Wednesday, January 24

MCC Palestine Update #11

MCC Palestine Update #11

Less than two weeks remain until the new Israeli prime ministerial elections are held on Feb. 6. Likud chairman Ariel Sharon continues to hold a commanding lead over current Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Labor party patriarch Shimon Peres, meanwhile, lurks behind Barak, ready to step into the race if Barak withdraws.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting in Taba Egypt in marathon talks. These talks were suspended after two Israeli restaurateurs were killed while shopping in the West Bank city of Tul Karem. Optimism that the negotiations might produce an accord--final or interim--is low. Ghassan al-Khatib of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center argues that Barak has an interest in continue negotiations so that he can convince the Israeli peace camp that he is making all efforts to reach an accord, even if he is not prepared to make the needed concessions on the core issues of Jerusalem, settlements, water resources, and refugees;the Palestinians, meanwhile, are interested in continued negotiations so that they will not be blamed if and when Sharon is elected Prime Minister.

While it is easy to get caught up in the details of electioneering, it is more important to keep the broader context of occupation and its effects firmly in mind when considering current and future
Palestinian/Israeli negotiations. The January 2001 issue of the Peace Office Newsletter seeks to provide such a broader context, and is devoted to the on-going Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Articles by MCC workers and partners focus on the failure of the Oslo process, the fate of Palestinian refugees, settlement expansion, the closure/siege on the occupied territories, and the Palestinian Christian presence and witness. The newsletter also includes a listing of helpful books and websites and could be used as a resource in Sunday School classes, discussion groups, and high school and college classes. Copies of the Peace Office Newsletter are available for a suggested donation of US $1/copy from Esther O'Hara in the MCC Peace Office in Akron, Pa., USA. Contact Esther at MCC, P.O. Box 500, 21 S. 12th St., Akron, PA 17501, USA; tel. 717-859-1151; e-mail:

In project news, MCC has agreed to work with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in the Gaza Strip to build 20 rain water collection ponds in the south of the Gaza Strip, which suffers from high water salinity. The ponds will increase the sweet water supply to farmers, thus reducing dependency on the Israeli water carrier Mekorot, reducing production costs, and allowing greater crop variation.

Appended below is a statement from the Palestinian negotiating team which provides a Palestinian analysis of the role of U.S. "mediation" in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process under the Clinton administration.

1. MEMORANDUM: Lessons learned concerning US involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process over the last seven years
Palestinian Negotiating Team
21 January 2001

No third party has been as involved and influential in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process over the last seven years as the United States and, in particular, its Special Middle East Coordinator, Dennis Ross. In view of the United States inability to facilitate the realization by Palestinians and Israelis of a just and lasting peace in accordance with Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and other sources of international law, it seems prudent, at the close of the Clinton Administration, to assess US involvement and to identify some of the reasons the United States involvement has not yielded better results.
Process over Substance
Under US supervision, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process has become a goal in and of itself. A false sense of normalcy has been created because of the on-going process of negotiations. The lack of visible resistance to Israeli occupation from the Palestinian side, except for temporary flare-ups, and Israel’s ability to continue negotiations while continuing to build settlements in occupied Palestinian Territory has created the false impression that the process of achieving peace could substitute for peace itself. Thus, the difficult substantial issues at the core of the conflict, including acceptance that Israels occupation of Arab territory it conquered in the 1967 Israeli-Arab War is illegal, have been constantly deflected in order to maintain talks without requiring Israel to face up to its obligations. In fact, the United States advocacy of constructive ambiguity has had disastrous consequences for the peace process. Both parties to the conflict have mistakenly assumed at different times that either the Israelis had accepted to end the occupation or that the Palestinians had agreed to forego some of their fundamental rights as a result of vaguely worded agreements. Whereas such ambiguity made it possible for both sides to sign agreements that they could interpret in diametrically opposed manners to their domestic constituencies, the facts on the ground of implementing opposing interpretations have led to very little implementation at all.
This lack of implementation, combined with the ever-increasing number of Palestinian-Israeli agreements brokered by the United States, has caused Palestinians to become increasingly wary of US involvement in a process that has brought some normalcy to Israel but none to Palestinians. The resulting lack of faith in the peace process and the consequent distrust of US promotion of process over substance has made securing a just peace all that more difficult. Normalization Before an End to the Occupation of Arab Lands US policy over the last seven years appears predicated on the need to help Israel normalize its relations with the Arab and Muslim world at large, as well as with many other nations around the world sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians dispossessed by Israeli conquest. The peace process was used as an excuse to encourage states that had foregone normal relations with Israel to begin the process of normalization, with the argument that peace was just around the corner.
Had the United States promoted the implementation of already signed agreements between Israelis and Palestinians with the same zeal with which it promoted new Israeli arrangements with Arab and other states, it may have succeeded in actually promoting normalization.
Unfortunately, the US emphasis on process over substance has led the domestic constituencies of many governments in the region to conclude that the peace process was only a mirage designed to trick their governments into prematurely establishing economic ties that would help Israel break out of its regional isolation. This has had the added repercussion of promoting not only anti-Israeli sentiment in countries that have established economic ties with Israel, but has also promoted anti-American sentiment in all countries of the region, as demonstrated by the grass-roots popular boycott of American products in many states.
US negotiators in recent years never appeared to recognize that normalcy was a state that existed between two free and equal peoples. As long as the occupation of Arab lands, including the Palestinian Territories, continues, there can never be true normalization between Israel and its neighbors.
Adoption of Israeli Perspective v. Acting as an Honest Broker
The two bases for US involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process have been 1) the physical fact that the United States is the primary power in the Middle East and 2) that the United States has promoted itself to the parties in the region as an honest broker wishing to promote Israel’s security as well as Palestinian national aspirations.
Unfortunately, over the last seven years in particular, the US has become increasingly identified with Israeli ideological assumptions. Dennis Ross, for example, and some other members of his negotiating team, have acknowledged having an emotional commitment to Israel and have said they cannot distinguish between their personal and professional involvement with it. This has had a number of legal ramifications that have affected the peace process negatively: The United States began the peace process based on the goal of implementing UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These Resolutions, as repeatedly interpreted by the international community, simply mean that Israel must withdraw from the Arab territories it occupied in 1967 if it wants to have peaceful relations with its neighbors. After seven years of negotiations, the US negotiating team now effectively advocates the position that the West Bank and Gaza are Israeli territories, or at best disputed territories, for which the Palestinians must bargain. Settlements, for example, opposed by Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Bush, have been tacitly endorsed by recent US policy in the region.
Palestinian concessions to Israel have been made up front, as demanded by Israel and the United States, for talks to take place between the two sides. However, those concessions were always viewed by Israel as the starting point for negotiating further concessions. This view appears to have been adopted by the United States of late. US negotiators have implicitly blamed the Palestinians for not making the same extent of concessions that Israel was offering. Thus, whereas Palestinians gave up their rights to all but 22% of historic Palestine as early as 1988, they are chastised by the US negotiators for wanting all of the Occupied Territories whereas Israelis have been lauded for offering to dismantle only 20% of illegal settlements. Israel’s desire to continue occupying significant areas of Palestinian territory is seen as a reasonable need by the US negotiating position - morally and legally equating the illegal settlement of Palestinian territory with the Palestinian right to reclaim that same territory.
US negotiators have accepted the Israeli world-view concerning the primacy of Israel’s security needs while ignoring the long-term development of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the improvement of the Palestinian quality of life. The result has been that while Israel’s security, including the security of its occupation forces, have been the focus of each agreement, the quality of life of Palestinians has continued to decline. The dichotomy between the comfort of Israelis, including those occupying Palestinian land in settlements with green lawns and swimming pools, and the poverty and misery of Palestinians, has only further inflamed an already volatile situation.
Public support for one side over the other can also have negative unintended consequences. US negotiators public criticism of the Palestinian side at last summers Camp David talks were intended to provide domestic political support for the Israeli prime minister. Instead, it allowed right wing extremists in Israel opposed to peace all together to challenge the Israeli prime minister for having offered too many concessions. US inability to see past Israel’s own narrow perceptions of the conflict have further delayed concluding a just and lasting peace.
US/Israeli Domestic Political Concerns Overrode the Goal of a Lasting Peace
Palestinians obviously have every interest in concluding a comprehensive, just and lasting peace with Israelis as soon as possible. The original Oslo Accords had mandated that the peace talks be concluded three years ago with a Palestinian state and an Israeli state living in freedom, security, and equality side by side. Yet, as Israel attempted to colonize as much of the West Bank and Gaza as possible before beginning final status talks, the Palestinians were compelled to focus on Interim issues in negotiations, rather than addressing the key permanent status issues.
Once mandated by domestic political considerations in Israel and the United States, Palestinians have been placed under tremendous, and sometimes unconscionable, pressure to sign weak and vague agreements that could be used by political leaders to show progress to their constituencies. Rather than place a matter of such great existential importance to both Palestinians and Israelis above the fray of domestic politics, the timetable for reaching agreements has been based on immediate domestic concerns even when the necessary background work on substantive issues has not been done. A comprehensive peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis must not only be considered a valuable photo opportunity, but a matter of great strategic importance for all the states of the region as well as for those states that believe they have interests in the Middle East. It has been obvious, especially over the course of the last year, that the importance of a just and lasting peace has been overshadowed by the need for yet another temporary or interim agreement that would provide only short-term political gain to some of those involved - at the risk of creating tremendous problems for the long-term stability of the area.
US policy has not been static over the last decades. It was the United States that helped force Israeli, British, and French occupation troops from Egypt in 1956. President Jimmy Carter has strongly advocated Palestinian rights, even during the Camp David talks between Egypt and Israel, and repeatedly emphasized the illegality of Israel’s settlement policy. President George Bush used the position of the United States as a global leader to force Israel to sit with Palestinians in negotiations for the first time and also expended tremendous political capital to keep US aid to Israel from being used to promote settlement building. There is much the United States can contribute to encouraging justice, peace, and stability in the Middle East, but only if it can learn from the mistakes and failures of the last seven years. There remains much at stake, and for every day that the Israeli occupation continues and settlements continue to expand, peace becomes that much harder to achieve.

Saturday, January 20

MCC Palestine Update #10

MCC Palestine Update #10

The Israeli election campaign between Ehud Barak (or maybe Shimon Peres) and Ariel Sharon is into full swing, with both candidates trying hard to prove to the Israeli Jewish electorate that he will be "tougher" than the other. The election choice, as World Vision Jerusalem director Tom Getman wrote recently, is between the Assassin of al-Aqsa and the Butcher of Beirut--not an appetizing selection. Little hope is expressed on either the Israeli or the Palestinian sides that any form of agreement--comprehensive or otherwise--might be reached during the run-up to elections on February 6.

Meanwhile, the Israeli siege on the occupied territories continues in full strength. The Gaza airport and the Rafah crossing point into Egypt were briefly re-opened, but were closed again in revenge for the Palestinian killing of an Israeli settler from one of the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip; settlers from Gush Katif also extracted their own revenge, setting fire to farms, greenhouses, and homes of Palestinians living in the Mawasi region surrounded by the Gush Katif settlements. The network of barricades, checkpoints, and economic and travel restrictions remains fully in place in the West Bank.

This update contains three items: first, a brief update of MCC's recent activities; second, an open letter from Dr. Mona al-Farra of the Union of Health Work Committees in Gaza; third, a fiery, prophetic piece by Israel Shamir, a writer for the largest Russian- language paper inside Israel--like many prophets, his language is harsh and painful.

1. MCC Update

Because new Israeli travel restrictions inside the Gaza Strip prevent some people from reaching medical establishments, MCC is partnering with Ard al-Insan (Earth of the People) to sponsor medical days in isolated communities.

MCC has approved renovations in three kindergartens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. During this past fiscal year, MCC has helped to renovate the bathrooms and water systems of over 15 grassroots kindergartens.

2. Best wishes from Gaza
Dr. Mona El - Farra
Union of Health Work Committees - Gaza

I woke up this morning to hear the shocking news of my mother's house demolition. The Israeli Bulldozers demolished the water well adjacent to the house, as well as tens of houses in the area.
They also uprooted vast areas of bountiful agricultural land, that includes orange, olive and guava groves. Many families in the area are homeless, with the Red Cross just recently supplying them with tents.

I cannot explain to you how bad I feel; all my childhood memories, our Family
(had) proud moments of when water was pumped from that well for the first time are damaged also by this act. I still remember my late father's rare photos, the minute I drank that water out of his hands .I still remember the joy of the relatives, friends and neighbors coming to celebrate this moment with us.

The olive, orange and Guava trees, and many other trees do not carry symbolic value only, but also they have great economic value. They are the lifelines for many families in the area. To
These people, agriculture is their only income.

The Israelis aim to decimate our already annihilated economy, touproot us, to destroy our ulture and to deny our very existence on this land for thousands of years.

It is of worth to tell you that the Israeli army did not give anywarning to us, or to the rest of the families, prior to the house demolitions. The houses were demolished with furniture inside.

As you know my mother lives in that house, but recently I invited her to live temporally with me to be able to take care of her during this difficult time.

My mother feels so bad about what happened. Our thoughts are with our neighbors who are very poor and have no alternative homes.

Beside all what I mentioned, these demolitions are huge blow to the environment. Some of the trees, especially what we call "Jummaiz" trees, are very rare species.

What is happening is a major violation of human rights, economy environment and peace.

I feel angry, helpless, devastated and abandoned. The sad fact is that despite all these crimes against humanity, most Israelis do not care. They know that they will, once again go unpunished by the international community. The support for the Palestinians is extremely fragile. The world is always willing to blame the victim, the Palestinians. However, I will not lose faith. During these difficult moments, I remember a very touching poem, written by the most gifted Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish,

I came back from the dead,
To live
I represent an uncompromising wound,
The brutality of my executor has taught me,
To bite the bullet,
And carry on,
And sing,
I will sing,
I will resist,
I will resist.

I can assure you, that one day, we will replant these trees, rebuild our houses and water will flow again, even stronger than before,hopefully washing away the horrific memories of decades long Israeli aggression.

We may be weak, but justice is on our side and one-day it will prevail All my love,

Dr. Mona El - Farra
Union of Health Work Committees - Gaza

3. Acid Test Failed
Israel Shamir
6 January 2001

This article (offered here in English translation) appeared in the Russian Israeli weekly RI one month ago, and was reprinted since then by numerous newspapers and Internet publications in Russia and in Russian Israel. It is still a subject for a lively debate in the local Russian community as well as in Russia. The author, Israel Shamir, is one of best-known and most respected Russian Israeli writers and journalists. He wrote for Haaretz, BBC, Pravda and translated Agnon, Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Tel Aviv and writes a weekly column in the Vesti, the biggest Russian-language paper in Israel.

Among the colourful revellers of Allenby street, in crowded restaurants of merry-making Tel Aviv nights, a vision came to me, a vision of an angel in battle-dress, chalking up on a wall three words, Mene, Tekel ufarsin. My Angel-English on-line dictionary prompts a translation: you were tested and you failed the test.

These are the darkest days for the people of Israel. They are dark, as the lamentations and protests by us and our fathers turned out to be as genuine as a three-dollar bill. In 1968, a young Jewish Russian kid, I wrote on the walls of my native Russian city, 'Hands off Czechoslovakia'. The beautiful deep voice of a Jewish Russian poet Alexander Galitch intoned: Citizens, our motherland is in danger, our tanks are on foreign soil! Some Russian Jews demonstrated on the Red Square against the invasion, and were beaten up by the police. We protested against the presence of the Russian tanks in Budapest, Prague and Kabul as Russian citizens who value honour above the ill-understood loyalty, humankind above blood ties. In the same time, Jewish American kids demonstrated against their country's intervention in Vietnam, while Jewish boys and girls in Europe fought against racism. Years passed by, and now our Jewish tanks are on the foreign soil.

Our Jewish army murders civilians, demolishes houses, starves millions and imposes the siege on the Palestinian villages. Our crimes exceeded the Russian crimes committed in Chechnya and Afghanistan, the American crimes in Vietnam and Serb crimes in Bosnia. Surely, the Israeli intellectuals demonstrate en masse on our equivalent of Pennsylvania Avenue or Trafalgar Square, American Jews raise their voice against the America-armed killers of Palestinians, Russian Jews speak up for the human rights of the enslaved Gentiles of the Holy Land? No fear, our literati exalt the courage of our Jewish soldiers, venerate the steady hand of our Jewish snipers and glorify the immense humanity of the Jewish folk, who could pulverise all the Gentiles of Palestine, but kindly limit ourselves to a few hundred wounded and maimed a day.

My grandfather in the Pale of Settlement complained against the restrictions of the free movement of Jews in the Russian Empire, while in our generation Anatoli Sharansky became a symbol of struggle for human rights. In our own country, the Gentiles are fenced into reservations and concentration camps that the Pale pales in comparison with. A Palestinian cannot go to the next village without the Jewish ausweis, he is forever checked by our Checkists. He can only dream of the sea, washing the shores of his ancestral home - we do not let Palestinians to pollute the Jewish purity of our beaches.

For years, the Jews protested the discrimination in employment and education. In our own state we created the system of total national discrimination. In our state-owned Electric company, out of 13000 employees there are six Gentiles. 0,0004%. Gentiles form forty percent of the population between the Jordan River and the sea, but only one out of four has the right to vote. There are no Gentiles in the Supreme court, in the government, in Air Force, in the secret services. There is not even one Gentile on the board of the main Israeli Liberal newspaper, Haaretz.

That is why all complaints of Jews in the Diaspora deserve to be re-written in the light of the events. We did not fight for the human rights, but for the rights of Jews. We were for the freedom of movement and freedom of choice - for Jews only. We spoke of the universal suffrage, but we meant the right of vote for Jews only. We do not mind occupation and invasion, as long as we invade and occupy. The sight of a child raising hands in front of the machine gun toting thug grieves us only if it is a Jewish child. The Gentile child can be shot at freely.

When Bialik wrote "Devil did not invent a fit punishment for the murder of a child", he actually meant 'a Jewish child'. When he was horrified by the scenes of pogrom, he was horrified that the violence is directed against Jews. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with pogrom per se. The Jews of Upper Nazareth committed a pogrom of Gentiles in Nazareth, but no pogromchik was tried. Police helped them by murdering few of pogrom victims. Still worse were the pogroms of Ramallah and Beth Jallah, committed with the helicopter gunships and tanks.

Tsarist Russia, 'the land of pogroms', was much hated by our grandfathers, and eventually destroyed by them. Still, hundred years of Jewish pogroms caused fewer casualties than we murder in a week. The most horrible pogrom of Kishinev claimed 45 dead and 600 wounded. Last weeks in Israel, 300 were killed and many thousands wounded. After the pogrom in Tsarist Russia, all writers and intelligentsia condemned the perpetrators. In the Jewish state, hardly few dozens gathered on the demonstration in Tel Aviv, while the Hebrew Writers Union supported the pogrom of Gentiles.

In 1991, the majority of the Russian Jews took the stand against communism and for the private ownership. They actually had in mind Jewish private property, as we confiscate the Gentile property with greatest ease. Go through the best areas of Jerusalem, Talbieh, Old Katamon, Greek and German Colonies, and see the marvellous palaces. They belonged to Gentiles, - Germans, Armenians, Greeks, British, Russians, Palestinians - Christian and Moslem. All of them were confiscated and given to Jews. During last weeks, hundreds of acres of Gentile property were confiscated, and hundreds of Gentile houses seized or demolished.

Just before his arrest, the richest Russian Jewish media-lord Gusinsky came to Israel and expressed his unlimited support. At the same time he asked the world to help him in his fight with the Russian authorities who try to save the TV from his clutches. His support of Israel proves that Mr Gusinsky approves confiscations on the ethnic base. He is just against the confiscations of the Jewish property. He is against Jews being arrested - the Gentiles may rot in prisons forever, as it happens in the Jewish state.

In no time at all we succeeded to undermine the long-term achievements of Jews in the struggle for democracy, human rights and equality. What we did not like about the German Nazis? Their racism? Our racism is not less wide-spread and poisonous. The Russian language newspaper Direct Speech published in Jerusalem asked hundreds of Russian Jews about their feelings towards the Palestinians. Typical answers were: "I would kill all Arabs", "All Arabs must be eliminated", "Arabs must be expelled", "AnArab is an Arab. They have to be eliminated". I am not sure you would get better results in Germany in 1938. Even Nazis did not intend to kill their Jewish enemies until 1941.

Let us put it straight, we were against racism as long as it was somebody else's racism. We were against death squads and Sonderkommando as long as they acted against us. Our own killers, our Jewish Sonderkommando is the object of our tender admiration. The Jewish state is the only place in the world possessing legitimate killer squads, embracing the policy of assassinations, practicing torture on the medieval scale. Do not worry, dear Jewish readers, we torture and assassinate Gentiles only.

We were against ghetto while we were pushed into a ghetto. Now the most liberal Jewish plan calls for creation of a few Gentile ghetto fenced by barbed wire, surrounded by Jewish tanks and Jewish-owned factories at the fence, where the Arbeit will macht the Gentiles frei. We shall give the ghetto full independence previously removing all sources of income and sustenance.

Israelis are brainwashed from kindergarten, they are taught they belong to the Chosen People, who are Uber Alles. They were indoctrinated in belief that the Gentiles are not fully human, and therefore they can be killed and expropriated at will. After all, Israel fulfilled one UN resolution, the one that called Zionism a form of racism. What is upsetting that the internationalist upbringing in the Soviet Union could not withstand the poison of Zionist propaganda of Jewish superiority. I do regret the moral collapse of my own Russian community in the Holy Land.

Now, as the angel wrote his fiery words, as prophets called the people to repent, we have the choice. We can choose the way of Nineveh, to repent, to return the stolen property, to give full equality to Gentiles, to stop discrimination and murder, and hope to be forgiven by God, if not for our sake, then for the sake of our cats and dogs. We can persist in our evil ways as the people of Sodom and wait for the flood of fire and burning sulphur from the angry heavens of Palestine.

Tuesday, January 16

MCC Palestine Update #9

MCC Palestine Update #9

16 January 2001

The days of the Clinton presidency are numbered, and the chances of any form of agreement before he leaves office are fading fast.

Today, January 11, some roads were opened--however, the internal closure in the occupied territories seems, for the most part, stronger than ever. MCC Palestine has agreed to help connect two agricultural roads; this will connect the villages of Ein Kinya and Deir Ibziya, with the benefit of helping the villagers of Ein Kinya travel during closure conditions, assisting farmers brings goods to market, and protecting agricultural land from confiscation by the settlement of Dolev.

Below is a piece by Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy which speaks movingly of the realities under siege in the occupied territories.

1. A siege at your gates
Gideon Levy

At around nine o'clock in the evening, the stomach pains of 10-year- old Ella in El Sawiya, near Nablus, became much worse. This happened one Friday several weeks ago, at the start of the difficult siege imposed on her village.

Most Israelis are paying very little attention to such "encirclements. ".Ella's father, Hamdan Ahmed, tried to order a taxi, but no driver was prepared to travel at night. He dialed 101 and got through to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, but they explained that he must find a Palestinian ambulance. He didn't have a clue how to do so.

Ella's situation grew more severe and she started to throw up. Her father summoned a neighbor to help him, and together they tried to break through the siege, in order to get Ella to the hospital in Nablus.

Those were the first days of the siege, much better and easier than the siege is now: Then the roads still had roadblocks that were manned by soldiers whom one could at least beg to let the sick girl pass through. According to the father's testimony, the soldiers stopped them and sent them back, in spite of their pleas.

Keep in mind that they only wanted to get as far as Nablus, not into Israel. They tried another route and were stopped by other soldiers. They had to go back home.

A doctor from a nearby village decreed that Ella must be rushed to the hospital. In the morning they tried again, and were again halted by soldiers. A few hours later, Ella died. Dr Riad El-Halu stated that her death was caused by a burst appendix.

This siege has now been operating in the West Bank for three months and most Israelis seem to know nothing about it at all. If they did, perhaps not all of them would treat it so lightly. This cruel siege, unlike anything imposed before it, neither in the previous Intifada nor in the most difficult days of conquest, is taking place not far from our own front doors.
It is only by driving through those areas that one fully realizes its cruelty: cities, towns and villages cut off with impassable barriers. Soldiers are not seen, there are no fences that might possibly be removed. There are only blocks of concrete and mounds of earth some of which, it is said, are booby- trapped, while others are guarded by soldiers who fire from a distance at whomever dares to try and remove them.

With brutality, they close in and block all access to most of the villages and towns in the West Bank. The autonomous Gaza Strip is "only" dissected into three.

If 10-year-old Ella had fallen sick several days later, by which time the "encirclement" had been further improved, there would not even have been a road on which to try to save her - only a scramble on foot, and even that can only be attempted during the day.

The tens of thousands of residents of Hebron and Hawara who are trapped in an endless curfew have been joined by all the residents of the territories in a siege whose barbarity cannot be overstated: neither a woman in childbirth, nor a critically sick person nor someone who is mortally wounded nor a girl with peritonitis can be taken out of their homes.

And what can a resident of the village of Attara do if he has a heart attack? Set out on foot? And what about a seriously injured child in El-Fawar? Should he ride out on a bicycle? Can he bring in a bulldozer to clear the obstruction?

A grave report published last week by the B'Tselem human rights organization accuses Israel of imposing a cruel, collective punishment that has no relationship to security considerations. In truth, it is hard to understand the logic, if that's the name for it, behind this policy of Barak's peace government.

Words are unnecessary to comprehend the seeds of calamity - the justified feelings of hatred and desire for revenge - that are being sown as the result of measures of this kind. In the long term, any instant, imaginary security advantage will exact the price of the suffering it causes in these long, hard nights under siege. Because, what would you do if foreign soldiers were to prevent your daughter, or your neighbor's daughter, from reaching the hospital and, as a result, she died? You'd show restraint? Conciliation?

Make peace with those responsible? This siege is designed only to show public opinion in Israel that "something is being done;" to appease the settlers who demand "let the IDF win;" to make their lives easier even though the price entails tremendous suffering for an entire population; and it is a response to the army and other security agencies whose work is facilitated when two million Palestinians in the West Bank live behind mounds of earth and blocks of concrete.

This bitter reality must at least penetrate into the minds and into the moral consciousness of Israelis. It is doubtful if Ehud Barak and his ministers even know what they are causing. It is doubtful whether any of us, who grew up on the legend of the suffering in the siege of Jerusalem during the War of Independence, considers the fate of Ella and of her people whom Israel has imprisoned in this way, without a trial, without a reason, and without any humanitarian considerations, during this period that is supposedly a time of great reconciliation.

Wednesday, January 10

MCC Palestine Update #8

MCC Palestine Update #8

10 January 2001

New Year's Greetings from Jerusalem! This past Sunday marked Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem--as with Western Christmas, the city saw few tourists, and the mood about local Orthodox Christians was severely dampened by the tanks poised around the Bethlehem district.

The past 10 days have been rife with speculation and rumor concerning the possibility of some form of Palestinian-Israeli agreement during Bill Clinton's final days in office. MCC's Palestinian partners, like Palestinians in general, do not have much idea about whether or not Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will sign an agreement; all, however, worry that any U.S. "mediated"/imposed document will not lead to the realization of internationally-guaranteed rights for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian predicament, then, becomes how to reject an agreement which fails to secure basic rights without being portrayed yet again as the nay-sayers who spurn a "generous" Israeli offer. Included in this update are two items: first, a brief note concerning a new MCC project; and second, an opinion piece by Prof. Rashid Khalidi of the University of Chicago which appeared in the New York Times and which provides a cogent analysis of the Israeli "peace" on offer.

MCC project update

In cooperation with The Center for Agricultural Services, MCC will be providing 40 families in the heart of Israeli-controlled Hebron with rabbits and chickens for breeding and sale. Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron have been under daily curfew for well over 50 days, allowed out only for part of the daylight hours. The curfew has been devastating economically for residents of the area.

This project will not only help provide a source of food for those under curfew, it will also provide a small source of supplemental income. The Center for Agricultural Services will be responsible not only for distributing the animals and materials to the recipients, but will also do training in animal husbandry and provide extension services.

1. The New Parameters of Reconciliation
Rashid I. Khalidi
New York Times, 27 December 2000

President Clinton has now presented the Israelis and the Palestinians with a set of proposals relating to Jerusalem, refugees and sovereignty over territory in hopes of achieving a peace accord in the next three weeks. Regardless of whether agreement can be reached in this short time, it's clear that much has changed among both Palestinians and Israelis as a result of the Al Aqsa intifada, which is now three months old.

This popular uprising broke out because Palestinian willingness to tolerate the suffocating restrictions imposed by Israel since Oslo accords was exhausted. Palestinians associate Oslo with the expansion of Jewish settlements on land that had been Palestinian, the building of settler- only bypass roads on Arab land, myriad restrictions on movement, the doubling since 1991 of the number of settlers, and the containment of Palestinian communities to a fraction of the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian tolerance will not be extended to another unsatisfactory agreement, or to those who negotiate it. The limits that public opinion places on compromises made by the Palestinian leadership -- limits brushed aside by some at the time of the Camp David meetings last summer -- should now be apparent.

This is particularly true regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled or were driven out in 1948. Israelis who ignored the humiliating restrictions their government imposed on the Palestinians after 1993, and who failed to listen to Palestinian complaints, may have been shocked by the intensity of the resistance.

Some Israelis have fallen for the canard that the Palestinians do not want peace. In fact, most want simply to live in dignity, and to end the situation in which 15 Palestinian cantons in 17.2 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of the Gaza Strip (themselves only 22 percent of pre-1948 Palestine) are surrounded by a sea of Israeli occupation and settlement.

The recent Intifada itself has had a profound impact on Palestinians. They have been deeply affected by the nearly 350 killed (in a 10-to-1 Palestinian-to-Israeli ratio), the 10,000 wounded in the past three months, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, and Israel's sniper assassinations of nearly 20 Palestinians. They have been traumatized by Israel's helicopter and tank fire into Palestinian communities, and suffered collective punishment in the form of a 13- week economic stranglehold on 3 million people under the pretext of security.

These acts of war, mainly inside Palestinian cities, towns and villages, have scarred the psyche of a whole people and have reinforced their unwillingness to compromise on their basic demands. The latest Intifada may have had an effect in Israel as well. It has surely shattered the belief that Palestinians would accept Israeli sovereignty over the Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem and over nearby Arab neighborhoods.

The Israeli discourse of the past 33 years about exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem may be giving way to a realization that Israel cannot rule over an Arab city of nearly a quarter million (350,000 with outlying suburbs) -- the largest in Palestine and the country's capital -- while expecting Palestinians and Arabs to accept this situation passively.

Similarly, the Israeli belief (embodied in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposal at Camp David in July) that the Palestinians would accept a "state" encompassing several disconnected islands, and without land connections to Egypt and Jordan, may be disappearing under the weight of the intifada's low-grade war against the settlements.

Large numbers of Israelis are beginning to understand that they can have settlements or peace, but not both. Finally, the hope that the Palestinians would be satisfied with third-party compensation for the refugees, with no Israeli apology for the harm done to the Palestinians in 1948, no restitution of their property and little or no return of refugees, is losing force.

Dealing with this traumatic event in the Palestinian national memory -- one that is associated with the founding of Israel -- will require a courageous look at history as well as farsightedness and a spirit of equity.

The two sides may not be ready for this. Nevertheless, this history is the root of the conflict. And however difficult it may be for Israelis to accept, they have a profound responsibility for the refugee problem, which must be fully borne if ever there is to be a reconciliation between the two peoples. Whether Israel can accept these realities, and deal decisively with the settlements established by Labor and Likud in Gaza and the West Bank over the past 33 years, is an open question. But they must be confronted.

Both peoples will also have to accept the need to share Jerusalem as the capital of two states, and to arrive at a just and mutually acceptable settlement of a refugee problem that has festered for over five decades. This is a tall order for even the most courageous leaders on both sides. We may soon see whether those in place today are up to it.

Rashid I. Khalidi, director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago. He advised the Palestinian delegation to the Mideast peace talks from 1991 to 1993.