Wednesday, February 7

MCC Palestine Update #12

MCC Palestine Update #12

The Israeli elections for prime minister were held this Tuesday, and the Likud party chairman, Ariel Sharon, scored a decisive victory. The Labor party is in disarray, with up to six different people vying openly and covertly for its leadership. Sharon will most likely try to forge a "national unity" government with Labor, the Sephardic ultra-orthodox party Shas, and the Askhenazi ultra-orthodox party United Torah Judaism; if that fails, he will have to constitute a narrow right-wing government. Under either scenario, the prospects for any form of peace agreement with the Palestinians in the near term look grim.

This past week we received distressing news from the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement in Beit Sahour, a longtime MCC partner. PCR had spearheaded the Mazmouriah building project, an attempt to set up a Palestinian neighborhood inside Jerusalem's municipal boundaries on land owned by families in Beit Sahour. The Israeli authorities in Jerusalem have invested practically nothing in East Jerusalem's infrastructure or in housing projects for Jerusalem's Palestinian residents, even as it pours money into settlements in East Jerusalem. The Mazmouriah project would have helped to alleviate the housing crisis for Palestinians in Jerusalem and would have broken up the future contiguity of illegal Israeli settlements.

PCR staff worked with Israeli peace activists to prepare building plans which would be technically flawless, and so could not be rejected by the municipal planning commissions on a technical basis. The Mazmouriah project passed the relevant technical committees and was awaiting final approval. However, this past week Israeli bulldozers went to work in the area, building roads which will make the project impossible to execute. For more on this devastating setback to a promising, nonviolent initiative to resist the occupation, see

MCC Project Update

a. Young Advocate Training: MCC is sponsoring a course through the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement in Beit Sahour which will train 20 Palestinian men and women, aged 18-25 in media, communication, and advocacy skills. The vision behind the program is to build the capacity of Rapprochement's cadre of volunteers in various forms of advocacy so that young Palestinians motivated to remain in the country have the skills to communicate the message of Palestinian dispossession to the West.

b. In the Shu'fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem MCC is working with a neighborhood committee to install a sewer system. The committee is contributing 75% of the costs of the project. As stated above, Israel has actively neglected the urban development needs of East Jerusalem.

1. Born at the third roadblock, stopped at the fourth
Amira Hass
Haaretz, 29 January 2001

Sabreen Balout was born last Wednesday, January 24, in the taxi that was rushing her mother, her father, an aunt and her grandmother to the hospital in Ramallah. She was born as they
were waiting for permission to cross from the Israel Defense Forces detachment posted on the road. This was the fourth group of IDF troops they had encountered on their way to the hospital. They would encounter yet another, when Sabreen was about ten minutes old. This detachment, at the northern entrance to Bir Zeit,demanded that all the passengers in the taxi, including Sabreen
who was still linked by her umbilical cord to her mother, to get out of it. It was a very cold and rainy day, the father, Sallah Balout,related to Ha'aretz.

Amina Moussa Balout's contractions began in the afternoon. About two months ago, the main exit from the village of Rantis onto the main road was blocked. The only way out of the village now is over an unpaved and circuitous dirt track through the fields, which, in winter, are muddy. Traveling along this route Amina and her family met two jeeps: an IDF jeep and the security jeep from one of the Jewish settlements in the area. The soldiers did not allow the taxi to pass. An argument ensued, with each party insistent. Then, because of the rain and the mud even a return to the village became impossible. After about half an hour, Balout estimates, the soldiers allowed the taxi to continue on its way.

It continued eastwards and came to another IDF roadblock near theJewish settlement of Halamish. Soldiers aimed their rifles at the taxi and it stopped. Balout and the driver got out; the taxi was delayed there for about another 20 minutes, while Amina Balout was sighing and screaming. After driving a few minutes, they came upon a long line of cars waiting near the village of Um Safa. The taxi driver drove past it until he came to a military jeep. The
soldiers again aimed their rifles at the car and ordered everyone out. The passengers in the taxi tried to explain that there was a woman in the vehicle who was about to give birth, but a
soldier said he had to get authorization from the officer to allow the car to pass. While the soldier was away speaking with the officer, Amina cried out, "The baby is coming, the baby is coming," and by the time he had returned, Amina had given birth to her daughter.Her mother and her sister-in-law wrapped the baby in a blanket and gave her to her mother to hold against her body.

Balout estimates that they were delayed at this roadblock for about 20 minutes before the officer came along, saw the new-born infant and immediately allowed them to continue on their way. About 200 meters down the road they encountered another military Jeep; once more a soldier leveled his gun at the vehicle and demanded to know who had allowed them to drive on. The officer who had permitted their passage at the previous roadblock saw what was happening, and ran quickly to order the soldier to let them pass. This took about five minutes.They kept on in the direction of Bir Zeit, where again they came upon a long line of delayed cars. The taxi passed them, until it was stopped by four soldiers.

"We opened the window and told them that we had with us a woman who had just given birth," relates the father. "They ordered us to wait, walked around the car, opened the door, and looked
inside and saw there was a woman with an infant." Balout got the impression that they laughed, and then ordered all the passengers to get out. Amina's mother slammed the door angrily. They tried to open it. The mother continued to scream and demanded that they be allowed to pass. "But they insisted that we had to get out. And we got out - what could we do?" Amina got out of the car, holding the baby, whose umbilical cord was not yet cut, and collapsed on the ground because she was so weak. As the soldiers stood by, the father gained the impression that they were still laughing at the scene. Then another soldier arrived, shouted at his colleagues and
told them to stop, let them get in and drive on. One of Amina's house slippers fell off her foot and was left there on the ground.

At around 8:30 P.M. Amina and her daughter arrived at the hospital in Ramallah; they had left Rantis at 5:00 P.M. Ordinarily, the trip along this route would take about 40 or 50 minutes. The name Sabreen is derived from the three-letter Arabic root transliterated as S-B-R, meaning patience.

A senior military source told Ha'aretz in response that at the time of these events there had been a shooting incident on the route to Atarot. Someone in a Palestinian vehicle had opened fire and
injured someone in an Israeli vehicle, and the IDF was taking measures "in an attempt to catch the terrorists." The source said he had no knowledge of the delay caused to the taxi at the exit
from Rantis and at Halamish. However, he was aware that, at the roadblocks near Atarot and Bir Zeit, the soldiers acted properly, in accordance with the procedures and instructions governing
humanitarian cases. According to the source, when the passengers encountered the roadblock near Um Safa, "right where the attack was," they told the responsible military commander that there was a child in the car. "Within three or four minutes the vehicle continued on its way to the Bir Zeit area, where there was a long line of waiting cars because of the terror attack. The detachment saw a taxi that drove right past all the other cars, and the driver said there was a woman in the car who was about to give birth.

The soldier saw a pregnant woman with two other women next to her. The two women began to curse the soldier, who shut the door and allowed them to continue immediately." Crippling the territories Despite the promises, the encirclement of most of the cities and villages of the West Bank has not been lifted. Inhabitants are forced to drive circuitously, go on foot, change taxis, clamber up hilly paths and among olive groves and sometimes try to go back the way they came because of a sudden roadblock at which stretches a kilometer-long line of cars, or a new roadblock. On the ground, what remains of the Intifada is its suppression. The limitation on travel is the most conspicuously felt means, which affects every home and individual and achieves its aim: the paralysis of normal life. Therefore, on the ground, the Intifada now is above all a daily attempt to cope with the internal closure, the roadblocks and the encirclement.

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