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Dispatch from Palestine: A year in review

Yumna Patel (Dec.31, 2018) is a multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

Looking back on this year, it is difficult to choose one moment, one tragedy, or one political decision that stands out among the rest.

Palestinians witnessed a tumultuous year in 2018, as they saw hundreds killed from the West Bank to Gaza, their rights slowly stripped away inside Israel, and the heart of Palestinian identity, Jerusalem, pushed further out of reach.

We have seen the Israeli occupation expand its reach through its growing settlement enterprise, increasing home demolitions, and extrajudicial killings of unarmed protesters, all with the full backing of the United States and relatively No accountability from the international community.

2018 marked 25 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, but a fair and just peace agreement for the Palestinians remains far out of reach — the dream of an independent Palestinian state even further.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which was supposed to be a temporary government according to the accords, has developed into a despotic regime, focused more on quashing dissent and policing free speech than achieving liberation and statehood. (Its function is plainly to distribute and allocate salaries)

2018 also marked 70 years since the Nakba, the tragedy that has shaped the Palestinian issue for generations.

But as evidenced by the ongoing fight for the rights of refugees in Gaza’s Great March of Return, the fight against expulsion in places Silwan and Khan al-Ahmar, and the fight for equal rights as citizens in Israel, the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, of the Palestinian people did not end in 1948.

The impact of Trump

President Donald Trump talks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

It goes without saying that perhaps that most defining moment of the year actually took place in late 2017, when President Donald Trump announced that the US would be recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The decision sparked widespread protests that lead to the arrest of hundreds of Palestinians and the injury of many more.

Even after the initial protests died down, Trump’s Jerusalem decision has continued to be a feature of nearly every demonstration, big and small, across Palestine.

Over the course of the year, the Trump administration has relentlessly unleashed a series of political decisions aimed at harming the Palestinian people and forcing their leadership to the negotiating table.

From defunding UNRWA and USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, to moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s decisions will have a lasting political impact on the region. The human impacts have already begun to be felt.

More than 60 Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli forces on the Gaza border on May 14th when they were protesting Trump’s decision to move the embassy.

Last week, a three-year old Palestinian refugee boy died waiting for treatment in a Lebanon hospital. (He was actually treated but his case was serious) Many have attributed his death to the UNRWA financial crisis, saying that the family could not afford to pay and that the hospital delayed the treatment because they were waiting for the insurance payment from UNRWA.

As time goes on, more than 5 million Palestinian refugees will feel the effects of UNRWA’s financial crisis in the form of job cuts, reduced healthcare coverage, and the shut down of primary schools across the region.

The existence of UNRWA is truly essential to the lives of Palestine’s most vulnerable communities. Living in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, I have witnessed my neighbors skip doctor visits and unable to purchase necessary medications due to the fact that the current health care they receive UNRWA doesn’t cover all of their needs.

If the already lacking coverage is taken away from them, it is not out of the question that many more will suffer the fate of that young boy in Lebanon.

The UN has reported that despite a rise in humanitarian needs across the occupied Palestinian territory, funding levels for humanitarian interventions declined significantly: only US$221 million had been received (from other donating governments), compared to the $540 million requested in the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Gaza & The Great March of Return

Much of this year’s coverage of news in Palestine has focused on the besieged Gaza Strip, which entered its 11th year under siege in 2018.

With every passing day, the situation in Gaza grows more and more dire. People see only a few hours of electricity a day, unemployment rates are at an all time high, and hospitals are closing their doors due to lack of medications.

In 2018, the UN reported that around 1.3 million people in Gaza, or 68% of the population, were food insecure.

We have reported on a series of stories from the Gaza Strip this year, each one more distressing than the last.

We have seen children with cancer forced to travel alone to the West Bank for treatment without their parents, UNRWA employees set themselves on fire after losing their jobs, and the ever rising death toll from the Great March of Return.

On Saturday, one Palestinian was killed and six more were injured along the Israeli border fence.

UN documentation reported on December 28th that the death toll from Gaza’s Great March of Return stood at 180, and that over 23,000 people had been injured (mutilated and handicapped) in the protests. Among the dead are journalists, medics, women, and children.

This year marked the highest death toll in a single year since the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2014, and according to UNOCHA,  the highest number of injuries recorded since the group began documenting casualties in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2005.

The Great March of Return has galvanized Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip to demand an end to the crippling Israeli siege.

The Great March of Return in Gaza, August 10, 2018 (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Despite nine months of death and injuries, and no tangible wins for the protesters, the continued participation of Gazans in the march is evidence of the growing desperation in the coastal enclave.

With nowhere to go, no future for Gaza’s young people, and no medicine for the sick, the only remaining choice for many is to try as hard as they can to tear down the walls and fences surrounding them, knowing full well that death awaits them at the borders.

Growing discontent with PA

In the PA-controlled West Bank, there is a growing sense of discontentment with the government and its leaders, who continue to prioritize their consolidation of power and resources over the rights of the people.

The state of hopelessness and frustration among Palestinian citizens is on a steady rise, with polls showing that Palestinians ranked corruption as the second largest problem they face after the economic crisis – higher than the Israeli occupation, which ranked third.

Palestinian economic and social decline has led to higher rates of poverty and unemployment, with college graduates witnessing the highest rates of joblessness.

The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), once the most important official instruments of control and accountability for the government, has been dysfunctional for the past 11 years. (And lately dismissed by Mahmoud Abbas with no date for election)

The PA’s executive authority and security apparatuses have continued to impose restrictions on media and journalists through the Cyber Crimes Law, blocking websites that publish dissenting voices, and detaining journalists and activists critical of Mahmoud Abbas and his regime.

Over the summer, PA forces violently suppressed youth-led protests that criticized the government’s policies in Gaza and its security coordination with Israel, which has been denounced as a “revolving door” policy funneling Palestinian activists from PA jails to Israeli prisons.

In the wake of a spate of attacks earlier this month allegedly orchestrated by Hamas, demonstrations erupted in support of the PA’s rival faction, and in condemnation of Israel’s punitive ongoing home demolitions, road closures, and massive arrest campaigns.

Video footage of the protests showed PA security forces using batons to beat demonstrators, many of them women.

Despite widespread public outcry and ongoing protests, the PA is moving forward with a controversial social security law which will see citizens that work in the private sector paying 7% of their monthly salaries taxes to the Palestinian Social Security Corporation (PSCC), with no clauses exempting workers who receive minimum wage.

While the law claims workers will be able to apply for a retirement pension at age 60, it stipulates that widows, orphans, and the families of Palestinians killed by Israel will not be eligible to receive benefits.

Palestinians have voiced their opposition to the law, citing concerns that if subjected to monthly deductions, workers receiving already low wages will not be able to provide for their families or pay off hefty bank loans, which many Palestinians use to purchase homes, cars, etc.

The primary opposition to the law lies in the fact that many Palestinians do not trust the government to uphold its end of the deal, and that under the Israeli occupation and an increasingly unstable PA, there’s no guarantee they would ever see the benefits of their contributions.

Business as usual for the Israeli occupation

According to UN documentation, a total of 295 Palestinians were killed and over 29,000 were injured in 2018 by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Over 459 Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished by Israeli forces, marking a slight increase from 2017. The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 472 Palestinians, including 216 children and 127 women.

In the wake of this month’s spate of attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers, Israel has stepped up its efforts to demolish the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks on Israelis, a policy that has been widely criticized for years as collective punishment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on so-called “deterrence”efforts, instructing security officials to fast track punitive home demolitions, despite previous recommendations from an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks.

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed the first reading of a bill to forcibly transfer families of Palestinians involved in attacks against Israelis, despite heavy opposition from intelligence and army officials.

If passed into law, it would see that within a week of an attack or attempted attack, the Israeli army would be permitted to expel the relatives of the Palestinian assailants from their hometowns to other areas of the West Bank.

Forcible transfer is considered a war crime under international law.

Since the election of Trump, the West Bank has witnessed a steep increase in the expansion of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

In the 22 months before Trump was elected, 4,476 settlement housing units were approved, according to settlement watchdog  Peace Now. But since his election, that figure has more than tripled to 13,987 housing units.

Earlier this week, Israel advanced plans for nearly 2,200 living units in 47 settlements.

Palestinians in the West Bank have also witnessed a frightening increase in settler attacks on them and their property, with settlers more emboldened than ever before.

In 2018, UNOCHA recorded 265 incidents where Israeli settlers killed or injured Palestinians or damaged their property, marking a 69 per cent increase from 2017.

One Palestinian woman, 48-year-old Aisha al-Rabi, a mother of eight, was killed in October when settlers attacked her family’s car with rocks as they were driving home in the Nablus district of the northern West Bank.

Some 7,900 trees and 540 vehicles were damaged or completely destroyed in settler attacks, the UN reported.

The Palestinians that shook 2018

Amid all the devastation of 2018, several Palestinian faces have emerged from the darkness to offer a sense of hope, inspiration, and resilience for their people.

The following men, women, and children have been iconicized through social media for their roles in combating the Israeli occupation and bringing the plight of the Palestinian people to the international stage.

Ahed Tamimi

16-year-old Ahed Tamimi in Israeli military court (Photo: Tali Shapiro/Twitter)

Ahed Tamimi was propelled on to the international stage when she was arrested by Israeli forces in December 2017 after she slapped an Israeli soldier during a raid on her hometown of Nabi Saleh.

As she severed out an 8-month sentence in Israeli prison, she shed a new light on the issue of Palestinian child prisoners and the struggles of Palestinian youth under occupation.

By the time she was released, she had reached star status in Palestine and beyond, and has remained outspoken in her criticism of the Israeli occupation, travelling the world raising awareness about the Palestinian cause.

Yasser Murtaja & Razan al-Najjar

Razan al-Najjar, photo shared by the al-Najjar family.

Yasser Murtaja, portrait from his Facebook page.

During the Great March of Return, Israeli forces shot and killed Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja and medic Razan al-Najjar, drawing outrage from the Palestinian and international community.

Their deaths highlighted Israel’s widely criticized open-fire policy along the Gaza border, and the ongoing killing of unarmed civilians.

The funerals of both Murtaja and al-Najjar drew thousands of mourners, and their status as heroes of the Great March of Return has been memorialized on Palestinian social media.

The Bedouins of Khan al-Ahmar

Ibrahim Khamees, a member of the Khan al-Ahmar village council, watches as armed Israeli forces guard a bulldozer that razed lands on Wednesday to create a pathway for Israeli forces to use in the imminent demolition of the village (Photo: Akram al-Wara)

As the battle to save their village came to a head this year, the bedouins of Khan al-Ahmarremained steadfast in their nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation’s efforts to expel them from their lands.

Through grassroots efforts, the people of Khan al-Ahmar galvanized international support for their struggle, resulting in the indefinite postponement of the village’s demolition.

Rashida Tlaib

On their way to Congress: Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (left) of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Omar is the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States. (Photo: Twitter/Rashida Tlaib)

Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District made headlines across the US and the world as one of the first Muslim-American women to be elected to Congress, and the first ever Palestinian-American woman to do so.

In Palestine, Tlaib’s win was a form of poetic justice: the descendant of Palestinians from a small occupied West Bank village would now be serving in one of the highest levels of US government.

Since her election, Tlaib has been outspoken in her defense of the BDS movement, and has even announced that she will be leading a delegation of her colleagues to Palestine, as an alternative to AIPAC’s annual Israel trip for new members of congress.

Looking forward

As we enter the New Year, there is little reason for optimism in Palestine.

The Israeli occupation continues to tighten its grip with the help of the US, and the prospect of any reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and free democratic elections in Palestine are virtually nonexistent.

Palestinians in the West Bank continue to see their family members cycled through the Israeli prison system, with 5,554 Palestinians in prison as of November.

The current security situation in the West Bank has created a climate in which Palestinians are scared to drive their cars between cities, fearful that a settler attack or wrong move at a checkpoint could spell their death.

In East Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees are bracing for the worst as Israel moves forward with its plans to shut down UNRWA’s operations in the city.

In Gaza, the Great March of Return pushes on into its 10th month, and an end to the Israeli and Egyptian siege is nowhere in sight.

The Trump administration continues to tout its “deal of the century,” which many Palestinians anticipate will attempt to erase any Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, and force them to once again compromise their rights for the sake of Israel and the settlers.

The political future of Palestine is as uncertain as ever, and 2019 will likely see a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation here.

This year, we have interviewed hundreds of Palestinians from the borderlines in Gaza to refugee camps of Bethlehem. Countless people have have opened up their homes to Mondoweiss, to tell us, and show us, the reality of their existence under occupation.

Time and time again, we have asked people what their message is to the world, and to the Israeli government.  And time and time again, there is one common theme to every person’s answer:  sumud, or steadfastness

“You see this hilltop?”

It all belongs to your grandfather”

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“You see this hilltop? It all belongs to your grandfather.” This phrase was a recurring one on our family drives from Abu Dis to Jericho.

I heard it from the first moment that I could comprehend words.

I cannot even remember who said it first. But it has been a constant refrain since childhood.
Even today however, at 34 years old, my mother, father, aunt, and grandmother repeat the statement as if they are saying it for the first time”.
Dana Erekat posted on Dec. 12, 2012 on Jadalyya under “Colonial Planning of My Grandfather’s Hilltop
[The Hilltop. Image by the author.]
[The Hilltop. Image by the author.]

Today, I walked onto an Israeli settlement for the first time in my life. One where most of the land it stands on once belonged to my grandfather. I needed the settlers’ permission to walk onto this soil.

As I walked down the sidewalk, I felt alienation and content all at once. The first for the utter disconnect between this land and I. The second for finally being able to set foot in a place that is rightfully mine.

The repetition of “You see this hilltop? It all belongs to your grandfather”is an assurance, a call, to never forget. They refuse to forget.

And even after so many years, I still respond with a perplexed “all of it?”

“All of it.”  Today, when I travel alone with no one to remind me, I repeat: “This land belonged to my grandfather.”

Still, despite this historical bond with the land, despite the assurance of that history, despite the will to never forget,  all that lies on that  hilltop is as foreign to me as is the North Pole.

Today the settler at the gate only allowed me to enter a mere 200 yards to the police station, which sits on the settlement’s periphery, and back. The gate settler made it clear I could only spend the time necessary to finish my paperwork.  I could not explore. I could not become familiar with my land.  And therefore, I continue to construct my familiarity with my ancestral heritage from a distance.

As I drive by, the settlement resembles the gorgeous green fields of the luxurious Napa Valley in California. Those fields too, are compelling, and those fields too are often off limits, fenced off with a sign:“Beware. Electrical Fence.”

In my daydreams, I run up the hilltop of Ma’ale Adumim just as I imagined transgressing the Napa Valley fences and reveling in the green fields. In my California daydreams, I may get a citation for trespassing.

In my Palestine daydreams, I may be killed or at the very least detained. There are no signs that tell me so. It is knowledge, like so many Palestinians, I do understand viscerally.

There are other reminders of California here on my grandfather’s land.

Those red-tiled pitched roofs mimic the houses in suburban Fremont where I lived for part of my adolescence. I used to sneak out the window with my cousins onto the steep roof. We gazed up at the stars and giggled about our latest crush.

The possibility of being caught or sliding down and falling, made it all the more thrilling.

Glimpsing those same roofs lining Ma’ale Adumim, I have the urge to dismember the red tiles, one at a time, and toss them into the valley. This is not Fremont. It is my grandfather’s land.

From a distance, Ma’ale Adumim appears perfectly planned, each house a replica of the next. The homogeneity is in direct contrast to Palestinian towns, where homeowners, unbridled by urban plans, each add a bit of inconsistency to create the irrational landscape.

Perhaps this homogeneity is only true for the part I can see from the road, the settlement’s oldest quarter dating all the way back to the late 1970s. Regardless of its prevalence, the pre-planned homogeneity, meant to give the sense of communal coherence, is the epitome of settler colonialism. It is colonial hegemony.



[Top: Ma’ale Adunim.  Bottom: Silwan.  Source: AP.]

Theodor Herzel wrote: “Everything must be systematically settled beforehand,” in The Occupation of the Land section of his 1896 treatise, The Jewish State.  The implications of Herzl’s earnest are at the root of Israel’s planning strategy.

In 1948, only a few weeks following the Nakba, Arieh Sharon (not to be confused with former Ariel Sharon PM who is in coma for the last 7 years), a Bauhaus graduate and architect, began working on a comprehensive master plan for Israel.  Sharon, who was the head of the Government Planning Department at the time, worked with David Ben-Gurion and a team of European and Jewish planners, architects, and mapping experts to produce a single plan (scale: 1:20,000) for the entire state of Israel.

Within a single year, Sharon and his team produced a master plan that became known as The Sharon Plan. Such scale and scope were unprecedented, as countries tend to grow over a longer period of time as opposed to cities, which are planned with such rapidness.  However, Israeli leadership needed the plan quickly in order to forge the physical and developmental vision for Israel, and to ensure its control over Palestine.

The political agenda, including its time constraint, drove the development of the master plan. Thus, the outcomes of the Sharon Plan can be summarized as three-fold:

First, it is an agglomeration of borrowed ideas and models, some of which were developed during the British Mandate and others taken from Europe “as ready made and abruptly naturalized.” [1]

Second, the plan answered the urgent need of providing fast housing for new Jewish immigrants, especially on the borderlands in order to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees.

Third, the Plan divided Israel into a number of districts that were planned mathematically, with modular neighborhoods, to house an equal number of residents.

Thus, the Sharon Planlaid the foundation for the Israeli Apartheid state today: architecture that echoes European designs, peripheral settlements that enclose Palestinian towns, and “New Towns,” which are pre-planned and built in modules to facilitate rapid construction.

Less than twenty years after the Sharon Plan laid the foundation for Israel’s design, the Israeli government augmented its vision for territorial expansion. Following Israel’s victory of the Six-Day war in June 1967, the Israeli government passed legislation incorporating East Jerusalem and adjacent parts of the West Bank into Israel, thus expanding its land expropriation project and settlement expansion.

In order to meet this goal, Israel pursued a number of systematic policies that would help expand Jerusalem and secure Israel’s hegemony over the City through demographic and physical control.

While Israel enacted The Land Acquisition For Public Purpose Ordinance and the Absentee Property Law, in 1967, in order to legalize the confiscation of Palestinian land and limit Palestinians spatially, Israel also put into effect a set of urban and design guidelines aimed at attracting European Jewish settlers and further displacing Palestinians. To meet these goals, Israel placed much of the land annexed in 1967 under the jurisdiction of the Israel-Lands Administration (ILA) whose management had been merged with the Jewish National Fund.

The charter of the Jewish National Fund restricted the developments and use of the land to the exclusive benefits of Jews, the ILA land, constitutionally, could not be “sold or leased or used” by or for Palestinian Arabs.

Second, following the vision of the Sharon Plan for Jerusalem, the Israeli Municipality began a project of “evacuation and building,” under the pretext of “modernization”, which constituted the demolition of old Palestinian buildings, the construction of new streets, and the widening the Jaffa Street in the heart of Jerusalem. The widening of the street meant more demolitions of old Palestinian buildings. Thus, in its claim to “renew” the City, Israel erased the narrative of its Arab inhabitants.

Third, the Municipality produced design guidelines that catered to the immigrating Jewish population. For the development of many of the neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the Israeli Municipality set the height limit of buildings at six to eight stories, and required the buildings to be multi-units and “modern” looking. By modern here, I solely refer to the architectural era marked by the simplification of buildings. In other neighborhoods,Garden City patterns, borrowed from European designs of the Sharon Plan, were implemented.

These designs consisted of red tiles, pitched roofs, green spaces, and intended to give the sense of a “planned community.”


[Modern Jerusalem.  Source: jewishpostcardcollection.com, used here with permission.]

Based upon these design guidelines intended for Jewish colonial settlement of the West Bank, the Israeli Municipality rejected most plans submitted by Palestinian residents. The Israeli Municipality, considered the latter plans,  usually characterized of stone-built one to two story single-family homes, as unacceptable for being “Arabic style.”

Even when the Israeli Municipality approved design plans for Palestinians, a permit could take up to four years to be issued. The Israeli authorities used this prolonged waiting period to determine if the land proposed for development could be useful for future Israeli projects. If they saw it as useful, they would apply the Public Ordinance Law, and confiscate the land for state use. [2]

I doubt my grandfather ever applied for a permit. He never had the chance.


[Traditional Palestinian Home.  Image by Marcy Newman.  Used here with permission.

In addition to the territorial expansion in 1967, Yigal Allon, the Minister of Labor at the time, drafted The Allon Plan to “secure” Israel’s borders.  The Allon Plan proposed that Israel would hand over the Arab populated areas of Palestine to Jordan, while no Jordanian troops would be allowed to cross the Jordan River westward.

In addition, the Plan proposed the creation of a “security belt” [3] of Israeli settlements along the Jordan Valley as well as  a road connecting Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. In 1975, during Allon’s tenure as Foreign Minister under the first Rabin government, Israel moved to a new stage of planning and began designing the “security belt.”

Israel carried out the  “security belt” urban planning strategy to preclude the expansion of any Palestinian housing construction, to implant a Jewish-Israeli population into the predominantly Palestinian population, and to further separate and segregate the Arab towns from one another. The former Director of Jerusalem District of the Ministry of Housing, Shmaryahu Cohen, summarizes the process:

“We have made enormous efforts to locate state lands near Jerusalem and we decided to seize them before…the Arabs have a hold there. We all know that they remove rocks and plant olive trees instead in order to create facts in the fields. What is wrong with trying to get there before them? I know this policy is harmful to Jerusalem in the short run, but it guarantees living spaces for future generations. If we don’t do it today, our children and grandchildren will travel to Jerusalem through a hostile Arab environment [4]

My grandfather’s olive trees, on the hilltop, were creating facts in the fields.

The process of creating the security belt included building settlements on hillsides, peaks, and near important roads in the municipal areas surrounding Jerusalem. The Israeli government planned to build three settlements within this belt:  Ma’ale Adumim in the east, Givon in the north, and Efrat in the south [5].  With the help of the Israeli government, twenty-three Israeli families took over my grandfather’s hilltop, marking it an Israeli settlement.

Michael Dumper, a Professor in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, eloquently explains the location of Ma’ale Adumim in his book The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967:

Adumim was purposely situated on an exposed hilltop overlooking the Jericho road for both security reasons and to prevent the creation of a land corridor for Jordanian access to East Jerusalem in the event of a peace agreement. [6]

The decision to build Ma’ale Adumim on the hilltop was purely political. The land of Ma’ale Adumim did not lend itself to building a town settlement, as the morphology was uneven, and a great deal of excavation and flattening would need to take place. It was, on the other hand, ideal for the building of small villages. [7]

When Thomas Leitersdorf, the lead architect and planner of Ma’ale Adumim expressed these concerns regarding the site to Gideon Patt, the Minister of Tourism at the time, he was told that “with all due respect, this was a government decision and that in one hundred and twenty days the bulldozers had to begin work on the site.” [8]

When Leitersdorf presented location alternatives to the Ministerial Committee of Settlements, the only questions his government audience posed were: ‘Which of the alternative locations has better control over the main routes?’ and ‘Which town has a better chance to grow quickly and offer qualities that would make it competitive with Jerusalem?’ [9]

Thus, Israel’s political decision to “grab the hilltops” overrode any site, architectural, or planning considerations.

In 1979, Israel began the construction of Ma’ale Adumim.  In following with Israel’s planning strategy of producing “instant cities,” Leitersdorf and his team designed and developed the first phase of Ma’ale Adumim within three years, which included 2,000 apartments, all built on “one system of construction and infrastructure.” [10]

In October of 1991, the Israeli government declared Ma’ale Adumim, with 15,500 inhabitants, “the first and largest Hebraic city in Judea and Samaria,” [11] despite the fact that it falls within the 1967 Green Line.  Despite the fact that it cuts across, and onto, my grandfather’s land. The population of Ma’ale Adumim has grown from twenty-three families in 1975 to around forty-thousand people today. And it is growing.

On 30 November 2012, less than twenty-four hours after Palestine gained non-member status at the United Nations, and five days after I set foot on my grandfather’s land for the first time, Israel announced its plan to build an additional three-thousand settler units. The E-1 Plan, as it is known, intends to expand Ma’ale Adumim from the west and connect it to Jerusalem thereby accomplishing Israel’s long-term vision.

It must be noted here that the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim on the east to the Jordan Valley, is an ongoing process. While Israel only made the E-1 plans announcement following the UN bid, it would be naive to believe Israel came to this decision within twenty-four hours and only as retaliation to Palestinian “unilateralism.” Israel approved the E-1 plan in 1999, but shelved it due to US and international pressure.

Israel seized the moment of the UN bid to implement a plan that dates back much further than 1999.


[The E1 Plan.  Source: PASSIA]

Through examining the plans and maps that Israeli leaders had drafted over the last sixty-four years, it become evident that the historical processes of settlement and road construction lead to the deliberate creation of Greater Israeli Jerusalem.  The boundaries of the Greater Jerusalem Israel is currently implementing are larger than those of the Greater Jerusalem under the 1948 UN Partition Plan, which declared Greater Jerusalem a corpus separatum.

The expansion of settlements, both eastward and westward, as well as the creation of bypass roads, all serve to connect Israeli settlements with Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, while further dividing the Palestinian areas into pockets of lands.

 
[Left: Jerusalem and the Corpus Separatum, 1947.  Right: Projection of Israeli Proposal for Jerusalem’s Final Status, Camp David, 2000.  Source: PASSIA Palestine.]

By comparing the Palestinian land classified as Area ‘C,’ and therefore under Israeli control, under the 1993 Oslo Agreement to the Allon Plan, it becomes apparent that Area ‘C’ fulfills Allon’s vision of Israeli territory within the 1967 borders. This further puts into question the viability of the US-brokered “peace process” and Israel’s good faith to establish a two-state solution.

The building of E-1, which covers around 12,000 dunams, will be another step in fulfilling the Allon Plan, as it would divide the West Bank into two areas: north and south, and seal off East Jerusalem from other Palestinian cities.


[Left: The Allon Map, 1967.  Source: Middle East Maps.  Right: Palestine today, 2012.  Source: Map by Suhail Abushosha.]

Israel refuses to leave Ma’ale Adumim isolated, unconnected, and within the Palestinian territories.  Perhaps, the only way for Ma’ale Adumim to be returned to its original owners is through a one state solution. However, I know that no Israeli leader will voluntarily dismantle Ma’ale Adumim during my lifetime. It is a fortress guarding the occupiers. It is a watchtower overlooking the Jordan Valley. It is a symbol of colonial modernity. It is hegemony.

But I also know that I will never forget that the land on which this settlement stands belongs to my grandfather. A land I could have called my own. A land my children could have called their own. And I look forward to the day that I tell a daughter “You see all this hilltop? This is all your mama’s grandfather’s.”

——

[1] Efrat, Zvi, “The Plan,” A Civilian Occupation: the Politics of Israeli Architecture, Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, ed. (London: Babel, 2003) Chapter 4.

[2] Maguire, Kate, “The Israelization of Jerusalem,” Arab Papers, 7 (July 1981).

[3] Dumper, Michael, The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1997)

[4] (Dumper, 1997).

[5] Following the concepts of the Allon Plan, the Israeli governments built 21 settlements along the Jordan Valley and Eastern plains between 1967 to 1977

[6] (Dumper, 1997).

[7] Tamir-Tawil, Eran, “To Start a City From Scratch: An Interview with Architect Thomas M. Leitersdorf,” A Civilian Occupation: the Politics of Israeli Architecture, Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, ed. (London: Babel, 2003) Chapter 9

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ma’ale Adumim Official Website

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“Zionism in crisis”? Is that still of any surprise?

David Shulman posted on May 9, 2012 “Israel in Peril” and he reviewed Peter Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism(with slight editing):

“On April 15 of this year, I was returning to Israel on an Alitalia flight from Rome. About forty minutes before landing in Tel Aviv, the captain informed us that Israel had announced extraordinary security measures, constricting its air space in response to an unusual threat, and that from that moment on—we were still high above the Mediterranean—until we would be allowed to leave the terminal, all photography was strictly forbidden. We were to follow the instructions of Israeli security personnel on the ground.

My first thought was that Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to attack Iran, because of the seeming movement in the preceding days toward an effective and acceptable peaceful solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear project. On second thought, I decided that such an attack was still somewhat unlikely. So what was going on?

Upon landing we were diverted to the old, by now outmoded Terminal 1. After passport control, we were taken by buses to the new Terminal 3. There were police and border police everywhere and in large numbers. We soon saw them arresting a demonstrator and forcing him into a police van.

At this point it dawned on me that the extraordinary menace from the skies had to do with the arrival in Israel of a few dozen peace activists from Europe. They were trying to reach Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories in order to protest against human rights abuses by Israel.

In this photo, Zionist colons and army soldiers are maiming a Palestinian kid

These protesters clearly provided reason enough to call out the armed forces, as if a violent invasion were taking place. Some fifty were arrested; two managed to slip through the cordon and reach Bethlehem. Government spokesmen that evening proudly spoke of having warded off a threat of almost existential proportions. Their satisfaction was marred only by the fact that the TV news that day was full of one of those incidents that reveal in a flash the violent reality of the occupation.

Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the army brigade stationed in the Jordan Valley and a settler himself, was filmed brutally, and without provocation, smashing a Danish peace activist in the face with his rifle. The ugly and horrifying scene was broadcast dozens of times.
 
I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen the likes of it rather often in demonstrations in East Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah, Ras al-Amud, Silwan) and in peace actions in the territories. Eisner has since been temporarily relieved of his command. If earlier cases are of any indication, he will probably be reinstated after a couple of  years in another post. Interviewed after the incident, he gave an honest statement of his moral stature: “Maybe it was a professional mistake to use the gun when there were cameras around.”1

Why should a handful of harmless demonstrators elicit so severe a reaction? Netanyahu, in his official announcement, said that if these people were so concerned with human rights, they should check out the situation in Syria, Gaza, or Iran—as if such sites of egregious abuse relieved Israel of any responsibility for what is going on day by day in the occupied territories.

The same logic—that of the endless war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness—underlies Netanyahu’s constant dwelling on the Holocaust in relation to Iran. Like many Israelis, he inhabits a world where evil forces are always just about to annihilate the Jews, who must strike back in daring and heroic ways in order to snatch life from the jaws of death.

I think that, like many other Israelis, Netanyahu is in love with such a world and would reinvent it even if there were no serious threat from outside.

Buried somewhere inside all this is a bad Israeli conscience about the treatment of Palestinians since 1948—a conscience repressed but still somehow alive (perhaps not in Netanyahu).

The rationalizing vision pasted over that bad conscience, a vision simple-minded, self-righteous, dangerous, and immoral, underlies the dilemma that Peter Beinart has eloquently and bravely stated in The Crisis of Zionism. Peter articulates it as a conflict, very familiar by now, between liberal, democratic values and a proto-racist, atavistic nationalism.

This conflict has created two Jewish States in the Middle East. As Beinart says, “To the west [of the Green Line, the pre-1967 border], Israel is a flawed but genuine democracy. To the east, it is an ethnocracy.”

By “ethnocracy is a place where Jews enjoy citizenship and Palestinians do not”. It is a mini-state run by settlers, some of them violent and fanatical, that disenfranchises a huge Palestinian population and continually appropriates Palestinian land in the interests of expanding and further entrenching the colonial project of the settlements. Inevitably, the ethos of the occupation, now in its 45 year, spills westward over the Green Line: “Illiberal Zionism beyond the green line destroys the possibility of liberal Zionism inside it.”

The evidence for this observation is overwhelming; Beinart discusses recent research that shows a dangerous erosion in the commitment by ordinary Israelis to basic democratic values and the concomitant rise of hypernationalist, racist, and totalitarian tendencies, some of them well represented in the ultra-right parties in the Knesset and in the current Israeli cabinet.

In the last year, we’ve seen a spate of antidemocratic, “ethnocratic” legislation all too reminiscent of dark precedents in the history of the last century.

We could describe simply what is happening as a takeover by the settler mini-state of the central institutions of the Israeli state system as a whole.

By now, Israeli policy is almost entirely mortgaged to the settler enterprise: almost every day brings some new, inventive scheme to legalize existing “illegal outposts” in the territories and to facilitate the appropriation of more and more Palestinian land.2 

The inevitable result of such policies is the imminent demise of the so-called “Two-State solution,” which would put a Palestinian state by the side of pre-1967 Israel (with whatever minor revisions of the old boundary the two sides would agree upon in negotiations).

By now, a huge portion of the West Bank has, in effect, been annexed, perhaps irreversibly, to Israel. No State can be constituted on the little that remains. I will return to this question.

Even apart from the disastrous political consequences of current Israeli policy, it is critical to recognize that what goes on in the territories is not a matter of episodic abuse of basic human rights, something that could be corrected by relatively minor, ad hoc actions of protest and redress. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The occupation is systemic in every sense of the word. The various agencies involved—government bureaucrats and their ministries and budgets, the army, the blue-uniformed civilian police, the border police, the civil administration (that is, the official Occupation Authority), the courts (in particular, the military courts in the territories, but also Israeli civil courts inside the Green Line), the host of media commentators who toe the government line and perpetuate its regnant mythologies, and so on—are all inextricably woven into a system whose logic is apparent to anyone with firsthand experience of it.

That logic is one of protecting the settlement project and taking the land. The security aspect of the occupation is, in my view, close to trivial; were it a primary goal, the situation on the ground would look very different.

Take a few routines, typical examples, drawn at random from an endless series.

In mid-January the civil administration sent its bulldozers, accompanied by soldiers, to demolish the ramshackle hut of Halima Ahmad al-Hadhalin, a Palestinian widow with 9 orphaned children living in the deeply impoverished site of Umm al-Kheir, adjacent to the large and constantly expanding settlement of Carmel in the south Hebron hills.

The bureaucrats claimed that the shack was built without a permit, which is no doubt true: Palestinians living in the West Bank “Area C” (Zone C) is under full Israeli control, only very rarely receive a permit to build from the committee, largely composed of settlers, that oversees such requests.

I saw Halima on January 28, on a freezing rainy day.  She was standing barefoot, still shocked and traumatized, in a neighbor’s tent. Such demolitions happen regularly at Umm al-Kheir and have nothing whatever to do with the rule of law; they are part of a malevolent campaign to make life as miserable as possible for the Palestinians there (who, incidentally, claim credibly to own the land on which Carmel sits today) in the hope that they will go away.

Precisely the same line of reasoning applies to a wave of demolition orders issued in February of this year against the project of electrification and the building of energy infrastructures in a set of some sixteen tiny Palestinian khirbehs spread over the south Hebron hills. The shepherds and small-scale farmers in this region live in caves, tents, or shacks, in abject poverty.

Volunteers and peace activists with technical know-how such as Noam Dotan and El’ad Orian, from the organization known as Comet-Me, have painstakingly built wind turbines and basic electric grids in many of these villages to serve a population of some 1,500 people.

The immediate change in the quality of life in this harsh region was dramatic.  My friend Ali Awwad from Tuba, proudly turning on a light bulb in the cave he inhabits, said to me, “For the first time in my life, I feel like a complete human being.”3 

Can these minimal infrastructures, entirely benevolent in intention and effect, funded mainly by European donors at the level of hundreds of thousands of euros,4 constitute a threat of any sort to Israel?

Apparently, they can. The civil administration is keen on destroying them, once again on the flimsy excuse that they were put in place without permits—as if a request for a permit would have been forthcoming.5 

Several electric pylons have already been destroyed and electric wires, undoubtedly worthy targets for the Israeli army, have been cut in some six villages. Pressure from European governments, especially Germany, has stayed the new demolition orders for the moment, but the danger that the bulldozers will turn up when opportunity arises remains very real.

Could the courts stand as a bulwark against such arbitrary acts by the authorities or the more severe instances of outright theft or violent attack by settlers? Occasionally, they do. In general, however, no Palestinian has the slightest chance of finding justice in an Israeli military court, and very few indeed have been justly treated in the civil courts over the last forty years.

Any case having to do with an attempt to establish or maintain Palestinian ownership over lands taken for settlement is, ipso facto, unlikely to end in a decision that goes against the settlers or the government, although there have been some exceptions to this gloomy conclusion. Palestinians who protest against the occupation and the loss of village lands are treated harshly, sometimes imprisoned for long periods, sometimes killed in the course of the demonstrations.6

It is such matters that make Beinart’s deliberately understated description of the occupation seem, from a local perspective in Israel-Palestine, far too mild. His book is clearly addressed in the first instance to an American audience, one perhaps not fully aware of the real situation inside the Palestinian territories.

The tone of the book is polemical, as one might expect: inevitably, Beinart has been bitterly attacked as naive—the worst, also the cheapest insult in the lexicon of those who defend Israeli policies—and as oblivious to the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.7 He is, in fact, all too aware of those complexities, far more so than many who claim to speak to or for American Jews (most of whom, as Beinart points out, have probably never met a living Palestinian).

Beinart mainly focuses on the situation as it is today, under this particular American president and this particular Israeli government. Possibly the most revealing part of the book is the detailed and persuasive description of the political maneuvers that allowed Netanyahu to humiliate Obama repeatedly, first over the issue of a freeze on settlements, and later in Congress, in 2010–2011.

The settlement freeze, in which the Obama administration had invested considerable effort, pressure, and prestige, was never more than a sham; according to the reliable count by Peace Now, construction of new housing units in the territories in 2010, the year of the “freeze,” was only slightly lower than in 2009 (1,712 units as opposed to 1,920).

In March 2010, on the day that Vice President Biden arrived in Jerusalem, the Israeli government announced that it was nearly doubling construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo—an obvious and probably calculated insult to the administration.

Even more outrageous was Netanyahu’s arrogant response to a key speech of Obama’s on May 19, 2011, in which the president stated clearly that “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” Netanyahu announced that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004”—including acceptance by America of the annexation by Israel of huge chunks of Palestinian land in the so-called “settlement blocs.”

Note the word “expects,” as if Netanyahu were dictating to a submissive president what the latter should or should not say. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on May 24, 2011, a pastiche of myth and demagogic rhetoric of the extreme right, remained faithful to this tone, which Congress shamefully applauded.

Sadly, Beinart shows how Obama has consistently given in to pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby and other American Jewish establishment voices. He gives a withering critique of the leadership of central American Jewish institutions, by now blindly and rather crudely identified with the Israeli right and the Netanyahu line; he quotes Keith Weissman, formerly on the AIPAC staff, as saying that already in the mid-1990s dominant figures there “were sucking at the teat of Likud.”

 Beinart shows that this orientation, with its visceral aversion to the very idea of a free Palestinian state and its enthusiasm for the occupation, now largely dominates the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, the Presidents’ Conference, and a large part of the Orthodox rabbinical establishment as well.

Orthodox hypernationalism and its sometimes violently antidemocratic, even racist voices partly account for Beinart’s pessimistic prognosis for mainstream American Judaism and its relation to Israel.8 Beinart fears “American Zionism will become the province of people indifferent to liberal democratic ideals, and the American Jews most committed to those ideals will become indifferent, at best, to the Jewish State.”9 

He cites studies showing that younger non-Orthodox American Jews, conspicuously liberal in their values and politics, are less and less attached to Israel. Here is the American Jewish version of the conflict I have described in Israel between democratic ideals and tribal nationalism. Both my grandfathers, like most American Jews of their generation, at once Rooseveltian Democrats committed to strong notions of social justice and ardent Zionists, would have been horrified by what has happened in Israel and by the consequent need for American Jews to make such a choice.

shulman_2-060712.jpgJack Guez/AFP/Getty ImagesPalestinian children walking past Israeli border policemen standing guard near a Palestinian house taken over by Jewish settlers in the center of Hebron, April 3, 2012

The book has a welcome pragmatic thrust to it, reflecting the urgency—and the immense difficulty—of generating change, but here again Beinart’s recommendations seem to me rather limited.10 He wants to strengthen liberal Jewish education in the US and to expand its funding basis; no one could take exception to this plea, though its potential effects on Israeli policy may be decades away.

More immediately, Beinart recommends a boycott by American Jews of products coming from Israeli settlements in the territories. This may seem a bold step in New York or Philadelphia, given the current climate in American synagogues and other Jewish institutions, though many of us have been doing it for years, publicly or silently, to no great effect.

I once threw a fit in a well-known Jerusalem restaurant when it turned out that they had in stock only wine produced by settlers or in wineries located in the territories. The owner eventually appeared and apologized profusely, promising that in future he’d have a wider selection. That’s about as far as we’ve got, although there is at least one case—that of the Barkan wineries—where pressure from outside, probably mostly from Europe, apparently led to the closure of the main production unit on the West Bank, near Banu Hassan.

Lest this example inspire inflated hopes, I should add that, according to recent studies, many if not most Israeli wineries process grapes grown in settlements.

By now, targeting settlers’ produce has a slightly anachronistic feel to it. Does it make sense to focus on wine from Hebron or milk products from the Susya dairy when the entire Israeli political system sustains the colonial project in the territories?

I should make it clear that I oppose the call for an across-the-board boycott of Israel, and in particular for an academic-cultural boycott, which, in my view, can only be counterproductive, strengthening the prevalent paranoid mythology and its strident spokesmen on the right. Although I spend a portion of my time in often quixotic gestures in the south Hebron hills, in general I’m not fond of the ineffectual.

What is needed is something far more effective—perhaps something that a second-term Democratic president could achieve if he had the courage to confront the stranglehold of AIPAC on American politics, partly described by Beinart. In the meantime, we could use the kind of idealistic and hardheaded volunteers whom Arnold Wolf, the charismatic liberal rabbi who was one of Obama’s mentors in Chicago, took to Selma, Alabama, during the civil rights struggle.

We need volunteers on the West Bank, to protect innocent Palestinian civilians from marauding settlers and the soldiers who invariably back the settlers up. Even a few hundred people would make a real difference.

But it may already be too late. Analysts like Meron Benvenisti, the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, have been saying for years that the idea of the two-state solution is no more than a fig leaf, to which both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships pay lip service, hiding the recalcitrant reality of what is already a single state between the Jordan River and the sea.

At the moment, this single state, seen as a whole, fits Beinart’s term—a coercive “ethnocracy.” Those who recoil at the term “apartheid” are invited to offer a better one; but note that one of the main architects of this system, Ariel Sharon, himself reportedly adopted South African terminology, referring to the noncontiguous Palestinian enclaves he envisaged for the West Bank as “Bantustans.”

These Palestinian Bantustans now exist, and no one should pretend that they’re anything remotely like a “solution” to Israel’s Palestinian problem. Someday, as happened in South Africa, this system will inevitably break down. In an optimistic version of the future, we may be left with some sort of confederated model that is more than one state but somehow less than two—and in which the Jews will soon become a minority.

I do not see how that can happen without a struggle, hopefully nonviolent at least to some degree, in which Palestinians claim for themselves the rights that other peoples have achieved.

How did we reach this point? Why do Israelis cling to a policy so evidently irrational, indeed suicidal? The simple—too simple—answer is: we’re afraid. We’ve been so traumatized, first by our whole history and then by the history of this conflict, that we want at least an illusion of security, like the kind that comes from holding on to a few more rocky hills.

Never mind that every inch of Israel is within range of tens of thousands of missiles currently stationed in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, not to mention Iran, and that a few more square kilometers make no difference to that threat. We’ll still take over those West Bank hills, and we’ll even put a few rickety caravans on them for anyone crazy enough to want to live there, and we’ll station a few dozen bored soldiers on top of each of them and all around them, and we’ll connect them to the Israeli electricity grid and the water system, and we’ll build a big perimeter fence to enclose the new settlement and to provide land for it to grow on (usually many times the size of the settlement itself).

The land happens to belong to Palestinians, but that, clearly, is a consideration of no relevance here.

The fears of Israelis are no doubt real enough, and a generous interpretation of Israeli policy over the last four decades would give them due emphasis. As Ali Abu Awwad, one of the leaders of the new generation of Palestinian nonviolent resisters, often says: “The Jews are not my enemy; their fear is my enemy.

We must help them to stop being so afraid—their whole history has terrified them—but I refuse to be a victim of Jewish fear anymore.” He’s right to refuse. But I think the reality we inhabit and have largely created by our own actions has more to do with the story we Israelis tell ourselves about who we are—a powerfully dramatic story that, like many such mythic stories, has a way of perpetuating itself, at continually escalating cost to those who tell it. This story more and more coincides with the primitive Netanyahu narrative I mentioned earlier.

To get away from it, we need to recognize certain primary facts, however uncomfortable they may be for some of us. As has been the case in the past, there are always easily available diversions and distractions that mask the true basis of the ongoing struggle; in Israel today, the main such diversion is called “Iran.”

Along with such distractions we have the Israeli refusal to see the present Palestinian leadership in Ramallah for what it is, a more than adequate partner for Israel. Those who don’t agree should be thinking about men such as Marwan Barghouti, still biding his time in an Israeli jail. He’s no saint, to be sure, but he enjoys enormous authority among Palestinians, and he knows very well what is required to strike a deal.

There is good reason to believe that Marwan wants such a deal, along the lines that are by now recognized as reasonable by a majority on both sides of the conflict and, indeed, by most other nations. He has recently published a strong statement calling for mass nonviolent resistance in the territories and an end to the farce of a negotiating “process” that has allowed Israel to stall endlessly—and to hide its deeply rooted hostility to the very idea of coming to some form of agreement with the Palestinian national movement.

This profound antipathy to making a meaningful peace will undoubtedly continue to dominate the present Israeli government, now expanded by the entry of the Kadima party into the coalition. Kadima presents itself as “centrist” but is, in fact, hardly distinguishable from the Likud, from which it seceded under Sharon’s leadership, when it comes to Palestinian matters. The new cabinet will continue to entrench the occupation and to legalize the massive theft of Palestinian lands while loudly complaining that the Palestinians are responsible for the collapse of negotiations.

It is worth stating the self-evident truths: at the core of this conflict there are two peoples with symmetrical claims to the land. Neither of the two has any monopoly on being “right,” and each has committed atrocities against the other. One of these two sides is, however, much stronger than the other. Until the national aspirations of the weaker, Palestinian side are addressed and some sort of workable compromise between the two parties is achieved—until the occupation as we know it today comes to an end—there will be no peace. It is impossible to keep millions of human beings disenfranchised for long and to systematically rob them of their dignity and their land.

To prolong the occupation is to ensure the emergence of a single polity west of the Jordan; every passing day makes a South African trajectory more likely, including the eventual, necessary progression to a system of one person, one vote. Thus the likelihood must be faced that unless the Occupation ends, there will also, in the not so distant future, be no Jewish state.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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