Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

A bullet to the head

Back in April, I posted a link to an article revealing aspects of the prospect of economic viability for the fabled independent Palestinian state – hundreds queueing for hours every morning to compete for the opportunity to risk life and limb in unsafe Israeli owned factories along the Wall for below subsistence wages. Doubtless in future, some will have the privilege of queueing to work in Palestinian owned sweatshops.

The NY Times’s Steven Erlanger reports on another aspect of the Palestinian economy – scavenging the settlers’ rubbish tips.

On a good day, working here from 5 a.m. until dusk, the boys make about $4.75.

NY Times photo

While Erlanger is clearly sympathetic to the scavengers’ plight, he appears to have a not so well hidden agenda, writing

For all the agonizing about nearby Hebron — how far Israel should go to resolve competing Jewish and Palestinian claims to the city — this desolate spot is a symbol of the impact of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and of the dire economic state of the Palestinian territories, where about a third of adults are without work.

Now you can imagine all the flashing lights and alarms going off when I spot an assertion like, ‘about a third of adults are without work’. My first suspicion was that, in the tradition of mainstream, and, if truth be told, alternative, journalism, he was mistaking the unemployment rate for the proportion of the adult population without remunerative employment. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics’s (PCBS) Labour Force Survey: Annual Report: 2006, the Unemployment rate is actually 23.6% for the territories as a whole, using the standard definition of unemployment.

…those individuals 15 years and over who did not work at all during the reference week, who were not absent from a job and were available for work and actively seeking a job during the reference week.

The PCBS also reports unemployment using what they call a ‘relaxed’ definition, which incorporates those who are not looking for work because there is no work, ‘discouraged jobseekers’, as they’re sometimes known, as well as those identified by the standard definition. But even that only brings the rate to 29.6%.

Unless Erlanger has access to more recent data and the situation has changed dramatically this year – and I wouldn’t rule that out – what he appears to have done is to add the Unemployment and Underemployment rates. In the Palestine Labour Force Survey, the underemployed population comprises those working less than standard hours (generally 35) and those who ‘want to change their jobs because of an insufficiency of income, or because they are working in an occupation which does not correspond to their qualification’. Adding the Unemployment rate of 23.6% and the Underemployment rate of 7.9%, he could have arrived at 31.5% - ‘about a third’. But some of them are not ‘without work’.

In reality, both the Unemployment rate and the Underemployment rate are proportions of the Labour force – the employed plus the unemployed, as defined – and not of the total adult population. The proportion of the total population who are technically unemployed – available and looking for work – is actually 9.8%. In Palestine, the Labour Force Participation Rate – the proportion of the adult population actually working or technically unemployed – is only 41.3%. That means 58.7% are Outside the labour force – either retired, full time students or homemakers, disabled, or discouraged jobseekers, etc. The proportion actually ‘without work’, therefore, comes to 71.7%. Not ‘about a third’, but damn near three quarters.

Erlanger comes perilously close to attributing ‘the dire economic state of the Palestinian territories’ to ‘the impact of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank’. He certainly makes a link. But is Hebron actually a symbol of that impact? Or is it rather a concrete instantiation of it?

But what’s really strange is the insinuation that Israel can resolve conflicting claims to the city, as if it were not in fact one of the parties to the dispute. In Erlanger’s imagination, Israel agonises over its role as a dispassionate arbiter in reconciling this thorny dispute between a handful of fanatics moving in and terrorising schoolchildren and the indigenous people cowering under nets in a vain attempt to shield themselves from the shower of garbage rained on them from the settlement above. Garbage that is unlikely to benefit the scavengers.

In the same vein, Erlanger commiserates with ‘Many of the adults working the site’ who ‘have been unable to get jobs in Israel since 2000 and the second intifada, when Israel instituted stronger security measures to try to prevent suicide bombings.’ He could have ended the sentence after ‘security measures’. The context freeness would have been bad enough. But he prefers to attribute a motive – ‘to try to prevent suicide bombings’. Certainly that is the advertised pretext for the ‘security measures’. But it could hardly be more obvious than that their principal objective is to corral the Palestinians into isolated enclaves, besieged on all sides by settlements, Jew only roads, roadblocks, checkpoints, and of course the wall. Doubtless one of the aims was to strangle the Palestinians economically. But as Bashir Abu-Manneh points out, another may well have been to preclude mass participation in nonviolent action against the occupation, channeling resistance into the familiar suicide bombs and rockets that at the same time marginalise the vast majority from the movement and provide the pretext for more stringent ‘security measures’.

There are those who reckon more stringent security measures, sacrificing fingers and hands in bodgy maquilas, and scavenging among the settlers’ dirty nappies and broken bottles is too good for the Palestinians. Arnon Soffer, the notorious Haifa University demographer and head of research at Israel’s National Defense College, is among them.

In an interview with Ruthie Blum published in the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, he complained that he had been misrepresented. In her previous interview with him three years ago, he had said,

When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.

Apparently, some had accused him of suggesting a murderous rampage. But that’s a gross distortion of what he said.

That statement caused a huge stir at the time, and it's amazing to see how many dozens of angry, ignorant responses I continue to receive from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context. I didn't recommend that we kill Palestinians. I said we'll have to kill them. [emphasis in the original]

It’s not that Israel should turn Gaza into Sabra and Shatila, it’s that it must. And he surely doesn’t resile from that position.

We are living in a 100-year period of terrorism, and we have another 100 years of terrorism ahead of us. We will forever be forced to live by the sword. We are not wanted in the Middle East, which is why we will have to continue to fight.

…The Kassams do not constitute a strategic threat, and the Palestinians will get the blow they deserve - though we do have to be cautious, because the situation is complex.

…This is why we have to fortify ourselves with a fence. Then, whoever tries to cross it gets a bullet to the head.

The alternative, ‘Well, then, we'll cease to exist.’

He has changed his spots, though. In the previous interview he had advocated withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. Now he realises that Israel should keep it.

Asked about a return ‘to the ’67 borders’, he replied,

That's not necessary. Thanks to this completely crazy security fence [here he points to another map, and runs his finger along the jagged line delineating it], we have succeeded in reducing the suicide bombings to zero. This by itself is a huge accomplishment. But [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon's real achievement, which the public doesn't appreciate, is having included Modi'in, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim in Israel. In other words, 180,000 Jews remain within greater Jerusalem with American support.

Today there are 270,000 settlers in the territories, and their numbers are increasing, through natural growth and due to Bnei Akiva members moving there. Through Sharon's cleverness, Jerusalem remains in Israel and 210,000 settlers are within the fence. Only 60,000 remain outside. In other words, 86% of the settlers are at home. This is an unbelievable victory.

If 86% of the settlers are ‘at home’, he can only mean he advocates withdrawal as far as the apartheid wall, if that.

When confronted with the view that Israel remains responsible for what happens in Gaza, he retorted,

…Our government has woken up. The only ones making noise are leftists and so-called human rights lawyers who only care about the well-being of cats, dogs and Palestinians, but never about Jews.


...The purpose of disengagement was not to put an end to terrorism or Kassam fire. Its purpose was to stop being responsible for a million and a half Arabs who continue to multiply in conditions of poverty and madness. I am thrilled that we are out of there.

As a demographer, this is his main concern, to annex as much land as possible while maintaining a comfortable Jewish majority.

Echoing Soffer’s sentiment, Leonard Fein writes in this week’s Forward,

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, has said that within a relatively short time, Israel will have an impenetrable missile defense system. There is, however, reason to doubt that there’s a program to defend against Abu Arar’s homemade missile, which utilizes the oldest delivery system known to man.

Abu Arar’s missile, it transpires, dangles between his legs.

“Who?” you will ask. And I will answer: Abu Arar is an Israeli Arab who has fathered (gulp) 67 children, as confirmed by Israel’s Interior Ministry. He is from the village of Burgata — or, perhaps, he and his eight wives and children are the village of Burgata. He is 58 years old, may he live until 120, albeit perhaps a tad less fruitfully.

Unfortunately, there is a well developed program to counter the like of Abu Arar. They call it ‘transfer’.

[Hat tip to Sam Bahour.]

1 comment:

  1. Muslims Against Sharia condemn treatment of women by the State of Israel. Government-sanctioned polygamy is unbecoming of a country that claims to be the only true Democracy in the Middle East. We call on Israeli Knesset to immediately enact a law prohibiting married men to marry more women. No civilized society of the 21st century can permit this medieval practice. No civilized society treat its women as less than human beings.

    Source: JTA
    Original statement