Friday, January 10

MCC Palestine Update #70

MCC Palestine Update #70

January 10, 2003

Stop the wall. That's the simple, straightforward message of a new initiative by leading Palestinian environmental, agricultural, and human rights groups. The focus of the initiative: trying to halt the construction of fences and walls--often referred to in the media as the "separation wall" or "separation fence"--which have begun to be constructed and which will cut through large swathes of the West Bank. The wall (in some places it will be a cement wall of 25 feet with guard towers, in other places it will be barbed wire fencing) will have devastating economic, social, and environmental consequences.

Two examples: thousands of Palestinians in villages in the northern West Bank will be caught in a no man's land/closed military zone between the wall/fence and the border; farmers in the Qalqilyah, Tulkarem, and Jenin districts will be cut off from land and wells.

The political consequences of the wall, moreover, are troubling. While Israeli proponents of the wall insist that it is only a security measure (and it is because of security that the vast majority of Israelis support the construction of the wall) and will not mark a final political border, Palestinians doubt that Israel will invest the millions upon millions of dollars which will be needed to make the wall a reality only to dismantle it in the course of negotiations. Palestinians are warning that the wall is undermining any hope for a viable two-state solution, with the State of Israel alongside a State of Palestine, as the wall will de facto if not de jure annex Israel's illegal West Bank colonies into Israel proper and will leave Palestinians with disconnected bits of land making up no more than 40% of the West Bank. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed that these Palestinians areas could be granted "transportation contiguity" via bridges or tunnels.] The wall is solidifying Israeli control over all of Mandate Palestine; millions of Palestinians will then be kept in their "homelands"--of Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron, etc.

The wall, in sum, is solidifying an apartheid reality. While this wall might buy some temporary quiet or security for Israelis, it does not provide a recipe for Israel's long-terms security (never mind the insecurity, economic dispossession, and more the wall will generate for Palestinians). To learn more about the campaign against the wall, visit the Stop the Wall campaign at

MCC partner organizations such as the Applied Research Institute- Jerusalem and the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees are founding members of the campaign.

Below you will find three pieces. The first is a prophetic cry from Ha'aretz writer Gideon Levy entitled "Eyeless in Israel." The second, Amira Hass, another Ha'aretz reporter, looks at the settlement mentality of the Israeli government. Finally, Elia Leibowitz comments in Ha'aretz about the "refusenik" movement among Israeli soldiers objecting to service in the occupied territories.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Eyeless in Israel,
Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, December 18, 2002

Is it too much to ask Israelis to take a look, even a glimpse, at what's going on in their backyard? Are we even capable of dropping our relentless preoccupation with primaries and the battle between Tnuva and Strauss over cottage cheese, to pay attention to what is happening in the territories under our occupation?

A foreigner who happened to find himself here wouldn't believe his eyes: A few weeks before the general elections - a period that is supposed to be marked by an airing and sharpening of views - Israel continues to close its eyes, not to see, not to hear and not to know what it is doing to three million people who live less than
an hour from our homes. If this crass disregard is hard to accept in normal times - the approach being that what doesn't interest me doesn't exist - on the eve of elections that are considered (as always) critical, it is nothing short of criminal.

Here are a few updates from the past few days: Five unarmed Palestinians, probably desperate workers who were using a ladder to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip to find work, were shelled by a tank and killed on Thursday. On Monday, soldiers killed a Palestinian who was mentally handicapped. On Sunday, soldiers shot two women and three children in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. One of the women, a mother, was killed along with her two children, aged four and 15, and the other woman suffered serious injuries. The soldiers said they thought the women and children were terrorists.

A week ago Friday, 10 people were killed, including one woman and two employees of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, in a failed liquidation operation in Al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Earlier that week, a 95-year-old woman who was traveling in a taxicab near Ramallah was shot to death by a
soldier. And a couple of days before that, soldiers demolished a building, burying under the rubble a 70-year-man who was inside. All told, more than 30 Palestinians were killed in the first 10 days of December, at least half of them innocent civilians. What was once an "anomaly" has become a daily event, and what the army used to investigate, it no longer even reviews.

Does anyone care? Innocent victims - women, children, the aged - exist only on our side. Most Israeli media outlets report these events cursorily, if at all, and no politician makes any reference to them. To this bloody harvest we need to add the mass arrests. According to data of the IDF Spokesman's Office, 3,094 Palestinians are currently incarcerated in military facilities alone; 932 of them have been placed in administrative detention (arrest without trial). In other words, there are nearly a thousand individuals detained for a six-month period without any prospect of trial, many of them in two makeshift detention facilities, Ketziot and Ofer, in which the conditions are apparently particularly difficult. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why the IDF has prevented reporters from visiting these sites for months.

These are facts and statistics that should be of great concern to public opinion, even if the public in question is constantly threatened by terrorism. Daily killing of innocent people and mass arrests without trial are issues that should at least be the subject of public discussion, but here no one takes an interest, as though the matter doesn't have a decisive influence not only on the victims themselves, of course, but also on security and on the character of the regime and society in Israel.

But that is not enough. If the acts of killing and the arrests are marginally reported by the media, the imprisonment of the entire Palestinian people is continuing uninterrupted and unreported. Whole cities, parts of which lie in ruins, are under almost unceasing curfew; an entire population is unable to move from one
village to the next or from city to city without the authorization of the occupation army - but within the Israeli public there is not even an echo of this. No one asks why, or for how long, or whether this state of affairs does not induce terrorism rather than prevent it. The security experts say in an appallingly uniform voice that this is the only way, and hardly anyone protests. It is more than likely that the majority of the public doesn't know (and couldn't care less) whether the Palestinians are now under curfew or just closure or maybe encirclement.

The focus is exclusively on our own difficulties and pain, which are certainly grave enough. Are Israelis afraid to sit in cafes? It's been a long time since Palestinians could even dream of that. Is it scary to travel on a bus in Israel? There is no longer any such travel in the territories. Afraid to fly? Most Palestinians have never flown. Unemployment is rising? That is nothing compared to the malnutrition and near hunger in the territories, where the great majority of the residents are not terrorists.

A few weeks remain before the elections. No one is mentioning the responsibility of Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Benjamin Ben Eliezer for the killing and destruction. The Labor Party chair Amram Mitzna, talks a lot about separation and about what's good for Israel's security - but not a word about morality or justice. Perhaps Meretz will take a more cogent stand on these issues now that Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan, former Labor stalwarts, have joined the party. As for Hadash and the Arab parties, which try to talk about what is actually going on in the territories - no one listens to them.

This is a very serious state of affairs. No terrorist threat, however murderous, is grounds for a wholesale annulment of values; no suicide bombing can justify the daily killing of innocent people or the large-scale incarceration of others without trial; and nothing, but nothing, can justify the absence of a public discussion and the total disregard of what's going on in our backyard, especially on the eve of general elections.

2. Five rules set by the Kingdom of the Settlements
Amira Hass
Ha'aretz, January 1, 2003

There is something exciting about those security men at the entrance to shops, cafes and office buildings asking everyone coming in to open their bags; the mother pushing a baby carriage, the blond youth with the kippa, the older man who looks like a moshavnik. Nobody came up with the idea to set a rule that creates two entrances to buildings, one for Jews and the other for Arabs. Despite the ongoing discrimination against Israeli Arabs, that lack of discrimination sends an encouraging message: that we haven't crossed some of the thresholds of shame. Some might say, Jewish thresholds of shame.

The lack of selection is particularly encouraging for those who know what happens on the eastern side of the Green Line. Over there, in the Kingdom of the Settlements, the thresholds of shame were crossed long before the suicide bombings. There was the trickery and legalistic manipulation that enabled the citizens of a state occupying lands it doesn't own - and in violation of international law - to move onto those lands; the limited water quotas for Palestinians and the generous quotas for Jew; the complex regulations that stripped tens thousands of Palestinian natives of the West Bank and Gaza, and their children, of their residency; the "state lands" that were made available only to Jews, at extremely low prices; the roads paved to serve Jews only, with the strategic goal of isolating the enclaves of a Palestinian state.

But now the proposals to ban Arab MKs and Arab lists from the Knesset and prove that the lack of selection at cafes are only a vague echo of the amputated civic democratic thinking, because the criteria for a "Jewish-democratic state" now is obedience to the rules that were set and constituted in the Kingdom of the Settlements and its protectors - the IDF and Shin Bet.

Rule Number 1: Jewish Arabists always know what Arabs mean and what they want, even if the Arabs say the opposite. Therefore Jews don't have to listen to what the Arabs say. The Arabists of Israel know that Azmi Bishara issued a call in Damascus for armed resistance against Israel. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein decided there's no need to wait until the matter is determined by the courts, which will hear Bishara's clarification (of the very unclear statement he made there), which says he called for an Arab political initiative as a way to help the Palestinian resistance to the occupation. It's interesting that the Arab states not only didn't obey his supposed call for armed resistance, but also accepted the Saudi Initiative, which is based on the two-state solution. Most of the Israeli Arab public was among the first to struggle for that solution. If they had been listened to in time, a lot of lives could have been saved.

Rule Number 2: Shin Bet reports are always accurate and objective and without any political bias. Therefore, for example, "Nadav" knows full well why he has information from some meeting Bishara had with Hamas "leaders," but has no information from public gatherings in Ramallah over the last two years. At those meetings, attended by people who had just buried yet another Palestinian child killed by the IDF, Bishara vehemently attacked Palestinian attacks on civilians and came out against the rites of "the armed resistance." Apparently, "Nadav" also did not have an informant at a Tel Aviv University gathering last year when the number two man on Bishara's Balad list, Jamal Zahlaka, was asked whether it's unnatural for part of the Palestinian people to live in the Palestinian state and another part of the Palestinian people to live in another state - the state of Israel. Zahlaka answered that it is entirely natural, if the two-state solution is meant to preserve the most valuable resource of all - life.

Rule Number 3: Yesha is the state. Therefore, anyone who opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza opposes the State of Israel. Therefore, anyone who supports the lestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation opposes the State of Israel and supports terrorism. The warnings - like those of MK Ahmed Tibi and many Jews from Zionist parties that the occupation is an existential danger for the State of Israel - won't help, since their view doesn't count, because it does not fit the views of the Kingdom of the Settlements and its founders and proponents in the Knesset.

Rule Number 4: Jews worldwide have the right to express solidarity with the Jews of Israel and vice versa. They can also donate generously to Israelis, for example, who support transfer (willing or not). An Arab is not permitted to feel the pain of the suffering of his brethren. Jews are allowed to glorify the army and support all its actions. Arabs are not allowed to praise the people of Jenin and Nablus who withstood the bombing of their cities by the IDF.

Rule Number 5: What is undemocratic in the Western world is democratic for Jews. It's no accident that one of the main proponents for expelling Arab lists from the Knesset is Michael Kleiner, who promotes Arab emigration out of Israel. There are Jews who think that the call for willing transfer is not only undemocratic, but blatantly not Jewish. But they are Jews who oppose the Kingdom of the Settlements, so by definition their views don't count.

3. Refusal to serve could be contagious
Elia Leibowitz
Ha'aretz, December 26, 2002

For many months, it looked as though the upper echelons of the Israel Defense Forces were letting the direct commanders of the refusenik soldiers deal on their own with the problem of refusal to serve. And in fact, the fate of the various refuseniks differed from one unit to the next. Everything depended on the conscience, the world view, and mainly the intelligence of the direct officer on the spot. In certaincases, the refusal was accepted, if not with understanding then at least with wisdom, by the unit commander. Unnecessary conflict, which is wasteful and useless to the army, was prevented by channeling the military service of the refusenik reservist to tasks that he was able to carry out.

In other cases, under different commanders, the reflex of refusal =detention was at work. Refuseniks were sent to military prison for periods of time usually meted out for ordinary refusals to follow orders, such as the refusal to peel potatoes in the kitchen, or the refusal to get up for guard duty in the wee hours of the night. So that dozens of refuseniks found themselves wasting their time - usually the time of people who are among the most creative and productive in the Israeli economy and society - sitting in prison for periods ranging from seven to 30 days, depending on how annoyed their direct commanding officer felt. In recent months, there has apparently been a change in the IDF's attitude toward the phenomenon of refusal and toward the refuseniks. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon has recently expressed himself publicly and sharply against reservists who refuse to serve in the territories, and the army's attitude towards the refuseniks is becoming increasingly inflexible, merciless and harsh.

At present there are several refuseniks who have been sitting in jail for eeks and even months on end, and as soon as one period of punishment ends, they are thrown back into jail for another period of punishment, without limit and without a break. To the outside observer, it ok’s like a deliberate campaign of revenge, a systematic vendetta being conducted by the army against these people.

Alongside the significant increase in the severity of the IDF's attitude toward the refuseniks, the army continues to declare, increasingly loudly, that the phenomenon of refusal to serve in the territories is marginal, is typical of antisocial types found on the narrow political fringes, and has no operational significance. The professional word to describe such a contradiction in the physical world between a statement, a thought or a belief, and an activity and a reaction is "dissonance"; and as any professional will testify, in many cases it stems from fear.

If the noticeable change in the army's attitude toward refusal, which testifies to increasing dissonance in the behavior of this system, does in fact come from above, it is hard to avoid the question: What is the chief of staff afraid of? Why, for example, was the head of the "fighting spirit" department in the IDF sent to make a speech against the refuseniks, to an audience of young citizens of the country? Why does the army consider selective refusal, which is limited only to a very specific type of activity, on the part of about 500 young men, a great danger to the fighting spirit of the army - more so than total failure of tens of thousands of other young people, who are physically and mentally fit, to serve in the reserves, and even in the regular army?

The truth is that the fear in the top command is not without foundation. It's true that the non-service of 500 people in an army that numbers hundreds of thousands, is of no strategic significance. The army can operate effectively, and in fact does so, even without the service of tens of thousands, and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of fit young people. But the chief of staff and the army understand that the problem of "political" refusal, as some people call it, is not those same 500 soldiers that the IDF is missing in its activities beyond the Green Line. The danger in this refusal is that it is contagious, since there is no effective vaccination against it. It differs from any other refusal or avoidance of army service in the past or the present, whether individual or organized, sectoral or religious.

The great danger in today's refusal to serve in the territories is its great potential for spreading. The chief of staff understands that it is quite possible that one of these days it is liable to spread among a much wider population. That's a justified fear, since the carriers of the disease are morality and common sense.

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