MCC Palestine Update #27
For the past week, the MCC office in Jerusalem has been inundated by faxes, e-mails, and phone calls, all from Palestinian friends and partners. They were calling up to ask if we had friends or family affected by the attacks of September 11, to express their shock and outrage at the attacks, to send their condolences to us as Americans, to MCC, and to the US in general. Palestinian schools, meanwhile, observed a minute of silence in mourning for the dead.
The handful of Palestinians who celebrated in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Nablus are not representative of Palestinians. Quite the opposite. Time and again, we have been struck by how Palestinians, who have very good reasons to be angry with the United States for its overwhelming support of Israeli occupation, transcend the pain of their particular circumstances by expressing sympathy for victims of the attacks in the US.
This is a time not only of mourning in the occupied territories, but also of fear. The Israeli military has stepped up its operations in West Bank and Gaza: military spokesmen told Ha'aretz newspaper that they expected greater latitude of action while the world's attention was diverted away from the occupied territories. Prominent voices in the Israeli government, furthermore, try to tar the Palestinian leadership with the "bin Laden" brush, and there is more and more talk of dismantling the Palestinian Authority and driving out (or killing) Arafat. This is a very uncertain time for MCC's Palestinian staff and partners--please keep them in your prayers.
Below are three pieces. The first, by British journalist Robert Fisk,tries to place the attacks in the US in context. While Fisk does not, to our mind, adequately note that Palestinians who celebrated were a small minority, his piece does serve to highlight reasons for anger at the US in the Middle East. We should stress that such analyses of looking into root causes of anti-Americanism in the Middle East are not justifications of the horrific attacks we saw; if, however, we want to move beyond shock and revenge, we need to look at how to promote justice in the region. The second piece is by the Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, outlining its rejection of the Arafat=Bin Laden equation. Finally, a piece by Gideon Levy describing the siege on one West Bank village.
1. The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people
The Independent, 12 September 2001
So it has come to this. The entire modern history of the Middle East the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Balfour declaration, Lawrence of Arabia's lies, the Arab revolt, the foundation of the state of Israel, four Arab-Israeli wars and the 34 years of Israel's brutal occupation of Arab land all erased within hours as those who claim to represent a crushed, humiliated population struck back with the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomedpeople. Is it fair? is it moral? to write this so soon, without proof, when the last act of barbarism, in Oklahoma, turned out to be the work of home-grown Americans? I fear it is. America is at war and, unless I am mistaken, many thousands more are now scheduled to die in the Middle East, perhaps in America too.
Some of us warned of "the explosion to come''. But we never dreamt this nightmare.
And yes, Osama bin Laden comes to mind, his money, his theology, his frightening dedication to destroy American power. I have sat in front of bin Laden as he described how his men helped to destroy the Russian army in Afghanistan and thus the Soviet Union. Their boundless confidence allowed them to declare war on America. But this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia paid and uniformed by America Israel’s ally, hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee
No, there is no doubting the utter, indescribable evil of what has happened in the United States. That Palestinians could celebrate the massacre of 20,000, perhaps 35,000 innocent people is not only a symbol of their despair but of their political immaturity, of their failure to grasp what they had always been accusing their Israeli enemies of doing: acting disproportionately. [Note: this was written when the casualty figures were thought to be much higher; also, Fisk does not note the overwhelming denunciation of the attacks by all levels of Palestinian government, politics, and civil society.] All the years of rhetoric, all the promises to strike at the heart of America, to cut off the head of "the American snake'' we took for empty threats. How could a backward, conservative, undemocratic and corrupt group of regimes and small, violent organisations fulfil such preposterous promises? --- Now we know.
And in the hours that followed yesterday's annihilation, I began to remember those other extraordinary assaults upon the US and its allies, miniature now by comparison with yesterday's casualties. Did not the suicide bombers who killed 241 American servicemen and 100 French paratroops in Beirut on 23 October 1983, time their attacks with unthinkable precision?
There were just seven seconds between the Marine bombing and the destruction of the French three miles away. Then there were the attacks on US bases in Saudi Arabia, and last year's attempt almost successful it now turns out to sink the USS Cole in Aden. And then how easy was our failure to recognize the new weapon of the Middle East which neither Americans nor any other Westerners could equal: the despair-driven, desperate suicide bomber.
And there will be, inevitably, and quite immorally, an attempt to obscure the historical wrongs and the injustices that lie behind yesterday's firestorms. We will be told about "mindless terrorism'', the "mindless" bit being essential if we are not to realize how hated America has become in the land of the birth of three great religions.
Ask an Arab how he responds to 20,000 or 30,000 innocent deaths and he or she will respond as decent people should, that it is an unspeakable crime. But they will ask why we did not use such words about the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq, why we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And those basic reasons why the Middle East caught fire last September the Israeli occupation of Arab land, the dispossession of Palestinians, the bombardments and state-sponsored executions ... all these must be obscured lest they provide the smallest fractional reason for yesterday's mass savagery.
No, Israel was not to blame though we can be sure that Saddam Hussein and the other grotesque dictators will claim so but the malign influence of history and our share in its burden must surely
stand in the dark with the suicide bombers. Our broken promises, perhaps even our destruction of the Ottoman Empire, led inevitably to this tragedy. America has bankrolled Israel's wars for so many years that it believed this would be cost-free. No longer so. But,of course, the US will want to strike back against "world terror'', and last night's bombardment of Kabul may have been the opening salvo [Note: It turned out this wasn't a US strike.] . Indeed, who could ever point the finger at Americans now for using that pejorative and sometimes racist word "terrorism''?
Eight years ago, I helped to make a television series that tried to explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Last night, I remembered some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help them but God. Theology versus technology, the suicide bomber against the nuclear power. Now we have learnt what this means.
2. GUSH SHALOM
pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 – http://www.gush-shalom.org/
Sept. 13: Today, the editorial of the mass-circulation Ma'ariv pointed out "the rare opportunity to turn international public opinion Israel's way", since "The world is horrified by the ideological alliance between Arafat and Bin Laden". This, the paper believes, makes it possible for Sharon "To seize the moment and use against terrorism the kind of means which hitherto he did not dare to use for fear of international reaction".
Sharon needed little urging, as indicated by the frankly brutal report carried in Yediot Aharonot, Ma'ariv's great rival, also of today: "At about 2.00 PM the IDF forces reached the building in Arabeh Village where three Islamic Jihad activists had barricaded themselves. The three refused to surrender, and were liquidated by missiles and shells. A 12 -year old girl was also killed in the shooting on the inhabited building. Later, another wanted Palestinian was liquidated as well. In the three hours' exchange of fire, four Palestinian civilians were killed by mistake and about fifty wounded".
In the Israeli media it was reported, though ruthlessly - on the international networks it had no chance. (A group of firebrand politicians, led by former PM Netanyahu, seem to find such operations insufficiant; they are making shrill calls for total destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the killing or exiling of Arafat.)
Altogether, at least 18 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army in the past two days. Among those killed was a 71-year old man from Beit Likia, shot by soldiers for the crime of trying to bypass the earthen barrier blocking the single exit road from his village; and a wounded Palestinian policeman died when his ambulance was delayed by the soldiers maintaining for the third con-secutive day a close siege over the town of Jenin. One Israeli got killed, a settler woman caught in a Palestinian ambush near Hable.
It is now - a late night hour - the fourth night since Israeli soldiers started the siege of Jenin, which involves occupying parts of the "A" area - the area where they should not be present according to the Oslo agreement - signed eight years ago to the day. It is an invasion of the Palestinian territory far longer - and with far more severe consequences - than the April invasion of the Gaza Strip which at the time drew a sharp reprimand from the US State Department (nothing of the kind this time, needless to say). Another big-scale invasion by an armoured column took place during the past day at the venerable town of Jericho, and there were sundry bombings and bombardments at various other spots, altogether "the largest number of simultaneous operations since the uprising started" according to the Israel Radio's military correspondent.
The weekly Gush Shalom ad, due to be published in Ha'aretz in the morning, sounds a caution to the PM and the rest of the warmongers: "(...) Sharon hopes that from now on he will get the automatic support of the Americans and Europeans for the continuation of the occupation. In this he may be disappointed. The opposite can also happen: the Americans and Europeans may interfere in order to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is poisoning the international atmosphere. This would be in the interest of the Israeli people, too."
Certainly, it seems that Secretary of State Powel has no intention to accept Sharon's "Arafat equals Bin Laden" formula. Instead, Powel has pointedly mentioned Arafat among the heads of state whose condolences to the American people he had received, and pushed for a meeting between the Palestinian President and Israel' Foreign Minister Peres, which is due to take place on Sunday. But PM Sharon, evidently displeased with the intended meeting, gave Peres a very narrow mandate: to call for immediate cease-fire without offering the Palestinians even the most remote hope of an end to the occupation, the oppression, the settlement extension. [NOTE: The meeting was canceled by Sharon.] In other words, a demand for unconditional surrender, with Peres playing the part of "Good Cop" on Sharon's behalf. Not much hope there.
3. No way out
Haaretz, 15 September 2001
Ninety percent unemployment; 1,500 people in need of medical help; two weeks of total blockade during nearly a year under closure; shortages of medicines, water and food; and a civil protest staged by 500 senior citizens in front of an army checkpoint. A report from the besieged town of Beit Furiq, which lies between Itamar and Elon Moreh
By the middle of last week, they felt that they couldn't take it any more. For two weeks, they'd been completely cut off, with no one allowed to enter or to leave apart from some tankers delivering water - and that only under constraint and after much pleading, when the situation had become utterly untenable.
Then the mayor of Beit Furiq called the council head of the neighboring village of Beit Dajan, on the other side of the hill, and the two debated what to do. They sought the counsel of the village elders and their respective councils, and contemplated staging a demonstration or some kind of civil rebellion, although they were worried that people might be killed. And what kind of protest could the residents of two remote villages put up against the occupying Israelis at the gate - or at the checkpoint, to be more exact without it leading to more bloodshed? Weren't the five dead the villages had already suffered - including a man harvesting olives in his orchard and an innocent woman in her car - enough?
In the end, there was a decision to protest by parking cars in front of the roadblock. But, so as not to provoke or alarm the soldiers unnecessarily, it was decided that only the older people from both
villages would come out to the checkpoint. Young drivers were more apt to become hotheaded; the senior citizens could be trusted to stay calm and not to go overboard with the protest.
And so, last Wednesday, after two weeks of being totally sealed in, all of the elderly people of Beit Furiq and Beit Dajan drove their cars - or their children's cars - to the checkpoint that was shutting
off and strangulating their villages, and parked in a long line, one after the other, car after car. Not that they had any other use for their private vehicles at this point: Since the blockade on the villages was imposed at the start of the intifada, they have been prohibited from leaving except in service taxis or supply trucks. In the past couple of weeks, those two options were also revoked.
The soldiers at the checkpoint didn't know what to make of the quiet, elderly protesters. After an hour and a half or so of this peaceful civil rebellion, Officer Itai was summoned. Ataf Hanani, the
mayor of Beit Furiq, tried to explain to Itai that Beit Furiq and Beit Dajan have always been dependent on Nablus for everything, and that the residents cannot be prevented from getting to the city. Beit Furiq and Beit Dajan are basically suburbs of Nablus, much closer to the center of the city than Gilo is to downtown Jerusalem.
After some discussion back and forth, Officer Itai announced that the blockade would be lifted the next day. The following day, last Thursday, Hanani set out for Nablus. His passage out of the village - for the first time in two weeks - was amazingly easy. The soldiers at the roadblock quickly allowed him through. But at 11 A.M., when he wished to return home (normally, traveling from Nablus to Beit Furiq takes no more than five minutes), he found about 100 cars stuck at the checkpoint at the entrance of his village. He reached his home at about 3:00 in the afternoon, four hours after he left Nablus. Four hours instead of five minutes, all for the sake of a handful of residents of Itamar and Elon Moreh living on the hill, whose security is the only thing that seems to interest Israel. And to hell with all the rest.
Thus has Beit Furiq been liberated from the siege imposed upon it; now you just have to wait a little while at the checkpoint.
A mayor, beaten
The window of the Palestinian taxi is shattered. Two days ago, settlers hurled rocks at it, near the Tapuah junction. It's a matter of routine.
The flowers are in bloom all along the way from Qalqilyah to Nablus. Like most West Bank roads these days, this one is deserted, whether due to fear (on the part of both the settlers and the Palestinians) or prohibitions (affecting the Palestinians). All of the roads that spill onto the main highway are blocked with trenches, mounds of dirt and concrete blocks, as are most of the impromptu dirt paths that have sprung up.
It's a depressing sight. Throughout the trip, the conversation centers on one thing: How to get there? Where is there a roadblock? Whom will the soldiers allow to pass? How long will it take? Which route is blocked?
At the Dir Sharaf checkpoint, a broad roadblock at the hub of a village, the tension rises. A long line of vehicles, including an ambulance, is standing and waiting. Whoever is allowed to pass through will be in Nablus in two minutes; whoever is refused permission will have to spend an hour and a half getting from here to there via extremely makeshift "roads."
The soot around the windows of the building where the Hamas offices are located, a building where two Hamas leaders were killed in a rocket attack, has already been removed and the place now looks like a tranquil apartment house - as tranquil as an apartment house in Nablus can look these days. The bombed-out police headquarters still stands in ruins; pictures of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, still hanging on the wall, are the only things left intact.
At first glance, the routine of the city seems unchanged, but on closer look, one sees that it appears to be moving in slow gear. There are hardly any private vehicles on the road, only taxis. Amazingly, very few armed men are roaming the streets. Groups of gloomy-looking young men idly wander about, certain to cause any Israeli who might somehow find himself here a shiver of unease.
A poster of intifada casualty Zahi Muzhir adorns the entrance to the Balata refugee camp at the edge of the city. Balata is proud of its son. A picture of Saladin Darwazi is affixed to the ruins of his red car, destroyed in a rocket attack. "Woe to those who have struck at us," reads the Hamas flyer affixed to the car. "Here is the place where the commander was murdered."
Nablus already has a good share of such monuments. Dr. Rasan Hamdan leaves the offices of the organization called Medical Relief that he heads. Another doctor from the organization, Dr. Muhammed Zakaki, an expert on first-aid in a city that has been shelled a number of times, calls to say that he is stuck at the Hawara checkpoint and that he hasn't been able to convince the soldiers to let him through. Salah Hajj Yahya, who is with Israel's Doctors for Human Rights foundation, tries to come to the doctor's assistance.
Last week, Dr. Hamdan wrote from Nablus to the Tel Aviv office of Doctors for Human Rights: "The Israeli soldiers are totally preventing the passage of people and goods to Beit Furiq. Water is the only product they allow to be delivered. We urgently request assistance with basic foodstuffs such as rice, sugar, oil, baby food and medicines."
The "Medical Relief" sign on the front of Hamdan's car enables us to get past the roadblock at the entrance to Beit Furiq. A water tanker (a gift from the Japanese government to the Palestinian Authority) is being delayed behind us. Did the Japanese know that this is what would become of their truck?
A single house belonging to the Itamar settlement sits atop a high hill overlooking all the village streets, as if to taunt the inhabitants, whose lives would be so different if it weren't for this settlement situated right over their heads. For some time now, the villagers the villagers have been prevented from reaching their olive trees planted on the lower part of the mountain, due to fear of the settlers who, they say, shoot at anyone who dares to approach the groves
That's how one local man, Farid Nasasra, was killed. We visited Nasasra's home in January of this year, on the day in which soldiers killed Fatma Abu Jish, a clerk at the hospital in Nablus who'd been returning from work and tried to get home by way of the fields, having no other options available. Beit Furiq Mayor Hanani, who is also a farmer, told us then about the beating he had endured at the hands of the soldiers when trying to visit his aunt in Nablus. The soldiers also let the air out of his tires (his car bore an official town seal) - making him apparently the only mayor in
the world to receive such treatment.
Practically nothing has changed since then in the town hall: The same tattered black chairs still sit at the entrance; the same old man lies sprawled out on one of them; the town and national flags are displayed, as is a picture of a smiling Arafat in the mayor's office. Hanani's official Mitsubishi pickup truck sits in the parking lot. There is one new addition, however: Portraits of the leaders of
the Popular Front - George Habash and the assassinated Abu Ali Mustafa - are stuck on the wall by the entrance.
And one other thing: A new Hebrew phrase, "tehakeh batzad" ("Wait on the side") has been added to the lexicon of the occupation. "Those were two very difficult weeks," recalls Hanani. "No one came in and no one went out. After three days, when we appealed to B'Tselem and the International Red Cross, they allowed the water tankers to come in."
There is no running water in Beit Furiq, so without the water deliveries, the place is as good as dead. Now only 40 tanks per day are allowed to enter. Why not more? Why does someone care
how much water gets into the town?
In recent months, the Israel Defense Forces have been busy blocking all the improvised, alternative access roads in the town's fields. In any case, everyone was afraid to travel on them since the soldiers started shooting at people trying to sneak through to their homes; so once again, the only way out is through the roadblock. This roadblock has also undergone some changes. At first it
consisted of an impassable trench and concrete blocks; now it is manned by three soldiers in dusty uniforms who decree who goes out and who comes in - which sometimes is to say, who will
live and who will die.
Hanani: "The other thing is the soldiers' mood. Their moods are fickle. Sometimes, they sit for an hour at the roadblock without signaling to even one car to pass. There are shifts where the soldier decides not to let any car pass through. The hardship just increases. If someone is transporting food products, the soldier can decide to unload everything.
"The queue gets longer and longer. A car with young passengers can be detained for hours for no reason. And all of this mess because of 70 settlers. I understand the matter of security. As far
as I'm concerned, they can take all the security measures they want, but without shutting down our lives like this."
The unemployment rate in Beit Furiq is a staggering 90 percent. The town has 8,500 residents. Half of its labor force used to work in Israel, a third worked in the Nablus quarries, and another 10th in
agriculture, as farmers or shepherds. The road to work in Israel is blocked; only a few manage to sneak through, and when they do, they stay away for a week or two, working only in the Arab
villages. The stonecutters are also unemployed because of the severe economic crisis in Nablus.
As for the farmers and shepherds, either they cannot reach their lands - because of the settlers - or they cannot reach their markets - because of the soldiers. Not long ago, one chicken farmer from Beit Furiq tried to bring 10,000 live chickens to market in Nablus. Thousands of chickens expired from the heat during the long and winding journey made in order to circumvent the roadblocks.
Social service workers are also often prevented from reaching their jobs in Nablus or the surrounding villages because of the roadblocks. Before the intifada, there were 220 families
registered with the town's welfare office; now 1,000 of the 1,500 families are in need of help.
How do people manage in the face of all this? The answer to this familiar question is always the same: mutual assistance.
"I cannot eat when my neighbor has nothing," as Hanani puts it. Those who used to eat meat once a week have stopped eating meat altogether. If they used to cook with gas, now they light bonfires. "We've gone backward 20 years."
Would it be possible to visit the home of a poor family? The village officials are reluctant: It could hurt the family's dignity or their town's honor.
The medical situation in the virtually closed-off town: Dr. Hamdan says that there is a severe shortage of medicines. There is one clinic whose doctors come from outside. The only doctor who lives in the town works somewhere else. At the beginning of the intifada, no doctors came at all because the road was blocked by the trench.
Last Tuesday, at the height of the full blockade, the Medical Relief organization set up a mobile clinic staffed with nine doctors who had come to Beit Furiq. Some 1,500 patients came to be examined. Hamdan says that most were chronically ill people, who had been unable to receive their regular medical treatment for a long time. There were also children with respiratory infections that
had gone untreated, as well as patients with anemia and high blood pressure, and many cases of intestinal illnesses brought on by the poor quality of the water. Some of the residents cannot afford
to pay health insurance fees, so they are prevented from going to the regular clinic.
On the first of the month, Abla Mana'a, who suffers from diabetes, found that her supply of insulin had run out. The blockade was in full force, but her husband, Ahmed, came up with a solution: He
gave NIS 120 to the driver of a water tanker, asking him to buy the insulin in Nablus and to bring it back on his return trip. And so Abla was saved.
What about dialysis patients? There are no such patients in Beit Furiq itself, but in all of the surrounding area, there are 158 people requiring dialysis treatment who must somehow make their way to Al-Watanati Hospital in Nablus, the only dialysis center for patients from Nablus, Jenin, Tul Karm and Qalqilyah and their environs. Getting there has become increasingly difficult. Newsweek
magazine reported on this situation several weeks ago.
Israel Air Force jets are in the air and all eyes are turned to Nablus.This was the day of the three terror attacks and all of the headquarters in Nablus have been evacuated for fear of an Israeli bombing, which is not long in coming. Dr. Hamdan hurried to the city to be ready in case he was called to work in one of the ambulances. In the basement of Beit Furiq's town hall, a little girl
practiced playing an electric organ, alone on the floor of the spacious room. In the next room, a group of housewives in white head scarves awaited the arrival of the doctor who is giving them a course in first aid. They are preparing for every eventuality.
Meanwhile, many more cars have lined up at the roadblock, hoping to enter the village. The drivers are prohibited from approaching the intersection until a soldier signals them to do so and then only
one car at a time. The taxi driver from Qalqilyah has fixed his broken window: He found a good deal in Nablus - a used windshield for NIS 800, practically his entire monthly wage.
At the Dir Sharaf checkpoint, a woman stood all upset and perspiring, dejectedly waving a fistful of documents, her face as white as a sheet. She had had surgery at the hospital in Nablus the week before and had the documents to prove it. She had just been released from the hospital and was trying to cross through the checkpoint on foot in order to get back to her home in the village of Bal'a.
"So she'll wait a little bit. It's not so terrible," says the young lieutenant at the roadblock. "First let's put things in some order here and then we'll let her pass."