Wednesday, November 27

MCC Palestine Update #66

MCC Palestine Update #66

November 27, 2002

Recent visits to the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), a Mennonite Central Committee partner organization since the early 1990s, proved sobering. [MCC has joined with the Canadian Food Grains Bank for the past three years to provide a food security grant to ARIJ to test seed varieties best suited for rain fed farming conditions.] The director of ARIJ, Dr. Jad Ishaq, has been examining GIS satellite images of the West Bank to analyze Israeli colonial expansion (through the construction of illegal Israeli "settlements," which Jad insists should more accurately be called "colonies'). For Jad, the "facts on the ground" point in one direction: Israel is pre-empting any chances of a durable peace agreement based on a vision of two viable states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, living side by side.

Since Ariel Sharon became Israel's Prime Minister in March 2001, the growth of existing Israeli colonies and the construction of new ones have skyrocketed. ARIJ has identified 24 new colonies in the West Bank, the expansion of 45 more, and the establishing of 113 new "outposts," i.e., caravans placed on hilltops which later develop into a full-fledged colony. The placement of new colonies and outposts is strategic: first, Jerusalem is being progressively encircled by rings of Israeli colonies (extending south of Bethlehem to the Gush Etzion block of settlements, northwards to Ramallah to the colonies of Givat Ze'ev and Psagot, and eastwards towards Jericho to Ma'aleh Adumim) which break up the continguity of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and which separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; second, the "separation" fence which cuts through the north of West Bank is isolating Qalqilayah and Tulkarem from each other, from their neighboring villages and from the rest of the West Bank ;finally, new settlements and outposts thrust out eastward from the large colony of Ariel in the north of the West Bank towards the extensive "closed military zone" which runs north-south to the west of the Jordan River. These various developments leave Palestinian population centers separated from one another and will create various isolated "cantons" (what Jad and many other observers call "Bantustans," referring back to the "homelands" created by the apartheid-era governmentin South Africa) within the West Bank--the canton of Bethlehem, for example, or of Ramallah, of Nablus/Jenin, of Hebron, etc.

Ariel Sharon has over the past week faced criticism from his challenger for the Likud leadership, Binyamin Netanyahu, for his alleged willingness to make the "painful compromise" of accepting a "Palestinian state." That Sharon has indeed voiced his readiness to accept a Palestinian state is a fact; it's also a fact that the "state" Sharon envisions is for the 35 to at most 40% of the West Bank, a state which would have no territorial contiguity, little control over vital natural resources such as water, and which would thus be economically unviable. Israeli colonial expansion, therefore, appears to be putting the nails in the coffin of any plans for a viable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Against the daily reality of new bypass roads being built, new 25-foot high guard walls with watchtowers being built, and more colonies constructed, talk of US and "Quartet" (US-UN-European Union-Russia) "roadmaps" for the creation of a Palestinian State by 2005 appear naive at best and dangerous at worst. Naïve, because it seems clear that Israeli colonial expansion which has already happened has possibly undermined the viability of any Palestinian state. Dangerous in that Israel will attempt to present a willingness to accept a Palestinian "state" in the discontiguous 35-40% of the West Bank as a "painful compromise."

How should advocates for justice, peace, and real security for Palestinians and Israelis respond to this emerging reality? I would suggest first that we begin to free ourselves from the conceptual bind of seeing "statehood" (be it Palestinian and Israeli) as an end in itself. Various Christian bodies--denominations, church-related NGOs, etc.--have, over the years, called for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip and for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. What to say, however, if Israeli actions (colonial expansion) have undermined a viable two-state solution?

Advocates for a just and lasting peace, I believe, are ultimately not concerned with the question of whether or not a Palestinian state comes into being. After all, Israel (and the US, and perhaps the rest of the international community) might eagerly back the creation of a Palestinian state comprising discontiguous Bantustans, a state which would not bring justice and freedom for Palestinians and which would not bring stability and security for either Palestinians or Israelis.

Statehood is simply not an end in itself. What is an end in itself is the flourishing and well being of all who inhabit "Mandate Palestine," i.e., present-day Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Many churches (not to mention the Palestinian leadership) believed for the past three decades that this flourishing and well-being could be secured with the creation of a viable Palestinian state comprising the West Bank/East Jerusalem/Gaza Strip. If facts on the ground have undermined such a solution, perhaps made it impossible, then those who care about the future flourishing, security, and well-being of Palestinians and Israelis must dream of new ways for Palestinians and Israelis to be able to live side by side in justice, freedom and equality.

Jad and others have observed that if a viable two-state solution can't be achieved, then the struggle for Palestinians becomes one of action against an apartheid reality in the occupied territories and for equal citizenship in a bi-national state, in which Palestinians and Israelis are all equal citizens before the law, in all of Mandate Palestine. The vision of one, bi-national state as a solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict must not, therefore, be dismissed out of hand by advocates of a just peace. For the churches and church- related NGOs to point in this direction in their advocacy efforts will be difficult. First, because it would be difficult to move beyond the language of "two states" to which many have become wedded. Second, because advocacy for one, bi-national state will be perceived as being against the State of Israel and thus as anti- Zionist. If Zionism necessarily means the creation and preservation of a "Jewish demographic majority" at the expense of the rights and well-being of Palestinians, then advocacy for one, binational state is indeed anti-Zionist. Other Zionism’s might be possible, however; for example, the "cultural Zionism" of an Ahad Ha'am or a Judah Magnes (figures from the first half of the twentieth century), a Zionism which does not depend on sovereign control and demographic majority, might become meaningful once more.

Perhaps the unexpected will occur, Israel will dismantle its colonies in the occupied territories, and a viable Palestinian state will emerge next to the State of Israel. If this happens, then we will have cause for rejoicing. We must, however, soberly confront the possibility that the day of the two-state solution has already been eclipsed and start doing thinking through the theological and advocacy implications of such a possibility.

To see two detailed reports prepared with input from ARIJ, see the following URLs: and

Below you will find two pieces, both from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. The first, by Amira Hass, explores what the proposed creation of "territorial contiguity" between the Kiryat Arba colony to the east of Hebron and the Israeli colonies inside Hebron's Old City will mean for the thousands of Palestinian residents of the Old City. The second, by former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, examines the inexorable logic of colonial expansion in the occupied territories.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. The shuttered houses on Holy Days
Amira Hass
Ha'aretz, November 2002

The one and only meaning to the creation of "territorial contiguity" from Kiryat Arba to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is expulsion. The expulsion of thousands more Palestinian residents of Hebron, people who were unlucky enough to find that their homes, shops and gardens are in the area meant for "contiguity." The IDF will protect the Jewish construction and dozens if not hundreds of Israelis - contractors, engineers, architects, carpenters - will join the work, and police will protect them. Thousands of Israelis will thus become active partners in the expulsion. They'll go home every night to their worried families in Jerusalem and Kfar Sava.

If one of them is killed in a Palestinian ambush, the response will be even more "territorial contiguity." There won't be any need to load people onto trucks. They simply won't be able to stay in their homes, let their children risk of going to school every day on the same route where their Jewish "neighbors" are building, striding the streets with their rifles like masters of the land if not the universe, speeding along streets that for security reasons are closed to Palestinian traffic. They'll lose ever more days at work when they try leaving their homes or try coming home and are faced by a noisy laughing gang of Jewish teens of both sexes, stoning them with rocks, kicking at them and spitting at them, while a policeman or a few soldiers stand idly by.

The Palestinians living in the "territorial contiguity" will go through what happened to the Palestinians of the old city of Hebron, but at an accelerated rate. It's an open secret that many of the residents of the old city have left their homes in recent years. They simply couldn't take life with the unceasing harassment from a handful of Jewish citizens of Israel who were allowed to behave that way due to the laxity or sympathy of soldiers and officers, the apathy or sympathy of police and the indifference of the Israeli public.

Dozens of shop owners in the old city have stopped opening, whether because of the unending days and nights of curfew imposed on Hebron and its ancient heart, or because the "neighbors" scare off the shoppers, or because the streets where the shops are located are closed to protect the security of the Jewish neighbors. When the curfew is lifted, and the market is reopened for a few hours, there is the illusion of life.

But last Saturday, on the day after the gun battle between armed Palestinians and soldiers, police, and armed Israeli guards from Kiryat Arba, under the full curfew imposed on Palestinian Hebron, it was possible to discern how empty the old city has become. An elderly woman and her son peeked frightened through a barred and netted window. Behind a tightly shut iron door, one could hear the murmurings of the inhabitants.

Someone, in the chilling silence, quickly opened and closed an iron door. But from one of the rooftops in the old city the abandonment could easily be seen: wide open wooden window shutters lazily flapping in the breeze and behind them black holes - empty rooms. Dried up plants, clotheslines bare of laundry - these were the signs of an empty place. Some of the Palestinian houses are already empty in Wadi Nasara, where the gun battle took place opposite the southern nook of Kiryat Arba.

The "Worshipers Way" for the Palestinians has become the path of the stone throwers and the shooters in the air, and the lack of response from the authorities for years. Fridays and Saturdays and other Jewish holidays when the worshipers walk the way, are the cursed days for the residents of Wadi Nasara and the old city. That's when they lock themselves in their homes and shutter their windows, blocking their ears when the window shatters or their plant pots are overturned and they know there's no point calling the police.

The settlements were built before the terrorism and after it. They were built whether the Palestinians expressed their opposition or not. A lengthy curfew was imposed on Palestinian Hebron after Baruch Goldstein murdered worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs; a curfew was imposed on them when a Palestinian murdered a Jewish baby and a curfew is imposed when armed Palestinians fight armed Israelis. Jewish zealots in Hebron and throughout the West Bank harass Palestinians before attacks and after attacks.

Now they don't even hide the fact their "settlement enterprise" is part of their Transfer plans, which everywhere else in the West is known as "ethnic cleansing." Are those Jewish zealots and their lobbyists really the heirs of the Jewish Diaspora?

From inside Hebron they actually appear to be of a different heritage, scions of nationalist, anti-Semitic movements who sent pogromchiks at the head of mobs who spread fear and were full of greed for the Jewish homes, to gradually implement the plan of "cleansing the homeland of its kikes." Hebron, on Shabbat, was reminiscent of ancestral tales from Sochba, a town in northeast Romania, where on Holy Sundays, the Jews would shutter themselves up in their homes.

2. The never-ending enterprise
Meron Benvenisti
Ha'aretz, November 2002

The response to the bloody ambush in Hebron was instinctive: After all, establishing "Jewish points of presence" along a line of territorial contiguity between Jewish areas that were built in their day in the wake of previous incidents, has been "an appropriate Zionist response" ever since the days of Tel Hai and the "stockade and tower."

After more than 80 years of "appropriate responses," no wonder it has become second nature. Everyone knows their role in the sound-and-light show underway in Hebron for the 800th time - the number of Jewish "points of presence" that "have gone up on the land" since the start of the Zionist enterprise.

The government, responsible for the never-ending Zionist revolution,ordered the army - Zionism's main executive arm - to demolish houses and uproot trees so as to create empty areas in which to go ahead with Jewish construction. The housing minister "promotes" plans to expropriate Palestinian property through legal processes with "full compensation." Architects, who of course don't have a political view, only a professional one, are already planning hundreds of apartments. The zealots are making Palestinian lives intolerable, as the army and police stand by, ignoring the harassment.

The audience remains mostly apathetic, and only a minority expresses opposition to the efforts to use the old-fashioned honorable terms of pioneering Zionism to glorify looting that will only intensify and perpetuate the conflict. But even that minority doesn't dare confront the basic fault, inherent in the current project of occupying the new physical space, as in all its predecessors: either security, settlement or community needs are being served, but rather the urge to cover the frightening, hostile land with asphalt and concrete.

If anyone dares confront this Zionist pretention on it merits - and not only the harm to the Palestinians or the immorality of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the foreigner - then out of the deep will rise questions best kept deep and latent in the heart of the consensus: How is it possible that for three generations an entire country has been one big temporary construction project that never arrives at a permanent reality, with a defined topography, stable borders, and a "normal" routine of life?

The common answer, which blames the hostility of the enemy, only discloses the conceptual basis for those responsible for the construction site: Its purpose is to be an instrument in the existential struggle, which does not end, also because continuing the battle for the physical space serves powerful economic and political interests. Standards of living are a marginal goal, enjoyed by only a few, while an immigrant mentality feeds an insatiable appetite for grabbing land, both for the individual and for the collective.

For 35 years, Israel has made a supreme effort to take control of the physical space of the West Bank, which is perceived as an "outback" in which the Zionist revolution can be fulfilled. But after investing tens of billions and settling hundreds of thousands, the entire uilt-up area of all the settlements is no more than 2 percent of the land in the West Bank. True, nearly half the West Bank is defined as "state land," but this formal definition does not make it controlled by Jews.

No wonder the struggle over the physical space is not measured any longer with the establishment of settlements and houses, through the denial of Palestinian use of the territory in this space -from legal limitations, and through to uprooting crops and preventing olive harvests, prohibitions on vehicular traffic, sieges and closures.

The enormous gap in the balance of forces should seemingly have tilted in favor of Israel, but the struggle is going to end in a tie in the short run, and in a Palestinian victory in the long run, because the physical space is filling up, running out, and has ceased functioning as the critical element. Instead, demography rules.

"The appropriate Zionist response," of which expanding the Jewish settlement in Hebron is but the latest expression, will yet boomerang against its perpetrators. The number of Palestinians born in Hebron in one week is more than all the Jews who live in the city. When will someone in an Israeli government get up and declare a glorious end to the Zionist enterprise?

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