Friday, November 14

MCC Palestine Update #88

MCC Palestine Update #88

November 14, 2003

“It was like an earthquake.” That was how Fayez al-Banna of Block G in the refugee camp of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip described the arrival of Israeli tanks and bulldozers that came in October to destroy his four-story building, along with scores of other homes. At least 1250 Palestinians from Rafah camp were left homeless after the October invasions. On Sunday, November 9, MCC joined the Culture and Free Thought Association in distributing food packets and blankets to the families who had lost their homes. While grateful for the assistance, many recipients wanted to know why the world was more or less silent in the face of these house demolitions. Two days later, on November 11, the Israeli military destroyed 15 more homes in Rafah.

This past week has been an international week of action against the apartheid wall being built in the West Bank. MCC’s partner organization, the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network, has been a leader in providing high-quality resources and information about the wall. For stories, facts and figures, information sheets, articles, and powerpoint resources on the wall, go to

Below you will find four pieces. The first, by Neve Gordon, professor of human rights at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, asks why the world is silent in the face of the apartheid reality being created by the construction of the fence/wall/barrier. The second and third pieces, by Danny Rubinstein and Gideon Levy respectively, look at how Israel is unilaterally realizing its old vision of establishing autonomous Palestinian rule in parts of the occupied territories even while maintaining military control over those territories; Gideon Levy voices a feeling that more and more Palestinians express, namely, that the ongoing existence of the Palestinian Authority allows Israel to have the occupation without assuming any of the responsibilities of an occupying power. In the fourth and final piece, Gideon Levy tells the story of a family from Gaza whose lives were shattered by the most recent “targeted killing” in the Gaza Strip; contrary to Israeli claims that the “targeted killing” did not exact a civilian toll, the reality is one of broken, grieving families.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Silence in the Face of Israeli Apatheid: Captives Behind Sharon's Wall
November 6, 2003

As the government of the Jewish state forces the Palestinians in ghettos, history must be turning in its grave. Qalqiliya, a city of 45,000, has been surrounded by a concrete wall and only those who are granted permits by the Civil Administration can enter and exit the city's single gate.

Along the West Bank's north western border, an additional 12,000 people are now living in enclaves between the wall and the pre-1967 border. They too have become captives; yet the so-called security wall does not separate these Palestinian residents from Jewish Israelis, but rather from their brethren in the West Bank.

After placing them on small "islands," Israel is now "encouraging" them to leave their ancestral homes by undermining their infrastructure of existence. The goal, so it seems, is to annex the land uninhabited.

More recently, another 15-km of the wall were approved to be built in the midst of East Jerusalem. Ten minutes drive from my Jerusalem apartment, parts of this concrete wall wind between houses in the Abu Dis neighborhood. A new Berlin wall in the making, only this time in the holy city.

This wall will ultimately place approximately 35,000 Palestinians in a ghetto. Not only will they be isolated from their source of livelihood, but the sick will not be able to reach hospitals and the children will not be able to reach schools. Even the cemeteries will be out of bounds.

Think about it, once this Apartheid wall is completed, many Palestinian parents will be living on one side while their adult children will be living on the other. Families will be torn apart.

The wall dividing East Jerusalem clearly exposes Israel's lie, revealing that security is not the government's real objective. To put it simply, how will a wall that separates between Palestinian communities ensure the security of Jewish Israelis?

The facts on the ground lay bare that the Apartheid wall, which was ostensibly built to satisfy security needs, is in fact being used as an extremely efficient weapon of dispossession and abuse. Rhetoric aside, the Palestinians' land is being stolen, basic rights to freedom of movement and livelihood are systematically violated, and the rights to education, health and even burial are contravened. The instruments of violation are not only guns, tanks and airplanes, but Caterpillar bulldozers and Fiat tractors.

If the wall is completed, then 50 percent of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel, and there will be no possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state. Moreover, it will not solve Israel's security problems, but rather exacerbate them. By engendering extreme pressure on the Palestinian people, who are already living under dire circumstances, it fosters their sense that there are no prospects for the future, thus motivating people to join extremist groups like the Hamas and Islamic Jihad; indeed, the wall only increases the hatred towards the occupiers and promotes bloody attacks.

What baffles the Israeli peace camp is the international silence. A state among nations is placing thousands of people in ghettoes, forcing them to live in subhuman conditions, and not even a murmur of protest can be heard from the world leaders.

On November 9th, these international leaders have a unique opportunity to raise their voice against the Apartheid wall and 36 years of Israeli occupation. On this day, the world will be commemorating the 14th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and the 65th anniversary of "Kristallnacht," the state orchestrated pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany.

The international leaders should tell Prime Minister Sharon that at this historical moment he has an option between walls and ethnic cleansing, on the one hand, and open borders and freedom, on the other. They should also let him know, in unequivocal terms, that they will use all necessary means to ensure that Israel will choose the latter.

Neve Gordon teaches politics and human rights at Ben-Gurion University and can be reached at

2. Back to that old autonomy
Danny Rubinstein
Haaretz, November 10, 2003

Palestinian spokesmen are sneering at Israel's announcements that the IDF is easing restrictions in Gaza and the territories. One need only look to the PA's news sheet, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, from last Friday, where the lead headline on the story about what happened in Gaza and the West Bank a day earlier was, "The easing fraud."

The story read, "A woman who was shot by occupation soldiers bled to death in her home in Nablus, and an engineer was murdered when he drove by the Tul Karm checkpoint, while four people were injured by the bombing of Khan Yunis and 20 others were arrested in the West Bank." The reports have been accompanied daily by pictures of demolished homes, uprooted and burned olive trees, barbed-wire fences and women and children clearly exposed to rifles.

Last weekend, 12 Palestinians were killed, among them activists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also a child from the Balata refugee camp and another from Gaza.

In Ramallah, they warmly welcomed the removal of the Ein Arik checkpoint, which had closed the western exit from the city. This is a significant easing for the city's residents, who are also waiting for the Sorda checkpoint, which is blocking movement north from Ramallah, to fall. But Arafat Khalef, the mayor of Bitoonyah, where the Ein Arik checkpoint is located, said he has experience with these checkpoints. Some months ago, he said, there was talk of easing the closure, and Israeli tractors tore down the checkpoint, but the easing lasted only three or four days.

The Ein Arik checkpoint is one of 163 in the West Bank (according to a Palestinian count), and Palestinian reports on its removal were alongside dozens of reports on how tight the closure is, the curfew, and other restrictions on movement that were imposed once construction of the separation fence started. In other words, not only has it not been made easier for Palestinians to move in the West Bank, but the opposite is actually true - it is harder and harder to go from place to place.

It is actually doubtful if there were ever harsher restrictions on traveling to the Al-Aqsa mosque on Fridays during the month of Ramadan.

Every road into East Jerusalem last Friday was blocked with checkpoints and hundreds of police officers and soldiers, if not more. In effect, it made it impossible for anyone from the territories to get to the mosque, even if they had the necessary permits. A Jerusalem police spokesman said some 180,000 people reached the mosque, though Waqf management said the number was much lower and most were Israelis.

The Palestinians are also deriding the number of permits granted to enter Israel to work. According to the Palestinian Labor Ministry, this is misleading, because the figures are still trifling compared to the numbers permitted before the intifada. What really stood out last Saturday was a report that 50-year-old Ibrahim Darduna from Gaza had died in Tel Hashomer hospital after being beaten to death by unknown assailants in his place of work in Petah Tikva.

So where is all this leading? Many years ago, Israeli plans for granting Palestinians autonomy were circulating. The best known of these plans was drafted in 1977 by Menachem Begin after he was elected prime minister. The autonomy plan (for residents, not the territories) led the Israeli government and the military rule in the territories to set up settlements, capturing land and spreading the IDF around. The Palestinians rejected the plans, and every Palestinian mayor resigned in 1981, saying they didn't want to serve as tools of the Israeli occupation.

What is happening now in the territories is more or less the Israeli imposition of such a plan of autonomy. And there is no chance it will last.

3. Time to do away with the PA
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, November 9, 2003

This farce should have been ended long ago. If the leaders of the Palestinian Authority had been blessed with a greater measure of self-respect, readiness for personal sacrifice and political audacity, they would have long since declared the PA liquidated and left all the responsibility solely in Israel's hands.

If they were more concerned about the subjects they are supposed to be in charge of - the well-being of their nation - they would have resigned and thereby torn the mask from the false impression of the supposed government and the "state in the making." They would have ceased to be the fig leaf that serves and perpetuates the Israeli occupation. Instead, they cling to the few honors and benefits that Israel continues to confer on a few of them, and they go on lending a hand to the great deception that a sovereign Palestinian Authority and a government with powers exist.

Under a cover of empty titles, they continue to take part in the fraud while many in Israel and elsewhere find it convenient to go on believing that the Israeli occupation of the territories has not reverted to being total, and that there is a Palestinian government. "Ministers," "director-generals," "deputy ministers" and "governors," whose titles are empty and lack any authority, and who cannot rule or make decisions about anything except for the official cars and the VIP cards that enable them to go through checkpoints, continue to make a mockery of their nation and the international community.

Is the Palestinian minister of internal security capable of seeing to the security of even one Palestinian in the face of the assassinations, the helicopters, the soldiers and the troops who burst into homes in the middle of the night? Is the health minister capable of seeing to the health of his nationals, when every soldier at every checkpoint can delay ambulances and patients and when the cities and villages are under lengthy curfew? And what can the agriculture minister do when settlers cut down and uproot hundreds of olive trees without interference or prevent the harvesting of the olives, and when the Israeli army defoliates thousands of dunams of fields and vineyards? And how will the minister of labor ensure jobs for the people, when they cannot even leave their places of residence? What can the transportation minister do when his country is strewn with checkpoints and the Israel Defense Forces is the exclusive sovereign that decides which roads are for Jews only and which Palestinian bus lines will be allowed to operate? The list goes on and on.

On the streets of Ramallah, a passerby joked this weekend: "While the Palestinians were arguing over whether Nasser Yusuf would be appointed interior minister or not, the Israelis finished building the separation fence." The majority of Palestinians have no idea who their cabinet ministers are, and for good reason: most of the small amount of aid they receive comes from organizations such as UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and from the local governments, not from the imaginary government.

The most wretched situations of all are the meetings of Palestinian ministers with Israeli ministers. A case in point was the meeting between the finance minister, Salam Fayad (who suspended himself last Thursday), the favorite of the United States and Israel, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, which was intended solely to smooth Mofaz's visit to Washington. It's hard to understand why the Palestinian official agreed to meet with Mofaz - who more than any other Israeli is responsible for the cruel policy toward his nation - only to serve the political needs of the Israeli minister. Why is Israel allowed to boycott Palestinian leaders, above all Yasser Arafat, whereas Palestinian ministers have no similar red lines? While European and American officials decline to visit the office of the Israeli justice minister, which is located in East Jerusalem, the outgoing Palestinian justice minister, Abd al-Karim Abu Salah, together with the minister responsible for prisoners, Hisham Abd al-Razak, met with Justice Minister Yosef Lapid in his office. The Palestinian public has only contempt for such cabinet ministers.

This deception in the form of a supposedly autonomous government and Authority serves the Israeli government above all. The Palestinian

Authority's existence allows Israel to accuse it and demand that it fight terrorism, and Israel can also tell the world that its occupation is not full.

In the past three years Israel has done much to harm all of the PA's bases of power. Little remains of it, and the zombie-like entity that continues to exist in Ramallah should now depart the world. This is not only an internal Palestinian matter: Israel, too, bears heavy responsibility, which it is trying to shake off. If the Palestinian cabinet ministers were to declare together that the game is over, that there is no longer a Palestinian Authority and no longer a Palestinian government, the entire weight of responsibility for the occupation would devolve on Israel.

4. For the pilots' information: Mohammed Tabazeh lost a son and a nephew in an IDF assassination operation in Gaza. Three of his sons were wounded, one is fighting for his life. Yet the air force reported there were no civilians near the targets' vehicle.
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, November 7, 2003

Here is what the precise hit of an Israeli Air Force missile, launched at a vehicle carrying Hamas operatives in Gaza on October 20, in a completely "targeted assassination," looks like: Young Mahmoud Tabazeh, just 14, lies on a bed in the intensive care department of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, writhing in pain. Chills wrack his body; his legs - one shredded and the other broken - are bandaged; his whole body is bruised and pockmarked from the countless pieces of shrapnel that penetrated it. His complexion is pale and sallow, his head is shaven and scratched, blood drains from his abdomen into a bag. In a hoarse voice, he begs his father to do something to ease his pain. Mahmoud cries.

Two weeks after he was injured, the doctors say that his life is still in danger. The shrapnel struck his liver and apparently his pancreas, too, and the infection that spread in his body is life-threatening. A 14-year-old boy who went out to the street when he heard a loud explosion nearby, whose brother and cousin were killed, and three other brothers were wounded - but no one has told him all of this yet. For the information of the pilots who pressed the button that hurled missile after missile at the suspects' vehicle on the main road next to the Nuseirat refugee camp and later reported a direct hit.

For the information of the senior air force pilot who said the next day: "It's possible that some residents of nearby buildings were hit by shrapnel," that "this is a missile that's like a big hand grenade," but that the likelihood that many civilians were wounded was "extremely low." For the information of those responsible for disseminating the photos from the IDF drone that showed there were no civilians near the car at which two missiles were fired; and for the information of the senior IDF officials who claimed the next day that the Palestinians "fabricated" the large number of wounded in the operation.

For the information of all the above: Mohammed Tabazeh, who has worked in Israel for 30 years laying floors, had four of his nine children wounded in the operation, and is now sitting at the bedside of his son Mahmoud, who is fighting for his life, and can count 10 neighbors and relatives, including another son and a nephew, who were killed in the air force's perfectly successful and legal operation. Here are their names: Mohammed's son, Abdel Halim Tabazeh, 23, who was studying economics and statistics; his nephew, Ibrahim Tabazeh, 18, a 12th-grader who planned to study computers; Ahmed Halifi, 15; Ayoub al-Malak, 21, a third-year university student; Mohammed Hathat, 25, an engineer; Salah al-Din As'ad, 16, a high-school student; Atiya Mawnas, 20, a second-year university student; Mahdi Abu Jarbu'a, 19, a first-year student; Mohammed Barud, 12; and Dr. Zinadin Shahin, a married father of one. All of them, including the concerned doctor, ran frightened into the street when they heard the first missile strike the car, and a minute and a half later, the second missile struck, killing 10 and wounding dozens.

Tears well and threaten to overflow in the eyes of Mohammed Tabazeh, 49. Whenever he mentions his son Abdel Halim, who was killed, or his wounded son, Mahmoud, the tears start to flow. His face doesn't contort; it's not bitter weeping, just tears that silently trickle down his cheeks as he talks. He is a floorer who has worked in Israel for over three decades, even recently. His knees are scarred and tough, from all those years of kneeling on floor tiles.

Born in the Nuseirat refugee camp, his family came from the lost village of Hawama - between Ashdod and Ashkelon. His first job in Israel: cleaning Egged buses in Ramle, at age 14. His last job: laying the floor in a villa in Nir Zvi, about two months ago.

Between the bus and the villa, it seems he has tiled nearly half the country: "Four months ago, I put a special kind of stone tile around the shopping center in Givat Savyon. Go there and look. I did a job for an architect called Riskin, I'm sure you've heard of him. I tiled the houses of the richest people in Israel. Yakobi of the cleaning supplies business, Padani of Pinat Hayarkon. I tiled the Gordon pool 10 years ago. Zehava of Gali Shoes, whose husband was killed - I did her house. If I had her phone number, she'd come here right away. Where the Scud fell in Ramat Gan [during the Gulf War], I did six villas. I tiled all the houses there, in marble and stone. I put 10,000 meters of tile in Givat Shmuel. I did the Neta'im School 20 years ago. I did the ORT school in Ramat Gan and made it like new. I did villas in Ashdod."

From his work, he made close friendships that transcend checkpoints and national conflicts. The first visit to his wounded son, who was rushed to Sheba Hospital all alone in the middle of the night, came from Jewish friends from Givat Shmuel.

He says he has a hundred friends in Israel, and his fluent Hebrew proves it. He sits alone at the hospital and the trauma of the last days is apparent on his face. He worked in Israel his whole life in order to pay for an education for his nine children and for his brothers. He proudly enumerates their achievements: the brother who studied to be an X-ray technician at Sheba, the brother who is a registered nurse at Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the brother who is a physics teacher and close to getting his doctorate, and the sister who is an English teacher. And, of course, the children: the daughter who studied geography at the Islamic College, the dead son who studied economics and statistics, and the rest of the children, who are all diligent students. He can calculate the price of an hour of university study in dinars. There was a time when he earned a good living in Israel.

On Monday, October 20, everyone got up as usual in the morning and each member of the family went his own way. Mahmoud got up first. He is a ninth-grader at the UNRWA school in the camp, where the classes are held in two shifts. Mahmoud, who was in the first shift, got up at 6:30 in order to be in school by 7 A.M. Abdel Halim got up about an hour and a half later and left for the university. Due to the closure of the camp, their father stayed at home with his wife Rahab. The eldest son, Talal, who is unemployed, also stayed at home. The children came back for lunch, ate and then went out again.

An iron rule in the Tabazeh household: Everyone is at home by 10 P.M. Sometimes the father returns from work in Israel, even when he has a permit to stay over, just to make sure that everyone is home on time. He says he has always worried about his children, and tried to make sure that they weren't wandering about Gaza's dangerous streets.

That night, they were all back home in the two-story house by 8 P.M. At about 8:30, they heard a loud explosion that sounded like it came from the main road, about 30 meters away. Their house is in the first row of houses in Nuseirat, next to the road. What do you do when you hear an explosion? You go outside to see what happened. Within moments, everyone was outside. Mohammed says that he tried to keep his children from going out, but it all happened so fast, and who can control nine children, he moans.

Two minutes after the first missile struck, the second one landed - amid the crowd that had gathered on the spot. Tabazeh says that dozens of neighbors had gone outside, including Dr. Shahin, who ran over from his nearby clinic. It all happened very quickly and Tabazeh didn't see much. He heard shouting and saw a crowd of people and plumes of smoke. He did not see the burning car, or his wounded sons.

Only nine-year-old Mustafa stood by his side. A piece of shrapnel had hit him in the abdomen and he was bleeding. Someone picked him up and carried him to an ambulance. Then Tabazeh was told that his 18-year-old nephew Ibrahim had been wounded. He never got to see him. Ibrahim died three days later, at Shifa Hospital.

Tabazeh kept running back and forth, beside himself with worry and not knowing what had become of his children. There was chaos. He says that dozens of people were injured - 135 by the Palestinians' count. At the entrance to the clinic, he saw another nephew, Ala, 24, who was wounded in the ear and arm. Inside the clinic, he saw a seriously injured boy and then he was told that it was his son Mahmoud. "He was all covered in blood, I didn't recognize him." And in another room - another seriously injured person, whom he found out was his son, Abdel Halim.

His brother the nurse was trying to help Abdel but Tabazeh could see right away that it was hopeless. Abdel was vomiting blood. Mahmoud was taken to Shifa Hospital. Mohammed says that it looked as if his whole body had been shredded. "Say 1,000 pieces of shrapnel, 1,500 pieces - It's like taking rice and throwing it on him." But he couldn't get to him at Shifa - "How can you get there if there are 2,000 people trying to get in?" The final toll: five close family members hurt - a son and a nephew killed, and three sons - Mahmoud, Mustafa and Tariq, 20 - injured.

Mohammed and his wife returned to their home in a state of shock. They knew that two of their children were fighting for their lives and they couldn't be with them. At Shifa, Mahmoud underwent abdominal surgery and they also planned to amputate his leg. Nothing could be done for Abdel Halim. They buried him in the camp the next day. Then they transferred Mahmoud to Tel Hashomer. No one was permitted to accompany him.

The next day, Mohammed Tabazeh called Shifa and asked how his son was doing. At first he was told that there was no such child there. Gadi, Avi and Baruch, old friends from work, came to Tel Hashomer to look for their friend's son. Mohammed called Sima, a bookkeeper at the hospital whose home he had also worked on, and she eventually located the lost child; he was in critical condition in the pediatric intensive care unit. Mohammed called Sheba again, introduced himself as a worried neighbor and asked how the boy was doing. He was told that the boy's life was still in danger. Mohammed told Rahab that their son was okay.

Ibrahim Habib of Physicians for Human Rights - Israel tried to obtain an entry permit to Israel for the father. Avi, Gadi and Baruch called "every 15 minutes" to keep Mohammed updated. They have been going to the hospital every day since.

Mahmoud spent close to a week in the pediatric intensive care unit without his parents or any relatives allowed to stay with him. Security reasons. Last week, Mohammed was allowed to come to the hospital, and he hasn't budged from his son's bedside since then. He would like to be able to go home and let another family member come for a few days, but he's afraid that if he leaves Sheba, he won't be permitted to return. Mahmoud will probably spend many more weeks in the hospital. After Israel killed one of his sons and seriously wounded another, both of whom were wholly innocent bystanders, couldn't Mohammed expect just a bit of kindness? Such as an entry and exit permit that would enable him to be with his son, who is still in agonizing pain? Mohammed wants to thank the hospital staff for the kind treatment and care of his son.

Two of his neighbors who were injured in the same attack were also hospitalized at Tel Hashomer: Abd Tayam, a boy Mahmoud's age, who left here permanently paralyzed; and Husam Ta'ima, 19, who is in good condition. Every evening, when the Ramadan fast ends, a former Gazen who married a Jewish woman and lives in Israel comes to distribute food to the relatives of the injured so they can break their fast. An armed security guard arrives, summoned by hospital administrators to prevent us from photographing Mahmoud - despite his father's consent.

Prof. Zohar Barzilai, the director of the department, greets us and describes Mahmoud's condition as worrisome. "The boy is very sick. He has fractures and abdominal injuries that haven't healed yet. A break in the left thighbone, with burns and an open fracture. Since he was wounded, he has been ill for almost two weeks. The stomach continues to worry us. The functioning of the pancreas is affected. This is a serious injury that requires a long recovery. We are very worried about his leg. His head was also injured and he was on a respirator, but he got beyond that. He has made good progress, but he is still in great danger of a systemic failure that could happen at any moment."

Tabazeh listens silently. "It's always the little ones that go, on both sides. When there's a bombing for you, the little one is killed because he rides the bus and the big guy rides in a private car. And with us, this one's son and that one's son are abroad at our expense, and the little ones bear the brunt. Always the little ones." Again the tears flow from his eyes. Mahmoud lies in the next room, also crying; a nurse is changing the bandages on his mutilated leg. He's cold and the leg hurts.

What does he remember?

"A window in the house fell and I went outside to see what happened and then I saw my brother wounded," he whispers.

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