Tuesday, April 15

MCC Palestine Update #78

MCC Palestine Update #78

April 15, 2003

Christians—be they Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox—in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be celebrating Palm Sunday this upcoming Sunday, rather than Easter, as local parishes are continuing a relatively recent practice of celebrating the major “feasts” of Easter and Christmas together, with the “Western” churches celebrating Easter with the Orthodox on the “Eastern calendar,” and the “Eastern” churches celebrating Christmas with the Catholics and Protestants on December 25. Because Jerusalem, however, prides itself on being unique, and because churches in Jerusalem stick closely to the “status quo” which guides all of the rights and privileges of the churches, we ended up celebrating Palm Sunday two days ago. “Ride on, ride on in majesty,” our small congregation sang, reflecting on the unbearable memory that the crowds that shout Hosanna one week are shouting Crucify him! the next, on the painful realization that we, like Peter, who so eagerly want to proclaim our devotion, fall away.

This update is thus being sent out during Jerusalem’s Holy Week, which happens to be Holy Week for the vast majority of you reading these words. Like the past two years, it has felt hard for me to embark on the journey of Holy Week. This is a week of remembering violence, and violence seems omnipresent here, if not omnipotent. This past week, to give an incomplete listing, saw the death of Omar Matar, the 411th Palestinian child killed by the Israeli military; the killing of Thomas Hurndall, a British peace activist, in Rafah by an Israeli sniper; extrajudicial killings in Gaza that brought with them “collateral damage,” including the deaths of children; the killing of two Israeli soldiers in a military outpost in the Jordan valley. This is a week of remembering betrayal, and this is a land where the hopes of peace and reconciliation have too many times been betrayed.

As Christians, of course, we are empowered to live in hope amidst this violence and betrayal through Christ’s resurrection. In our present reality, however, as we await Christ’s return, the forces of sin and death (be they military, political, or deep within our souls) persist, even in the light of the resurrection. This coming Sunday our family and MCC’s peace development worker Ed Nyce will go to the Mount of Olives for a sunrise service to celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the powers of sin and death, to greet each other with “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Yet, as we wait for the sun to rise over the Jordan valley, we will be looking out onto lights in the valley below, most of which belong to the armed perimeter fences of illegal Israeli colonies built by force and “occupier’s law” in the Jordan valley, a stark reminder of the ongoing forces of violence of dispossession in the country. Other places in the world—be they Iraq, Canada, or the United States—bear somber witness to the continuing reality of sin and death, even as we gather in celebration for Easter. This Holy Week, may we of course be soberly realistic about the powers of sin and death in our lives and in our nations, but even more so God grant us the grace to be hopeful and expectant, living in the confidence granted by Jesus’ victory over death.

Below you will find two pieces. The first, by Uri Avneri, the head of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, provides a critical analysis of the much-discussed (but not yet officially released) “road map” designed by the Quartet (US/EU/UN/Russia). The second, by Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy, looks at the death of the 411th Palestinian child to be killed by the Israeli military since the end of September 2000.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. A Road Map to Nowhere - Or: Much Ado About Nothing
Uri Avnery

This could have been an important document, I F -I F all the parties really wanted to achieve a fair compromise.I F Sharon and Co. were really prepared to give back the occupied territories and dismantle the settlements.I F the Americans were willing to exert serious pressure on Israel.I F there were a president in Washington like Dwight Eisenhower, who did not give a damn about Jewish votes and donations.I F George Bush were convinced that the Road Map serves his interests, instead of being a bone to throw to his British poodle.I F Tony Blair thought that it serves his interests, instead of being a crumb to throw to his domestic rivals.I F the United Nations had any real power.I F Europe had any real power.I F Russia had any real power.I F my grandmother had wheels.
All these Ifs belong to an imaginary world. Therefore, nothing will come from all the talking about this document. The embryo is dead in the womb of its mother, the Quartet.In spite of this, let's try to treat the matter in all seriousness. Is this a good document? Could it be helpful, if all the Ifs were realistic?In order to answer this seriously, one has to distinguish between the declared objectives and the road that is supposed to lead to them.The objectives are very positive. They are identical with the aims of the Israeli peace movement: an end to the occupation, the establishment of the independent State of Palestine side-by-side with the State of Israel, Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, the integration of Israel in the region.In this respect, the Road Map goes further than the Oslo agreement. In the Oslo "Declaration of Principles" there was a giant hole: it did not spell out what was to come after the long interim stages. Without a clear final aim, the interim stages had no clear purpose. Therefore the Oslo process died with Yitzhaq Rabin.The Road Map confirms that there now exists a worldwide consensus about these objectives. This fact will remain even if nothing comes out of it. Those of us who remember that only 35 years ago there were hardly a handful of people in the world who believed in this vision can draw profound satisfaction from this Road Map. It shows that we have won the struggle for world public opinion.But let's not exaggerate: in this document, too, there is a gaping hole in the definition of the aims. It does not say what the borders of the future Palestinian State should be, neither explicitly nor implicitly. The Green Line is not even mentioned. That by itself is enough to invalidate the whole structure. Ariel Sharon talks about a Palestinian state in 40% of the "territories" - equivalent to less than 9% of Palestine under the British Mandate. Does anyone believe that this will bring peace?When we pass from poetry to prose, from the mountaintop of the aims to the road that is supposed to get us there, the warning signs become more and more frequent. This is a perilous road with many curves and obstacles. Even a very brave athlete would shudder at the thought of having to run this course.The road is divided into phases. In every phase the parties must fulfil certain obligations. At the end of each phase the Quartet must decide whether the obligations have been completely fulfilled, before entering the next one. At the end, the hoped-for peace will come, God willing.Even if all the parties were imbued with goodwill, it would be extremely difficult. When David Lloyd-George, as British Prime Minister, decided to end the British occupation of Ireland, he observed that one cannot cross an abyss in two jumps. The initiators of the Road Map propose, in effect, to cross the Israeli-Palestinian abyss in many small hops.First question: who is this "Quartet" that has to decide at every point whether the two parties have fulfilled their obligations, and a new phase can be entered?At first glance, there is a balance between the four players: the United Nations, the United States, Europe and Russia. It is rather like a commercial arbitration: each side appoints one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators together choose a third one. Judgement is reached by majority decision and is binding on both parties.This could work. The United States are close to Israel, Europe and Russia are acceptable to the Palestinians. The UN representative would have the casting vote.Not at all. According to the document, the Quartet must take all decisions unanimously. The Americans have a veto, which means that Sharon has a veto. Without his agreement, nothing can be decided. Need more be said?Second question: When will it end?Well, there is no clear-cut timetable for passing from one phase to the next. The document vaguely mentions several vague dates, but they are difficult to take seriously. The first phase should have started in October, 2002, and come to a close in May 2003. In the real world, the Map will be shown to the Israelis and the Palestinians for the first time in May, and only then will the serious haggling begin. Nobody can foresee when the implementation of the first phase will actually begin. And in the meantime�It should be remembered: in the Oslo agreements many dates were fixed, and almost all of them were missed (generally by the Israeli side). As the good Rabin declared: "There are no sacred dates."Third question: Is there any kind of balance between the obligations on the two parties? The answer must be "no".In the first phase, the Palestinians must stop the armed Intifada, establish close security cooperation with the Israelis and recognize Israel's right to exist in peace and security. They must also appoint an "empowered" Prime Minister (meaning, in effect, the neutralization of the elected president, Yasser Arafat) and start the drafting of a constitution that will meet with the approval of the Quartet.What must Israel do at the same time? It must enable Palestinian officials (note: officials. This does not apply to the rest of the population) to move from place to place, improve the humanitarian situation, stop attacks on civilians and the demolition of homes and pay the Palestinians the money due to them. Also, it will dismantle "settlement outposts" erected since Sharon came to power, in violation of the government's guidelines. Who will decide to whom this applies? There is also no mention of freezing settlement activity in this phase.Does anyone believe that Prime Minister Abu Mazen could put an end to Hamas and Jihad attacks without any political quid pro quo at all, and while the settlements keep expanding?After this phase, the Palestinians must reform their institutions, create a constitution "based on strong parliamentary democracy" (they will not be allowed to have an American presidential system, for fear of Arafat retaining some powers). Only then, "as comprehensive security performance moves forward", the Israeli army will "withdraw progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000". Not immediately, not in one withdrawal, but bit by bit, "progressively". Not from areas B and C, but only from area A. They will be where they were before the present Intifada.(There is an old Jewish joke about a family that complains about being crowded together in one room. The rabbi advises them to bring in a goat, too. Later, when the family complains that life has become intolerable, the rabbi tells them to take the goat out again. Suddenly they feel that they have a lot of space. This time the Israeli army is told to remove the goat, but the Palestinians are told to remove father and mother.)After all this, the next phase will start; the Palestinians will adopt their constitution and hold free elections, the Egyptians and Jordanians will send their ambassadors back to Israel and the Israeli government will, at last, freeze settlement activity.The next phase will focus on the "possible" creation of an indPalestinian state with "provisional borders". So, long after all attacks have been stopped, there will be an "option" of creating a Palestinian state in Area A, a tiny part of what used to be Palestine. According to the Roadmap, this should happen by the end of 2003, but it is clear that, if at all, this will come about much later. It is also stated that "further action on settlements" will be a part of the process. What does this mean? Not the dismantling of a single settlement, not even the most remote and isolated one.After all this comes about, the Quartet will decide (again: unanimously - only with the agreement of the Americans) that the time has come for negotiations aimed at a "permanent status agreement", hopefully in 2005, including discussion of items such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. If Sharon or his successor want it, there will be an agreement. In not, then not.The truth is, in this whole document there is not one word that Sharon could not accept. After all, with the help of Bush he can torpedo any step at any time.To sum up: Much Ado about Nothing. As evidenced by the fact that neither Sharon nor the settlers are upset.

2. The 411th child: Fourteen-year-old Omar Matar of Qalandiyah was shot in the head and killed
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, April 11, 2003

On the morning of his death, Omar Matar woke up later than usual. Omar loved to eat breakfast together with his father Musa, a truck driver, before Musa left for work at 5:30 A.M. But on that Friday two weeks ago, Omar didn't wake up until seven. He ate alone - tea, pita, za'atar and cheese, and then did something else that he'd never done before: He offered to wash the stairs for his mother.After he'd finished that, Omar took a shower, changed clothes and went out as he did every Friday to the mosque in the Qalandiyah refugee camp. That was where Musa Matar saw his young son for the last time. Omar, who was just shy of 14, left the mosque to go to a demonstration in support of the Iraqi people and then headed for the deserted airport across from Qalandiyah. Omar dreamed of being a pilot when he grew up, but that day he had another childish plan in mind - to try to disconnect the observation balloon that the soldiers sent up over the airfield, apparently to film the goings-on in the refugee camp.Box cutter in hand, and accompanied by his brother Fadi and his friend Mujahed, Omar approached the airport fence. It was early afternoon. The soldiers immediately noticed them and started chasing them back toward the camp. When they had almost reached the house of Walid Zawawi, on the main road, a soldier kneeling on the road fired two shots at Omar, according to Zawawi. One hit the boy in the head and the other in the neck.Zawawi, the deputy manager of the refugee camp for UNRWA, who watched from his window as the episode unfolded, claims that one of the soldiers clapped his comrade - the sniper of children - on the shoulder after he saw Omar fall. Mujahed Taya, 19, the friend who was with Omar, tried to move Omar, who was bleeding from his head and neck, but then he was shot, too - in the hand and leg. Omar died five days later in the hospital in Ramallah. He was the 411th Palestinian child to be killed in this intifada, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Just over a week went by from when the 406th child victim, 12-year-old Christine Sa'ada, whose story was told here last week, was shot while riding in her family's car in Bethlehem until Omar's death. In between, several other Palestinian youngsters were killed: a 14-year-old boy in Jenin, a 17-year-old boy in Nablus and a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy in Gaza. Six children in just over a week.The usual memorial posters have been attached to the wall at the dead boy's home, but there is also a huge poster of Omar all along the side of the house, from which his face stares out at the surrounding houses. The last time we came here it was to meet Sami Kusaba, to hear the story of how he lost his two sons, Yasser and Samer, within 40 days of each other. This week, we came to meet bereaved father Musa Matar. His spirits do not seem that down, perhaps because he has already been through so much in his life, including 12 years in prison for weapons smuggling. Portly and mustachioed, in his dusty work clothes that barely fit around his stomach, he speaks dryly about the loss of his son. "God gave and God took away. We give thanks to God."About ten thousand people live in the refugee camp, most of whose origins lie in the lost villages around Jerusalem. Thirty-two Qalandiyah residents have been killed in this intifada, three times more than in the previous one. The IDF actually does not often enter the camp, and most of the confrontations between the local children and the soldiers take place on the road and not inside the camp. The unemployment rate is 70 percent.Musa Matar and his wife Turiya have 11 children and 18 grandchildren. Omar and Khaled were the youngest. Musa is 68. Omar was in eighth grade at the UNRWA boys' school in the camp. Sometimes he would help his father work in the garden behind their small house. Khaled winces whenever his dead brother's name is mentioned.That fateful Friday, Omar and his brother Fadi, 16, did not come home for lunch. After leaving the mosque, they took part in a demonstration against the war in Iraq. Khaled told his father that he saw his two brothers on the side of the road with another group of kids and teenagers. That's where the youngsters go to burn tires or throw rocks, when there's nothing to do. And there usually isn't much to do in this impoverished and encircled refugee camp. The kids were apparently throwing rocks over the fence of the abandoned Atarot airport, where the soldiers were, but Omar, Fadi and Mujahed decided to take it a step further and try to cut off the observation balloon. Meanwhile, at home, Musa and Turiya were sitting on the roof, enjoying the sun. At 1:45 P.M., they heard four or five shots from the direction of the main road, but they didn't think much of it. They hear gunfire practically every day. Fifteen minutes later, a little boy came up to the roof and told them that Omar was wounded in the eye and was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Omar's older brother Mohammed hurried to the hospital in Ramallah. Omar was already unconscious. Turiya and Musa came as fast as they could. The doctors told them that Omar's condition was grave - a bullet in the head and one in the neck. All they could do was pray.Zawawi, the eyewitness, saw from his window three youths hiding behind some barrels on the side of the road and the soldiers chasing after them on foot. Suddenly, Omar came out from behind the barrel and started running toward Zawawi's house. The soldier knelt down behind the separation fence on the main road, aimed and fired - from a distance of about 100 meters. Omar was just a few meters from Zawawi's door, facing the soldier.The soldier and the child were facing each other, until the child fell. Not from rubber bullets or from tear gas, but from live bullets fired at the child's head. The IDF Spokesperson: "The military police are investigating. When the investigation is complete, the findings will be transmitted to the military advocate general."Mujahed darted out from behind the barrels and ran to the aid of his bleeding friend. He tried to pick him up to get him out of there, but the soldiers shot him, too. There were about ten soldiers there. When they left, people from the camp came out and stopped passing cars to get them to take Omar, and then Mujahed, whose injuries were not as serious, to the hospital. Leaning on his crutches, Mujahed comes into the tiny living room of his parents' house in the refugee camp. He has on a white T-shirt and shorts, and has styled his hair with gel. His father served 15 years in an Israeli prison for the murder of a Palestinian real estate dealer in the camp. A photo of the father after his release, standing with Yasser Arafat, hangs on the wall. Mujahed, 19, doesn't go to school, doesn't work - doesn't do anything, apart from occasionally throwing stones at soldiers on the road along with children who are much younger than him.On Friday, after the demonstration, they suddenly noticed the observation balloon floating over the airport with a camera attached, apparently to spy on life in the camp. They'd never seen this contraption before. From the camp, it appeared that it would be possible to sever the cord attached to the balloon, so they took a box cutter and headed for the airport. They knew there were always soldiers around there, but this didn't stop them. They thought that the balloon was attached to the airport fence. As soon as they got close to the fence, they saw five jeeps speeding towards them, says Mujahed.His elderly grandmother comes into the room, hugs him and asks how he is. His arm and leg are bandaged; the bullets entered and exited, fortunately.The boys started running from the soldiers toward the refugee camp. Mujahed says that they shot him while he was holding his wounded friend Omar. He dropped Omar on the sand and fled to Zawawi's house. New sand now covers the bloody trail left when Mujahed tried to carry Omar. The barrels are still there, waiting for the next child to use them for cover.For five days and nights, Omar's family stayed by his bedside in the intensive care unit in Ramallah, until early Wednesday morning, when he died. "He wanted to liberate Palestine from the air," his father says with a bitter smile.

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