-lover, betraying the Jewish race with his insistence on enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

Why does this sound familiar? Ask Alabama ca. 1961.

Note: Not all Israelis, much less all Jews, feel this way. But this is what we’re up against when it comes to the settlers in the West Bank. So many of them are living in Lala-Land, and all too many are willing to defend their fantasies with violence.

But here’s the amazing part — the Huwara checkpoint south of Nablus, the one I had been turned away from so many times and had to hike over the mountains to get into Nablus, the one that turned Nablus into a virtual prison camp, the one where so many horrific abuses had taken place, the human cattle chute of so much dread and lore — it was gone!

Not gone exactly… Israeli soldiers were still there. But they weren’t stopping anyone. They were just watching. The infrastructure of the checkpoint is still in place, and it can be shut down again at any time. But for now, buses and cars passed by in minutes instead of hours without being forced to get out and be checked and harassed and, often as not, detained or turned back (or worse) on arbitrary grounds. In fact, our bus drove straight from the center of Ramallah to the center of Nablus without being stopped at a single checkpoint! It was bizarre, but nice.

When I got into town and asked about the news, I found that the raids into Nablus’s Old City, which before were nightly and often deadly occurrences, have slowed significantly. Like in Ramallah, business in Nablus was taking off at a much faster clip than when I was here last. The situation is still dire, and settlers have stepped up their attacks on Palestinian farmers (beating them, burning or cutting down their trees and crops, etc.) in the wake of Obama’s calls to halt settlement expansion. But when you’ve spent nearly a decade with an elephant sitting on your face, it’s hard not to feel relief when suddenly it’s a slightly smaller elephant.

There are many theories about why some major checkpoints have been opened. (No one here listens to official news reports of why things are done, because these are almost always PC BS.) Some say it’s because Netanyahu is trying to use this relatively easy concession to cut down on pressure for him to halt settlement expansion. Others say that Netanyahu is pushing for “economic peace,” which means Palestinians will get certain areas that Israel is willing to “give up” but without the full rights of statehood such as control over their borders and airspace, and with much of their land annexed to settlements. Easing up and letting the economy get a little better is a way to keep the Palestinian population quiet while he tries to sell them a glorified Indian reservation (minus any rights of citizenship in Israel, but with ‘citizenship’ in a dummy state ultimately controlled by Israel) — a plan that has no chance of working. Palestinians may be quiet at the moment, but they’re not stupid.

Either way, for the moment it’s a stunning and welcome development. Nablus is now, as it should be, an easy 1.5-hour, ten-shekel ($2.50) jaunt from Ramallah by bus, less in a car, which is good for Ramallah and amazing for the Nablusis, who’ve been shut up in their city for so long.

It’s a beautiful place to be trapped in, though, as collective prisons go. Built in a long valley between two high hills, it’s one of the most unique and beautiful cities in the Middle East. Its Old City, largely intact and thoroughly lived in, is not only stunning, it’s virtually untouched by foreign tourists.

Here’s a letter I wrote about a visit to Nablus in 2005.

I was there to visit a Canadian friend whom I’d met six years earlier in Jayyous village during my very first visit to the West Bank. He runs a prominent humanitarian NGO (non-governmental organization) in Nablus with tens of Palestinian and international employees and volunteers who teach English, art, nursing, and other subjects in several locations around Nablus and engage in other awareness-raising and civil-society-building projects. It was fun to meet them, a more self-selected group than the Ramallah ajanib (foreigners), who these days pretty much come willy nilly and take over all my favorite cafes. But even in Nablus, you used to be able to count the number of foreigners on your fingers. Now your fingers and toes and your brother’s digits aren’t sufficient.

It was great to hang out on an Old City roof with some friends and watch the sun set over the Western end of the valley, framed by the hills and some of the prettiest white stone minarets in the West Bank in a haze of glowing rose and lavender under a darkening blue sky. And a bit sobering to see all the new construction in the city. The big ugly mall in the city center, which seems to be mostly parking on the first four floors and telecom offices on the upper floors, was finally finished, and there are scores of new buildings creeping up the sides of the picturesque hills. It’s still a beautiful city, and the mall does have a cinema (a luxury Nablus hasn’t enjoyed in years). But like most cities, the more it sprawls, the more charm it loses. Nablus will surely be a prime tourist destination if/when there’s peace, so they’d do well to preserve as much charm as possible. But it’s hard to think about that when your newly-married kid needs a house or your investors want a return.

On another evening, sitting on the veranda of the volunteers’ house with its little herb and squash garden and looking out over the city, unseen F-16 fighter jets were doing loud maneuvers over the city. We had to pause our conversation every time the decibel level got too high for us to be able to hear each other. A young Icelandic volunteer yelled over the roar, “Why are they doing this?”

My Canadian friend and I looked at each other. She was probably looking for a rational or strategic reason. Why the sonic booms over Gaza? Why did soldiers make a Palestinian play his violin at the Beit Iba checkpoint near Nablus and jeer at him in 2005? Why did a female Israeli soldier force a Palestinian woman to drink cleaning fluid at a checkpoint? Why do so many children get shot in the head by Israeli snipers in Gaza? Why suicide bombings? We could have been there all night trying to answer her question. I’m writing a book that tries to explain.

After that, I headed back to Ramallah. Two things I forgot about Ramallah in the summer: It’s hot and crowded. But the invasion of foreigners isn’t as bizarre as I thought at first — this happens almost every summer, although it’s a bit over-the-top at the moment. Now that the violence has gone down (and the global economy has, too), the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) seem to have exploded like a pinata from Europe. There are also a lot of college kids breezing in to learn a mite of Arabic over the summer break or demonstrate against the Wall. More power to ’em, but they sure do fill up the place like tourists in New York, wide-eyed, aghast, and sure they can change the world in a month. We old-timers remember our first time here, of course, and can’t and shouldn’t judge. Circle of life, I suppose. And who knows, maybe one of them will go on and shake things up somehow.

But if all these changes and the invasion of foreigners is this weird for us, whose memories mostly don’t start until 2003 or so, I wonder what it’s like for Palestinians, for whom time is probably frozen in 1986 or 1999 or whenever things were relatively normal and peaceful. The Second Intifada must be like a passing thunderstorm for them, an earthquake, a nightmare, a shock from which they will spend years recovering, if they ever quite do.

I think they will, more or less. It will be an amazing day if and when there’s finally freedom — like the Shire after being ransacked and devastated by the ruffians, like Minas Tirith after the hordes of Mordor were vanquished and things could be rebuilt for real rather than in a roughshod, ad hoc, emergency-development kind of way and have a hope of standing for at least a few generations. (Sorry, I read Return of the King on the plane.) Tearing down the Wall and settler fences, letting the sheep and goatherds roam free on their ancestral lands again, being able to hike without worrying about running into armed settlers and army bases, accessing all the fantastic hills now cordoned-off by settlements, and replanting all the trees and fields and irrigation systems and splendid homes that were destroyed by the occupation… Makes my spine tingle to think about it.

As nice as the West Bank is now, imagine if people could live like they’re meant to, using all their skills, building businesses and organizations that aren’t subject to draconian Palestinian Authority and Israeli restrictions or simply being beheaded by foreign NGO salaries for the best and brightest, and marketing some of the finest produce and dairy products in the world without movement blockades, economic stagnation, and competition from Israeli cast-offs? (I’ve been told that foreign NGOs sometimes actually serve to de-develop Palestine because after, say, a Palestinian statistician has spent ten years getting a PhD and becoming an expert and a leader in a Palestinian institution, a foreign NGO will sweep in, offer double the salary, and take them away. Then there’s the fact that the Palestinian CEOs of some companies have to apply for tourist visas to enter the West Bank because they don’t have Israeli-issued IDs and live with the constant fear they’ll be deported.)

Imagine Israel without armed 18-year-old children everywhere, insecurity and delusion poisoning their society, a mad compulsion to crowd loads of random people in (many of whom aren’t even Jewish but are willing to say they are in exchange for a free new life) in a land already stretched thin and low on water and build everything fast and cheap (and often ugly) to counter the “demographic threat” (i.e. the fact that Arabs have children faster than Jews do, threatening the somewhat oxymoronic idea of a “Jewish democracy” — ironically enough, the higher birthrates can be attributed in large part to the fact that Arabs are kept in a state of greater poverty by Israel’s policies), and security checks at every civilian gathering place? This could be a damn fine slice of earth.

As for the heat, I got here just in time for a miserable heat wave that meant sleeping in sweat, and then in Nablus contracted some kind of intestinal parasite, so my first couple of days back in Ramallah weren’t ideal. The heat is not as bad as in Oklahoma — neither as hot nor as humid — but I have to walk a lot more here, up and down a lot of hills, and most places don’t have air conditioning. Makes it hard to think.

Then on Friday, June 3, I played my first game of street hockey with the Ramallah Street Hockey League. Street hockey shouldn’t be confused with roller hockey — we have no skates, we just put on tennis shoes, grab sticks, and run around a parking lot batting a little rubber ball around in the vague direction of broken-down metal goals. It’s a rough and explosive game that requires more tenacity than skill, and the less skilled players (such as myself) are prone to hitting people’s shins as much as the ball. It was great fun and a good group of folks to meet, though I was sore for three days from both bruises and the stressing of underused hockey-stick-swinging muscles.

The heat wave also broke, to the point that it’s almost chilly at night and I have to close the door to my room to keep out the breeze. On Saturday I finally found some cool, quiet places to work, set up my new apartment in a more homey way, bought some fruits and vegetables from the market in town, got to know my (very busy) roommates better, and got to work on the book again. Finally I feel like I have arrived.

I’ve noticed also that the dress code in Ramallah has relaxed. You can see girls wearing almost-sleeveless shirts and capri pants that show off their calves (in addition to long pants so tight you would be forgiven for mistaking them for bare skin if not for the color), and men wear athletic shorts walking down the streets. The Muntaza Baladia Ramallah (Ramallah City Hall Park) has been spruced up, its fountains spraying water high in the air instead of sitting there like dusty shipwrecks, and there’s a bouncy castle with a ball pit, a big rubber pool with kid-sized paddle boats, a playground for kids, and tables set up under shady trees where people can order food, drinks, and hookahs.

I’ve always thought of Ramallah as a nearly-ideal blend of East and West, with the fantastic and welcoming hospitality and culture of Palestine, breezy parks, wind-swept Biblical hillsides, small shops and spice and vegetable markets mixed with virtually anything a Westerner could want, from lattes, Nutella, and Chinese food to hip hop and classical concerts. But lately it seems to have tilted a bit too far to the West.

The crowding in the cafes has turned the scene into a seller’s market, which means prices are higher, space scarcer, and waiters snootier. Some places have even instated a $10 cover charge for Thursday nights for the DJed dance parties. It’s upsetting the balance of the relatively rich folks with foreign NGO salaries and the rest of us — students, activists, volunteers, and artists. But they have to limit the clientele somehow, and this is an easy and lucrative way to do it. I’ve certainly been eliminated, but I’m not much into the big going out nights anyway — I prefer the intimacy of the off-nights — so it all works out.

In other news, in order to start re-instituting a respect for the rule of law in Palestine, which has eroded under the iron fist of occupation, there are policemen everywhere now, directing traffic and pedestrians and pulling cars over for the tiniest infractions. The traffic scene in Ramallah is kind of a divine mess with its own order and rhythym, and it requires a keen sense of awareness to navigate it successfully. So far the policemen seem to irritate people more than help them. People generally jaywalk among traffic just as they please anyway. Besides, when people start paying attention to rules instead of reality, that’s when accidents happen. Meanwhile, with the PA corrupt to the core and showing no sign of reform, this token forcing of the citizenry to obey petty traffic laws seems hypocritical if not ludicrous, but it’s slowly starting to reach an equilibrium where policemen don’t get too uptight and people don’t break the laws in front of them too flagrantly.

Incidentally, it’s also possible that the lessening of (some) checkpoints (others have intensified, and the vast majority, more than 600 including unmanned but impassable road blocks, are still there) is a concession not to the Palestinians but to the Palestinian Authority (PA) so that they can make more investments and skim off the top and therefore have less of an incentive to form a unity government with Hamas that might actually represent the Palestinian people in peace talks.

Palestinians are disgusted by the Palestinian Authority these days. It’s not that they love Hamas — they’re getting more fed up with Hamas by the day as well. But the PA has become little more than a fig leaf and security sub-contractor for the occupation, helping Israel round up Hamas members and other dissidents and caving into every Israeli demand without asking for anything tangible in return. They make requests now and then, but Israel ignores them. There is essentially no high-level push-back to the occupation other than Obama’s right now.

If the Western world ever talks to Hamas without the one-sided preconditions the Palestinian Authority accepted long ago, and they join the PA in a unity government, the PA might finally be able to represent the Palestinian people — which is part of why the Israeli government is so dead-set against this.

As for grassroots pushback, there are still the millions of individuals who continue to live with as much dignity as possible on their land, who challenge the Wall with non-violent protests and lawsuits, who bring foreigners in to see the situation for themselves, who charter boats full of humanitarian aid and try to sail to Gaza and break the Israeli blockade (these boats have been often rammed and/or boarded by the Israeli navy, the peace activists arrested — most recently former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was among those arrested by Israel while on a humanitarian mission to Gaza), and who call for divestment and boycotts against Israel as long as it is in violation of international law.

Naomi Klein recently came to Ramallah to give a talk about this very subject, and with refreshing honesty said she should have joined the campaign to boycott Israel a long time ago, but cowardice stopped her until the horrific Israeli operations in Gaza earlier this year.

The UK, for its part, recently hit Israel with a partial arms embargo over its savagely disproportionate attacks on Gaza. Politically it could make waves — open the floodgates, albeit slowly most likely, as there’s a lot of money to be made selling hardware for Israel to discharge on the heads and bodies and homes and fields of Palestinian men, women, and children. Still, it’s yet another step in the right direction — an unprecedented step as far as I know.

But as for organized resistance coming from the Territories, it’s been pretty well neutered for the moment other than the frequent non-violent protests against home demolitions and the Wall that the Israeli army counters with extreme violence — such as shooting tear gas, rubber bullets, and live bullets at unarmed protesters, killing seven in the past year and grievously wounding many, including an American named Tristan Anderson whose head was split open by a high-velocity tear gas canister a few months ago — and the international press ignores.

But as a friend said the other day, people were about this demoralized just before the First Intifada erupted in 1987. If nothing moves in a good way in the next couple of years, times may be ripe for Round Three. Hopefully some important lessons have been learned from the first two Intifadas.

There is some dissention within Fatah, though. (Fatah is the other major party in the PA after Hamas. Fatah dominated the PA until Hamas won in January 2006, and they still dominate the West Bank since Israel arrested the Hamas Parliamentarians, and meanwhile Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force pre-emptively when they had reason to believe Fatah was about to oust them with the help of the CIA. I know, it’s like a bad soap opera over here.) Many younger members of Fatah are as fed up as the rest of us, so… Who knows? It’s a giant mess right now.

Here’s a good summary of the general feeling on the ground here these days.

In short, things are in a bit of a holding pattern, except for the continuously expanding settlements. Violent resistance, such as it is, hasn’t worked to throw off the occupation. The militants in Nablus and Jenin have been bought off and are virtually indistinguishable from the PA. Non-violent resistance worked up to a point during the First Intifada until it was co-opted by the Oslo Accords, and now it’s being totally ignored. Right now people seem to be in wait-and-see mode.

Maybe Obama will man up, stop the settlements, and engage Hamas in talks for a unity government that includes Hamas and Fatah under reasonable terms. Maybe all the millions of little ways the truth has to chip away at the edifice of lies surrounding Israel (blogs from Palestine, writers, filmmakers, travelers, activists, and even a few political leaders and pundits who call for a more even-handed approach) will start to bear fruit in a more systematic way, or the press will continue to speak a little more honestly, nudging public opinion toward a major policy shift.

It doesn’t hurt that the Israeli right wing are shooting themselves in the foot in a major way, sounding more absolutist and racist as the days go by. The Israeli Housing Minister recently said out in the open that the spread of Arab populations in Israel to Jewish areas had to be stopped. Projecting much? As if it’s Arabs who are colonizing Jewish land! As if it’s kosher in 2009 to say, “This race of people is undesirable, and we should segregate them.” These Israeli right-wingers are something else. As a friend of mine said, “Do they not hear what they are saying?”

So maybe, in the end, simple common sense and decency will prevail where titanic clashes between Israel’s PR machine and Palestinian resistance have merely muddied the waters over the years.

Either way, even now it’s not all doom and gloom. One of the most important thing I’ve learned here, vis-a-vis my happiness, is to try to think positively and look for the good even in very bad times. It’s always there, even though there’s also plenty to be cynical about. I’ve found that too much cynicism is not only unpleasant, it’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So here are some good things: An Italian NGO is helping Bedouin live on their land in the West Bank by providing fodder for their animals while Israel restricts their access to their ancestral grazing lands.

Gazans, though devastated by the recent slaughter and destruction, are doggedly rebuilding (to the extent they can while Israel blockades them and refuses to allow concrete and other building materials into the Strip), finding beauty, and dreaming of better times to come.

Palestinian organizations are mapping and opening fantastic hiking trails all over the West Bank and inviting Western and Arab tourists to come see for themselves what an incomparable piece of land this is, and how it’s being sliced up and brutalized by ugly prefabricated settlements, Walls, and fanatic settlers. The Nativity Trail winds all the way from Nazareth and down through the West Bank to Bethlehem, through mountains, deserts, enchanting farmland, olive groves, and Palestinian family homes who put the hikers up each night, while the Abraham Trail goes from Nablus to Ramallah along high ridges and ancient archaeological sites. It’s a hot and dry but gorgeous walk in the summer. In the spring, it’s a crazy quilt of intense green with wildflowers.

The other day I was looking for something near the Palestinian Legislative Council building, but I wasn’t sure where it was. I was in a cafe, and I asked a waiter where the Legislative Council was. He didn’t understand, so I said, “Parliament, I’m looking for Parliament.”

He clucked his tongue regretfully and said, “No, sorry, we don’t sell cigarettes here.”

(For those not in the know, Parliament, usually pronounced ‘Barliman,’ is a brand of cigarette in the Arab world.)

Later as I was walking down a street toward Al Manara (Ramallah’s central traffic circle), I heard a plaintive little “Meow” and followed the sound to a couple of eight-year-old boys holding a cardboard box with a calico kitten in it. They couldn’t walk very fast because almost everyone they passed, including adult shopkeepers (and myself), stopped them with a “Ta’aal shway” (C’mere a minute) so they could open the box and have a look at the kitten.

Palestinian produce is as delicious and bountiful as ever, and at least half my meals are salads made of vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil, and eggs or tuna. Gonna buy some salty white cheese and black olives to add to next week’s salads. If I ever start feeling bereft of calories, I grab a hunk of sweet, cheesy kunafa or a $1 felafel sandwhich (used to be cheaper, but the dollar’s fallen relative to the shekel — stupid repeal of Glass-Steagall).

A few days later around sunset, I got nostalgic for the view from the hillside house where I lived in 2007, so I walked over to it and sat on the stone steps next to the house that connect an uphill road to a downhill one and watched the sun sink into hills blushing rose-colored in the dusk, darkened by shadow, or lit up by civilization. A woman walked by and toward the house where I used to live. I caught her attention and asked if my old roommate still lived there. She said no, but we started talking and soon found that we had several friends in common. She invited me to join her for a giant Palestinian dinner with some friends, two kittens, a bunny, and a tiny injured bird that the household was nursing back to health. About fifteen people showed up, many old and new friends, and at the end a Palestinian and a German grabbed two guitars and played the blues. (The German guy asked if anyone had a bottleneck — no one did, so he used a little ceramic coffee mug, with mixed results.)

Finally, it’s a jam-packed cultural scene this summer with festivals and concerts, dance and theater, films and craft fairs, from Outlandish and Chico and the Gypsies to DAM (Palestinian hip-hop) and a Turkish dance troupe from Anatolia that I was told by one of my roommates (the one who works for the Popular Arts Center) that I had to see. He got me a ticket (even with all the shows going on, tickets sell out fast), and it was great — about 50 dancers, 25 costume changes, an energy level so high it was completely exhausting to watch (don’t want to know how exhausting it was to actually do!), whirling dervishes, shirtless hunks, and a belly dancer who must have been at least half snake.

In short, it’s going to be tough to keep disciplined enough to finish the book by December, but so far I’m mostly on schedule, and August should slow down considerably when all the Euros go on vacation, then it’ll be Ramadan (I predict getting a LOT of work done then), then fall and winter and the end of outdoor nightlife and a slowdown of the cultural scene and a lot less crowding, so all in all things are looking good.

One of the festivals this summer is called Jerusalem: Capital of Arab Culture. Opening night was, naturally, shut down by the Israeli government, but Palestinians have learned by now not to take no for an answer. Alternate venues have sprung up all over the place, in both the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

Speaking of Arab East Jerusalem, check out this excerpt from an AFP (Agence France Presse) article about how Israel still refuses to stop expanding settlements:

“The presence of 470,000 Jewish settlers in more than 120 settlements scattered across the West Bank, 190,000 of them in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, has long been seen as a major obstacle to the peace process and the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The international community views all settlements in lands occupied during the 1967 Six Day war as illegal and the Middle East Quartet — made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — has called for a complete freeze.”

Hear that? They aren’t pretending East Jerusalem isn’t occupied. They called it “annexed Arab east Jerusalem.” They made no distinction between East Jerusalem settlements and other West Bank settlements. They called settlements “a major obstacle to the peace process.” They’re speaking in terms of international law rather than the usual politically correct nonsense like ignoring the fact that East Jerusalem is occupied and calling East Jerusalem settlements “Jerusalem neighborhoods.” More and more papers are starting to talk like this.

It’s a start.

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