Friday, July 5

MCC Palestine Update #53

MCC Palestine Update #53

July 5, 2002

“Our hopes are in our children,” says Naimeh Abu Freyah, director of al-Najda Children’s Club in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. “They’re growing up in a climate of war and violence, but we need to provide them a space where they can run, play, and show their initiative.”

Children fourteen and under make up nearly half of the population in the Gaza Strip. Those children growing up in camps like Jabalia experience overcrowding (Jabalia has one of the highest population densities in the world), poverty (unemployment is at 60%), and refugee status, their families denied the right to return to their ancestral lands in what is now Israel. Sadly, violence and fear also are integral parts of their lives as the Israeli military routinely bombs and raids parts of Gaza in its campaign against the Palestinian uprising against military occupation.

Al-Najda Children’s Club provides a year-round venue for over 100 children, ages eight to fourteen, to play, learn, and discover their creative talents. Children pay a nominal fee to become members of the club, where they can come when school is not in session. Because most Gaza schools operate two, or even three, shifts, to accommodate the large number of students in limited classroom space, the children’s club runs morning and afternoon shifts.

During July and August 2002, four teachers and seven volunteers at the children’s club are receiving comprehensive training, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), in teaching art, music, reading, computer skills, and physical education. Most of these trainees have already completed various levels of post-high school education: the training courses build on their existing skills and experience.

“What’s exciting for us about this training program is that it’s strengthening the capacity of the children’s club as a whole, helping its teachers better respond to children’s needs in their work,” shares Alain Epp Weaver, MCC Palestine country representative. “This is MCC strives for—to be able to assist Palestinian organizations to build up their capacity to respond to local needs.”

The training is hands-on, as the eleven trainees work with the educators while the club is in session. A walk through the club sees trainers, trainees, and scores of children intensely focused on painting, various crafts, signing, gymnastics, computer lessons, and singing. Shouting to visiting MCC workers over the loud singing of a group of children in the club’s courtyard, Rifka al-Hamalawi, supervisor of all of al-Najda’s women’s and children’s programs in the Gaza Strip, exclaims: “That! That’s the sound we want—happy, active children.”

--compiled by MCC Palestine staff, July 2002

Below you will find three pieces. In the first, lay Palestinian church leaders respond to President Bush's speech on the Middle East. Secondly Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy then writes about the fate of one million people living under curfew. Thirdly Amira Hass, finally, provides an incisive analysis of the changes in the Israeli means of controlling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during 35 years of occupation.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Update and Appeal on the Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in Light of President Bush Speech
Palestinian Church Related Organizations Jerusalem
June 28, 2002

With the reoccupation of Hebron on the morning of June 25th, practically all towns and cities in the Palestinian Territories, with the exception of Jericho, have come under direct Israeli army occupation. Well over two million inhabitants live under Israeli army imposed curfew for most of the time. In some localities, the Israeli army allows the inhabitants a couple of hours every two to three days in order to stock up on food and other basic commodities. Reports from all parts of the West Bank and Gaza indicate increased and abject poverty among the population and one friend who visited Nablus recently told us that he had never seen such poverty among the population and that what he saw reminded him of the spoken of poverty-stricken Nablus of decades ago. Another friend informed us that in Bethlehem there are families who practically beg for a loaf of bread for their children. But aside from wanting to meet the basic necessities that would ensure survival, the Palestinian population is held hostage by the Israeli government, as this latter wants to barter the end of suicide bombings with withdrawal from Palestinian towns and cities.

President Bush in his speech of June 24th 2002 put the entire burden on the Palestinian side in order to get out of the present impasse. By so doing, he absolved the Sharon-led Israeli government from its responsibilities of presenting a political program that would spell out or at least indicate its plans to end occupation not simply that which started in September 2000 but the original occupation of June 1967. While all of us would like to see an end to suicide bombings, achieving this could not be simply a one-sided affair, as it needs to be paralleled by Israeli expressed willingness to end occupation and live as good neighbors, and not as hegemonic occupiers and oppressors, to Palestinians. An agreed upon political framework is of paramount importance as a basis that would commit the two sides in an equitable manner as they progress towards eventual resolution of the present deadlock.

Granted, we Palestinians are in dire need of genuine reform. But such reform cannot be undertaken under the barrels of Israeli guns and tanks. The impromptu discussions that Palestinians engage in on side streets and in sitting rooms all indicate an overwhelming consensus that things need to change, not to please Mr. Bush or anybody else, but in order to spell out our own vision for our society and its future. Unfortunately, this is something we have not done since the Oslo accords and we should have. Hence a grave responsibility lies on all of us as we examine the prospects for reconstruction and rehabilitation in all areas of government and society. But as important we need to decide ourselves on our own program and political agenda whether as they relate to issues and concerns internal to Palestinian society or whether as they deal with the thorny relationships with the Israelis.

The Israelis cannot escape their responsibilities either. The absence of a clear political program by the Israeli government is tantamount to saying that military occupation would continue. The Israeli policy of destroying the Palestinian governmental and civil society infrastructure is accompanied by continued settlement activity on Palestinian lands. The Israeli government claims that it is fighting potential suicide bombers when it places hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian Palestinians all over the West Bank and Gaza under house arrest for days on end. Even relief and emergency efforts are hindered by the Israeli military from reaching the besieged population, despite claims by the Israeli government that it facilitates and does not obstruct such efforts. The trigger- happy Israeli soldiers often demolish personal and public property, cause injury and death and prohibit ordinary people as well as the sick and elderly from crossing from one locality to another within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By blaming the National Authority for all the ills of the current situation, the Israeli government lifts off the responsibility that lies squarely on the shoulders of its Prime Minister and other Ministers for the human rights infractions that are committed on a daily and continuous basis against innocent Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupying army. President Bush putting the entire burden on the Palestinians to find a way out of the present deadlock mirrors the Israeli blame of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians, in general.

Given the current situation and in light of President Bush speech, we the undersigned call on our partners and friends worldwide to: Address your governments and various constituencies on the need for the Israeli government to come up with a clear plan that specifies its intention to vacate the occupied territories not simply those occupied since September 2000 but also those occupied since June 1967. Ask your governments, particularly the EU governments, to adopt one stand that would insist on the need to have an Israeli commitment to ending the occupation, and to an immediate pullout from the occupied Palestinian cities and towns, as part of the process and deliberations that would lead to the creation of a democratic and pluralistic Palestinian state, in accordance with all UN relevant resolutions. Stress on the Israeli government and/or its representatives abroad that the infractions that its army is carrying out in the occupied Palestinian territories and at the military checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip go contrary to basic human rights as reflected in international declarations and conventions. The Palestinian people, in light of these continuous infractions, are in need of an international force of protection. Ask the Israeli government and its representatives abroad to honor its own claims that it does not hinder relief and emergency efforts by local and international aid organizations to the besieged and curfewed Palestinian population. Note that Israel's actual behavior on the ground on this matter is contrary to 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 based on International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention to which a majority of countries were signatories, including Israel.Emphasize to the Israeli government and its representatives abroad that continued curfews and closures imposed on the Palestinian population not only affect adversely the economic and social welfare of the population but also contribute to psychological and pedagogical damage that would obstruct tremendously the prospects for eventual peace making between Palestinians and Israelis. Address your governments and the various media on the need for the American Administration to adopt a balanced and even-handed policy towards the two parties in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and especially to emphasize that its present policy is causing extreme human suffering to the whole Palestinian people, and is engendering ever-lasting hatred between East and West. Indicate to them your willingness to support them as they contemplate the important questions pertaining to their society and the challenges of transformations they are likely to experience in the coming couple of years. Continue your support to your Palestinian partners as they strive to serve their people amidst most difficult circumstances. Join hands with all those willing to work for an immediate end of Israeli occupation.

Only then can an environment conducive to the eventual resumption of negotiations between the two sides be created. We aspire for your prayers, good thoughts and action, as our country appears destined to continue experiencing the vicious cycle of occupation and counter occupation. One inspiring thought to those who not only do not see the light at the end of the tunnel but also do not see the tunnel itself in our present tragic situation: there is always light to those who care to see it and work to make it shine on the lives of the oppressed, occupied, besieged and all those who suffer because of the injustice of our situation. May all our
efforts add up to end injustice!

* Judge Khalil Aboud International Christian Committee in Israel Nazareth

* Mr. Constantine Dabbagh Near East Council of Churches Committee Gaza

* Mr. Rifat Kassis YMCA Beit Sahour

* Dr. Bernard Sabella Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches Jerusalem

* Mr. Ramzi Zananiri International Christian Committee Jerusalem West Bank

* Commission Justice and Peace Jerusalem

* Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center Jerusalem

2. A million people under curfew
Gideon Levy

Few if any Israelis can understand what it means to be under full curfew for 10 days, incarcerated with the children in a crowded house, usually without an air conditioner or a computer or games to play, maybe a barely functioning television set. But the worst thing is the unnerving density of the close quarters.

Even Israeli parents - who as of today have to figure out how to get through their children's endless summer vacation and are worried about having to keep them cooped up at home for fear of terrorist attacks - are also incapable of grasping how intolerable it is for the Palestinians to be imprisoned for days and weeks at a time with the children in their meagerly furnished homes, while threatening tanks continually rumble by and every sortie outside is liable to end in disaster.

Very few Israelis have experienced curfew and it is very unlikely that many of them are spending their time thinking about the fact that within an hour's drive from their homes nearly a million people - some 800,000 in the cities of the West Bank along with the residents of some of the surrounding localities - have been locked into their homes for days under severe conditions. Not far from Tel Aviv, which on Friday hosted its annual Gay Pride parade, with all the color and merriment of past years, increasing numbers of Palestinian detainees, some of them innocent, were made to walk in a procession of humiliation. While the cafes in our cities were packed with people relaxing on the weekend, even if in the back of their minds they were afraid of terrorists, people in the West Bank can only dream of sitting in a coffee shop these days.

The protracted curfew that has been imposed in the West Bank within the framework of Operation Determined Path, which is a more comprehensive curfew than any in the past, is not present in the Israeli consciousness. The media barely reports on it and no one is moved to speak out against the situation. Immersed in our justified concerns, we do no more than take note of the fact that since curfew was imposed there have been no terrorist attacks.

However, this is ultra-short-term thinking that is also morally flawed. The test of the war against terrorism is not 10 days of quiet but the eradication of terrorism. It is difficult to believe that after the failure of Operation Defensive Shield, which failed to bring even a month of quiet, there is anyone who still seriously believes that these invasions of the cities in the West Bank provide a true answer to terrorism. The day after the Israeli forces leave the cities - and Israel maintains that it is not planning a permanent occupation – the terrorist attacks will be renewed in full force.

The collective punishment that we are imposing on a million people is only postponing the next wave of attacks slightly, and may even have the effect of intensifying it. It is not hard to guess the plans that are being hatched in the curfew period by those who have been condemned to such a hard life: One thing we can be sure of is that no one there is planning to absorb a further 35 years of occupation without resistance.

We have to remember that even without the curfew, these are people who in the past year and a half have been deprived of their basic freedom and are living in conditions of soaring unemployment and dire poverty. A.F., a resident of the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, related at the end of the week that for the majority of the camp's residents the hardest time is during the few hours when the curfew is lifted so they can buy food and other basic items, because then they discover that there is nothing to buy.

From the moral point of view, the question arises again whether anything goes in the name of the war against terrorism. If it does, as most Israelis now seem to think, we have to ask why we should not expel all the Arabs from the country. Such a move would undoubtedly be more effective in the battle against terrorism. But if there are moral constraints on what is permissible even in the justified war against terrorism, collective punishment in the form of a curfew imposed on an entire nation and locking up that nation indefinitely by means of siege and closures are immoral methods that must not be resorted to under any circumstances.

This curfew is also exacting a price in blood from the Palestinians, yet it is scarcely creating echoes in Israel. In Jenin, four children were killed in two separate incidents when they ventured outside. Most Palestinian children are by now cued to run when they hear the sound of a tank approaching in the terrible silence of the curfew and feel the earth tremble under the tank treads - but they don't always succeed in getting away. The mourning in Israel for the five victims of the terrorist attack at the settlement of Itamar, including, horrifically, three children from one family, need not diminish the scale of the tragedy that occurred in Jenin the next day: three small children, two of them brothers, were killed by a tank shell as they rode their bicycles, only because they were under the mistaken impression that the curfew had been lifted for a moment and they could go outside for a little while.

3. The Civil Administration was never disbanded
Amira Hass

Two truths are lost in the agitated discussion about "the return or non-return of the civil administration" on the West Bank. Senior Palestinian Authority officials warn about Israel's covert plans to revive the administration's work, at the expense of PA institutions. Senior Israeli officials reiterate that Israel has no intention of reactivating the civil administration; in the same breath, they talk about the effective collapse of the PA. In so doing, they hint that there soon will be no choice but to revive the civil administration; despite our desire not to do so, they say, we will be compelled to reactivate it as "a humanitarian step."

The first truth that is being obscured here is that the civil administration, the Israeli government's operational arm in the occupied territories, was never dismantled. When the PA was established in 1994, Israel was relieved of responsibility for directly providing health and social services to the Palestinians. (Such services were fully funded by taxes collected from Palestinians. Contrary to legends about the enlightened occupier, the large surplus that remained in Israeli hands from these taxes was not allocated for infrastructure development in the territories, or for the development of social services; rather, the surplus filled up Israel's coffers.)

Israeli officials who served as "junior ministers" in health, education, agriculture, industry and other spheres turned over their ministries and powers to the PA, but they continued to serve in parallel offices as "liaison officers." The "civil administration" changed its name and became the "coordination and liaison office" - in the Gaza Strip. On the West Bank, where until the intifada Israel continued to control 60 percent of the territory, the two names, civil administration and coordination and liaison offices, are both used.

Since 1994, the civil administration on the West Bank has continued with same mixed tasks it has been carrying out since 981. On the one hand, it supervises and limits Palestinian development, and confers licenses or permits - or, phrased more accurately, it throws up red tape to delay the conferral of permits for Palestinian private and public construction in C areas, and for the construction of roads and other items. On the other hand, it coordinates construction, expansion and development plans for the settlements, by means of planning and building committees that retain total command of land resources.

At first glance, as far as civilian matters in Area A (land fully controlled by the PA) are concerned, the coordination and liaison office's work is limited to the conferral of travel permits for Palestinians (VIPs, laborers, businessmen), whereas senior officials in the civil administration have been involved in protracted negotiations about water quotas, family reunification policies, and the return or non-return of 1967 refugees.

But this Israeli control over the movement of Palestinians should not be underestimated - the civil administration (or, to use its upscale name, the coordination and liaison office) has since 1994 remained a powerful body, and continues to influence, and intervene in, major aspects of Palestinian life.

Freedom of movement is essential to all development, to the growth of an individual and to that of a community. And to that of an economy, a culture and a society. This staple of life has been
proffered, or not, by the civil administration/coordination and liaison offices, which act as policy implementers for Israel's governments. A large share of Palestinian frustration that accumulated before the intifada stemmed from the significant share of power which remained in the hands of this Israeli institution.

Thus, Palestinian spokesmen are misleading their constituencies when they warn about the "resumption of the civil administration." If the administration is felt more heavily today than before, this feeling results from the segregation of the West Bank into sealed-off Palestinian
enclaves, and from the toughening up of Israeli control of Palestinian movement. The principle of Israeli control of Palestinian space and time via the imposition of limitations on movement was in effect before the intifada erupted. The change since then is quantitative, not qualitative.

The second forgotten truth is that the PA, as the supplier of civil services to the Palestinians, rather than as a political leadership, continues to function. It does so to an extent which surprises, when one takes into account current circumstances of continuing economic paralysis, and the clamp on normal activity caused by IDF activity and closures, as well as the loss of income (unemployment stands at 50 percent, and hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian taxes have not been transferred to their lawful recipient, the Palestinian treasury, and are instead being held by Israel).

Education and health ministries and their officials, along with local town and regional council officials, and workers from water and electricity companies continue to do considerable work, frequently with guns pointing at them, and with shots being fired from machine guns mounted on Israeli tanks. They go about their tasks in order to preserve a civil sphere, and provide a plausible, consistent flow of services. True, this does not happen everywhere.

True, the disease of discriminatory, unfair distribution of revenue and resources which afflicts the PA (and other regimes, democratic or not) has done more damage and been felt more strongly during the current crisis. But no Israeli knight, wearing a uniform and riding in a white Civil Administration jeep, will teach the "natives" how to forestall total social collapse. Whoever in Israel believes that the "civil administration" can provide a solution to prevent such a downfall is mistaken. That is because the "civil administration" that was not dismantled is part of the problem; it is symptomatic of Israel's determination, during the Oslo years as well, to control the Palestinian territories and their residents.

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