Wednesday, August 14

MCC Palestine Update #56

MCC Palestine Update #56

August 14, 2002

"I am against violence, completely. If getting a state means violence, if getting justice means violence, then I don't want them." That's what Cedar Duaybis, a board member at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an MCC partner organization, shared recently in a discussion of a Christian response to the phenomenon of suicide bombers in the context of a military occupation. I found Cedar's words inspiring, prophetic, and troubling, all at once. Inspiring, because it strengthens our resolve as MCC workers to have the privilege to work alongside courageous witnesses for nonviolence and peace like Cedar.

Prophetic, not only in her call to Palestinians to renounce violent struggle, but in the implicit message to all who seek noble aims-- peace, security, freedom, justice--through violent means. Troubling, finally, because regardless of the type of struggle waged by Palestinians, be it violent or nonviolent, I worry about what hope Palestinians can have. The structures which perpetuate Palestinian dispossession, which confiscate land, restrict Palestinian movement, confine Palestinians into increasingly smaller islands, destroy homes, uproot trees, impose collective punishment on millions: these structures grow stronger by the day. For a Palestinian Christian like Cedar, the refusal to use or support violence to secure justice is grounded in the nonviolent witness of the cross and the resurrection. In the grim realities of the occupied territories right now, the hope of resurrection can appear tenuous; praise be to God for the witness of Palestinian Christians and Muslims and of Israeli Jews who proclaim that justice and peace, security and freedom cannot be secured by violence and who live by the hope that, though the powers of injustice, death and dispossession appear strong, that God will in time overcome.

Below you will find three pieces. The first, published in Ha'aretz Monday August 12, is by Catherine Cook, an advocacy coordinator for Defense of Children International-Palestine Section. Cook explores the implications of growing malnutrition among Palestinian children for the future. The second piece, by Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy (whose car was shot at on Sunday, August 11, by Israeli military even after he had coordinated his movements in the West Bank city of Tulkarem with the military), discusses the need to hold Israel accountable for war crimes it perpetrates in the occupied territories. The final piece, by Israeli academic and activist Jeff Halper, looks at the message conveyed to Palestinians by the bulldozers which demolish homes, uproot trees, and pave the way for new Israeli settlements.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Palestinian malnutrition bodes ill for the future
Catherine Cook
Ha'aretz, August 12, 2002

A recently released US Aid funded nutritional assessment indicates that acute and chronic malnutrition rates of Palestinian children under 5 have reached emergency levels. Some 22.5 percent of children suffer moderate or severe acute or chronic malnutrition, and one fifth suffer moderate or severe anemia.

The study, designed by Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health, surveyed nutrition levels, availability of food in the market and household consumption, and found that the factors affecting the dangerous rise in malnutrition directly relates to Israeli imposed movement restrictions and the dismal economic situation in the occupied territories.

Major food shortages were caused primarily by Israeli imposed road closures, checkpoints, and curfews, while the economic situation and subsequent loss in purchasing power was the main factor inhibiting people's ability to buy food. Fifty-six percent of surveyed families indicated that they had been forced to the amount of food consumed for more than one day in the previous two week period.

Of those, two-thirds cited lack of money and one-third cited Israeli imposed curfews and closures as the reason. The study found that 36.6 percent of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip lack the purchasing power to consistently feed their families. The number of families affected was highest in Gaza City, where 41.3 percent of families reported selling assets to buy food.

This is how collective punishment works - Israel implements restrictions on freedom of movement, Palestinians lose their jobs inside Israel or can no longer reach their places of work in the occupied territories, and their level of income decreases.

As of December 2001, unemployment had reached 35 percent in the occupied territories according to the World Bank. Figures released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in April indicate that in the first two months of the year 2002, more than two-thirds of Palestinian households were living below the poverty line, set at US $340 a month (less than $1.90 a day). PCBS also reports that more than half of Palestinian households have lost more than 50 percent of their income since September 2000.

How does this affect children? The US AID study tells us the answer - Palestinian wholesalers and retailers are facing difficulty getting food into the market, particularly fresh meat and dairy products, such as powdered milk and infant formula. Once they do, many families are either unable to reach the store, due to Israeli imposed
restrictions on freedom of movement or they cannot afford to buy adequate food, both in terms of quality and quantity.

The lack of purchasing power has forced Palestinians to buy less of more expensive high protein foods, such as fish, beef, and chicken. Lack of protein is one of the direct causes of malnutrition and anemia.

This situation is not the result of a natural disaster or a lack of natural resources, it is a result of Israeli government sanctioned policies implemented by an occupying power against civilians, a government which is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, totaling some five billion annually.

These policies are an integral part of the 35 year long Israeli occupation. What the nutritional assessment illustrates clearly is that the Israeli occupation is more than a soldier with a gun - it is a system of control that impacts every aspect of the lives of three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 53 percent of whom are children.

Israeli actions are having a similarly devastating impact on other areas related to children's well being. The reality for Palestinian children is that they live in an environment where they suffer collective and concurrent violations of their rights at all times.

Israeli occupation policies simultaneously prevent Palestinian children from receiving adequate nutrition, interrupt the educational process, deprive children of homes, parents and siblings, lead to the death, injury, and arrest of thousands of Palestinian children, and imprison hundreds of thousands of children in their homes for days on end, under the policy of curfew.

The cumulative psychological effects of the last two years on Palestinian children have been immense and will take many years of intensive, serious work to treat. These factors not only impact the child's daily life, they constitute a major obstacle to the child's healthy development, and, thus, rob the child of prospects for a decent future.

The Israeli government repeatedly asserts that it is not targeting the Palestinian civilian population, but you cannot implement policies such as these without bringing a society to its knees. You certainly cannot do it for two years and claim that the results are unintentional. And the international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye.

On August 5, the UN General Assembly passed yet another watered-down resolution calling for an end to the violence on both sides. However, another resolution is not what is called for, but rather concrete action on the part of the international community to intervene to end the Israeli occupation is needed.

The US AID study pointed out in its conclusion that "today's acute malnutrition will be tomorrow's chronic malnutrition unless a variety of interventions - economic, political and health related - take place."

The international community would be well advised to open its eyes and take this a step further - Palestinian children today make up 53 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.What will the situation look like in 10 - 20 years when this generation of children reach adulthood?

The author is International Advocacy Coordinator for Defense for Children International - Palestine Section, a child rights NGO based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

2. The last recourse
Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, August 2002

To what was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referring when he stated at last week's cabinet meeting, "It is inconceivable for such phenomena to occur here in Israel"?

Was it the situation in which, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 13.2 percent of Palestinian children are suffering from prolonged malnutrition and 9.3 percent from temporary malnutrition? The dropping of a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood, killing 15 people? The withholding of medical aid? The daily liquidations of "wanted" Palestinians? The jailing of hundreds of thousands of people for two years within the framework of collective punishment? The deportation and demolition of the homes of the families of terrorists? The culture of racist manifestations with regard to the Arabs who are Israeli citizens?

We haven't heard an expression of shock from Sharon or his cabinet ministers about any of these phenomena. But the prime minister, and, in his wake, a uniform chorus of spokespersons - from Reuven Rivlin to Yossi Beilin - were shocked by the initiative of the Gush Shalom peace activists who wrote letters to 15 Israel Defense Forces officers, warning them that material evidence was being collected against them relating to their activity in the territories, with the intention of submitting it to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on suspicion that the officers are guilty of war crimes. "That is worse than a refusal [to serve in the territories],"the prime minister asserted.

Indeed, for a political movement to collect incriminating material about army personnel, with the goal of submitting the material to international courts, is problematic: Are there not enough authorities in Israel that have the task of collecting material if the suspicion of war crimes arises, and then placing those responsible on
trial? Why the need for actions of a kind usually attributed to informers?

But before we rush to attack Gush Shalom, we would do well to consider a few questions. First: Are the soldiers and officers of the IDF in fact carrying out operations that could be suspected of constituting war crimes? If so, they should be stopped, even if doing so entails controversial means. The very fact of the outcry raised by the IDF and the government is cause for suspecting that we do have something to hide. Lately the IDF Spokesman's apparatus has made several moves that are intended to persuade the media and the officer corps from making public the names and photographs of soldiers and commanding officers who are serving in the territories, for fear of the court at The Hague. The need to conceal the faces of the soldiers, as though they were criminals hiding their faces from the cameras in a court of law, raises the question of whether the IDF is convinced that it is acting with what was once known as "purity of arms."

Beyond this, some of the actions undertaken by Israel in the past few months as part of its war on terrorism need to be subjected to a moral and judicial test; but there is no chance of that being done here. These actions include depriving hundreds of thousands of people of normal supplies and of the possibility of making a living, to the point where malnutrition has been caused; dozens of liquidations of people and not only of "ticking bombs;" the demolition of the homes of people who have done no wrong; blocking medical treatment; and deportation. Is there no suspicion here of war crimes for which someone should perhaps be accountable?

But who is going to place anyone on trial? Unfortunately, in the past two years it has become clear, even more so than in the past, that there is no one to turn to in Israel in connection with these subjects. The IDF has almost completely ceased to investigate instances of killing in the territories, in contrast to its policy in the first intifada. If someone suspects that IDF soldiers killed someone with no justification and in violation of the law, what recourse does he have? Who will investigate the death of newborn infants and sick people caused by the refusal of soldiers to allow ambulances or people in distress to pass by checkpoints, if the IDF does not do so seriously? Can we entrust this task to the High Court of Justice? After all, its voice, too, has become almost mute in connection with security issues. The High Court justices have declared in the past that it is not within their purview to apply the rules of war to the liquidation policy; and last week, they ruled that the IDF no longer had the duty to warn Palestinians that their homes were going to be demolished. So another vital force for restraint in Israeli society has been eroded.

If people believe that the liquidations are causing Israeli serious damage and are contrary to international law, to whom will they appeal? If the IDF were to order proper investigations of suspected violations of human rights and were to place proven violators on trial, and if the High Court were ready to fulfill its duty and intervene in cases of the infraction of the law in the territories, no Israeli organization would consider turning to international bodies. In the present situation, though, there are political movements, human rights groups and individuals for whom Israel's moral image is precious enough that they are willing to take exceptional steps to preserve it. They are no less patriotic than anyone else.

Nor should we condemn those who think that sanctions should be imposed on Israel. The apartheid regime in South Africa came to an end, in part, because of the sanctions that were imposed on the country. Unlike South Africa, Israel does not have to replace its regime, only to put an end to the occupation - and for that, it needs the world's help. The caution that soldiers must now employ could turn out to be beneficial: Perhaps the IDF will henceforth consider matters a little more deeply before dropping another mega-bomb in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

In a situation in which the legislative branch, the Supreme Court, he attorney general, parts of the media and the majority of the public are being derelict in their duty, turning away from what is going on and refusing to see what we are perpetrating on others and on ourselves, too, the appeal to the world is the last recourse. Those who are making use of it want only the good of an Israel that has right on its side.

3. The Message of the Bulldozers
Jeff Halper
August 9, 2002

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) deplores this week’s decision by the Israeli High Court of Justice against permitting judicial review for families of Palestinians whose homes are targeted for demolition because a family member has been involved in (or even suspected of) terror attacks. True to the pattern of many years, the Court has accepted the argument of the army that such demolitions take place as integral parts of military operations. Israel’s High Court thus permits the setting aside of fundamental human rights infavor of military considerations (which are but extensions of the government’s political goals).

What human rights are violated by this decision?

1· The right of innocent individuals not to be held legally accountable for the actions of relatives. “Blood tie” cannot be the basis of demolition someone’s home. The notion that individuals may be punished for crimes of others without any criminal charge being made against them forfeits the elementary protection that the legal system owes to every person.

2 The right of every person to due process and judicial review. Punishing individuals not charged with any crime, or denying them recourse to the court if they are faced with punitive actions, constitutes extra-judicial punishment. When an entire family is punished for the suspected deeds of one of its members, this is collective punishment. Both violate the essence of both Israeli civil law and international humanitarian law.

3 The demolition of houses or destruction of other private property of individuals residing in occupied territories is explicitly forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 53), as is collective punishment (Article 33).

This sad decision, which immediately effects 49 Palestinian families whose homes may be demolished at any time, represents the steady erosion of Israeli democracy as it tries to cope with popular resistance to an illegal Occupation. In its decision, the High Court itself subordinates the rule of law, not to mention human rights, to the requirements of military repression. In the simplest terms, it condones and permits war crimes. Absolute rule over another people is possible only by denying them fundamental legal protection. In the end, this must destroy the very moral and legal basis underlying democracy and law.

For the past six years ICAHD has been working on the issue of house demolitions. Every time we think: “OK, we’ve exhausted the subject, let’s go on to other, perhaps more pressing issues,” the systematic destruction of Palestinian homes returns to the center of the conflict with a vengeance. It happened in the Jenin refugee camp, where the indomitable drivers of the massive D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers labored for three straight days and nights demolishing more than 300 homes in the densely packed camp, thereby becoming the heroes of the invasion. And it is happening today as Israel demolishes dozens of houses belonging to families of terrorists, a form of collective punishment that is clearly a war crime.

Why? Why does house demolitions remain at the center of the conflict? Why has it been at the center of the Israeli struggle against the Palestinians since 1948? There are many specific reasons given: security, deterrence, punishment, self-defense, warfare, “illegal” construction, enforcement of the law and on and on. But one element remains throughout: The Message. Sharon, like his predecessors, never tire of warning that Israeli attacks on the Palestinians will continue “until they get The Message.” What is The Message? As stated by Sharon and the others (going back some 80 years to the “Iron Wall” concept of Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion), The Message is: “Submit. Only when you abandon your dreams for an independent state of your own, and accept that Palestine has become the Land of Israel, will we relent.” But The Message goes even deeper, is more sinister than that. The Message of the Bulldozers is: “You do not belong here. We uprooted you from your homes in 1948 and prevented your return, and now we will uproot you from all of the Land of Israel. “Transfer” has become an acceptable topic of television talk shows. And that is why house demolitions remain so prominent, the bulldozer beside the tank. Because in the end this process of reoccupation is one of displacement.

The bulldozer certainly deserves to take its rightful place alongside the tank as a symbol of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. The two deserve to be on the national flag. The tank as symbol of an Israel “fighting for its existence,” and for its prowess on the battlefield. And the bulldozer for the dark underside of Israel’s struggle for existence, its ongoing struggle to displace the Palestinians from the country. For Israel has always treated the Palestinians as an enemy, never as a people with collective rights and legitimate claims to the country with which it might someday live in peace. In 1948 Israel played an active role in driving 75% of the Palestinians from the Land. Over the next four or five years the bulldozer, following the tank, systematically demolished 418 Palestinian villages. Since 1967, as Israel’s tanks suppress Palestinian resistance to the Occupation with increasing frequency and ferocity, its bulldozers (aided by artillery and missiles) have demolished more than 9000 Palestinian homes and counting. Even as I write this, a day after the Israeli High Court of Justice gave its consent to demolishing houses of families of terrorists without warning or a chance to appeal to the court, houses are being bulldozed in Bethlehem and Gaza with dozens more threatened throughout the Occupied Territories. And not only. Throughout Israel proper, in the “unrecognized villages” and Palestinian neighborhoods of Ramle, Lod and elsewhere, houses continue to be demolished 54 years later. Jews now live in Palestinian houses in Israel’s major cities and Palestinian villages have long disappeared under the agricultural fields of kibbutzim and moshavs. Amidst this destruction 150,000 housing units have been built for the 400,000 Jews living across the 1967 border.

The bulldozer remains at the center of the “action” for the simple reason that repression and control alone do not secure the country for those the Jews whose claim excludes all others. Those with competing claims the Palestinians must be displaced if the Jews are really going to take possession, or at least confined to small islands where they cannot interfere with or challenge Israeli dominion. (The announcement this week by the Ministry of the Interior that Palestinian Israelis would be stripped of their citizenship if proven “unloyal” to the State extends the work of bulldozers.)

But just as Israel cannot insulate itself from the Occupation, so too it cannot escape the ravages of its own house demolitions policy. Fear that the displaced might yet rise again and claim their patrimony prevents Israelis from enjoying the fruits of their power. The country has been seized by rising xenophobia and national- religious fanaticism. Polarization characterizes the relations between the right and left, Jewish and Arab citizens, Jews of European and Middle East origin, the working and middle classes, religious and secular. Israelis are “hunkering down,” increasingly isolated from the world. Young Israeli men and women are themselves brutalized as they are sent as soldiers to evict Palestinian families from their homes. Even the beauty of the land is destroyed as the authorities rush to construct ugly, sprawling suburbs and massive highways in order to “claim” the land before Palestinians creep back in. Aesthetics, human rights, environmental concerns, education, social justice these are the finer things of life that cannot coexist with displacement and occupation. “Fortress Israel,” as we call it, is by necessity based on a culture of strength, violence and crudity.

In the final analysis, it will be the bulldozer that razes the structure that once was Israel.

(Jeff Halper, an anthropologist, is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions He can be reached at <>.)

No comments: