Wednesday, September 17

MCC Palestine Update #84

MCC Palestine Update #84

September 17, 2003

Travel in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip these days, and the recurring refrain is one of apprehension for what the future will hold. Israel has escalated its “targeted killings” (assassinations) against Hamas leaders, Palestinian militants carried out two suicide bombings, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) resigned from being Palestinian prime minister, a new prime minister—Ahmed Quriea, or Abu ‘Ala—was set to take his place, and, finally, the Israeli cabinet announced that its new policy was to “remove” Yasser Arafat from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (whether by imprisonment, exile, or assassination was left unclear). While international pressure has caused Israel to put this policy of removing the elected Palestinian leader on-hold for the time being, the threat of Arafat’s expulsion remains—at least in the minds of most Palestinians—very real.

One can discuss at length the details of what led to Mahmoud Abbas’ resignation, of the power struggles within the Palestinian leadership, of whether or not Ahmed Quriea’s appointment will give new life to the roadmap, of Arafat’s probable fate. While pressing, these issues, many Palestinians suggest to us, are peripheral to the geographical/political/military realities being dictated on the ground, particularly in the form of ongoing Israeli colonization of the occupied territories and the construction of fences and walls in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip that are putting the nails in the coffin of the two-state solution. While the world’s attention is diverted to the question of whether or not the Israelis will expel Arafat, the walls and fences continue to be built. When the attention of U.S. politicians is diverted in winter 2004 by presidential and congressional elections, the walls and fences will continue to be built. Meter by meter it will be built until Palestinian population centers are surrounded by walls and fences that will leave Palestinians confined into discontiguous cantons (disconnected from Jerusalem). Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar quoted one Israeli analyst as describing the emerging reality in the occupied territories as one of “Spartaheid”—apartheid via the means of Sparta. Mainstream US commentator Thomas Friedman, meanwhile, offered the following analysis: “Rather than create the outlines of a two-state solution, this wall will kill that idea for Palestinians, and drive them, over time, to demand instead a one-state solution—where they and the Jews would have equal rights in one state,” suggested Friedman in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. “As Palestinians find themselves isolated in pockets next to Jewish settlers—who have the rule of law, the right to vote, welfare, jobs, etc.—and as hope for a contiguous Palestinian state fades, it’s inevitable that many of them will throw in the towel and ask for the right to vote in Israel.” A one-binational state model, however, will take years, even decades, to emerge, however. In the meantime, Palestinians and increasing numbers of Israelis are fearful of what the coming days will bring.

Below you will find three pieces. In the first, former Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti looks at how the State of Israel is able to keep the occupation while having the international community finance it in practice. In the second, Israeli journalist Amira Hass examines the stories behind fatility statistics. And finally, Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy spends a day at the Abu Dis wall separating one part of Jerusalem from the other.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. International community supports a deluxe occupation
Meron Benvenisti
Ha’aretz, September 11, 2003

The publication of Amnesty International's report on the humanitarian crisis in the territories this week would not have attracted attention even without the latest bloody events. The fact that about 60 percent of West Bank residents live below the poverty line, and the conclusion that the economic and humanitarian crisis was caused by the blockades and the sieges, would not have shocked anyone, even less so when the headlines scream, "We'll smash them." Indeed, the lack of drama in the situation is reflected in the report's own title: "Surviving under siege." If they're "surviving," apparently the crisis isn't so bad and the fluid and violent - but stable - status quo can continue and nobody will have to take some dramatic step to break the endless, bloody cycle. According to the Amnesty report, most Palestinians in the occupied territories depend on contributions of food and other basic products, at least to a certain extent. The World Bank report published in May 2003 describes the huge volume of international aid to the territories, which is "on an unprecedented level of international financial commitment." From the outset of the present intifada, external bodies have contributed more than a billion dollars to finance the Palestinian Authority's budget, thus providing a living to many households (whose breadwinners were employed by the PA), consisting of almost half a million people. A record sum of more than a billion dollars contributed to the territories since the Defensive Shield Operation, excluding the UNWRA budget, was the main cause preventing a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic consequences. "The donors had no choice, if they wanted to keep alive the hope of reconciliation, since a collapse of the PA service structure and the further radical impoverishment of the population would have vitiated," the World Bank establishes. The Palestinians managed to survive thanks to the international aid, but as usual in these cases, the beneficiary of the international community's rallying to the rescue was their Israeli enemy. Moreover, the contributing states' humanitarian enlistment became a safety net, enabling Israel to impose a deluxe occupation in the West Bank - total military domination with no responsibility for running the life of the occupied population, and no price tag attached. Had Israel been required to fulfill its commitment as an occupying power, it would have had to pay NIS 5-6 billion a year just to maintain basic services for a population of more than three million people. But it created an international precedent - an occupation fully financed by the international community. The harsher the Israeli measures with "closures, blockades and safety fences," the larger the international aid "to prevent a humanitarian crisis," and Israel is not held accountable. Israel isn't even required to display minimal politeness and gratitude to the donor states for their generosity in providing the economic safety net. Indeed, the greatest contributor - the European Union as a body and European states individually - are treated with contempt and condescension: pay up and shut up, or we'll accuse you of anti-Semitism. President Bush should be envious of Ariel Sharon for his cunning in setting up the deluxe occupation regime. In Iraq, the Americans are trying to get the UN and the states of Europe, which objected to the war, to partake in the burden of the occupation, but they are raising all kinds of demands and conditions. Sharon is exempt from all this, even though with one decision - removing internal roadblocks that have nothing to do with security, and are intended entirely to serve the settlers - he could, according to the World Bank, "improve the West Bank's domestic product by 21 percent." Israel will not pay for its actions, but the international community will, because according to the Israeli concept there is no connection between humiliation, poverty and loss of hope to violence and terror, and any attempt to link them "justifies the murders." Only the international community must worry about the loss of the chance of reconciliation and pay for it dearly. Israel does not believe in reconciliation "because there is no partner to peace." The government of Israel is totally opposed to "internationalizing the conflict" and to posting international observers in the territories, but it has no objection at all to internationalizing the financing of the occupation. And what if the donor states demand a similar status to the one they have in Bosnia? One can imagine a situation in which they say to Israel - when it takes a radical step like deporting Yasser Arafat - "we're fed up with giving in to your extortion. Cope with the humanitarian situation you've created yourselves" - and transfer the contributions to the rehabilitation of Iraq. Doubtlessly masses of Palestinians will pay for such a move, so it had better remain in the realms of wild imagination. But it will do no harm if someone dares play the devil's advocate.

2. What the fatality statistics tell us
Amira Hass
Ha'aretz, September 2, 2003

Against the background of shock and disgust at the mass terror attack on the Jerusalem bus on August 19, and the fear of advanced Qassam rocket attacks, the government of Israel energetically renewed its policy of targeted killings. From August 21 through yesterday, September 1, Air Force fighters killed 11 Hamas activists in six targeted assassinations in crowded central locations. Four other Palestinians were killed in those actions, among them a young girl and an old man, and dozens were injured. The threatened revenge attack has not occurred. Is this not proof that targeted killings are the way to go?

That might have been the conclusion in December 2000 as well, after the first three targeted killings that Israel carried out the previous month. At the end of September and October 2000, the Palestinians killed 11 Israelis in the territories, five of whom were security personnel, according to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights. In November, 22 Israelis were killed, 18 in the territories, 11 of whom were security personnel, and four in Israel proper. In December, the Palestinians killed eight Israelis in the territories, five of whom were civilians and three were security personnel. No Israelis were killed in Israel proper in December. This could be seen as a direct result of the pressure brought to bear by the series of six targeted killings that same month.

However in February 2001 the ratio between those killed in the territories and those killed in Israel changed: four Israelis were killed in the territories, among them one soldier, and eight in Israel, run down by a bus driver from Gaza. In March 2001, two Israelis were killed in the territories and eight in Israel, among them three in the first deadly suicide bombing, which took place on March 4.

From that point on, the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have been competing with each other to see who could carry out the most deadly suicide attack in Israel. In October 2001, Fatah, which until that time had concentrated mostly on shooting attacks in the territories, joined the competition. The more Israel pursued its policy of targeted killings, the more the members of all the terror organizations competed with each other in attacks on Israel.

The Palestinians also counted their dead: 115 in September-October 2000 (the majority of whom were killed during demonstrations, and among whom were 32 children killed by IDF fire), 109 in November 2000, 48 in December 2000, 18 in January 2001, and 20 in February. It is convenient to think that most of those killed were armed terrorists, and that Israel's policy, a strong preemptive strike to prevent deterioration, had proven itself.

But it turned out that according to calculations of the Shin Bet and by its own definitions, of the 2,341 Palestinians who were killed up to the beginning of August this year, 551 were terrorists, "that is, bearing arms and explosives" (Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, August 8, 2003). To those who wonder who the other victims were, whether they were suspects, or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time - here is a partial answer: Until the end of August this year, IDF soldiers killed 391 minors, according to B'Tselem. According to the Red Crescent, the IDF killed 141 women. B'Tselem determined that 291 Palestinian security personnel were killed, some of whom were participating in the fighting, whether during an IDF incursion or during attacks they initiated in the settlements or against soldiers.

However many did not take part in the fighting, and were killed while they were standing at their posts as defined in the Oslo Accords. Many others were killed in bombardments, in invasions of cities, or in attempts to detour roadblocks. In addition to some 120 Palestinians who were targets of assassination, 82 Palestinian civilians were killed "by mistake." They, it is to be assumed, are not included in the 551 terrorists as defined above.

Here are the disastrous proportions, in the hope that someone in Israel will take notice: 80 percent of the Palestinians killed were not connected to armed actions.

Like the Israelis, who experience the horror of bus bombings, the Palestinians too are all exposed to the terror of missiles and bombs exploding in the heart of the civilian population centers. This terror, and the tribal need for vengeance (which is not foreign to Israelis) have become a true "terror infrastructure." The bottomless pit of its ammunition is the pointlessness and hopelessness of the lives of tens of thousands of young people. The targeted killings may sabotage technical capabilities for a time. But they do not deter more and more young people from seeking the means to act.

An educational counselor met regularly last year with the children of the Qalandiyah refugee camp. When she asked them how they see themselves in 20 years, most answered "buried." Those same children or their friends were seen, on Sunday of this week, climbing the separation fence that encloses their refugee camp. They bent back the fence, broke the sensors and the floodlights, and took every piece of metal from the fence that was not nailed down, and it all happened no more than 300 meters from the nearest soldiers. When asked if they cared that they might be shot and killed, they responded with a snicker. What targeted killing can overcome that kind of serenity in the face of death?

3. There's a wall in the way
Gideon Levy
Ha’aretz, Sept. 5, 2003

A little girl in her school uniform, her hair carefully combed, was walking to her first day of school on Monday. Walking to school? Not precisely. There's a wall in the way.
A little girl in her school uniform, her hair carefully combed, was walking to her first day of school on Monday. Walking to school? Not precisely. There's a wall in the way. Trying to squeeze between the big cement blocks of this wall besieging her home, she nearly manages to get her little body through, but not her new school bag. Backing off, she tries a different spot where people climb over instead of squeezing through. She ducks her head under the barbed wire, puts one foot across, then the book bag, jumps, lands with a thud and runs - in fear of the Border Police who could show up momentarily. Eventually she arrives at school, still in one piece. Welcome to the first grade! No need to travel far to see this evil. Fifteen minutes from downtown Jerusalem, you can see what cruelty for its own sake looks like: collective abuse bearing no relation to its declared purpose. The little town of Abu Dis, once was nearly the temporary capital of Palestine, with an imposing parliament building to prove it, is just a dusty village nowadays, scarred and abandoned, with a wall that bisects everything. For over a year now, an ugly concrete wall has divided the good people from the bad there, the prisoners from the free, the blue (Israeli identity cards) from the orange (West Bank ID cards). Officially, Palestinians who live west of the wall are okay; Israel leaves them alone, they're deemed residents of Jerusalem. Those to the east of the wall are caged like animals. The division is not absolute. Despite the absence of a gate, an evil decision in and of itself, infiltration occurs under the noses of the Border Police patrols swarming all over the village. People climb over or squeeze through. Meanwhile, they're humiliated. Bullied. Battered. Made to sweat. Covered in dust. An entire town scales the wall to get to school, to the grocery store, to work - day after day, evening after evening: old folks, young folks, women and children. "Am Yisrael chai" ("The people of Israel lives") and swastikas repose side by side - graffiti on the occupation wall. "Go over by the mosque, it's easier to climb there," suggests a Border Policeman. Indeed, some old women are climbing over. It's easier here because you don't have to spread your legs too far. Just hike up your skirt a bit, immodestly exposing your leg (forbidden to the religious); grab the smooth concrete and heave upward with all your might. Embarrassing, not easy, but there's no choice. Someone is always there to lend a hand. Then just swing your legs over and jump down. But make sure the barbed wire doesn't catch your head scarf. There's no old woman in Abu Dis who has not scaled this wall. Even disabled people are handed across like a sack from one side to the other. Some students from the Jerusalem side appear, en route to Al-Quds University, carrying their books and notebooks in their arms. A spacious campus, with stone buildings scattered around, it's the only university in the world whose students have to scale a wall en route to a lecture. Higher education. Dressed to a T, gel on their hair, the young men easily navigate the smooth concrete wall. An agile hop, they're in the territories; a hop the other way, in Israel. Women - ashamed of their shame, which is actually our shame - ask not to be photographed. Seeing the older women, the heart recoils. A Border Police Jeep lies in wait in someone's yard. "What are you looking for here? It's so banal," says a senior officer, Amitai Levy, relaxing in his armored vehicle. "Go to Sowahra al-Sharqiyya [Jabal Mukkaber], you'll see some nice things there." A boy appears on a bicycle, with his mother, laden with shopping baskets. Now what? First the baskets, then the bicycle, then the people. Be careful, the worried mother cautions. There are various vignettes. One woman gets stuck between two slabs of concrete, her head in the territories and the rest of her in Israel; her daughters howl with laughter until she's sprung free. Three judo novices, white belts, climb the wall in their martial arts garb: warming up for the lesson. A courier on a Vespa receives a plastic window blind from the other side, hurriedly clamps it to his scooter and is gone. A white Formica wardrobe crosses over. Some pinkish laundry softener crosses in the other direction. Now we cross, too. Inexpertly, a foothold here, a handhold there, trembling a little, nothing to hang on to; just jump. A tray of pastries makes its way over the wall from a bakery on the west to a party on the east. "Ramallah, Ramallah," holler the cabbies from the other side, selling rides only as far as the Qalandiyah checkpoint, the end of their world, through two permanent checkpoints and maybe a few more temporary ones. A Border Police Jeep arrives on the scene. Five policemen get out, three in helmets and flak jackets. They're drinking cola, one of them spits, the shift begins. Go see Jabal Mukkaber, enthused officer Levy. The old car huffs up the hill on the other side of the wall. The bulldozers have been here for a week. "The Jerusalem envelope," the local term for the Jerusalem-area apartheid wall, threatens to connect with the Abu Dis wall at any time now. On the ground, the sight is frightening: Already familiar up north, the snake is slithering southward around Jerusalem. Broad, intimidating, unrelenting: an olive grove uprooted, a house about to undergo surgery. The distant rhythm of jackhammers; hillside and valley, savaged. The residents' lawyer said maybe he could get them a gate in the wall. The bottom line: There's maybe a 20 percent chance of that happening. Al-Quds University students congregate in a protest tent they set up by their athletic fields, soon to face the bulldozer's advance. From atop the hills of Jabal Mukkaber, the view is amazing: The dirt-colored snake that winds over the hillsides and through the valleys is closing in from both directions, threatening the campus soccer field. A new settlers' road is being paved on the left, linking Kedar with Ma'aleh Adumim. So much traffic these days from Kedar. "We'll smash their cameras, the barbarians," growl the machine-gun-toting Shahaf company guards protecting the Zalman Barashi & Sons bulldozers, as a rental car with a few activists and foreign journalists pulls up. Recently, the digging exposed some ancient pillars here: They lie haphazardly on the hillside. Rumor has it that the wall will now be relocated farther west, or east, of here. Only archaeological artifacts can change the route. Not homes. Not live people. Not pastures. Not a soccer field. Back at Abu Dis, a Border Policeman orders that there can be no cameras. "It's a closed military zone." A closed military zone? The police and the armed guards share a blatant aversion to photographs. Perhaps they're ashamed of what they're doing? Three construction workers, one tall and two short, with an electric saw and a grindstone, are returning from their day's work in Jerusalem. Stand to one side! ID cards! Bingo! (They were in Israel without permits.) Now they'll be bullied, and by the book. M., 47, resident of Azzariyeh, 12 children. "They're my detainees," says a policeman. "Don't talk to them." Not just a military zone; also military property. "You can talk to them, but only with my permission," explains commander David Azoulay. "Everyone there by that wall is my detainee." At a flick of the policeman's hand, one of the workmen standing in the hot sun approaches submissively. Another gesture, signifying "Bring that sack you were carrying." Brushes, tattered clothing, electrical extension cords, worn shoes, some torn goggles are dumped out on the road by the exhausted workman; his face says it all. The policeman's eyes are hidden behind sleek, dark sunglasses - a kid of 19 or 20 bullying a father of 12 who wants to go home: Come here, go there. Finally, at Azoulay's command, surrounded by three policemen, the frightened workmen are hustled away, beyond a grove of cypress trees, out of sight

No comments: