Thursday, November 2

MCC Palestine Update #1

MCC Palestine Update #1

2 November 2000

Two times over the past month, MCC Palestine has posted prayer requests and advocacy suggestions over Menno Link. We plan to continue to do this on a semi-regular basis if and as the violence of the occupation continues.

In addition to these worship resources and advocacy suggestions, we now plan to send out semi-regular updates on MCC's work in Palestine along with selected articles on the situation. With the coming of age of the internet, there are many distribution lists which pass around quality sources of alternative views and information on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. While we do not want to inundate anyone with excessive e-mail, we thought that some of the best pieces we receive over the internet might be of interest to the people on this list.

Enough introduction. This first update includes three items. The first is a brief account of how the economic siege imposed by the Israeli government on the occupied territories is effecting
MCC's Palestinian development partners. The second is an article by Amira Hass, correspondent in the occupied territories for the Israeli daily Haaretz. [Hass is also the author of an outstanding book, Drinking the Sea at Gaza, Henry Holt, 1999.] The third is an article by George Abu Zulof, director of Defense of Children International/Palestine Section, addressing the pernicious lie that Palestinians are sending their children as soldiers out to fight the Israelis.

1. MCC Update

The work of MCC's Palestinian development partners has been severely disrupted by the economic siege imposed by Israel on the occupied territories. By setting up an extensive network of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel places severe restrictions on Palestinian movement and the free flow of goods. The following are but some of the ways that the economic siege has hindered sustainable development in Palestine:

a. The al-Mustaqbal Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. has been working to establish a bamboo furniture workshop to provide income for economically disadvantaged Palestinians with visual disabilities. This fall, MCC gave al-Mustaqbal a $15,000 grant to help purchase equipment needed for the workshop. However, because Israel exercises a stranglehold on the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip, al-Mustaqbal has been unable to import the necessary equipment.

b. MCC routinely facilitates the export of olive wood carvings from Beit Sahour and Palestinian needlework from the Hebron area to Ten Thousand Villages fair trade shops in North America.
Currently, a shipment of 16 cartons, weighing 400 kilograms, is being held up at the Ben Gurion airport, as Israel is preventing the export of all products from the occupied territories. This shipment was ready to go out October 15. Many Palestinian Christians in Beit Sahour work as olive wood artisans and are dependent on the income from these carvings. Beit Sahour, it should be noted, has been repeatedly bombed by Israel over the past two weeks.

The daughter of one of Ten Thousand Village's Palestinian producers had her home riddled with Israeli bullets; the home of the sister of another artisan was shelled.

c. Together with the Palestinian Center for Helping Resolve Community Disputes in Gaza, MCC has been sponsoring a teen parliament to empower teenagers trained in conflict resolution to brainstorm how their skills might be used for the benefit of Palestinian society. Many parents of the teenagers, however, are not allowing their children to participate in the parliament, wanting to keep them home as much as possible as they fear for their children's safety when they are out.

d. Trainers with women's development program of the YMCA in Ramallah have been unable to get to villages in the West Bank where they offer training courses in animal husbandry and financial administration for underprivileged women. MCC contributes to a revolving loan fund operated by the YMCA for which promising trainees are eligible.

e. The Hope School in Beit Jala, formerly the Mennonite Secondary School, operates a chicken farm to help cover the costs of running the school. Workers at the school have had repeated difficulty in taking eggs from the farm to market, since the school is in Israeli-controlled Area C, while most of the buyers are in Area A, under Palestinian autonomous control.

The list could go on, as the economic siege and the military campaign against Palestinians in the occupied territories has disrupted all aspects of MCC's work. Future updates will highlight the status of other projects.

2. The Mirror Does Not Lie
Amira Hass
Haaretz, 1 November 2000

How perfectly natural that 40,000 persons should be subject to a total curfew for more than a month in the Old City of Hebron in order to protect the lives and well-being of 500 Jews. How perfectly natural that almost no Israeli mentions this fact or, for that matter, even knows about it. How perfectly natural that 34 schools attended by thousands of Palestinian children should be closed down for more than a month and their pupils imprisoned and suffocating day and night in their crowded homes, while the children of their neighbors - their Jewish neighbors, that is - are free to frolic as usual in the street among and with the Israeli soldiers stationed there.How perfectly natural that a Palestinian mother must beg and plead so that an Israeli soldier will allow her to sneak through the alleyways of the open-stall marketplace and obtain medication for her asthmatic children, or bread for her family. (Sometimes Israeli soldiers do have the guts to disobey orders, although, generally speaking, when encountering such situations, they order the woman to return to her home.)How perfectly understandable that the Israel Defense Forces is seizing control of an ever-increasing number of rooftops atop the homes of Palestinians in the Old City of Hebron and that Israeli soldiers positioned on those rooftops from time to time open fire on other Palestinians, while, down below, at street level, the Jewish settlers are free to show over and over again - at the expense of the windshields, windows and tires of the parked cars of Palestinians - who's really the boss. How perfectly natural that a Muslim house of prayer like the Ibrahim mosque should be shut down and declared "off limits" to thousands of Muslim worshipers.The ease with which a curfew has now been imposed on Hebron and the perception of that curfew as a completely natural occurrence are not the products of the past few weeks. (Incidentally, the residents of the village of Hawara, in whose vicinity and on whose lands the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar was built, have also been placed under curfew; their curfew was imposed more than three weeks ago.)After the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein in the Ibrahim mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the ones who were punished were the Palestinians, with the punishment taking the form of curfews, closures, "disengagement," the shutting-down of entire streets and the continual, hostile supervision by Israeli soldiers and police officers. And there was an additional punishment that was meted out to the Palestinians: economic disaster.However, Hebron is only a microcosm, an illustration of the general picture. The protracted curfew imposed on Hebron and the way that this curfew has been accepted in Israeli eyes as such a natural event convey, in a nutshell, both the entire story of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in general and the essence of the kind of Israeli thinking that has developed in the shadow of obvious military superiority. The curfew in Hebron and the ease with which it has been imposed only illustrate the entire story of discrimination and uprooting that the Palestinians have suffered at the hands of the Israelis - a never-ending story that unfolded as far back as the Oslo era and the period of the so-called "peace process."Jews live in Hebron today either because of "ancestral rights" or because they can show proof of Jewish ownership of a given property in the not-too-distant past. It is so perfectly natural that Jews should be able to live wherever they want in the Land of Israel - on both sides of the Green Line. It is so perfectly natural that a Jew who was born in Tel Aviv should be able to move to Hebron or to Yitzhar. And it is so perfectly natural that Palestinians cannot enjoy that right and cannot move to Tel Aviv or to Haifa - even if their families own lands and houses there.It is so perfectly natural that, to this very day, Israel is developing and expanding the Jewish community in Hebron, just as Israel is developing all the Jewish settlements in the territories. And it is so perfectly natural that, to this very day, the Palestinians must deal with various limitations imposed on any planned development for their own communities, because most of the lands on the West Bank - which is their primary land reserve - are under Israeli administrative control. No, the Palestinians do not need the kind of legroom that Israelis do.It is so perfectly natural that Palestinians have to obtain a travel permit from the Israeli authorities (only a minority of the applicants are granted the permit) in order to enter East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip, within the context of Israel's closure policy, which was launched in 1991 and which continues until this very day. On the other hand, Jews are free to travel from the West Bank to Israel and back, using well-built highways that have been constructed on lands that have been expropriated from Palestinian villages.During the summers in Hebron, sometimes days, even weeks go by without running water in the faucets of Palestinian homes. On the other hand, the Jewish neighbors of Palestinian Hebronites - in the Old City of Hebron or in the nearby Jewish quarter of Kiryat Arba - experience no problems or shortages as far as their water supply is concerned.The same situation prevails in many Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank: Whereas the Palestinians have no water, the residents of the Jewish settlements enjoy green lawns. The reason is that Israel has, in effect, imposed a quota on the water that the Palestinians are allowed to consume - that is, on the right to use water resources that are supposed to be jointly accessible for both Israelis and Palestinians in the single land they share.This is a tale that must be recounted over and over again - almost to the point of exhaustion - because it depicts a situation that is so self-understood in the eyes of Israelis that they cannot even see that there is any problem whatsoever. How perfectly easy to regard the Palestinians as a violent and cruel people and to ignore the cruelty that has accumulated day after day for 33 long years and which has been directed during that long period toward an entire community. This is the kind of cruelty that is characteristic of every occupation regime. This is a cruelty that intensified during the Oslo years because of the gap between the fine talk about a "peace process" and the reality.The curfew in Hebron and the fact that this curfew is regarded as a completely natural phenomenon in the eyes of Israeli society reflects the twisted sort of thinking that developed in the minds of Israelis during the Oslo years. According to this warped thinking, the Palestinians would accept a situation of coexistence in which they were on an unequal footing vis-a-vis the Israelis and in which they were ranked as persons who were entitled to less, much less, than the Jews. However, in the end, the Palestinians were not willing to live with this arrangement.The new Intifada, which displays the characteristics of both a popular uprising and a quasi-military one, is a final attempt to thrust a mirror in the face of Israelis and to tell them: "Take a good look at yourselves and see how racist you have become."

3. Children Not Put on the Frontline
George Abu Al-Zulof
Jerusalem Post, 1 November 2000

Do Palestinians send their children to die? No, says George Abu Al-Zulof, Director of Defence for Children International/Palestine Section.

The question of whether or not Palestinian parents send their children to die at the hands of Israeli military forces is one that is receiving increasing attention in the international community.

From articles published in The Jerusalem Post, to the discourse surrounding comments made by Queen Sylvia of Sweden, the theory offered is that Palestinian adults use children as human
shields in confrontations with Israeli military forces.

The fact that the international community is entertaining the issue is disturbing, given its attempt to de-humanize the Palestinian people and divert attention away from the roots of the problem--ongoing and systematic abuses of Palestinian human rights, resulting from the 33 year long Israeli military occupation.

The issue highlights Israel's non-compliance with the obligations it willingly assumed as a party to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Not only has Israel failed to implement the CRC in the occupied territories, it has failed to submit the required report to the UN.

The notion that Palestinian parents send their children to die is the latest reincarnation of a well-known scapegoating strategy known as "blaming the victim." It is used to shift attention from the real causes of a particular issue or act and direct animosity or suspicion toward the victim, thereby justifying or excusing the violation.

Similar to the rape victim who was wearing a short skirt, or the battered wife who "drove" her spouse to physical abuse, Palestinian adults are blamed for the death and injury of their children. Palestinian parents are accused of placing their children in dangerous situations, the implication being that Palestinian parents do not value the lives of their children in the same way that other parents do.

Such an approach is racist and tends to draw attention from why these children are being killed and wounded. Attention is thus turned towards the parents, and the Israeli soldier who points his weapon and fires at the child, along with the Israeli government that sanctions such actions, escapes all accountability. The end result is that Palestinians are blamed for their own victimization.

SUCH a simplistic and twisted logic provides an easy and palatable explanation for those children who died during demonstrations, but fails to explain the deaths of children who died as they were walking to school or who were seeking medical attention? Are the parents of 12-year-old Samer Tabanja, who was killed by a Israeli helicopter gunship in his backyard on October 1, responsible for his death because he was allowed to play outside that day? Are the parents of 14-year-old Mo'ayyad Al-Jowareesh responsible for his death because they allowed him to walk to school on October 16? Moreover, are the parents of 10-year-old Alaa Hamdan, who died of a severe lung infection on October 13, responsible because Israeli soldiers refused to allow them to take her to the hospital?

Moreover, such logic fails to answer why the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children who died had been hit in the upper body with Israeli ammunition. Are we to believe that Israeli soldiers are such poor marksmen, that they are firing without caution, or that they are implementing a policy of shoot to kill or seriously injure? 43 dead children in one month suggest the latter.

Shifting the blame to Palestinian adults also allows for the downplaying of other violations of children's rights, which are a result of the ongoing Israeli presence in the occupied territories.

Thousands of Palestinian children suffer as a direct result of Israeli military attacks on their cities and towns. Others are virtual prisoners in their homes, due to a curfew in the area of Hebron.

Over 30 Palestinian schools have been closed, and three have been transformed into Israeli military installations, effectively depriving Palestinian children of their right to education. Approximately 13,000 Palestinian students and 500 teachers are unable to reach school because of the closure imposed on Palestinian areas.

IN CONCLUSION, it is worth noting that official statements from the Swedish Consul General in Jerusalem indicate that some press reports concerning Queen Silvia's remarks were inaccurate. Moreover, the Consul General reminded concerned parties of the statement of the Swedish Foreign Minister of Affairs, which noted that "the extreme violence used by the Israeli side goes far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable."

It is indeed regrettable that any child is forced to live in violent circumstances, but the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have made this a fact of life for approximately 1.5 million Palestinian children.

Parents do not send their children to confront soldiers. Such contacts s unavoidable due to a military presence in front of schools, homes and community centers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As long as this continues, both children and adults will continue to be at risk.

Defence for Children International/Palestine Section is an independent, Palestinian non-governmental organization, established in 1992 to promote and protect the rights of Palestinian children as articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as in other international instruments.

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