Wednesday, October 2

MCC Palestine Update #61

MCC Palestine Update #61

October 2, 2002

The siege on Yasser Arafat's compound may have ended yesterday but, sadly, the siege on the rest of the occupied territories continues unabated. Nablus and Jenin remain under curfew. Travel from town to town, village to village, continues to be a (sometimes dangerous) ordeal. Poverty continues to deepen, and, with that, health and social structures disintegrate. Against this backdrop, three-year plans for peace and a Palestinian state, such as the one currently being discussed by the "Quartet" (US, European Union, United Nations, Russia) take on a distinct air of unreality. Multi-year peace plans have brought only increased land confiscation and decreased freedom of movement to Palestinians. What is called for now is for the international community to begin to take seriously UN resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and international law (specifically, the Fourth Geneva Conventions) which prohibits the collective punishment of an entire people. Unfortunately, the international community has a poor track record in this regard. Pending action from the international community, we can at least give thanks for courageous Israeli and Palestinian peace activists--Rabbis for Human rights, the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, and others--who make small, symbolic, and, one trusts, ultimately meaningful acts of justice and reconciliation, removing a roadblock here, defying a curfew there.

Below you will find two pieces. The first, by Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass, looks at some of the "everyday occurrences" in the occupied territories. The second, by Hass' fellow journalist Gideon Levy, looks at the ongoing curfew in Nablus, now past its hundredth day.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Everyday occurrences
Amira Hass
Haaretz, September 25, 2002

Last Thursday morning; two huge bulldozers dug into the earth energetically, as they have been doing in recent months, in a wadi north of Ramallah. Over the past two years, with the gradual closure to Palestinian traffic of all the roads in the West Bank, this wadi has become a central and important juncture crossed on foot nearly every day by hundreds or thousands of people on their way to and from Ramallah from the nearby villages and from the Jalazun refugee camp. Taxis drop them off on one side of the wadi and they climb down among the boulders and dirt up to the other side, where different taxis await them. This, of course, is when soldiers are not posted there with their weapons, gas grenades, and stun grenades, who stop people from passing.

Last Thursday, passage was prevented by a police jeep and a military van. There weren't many people anyway because of the curfew on Ramallah (even before the renewal of the siege of the Muqata and its demolition).An ambulance traveling along the road that cuts across the wadi and is forbidden to Palestinians - was stopped near the police jeep and examined.

An elderly woman stepped out of the ambulance and, with the support of a young woman, began to climb on the rocks of the northern slope, stopping to rest now and then on a boulder. At the top of the northern slope of the wadi, a car arrived and a man and a woman in their 30s got out. Both of them were doctors, who had been called urgently to the village of Sinjal (about 10 kilometers north of Ramallah). At night it had been totally impossible for them to get out, and a long, hard trip awaited them, which began with bypassing the police jeep and evading the policemen's eyes and rifles.

All along the bulldozers were at work: A fence all along the road will prevent passage through the wadi and gradually complete the isolation of the Ramallah enclave, which has already been blocked to the south by a fence.

On Monday afternoon, intelligence warnings led to the blocking of all the routes to Palestinian neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem. A curfew was imposed on the village of Bir Naballah. At a large kindergarten in the village, with about 250 children aged three to five, teachers decided to hurry up and drive the kids to the A-Ram/Beit Hanina crossing point, home to their worried parents in East Jerusalem. There is no knowing how long the curfew will last and it is hard to keep so many small children in field conditions. The kindergarten teachers hoped they would be able to persuade the Border Police to let the children through, but instead the police began to throw tear gas and stun grenades at them - from a distance of only a few meters, according to one staff member. Some of the policemen held large dogs quite close to the children, which added to the huge panic. (The response of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman did not reach Ha'aretz by press time).

These two everyday scenes have long ceased to be news items, if they ever were. This is not only because of the terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Hebron, and not because of the nine people killed in the Israel Defense Forces attack yesterday in Gaza. They are not newsworthy in Israel because they are everyday occurrences. They are not "news" because in the spontaneous catalog that has been produced by Israeli society, and therefore also in the media, they are just more "tiresome" stories about Palestinian suffering, for which the Palestinians are to blame anyway.

No routine, mass suffering, Palestinian or otherwise, is newsworthy. After all, the people who determine the public agenda are mainly politicians and the elite. Usually, "suffering" has to be noisy, if not violent, if it is to be newsworthy and for the media not to cooperate with the authorities in muffling it. But the professional mistake here is that this is not a matter of news items about suffering, the aim of which is to arouse pity in someone. Whether it is a question of Palestinian suffering, or Ethiopian suffering, or the suffering of children below the poverty line - it remains a matter of government policy, hidden from the public even though in the long term, the public is affected by it.

Tear gas thrown by police at little children and preventing doctors from reaching their patients in the villages - this is a policy that is set from above, even if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not know about these things and did not sign the orders for every tear gas canister and every obstruction of doctors. The less that is known about this policy in Israel, the fewer questions are asked about its efficacy in the long term. The doctors could not go out at night to the village and the children -for fear of the tear gas and the dogs - did not go back to their kindergarten yesterday. But their suffering and their an gerare spurring anyone who wishes to take revenge and has already decided to die – more than the official calls to stop harming Israeli civilians are convincing them. No fence or blocked crossing point or tear gas will deter them.

2. A suffocating curfew
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, September 30, 2002

Sayef Abu Kishaq did not sleep a wink all night on Friday. He is a 21-year-old volunteer in the International Solidarity Movement and a resident of the Iskar refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus, in the West Bank. Slightly before midnight, the residents were startled out of their sleep when the Israeli army began to shell the camp. In the morning, Abu Kishaq started out for the organization's local office, which is situated in the heart of Nablus. He walked across the hills that surround the city, taking refuge in houses along the way when he heard a tank approaching.

At week's end the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) again tightened the supervision of the ongoing curfew on the city: Once again it is dangerous to walk the streets of Nablus. Friday marked the 10th consecutive day of full curfew in Nablus, a curfew that has not been lifted for a minute, and this week will mark 100 days since the imposition of the general curfew, which is lifted only rarely, and for only a few hours, at very short notice.

This is the lengthiest curfew that has been imposed on the largest city in the West Bank. Its 200,000 residents and a few tens of thousands more in the surrounding villages are effectively locked in their homes without a break. Are Israelis capable of imagining what this is like?

For how long is it possible to incarcerate an entire city, to force tens of thousands of people to remain indoors and prevent them from pursuing their ordinary way of life? For how long can Israel continue to abuse a civilian population in this way, citing dubious security needs as a pretext?

Such questions are rarely asked in Israel, mainly because people are not aware of, or do not want to think about, the fact that the curfew in the West Bank, and in Nablus especially, is beginning to reach suffocating proportions. The 200,000 residents of the city are apparently close to reaching the outer limits of their ability to cope with the horrific situation the IDF is forcing on them. On Friday, a few of them tried to get to the Othman Mosque on Amman Street, in the center of the city, in order to pray. For the past month, not a single worshiper has entered the mosque. Others violated the curfew and went out to demonstrate in the face of the tanks that are stationed at the barrier in front of the mosque.

Two and a half weeks ago, the commander of the Paratroops battalion in the city, Lieutenant Colonel Amir Baram, told Ha'aretz: "We will not be able to maintain the curfew indefinitely. We must not 'Hezbollize' the population. We don't want suicide to become the only source of livelihood in the city ... It's impossible to keep the residents cooped up forever." Since then two and a half weeks have gone by and the IDF is proving that it is in fact possible to lock up an entire city indefinitely.

The most beautiful city in the West Bank lies in ruins and the lives of its residents have become inhumane. The Old City of Nablus, where some of the buildings are more than a thousand years old, has been destroyed almost entirely. The Nablus Road is pockmarked with pits that the IDF dug across it in order to prevent vehicles from passing through the city streets. The municipality's Internet site, on which the last report is five months old, looks like a disaster area. It contains only lists of those who were killed (84 in the IDF's April incursion), reports about devastated sites (two mosques that were more than a thousand years old, 60 ancient buildings, 200 houses partially destroyed, 500 shops, two soap factories that were 500 years old, and even the Turkish hamam, which was struck by two missiles) and a list of the location of the roadblocks that are choking the city. Nablus paid the highest price in blood during the IDF incursions, even higher than its famous neighbor to the north, Jenin.

Nablus exacted a heavy price in blood from Israel. Many suicide bombers and other terrorists came from Nablus. However, even that fact cannot justify the harsh and prolonged collective punishment that Israel is inflicting on all the city's residents. From Defensive Shield to Determined Path and Maybe This Time - the colorful names of the IDF's operations - the lives of the residents have become increasingly impossible.

A few days ago, the IDF allowed the schools in the city to reopen, despite the curfew, after weeks in which there were no classes or makeshift classes were started in private homes. But it's not difficult to guess the feelings of parents who have to send their children to school along a street that is crawling with tanks. There is food in the stores, but who can buy anything after three months without income and two years of massive unemployment? Representatives of aid organizations report problems in getting assistance to the hungry and the indigent in the city: Their self-respect prevents them from asking for help or from accepting it in public.

The IDF has taken over a few houses in the city and turned them into fortified positions, forcing the occupants to crowd into one room and unable to leave, in some cases even when the curfew is lifted. Last week the army captured the tall Zafer Building, situated next to An-Najah University, and its 60 occupants are now forced to crowd onto three floors.

How much longer will it continue? The IDF Spokesperson did not bother replying to that question. In any event, the answer would be something along the lines of, "As long as the IDF sees fit," or "As long as security needs dictate this." And what about the lives of the 200,000 residents? No one gives a damn.

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