Wednesday, September 25

MCC Palestine Update #60

MCC Palestine Update #60

September 25, 2002

A friend from North America called up last week to get an update on MCC program in Palestine which he could share with a local Sunday School class. After talking about current MCC projects, this friend asked, "What gives you hope?" For a while, I didn't know what to say. These days hope is a precious commodity, its supplies rapidly disappearing. Civilians on both sides continue to be killed. The Israeli siege on the occupied territories gets even stronger. More land is confiscated; more settlements are built; the curfew in Nablus has gone on for three months, schools in Jenin and Nablus have yet to start thanks to the curfew, unemployment is ballooning, thousands of people subsist only thanks to food aid, there is a complete absence of a political horizon given an Israeli government which refuses to dismantle even one settlement, let alone comply with UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention. What hope is visible that one day Palestinian security will be taken as seriously as Israeli security? What hope is visible that one day Palestinians will enjoy equal use of land and water? What hope is visible that one day Palestinians will be able to travel freely to work, school, hospital, and the homes of relatives?

I must confess that in these difficult days such hope appears very dim. What is clear to me, however, is that we at MCC are blessed with Palestinian partners:--in the East Jerusalem YMCA, in the Culture and Free Thought Association, in the Wi'am Conflict Resolution Center and the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement-who get up every morning and navigate checkpoints, curfews and other restrictions in order to serve the neediest in their communities, to empower children, women and persons with disabilities, and to struggle for justice, peace and reconciliation. If asked how they saw the future, these partners would probably come up with
few words of hope. Their lives and actions, however, are inspiring transcripts of hope. Our partners are icons of hope for me and my colleagues in MCC. Thanks be to God for their dedication and witness!

Below you will find three pieces. The first, from Ha'aretz columnist Doron Rosenblum, describes the role of the bulldozer in Zionist history. The second, by Ha'aretz reporter Gideon Levy, describes life in the occupied territories during the holiday season in Israel. Finally, Karma Nabulsi, writing in The Guardian, addresses the question of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Our friend, the bulldozer
Doron Rosenblum
Ha’aretz, September 20, 2002

There's no time like the holiday season for making goodwill gestures, ruminating about life, tallying up assets and remembering the best of friends. And is there any friend more deserving of a festive salute than a certain loyal buddy - a longtime pal whose central place in our life does not get the proper appreciation during the rest of the year?

Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and with tumultuous applause welcome a rusty, dusty holiday guest, now advancing to the front of the stage with the creaking of roller tracks. Gaze at the sight and pause to reflect for a moment: Is it possible to imagine what our life would be like without our honored guest?

It's the bulldozer - the Zionist's best friend.

It often happens, as we travel in foreign countries, that we notice a bulldozer sitting shyly by the roadside: a roller-track tractor, equipped with scoop or blade, that has been condemned to a "civilian role" that would mortify even a work elephant in the Punjab. True, it is painted red or yellow and is groomed like a thoroughbred, but one question immediately occurs to us - as Jews, as Zionists: What is the life of this goy? What is the purpose of its existence? To widen a highway? To level ground for a parking lot? To dig the foundations for an old age home?

How dreary this life is, how uninspired!

Not so the Israeli bulldozer. Its life is filled with meaning, tension, a sense of vocation and mission.

Ho, Hebrew bulldozer, who can recount your days! You are not alone, you are in the front rank of doing, alongside your many brothers: some in civilian life, some in the conscript army, some called up to the reserves - hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands who fill the land from end to end. Huge crawlers that build bypass roads; brave Caterpillars that forge trenches or earth ramparts to block improvised bypass-bypass roads; tough tractors that prepare the ground for another outpost after leveling the home of a terrorist's mother-in-law. Loyal earthmovers that engage vigorously in the non-building of the security fence; not to mention the other veteran Land of Israel faithful, the flat-backs and bulldozers that have transported countless mobile homes and, with a mighty swoop of the shovel, brushed away entire casbahs.

When did all this begin? When did we become a nation for which the bulldozer is the symbol, the definer of its identity, the seal of its borderlessness, the pillar of dust that goes before the camp? When did the old, squat, green John Deere tractors - which plowed fields in pastoral humility, as far as the border and back - give way to the iron monsters that have seized control of our lives and dominate our consciousness? Some say it all began in the Six-Day War, at the very moment the borders were breached and the old familiar, demarcated home landscape was lost.

Indeed, hardly had a day gone by after the conquest of Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights; when the land was filled and teeming with myriad bulldozers and tractors and Caterpillars (some say they were brought in an airlift, others insist that at night, in the parking areas, they multiply like rabbits). And, as if with a supreme command, as though hearing a primeval voice, the bulldozers raced forward: To the earthworks! Into the breaches! To the ramparts! To the moving jobs! And from that time to this, they have not stopped for a second.

Since then, the ground below our feet has not been still. There is no wall we have not itched to topple, no grove we have not yearned to level, no hill we have not wished to assault and plunge the teeth of our blade into its soft soil.

Before the tonsured monks at the Latrun monastery could say a word, all the villages in the area had been razed flat. Immediately afterward, the bulldozers set their sights on Jerusalem. First the dividing walls went down. Then they charged the small neighborhood of shacks opposite the Western Wall and flattened it into a huge plaza. Then they mounted an offensive against all the hills around the city, sheared their tops, furrowed their slopes, dug roads leading to helter and prepared the ground for an endless skelter of neighborhoods. From then on, there was no limit and no end to the lust for movement, change and earth-baring. Our friends the bulldozers never ceased to shape the territories like Pleistocene. They built and demolished Yamit, Sharm el-Sheikh, the giant airfields in Sinai, the mobile borders in Lebanon. Let it be recorded that from the seventh day of the Six-Day War down to our time, the intoxicating allure of the bulldozer has persisted unabated.

Truly, is there a military, tactical, strategic, demographic, historiographic or even theological problem that cannot be resolved with the help of our metallic buddy? Are there hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of an entire city or refugee camp who are a blot on the landscape and whom you would like to disappear? No problem: We will build a bypass road, let it cost what it will (and at the cost of whoever). Would you like to live in a three-story villa in the heart of the Gaza Strip or in Khartat al-Nabout - the site of ancient Mafiboshet - and feel as though you are in
Savyon? No problem: We will build a vast earth rampart that will be a buffer between your view from balcony or lawn and the provocative refugee camp across the way that extends for kilometers. Did the army blunder while occupying a city and engaging in combat in a built-up area? No problem: We will send the lion of the bulldozer family, the awesome D-9, to punish and grind and shatter all the alleys in a fit of rage. Do you want to subordinate the facts on the ground to your worldview? No problem: We will move the ground. Would you like Rachel's Tomb to be in Jerusalem? Just say the world: We will connect it with the help of earthworks.

And how are these miracles fomented? What is the driving force?

That's right: our friend, the bulldozer.

Is there any object, or even person, in our annals that has received more mention and been reported more intensively than the bulldozer? A glance at our friend's thick file of press clippings shows that not a week- not a day! - goes by in which it's not in the headlines: "Bulldozer demolishes home of suspect in terror attack"; "IDF tractor destroys vineyards in Halhoul to build bypass road"; "IDF bulldozers raze 18 structures in Rafah area"; "New expansion project in north Bethlehem: Bulldozers are digging a wide new road, flanked by trenches, in the city."

So it goes, day after day, year after year. And it's not just here that our friend has become famous: the whole world knows the story. The bulldozer has become synonymous with Israel. Log onto an Internet search engine or glance at sites like the Encyclopedia Britannica and you will see that nearly three-quarters of the citations for "bulldozer" refer to Israel and its activity in the territories, and about half of those refer to one very specific bulldozer - the world's most famous human bulldozer, Ariel Sharon (there are no fewer than 9,000 citations in which "Sharon" and "bulldozer" appear in the same document, usually as person.

What did we do to deserve this, you will ask.

To understand the phenomenon, a brief historical interlude is necessary. Initially, the term "bulldozer" referred only to the scoop or the horizontal blade that was mounted on tractors with tracks. As we learn from, the first bulldozers were not violent bullies. The root meaning of `to bulldoze' (or as it appeared originally around 1876, `to bull-dose') was to beat someone extremely brutally, inflicting the `dose' of flogging one would give a bull. Some of the earliest `bull-dozers' were racist thugs who terrorized African-Americans in the post-Civil War South, conducting a campaign of terror that included brutal beatings and murder. `Bulldozer' or `bull-doser' was also used to describe thugs in general, and by about 1881, the term was being used as slang for a very large pistol.

"Given the use of `to bulldoze' as a synonym for `to intimidate through overwhelming force' and `bulldozer' as a label for anything that `gets the job done,' it's not surprising that `to bulldoze' soon took on the metaphorical meaning, still used today, of `push through' or `overwhelm.' And when, in the early 20th century, a machine was invented that could uproot, overturn, level or just overwhelm anything in its path, it made perfect sense to call the contraption a `bulldozer.'"

Nu? Need we say more to explain the secret of the charm of the Jewish bulldozer? To understand why in Israel it has been transformed from just a machine into a title that is coveted by many? Into the greatest compliment one can pay a person? To understand why we have become the first nation in the world that elected a bulldozer as prime minister?

2. Festivals of indifference
Gideon Levy
Ha’aretz, September 23, 2002

It was going to be a lively Sukkot week-long holiday, filled with leisure-time possibilities - and it probably will be like that, despite the renewed acts of terrorism last week. No fewer than 150,000 Israelis are going abroad, and those that stay behind can choose from a wealth of festivals, happenings of all kinds and festivities.

The Mekorot Water Company would like you to "flow to the water sources (mekorot)," the National Parks Authority offers you "the way to nature," and the Jewish National Fund offers families the chance to take part in the olive harvest "with joy in their hearts."

Six weeks without terrorist attacks left their mark and many Israelis were tempted to believe the government's road of force had been proved the right one. The spate of terrorist attacks last week did not spoil things too much, except of course for the victims and those around them.

The city's good-time crowd returned to Allenby Street on Thursday a few hours after the blown-up bus had been towed away. The combination of a natural desire for normality and the insensitivity with which people react to attacks following such a large number of terrorist incidents will undoubtedly induce "the masses of the House of Israel" to celebrate during Sukkot week, despite the deep fears that everyone feels.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. But the fact that these popular festivities are taking place in juxtaposition to a nation that is being held prisoner is both dangerous and infuriating. Ignoring the fate of the Palestinians began by the use of the word "quiet" to characterize the past six weeks - that may indeed have been a period without terrorist attacks in Israel, but during those six weeks no fewer than 69 Palestinians were killed, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Those killed include 13 children and nine victims of assassinations.

Many of these 69 Palestinians were innocent of any crime, such as the Hajin family in the Gaza Strip, who were sprayed with deadly flechette shells by an Israeli tank while they were working in their vineyard, or the children of the Drarama family in the West Bank village of Tubas, who were killed in the course of a failed attempt to kill a wanted individual. In the course of this period of imaginary quiet, Israel also demolished homes, relocated relatives of terrorists, unilaterally annexed Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and continued to hold a million people prisoner in their homes or towns.

In Nablus, it needs to be recalled, the curfew has continued for nearly three months without letup. All of this can guarantee everything except quiet. Those who thought that this situation would continue indefinitely, with the Palestinians locked up, hungry and humiliated, while quiet would persist in Israel, have been proved wrong. The relaxation that Israel introduced during this period in Gaza and Bethlehem were also a mockery. How symbolic it is that as Israelis went on holiday for Rosh Hashana, a full curfew was imposed in all the cities of the West Bank.

It is not difficult to imagine what the residents of the territories -unemployed and confined to their homes - thought about the reports of the curfew on the one hand and the tens of thousands of Israelis enjoying themselves in the north of the country, which followed each other on Israeli television. They saw people rafting on the Jordan River and others turned on by trance music in a forest festival, not far from their West Bank homes, and their insides turned over.

Now Israel is going on the Sukkot holiday, while three million people who live under Israeli control cannot even dream of even a tiny fraction of such pleasures. For them there is no going abroad and there are no festivals or cultural events or vacations. As commercials invite Israelis to "flow to the water sources," Israelis would do well to remember that tens of thousands of Palestinians have no water in their faucets on most days of the week. As the National Parks Authority invites people to embark on "the way to nature," Israelis should recall that the majority of Palestinians are not allowed to leave their homes. And when the JNF urges people to pick olives as family entertainment, Israelis cannot forget that thousands of Palestinians for whom the olive harvest is a source of life and livelihood, and not "family happening like in the good old days," are barred from going to their groves.

It is not just a matter of a human need to show consideration for others, it is also a matter of political wisdom. It is still necessary to point out that as long as this is the fate of the Palestinians, our fate will not be much better. The two sides are intertwined, and only when their plight is alleviated will things get better for us, too.

Only when the Palestinians are able to celebrate their holidays safely and with dignity, will we be able to celebrate our holidays without fear. Now, though, the situation is reversed - our holidays automatically become tragedy days. Rosh Hashana in Israel? Full curfew in the territories. Sukkot? Full closure. Only the days of disaster are shared - a horrific terrorist attack immediately brings collective punishment in its wake.

This is the intolerable trap. When there are no terrorist attacks, the illusion immediately prevails that there is no need for bold and far-reaching political initiatives, as quiet is here already. And when the terrorist attacks resume, the usual chorus of voices declares in unison that there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about, because there can be no talks while terrorism rages. So we turn to the way we are most familiar with - lay siege, expel, liquidate, demolish, kill and imprison.

3. No peace without an end to exile
Karma Nabulsi
The Guardian, September 18, 2002

A few weeks before the al-Aqsa intifada began in September 2000, an extraordinary public meeting took place at Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem. There were others at Palestinian refugee camps all over the region. A cross-party British parliamentary commission was actually asking the refugees what they thought about their future, peace and the right of return. They were taking the testimony of dozens of groups of refugees, popular committees, old people, children. This was unprecedented, for during the last 10 years of the Oslo process, the issue of the refugees had been comprehensively removed from the negotiating table - many thought for good. They were instead to be resettled either in a new state or in the host Arab countries, against their will and
international law.

Asking the refugees what they thought was seen as destructive by policy experts and diplomats at the countless round tables on the Middle East. Simply raising the issue is now perceived as demonstrating naivete at best, at worst raising an unrealistic argument that compromises the greater good: a comprehensive peace. The possible return of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslim and Christian Arab refugees to their original homes in what is now Israel would threaten the Jewish character of the state of Israel, and as such could not even be discussed. Even to speak about the right of return is seen as a betrayal of the post- Oslo consensus on the shape of a future settlement.

Back at Aida camp, a Palestinian refugee, Adnan Shehada, gently told the MPs why it was not actually going to happen like that. "The right of return is an essential human value and not only a Palestinian political issue. It is also the issue of belonging." Here isthe answer to why the right of return is still central, whether on the table or off it. The Palestinians still believe it is - therefore it is.

The issue of return is vital because it represents the essence of what it means to be a Palestinian. It is much more than a legal right or a property right or an individual and collective right (although it is also all these things). It remains the touchstone of shared Palestinian historical identity. It has shaped us completely. It is why we have stayed refugees for so long.

There is a fashionable way of seeing the modern Palestinian predicament as a sort of mirror image of the Jewish diaspora on the European continent. The exiles will easily find their way after the final settlement in a globalized world, it is thought, connecting to their community through the internet, perhaps adding a Palestinian passport to that of Canada or of Jordan. But this is largely a false image, merely that of an elite who managed to get passports or savings out, or went to the Gulf or America in the 50s and 60s.

Palestinians do possess an enormous flourishing of talent and skill: as doctors, engineers, scientists, artists, architects and teachers from the coastal towns and cities, as well as from the countryside. But the overwhelming character of the Palestinian people remains that of farmers and peasants, people intimately connected to the land, although for three generations now born in camps, often only a few kilometres from their destroyed villages and empty fields. Hundreds of thousands are officially excluded from certain professions in their host countries, refugees with no hope for the future, no travel documents, who dream only of return.

But questions of order and security remain paramount in the international arena. So if a settlement that ignores the refugees' rights could work in practice, then surely it must be tried, after all these years of war? And surely a sovereign state of some sort would make up for the compromises forced upon them? However, after one grasps the collective sentiment of the Palestinian people on return, and their almost sacred relationship to these rights, it is obvious that any such deal will be rejected by the vast majority, no matter if a leader can be found (and none has yet) that will sign these rights away. An imposed settlement that did not deal with return would herald the beginning of a new war - not the end of the conflict, nor the durable peace we all seek.

And what of a minimal justice? Completely ignoring the wishes of the main victims of this conflict, those dispossessed in 1948 when Israel was established, is so unfair as to be simply unsustainable. The Jewish people were victims of another conflict, the second world war and the Holocaust. Unless this terrible victimization of the Jewish people has elevated Israel's right to the land over that of the indigenous inhabitants, this is another reason why one must have the courage to address the fears and insecurities of both sides (as well as their root causes) in an imaginative and determined fashion.

Understanding the right of return of Palestinians, how it could be recognized, how to bring both sides together, is the single most important challenge for all who sincerely love Israel. It might be time to actually talk to the refugees themselves and involve them in a peace process. The British commission of inquiry made a welcome discovery when they tried this method. They learned that the refugees' own desire was to accept the right of Israel to exist, to live at peace with it, and emphatically not to destroy it. One simply has to ask.

Karma Nabulsi is a fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, a former PLO representative and adviser at the peace talks 1991-93.

No comments: