Wednesday, April 30

MCC Palestine Update #79

MCC Palestine Update #79

April 30, 2003

This past weekend my family and I were in Zebabdeh, a village in the northern West Bank where Sonia and I taught English for three years at the local Catholic school. Christians in Zebabdeh’s three churches—Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican—were celebrating Easter together on the Eastern calendar. [Christmas is celebrated jointly on the Western calendar.] The small Greek Catholic community, which worships with the Roman Catholic community, was represented by a deacon who was still in his seminary studies when we were is Zebabdeh 10 years ago. We were privileged to worship once more in Zebabdeh, joining the Roman and Greek Catholics for the Good Friday, “Saturday of Light,” and Easter morning services. The church building was bursting at the seams with people, fuller than I had ever seen it. Amidst the economic, social, and political troubles engendered and exacerbated by the ongoing Israeli occupation, Palestinian worshipers this weekend offered up a dynamic and vibrant proclamation of the Gospel that death does not conquer, but that it has instead by trampled under foot by Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Amidst the desperation in Palestine/Israel, I and other MCC workers are blessed by many signs of hope: Israelis and Palestinians working together to rebuild a destroyed home, for example, or grassroots demand for training in nonviolence. Without diminishing these signs of hope, however, this past weekend in Zebabdeh drove home for me once more one of my fundamental sources of hope: the worship and witness of the Palestinian churches and the commitment of Palestinian Christians as followers of the risen Lord.

The two news items from Palestine/Israel that have been getting the most attention recently have been questions about whether or not the designated Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would be able to form a government and whether or not the “Quartet” (US/UN/Russia/European Union) would then release the so-called “road map” which is to chart the way to a Palestinian crackdown on violence against Israeli civilians, an Israeli settlement freeze, and the establishment of a “provisional” Palestinian state in ca. 40% of the West Bank and 60% of the Gaza Strip by the end of 2003, with a final status agreement wrapped up by 2005. Israel has sent envoys to Washington with a list of 14 objections (trimmed down and consolidated from an original list of over 100 objections) to the road map. While Palestinian leaders have for the most part embraced the roadmap and while many average Palestinians are desparate for any stability that might, even if only temporarily, strengthen a crumbling economy, most Palestinians are also skeptical that the “road map” will pave the way for a permanent resolution of the conflict. The ongoing construction of the “security wall” throughout the West Bank, the continued construction of illegal colonies, and Israel’s blanket refusal to acknowledge even a symbolic right of return for Palestinian refugees (let alone real refugee choice) feed this skepticism. The road map is an attempt to revitalize the incremental style of the Oslo process, a process that supposedly aims at a viable two-state solution. Palestinians increasingly doubt that a viable state will be the real destination of the road map; rather, they fear, the road will be blocked at the interim phase, leaving Palestinians with a “provisional” state in discontiguous parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, no connection to Jerusalem, no dismantling of Israeli colonies, and no control over land, borders or water. The Israeli colonization process, they suggest, may have already undermined a viable two-state solution. I have addressed these matters in a recent article in the Christian Century (May 3, 2003), which I include below. I have also included a piece by Tel Aviv University professor Tanya Reinhart on how the “separation wall” is dispossessing Palestinians in the West Bank villages of Bidia and Mash’a.

A final note. I will be in Egypt for regional MCC meetings and retreat from May 3 to 13. There will therefore be no updates during this period.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. The slow death of a Palestinian solution
Beyond Two States
Alain Epp Weaver
The Christian Century
May 3, 2003

A viable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is dying; perhaps it is already dead. This reality should prompt new theological and political analysis among Christians and others who yearn for justice, peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis.

The Negotiations Affairs Department of the PLO recently issued a policy analysis arguing that “Israel’s on-going colony construction and other unilateral measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are effectively pre-empting the possibility of a two-state solution of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel” (at If not reversed, these facts “will force Palestinian policy makers to re-evaluate the plausibility of a two state solution.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, in a December opinion piece in the New York Times, warned that the Israeli government, through its actions in the occupied territories, was preparing a “ghetto ‘state’” for the Palestinians, “surrounded by Israeli settlements, with no ability to defend itself, deprived of water resources and arable land, with an insignificant presence in Jerusalem and sovereign in name only.”

Since Ariel Sharon became Israel’s Prime Minister in March 2001, the growth of existing Israeli settlements (what Palestinians prefer to call colonies) and the construction of new ones have skyrocketed. Satellite imaging identifies 24 new colonies in the West Bank, the expansion of 45 more, and the establishment of 113 new “outposts,” that is, caravans placed on hilltops that are later developed into full-fledged colonies. The placement of new colonies and outposts is strategic and multifaceted. First, Jerusalem is being progressively encircled by rings of Israeli colonies which break up the contiguity of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and which separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

Second, the “separation” wall (what Palestinians call the Apartheid Wall) is reconfiguring the geographical terrain: the wall, whose construction is most advanced in the northern West Bank, allows Israel to deepen the integration of its illegal West Bank settlements into Israel proper, thereby isolating Palestinian towns and villages from each other, solidifying control over water resources, and paving the way for future land confiscations by preventing farmers from reaching their farmland. The international media has often portrayed the wall as running along the “Green Line” separating Israel from the occupied territories. In fact, the wall cuts far into the West Bank; if the wall is completed along projected paths, it will mean the de facto annexation of at least 10 percent of the West Bank into Israel. (For more on the Apartheid Wall, see the “Stop the Wall” at

These various developments leave Palestinian population centers separated from one another and will create various isolated “cantons” (what Palestinians, referring to South Africa under apartheid, call “Bantustans”) within 35-40 percent of the West Bank: the canton of Bethlehem for example, or of Ramallah, Nablus/Jenin, Hebron, etc. These cantons might be left disconnected, or perhaps they would be granted what Sharon recently dubbed “transportation contiguity” in the form of bridges or tunnels to connect them.

Thus, the Israeli settlement enterprise in the occupied territories over the past decades has been about establishing a matrix of roads and settlements by which Israel can, directly or indirectly, control all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Journalist Amira Hass, writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in January, highlighted the military significance of the settlements and their road networks: “Israel’s decision-makers, who over the last 20 years have carefully planned the location of every Jewish settlement in the West Bank and every water pipe and electricity pylon, also knew how to plan a ramified network of roads that would become a key weapon against the Palestinians. If you are good children and accept the dictate of the settlements, you can use the roads. If you are bad children we will lock you into the tiny prisons that these roads so cleverly created.” The past decade has witnessed these roads and settlements making these prisons ever smaller and exit from them ever more difficult.

Israeli colonial expansion, therefore, is putting the nails in the coffin of any plans for a viable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Talk of “roadmaps” devised by the “Quartet” (United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005 appear naïve at best and dangerous at worst. It is naïve because current Israeli colonial expansion is undermining the viability of a Palestinian state. It is dangerous, since Israel likely will offer to accept as a “painful compromise” a Palestinian “state” in the discontinguous 35-40 percent of the West Bank. Palestinians assume that, following the US-led war against Iraq, tremendous international pressure will be brought to bear upon them to accept a “provisional” state in less than half of the West Bank with, at best, a vague timetable for any further Israeli withdrawals. The current Israeli leadership has made it clear that it does not believe that the roadmap will lead to a full withdrawal from the occupied territories. Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, for example, observed in Ha'aretz that Israeli defense officials “regard the road map as mere ‘lip service’ and expect it to eventually be shelved together with all of the [Bush] administration's previous plans for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

How should advocates for justice, peace and real security for Palestinians and Israelis respond to this emerging reality? First, we should free ourselves from the conceptual bind of seeing “statehood” (be it Palestinian or Israeli) as an end in itself. Various Christian bodies—denominations, church-related organizations—have called for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. What is there to say, however, if Israeli colonial expansion has undermined a viable two-state solution?

Advocates for a just and lasting peace should not be ultimately concerned with whether or not a Palestinian state comes into being. After all, Israel (and the United States, and perhaps the European Union) might eagerly back the creation of a “provisional” state—doomed to indefinite provisionality—comprising discontiguous Bantustans. This would not bring justice and freedom for Palestinians, nor stability or security for either Palestinians or Israelis. Statehood, from a Christian perspective, is simply not an end in itself. What is a good in and of itself is the flourishing and the well-being of all who inhabit “Mandate Palestine,” that is, present-day Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. If current realities have undermined a two-state solution, then those who care about the well-being and security of Palestinians and Israelis must dream of new ways for Palestinians and Israelis to be able to live side by side in justice, freedom and equality.

If a viable two-state solution is eclipsed, then Palestinians will need to struggle against an apartheid reality in the occupied territories and work for equal citizenship in a binational state, in which Palestinians and Israelis are equal citizens before the law, in all of Mandate Palestine. The vision of one, binational state must not be dismissed out of hand by advocates of a just peace, even though many will find it difficult to move beyond the language of “two states” to which they have become wedded. Further, advocacy for one, binational state will be perceived as being against the State of Israel and thus as anti-Zionist. Support for a two-state solution has allowed many Christians to avoid a theological reckoning with Zionism, not resolving the question of whether the creation of a sovereign state which denies Palestinian refugees from 1948 the right to return to their homes and insists on maintaining a “Jewish demographic majority” is a theological good. Some Christians, like those committed to dispensationalist readings of Scripture, warmly embrace Zionism. If Zionism necessarily means the creation and preservation of a “Jewish demographic majority” at the expense of the rights and well-being of Palestinians, then advocacy for one-binational state is indeed anti-Zionist. Other Zionisms, however, such as a ‘cultural Zionism’ that looks for a revitalization of Jewish life in the land while not depending on sovereign and demographic control, might emerge as possibilities compatible with a binational vision.

Perhaps the unexpected will occur and Israel will dismantle its colonies in the occupied territories, with a viable Palestinian state emerging next to Israel. If this happens, we will have cause for rejoicing. We must, however, soberly confront the possibility that the day of the two-state solution has already been eclipsed and start thinking through the theological and advocacy implications.

Alain Epp Weaver is country representative for Mennonite Central Committee in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Tanya Reinhart
Yediot Aharonot, March 10, 2003; translated from Hebrew by Irit Katriel

On the eve of the Iraq war, fears were expressed in different circles that under the cover of war, Israel may attempt a transfer of Palestinians in the “seam line” area of the northern West Bank (Kalkilya, Tulkarem). Last week, the army produced a scene from this scenario. On April 2 at 3 AM, a large force raided the refugee camp of Tulkarem, blocked all the roads and paths with barbed wires and announced on loudspeakers that all males aged 15 to 40 must go to a certain compound at the center of the camp. At 9 in the morning, the army began to transport the gathered males to a nearby refugee camp. This time it was only a staged scene, and the residents were allowed to return after a few days. But the producers of this show made sure that its significance would not escape the participants and the audience. They took special care that evacuation be done with trucks - an exact re-enactment of the 1948 trauma. As one of the residents described his feelings when he got on the truck, "all the memories and childhood stories of my father and grandfather about the Nakba came back” (Regular, Ha’aretz, March 4, 2003, attached below).

Many interpret this show as a “general rehearsal” for the possibility of a future transfer. There is no doubt that the current government is mentally prepared for transfer, but it is not certain that the “international conditions” are ripe for executing this in the way that was staged. The war Iraq has become to entangled for the U.S. to to risk opening another flashpoint. But transfer is not just trucks. In the Israeli history of “land redemption” there is also another model, more hidden and sophisticated. In the framework of the “Judaization of the Galilee” project, which has begun in the 1950s, the Palestinians that remained in Israel were robbed of half their lands, isolated in small enclaves, surrounded by Israeli settlements, and gradually lost the bonds that held them together as a nation. Such an internal transfer is occurring now in the occupied territories, and it has been escalated during the war.

On 24/3, the bulldozers got on the lands of the village of Mas'ha, which is near the settlement of Elkana, and began to mark there the new route of the separation wall, which will disconnect the village from all of its lands, as well as thousands of dunams belonging to Bidia and other villages in the area. Elkana is about 7 kilometers away from the green line, but the route of the fence was changed on June 2002 so that it will include Elkana as well in the Israeli side. Still, even in this plan, it is not necessary to take these lands from the villages.

It wasn’t only land greed that sent the bulldozers to the lands of Bidia and Mas'ha. These lands are on the western part of the Mountain groundwater basin - the large water reservoir originating in the West Bank, whose water flow under the ground also to the center of Israel. Out of six hundred million CM (cubic-meter) of water that the Mountain reservoir provides in a year, Israel withdraws in different areas about five hundred million (1). Control over the water sources has always been a central Israeli motivation for maintaining the occupation. The Labor governments of the seventies located the first settlements that they approved in areas defined as "critical locations" for drilling. Elkana was one of these settlements, founded within a plan that was given the (misleading) name “preservation of the sources of the Yarkon" (2).

Since the occupation in 1967, Israel prohibited Palestinians from digging new wells, but in the lands of Mas'ha and Bidia, as well as in lands that were already cut off from Kalkilia and Tul Karem, there are still many operating wells from before 1967. Their continued use may reduce a little the amount that Israel can withdraw.

The residents of Mas'ha and Bidia, who are struggling to save their lands and livelihoods, set up protest tents along the bulldozer path. “Peace tents”, they called them in an outburst of hope. Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals have been staying in these tents day and night to watch and stand in front of the bulldozers. I was there on Saturday. Around, in all directions, hills and hills of olive trees - huge areas of a green and pastoral landscape that one can find only where people live on their land for generations and generations, aware of its preciousness and beauty. And all this land is now being grabbed by the land redemptionists, who would dry its wells and sell it to real-estate investors.


(1) These are the pre-Oslo figures for 1993, as quoted in Haim Gvirzman "Two in the same basin", Ha'aretz, May 16, 1993. According to the Palestinian Hydrology group, at the present, out of the annual recharge of the western part of the Mountain Groundwater Basin, which is 362 million CM/year, the total Palestinian withdrawal is only 22 million CM/year (, Report #1.)
(2) Gvirzman, ibid.

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