Wednesday, November 20

MCC Palestine Update #65

MCC Palestine Update #65

November 20, 2002

On Saturday I sent out a prayer request asking people to pray for the friends and families of those 12 Israelis killed in Hebron this past Friday evening. I take it as a given that Christians are called to mourn and grieve when any of God's beloved children is killed. I would therefore reiterate my prayer request. I would at the same time suggest that the way in which the Friday attack was initially described by spokespeople for the State of Israel demonstrates the deceptive use of language, particularly the discourse of "terrorism."

Shortly after Friday night's attack, Israeli officials were describing it as a "massacre" of worshippers on their way home from prayer. This description of Friday's events was passed on during Friday's and Saturday's news bulletins. By Saturday, however, a different picture of Friday's events was emerging. The 12 Israeli dead (three Palestinians who carried out the attack were also killed) consisted of soldiers, Border Police officers, and armed members of the security team of the Kiryat Arba settlement. The attack was thus not on civilian worshippers returning home from prayers at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs but on armed military and paramilitary personnel. Amos Harel, military correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, presented the following analysis (Nov. 17, 2002): "Those killed Friday were killed in combat. All of the victims were armed fighters, who were more or less trained. They fell victim to a well-planned ambush that included both machine-gun fire and grenades, which trapped them in a compromising situation they found hard to overcome. There is a vast difference between what happened on Friday night and the horrific massacres carried out by Palestinian terrorists in
civilian settlements."

This incident should highlight the ambiguous (at best) use of the word "terrorism." Israel classifies all Palestinian violence as "terrorism," be it an attack on children in their home in Kibbutz Metzer or a military ambush on military targets in Hebron. From a Christian pacifist perspective, both attacks are wrong, are sinful. But if "terrorism" is to cover all forms of lethal violence, be it against civilian or military targets, then it clearly has lost any descriptive usefulness and is being used instead to delegitimize all violence carried out by one side (the Palestinian side) while legitimizing the violence carried out by the other (Israeli) side.

One should also note the irony of Israeli officials describing Friday night's attack as a "massacre." Israeli officials roundly objected when in April Palestinians characterized the killing of Palestinians in Jenin as a "massacre." The generally accepted figures of the death toll in Jenin are that a little over 50 people died, half of them civilians and half of them armed Palestinian fighters. In Friday night's attack, all of the victims were armed military or paramilitary personnel.

Again, I do not mean by the sentences above to suggest that, from a Christian perspective, some violence (namely that against soldiers) can sometimes be justified. For followers of the crucified and risen Lamb, violence simply cannot be justified. Christians can and should, however, draw attention to deceptive use of language, language which legitimizes the violence of the stronger party.

Below you will find two pieces. The first is a letter sent from prison by Yigal Bronner, a "refusenik" who has been imprisoned because of his refusal to serve in the occupied territories. The second, from Palestine Report, looks at stories of how Israeli soldiers controlling the entrance in and out of the West Bank city of Qalqilya are demanding bribes (or "presents") before they let people pass.

-- Alain Epp Weaver

1. Letter from Yigal Bronner

Dear friends,

I have been jailed by the Israeli Military for refusing to take part in the occupation of Palestine. I have been sentenced for 28 days in military prison. the reasons which led me to say no to the humiliation, dispossession and starvation of an entire people are perhaps obvious to some of you. Nonetheless, I have explained my motivations in the form of a letter to my military superiors, and this statement is at the bottom of the letter and can also be found at or at or at (Hebrew-version).

Please do not hesitate to send my statement to your friends as well.

Shalom, Yigal

In Response to the General By Yigal Bronner

It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men. But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.
(Bertolt Brecht)

Dear General,

In your letter to me, you wrote that "given the ongoing war in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and in view of the military needs, I am called upon to "participate in army operations" in the West Bank.

I am writing to tell you that I do not intend to heed your call.

During the 1980s, Ariel Sharon erected dozens of settler colonies in the heart of the occupied territories, a strategy whose ultimate goal was the subjugation of the Palestinian people and the expropriation of their land. Today, these colonies control nearly half of the occupied territories and are strangling Palestinian cities and villages as well as obstructing -- if not altogether prohibiting – the movement of their residents. Sharon is now prime minister, and in the past year he has been advancing towards the definitive stage of the initiative he began twenty years ago. Indeed, Sharon gave his order to his lackey, the Defense Minister, and from there it trickled down the chain of command.

The Chief of Staff has announced that the Palestinians constitute a cancerous threat and has commanded that chemotherapy be applied against them. The brigadier has imposed curfews without time limits, and the colonel has ordered the destruction of Palestinian fields. The division commander has placed tanks on the hills between their houses, and has not allowed ambulances to evacuate their wounded. The lieutenant colonel announced that the open-fire regulations have been amended to an indiscriminate order "fire!" The tank commander, in turn, spotted a number of people and ordered his artilleryman to launch a missile.

I am that artilleryman. I am the small screw in the perfect war machine. I am the last and smallest link in the chain of command. I am supposed to simply follow orders -- to reduce my existence down to stimulus and reaction, to hear the sound of "fire" and pull the trigger, to bring the overall plan to completion. And I am supposed to do all this with the simplicity and naturalness of a robot, who -- at most -- feels the shaking tremor of the tank as the missile is launched towards the target.

But as Bertolt Brecht wrote:

“General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect: He can think.”

And indeed, general, whoever you may be-- colonel, brigadier, chief of staff, defense minister, prime minister, or all of the above-- I can think. Perhaps I am not capable of much more than that. I confess that I am not an especially gifted or courageous soldier; I am not the best shot, and my technical skills are minimal. I am not even very athletic, and my uniform does not sit comfortably on my body. But I am capable of thinking.

I can see where you are leading me. I understand that we will kill, destroy, get hurt and die, and that there is no end in sight. I know that the "ongoing war" of which you speak, will go on and on. I can see that if the "military needs" lead us to lay siege to, hunt down, and starve a hole people, then something about these "needs" is terribly wrong.

I am therefore forced to disobey your call. I will not pull the

I do not delude myself, of course. You will shoo me away. You will find another artilleryman -- one who is more obedient and talented than I. There is no dearth of such soldiers. Your tank will continue to roll; a gadfly like me cannot stop a rolling tank, surely not a column of tanks, and definitely not the entire march of folly. But a gadfly can buzz, annoy, nudge, and at times even bite.

Eventually other artillerymen, drivers, and commanders, who will observe the senseless killings and endless cycle of violence will also begin to think and buzz. We are already hundreds strong. And at the end of the day, our buzzing will turn into a deafening roar, a roar that will echo in your ears and in those of your children. Our protest will be recorded in the history books, for all generations to see.

So general, before you shoo me away, perhaps you too should begin to think.


Yigal Bronner

2. Forced bribes at Israeli military checkpoints
Sa'id Muwafi
Published at, November 6, 2002.

MUHAMMED HUSSEIN was unable to convince Israeli soldiers stationed at the military checkpoint east of Qalqilya City to let him cross and deliver his load of vegetables on the other side. At least, not until he submitted to their demand that he pay a bribe in return for crossing.

"There is no way I could have crossed the checkpoint other than by agreeing to give the soldiers a cell phone," said Hussein angrily. He had waited for hours inside his truck for permission to cross, to no avail.

The residents of Qalqilya, and particularly truck drivers, suffer daily from arbitrary measures enforced by Israeli soldiers. The soldiers prevent residents from crossing the checkpoint and transporting merchandise without handing over a bribe. Adding insult to injury, the soldiers call these bribes "presents" in attempt to disguise the true nature of the disgraceful and immoral act.

Another truck driver, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the soldiers stipulated he bring them a large can of olive oil in order to cross the checkpoint every day. "What can we do?" he asked. "We cannot transport our products except through this checkpoint, and this is exactly where soldiers from the world's 'strongest' and most corrupt army are stationed."

The occupying Israeli army placed a tight military siege on Qalqilya city two years ago, and restricts residents' movement to the city's eastern entrance. The Israeli forces also prevent trucks from driving on the main roads. Truck drivers must therefore unload their goods on one side of the checkpoint and then other trucks with Israeli license plates transport their goods to markets outside the city.

Isra' Muhammad, a resident of Qalqilya, said that Israeli soldiers held her up at the checkpoint for two hours. She was returning home after a visit to Jordan, and the soldiers finally let her cross after she surrendered several packs of cigarettes she had brought for one of her brothers, she said.

Qalqilya mayor Ma'ruf Zahran has received numerous complaints about Israeli soldiers blackmailing local residents and requesting bribes in return for allowing them to cross the checkpoint. He has submitted a number of grievances to international human rights organizations, requesting that they intervene to stop these actions.

A number of residents who have been forced to pay bribes do not want to file cases because they are afraid of the Israeli soldiers.

Zahran is worried about Qalqilya residents' increased suffering from the effects of the Israeli siege. "The Israeli forces are aiming to tighten the siege on the city and escalate attacks on civilian institutions to force the residents of Qalqilya, which lies only three kilometers from the Green Line, to migrate," says Zahran.

The Israeli siege has decreased the city's gross income by 90 percent, reports Zahran. Qalqilya's streets are always half empty, a sore reminder of the city's economic recession on the city. The economic situation has had a negative effect on residents' abilities to procure even the basic 2002.(c)Palestine necessities of life.

Translated by Jennifer Peterson from Al Ayyam on November 3

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