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Am Johal: Cry Me a River

Cry Me a River

By Am Johal

How much longer do we have to listen to the Drama Queens of Disengagement?

The settlers still claim they are being mischaracterized as the villains in this melodrama. 38 years of Occupation in a colonial enterprise should at the very least have prepared them for the inevitable withdrawal.

But how can you blame people when they live in a bubble? They are like the Afrikaaners from South Africa who did not know that their time in history had passed.

The Israeli mainstream largely supported the withdrawal, having subsidized the settlement enterprise for so long that they had already formulated the conclusion that it was unsustainable. Most of the settlers left willingly without incident.

Like whimpering spoiled children, many did not go gently into that quiet night. They threw temper tantrums, they threw acid and paint at soldiers and policemen and there were incidents of people barricading themselves in synagogues. They left behind burning debris and pick-up trucks on fire. One of them even lit herself on fire.

What a performance - somebody should have given them a baby rattle.

But here they were, like any great opera, being done in by their own guy - Ariel Sharon. He deployed an army of 50,000 to remove over 9,000 of them. In all, they withdrew from 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in the West Bank though there were no assurances that the Occupation itself would actually end.

Anyone who has to leave a home after decades of living there should be shown some compassion and certainly there is trauma associated with such events. This is a very human response.

That is why every settler family is being given between $200,000 and $300,000. Added to this is two years free rent. With the Israeli cost of living, this is akin to winning the lottery. (You could buy 120,000 falafels with that kind of money!).

For the thousands of Palestinians who have had their homes demolished in the past five years, they are certainly not accorded the same dignity of upheaval.

So there’s still a stark, simplicity to the narrative - the settlers get rich, the Palestinians get a kick in the ass.

Last time this year, the settlers had their kids stopping cars at Jerusalem street corners handing out leaflets, bumper stickers and flowers opposing the disengagement. They held hands from Gaza to Jerusalem. They took on the color orange as the symbol of their cause.

There were also grand gestures of restraint and rabbis calling for compliance with military orders. By most accounts, the operation largely moved ahead without major obstructions or barriers.

Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned as Finance Minister, in a cynical gesture to protest the Gaza withdrawal. For that, he should receive the Drama Queen of the Month Award.

The soldiers largely did not respond to the settler's provocation, unlike Operation Rainbow conducted in Gaza last May where they demolished dozens of houses in Rafah and left several dead - a military operation in which the Western media largely looked the other way.

There is now fear of violence and food shortages in Gaza in the coming months. There will also be an on the ground power struggle between Fatah and Hamas. Certainly any future Qassam rocket fire or violence from Gaza will be met with a violent Israeli response.

Without American pressure, Sharon would certainly have backed out of his commitments. With Sharon willing to act unilaterally, the Roadmap to Peace was irrelevant and accepting the limits of international law were never in the game plan.

Without the alliance between Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush, there never would have been the mettle to pull off the withdrawal even if the real meaning behind it was a green light for Israel to solidify its holdings in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But there were casualties. At 5:50 pm on August 4th, a settler opened fire on an Arab bus driver and Arab passengers in Shefaram, killing four of them.

At 4:45pm on August 17th, four Palestinian workers were shot dead by a settler in the West Bank.

In recent years, certain Members of the Knesset have catered to the far right by openly calling for ethnic transfer and irresponsibly using words like "cancer" and "demographic threat." The Attorney General has rarely investigated incidents of hate speech. Added to this has been the brazen settlement expansion carried out in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The radicals in Hamas have had their own pathetic calls for incitement. Until it matures as a political movement to be fully part of the political system, it too will do as much damage as good to the Palestinian cause.

Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon have similar internal enemies - zealots and militants fostered in certain yeshiva schools and particular mosques that threaten to undermine the political consensus in both their countries.

But there remains a distinction – one is the occupier, and one is the occupied. There is no possibility today of a final status peace agreement since there is such a major power imbalance between the two.

Fanaticism breeds fanaticism – it is a part of the equation in the terror cycle. One can’t exist without the other. And if political space is created, a political movement will inevitably fill it. It is as true in politics as it is in physics.

This is a legacy of the culture of Occupation. Until it ends, this small minority in each country will drive a counter-productive agenda in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the detriment of its citizenry.


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