Tuesday, November 21

MCC Palestine Update #3

MCC Palestine Update #3

The Intifada al-Aqsa is now nearly two months old. Far from receding, the cycle of violence is turning ever faster. The death toll on the Palestinian side mounts daily with numbing regularity, as do the thousands of injured. Israeli missiles have rained down on Gaza and Ramallah, and Palestinian leaders have been assassinated by the Israeli military in Rafah and in Nablus. On the Israeli side, a Palestinian bomb tore apart a bus carrying settler children to school in the Gaza Strip, while another explosion in Hadera killed two Israelis and injured many others.

MCC Palestine mourns the mounting loss of life, Palestinian and Israeli. We desparately hope that political leaders will be granted a vision of justice and peace, a peace which does not depend on occupation and violence for an unstable "security," but a peace based on equality which might lead to reconciliation.

Now more than ever, your prayers for Palestine/Israel are needed. This advent, MCC Palestine will be joining the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Episcopalian Church, and the United Church of Christ in promoting an ecumenical prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East. MCC Communications will be sending out prayer requests, suggestions for congregational education, and ideas for advocacy and action this coming week. If you have any questions about this effort, see the website of Churches for Middle East Peace, www.cmep.org, or contact Larry Guengerich at MCC Akron, guest.90404@MennoLink.org or Rick Fast in MCC Canada, Rick_J_Fast@mennonitecc.ca.

The update below contains three parts. The first is news about MCC's work in Palestine. The second is an appeal to the Israeli public by a group of 120 Palestinian intellectuals--the statement and signatories can be viewed at www.miftah.org, where you can also sign the statement. The third is an appeal to demonstrate on November 29 to mark the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

1. MCC Work

--MCC covered transportation costs for hundreds of Palestinian volunteers who helped to bring in the olive harvest in the Ramallah and Hebron areas. Military and settler actvitiy had placed severe restrictions on the access of Palestinian farmers to their olive groves. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees organized busloads of volunteers to assist farmers in bringing in their harvests in time.

--MCC is also working with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees at the promotion of backyard gardening. As the economic siege of the occupied territories continues, food security will increasingly become a problem. Backyard gardens will help guarantee a better level of food security.

--MCC's volunteers in the Gaza Strip, James and LeAnn Friesen, have been evacuated. The Friesens have two children, Alex and Kate. They are in Jerusalem for the time being. Please keep the Friesen family in your prayers, as well as the people of Gaza, who are running out of cooking and heating fuel due to the economic siege.

2. An Urgent Statement to the Israeli Public

In February of this year, we, a group of Palestinian academics and activists, addressed an urgent call to the Israeli public. We expressed in it our fear that the Oslo peace process, as it had evolved over the past seven years, was inevitably leading to further conflict -perhaps even war-rather than to our hoped-for goal: a final historic reconciliation that would enable our two peoples to live in peace, human dignity and neighborly relations.

We expressed our concern that the Oslo accords have been used by Israel, despite claims to the contrary, to create unprecedented expansion of settlements, almost double the settler population, and continue the expropriation of Palestinian land. Freedom of movement for Palestinians has been severely curtailed while settler violence against our communities continues without restraint. Against this background, the Palestinian population has had no physical, legal or political means of protection.

While military occupation is a palpable reality that affects us every day, it has been disguised under Oslo in ways that negate international law and the protection it might afford. We now live in a series of small disconnected areas which are being posited as the emerging Palestinian state. The only way to expand these Bantustans according to the distorted logic which has dominated negotiations, is for the Palestinian leadership to make concessions which would legitimize a number of Israeli demands in contravention to international law: to concede our National rights to East Jerusalem, allow settlements to remain in occupied territory and renounce the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli leadership (be it Likud or Labor) has continued to imagine that, given the massive military balance of force in its favor, it would be able to impose on the Palestinian Authority its unjust vision of a final settlement, and pretend that the conflict is resolved in the eyes of the world. This delusion that a deeply unjust agreement can be made by Israel with President Yasser Arafat alone, who is then expected to force his people into accepting it, is profoundly shortsighted and has inevitably led to the critical situation that confronts us now.

Many of us were in the streets over these recent weeks, holding neither guns nor stones. We were holding candles to commemorate the deaths of our students, neighbors and relatives who tried to make the world hear with their lives what we were unable to with our words. The naive and dangerous notion that Palestinians took to the streets following Yasser Arafat's orders is not only an insult to our intelligence but also a clear sign of the lack of understanding of the reality in which we live.

We are deeply concerned that the conflict has, at times, dangerously spiraled, into an ethnic/religious one, as the pogroms against Arab citizens of Nazareth, the lynching of the two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah and the numerous mob attacks on synagogues and mosques have shown. The profoundly irresponsible and self-serving act of the Barak government in allowing Ariel Sharon onto the Haram al Sharif shows not just an alarming lack of judgement, but also a total disregard for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim sensibilities. The use of live ammunition against unarmed Palestinian civilians at demonstrations there the next day and at protests ever since, shows total contempt for Palestinian life.

The stubborn and escalating use of Israel's overwhelming military power in order to crush the current uprising and terrify the Palestinian population into submission shows a dangerous, will- full refusal to address its underlying causes. Military might may be able to subdue the current wave of protest - at the immediate cost of many lives. But in the long run, it cannot stem the will of a people seeking their just and rightful place in the world. It will also condemn us to re-visit the current crisis again and again.

All of us are firm believers in an equitable and just negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians that recognizes the right to self-determination. However we, like our communities, have lost hope in the possibility of resolving the current inequities in the framework of the Oslo agreements and the exclusive American 'brokerage' of the process. We believe that we must find an equitable basis for peace which must necessarily take the following broad principles as a point of departure:

1. Negotiations must be based on the principles that all the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 are, in fact, occupied territories and that peace will be only be achieved by ending the occupation of these territories and thus enabling Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination and sovereignty.

2. East Jerusalem is part of these Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Consequently, a final settlement must include Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the commitment to Jerusalem as the recognized capital of two states.

3. Israel's recognition of its responsibility in the creation of the Palestinian refugees in 1948 is a pre-requisite to finding a just and lasting resolution of the refugee problem in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.

4. Both sides must recognize the spiritual and historical affinities of each other to sites and locations within their own borders and they must affirm and guarantee the access and protection of the other people to these places within their own borders. But in neither case should the existence of such sites be used to advance extra-territorial claims to locations within each other's borders.

We believe that the implementation of these principles will provide for a just and therefore, genuine and lasting peace. The hoped-for co-existence between our two peoples can only become possible if a reconstructed peace settlement is equitable. This requires moral recognition of the historic injustice visited upon Palestinians. Peace and co-existence will not be accomplished by imposing an unjust settlement that goes against the will of the people.

This land is destined to be the home of our two peoples. The need for a solution based on mutual respect and accommodation is dictated not only by the search for security and stability, but also by the quest for freedom and prosperity of future generations. It is our hope that, out of the tragedies of recent weeks, a new and fair vision of peace can emerge between the two peoples.

3. International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
29 November 2000

The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has deteriorated rapidly over the past 54 days. Israeli forces have escalated and intensified their attacks against Palestinian civilians, infrastructure and the economy, making use of artillery such as tanks, Apache helicopters, missiles and heavy machine guns against Palestinian demonstrators and in populated civilian areas. The use of this weaponry demonstrates that Israel has adopted a military strategy, leading inevitably to more fatalities, serious injuries and destruction of property. The closures and curfews imposed on Palestinian areas are strangling the already weak economy, causing water and food shortages and loss of employment.

The goal of Palestinian demonstrations is to end the Israeli occupation and the illegal establishment and maintenance of Israeli settlements. However, in response to these legitimate demands, the Israeli occupation has acted outside of the permitted legal framework, responding to Palestinian demonstrations with full military force.

Israel continues to ignore United Nations resolutions that call for the end of occupation and the full implementation of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. As long as the international community refuses to take action on behalf of the Palestinians, a just and long lasting peace cannot be established.

It is now time for international activists, religious communities, governmental agencies and non-governmental organisations to demand that strategies for practical solutions for this conflict be initiated to protect the human rights of the Palestinian people. Therefore, in recognition and support of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, we urge all human rights activists in the public and private sector to come together on November 29 and demonstrate in solidarity with the Palestinians.


* Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322, adopted 7 October 2000, which condemns acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life.

* International protection by the United Nations for the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories.

* Establishment of an independent international team to investigate the initiation of violence and ensuing days of conflict.

* Respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, as a prerequisite to restoring peace and security in the region.

* Commitment on all sides to a just and lasting peace in the region, which includes an end to the illegal occupation, dismantling of settlements, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state according to United Nations Resolution 181.

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