Monday, October 21

MCC Palestine Update #63

MCC Palestine Update #63

October 21, 2002

Blue ID card holders in one line. Orange and green ID card holders in another. That's the system at the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem through which Palestinians must pass if they wish to go in or out of Ramallah. Neither line moves particularly quickly. Palestinians traveling through the checkpoint for medical, educational, work, or family-and-friend related reasons are greeted by an alternating display of hostility and patronizing condescension from the Israeli soldiers on duty. Hostility: a soldier shouts and runs after some school children who took the "wrong way" through the checkpoint. He trains his gun on them and cocks it; a school girl breaks into tears. Patronizing condescension: a soldier lectures Palestinians waiting impatiently to return home to family after a long day, much like a parent would a wayward child, chastising them for pushing beyond the line behind which they are to wait. "If you don't listen to me, then I'll have to close down the checkpoint," he says in the disapproving tone of the colonizer addressing the unruly "natives." Grudingly, and slowly, the line shifts backwards a few steps.

The rainy season will soon be underway in Palestine. There's no cover, no roof, over the lines at Qalandia. The dust at the heels of those in line will soon turn to mud.

At least, I tell myself, this isn't as bad as the Erez checkpoint into Gaza, where almost no Palestinians go in and out. At least there's still some movement. But movement is getting tighter and tighter, the checkpoints more and more formalized and prison-like with metal and cement fences, barbed wire and sentry posts staffed by soldiers looking through gunsights. It can't get much worse, people tell themselves. But then it does, and the world is silent.

Below you will find three pieces. The first, by Ha'aretz reporter Gideon Levy, looks at what he terms the "fictitious debate" in Israel on the status of "illegal outposts" (in contrast to the presumably "legal" settlements). The second, by Amira Hass of Ha'aretz, looks at inequities in water use. Finally, Terry Rempel of BADIL Refugee Resource Center writes in the Palestine Report about "transfer"/ethnic cleansing, the topic of the last MCC Palestine Update.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. A fictitious debate: There are no legal settlements
Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, October 13, 2002

There is no difference between an "illegal outpost" and a "legal settlement": the question of the settlements' legality should not even be on the public agenda. The only thing that differentiates a "legal" settlement from an "illegal" outpost is a piece of paper, usually in the form of retroactive "laundering" of the outpost by the defense establishment. Yesterday's outposts are today's settlements and both are a disaster. There are no "legal" settlements in the occupied territories and there is not one "illegal outpost" among those that are now being evacuated, which was not established without the knowledge and encouragement of the defense establishment. The latest theater of the absurd production in the infuriating history of the settlements project - entitled "evacuation of outposts" - is diverting people's attention from the real point. And that is its only purpose. In this play, everything is illusion: the defense minister is supposedly presenting an alternative policy; the settlers are ostensibly uttering cries of outrage; and a few mobile homes are moved and then brought back the next day. But the worst illusion lies in the fact that the illegal outposts are being turned into the main problem, while all the rest of this vastly expensive and vastly injurious enterprise is considered just, moral or smart. So it has to be said clearly: all the settlements, from Ariel to Asa'el, are an immoral phenomenon. They have entangled Israel in cycles of violence and bloodshed. If they had not set themselves the goal of thwarting every possibility of an agreement - and succeeding in their endeavor - we would now be close to the achievement of peace. The settlement project is a warped endeavor. Its leaders coveted more and more land, settled on it by force or by permission - it makes no difference - and instilled fear in the hearts of their neighbors. Some of the settlers made the lives of the Palestinians so unbearable that they were compelled to leave. The distinction that is often drawn between moderate, moral settlers, who are the majority, and the extremist, violent types on the margins, is also a baseless prevarication. All the settlers, to the last of them, made their homes in a country that is not theirs and on land that is not theirs. As such, they are all equally immoral. Even if the primary motivation of most of them was not ideological, their residence there reflects a criminal ideology. The insatiable expansionist campaigns - another hill, another vineyard - are no less grave than the punitive expeditions carried out by the "extremists" among them. It is not enough to clasp one's hands in sorrow at the sight of settlers (who are never apprehended) murdering Palestinians who are harvesting olives: the Israeli society should have long since denounced the entire camp that settled in its backyard and is threatening to bring about the society's destruction from there. There is no doubt that the settlement enterprise is the biggest success story of modern Zionism. For the past three decades, a small public has been dictating the national agenda. The left can only be envious. The settlers have not been branded with the mark of Cain, and no government has dared to confront them head on. The security forces seem to be struck dumb in their presence. The current war is in part the settlers' fault, but Israeli society has never settled accounts with them. People in Dimona don't ask why it is necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of shekels to armor one bus for the schoolchildren of Rafah Yam, in the Gaza Strip, and hardly any soldiers ask why they are being asked to risk their lives for a group of oddballs in the Eshtamoa lookout. Now the settlers' leaders are demanding the conquest of the Gaza Strip, no less, for the sake of the handful of residents in the Gush Katif settlements. In the face of all this, the Labor Party is presenting its ideological response: the evacuation of a few mobile homes. Against the lust for territories of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is brandishing the evacuation of the outposts and trying - as usual in Labor - to have his cake and eat it, too: he is both against the settlements, wearing the mantle of enlightened advocate of peace, and for the settlements. It's time Ben-Eliezer and the others in his party tell us the truth. If he is in favor of the settlements, he must stop the evacuation farce immediately. And if he is against them, he must stop the farce of defending them with the lives of soldiers. For that, no Palestinian partner is needed: Israeli courage will be enough.

2. Scraping the bottom of the cistern
Amira Hass
Ha'aretz, October 16, 2002

Where will America and the EU succeed more: In their pressure on Yasser Arafat to lead governmental, financial and security reforms, or in their pleas with Israel to guarantee enough water of reasonable quality and price to 200,000 Palestinians? Another delegation from the UN is in the country to monitor Israeli and Palestinian Authority promises to deal with the severe humanitarian crisis in the territories. The visit follows one in August by UN envoy Catherine Bertini. Her report noted that among other things, Israel promised to guarantee appropriate daily amounts of water to the Palestinians. Behind her diplomatic language was hidden an intolerable reality well known to the security forces and the international community. There are 281 Palestinian communities that are not connected to water supply lines. According to various estimates, more than 200,000 people in the West Bank - and their herds and flocks - depend on water tankers for their daily supply of water. They must make their way several times a day between their villages to the main water sources, which are usually a nearby well. In the last two years, because of the policies of closures and curfews, those 200,000 receive much less than the minimum amount required - 50 liters a day - and the water they do get is of a poor quality, unhealthy, and so costly that fewer and fewer are able to pay for it. Oxfam, the British-based international relief organization, devotes an entire chapter in its most recent report to the impact of the closures on Palestinian villages. The IDF's blockades around every village and the prohibitions on Palestinians traveling on most of the paved roads to the West Bank have doubled and tripled the distances the tankers have to travel from the water source to the villages, so instead of five to 10 trips a day, they can now only manage two or three. Instead of seven kilometers, they have to travel as far as 55 - on unpaved roads. Sometimes they encounter mobile IDF and police checkpoints, which delay their trips for hours. Because of the difficulties on the roads, the drivers demand double payment and more for every cubic meter of water they transport. Unemployed and impoverished, most residents are unable to pay the high prices. The water suppliers are no longer ready to sell on credit. People have sold their source of livelihood - sheep and goats - because they could not afford to keep them watered. In some areas, people have taken to using irrigation water for drinking and cooking. In others, they are scraping the bottoms of the cisterns for polluted water that could cause disease. Everywhere, people are saving water, using much less than 50 liters a day. In some schools, pupils are told to bring their own water. There's no need to describe the hygienic conditions in the schools. More than a month after Bertini's visit, Oxfam and B'Tselem sent a letter to the defense minister and representatives of the donor countries, detailing cases that prove no real steps were taken by Israel to meet its promises about water. The defense minister's spokesman promised Ha'aretz that "the defense establishment is working to meet all needs of the broad Palestinian population uninvolved in terror... [and that] in the West Bank, there is a steady supply of water. When there are isolated problems regarding water supply, it is enabled through tankers and with the help of the army and the civil administration." But there is no connection between those promises and reality. Last week there was a flurry of activity between the Foreign Ministry, the government coordinator in the territories and representatives from the international community over "easing" conditions for the Palestinians in general, and regarding the water crisis specifically. There were meetings, phone calls, complaints and new promises. Western sources reported that "Shimon Peres was furious when he heard the promises were not being kept" about the water. Maybe. In any case, it seems the international community knows very well that it is impossible to stand on the sidelines and continue the policies of internal closure and curfews in the West Bank and at the same time guarantee reasonable water supply to people imprisoned in their enclaves. But they don't have the strength to deal with the contradiction.

3. Of war and population transfer
Expert report by Terry Rempel, research coordinator at BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Published at, October 16, 2002.

FOLLOWING THE onset of the second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000 and the concomitant collapse of the Oslo negotiations process, the idea of population transfer as a means of solving the "Palestinian problem" has moved increasingly from the margins towards the center of Israeli public discourse. Prime ministers, cabinet ministers, military officials, the attorney general, intellectuals, educators and activists have all weighed in on the utility of population transfer. For some, transfer holds the immediate promise of ending the "troubles" in the 1967 occupied territories. For others, it is regarded as the only way to preserve the Jewish character of the state of Israel through a permanent Jewish majority and permanent Jewish control of the most of the land. Israel "is a country in which the streets are plastered with posters calling for a population transfer," comments Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, "and no one bothers to remove them or to indict those who put them up." An increasing number of voices within and outside Israel are also asking whether the threat of population transfer is lurking in the shadows of a seemingly imminent United States-led war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. How real is the threat of population transfer? The answer lies somewhere in the annals of history of the Zionist movement and in the experience of Palestinians themselves. Transfer is not new to the Zionist movement. As Israeli historian Benny Morris recently noted in The Guardian, "The idea of transfer is as old as modern Zionism and has accompanied its evolution and praxis during the past century. And driving it was an iron logic: There could be no viable Jewish state in all or part of Palestine unless there was a mass displacement of Arab inhabitants." Relying on Zionist archival materials, Palestinian historian Nur Masalha has documented nearly a dozen separate transfer plans prepared by various members of the Zionist movement from the beginning of the British mandate until the 1948 conflict and war in Palestine (see "Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of Transfer in Zionist Political Thought 1882 - 1948") and a further half dozen plans spanning the years from the formation of the Jewish state until the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 ("The 1967 Palestinian Exodus," in The Palestinian Exodus, 1948-1998). More recently, Moledet Knesset representative Benny Elon and the right-wing organization Gamla have produced transfer plans. The transfer "business" seems to generate as much paper - if not more - as the lucrative "business" of coming up with new regional peace plans. Transfer is certainly not new to the Palestinian people. During the first half of the 20th century foreign intervention in the guise of the British mandate and Zionist colonization led to the displacement/eviction of tens of thousands of Palestinian peasant farmers, punitive demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes, and the forced migration/expulsion of tens of thousands of other Palestinians actively opposed to foreign rule and colonization. Just short of half a million Palestinians were displaced between December 1947 and the beginning of the first Zionist/Israeli-Arab war in May 1948. By the time the war ended, approximately 800,000 Palestinians had become refugees. More than 500 Palestinian villages with a land base of 17,178 square kilometers were erased from the map in a process described as "cleaning up the national views." Then, between the end of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and the beginning of the second war in 1967, tens of thousands of Palestinians who remained inside what eventually became Israel were transferred internally, forced across armistice lines and deprived of their lands. It is estimated that by the sixties Israel had expropriated some 700 square kilometers of land from the indigenous Palestinian community that remained within the borders of the Jewish state. In 1967, some 400,000 Palestinians were displaced - half of them for a second time - during the second Arab-Israeli war. Israel thus acquired immediate control of more than 400 square kilometers of land in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Throughout the post-1967 period, Palestinians remaining in areas of their historic homeland have been subject to continued displacement and dispossession through a process that includes deportation, revocation of residency rights and demolition of homes. It is estimated than more than three-quarters of a million Palestinians have been affected by these measures, as Israel has acquired control of an additional 300 square kilometers of Palestinian land inside Israel and more than 3,000 square kilometers of land in the occupied territories. At the beginning of the British mandate, the indigenous Palestinian Arab population comprised approximately 87 percent of the total population of Palestine and owned approximately 93 percent of the land. By the end of the 1948 War, half of the indigenous Palestinian Arab population was displaced with 35 percent displaced outside the borders of their historic homeland. The Palestinian population was dispossessed of some 70 percent of their land. An estimated 65 percent of the Palestinian housing stock inside the territory that became the state of Israel was destroyed, while an estimated 32 percent of the remaining housing was expropriated and occupied by Israeli Jews. Less than two decades later, after a second wave of mass displacement, the percentage of displaced Palestinians had risen to two-thirds, with nearly half of these displaced outside their homeland. Ongoing displacement resulted in the loss of an additional 16 percent of Palestinian-owned land. Today, it is estimated that more than half of the Palestinian people are displaced outside the borders of their historic homeland, while Palestinians have access to just 10 percent of their land. As such, the Palestinian people lay claim to one of the largest and longest standing unresolved cases of displacement in the world today. Approximately one in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian. In total, 6 million Palestinians - more than two-thirds of the Palestinian people worldwide - are refugees or displaced persons. The lack of geographical and temporal limitations on the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people for over five decades points to a clear policy of population transfer or in more common parlance - ethnic cleansing. While some commentators are reluctant to use to the term "ethnic cleansing" as descriptive of Israeli policies and practices, it is worth remembering that the modern origins of the term ("etnicko ciscenje" in Serbo-Croatian), which conjures up images of concentration camps and mass graves in the former Yugoslavia, initially referred to administrative and non-violent policies in Kosovo, fully a decade before the mass displacement and slaughter of the civilian population in Bosnia and Kosovo. The causes of population transfer in the Palestinian case are both dramatic, as in the case of armed conflict in 1948 and 1967, and subtle and insidious - a kind of "low-intensity transfer" practiced through decades of discriminatory legislation, planning and the administration of "justice." How real is the threat of population transfer in Palestine-Israel today? The fact is that population transfer is ongoing, with or without a US-led war against Iraq, through the revocation of residency rights, destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes over the past two years, the recent suspension of family reunification for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the deportation of relatives of those accused of carrying out attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel. That, however, is not to dismiss the threat of mass population transfer. While much of the debate about the mass displacement or transfer of Palestinians in 1948 has revolved around whether or not there was a Zionist master plan, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe noted in an October article in Between the Lines that, "Far more important for ethnic cleansing is the formulation of an ideological community, in which every member, whether a newcomer or a veteran, knows only too well that they have to contribute to a recognized formula." That atmosphere is certainly present in Israel today. In part, that consensus explains the widespread looting and vandalism carried out by Israeli soldiers in Israel's massive military assault on West Bank towns, villages and refugee camps this spring. In Israeli discussion, there no longer exists a legitimate Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence, as this very human undertaking has been collapsed into the much broader "war against terror." The international community's response to the transfer of the indigenous Palestinian population from their historic homeland over the past 50 years does not provide a great deal of assurance against the prospect of another wave of mass transfer in Palestine. The international community has and continues to be complicit in the transfer of the indigenous Palestinian population out of their historic homeland. For example, the 1937 Peel Report, which investigated the "disturbances" of 1936-1939, recommended the transfer of the Palestinian Arab population out of parts of Palestine. A decade later the majority of the members of the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of partition despite unresolved legal questions about the UN's authority to recommend partition of a country and warnings that partition raised the very real danger of mass population transfers. Today, prominent experts and institutions continue to promote various forms of transfer, from shifting the existing refugee population around the region (Donna Arzt, "From Refugees into Citizens") to shifting the borders of Israel to transfer Palestinians out of Israel (International Crisis Group), as a means of resolving the historic conflict in the Middle East. Is transfer imminent? The history of transfer in the Zionist movement, the extent of Palestinian displacement and dispossession over the past five decades, the current public discourse inside Israel, the fact that Israeli society has yet to accept responsibility for what happened in 1948, let alone over the course of the past 50 years, and the complicity of the international community all suggest that the threat of transfer, especially as America gears up for war, should be taken very seriously.

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