Loewenstein: Looking for God in a West Bank colony, Jews shoot me death stares

Antony Loewenstein writes from East Jerusalem:

The occupation hits you from the very beginning. Arriving at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, I caught a shared shuttle to East Jerusalem. I noticed an advertisement mentioning service to a number of settlements. It’s simply a normal part of life. No shame, no hiding, not even brazen. 

Welcome to Israel.

The growing and visible religiosity of the city is apparent. I rode in the car with mostly religious American Jews, their conversation shifting from clipped English to Hebrew. Garbed in traditional black hat, black suit, black shoes and white shirt, they spoke mainly about everything other than Judaism. They were dropped off in various neighbourhoods, but everybody walking the streets there was ultra-Orthodox, from young boys and girls to women all seemingly pushing prams. They’re giving the Palestinians a run for their money over the birth-rate. 

More significantly, however, like any other religious society, diversity of views aren’t welcomed; conformity is. Anti-Arab racism is on the rise, including the defacing of Arabic street signs (). Orthodox Jews attacked a female Australian journalist here last week for simply observing a protest. As a journalist friend of mine asked me today, where are the news stories in the Western media of incendiary comments by Rabbis and Jewish figures during Friday night Sabbath services? We both agreed that it was far easier to attack loopy Muslim clerics.

Despite Israel's claims, it's clear that East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank itself. Few Jews are sighted, and the ones I’ve seen look lost. The Muslim call to prayer echoes across the roof-tops. The beating sun ricochets off the Damascus Gate as aimless men stand and stare. Women hurry. Children play. Jews and Muslims rarely interact, except between Palestinian and IDF officer.

I met an English man in my hotel this morning who told me about his years working as a water consultant. He asked if I’d read the recent World Bank report on the issue. I’d skimmed it, but the message was clear: Palestinians only get a quarter of the water Israelis have access to. “Fuck the Israelis”, was his succinct response. He lost me, though, when he said that, “Jews historically have made two great mistakes. One, to be money-lenders in ancient times and two, allowing themselves to be used as pawns in the region by both the Brits and Americans.” I replied that the Israelis and many Jews didn’t see it that way, as Israel was a relatively thriving state supported by the major powers. 

I spent the afternoon with a foreign correspondent colleague traveling through the West Bank. We visited an illegal outpost near Jerusalem, a motley collection of caravans, shipping containers, barbed-wire fence, green scrubs and electricity. It was hard to tell how many people lived there, but probably no more than 100. I received death stares from the Jews who saw me. 

It all seemed peaceful enough, just Jews making a home in God’s land. But, of course, the tranquility is deeply deceiving. Such outposts would have to be removed if the Palestinians were ever to establish a viable state. Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit asked a few days ago whether President Obama would accept existing settlements if the outposts were evacuated. We have to hope not, though this is probably the most likely short-term reality. 

Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz wrote this week that the settler movement was just like any other, expanding the vision of Zionism, but clearly the world didn’t like this vision. He couldn’t really understand why.   

I last visited the West Bank in 2005 and remember then being struck by the desolate beauty of the landscape. Much of the land remained unoccupied then, and still today, but the strategic hilltops are largely captured by colonies. It’s a harsh beauty, desert-like and unforgiving. The sun is punishing. 

During a lunch in Ramallah over various plates of cooked meat, the foreign correspondent and I discussed reporting of the conflict. He was pessimistic about any prospects for peace, not least because the settlement movement was so pervasive. He said that the Gaza war was a defining moment for him, an “indiscriminate” battle that achieved nothing other than destruction. He was critical of Zionism and Israeli security policies. 

Visiting Arafat’s grave, something I had done in 2005 when rubble surrounded the Muqata compound, was surreal. The Palestinian Authority has clearly received international funding to erect a shrine to their dead former leader. A calming water feature surrounds his grave, as PA soldiers guard the area. Peace and security may not have fully broken out in the West Bank, but Ramallah is Ground Zero for the Israeli and American plan for the territories: “charity, checkpoints and client rulers” ). Updated colonialism for the modern age. 

After lunch we drove to the Ofra settlement, described by Wikipedia as the “flagship of the Israeli settlement project”, containing around 3000 residents. It’s a quasi-legal entity under Israeli law, even if some of the buildings allegedly never received governmental permission. We both commented that it felt and looked like a beach town, something akin to Anaheim in California. Children played in the swimming pool. Palm trees swayed in the light, warm breeze. Streets were clean. Houses looked established. Fruit trees and vineyards were clearly visible; I wondered on whose tables such products ended up. 

The landscape is mountainous and arid, but perfectly green grass sits outside many homes. The idea that such mini-cities would be removed in any peace settlement seems fanciful when you see how rooted the people appear to the town. Their existence is illegal and the Palestinians are paying an awfully high price for a handful of Jews to find God, but drawing a line between a Jewish and Palestinian state is next to impossible with these facts on the ground. Colonies such as Ma’ale Adumin tower on the horizon. 

Perhaps the strangest sight of the day was watching a handful of IDF soldiers helping a Palestinian women change a tyre on a West Bank road. I wonder how much more she must respect the occupation after that kind deed.

About Antony Loewenstein

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and the co-editor with Ahmed Moor of After Zionism (Saqi Books, 2012)
Posted in Israel/Palestine, One state/Two states, Settlers/Colonists, US Politics

{ 60 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. DICKERSON3870 says:

    RE: "He was critical of Zionism and Israeli security policies." Obviously an anti-Semite! (or self-hating Jew)

  2. DICKERSON3870 says:

    RE: "…an advertisement mentioning service to a number of settlements…" MY COMMENT: Eastward Ho!

  3. Richard Witty says:

    Keep the messages flowing to Obama and your Congresspeople, that the settlement project must not expand. They'll hear it now.

  4. Joe America says:

    More than ever, this article proves my point about the only realistic solution: Bomb the settlements!

  5. Shahpur says:

    Why just the settlements. Al of the state of Israel is just as illegal. And it is only your "facts on the ground" that have caused it to seem otherwise. Thieves from Poland are thieves from Poland – no matter their successes.

  6. seham says:

    "I wonder how much more she must respect the occupation after that kind deed. " Don't wonder too hard.

  7. Yoni C. says:

    Shaphur, hasn't bombing Israel been an utter failure for all those involved over the last 61 years? How bout accept the reality that Israel is going no where.

  8. ismail says:

    Just what we need, another idiot like Strahl.

  9. ismail says:

    Personally, nobody cares what she thinks or respects. The IDF was merely doing the right thing.

  10. Nth Republic says:

    Wonderful reporting, Antony; poetic, even. I hope to read more soon. Thanks for posting this, Phil.

  11. PlanetMichelle says:

    I don't agree to bomb Israel, but Israel is a phony Jewish state and will be gone soon. I say soon because too many eyes are on it now….Israel has survived thus far by operating in obscurity… brought to light it's intensely grotesque and offensive to civilized peoples. It's in the open now, evaporating like a mirage. The Arabs will walk home soon.

  12. PlanetMichelle says:

    exactly Shahpur. Some of these so called "good Israelis" think they are doing the Palestinians some kind of service of justice to call for Israel's withdrawal from the "occupied territory." LOL…well for Israel to withdraw from from occupied territory they have to take out their imaginary map and erase themselves out of Palestine! We will offer our services and help them, won't we? Here have an eraser you guys, it's free!

  13. Shingo says:

    Never fear, ismail. There can never be too many idiots on these forums. Your position is safe.

  14. Shingo says:

    "The IDF was merely doing the right thing. " So were the Gestapo. At least, that's what their government told them.

  15. brian says:

    'where are the news stories in the Western media of incendiary comments by Rabbis and Jewish figures during Friday night Sabbath services? We both agreed that it was far easier to attack loopy Muslim clerics. ' this should tell u something about the western media and who runs it…..

  16. Todd says:

    Loewenstein's piece is just a collection of platitudes. My guess is that in the end he wouldn't want to see Israel harmed. Loewenstein seems to get some comfort by the fact that he isn't as crude or direct as the settlers. It's funny to watch Jews in their bubble. I know the Jewish golden age can't last long in Israel, America, or in the West, in general, but I wonder if most Jews realize this. It's funny to watch the "good Jews" who wander their colonial realm ( America included) and pass off their semi-honest ramblings as courageous writing. There are many doing it! They are more fun to watch than their rabid co-ethnics. Anthony Loewenstein is no George Orwell.

  17. Laurie says:

    The English man was right. Loewenstein's knee jerk reaction in defense of Israel is both telling and troublesome. It shows that although Jews will strongly criticize other Jews and Israel when gentiles do it truth goes out the window and tribalism kicks in. Sad. What should the rest of us think of this? This from James Ennes, ASSAULT ON THE LIBERTY: "A few days after the Liberty attack, Jim O'Connor's wife, Sandy, call upon a Jewish neighbor and found the woman almost in tears. "Oh, Sandy," the neighbor said, "I'm so sorry. I wanted to come see you, but I've been too ashamed." Sandy was surprised and saddened to learn that her friend identified so closely with Israel that she felt guilty for Israel's crime. Jews didn't attack Liberty, " Sandy explained. "An Israeli officer gave the order, and he is the one who should be ashamed." pg. 217 – Author's Note.

  18. ismail says:

    By helping someone change their flat tire? Shingo has proven his antisemitism or his idiocy. Notice how many idiots are antisemites?

  19. ismail says:

    PlanetMichelle, like PlanetKrypton, will be no more soon. It only exists because most people are kind to morons.

  20. Shafiq says:

    It didn't take long for you to play the anti-Semite card.

  21. Strahl says:

    Which explains why Phil has not banned you and your fellow ZioBots yet.

  22. Shahpur says:

    When a man has no arguments, and is unaided by the trust, he resorts to personal recrimination. The ad hominem attack is an indication of a man with a false proposition.

  23. Shafiq says:

    Ismail doesn't need arguments. He thinks ad hominems will reduce his opponents to tears.

  24. peters1 says:

    i have experienced many examples of this collective identity. it's really too bad and obviously a big part of the problem.

  25. Shahpur says:

    "bombing Israel" is not – nor will it ever be a suggestion. It was in no way implied or endorsed by my posting. That you put that in my comment demonstrates the inherent violence in your mind – not my position. I wonder, in fact, if you do so deliberately? This is a tactic of disinformation – you sidetrack the valid argument about Israel being an illegal, European land-theft, and turn it to a question on bombing – with the implication that I advocate killings. Thusly, I am exposed as another terror apologist, and my position can be dismissed. It is the usual hasbara method. You cannot engage in rational discourse about the fundamental injustice that resulted in the creation of the Israeli state. Once the arguments are finally dragged out, I am sure you will start prattling about the holocaust. There should be one, Palestinian state, from Jordan to the Mediterranean. It should be secular, with Jewish residents from alien extraction permitted full, regular citizenship. There should be a civil truth and reconciliation movement, modeled on the experience in South Africa. I am realistic. It will never happen. Israelis have proven themselves far worse than the Boers.

  26. Sand says:

    Loewenstein: "…Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit asked a few days ago whether President Obama would accept existing settlements if the outposts were evacuated. We have to hope not, though this is probably the most likely short-term reality…" Depressing. So, Israel's aid package 'sailed' through Congress, and Ben Smith has cryptically told us that on Monday Obama will be:

    Meeting the Jews "After his return from Africa this weekend, Obama will be receiving a delegation of American Jewish community leaders Monday afternoon, I'm told. Israel and Iran are likely to be on the agenda."

    One wonders who will be commanding the meeting? ————————————– Remember not so long ago, when Obama was going to forge ahead, and was trying to be somewhat of an honest broker? Remember when Mitchell was 'the man' and that he was rumored to be pushing for:

    "…an immediate designation of “provisional” borders. which would be in accordance with the Road Map’s Phase II (and should therefore accordingly accompany the creation of a Palestinian state), in order to know where settlement activity would be legal or not…"

    ” target=”_blank”>http://un-truth.com/israel/mitchell-due-in-israel… Although noting the term "provisional" did not go down well with Abbas. And remember that Israel had until JULY to come up with a plan [admittedly this said 'before' Netanyahu's 'nothing changes' speech]. ” target=”_blank”>http://un-truth.com/israel/mitchell-due-in-israel… So, where do things stand now…? Don't we the public have a right to know with all those billions that have flowed to Israel? As far as we can tell — Netanyahu is still building 'illegal' settlements, with Obama not even having the courage to basically call him them what they are — Illegal. The Lobby seemed to have won with its request for any discussions to be carried out behind closed doors — which let's face because of the way the insidious Lobby usually works behind closed doors the outcome 'always' comes out massively in favor of Israel. And to boot — Dennis Ross gets an office at the White House. Damn Damn Depressing.

  27. AnaSanchez says:

    If you are realistic, you must admit that you don't KNOW for sure that "it will never happen." Lots of things that loooked impossible have happened. Who would have thought that Jews from Eastern Europe would have been able to take over the majority of Palestine, and withing a hundred years, be a nuclear-armed power? They were able to accomplish this because they were optimistic, not realistic. For a movement to succeed, it has to establish a vision of a hopeful future……you shoot yourself in the foot by proclaiming it will never happen, thereby undermining all the good works you do in bringing that future to reality.

  28. safiyya says:

    HERE HERE!! My sentiments exactly!!

  29. stevieb says:

    Yes – and that the existing settlements must be disbanded and the settlers returned to Israel as required by international law.

  30. stevieb says:

    Israel hasn't been properly bombed ever. But it will be eventually – of that you can be absolutely sure….

  31. stevieb says:

    If the Israelis are stupid enough to attack Iran (and they are ), then they will know what it's like to be bombed….

  32. ismail says:

    Poor little Strahl, so much a WASP and so impotent.

  33. justiceisnotaword says:

    Yes, and that ever settlement beyond the 47 Partition line be uprooted too in accord with the international agency that legitimatized Israel as a nation among nations, a state in that sense; this would accordingly also include full compensation to all Palestinians pressured out of the Israeli side of the Partition line–paid directly by Israel sans US taxpayer funds. Let Obama and your Congresspople hear it now.

  34. IQs AtNuremberg says:

    ismail is a constipated child; who hear actually thinks he even know what "ad hominems" are?

  35. IQs AtNremberg says:

    here=hear: typo, sorry must be the sight of ismail's fecal matter hand-drawn on the wall.

  36. Iqs AtNuremberg says:

    Oops again, I mean: hear=here Again, ismail's baby shit smeared on the wall is really smelly and annoying

  37. audie murphy says:

    Watch it, that's what makes his day. He's just a Jewish IDF draft dodger living protected by goys in the USA–he loves the IDF punks who shit in arab kitchens–so long as he's living so sheltered elsewhere. A double chicken-hawk, this ismail. You gotta love him for that!

  38. passerbye says:

    I lived in Germany for many years, and discovered many individual Germans gave similar incidental help–and this during a time when they would be instantly shot for same, and their families persecuted. ismail, grow up and read a book once in a while. Quit farting with your mouth. It does not help you on this samizdat blog.

  39. Richard Witty says:

    That sentiment will keep the message from being heard. Do you want the settlement growth to cease, or do you want your vanity?

  40. a jew says:

    Of course, the jewish community as a whole is not inspired by their fellow jew, Christ. They work only to secure endless tribal survival on earth. That's why a Jew can be considered a Jew, even if an apostate, atheist, or agnostic. I don't blame them. Islam and Christianity set your eyes to the pie in the sky, to the "afterlife reward." Most self-identified Jews seek endless ethnic physical regeneration as a group here on earth. Hagee-Zionism is the perfect example of useful tool, pursued by both zionists and evangelical Christians. Wouldn't you go along with a nursemaid who felt wiping your bottom was her ticket to heaven? LOL

  41. commenter says:

    Meanwhile, Todd, non-Jewish victims of the bubble are dying, are being f***** up i every way imaginable, from US GIs, to US taxpayers, to Iraqis, to Palestinian babies, etc. But you know that.

  42. history buff says:

    The neighbor would never make such a distinction between a single Hamas officer who gave an order to send a rocket into Israel and the Palestinian people. The Jewish brain is usually short-circuited by merely mentioning the Palestinian people. It's the Jewish version of Nazism. They usually can't see the parallel at all. Actually, looking at all of world history, who ever has as a collective other than white gentiles, usually of Christian heritage? The test of virtue is power.

  43. ismail says:

    Poor Strahl, so WASPy, so powerless.

  44. ismail says:

    Didn't take long for you to make an antisemitic comment.

  45. ismail says:

    What a pair, you and Strahl. Goosestepping together to bed. How sweet.

  46. ismail says:

    No need to waste arguments on proven antisemitic idiots.

  47. ismail says:

    Then stop crying.

  48. Shafiq says:

    Maybe you could point it out and explain why it's Anti-Semitic?

  49. Shafiq says:

    Ismail seems to still live in a fantasy world where WASPs are the epitome of evilness and the Jews are the heroes, fighting for the rights of all oppressed minorities – After all, if Hollywood says so, it must be true

  50. Shafiq says:

    spoken truly like a person who has no arguments other than being racist or attacking people

  51. Strahl says:

    Zing!

  52. Shingo says:

    "Notice how many idiots are antisemites? " No but I have noticed how often accusations of anti Semitism are used by idiots who can't debate.

  53. Todd says:

    I understand what is happening, but there is nothing that I can do about it. I can't get out of paying taxes, but I did have enough sense not to join the military. Actually, my father (who served) told me to stay away from the military. My experience through relatives who served in war (purple hearts and all) is that they wound up with no faith in the government, and that real parts of their lives and personalities were taken forever. I understand very well what war does to a person, and I despise those who use America, and Americans, to do their dirty work, or to fight when there is no real threat of internal attack.

  54. Jake in Jerusalem says:

    Look who's talking!!! al-Shafiq actually knows what "ad hominems" means.. and STILL accuses others of being improper. What a riot!

  55. Jake in Jerusalem says:

    Having pesronally debated J im Ennes, I can attest that he is a liar, a serial liar and so closely associated with some of the most radical antisemites that he is a suspect loony antisemite himself.

  56. shafiq says:

    Eh? What are you talking about?

  57. Shingo says:

    "My guess is that in the end he wouldn't want to see Israel harmed. " You are right Todd. I know Ant and he does indeed believe in Israel's right to exist. He is opposed to Israel's polices and actions however and the direction the country is headed. However, Ant ultimately believes in a one state solution.

  58. Shingo says:

    Actually, as a liar, you are the last person who should be accusing Ennes of lying. Your claims contradict even Israel's official version of events, which proves you are a liar. You've simple made claims based on conspiracy theories which have no basis in reality.

  59. Todd says:

    I don't believe that in order to be a decent human being, a person has to wish for the destruction of Israel, but doing so hardly makes a person evil. The Jews and Zionists are obviously the bad guys in Palestine, but if it weren't for fact that the U.S. has been hijacked to support Israeli and minority ethnic interests, the situation in Palestine would be just another unfortunate conflict in a foreign land that is none of my business. And I don't know what it means to say that Israel has a right to exist. I wonder if Loewenstein would agree that Americans had a right to see their country exist as it was pre-1964, or without the "meritocracy"? How about the Palestinians? Do they have a right to Palestine on their own terms? cont….

  60. Todd says:

    I still believe that Loewenstein is trying to fool himself about his support for Israel, and he's hardly alone among "progressive" Jews! It's hard to see a compromise where the Palestinians aren't the outright losers, and Jews the big winners. No matter how you cut it, in the short term, the issue is more a matter of how much the Israelis are willing to gain, than how much the Palestinians are willing to lose. And Americans shouldn't have to be concerned financially, ideologically or emotionally. Do Jews ever have to answer for this situation? It's not only Zionists who have created and supported the problem. Playing word games about the individual and the group is tiring.