Tuesday, November 13

MCC Palestine Update #31

MCC Palestine Update #31

Much has happened here since we last sent out an update and yet the developments have a depressing familiarity to them. Israeli troops withdrew from some parts of Area A while remaining in others. More Palestinian homes were demolished. More Palestinians and Israelis were killed. More settlements were built.

Amidst this backdrop of routine horror, some take hope in the fact that U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now talk openly about a Palestinian state. And yet many fear that this talk of a "state" does not mean talk of a Viable political solution which would provide a modicum of justice and equality, but will mean letting Palestinians calling the disconnected cantons on which they are now confined a "state."

New MCC projects over the past week include a grant to a kindergarten in Khan Younis refugee camp to develop itself into an afternoon children's club (ages 8-14). Adjacent to the Gush Katif bloc of settlements, the club will provide much-needed free psychological space for children whose reality is dominated by violence.

Below are two pieces. The first, by MCC worker Ed Nyce, was written during Israel's incursion into the Bethlehem area. While Israeli troops have withdrawn from Bethlehem, they remain in some other West Bank towns. The second, by Israeli peace activist Ran HaCohen, challenges the deceptiveness of current talk about a Palestinian state.

1. Covered by Fog
Ed Nyce

It is early, early, early morning (yes, it is that early; after all, who can sleep?).

Fog covers much of what is usually visible under the East Jerusalem street lights. Maybe it is a good sign; is moisture on the way?

Fog is covering other things, too. When this fog lifts, what will be seen? The things we hear about; are they true? Some things, which we have seen through the fog, we know are true. Will we be believed?

This morning, Thursday, October 25, 2001, is Morning #7 that Israeli tanks, et al, have helped themselves to Palestinian-controlled areas of Bethlehem. Other cities were invaded a day earlier, some a day later. Life is blanketed by utter horror, worse even than the horror of the unspeakable, mustspeakable events of the past year.

“They’re shooting from between the houses,” the Israelis say of Palestinian gunmen when defending Israeli attacks on civilian targets. Well, yes, and experiencing the exchange of fire in Bethlehem the first three nights while in my home and a fourth in a nearby cave, I find no reason to romanticize or even apologize for such “between the houses” shooting. May it stop.

Non-pacifists point out that there is no other place for the runners to “defend” themselves. And that is true. Israeli land confiscation in the territory they are occupying pushes people more and more into cities, and takes away building-free land for farming, for fields of battle. As a pacifist, I don’t want nobody shootin’ nuttin’. Fog blocks our view of our own demand that USians and Israelis cannot be pacifists (wouldn’t THAT be crazy) but that Palestinians must be.

Is it so foggy that no one can see that those Palestinians who are "shooting from between the houses" are doing so not in Israel, but in these occupied lands?

Few can also see the day-to-day, normal life challenges which grow in their immensity. “We’re expecting our baby any moment,” my friend Nisreen told me Sunday. I was calling from my Bethlehem apartment; she and husband Tony were at his mother’s small Bethlehem home because it is usually “safer” than their Beit Jala apartment. “What do you think you will do?” I asked. “We’re supposed to go down to the French hospital, but that’s near here the tanks are [and very close to the hospital which was attacked by the Israelis]. I hope we can get there safely.” I hope so too, my friend; I hope so too.

“I’m afraid that when I can get back to the university, the tests will be no good.” I traveled to Ramallah yesterday, paying condolences to the Rantisi family, following the death from natural causes a few days ago of Rev. Audeh Rantisi. Later, the friend who’d met me there and I had lunch in the currently not-so-bustling town. He researches and experiments in the fields of biology and chemistry. The university is near Ramallah, but these days, there may as well be an ocean separating them. “The samples I took can last a day or two, but it’s getting close to a week, and I’m afraid I’ll have to contact the people and get new ones. The samples won’t be the same.”

I went to West Jerusalem yesterday afternoon. It’s on the Israeli side of the green line. It could have waited. I know lots of people who can’t do that, who can’t get there. But I wanted to see. Yes, there’s fear that a bomb could go off who knows when; we hope and pray not. There’s lots of guards. But stores, restaurants are open. The streets are intact. People’s homes aren’t being shelled or bulldozed. It must be a fog which covers the view of what’s happening so close by, in Bethlehem, Ramallah, even East Jerusalem. It must be a fog: could the terrible destruction happen if people really knew? Or is the fog in my mind, clouding my judgment, allowing me to hope that people wouldn’t just sit by? Maybe my mind is hopelessly foggy, and I can’t penetrate the curtain to see that people actually believe that what’s happening in the Palestinian areas, in Afghanistan, in other places, is necessary, even okay. Would people really think that?

What do you do about rumors? Fog surrounds the “proof.” Is it humane to want verification before reporting? Whose eyes count? What if a source’s fog vision turns out to be hazy? Will people believe you the next time? Yet if not reporting it, “Why didn’t you tell us?” might be a fair question.

Early, early, early morning gives way to early morning. The birds are audible; I hear the faint sound of a turtle dove. The morning fog has lifted, and the feathered friends are probably visible. I want to find that other dove, that dove with the olive branch in its mouth. But the
mourning fog has not lifted. I can’t see the dove. There’s some fog inside, too, in the heart, in the ears. The dove is hard to hear. After or, dare we hope, before the fog lifts, and we find the olive branch dove: Quick, check! Is it breathing?

2. Say No to a Palestinian 'State'
Ran HaCohen
Antiwar.com, 13 November 2001

Imagine the following scenario: after ages of discrimination, the United States decides to compensate African-Americans generously and to solve their problems once and for all. All African-Americans are locked up in prison, and the prisons are declared to be an independent African-American state. Sound crazy? That is just what the US and Israel are now planning – for the Palestinians.

Things in Israel may have never been worse. Economically, the country is in the worst recession since 1953. Two major economic sectors – hi-tech and tourism – have suffered fatal blows, the one from the global collapse of the "new economy," the other from the Intifada boosted by the September attacks.

Politically, living here calls to mind the first years of the Third Reich.Day after day you witness a society rapidly losing its human face. The safe haven for persecuted Jews has turned into a safe haven for sadistic war criminals, where nobody’s life, be he Arab or Jew, is secure. As part
of an overall campaign to de-legitimize the Arab- Israeli population, this week the Israeli Parliament lifted the immunity of its (Arab) member Azmi Bishara: not for corruption or criminal deeds (a commonplace in Israeli politics), but, for the first time, for things he had said. And even this decision, a dangerous blow to Israeli democracy, threatening the freedom of speech of an elected Parliament member, has been editorially applauded by Israel’s "liberal" newspaper Haaretz, which cynically blamed the victim: "If anyone is responsible for the situation having reached this point, it is MK Bishara himself."

At the same time, Israeli state terrorism in the Occupied Territories is reaching unprecedented peaks. Israeli death-squads now kill a Palestinian freedom fighter almost every day. On the other hand, police claim to have "no clue" as to the identity of a Jewish terrorist group that has murdered at least six Palestinians during the past months. Prime Minister Sharon has not yet reached the death toll of his murderous predecessor Ehud Barak during whose term, in October and November 2000, more than 110 Palestinians were killed every month – but he is making a good progress: October 2001 was the bloodiest month this year, with more than 90 Palestinian casualties. Sharon, however, is more innovative in abusing the Palestinian population: to annihilate Palestinian freedom of movement altogether, the Israeli army now not only destroys (by ditches) the miserable roads still open to Palestinians, but, to disable Palestinian traffic completely (be it to work, to get water and food, or to hospital), it even confiscates the keys to Palestinian private cars.

But all of a sudden, in the middle of all these atrocities, there seems to be a ray of light. The term "Palestinian state" is being de-tabooed. Sharon now wants to give the Palestinians a state, President Bush even claims that a Palestinian state has "always been part of the American
vision" (why didn’ t they tell us before?), King Abdallah of Jordan says the Arab world should integrate Israel in return for a Palestinian state, and even Chairman Arafat himself airs his threats to declare a state. What a harmony, what a consensus! One almost wonders what the Middle East
conflict was all about, if it can be solved by such a simple declaration.

What Do They Mean by 'State'?

Whoever follows the Israeli press would have no difficulty imagining the Palestinian state offered by Israel. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a hard-line hawk with a misleading dovish image, one of the founders of Israel ’s illegal settlements project, says it openly: the Palestinian
state will comprise just the areas currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority. His initial hesitant words about dismantling some settlements in the Gaza Strip were immediately withdrawn: no settlements will be evacuated.

The Palestinian Authority is holding – or was holding, up to the recent Israeli incursions – something like 10% of the West Bank and about two-thirds of the Gaza Strip: separate "autonomous" enclaves in half a dozen Palestinian cities, cut off and hermetically besieged by Israeli forces. This will be the "Palestinian state."

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu was much more honest. I recall a speech he held in the Knesset a few years ago. In his notorious eloquence he asked rhetorically: Is there a state without contiguity? Is there a state without an army? Is there a state that does not control its own borders? Is there a state that does not control its own water resources and airspace? I am telling you, said Netanyahu: there is no such state.

Netanyahu was right. There is no such state as what Israel means by a "Palestinian state." Sharon stresses it over and over again: the "state" will have no borders with Jordan or Egypt, it will be surrounded by Israel from all sides, it will be demilitarized, Israel will control its water and its air space; and the Israeli settlements, consuming about 50% of the West Bank and a third of Gaza and still growing, will all remain intact, and with them the entire network of checkpoints, military bases and roads open for Israelis only, that turn the Occupied Territories into a block of Swiss cheese (as Arafat once put it), with the holes left to the Palestinians. This Palestinian state will be no more a state than the South African Bantustans in the darkest days of Apartheid. It will be the ultimate camouflage for the ongoing occupation.

Who Needs a Palestinian Bantustan?

The Palestinian people do not need such a state. They need land, which was and is being dragged away by Israeli settlements. It needs its own water, 80% of which is being stolen by Israel. It needs freedom of movement, not just to walk to the nearest checkpoint and face an Israeli gunman. It needs an open border to pick up at least some of the refugees spread all over the Arab world.

The envisioned Palestinian "state" will not give any of that. On the contrary: it will serve as a surrogate and as a new justification for the ongoing occupation, which will not be called occupation anymore. It will take the question of Palestine off the international agenda by turning it from a juicy and photogenic resistance to occupation into a simple border-dispute, one of so many around the world. If this was the case, fair enough; but it is not: a Palestinian state alongside Israel’s occupation is an outright abuse of the term "state."

The Palestinians are fed up with empty tokens and symbols of sovereignty. This was the logic of Oslo: give Arafat a title ("Chairman," "President"), give him a license to issue postage stamps, police uniforms and pseudo-official travel documents, and the Palestinian problem will be solved by his well-trained gunmen. Most of the Palestinians were ready to live with that temporarily for seven years, expecting it to be the swallow that makes summer; it did not.ven Arafat himself, who for years cooperated with this fabrication of illusions, understood a year ago that the game was over: faced with the choice between joining the furious tiger of the Intifada and being its prey, he chose to jump on its back and ride it. If he changes sides now, he is finished.

Some Advice for the United States

So it will take much more than the well-meant words of Scott McConnell – "there is a great deal more conversation among Americans than used to be about foreign affairs in general and about wrongs committed against the Arabs in particular. You have seen some evidence of this in President Bush's own words about Palestine" – to convince Palestinians of America’s intentions. It will take much more than nice and harmless promises of a Palestinian state from President Bush. Having sold the Palestinians empty illusions for years, if the US now wants to regain its credibility among Palestinians – and Arabs, and Moslems – it will have to put the horse before the cart, not behind it. First get Israel out of the occupied territories. A Palestinian state may follow, but not precede the end of Israel’s occupation.

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