Thursday, October 30

MCC Palestine Update #87

MCC Palestine Update #87

October 30, 2003

Expulsion and Destruction

What many had feared would happened when Israel began constructing its “security fence” (or, more accurately, its “segregation” or “apartheid” barrier) in the West Bank has started to happen: those Palestinians trapped between the barrier and the “Green Line” separating Israel and the West Bank are having their presence on their land delegitimized by the Israeli military authorities. Major General Moshe Kaplinski this month issued a military order declaring the areas between the barrier and the Green Line to be closed military areas.

Closed, that is, to Palestinians: Israeli Jews are still allowed to move freely in these areas. Those who happen to live in these areas, however, will have to obtain permits simply to maintain the right to live in their homes and on their land. If precedents in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem hold true, residents of affected villages will find these permits revoked for reasons such as going to a nearby West Bank village to study, and will discover that they cannot marry someone without such a permit and bring him/her to live with them.

Ran HaCohen, an Israeli commentator, describes this new reality thus: “So if your mother happened to be Jewish, and you live in Montreal, in Mexico City or in Johannesburg, you need no permit at all to go to the small West Bank village of Salim. But if you are a Palestinian, even if you and your family have been living in Salim for centuries, you cannot stay there without a written permit from Major General Moshe Kaplinski "or someone acting on his behalf", as the order goes.”

Despite sotto voce objections from the U.S. administration, and despite an economic crisis at home, the Israeli government’s building of the walls and fences continues unabated. For the village of Akaba near Tubas in the northern West Bank, this means that 12 out of 18 homes, along with the village mosque and kindergarten, will be demolished to make way for the barrier. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz may claim that the barrier does not disrupt the “normal fabric of life” for Palestinians, but USAID, the United Nations, the European Union, and anyone who visits a village like Jayyous or Azzoun, speaking with farmers as they are denied access to their lands, can attest to the falsity of this claim.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Israeli invasions and bombardment over the past three years have left over 7000 Palestinians (most of them refugees to begin with) homeless. In October alone, at least 1250 Palestinians in Rafah lost their homes to Israeli tanks and bulldozers. According to the Israeli military, its actions were solely for the purpose of uncovering and sealing up tunnels between Rafah and Egypt through which weapons, cigarettes, etc. were being smuggled. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, however, recently published comments made by the former head of the Israeli military’s southern command, Yom Tov Samya, one and two years ago, which indicate that the destructions were carried out not primarily to uncover tunnels used for smuggling but to carve out an empty area on the border with Egypt.

In an interview on July 10, 2001, Samya said: "The border is not natural, it is not defendable ... This area is in one of the contingency plans. We did similar things along the roads in Gush Katif [the bloc of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip] - every building, every house, every tree ... That was the answer. Things there have to be removed [word incomprehensible] and systematically. As many buildings as possible, in order to stop the contact ... We have to keep doing it. There will be a clear and absolute area in which no one wanders about by day or by night. This is an area that has to be defended. The border with Egypt has to be based on looking 100 years ahead." From a second interview, broadcast on September 10, 2002: "The IDF has to knock down all the houses along a strip of 300 to 400 meters ... It doesn't matter what the future settlement will be, this will be the border with Egypt ... Arafat has to be punished, and after every terrorist attack another two-three rows of houses on the Palestinian side of the border have to be knocked down ... This is a long-term policy. We simply have to take a very extreme step. It is doable and I am happy it is being done, but it's being carried out in doses that are too small, I regret to say. It has to be done in one big operation." The big operation came this October. The residents of Rafah fear more “big operations” could be in their future. Rafah and other refugee camps in the Gaza Strip aren’t strangers to house demolitions by the Israeli military; in the 1970s, Ariel Sharon ordered scores of homes in the camps demolished in order to widen the roads in order to facilitate military patrols.

MCC Project Updates

*Through the Culture and Free Thought Association in the Gaza Strip, MCC will be providing blankets and basic foodstuffs to 200 families in Rafah who lost their homes this month.

*MCC has just agreed to support an innovative new project initiated by MCC partner Zochrot, an Israeli organization dedicated to exploring how justice for Palestinian refugees is an integral part of durable peace and reconciliation in Palestine/Israel. Zochrot will hold a series of meetings between internally displaced Palestinians living inside Israel (people who lost their lands in 1948 but who, because they live inside Israel, are not considered official refugees) and Israeli Jews from communities now using those lands; the meetings and workshops will provide places where internally displaced Palestinians can tell the history of their villages and the circumstances under which they were expelled. The meetings will then address sensitive issues such as the role of property restitution in sustainable peacebuilding. Eytan Bronstein, director of Zochrot and youth dialogue coordinator at the School for Peace at Neve Shalom/Wahat el-Salam, anticipates that the meetings will be tense, but strongly believes that any lasting peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews cannot shy away form such difficult subjects.

Book Recommendations:

Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah (New York: Anchor Books, 2003). A moving account of exile and tentative return by a Palestinian poet from the West Bank who lived in forced exile from 1967 to 1995.

Ronit Chacham, ed. Breaking Ranks: Refusing to Serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (New York: The Other Press, 2003). Chacham offers portraits of and interviews with several Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories.

Below you will find three pieces. The first, by Amira Hass, looks at the “drop by drop” expulsion of Palestinians from their lands via military orders and closures. In the second, Menahem Klein of the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, looks at the ways in which Israel is using the methods of Sparta to create an apartheid reality in and around the city of Jerusalem. In the third and final piece, Palestinian commentator Ali Abu Nimah offers a critical look at the so-called “Geneva Accord” drafted by unofficial Palestinian and Israeli figures.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Expulsion, Little by Little
Amira Hass
Haaretz, October 22, 2003

The fears and suspicions, as usual, came true - and very quickly. Hiding behind security rationales and the seemingly neutral bureaucratic language of military orders is the gateway for expulsion. Not massive expulsion, heaven forbid, not on trucks, and not far. Drop by drop, unseen, not so many that it would be noticed internationally and shock public opinion; with the proper measure so the Israelis can continue saying it's justified for security reasons, with the appropriate modesty in the media so the information doesn't reach the consciousness of even those who are dealing with the details of a permanent agreement, with their love of peace, while a wave of anti-Semitism sweeps the world. A little more than a week has gone by since the Palestinians whose villages are trapped between the separation fence and the State of Israel received new instructions from the army and the Civil Administration for "arranging" their presence on their own land. Civil Administration officers hurried to tell the residents that the permits were ready: permits for "permanent residents," according to a new category of Palestinians, invented by the legal minds in the army for the areas the army declared a closed military zone (though only for Palestinians. It's open to Israelis and Jews). The permits will enable the "permanent residents" to move "out of the area" and back to it. The Israel Defense Forces says it wants those residents who live "next to the fence" to maintain "as normal a fabric of life as possible." The village of Jabara, south of Tul Karm, is trapped between the Green Line and the fence, which has been adjusted eastward to include the expanding settlement of Salit. Out of the 200 adults in the village, six found out they don't have permits. One served a sentence in an Israeli jail; another has a different address on his ID card. The village of Ras a Tira is trapped in a "salient" created when the fence was drawn to include the frequently expanding settlement of Alfei Menashe. Some 60 out of the few hundreds residents of the village have found out they don't have permits. Those who want "to maintain the fabric of normal life," therefore, must decide between giving up their work in a neighboring city, visiting their family in the village on the other side of the fence, etc., or leaving home and land. That's the information so far available about two of 15 villages trapped inside the fence area. The more fence that is built, the greater the number of residents whose fates will be determined by anonymous clerks in the Civil Administration: "permanent" or not, allowed to have "a normal life" on their land or not. All those who did not get a permit have a family: they'll have to decide whether to adjust to the new lifestyle, in which the father is in exile on the other side of the fence, and the family is only allowed to see him with permission from the army, or to leave the land. And another suspicion came true very quickly. Every village will have to decide on its own, separately, about its position regarding the policy of permits and the new status invented for them by the Israeli occupation authorities. Various Palestinian officials condemned the new instructions, as expected. It's a recipe for "depopulation," said Saeb Erekat, recommending that people don't accept the permits. In Jabara, they decided to reject the permits. Agreeing to accept them would be legitimizing Israel's de facto annexation of the Palestinian land, recognition of the Israeli authority to decide whether or not a Palestinian is allowed to live on their land. If the residents agree to the permits today, they say in Jabara, tomorrow an anonymous Civil Administration officer or a Shin Bet man might prevent the marriage of a person to someone from another village outside the "seam area," or allow or prevent a joint agriculture project with a farmer from another village. Needing a permit from the occupation authorities for the most basic activities that make up a "normal fabric of life" creates an intolerable dependence that is a natural extension of the effort to enlist collaborators. And, in general, they say in Jabara, this is the Palestinian Authority's position. But, at the beginning of the week, the residents of Ras a Tira said they received the green light from PA representatives to accept the permits, at least for an interim period. After all, without the permits, they can't even think of normal life. In other words, there is no coordination between the villages, because there's nobody in the PA who is trying to translate "opposition in principle" and "condemnations" to the media into an active effort to establish, along with the main victims of the Israeli policy, a national Palestinian policy and an overall plan to deal with the decrees, while examining the special needs of each village on its merits. Is that a characteristic failure of the Palestinian leadership or just the feeling of helplessness when faced with Israeli determination to implement slogans like "as much territory as possible with as few Arabs as possible?"

2. Israel’s Jerusalem policy, Sparta and apartheid
Menachem Klein
The Daily Star, Beirut, Oct 25, 03

In July 2003, Israel began to build systems of physical and electronic separation in Jerusalem. If and when the plan is implemented, it will constitute the most dramatic change effected by Israel in East Jerusalem since it was conquered and annexed in 1967. In many places the new line extends into the West Bank beyond the 1967 annexation, but without officially annexing the area. Israel is working to include Rachel’s Tomb and the settlement Har Giloh in southern Jerusalem in the area of Israel, at the expense of areas belonging to Bethlehem and Beit Jalla.

Moreover, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to include several settlements on the Israeli side of the fence, principally Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev, which would increase the number of Palestinians on the Israeli side. The World Bank estimates that in addition to the 220,000 residents of East Jerusalem, about 60,000 Palestinians will be trapped between the border system separating them from the West Bank and the walls separating them from East and West Jerusalem. Israel does not intend to grant them residency or the status and rights possessed by East Jerusalemites. It certainly does not intend to offer them the Israeli citizenship that was rejected by almost all the residents of East Jerusalem areas it annexed in 1967.

Over and above extending the area annexed, Israel wants to destroy Arab metropolitan Jerusalem and control it without annexing it. The Israeli undeclared hope is that the conditions of life in these besieged areas will be so hard that most of the residents will prefer to leave. It aspires to achieve this through a wall enveloping all the following suburbs of East Jerusalem: Anata, Hizma, Al-Zaim, Al-Ram, and Dahiat Al-Barid, leaving them only a narrow link with the Palestinian hinterland in the form of a cramped road or tunnel under Israeli control. Only in a limited number of places did Israel agree to relinquish suburbs which it included in “united Jerusalem” in 1967: Kafr Aqab in the north, Arab Al-Sawahara and Sheikh Saad in the East. By that, about 20,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians will be left on the West Bank side of the wall, cut off from their families on the eastern side of the wall.

In densely populated areas where there is no possibility of erecting a broad complex of walls and obstacles, the concrete wall that Israel intends to build will rise to a height of eight meters. In the center of Abu-Dis Israel has already built a concrete wall about two meters high on the 1967 annexation line, dividing in two the neighborhood’s main road. This wall divides the section officially annexed to Israel from the section which in the near future will be cut off from the West Bank and from Israel alike.

In order to control entry and exit through this new wall, Israel has also built four permanent points of passage at the entrances to East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Thus the ground is ready to the next stage in the Israeli plan: divided autonomous neighborhoods.

On the neighborhood level there will be Palestinian autonomy for each separate neighborhood or suburb. Contact with the central Palestinian government will be carried out through the local Palestinian resident’s coming to the central Palestinian governmental meeting point, and not through agents of the Palestinian central government coming to the neighborhood. Israeli supervision will be carried out through its control over the road which is the main artery of the besieged suburb.

If the Israeli plan will be completed, about a quarter of a million Palestinian Arab residents of East Jerusalem will be cut off from their social, political, economic, cultural and language hinterland. This is about 10 percent of the total Palestinian population in the West Bank. The metropolitan connections of East Jerusalem had been hard hit by Israeli measures since the early 1990s. Now it can be expected that they will be destroyed.

On the other hand, the accessibility to West Jerusalem of those Palestinians who are today permanent residents in Israel is already not easy nowadays. Israel has blocked many roads that connect East Jerusalem to the West Bank by digging trenches, destroying roads, and constructing walls and piles of earth. Israel erected concrete and earth barriers at the entrance to East Jerusalem neighborhoods looking West, in order to control traffic to the few exit roads which Israel can supervise. From time to time Israel places checkpoints on these roads. A mobile and rapidly changing line of checkpoints and inspections is also occasionally set up close to the old international border or the “demographic border.”

The intifada, the swelling unemployment, the militarization of life in the city, the lack of a centralized and institutionalized authority which can impose the law in most areas of East Jerusalem ­ all had grave consequences in places like Al-Tur, Silwan, and Ras Al-Amud and they found themselves on the way to becoming slums.

Israel argues that her plan to “envelop Jerusalem” will upgrade the status of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. They prefer to disconnect their relationship with the corrupted Palestinian regime in order to enjoy many economic benefits that the Israeli regime offers them, the Israeli argument goes. Thirty six years of Israeli annexation disprove this argument and show the classical colonial approach behind it.

Using security purposes as a pretext the rightist Israeli government is now attempting to achieve by means of destructive walls what it was unable to achieve since 1967 through a belt of new construction: the building of new Jewish neighborhoods around the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods. In this way Israel forced demographic Jewish-Arab equality in the area annexed in 1967. In the talks in the year 2000 on a permanent settlement, discussions took place on models of dividing both territory and control between Israel and the planned Palestinian state. The rightist Israeli government was not satisfied with this and strives for exclusive Israeli control over all the area annexed in 1967. What the Barak government’s proposed with the start of negotiations on permanent arrangements for the urban and historical heart of East Jerusalem, the Sharon government proposes to the Palestinians only in distant suburbs scraped off the body of Jerusalem. In such policies the Sharon government is also marking the borders of the authority of that sort of Palestinian state to which it can agree. The authority of the Palestinian state will be weak in East Jerusalem suburbs and non-existent in its center.

This demands the destruction of the demographic, urban and metropolitan reality which developed since 1967 in Arab Jerusalem. All these measures are intended to perpetuate the control and the superiority of Jewish over Arab Jerusalem. The most appropriate name for this policy is “Spartheid,” Apartheid through the arguments and means employed by Greek Sparta.

Menachem Klein is a board member of B’etselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and participated in the recent Geneva Agreement talks. This commentary is from a presentation he recently gave to Americans for Peace Now in Washington

3. A disastrous dead end: the Geneva Accord
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 28 October 2003

Because of the Oslo process, the basis for a viable and minimally fair two-state solution has been completely destroyed. The Israeli "peace camp" and the Palestinian leadership ought to have learned from the calamities they helped bring about and changed their ways. The so-called "Geneva Accord," an informal agreement prepared by Israelis, led by former Labor Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and other Oslo-era luminaries, and Palestinians close to Yasser Arafat, demonstrates a determination to repeat the tragic errors of the past.
Oslo allowed Israel to double the number of colonists on occupied Palestinian land, while the PLO transformed itself into a Palestinian Authority whose mandate was to protect Israel from the victims of the ongoing colonization. There is no better account of the bad faith with which Israel's leaders approached the peace process than Tanya Reinhart's book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how Palestinians and Israelis reached the bloody impasse they are in today.While its creators have tried to sell the Geneva Accord as some sort of breakthrough, it is nothing of the sort. The document recycles the unworkable arrangements that Israel and the United States tried to impose at Camp David in July 2000. A Palestinian "state" would be established in the West Bank and Gaza, but without sovereignty or control of its own borders or airspace. Israel would be permitted to keep military forces in it forever, while the Palestinian "state" would not be allowed to defend itself. The Palestinian state would be occupied by a "Multinational Force" that could only be withdrawn with Israeli agreement, and so on.Israel would annex most of its West Bank settlements, including vast swathes of territory in and around Jerusalem and other major cities, a simple endorsement of most of the illegal territorial conquests Israel made since 1967. Crucially, the document completely cancels the basic rights of Palestinian refugees by giving Israel an absolute veto on the return of even a single person to his or her home.That the Geneva "negotiators," freed from any real accountability, could not come up with anything better than they did, underscores the utter bankruptcy of the glacial "step-by-step" approach toward a two-state solution, while that two-state-solution has galloped away because of Israeli colonization. The authors seem to believe that the Palestinian people are like a donkey that will forever chase after a carrot dangling from a stick attached to its own head. They fail to recognize that the intifada was foremost a rejection of such manipulation.Should anyone feel that this presentation is overly negative, just look at how Amram Mitzna, the "dovish" former general who led the Labor Party to massive defeat at the last Israeli election, and one of the authors of the document, presents it to Israelis. In an October 16 Ha'aretz commentary, Mitzna claimed that: "For the first time in history, the Palestinians explicitly and officially recognized the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter (of Jerusalem) and David's Tower will all remain in our hands. The suffocating ring was lifted from over Jerusalem and the entire ring of settlements around it -- Givat Zeev, old and new Givon, Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Zeev, French Hill, Ramot, Gilo and Armon Hanatziv will be part of the expanded city, forever. None of the settlers in those areas will have to leave their homes." Since these settlements account for the largest land expropriations in the most dense Palestinian areas, and for a majority of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Mitzna is simply following the Labor Party tradition of assuring Israelis that they can enjoy peace, international legitimacy and the spoils of conquest all at the same time. They cannot.Perhaps the most dishonest claim is Mitzna's assertion that the Palestinian side in the Geneva project "was represented by an authentic, broad Palestinian leadership that enjoys the support both from the official Palestinian Authority leadership and from the activist leaders at street level." Who is this "authentic" leadership? The Palestinians who went to Geneva did so in secret, and had no mandate whatsoever, except from themselves and the Israelis who anointed them. They certainly do not speak for the refugees whose fundamental rights they so blithely offered up, or for the Palestinians whose land was stolen for colonies that will remain intact. The Palestinian Authority, which apparently backed them, has itself lost all legitimacy as a representive body, because it is unaccountable.As for the Israeli delegation, one would do well to remember that the Labor Party in opposition speaks with a different voice than Labor in government. The former has always appeared more dovish than the latter. As independent agents, the Israeli negotiators can renege on any commitments they made. Yet, judging from history, the concessions they extracted from the "authentic Palestinian leadership" will become a new bottom line from which any future negotiations would proceed. Any new Israeli government, even one headed by Labor, would come to the table with ever more demands, and new facts on the ground that would have to be accommodated.If the Geneva authors were serious about a two-state solution, they would recognize that if it still has a remote chance, that can only be if Israel were at a minimum willing to withdraw every soldier and settler, without exception, behind the lines of June 4, 1967, including in Jerusalem, and allow the Palestinians to establish a state no less independent and sovereign than Israel. As the Geneva document demonstrates, not even Israel's most "dovish" figures are willing to contemplate that. So instead, they push a hopeless and unjust formula, claiming that this is the "only alternative" to the bloodthirsty way of Sharon, and pretend that the Palestinian people have agreed to it.In fact, since Israel can't or won't allow a real two-state solution, there is an alternative -- the creation of a single, democratic state that will allow all Israelis and Palestinians to peacefully cohabit the entirety of their common homeland as equals. To dismiss this possibility, and to refuse even to explore it as a serious way out of the deepening crisis is immoral.

Ali Abunimah is one of the co-founders of The Electronic Intifada. This article was first published in The Daily Star on 28 October 2003.

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