JERUSALEM -- I just spent the evening in a small park overlooking occupied East Jerusalem at a gathering of the Israeli settlement movement's movers and shakers. The settlers were there to cheer three of their leaders who would be presented with the Irving Moskowitz Prize for Zionism. Few of the ultra-religious attendees seemed aware that Moskowitz was a California casino baron who has exploited cheap undocumented Mexican labor to fund the proliferation of radical settlements in the West Bank. None seemed to care. The fulfillment of Greater Israel, an ethnically cleansed Jewish homeland from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, was paramount.
"This is the future of Israel," Kiryat Arba settlement founder Noam Arnon flatly remarked to me. "We won't let the Arabs and their propaganda network CNN confuse us into thinking anything else."
The settlers were confident that the Israeli army, and by extension, the Israeli government, remains firmly on their side. "We're brothers, we're the same people," one young settler from Gush Etzion told me of his community's relationship with the IDF. "Of course they are on our side."
Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau, an important cabinet member and ally of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, sat in the front row throughout the ceremony. Afterwards he told my reporting partner Jesse Rosenfeld that the land of Israel belongs to Jews, therefore settlements could never be dismantled. Can anything Benjamin Netanyahu says to Barack Obama about the settlements be taken seriously? The dozens of settlers I spoke to certainly did not think so.
The Moskowitz Prize ceremony was held next to Silwan, a thriving Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem where residents are currently confronting the Israeli government's plan to forcibly demolish 86 of their homes in order to build an archeological park. Last week, I met Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights in front of a Silwan home that was recently demolished. Rabbi Ascherman told me the demolition order raises the question of whether Israel values rocks more than human beings. Fakhri abu Diab, one of the 1500 residents who will be forced into the streets by Israel's home demolitions, told me he avoids discussing with his children the impending destruction of their home because he has no means of allaying their fears.Part One Part Two
Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's criticism of the demolitions, Israel has already bulldozed two homes. The survival of the remaining homes depends entirely on international pressure. But Silwan is only the tip of the iceberg. After spending a week on the West Bank, I concluded that the recognition by the U.S. and the West of a viable Palestinian state in partnership with Israel has never seemed more like a pipe dream.
Jewish settlement of the West Bank is being consolidated and expanded. Armed resistance by Palestinian groups lies dormant -- most fighters have been arrested or killed -- while those Palestinians who employ nonviolent means to resist the Israeli government's plan to divide and annex their land are being met with draconian and sometimes lethal force (I learned this last fact the hard way when I was teargassed while covering a non-violent Palestinian protest of the Israeli separation wall). The refugee camps are increasingly overcrowded and seethe with resentment of nightly Israeli raids that seem to accomplish nothing beyond antagonism. And the Palestinian Authority is viewed as a brutal collaborationist force while Hamas is still incipient.
You can see for yourself what I experienced on the West Bank in my two part video documentary for the Daily Beast, Bibi's Big Problem.