Friday, June 28

MCC Palestine Update #52

MCC Palestine Update #52

June 28, 2002

The phone call came around 9 pm: "Alain, the curfew is being lifted tomorrow. Can you come?" With that call, I quickly began making preparations to enter Bethlehem the next day (Thursday, June 27). The curfew would be lifted from 9 am to 3 pm, and I wanted to squeeze in as many project visits as possible: to families whose water tanks were being repaired through the Women's Training Program of the YMCA; to clients of the YMCA's Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities; to the olive wood producers for Ten Thousand Villages; to the Wi'am Conflict Resolution Center. Under normal conditions, any one of these visits could have stretched out leisurely to occupy an entire day, or at least half a day. But these are not normal times, with Palestinians having to scramble to combine shopping and work during the hours that curfew is lifted and with internationals such as myself scrambling to complete some project visits during that same time. The current word going around here--spoken by Palestinians and Israelis alike-is that the Israeli army will be in Palestinian cities for weeks, probably months, with a curfew system becoming regularized; the Israeli military will probably stall until the "separation fence" is built. Palestinian cities have never felt more like a prison, a cage.

It is with sadness that we must report that Adla Issa and Sahir Dajani, MCC's senior staff people, will be leaving MCC at the end of August after 38 and 27 years with MCC, respectively. Adla and Sahir have demonstrated unflagging commitment, creativity and skill in their years with MCC and have been friends to many MCC volunteers over the decades. MCC hopes to continue to draw informally on their knowledge and expertise in the future. Anyone who knows Adla or Sahir is welcome to send an e-mail message of appreciation (or regular post mail--MCC, P.O. Box 19208, Jerusalem, via Israel) to be shared with them at a meal in the honor in August. As MCC continues and expands its work alongside Palestinians, we build on, and strive to live up to, the legacy left by such dedicated workers as Adla and Sahir.

Below you will find four pieces. The first two, by Gideon Samet of Ha'aretz newspaper and Ghassan Andoni of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, address President Bush's speech on the Middle East. The third, by Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass, outlines why both Israelis and Palestinians are mistaken in thinking that violent force will resolve the conflict. The next piece is a statement issued by members of the Association of International Development Agencies in the occupied territories, signed by MCC, calling for free and unrestricted access for all humanitarian aid workers in the occupied territories.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Another step toward nowhere
Gideon Samet:

The only useful thing in President Bush's useless speech is that now we know which way the dice in Washington have fallen when it comes to the Middle East. Those millions of Israelis who are losing hope for an agreement to end the conflict through political means now have authorization from the leader of the West that for a long time to come, there won't be even the beginning of movement. With this step to nowhere, essentially he did not quote the Bible with "choose life," but rather with "be devoured by the sword." It wasn't by accident, nor did the president hide anything. That's just the way he perceives American interests.

Particularly interesting was the drama on the way to the presidential decision. Colin Powell, a large number of White House staffers and most of the leading media in America are also staunch patriots. And Bush has a clear interest in getting along with the European Union and the Arab world, so why did he completely reject the EU approach and why did he trash the initiative by the main Arab capitals? Because the president's supreme interest right now is to get through the Congressional mid-term elections in November, and his reelection two years from now, without going through the humiliation that a few thousand more Jewish votes in Florida could prevent.

There are worthy political plans that are difficult to implement, like the Oslo agreements and the Clinton plan. Then there is the Bush speech, which is talk without suggesting what to do with it. It was an unimplementable menu, full of hopeless conditions, posed not to solve a difficulty but to circumvent it. This was the last chance, for a long time to come, to do something useful in the matter of the conflict. But Bush, like the Palestinians in Abba Eban's famous saying, once again did not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He was cold blooded, not without consideration, not without pondering the various formulas brought to him. His preference, therefore, was regrettably irresponsible toward the real needs for managing the conflict.

But that's the realpolitik in which he prefers to operate. The damage done by his choices, despite his general vision, will soon unfold. Arafat also threw words when he unavoidably responded by saying that the speech was "a serious contribution to peace." He has no partners to that view in the entire Palestinian leadership. At the same time, Bush strengthened the hawkish Sharon, essentially adopting his position. Bush's words could yet strengthen the determination of the terrorists, rather than weakening it. In the fundamentalist halls of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he signaled that it's all-out war, and lacking any implementable vision, he practically invited them to double their sticks of dynamite. The Palestinian entity has no reason to assume that Bush's America will be more efficient and energetic in pushing his hollow vision forward than it was in formulating it.

He didn't even propose a pretense of urgency, with no timetable, no regional conference, and not even a dispatching of "my secretary of state in the near future." The dominant tone in the text, which came straight from the hearts of Bush, his vice president Cheney, and the right wing of the Pentagon, could now intensify the feelings of many despairing Israelis with their sense of a dead end. Sharon is preparing to churn through Gaza. Like Bush, he has no clear timetable. How long will his approach remain exclusively military, without any political accompaniment? Approximately as long as it takes for Bush's conditions to ripen - in other words, the devil knows.

For the Israeli minority still not ready to surrender to this determinism, all that remains is a narrow track to some change. Despite the very weighty political circumstances, this minority can hope that the Labor Party, or at least Shimon Peres, will show a way out of the dangerous maze and present a political alternative by withdrawing from the war coalition. That there's only the slightest chance such a thing could happen is another reason for Israel remaining stuck in the military, political, economic and psychological mud for a long time to come.

2. Palestinian reflections on President Bush speech
Ghassan Andoni

A Palestinian pessimist:

This speech is an official declaration of war against the Palestinian people. It is a clear attempt to disqualify our liberation movement and deny our legitimate rights. What President Bush is practically saying: you Palestinians go ahead and get rid of all your current political parties and resistance groups. Then dismantle your authority and replace it with Palestinians to my taste. I promise that Israeli tanks will lead you towards the ballot boxes to do so. And after getting engaged in this bloody internal conflict, if anyone of you is still alive, I "challenge" Israel to show enough of good well to offer you a provisional state. I am doing so because Israel needs to preserve its Jewish character and democratic principles.

A Palestinian optimist:

This is a great opportunity. He presented a vision of a Palestinian State in three years period. He even asked Israel to end its occupation that started in 1967. Therefore he indicates that even when the borders should be secured, those borders are 1967 borders. There is no direct indication for the need to replace Arafat. Reforms are a Palestinian need and we already started working in that direction. He calls upon Israel to withdraw its forces to where they were prior to September 28, 2000. He promises a Marshall plan to build the Palestinian economy and an active American role
in establishing a Palestinian state. He even stated the need for solving issues like Jerusalem and refugees through negotiations. We need to accept this plan and trust that President Bush will stand to his words.

A Palestinian realist:

Pay little attention to what he stated. He said so many things and demanded from the parties much more and could not deliver. Start immediately an internal dialogue among the different Palestinian active political and resistance parties. Define exactly and practically what you want. Present your own initiative for a decent solution. Start the reforms that Palestinians deserve. While you need to preserve you right to resist occupation with all means, wisely choose the ones that bring you closer to achieve your goals. Announce an immediate unilateral cease fire but at the same time build up your ability to massively and non-violently struggle against the Israeli occupation. If you fail to at least define a practical political program that unifies all the nation then you will be trapped in what ever President Bush is planning for you. Yes there is an opportunity and there is a great danger, the choice is yours. Choose wisely your way in the coming period.

3. Both sides are wrong
Amira Hass

A radio interviewer asked IDF Spokesman Ron Kitrey on Sunday about the three children killed in Jenin by Israeli soldiers in a tank (who also killed a 60-year-old civilian). The interviewer chose his words carefully. So carefully, that he asked Kitrey about the "youths" who were killed. These "youths" were 6-year-old Soujoud Turkey, Ahmed Ghazawi, also 6 years old, and his 12-year-old brother Jamil. The two brothers had been riding their bicycles in their neighborhood. They, like many others, thought that the curfew had been lifted for several hours. Soujoud Turkey had gone out with her father to buy bread.

The interviewer stammered slightly as he posed his question, perhaps because in these days of suicide bombings it is not considered politically correct to discuss Palestinian casualties. Turning them into "youths" was not a slip of the tongue. It reflects a phenomenon. Even before the suicide attacks became a daily routine, for Israeli society the IDF's Palestinian civilian victims simply evaporated, and they continue to evaporate. They are not perceived as relevant in the political and military contexts.

This is not about appealing to one's sense of morality and compassion, nor is it forgetting the Israeli pain. It is about the ability to analyze why the conflict has become entangled to the point of a bloody cycle of violence beyond control. To analyze in order to be able to control it. Israel's analytical ability has been impaired because its collective political consciousness is unwilling to take into account the cumulative Palestinian pain in this intifada and during the Oslo years that preceded it.

Israeli political consciousness has rejected and continues to reject any attempt or proposal to grasp the sum total of the details, characteristics and consequences of the continued Israeli rule over another people. When one tries to talk of the "totality" known as the occupation, the media - the social barometer responds with resentment. This "totality" is too abstract, transparent, academic. Let's talk about "personal stories" instead.

But when one talks about personal stories, that is exactly how they are perceived: as another tear-jerker about an individual suffering Palestinian. Before this intifada, such stories (deaths at roadblocks, Israeli quotas for drinking water, a ban on building schools in Area C, a significant expansion of settlements, movement restrictions) were perceived as exceptions to "the peace process," although they harmed the Palestinian population every day.

Today, reports on "Palestinian suffering" are perceived as national treason. Israelis conclude that the suicide attacks are the result of a murderous tendency inherent to the Palestinians, their religion, their mentality. In other words, people turn to bio-religious explanations, not social or historical ones. This is a grave mistake. If one wants to put an end to the terror attacks in general, and to the suicide attacks in particular, one must ask why the majority of the Palestinian population supports them. Without their support, the Palestinian organizations would not dare to send suicide attackers and "invite" the expected escalating Israeli response. The Palestinians support the attacks, even the cruelest ones, because they are convinced that they, their existence and their future as a nation are the real targets of the Israeli regime - both when it applied rule-by-deceit tactics during the Oslo period, and now, when it uses tactics of military escalation and siege.

Israeli society did not pay heed to Palestinian warnings during the Oslo period, that an imposed arrangement would lead to disaster. Neither did Israeli political consciousness listen at the beginning of the intifada when the Palestinians pointed to the excessive use of Israeli military force against the first demonstrations. Now, 22 months later, one can here and there find comments by journalists and politicians who in hindsight admit that under Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz, excessive use was already made of lethal methods. If there was indeed a desire to control the whirlpool of violence, that harsh military response was a mistake. But this excessive use of force has not been erased from the Palestinians' consciousness. And why should they forget their children, who were killed just because they threw stones at armored jeeps, tanks and fortified outposts? Why should they forget the civilians killed by IDF fire at roadblocks and in their homes, not during gunfights?

The Palestinians are now driven by the same misguided notion that directed Barak, Mofaz and the commanders on the ground at the beginning of the intifada, and the entire Israeli society that stood behind them: "More force and more killing and suffering, as quickly as possible, will teach the other side a lesson and foil their plans."

The suicide attacks in Israel indicate an impaired analytical ability on the part of the majority of Palestinian society. They fail to grasp that just as the daily killings by IDF soldiers and unbearable living conditions under the tightening siege policy only strengthen them, the Israeli response to the death sown in their midst by the Palestinians is much the same. Both sides areconvinced that only more deadly and devastating force will restrain the opposing force. Both sides are wrong.

4. A Joint Statement on Humanitarian Access by members of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA)
25 June 2002

The right to receive humanitarian assistance, and to offer it, is a fundamental humanitarian principle which should be enjoyed by all citizens of all countries. As members of the international community, we recognize our obligation to provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed. Hence the need for unimpeded access to civilian populations, which is of fundamental importance in exercising that responsibility. Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief.

In the past two months, it has become increasingly difficult for our members, as humanitarian and development agencies operating in the West Bank and Gaza, to carry out their work effectively because of an intensification of unprecedented Israeli military restrictions on humanitarian access to the civilian populations affected by conflict. On a daily basis, we are experiencing the following: unacceptable delays at checkpoints, inconsistent and sometimes complete refusal to access project sites and beneficiaries, and harassment of, and severe restrictions on, the movements of local staff. As a result humanitarian agencies are no longer able to effectively reach the populations in immediate need of basic assistance, and our capacity to provide sustained and quality support in the long term has been severely undermined.

As non-governmental humanitarian and development agencies, we operate according to internationally recognized standards, such as “The Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum
Standards in Disaster Response” and the “Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief.” These standards are based on International Humanitarian Law, which is universally recognized as the reference that defines the legal obligations of the parties to a conflict. It is also the foundation upon which the Geneva Conventions rest, and to which our governments are signatories.

The basic principles contained in these documents neutrality, impartiality and accountability - guide our work and set the standards by which we measure our quality, performance and most importantly accountability to our beneficiaries. Therefore, the nature of our work as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is such that if we do not have complete freedom to choose partners and staff, and crucially to gain access to those communities that we are obligated to help, then our ability to achieve our programme objectives and fulfill our humanitarian mandate will be severely hampered.

As a direct result of increasingly restrictive closure policies, we have now reached a point where we can no longer adequately fulfill our mandate.

In light of the announcement by the Government of Israel on 19 June 2002 to impose further restrictions on access to the West Bank, we reiterate our conviction that the Israeli government has the obligation to guarantee free and unrestricted humanitarian access.

We, as international humanitarian and development organizations, therefore urge the following:

*For the Government of Israel and the Israeli military authorities to act to guarantee unrestricted access for all staff members and humanitarian goods and services to the civilian populations
throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

*For the international community to intervene with the Israeli government to ensure that humanitarian access is free and unrestricted as guaranteed under international law.

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