Wednesday, March 5

MCC Palestine Update #74

MCC Palestine Update #74

March 5, 2003

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten fast as we reflect and meditate on the sinful brokenness of ourselves and the world and as we look forward in hope to God’s triumph over the powers of sin and death. Immediately below you will find a piece I wrote Ash Wednesday, drawing on one of the Lectionary readings. This piece will appear, in an edited form reworked for Easter, in the April issue of MCC’s magazine “a Common Place.” Please keep MCC Palestine, MCC’s Palestinian partner organizations, and courageous Israeli and Palestinian peace builders, in your prayers this Lenten season.


Ash Wednesday Reflection

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
March 5, 2003

Alain Epp Weaver, MCC Palestine

As the church gathers in repentance on Ash Wednesday this year to begin the Lenten season, the Apostle Paul’s message in his second letter to the church at Chorinth provides a message of hope for us in our lamentation for the world’s brokenness. “See,” Paul encourages the Corinthian church, “now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

In Palestine/Israel, the “day of salvation” does not, at first thought, appear to be at hand. The nightmare of retributive killings by Israelis and Palestinians alike, of bodies mangled by tank shells or the blast of a suicide bomber, of the wreckage of an incinerated bus or a demolished home, continues. Israel confiscates more land in the occupied territories, builds more illegal settlements, and cuts off thousands of Palestinian villagers from their fields and water supplies with the construction of imposing fences and walls, barriers allegedly built to bring about security for Israel’s citizens but which, many Israelis and Palestinians fear, will deepen the roots of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, making the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ever more remote. The weight of individual and corporate sin hangs heavy.

The confession that the “acceptable time” is here, that the “day of salvation” has come, encounters a significant obstacle in the pervasive, sinful brokenness of our lives, in Palestine/Israel and throughout the world. Paul’s message to the Corinthian church, however, is one of hope: hope that truth can win out against falsehood, joy can break into the midst of sadness, life can triumph over death. As aware as he is of the depths of human sinfulness, Paul nevertheless can point to his own ministry and that of the church as signs of the possibility of new life in Christ. “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true,” Paul observes, “as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (6:8-10) In the midst of the falsehood, punishment and death in Palestine/Israel, God raises up witnesses to serve, like Paul, as ambassadors for God’s mission of reconciliation in the world.

These ambassadors are “treated as impostors, and yet are true.’ The Israeli soldiers who refuse orders to serve in the occupied territories, or the Jewish men and women and groups like Ta’ayush and Rabbis for Human Rights who try to help Palestinian farmers attacked by Israeli settlers bring in their olive harvest, are treated as impostors and traitors by much of Israeli society, yet they are true to God’s covenant of life.

These ambassadors are treated as having nothing, and yet possess everything. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have become dependent on external food aid, thanks to closures and curfews which have shattered the Palestinian economy; by typical standards, they “have nothing” (or next to nothing), yet visit their homes and one finds them still possessing warm hospitality.

These ambassadors are “punished, and not yet killed.” Millions of Palestinians face collective punishment in the form of house demolitions, school closures, and round-the-clock curfews for days, even weeks, on end, yet every morning people get up and affirm life in countless ways: by traveling through back roads and around checkpoints to get to school or to take a sick child to the hospital; by refusing to allow Israeli restrictions define one’s life and defying curfew in order to bring food to a neighbor; by rushing out when the curfew lifts to celebrate a relative’s baptism or wedding.

Finally, these ambassadors are treated “as dying,” but see!--they are alive. Even against a backdrop of anger and injury, injustice and death, some Israelis and Palestinians overcome barriers of suspicion and hatred to work together for a future of justice and peace for both peoples. The Rebuilding Homes initiative, supported by Mennonite Central Committee, for example, is the product of two organizations, one Palestinian (The Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights) and one Israeli (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). Together, these Palestinians and Israelis work alongside one another to rebuild Palestinian homes demolished by the Israeli military. Amidst the rubble of a destroyed home, new life and the promise of reconciliation through acts of love and justice spring forth.

As we prepare our hearts, bodies, and minds for this period of Lent, let us therefore not only repent of the sinful brokenness which is all-too-present to our senses, but let us also give thanks for the witness of these ambassadors of God’s mission of reconciliation in the world, ambassadors who remind us that our Lenten fast does not end with the tomb, but with God’s victory over the powers of sin and death. Amen.


Below you will find four pieces. The first two pieces, by Chris McGreal of The Guardian and Akiva Eldar of Ha’aretz respectively, address the flaws and dangers in the “roadmaps” for peace being touted and the danger that a viable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been eclipsed. The third, by Ha’aretz report Amira Hass, looks at “The Routine Calamities that Destroy Lives.” Finally, Danny Rubinstein of Ha’aretz describes how millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories now live lives of de facto house arrest.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Is this the end for a Palestinian state?
Sharon's new coalition may kill two-state solution

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Tuesday March 4, 2003
The Guardian

A single question stalks what remains of the creaking efforts to find peace in Israel: When is a state not a state?

There is growing agreement among EU officials, UN negotiators and even some American diplomats that the answer can be found in Ariel Sharon's proposals for Palestinian "independence", and the White House's evident willingness to go along with them.

Last week, President Bush made a fresh pledge to push his "road map" for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement once Iraq is dealt with. But those with an interest in the wording noted a subtle but important shift in tone that seemed to drop an insistence on dismantling many Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

A day later Mr Sharon told the knesset that the development of existing settlements would be a priority for his government, abandoning the pretence that only "natural growth" would be allowed.

Between those two pronouncements, some of those close to the negotiations see the looming death of the "two-state solution".

"The combination of the construction of settlements and the destruction of the Palestinian Authority infrastructure are the two key elements in ending the two-state solution," a senior UN official said. "You could call it destructive construction and constructive destruction. I think we are very close to the point where we need to ask ourselves whether we, the international community, are not now playing into Sharon's hands if the road map ends up delivering a Palestinian state that is independent only in name and little better than a reservation."

Mr Sharon's two-year rule has been marked by a determined expansion of the established settlements and infrastructure around them that has seriously bitten into the territory available to the Palestinians and the prospects for a viable state.

New roads and growing settlements increasingly divide and encircle Palestinian land, carving across what would theoretically be an independent country and encircling its main cities.

In recent months, the new "security fence", a euphemism for what is in many places a 10-metre high wall with barbed wire and watchtowers, has further encroached on Palestinian land. It already encircles Qalqilya, leaving just one way in and no room for the city to expand. The wall is expected to do the same to Tulkarem.

In addition, a new highway, Route 6, running the length of the West Bank inside Israel's border, has breathed new life into the settlement blocks, particularly the constellation around Ariel.

"The Israeli goal is to take as much Palestinian land as possible while getting rid of as many Palestinians as possible. That means as small an area as possible while taking the best agricultural land, wells, etc," said Michael Tarazi of the PLO's negotiations support unit.

The Palestinians say this makes a nonsense of President Bush's road map which envisages a series of steps via "an end to terrorism", reform of the Palestinian administration and the sidelining of Yasser Arafat, to self-governance and finally an independent state within three years.

Since that speech, the EU and UN have focused their efforts on pushing the Palestinians to implement reforms. Mr Arafat, under direct pressure from Tony Blair, has reluctantly agreed to appoint a prime minister. Finances are being cleaned up under a new minister virtually handpicked by the Americans.

But the Palestinians complain that there is no such pressure on Mr Sharon.

America has stalled for six months on laying out a detailed timeline for the road map, saying it must now wait until after the war in Iraq.

"Bush's speech was an abysmal display of sheer ignorance," Mr Tarazi said. "It was the wholesale adoption of Sharon's programme: the Palestinians must end terrorism, must change leadership [although] it's democratically elected. And when the Palestinians have jumped through the hoops like circus animals, we may sit down and talk about applying international law."

Jeff Halper, a respected documenter of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories who is regularly called in by the US embassy to brief visiting American officials, says Mr Sharon's intent is clear.

"Israel wants a two-state solution based on a bantustan, along the lines of those South Africa tried to create during the apartheid era. They will call it a country but it won't be a country. It will be a ghetto," he said.

Mr Sharon's stated desire is to create a Palestinian state on 42% of the occupied territories; a state which has no control over its borders, airspace or water resources.

Israel's defence minister, General Shaul Mofaz, has told diplomats that the government envisages a state of seven cantons centred on the main Palestinian cities, each linked to the other but effectively sealed off by the army from the rest of the West Bank - which would become part of Israel - and easily isolated.

According to this plan, the Israeli military would control who goes in and out, giving it a stranglehold over trade, labour and food.

Some Palestinians fear that with the de facto bantustans will come what the Israelis euphemistically call "transfer" - ethnic cleansing - which is a stated goal of one party in Mr Sharon's coalition.

"It can absolutely happen," Mr Tarazi said. "You make life more and more miserable by herding them into the reservations while bringing in more and more Jewish immigrants. Who's going to stop it? This onslaught of the past two years has caused a huge number of Palestinians to leave, particularly the educated and businessmen we most need."

A Palestinian cabinet minister and negotiator, Saeb Erekat, says the leadership will not sign any agreement that provides for no more than "a bantustan". He said: "Palestinians will never accept such a future. Nor should we. Without a dramatic change in Israeli policy, the possibility of a two-state solution will be relegated to the history books."

Others are sceptical.

"I think the Palestinian leadership is so desperate, and so focused on its own interests, that it would sign almost any deal," said a diplomat.

"I think that's what Sharon is counting on. The Palestinians will end up in ghettoes which the Israelis will be smart enough to ensure have enough jobs to keep the population fed and clothed. But is it a viable solution for more than a generation? I doubt it."

2. If you will it, it is a dream
Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz, March 3, 2003

If the arch-settler Avigdor Lieberman ever had even the slightest concern about the potential negative influence of Ariel Sharon's "Herzliya speech" on the new government's policy, U.S. President George Bush's speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week removed it. Without any bargaining, Bush bought Israeli-made mines that rip the Quartet's road map to shreds. Or, if you prefer, they turn the vision of establishing a Palestinian state into a dream. Bush confirmed that in the territories, as in Iraq, he is aiming for a military victory and implementation of the right's doctrine. Like Sharon with regard to the territories, Bush is paying lip service to "bringing democracy" and to proper diplomatic procedure.

And if, on the eve of war with Iraq - when the United States is so in need of Arab trust - its president nevertheless lines up with the Israeli right, when will he force a Palestinian state on Israel - after the war? On the eve of the presidential elections? When he will need the Jewish vote?

No one expected that Bush would launch an Israeli-Palestinian peace process a few days before launching a war against Iraq. All that Tony Blair, his loyal ally, urged him to do was to declare his support for the Quartet's road map. This would have helped the U.S. refute the "double standards" charge that is gaining strength throughout the world, in the U.S. and even among key Republicans. But despite this, in his speech at AEI, Bush chose to adhere to the principles of his speech of June 24, 2002, which has become Sharon's diplomatic platform (or vice versa).

One would think that speeches aimed at the "national camp" would grate on the ears of members of the "peace camp." Yet the ultimatum on removing Yasser Arafat and the authorization for expanding the occupation became key articles in the diplomatic platform that opened the door to a partnership between ex-Moledet members and ex-Meretz members. Shinui's many lawyers would presumably not sign an agreement before they had read it carefully. But how would minister and attorney Yosef Paritzky advise a client to respond to a lawsuit if, before the negotiations on the assets stolen from him (as the client believes) could even begin, he was required to oust the chairman of his board of directors?

Would MK and attorney Etti Livni advise her client to sign an agreement stating that negotiations on dismantling the thousands of buildings erected on his land by force of arms should begin only after there is a demonstrated state of relative quiet? And would she advise him to agree that the power to decide whether this "quiet" has been demonstrated be given exclusively to his adversary (who has proven by his actions and announced publicly that he intends to erect additional buildings)?

The chances that the Palestinians will accede to Sharon's public demand that they oust Arafat - and in earnest, not through the "sham" appointment of a prime minister - are identical to the chances that Israelis will accede to Arafat's demand that they oust Sharon. Where will anyone find a Palestinian leader willing to order the collection of all illegal weapons and to dismantle all the security services ("the terrorist organizations," according to the Herzliya speech) without Israel even hinting at a commitment to freeze the settlements, even temporarily, and to dismantle the illegal outposts?

It is true that Israeli politicians' client is the state of Israel, not the Palestinians. Let us assume, therefore, that at Herzliya, Sharon did announce the establishment of Palestine, for the benefit of the state of Israel. But what did we gain from this? Neither an agreement to end the conflict nor even a waiver of the right of return. One would have to be extraordinarily negligent to read the "Herzliya speech" and believe that this document could serve as the basis of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And one would have to be a complete cynic to listen to Bush's AEI speech and conclude that these words will bring about an end to the violence and a renewal of negotiations.

And a final aside, for the benefit of those who nevertheless believe that there is something in the "Bush-Sharon understandings": In the coalition agreement, the prime minister effectively retracted the public commitment he made at Herzliya to bring these "understandings" to the new cabinet for approval as soon as it was established.

3. The routine calamities that destroy lives
Amira Hass, Ha’aretz, February 26, 2003

The daily routine nowadays for every Palestinian in Gaza or in the West Bank, is made up of an unending series of calamities, their present ramifications, and the certain fear of new ones to come.

One night, the life of the Al Hilo family from Gaza's Tufah neighborhood, fell apart. As part of the IDF's routine actions against Qassam rocket manufacturers, last Tuesday, February 18, at 10 P.M., armored personnel carriers rolled into east Gaza City. Later, the routine IDF account would say, 11 armed Palestinians were killed.

The force came accompanied by helicopters and with heavy fire. About an hour later, soldiers in one of the helicopters fired a missile at a car carrying three members of the Palestinian General Intelligence forces; later, Palestinian sources would say the three were chasing some other Palestinians who apparently were on their way to fire Qassams.

Meanwhile, an armored force, including tanks, was closing in on the home of the Al Kata family in Tufah. The head of the household owned a metalwork shop on the first floor of the building. The soldiers called for everyone inside to come out. A few soldiers went into the next door house, owned by Nahed Al Hilo, and ordered his 22-year-old son, Ala, to accompany them on a room to room search to make sure nobody else was in the building.

The soldiers then ordered the family, which is related by marriage to the Al Kata's, to leave their home and together with the Al Katas and another neighboring family, they were sent into a nearby orchard, to wait. Despite the bitter cold, the soldiers did not allow them to go to a nearby relatives' house, to keep warm.

During the next four and a half hours, some 35 people, including women and children cowered in the orchard, while fifty meters away, explosions went off inside the metalwork factory. Around 3 A.M., the troops began to pull out. Everything fell quiet. The people in the orchard reckoned they could go home. No soldier warned them not to go back.

Sa'id Al Hilo, a 25-year-old, and Ala, his brother, were football players. They once even played opposite an Israeli side, in the early days of the peace process, in Norway. They ran a grocery store their father bought for them out of his savings as a floorer in Israel. Along with their cousin Tamar Darwish, they ran ahead of everyone back to the house. At 3:45 A.M. they were standing in front of the metal works shop. There was an enormous explosion. They were buried under the rubble of the demolished building, in front of their parents and relatives, some of whom, including children, were wounded by that blast.

Rescue vehicles and other cars could not reach the area quickly because the IDF had dug trenches in the roads, which anyway aren't paved. The father, himself wounded, together with his youngest son Sami, began digging by hand in the rubble, searching for the bodies. He didn't pay attention to the fact that his own house was semi-destroyed by the enormous explosion.

The metalwork shop owner had returned that same day from a trip to Saudi Arabia and came in through Rafah. If there was information that he manufactures Qassam rockets, why wasn't he arrested, to get valuable information about the identity of those who order the rockets from him? Or maybe there wasn't any specific information, of the kind the IDF always claims to have, but only general information about a metal workshop?

This is only one example, taken practically at random, of the routine of calamity. Along with the metal work shop, life savings and years of hard work went down the drain. Thousands of families have seen their livelihoods destroyed this way. If not a direct demolition of their home, then through indirect damage caused by the demolition of a neighboring house. If not a lathe, then a field or a greenhouse.

The Kata and Hilo families didn't even have time to apprehend the meaning of the destruction of their homes, before the three youths lost their lives. Not in a battle. Not trying to sneak into a settlement or in a suicide bombing, but just a few meters from their homes. Thus, the IDF continues the killing of civilians every day. Thus, young people are pushed into choosing death in an attempt to take vengeance on Israelis. And in the vicious cycle, the troops come back and demolish their homes and arrest their relatives.

Calamities - when the lives of a person, a family, a society are turned upside down - are enormous, unusual, once-in-a-lifetime events. The opposite of routine. But the nature of the Palestinian effort to cope with the series of IDF raids means adapting to a routine of disaster after disaster. There's no time to get used to the results of one disaster before the next one comes. And every day, that routine gets worse. But as routine, it doesn't draw much attention.

In Israel, people are convinced this is how to fight terror and defeat it, as the army has been promising for 28 months. But during that period, some 3.5 million people have paid for it with enormous material, economic and emotional distress, with neither relief nor a lull. The constant expectation is that a blow ten-fold worse than the previous one is on its way, and if not today, then tomorrow, an even-worse one will come to ruin their lives.

4. An entire city under house arrest
Danny Rubinstein, Ha’aretz, March 3, 2003

For close to 18 years - from 1948 to 1966 - the Arab citizens in Israel were subject to military government. Israeli Arabs were forbidden to leave their area or residence without the permission of the military governor. The Israeli security authorities, especially in the `50s, strictly enforced all the military government's regulations.

In the `60s, the military government gradually faded away until it was officially abolished. A comparison of the military rule in the state's early years to the rule in the West Bank (and to a lesser extent in Gaza) today, shows that the procedures implemented by the security establishment today are much more severe than in the past, when the Israel Defense Forces were weak and the state's borders were wide open.

It is all a question of proportion. How much time, for instance, should curfew be imposed on a city like Nablus, with some 100,000 inhabitants, when there is information that a suicide bomber is planning to set off from it?

You can impose a curfew and conduct searches for a week, two weeks, even a few months. This is not an imaginary example. Senior IDF commanders said a few months ago that Nablus had been kept under curfew for several weeks because of three men on the army's wanted list.

The Israeli military government has imposed restrictions on the movement of more than 2 million residents of the West Bank. The term "restrictions on movement" does not reflect the situation accurately. In fact, the residents of the West Bank are under a kind of house arrest. They are nearly unable to leave their towns, villages or refugee camps. They are not merely forbidden to enter the state of Israel - that is taken for granted - but they need Israeli permits for almost every step they take within the West Bank. Even with those permits, moving from one village or town to another is, in most cases, all but impossible.

The village Nahalin, south of Jerusalem, below the ultra-Orthodox settlement Beitar Ilit, is a case in point. All Nahalin's residents require the services of Bethlehem, which is a few kilometers away, on a daily basis. In the past, it would take them a few minutes to get to Bethlehem for work, school, commercial activity or medical treatment.

Today they cannot leave their village by car because the road is blocked. They must walk part of the way to Bethlehem and use taxis the rest of the way. This can take hours.

The picture in Abu Dis is more typical. A long, high concrete wall passes along the middle of the main street, among houses and shops, with the purpose of blocking the entrance to East Jerusalem. Those who have a permit must make a huge detour via the Ma'aleh Adumim road. But wonder of wonders, in some places people climb over the wall and get to the other side. They have to be physically fit to do so, and women and elderly folk need help. Many IDF troops and border patrolmen are posted along the wall. Sometimes they check those who climb over the wall, but mostly they turn a blind eye. The wall, says a student in the nearby Al-Quds University, was built only out of an Israeli need to show that something was being done.

The new military government is stepping up its intervention in every walk of life. You need permits not only for the passage of people, but also to move merchandise. In large parts of the West Bank Israeli consent is now required to build a house, to lay a water or sewage pipe, mend a road or a power line.

The large development projects in the West Bank have long since halted. Higher education is also being supervised.

A closure order was sent to the Hebron University, claiming there was incitement and terror activity on campus. "Nobody invited us to explain or called to find out, they just sent notice to shut down and that was it," say university administration staff.

They believe other West Bank universities will also be closed down when the Israeli military government becomes permanent.

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