Here I sit, in West Virginia, staring down at January 1, 2014.
That’s when my health insurance policy expires and I have a decision to make — renew or not renew?
Right now, I’m paying about $7,000 a year in premiums for a monster deductible and yearly out of pocket of about $15,000 for myself and my family.
My health insurance company informed me yesterday that my premium will be doubled to $14,000 on January 1.
I’ve been trying to get onto the Obamacare web site now for ten days to search for an alternative. No luck. I made it through four pages yesterday — then got a message saying I’d have to wait because there was too much traffic. When I clicked the continue button, it wiped out the information I had typed into the first three pages.
But even if I do get onto the exchanges, it’s probably not going to matter.
I read in a newspaper that Highmark is the only health insurance company on the exchange in West Virginia. Yesterday, I called Highmark and spent an hour on the phone with a nice young man — but the results were not good. The skimpiest plan is going to cost me more than I’m paying now for a higher deductible and out of pocket result.
Thank you Obamacare.
My insurance agent told me yesterday I had only one alternative — wait for six years until Medicare kicks in and keep fighting for single payer.
Obviously, the Democrats and anyone who defends them are not going to be of any help in the next round. They are irrevocably tied to President Obama and Obamacare and even those Democrats nominally in favor of single payer refuse to criticize it for the industry written law that it is.
I agree with Dr. Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program when he says that Obamacare should have been defeated because it enshrines and solidifies corporate domination of the health care system.
But what to do next? Well, first thing is to watch a movie called Healthcare — The Movie. It’s a short documentary — 62 minutes — but packs a big punch. The movie was produced by a husband wife team — the wife Canadian — Laurie Simons — and the husband American — Terry Sterrenberg.
The movie toggles back and forth between the USA and Canada — with Americans struggling with bankruptcy, death from lack of health insurance and the dark cloud of health insurance armageddon menacing their lives from cradle to an often early grave.
The Canadians, by contrast, are living in a relative health care nirvana, thanks in large part to Tommy Douglas, a boxer and Premier of Saskatchewan who stood up to the red baiting being dished out at the time by the Canadian medical establishment. Douglas emerged victorious and his efforts resulted in the creation of Canada’s single payer Medicare for all. The movie is narrated by actor Kiefer Sutherland — Tommy Douglas’ grandson.
The film features great historic clips — including a remarkable scene where a CBC television show host asks the question — who is the greatest Canadian? And then, in reality show format, puts it up to a vote.
“After six weeks, ten finalists, and more than a million votes,” the CBC host says, “it ended tonight with one name. And I have the envelope here. The greatest Canadian as decided by you is — Tommy Douglas.”
Imagine that — the country says that Tommy Douglas, the father of single payer in Canada, is greater than its greatest hockey player — Wayne Gretzky.
Tommy Douglas’ courageous act — standing up for the people of Canada against the vicious attacks of the powers that be — has resulted in a system that delivers health care for all Canadians — no complex bills, no deductibles, no deaths from lack of health insurance, no medical bankruptcies — all funded by a progressive tax system.
The movie profiles Canadians with serious medical illness — who come out financially unscathed — no bills, no bankruptcy, no health related financial worries.
And then compares those Canadians to the suffering human beings south of the border.
The movie does a good job of making us Americans feel like crap compared to our cousins up north.
Check out this sequence, for example:
How many people in the United States die each year because they have no health insurance?
How many people in Canada die each year because they have no health insurance?
How many people go bankrupt each year in the United States because of medical expenses?
How many people go bankrupt each year in Canada because of medical expenses?
How many Americans do not have health insurance?
How many Canadians do not have health insurance?
How many Americans go without medical care because of costs?
How many Canadians go without medical care because of costs?
One of the stars of this film is a young American from Portland, Oregon named Lindsay Caron.
“I was a free-lance artist for a long time,” Caron says. “I gave that up to go sit in an office and file papers so that I could have health care. And it amazed me that other people in other countries never had to think about that. I kept hearing that Canada’s system was broken, and that Canadians were flocking over the border to get US care. And so I wanted to go to Canada with a camera and ask a couple hundred people. I bought a ticket up to Vancouver, Canada. I rented camera equipment. And I took my bicycle. I thought maybe I would stay in Vancouver for a couple of days and cycle on back to Portland. I ended staying there the whole week. I got up in the morning, set up a camera on the street and just start asking people questions.”
Caron finds out what polls in Canada consistently confirm — that the vast majority of Canadians would never in a thousand years give up their Medicare coverage for the nightmare south of the border.
It all came about because Tommy Douglas had the guts to stand up to the political and medical establishment and do what is right for the Canadian people.
Canada did it.
There is no reason we can’t do it.
It’s simply a matter of reordering our priorities.
Let’s put aside, for a moment, our millions of copies of Grand Theft Auto 5 and start playing a new game — Grand Theft — Health Insurance.
The goal of the game is to become a boxer, like Tommy Douglas — and fight back against the insurance industry and its Frankenstein monster — Obamacare.
Replace it with single payer.
Russell Mokhiber edits Single Payer Action.
Here’s how Washington Post foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher tells the story – virtually unknown here in the United States – of the downing of Iran Air Flight 655, which occurred 25 years ago during the Iran-Iraq War:
Toward the end of the war, on July 3, 1988, a U.S. Navy ship called the Vincennes was exchanging fire with small Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy kept ships there, and still does, to protect oil trade routes. As the American and Iranian ships skirmished, Iran Air Flight 655 took off from nearby Bandar Abbas International Airport, bound for Dubai. The airport was used by both civilian and military aircraft. The Vincennes mistook the lumbering Airbus A300 civilian airliner for a much smaller and faster F-14 fighter jet, perhaps in the heat of battle or perhaps because the flight allegedly did not identify itself. It fired two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 290 passengers and crew members on board.
Fisher – who based his post on a new TIME magazine piece noting a number of valid Iranian grievances with the West – writes that the “horrible incident” helped cement Iranian enmity toward the United States government, but intimates that the whole episode was just a random mistake, an innocent fluke, albeit with tragic and long-lingering consequences. To this end, he quotes notorious war propagandist Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center, presumably because Pollack was the most egregious serial fabricator Fisher could find with a quick Google search of “Iran Air Flight 655″ and “accident.”
Quoting from Pollack’s 2004 compendium of conventional wisdom and glaring inaccuracies, “The Persian Puzzle,” Fisher adds, “The shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 was an accident, but that is not how it was seen in Tehran. The Iranian government assumed that the attack had been purposeful… Tehran convinced itself that Washington was trying to signal that the United States had decided to openly enter the war on Iraq’s side.”
Fisher recounts this story in order to explain why Iranian officials and diplomats might not view their American counterparts as trustworthy interlocutors when it comes to diplomacy over its nuclear program. He writes, “If Iran believes that the United States is so committed to its destruction that it would willingly shoot down a plane full of Iranian civilians, then Tehran has every incentive to assume we’re lying in negotiations.”
Yet, both Pollack’s explanation and Fisher’s insinuation grossly decontextualize and sanitize the American role in the later stage of the Iran-Iraq War in general, and the destruction of Flight 655 in particular. To claim that – in mid-1988, no less – Tehran had to somehow “convince itself” that the Reagan administration was merely attempting to enter the war as a combatant, in aggressive and lethal support of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, is bizarre. Iran didn’t have to invent such a scenario; it was already an established fact.
Beyond training Iraqi troops, providing intelligence and shipping arms to Iraq, and facilitating the use of chemical weapons against Iranian civilians, by 1987 the U.S. military was also helping Iraq “carry out long-range strikes against key Iranian targets, using U.S. ships as navigational aids,” according to Barry Lando in his book, “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.”
As one senior U.S. officer told ABC’s Nightline, “We became forward air controllers for the Iraqi Air Force.”
In July 1987, the CIA began a reconnaissance program, code-named Eager Glacier, that, as reported by John Barry in Newsweek some years later, “sent spy planes and helicopters flying over Iranian bases… Navy SEALs, manning Mark III patrol boats, were stationed on two giant floating barges, and special operations helicopter units first the Little Birds of the army’s Delta Task Force 160, later joined by the specially built gunship Warriors of Task Force 118–roamed the gulf by night.”
The purpose of this kind of American firepower in the Persian Gulf was clear. Lando writes, “Their mission was to destroy any Iranian gunboats they could find. Other small, swift American vessels, posing as commercial ships, lured Iranian naval vessels into international waters to attack them. The Americans often claimed they attacked the Iranian ships only after the Iranians first menaced neutral ships plying the Gulf. In some cases however, the neutral ships which the Americans claimed to be defending didn’t even exist.”
By August 1987, the U.S. Navy was conducting direct military attacks on Iranian aircraft and sea vessels. In early August, the Financial Times reported that “a carrier-borne F-14 Tomcat fighter unleashed two missiles at an Iranian jet spotted on its radar which had flown too close for comfort to an unarmed US surveillance aircraft.” On September 23 of that year, the Washington Post reported, “U.S. Navy commandos yesterday boarded and captured the Iranian navy ship that was attacked by American helicopters Monday in the Persian Gulf,” killing three Iranian sailors. An additional 26 Iranian crew members were detained. The same day, “the U.S. frigate involved in the attack fired warning shots at an Iranian hovercraft as it sped toward U.S. warships gathered near the disabled Iranian vessel, officials said.”
A few weeks later, in early October, three Iranian ships were sunk by the U.S. Navy; later that month the Americans attacked two Iranian oil platforms. In April 1988, not only did a U.S. warship fire missiles at Iranian jets over the Persian Gulf, but two more oil platforms were destroyed and at least six Iranian ships were either crippled or sunk by American naval forces.
Fifteen years after these events, the International Criminal Court determined that “the actions of the United States of America against Iranian oil platforms on 19 October 1987 (Operation Nimble Archer) and 18 April 1988 (Operation Praying Mantis) cannot be justified as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States of America.”
Then, on July 3, 1998, shortly after taking off from Bandar Abbas, the Dubai-bound Iran Air Flight 655 was blown out of the sky on the orders of U.S. Navy Commander William C. Rogers III of the USS Vincennes, a Ticonderoga class AEGIS guided missile cruiser. The two surface-to-missiles fired at the Iranian Airbus A300B2, a commercial flight that traveled along the same route every morning, obliterated the aircraft in broad daylight, killing all 290 civilians on aboard, including 66 children under the age of 12.
U.S. government white-washing was swift.
In a statement issued soon after the attack, U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the incident “a terrible human tragedy,” but justified it as “a proper defensive action by the U.S.S. Vincennes” after “the aircraft failed to heed repeated warnings.”
Reporting on the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 an Associated Press report claimed on July 3, 1988 that the “Pentagon said U.S. Navy forces in the gulf sank two Iranian patrol boats and downed an F-14 fighter jet in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday during an exchange of fire.” Iran disputed this version of events, insisting that plane attacked had been a civilian airliner and that nearly 300 civilians on board had been killed in the assault. AP noted, “U.S. Navy officials in the gulf denied the Iranian claim.”
In reaction to Iranian statements, President Reagan reportedly quipped, “Well, I don’t go by what the Iranians say, ever.”
Following the attack on Flight 655, Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined what he called the “threatening flight profile” of the airplane the U.S. Navy ship had blown up. He told reporters that the Iranian plane had been “outside the prescribed commercial air corridor,” that it “headed directly for Vincennes,” that “there were electronic indications on Vincennes that led it to believe that the aircraft was an F-14″ and that the plane was “decreasing in altitude as it neared the ship.”
Crowe also maintained that the Vincennes, which, according to the Washington Post at the time, “was equipped with the most sophisticated radar and electronic battle gear in the Navy’s surface arsenal,” was “outside of Iranian territorial waters” when it fired at the Iranian aircraft.
“We do have some eyewitness reports that saw the vague shape of the aircraft when the missile hit,” Crowe told reporters, “and it looked like it disintegrated.” He also defended Commander Rogers’ actions as “logical”, saying, “The commanding officer conducted himself with circumspection and, considering the information that was available to him, followed his authorities and acted with good judgment at a very trying period and under very trying circumstances.”
The official story was that the crew of the Vincennes mistook the massive, lumbering Airbus for a small, supersonic F-14 Tomcat making attack maneuvers.
The following day, July 4, Reagan issued a report to Congress in which he stated the USS Vincennes had been “operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf” and that following “indications that approximately a dozen Iranian small boats were congregating to attack merchant shipping, the Vincennes sent a Mark III Lamps Helicopter on investigative patrol in international airspace to assess the situation.” The helicopter, Reagan claimed, was fired upon and returned to the ship.
Reagan further declared, “The actions of U.S. forces in response to being attacked by Iranian small boats were taken in accordance with our inherent right of self-defense.” These actions included the downing of Flight 655, which, he said, was “believed to be a hostile Iranian military aircraft.”
In a press briefing on the White House lawn the same day, Reagan claimed that the Iranian airliner had been “lowering its altitude,” indicating an aggressive posture, at the time it was shot down.
The next day, the New York Times editorialized that “while horrifying, it was nonetheless an accident,” concluding, “The onus for avoiding such accidents in the future rests on civilian aircraft: avoid combat zones, fly high, acknowledge warnings.”
At the time, a report by Norman Solomon in Extra! revealed how the U.S. “government’s public relations spin quickly became the mass media’s: A tragic mishap had occurred in the Persian Gulf, amid puzzling behavior of the passenger jet. Blaming the victim was standard fare, as reporters focused on the plight of U.S.S. Vincennes commander Capt. Will Rodgers III, whose picture appeared on tabloid covers (7/5/88) with bold headlines: “Captain’s Anguish” (Newsday) and “Captain’s Agony” (New York Post).”
Naturally, if the Iranian military had blown up a Pan Am flight taking off from Dubai, protestations of self-defense probably wouldn’t find many sympathetic ears in the United States; fewer still would empathize with the personal trauma of murderer who gave the order.
Ten days later, on July 13, 1988, Assistant Secretary of State Richard S. Williamson continued to insist that the Vincennes was “at the time of the incident, in international waters.” The next day, speaking in defense of American actions before the United Nations Security Council, Vice President George H.W. Bush declared, “One thing is clear, and that is that the USS Vincennes acted in self-defense.”
Iran’s allegations that the warship was far too technologically advanced to make such a catastrophic mistake were dismissed by the American government. When questioned about the incident, Bush announced, “I will never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are!”
Nearly all of these claims made by U.S. military and government officials about why Flight 655 was fired upon were lies, and the subsequent investigation was effectively one big cover-up, reports in Newsweek and by Nightline later revealed.
There had been no merchant vessel in distress and no helicopter was ever dispatched from the Vincennes, let alone fired upon. The warnings by Vincennes radio operators had not been broadcast to air traffic control frequencies. There had been no visual confirmation of an approaching or attacking aircraft. Iran Air Flight 655 – with its nearly 300 passengers aboard – was well within its flight corridor, flying comfortably at 12,000 feet and steadily climbing. It had been in the air less than seven minutes. At the time it was hit, it was gradually turning away from where the Vincennes was located. It would have landed in Dubai about twenty minutes later. As John Barry reported in 1992:
Captain [Mohsen] Rezaian of Iran Air was calmly reporting to Bandar Abbas that he had reached his first checkpoint crossing the gulf. He heard none of the Vincennes’s warnings. His four radio bands were taken up with air-control chatter. “Have a nice day,” the tower radioed. “Thank you, good day,” replied the pilot. Thirty seconds later, the first missile blew the left wing off his aircraft.
There were other American naval vessels in the area at the time, none of which mistook the Iranian commercial airliner for a jet fighter, but were unable to act quickly enough to save Flight 655. “A few miles away, on the bridge of the Montgomery, crewmen gaped as a large wing of a commercial airliner, with an engine pod still attached, plummeted into the sea,” Barry reported. “Aboard the USS Sides, 19 miles away, Captain [David] Carlson was told that his top radar man reckoned the plane had been a commercial airliner. Carlson almost vomited, he said later.”
Vincennes commander Rogers was himself known to other naval officers as especially trigger-happy. Captain Carlson, who commanded the Sides, a frigate in the same Surface Action Group as the Vincennes, later said that the Flight 655 disaster “marked the horrifying climax to Rogers’ aggressiveness.”
According to the subsequent government review of the downing of Flight 665, and particularly its Aegis targeting system and the “complex network of radar and computers” onboard the Vincennes, TIME magazine reported that “blame fell not on the machines but on the men who were operating them.”
Nevertheless, not a single member of the crew of the Vincennes received official reprimand or opprobrium from the U.S. Navy or government. Moreover, in what can only be described as an act of staggering hubris, following the end of their deployment in 1989, all crew members aboard the Vincennes were awarded combat-action ribbons, while both Commander Rogers and Lieutenant Commander Scott Lustig, the ship’s tactical coordinator for air warfare, were specifically granted the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal for “meritorious service” and “heroic achievement.”
Rogers was honored “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer… from April 1987 to May 1989,” while Lustig received his citation for his “ability to maintain his poise and confidence under fire,” enabling him to “quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure.”
Iran’s only act of retaliation or retribution for the downing of Flight 655 was bringing forth a legal case for responsibility and restitution. The International Court of Justice awarded the victims of the attack $61 million in compensation for unwarranted loss of life. The U.S government has still never officially apologized to the Iranian people for this heinous crime.
Last year, the Iranian Foreign Ministry Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in commemoration of the tragedy. “This inhumane crime is clear proof of the innocence of the Iranian nation,” it read, “and (provides) clear evidence that the United States is not committed to any international legal and ethical principles and norms, and (it) will remain in the historical memory of the Iranian nation.”
The Washington Post‘s Max Fisher concludes his column, writing, “Americans might not know about Flight 655. But Iranians surely do — they can hardly forget about it.”
While he – and TIME’s Michael Crowley – should be commended for reminding (or informing) their readership about the events of July 3, 1988 and its implications today, they should also remember that telling only part of the story – and allowing American aggression, dishonesty and denial to be dismissed uncritically as an “accident” – does a great disservice to the truth.
The 290 innocent victims deserve better.
There are several ways of expressing a desire for change, and one of these can be through the arts. In the current turmoil of the Middle East, there are also voices that look beyond the mere toppling of regimes, and are expressing their deep concern at the price being paid by ordinary citizens in civil wars and other phenomena of sectarian strife that have become widespread in the region.
It should not come as a surprise that some of these voices come from Palestine, as it has become obvious how the region’s unrest has led to diminished attention for the decades-long plight of the Palestinian people. Besides this, the past years have also split up Palestinian unity along sectarian lines, thus weakening the solid unified stance of the Palestinian people against the illegal Israeli occupation.
I am a Palestinian surgeon and hobbyist musician known by my artist handle ‘Doc Jazz’, and I run a website known as The Musical Intifada, which showcases my large collection of songs supporting the Palestinian cause. I recently wrote a song in Arabic that calls out for unity, and against settling sectarian differences through violence. The song was called ‘Al Jeel Al Jadeed‘, which is Arabic for ‘The New Generation’.
My message was picked up by young Palestinians from Gaza who are known for their activities in social media, among others Shahd and Majed Abusalama, Walaa al Ghussein and Eman Sourani, and a music video was put together for the song. This was largely filmed in Gaza, and directed by inspiring Palestinian artist Shahd Abusalama, in cooperation with cameramen Yazan Abu Dawood and Omar Shala. In total, around 20 youths from Gaza cooperated in the making of the video clip, and their names are listed in the credit roll at the end of it.
The result is a modern and radiant call for unity, providing a fresh, hopeful and positive angle on the situation. It was warmly received by the international community of Palestine-sympathizers, hitting the 5,000 view mark after only 24 hours of its appearance on Youtube. The unusual funky sound of the music, at least by the standards of mainstream Arabic music, proved to be no obstacle for its popularity, rather the opposite.
As is clear from the words of the song, the focus of it steers away from the political dimensions of the issue, and rather focuses on the human element. It calls upon people to embrace one another as equals despite their differences, and to resort to dialogue to settle internal matters instead of embracing methods that include weapons and other forms of violent confrontation.
The song came with translations in Dutch and English, but soon received spontaneous translations in Spanish and French from its supporters in the international community. These were added in Closed Captions (CC) subtitles to the video, enabling listeners from outside of the Arabic world to follow the song and its meanings.
I hope the message will be understood in its proper context. We have a struggle to wage against a belligerent, expansionist and racist entity that calls itself ‘Israel’. Without unity, there is not much we can achieve.
Let us stop giving the Zionist entity the pleasure and advantage of watching us going at each other’s throats, and embrace one another in Palestinian and Arab unity, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.
- Tariq Shadid is a surgeon living in the Arab Gulf who has been contributing articles to the Palestine Chronicle for many years. Some of these essays have been bundled in the book ‘Understanding Palestine’, which is available on Amazon.com. He also is the founder of the website ‘Musical Intifada’ featuring his songs about the Palestinian cause, on http://www.docjazz.com.
The Palestine Now News Agency has reported that Egyptian soldiers opened fire at the Palestinian side near the border area in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
Palestinian security sources in Gaza told Palestine Now that the Egyptian army targeted a number of Palestinians in their lands close to the border, no injuries have been reported.
The incident took place while the Egyptian Air Force was flying over the border area with Gaza.
Also on Wednesday, the Egyptian army detonated a tunnel under a home on the Egyptian side, and said that the tunnels lead to the Rafah city.
In related news, Israel allowed Egyptian F16 fighter jets to fly over the border area in Sinai for the first time in 34 years.
Israeli sources said that for the first time since the peace agreement was signed between Cairo and Tel Aviv in 1979, Israel has authorized Egyptian F16 jets to fly over the border area as part of operations the Egyptian military is conducting against armed groups in the Sinai Peninsula.
- Egyptian navy attacks fishermen in Palestinian waters (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Tragic Stories From Rafah: Students Mourn Their Future (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Egyptian Navy Boats Enter Palestinian Waters In Rafah (imemc.org)
- Egyptian army kidnaps Palestinians, forces them to make false confessions (altahrir.wordpress.com)
NABLUS — The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) obstructed the movement of Palestinian vehicles in the northern West Bank on the second day of Eid Al-Adha.
According to local sources, the IOF closed Za’atara and Hawara checkpoints on Wednesday evening, which caused long lines of vehicles extending two kilometers away.
The bulk of the vehicles had to stay in Hawara town until the IOF opened the checkpoints.
The IOF closed the checkpoints at six o’clock in the evening for several hours, eyewitnesses affirmed.
During the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, the Palestinians in the West Bank visit their relatives in other areas, but every year their movement is hindered by Israeli road blocks and closures.
- Despite Israeli restrictions, Al-Quds prepares for Eid al-Adha (worldbulletin.net)
Palestinian medical sources have reported that an elderly Palestinian man was seriously injured after being hit by a settler’s vehicle in Al-Fondoq village, east of Qalqilia, in the northern part of the West Bank on Wednesday.
The Palestinian Police said that a speeding settler driving a Toyota Corolla hit Abdul-Hafith Mohammad Tayyem, in his sixties.
The settler, who fled the scene, was driving in the center of the Palestinian village.
Palestinian medical sources said that Tayyem was moved to an Israeli hospital due to the seriousness of his condition.
There have been dozens of similar incidents that have led to serious injuries and fatalities, in different part of the occupied West Bank, including in occupied East Jerusalem.
On Sunday evening [September 29, 2013] a Palestinian worker was injured after being rammed by a settler’s vehicle, near Husan town, west of the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
On September 20, a Palestinian man was injured in a similar accident with an Israeli settler who fled the scene.
A week before the incident took place, Palestinian child was seriously injured after being hit by a settlers’ vehicle as she was walking home from school in Teqoua’ village, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The child Hayat Mohammad Suleiman, 8 years of age, was walking back home from school on the main road that is also used by Israeli settlers living in illegal Israeli settlements in the area.
Construction starts in illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land rose by a “drastic” 70 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2013, an Israeli NGO said on Thursday.
According to figures released by the anti-settlement group Peace Now, between January and June construction starts were made on 1,708 new homes in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, compared with 995 in the first half of 2012.
Billing the figures as a “drastic rise,” Peace Now said only a third of the construction had taken place on the Israeli side of the vast separation barrier which cuts through the West Bank.
And 86 percent of the new construction was carried out in areas where tenders were not required, it said, meaning that building activity did not technically flout the quiet freeze on tenders Israel reportedly agreed to this year as Washington pushed for a resumption of direct peace talks.
“This means the ‘tender moratorium’ declared by the government until the prisoner release in (August) 2013 was not a general construction freeze but only of a small part of the construction in settlements,” the watchdog said, referring to the government’s release of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners as a proclaimed gesture of goodwill.
US-sponsored direct peace talks resumed in late July after a hiatus of nearly three years, although both sides have kept a tight lid on the substance under discussion at the request of Washington.
“The fact that there is talk about a freeze on tenders doesn’t dramatically change the situation on the ground,” Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told AFP. “They are building as usual.”
“The tendency of (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s government has been to build more in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank where tenders are not needed, compared with the previous government which built more in settlements closer to the Green Line,” she said.
Settlement building in the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War is considered illegal under international law, and the issue remains one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Fortunately the Palestinians did not leave the talks because of the continued construction in settlements, but there is a chance that if this policy continues, then it will be very very hard to hold on to the talks,” Ofran said.
The Palestinians said that settlement building threatened the future of the fledgling peace talks.
“Israel’s continued settlement building is destroying the peace process,” top negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP, holding “the Israeli government fully responsible for this situation and its outcome.”
Palestine is being disappeared
Two recent images encapsulate the message behind the dry statistics of last week’s report by the World Bank on the state of the Palestinian economy.
The first is a poster from the campaigning group Visualising Palestine that shows a photoshopped image of Central Park, eerily naked. Amid New York’s skyscrapers, the park has been sheared of its trees by bulldozers. A caption reveals that since the occupation began in 1967, Israel has uprooted 800,000 olive trees belonging to Palestinians, enough to fill 33 Central Parks.
The second, a photograph widely published last month in Israel, is of a French diplomat lying on her back in the dirt, staring up at Israeli soldiers surrounding her, their guns pointing down towards her. Marion Castaing had been mistreated when she and a small group of fellow diplomats tried to deliver emergency aid, including tents, to Palestinian farmers whose homes had just been razed.
The demolitions were part of long-running efforts by Israel to clear Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley, the agricultural heartland of a future Palestinian state. Ms Castaing’s defiance resulted in her being quietly packed off back to Europe, as French officials sought to avoid a confrontation with Israel.
The World Bank report is a way of stating discreetly what Castaing and other diplomats hoped to highlight more directly: that Israel is gradually whittling away the foundations on which the Palestinians can build an independent economic life and a viable state.
This report follows a long line of warnings in recent years from international bodies on the dire economic situation facing Palestinians. But, significantly, the World Bank has homed in on the key battleground for an international community still harbouring the forlorn hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end in Palestinian statehood.
The report’s focus is on the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank, known as Area C, that is exclusively under Israeli control and in which Israel has implanted more than 200 settlements to grab Palestinian land and resources.
The World Bank report should be seen as a companion piece to the surprise decision of the European Union in the summer to exclude entities associated with the settlements from EU funding.
Both in turn reflect mounting frustration in European capitals and elsewhere at Israeli intransigence and seeming US impotence. Europeans, in particular, are exasperated at their continuing role effectively subsidising through aid an Israeli occupation with no end in sight.
With Israel and the Palestinians forced back to the negotiating table since July, and after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned that this was the “last chance” for a deal, the international community is desperate to exercise whatever small leverage it has on Israel and the US to secure a Palestinian state.
The World Bank’s concern about Area C is justified. This is the location of almost all the resources a Palestinian state will need to exploit: undeveloped land for future construction; arable land and water springs to grow crops; quarries to mine stone and the Dead Sea to extract minerals; and archaeological sites to attract tourism.
With access to these resources, the Palestinian Authority could generate an extra income of $3.4 billion a year, increasing its GDP by a third, reducing a ballooning deficit, cutting unemployment rates that have reached 23 per cent, easing poverty and food insecurity and helping the fledgling state break free of aid dependency. But none of this can be achieved while Israel maintains its chokehold on Area C in violation of the 1993 Oslo accords.
Israel has entrenched its rule in Area C precisely because of its wealth of natural resources. Israel neither wants the Palestinians to gain the assets with which to build a state nor intends to lose the many material benefits it has accrued for itself and the settler population in Area C.
It is its treatment of Area C that gives the lie to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that he has been pursuing “economic peace” with the Palestinians in lieu of progress on the diplomatic front. Rather, the Palestinian description of Israeli policy as “economic warfare” is much nearer the mark. During the Oslo period, the disparity between Israel’s per capita GDP and that of the Palestinians has doubled, to $30,000. And the World Bank says that the Palestinian economy is rapidly shrinking: the 11 per cent growth that Netanyahu took credit for in 2011 has crashed to 1.9 per cent in the first six months of this year. In the West Bank, GDP has actually contracted, by 0.1 per cent.
Despite its resources, Area C is being starved of Palestinian funds. Investors are averse to dealing with Israeli military authorities who invariably deny them development permits and severely restrict movement. The image of the French diplomat in the dirt is one that symbolises their own likely treatment if they confront Israel in Area C. Palestinian farmers, meanwhile, cannot grow profitable crops with the miserly water rations Israel allots them from their own aquifers.
Aware of the many obstacles to developing Area C, Palestinian officials have simply neglected it, concentrating instead on the densely populated and resource-poor third of the West Bank under their full or partial control.
The hope was that this would change when Kerry announced in the run-up to the renewed talks a plan to encourage private investors to pour in $4 billion to develop the Palestinian economy. But the reality, as the report notes, is that there can be no serious investment in the economic heartland of Area C until Israel’s control ends.
In effect, the World Bank is saying that Kerry’s plan – and the role of the international community’s envoy Tony Blair, the so-called Quatet Representative – is not only misguided, it is positively delusional. The Quartet has been trying to revive the Palestinian economy to usher in the conditions for statehood; the World Bank’s view is that there can be no Palestinian state, let alone economic revival, until Israel is forced out of the territories. The international community has it all back to front.
The idea that a financial lifeline – whether Kerry’s plan or Netanyahu’s economic peace – is going to smooth the path to the conflict’s end is an illusion. Peace, and prosperity, will come only when Palestinians are liberated from Israeli control.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.