Palestinians Camped In E1: ‘Wait, Why Do We Want This Desolate Place?’
Bab al-Shams, West Bank (AP) – A grassroots Palestinian effort to protest and forestall Israel’s declared intention of building housing in this disputed area has given way to reconsideration. “On Second Thought, To Hell With This Dung Heap,” read one placard held aloft at a lightly attended rally Saturday.
Nabil Bakr, a leader of the encampment that went up on Friday, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that he and the other protesters had come to the realization that the area in question, wedged between Jerusalem and the large Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adummim to the east, was much more than a symbolic piece of land: it is also a barren stretch of desert with nothing to offer, and a horrible place to spend the bitter winter.
“I said to my colleagues, ‘Next time, let’s pick a place that’s worth fighting over,’ and they all basically agreed. We’ve already drawn up plans to make our next move at a heated shopping mall somewhere in the Greater Tel Aviv area, or maybe down in Eilat,” he said, referring to Israel’s southernmost city and a popular resort destination. Neither Tel Aviv nor Eilat is beyond the pre-1967 Green Line boundary, but pragmatism trumps ideology every time, stressed Bakr. Both cities are near the beach.
Muhammad Khatib, a veteran of grassroots protests against Israeli policy, explained that the struggle at the newly christened Bab al-Shams differs dramatically from the campaign against Israel’s separation barrier, which ran through his hometown of Bil’in. “Bil’in was a formative experience, and living there gave a sense of urgency and importance to the struggle,” he said. “But here? Who the hell would want to live here? Let the Israelis take it. I’m freezing my bedati off out here,” he added, using the Syrian dialect term for testicles.
“If the Israelis want to make this desert bloom, I say go right ahead,” concurred activist Hanan Ashrawi. “We have better things to do with out time than sacrifice ourselves for this arid slice of nowhere.” She dismissed the strategic importance of the area, noting that even if Israeli control of E1 threatens territorial contiguity of a hoped-for Palestinian state in the West Bank, Palestinians would prefer to pass through miles-long underground bypass tunnels than have to spend time above ground in the vicinity. “The place is just awful.”
This is not the first time opposing sides in a conflict have escalated their rhetoric and actions over an area that had little to recommend it. Several major battles of the First World War resulted from each side assuming the other’s persistence indicated the location had strategic or tactical significance, when in fact they were merely in a cycle of reactive escalation.
Similarly, at the start of the Second World War in Europe, Poland surrendered to Germany after three weeks of fighting in September 1939, after they realized the country they were defending was Poland, of all places. France underwent a similar process on the way to surrendering the following year, though it took them less than three weeks to conclude that France was even less worth defending than Poland. Historians have debated how many lives could have been saved had the Allies of the First World War come to that realization in 1914.
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