Tuesday, January 29

MCC Palestine Update #38

MCC Palestine Update #38

“Better agonies of peace than pains of war.”

That was the message I read on billboards throughout the Gaza Strip this past week while visiting MCC projects in Deir el-Balah and Khan Younis. Posted at the entrance to Gaza City and all along the coast road between Gaza and Deir el-Balah, the billboards were funded by the Palestinian Authority as a show of its peaceful intentions. The billboards did not, however, escape graffiti's subversive scrawl. Islamists had written their slogan--"Islam huwa al-hal" [Islam is the solution]--on some; on others, someone skeptical about the Palestinian Authority's track-record of surrendering basic Palestinian rights in order to maintain the privileges of Palestinian elites, had written, "Better pain and freedom than surrender." Other billboards had escaped graffiti but not escaped the ravages of the wind blowing in from the sea, and were peeling away to reveal previous signs: "The Big Taste of America," promoting Viceroy cigarettes, thus competed with the peace message on one billboard.

In Deir el-Balah I stopped by a women's society with whom MCC has partnered to work with 13 families in establishing small agricultural projects: chicken farms, pigeon farms. People's determination, even amidst unemployment well over 60, even 70%, to bring in income for their families is inspiring.

I was fortunate to be able to make my visits to Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip; the day before, the north-south road had been shut down by the Israeli military, and the next day it was closed again. As I travelled past the north of the Gush Katif settlement bloc, I noticed the progress being made on the bridge which will connect the 3 or 4,000 settlers of the Gush with Israel. Millions upon millions of shekels are going into the construction of this bridge, along with the construction of a huge wall surrounding the Neve Dekalim settlement next to Khan Younis refugee camp.

At a time when the State of Israel is cutting back on a wide variety of social services to persons with disabilities and university students, plenty of money is found for the development of Israeli colonies in the occupied territories, even those deep in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

In the Qatatweh neighborhood of Khan Younis camp, I visited a kindergarten which a local women's society is developing into an afternoon club for children. That death is omnipresent in the camp is highlighted by the way in which graffiti pictures of slain Palestinians take up almost every inch of wall space. We hope that this club will provide a safe place for children to enjoy life and express themselves freely.

"No, this is forbidden, you can't take it out." That's what the soldier manning the baggage inspection machine at the Erez crossing point at the north of the Gaza Strip informed us as we sought to leave Gaza for our home in Jerusalem. The offensive article: a one- kilo bag of duqqa, a spice mixture for which Gaza is famous. Over the years we have often brought duqqa out of Gaza for one of our Palestinian colleagues in MCC who likes the spice. Now, we were informed, it was absolutely forbidden to take spices out of the Gaza Strip.

Countries all over the world, of course, limit what people can and can't bring in. What made this particular denial frustrating, however, was how it symbolized an entire system which denies freedom of movement to Palestinians, keeping people apart. Not being able to take a bag of spices from one part of a country to another pales in comparison to countless other stories: a mother in Gaza who can't see her children studying in the West Bank; a doctor in Jerusalem who can't visit his dying father in Gaza; millions of Muslims who can't pray at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, even though it should only be a 90 minute drive.

The occupation has created a series of prisons confining Palestinians into increasingly smaller cages; this intolerable situation will not be sustainable forever.

--Alain Epp Weaver

Below are three pieces. The first is the text of an ad published in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, written by reserve officers in the Israeli military and declaring their refusal to serve in the occupied terrotires--may their number increase. The second, a commentary in the Los Angeles Times by a former CIA officer, succinctly notes the futility of trying to stop "terror" without addressing all forms of dispossession and violence in Palestine/Israel, particularly the occupation; unfortunately, it appears that the American administration is less concerned with causes than with symptoms. The final piece, written by Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj and published in al- Quds newspaper in Jerusalem, is a call to Palestinians to transform the current intifada into more of a mass, nonviolent movement than one focused on the ineffectual, counter-productive actions of armed militias.

1. The full text of Haaretz ad:

We, combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), raised on the values of Zionism, sacrifice, and giving to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, who have always served on the front line and were the first to fulfill every mission, regardless of how difficult, in order to defend and strengthen the State of Israel;

We, combat officers and soldiers, who serve the State of Israel for long weeks every year, despite the high personal price we pay, who have performed reserve duty throughout the territories and have been issued orders and instructions that have nothing to do with the security of our country, orders whose sole purpose was to perpetuate domination over the Palestinian people;

We, who have personally witnessed the terrible bloodshed on both sides of the conflict; Who have seen that the orders we were issued undermine all the values we were taught in this country; Who understand today that the price of occupation is the loss of humanity of the IDF, and corruption of Israeli society in general; Who know that the territories are not Israel, and that ultimately the settlements will be evacuated;

We hereby declare that we will not go on fighting a war for the peace of the settlements. We will not go on fighting beyond the green line for the purposes of domination, expulsion, starvation, and humiliation of an entire people.

We hereby declare that we shall continue to serve the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves the defense of the State of Israel. The mission of occupation and repression does not serve this goal and we refuse to participate in it. [A list of the name, rank, and unit of 53 IDF soldiers] This ad was funded by the participants themselves.

2. Bush Must See Past her Acts of Terror to the Root Causes
Graham E. Fuller
Los Angeles Times

The Israeli-Palestinian situation has moved into what can only be described as a stage of collective madness. And Washington is walking right down that same path, apparently unaware of or unconcerned about the abyss yawning ahead. Two basic schools of thought exist. One says: Unacceptable terrorism is running rampant in Israel and nothing can be done until the terror is brought under control or eliminated. The other view says: The core of the problem is 35 years of harsh and humiliating occupation. Ending the occupation is the sole means of beginning to attain peace.

The first view has triumphed; the second has been largely silenced. And things are deteriorating fast. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is committed to the first view. He believes he can crush Palestinian terrorism and is using extreme military power to do so. The Bush administration over the past month seemingly has accepted this rationale--a tragedy for Washington, Israel and the Palestinians because the terror isn't abating but increasing. Washington is treating only the symptoms of the massive Palestinian frustration: bitterness, impotence and rage.

Does Israel face a problem of terrorism? You bet. It is appalling that Israeli citizens are being blown up in discos, pizza parlors and public streets. Israelis justifiably are bitter and angry. But conditions in the West Bank and Gaza also have never been worse. Palestinians are reacting violently as the rat cage tightens. Tragically, the most unspeakable terrorism against Israelis will be applauded by virtually every Palestinian until their own desperation is alleviated and their sovereign state has been established.

In treating the symptoms and not the cause, President Bush is participating and contributing to the isolation, humiliation and destruction of Yasser Arafat. Sharon believes that Arafat's elimination is desirable, and most of the Israeli Cabinet is ready to assassinate him. Washington effectively acquiesces to the Sharon strategy. Few have sympathy for Arafat, who has made more than his fair share of stupid mistakes in his long political career to preserve the Palestinian cause.

The problem, however, is not Arafat but the Palestinian reality he reflects. The Palestinian Authority is corrupt and ineffective. If Israel is about to eliminate Arafat, fine, as long as Sharon and Bush are convinced that what succeeds him will be better, more malleable. To disabuse yourself of this view, read Khalil Shikaki's analysis of the next generation of Palestinian leadership in January's Foreign Affairs. That generation is more aggressive, more determined to move to armed struggle and more willing to cooperate with Hamas as an indispensable political and military ally. Hamas has never been stronger, thanks to current conditions.

Did Arafat or his lieutenants seek to import arms to bolster the armed struggle? Almost certainly; all national liberation movements do.

Is terrorism on the rise? Of course, because the Palestinians have no other vehicle of resistance. That does not justify it, but terrible political violence is emerging from the Israeli side as well, even if not technically terrorism. Bush's own war on terrorism is hostage to the situation. Lest these views appear one-sided, listen to Ami Ayalon, for four years the director of Shin Bet, the Israeli version of the FBI: "Israeli society, top to bottom, is sinking into confusion.... People mask this reality with swaggering slogans: 'We will vanquish terrorism!' There are today more Palestinian terrorists than a year ago and there will be even more tomorrow.... "In Israel, no one is in touch with reality.... Why is the problem not resolved? Reoccupying the Palestinian Authority lands, and killing Arafat, what would that change? Those who want victory want an unending war.... "Anyone who [equates] Arafat with [Osama] bin Laden understands neither Arafat nor Bin Laden....

We say the Palestinians behave like 'madmen,' but it is not madness but a bottomless despair.... "I favor unconditional withdrawal from the territories--preferably in the context of an agreement, but not necessarily." Should Bush listen to these powerful insights from Shin Bet? Or is he hostage to an agenda that looks only at the terror and not its cause?

*Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

3. "The end…and a new beginning!!"
Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj
Al-Quds, 28 January 2002

A dear friend drew my attention to what Dr. Jamal Abdel Jawad wrote in "Al-Ahram Files" on 11 January under the title of "The Limits of the Military Option in Palestine." The Palestinian struggle, as Dr. Abdel Jawad says, is going through a very sensitive and critical stage. I dare to add that the Palestinian issue as a whole is going through a very dangerous period but full of possibilities.

In this time we may witness to an end of a defeated old stream and the birth a new one belonging to the modern time, the age of science, awareness, freedom of expression, solidarity with justice-not blind solidarity-and being armed with the power of public opinion. The Palestinian issue is one of the most important in our times. It is the issue of a people who were robbed their rights and land, and have become refugees all over the world, looking for their livelihood and searching for identity. A grave injustice that should have enlisted world opinion in support of the issue had their been the leadership and the intellectual capacity to develop the means of the struggle and renewing them in accordance with the local, regional, and international developments, and in line with the human principles supporting justice. Zionists have tried, and succeeded in, portraying themselves a victim defending itself from Palestinian "terror" and Arab "aggression" that want to throw Jews in the sea. They achieved this at a time when the favorite Arab weapon was slogans and fiery talk about fighting to the death for the land. Arabs did not understand that the world took their shouting seriously, and Zionist propaganda used it as proof of Arab violence and barbarism against "poor" Israel.

Dr. Abdel Jawad says that the first Palestinian Intifada succeeded in imprinting the picture of Palestinian victims in world opinion. Indeed that Intifada was the first time in history that the Palestinian people felt morally victorious over Israel, as some soldiers refused to serve in the Israeli army moved by feelings of guilt and consciousness. However, that Intifada reached its inevitable end when armed factions transformed it from the struggle of the oppressed for freedom into a resistance by military order. After it was abducted by the gun, the Intifada became a burden on the people, awareness was dimmed, and the world became alienated. The first intifada was a lesson for those paying attention; and we've had more than enough lessons pass us by.

The current Intifada was not to erupt had it not been for many objective reasons going back years. Palestinian performance was faltering in institution building as well as during the revolution. It depended on factions, arms, and turning a blind eye towards corruption, if not encouraging it to a degree that the "national project" became a business investment aiming to accumulate wealth and power for some at the expense of the people.

The causes behind the Intifada definitely include increasing conviction in the failure of the Oslo process, as well as the arrogance and stubbornness of the Israeli government. Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa was the last straw! Sharon had a plan with specific objectives. The first objective, which was behind the visit to Al-Aqsa, was to attain power. In this he depended on a conclusion reached by Israeli experts, "provoke Arabs to become violent by killing a number of them. This transforms them into armed rebels shooting Jews. Feelings of fear and historic paranoia will face Jews to seek the 'powerful' father to protect them with brute force." This is how the Israelis chose to elect Sharon. Sharon's second objective was to go back on all agreements and take the Palestinian issue to the pre-Oslo days. This would not have been easy had he not known that by continuing to provoke Palestinians they would seek vengeance by killing Israeli civilians and shooting more bullets. Sharon succeeded in his second objective and received world support-when in the past the world hold him responsible for the Sabra and Chatilla massacre-who viewed him as someone defending Israel's right to exist and the security of its citizens, especially after the events of 11 September 2001. The Palestinian movement could not absorb the ramifications of these events. Some even were adamant as if saying that "we are also Taliban." So it was easy for Sharon to convince the world that Palestinians belong to the terrorist camp that the whole world is fighting. Thus, Palestinian bullets were a very important factor taken into consideration by the Israeli military establishment, a factor it utilized to portray Palestinians as terrorists.

This brings back to memory painful lessons such as the coalition by Haj Amin Husseini with Nazi Germany during the second world war, when the whole world was against it. Likewise, supporting Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait. It seems that Palestinians were insistent on being in the wrong camp. We can also learn from other experiences in seeking freedom. Ghandi was able to liberate India. Mandela liberated South Africa. Martin Luther King liberated the blacks in the US. They achieved freedom by resorting to the most powerful arm: not resorting to arms. Empires could not withstand their strategies that depended on the human principles of preserving life and rejecting killing. This doesn't not mean that armed resistance is illegitimate. What we're saying is that armed resistance alone devoid of clear thinking, vision, insight, morality, and democratic enrichment turns into an enemy against its advocates.
Look at the experiences of Algeria and Palestine. Since the first day of its establishment, others and I have written and asked the Palestinian Authority to respect democracy and the rule of law as well as adopt the principles of separation of power, pluralism, and accountability. But above all we stressed the need to collect illegal arms before they turn into armed militias threatening Palestinian national security.

Our demands and advice fell on deaf ears for reasons known only to the people in power during this dark period in Palestinian history. The indiscriminate use of Palestinian arms and the monopoly of arms in the hands of militias turned the majority of the people who are taking the brunt of the pain into marginal witnesses unable to express their pain or criticize as talking about the detrimental effect of arms is viewed as something against national security, national unity, and national interests.

Violence is feeding on the cultural background of the Palestinian and Arab society, which is ruled by a tribal mentality advocating revenge and blood as the only way to wash the disgrace and humiliation of the nation. There is an absence of Israeli readiness to submit to the truth, admit its guilt, and apologize for its crimes in order to pave the way for peace, the only guarantee of its security. In addition, there is a steady decline in the morale of the Palestinians as a result of repeated defeats and the increasing sense that the world is conspiring against them.

Therefore, the use of arms has become the means to die and be free of this world, and to take vengeance against the enemy and the whole world. It was the choice of the desperate. I have been a firm believer in that the best choice for the Palestinian people in their just struggle toward freedom and independence is that of peaceful resistance that holds to all our rights firmly. It doesn't sacrifice friends, but unites with them. It doesn't disregard world opinion, but is armed with it. It doesn't enforce opinions but reaches consensus through democratic dialogue. I do not see any possibility for decisive Arab intervention on behalf of the Palestinians.

Some Arab regimes have become middlemen renting out their countries. I do not expect international intervention enforcing justice upon Israel. Of course, I do not expect American intervention on to deter the aggressor and establish justice.

The only choice for the Palestinian people is to depend on themselves, develop their capabilities, renew their cadres, rise with their youth by holding on to national and human principles. They have to respect morality and the law. They have to organize themselves into a progressive movement deriving from its roots, its eyes on the future, connected to world cultures.

Such a movement would receive friends and supporters from the rest of the world. It would depend on knowledge as a means to renaissance. It would establish democracy as the system of government. It would hold on to the higher moral ground.

--Translated from the original Arabic, first published in Al-Quds, 27/1/2002

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