Reprinted from The National
Israel, it seems, has found a new weapon against Palestinian attacks -- the humble cucumber seed.
Soldiers have been handing out seeds at checkpoints with advice to Palestinians -- a nation of farmers until their lands were swallowed up by Jewish settlements -- to stop their recent knife attacks on Israelis and invest in a peaceful future.
Palestinians were not fooled. The seeds, the packets revealed, were produced by the very settlements that corralled them into their urban enclaves.
Israel's image laundering is directed at western countries that have propped up the occupation -- economically and diplomatically -- for decades. As ever, Israel hopes to persuade outsiders that the occupation is benevolent.
The futility of its PR, however, is highlighted by the latest initiative of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
New legislation is designed to intimidate and silence Israeli human rights organizations -- the international community's eyes and ears in the occupied territories. These groups are to be defined as "moles," or agents of foreign governments. Justice minister Ayalet Shaked warned that such foreign intervention "endangers democracy."
The problem is that the governments funding the human rights activity are not Israel's enemies, but some of its staunchest supporters -- European states.
Israel treats Europe's support for human rights as malign interference, but it welcomes the vast sums channelled its way via the European Union's special trade agreement and the billions in US military aid. It is this kind of foreign intervention that sustains the occupation.
The new legislation, however, risks leaving the EU and US exposed. Removing the minimal restraints imposed on the Israeli army by monitoring activity, the crimes of occupation -- and western complicity in them -- will be all the starker.
Western governments have made a show of their retaliation. They warn that, without a two-state solution, Israel is hurtling towards a binational reality and comparisons with apartheid.
Seeking to bolster the EU's recent feeble move to recommend labelling settlement products, its foreign ministers passed a resolution last week requiring all agreements with Israel to exclude the settlements.
Europe has hinted that other penalties are in the pipeline.
The United States echoes Europe. Its ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, last week broke with US protocol and admitted that Israel has two standards of law in the West Bank, separating between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.
It was the nearest Washington has dared to suggest that Israel already enforces an apartheid system in the territories.
Unused to having the US wash its dirty linen in public, Israel fumed. One of Mr Netanyahu's former aides even hurled an anti-Semitic insult at Mr Shapiro, calling him a "little Jewboy."