giovedì 3 marzo 2016

Gideon Levy : Israel’s New National Square

Gush Etzion junction is the new Kikar Hamedina, the national square. Most Israelis haven’t been there recently or even in years; many have probably never been there. But whoever wants to know the state of the occupation and how the country responsible for it looks is invited to the ugliest and most repulsive intersection in the country, its most highly armed crossroads and the lowest spot in Israel.

Only half an hour from Jerusalem and an hour from Tel Aviv – the heart of the country, and even the heart of the consensus. What you see there now ought to inspire serious thought among those passing through, most of them settlers. But all Israelis must know what it looks like now. Gush Etzion junction, and not “Gucci” square on Hei B’Iyar Street in Tel Aviv, is Kikar Hamedina. Here Israel’s true appearance is reflected – a garrison state, violent and fearful, one that insists on living by the sword.

East Germany is here; even the watchdogs are German shepherds. Everything smacks of violence, threat, and fear. It’s on the main road between Jerusalem and Hebron, a huge roundabout on a busy road. The ugliness and neglect typical of the settlement junctions peak here; only Tapuah junction is uglier and dirtier than this one. The Palestinians call Halhoul junction, the next junction over, “Death Square,” but more blood has been spilled at this one. Concrete cubicles are covered with nationalistic posters and daubed with Israeli flags – as if the number of Israeli flags smeared into view determines the extent of sovereignty – and Gush Etzion junction is ours; here lies the national consensus, real or fabricated. Ask anyone.

Dozens of armed soldiers surround the intersection on all sides. They are secured from head to toe; their faces, which are barely visible, may look either fearful or threatening. Standing at their concrete positions, fingers on the trigger 24/7. Watchtowers, security cameras, checkpoints, barbed wire and roadblocks – here and there in the beautiful, Greater Land of Israel. There are iron monsters – military and police vehicles – and dogs from the Oketz canine unit that sow fear with their jaws in metal muzzles and murderous looks, wandering around leashed to soldiers, suspicious of every Palestinian.

The settlers’ hitchhiking stations, which are always crowded, are surrounded by concrete blocks and metal poles. Every bus stop is a fortress, every Palestinian a suspicious object. One wrong move and he’s finished. After all the attacks here, it’s become a focus of the current uprising. The atmosphere is tense, the soldiers are nervous. This junction has never looked the way it does now, like a fortified barracks on all sides, armed and armored.

When I passed through it this week I asked myself what the settlers who pass here every day think. Are they also scared? Do they admit to it? Does it ever occur to them to think the inevitable thought – what are they doing there? Is it worth it? Do they really want to live like this?

Is it fair of them to demand that Israeli soldiers stand here day and night in all types of weather just to defend their beliefs and passion for real estate? Is it moral to raise their children near this junction? Are they prepared to live forever with the machine guns and fences? Is that a normal life?

Do they really imagine that the Palestinians will ever give up this intersection, which was built forcibly on their land, against their wishes, like all the huge settlements surrounding it? Do these pleasant, accepted settlers of the consensus – most of whom are not wacky hilltop youths – believe that the Palestinians will yield on their rights? Do they even think they have rights?

The cars zoom past, and with them the delusions. Let’s just get out of here.

Gideon Levy

Haaretz Correspondent
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