The Map That Shocked Obama


One afternoon in the spring of 2015, a senior State Department official named Frank Lowenstein paged through a government briefing book and noticed a map that he had never seen before. Lowenstein was the Obama Administration’s special envoy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a position that exposed him to hundreds of maps of the West Bank. (One adorned his State Department office.)

Typically, those maps made Jewish settlements and outposts look tiny compared to the areas where the Palestinians lived. The new map in the briefing book was different. It showed large swaths of territory that were off limits to Palestinian development and filled in space between the settlements and the outposts. At that moment, Lowenstein told me, he saw “the forest for the trees”—not only were Palestinian population centers cut off from one another but there was virtually no way to squeeze a viable Palestinian state into the areas that remained. Lowenstein’s team did the math. When the settlement zones, the illegal outposts, and the other areas off limits to Palestinian development were consolidated, they covered almost sixty per cent of the West Bank. [[[.]

Kerry met regularly with Obama in the Oval Office. During one of those meetings, Kerry placed the maps on a large coffee table, one after another, so Obama and his advisers could study them. Ben Rhodes, one of Obama’s longest-serving advisers, said the President was shocked to see how “systematic” the Israelis had been at cutting off Palestinian population centers from one another. —

It is troubling that the otherwise well-informed Obama was unaware of the true impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians. It is shocking that senior US government officials, who send billions in military aid to Israel, are unable to “see the forest for the trees” until such a map brings it into stark relief.

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Their inability to clearly see the facts is the result of the Israeli government’s propaganda designed to obscure its abuse of Palestinian peoples. This propaganda is eagerly amplified by many in the US.

The Israeli government’s decades long strategy to annex as much of the West Bank as possible is close to fruition. By employing force and a series of subterfuges (building permits, parks, military installations, armed settlers), the Israeli government has managed to concentrate Palestinians in the West Bank into dense, isolated pockets. Exclusively Jewish-Israeli settlements circle these areas.

Isolating Palestinian communities into small pockets cut off from each other is a calculated effort to destroy the Palestinian economy and culture. The entire apparatus of the Israeli state works relentlessly to undermine Palestinian freedom of movement. This has reached its zenith in Gaza, where an entire generation has lived its life confined to a 140 square mile area, isolated from the rest of the Palestinian population, from towns and places that used to form an integral part of their lives.

Things are hardly better in the West Bank. Palestinians seeking to travel outside of their small towns have to contend with a network of Israeli “checkpoints” designed to humiliate them. They are often staffed with belligerent soldiers who are fully aware that a system of impunity will protect them from any repercussions when they abuse Palestinian, and even if they kill them.

Each checkpoint exacts a toll from Palestinians who wish to visit family or visit the next town over to conduct business. These costs are imposed within towns as well, where certain streets are reserved for Jewish settlers. They exist at the edges of Palestinian towns and villages where the Israeli army imposes curfews and arbitrarily stops travelers to harass them. And they exist at the borders, where the ability of Palestinians to travel abroad is constrained by the Israeli government’s control of the borders and its ability to deny them the “right to return”. The Israeli government makes no bones about it’s desire to see as many Palestinians “self-deport” as possible.

And amid all these abuses, a propaganda effort surgically blames the shackled victims for low economic growth. Palestinian enterprises face enormous barriers to develop and produce products, while companies owned by Jewish Israelis are often given free rein to illegally exploit resources in the West Bank. The Palestinian response has been to advocate for a boycott of Israeli goods and services. This peaceful boycott has been vilified by an organized lobbying and propaganda campaign that seeks to undermine it. 

Apart from the building, the Israeli state continues to attack and bomb Palestinians on a daily basis. Two children were killed by an IAF bomb while playing in a park in Gaza:

The bombs that were dropped on them and the plane that did it were likely a gift from the US government, which sends several billion dollars in military aid each year to the Israeli government. This support is in violation of the Leahy act, since numerous Israeli army units have engaged in human rights abuses.

It’s impossible to escape the thought that if two Israeli children had been killed by Palestinian bombs, American newspapers would have devoted front page stories to them. Since the victims are Palestinian, the story is buried if reported at all. This despite the fact that the bombs dropped on them were almost certainly made in American factories and paid for by American taxpayers, as were the aircraft that made the bombing run.

The relentless bombing by drone and F-16 over decades has taken an unimaginable toll on Palestinian children. Thousands have been killed and millions traumatized in ways big and small.

— @subirgrewal | City of Lost Love Songs: available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

The impact of these apartheid policies is illustrated by the Palestinian village of Kaddum which has been cut off from Nablus from 15 years by the Israeli army. For the past seven years, the villagers have protested this closure. The Israeli state has responded by terrorizing villagers with nightly raids designed to disrupt their sleep, and by attacking their protests.

As part of this decades-long strategy, the Israeli government is preparing to demolish a Bedouin village and make the land available to Jewish settlers.

If Israel were to demolish the village and other surrounding Bedouin communities and build here as planned, Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank would be split in two, with a portion of it isolated from any future capital in East Jerusalem. [...]

While European nations including Ireland, France and Britain have spoken out against the plans, and human rights group decry the forcible transfer of Khan al-Ahmar’s residents as a war crime, the United States has remained silent. [...]

“We are not allowed to build even one concrete room,” he said. The village’s school was constructed out of tires and mud to circumvent restrictions. Israel deems Khan al-Ahmar illegal, as it was constructed without permits, although much of the international community maintains that it is Kfar Adumim that was built illegally. Residents of the Bedouin village say they have never been given a chance to get building permits.


The current US government’s silence on this matter is a result of US policy towards Israel and Palestine being handed over to right-wing evangelical preachers and other supporters of the Israeli project to dispossess Palestinians. The president’s son-in-law and his hand-picked ambassador have personally provided financial support to illegal settlements in the West Bank.

For most of the past 30 years, the Israeli electorate has elected the far-right Likud party, which has allied with and supported the rise of other far-right movements across the world, including in the US.

As in this case with Hungary, Mr. Netanyahu is increasingly aligning Israel with illiberal, autocratic states like Russia, Turkey and Egypt. The ultimate cynicism of such alliances is visible in Mr. Netanyahu’s willingness to tolerate the anti-Semitism of the global right-wing nationalist camp if it will bolster the Greater Israel movement.

This explains why, for instance, the Israeli government stayed silent when the Trump administration made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement this year. The strategy was also abundantly clear when Mr. Netanyahu told French Jews after the terrorist attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015 that Israel was their home. Mr. Netanyahu sees little value in safeguarding Jewish communities outside Israel, since he would prefer that Jews immigrate to Israel.


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