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Consistency Is One of Pipes' Strengths

Reader comment on item: Interview with Daniel Pipes

Submitted by Linda Keay (United States), Mar 11, 2007 at 16:08

Dr. Daniel Pipes commented for the following article I recently wrote, while others probably wouldn't have been bothered. Besides his graciousness, he is consistent in his logic, something missing from many analysts and politicians.

March 2, 2007

Palestinian Activists Tour the U.S.

Bilin's Popular Committee Against The Wall

U.S. Tour: Unconvincing

By Linda Keay

While the U.S. has yet to decide if it really wants a wall of its own, Palestinian activists hope to turn American minds towards their own wall. A few of them were recently in New Paltz, New York.

In June of 2002 Israel began building a wall between it and the West Bank, in an attempt to do something to secure Israelis from suicide attacks. Palestinians say the wall snakes around Israeli settlements in a land-grabbing scheme.

On February 9, at one of the 23 cities of a U.S. speaking tour, two members of Bilin's Popular Committee Against the Wall pleaded their case at the New Paltz United Methodist Church. Bilin is a village near the city of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Retired Hebron Qurtuba Girls School headmistress Firyal Abu Haikal spoke about the fencing moving around "illegal" Israeli settlements and erected around olive trees that were once theirs, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers arresting villagers and harassing their children, Israeli children throwing rocks at their mosque. Haikal claimed that Israeli militant settlers have dressed up as Palestinians and video taped themselves throwing rocks for the sake of propaganda cameras.

As headmistress she had the school's children gather at her house each morning, "to protect them from Israelis attacking them," she said. She estimated her son's and husband's arrests in a six-month span costing the equivalent of 1,000 American dollars. And she said villagers shouldn't have to go through a checkpoint to enter the Abraham Mosque. "It's good for the people in the United States to know what's happening to the Palestinian people. We don't need it. We don't want it. It's completely unethical and it's harmful to our health. We have the right to refuse going through this checkpoint. We can and will say 'no.'"

Asked what her overall goal is, Haikal said it's simply to return to the pre-existing territories as they were before June 5, 1967 (before Israel acquired added territories in the Six-Day War after successfully preempting attacks from Egypt and other Arab countries). And she said Hamas (the majority party of the Palestinian National Authority) would accept that resolution of this conflict, also saying there are Hamas members in their protest group.

Mohammed Khatib is a lead organizer in Bilin's protest activism. He claims Israel is stealing 60 percent of the village's land, including its most fertile farming areas and most of its olive trees. Palestinians erected a "caravan," with shanty structures to force Israeli troops to bulldoze them on camera, taunted Israeli soldiers, video recording such things as a soldier moving a Palestinian man in a wheelchair. A soldier criticized the tactic of bringing handicapped people to protest at the border calling it "cynical."

Literature and tee shirts lined the Methodist church hall tables reading, "End The Occupation," "The World Says No to Israeli Occupation" and "Israel, we won't let you do this again." Pastor Dorothy Caldwell called it a night to "dialogue and learn and grow in understanding." She said the Middle East Crisis Response called her and said they'd like to have a place in New Paltz where Palestinians could speak.

The wall is in its fifth year of construction. Mohammed Khatib, although against the wall entirely, says that if it has to be built, "at least that it be along the Green Line," – not cutting into Palestinian land. As it's being built, it zigzags around growing Israeli settlements, resulting in a sort of eminent domain type land acquisition of large amounts of Palestinian land, according to Bilin's villagers. Khatib said the length of the wall is some 600 kilometers, whereas the Green Line is about 350 kilometers. The wall in urban areas rises 25 feet high of concrete, and in more rural areas made of barbed wire and electrical fence (resulting in the recent death of three deer, said the Palestinian speakers).

This revelation of dead deer brought about a gasp and disapproval from the New Paltz audience, but the reason the wall was erected wasn't even mentioned – suicide bombers killing innocent people on buses, in cafes, while shopping, details not even mentioned. Haikal, a mother of 11 children, asked about attacks against Israelis, did however say, "What are we supposed to do?" "We teach our kids to love, not to hate," she said.

The International Court of Justice in 2004 deemed the wall to be illegal and an attempt at annexing Palestinian land. Yet wall construction continues as such international organizations refuse to address suicide bombing of Israeli citizens.

Some Israel supporters aren't exactly enthusiastic about the wall either, but point out the need to protect Israelis from murderous attacks. Although falling short of criticizing it, Dr. Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum in 2001 called the wall "a quick fix." Consistent with those sentiments today, responding to an inquiry about his position now he said, "This is merely a useful tactic to prevent murders, not a way to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict." New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's argument in a 2003 article was that if you have to have a wall, it should have lines that are fairly drawn up – "not through the middle of your neighbor's backyard." But he also wrote, "...the bus-riding Israeli silent majority is simply screaming, 'Give us a wall.'"

Sponsors of the Bilin's U.S. tour make no secret of their hostility to Israel. One sponsor, Middle East Crisis Response, states in its mission, "We are opposed to Zionism..." and, "We look to fundamentally change the present situation, including the pro-Zionist bias that pervades our government and civil society, thus giving Israel the impunity to commit its continued aggression." Another sponsor, The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), is accused of being an anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation organization. The Anti-Defamation League on June 24, 2004 posted opposition to ISM on its website saying, "Using international volunteers, local Palestinian activists try to generate international attention to their cause. They reason that Western operatives attract more attention from Western countries and cause more problems for the Israeli government."

The ADL further states, "Many ISM volunteers return to the U.S. after a stint with the group and describe their experiences in articles and at lectures at colleges, churches and other venues. ISM activists widely distribute their materials among a variety of anti-Israel groups that ISM believes would appreciate its propaganda value." Videos shown by Bilin's two touring speakers in New Paltz in fact depicted several western non-Palestinians involved in the protests, people Haikal referred to as "international activists." Khatib said the Israelis "don't care about anything, about families, about anyone. To stop them we must do something."

The Bilin tour has traveled to cities in Maine, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, California and Arizona. It finishes up in Washington state on March 6 and in Portland, Oregon on March 7. Summer rallies are to follow. "Teach-in" events are planned for June in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the US Campaign to End The Occupation and United For Peace, "to protest the 40th anniversary of Israel's illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip."

However understandable some of the Palestinian complaints may be, organizations like International Solidarity Movement co-opting the Palestinian's cause could (and should) diminish American support for them. And the typical American's sense of fair play may come to surface when hosts (such as New Paltz United Methodist Church) portray only one side of an issue, with church lectures sponsored by groups advocating the dissolution of Israel.

Pastor Caldwell passed a collection basket, asking that people help with tour travel expenses "and for the speakers and their work," some questions were answered, and Khatib and Haikal headed to their next venue in New York City. The pastor should have passed one for victims of suicide bombers and then invited them to speak at her church as well. As for the effectiveness of the speaking tour, the Israeli soldiers in Bilin's video actually showed restraint – hardly consistent with claims of troops attacking innocent civilians. There was lots of screaming, children highly agitated, yet no brutality was shown, so the reason for the screaming was unclear, other than the fact that the incident was being videotaped. Haikal's own daughter is seen in the video screaming in the face of a soldier and pushing at him.

Whatever support could be inspired by Bilin's Popular Committee Against The Wall is canceled out by its involvement with groups such as the tour's sponsors, and also with Hamas (whose charter has called for the destruction of Israel and which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations). Mohammed Khatib should ask himself his own question, "Who's the victim and who's the victimizer?" Perhaps the most telling moment of the evening was in the question and answer period. One audience member offered a solution of letting Palestinians reclaim the West Bank and removing the wall, at which point some more ambitious audience members enthusiastically interjected, "and Israel." Therein lies the problem.

For event photos, please go to http://reportingobjectively.blogspot.com

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