Ariel Sharon died on Saturday, and his last major political act was to evict my cousins from the Gaza Strip.
When Israel “disengaged” from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, I was The Economist’s Jerusalem correspondent, and spent quite a bit of my time reporting on how Israel mistreated Palestinians. Two of my cousins were settlers in Gaza who believed it was part of the land God had promised to the Jews. I was gay, atheist, and single; they were strictly religious, married, and had 16 children between them. Aside from our common great-grandfather, we might as well have come from different planets. But they were at the center of the biggest story of the year, I was a journalist, and they were my relatives. So I went to talk to them.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Few figures could unite Israeli settlers and Palestinians quite like Ariel Sharon.
“God gave him what he deserved,” one right-wing Israeli told me several years after Sharon fell into a coma. “A Jew should not force a Jew from Jewish land,” the man exclaimed, in reference to Sharon’s decision to unilaterally remove Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. For many Arabs, the name “Sharon” is associated with the word “massacre”—specifically with the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, which occurred after Sharon allowed Lebanese Christian militiamen to enter a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, where they killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.
So to some Jewish settlers, Sharon was a traitor; and to some Arabs, he was a butcher. Yet Sharon, who passed away on Saturday at age 85, after an eight-year coma, was also a political architect. More so than to any other contemporary figure in the region, the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories can be traced to Ariel Sharon.
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NABLUS, WEST BANK–Suhad Abu Fiad hikes up her bulky black abaya, slides onto the sonogram bed, and immediately tears up at the sight of her unborn baby’s tiny feet and fingers. She’s hoping for a girl but, as she’s only four months pregnant, it’s still too soon to tell.
After the routine prenatal discussion, doctors speak with Suhad in hushed, somber tones about the prisoner release last month in which 26 Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis were set free as part of ongoing peace talks. “Inshallah,” God willing, they say, her husband Samir will be released in the next exchange, but she shakes her head. Samir was imprisoned only in 2009, while those let free in October were jailed for attacks committed before the 1993 Oslo peace accords. The chances for his early release are slim.
According to Suhad and the doctors at the Razan Infertility and IVF clinic in the West Bank city of Nablus, the pregnancy is a “miracle,” and not only in the way most people mean it. Suhad hasn’t touched Samir in more than three years. He’s serving an 11-year sentence at Israel’s high security Megiddo prison for participating in terror attacks on Israelis, though, she stresses, “there is no blood on his hands.” And while “security prisoners”—the term used by Israel to define Palestinians incarcerated on charges related to the ongoing conflict—aren’t entitled to conjugal visits, Suhad claims Samir’s sperm made its way across security checks and into her uterus.
Read more. [Image: Shira Rubin]
calmnessity asked: Hello, I was just wondering if you knew anything about the conflict between the Arabs and Jews and the history of it? :)
If you’re interested in learning more about the Arab-Israeli conflict, try these articles.
- Is Peace Possible? A collection of articles from the last two years looking at the politics between the players, settlements, and more.
- The Arab Spring Comes to Israel
- All Fall Down: The Uncertain Future of the Only Solution for Israel and Palestine
Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Israeli and Palestinian officials had “reached an agreement that establishes a basis” for the resumption of direct peace talks is a badly needed foreign policy achievement for the Obama administration.
The talks are not yet finalized and seem unlikely to eventually succeed, but six months of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry is the first example of successful American diplomacy in the Middle East in several years.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Following up on yesterday’s essay Wintry Weather, I was struck by photographs of the unusually heavy winter storm that just blanketed many Middle Eastern countries in snow. I discovered a wide range of unique images, from Saudis tossing snowballs to Israelis on sleds to the newly white roofs of Istanbul. Gathered here are a handful of those images, showing that, despite the harshness of the storm, some were able to find a moment of joy in the rare snowfall.
See more. [Images: AP, Reuters, Getty]
A new interactive tool allows you to decide how many Israeli settlers to annex and what constitutes a viable Palestinian state.
One day after the Palestinians successfully upgraded their state at the United Nations General Assembly, the Israeli government announced “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for a plot of land just outside of Jerusalem known as E1. Many were quick to condemn the move as a significant blow to the already-gridlocked peace process, perhaps even more so than other settlement construction announcements, since construction in E1 would separate the major Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decried the plan as “an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution,” while The New York Times declared that “If such a project were to go beyond blueprints, it could prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”
[Image: S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace/SAYA/Is Peace Possible?]
Over the weekend, Israeli air strikes pounded dozens more targets in the Gaza Strip, as Hamas militants launched rockets into southern Israel and toward Tel Aviv. Israel’s recent air barrage has targeted individuals and buildings in more densely populated areas, and the civilian death toll is mounting. Local officials in Gaza have placed the death toll at more than 90 since Wednesday. International mediators are working hard to forge a deal that would lead to a truce. However, Israeli forces are still massing on Gaza’s border, and Hamas refuses to negotiate while Israel continues its air strikes. Gathered here are images from a weekend of violent exchanges between Israel and Gaza, with no clear indication whether the situation will worsen or reach a cease-fire any time soon.
See More from In Focus: Rockets Over Israel and Gaza
[Images: Reuters, AP]
Over the past few weeks, a slowly growing series of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, and retaliatory strikes by Israeli forces, has sharply escalated into a crisis. The skies over the Gaza Strip and southern Israel have filled with hundreds of rockets, missiles, and warplanes since Wednesday, bringing varying levels of destruction to the populations below. Tensions are growing as Israel’s military has called up thousands of reservists and deployed troops along the border. At the same time, Egypt’s new Prime Minister Hisham Kandil made an official visit to Gaza today. Meanwhile rocket attacks continued, setting off air raid sirens as far north as Tel Aviv.
Read more. [Images: AP, Reuters, Getty]