Friday, March 28

MCC Palestine Update #76

MCC Palestine Update #76

March 28, 2003

The US-led war against Iraq has, fortunately, not brought with it some of the horrors that some Palestinians had feared: blanket curfew over all of the occupied territories or even mass ethnic cleansing. The everyday horrors, however, continue. One example among hundreds, even thousands: For weeks now, MCC and a group of other international Christian organizations have been trying to gain access to the Mawasi in the southern Gaza Strip to deliver food packets for the families there who live in a virtual prison, surrounded by Israeli settlements and military outposts, living weeks on end under curfew, their movements out of the Mawasi to Rafah and Khan Younis strictly and arbitrarily controlled (women, for example, who leave the Mawasi to give birth in Khan Younis must wait for weeks for permission to get back in). People in the Mawasi suspect that the harsh measures to which they are subjected are a form of economic pressure on them to leave their homes in the Mawasi, giving the Israeli settlement bloc of Gush Qatif exclusive control over the Mawasi area and its fertile land and its (for Gaza) prime water resources.

The World Food Program has routinely faced obstacles in getting food in to the people of the Mawasi. Late last week, it looked like our coalition of Christian agencies would receive permission to go the Mawasi on Monday, March 24. Then, over the weekend, we were told by the Israeli military to postpone until Thursday, and were told that we would not be allowed to bring in trucks, but would have to unload “back-to-back,” unloading the food parcels from our trucks and loading them on to donkey carts brought by our partner organization in the Mawasi. Then early this week we were told that Thursday would not be possible after all, that we should look to Monday, March 31 for the convoy. Please pray that we might succeed in bringing in food to the people in Mawasi; more importantly, pray that the Mawasi’s residents might be able to leave their homes freely, move their agricultural produce to Khan Younis and Rafah without delay, and travel without restriction the one kilometer that separates them from Rafah and Khan Younis; pray that families separated by the Mawasi checkpoints might be reunited; pray that families in Rafah and Khan Younis will be able to travel the one kilometer road to the sea.

Below you will find two pieces, both by Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass. In the first, Hass discusses the fact that, while the horror scenarios of mass “transfer” or blanket curfews under the cover of war have not materialized, the everyday, routine horrors of the closure/siege on Palestinian population centers, of economic devastation, of “collateral damage” and “accidental” shootings, of an apartheid wall being constructed throughout the West Bank, continue. In the second, Hass provides a disturbing glimpse of Israeli army behavior in the occupied territories.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Horror scenarios coming true
Amira Hass, Ha’aretz, March 26, 2003

It has been almost a week since the United States and Britain launched the attack on Iraq, and the horror scenarios outlined by the Palestinians in recent weeks - concerning Israel's military policy toward them - are not coming true. These scenarios were drawn up by private individuals and official spokesmen or activists from various organizations. They warned that international attention would be focused on what is happening in Iraq, and under that cover, Israel would take advantage of the opportunity to increase its attacks. But a full curfew has not been imposed on the West Bank territories. The internal closure has not been toughened. The frequent Israel Defense Forces attacks, especially in the Gaza Strip, which took about 10 lives on each occasion, have not been renewed. And the horror scenarios of mass deportation, internal expulsion and a direct blow to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat have certainly not come true. Cynics will say it is still early to breathe a sigh of relief at the non-realization of the horror scenarios. After all, the war in Iraq has only just begun. Perhaps if ultimately the Iraqis do try to attack Israel - the reaction will in part roll over onto the Palestinians. However, it could be said the warnings have been effective: The United States in particular, but also the European countries, have warned Israel not to escalate the situation at a time when the countries attacking Iraq need regional stability. The alarm bells rung by the Palestinians before the war with Iraq could have created the impression that their lives were "back to normal" - a not unbearable routine. The proof: It hasn't blown up. Yet this is not the case. By any economic, sociological, historical and humane standard, about 3.5 million Palestinians are living in a catastrophic situation and constant disruption of normal life. Horror scenarios are in fact happening every day to every individual and community. Vaguely, people in Israel are hearing about the chronic unemployment and the extreme poverty that would have unraveled the social fabric of any society with less solidarity than the Palestinian one. Only internal Palestinian solidarity and European and Arab philanthropy are preventing situations of mass starvation. Every day between 10 and 20 "wanted men" are arrested, according to reports from the IDF, which does not report how many of them were released a day later, or how many were arrested so they would become collaborators, how many were beaten, what their conditions of detention were in tents exposed to the rain and wind and how much time goes by before they are allowed to see a lawyer or their family. The many dead have been mainly an opportunity to show more pictures of funerals accompanied by cries for revenge. The Palestinian wounded, among them many children - a huge burden on impoverished families - are an opportunity to point out the Iraqi money going to the terrorists. The limitations on Palestinians' freedom of movement are an opportunity to film wadis where Palestinians are trying to break the strict internal closure to get to work, to school and to their families. An opportunity to show how the security authorities have stretched their limits to the breaking point. Anything else, anything that has to do with the individual, is of no interest: hours of delay at the roadblocks; routine beatings; harassing drivers; confiscating taxicabs; fines imposed on drivers; sick people and elderly people transferred in ambulances over muddy slopes. What is being felt every hour of every day by hundreds of thousands of relatives of people who have been arrested, wounded or killed and high-school students who break the closure and pass under the wide open eyes of the guns on tanks and armored personnel carriers - has made no impression at all on Israeli and Western consciousness. The routing of the separation fence will be changed in accordance with the recommendations of the lobby of the Jewish settlers in the territories. In Israel in any case people do not want to know that this means a broad battery of a variety of types of fortifications, at the expense of Palestinian land, the livings of tens of thousands of Palestinians, Palestinian freedom of movement, the Palestinian gross national product and the possibility of a viable state. The bottom line is that Israel, the IDF and its soldiers are waging a war every day against 3.5 million Palestinians. In Israel, they are convinced this is what needs to be done to stop the terror. It is a fact that the terror attacks have lessened. The Palestinians' need to be wary of disasters and horror scenarios even worse than the current situation derives primarily from the recognition that this disastrous status quo of theirs is not succeeding in shocking the policy makers in the influential Western world. Not the way a single terror attack on Israeli civilians influences them. The drawing up of frightening scenarios - that are also based to a large extent on the experience of the not-too-distant past - is a desperate way to break the routine of impotence, the slowness of response and even the indifference on the part of the Western countries to the speed with which Israel and the Palestinians are losing any chance for a fair resolution of the conflict.

2. Our soldiers? Impossible
Amira Hass, Ha’aretz, March 19, 2003

On the phone, his voice sounded very young, like that of a high school student. But no; he's a soldier, serving somewhere in the West Bank. He identified himself by name, named his company, the unit, and the location of the base (and in a separate conversation named the base). He was bashful, hesitant, apologetic that he might be disturbing someone, but something was bothering him. Soldiers in his unit "beat bloody" two Palestinians whom they had arrested earlier that day and had brought to the base, he said. One was an Arab caught in the field with a gun. The second "was a detainee that the Shin Bet said did nothing and that he should be released." That was his conclusion from what he heard from one of the soldiers who had heard the officers. "`He didn't do anything. Take him and toss him out somewhere on the road,'" said that soldier. But meanwhile, the soldier with the youthful voice said on the phone that the two detainees were being held at the base. Their hands were tied behind them; their eyes covered with a blindfold. One was lying curled up on the ground, the other sat on a chair. And the soldiers beat them. A lot of soldiers. Beating and kicking until the two began to weep, and continued to beat them until the two pleaded for their lives. It was difficult for him to describe the scene he saw. "It reminded me of the Ramallah lynch," he said. The officers weren't present when the soldiers - as the soldier said - beat up the two detainees. The officers were in a nearby room. "I know that the right thing to do was report it to my officer. I didn't do my duty. Why not? Maybe because the atmosphere is 'why are you pitying them?' I feel the officers don't care, either. There's nobody to talk to. This is the first time I witnessed something like that. But I understood from the other soldiers that they go out to the villages and beat up Arabs. And I want to protect my ass. I want to finish my service in quiet." Lawyers who represent Palestinian detainees, including detainees who have been formally released, say the beatings are a widespread phenomenon. The big fear isn't of an arrest, but of the stage between being captured by the soldiers and being placed in a detention camp. During that time, sometimes hours long, say the Palestinians, the detainees are exposed to the whims of the soldiers, irrespective of suspicions against them or their age. Four youths were taken from their homes in Silat al Hartiya in early February, and managed to tell their lawyers that they were beaten from the moment they were put in the jeep until they were taken to the Salam detention center. At least they weren't beaten in front of their families, they said, unlike a youth from Balata who was beaten in front of his mother when he was arrested in early February. A pupil from Bir Zeit was arrested in early January, taken by jeep to a base south of Ramallah, and beaten the entire day - then released at night. Lawyers and Palestinian human rights organizations don't even bother keeping accurate records of all these complaints, let alone demand that they be investigated. Those arrested are not allowed to meet with lawyers immediately, and when they do get to meet them in the mass detention centers, the lawyers get very little time - 15 minutes per detainee. There's no time to take statements about abuse, and besides, the Palestinians are convinced that nobody in the army plans to seriously investigate the complaint. Those let out after a few days or even a few hours are also afraid that the complaint will lead to further abuse by soldiers. Is it a phenomenon, or did the soldier and the Palestinians exaggerate? The Palestinians - whose newspapers each day are full of reports of civilians who were killed when a house was demolished or when a shell was fired into a refugee camp - feel it's almost a luxury to complain about beatings. In Israel, where there's practically no criticism of the quick-finger-on-the-trigger policy and where Palestinian civilian deaths are never investigated, it's hard to expect that anyone will seriously examine complaints of detainees being beaten by soldiers. Beatings? Our soldiers? For no reason? A phenomenon? It can't be. The soldier's report, including the name of the company, unit and the location of the base (without naming it specifically), was given to the IDF Spokesman's Office 10 days ago. As of last night, the army had not responded

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