Tuesday, February 11

MCC Palestine Update #72

MCC Palestine Update #72

February 11, 2003

"The response has been overwhelming," shares Sami Awad, director of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, regarding the training his organization has been conducting for a core group of students and activists in nonviolent direct action. The course had been slated to begin in December; because of the ongoing curfew in the Bethlehem area, however, it didn't start until early February. "We had planned on twenty participants, but we ended up expanding to forty," Awad notes. Interested persons had to be turned away. The participants in the course come from all sectors of Palestinian society: the city, the refugee camp, the village; middle and lower class; Christian and Muslim; men and women. Not all participants have come into the course convinced in the worth of nonviolent direct action, but all, in one way or another, are disillusioned by the prospects of armed struggle.

The workshop aims to train a core group of trainers who will in turn be available to go throughout the West Bank to train others in nonviolent forms of resistance. A training manual in Arabic will be produced. Mennonite Central Committee is providing funding for the initial phases of this project. Requests for the trainers to conduct workshops have come in from Jenin, Nablus, al-Fara' refugee camp, and Bethlehem. Your prayers for the trainers at the Holy Land Trust and for the workshop participants, that they may succeed in spreading interest in and commitment to nonviolent methods of resistance, are solicited.

A while back I passed on information about a new book, The Other Israelis. As you are probably aware, a substantial number of books are published each year on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. MCC staff manages to read a small number of these books. Here are some of the books from 2002 which we would highly recommend:

Tanya Reinhart. Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002. Tanya Reinhart teaches linguistics at Tel Aviv University and writes a regular column for the Israeli daily Ma'ariv. This book provides compelling, trenchant analysis of current Israeli policy in the occupied territories and a sketch of how it has developed over the past 35 years.

Marc H. Ellis. Israel and Palestine Out of the Ashes: The Search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century. London: Pluto Press, 2002. Professor of Jewish studies at Baylor University, Marc Ellis offers a provocative discussion in this book of the implications for Jewish theology and identity of Jewish "empowerment" in the State of Israel. Ellis provides not only a prophetic critique for points to a future of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation.

Raja Shehadeh. Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine. Steerforth Press, 2002. In this memoir, Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh recounts his parents' memories from Jaffa before 1948, his childhood in Ramallah, his father's early activism for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the beginning of his involvement with human rights issues. Throughout the memoir runs the story of a complicated father-son relationship, a relationship which is cut off prematurely when Raja's father is killed by an unknown assailant. Shehadeh was one of the founders of Al Haq, a leading Palestinian human rights center, and is the good friend of former MCC workers like Harold and Judith Dueck. This past summer I had the pleasure of having lunch at the home of Shehadeh's mother. During lunch, I noted the porcelain Buddha which plays a significant role in the book. Shehadeh writes with poignant force about matters personal and political.

Ghada Karmi. In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story. London: Verso, 2002. Karmi's book, like Shehadeh's is a memoir. Karmi is a refugee from 1948 who has lived most her life in the United Kingdom. She has taught at a variety of British institutions such as the School for Oriental and African Studies and Durham University. If you read and enjoyed Edward Said's memoir, Out of Place, you will definitely appreciate this book.

B'Tselem. Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank. Jerusalem 2002. This study, published by Israel's leading human rights organization, examines Israel's colonization policy in the occupied territories. Available on the B'Tselem website [http://www.btselem.org] and in hard copy from B'Tselem.

Below you will find two pieces. The first, by Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy, analyzes the increasingly harsh measures employed by the Israeli army in the occupied territories. In the second, Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass examines mainstream Palestinian political sentiment through a conversation with a leading Fatah activist from Rafah.

--Alain Epp Weaver

The IDF's 'permissiveness' in the territories,
Gideon Levy,
Ha'aretz, February 10, 2003

A war in Iraq will soon break out, and with it a great darkness will descend on events in the territories. As long as what goes on there doesn't affect the war's execution, no one in the world will take an interest, no one will so much as cast a glance, at the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is the time to caution us all that under the cover of that darkness, grave things may come to pass.

Not that there is much light there now, either: for some time, it has seemed that anything goes in the war against the Palestinians. The fact is that there are no longer any voices of outrage over the situation in the territories. Not about flechette shells fired at a soccer field, not about innocent farmers who are shot to death, not about the demolition of homes at an appalling rate - 22 in one day - not about the destruction of an entire outdoor market, or about the razing of the home of a wanted individual who has not yet been apprehended, burying his tenant, Kamala Abu-Said, 65, under the ruins. All these events took place in the course of last week.

Each passing day in the territories seems to bring with it increasingly harsh acts that are intended to break the Palestinians, and also are shattering what remains of our moral posture. Events that two years ago would have caused an international furor are now part of the accepted routine. Who would have believed that the Israel Defense Forces would fire flechette shells at a soccer field where children were playing, wounding nine people, including two children, without anyone protesting? In fact, the story was barely reported.

Only those who saw the hundreds of small black metal spurs scattered over a wide area from the shell - as was the case in an incident half-a-year ago in which four members of the Abu al-Hajin family were killed in the Gaza Strip - or saw the results of the post mortem of three Palestinian youths whose bodies were split apart by such shells a few months ago, can understand what a truly horrific weapon this is. The use of the type of weapons to which the flechette belongs has been banned by international law. In Israel, this weapon, which is no different from the appalling devices used by terrorists who pack nails into their explosives, is legal. Israel says it uses the flechette only in the Gaza Strip, explaining - no less appallingly - that in Gaza, there is a clear division between Jewish settlements and Palestinian locales. Israel also admits that there are killing fields in the Gaza Strip: anyone who enters these zones, armed or not, is fair game, because the rules of engagement (the guidelines for opening fire) there are "permissive." This is what can be gleaned from the state's response to a petition submitted to the Supreme Court by Physicians for Human Rights against the use of flechette shells. The court, which obviously has time on its hands, deferred the hearing on the case until May. In the meantime, though, the IDF again shelled children with flechettes.

The Supreme Court is in no hurry, not even when it deals with petitions against the use of the "neighbor procedure" (in which neighbors of wanted individuals are sent to inform them that they are surrounded and must come out unarmed) or "human shields" - petitions that human rights groups submitted last May. The discussion goes on and on, and in the meantime, the petitioners' counsel, attorney Marwan Dalal from Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, continues supplying the court with further testimony that the IDF still uses the abhorrent procedure despite a High Court of Justice interim order barring it.

According to a letter sent by Physicians for Human Rights to the military advocate-general, soldiers in Nablus ordered the crews of five ambulances to act as shields between the troops and a group of stone throwers two weeks ago. The soldiers applauded whenever stones struck one of the ambulances, according to the testimony. The military advocate-general has yet to respond to the complaint.

The IDF's "permissiveness" is all-pervasive in the territories: shooting at stone throwers is now almost taken for granted. At the end of last week, two young hospital workers in Gaza were shot; the IDF admitted immediately that the victims had not been involved in terrorism. They were killed as a result of "deterrent fire" - another newly invented term that is intended to serve as an excuse for the unnecessary killing - in the form of rockets from helicopters. In the first intifada, soldiers needed authorization from an officer with the rank of major general to enter a mosque, whereas now they hurl smoke grenades into mosques as a matter of course.

All these developments are occuring even before the world's attention shifts to other killing fields. Under cover of the war with Iraq, some in Israel will seek to exacerbate the current measures. That must not be allowed to happen. In its war on terrorism, Israel has long since exhausted its arsenal of brute force and brutality against innocent civilians. After the war, it will quickly become clear that the result is nothing but the heightening of hatred and terrorism.

You want Gaza? Take it
Amira Hass,
Ha'aretz, January 29, 2003

"You Israelis say that you are civilized and we're the barbarians. Quite true. We are barbaric in our weapons, and you are civilized, the pinnacle of human development. We have nails and chemical materials that someone concocts in a warehouse and the human body, and you have Apaches and F-16 aircraft that can see a mouse at night moving through a crowded refugee camp that is built on sand. I hear shooting and know that the chances for our fighters are zero. The chance that an Israeli soldier will be killed is zero. He is in the sky like a god, or in a tank like an elephant.

"One hundred and fifty human beings - human beings, both Israelis, including soldiers, and Palestinians have been killed around Netzarim. And all just for a few dozen families in that Jewish settlement. You say that you if you leave Netzarim now, it is admitting defeat. Is it really worth so many people killed?"

One can hear such talk from many people in Gaza. But this time these words were said during a chance meeting in Gaza City with Sami Abu Samhadana, just a few hours after 12 Palestinians were killed in a lost battle with the Israel Defense Forces units that took control of part of the Zeitoun neighborhood and totally destroyed 17 different workshops (including a kebab restaurant) where, according to the IDF mortars were produced, and three residences. In addition, another 15 workshops were partially destroyed, among them a print shop. Abu Samhadana is 40, a native of the refugee camp in Rafah, an administrative detainee during the first intifada and one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement who believed with all his heart that the Oslo agreement was good and would bring peace. He worked hard to convince his friends of this. His Hebrew is fluent, rich and slangy, which testifies to a familiarity with Israeli society, great interest and also affection.

With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, he set up and headed a Palestinian security unit "for special missions" (conversations to soften up and convince opponents of the PA to stop the terror attacks, arrests when the conversations were to no avail, collecting money from tax-dodgers). As happened to many senior Fatah field activists, the Oslo years were good to him financially. In all circumstances - as a prisoner, when he was released between arrests and as a PA official - he met with senior Israelis because of his familiarity with the grass roots and his influence there. During periods when Gazans were not permitted to leave to study in the West Bank, he received Israeli authorizations exit the Gaza Strip in his car and travel to Jerusalem. His identification with the PA hurt his popularity.

With the outbreak of the second intifada, the Israeli authorities permitted him to go to Jordan for open heart surgery. His friend Mohammed Dahlan was promised that he would be allowed to come back. Under the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Shin Bet security service did not promise that he would not be arrested upon his return. But he, a native of Rafah, found unofficial ways to come home. Now, he says, because of that he is considered a wanted man. He says that his 70-year-old mother, who wanted to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, was told by the Israelis who give the permits: "Go the way your son came back."

In the IDF they like instill fear in people with the name of his extended family, Abu Samhadana (his brother, Jamal, is a commander of the Popular Committees). But he is a type that is characteristic of an entire generation, which since its youth has fought against the Israeli occupation, and has therefore has learned to want to live with the Israelis, in two neighboring states.

"I can't understand what you're looking for here in Gaza. If you want it so badly, then take it. We're sick of it. Do you want separation and not peace? Okay, we also want separation and not peace. But there should be separation. Is Nablus the holy land? Is Hebron the holy land? Okay, give us Tel Aviv. I'll give up Jerusalem, you take Ramallah and give me Netanya. But it's not possible both to `separate' and at the same to leave all the Jewish settlements and the settlers here.

"I tell the Hamas people, not the Israelis, straight to their faces that I am opposed to attacks on Israeli civilians," he says. And firing the Qassam rockets? "More Palestinians have been hurt by it than Israelis. But our people only react. You are the initiators. It's like a game on a field where on the one side there is a goal and soccer players and on the other - the basket and basketball players and in the middle the referee blows his whistle and throws the ball. Any sensible person would have to stop the game right then - both players and spectators.

"That's what we're like, the Israelis and the Palestinians. Instead of stopping we keep playing a game that should have been stopped long ago. It used to be that the Israelis apologized when they killed civilians and children here. Now, they've even stopped apologizing. Our generation, now, has surrendered. Maybe. And what will happen with the next generation? This generation will die, but its children and grandchildren? Do you want to leave a war to your grandchildren? A real commander would do everything he could to spare his grandchildren war.

"If the Israelis enter Gaza, thousands will die here. And then their grandchildren will remember the blood and avenge it. All the extremists here want Sharon to stay."

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