Friday, September 6

MCC Palestine Update #58

MCC Palestine Update #58

September 6, 2002

On Friday, August 23, MCC staff joined other international workers on a visit to the city of Qalqilyah. The occasion for the visit was to hear from farmers in Qalqilyah whose lands are being confiscated and “isolated” (i.e., placed in a “closed military zone,” with access only possible via special permits; isolation is usually the first step towards confiscation). In mid-August the Israeli military authorities issued an order confiscating and isolating thousands of dunams of land to the north and the south of the city. People in Qalqilyah note that these confiscations would allow for the Israeli military to continue building the twenty-foot high cement wall, already completed on Qalqilyah’s western side, around the city, leaving only one entrance, to the east. Two years ago the main sources of income in Qalqilyah were work inside Israel and sales to Israelis coming in on the weekend for cheaper prices. This income has disappeared over the past two years, leaving farming as the main source of income; now farm land is being confiscated, too.

One of the people our group met was Nabil Shraym. Nabil’s home was built during the heyday of the peace process. He obtained the necessary permits from the Israeli military authorities to build the home, permits which he filed with the Qalqilyah municipality. Over the past three months, however, the Israeli military authorities have been building a twenty-foot high cement wall, complete with guard towers on the western edge of the city (and plans are in the works eventually to encircle the city). Nabil’s home has the misfortune of being close to the new wall. One week ago Israeli soldiers came to Nabil’s home to tell him that his home was “illegal” and would be destroyed. The family is now waiting for the day or night when the bulldozers come.

Project update:

School resumed this week in the occupied territories. The Hope Secondary School in Beit Jala, a long-time MCC partner, was able to open its doors to increased enrollment this year. The school received good news over the summer that more than 90% of its seniors passed the tawjihi, or high school matriculation examination. Director Suleiman Noor shares his hope that, unlike last year, this school year won’t be disrupted by invasions and curfews.

Below you will find three pieces, all from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. In the first, Gideon Levy describes “back-to-school” realities for Palestinian children in the occupied territories. In the second, Danny Rubinstein examines the instability of the current Israeli practice of “occupation without responsibility.” Finally, Amira Hass looks at the desparate water situation in one West Bank village.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. The other schoolchildren of war
Gideon Levy

From this morning, thousands of policemen will guard Israel’s children as they return to school after the summer vacation. For this reason, it is worth recalling that just an hour’s drive away, yesterday also marked the end of the summer vacation for Palestinian children, whose lives are in greater danger, but who have no protection.

About a million Palestinian children were due to return to school yesterday, and their fate is of abiding interest for Israelis, too. The children’s route to school and their very lives are more threatened now than at any previous time in the 35-year history of the occupation.

First, the dead - 294 Palestinian children will not be going to school any more. They were killed by Israeli soldiers in the past two years.Twenty-three children were killed during the summer vacation alone- 7 in July and 16 in August (according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group).
Basel and Abir Abu Samra were killed in front of their father’s face by a tank shell fired at them while they were working in their vineyard near Nablus. Jamil and Ahmed Abu Aziz were killed by a tank shell while they were cycling on the streets of Jenin. Every Palestinian mother who sends her children off to school in the morning on streets where tanks and armored personnel carriers rove, and where soldiers with light trigger fingers are on patrol, is exposing them to serious danger.

In addition to the dead there are the wounded and the maimed, whose number no one knows, and who rarely get proper rehabilitation. Nur Ismail, for example, is a boy who lost both legs in a mysterious explosion next to his house that killed his two brothers. He is not going to school because his parents can’t afford to buy him prosthetic legs.

The situation of the healthy children offers no cause for rejoicing. They spent most of their vacation under curfew, imprisoned in hot, stuffy, overcrowded houses, usually without anything to entertain themselves with - no computers, no books, no video or other games of any kind.

Nearly a quarter of them are suffering from what the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) defined as malnutrition. Most o them receive only the most basic foodstuffs - bread, rice and olive oil - and hardly ever taste vegetables, fruits, meat or dairy products.

Sweets and other childhood delicacies are no more than a distant dream. In the Deheishe refugee camp next to Bethlehem, for example, the only thrill the children had during the vacation was to throw stones at the armored personnel carriers that declared curfew every day.That was a dangerous game.

In the long days under curfew, the children saw what unemployment, humiliation and frustration did to their parents. Some of them could see from their windows as settler children splashed merrily in their swimming pools, while the taps in their own homes yielded water once a week. On the days when curfew was lifted, the Palestinian children were still confined to their towns and villages, with no possibility of visiting friends or relatives in neighboring localities.

Some of them made their way by stealth into Israel, taking their lives in their hands in order to beg or offer cheap items for sale at road junctions, as their families’ breadwinners. They were often caught by soldiers, who humiliated and often beat them.

Many of these children are also suffering from traumas. The scenes of killing and devastation they saw in the Jenin refugee camp or in the Gaza neighborhood where the Israel Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb or in the Nablus casbah will haunt them for life. Even many of those who were not eyewitnesses to such events were exposed to the atrocity images that were broadcast ceaselessly by
Arab television stations.

Some of the schools were also damaged. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, 145 schools were struck by Israeli army fire and shelling. A case in point is the Abd el-Majid Thaya School just outside Tul Karm, which in recent years has come to be known as the “peace school,” was partially destroyed by tank shells. Some of the teachers were unable to reach the school because of curfew or closure.

Very often the students, too, will not be able to get to their school, and the school year will again be seriously disrupted. In any event, these children have little to look forward to in life. This is the baggage that the Palestinian children will carry, but they are not the only ones who will bear the burden.

2. Occupation without responsibility
Danny Rubinstein

Columnist Mohammed Shaker Abdallah of Al Quds wrote recently with a measure of despair that all signs now show that the Israeli government appears to be succeeding in its campaign against the intifada. He’s not the only one who thinks so. The renewed occupation of the West Bank, which began with Operation Defensive Shield five months ago, has largely succeeded. The IDF and the security forces have managed to change all of the West Bank’s cities from Area A, where the Palestinians had full control, into Area B, where Israel has security control.

There may be a plan for Gaza and Bethlehem first, but its impact on the ground is nil. The IDF behaves inside Palestinian cities as if they owned them. It clamps on curfews, patrols and arrests, conducts punishments like demolishing homes of terrorists, and sometimes assassinates wanted men. But despite the renewed occupation, Israel is not fully in control of the West Bank. The new Israeli policy has accomplished the impossible: having the cake and eating it too. Israel rules over the West Bank but it shirks any responsibility for full control, since the Palestinian Authority continues, at least formally, to function in the civic arena.

The current debate in the crumbling corridors of the Palestinian Authority is over the role of the Elected Council, the name given by the Oslo agreements to what is commonly referred to as the Palestinian Legislative Council. Its 88 members were elected in general elections in early 1996, but it’s been months since it convened because the Israeli authorities refuse to allow all its members convene in either the West Bank or Gaza. Recently there have been some sessions via tele-conferencing, with some members gathering in Ramallah and others in Gaza, but many of the council members say that the council and its committees could do a lot more if they were allowed to meet.

Some, including former minister Nabil Amar, say that without a vote of confidence from the PLC, Yasser Arafat’s new cabinet has no legal authority. They demand that the council meet to elect a new presidium, and to undertake an energetic debate on the policies of the leadership. There’s more than hidden criticis of Arafat in that, criticism enunciated lately by members like Hanan Ashrawi, Ziyad Amu Amar and Azmi Shuweiba.

The Palestinian leadership is convinced that the current circumstances - an Israeli occupation without any responsibility for the population, and a deteriorating Palestinian rule - can’t go on much longer. The intensification of the difficulties faced by the population and mounting bitterness are the reasons. While a glance at the Israeli media shows there’s a lull in the reports about horrifying suicide bombers, the Palestinian media is full of horrific photos of children smashed in IDF operations, wounded or killed by IDF fire. Hundreds of photos of the dead and wounded, elderly and women, beside tank treads, fill the pages, as do pictures of handicapped in wheelchairs trying to make their way over hills, and houses - and sometimes entire neighborhoods - turned into rubble. Last Saturday the human interest story of the day was about a Rafah nurse who found her brother among the wounded.

Not a day goes by without reports about hungry families, humiliation and unnecessary obstacles placed in the way of simple people. Lately, there are stories about the suffering of prisoners and detainees in Israeli detention centers and prisons. The number of prisoners has skyrocketed since April, and the turmoil in some of the prisons is reported in the Palestinian press; most recently, Nafha prison near Mitzpe Ramon was in the Palestinian media, which reported on prisoner complaints about conditions. There’s no doubt that the matter of the prisoners will capture a more prominent spot on the agenda of the conflict.

Therefore, despite what appears to be relative calm on the security front, the general picture of Palestinian reality points in the opposite direction, toward a new deterioration.

3. ‘Kill me, shut everything, but I want water for my children’
Amira Hass

This is the first time in two years that Ami, a foreman at a West Bank quarry, has feared for his life while traveling the road that leads from the Jordan Valley to his place of work, in an area once known as ‘the pursuit zone’: east of Nablus, along the villages of Akraba, Majdel, Meghayer, Kafr Malah (or, according to the names of the settlements in the area: Maaleh Efraim, Gitit, the Shiloh settlement outposts and Kokhav Hashahar).

Suddenly, he is agitated. At the start of last week, someone in the Israel Defense Forces decided to erect a rampart of earth on land belonging to the village of Meghayer, blocking the only entrance to the village that remained open.

Ramparts also went up along the side of the road at other locations, to prevent vehicles crossing into fields, groves and Bedouin encampments in the area. “Now, anyone who wants to can hide behind the rampart, shoot at me while I’m driving on the road, and flee back into the fields. No military vehicle could catch him, because the ramparts are blocking their access.”

According to Ami, the IDF did not just provide a potential sniper with amenable topographical conditions, but also with a motive. “This is a quiet area,” he says, basing his proclamation on daily personal experience from the first days of the current intifada. “Not that there wasn’t shooting here, but, in general, it’s a quiet area. This is the only road connecting [for the Palestinians] Ramallah and the northern West Bank. What drives me crazy is that in Israel, people say that we are making concessions here and there - when the reality is the exact opposite.”

The ramparts, he explains with increasing anger, “cut off their water. They simply cut off their access to water. If you come and choke a man, make him thirsty for water, then he will respond with ‘I will die for Palestine.’ That’s how someone who has nothing to lose responds.” Several of the villages in the area are not connected to the National Water Carrier, and rely on tankers, which they fill from the central well of the Ramallah Water Undertaking (RWU).

The ramparts erected last week prevent trucks from bringing the tankers directly to the villages and Bedouin encampments. One dirt rampart put up last week even blocked direct access to the central well, both for vehicles belonging to the RWU and those responsible for the maintenance of the wells, as well as access to the tankers.

No qualms

Ami, who is a member of the Ashdot Ya’akov Meuhad kibbutz (“It’s no longer a kibbutz,” he stresses, “it’s a community”) has been working for the last three years at the Israeli-owned quarry near the Jordan Valley. His salary went directly to the kibbutz. He has no qualms about the work he does, which is portrayed by the Palestinians as stripping the natural resources of an occupied land: the entire quarry is situated on “state land.” While it is true that the profits go to Israelis, the quarries serve many Palestinian consumers. The Palestinians, during the Jordanian times, says Ami, did not manage to develop and utilize this resource. “This is our country; we were here; we’re not conquerors. I cannot erase my heritage: Yehoshua Bin Nun’s Gilgal and Saul’s Mikhmash. It’s all the Land of Israel, and two peoples live in it.

The blocking of the path leading to the Palestinian well especially incensed Ami. He spoke with IDF officers in the field, made the calls that needed to be made and berated those that needed to be berated. The shouting was only partially successful. The barricade obstructing access to the well was removed by the army some three days later, but the other barricades remain in place. Ami is certain that “the flocks of sheep are going to die of thirst.” The shepherds are forced to maneuver, moving their sheep onto the road and giving them water from a hose. Ami has already allowed the Bedouin to fill up tankers of water from his supply at the quarry, and cross the quarry to reach their encampments. But these are only partial solutions.

Next to the blocked path leading up to Kafr Malah, on the slopes of the hill leading up to the roads, one can already see signs of tractor tracks. The only vehicles that can bypass the barricades are tractors carving alternative paths, suitable for heavy vehicles only, into the hills and fields. So, in convoy, one can spot tractors laden with water tankers, making their way to the well. The drivers fill up with water, pay the Ramallah Water Undertaking clerk and start making their way back to the villages, praying not to run into an IDF patrol that could hold them up for hours. If, under normal circumstances, 250 cubic meters of water were sold every day, that has dropped to 150 cubic meters today. The barricades - even when they are easy to bypass - have led to a drop in the amount of drinking water consumed by the Palestinians who live in the nearby villages and Bedouin encampments.

When bypassing the barricades at the entrance to the village, the tractor drivers must beware of passing IDF patrols. One driver, from Meghayer, told Ami how, last Thursday, one soldier had shouted at him: “If you cross here, I’ll burst your tires.” The driver waited, with his water, until the soldiers had gone, and then drove down the forbidden path. “Sometimes,” said the drivers, “they will station an armored personnel carrier, which makes it very clear, without words, that passage is forbidden. “Everything is dangerous,” he explains, “but what can we do? We have to drink. Kill me, shut everything down, but I want to drink and I want to give my children water.” The tractor drivers sell their water on credit. “People don’t have any money to pay, but they need water.”

Ami knows people in every village in the area. His friends in the village of Kusra were lucky, compared to his friends and employees in other villages: the residents of Kusra, which is not connected to the National Water Carrier, fill up their tankers at the neighboring settlement of Migdalim. The IDF had blocked off the entrance to Kusra with earth ramparts and rocks several times, but now, one can enter the village with a vehicle. The local children say that the barricades were removed after the village mukhtar threatened to close the entrance to Migdalim if the road to Kusra was not reopened.

Ami believes that this sort of initiative is “absolutely fine. Here is Kusra, which has been around for ever; and here is Migdalim, a recent settlement built on what used to be the groves of Kusra. You ask me if I’m angry? How can I not be angry? Look at the nice road they have leading to Migdalim, and look at the pot-holed path that Kusra has. And Kusra is in Area C. Look at the difference. But, nonetheless, they still have good, neighborly relations.” The residents of Kusra pay Migdalim NIS 4 for each cubic meter of water. Summing up the nature of these neighborly relations, Ami explains that “those of us who are hooked up to the National Water Carrier pay around 80 agorot per cubic meter.”

Roadblock trouble

Twenty-six Palestinians work in the quarry that Ami manages. He has known some of them since they were young boys. It is clear that they consider themselves lucky - both because they have a job and because Ami is their boss. They hail from the surrounding villages, and they all have work permits that have been signed by the Shin Bet security service, settlements security chiefs and various brigade commanders. Even the taxi that brings them to work has specially issued permits.

But, despite all that, not a day goes by when Ami is not called upon to extricate one of his workers from some problem at one of the roadblocks.

It could be a surprise roadblock that prevents the worker from continuing his journey. The soldier does not even allow the passengers to get out of their taxi to show him their permits - he just tells them to turn around a go back to where they came from. The workers have no way of contacting Ami. The solution: someone gets his hands on a mobile phone and calls Ami or one of the other Israelis who work at the quarry, who then make their way to the roadblock, and, since they are allowed to approach a soldier with impunity, explain that the workers have all the necessary permits.

On other occasions, the problem can be caused by a lone IDF jeep whose occupant decides to make life difficult for one of the workers. In these cases, Ami makes a point of chasing after the jeep, if only to let the driver know what he thinks about offhand mistreatment of his workers. Early on the morning of August 21, a soldier at the B’kaot-Hamra roadblock confiscated the identity cards of six of the quarry workers, “for no reason at all,” claims Ami. He was called to the roadblock and spoke to the soldiers, who said that the soldier responsible had gone to sleep, and the ID cards were in his pocket. “They only went to look for him because I was standing right there,” says Ami. “Even with my presence, it took three hours. If I had not come and intervened, they would have been left out in the sun all day.”

A few days earlier, at the same roadblock, manned by the same battalion (ultra-Orthodox Nahal), the soldiers told Ami’s workers that they would only be allowed to continue if they swept the road. The workers refused, and continued via side roads and paths. According to the workers, some of the other passengers may have agreed to the soldiers’ terms. Sometimes, Ami is witness to an extended delay, for no good reason, of a Palestinian vehicle. Whenever this happens, he then makes fervent phone calls to whoever he can.

“Every day I am called on to put out similar fires,” he says of himself. The Israeli friends whom he tells about the bullying and the abuse at the roadblocks, do not believe him. “That cannot be true,” they tell him. “You’re biased.” Ami tells them to ask his wife, who is not “biased.” “Every morning at 5:30 she is woken up by the phone calls from the Palestinian workers who are being held up by soldiers at one of the roadblocks.” Some three months ago, Ami was sitting in a shop owned by a friend of his in Jama’in. Seeing but unseen. Outside, he says, there was a truck carrying vegetables. Suddenly, a Border Police patrol turned up, and, without saying a word, shot up all four of the truck’s tires. “The poor guy had to go and get another four tires, and then the soldiers shot those up as well.” Ami filed a complaint, but still has not received an answer. He also filed a complaint when one of the drivers, who works with the quarry on a regular basis, was attacked by settlers from one of the nearby outposts.

Ami leads his guests to a lookout point overlooking the whole of the Jordan Valley. Here - he points to the cave - IDF soldier Yosef Kaplan was killed in 1969. Paratroopers were chasing after some infiltrator, and discovered a Bedouin woman with her baby in one of the caves. They asked her if anyone had passed by, and she answered no. They did not know that an infiltrator was threatening her at gunpoint from behind. He shot and killed one of the soldiers, who returned fire and killed the infiltrator. In doing so, they also killed the woman and her baby. Over there, says Ami, pointing to a distant mountain, is where the ancient Hebrews lit bonfires to announce the religious holidays.

According to IDF sources, Ami’s complaints about the behavior of soldiers at roadblocks have been received, and are being investigated thoroughly.

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