Wednesday, September 3

MCC Palestine Update #83

MCC Palestine Update #83

September 3, 2003

This past week Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) staff visited the village of Jayyous near the city of Qalqilyah in the northern West Bank. Jayyous village is one of scores of Palestinian communities whose economic, social, and political futures are being devastated by the construction of what Israel calls a “separation fence” and what Palestinians call an “apartheid wall.” Jayyous village has been cut off from most of its farmland and wells by the wall; the only way they can access those lands is through a gate in the fence that is open only haphazardly. MCC and CRS, together with the Palestinian Hydrology Group, are assisting in the renovation of eight water networks in the northern West Bank that were damaged by Israeli armored vehicles in the course of the wall’s construction; it is our hope that this project will help Palestinian farmers in their attempt to continue to farm their lands from which they are separated by the wall. The Palestinian Hydrology Group provides the following facts about the wall’s impact on Jayyous:

*40 families currently live and sleep “behind” the wall, so that they can guarantee access tot heir farm land;
*The wall’s “footprint” in Jayyous meant the confiscation and destruction of 500 dunums (1 dunum=approx. ¼ acre) of farmland;
*9,000 dunums of Jayyous land are “behind” the wall, land containing over 120 greenhouses (1 dunum of land in a greenhouse brings in income for 1 whole family); over 15,00 olive trees, 50,000 citrus trees, 6 ground water wells (the town’s main source of water), and livestock pasture. This land supports 550 families in the village and provides produce to 60,000 inhabitants of the West Bank.

The first of September was also the first day back to school for Palestinian children. Unfortunately, for children in cities such as Jenin and Nablus, back-to-school meant the uncertainty of whether or not there would be a curfew imposed by the military. Moreover, the Palestinian Ministry of Education worries that thousands of children will be kept home from school by their parents, who would rather keep their children home than admit the shame of not being able to pay the annual school fees of 50 shekels (ca. US$11). Mennonite Central Committee and Lutheran World Federation are joining together to distribute thousands of school kits through Palestinian Christian and charity organizations in order to help ensure that as many Palestinian children as possible can continue their studies.

Below you will find two pieces. In the first, Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass reports on Palestinian children’s back-to-school preparations. In the second piece, Member of Knesset (MK) Avraham Burg provides an incisive analysis of how the ongoing Israeli colonization of the occupied territories is leading to an apartheid reality. [The original version of the piece appeared in the mass Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot; the translation below is from the US Jewish weekly, The Forward.] If Israelis wish to be democratic and want to hold on to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he suggests, then they must give citizenship to the over 3 million Palestinians in the occupied territories, in which case Israel who cease to have a Jewish majority. If Israelis want all the land without giving Palestinians citizenship, then this means apartheid, or as Burg has it, “Qalqilyah Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.” If Israelis want democracy and a Jewish majority, then a real two-state solution is required, with a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as a shared capital. One can question Burg’s claim that, in the past, the Zionist “revolution” rested on the twin pillars of a “just path and an ethical leadership”: the mainstream of the Zionist movement pre-1948 saw the creation of a Jewish majority in Palestine, whatever the cost (including expulsion, or “transfer,” of the native Palestinian Arab inhabitants), as imperative. Burg’s essay is, nevertheless, an important example of the concerns of an increasing number of Israelis.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. With curfews and closures, the schools suffer
Amira Hass
Ha’aretz, August 28, 2003

This coming Sunday, 1,085,000 students are supposed to attend 2,098 elementary and secondary schools in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with the opening of the school year. About 48,000 teachers will be waiting for them at 8 A.M. This will happen where there is no curfew, and where military blockades and checkpoints won't prevent or delay the arrival of the students and the teachers. Will there be a curfew in Jenin, preventing many of the 35,000 students in the area from starting on Sunday? Will the continuation of the Israel Defense Forces assassination policy in the Gaza Strip interfere with the first day of school of about 210,000 students? These are the immediate concerns of the Palestinian Education Ministry, which during the past three years has seen the orderly functioning of the education system and the prevention of dropouts as its most important task, despite the huge logistical, economic and psychological difficulties. The outbreak of the bloody conflict, the curfew and the closure, the economic deterioration and the military attacks, have all forced the ministry to postpone the implementation of the Five-Year Plan for education in the Palestinian Authority, which was completed in 2000, and to postpone the measures for improvement and development. Now maintaining the educational framework (in which education is mandatory only from the ages of 6-16) has become a kind of struggle. Last year the Palestinian Education Ministry was forced to change the original placement of almost one-third of the 35,000 teachers in the public school system (the rest work in 272 UNRWA schools and 256 private schools). These teachers were sent to schools not according to their area of expertise and the needs of the schools, but according to their access to the school. Since October 2000, hundreds of stationary and mobile military blockades and checkpoints all over the West Bank have prevented passage between cities, villages and districts. Teachers who live 10 kilometers away from their school couldn't promise to arrive on time, if at all. That is why teachers of Arabic teach physical education and math teachers teach Arabic, just so there's a teacher in the classroom. This year the ministry will have to reallocate 4,000 teachers, with changes in the location of the checkpoints. Hundreds of teachers have rented apartments in the city where they teach, so that they won't be forced to waste hours at the checkpoints every day. The deputy Palestinian education minister, Jihad Zakarneh, says that about half of the 200 education ministry employees in Ramallah, who live outside the city, remain in the city during the week. About 40 of them even sleep at the ministry. Since the establishment of the PA in 1994, the Palestinian Education Ministry has been working to reduce the number of school dropouts. From 1995-1996, about 2.5 percent of the students dropped out of school, Since then, the number of dropouts has slowly declined and in 2002 the rate was 1.17 percent of all students (higher in the later school years). The ministry raised donations These statistics belie the image among the Palestinians of widespread dropping out, mainly because of financial problems. Zakarneh says that families that can't afford the annual fee of NIS 50 per student prefer to stop sending their children to school, rather than admit poverty. Therefore, the ministry has instructed principals not to collect the fee from very poor families. The ministry even exceeded its obligations and began collecting donations from wealthy families in order to buy schoolbags and basic supplies for needy students. Last year 77 new schools opened, despite the difficulties: 42 in new buildings and the rest in rented buildings. Each year 40,000 new students enter the system, which requires the addition of at least 40 schools annually. Matriculation exams, which usually are stretched over a period of 17 days, continued for 42 days all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip: Curfews and closures prevented the students from getting to the test on time. In places where the exams were held days or weeks late, new questionnaires were written. This Monday was the second exam period: They were held only in the Gaza Strip and postponed in the West Bank, because of curfews and closures. Now the ministry has to compose new questionnaires for all the exams, to administer them in the West Bank. The Education Ministry is the first to admit that while they are maintaining the framework, the quality is suffering. All the teacher training programs have been frozen because of access problems. Tens of thousand of teachers and students come to school exhausted after a night of shelling and exchanges of fire, or after long and humiliating detainment at a checkpoint. According to the Education Ministry, 390 students were killed by Israel Defense Force fire during the past three years, and about another 3,000 were injured. That also affects concentration. Every student suffers from traumas and fears, because every student has experienced months of curfew, and exposure to firing from tanks and helicopters. Tens of thousand of students have seen with their own eyes how people were killed and wounded, and houses destroyed. The Palestinian Education Ministry has established a psychological consultation center, with about 600 psychological consultants and therapists scattered among the various schools. This week there was a training workshop for consultants, but those who were supposed to come from Jenin and Nablus were absent;they were unable to pass the checkpoints. Zakarneh says that 44 percent of literature students failed the matriculation exams, as did 20 percent of those studying sciences. This number, he says, is only 2 percent higher than the results for 2000, before the intifada. Four to five percent finished with honors. The names of those receiving honors are published in congratulatory notices in the press, but what is not said openly in the media is said in incidental conversations on the street. Parents, teachers and Education Ministry employees are convinced that the matriculation grades of all the students are systematically raised, with the low grades upped more than the high grades. One teacher said that because of his connections with the exam checkers, he knew that his daughter had received an average of 94, but on the official form her final grade was 95. Parents have the impression that in areas that have suffered more from IDF actions, the examiners are more generous. Zakaraneh denies the claims of deliberate slanting of the grades upwards. Many of those who pass, he says, have grades lower than the minimum necessary for university acceptance: an average of 65 out of 100. Zakaraneh didn't know the percentage of those receiving low grades, and the Palestinian Education Ministry couldn't supply, at the request of Haaretz, an analysis of the distribution of the matriculation grades (according to regions as well). The grades are on the Internet as raw material, but the final analysis, if there is one, wasn't publicized. A veteran teacher said that raising the grades was done before the intifada as well, and was meant to cover up for the basic weakness of the Palestinian school system. Part of this weakness is the result of cumulative neglect during the years of Israeli occupation, part an inheritance from the interruption of studies during the years of the first intifada, and part a result of neglect and a mistaken order of priorities on the part of the PA. The monthly salary of a Palestinian teacher in the public school system ranges from $270 to $500 (and somewhat higher for more veteran teachers). With such a salary, most of the teachers are forced to find a second job. They work at gas stations, as drivers and as cooks. "When they have to concentrate on providing basic needs for their children, they can't concentrate on developing their children's spiritual needs, not to mention those of other children," he explains.

2. A Failed Israeli Society Collapses While Its Leaders Remain Silent
The Forward, August 29, 2003

The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it. Nor is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out. If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing down.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Arik Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there's nothing left to say. We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq. But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents' shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway ›hat takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem's northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it's hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won't work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism's superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don't hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don't even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below — from the wells of hatred and anger, from the "infrastructures" of injustice and moral corruption.

If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:

The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world's only Jewish state — not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let's institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages. Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse — or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements — all of them — and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

That's what the prime minister should say to the people. He should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire, roadblocks and suicide bombers, or a recognized international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

But there is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives. No longer. Polls published last weekend showed that a majority of Israelis do not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister — yet they trust his political leadership. In other words, Israel's current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law — combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation, these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it's summer, or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.

This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position — black or white — is in effect collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor versus Likud or right versus left, but of right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers. What's needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel's friends abroad — Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people — should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.

Translated by J.J. Goldberg.

Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel's Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and is a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is currently a Labor Party Knesset member. This essay is adapted by the author from an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot.

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