By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The problem with lackluster leaders is that people still expect, or maybe just hope, that they will lead. A few weeks ago, in a small, unheated meeting room packed with 20 men and about 21 mustaches, Palestinians from the villages near the Israeli settlement of Ariel listened intently as an Israeli lawyer made a proposal. Shlomo Lecker, a civil-rights attorney who’s brought dozens of West Bank land-use cases to Israel’s high court over the last 15 years, said he could file a case that might reduce the amount of land the fence would take from the villages. The men weren’t convinced. One stood up and said, “We have to check with the national level about this. We need to go to the [Palestinian] Authority.” Lecker could barely hide his frustration. The P.A., he said later, “has never showed any interest in Israel’s taking of the land. Not one bit.” When I repeated Lecker’s comment to Saleh, the Legislative Council member, he said, “He’s right. This is another failure, really.”
Maybe it sounds counterintuitive — that the government of a people in a land dispute would not have a plan to hold on to the land — but consider the facts. From the mid-1990s, when the P.A. arrived in the West Bank and Gaza, till 2000, when the second Intifada started, Israel appropriated land for more than 800 miles of bypass roads for settlers in the occupied territories, according to the Israeli peace group Now. In the late 1990s, following the U.S.-brokered Wye River Accord, then–Foreign Minister Sharon urged Israelis to “run and take the hilltops,” and within three years, more than 40 “outposts” had been created on thousands of acres of West Bank land. Now, in addition to these outposts, bypass roads and settlements, the separation barrier is being built, and so far, 7,000 acres have been expropriated in order to accommodate it, according to the Israeli human-rights organization B’Iselem. “The Palestinian Authority is doing the maximum it can,” said Arafat’s adviser Imad Shakkour. “They are calling to stop [the barrier]. They are against it. They went to the U.N.; they got a resolution to go to the Hague.”
He’s right that the one exception to the P.A.’s rudderless response to the barrier is its legal campaign, making a case against the barrier at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague. The Hague hearings generated publicity and energized resistance on the ground; more villages have begun staging anti-barrier protests, including one a couple of weeks ago in which two Palestinians were killed by fire from Israeli forces. The Hague also seems to worry Israel in a way that the United Nations and all its resolutions do not. In Hebrew, “U.N.” translates as “Oom,” and Israelis are fond of quoting Golda Meir’s dismissive pronouncement on the U.N.: “Oom, shmoom.” But an international legal body is potentially more troublesome. Although Sharon’s government decided not to give oral arguments at the Hague — saying the ICJ had no right to rule on the barrier — it took the matter seriously enough to put together a special team of lawyers and consultants to file a 100-plus-page brief.
Iyad Murar finally managed to coax a megaphone and a camera out of a non-governmental organization. He said he and other villagers took time out from their anti-barrier campaign to protest outside Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei’s office in January.
“What we want from the P.A. is to encourage other villages to follow in Budrus’ footsteps,” he said.
In Budrus, meanwhile, the villagers continue to gather once a week to demonstrate and stay organized, Murar said, even though construction on the barrier has stopped in their area, for now. “Our visits to everybody did not help us,” he said. “What helped us was our work on the ground: our village, our struggle.”