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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BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Nabil Giacaman has worked in his father’s shop off of Bethlehem’s Manger Square for as long as he can remember. He is the third generation in his family to make a living crafting wood and mother-of-pearl figurines, peddling miniature nativity scenes and baby Jesuses to the tourists who flock to this famed plaza just steps from the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born. He will also be the last.
“My father passed this business on to me, but I will not pass it on to my son,” says Giacaman, who is 29 and recently earned his CPA degree. “With my certificate I can make a lot of money instead of just sitting here.”
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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]
When West Bank settlers shoot at unarmed Palestinians while Israeli soldiers look on without intervening, that’s a story—especially when one of the Palestinians suffers a head wound. So it’s natural that this weekend’s conflict near the Palestinian village of Asira al-Qibliya has been covered widely—in 972, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Haaretz, the Daily Dish, and elsewhere. Still, it’s important to appreciate how unsurprising this story really is, and how unexceptional its fundamentals are.
Last night’s 60 Minutes segment about the plight of Christians in the West Bank has gotten a lot of attention, in part because of the attempt by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren to intervene with CBS brass while the segment was being put together. (See the 11-minute point in the video above, where CBS correspondent Bob Simon confronts Oren with this fact.)
You can see why Oren might rather the piece hadn’t aired. Things that Palestinian Muslims routinely say about the Israeli occupation may get more traction in America when Palestinian Christians say them. Such as this, from a Christian clergyman: “The West Bank is becoming more and more like a piece of Swiss cheese, where Israel gets the cheese — that is, the land the water resources, the archaeological sites, and the Palestinians are pushed in the holes.”
Also, Oren clearly doesn’t want this document, mentioned by Simon, to get attention. In it an interdominational group of Middle Eastern Christian clergy — Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — refer to the occupation as “clear apartheid.” (Oren hints that they’re anti-Semitic.)
Finally, the 60 Minutes piece complicates the post-9/11 Israeli narrative according to which Israel and Judeo-Christian America are involved in a common struggle against Islamic radicals, and the occupation should be viewed in that context. Hence the importance of the moment when Oren insists Christians are leaving the West Bank under duress from Islamic radicals, not because of the occupation, and Simon presents testimony to the contrary.