April 15, 2009

Weapons in a mosque in Qalqiliyah - surprise?

There was a little-reported story in the news today, and in the big scheme of things, understandably so. However, for those who live in the area where this happened, or those who are familiar with the geography of the area, it strikes a chord.

The headline for the story was, "Palestinian police say they've uncovered explosives lab in West Bank mosque." Interesting, but not alarming - until I read the location of the mosque. The mosque (yes, a holy place of Islam, a religion of peace) is in a small city named Qalqiliyah (image below).

Qalqiliyah is located at the narrowest point of the state of Israel (see map below) - it is less than nine miles from this West Bank city to the Mediterranean Sea. The area near Qalqiliyah has been the venue of numerous Palestinian terrorist attacks over the years because of its location. If you were going to cut Israel in half, Qalqiliyah would be the perfect place to launch an attack. It would separate two of Israel's major cities - Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Why do I care? In January, I spent some time in Israel, mostly focused on the war in Gaza. During that trip, I also visited some friends in Ra'anana, Israel. Ra'anana is located only a few kilometers from Qalqiliyah.

A factor to consider when reading today's obscure news article is the anger, the rage of Palestinians over the anti-terrorist barrier erected between Israel and the West Bank - although the barrier also encompasses areas of the West Bank where Israelis have built settlements. (See my earlier Israel's Anti-Terrorist Fence - Long Term Solution?)

The barrier to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis creates jaza'ir sahyuniyah (Zionist peninsulas) jutting into the West Bank. In the above image, the red line indicates the path of the anti-terrorist barrier - note the erratic nature of the fence. The barrier effectively eliminates any contact or trade between the two sides.

Prior to the al-aqsa intifadhah, there was a robust commercial relationship between Qalqiliyah and the Israeli towns on its periphery. After the terrorist attacks from the West Bank and the resultant construction of the barrier, there is now virtually no contact between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis I talked to express regret that they cannot patronize businesses and restaurants in Qalqiliyah - I suspect that the Palestinians have suffered more economically from being cut off from Israel proper.

The barrier is real. Above is a wall portion of the barrier. It was made a wall rather than the normal fence because of sniper attacks from taller buildings (like mosques) in Qalqiliyah.

This is the gate (from the West Bank side) that controls access to the Qalqiliyah area. I was able to cross into the area on the West Bank; Israelis cannot cross here without special authorization.

So who would hide weapons in a mosque? According to the police on the West Bank - loyal to Palestinian President Mahmud 'Abbas - it is most likely the Islamic militant group Hamas.

I tend to agree. Qalqiliyah is a hotbed of Islamic militancy, and about as close to the heartland of Israel as you can get. Hamas has never shown any reticence about using holy places to store weapons.