The Great Escape—The Palestinian Struggle Too—Comes To Nothing

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The great escape, the daring jailbreak of the six Palestinian prisoners—terrorists, freedom fighters, call them what you will—from the Gilboa Prison in Israel some three weeks ago generated shock and awe throughout the Holy Land, and created plenty of news around the world. For me, however, it hit close to home. Literally. I grew up in kibbutz Hephzibah, under Mount Gilboa, wherein biblical times King Saul and his son Jonathan fought the Philistines, and where David said his famous lament upon their death.

The now Gilboa Prison was then Shata Prison. A nondescript white building with a fence, a remnant from the British Mandate, not even ten minutes’ drive from my kibbutz. Driving or walking to the kibbutz, you had to turn right when you passed it, smack in the middle of all the kibbutzim and their agricultural fields. My cousin, who still lives in the kibbutz, reminded me that there were jailbreaks from there before. And of course all the pictures, such as the one above, reminded me so vividly of Mount Gilboa and the Jezreel Valley, the valley of my youth.

I won’t bother you with the names of the escapees and the details of their jailbreak. You probably read, heard, and watched plenty about it. Or you can find it on any online news site. But what seemed at first, to me at least, as a hot material for a screenplay and a film, even a Netflix TV series, came to nothing at the end. How can you write about this daring escape when in short two weeks the escapees were captured? And without a fight. Hungry and cold like street rats. Four of them in Israel proper—with the help, can you believe it, of Arab Israelis who called the police and army—and the last two in the West Bank city of Jenin, on the other side of Mount Gilboa, some 45 minutes’ drive from the prison.

What a letdown. What a story without a payout. A plot without a climax. I mean, when they successfully escaped, my imagination had run wild. A dark car was waiting for them in the fields. During the night they were whisked off to Jenin, and from there to other West Bank towns and villages, where they will lay low for a while, hidden and taking care of by Palestinian fighters and regular citizens. Maybe they’ll be able to cross to Jordan (BTY: all the above scenarios were speculated about in the Israeli papers). Maybe in months to come, or even years, they will stage a spectacular terrorist attack, a daring operation somewhere. And if caught—as the Israeli Army had indeed prepared for—it would be in a bloody fight. Death or victory!

Nada. It all came to nothing. Just like the Palestinian struggle as a whole. I mean how—bloody hell how?!—you go into such a daring jailbreak operation without any planning ahead of time as to what you’ll do once you are out? What’s the big deal of escaping if you don’t utilize it? What, for a few days running and hiding, hungry and wet; there were reports that they were seen searching for food in trash bins. What were they thinking? Were they, at all, thinking?

This brings me to the larger picture. But before that, this: Anyone who is used to reading my articles through the year, even the last one, is well aware of my sympathy for the Palestinian cause and struggle. My long-held belief in the two-state solution (declared dead here, though, some 8 years ago) is well known, and so is my realization that greater Israel, including the West Bank and the Palestinian-controlled areas, is now a one-state reality on the way to becoming an Apartheid state. And so, while the Palestinian people can feel good about all kinds of achievements since the Nakba of 48 and the war of 67, the two most important demands and wishes on their minds and in their hearts—the right of return and the creation of an independent state—are nowhere close to becoming a reality than they were when they had started their arms struggle.

In other words, if you don’t plan ahead of time—just as the jail-breakers didn’t—why go about pursuing your goals? Just to let off steam? Likewise, why go into two bloody Intifadas, killing scores of innocent bystanders, and suffering many casualties of your own, if you don’t have an ultimate goal at hand? If peace negotiations follow, as it happened in Camp David between Arafat and Barak, why not going in knowing what you are willing to give and compromise about? Just as the case was with Abbas and Netanyahu in the John Kerry’s led peace negotiations. For goodness sake, why go into all this madness of fighting, death, house demolitions, checkpoints and roadblocks, without planning how to achieve the ultimate goal?

Now please, don’t get me wrong here. There is plenty of blame to go around, especially to be leveled squarely against Israel, its leaders and people. As a matter of fact, this blog is mostly dedicated to their faults, misleading policies, and false goals throughout the years following the Six-Day war, which had brought us to the doorstep of an Apartheid Jewish state. Can you even fathom it? I know American Jews cannot, or prefer to look the other way, as they’ve done in the past when it came to Israel’s misdeeds. But today, here and now, it’s all about the Palestinian people. It’s high time for them—unfortunately, it might be too late already—to start planning, and believing, in an achievable outcome.

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What’s Behind the Latest Buzzwords: ‘Israeli-Palestinian Confederation’?

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A lot has been written lately, in respectable media outlets by respectable scholars and observers, about a new formula—a new magic word—of solving the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Confederation,’ that’s the keyword. No longer a ‘two-state solution’ but a ‘two-state federation.’ A two-state ‘light,’ with ‘soft’ borders and such. Luckily for you, I did the hard work and the long reading, and I’m ready to report to you on the outcome. Is it for real? Does it change anything on the ground? Does it have a future?

But first, let’s hear from Dahlia Scheindlin, who wrote a long piece about it in ‘The Century Foundation,’ titled “The Confederation Alternative for Israel and Palestine.” She writes: “A loose association of two states, based on freedom of movement, porous borders, residency rights and a shared Jerusalem—a confederation approach, in political science terms—holds the most promise.” And also, she writes: “It provides national self-determination for both peoples, while providing better solutions for daily life, with incentives and concessions to each side that did not exist in the earlier model.”

Will be back to examine it later, but here’s more, this time from Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour in the NY Times: “Confederal institutions could begin to address thorny problems like the rights of Palestinian refugees and the interests, however arguable, of Israeli settlers; they could agree on how many Palestinian refugees could return to Israel and how many law-abiding Israelis could live in Palestine with permanent residency but not citizenship. As peace takes hold, confederal institutions could permit routine cross-border entry, perhaps to a chosen beach, with a signal from a car’s transponder.”

Science fiction almost, eh? And I like the authors’ “confederal institutions” expression, which they keep referring to in their article as if those institutions are already existing, or have any chance of existing soon. This is basically wishful thinking, a dreamy vision, or as we say in Hebrew: חזון אחרית הימים. Now, of course, the esteemed authors are aware of the situation on the ground in the West Bank and of the political forces in Israel and Palestine, who are opposed to any such resolution.

The thing is, a lot of what they are saying and what they are suggesting, make sense. You want it to succeed. But in essence, it’s still the same old two-state solution—declared dead here some eight years ago, now accepted almost everywhere as such—with different words and descriptions. I don’t see much new here that will change the facts on the ground. That will cause Israel, mainly—the occupier—to change its course an un-occupy. Currently, the one-state solution is winning. Big time. A one-state solution with two peoples, one the oppressor the other the oppressed. An Apartheid-in-progress. ‘Managing’ the occupation and situation, Netanyahu’s style. 

Admittedly, though, the idea of the federation—not that new, really—appeals to me. If only it could happen. They talk about soft, open borders, but Israel has already built a huge, awful wall; a ‘security barrier’ that separates the two peoples. The settlers travel on a separate expressway; they uproot Palestinian olive trees at will; they beat, maim, and kill Palestinian at will, sometimes with the Israeli Army looking the other way or in fact cooperating; Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land for new settlements, new roads, or army training grounds at will. The Israeli public and political forces at play, therefore, allow for no such solution.

What gives, then? I tell you what. Good, wise people keep looking for solutions to the intractable conflict, spreading around some good ideas. But the bottom line is nothing changes. And nothing will change as long as the political situation in Israel remains deadlock at best, right-wing controlled at worst. The ‘confederation’ supporters call yet again for greater pressure from America on Israel to get moving in this peaceful road and direction. And yet there is no sign that such pressure will possibly come from Washington, due to its own political forces at play.

Furthermore: For almost fifty-six years now that the Israeli occupation is in force and expanding, under the leadership of both the Labor and Likud; mostly, though, the Likud. Peace with Egypt and Jordan had been achieved, with help from America. Only once an American president pressured Israel, and to good results. It was George Bush the father, now dead. The Trump administration, with Netanyahu in tow, pulled a rabbit from the hat in the form of normalization with some Arab countries; i.e. sheikdoms really. Mainly to distract from the main problem: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Which remains intractable, unsolvable, as long as the political situation in Israel stays the same. And it will. I don’t see it changing any day soon. Actually, it is getting worst. While over 70 percent of United Nations member states recognize Palestine as a state, and while the International Criminal Court is getting ready to investigate Israel’s crimes as an occupier, Palestinians are no closer to control their own destiny, and unleash themselves of the occupier. In reality, it’s now one state. And the future, in regard to solving this conflict, looks bleak.

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