Friday, April 4

MCC Palestine Update #77

MCC Palestine Update #77

April 4, 2003

Last week we solicited your prayers that the convoy of food headed for the Mawasi in the southern Gaza Strip would be allowed through. Late Sunday evening we received word that our group of Christian organizations (of which Mennonite Central Committee is an active member) was being granted a permit to do a “back-to-back” transfer of the goods at the Israeli checkpoint into the Mawasi. In other words, our trucks would have to back up to the checkpoint, be unloaded, and then loaded onto another truck. Furthermore, each of the 1200 25 kg. bags of flour and each of the 1200 boxes of food would have to go through an x-ray machine. While we were disappointed with the restrictions, we were happy with the permit.

Our trucks reached the Mawasi checkpoint at 11 am on Monday morning. Dan Simmons of World Vision and Alain Epp Weaver of MCC approached the soldiers at the checkpoint to see about the procedures. After a while, a young soldier informed us that while we did have a permit, it had not gone through the proper channels and so we would have to wait until 2 or 2:30 to start unloading. The checkpoint, meanwhile, we were told, would close at 5 pm. Doubting that we could unload and load the trucks in that little time, we protested; the soldier responded blithely that if we didn’t finish unloading today, we could do so tomorrow.

After some frantic calls to senior Israeli military officers, we secured permission to unload from 2:30 to 6:30. In what felt like a race against the clock, we rushed to finishing unloading and loading the trucks. When the final box cleared the x-ray machine, we felt a burst of satisfaction at a completed job.

This satisfaction was greatly tempered, however, by the fact that, during the entire time we were at the checkpoint, scores of Palestinians from the Mawasi waited on either side of the checkpoint for permission to leave to go to Khan Younis (for medical care, for food, etc.), or to return (after having given birth, having been in the hospital, etc.). Only a handful were let through during the nearly 8 hours we were there. One woman, Basima, had come out of the Mawasi after going into labor in her eighth month of pregnancy. She lost the baby and had been trying for days to get back home. One man, Majd, waited with 10 boxes of needles for the Mawasi’s medical clinic; he, too, had been waiting for days.

The people of the Mawasi, living imprisoned among Israeli settlements and military checkpoints, and having been economically devastated by 30 months of tight travel restrictions and the near-destruction of their agricultural and fishing sectors, freely admit that they can use the food that we brought them. That makes our work on Monday feel satisfying. What is clear, however, is that the greatest need of the Mawasi’s residents is freedom—freedom from occupation, freedom to travel a mere kilometer to work, to hospital, to school.

Below you will find three pieces. The first is an interview with Jamal Jume’, the coordinator of the campaign against the separation/apartheid wall being built by the Israeli military throughout the occupied territories. MCC is supporting this campaign, directed by the Palestinian Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations Network. [For a very recent map projecting the path of the wall—based on satellite imaging, media reports, field visits, and expert analysis—see the following URL:]. In the second piece Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass provides a critical look at the actions of Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories. In the final, more journalistic piece, Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy reports from Tulkarem about how that city’s residents are viewing the current US invasion of Iraq.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. A ghetto between the wall and the Green Line
Published at on March 26, 2003.

This week Palestine Report interviews Jamal Jume', coordinator of the Apartheid Wall Campaign for the Palestinian Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations Network, on the recent changes in the course of Israel's separation wall.

PR: What changes are now being made in Israel's wall, and how will these changes affect West Bank residents?

In the first phase, they didn't announce any maps; they just announced what they started to work on. We know that they are not willing to tell the Palestinians and the world what they are doing, so that they can modify the route of the wall as it is developed on the ground.

The first phase, from Salem, near Jenin, until south of Qalqilya, isolated 17 villages with a total population of 14,000 people. They are totally isolated from the West Bank and from Israel. They're stuck in a ghetto between the wall and the Green Line [marking the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank], isolated from hospitals, from all services, schools, universities, markets. This whole population is threatened. There are also another 15 villages that have become landless. This means that all of their land is located on the west side of the wall and they don't have any access to it.

As expected from the beginning, this wall is going to stretch all along the West Bank; it's going to be 360 kilometers long. As they are doing it now, the wall's buffer zone is between 30 to 100 meters.

For the first phase of the wall, the footprint, or the area it is being built on, took 11,500 dunams of land. In this phase, they pulled up 83,000 fruit trees - olive, citrus, almond and other trees. Eighty-four dunams, like 8.4 square kilometers, have been destroyed by bulldozers. We are talking about 35.7 kilometers of water pipes and networks, and more than 33 artesian wells that people depend on for irrigating their land and also for drinking water. They have now been isolated behind the wall, and even the other wells, on the eastern side of the wall, have been disconnected from the land that they irrigated on the other side of the wall.

The main government proposal was supposed to isolate 95,000 Palestinians, excluding East Jerusalem. That's 4.5 percent of the West Bank population. That's if they just continue building the wall as planned in the beginning, before all of the modifications. This is besides the other 200,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem who would be totally isolated from the West Bank.

PR: Why are these changes being made at such a late date? Was this always part of the overall plan?

Now the settlers are becoming interested in this. At first, the settlers were against the wall from a theoretical point, because it was going to prevent them from expanding in the West Bank and enjoying Israel's land - as they consider it. Now, they are in favor of the wall because they've seen how much they can benefit from the wall.

Their plan is to annex [to Israel] most of the major settlements in the middle of the West Bank, and also the block around Jerusalem, Bethlehem and between Bethlehem and Hebron. This is going to isolate another 110,000 Palestinians in the area. In total, 410,000 Palestinians will be isolated between the Green Line and this wall. This is almost 20 percent of the Palestinian population.

The other political issues are very clear. They are totally controlling the West Bank, totally isolating it into cantons. Even the cities will be like open-air prisons. This is the political future of Palestinian areas - ghettos, isolated areas, no continuity. The [East Jerusalem settlement] Maale Adumim expansion plan is until Jericho, it totally isolates the two parts of the West Bank.
[Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon is in favor of the settlers; [Defense Minister] Mofaz is in favor of the settlers. The government is seriously studying the settlers' proposal and they are almost approving annexing at least Ariel [settlement], which hints that the proposal is going to be accepted in other areas. Sharon has also declared the other wall in the east part of the West Bank, which has totally isolated the Jordan River valley from the rest of the West Bank. This wall became the frame for the political, colonial project in the West Bank.

The wall has surrounded the whole West Bank now, from all sides. It will be, according to Sharon's latest declaration, more than 700 kilometers long around the West Bank. In the long term, this controls the expansion of the population. The other choice for the Palestinians in the future, in the coming years and decades, because there is no other area to build on, is to leave, to leave the country.

PR: In addition to the obvious destruction caused to agricultural land, water pipes and so forth, does the construction of the wall pose any threats to the environment?

Jume': The impact of the whole settlement project, not just the wall, is a monster from the beginning. First of all, look at what this network of roads in the West Bank has done. They are getting rid of the biodiversity. Wildlife, especially animal wildlife, is going to disappear, and it is disappearing. With these huge highways that they've opened, wild animals can't cross from one area to another.

All of the chemical and dangerous industries that they didn't allow in Israel, they brought to the West Bank. Now we have more than five very dangerous chemical factories running in Palestinian areas, one of them in one of the major cities - Tulkarem. You can review reports about the health problems that have developed in that area, such as cancer.

PR: What kind of strategies can be used to fight the construction of this wall?

Jume': We launched a campaign to stop the wall. We know that this wall finalizes the apartheid system in the West Bank. We are shouting, and calling to the whole world, saying that if you are interested in having any peaceful agreement in this area, in the Middle East, which affects the whole world, this wall has to be stopped immediately. It's simply going to enforce the occupation, it's going to make the conflict much worse.

We are still running this campaign and doing lobbying and advocacy issues and meeting decision makers, taking them on tours to the wall. We are now planning on doing speaking tours in Europe, meeting the parliaments and asking them to come here, to see. This is a responsibility not just for the Palestinians, it is the whole world's responsibility. This is going to dismantle the Oslo agreements, and United Nations resolutions 242 and 338.

Unfortunately, Israel is using the right time to implement this, and they are working like crazy. There are 25 big construction companies in Israel working six days a week, 10 hours a day on the wall - more than 250 big heavy machines are working at the same time. This is the right time because nobody is listening to what we are saying. The whole world is busy with other things. This is the time now to stop the Israelis from this madness. Creating another apartheid system won't help them, won't help peace. Palestinians, in the 21st century, won't accept to live in cantons, in open-air prisons.

-Published 26/3/03(c)Palestine Report

2. The soldier is evil, the soldier is Israel
By Amira Hass

Israel has recently come out with a number of humanitarian gestures in the territories, primarily the easing of conditions at checkpoints - such was the announcement made to the United States, and such was the announcement made Monday on one of the television news broadcasts. Perhaps these gestures were put into practice after last Thursday; and perhaps before then, the Americans hadn't had the time to inform the commanders and soldiers in eastern Nablus that they must now adopt a welcoming approach to the pregnant woman who almost slips on the muddy slope, or to the elderly man who, on his way home from the doctor in Nablus, climbs over the piles of asphalt fragments that the Israel Defense Forces bulldozers have crushed. Last Thursday, someone from the village of Salem, east of Nablus, called and said the soldiers had been holding "hundreds of people - women, adults and children - for the past three hours" and were not allowing them to pass. Rifles held at an angle of 60 degrees and fingers on the trigger make the soldiers' intentions clear. It's almost standard practice, say residents of the three villages east of Nablus - Salem, Dir al-Khateb and Azmut: An IDF force positions itself at the foot of the hill of the new Askar refugee camp, alongside what was once a short asphalt road that reaches the three villages and is now a mess of mud and piles of torn-up tarmac. The force holds up people for no apparent reason, the residents say, from both directions - from the west, to Nablus, or from the east, from Nablus to the villages. The soldiers often force people to backtrack; and they frequently accompany their actions with offensive speech and insults. Some even use force. A military source was convinced that the directives are to check only that men between the ages of 16 and 40 have permits from the Civil Administration to move from the villages to Nablus and vice versa, and that there are no intentions to prevent women, the elderly and children from passing through the checkpoints. The reality on the ground is different: Without explanation and without any apparent checks, the soldiers do indeed hold these people up - for 10 minutes, or an hour or two, and more, all day, twice a day - men and women. This is the only thoroughfare for these three villages, and it's only for pedestrians (in fact, it's only for able-bodied pedestrians, as life-threatening danger lurks for anyone who has even a little difficulty walking). The sick and pregnant women also have to make the journey on foot, and go through a series of explanations and attempts to persuade the soldiers to allow them to continue to climb or wait for the ambulance that is slow to arrive. There is no commercial way of ferrying agricultural produce and food to and from the villages because there is no authorized thoroughfare for Palestinian vehicles - contrary, by the way, to an explicit promise made by the IDF to the High Court of Justice some two years ago in response to a petition against the closure policy submitted by an association of doctors: The IDF promised that every blocked and enclosed Palestinian community has a thoroughfare for direct vehicle traffic. In practice, most villages are blocked to rapid movement of emergency vehicles. The IDF is not honoring its promise to the High Court, and the soldiers are operating contrary to what their commanders are promising to the media. At most of the roadblocks that are manned by soldiers and include obstacles (mounds of dirt or ditches designed to prevent vehicular traffic), alongside which army patrols sometimes stop, the soldiers are adding to the institutionalized difficulty - the fruits of a policy from above - and are improvising insults and harassments of various kinds. Assume there are 300 such roadblocks and obstacles between the villages and cities. Through some of them, a thousand people try to pass each day; through others, 10,000 - on foot, in the rain, and in the heat. Assume that each roadblock is manned by between four and 10 soldiers. In other words, some 1,200-3,000 soldiers are positioned at these key points, in constant, daily friction with 20,000-100,000 Palestinian citizens at least. A few months after the outbreak of the bloody conflict, when commanders realized the roadblocks were being accompanied by the personal addition of insults and harassment, they tried to implement a system of internal checks, education and information. One of them admitted a few months ago that this system had failed, that there is in fact no way of preventing very many soldiers from coming up with various personal methods of proving who is "the man" in the field. For us, the Israelis, reports on routine harassment at roadblocks in particular, and the distress of the closures in general, cannot be "news." It is difficult even to describe in words the depressing, degrading topography of the obstacles and roadblocks to those who keep out of the occupied territories. For us, the Israelis, the soldiers are our brothers, and sons, and spouses and neighbors. The answer is that they are afraid, that there are terror attacks, that every pregnant woman could be a ticking bomb, that each child could be holding a knife, that it is hot, cold, rainy and muggy, that they are longing for home. It is difficult to imagine them as being cruel, heartless, just plain evil. But this is the picture they paint at the roadblocks, and this is the picture of Israel. Even if the Palestinians are able to recognize the extraordinary "good soldier," even if only one soldier in every four is abusive, he is the one who determines what the day will be like. He is the one who is etched in memory. He is Israel.

3. Their enemies' enemy
By Gideon Levy

They were affronted by the length of the American ultimatum that preceded the war. "Forty-eight hours? That is an important number in the history of the Arab people. That is a number we don't like, an insulting number," says Abd al-Jalili Maklouf, the director of the community center in the camp. He's convinced that the president of the United States laid down that particular ultimatum deliberately. The memory of 1948 is pervasive in every dwelling in this place, which is one of the most wretched and squalid of the refugee camps in the West Bank. There are at least 16,000 members of refugee families here - it's been a long time since anyone bothered to do a count - who are crammed into narrow, neglected alleys. Unemployment stands at more than 60 percent; 30 of the camp's residents have been killed in the current intifada; 250 more are inmates in Israeli prisons, and an Israeli tank is almost constantly parked at the end of the main street. Photographs of the people from the camp who have died in the fighting are pasted on the walls. The images of the scowling dead men have now been joined by a poster in memory of a young blonde woman who is smiling - the American volunteer Rachel Corrie, who was run over by an Israeli army bulldozer in Rafah and has become a martyr in the muddy lanes of Tul Karm. Corrie, though, is the only American for whom the camp's residents have any sympathy. Residents are now following the war in Iraq, in the hope that salvation will come from there, when those whom they consider good triumph over the bad. As they count their dead and bemoan their joblessness, their poverty and the abject hopelessness of their lives, what do they have left apart from hope for the victory of Saddam Hussein, the enemy of their enemies, who has infused them with pride, if only for a moment. "The people who danced on the rooftops here in 1991 were people under curfew. They did not dance in their independent state," says Ibrahim Abu Awad, a resident of the camp and an official of the Palestinian Authority. "Why don't you Israelis feel for us and our suffering?" asks Taisar Mustafa, the director of the office of the PA's Legislative Council (parliament) in the camp. "Dead end" reads the sign on the road that leads from Netanya to the imprisoned city, as though there is no city and no life at the end of this road. And the truth is that Tul Karm is a dead end - half destroyed, half deserted, totally cut off from its outlying villages, with its two meager refugee camps, Tul Karm and Nur Shams. In the conference room of the Tul Karm camp's popular committee about a dozen camp functionaries are sitting around, discussing politics. Ibrahim Abu Awad: "Saddam is not only a person, Saddam is an Arab thought. He is a leader who is safeguarding his country's independence and sovereignty. He is standing alone and all the Arab states are standing to the side. America considers any government that does not support its policy a dictatorship. Maybe the Americans will succeed in removing Saddam, but they will never succeed in ruling Iraq. If they oust him it will only cause more despair and more hatred of them and of Israel." Adnan Damiri: "The Americans think they have to control every place in the Arab world that has oil, and the only obstacle in the gulf is Iraq. It's not that we like Saddam. It is not a matter of love - there is no love in politics - but he is against imperialism. A dictator is a dictator, the whole Arab world is full of dictatorships. [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak is a dictator, too, he was also elected with a 99 percent majority. And what about the Saudis? The Kuwaitis? America is not against dictators, only against those who safeguard the independence of their people and country. They have supported and still support all the dictators in the world, so why pick on Saddam? I won't regret it if something happens to Saddam, but I will regret it if something happens to the Arab people. You ask about the parallel between Saddam and [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat? Well, I will draw a parallel between Saddam and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon. The one is a war criminal and the other is a war criminal. Saddam hasn't yet had a court and a commission of inquiry to find that he is a war criminal. Sharon has. "I think that Israel should be persuaded that all the force, all the bombs and all the American planes will not be able to subdue the Iraqi people. I am convinced that all the pygmies on the Israel side will not be able to subdue the Palestinian people and will not be able to choose our leader for us. There is not going to be a new Kharzi [referring to Afghanistan President Hamid Kharzi], not for Iraq and not for Palestine. All there will be is more hatred for the Americans, the British and the Israelis, and more affection for the French. "Every nation always supports its soldiers, its children, in wartime, even if the people are against the war. So why can't the Arabs also support our children in a war, even if we do not support all the Iraqi positions? We have the right to support our Iraqi children in their war and our Palestinian children in our war. "You Israelis have experience in looking for an alternative leadership for another nation. You always looked for a different leadership, but had no success. You tried Antoine Lahad in Lebanon and the Village Leagues here, you tried with all your collaborators, you tried but didn't succeed. Do you think the Americans are going to be able to bring a nation of 25 million people a government of collaborators?" Are you disappointed that Iraq hasn't fired Scud missiles at Israel? Damiri: "An English journalist once asked me whether we danced on the rooftops [in 1991]. I told him, yes, we danced, I danced with my children and we were very happy. Why, he asked me. Because they are killing Israeli children? No, I told him, we are not happy when Israeli children are killed. But when someone has been slapping you around for 35 years, every day a slap, every day a blow, and suddenly someone comes and gives him a slap, should I be pleased or should I be angry at him? But no, I am not disappointed that there are no Scuds. I will be disappointed if the Americans are able to rule in Baghdad. What interests me is for the Iraqi people to win this war, so the Americans will not achieve their goals." Damiri said that he is "afraid that the Israelis still do not understand us well. After 35 years of occupation, they still don't understand us. We will not be happy to see an Israeli killed on the street or on a bus. That does not make us feel good. Believe me, it hurts us. A people that suffers like us is very sensitive to the suffering of another people. I will not be happy if someone is killed in Costa Rica, either. The problem is that there is hatred of the Israeli occupation, not of the Israeli people, and we will be happy at anything that is a setback for the occupation." Damiri relates that he was incarcerated by Israel in 1975. "There were three, four, maybe ten activists of the revolution in the camp, no more. I didn't think then that my people in this refugee camp would be part of the Palestinian revolution. Never. The Israelis said we were a `handful of terrorists.' Yet today, today we are the leaders of the Palestinian people - I was part of the security liaison for the Palestinian Authority and I sat across from those who interrogated me back then. "We in Fatah gambled on peace with the Israelis, on removing the occupation peacefully. We were the ones who signed at Oslo, not the [Popular] Front and not Hamas, only us in Fatah, and then came the Israelis and supported Sharon as their leader, and now 90 percent of the Israelis, even [Meretz MK] Yossi Sarid, say that Arafat is not relevant. People at soccer games in Jerusalem chant `Death to the Arabs,' and we do not have the face to come to our friends in Hamas and the Front and Islamic Jihad and tell them that we were right. They always said, `A dead infant was born at Oslo'; and we always said, `A disabled infant, a Mongoloid, was born, so what are we supposed to do, throw it out?' In the history of nations anything can happen, but in the end right is stronger than might. And the right of the Iraqis is stronger than the technology of the Americans." In the afternoon, Basil Abbas, who has been deaf and mute from birth, walked down the main street of the camp with his friend Rajah Nasrallah, who is also unable to hear. This was at the beginning of the month. Now Nasrallah, using sign language, is reconstructing what happened next to the camp's drugstore. The tank approached but Abbas didn't hear it. The soldiers began shooting. Abbas was hit in the leg and signaled to them with his hands that he was a mute, but the soldiers thought he was threatening them and they went on shooting, pumping six bullets into him. He died there, on the main street of his refugee camp. More than three weeks after the incident, four of his friends, all of them hard of hearing, are wandering through the alley around the house, their expressions downcast, still mourning. The bereaved mother, Amina, says that her son was killed as he was on his way to buy a milk substitute at the drugstore. Nasrallah says, in his language, that he tried to pull his dying friend off the street, but the soldiers wouldn't let him approach. Here is Abbas' deaf-mute card, serial number 75: "The bearer of this card is deaf. Thanks to anyone who helps him." An egg peddler goes from house to house in the narrow path, pushing a supermarket cart. Here is the home of a wanted man, Basil Shihab. The soldiers are constantly hunting him and lying in wait for him. Four palm seedlings behind a small fence are a monument to Omar Kassam, who died some time ago, after spending 25 years in an Israeli prison. And here is the home of the international soccer referee Kamal Abad, who was killed in an ambulance of the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) exactly a year ago. Also killed on the same day, in another ambulance, belonging to the Red Crescent, was Ibrahim Assad. He was trying to rush a badly wounded man, Shadi Abbas, to hospital. A small marble plaque by the side of the street commemorates Abbas, who died. He was the cousin of the mute Abbas who was killed a year later. In the club run by the Popular Front, a group of men sit in a circle and mourn Hamed Abed Rabbo, who worked for UNRWA. He died just the other day. He was sitting in his house watching television, saw the news from Iraq; collapsed and died.

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