Saturday, December 8

MCC Palestine Update #33

MCC Palestine Update #33

Greetings to all during this Advent season. For us (Sonia and Alain Epp Weaver), a pall has been cast on this season by the death of our good friend, Radwan Isayed. We lived in an apartment above Radwan's home from 1992-1995 while teaching English in the village of Zebabdeh in the West Bank's Jenin district. Radwan and his wife Maisoon (and their five children) introduced us to the pleasures of life in a Palestinian village: drinking tea flavored with sage, the smell of freshly baked bread, picking okra in the fields. Radwan died of a heart attack while working in his fields.

Radwan was typical of most Palestinians. He was not a politically active man. He loved his family dearly and struggled to make ends meet for them. People the world over face similar struggles with health, unemployment and poverty. Unfortunately, on top of these struggles (hard enough), Palestinians must also deal with living under a violent military occupation which exacerbates all of the above problems.

Radwan was buried in Zebabdeh's Christian cemetery on Wednesday, Dec. 12. Please keep his family in your prayers.

Below you will find four pieces. The first, by Nurit Peled-Elhanan, is a passionate Israeli call for a just peace. The second, by Naim Ateek, is a Christmas letter from the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. Next is a piece analyzing Sharon's aims: the author's analysis squares well with what we keep hearing from Palestinians, Israelis, and Western government officials here (albeit the latter off-the-record). The final piece, by Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, provides an additional analysis of the present period.

Our next update will be after the new year. May each of you have a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.

1. The Dominion of Death
Nurit Peled-Elhanan (Translated by Edeet Ravel, Montreal)
Yediot Ahronot, 1 December 2001

The article below was written by Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a long-time Israeli peace activist and recent winner of a peace award from the European Parliament. Nurit was the mother of Smadar Elhanan, 13 years old when she was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in September 1997.

Dylan Thomas wrote a war poem entitled And Death Shall Have No Dominion. In Israel, it does. Here death governs: the government of Israel rules over a dominion of death. So the most astonishing thing about yesterdays terrorist attack in Jerusalem and all similar attacks is that Israelis are astonished.

Israeli propaganda and indoctrination manage to keep coverage of these attacks detached from any Israeli reality. The story in the Israeli (and American) media is one of Arab murderers and Israeli victims, whose only sin was that they asked for seven days of grace.

But anyone who can remember back not even one year but just one week or several hours knows the story is different, that each attack is a link in a chain of horrific bloody events that extends back thirty-four years and has but one cause: a brutal occupation. An occupation that humiliates, starves, denies jobs, demolishes homes, destroys crops, murders children, imprisons minors without trial under appalling conditions, lets babies die at checkpoints, and spreads lies.

Last week, after the assassination of Abu Hanoud, a journalist from Yediot Ahronot asked me whether I felt relief. Hadnt I been frightened that a murderer like that was roaming free? No, I did not feel relief, I told her, and I will feel no relief as long as the murderers of Palestinian children continue to roam free. The murders of those children, like the murder of a suspect without trial or the murder of a ten-year-old boy yesterday, shortly before the attack, guarantee that no Israeli child can walk to school safely. Every Israeli child will pay for the deaths of the five children in Gaza and the others in Jenin, Ramallah, Hebron.

The Palestinians have learned from Israel that every victim must be avenged tenfold, a hundredfold. They have said repeatedly that until there is peace in Ramallah and Jenin there will be no peace in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. So it is not up to the Palestinians to keep seven days of quiet but up to the Israeli Occupation Force.

On Friday it was reported that politicians from both sides had reached a deal in Jerusalem to allow the reopening of the casino upon which their own livelihood depends. They did it without American intervention, without high-level committees, with just the assistance of lawyers and business people, who promised the parties what was required. What this shows is that the conflict is not between the leaders: when an issue affects them directly (unlike the deaths of children) they are quick to find a solution.

It strengthens my belief that all of us, Israelis and Palestinians, are victims of politicians who gamble the lives of our children on games of honor and prestige. To them, children are worth less than roulette chips.

But these attacks serve the interests of Israeli policypolicy designed to make us forget that the war today is about protecting the settlements and the continuation of the occupation, policy that drives young Palestinians to commit suicide and take Israeli children with them, animated by Samsons invocation let me die with the Philistines, policy contrived to make us believe that they want Tel Aviv and Jaffa too and there is no one to talk to, even as they liquidate all those who might have been able to talk.

Now that we know our leaders are capable of peace when there is an economic motive, we must demand that they make peace when lesser things, like the lives of our children, are at stake. Until all the parents of Israel and Palestine rise up against the politicians and demand they curb their lust for conquest and bloodshed, the underground realm of buried children will continue to grow. Since the beginning of time, mothers have cried out in a clear voice for life and against death. Today, we must rise up against the transformation of our children into murderers and murdered, raise our children not to support evil machinations, and force the politicianswho say, with Abner and Joab, Let the young men arise and play before usto make way for those who can sit at the negotiating table and agree to a true and just peace, who are prepared to engage in dialogue not with the aim of tricking and manipulating the other side, not to humiliate the other and force him to his knees, but to reach a decision that considers the other, a solution free of racism and lies. Otherwise death shall continue to have dominion over us.

I suggest that parents who have not yet lost their children look beneath their feet and heed the voices rising from the kingdom of death, upon which they step day by day and hour by hour, for only there does everyone understand that there is no difference between one life and another, that it matters little what is the color of your skin or the color of your ID, or which flag flies over which hill and which direction you face when you pray.

In the kingdom of death Israeli children lie beside Palestinian children, soldiers of the occupying army beside suicide bombers, and no one remembers who was David and who was Goliath, for they have faced the sober truth and realized that they were cheated and lied to, that politicians without feeling or conscience gambled away their lives as they continue to gamble with the lives of us all. We have given them the power, through democratic elections, to turn our home into an arena of never-ending murder. Only if we stop them can we return to a normal life in this place, and then death will have no dominion.

2. Sabeel Christmas Message 2001


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness ­ on them light has shined (Isaiah 9:2).

The Sabeel family in Jerusalem and the Holy Land wishes to extend its warmest Christmas greetings to all our friends everywhere. We hope and pray that the joy, love, and peace associated with the coming of Christ will be our strength and light inthe days and months ahead as we continue to struggle for a just peace in Palestine/Israel.

As you well realize, our land and its people have been going through the most horrendous times. Israel has been stepping up its violence and state terrorism in order to maintain its occupation, while some Palestinians, in their despair, have been resorting to violence and suicide bombings. Our cry that the source of the violence is the Israeli occupation has gone unheeded. Violence has only been met with violence and terror with terror. The vicious cycle has never been worse. We are caught in such a predicament where neither side has the courage to take the high moral ground in curbing the violence.

It is important to emphasize that Sabeel has consistently condemned all forms of violence. From our perspective of faith, all killing is wrong. The killing of innocent people can never be justified, but extra judicial killing is also wrong. Suspects must be brought to justice and given a fair trial. The killing of Palestinians and Israelis is a crime whether perpetrated by the Israeli extremist government through its army and settlers or by Palestinians who are resisting the occupation of their country. We condemn both acts as evil; and simultaneously reiterate our strong conviction that the Israeli illegal occupation is the root cause of the problem. So long as it lasts, violence and terror are likely to continue.

We believe that the evil and oppressive occupation must be resisted consistently with nonviolent direct action. We at Sabeel stand for nonviolence because it stems from our understanding of the Gospel. We, therefore, call on people of good will throughout the world, who believe that justice is the true basis for peace, to employ all the nonviolent means possible to bring the Israeli occupation to an end.

Several weeks ago, many of us were encouraged with the statements of President George Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and especially that of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. In spite of the setbacks caused by the recent tragic suicide attacks and the devastation caused by Israeli shelling, there is great urgency to demand the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Without the complete withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied territories and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, no lasting peace is possible. Nothing short of that can put an end to the cycle of violence and terror.

Throughout this year, with the increase of Israel¹s repressive measures and Palestinian resistance, we have been walking through the valley of the shadow of death. In fact the words of the funeral service are very apt, ³In the midst of life we are in deathŠ². Human beings created in the image of the one merciful and loving God deserve a much better life. Their humanity, of which they have been stripped by grave injustice, must be restored and their dignity, trampled and denied by oppression, must be reaffirmed.

One of the great marks of Christmas is its note of hope. For in the midst of the utter darkness of a world of sin and evil, God shines on humanity with the gift of hope in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ ­ hope for a life that can be lived with God and neighbor fully and abundantly, in peace and in love. The final words of the song of Zechariah have a special meaning for us during this Christmas season, ³Što give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace² (Luke 1:79). This is our prayer as well as our plea.

At certain times in the struggle for peace, our people were able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Many of us today see a tunnel that has no end, shrouded with gloom and utter darkness ­ the darkness of injustice and humiliation. In the midst of such despair, our prayer to the incarnate Lord is to give us that ray of light that will restore hope and confidence for a brighter future for all the people of our land so that our feet will be guided in the way of peace.

At this Christmas, we share with you our prayer and we plead that you will do everything you can to help put an end to the occupation of our country. Our people are longing for a life of security and peace in their own state and wish the same for their Israeli neighbors.

May the joy, love, and peace of Christ reside with us all throughout the coming New Year.

Naim Ateek
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

3. Divide And Conquer, Israel's Real Policy
Ahmed Bouzid
The Jordan Times, 7 December 2001

In a gripping article published in the October 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine, New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges described how every afternoon around four o'clock, nearly every single day, on the outskirts of the Khan Younis refugee camp, a voice on a loudspeaker is heard spewing out insults in Arabic, calling out, "Come on, dogs! ... Son of a ...."To his astonishment, Hedges discovered that the loud speakers were mounted on armoured Israeli vehicles parked just outside the Palestinian camp.Soon after, riled up by the invectives, young Palestinian boys, most of them no more than ten or eleven years old, would dash towards the armoured vehicles and begin throwing rocks at the soldiers. At which point, the soldiers would open fire.Here's how Hedges describes one bloody scene: "A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than 10 or 11 years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. ... there are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos." To Americans, the notion that Israel would go out of its way to provoke and incite Palestinians, let alone Palestinian children, to violence is beyond belief.And yet, evidence is abundant that Israel is not engaged in any form of self-defence - certainly not as it is understood under international law - but rather in deliberate, wilful provocation aimed at creating an unstable atmosphere within which Israel can undertake its military operations with impunity.Let's revisit the few weeks before the tragic Dec. 1 and 2 bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Nov. 7: the Red Crescent reports that IDF soldiers shoot in cold blood three wounded Palestinian gunmen under their custody after medics were unable to save the life of a wounded Israeli soldier; Nov. 13: the Israeli human rights group B'tselem uncovers that the Israeli army has established a policy of not prosecuting Israeli soldiers that have shot and killed, without provocation, Palestinian children; Nov. 22: five boys ranging in age between 6 and 14 are killed when an ordnance planted by the Israeli army deep into civilian Palestinian territory explodes; Nov. 23: four Palestinians are killed during the boys' funeral march, among them a 14-year-old boy.But what ignited this latest firestorm is of course the Nov. 23 assassination of militant Hamas leader, Mahmoud Abu Hannoud, who was killed while riding a taxi with 4 other Palestinian men. As expected, Hamas vowed revenge. "Experience has shown," Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantissi declared, "that the militant wing of Hamas reacts to the Israeli crimes and always strikes back - God willing, there will be a painful response." And so there was.And did Israel expect such a reaction? Of course it did. It knew full well that just as the taunted children of Gaza throw rocks at their tormenting soldiers, so do Hamas and Islamic Jihad, taunted by assassinations, bombings of densely populated areas, house demolitions, land confiscations, react with their weapon of choice: suicide bombings.But then we ask: why? Why would Israel engage in such provocations.As demonstrated by Camp David, the Palestinians are not willing to settle for anything less than a sovereign Palestinian state, and the Israelis are not willing to offer anything resembling a sovereign Palestinian state. The Palestinians, militarily no match for the Israelis, have time and again pleaded for an unconditional return to the negotiation table.The Israelis, holding the military upper hand, have decided that negotiations are a dead end for attaining their goal of a semi-autonomous Palestinian state, and have instead opted for the time-tested strategy of divide and conquer: spread civil strife among the Palestinians, establish a state of chaos, so that Israel is no longer faced with solving a political problem, but rather with confronting a security crisis, and then move in to further dismember, annex and tighten control over the remaining Palestinian territories.In this light, it becomes perfectly clear why the Israelis are making it virtually impossible - not only politically, but now physically - for Yasser Arafat to bring about order among his people.During the period between 1993 and 2000, about 400 Israelis were killed in militant Palestinian actions (3,000 were felled on the Palestinian side). The only period during that interval when Israeli fatalities fell to almost zero was during the last year under Barak. That was the period when Palestinians truly believed that their ordeal was at an end. Which leaves the hope alive that the cycle of violence can be broken. But it will be broken only if and when Israel abandons its grand strategy of divide and conquer and its tactics of provocation and collective punishment.Peace will become possible at long last when Israel comes to terms with the reality that there is no alternative to the establishment of a free, sovereign Palestinian state.

4. The Final Push to Defeat the Palestinians
Jeff Halper
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

The whirlwind unleashed on the Palestinians by the Israeli government following the Ze'evi assassination in October and now, in early December, on the heels of the suicide attacks in Jerusalem, Haifa, Afula and elsewhere, goes far beyond mere retaliation against terrorism. Viewed in the context of Bush's attempts to build a "coalition against terror," it is a last desperate effort to bring "industrial quiet" to what's been called the Second Front, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a precondition for building any sustained coalition that includes Arab and Muslim countries. This can be accomplished in one of two ways. Either a satisfactory political solution can be imposed on the parties with a lot of arm-twisting and sweetening, or the Palestinians can be made to submit to Israeli-American dictates.

The first, preferred by the Americans as a resolution of the conflict, have met fundamental obstacles on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The Israelis steadfastly refuse to dismantle their occupation and relinquish control to a degree that would permit a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state to emerge. For his part, Arafat has failed to produce a coherent program for negotiations, and has squandered the opportunity given him by the Intifada to reframe the negotiations in a more equitable way. Faced with a unfocused resistance movement with no political program and fueled by ever more violent attacks against Israeli civilian targets, the American government seems to have been persuaded by Sharon and Peres to choose the second option: defeating the Palestinians outright.

Given their tight time-line for coalition-building and military actions, the Americans are looking for a quick fix, a reasonable period of industrial quiet in the Middle East. Allowing themselves to be persuaded that Israel can bring the Palestinian Authority to its knees within a matter of weeks, thereby reopening the "peace process" on terms favorable to Israel, has its attractions. It is in keeping with the long-standing American bias strongly in favor of Israel, it avoids conflicts with a solidly pro-Israeli Congress (89 senators issued a letter recently warning Bush against compromising Israel's interests), and it can be "sold" as legitimate retaliation against "Palestinian terrorism" - thus legitimizing Sharon's attempts to link Arafat and the Palestinians integrally with Bin Laden and anti-American/anti-"civilization" world terrorism. Given the weak, almost incoherent, political position of the Palestinians, this option seems the most workable in the short run.

Sharon, then, has received a "green light" from Bush to bring quiet to the region through military means, to be followed (no hurry here) by negotiations that will give the Palestinians a mini-state while leaving Israel in control of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediteranean. (It was reported on the Channel One news on Friday night, December 7, that Sharon promised Bush not to kill or harm Arafat, to which Bush replied: "Just promise me you won't kill him.")

The strategy of Sharon, Peres and the others of the "National Unity" government has five main elements:

1. Massive military actions. Besiegement, military strikes against the fragile Palestinian infrastructure and assassinations of key political and resistance figures - the kind of attacks employing heavy American weapons we are witnessing now (early December) -- are fundamental to browbeating the Palestinians into submissiveness. But overt military actions must be carefully framed in order to maintain Israel's image as a mere peace-seeking "victim" and to avert attention from its ongoing, deepening and ever more brutal Occupation. Following violent acts against Israel, they are cast as part of a "war against terrorism," indeed as part of Israel's "natural right" to defend its people. Having removed the response from its political context - a struggle against an illegal occupation - Israel is then free to unleash its entire arsenal (nuclear aside) against whatever targets it wishes for as prolonged a period as it desires. Whatever we may think of Palestinian terrorism as a legitimate political and military tool, casting its military strikes as "retaliatory," justifying its massive destruction as part of a "war" with the Palestinians and concealing its Occupation allows Israel to engage in both political repression and state terrorism without being held accountable. Indeed, the entire chain of cause-and-effect is lost as Israel presents each Palestinian attack as a new and separate incident, divorced from the Occupation or previous Israel actions. The disproportionality of the attacks in October and December show clearly how specific incidents are used for far-reaching political and military gains.

2. A campaign of attrition. Certainly military attacks are part of an Israeli campaign of attrition designed to wear down Palestinian resistance over time. But long-term policies, less visible and less dramatic, are no less effective. House demolitions, land expropriation, permanent closure and prolonged curfews, restrictions on freedom of movement, induced impoverishment, economic warfare of various kinds (such as clearing agricultural fields, uprooting thousands of olive and fruit trees, prohibiting harvests, confiscating livestock and preventing the marketing of produce), "quiet" bureaucratic deportations and a dirty war employing collaborators - all these and more undermine the fabric of Palestinian society and weaken its ability to withstand the Occupation. The campaign is designed not only to break the will of the Palestinian people but to undermine its support for the Palestinian Authority, hopefully giving rise to a more compliant leadership.

3. Creating irreversible "facts" on the ground. The grand project of expanding Israel's control over the Occupied Territories, systematically pursued according to the "master plan" presented by Sharon to Begin in 1977, is nearing completion. The Mitchell Commission's recommendations that settlement construction be frozen, which the Palestinians and others seem to think will be effective in halting the Occupation, is already irrelevant. Israel has enough land and settlements already: 60% of the West Bank and another 60% of Gaza are firmly under its control. 400,000 settlers live in some 200 settlements across the "Green Line. Now its efforts are dedicated to completing the infrastructural work needed to consolidate its hold on the Territories. Almost unnoticed is the construction of 450 kilometers of highways and "by-pass" roads which link the settlements but create massive barriers to Palestinian movement. Since these major infrastructure projects have been agreed to - and funded -- by the Americans, they fall outside the Mitchell Committee's "freeze." They constitute the last key element in the Matrix of Control Israel has laid over the Occupied Territories, and bulldozers are working ceaselessly to complete the system.

4. Delaying tactics. Sharon's demand for "seven days of quiet" before implementing the Mitchell Report has already delayed the resumption of negotiations by months. Time and again "crises" are manufactured (often following unprovoked assassinations, house demolitions or other acts on the part of Israel), which that provide a pretext for not implementing agreements or restarting negotiations. Broad hints by Israeli political leaders that they will seek only long-term "interim agreements" rather than a final status settlement will leave Israel in de facto control of the Occupied Territories - or at least in control long enough to complete its irreversible Matrix of Control.

5. Delegitimizing the Palestinian Authority. Since September 11 the Israeli government has worked tirelessly to cast the Palestinian Authority as an integral part of "world terrorism." Sharon has called Arafat "our Bin Laden," and following the attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa the Israeli government officially labeled the Palestinian Authority as a "terror-sponsoring entity" - obviously hoping to impart to the Palestinians the same international delegitimacy attached to other recognized terrorist organizations.

This is the program that unites the broad coalition of Israel's National Unity government, from the Labor party on the "left" through the Likud, the religious and the parties of the extreme right. At its base lies the rock-bottom refusal to truly share the country with the Palestinians, in either one state or in two. Yet - and this is the catch -- Israel needs a Palestinian state to "relieve it" of the three and a half million Palestinians of the Occupied Territories it can neither absorb (giving citizenship to this population would nullify a Jewish-dominated state) nor control forever by force. While the Palestinians strive for political independence in a viable state alongside Israel, Israel is striving for what is calls "autonomy-plus/independence-minus," a kind of occupation-by-consent that leaves in it in control of the entire country yet rids it of the Palestinian population. This, in a nutshell, describes what the Oslo "peace process" was all about.

Since occupation-by-consent will not be willingly accepted by the Palestinians, but a just peace based on true Palestinian independence is unacceptable to Israel, Israel must force it upon the Palestinians. For Israel, too, the time-line is tight. Bush's green light is good for a couple weeks - perhaps somewhat longer if "justified" by further attacks on Israeli civilians - but it will eventually run into major obstacles: the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee and CIA chief Tenet which await implementation, General Zinni's mission to achieve a cease-fire, and the overarching need to sustain a coalition including the Arab and Muslim countries. Hence the ferocity of Israel's attacks, the final push to defeat the Palestinians once and for all.

It is one minute to midnight. Already Israel has largely completed its physical incorporation of the West Bank into Israel proper, foreclosing any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. If the current campaign of repression succeeds, occupation will be followed by the creation of a dependent Palestinian mini-state - a permanent occupation-by-consent not of the Palestinians, but of the US and a compliant Europe. These are the fateful days of reckoning: a just peace based on two viable and sovereign states, or the emergence of a Palestinian bantustan under Israeli control, a new apartheid.

(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at

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