Friday, August 24

MCC Palestine Update #25

MCC Palestine Update #25

Early morning, August 28, 2001 the Israeli military entered Beit Jala, a day after assassinating the political leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa. The Israeli military shows no sign of leaving Beit Jala. In the afternoon of August 28, MCC country representative Alain Epp Weaver accompanied the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan to the Lutheran church and school in Beit Jala. Early in the morning, soldiers broke into the church's compound, which houses an orphanage for 45 boys, ages 6-17. The soldiers took the keys to the church from the frightened children and entered the church and an adjacent building which had been intended as an interfaith center. As of this writing, the soldiers have not left the church; Palestinians report that the soldiers have been firing from the roof of the church and the interfaith center.

The pastor of the church, Jadallah Shehadeh, was shot at this morning as he tried to reach the church. This afternoon an ecumenical delegation in which Alain participated went to the church / orphanage to distribute food to the boys held captive within.

Please pray for the citizens of Beit Jala, Christian and Muslim, held under tight curfew. Pray for the students at the Lutheran orphanage and school. Pray also for the boarding students at the Hope Secondary School (formerly Mennonite school) in Beit Jala--while not under curfew, the school is right next to an army base, and tanks are continually rolling by the school's gates.

YMCA visit: Haitham Qaraqe', six years old, was in a car with his pregnant mother, his father and his uncle the night he lost an eye last spring. Israeli soldiers from a nearby post opened fire on the car: their bullets pierced Haitham's eye, killed his father Imad, and seriously wounded his uncle.

The Israeli military later said that it had been a case of "mistaken identity." Nicola Abu hannam, also six years old, comes from a Palestinian Christian family in Beit Jala. He was going with his mother to visit the neighbors on the occasion of St. George's feast when a stray Israeli shell hit him and tore off his left arm, the arm his mother had been holding at the time.

Both Haitham and Nicola are clients of the YMCA Rehabilitation Center in Beit Sahour. The dedicated professionals of the YMCA Rehabilitation Center have sadly had an increased workload for the past year, with an estimated 2500 injured people left with ermanent disabilities. Please keep children like Haitham and Nicola, and the workers at the YMCA, in your prayers.

And pray for the safety of Palestinians as they try to circumvent roadblocks to do such basic tasks as buying school supplies. One Palestinian man was gunned down walking into Nablus on his way to buy backpacks for his children. With the siege on the occupied territories tighter than ever, some Palestinians are now taking a 3 kilometer donkey ride in order to enter Nablus. MCC country representative Alain Epp Weaver didn't have to take a donkey ride, but did have to join scores of Palestinians on a one kilometer walk over piles of dirt separating two impromptu taxi stands. A subsequent taxi ride from Nablus to Ramallah involved several kilometers through a "road" in an olive orchard, the bottom of the taxi scraping the ground every couple meters.

Included below are three pieces. The first, by Israeli commentator Meron Benvenisti, unflinchingly and correctly describes Israeli practice in the occupied territories as apartheid. The second, by Gideon Levy of Haaretz newspaper, outlines life at the checkpoints marking Palestinian existence. The final piece, by Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, looks at life under Israeli shelling in Rafah in the Gaza Strip along the Egyptian border.

1. Unilateral separation leads inexorably to Apartheid
Meron Benvinisti
Haaretz, 23 August 2001

While a wall separates Israel from the West Bank between Bat Hefer (left) and Tulkarm, unilateral separation of Israel from the Palestinians, like all ideologies, mocks any argument that dares challenge the feasibility of its implementation. (Photo: AP )

One day, more than 30 years ago, two Israelis who dealt with handling the Palestinian population - one in Jerusalem and the other in the West Bank - met a high-ranking South African official. At the meeting, the two explained their jobs and the way they were improving Israeli-Palestinian relations by letting the Palestinians manage their own lives.

Suddenly, the guest said, "What would you say if I invited you to assist the new regime in the Transkei homeland?" The Israelis were astonished. Their guest's question insinuated that their tolerant and liberal activities were similar to the racist practices of apartheid rule.

When they objected, he smiled at them. "I understand your reaction. But aren't you basically doing the same thing? You and we both face the same existential problems, so we reach the same solution. The only difference is that your solution is pragmatic and ours ideological. Yes, we're all in love with the compromises we make with ourselves."

More than 30 years have passed, and the pragmatic solutions "necessitated by reality" have crystallized into a coherent ideology. It's called unilateral separation. Like all ideologies, unilateral separation "rises above" pragmatic solutions to immediate needs, and purports to provide "an answer" to existential problems: Jewish existence (dubbed "Zionist") is in mortal danger because of the demo-geographic threat. Therefore everyone - liberals, conservatives, leftists and nationalists - rally round to save the Zionist enterprise by "separating" all the others, including Arab citizens of the state, using three barbed-wire fences – one "around Area A," the second "near the Green Line," and a third, never mentioned, along the international borders of mandatory Palestine.

Like all ideologies, unilateral separation mocks any argument that dares challenge the feasibility of its implementation. It all depends on making "brave national decisions" that rise to the occasion of the expected catastrophe, and those who are not ready to rise up to face the severity of the situation are being irresponsible. Opposition to the ideology of unilateral separation on principle, for example, like using the "demographic threat" to characterize "the proliferation" of the other, and that its implementation will only meet the needs of the ruling group and the price will be paid by the other, are rejected with disgust.

Along with mocking the soft bleeding hearts, the ideologues of unilateral separation emphasize the "fact" that it will require "the evacuation of 30- 35 settlements in Judea and Samaria and tearing out sections of the state populated by Arabs of Israel." That heavy price will remain, of course, theoretical, since the ideology of separation is based on the monopoly of absolute power (the "unilateral") remaining forever in the hands of the stronger side -whether it has a demographic majority or whether it becomes a minority "in 2010." And when the demographic reversal does take place, they'll simply stop counting the "others": in any case there's no relevance to the number of heads as long as they cannot raise their hands to vote.

The demographic "threat" is nothing more than a contemptible means to enlist xenophobia and the isolationist tendencies beating in the breasts of masses of frightened people who are lost without leadership, for the purpose of creating political movements that pretend to offer "solutions for the situation."

The ideological preaching serves as a cover for "pragmatic" steps like closures and sieges, and the failure of the method requires ever-more extreme measures of separation, accompanied by ever-more extremist declarations about the "others" to justify the extreme measures. And then, when the separation comes dangerously close to apartheid, everyone criesout, "How dare you compare? We're in favor of a Palestinian state prospering on the other side of and between the three barbed-wire fences. Bantustan, you say? That's an insult."

If that South African official were to return today, he'd shake his head in sorrow. "We reached the conclusion ten years ago that unilateral separation that keeps the monopoly of coercion in the hands of the white community simply won't last and has to go. Your political thinking now is the same as it was back when we first met. True, as I said then, the existential problems are the same; we chose a united multi-racial state(what you call a "binational" state). Maybe there's still the alternative of dividing the country with an agreement. If there is, grab it. Believe me, unilateral separation is not an option. It only will turn you into a pariah state isolated from the West, just as we were. We also thought the world didn't understand us, wasn't sensitive to our plight. You have it a little easier, because you can think it's all anti-Semitism. Forget it. Learn from us."

2. A slice of roadblock reality
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, 19 August 2001

The roadblock at Qalandiya, in June: Each vehicle has to wait in the withering heat for three to four hours in each direction - and this is not in the rush hour. (Photo: AP )

The reports that appeared at week's end about the tightening of the blockade of Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, took at least a few of the local residents by surprise: "How can they tighten the siege any more?" wondered A, a resident of the closed city.

Still, the underlying rationale for the total prohibition the Israel Defense Forces imposed on vehicles seeking to travel south from Ramallah was understandable: Security sources reported that place-specific warnings had been received about suicide bombers, and many roadblocks were put up on Israeli roads, too. The siege of Ramallah will probably be lifted soon, the city will revert to its old routine, and Israel may even score propaganda points by declaring it has having "relaxed the closure." The traffic on the Jerusalem-Ramallah road will return to "normal" and the state of things will go back to what it was, for example, at the Qalandiya roadblock.

The roadblock at Qalandiya is a relatively new one, having been established in the midst of the current Intifada. It is located opposite the fence that surrounds the deserted international airport at Atarot, in the north of Jerusalem, on the main road to Ramallah, and next to the neighborhood of Qalandiya, which is within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. This is not the Palestinians' entryway into Jerusalem and Israel - for that, there is the A-Ram checkpoint, a few kilometers to the south.

The Qalandiya roadblock is located on a road that is in a scandalous state of maintenance and is the busiest route in the West Bank. More than half a million Palestinians make use of it -residents of the Ramallah and East Jerusalem areas, including all the many villages and refugee camps around the cities. They have no other way. Jews do not have need of this route: The way to the settlements in the region passes on separate roads, on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel. Now another wide road is being built there, which will also be reserved exclusively for the use of the settlers.

At the Qalandiya roadblock three or four soldiers check the vehicles, their passengers and their contents (the permits to enter Israel are checked a bit later, at the A-Ram site). Here's how they go about it: the line of cars, which is several kilometers long, stretches toward the horizon behind concrete blocks and a terrifying army bulldozer, which sits, poised and mute, by the roadside, perhaps to intimidate the travelers, and one of the soldiers signals one vehicle at a time to move forward. When the check is over and the vehicle has been cleared to go ahead, the soldier takes a break - it can last two minutes, or five minutes, and sometimes more - before signaling the next vehicle to move forward to be checked. It's a methodical procedure. The result is that each vehicle has to wait for three to four hours in each direction - and this is not in the rush hour.

Under the blazing August sun thousands of perspiring, irritable drivers wait for the soldier's signal, so that one more car can at last move ahead. Some of them get out of their cars, unable to bear the overwhelming heat, others occasionally sound their horns in a furious cacophony, which quickly fades away because of its uselessness.

There are young people and old people, women and children, for whom the trip is obviously vital; otherwise, it stands to reason, they would not subject themselves to this agony. They wait in the vast traffic jam for hours to make a journey that in ordinary times would take a few minutes. Last Sunday, the Palestinian Authority's minister for international cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath, was also here, in his air-conditioned van, and he waited together with a bridegroom
in a decorated car: the Qalandiya roadblock is a great social leveler.

The sight of the pedestrians is even more pathetic. Having no other choice, thousands of Palestinians cross the roadblock on foot. No one checks them, even though they are carrying packages, a situation that raises doubts about the security usefulness of the roadblock. In a procession that can only arouse pity, are old people leaning on their son's shoulders, people who are ill and are making their way with their last remaining strength, the disabled, pregnant women and children who can't understand why they have to drag themselves like this in the withering heat.

Says the IDF spokesman in response: "In humanitarian cases the IDF ensures that the checks are expedited and that the travelers are not delayed." That is simply ridiculous: No vehicle, not even an ambulance, can get around this horrific traffic jam, and anyone who is ill is condemned to wait for hours in a vehicle or to make his way on foot.

The conclusions are almost unavoidable. To begin with, this roadblock is not meant only to check vehicles but also to punish their passengers, and perhaps to dissuade them from leaving
their places of residence. Otherwise it's hard to understand what the justification is for this most terrible of the West Bank roadblocks, for what do security needs have to do with the infuriatingly slow-motion behavior of the soldiers?

Second, along with the security benefits, whether real or imaginary, the security damage also has to be taken into account. No one can know whether it is more likely that a terrorist attack will be prevented by a permanent roadblock whose existence is known far and wide, or that the hatred that is generated during the long hours of exhausting and humiliating waiting will produce more terrorism.

Finally, if more Israelis were exposed to this slice of reality, which is a regular part of Palestinian life, and saw with their own eyes the ordeals endured by ordinary, innocent Palestinians, they might gain a better understanding of the roots of the hatred the Palestinians feel for them. One roadblock is enough to understand it.

3. ‘Why would we need a key when we don’t have a house?’
Amira Hass
Haaretz, 20 August 2001

Looking out at an IDF post from a shelled Palestinian home in Rafah, close to the border with Egypt. (Photo: Reuters)

Palestinians traveling along the roads of the Gaza Strip rarely see any Israeli soldiers. Expanses of tilled gray soil and dry thorns extend from either side of the roads.

Over the past 10 months, the Israel Defense Forces has uprooted thousands of olive, citrus and palm trees and grapevines, and flattened hundreds of dunams of fields and hothouses. In the
wasteland created by the army's bulldozers, the soldiers are invisible. What can be seen are the thickets of concrete blocks that bisect roads, dividing Israeli from Palestinian traffic, as well as
tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), armored jeeps, observation towers manned by video cameras, and positions dug into low hills, with camouflage nets and gun nests at their summits.

These guard posts - round concrete structures of varying height -have replaced the tanks, which at the start of the Intifada were positioned at the intersections. The rifle and machine-gun barrels
protrude from the narrow slits that ring these guard posts. Sometimes you spot a hand sticking out of a slit: it is a soldier directing a car either to stop or to keep moving. Nor does one see
the soldiers who man the positions that are only steps away from dense residential quarters, primarily in Khan Yunis and Rafah.

"As far as I could see, the bulldozer that destroyed my house may have been guided by remote control," says Anwar Kalloub from "O Block," a refugee neighborhood in Rafah that is adjacent to the Egyptian border. On the night of July 10, he watched as the huge tractor ("It wasn't a tractor, it was a building that moves") chewed up and spat out his home until it was a pile of rubble. He was not able to see who was operating the tractor. "A 15-year-old dream was destroyed in seconds; money I'd saved up from 20 years of work evaporated in a single night."

Sixteen residential homes were completely demolished that night, in what the IDF then described as "engineering activity and removal of abandoned buildings, from which came individuals who laid explosive charges and from which gunfire was directed at IDF soldiers."

All told, about 50 homes were demolished in Rafah, which has a population of about 100,000. Another thousand or so dwellings have been directly damaged by gunfire, mortar shells or fires
set off by incendiary illumination shells. The windows of several hundred more were shattered by the concussion waves from the shooting and shelling.

Life in Rafah goes on, in the shadow of the unseen soldiers, the APCs rumbling along the Egyptian border and the reinforced positions that are filled with weapons of every sort - between
the homes of the dead and injured of the Intifada, near the completely destroyed homes, within the homes pierced like sieves by the bullets, and amid unemployment of more than 60 percent.

Anwar Kalloub is now sitting with other owners of demolished homes, at the still-intact house of a neighbor. Together they are looking through the piles of rubble: a shattered and overturned
refrigerator, a school backpack, a few scattered Lego blocks, torn school notebooks, shreds of furniture, bent iron hinges. "Are these abandoned homes?" Kalloub rhetorically asks.

He asks the guests not to get any closer to what had been his home: from his and his neighbor's experience, when anyone gets close to the border, the invisible soldiers from "Termite," the
nearby army post, start shooting.

Kalloub's home had been only a few meters from the border fence. Part of it was built in 1948, the rest in 1996. Anwar and his brother Jihad bought it from a previous owner. Their family originally came from Ashdod. Kalloub, 38, worked in the Tel Aviv's Carmel market for 20 years for the same employer. He would rehire Kalloub whenever the closures and curfews of the first Intifada were lifted. The two men speak on the phone occasionally. Kalloub stills owes
him a few hundred shekels he borrowed last year. Don't worry about the money, his boss told him. You'll pay it back when you come back to work. For the past nine months he hasn't been
able to go to work - a job for which he used to leave home every morning at 1:30 a.m., returning home at 9:00 p.m.

Kalloub paid $17,000 on September 2 for the house next to the border, a sizable sum in a city that has the highest poverty in the Strip. The houses are ringed by unpaved sandy paths, like most of the refugee neighborhoods in the city. A closed sewage system was completed only two months ago, replacing the open sewage canals.

The family moved into the home on October 10, a few days after the start of the Intifada. "Who thought it would go on so long?" he says. On October 18, the army fired at the neighborhood,
including Kalloub's house, for the first time. The IDF Spokesman said it was in response to Palestinian gunfire. On two occasions, the family was at home while shooting was going on outside. They crowded into a room on the far side from the border fence. "The soldiers
definitely knew there were children in the house," says Kalloub. The video camera on the observation tower, on the other side of the border fence - only meters from the front door of the
house -undoubtedly saw them as they walked in and out of the house.

Subsequently, when the exchanges of gunfire and mortar shellings grew more frequent, the family rented a small apartment in central Rafah. But when the money ran out, they had no other choice but to return to the house along the border. They comforted themselves by saying that things were calmer now, that there was less shooting, that the armed youths were no longer prowling around the neighborhood trying to squeeze off a few rounds at the well-protected position, which were invariably answered by volleys of rifle fire and a few shells.

According to Kalloub and the neighbors still living in the houses that have not been destroyed and which now form the front rank facing the border, the soldiers have fired from the position and from the APCs on countless occasions when not a single Palestinian shot had been fired at them. "We would be cringing two times a day, whenever a tank passed along the border fence," which is reinforced by concrete and piles of sand. At such times, the neighborhood would be quaking with fear and the rumbling of the APCs. (Palestinians do not differentiate between tanks
and APCs, but according to the agreement with Egypt, the IDF may not have tanks along the border).

Bulldozers approach

After midnight on July 10, Kalloub was chatting with some friends in the street when he heard the APCs coming. He ran home in time to see the bulldozers approaching and to wake up his six
children, as well as his neighbor, Abu Halil, in the next house over. He noticed that the man had not even emerged from his house before the teeth of the bulldozer blade were already chomping at it. It was only then that the exchanges of gunfire broke out. Armed Palestinians ran up and fired at the force, which returned fire.

"Should we take the house key?" one of Kalloub's daughters asked. He stared at her, dazed. "Why would we need a key when we don't have a house?" Incidentally, the large iron key of the
house in Ashdod is still kept in his parents' home.

The Palestinian Authority promised alternate housing to Kalloub and a few dozen others who had lost their homes. A 150-square meter parcel of land was allocated to each family, on which
UNWRA would build the home. Each family received NIS 8,000 in exchange for waiving its rights to the land on which their ruined homes had stood. Abu Halil, an elderly refugee from Be'er Sheva, refused to sign the waiver, or accept the money. He did not want to be a refugee for a second time, he says.

"O Block" is situated on the north side of Saladin Street, a commercial street that used to continue straight into the Egyptian part of Rafah, and from there to El Arish. Saladin was
considered the Champs-Elysees of Rafah. It was lit up, bustling, a magnet for shoppers and tradesmen. After Sinai was returned to Egypt, its popularity eclipsed. The current visitor requires a special brand of courage, or utter resignation with one's fate, to walk down the street in the direction of the border. All of the shops along the first 200 meters of the street, from the border side, are shuttered. Their metal doors are riddled with holes: countless holes of every size
testify to the bullets and shells they have absorbed. The holes also perforate the walls of all the homes still standing within a range of 100 to 500 meters of the border, on both sides of the
street. This is true for the refugee neighborhoods as well as the area south of Saladin Street, the older residential quarters. These are the original neighborhoods of pre-'48 Rafah, many of whose
residents belong to the large Khishta clan.

During a guided tour of one home there, attention is called to the perforated walls, which have been patched with mortar. Look, there are eight holes in the children's room. In the older aunt's room -nine holes. In the northern room - a large hole made by a shell, which had to be sealed with a few cinder blocks. The metal back door of the house is carefully opened. More piles of
rubble come into view. Some of the homes were demolished on April 14, others on July 19. Here and there is a yellow chrysanthemum bush. And looming over the entire scene is the Termite position, with its observation tower and video camera. Here, too, they warn visitors against walking around the rubble, lest someone open fire from the position or from a tank concealed
behind the concrete fence and sand embankment.

The Khishta family knows the reason for caution: The wife of one of the brothers was seriously injured while she was cooking in the kitchen of her home, which is in the fourth or fifth row of
houses from the border. She was hit by shrapnel from a shell that was intended for somewhere else. She lost an eye, and is now paralyzed in one arm and both legs. She is hospitalized in Saudi
Arabia, and defined as 90 percent disabled.

In November, one of the brothers, Najib, was walking home from a field owned by the family. It is situated in an open expanse between the fourth and fifth rows of houses. An IDF bullet
penetrated a narrow metal grating in a garage under one of the homes, and hit him in the head. He was one of Rafah's first residents to be killed.

Lesson for the deaf

Shadi Siam, 17 was killed on May 24. Siam supported himself though odd jobs in carpentry or agriculture. He was deaf, and as he was walking near Saladin Street that day, he did not hear the
gunfire. He was hit by a bullet in the chest, which exited his back. The school for the deaf and dumb that he had attended until two years earlier suspended classes for three days after Siam's
death. The teachers held special sessions with the agitated students, and discussed ways that the deaf might avoid gunfire in the future.

Siam's killing spiked awareness in Rafah of the problems now faced by the deaf, when shots are suddenly fired by invisible soldiers from observation towers or tanks or outposts. Rafah has
an especially high incidence of deafness: the older families of Rafah tend to intermarry, so as to keep the real estate assets in the family. These marriages between relatives often result in the
birth of children with hearing problems. Ten years ago, the Rafah community decided to build a school for them. No one thought they would need special coaching on how to act when a civilian
population is under fire.

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