Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Off on a Tangent: I.M Pei speaks about the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

While I acknowledge that this link is not in any way related to peace in the Holy Land, I have been to and greatly enjoyed the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and thought it was worth sharing the architect's brief comments on designing the building. The cubism-inspired building itself, situated on a man-made island in a nearly perfectly circular bay is incredible, especially when viewed down the palm-lined promenade linking the island museum with the shore of Doha. Inside however, is where the real treasure of the museum lies. I found the exhibits to be fascinating and informative, and the diversity of exhibits and ideas on art and its place in Islam made the museum one of the best I have had the opportunity to visit. I also credit the MIA-Doha fully for my inordinate knowledge of pearls, as during my visit the museum featured a temporary exhibit on pearling throughout history and pearl art.

The Wild West Bank: Settler's set fire to Palestinian mosque in West Bank

From Haaretz and Maan, settlers apparently representing the recently dismantled illegal (even by Israeli standards) settlement of Alei Ayin have allegedly set fire to and vandalized a Palestinian mosque in the small West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir. The village is close to the site of where the Israeli settlement used to stand and the words "Price Tag" (a reference to the more violent settlers policy of causing damage or violence toward  Palestinians in return for the Israeli government dismantling squatter settlements in the West Bank) and "Alei Ayin" were spraypainted on an exterior wall of the mosque.

This is certainly not the first price tag attack by angry settlers on Palestinians and their property but I think it perfectly illustrates the serious discrepancy and bias of the Israeli military in administering the occupation of the West Bank. The IDF is generally pretty effective at keeping Palestinians out of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, but is not nearly as effective (as a matter of policy and resources) at keeping settlers out of Palestinian towns and villages. Palestinians living under Israeli control and administration in Area C and partially in Area B in the West Bank have far different access to police and legal services than (not to mention transportation and zoning access) do Israeli settlers - even those that the Israeli government acknowledges are living illegally in the West Bank. This is not a matter of neglect but of policy and I'm not sure how it's any less abhorrent than Jim Crow laws discriminating against African-Americans in the American South.

This is also one of the many things that makes Israel's continuing occupation of the West Bank (and Golan Heights) so different than so many modern military occupations. The Israeli military is not only attempting to pacify a population hostile to their presence, but protect and encourage civilians that live in scattered villages, towns, and cities that checker the occupied territory.

I cannot help from being reminded of the Jacob's Tomb incident of several weeks ago in which an Israeli visitor to Jacob's Tomb was shot and killed by a Palestinian Authority policeman after members of his group attempted to drive through a PA checkpoint. The group of worshipers had failed to coordinate their visit to the site (which lies in Area A, under full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority) with the IDF and PA. The police officer reported that he fired on the cars of visitors after they failed to heed the PA checkpoint and warning shots fired into the air.

The village of Al-Mughayyir (where the mosque arson took place) is within Area A/B where the PA has either full or joint security control with the IDF. What exists in much of the West Bank is an extremely unstable situation in which both the Palestinian Authority and Israeli settlers are attempting to assert competing authorities over the same lands. The failure to draw up any recognizable borders between Palestinians and Israelis only makes problems like the price tag attacks and the killing of an Israeli worshiper at Jacob's Tomb all the more likely. While a final status agreement would certainly draw borders between the two sides, the current situation (in which Israeli settlements are scattered haphazardly on hilltops across the West Bank) is terrible for the stability and safety of both sides.