Wednesday, October 17

MCC Palestine Update #29

MCC Palestine Update #29

17 October 2001

This morning the Israeli minister of tourism, Rehavam Ze'evi, was shot dead in his room at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem, within half a kilometer from MCC's office. Ze'evi was the leader of the Moledet party and an outspoken advocate of "transfer" of Palestinians from the occupied territories (i.e., ethnic cleansing). The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, citing the attack as revenge for the assassination of the PFLP's leader Abu Ali Mustafa in August. 59 Palestinians have been killed as part of Israel's assassination campaign during the past year, among them 19 bystanders.

On Monday of this week we started getting calls in our office with news that several of the checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had been removed. We also received word that two of our West Bank staff members, after over one year of not having permits to enter Jerusalem, had finally been issued three-month permits. The assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi has meant a reversal of these small changes: all roadblocks are back in place.

Even if the roadblocks would again be removed, it is our worry that the changes would prove to be cosmetic and short-lived. Settlement expansion in the occupied territories continues, with the Israeli group Peace Now reporting that at least ten new settlements have been built since July.

Average Palestinians are deeply suspicious that this cease-fire will not be the desperately-needed first step in a series of steps towards a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, but willinstead prove to be but a momentary break in the long history of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories. At MCC, our fervent prayer is for the shattering of destructive myths--the myth of security through violence; the myth of peace without truth and justice; and the myth of liberation through violence--and for the inbreaking of justice, peace, and truth in Palestine/Israel leading to reconciliation. These are lofty, perhaps naive, prayers, prayers which it feels quixotic to utter after thirty-four years of occupation and after the uprising of the past year: but they are prayers we must offer up.

Below are two pieces. The first, by journalist Amira Hass, raises a prophetic warning against the possibility of "transfer" (i.e., ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from the occupied territories. Neither we nor Amira Hass wish to be alarmist on this score; however, over the past few months the once highly-improbably scenario of transfer has started to seem slightly more possible. The second piece narrates the story of Issa Zuf of Hares village in the West Bank, one of the thousands permanently disabled during the past year.

1. Keeping a Lid on the Transfer Genie
Amira Hass

War brings out the darkest thoughts and the deepest fears. It's impossible to guess now how the war on Afghanistan will develop and how it will affect our region and our country. Still,
because of the war, this is the time to clearly ask the following question: is Israeli society immune to an idea such as the transfer of the Palestinian population as a "solution" to the protracted conflict?

Are there enough restraints in the Israeli society to prevent such a twisted idea - which, after all, has a proponent within the Israeli cabinet - from evolving into an "emergency plan" that will take advantage of a propitious moment in a war without limits? Wars,
by their nature, release bottled-up genies.

Skepticism that Israel may try to expel the country's Arabs at the beginning of the twenty-first century is natural and encouraging. It shows that the majority of Jewish Israelis accept as an unequivocal fact that the Palestinians are natives of this land. The question is how much strength the majority of the Jewish Israelis have in the face of those Jews who want to change that fact. The experience of the past year in general and of the past month in particular suggests that deep cracks have appeared in the immunity of most Jewish Israelis to the attraction of military "solutions."

After a year of confrontation, the more vociferous sectors of the Jewish- Israeli public view the Palestinians as an integral part of the Islamic terror map.

During the Oslo years in general and in the past year in particular, the majority of the Jewish-Israeli public has disregarded the fact that it is an occupying power in every part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It interprets the bloody clash as a war between two equal entities in terms of their political and international status, and, like its government, ignores the responsibility the State of Israel bears for the welfare and safety of the occupied population.

The transfer idea has a living progeny: the shunting of the Palestinian and the Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship into separate "pales of settlement," whose demarcation lines are continuously shrinking under expropriation orders issued "for the good of the public" - the Jewish public, that is. Discriminatory land laws and more than 50 years of deprivation have pushed the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens into enclaves of overcrowding, poverty, unemployment and want. On the other side of the 1967 Green Line, Area C (under Israeli administrative and security control) occupies 60 percent of the West Bank. It is depicted by the Israelis who control the area (settlers, the Civil Administration, soldiers) as "Israeli territory" which must be protected against a possible Palestinian "takeover." This is the clear-cut conclusion from the impotence of the authorities in the face of the piratical and official expansion of the settlements in Area C, and from what soldiers posted at roadblocks between Palestinian locales (and not between the West Bank and Israel) say. The soldiers explain that they are "protecting our territory, Israel's territory."

Bureaucratic pressure on a ruled population, combined with a process of separating it from the numerically and militarily dominant nation, reflects undercurrents that desire the disappearance of that population. In wartime, such bureaucratic pressure could evolve into military pressure.

The American response of a massive attack on an entire nation, in whose sovereign territory Osama bin Laden encamped, is automatically compared to what is perceived as an "insufficient" Israeli reaction to Palestinian terrorism. This is a constant pressure on the Israeli right-wing government by its natural electorate. Indeed, under the pressure of the expectation of a fierce
American reaction, the Israeli army, immediately after the September 11 attacks, escalated its activity in Jenin and Rafah, causing a large number of deaths among Palestinian civilians, without any discernible Israeli protest.

There is good reason to suppose that the American counterattack is in fact liable to create a convenient atmosphere for stepping up the military pressure on the Palestinians. If the war continues and expands, and if the Palestinians continue their terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, the "solutions" inherent in military pressure, including the expulsion "solution," could acquire even more advocates at both the military and civilian levels.

The information that the Jewish public receives about what is going on in the occupied territories is meager, limited and seeps into its consciousness slowly (that is, information not related to attacks on Jews). Even what is reported is serious enough (for example, dozens of Palestinian civilians who were killed by Israeli army gunfire in the first weeks of the intifada, even though they did not endanger soldiers); but the information does not generate a sufficiently powerful and swift Israeli mobilization to restrain the political and military levels. What has restrained Israeli operations is mainly external, not domestic, pressure. Yet even this external pressure is fading, and in a world that is preoccupied with a general war, the fear mounts that it will disappear altogether.

In the course of the Oslo years, the large major peace camp in Israel abandoned the concept of the importance of nonviolent resistance to the occupation. It lost touch with the Palestinian public (to instead form ties with the Palestinian leadership). In the year of the intifada, it broke off ties with the Palestinian leadership, with which it is angry. Will the dormant sensors of the Israeli peace camp awaken in time if the bottled- up Israeli genies are released?

2. ‘I still see the two faces of Israel’
Joseph Algazy
Haaretz, 15 October 2001

When soldiers entered his village, Issa Suf went out to warn the children to go into their houses, and was severely injured by an IDF bullet. Now he is paralyzed, but still retains some hope for the future.

SCENE OF THE SHOOTING: "I told the soldier who had kicked me that I couldn't get up," says Issa Suf. (Photo: Nir Kafri )

"Enough of the suffering and the blood that has been shed. I can measure this pain according to what has happened and is happening to me. I'm only a young man, and in one moment, because of one bullet, I became paralyzed in half my body, apparently for the rest of my life," says Issa Suf, a resident of the Palestinian village of Hares. Suf was shot next to his house five months ago, and now lies helpless in his bed.

Hares is a small Palestinian village that lies northwest of Ramallah, and southwest of Nablus, in a region that, fortunately or unfortunately for the 3,000 residents, is a very important strategic point. From Tel Hares ("the watchman's tel," in Arabic), one can get a good view of the Trans- Samaria highway, and below are large reservoirs of water, the feeder area of the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer. The area is rich in riverbeds, springs and wells. In recent years, the settlements have mainly used these water sources, which not by chance were established around them. These settlements include Ariel, Kiryat Netafim, Revava, Barkan, Yakir, Nofim, Kfar Tapuah, Yitzhar and others.

In Hares there are also vestiges dating back to the time of Byzantine rule in the area.

During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and the Six-Day War in 1967, thousands of the residents of Hares and other villages in the area moved to the east bank of the Jordan, and became refugees there. Before the present intifada, many of them used to come back to visit relatives during the summer months.

"Israel, mainly the settlers, has not relinquished the dream of uprooting us from here, but this time they won't succeed. We won't let any of the families leave the place, not even for Paradise," say the residents of Hares, after every incident and clash between themselves and the IDF and settlers in the area.

During this intifada, there have been three "shahids" (Islamic martyrs, as those who carry out suicide missions are called) in Hares. The bald spots in the lands around the village testify to the hundreds of trees, mainly olive trees, uprooted by IDF bulldozers as a result of stone-throwing, and of clashes with settlers and soldiers who enter the village and, in certain cases, shoot and throw grenades. The forced unemployment the roadblocks cause and the closures damage the residents' quality of life, and their daily routine has become completely disrupted.

Last Sunday, in the afternoon, soldiers piled large quantities of rocks and earth on the road at the entrance to the village; the next morning, they removed them.

"In the face of our stubbornness, I wouldn't be surprised if one day, when Israel discovers that they can't remove us from here by force, they will offer every family in Hares perhaps $100,000 if only they leave," estimated one of the residents.

PR for Israel

Issa Suf returned to his home in the village about a month ago. He was hospitalized in Amman after his injury from an IDF bullet four-and-a-half months ago. He lies in bed, his lower body paralyzed. In order to move, he uses a device hanging from the ceiling. He has to move his limbs often in bed, in order to prevent bedsores; occasionally, one of his relatives massages his entire body. Sometimes family members or friends sit him in a wheelchair and take him out to the back yard to take in some air. Because he is incontinent, at fixed intervals, he is transferred to the wheelchair and brought to the bathroom. He complains of strong pains in his lower limbs.

Issa Suf's house is near the homes of his parents and his brothers, in the western part of Hares. His father, Naif Suf, invested most of his life and strength in removing rocks and boulders from his land, on which he grows olives, dates, pomegranates and sabra cactuses, as well as other fruit. From his two wives, he has six daughters and nine sons. Some of his sons work outside the village.

Their neighbors describe them as a cohesive family, whose children are always willing to help others. The eldest son, Nawaf Suf (Abu Rabia), is the Palestinian representative on the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Liaison Committee in the Salfit region.

Issa, who completed a course in journalism, worked for a while at an advertising company in Nablus. After taking a sports course, he served for several years as a physical education teacher. He learned his fluent Hebrew during the days when he worked at the Shamir Salads warehouse at the settlement of Barkan.

Suf has no past record of arrests for security reasons. During the Gulf War, he said, he was caught during the curfew walking to buy milk for the children, was detained for 11 days in Tul Karm, and was fined NIS 500. During the present intifada, his main job was public relations and providing information for Israeli and foreign journalists. He also helped his brother, Nawaf, in coordinating visits of solidarity missions from Israel, which transferred deliveries of food and medicine to the Palestinian villages that are suffering from shortages because of the closures.

On the day before he was injured, Issa Suf had been the one who coordinated the transfer of a delivery of food from Israel to the villages of Marda and Kiri. The Israelis involved in bringing in food knew him well, and therefore, the day after he was injured, 400 people held a protest vigil in front of the Defense Ministry in the Kirya in Tel Aviv, and declared, "We are all Issa Suf!"

Grim recollections

Last week, Suf told of the circumstances of his injury.

"In Hares, there are many little children," he began. "During these dangerous days of shooting and tear gas, their parents have a hard time keeping them shut up inside the house. At the beginning of any incident with soldiers and settlers, the adults rush to bring the children home so they won't be hurt.

"That day, May 15, at about 10 a.m., when I was at the home of my brother, Raad, who works at a carpentry shop at the entrance to the village, he called me on his cell phone and told me that he had seen soldiers entering the village. He asked me to hurry and bring in all the little children who were outside their homes. I went out in order to bring home Raad's little son, Ahmed, who is
three years old, and also called aloud to the women to go outside and bring their children into the houses.

"From the place where I was standing, a few meters from the house, I heard volleys of shots, but I still didn't see who was shooting. Because of the shots, I shouted loudly at the children who were still outdoors, and told them to go home quickly, when suddenly I felt a bullet hit me from the side, in the right shoulder.

"I barely managed to walk two or three steps toward the door, and I collapsed on the path. Only then did I see that, from the direction of the path that goes down toward the house, two soldiers were approaching me, spraying volleys from their weapons in all directions. One of them was a redhead and the other was dark. The redhead approached me, and while I was still lying wounded on the floor, kicked me in the foot and said, `Get up! Get up!'

"I tried to get up, but I couldn't. I tried to move one of my feet with my hands, but I didn't succeed. I told the soldier who had kicked me that I couldn't get up. I also began to feel that I was having trouble breathing. The next day in the hospital, the doctors explained that the bullet which hit me penetrated a lung, and caused an internal hemorrhage that put pressure on the lungs.

"My younger brother, Abed, called me on the cell phone I was holding, and told me that he had received information that in our neighborhood someone had been injured, and he asked me to go and help the wounded man. I told my brother that the injured man he was telling me about was me, and asked him to find some vehicle to bring me to the hospital, since I couldn't move and was having trouble breathing.

"The redhead grabbed the cell phone, took out the battery, and threw the two parts on the floor. When the dark soldier noticed that people. including my father, Naif, and my mother, Tamam, were running to the place where I was lying, he threw stun grenades at them in order to prevent them from approaching me. Then I turned to the redheaded soldier and said to him in Hebrew, `Be humane, and leave, so that my family can approach me and help me.' Slowly my vision became blurred, too.

"My cousin, who is also called Abed Suf, came with a car, and despite the threats of the soldiers, came up to the place where I was lying, and with the help of others, put me into the car and took me to the neighboring village. From there, unconscious, I was taken by ambulance to the Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. The doctors told my family that the delay in bringing me to the hospital had greatly aggravated my condition. When I returned to consciousness, the doctors put a tube into my chest and drew out the blood that had collected there."

On the fifth day of his hospitalization in Nablus, his doctors discovered that the bullet that had penetrated Suf's body had disintegrated in the area between the eighth and the ninth vertebrae, and that they didn't have the equipment to treat him. They transferred him to the Al Ordon hospital in Amman. There, in a complicated operation, they removed parts of the bullet from his body, but not all of them in order to prevent damage to additional vital organs. From there he was transferred to the King Hussein Medical Center for physiotherapy. Now they are considering the possibility of sending him to a hospital abroad for further treatment.

Issa Suf, now 30 years old, is married and the father of an infant named Vard ("Flower"), who was a month-a-half old on the day his father was injured. Despite the harsh events and his injury, he has not lost hope that the bloodshed will end.

"From where I am," he said, pointing to his bed, "in the miserable situation in which I am living, I haven't stopped distinguishing between good and evil, between an occupier and a guest. I have not stopped seeing the two faces of Israel. Unfortunately, the good people in Israel - those who know how to distinguish between good and evil and between justice and injustice - are few, very few. The others, those who want everything for themselves and don't care if the other suffers and dies, are the great majority.

"Every time I think, like now, for example, that something good is about to come about, your [Prime Minister] Sharon comes and destroys it. I am convinced that the key to peace is in the
hands of the Israeli people. They are the only ones who can solve the problem."

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