Thursday, December 14

MCC Palestine Update #6

MCC Palestine Update #6

14 December 2000

Advent greetings from Jerusalem! It has been a rainy week here, much appreciated by local farmers. Unfortunately, the rain has not dampened the fires of death: over ten Palestinians have been killed in the past week, and scores more injured. This month should have been a festive one, with Christians awaiting Christmas and Muslims breaking the Ramadan fast with friends and family. No one, however, is feeling celebratory. Parts of Bethlehem are like a ghost town--tourists are few and far between, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has threatened to impose a total closure on Bethlehem over Christmas.

This past week Donella Clemens, former moderator of the Mennonite Church and an MCC board member, visited Palestine/Israel as part of a solidarity delegation to the Palestinian churches organized by Churches for Middle East Peace. The delegation was able to see first hand the devastation caused by the Israeli military, as well as to see how Israeli settlements and bypass roads have created an apartheid reality in the occupied territories.

MCC continues to be concerned about the effect of the current violence on children. In partnership with the Community Rehabilitation Center based in Ramallah, MCC will be sponsoring theater and art sessions in three kindergartens in the West Bank which will be aimed at helping children express, understand, and cope with their feelings of anxiety, fright, and anger.

Below we have included three pieces. The first is a summary of a recent UN report on the economic situation in the occupied territories: it paints a sobering picture. The second is a reflection by Ghassan Andoni, involved with the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement in Beit Sahour, on travel restrictions. The third is a candid piece by Edward Said which originally appeared in al-Ahram; Said's article expresses well the frustration that many Palestinians feel towards the Palestinian Authority. A longer piece by Edward Said may be found on the London Review of Books website, We cannot say often enough how much everyone in the MCC Palestine unit, both North American and Palestinian, values your prayers. May you have a blessed Advent.

1. Office of the United Nations Special Co-ordinator: The Impact on the Palestinian Economy of Confrontations, Mobility Restrictions and Border Closures
28 September-26 November 2000

Introduction The months of October and November have witnessed the most severe crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations since the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993. Confrontations have resulted in the death or injury of thousands of Palestinians-and numerous Israelis-as well as damage to Palestinian infrastructure, buildings, agricultural property and vehicles.

There have also been serious disruptions in normal economic activities caused by the political strife and the imposition of movement restrictions around and within the Occupied Palestinian Territory. For most of this period personal mobility between the West Bank and Gaza, and between the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the rest of the world, has been severely impeded. Travel for Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza via the "safe passage" route has been blocked by the Israeli authorities since 6 October while the Gaza International Airport and the border crossings at Rajah and the Allenby/Karameh Bridge have been closed for extended periods

1/ Palestinian foreign trade has also been affected. Imports and exports transshipped through Israeli ports have been delayed or blocked completely for most of this period while the commercial crossings at Rafah and the Allenby/Karameh Bridge have been closed for about 70 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, of the days during the reporting period.

2/ Furthermore, there have been varying levels of restrictions on mobility between cities, towns and villages in both the West Bank and Gaza due to reduced levels of security on roads and the imposition of internal closures by the Israeli authorities. Such measures have routinely included the placement of physical barriers between Palestinian villages and cities and the deployment of military checkpoints on main roads.

3/ In addition, the Israeli authorities have imposed curfews on several areas in the West Bank, most notably in the city of Hebron and on numerous villages in the Nablus area. Private economic losses during the first three weeks of the crisis were estimated at approximately USD 186.2 million.

4/ Lost income-earning opportunities were estimated at about half of the value of domestic production and nearly all of the income earned by Palestinians working in Israel. Since then the economic losses have been compounded, while the loss of life, injuries and the physical destruction of private and public property have become more widespread.

This is an updated and expanded report on the economic and social impact of the crisis covering the two-month period 28 September-26 November 2000.

2. Facing the crawling racial segregation on daily basis
Ghassan Andoni
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People

I thought I was fortunate to live in Bethlehem area and work in Birzeit University near Ramallah.

Of course, to earn the living of my family I have to commute daily between the two places. I know that most of people in other countries will travel larger distances between home and work. Mine is about 35 kilometers, about 25 miles. Up to 1991, the natural road between both passed through Jerusalem. I used to enjoy it.

Traveling through parts of Jerusalem and along the walls of the old city was always a source of joy for me. Even being aware of the Israeli annexation of the city in 1967 and the ongoing massive build up of Jewish settlements all around it, on the practical and emotional level I enjoyed the accessibility of this beautiful and sacred town and looked at all of the new buildings as artificial and out of harmony with this natural and holy landscape. While, some times bothered with traffic jams and with the racial attitudes of the Israeli police- in fact I received more than a hundred traffic tickets going through Jerusalem- yet it was a very convenient ride. Within 35 minutes I could reach my distention and when I am tired of driving I could use the efficient public transportation.

From 1991 and until the recent crisis Jerusalem was permanently closed in the face of Palestinians. To be able to reach, Palestinians needed to go through a lengthy procedure of obtaining permits. The most tedious of all was: to be able to provide a reasonable excuse. Praying in the Holy sepulcher or passing through to work were never accepted as good enough reasons. While the closure was enforced for "security reasons" during the gulf war, the war ended years ago but the closure continued to be in effect.

Out of necessity, I was obliged to find an alternative road. The infamous Hill valley road was my only option. It goes from Bethlehem to the east until you approach Jericho it then turns north to the north of Ramallah and then back south to the university. 90 minutes drive on poorly asphalted, very steeply mountain roads. It took me sometime before daring to drive through this road.

The Israeli police continued enjoying hunting Palestinian cars for traffic tickets. Palestinians are easily identified by a different color of their car license plates. With years, and to avoid getting depressed, I tried to find ways to enjoy my new road. Climbing the hills of the Judean deserts, passing beside the Jahalin Bedouins, going near the villages surrounding both Jerusalem and Ramallah, and becoming an excellent driver were most of the positive aspects of using this road. Being forced to see on daily bases the rapid grow both in number and extent of Israeli settlement all through my travel was a sad indicator of how far are we from reaching a peaceful solution. But with time and by using some of the newly established By-pass roads I managed to normalize my self with the newly imposed reality.

With the recent crisis, I realized that I am being caged. Through the first two weeks of this crisis, driving through the Hill valley road became the dream of my life. I was physically confined within an area of 2 squared kilometers. Surrounded from all directions with military checkpoints and Jewish settlements. Maybe I should tell you a secret that only Palestinians and Israeli officials know. Checkpoints serve to provide the psychological sense of protection to Israelis and disrupt the normal life of Palestinians and beyond that has no value to no one. Anyone who wants to go through and reach any destination within Israel can find dozens of ways to go through. So we both know that checkpoints are set as a policy procedure and security is only the excuse.

Being worried about loosing my job and seeing many people reaching Ramallah on daily basis I decided to talk my chance, leave my cage, and try to act normal. Accompanied with a friend I drove towards the Hill Valley road. In few minutes we encountered the first military checkpoint. A long queue of cars, dozens ordered out of the cars to be searched, and soldiers insulting and humiliating anyone who dares to complain. I was up to turn around when a cap driver whispered: just follow me. I did. We drove back few hundred meters and then turned left into a not asphalted road. We drove around the soldiers through the fields. We were never out of the soldiers sight yet they did not attempt to stop us. In few minutes all the cars followed and a new road for Palestinians was in use.

We had to do this By-pass turn six more times. Few of them were really difficult to drive through. Finally and after three hours of driving like in mountain rallies I arrived at the University and gave my first lecture. Going back home was very similar. I thought I will never drive this way again yet on daily basis I am taking the same road and started to think about the beauty of the seen. Maybe in some time I will be able to enjoy it. Speaking, areas A according to Oslo accords are completely turned into reservations. I now live in the one called Bethlehem. The roads between them are totally controlled. Some are dedicated for Israeli Jews only and you need to prove your racial origin through a yellow license plate to be able to drive through. Other God made field roads are temporally available until the next change in policy.

While the crisis might end, racial segregation is becoming a well- established reality that is more enforced with every crisis that the region encounters.

PCR's Coordinator, Star Street, 24 - Beit Sahour - Palestine TeleFax: +972-2-2772018 Mobile: +972-52-299310 (George) Mobile: +972-52-595319 (Ghassan) Web:

3. The tragedy deepens
Edward Said
Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 December 2000

No one really knows whether the Al-Aqsa Intifada temporarily subsided because Yasser Arafat expressed his public disapproval of it on 17 November or whether the lull was only a short-lived one that was generated out of fatigue or a search for new positions. Despite the enormous cost in lives and property to Palestinians, however, the essential problems remain, and the Israelis continue their blind and finally stupid assault on Palestinians with the strangulation, economic blockade, and bombings of cities and towns continuing without respite.

Every Arab leader who welcomed Barak's election a year and a half ago should now be asked to repeat his declarations so that their hollowness can be demonstrated again and again. I find official Arab attitudes virtually incomprehensible, having spent most of my life trying to decipher them according to the laws of reason and elementary common sense.

Did they seriously believe that Barak was the savior of the peace process, and if so weren't they aware that to save the peace process was nothing less than to prolong the Palestinian agony? Did they think that he was any different from the great "war hero" who has devoted his entire career to killing Arabs, and if he wasn't why did it take them so long to find out? Does subservience to the United States require so much subservience, so many acrobatics, such a complicated twisting and turning and so profound a prostration?

How long and for what do they cling to a repressive, basically rejectionist status quo with neither the will nor the capacity to wage war nor to live in peace, simply to please a distant and arrogant superpower that has showed them and their people so much contempt, inhumanity and utter, unspeakable cruelty? Can they not do anything more substantial than what they are doing when Israel is using helicopter gunships to kill Palestinian civilians and destroy their homes, while the United States supplies Israel with the largest ever order of attack helicopters during the past 10 years and Israel has added $500 million to its budget for settlements?

Not one word of official protest against US policy that has brought such catastrophe to our people. It is this timorousness that allows US policy-makers, of whom the unregretted Dennis Ross -- the mediocre individual who has done more single-handedly to advance Israel's interest than anyone -- is but one, to say that the Arabs trust the US and its policies and remain close friends and allies of the US. Surely the time has come to speak frankly of a hypocrisy and brutality without parallel, instead of standing silently by cap in hand as more and more Palestinians are killed with arms paid for by US taxpayers. But the core of the tragedy is what is happening to the victims themselves, the Palestinian people. Here one must speak and think rationally, not letting emotion and the passions of the moment sway the mind too much.

My general impression is that Palestinians everywhere feel the absence of real leadership, a voice or an authority that can speak both of the present and the future with some sense of vision, some articulation of a coherent, inclusive goal beyond the usual platitudes that repeat what is obviously designed to postpone decisions and visions with mere rhetoric. No one has any doubt that Palestinians are struggling against military occupation and have been doing so for 33 years. But there are four million refugees struggling against exile, in addition to the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel who have been living under a regime of racial and religious discrimination that has too long been hidden under fatuous labels like "Israeli democracy."

One of the many problems with Oslo has been that Palestinian negotiators focused exclusively on the occupation, to the neglect of the other two dimensions. But it should finally be clear that in all three instances it is Zionism that we fight against, and until we have a leadership that can formulate an integrated strategy on all three fronts, we do not have leadership. The tragedy is that the Intifada goes, lives tragically lost every day, in a political setting or framework that deepens the differences between Palestinians instead of bringing them closer together.

We need a new vision, a new voice, a new truth. Isn't it now clear that old slogans like "a Palestinian state" or "Jerusalem our capital" have brought us to this impasse? Shouldn't we expect a real leader to speak to all Palestinians, honestly, fearlessly, without duplicity or winks at the US and Israel, and to chart a course forward that links together opposition to occupation, to exile, and to racial discrimination? Why continue to delude people with the empty hope that "struggle," a word which seems to mean that others should do the dying, will get the Arab world generally and the Palestinians particularly what all have so long wanted?

It is nothing short of alarming that after more than half a century of blustering, of expending blood and treasure, of militarization, of abrogating democracy and the most elementary requirements of citizenship in the Arab world, we find ourselves facing the same enemy, the same defeats, the same tactical shifts and hypocritical about-faces with the same tired arsenal of threats, promises, slogans and cliches, all of which have been proved more or less worthless and have produced the same failures from 1967 to Amman to October 1973 to Beirut to Oslo?

No one can deny that Palestine is an exception to nearly all the colonial issues of the past 200 years. It is exceptional, but not removed from history. Human history is full of similar, if not absolutely the same, instances, and what has surprised me, as someone living at a distance from the Middle East but close to it in all sorts of ways, is how insulated from the rest of the world we keep ourselves, whereas, I believe, a great deal can be learned from the history of other oppressed peoples in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and even Europe.

Why do we resist comparing ourselves, say, with the South African blacks, or with the American Indians, or with the Vietnamese? By comparing I don't mean mechanically or slavishly, but rather creatively and imaginatively. The late Eqbal Ahmad, who was certainly one of the two or three most brilliant analysts of contemporary history and politics that I ever knew, always drew attention to the fact that successful liberation movements were successful precisely because they employed creative ideas, original ideas, imaginative ideas where in other less successful movements (like ours, alas) there was a pronounced tendency to formulas and an uninspired repetition of past slogans and past patterns of behavior. Take as a primary instance the idea of armed struggle.

For decades we have relied in our minds on ideas about guns and killing, ideas that, from the 1930s until today, have brought us plentiful martyrs but have had little real effect not so much on Zionism but on our own ideas about what to do next. In our case, the fighting is done by a small brave number of people pitted against hopeless odds, i.e. stones against helicopter gunships, Merkava tanks, missiles. Yet a quick look at other movements -- say the Indian nationalist movement, the South African liberation movement, the American civil rights movement -- tell us first of all that only a mass movement employing tactics and strategy that maximize the popular element ever made any difference on the occupier and/or oppressor. Second, only a mass movement that has been politicized and imbued with a vision of participating directly in a future of its own making, only such a movement has historical chance of liberating itself from oppression or military occupation.

The future, like the past, is built by human beings. They, and not some distant mediator or savior, provide the agency for change. It is clear to me, for example, that the immediate task in Palestine is to establish the goal of ridding ourselves of the occupation, using imaginative means of struggle. That would necessarily involve large numbers of Palestinians intervening directly in the settlement process, blocking roads, preventing building materials from entering, in other words, isolating the settlements instead of allowing them, containing a far smaller number of people, to isolate and surround Palestinians, which is what occurs today.

It is still true, for instance, that the laborers who built the Israeli settlements on a daily basis are in fact Palestinians: this should give some fairly simple idea of how deeply misled, misguided, under-mobilized and unpoliticised the Palestinian people are today. After 33 years of building Israeli settlements, Palestinian workers should immediately be provided by the Authority with alternative employment. Can't a few dollars be spared from the millions spent on useless security and unproductive bureaucracy?

This is of course a failing of the leadership, but in the end it is also those individuals who know better -- professionals, intellectuals, teachers, doctors and so on -- who have the power of expression and the means to do so who have still not put enough pressure on the leadership to make it responsive to the situation. And there at once is the greatest tragedy of all: a people is giving passionately of itself, losing the flower of its youth and all its energies in a valiant confrontation with a sadistic and implacably cruel enemy who has no compunction about choking Palestinians to death, and still Mr. Arafat is silent.

He has not truly and honestly addressed his people since the crisis began, not even a 10-minute broadcast to give it strength, to explain his policies, to tell the people where we are, how we got here, and where, after all this bloodshed and suffering, where we are going. Not one minute of time spent telling the truth to his own people, even as he tours the world from France to China, meeting with presidents and prime ministers to no avail whatever. Is his heart made of stone, is his conscience completely anaesthetized?

I find this astoundingly incomprehensible, and this after 30 years of leading us from one catastrophe and ill-considered adventure to another, without respite and without even a whispered "thank you for bearing with me and my appalling, bumbling mistakes and miscalculations for so long!" I for one am fed up with his attitude of contempt for his people, and for his stony autocratic imperturbability, his inability either to listen or to take other people seriously, his unending ambiguities, secrecy and blindingly irrational lurches from one patron to another, all the while leaving his long-suffering people to fend for themselves. Lead, Mr. Arafat, lead your people, and if you can't or don't want to, please say so truthfully.

But what you have been doing since Oslo began has been to mislead, to dodge, to make secret deals that have profited a few of the many corrupt politicians who surround you, but have made our general situation worse, much worse. The Al-Aqsa Intifada is an Intifada against Oslo and against the people who constructed it, not only Dennis Ross and Barak, but a small, irresponsible coterie of Palestinian officials. These people should now have the decency to stand before their people, admit their mistakes, and ask (if they can get it) for popular support if there is a plan. If there isn't one (as I suspect) they should then have the elementary courtesy at least to say so. Only by doing this can there be anything more than tragedy at the end of the road.

Palestinian officials signed the agreement to partition Hebron, they signed many other agreements without getting prior assurances that the settlements would end (and at least not be increased) and that all signs of military occupation would be effaced. They must now explain publicly what they thought they were doing and why they did it. Then they must let us express our views on their actions and their future. And for once they must listen and try to put the general interest before their own, despite the millions of dollars they have either squandered or squirreled away in Paris apartments and valuable real estate and lucrative business deals with Israel. Enough is enough.

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