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BULLDOZING HOPE
And a Suggestion for Its Restoration

John Chuckman

I’m not sure exactly why it is, but nothing I have read recently about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians touched me quite so deeply as the destruction of about 60 shops in the village of Nazlat Isa. The shootings of civilians, the bulldozing of homes, the reports of torture, the scores of morally-filthy assassinations, the improper arrests – the whole vast, organized mechanism of apartheid cruelty is stomach-turning, but the deliberate bulldozing of a thriving little street of shops just seems uncivilized and bleak beyond measure.

Shop owners in the little village were driven out by Israeli soldiers with gas grenades, and their stores and possessions were smashed by bulldozers. Israel’s excuse for this atrocious behavior is that the shop owners had not obtained the necessary building permits from Israeli authorities.

It is well known that the Israeli authorities make it difficult for Palestinians to obtain permission to undertake the most basic projects. Requests to make changes or improvements in sewers or streets or buildings remain unanswered for years.

It all resembles what Soviet citizens used to experience when trying to get licenses or permissions from apparatchiks. The effort, often ending in failure, could consume a good fraction of one’s lifetime. It proved a remarkably effective way to destroy human initiative, to say nothing of the human spirit.

There is an important difference in the two situations, though. The problem in the Soviet Union resulted from the sheer size and complexity of its bureaucracy plus the inability and unwillingness of anyone at almost any level to take responsibility for making a decision.

The problem in the West Bank reflects something more deliberate and ugly. It is Israel’s refusal to treat Palestinians as equal human beings. Their needs count for little or nothing. What in many places is a normal, everyday activity, the issuing of building permits, becomes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank a quiet mechanism for denying people livelihoods, dignity, and even health. It is slow-motion ethnic cleansing carried out through bureaucracy.

Polls show an increasing number of Israelis supporting “removal,” Israel’s terrible euphemism for ethnic cleansing by bayonet rather than bureaucracy. This growing support undoubtedly reflects the degrading influence on human values of Sharon, Netanyahu, and Bush.

But as I’ve asked before, where do more than three million people go? What poor, crowded, and troubled country of the Middle East could take them? The answer is obvious to all but the ideologically blind and morally obtuse – no one in the Middle East can take them.

America’s my-protégé-right-or-wrong support for Israel’s excesses is what has made the existing situation possible. If America is not willing to see a proper Palestinian state established (and that does not mean a walled-in Bantustan), and it is not willing to insist that Israel absorb Palestinians as citizens, then it has a moral obligation to do something else.

America could grant all Palestinians the right of residence in the United States. This would go some way to redressing the balance of many tens of billions of dollars spent subsidizing Israel. The United States has granted this right before, in the case of Cuba, and it did so for decades. Any Cuban was entitled to an automatic visa, but this policy reflected America’s bitter, self-righteous hatred of Mr. Castro rather than any sense of obligation about justice or compassion. It would be remarkable were the United States to make such an offer where it does indeed have a great moral obligation, so I won’t hold my breath.

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