Sunday, December 24

MCC Palestine Update #7

MCC Palestine Update #7

Christmas 2000- The festive atmosphere which has lit up Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities for the past five years or so is nowhere to be found today. Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, are in no mood to celebrate either Christmas or Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan. Deaths, injuries and a worsening economic situation live little room for joy.

Meanwhile, Israel is threatening to declare Bethlehem a closed military zone for Christmas itself. Not that this would make much difference for Palestinians--the Israeli military regime's imposition of an extensive network of checkpoints and roadblocks keep most Bethlehemites trapped in Bethlehem and prevents other Palestinians from entering. Such an Israeli move, however, would keep out most of the few remaining tourists in the country.

Israel, of course, cannot cancel Christmas. It cannot annul the Incarnation. One of the places where we see Christ most visibly incarnated is in the work of our partners. This update contains information on new projects which they are carrying out. Also included are a reflection by MCC peace development worker Ed Nyce after a visit to Beit Jala, and a trenchant analysis of the Israeli political scene by long- time Israeli peace activist, Uri Avneri.

This will be the last update of the calendar year. Thank you once more for your prayers.

1. MCC Partner Update

a. Through the Popular Arts Center in Ramallah, MCC will be sponsoring six art sessions for Palestinian children. Each of the sessions, which will be held in refugee camps and isolated villages in Area C (under full Israeli control), will work with groups of 50 children, using such art forms as painting, sculpture, and drama in order to help Palestinian children express the trauma they are experiencing and witnessing.

b. The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement in Beit Sahour is spearheading the "Displaced Shepherds' Campaign." The campaign aims to encourage Beit Sahour residents to move back into their homes which have been damaged and destroyed by Israeli shelling. MCC is contributing building materials for the repair of two homes, while the Rapprochement center will be marshalling the needed volunteers to do the job.

c. In conjunction with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, MCC is helping to renovate an agricultural road linking the village of Beit Duqqo with other villages west of Ramallah. The road will serve two functions: first, it will help Palestinians navigate around Israeli roadblocks; second, it will connect Palestinian farmers with agricultural land close to settlements under threat of possible confiscation.

2. From Beit Jala
Ed Nyce, MCC Peace Development Worker

"Christmas is very special for us," says Dr. Hala Khamis. "We have many decorations which we put around the house. Towels, napkins -- we usually start putting things up on December 1." Hala and her husband Nasser have lived in their Beit Jala (a town on Bethlehem's western border), Palestine home for 17 years.

She, a general practitioner, and her husband Nasser, a gynecologist, run a health clinic in the community. Their four children are between 4&1/2 & 14 years old. His mother lives below them.

"But now," Hala is saying, "we won't spend any more days here, unless they tell us what is going on. There is no Christmas here even for the old people."

The Khamis family is picking through the rubble -- again. The past 2&1/2 months have been a nightmare for them and their neighbors. Their homes have borne the brunt of fierce Israeli tank, apache helicopter, and gun attacks from the nearby Gilo settlement. The latest attack was last night. There have been shots fired in these months from Beit Jala toward Gilo. A few shots have actually reached Gilo. However, never has a tank or a helicopter fired AT Gilo. Yet the Israelis, whose establishment of Gilo or any settlement in the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem contravenes international law, claim civilian defense when using heavy artillery. Meanwhile, like other Palestinians, most Beit Jala residents are more convinced than ever that the Israeli occupation must stop.

On this chilly, mostly clear morning, Tuesday, December 12, the neighbors and other interested people meander once more through Khamis' Beit Jala neighborhood. Up the street, a house with a big hole where two walls join meets our eyes. It was damaged weeks ago, earlier in the conflict. It is starting to look, well, to look customary; hopefully not normal.

Basma Nazal shows me her home. We had agreed yesterday to meet this morning to see her pummeled place. As so often happens here these days, overnight bombing means a new reality in her neighborhood, and she and her father took me to their neighbors' freshly bombarded residences in addition to their own. Like her neighbors, her building was hit previously and again last night. Basma and her husband and children live in a multi-unit building shared by extended family. She and her husband have a 16 year old son and 14 and 10 year old daughters. They've been adding a unit to the top of the building, to where they would eventually move. But the work has stopped. For there are holes in the building. Who wants to live in a house with missile holes? Besides, the Israelis may not yet have run out of ammunition.

"We don't know what will happen to our home," says Basma. "We don't know whether we will continue to work on it." Even if the shelling stops, the economy is bad. Her husband, a painter, has been out of work for three months due to the situation. We visit the home of her nine year old niece, Riham Nazal, and Riham's aunt's and uncle's after that, all in the same building. "God bless this home," says the framed needlepoint above the doorway in the latter home. In one of the rooms, Riham's aunt shows us clothes inside a closet which have holes in them thanks to the intruding ammunition.

At the bottom of the closet is a pile of Christmas decorations. Riham kneels and holds up one of the decorations so I can take a picture of her and the decorations. Sure enough, there is a bullet hole in the floppy hat of one of the Santas.

A little later, a friend, Hadr, and I visit other homes. At one place, a dog and five chickens were killed by a missle a few weeks ago. Up the street, we go inside St. Nicholas Church, hit last night. There is a bullet hole in the bottom of the Patriarch's chair.

Then it is on to a house in which a small Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) unit has lived for 1&1/2 weeks. Last night (Dec. 11) was the second shelling they have experienced in that time. CPTer Anne Montgomery left a spot in her bedroom 30 seconds before that spot was hit by a bullet. [Aye -- as I write this draft, Dec. 13, 4:00 p.m., a loud blast goes off. It is a sonic boom. I used to assume as much when I'd hear such noises. Now, I wait for the chills to subside and try to decipher in the next few seconds whether the blast is lethal or just terrorizing. The time which has passed while writing these sentences confirms that it is "only" a sonic boom.]

Across the street from CPT live a Muslim family on the lower level and a Christian family above. Both sleep elsewhere these evenings. Both are finding it impossible to observe important holy days in the ways they usually find meaningful -- Ramadan and Christmas, respectively. "We expect more," said Hala Khamis. "Do the Israelis want the area here? They must be planning something. Even if one shot reaches Gilo, it doesn't explain the rocket responses.

We don't know what is happening. Don't tell me the U.S. is helping bring peace: these rockets are U.S. made. "We need fixing not only of our homes, but of our souls. We can't take anymore."

3. Barak's Trap
Uri Avnery
Maariv, 16 December 2000

Ehud Barak has set a trap for himself. And because he is brilliant, the trap was so good that he promptly fell into it. To quote Psalm 7 (16): "He made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made." For many months now he has been spreading the mantra: "I have turned every stone on the way to peace." I have given the Palestinians much more than any previous Israeli Prime Minister. But the evil Arafat (also the devious, treacherous terrorist, the corrupt liar who breaks every promise and violates every agreement) refuses my unprecedentedly generous offer. Instead of kissing both my hands and signing an agreement to end the historic conflict, he started to shoot, blow up, murder and butcher us.

Addressing the right-wing he spreads the opposite message: "I haven't given anything at all." The weakling Netanyahu has given them 19% of the West Bank and most of the town of Hebron. I am tough and haven't given them back even one square yard. Nothing, nothing at all! Now Barak intends to combine these two messages and to contest the elections both as the man who-has-turned-every-stone and has- not-given-back-anything.

In order to reinforce the first message, he sends somebody to meet Arafat every day: the innocent Lipkin-Shahak, the not-so- innocent but willing Shlomo Ben-Ami and others. (He wanted to send Ami Ayalon too, but being an honest person, the former Security Service chief requested to see the files first, and after studying them for four hours declined to go.)

Barak has read the polls that show that the majority of Israelis desire peace, and he is telling them: See, even in the middle of an election campaign, and even while Arafat is butchering us, I continue turning every stone. That's how I am, a peace-maker!

And at the same time he sends word to the right-wing: "Trust me, I won't give them anything," and continues enlarging the settlements at a frantic pace and "liquidating" Palestinian activists wholesale, in the style of Pinochet's death squads.

This may all look sophisticated. But in practice, it ensures his defeat by whoever stands against him. There is a simple reason for it: The real leftists know that Barak's right-wing message is true, and that he indeed has not given back an inch. Therefore they will not vote for him.

While the rightists and the bulk of the center really do believe the left-wing message, that he has made the Palestinians an incredibly generous offer, giving in to all their demands, and that they refused and then opened fire. Therefore, it is obvious that the Palestinians do not want peace. They only want to kill Jews, as we knew all the time. If so, the Likud has been right all along, and one must vote for Netanyahu or Sharon.

The truth is, of course, that the first mantra is totally mendacious. Barak's proposals are manifestly unacceptable to the Palestinians. Contrary to the story spread by his "leftist" agents, that he will settle for 5% of the West Bank and is ready to give back all the rest, he proposes to annex immediately 11% of the territory, in the form of "settlement blocs" that cut the West Bank up from north to south and from west to east.

In addition, he wants to annex the Jewish areas near Jerusalem. Also, he intends to keep "temporarily" the "back of the mountains" along the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Only a fool would believe that in the distant future, after the Palestinians have already signed a declaration ending the conflict, when every square yard will be covered by a settlement, Israel will return these territories.

The practical upshot of this is that in his most generous offer, near the end of the negotiations, Barak intends to annex 30% of the West Bank. Since all the occupied territories amount to only 22% of the pre-1948 Palestine, Barak is ready to give back to the Palestinians only 15% of the country (70% of 22%), and these, too, only in the form of disconnected enclaves, each of which will be surrounded by Israeli settlers and soldiers.

At Camp David, Barak thought that the Palestinians would swallow this bitter pill if he sugar-coated it with nice words about Jerusalem. He did indeed break an Israeli taboo and made verbal concessions there. But when the Palestinians took a magnifying glass and examined the offer closely, they found out that the changes were mainly cosmetic. The sovereignty - and that's what counts - was left with Israel. Summing up: Barak did not make an offer that the Palestinians could accept.

The leftist stone-turning is make-believe, while the rightist wink is the real truth: He indeed did not give up anything. Actually, one could offer the Likud some advice: If you folks can't make up your minds between Netanyahu and Sharon, why not take Barak? He does the same, and, contrary to the other two, he makes the whole world believe him. Trouble is, the right-wing people and the bogus left-wingers believe the story of Barak's stone-turning and Arafat's Jew- killing, and therefore will vote against Barak, while the real left and the Arab citizens know the truth and therefore will not vote for him. Out of sheer sophistication, Barak will find himself falling between all the stools.

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