Sunday, June 16

MCC Palestine Update #50

MCC Palestine Update #50

16 June 2002

The Al-Majd Women's Society in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip operates literacy courses for Palestinian women from the camp. MCC has supported this project now for nearly three years and we, together with the women at al-Majd, have been excited by the fact that some of the participants in the course have gone on not only to read but also to sit for and pass the tawjihi, or end of high school, exam.

Questions of access and the new permit system (which is being implemented even as the Israeli military authorities refuse to put new procedures in writing) continue to be areas of urgent discussion among NGOs. The European Commission and the Palestinian NGO Network urge noncompliance with the system, a refusal to apply for permits for staff to travel within the West Bank, say from Nablus to Jenin. The Association of International Development Agencies will meet on Wednesday to discuss if we can have a unified stance on the question of noncompliance. Putting aside the question of compliance, one can undoubtedly state that the prolonged and intensified restrictions on travel and access are leading to increased operational costs for all foreign actors, be they governmental-level donor agencies like the EC or USAID, secular NGOs like Save the Children, or Christian NGOs like MCC, Catholic Relief Service and World Vision.

The plight of Palestinian NGOs, meanwhile, is much more severe, to say nothing of the clients / beneficiaries of these organizations. Below you will find two pieces. The first, by Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, tackles the effects of "long-term sieges." The second is a press release by Bir Zeit University, and gives the reader a sense of how the siege is devastating higher education in the occupied territories.

1. Long-term sieges
Amira Hass
Haaretz, June 12, 2002

The far-reaching significance of Israel's siege policy and the institutionalization of the pass system for travel through the West Bank is in direct contradiction to the minimal - if any - interest shown in Israel about the phenomenon.

The siege policy is perceived as a legitimate means to prevent attacks on Israelis inside Israel, and on soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since September 2000, the sieges on all the Palestinian cities and villages has been increasingly tightened and at the same time, motivation has risen among young Palestinians to kill themselves in suicide attacks on Israelis. The Palestinians understand that urge as a reaction to the concrete suffocation that the siege creates, as well as a metaphor for their utter lack of hope for a chance for free lives. On the Israeli side, the majority is convinced that there is no connection between the two and that if not for the sieges, the number of attacks would greatly increase.

So, there's no point in wasting words on Israelis on the immorality of effectively locking up 3 million people in enclaves, between barbed wire and frightening army checkpoints. What the Palestinians perceive as ruthless collective punishment, the Israelis perceive as a necessary evil: It may cause "discomfort" to the innocent, but it is the system that puts limits on the use of lethal means in the hands of the army.

For the same reason, explanations by the coordinator of government activity in the territories, that the pass system in the West Bank is meant to ease the situation for the Palestinians, sound logical. And the Israel Defense Forces has been doing what it can in the past few weeks to make it easier for the government coordinator to make his position clear. The closure of every city, town and village is more and more hermetic, and more and more violent. That's why when people are being sent to the CivilAdministration offices to ask for permission to do the most basic things in daily life - go to work, to school, to the doctor, to friends, to family - it appears humane.

Nonetheless, here's a scenario built into the siege policy. Most people considered the pass system as a "temporary measure." But, since it now covers all Palestinian movement inside the territories, it's impossible to distinguish between it and the settlements' existence. The internal sieges are meant to protect their security and safety and the safety of the soldiers protecting the settlements. As opposed to the illusions of those who support peace, Israel does not regard the settlements as "temporary" or as a "bargaining card." The statistics about the growth of the
settlements in the "peace decade" of Madrid and Oslo are proof of this.

Bureaucratic institutions have a tendency to perpetuate themselves and their methods. The IDF and the Civil Administration will do all they can in the coming years to convince whoever they must that it's still not time to give up the travel pass system, which means maximum supervision of all Palestinian movement. Their approach will influence the political negotiations in the coming years.

Just as the travel pass between Gaza and the West Bank became a permanent feature, the travel passes for movement inside the West Bank will become permanent. People will wait days and weeks for permission to go from one town to the next, and that permission won't be granted - whether because of a lack of manpower, or because of efforts to draft recruits as informants. Every commercial and industrial activity will require the good graces of an Israeli official who will apply his own personal translation to the rules handed down by the Shin Bet and the army, and those rules will change daily.

As the World Bank has warned, sieges and closures are in direct contradiction to every principle of development and advancement of the private sector. It will only take a few months for the division of the West Bank into disconnected enclaves to reduce most of the Palestinian population into welfare cases. The higher education system will totally collapse - of course, the security authorities in Israel always have regarded the students as a dangerous population that should not be allowed to travel. It will be impossible to rehabilitate industry because of the need for credit in other cities, the marketing costs (the back-to-back trucking system, which requires multiple transfers of goods from one truck to the next on the outskirts of each town, forbidding direct transport of merchandise from town to town), the difficult in finding labor and the lack of land reserves (most of the open land is outside the areas under siege).

Already the sieges are causing severe sanitation and health problems. There are signs of malnutrition, it is difficult to move refuse to areas outside the boundaries of the siege, and water is in short supply, particularly in those villages that depend on regular delivery of water containers. This is in addition to delays in medical supplies and vaccinations for infants. As unemployment mounts, such problems and many others will only get worse.

The long-term imprisonment in the enclaves is paralyzing the senses, the desire and the ability to initiate, blocking both individual and collective creativity. But it presumably is pushing more desperate young people to dream about their own destructive reaction to the Israeli policy, no matter how difficult it will be to accomplish.

This is only an imaginary scenario for those who aren't ready to look at what's going on a kilometer from their homes and those who aren't ready to think about "security" in terms that are far from long-term.

2. The Ramallah-Birzeit Road: The Path to Progress and Prosperity
Birzeit University Memorandum
June 5, 2002

The University has just issued a memorandum describing the effects of the closure of the Ramallah-Birzeit road on the education process for the University community as well as its effects on the well being—economic and health wise—on the residents of the town of Birzeit and the more than 35 towns and villages neighboring Birzeit. Copies of the memorandum have been sent to members of the diplomatic corps in the region as well as to international agencies involved in higher education and human rights issues with the hope that they use their good offices to see this siege lifted as a first concrete step toward the reduction of current tensions and in order to allow Birzeit University to resume its normal operations and continue to contribute to progress and prosperity which are necessary underpinnings to development, hope and a just and lasting peace.

June 5, 2002

Birzeit University lies on the outskirts of the town of Birzeit, a few miles north of Ramallah. The University has a student body of over 5,000 students and over 700 faculty and staff. The overwhelming majority of the University community members reside in Ramallah and Jerusalem and their only means of reaching the University is through the Ramallah- Birzeit-Road.

Since the spring of 2001, the Israeli occupation forces have been obstructing vehicular and pedestrian travel along this vital artery by various means. They have dug ditches in the road and erected barriers that have made vehicular travel physically impossible and pedestrian crossing difficult and dangerous. The Israeli army has created a military checkpoint that arbitrarily stops individuals for hours at a time to check their identity card numbers. Many students have been stopped, beaten, humiliated, made to sit on dirt mounds, had their hands shackled and then were released. No reason is ever given by the Israeli soldiers for stopping individuals or for this ill treatment. As such the ten minutes that it should take to travel between Ramallah and Birzeit, has stretched into hours, greatly disrupting the normal operation of the University and making the delivery of essential goods an arduous task.

The Israeli military have been continuously escalating their obstruction of travel along the road. Currently there are two barricades across the road. The distance between the first and the second is about two kilometers which has to be traversed by foot. Patients and invalids have to be carried on stretchers or wheel chairs as even ambulances are not allowed and cannot cross this blockade.

On May 29, 2002 and for the ninth time since March 2001, the Israeli military totally barred pedestrians from crossing the barricades, thus completely isolating the University and the residents of the thirty five surrounding villages in the northern part of Ramallah district from Ramallah city, which is the hub of the region. All University operations have once again ceased; the lives of the population of the northern Ramallah district has come to a standstill. Within a short period of time, with access to health services and work denied, this critical situation will turn into a humanitarian disaster.

These escalating actions by the Israeli military serve no purpose whatsoever and are totally unjustifiable. They are a flagrant example of arbitrary collective punishment of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Closures are clear violations of all international norms and conventions and are completely unacceptable from any point of view, be it humanitarian, political or economic. Furthermore, Israeli claims that security requirements are the rationale for the closure of the Ramallah-Birzeit road are totally unfounded claims since this road connects directly between two Palestinian population centers.

Birzeit University has dedicated itself during the past three decades to the educational, cultural, social and economic advancement of the Palestinian people. The liberal atmosphere, respect for the individual, excellent academic standards and modern facilities have made the University a prominent force within Palestinian society. Thousands of its graduates occupy leading positions in the public, private and non-governmental sectors in a variety of fields, which has enabled the liberal atmosphere of Birzeit to spread throughout the society. Further, Birzeit conducts various community development projects, research and training through a range of community institutes and centers that promote democracy, human rights, health, gender, the rule of law and environmental issues that positively effect governmental policy and raise community awareness.

It is thus essential that the University be allowed to resume its normal operations immediately so that it can continue to contribute to progress and prosperity which are necessary underpinnings to development, hope and a just and lasting peace. Moreover, the restoration of free travel along the Ramallah-Birzeit Road, without ditches, barriers, military checkpoints, or other impediments, would constitute an important concrete first step towards the reduction of current tensions.

For further information about Birzeit University, you can contact us at or visit the University website at

Birzeit University


Dalia Habash
Senior Information Officer
Birzeit University
Birzeit, Palestine

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