Tuesday, June 3

MCC Palestine Update #81

MCC Palestine Update #81

June 3, 2003

The “roadmap” to peace being promoted by the United States and others is, it seems, gaining some momentum. Israelis and Palestinians will meet with US President George Bush, European officials, and Arab leaders in summits in Egypt and Jordan in only a couple of days. The Israeli cabinet, after weeks of foot-dragging, endorsed the roadmap, albeit with multiple caveats. Palestinian Authority prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) speaks optimistically of securing a truce that would bring about a suspension of violence. Israel has spoken of easing the tight closure it maintains within the occupied territories. [Meanwhile, Israel continues to refuse to allow international workers with humanitarian and development organizations such as MCC to enter the Gaza Strip.]

Are these developments cause for optimism, for hope? For hope, certainly: who cannot but hope, even against evidence to the contrary, that bloodshed and dispossession will end? For optimism, perhaps not, especially given the ongoing construction of the so-called “separation wall,” a wall that is robbing farmers of their land, allowing for the seizure of water resources, isolating thousands of people from other towns and villages, and creating a de-facto border that will surround any Palestinian “state” to which the roadmap gives birth, imprisoning it within ca. 40% of the West Bank. The first three pieces below, by Ran HaCohen, Amira Hass, and Neve Gordon, all examine the incompatibility of the so-called separation wall with a lasting, durable peace.

Ariel Sharon, this past week, told his Likud faction, that the time had come to stop ruling over 3.5 million Palestinians, the time had come to “end the occupation.” Again, cause for optimism? If by “ending the occupation” Sharon meant a complete withdrawal from the territories Israel occupied in 1967, of course. If, however, “ending the occupation” simply means for Sharon relieving Israel of the responsibility placed upon it by international law to safeguard civilian wellbeing in the occupied territories and to do such tasks as run hospitals, operate schools, etc., while continuing to hold on to 60% or more of the occupied territories, then Sharon’s call to “end the occupation” is sadly not cause for hope but rather a cynical semantic game. The final essay below, by Gideon Levy, looks at the invisibility of the occupation to Israeli consciousness.

I will be on my MCC “home leave” from June 6 to August 9. There will be no MCC Palestine Updates during this time. There are a plethora of on-line resources on the internet, of course, for those who wish to stay abreast of current happenings in Palestine/Israel and who want good commentary. To keep the list brief, I’ll recommend two:

Electronic Intifada

Ha’aretz: This Israeli newspaper contains both news reports and commentary from Israelis on the conflict. The opinion pieces cover the wide range of Israeli public opinion. You will probably have noticed that these updates routinely include pieces by Ha’aretz journalists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, with their critical perspectives on the occupation. Analysts Danny Rubinstein and Akiva Eldar also provide consistently incisive commentary on events.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. The Apartheid Wall
May 21, 2003
by Ran HaCohen
[Note: if the photo and the map do not appear, go to http://www.antiwar.com/hacohen/h052103.html for the full article.]

Only alert readers may have noticed that the Israeli-biased American "Road Map to Peace", already being imposed on the Palestinians, has not even been accepted by Israel's rejectionist government. Asked about it, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that accepting or not accepting it "didn't really matter" – when Israel is concerned, to be sure; I have a hunch that had the Palestinians declined to accept it, the American reaction would have been quite different.
But for once, I agree with Mr. Powell: it really does not matter. A central function of the "Road Map" is to distract from the actual map of the Palestinian territories. This map is being radically altered, and unlike the Road Map, which will be forgotten like all its cynical forerunners ("Zinni Plan", "Tenet Plan", "Mitchell Report", "Regional Peace Conference" etc.), the geographical map of Palestine is here to stay, with a huge Wall now being built in its middle – the "Security Fence" in official Israeli language, in fact an Apartheid Wall.

PM Sharon has long opposed the idea of a barrier between Israel and the West Bank. As late as April 2002, Sharon was still rejecting it – in spite of public pressure, in spite of demands raised by both Israel's President and the Head of the Secret Service, and, above all, in spite of hundreds of Israeli civilian victims to Palestinian terrorism, whose death could have been prevented by such a fence. Not before June 2002, in what was portrayed as a victory for Labour's leader Ben-Eliezer (then Defence Minister in a unity coalition) imposed on Sharon against his will, was the huge construction project finally launched.

Since, unlike their ruling junta, most Israelis do want to end the occupation, support for the Fence is overwhelming. Most Israelis believe it will bring security, and eventually turn into a border between Israel and a Palestinian State. Israel's millionaires, as Yedioth Achronoth exposed (22.11.2002), have a special reason to celebrate: hundreds of Palestinian olive trees on the route of the fence are rooted out by the constructors, smuggled and sold for the gardens of rich Israelis (up to $5.000 for an ancient tree). Palestinian owners who dare ask for compensation for their often only source of income are driven away by threats and beating.

Change of Heart?
The junta's change of heart towards the Wall happened only after "Operation Defence Shield" of April 2002. As long as Israeli terror victims could be used to justify the repeated incursions into autonomous Palestinians areas, no fence was built. After "Defensive Shield", when Israel had finally managed to reoccupy the entire West Bank and to destroy the Palestinian Authority (existing in name only ever since), the Wall could be erected.

But the deeper reason for the apparent change of heart is that the junta found a way to use the Wall for its ends: as part of its project of destroying the Palestinians. This cannot be grasped without taking a look at the actual route of the Wall.

Why, you may wonder: isn't the Wall following the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank? – Not quite. If this had been Israel's intention, we could have had Peace long ago. The whole point is that Israel refuses to give up the West Bank, and building a Wall on the Green Line is the last thing the junta had in mind. The Wall is constructed deep in Palestinian territory, in order to rob as much Palestinian land and water as possible. A good example is the small village of Mas'ha, where a joint group of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals has set a small camp trying to attract attention and to fight the ongoing atrocity.

Mas'ha as Example
The village of Mas'ha is adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Elkana, about 7km away from the green line. On April 2003, Israeli bulldozers started to separate Mas'ha by an 8m high concrete wall from its only remaining source of livelihood: agricultural land, mostly olive trees. 98% of the lands of Mas'ha will be placed on the Israeli side of the fence. The fence also disconnects the road from Jenin to Ramallah, a segment of which will now be in the Israeli side of the fence.
It wasn't only land greed that sent the bulldozers to the lands of Mas'ha. These lands are on the western part of the large water reservoir originating in the West Bank, whose waters flow under the ground also to the centre of Israel. Out of 600 million cubic metre of water that this reservoir provides in a year, Israel withdraws about 500 million. Control over the water sources has always been a central Israeli motivation for maintaining the occupation. The first settlements, like Elkana, were located in critical locations for drilling. Since 1967, Israel has prohibited Palestinians from digging new wells, but in the lands of Mas'ha there are still many operating older wells. In isolating the village from its wells, Israel attempts both to control the water reserves, and to eliminate livelihood sources, thus forcing its residents out.

I went to Mas'ha a couple of weeks ago. The huge barrier was not yet complete: it consisted of a 3m deep trench, which we could still cross with some difficulty at a shallow point, and of a razed plateau, 80 – 130m wide, on which the gigantic wall, with barbed wire, cameras, patrol road etc. would be built (see picture from another location). It's not a make-shift fence: it's a huge barrier meant to be there for decades, creating a durable new physical reality. It twists like a snake around the cultivated hills, encircling the village on three sides just a few steps away from its last houses. The owners of the lands were told there would be gates in the wall, which would enable them to access their lands; "they just didn't tell us who will hold the key", say in bitter irony the siege-learned farmers, who have already ost most of their lands to the settlements of Elkana and Etz Ephraim, all built on Mas'ha's lands in previous decades.
And Mas'ha is just one non-unique example. Out of 12.500 dunums of the village of Jius, 600 dunums are confiscated for 6km of wall, and 8.600 dunums will be on its Israeli side. The 550 families, half of which used to work in Israel when this was still possible and were then pushed back to agriculture, now lose their last source of income (Giedon Levi, Ha'aretz 2.5.2003).

Secrets and Lies
It may be clear by now why the junta refuses to give information about the route of the Wall, as B'tselem Newsletter describes in detail. The Green Line is 350km long; present reports speak of a 600 km long Wall on the west side of the West Bank alone. – Alone? – Yes: because – as Ha'aretz (23.3.2003) mentioned en passante just once, without any details, comment or follow-up – yet another, eastern wall is planned. This crucial information virtually escapes public attention. Since most Israelis think the Fence is built along the Green Line, they do not even suspect another wall encircling the Palestinians from the back as well.

Just two months before the fence plan was confirmed in his cabinet, Sharon was quoted in Yedioth Achronoth (26.4.2002). The journalist was outraged by what he considered Sharon's pretexts against erecting a wall. Sharon is accused of exaggerations, turning the simple project of a 350km fence along the Green Line into an unfeasible 1.000km long enterprise:
"Sharon's favourite way to inflate data is simply to double the numbers. 'You cannot have a fence just on one side of the seam zone', he told police officers, 'You have to have fences on both sides, and there is the Jordan Valley where another fence on both sides is needed'. […] To sabotage the separation […], Sharon is talking about two different routes: two fences on different locations on the seam line, and yet another two fences between Israel and Jordan. This way, you really get to 1.000km".

But Sharon was not exaggerating: we now know that the western barrier is already 600km long, and adding a similar fence on the east makes Sharon's numbers look rather underestimated. What the journalist did not realise, was that Sharon was just pretending to oppose the fence, while planning its actual route so as to maximize Israel's share of the territory; that the Eastern fence would not be built between Israel and Jordan, but in the middle of the West Bank; and that Sharon, to get public support, wisely presented the Apartheid Wall as his pragmatic surrender to Labour and to public pressure, while in fact it was his scheme, elaborated by him long before he found the opportunity to carry it out, camouflaged as yielding to dovish pressure to strengthen his "moderate" image.

The Actual Map
The following map, prepared by Palestinian sources – based on the parts of the wall already erected, those under construction, and confiscation orders issued to land owners – shows approximately what Israel is up to. Leaving the lion's share of the West Bank outside the Wall in Israeli hands, even what looks like two contiguous Bantustans are in fact crisscrossed by chains of Israeli settlements and roads-for-Jews-only.

The UN Resolution of 1947 allocated 45% of British Mandate Palestine to a Palestinian State. In 1948, Israel occupied 78% of the land, leaving just 22% – the West Bank and Gaza – to the Palestinians. This is all they have been demanding since 1993. Now, Israel is robbing more than the better half of these 22% left. Six million Israelis are to have about 90% of the land (and water), whereas three-and-a-half million Palestinians, many of them refugees, are pushed to starve into what is left, locked behind gigantic walls in open-air prisons, with no land, no water and no hope. The moral way to peace, love and security, no doubt.

The Apartheid Wall will be 8m high and probably 1.000km long. For comparison, China's Great Wall – the only human-made object seen from outer space – is 6.700km long, whereas the Berlin Wall was a dwarf, just 155km long and 3,6m high. Keeping silent on this gigantic project and its genocidal implications, meant to prevent any fair future settlement (not to mention the Road Map), is a moral crime, of which almost the entire Western media is guilty.
–Ran HaCohen

2. The state Sharon is talking about
Amira Hass
Haaretz, May 28, 2003

Talk and declarations have more influence than facts and actions on the ground. This can be seen once again in the contradictory reactions - furious or welcoming - to the government's approval of the road map and to the fire-breathing statements by Ariel Sharon that it's wrong to rule over 3.5 million Palestinians, that occupation is not good, that there's no alternative but to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The facts on the ground, which don't create as strong an impression as the rhetoric, are established every day. The facts are called the separation fence and security fences around settlements, security roads and bypass roads that continue to cut off the Palestinian villages from each other and the villages from their land, and construction in the settlements that were already vastly expanded during the Oslo era to the point where they constitute about half the total area of the West Bank. These facts are determining - and will continue to determine - the area where the road map will be applied, the area where the entity known as the "Palestinian state" will be established. A visit to the area, where the Public Works Commission, the Defense Ministry, Housing Ministry and the IDF bulldozers are busy at work, makes it possible to see why it's easy for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to talk about a "Palestinian state." A consulting team from the Palestinian negotiations department has drawn up a future map, based on these facts on the ground. The team will give it to the ambassadors and envoys who are so enthusiastic about Sharon's statements. According to the facts on the ground, the "state" will apparently be comprised of three enclaves cut off from one another inside the West Bank - in addition to the Gazan enclave, and with no guarantee the settlements inside the enclave will be dismantled. The "separation fence" has been described as "temporary," but it is a wall with hefty fortifications taking up a lot of land, and it has already scarred the Tul Karm-Qalqiliyah area, the most prosperous Palestinian farmland, thus sabotaging one of the cornerstones of Palestinian economic security. The massive construction in Jerusalem and its environs, from Bethlehem to Ramallah, and the Dead Sea to Modi'in, has already ruled out any Palestinian urban, industrial or cultural development worthy of the name in the area of East Jerusalem. The southern enclave of the West Bank, from Hebron to Bethlehem, will be cut off from the central enclave of the Ramallah area by an ocean of manicured Israeli settlements, tunnel roads and highways. The northern enclave, from Jenin to Nablus, will be cut off from the center by the massive settlement bloc of Ariel-Eli-Shiloh. Presumably Sharon's intentions for an eastern separation fence will also come into being - after all, his talk about a state is more persuasive to the American administration than the land Israel continues to effectively expropriate from the Palestinians. The Jordan Valley will remain outside the Palestinian state, and between it and the divided Palestinian "state" there will be settlements with tiny populations and enormous land reserves, like Itamar, Nokdim and Tekoah, as well as huge settlements like Ma'aleh Adumim. Last Friday, Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend magazine published a useful report for all those who never go to the territories, detailing the long-term significance of the separation fence, accompanied by a map that bears a striking resemblance to the map prepared by the Palestinians. There have already been many reports about how tens of thousands of villagers have been cut off from their lands, how some villages have been imprisoned between the two sides of the "fence," and how Qalqiliyah has been cut off entirely. There have also been reports about how the separation fence is constantly being moved eastward, by settler demand. But the Yedioth reporter, Meron Rapaport, went a step further, asking key people in the settlements about those facts. According to the quotes from Ariel Mayor Ron Nahman, he has already seen the map of Palestinian enclaves being created by the fence: "That's the same map I've seen every time I've visited Arik [Sharon] since 1978. He told me he's been thinking about it since 1973." A settler from Einav, referring to himself as "very right-wing," regards the fence as a disaster: "It's an economic death sentence for the Palestinians," Shmil Eldad told Rapaport. "There are people here who want to make a living and it's creating more hatred," he added. But Moshe Immanuel from Salit justifies the fence: "The Palestinians lost in 1948 and 1967 and they will lose this time, too ... That's what happens, those who lose in war, lose." David Levy, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, knows the fence will keep the area "inside," meaning inside Israel. He says he knows, on the basis of meetings with Sharon and maps Sharon has shown him. The Palestinians are exhausted by the unequal struggle with Israel, which is a world-class military power. Maybe that's why, lacking any alternative, they might decide to accept the Bantustan state that is meant to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees. The "closure camps" will nurture poverty and economic distress, without any room for development. Whether their children agree to continue living in "peace" in suffocating enclaves, is another question entirely.

3. Can bad fences make good neighbours?: Israel's separation wall is being used to annex territory
By Neve Gordon in Jerusalem
The Guardian - 29 May 2003

Although Mazmuriah is located less than 20 minutes' drive from my Jerusalem apartment, all roads connecting the small village to the city have been blocked off.Using roundabout roads that wind across the hilly terrain of the southern Jerusalem municipal border, we took more than an hour to reach the village. The Palestinian residents invited us. They wanted to tell Israeli peace activists about their imminent expulsion, about their fear of being forced to move from their ancestral land. They wanted to tell us about the bad fence. But first some background. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed some 70sq km of land to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, imposing Israeli law on this area. These annexed territories included not only the part of Jerusalem that had been under Jordanian rule but also an additional 64sq km, most of which had belonged to 28 villages in the West Bank.Unlike most of the inhabitants of the annexed villages, who were subsequently registered by the Israeli civil administration asIsraeli residents (as opposed to citizens), the inhabitants of Mazmuriah were given West Bank identity cards.This created a juridical situation straight out of Kafka. The Mazmuriah residents and their houses belong to different legal andadministrative systems: the houses and land are part of the Jerusalem municipal system, while the inhabitants are residents ofthe West Bank and therefore subjected to Israeli military rule.Using its juridical control of the land, in 1992 Israel classified the area in which the village is located as "green land" - land thatcannot be built on and is basically a nature reserve. The idea was to strangle the local population, prohibiting them from constructing any new houses.Simultaneously the Jerusalem municipality also refused to provide basic services to the village such as extending water and sewage lines. Later, after the eruption of the second intifada, all roads between the village and Jerusalem were closed off, thus forcing the residents to become dependent on the West Bank for their livelihood and their children's education.What appeared to be a "legal anomaly" slowly became the grim reality of everyday life. Although they live on land annexed by Israel, for all practical purposes the Palestinian residents themselves do not belong to Jerusalem; they are West Bankers. The only "defect" in this grand plan is that they still reside in the annexed area. It is this so-called defect that Israel now intends to fix.Accompanied by border policemen, a coordinator for the Israeli housing ministry, defence ministry, and Jerusalem municipalityrecently showed the residents a map of where the separation fence will pass. The fence, the residents learned, would surround the village on its southern side and thus separate it from the West Bank. Even if the residents are allowed to stay, their watersupplies will be cut off, they will not be able to reach work and their children will be unable to go to school. To make things clear, however, the Israeli official notified the Palestinian residents that, because of the village's proximity to the planned separation fence, they would have to move.Israel's goal, it appears, is to expropriate the land "uninhabited". It is highly unlikely, however, that the villagers will actually beforced out of their homes. A more intricate strategy will be employed.Creating a physical barrier between the village and the West Bank and not allowing the inhabitants any contact with either thePalestinian Authority or the Jerusalem Municipality will undermine their existence. Ultimately they will have to leave the village of "their own accord".This scheme of expelling a whole population from their land is in blatant violation of basic rights as well as all the agreements that Israel has signed, not least the principles laid out in the "road map". In Israel we call this policy "transfer".While the end of this story has yet to be told, the first 145 km of the separation fence will be completed in two months' time, violating the rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians residing in 67 villages, towns and cities, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem.The crux of the matter is that the fence is not being erected on the 1967 borders, but is being used as a mechanism to expropriate Palestinian land and create facts on the ground that will affect any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. Already in this early stage, 13 communities - home to 11,700 people - have become enclaves or bantustans imprisoned between the fence and Israel. Thirty-six communities, in which 72,200 Palestinians reside, will be separated from their farmlands that lie west of the fence.Yehezkel Lein from B'tselem concludes: "In the past, Israel used 'imperative military needs' to establish settlements on expropriated Palestinian land and argued that the action was temporary. The settlements have for some time been facts on the ground and Israel now demands that most of them be annexed to Israel. As in the case of the settlements, it is reasonable to assume that the separation fence will also be used to support Israel's future claim to annex territories."Good fences, the American poet Robert Frost once wrote, make good neighbours. The question the Israeli government must ask itself is, "What do bad fences make?"Neve Gordon teaches politics and human rights at Ben-Gurion University

4. Clueless About the Occupation
Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz June 1, 2003

At long last, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has started to talk about the occupation, but doesn't have a clue about the subject. Nor do many in his close circle - cabinet ministers, advisers, army generals, politicians - have any idea what the occupation is all about.
When the prime minister's confidants boast about the wealth of experience the veteran statesman has accumulated - "He has already seen it all," they say - they need to be reminded that there is one thing, at least, that Sharon has never seen: He has never seen the Israeli occupation, certainly not the occupation as it has evolved in the past few years, with all its ugliness and cruelty.

What does Sharon know about life under curfew, in communities that have been under siege for years? What does he know about the humiliation at checkpoints, or about people being forced to travel on gravel and mud roads, at risk to their lives, in order to get a woman in labor to a hospital? About life on the brink of starvation? About a demolished home? About children who see their parents beaten and humiliated in the middle of the night? About prisoners and detainees held without trial who haven't spoken to their families for more than two years? About dialysis patients who are unable to reach the hospital for treatment?

Tul Karm, for example, was under continuous curfew without a break last week. Does Sharon try to imagine what it's like to live under unbroken curfew for days and weeks, without leaving the house, without a fresh supply of food or medicines, in crowded homes filled with children and old people? What in the world does the prime minister of Israel know about the soldiers' behavior and the distress of the local residents? Isn't it important for him to know, to at least know?

But how will the prime minister find out about life under the occupation if the only information he gets comes from army and security sources? The focus of interest of these elements is fighting a short-term war against terrorism, preemption and liquidation. It is impossible to get a full and true picture from them.

In the past, the coordinator of government activities in the territories was a source of some information about the goings-on in Palestinian society and about its distress. However, since the appointment to the position of Major General Amos Gilad, who recently retired, even that partial source of information has been blocked completely. Gilad saw his position as that of a kind of alternative director of Military Intelligence; and instead of representing the plight of the Palestinians before the decision-makers, as he was supposed to, he chose to be one more anti-Palestinian propagandist.

For example, he constantly insisted that there is no hunger in the territories. But did he bring to the prime minister's attention the findings of international agencies indicating that an entire generation of Palestinian children is suffering from serious malnutrition?

Israeli prime ministers have long stopped visiting the Palestinian territories and rarely meet with their residents. This lack of knowledge on the part of those who will ultimately decide the fate of the territories without having the least idea of what is going on in them is almost macabre.

It wasn't always like this. At the beginning of the occupation, Israeli leaders visited the territories and met with representatives of the Palestinian population. They were not always genuine representatives. Usually, they were a group of venerable "dignitaries," as they were called - mukhtars, elders and heads of clans. Still, leaders such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon, the founding fathers of the Israeli occupation, were familiar with the territory to some extent and knew some of the people there.

Sharon, in contrast, knows only maps. It is no coincidence that he resorts to them so frequently: You don't see people on maps. Sharon rolls out his maps at every opportunity, demonstrating great knowledge of every hill and every tree in the territories, and completely ignoring the people who live there and their needs. From this point of view, Sharon is the direct descendant of some of the leaders of the Zionist Movement who also ignored the Palestinians and talked about "a land without a people for a people without a land." There is not one Arab to be seen in the exhibition of historical photographs mounted now in Tel Aviv by the Jewish National Fund.

In this sense, Sharon is also the authentic representative of the majority of Israelis: They, too, don't have a clue about what is really going on in the territories. Most of them don't want to know either. The process by which they form their opinions is also based on lack of knowledge, partial knowledge or distorted knowledge. However, in the case of the prime minister, at such a critical moment, such ignorance is deplorable.

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