Finally. It felt like it would never happen. Negotiations were at a standstill, secretaries of state could no longer hide their irritation, and it felt like there was nothing left to be done but wait. A long, painful, agonizing waste of time orchestrated as blackmail. Finally, Netanyahu dropped the towel. Or at least part of it.

Yesterday, the controversial and irritatingly uncompromising Prime Minister of Israel took one step towards maturity and inclusion. He conceded to Washington a ten-months freeze of settlements in the West Bank, requested by Europe ever since the death of Itzhak Rabin and by the United States the moment the moment the Obama Administration came into power. Netanyahu had become the thorn in every diplomats side. His submission is not whole: although his promise was clear on the status of the West Bank, East Jerusalem remains in the vagueness of a hugely compromises statu quo.

Benjamin Netanyahu: between a rock and a hard place

So why the sudden gesture towards peace? “we want to show the world a simple truth, that of knowing the Israeli government is willing to start negotiating with the Palestinians, that it is taking concrete measures in that direction, and that it is serious in its peaceful intentions.” the message is hopeful and beautiful, but the ten-month limit allows us to doubt the veracity of those claims.

What will happen once the term limit is reached, and will it be long enough to craft a lasting peace process? The Palestinians remain skeptical on the subject of Netanyahu’s commitment precisely on his unwillingness to clear the East Jerusalem fire. “In [our] eyes. East Jerusalem represents a red line not to cross. Any return to negotiations has to be made on the basis of a complete stop to settlements in the West Bank… Jerusalem included”, declared Nabil Abbou Roudeina, Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesperson. Those negotiations are therefore not that close to happening, since both authorities wish to claim the Holy City as their capital.

Netanyahu, first entirely opposed to any compromise and used to unconditional support from the White House, is finding himself in a situation where he can’t win. On one side, he came to realise the new American administration were not lax on international law as the previous was; and on the other, his own party line – elected along with right wing party Likoud – is heavily relying on nationalism and the expansion of Isreaeli territory. Who is Netanyahu trying to please the most? Danny Dayan, leader of the Yesha Council, representing the colons, feels betrayed by his Prime Minister to the point of claiming that colons feel “persecuted” and that the Likoud’s ideal of a Great Israel is being washed away in the name of international compromise. Nationalists are learning the drawbacks of diplomatic relations and pay the price of international alienation.

Several protests have taken place from the most radical fringes of the colons, most of them commanding officers of the Tsahal. Netanyahu, who himself ha never been more inclined than his predecessor to satisfy the utmost Zionist dream, is now facing the same threats progressive leader Rabin did before being assassinated in 1995 for participating in the Camp David summit.

Ten months during which the world will hold their breath and wait to see if the majority of Israelis – who do want peace and no longer wish to be world pariahs for living in a state perpetuating war crimes in their name – will once and for all take over the handful of right wing radicals menacing to perpetuate a conflict that has shed blood for way too long.

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It’s no secret that ever since Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933, treasury funds, shops, personal possessions and bank accounts of the Jews living in Western, Central and Eastern Europe were shamelessly stolen and redistributed either to Nazi officials or, as we had known ever since, deposited in secret “dormant funds” in Swiss banks. Little did we know that the State that came to life post-Shoah and claimed to be the only haven of peace for Jewish people on Earth, Israel, was itself in possession of about 130 million euro (over $300 million) sitting safely but unknowingly inside Israeli banks.

Three mainlining banks – Leumi, Hapoalim, and Discount – have already restituted about 25 million shekels (4.7 million euro) to a specific commission created by the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, wondering where all those funds supposedly given back to Shoah survivors or their descendants had never been given back to those they righteously belong to.

In 2002, the Knesset creates a specific commission of inquiry regarding Jewish funds and presided by Colette Avital. Four years on, Zvi Kanor takes over the commission, and it is only now in 2009 that said commission, promptly demanded by the Victims Assets Restitution Company (VARC), is arm-wrestling with five banks to retrieve an unimaginable sum resting in peace on dormant accounts whose owners have mostly no idea about, or were banned from accessing. Speaking to french newspaper Le Monde, Avital comments: “Not only did the banks not do anything to find survivors or their possible heirs, but for years and years, they settled against anyone coming to claim their dues with documents – letters, notepads, passports from their fathers or their grandfathers, proving their identity.” Until today, most of the Israeli banks told the VARC that they would not act upon their pressing demands, saying the association had “no proof” that Shoah victims’ money was lying still in their basements.

Sick and tired of the continuous harassment from the VARC and probably scared off by the Knesset’s willingness to trace the money back, three banks gave in, but two (Hamizrahi and Mercantile) are still opposed into restituting the money, considerably inflated with interests for over sixty years. Kanor is well aware that the fact Leomi itself gave back 20 million of the 25 million shekels restituted is a huge step forward, but that is only the beginning of another long struggle to finally close the door on the dramatic consequences of the Holocaust. It took a book from professor Yossi Katz, from the Bar Ilan University in 1997 to add more pressure and weight to the VARC’s claims that responsibility needed to be taken from the banks “detaining Shoah’s money”. Adding to the insult of being betrayed by their own institutions, survivors and descendants alike are compelled to show endless proof of their identity and legitimacy of their claim to the money when most of the Jewish people sent to camps were often stripped of their identity and nationality papers, lost in the war.

Zvi Kanor is expecting about 140 million more shekel to be versed to VARC members, but what is most astonishing is Israel’s complete silence on the reasons why it took almost seventy years to reach an ending to the shame and the need for reparation. Whilst Germany is still compelled to pay Israel reparations for war crimes (Wiedergutmachung), contested within the country as being a tool for more military aid towards Palestine, Israel itself fails to pay its own citizens the money they had been deprived of from the regime that drove them to their near destruction. Another controversial topic Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is not likely to address anytime soon.

I can’t exactly remember the last time I took a unilateral decision. It was probably something regarding the ever-regular debate on whether to pay my rent on time and the unilateral decision I made, this is, without the consent or advice of my landlord, proved to be extremely damaging and taught me a lesson my father would have been proud to make himself. This said, I haven’t had my own apartment taken away from me by excessive force nor have I had been under constant oppression for over sixty years, so I can’t really compare the decision Palestine might be taking – unilaterally – to proclaim itself a state, without the consent or advice of Israel.

Yasser Arafat: he had a dream...

The question of recognizing, legally and politically, regionally and internationally, Palestine as a state – with its own government, its own Constitution, its own set of laws and by-laws, and, most importantly and perhaps most decisively, a preset territory, has been at the heart of every potentially successful peace process to be made in the region. There is no possibility to discuss a two-state solution of only one of the parties is actually a State. There is no negotiation to be made between heads of State if only one of the two parties is indeed a diplomatically recognized head of State. There is no legitimacy to be claimed over a territory if there is no State to organize nationwide democratic elections. Moreover, there is no population without a State, as the Palestinians can not claim national protections. Whose and which nationals are they, exactly? Which force is there to protect them from oppression and guarantee them freedom and labour, and if a force stands up and claims it will, how legitimate can it be? The situation of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the West’s heated debate over whether or not this is a legitimate government or a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah is adding fuel to the pan and destroying every embryo of a negotiation. For as long as there is no such thing as a Palestinian state, Palestinians are nothing but Israel’s political prisoners, collateral damage of a forceful sionism that was not even entirely supported by a Jewish community already saturated by the hate and violence they endured.

In short: Palestine wants to be recognized as a State. Israel refuses. The issue of whether the land between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will be attributed to either of the parties is at stake and Israel has much to gain in maintaining a status quo. But after the much criticized Goldstone report, a decision regarding the region has to be reached. The United States, for the first time in a very long time, is pushing towards a two-state solution. This seems to be the only solution. No matter how hard the right-wing Israeli parties are dragging their feet, this is the only outcome. Except that Mahmoud Abbas, currently the leader of the Palestinian authorities, for lack of a better expression, has declared he might take upon himself to do what Yasser Arafat himself did not do – claim a Palestinian state, following the borders created by the 1967 agreement.

Liebermann, currently Prime Minister of Israel, has replied to this claim with as much of a negative answer one could come up with without resorting to weapons of russian manufacture; and President Shimon Peres himself called to a cooling off of the situation, saying that “anger in Palestine must not be turned into a political agenda.” With negotiations at a standstill, and Hamas struggling to maintain a pseudo-democratic facade, how long will Palestine sustain a relative peaceful and downlow demeanour without access to their demands? The White House and the European Union having hurt a wall during their mediation sessions with Israel last summer, Liebermann being strictly opposed to a two-state solution and even refused to freeze Israeli settlements in the West Bank, can a unilateral action, the very opposite of diplomatic action, can be endorsed? What kind of response are we to expect from Israel, if not an armed force one, justified by the fact that their own borders have been unilaterally claimed frioom one side without the consent of the other?

And what will become of the East Jerusalem Palestinians, Jewish Arabs, citizens with no state and residents with no territory, temporary living heads on borrowed time, allowed by a reluctant authority to cultivate the land they have had for millenia? What will become of the brand new settlers, forced to retract backwards, and not knowing which authority to turn to? Should a third party be named and called upon this issue in order to make the decision neither Israel nor Palestine is willing to do without force? What would even happen to a brand new Palestinian state if the decision brings back the painful memories of the blood-spilling power struggle between Fatah and Hamas? Is Palestine capable of running its own people democratically, peacefully, in full cooperation with its reluctant neighbor, and liberating the Gaza Strip without those collateral damages we have become a little too acquainted with?

This is one simple decision, but raising a plethora of questions no one is quite ready to address yet. Unilateral decisions are never favored on the diplomatic scene, for the simple reason they always rile up the party that has not been consulted, like in any divorce, any conflictual relationship, any divided, segregated area. But what if finally standing up to the test and making the decision everyone has been waiting for and hedging one’s bets was the only solution left for the Middle East? What if Palestine had to take their chances?

A historical member of the Order of Colons, whose name is already enough to send chills down your postmodern spine, Pinchas Wallerstein is
waging a war on progressive western leaders calling for a complete freeze of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The 64th UN General Assembly, considerably divided on the issue, is feeling more than uncomfortable witnessing the rise of extremist opinions regarding the everlasting middleeastern conflict, fearing that no future could soon be contemplated.

Barack Obama reaffirmed his support to Israel and the need for the country to be “supported” – understand, militarily and financially backed up against the alleged constant threat of Hamas rocket launches on the other side of the Jerusalem wall; yet, the new leader of the free world has managed to state in clear, unambiguous word what had been expected from the United States for so long: that America “can not accept” Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, confined in the lifesize camp of Gaza or in remote, endangered and underdeveloped villages all over the Holy Land. A statement that comes just a week after the groundbreaking release of the UN Human Rights Council rapport on Palestine, accusing Israel of war crimes and “possibly” crimes against humanity – short of genocide, those two accusations are the two top crimes on the international law ladder. Israel, until now benefiting from some sort of special treatment from western country in regard to the difficulties faced from being located at the heart of muslim fundamentalism and suffering the aftermath of the Holocaust, is expected to behave like a nation-state abiding by international law and respecting the fundamental rights of people. Those rights – mostly self-determination – are strongly contested by Wallerstein, who believes the extension of Israeli territory is a matter of life or disappearance for Israel.

“Colonialism is absolutely necessary to permanently draw the borders of Israel”, Wallerstein explains (1). “This jewish presence, everywhere, is
fundamental to stopping the creation of a Palestinian state.” At least the vocabulary is not tainted by any hint of political correctness:
Wallerstein has never believed that the Palestinian land could belong to none other than the Jewish people, and is quick to stress that while
it is indeed deeply rooted in his attachment to sionism, he is also considering the overall well-being of Israelis and their safety. “Beyond my sionist conviction that leads me to believe that this land is ours, another State on this side of the Jordan River would represent a danger for Israel. Palestinians have no right to this land”. Sadly for Wallerstein, history and the law are saying otherwise.

Pinchas Wallerstein (second from left): another one preaching violence in the name of ideology

Pinchas Wallerstein (second from left): another one preaching violence in the name of ideology

Although most legal scholars and western leaders already consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be too involved in the settlement plan to compromise with on the two-state solution, Pinchas Wallerstein is something else entirely: not bound by any political consideration or diplomatic necessity, Wallerstein is strongly opposed to a two-state solution, and claims that Palestinians should be purely and simply driven out. The Order of Colons, the Yesha, despite not holding any political mandate, maintains strong and close ties with government members.  Wallerstein never fails to point that his endlessly ringing phone is a hotline to Jerusalem where his the stronghold of his lobby is solid enough to be a non-negligeable influence in the dawn of a still hypothetical peace process. Despite a growing number of Israeli citizens simply wishing for a peaceful and respectable nation abiding by international regulations and staying away from ethnic conflict and constant threat of over destructive war, sionism seems to be the ideology fueling the engine of Israel’s successive governments – with the ever so popular belief that without regular and proportional expansion, Israel will be invaded by Palestinians claiming their territory back. Israel’s isolation inside the Middle East, stuck between Lebanon and Syria, is creating a realistic fear of attack. Yet Israel refuses to understand that its colonizing attitude is precisely what nurtures a feeling a vengeance that can’t be put out. Wallerstein may fight in the name of ideology, and may have given a leg to his faith in sionism – but many will keep on falling and bleeding instead of upholding, if not peace itself, at least a statu quo.

According to statistics, 300,000 Israeli colons are now living in the West Bank. 195,000 of them would be in East-Jerusalem, traditionally an
Arab zone.

(1) In an interview to Le Monde, September 25

One of the most depressing and pathetic results of 9/11 was the manicheism brought upon by a Samuel Huntington-esque world view brought upon by the Bush Doctrine. Black against white, good versus evil and East versus West, every conflict, every social issue, every ideology was suddenly taken through a time warp. We woke up in 2002 presided over by McCarthy, doing fire drill exercizing leading us to the closest underground bomb shelter as if the Soviet were pointing missiles at our suburbian homes again, and every phone was tapped by our government for maximum safety measures. Thankfully, the world in itself is still as complex as ever, ideologies are still being brewed in the same religious blender they’ve always been meant to mix in, and common sense is still gravity-defying.

Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for instance. Sixty years of anti-logic attitude on both sides, a cruel mistake performed by so-called peace-building international institutions, open-sky concentration camp in the Gaza Strip, and regular bombing tests by american weapons. Israel, the only western force in the Middle East, vs Palestine, a State that doesn’t even exist, backed up by religious extremism and the European Union: headache-inducing, as far from common sense as humanly possible, a textbook unresolvable conflict that has been testing the limits of diplomacy with every decade, is now adding more fuel to this already burning pan. On one hand, Holocaust survivors and their descendants are creating a supermax State with the help of 1.8% of american tax income. On the other hand, Palestinian and their democratically elected men-in-uniform Hamas leaders are struggling to stop colonization from the former. Jews versus Muslims, military task forces versus Intifada, and now, on top of it all, comes the orthodox Rabbis.

A member of Neturei Karta protesting against the violences inflicted on Palestinian civilians

A member of Neturei Karta protesting against the violences inflicted on Palestinian civilians

The ideology behind the creation of Israel was zionism, a very controversial branch of Judaism claiming that the Chosen People will live in the Promise Land – Israel – until Judgement Day, where God will recognize them as His faithful servants. Until then, most Jews did not have their own country. Hardly contained and confined to one specific corner of the universe, and evolving across continents through a process otherwise known as diasporas, Zionists believe that the anti-Jewish sentiment, from pogroms in the Middle Ages to the Holocaust, have been caused by the fact the Jews were basically nation-less. Zionism was brought to light by Theodore Herzl towards the end of the 19th century, thanks to his book Der Judenstaat, speaking of not only the creation of a Jewish state (Eretz Yisra’el), but its necessity in order to stop the diaspora. Soon enough this idea was both embraced by members of the Jewish community concerned by the rampant antisemitism in Europe, and by European and American scholars alike seeing in zionism a solution to “the Jewish question”. Herzl wrote,

“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level”.

It is in this climate of divided Jewish ideology that the BBC reports the visit of four representants of orthodox Jewish movement Neturei Karta paid a visit to the Hamas headquarters in Gaza in order to discuss Israel. Hamas, currently in charge of leading the Gaza Strip and fundamentally opposed to the very existence of an Israeli state, claiming its destruction in order to retrieve what was once Palestinian land, seem to have a lot in common with those rabbis, heavily dressed in traditional and conservative Jewish habit, a peculiar sight inside Gaza, where over a million Palestinian are confined without no possible exit by air, sea or ground. To Neturei Karta, Israel can only be created by the Messiah – that does not have a seat at the Security Council just yet – and therefore the current Israel as we know it is heretic. Oddly enough, Hamas drew the same nuance those rabbis do: they reject zionism, not Jews themselves.

Neturei Karta embraced a pro-Palestinian stand. “It is your land, it is occupied, illegitimately and unjustly by people who stole it, kidnapped the name of Judaism and our identity.” The movement, which membership level rises up to a few thousand across the Middle East as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States, even attended the extremely controversial conference on the Holocaust held by Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, where negationism and other forms of denial of the genocide was discussed in harsh antisemitic terms. Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, described those emissaries as “heroes”, extreme religious leaders willing to recognize the occupation as illegal and illegitimate and fight against Israel’s apparent determination to disperse Palestinians.

The importance of Jewish-Muslim and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue will never be stressed enough; informal and formal meeting between religious and political leaders must take place on a regular basis in order to create a comfortable and productive place for a peace process to be drafted. However, extremism seems to draw extremism as much as ever in the region. Although Neturei Karta’s rhetoric contains compassion and empathy for the plight of Palestinians, a feeling that’s more than welcome on this side of the Red Sea, they are also committed to the destruction of the State, with no regard to its inhabitants. Regardless of the side which everyone seems to inevitably lean toward, it seems one state will never be able to live alongside the other. Co-existence is constantly challenged to the point mutual destruction seems unavoidable. So contested is the existence of Israel, even within its own community, only Israel itself seems to hold the cards regarding its future in the Middle East.

Erin Cunningham is a 25 years old journalism rising star currently living in Gaza City. She’s collaborated with us in the past, specifically providing insight into the Gazean lifestyle post-Israeli strike last February, giving us fantastic photographic evidence of the damage caused by a rogue foreign policy practised by Israel. She agreed to sit down with us in-between two power cuts to talk about her career, Middle Eastern politics, and the future of Palestine.

Formerly based in Cairo for the most part of 2008, Erin perfected her knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, arabic, and honed her writing skills by being one of the first journalists allowed to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt after the Israeli raids destroyed the city in January. Covering the aftermath for the Inter Press Service, Erin witnessed first-hand the disaster that had been created by  a policy based on fear, intolerance, and unconsciousness. Shortly after her coverage, she briefly returned to her native California, only to make a swift trip back to Gaza. “What I saw during those three days, and the unbelievable destruction afterward, changed me. It changed the way I thought about war, about life, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about journalism and about finding greater meaning in my future work”, she explains. As for now, Erin is no longer a simple journalist, but chronicles the every day lives of a people she feels extraordinary compassion for. “I decided it was time to go back to Gaza to pursue not only what I felt would be meaningful and rewarding work for myself, but also a way of telling the story of Gazans that presents them not just as blood-thirsty suicide bombers, but as people. People who have dreams, who tell jokes, who love their children, love the sea, and whose spirits and lives are being crushed by this crippling economic siege — and now war. “

Now living in Gaza City like any other resident, Erin Cunningham is giving us a compelling glimpse of assieged life.

Erin, with neighbour Islam Shawhan

Erin, with neighbour Islam Shawhan

Semi-autonomous Collective: what are your actual living conditions, and what does it tell us about the siege Gaza City is currently under?

My living conditions are okay, but that doesn’t say much. Currently I’m living in the apartment of a friend who was forced to leave Gaza during the Hamas-Fatah clashes of 2007. It is a nice building, in a middle-class neighborhood, but power outages occur daily. They have become more frequent as of late, and I only have power for a few hours a day now. This means that I can’t heat water for baths (which I take out of a bucket because the water pressure is so low), and most of the food in my refrigerator goes bad. Of course, I have it better than most and remind myself of that every day.

Meat, fruits, vegetables and anything else not available in the food aid packets distributed by the UN are terribly expensive. They are not always available, depending mainly on the amount of livestock being smuggled in through the tunnels. “Supermarkets” are sparsley stocked, and don’t even think about variety. You’ll often find cans of tuna, beans, cooking oil and packets of salt and sugar. One thing Gazans have made sure gets in, however, is chocolate, and there is more chocolate in Gaza than anything else.

As far was water goes, the situation is pretty dire. The majority of Gaza’s water supplies are contaminated, mainly from the dumping of raw sewage into groundwater supplies as a result of dilapidated infrastructure, and are not safe to drink. Bottled water is expensive (3 shekels or $.75 for 1.5 liters), as is the installation of a water filter. Water treatment plants were damaged during the war, and it’s obvious given the size of the Gaza Strip (40 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide) and the size of its population (1.5 million) that they are going to face major problems in the future in terms of not only securing safe sources of drinking water, but building the infrastructure to make it available.

Israel’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Avgador Liebermann, said, during a recent trip in Europe,  that there was no way Israel would ever go back to its 1967 boundaries, and that in any case, it wouldn’t resolve the conflict; that East Jerusalem could never be Palestine’s capital city, “that it had always been, is, and will always be Israel’s true heart”. What do you think will happen to Gaza? Do you think it’ll eventually be wiped off the map or perhaps swallowed by new colons?

There’s already talk of the fact that Gaza may be Egypt’s “problem” once again, now that Israel has “disengaged” (meaning that while it evacuated settlements in Gaza, it retains control over the territory’s airspace, borders, and sea access) and effectively sealed its borders with the territory. Many are afraid that if the Palestinian factions reach a power-sharing agreement, and Egypt opens its only border crossing with Gaza at Rafah, that it will give an opportunity for Israel to wash its hands of Gaza once and for all while it increases settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The argument is they want Israel to continue to bear responsibility for Gaza, so that it keeps Gaza and the West Bank, also occupied by Israel, connected for any future Palestinian state.

If that were to happen, and Israel were to “wash its hands” of Gaza by creating facts on the ground, I think it would be devastating politically for the Palestinians. But I’ve talked to a handful of Palestinians here, even those in the Hamas-led government, that say if that did happen, it’s very unlikely Gazans would acquiese to become part of Egypt. Palestinians here seem much more fervent in their attachment to Palestine, and maintain the world’s highest birthrate. That spells trouble for both Egypt and Israel in the coming years, and as long as the idea of Palestine or at least a rump Palestinian state is kept alive, Gaza is unlikely to disappear into Egypt any time soon.

For most of the international community, the nightmare Gaza went through in January/February is over. You were recently telling me about airstrikes. How often do they occur, and what are their targets?

The airstrikes happen once or twice a week it seems, there’s no real pattern. They are obviously nowhere near the levels they were during the war nor are they as frequent or as deadly as they were even prior to the war, or last year at this time prior to the 6-month cease-fire.

What seems to be happening is the Israeli army and the armed Palestinian groups are doing tit-for-tat strikes. They both say they are reacting to the other, but in all it has been fairly calm. The majority of the bombing happens either at the border areas with Israel or on the tunnels. I believe it was two weeks ago when an F-16 bombed a blacksmith’s shop in Gaza City, probably the first of strike of its kind away from the border areas since the war.

Shelling from the sea is daily, however. Even inland (although Gaza is not that wide), you can hear Israeli warships firing on Palestinian fisherman. Rarely are people are killed, but it is a constant reminder that Gaza is under siege. It should be also noted that while air strikes don’t necessarily happen daily, that F16s do fly over the strip every day, and unmanned drones fly over the border areas 24 hours a day. You can imagine the damaging psychological impact it is having on the population.

The danger is and remains that the horror experienced by Gaza residents fall into the pit of oblivion, leaving a population of over a million deal with the increasing lack of food security, oppression and eventually displacement, if not complete disappearance, of what was once their home. Despite the constant insistence from the European Union and the slight shift in attitude showed by the Obama Administration, who is keen to insist on a double-state solution to the conflict, tiredness and reluctance from Israel to participate into any sort of peace process will eventually hinder the willingness to provide peace. Are we on the verge of settling for the worse instead of fighting for the best? Erin has no answer to the current state of affairs, but insists that everyone must keep in mind that the lives of millions of Palestinians do not reside in the hands of Hamas, but in those of a relentless international community committed to the respect of basic human rights. “It all of course depends on the continued will to create a Palestinian state among leaders in the international community. If Palestine isn’t created soon, and Gaza slowly becomes an appendage of Egypt, the international community may very well get fed up with the Palestinian cause later on and abandon it completely, no matter how many more Palestinians there are. A United Nations rapporteur on Gaza once said, ‘Gaza is a prison, and Israel threw away the key.'”

You can read more of Erin Cunningham’s works on Sift Through The Rubble @ Blogspot (with our friend and colleague Cassidy Flanagan), IPSnews.com and Associated Content.

They say music soothes the most savage beast, but when it comes to the West Bank, most people are at a loss when it comes to figure out what could end the bloodshed and start an eventual process of co-existence. As often in those instances, the most peculiar ideas bring the most happiness, and it is in Gaza City that several rotating music teachers have found their most dedicated students – assieged children and teenagers seeking refuge from Israeli bombshells in Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

from the Episcopal Vocational Training Center in Ramallah

from the Episcopal Vocational Training Center in Ramallah

Classical music is certainly not part of their traditional heritage, but it is through their timeless and flawless melodies that aspiring violinists and solo flutists manage to extend their imagination beyond the wall separating them from Israel and from the rest of the world. Living in decaying and destroyed villages next to colonies, or even in refugee camps, the sound of string quartets have started to emerge from the burning ashes of Ramallah or in Gaza City, still recovering from the 22-day war with Israel in January. Reanimating a resemblance of a cultural life might seem superificial when basic needs are not met and the threat of violence is a daily concern, but in the current climate, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still refuses to address the possibility of a Palestinian state despite American and European pressure, attending to one’s musical ambitions is a hope for normality, a call to resistance under the crushing asphyxia. Speaking to the International Herald Tribune, George Diek, an oboe teacher in Bethleem, explains the motivation: “Deep inside, it is to demonstrate that we are alive, that we deserve to be alive and have our own culture.”

Because everything somehow has to be manipulated and instrumentalized, a concert honoring the memory of Holocaust victims was swiftly banned by the Palestinian authorities – under Hamas’  iron fist – under the pretext it “served enemy’s interests”. The very idea of compassion not knowing any borders, legal or imaginary, never crossed the collective minds of respective governments basking in the lights of their mutual ignorance of each other’s lives, histories, customs and practices, even those they might have in common. That attempt at creating a little island of humanity and tolerance within the core of a seemingly endless war might have been aborted, but this will hardly stop music schools from burgeoning all over the West Bank. Wafaa Younis, one of the music teachers behind the project, also in the difficult position of being an Israeli Arab, choose to overlook the decision.  A music festival will also take place in Jerusalem later this month, and a Baroque festival was set up in December.

The Barenboim-Said Foundation, created by Daniel Barenboim (an Israeli conductor and pianist) in collaboration with Edward Said, the late Palestinian historian, is one of the major actors in the setting up of music schools and the possibility for gifted Palestinian children to win scholarships to study abroad. The Foundation itself is a proof that Israelis and Palestinians can indeed not simply coexist, but work together to create something that is of a benefit to both population, in an educative, non-violent and socially progressive way. For now, music schools will have to settle with providing students with an escape, a flowering imagination, and the dream of better, wider landscapes in which death is not a constant and regular guest at the dinner table. Which is already way more than anyone ever gave to Gaza City.