Thursday, August 21

MCC Palestine Update #82

MCC Palestine Update #82

August 21, 2003

My family and I returned to Jerusalem on August 10 after having been in the US for two months. I wish that I could say that we returned to optimism and improved conditions for our Palestinian friends and colleagues, but unfortunately little has changed. The apartheid wall continues to be built in the northern West Bank and around parts of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Ramallah; settlement construction continues, including in isolated parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; the network of 220 plus checkpoints and roadblocks remains more or less unaltered, meaning that travel within the occupied territories remains as miserable and at times as dangerous as before. The road map, as University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi noted, is in danger of becoming road kill; the road map, some Israeli peace activists have suggested, has become a “road to nowhere.” Will the road map lead to a real end to the occupation, or is it designed instead to solidifying the Israeli occupation while rendering meaningless such terms of “viable” and “contiguous?” The view from the ground strongly suggests the second answer.

Several strong books on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have come out already in 2003. Some recommendations:

Gary M. Burge. Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians are not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2003. Burge, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton University, has written a very helpful exploration of how Scripture addresses the question of land and how to read these texts in the light of the current reality of dispossession in Palestine/Israel.

Bishop Munib Younan. Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. Munib Younan is the Bishop of Jerusalem in the Evangelical Church of Jordan, Jerusalem. Younan’s book is a Christian call for nonviolence and for a future of peace based on justice.

Wendy Pearlman, ed. Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003. Over the course of 18 chapters the reader hears the voices of nearly 30 different Palestinians from different walks of life.

Amira Hass. Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land. Semiotext(e) Active Agents Series. Cambridge, Mass.: distributed by MIT Press, 2003. This book brings together 37 news reports and opinion pieces filed between 1997 and 2002 by Amira Hass of Ha’aretz, the only Jewish Israeli correspondent on Palestinian affairs to live in the occupied territories. Together, these pieces help the reader understand why the Oslo process failed and the roots of the second Palestinian uprising (intifada) against the Israeli occupation.

The four books above can all be ordered via Amazon or any major bookstore. A final book, an invaluable resource on the separation/apartheid wall being built through the occupied territories, is available directly from the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network, PENGON:

PENGON. Stop the Wall in Palestine: Facts, Testimonies, Analysis and Call to Action. Jerusalem 2003. Contact PENGON at for information about ordering.

Below you will find three pieces, all from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The first, by Danny Rubinstein, examines how Israeli measures are serving to undermine the Palestinian ceasefire. The second, by Gideon Levy, looks at how Palestinian children, unlike their parents, who interacted with a variety of Israelis, are growing up interacting only with two kinds of Israeli Jews: soldiers and settlers. Finally, Amira Hass dissects the “logic” of occupation.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Favors that breed contempt
By Danny Rubinstein
Ha’aretz, August 18, 2003

There is a significant gap between the way the Israelis and Palestinians view how to deal with the cease-fire's current danger. The difference can be found in all of the gestures and easements Israel has been granting Palestinians to preserve the hudna - moves the Palestinians perceive as mockery.

For example, the possibility was brought up this past weekend of Israel's allowing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to travel to Gaza for two days to visit the grave of his sister Yusra, who died last week and was buried alongside family members in Khan Yunis. The Israeli side depicted this as a humanitarian gesture, while the Palestinian side looked at it quite differently. Customers at the Damascus Gate newsstand in Jerusalem's Old City who saw a report about this on Saturday asked jeeringly: For how long did Arafat receive a permit from Israel? Did he wait a long time? Will Israel agree to extend his stay in Gaza? As far as the Palestinians are concerned, giving Arafat permission represents the patronizing and humiliating attitude of Israel's government toward their national leader, and nothing more. Certainly not a humanitarian gesture.

Easements at the checkpoints that will allow the transporting of goods into Palestinian cities, an increase in the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, and permission to re-open the Palestine Polytechnic Institute in Hebron are, according to an editorial in the daily Al Quds, nothing but "a farce." "What right at all does Israel have to prevent the passage of goods into Palestinian cities? And what did Israel get out of the closure of the polytechnic college apart from deepening hatred?" asks the editorial.

Near the Qalandiyah checkpoint in north Jerusalem this weekend, an elderly man was heard saying cynically: "From the bottom of my heart, I really thank the soldiers of the Israeli army at the checkpoint for letting me return home at 9:30 in the evening from a visit to my sick mother." (The checkpoint is closed to people coming from Jerusalem at 9:00 P.M.) One of the women volunteers from Machsom Watch said she had met quite a few Palestinians who circumvented the roadblock via the tortuous path passing through the quarries to the east, and was amazed to find they had official documents allowing them to cross the checkpoint. They said it was better to go through the hills than to go through the humiliating roadblock.

Even the planned withdrawal from four cities in the West Bank, which is perceived in Israel as a far-reaching concession, looks to the Palestinians like something quite piffling. This can be understood from the cartoon published Saturday in the Al Ayyam newspaper, which shows a Palestinian holding a newspaper with a headline about the impending withdrawal as he and his wife gaze longingly at the walls of Jerusalem and the mosques on the Temple Mount. In other words, what do we need the four cities for? The main thing is Jerusalem.

Things reached a ridiculous level with the release of 76 prisoners last Friday. These were criminal prisoners, mainly thieves and poor workers who were caught in Israel (some in East Jerusalem) without permits.

The Israeli government did not conceal this, but did not stress it either. For its part, the PA announced it had not asked for the release of those thieves - in fact, it was even opposed to their release.

This did not stop Israel from announcing last week that due to the terror attacks in Rosh Ha'ayin and Ariel, it would postpone the release. For now, Israel is postponing this gesture to the Palestinians that, as they see it, is "a meaningless gesture that we reject outright," in the words of Saeb Erekat.

The government of Israel, in this case, is playing only with itself. We Israelis say that we're doing them a favor and debate whether the Palestinians are deserving of the favor now or whether we should postpone it - whereas in the Palestinians' eyes, it is beneath contempt. As the PA decided, no official representative came to greet those released prisoners.

2. The generation that ‘doesn’t know Joseph’
By Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, August 10, 2003

Israel's contact with the next generation of Palestinians - those who grew up under the occupation - and its attempts to achieve peace with them, will be far more problematic than with the generation that preceded it. This is something we need to be aware of and take into account.

No past generation grew up in conditions as severe as those that afflicted the members of the current generation in the territories. Indeed, there is no place in the Western world where children live in comparable conditions. A year ago, a report by USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, found that about a quarter of the children in the territories suffer from malnutrition, either prolonged or passing. A United Nations agency found at the time that 62 percent of the Palestinians did not have sufficient access to food. Since then, the situation has only been aggravated.

A similar state of affairs exists in the health system, in which all medical treatment, including vaccinations and first aid, is a complicated, and at times impossible, bureaucratic process. One need only participate in one of the events held by Physicians for Human Rights to see the health conditions in which children are growing up in Israel's backyard.

It is not only food and physical health that these children lack. From Jenin to Rafah, hundreds of thousands of children are suffering from psychological traumas whose impact is difficult to gauge. These are children who, in the past three years, have been exposed to death in truly frightening dosages, to destruction, shooting, tanks in the streets, soldiers invading their homes in the middle of the night, arrests, beatings and multiple forms of humiliation.

Some of them lost their friends, in some cases before their eyes: 230 Palestinian children under the age of 15 and another 208 aged 15-18 have been killed since September 2000. Many others have been rendered paralyzed or disabled, and their friends have been exposed to horrors. One doesn't have to be a psychologist to understand that children who live with deep anxiety for such a lengthy period will suffer mental problems. And, of course, hardly any of them are getting professional assistance.

These children are growing up with deprivations that are hard for an Israeli parent or child to imagine. They have never seen a beach, have never been in an air-conditioned room, have never splashed around in a swimming pool, have never been on a bus, have never gone on a trip anywhere - they can only dream of being on a train or a plane. Some of them were unable to leave their homes for months on end, or leave their villages for years.

Day and night in the same village, without a community center, without a sports field, without books, toys or games. They have never been to an amusement park, they have no idea what a computer is, they have never been to a movie theater, seen a play, visited a museum, attended a concert or taken part in extracurricular activities. For months they couldn't even get to school.

Their cultural and social world was formed by the conditions of their lives under the closures and sieges imposed by Israel. Some of them have never seen their grandparents, even though they live in a nearby town; others have never seen their imprisoned brothers or fathers (in some cases, both parents are in Israeli detention) since visits to prisons became impossible. Many children, too, have been arrested and given severe punishments without any consideration for their age, and have been jailed together with adults.

However, it is not only the living conditions ofthe Palestinian children that should be causing Israelis sleepless nights. Because in addition to their distress, for most of which Israel is responsible, this is a generation that "did not know Joseph." Their fathers worked in Israel, in some cases from a very early age, working its fields, building its houses, cleaning its streets or doing commerce with Israel. From childhood they were exposed to Israelis, becoming familiar with both their ugly and their good sides and even learning their language. Consequently, the attitude of that generation toward Israel is more complex: the great majority of that generation still believes in peace and some of it aspires to emulate Israel in certain spheres.

In contrast, the children of the present generation are totally cut off from us. Their only exposure to Israel is through two figures: the soldier who bursts violently into their home in the dead of night, smashes a hole in the living room wall with an ax and humiliates their parents; or the settler, who has plundered their land and sometimes also abuses them.

This is a generation that has never heard of nonviolent, unarmed Israelis. The only Israelis today's Palestinian children - tomorrow's generation of adults - have seen are those who imprison them in their homes, shoot them, beat them and humiliate them. They don't need the incitement doses in day camps or Palestinian television to mold their worldview. All they have to do is look around at what is happening close to home.

When they come of age they will carry these memories with them. They will not be able to forget the spectacles of horror they were exposed to, or those they hold responsible for them. Thus before our eyes a generation is growing that is not only hungry, psychologically traumatized, unhealthy and without proper education - but is also thirsty for revenge and consumed by hatred. This is a message that should be of deep concern, not only to the parents of these wretched children, but to us all.

3. Primordial illogic and primitive cruelty
By Amira Hass
Ha’aretz, July 23, 2003

There is nothing more logical than setting arbitrary times of day when a Palestinian is allowed to leave his home and come back to it. There is nothing more logical than forbidding him to leave his field in a pickup truck to take his crops straight to market. It is logical to forbid him to receive guests, to take a donkey-drawn wagon, to ride a bicycle, to visit his parents a few kilometers away - or to bring a goat into his house "without coordination" so as to provide some fresh milk for his children.

There is nothing more logical than to fence the Palestinian into his village, neighborhood, and land, with an electronic barrier, and then set a minimum age to leave,. It is logical to appoint 19-year-old soldiers to watch the gate, which is sometimes opened on time and sometimes not, and to impose the rules - 29-year-olds are not allowed out, 30-year-olds are, pregnant women are allowed out, non-pregnant woman are not.

It is logical to forbid all crossing when the Shin Bet suddenly requires it, leaving outside a 65-year-old man who went out to buy something a kilometer and a half away, or a young man who went for dental treatment, or a mother whose children stayed at home because only children under the age of 21 are allowed out.

It is so logical to forbid a Palestinian to go to the beach 300 meters from his home, and to prevent half a million people from nearby towns from going to the beach. It is so logical. After all, that's what army commanders and soldiers do, day in and day out, hour by hour, in Gaza, in the Siafa area in the north and the Mawassi in the center of the Strip.

It's logical, because the IDF's mission in the heart of Gaza - which it did not leave in 1994, despite the Oslo legend - is to guarantee the safety and security and lives of Israelis whose government continues to encourage in moving to occupied territory. It is logical because Israeli governments since the 1970s and on, Labor and Likud, decided to settle Jews in the main open areas in the narrow Gaza Strip, in the prettiest area of dunes and on the most spectacular beach, in an area blessed with fresh water compared to the rest of the Gaza area.

It is logical to lock people up in their homes and villages, and to sabotage the farming of their land because it is logical to subsidize the Jewish settlement in the land of the forefathers of Gush Katif and northern Gaza. It is logical to connect Jewish settler homes to electricity and water while forbidding Palestinian neighbors from connecting to the electricity grid and the water and sewage lines.

It sounds cruel to lock people up in their homes and uproot their groves and orchards that they spent decades nurturing. But it's a logical cruelty, Israel is convinced, if that is what it takes to foil the cruelty of others - to prevent an armed Palestinian attack on a nursery school or a plant nursery or to plant a landmine on the route of a tank that is patrolling to protect the nursery school and the plant nursery.

During the Oslo years, many good Israelis made do with the logical thought that "eventually" the settlements in Gaza would be dismantled. Logic and policy are two different things. Meanwhile, even before the bloodshed broke out in September 2000, the settlements in Gaza expanded, their infrastructures were improved and their security required the army to dictate various Draconian prohibitions of movement for a million Palestinians.

The northern Gaza Strip, with its minuscule settlements, was cut off from the rest of the strip and de facto annexed to Israel. Palestinian representatives tried to speak to the logical minds of their Israeli counterparts at the negotiating table. It didn't work. On the contrary, the number of settlements in Gaza only grew.

With subsidizes and expanding infrastructures and good roads and an expanding market for their worm-free lettuce - why should they leave? And why should the government dismantle the settlements when the Palestinians themselves signed the agreements that did not require the settlements to be dismantled? The quiet that most Palestinians kept most of the time proved to Israelis that it was possible to get peace with the settlements.

That quiet relieved the Israelis of the duty to deal with the primordial illogic, the primordial cruelty - establishing the settlements. The governments used the Palestinian quiet to continue developing the settlements. And after September 2000, what the appeals to logic did not accomplish, the armed attacks certainly won't accomplish. After all, Israel will never give in to terror.

Even before any Qassam rockets were fired at Sderot, the army shot to death people who dared approach settlements and the fortifications that protect the settlements. Some were armed, but many were simply shepherds and peasants and their stone-throwing children. All the farmland around the settlements was shaved down to nothing - raked, flattened and demolished, to improve the vision of soldiers preserving the settlements. How logical.

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