Thursday, November 27

MCC Palestine Update #89

MCC Palestine Update #89

November 27, 2003

This past week my family and I had two good friends as guests for five days: our former landlady from Zababdeh, the northern West Bank village where we once taught English, and her three-year-old daughter. Our friend had come to Jerusalem to check in on her ten-year-old son, who lives as a boarding student with nuns in a Jerusalem convent and had fallen ill. Getting into Jerusalem, however, was no simple matter. Our friend and her daughter left Zababdeh at 2 am, setting out for a five hour drive to the Qalandia checkpoint in northern Jerusalem. The drive took them and their fellow passengers through multiple back roads and in and out of olive fields. Once in Qalandia, her journey was not yet over. She took another taxi all around Jerusalem, down to Abu Dis to the south of the city. There, she and her 3-year-old faced an 7 to 8 foot obstacle made of concrete blocks. Like hundreds of Palestinians do everyday, our friend and her daughter found a place in the wall made of concrete blocks where they could find footholds. Once on top, our friend lowered her daughter down. As they were climbing over, our friend's daughter kept telling her to hurry. "The soldiers will come!" the daughter said: the entire trip down in the car, the daughter had been talking to her mother about her fear of the soldiers. The soldiers, fortunately, did not come, and our friend (who, as you have probably guessed) did not have a permit to be in Jerusalem, made it to the convent where she could see her sick son. Our friend and her children made it back to Zababdeh earlier this week.

As my family and I celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, we'll be giving thanks for the love that pushes mothers, fathers, and grandparents every day to cross through and find difficult ways around military roadblocks in order to care for their sick children; we'll be giving thanks for the faithful institutions of the Palestinian churches that minister to all children, Christian and Muslim alike; we'll be giving thanks for the witness of those young Israeli men who refuse to participate in the daily rituals of humiliation and control at checkpoints in the occupied territories; and we'll be giving thanks for Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers who work for a shared future of justice, peace, and reconciliation.

Below you will find three pieces. In the first, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy summarizes the memoirs of Staff Sgt. Liran Ron Furer, a young Israeli man in his mid-20s who has written an account of his three years of military service in the Gaza Strip. Furer's accout of his actions at the checkpoints where he worked are troubling, haunting, and give a disturbing insight into how the occupation and its military roadblocks and checkpoints are dehumanizing not only Palestinians but Israelis as well. The second piece, by MCC's partner organization on Palestinian refugee issues, Badil, examines how human rights standards, including those that address refugees, will have to be incorporated into any lasting peace agreement, any agreement, that is, that seeks to be "conflict resolution" rather than "conflict management." In the final piece, Haaretz journalist Danny Rubinstein examines what he calls the "strangulation fence" and its effect on Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Twilight Zone: ‘I punched an Arab in the face’
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, 21 November 2003

Staff Sergeant (res.) Liran Ron Furer cannot just routinely get on with his life anymore. He is haunted by images from his three years of military service in Gaza and the thought that this could be a syndrome afflicting everyone who serves at checkpoints gives him no respite. On the verge of completing his studies in the design program at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, he decided to drop everything and devote all his time to the book he wanted to write. The major publishers he brought it to declined to publish it. The publisher that finally accepted it (Gevanim) says that the Steimatzky bookstore chain refuses to distribute it. But Furer is determined to bring his book to the public's attention. "You can adopt the most hard-line political positions, but no parent would agree to his son becoming a thief, a criminal or a violent person," says Furer. "The problem is that it's never presented this way. The boy himself doesn't portray himself this way to his family when he returns from the territories. On the contrary - he is received as a hero, as someone who is doing the important work of being a soldier. No one can be indifferent to the fact that there are many families in which, in a certain sense, there are already two generations of criminals. The father went through it and now the son is going through it and no one talks about it around the dinner table." Furer is certain that what happened to him is not at all unique. Here he was - a creative, sensitive graduate of the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, who became an animal at the checkpoint, a violent sadist who beat up Palestinians because they didn't show him the proper courtesy, who shot out tires of cars because their owners were playing the radio too loud, who abused a retarded teenage boy lying handcuffed on the floor of the Jeep, just because he had to take his anger out somehow. "Checkpoint Syndrome" (also the title of his book), gradually transforms every soldier into an animal, he maintains, regardless of whatever values he brings with him from home. No one can escape its taint. In a place where nearly everything is permissible and violence is perceived as normative behavior, each soldier tests his own limits of violence impulsiveness on his victims - the Palestinians. His book is not easy reading. Written in terse, fierce prose, in the blunt and coarse language of soldiers, he reconstructs scenes from the years in which he served in Gaza (1996-1999), years that, one must remember, were relatively quiet. He describes how he and his comrades forced some Palestinians to sing "Elinor" - "It was really something to see these Arabs singing a Zohar Argov song, like in a movie"; the emotions the Palestinians aroused in him - "Sometimes these Arabs really disgust me, especially those that try to toady up to us - the older ones, who come to the checkpoint with this smile on their faces"; the reactions they spurred - "If they really annoy us, we find away to keep them stuck at the checkpoint for a few hours. They lose a whole day of work because of it sometimes, but that's the only way they learn." He described how they would order children to clean the checkpoint before inspection time; how a soldier named Shahar invented a game: "He checks someone's identity card, and instead of handing it back to him, just tosses it in the air. He got a kick out of seeing the Arab have to get out of his car to pick up his identity card ... It's a game for him and he can pass a whole shift this way"; how they humiliated a dwarf who came to the checkpoint every day on his wagon: "They forced him to have his picture taken on the horse, hit him and degraded him for a good half hour and let him go only when cars arrived at the checkpoint. The poor guy, he really didn't deserve it"; how they had a souvenir picture taken with bloodied, bound Arabs whom they'd beaten up; how Shahar pissed on the head of an Arab because the man had the nerve to smile at a soldier; how Dado forced an Arab to stand on four legs and bark like a dog; and how they stole prayer beads and cigarettes - "Miro wanted them to give him their cigarettes, the Arabs didn't want to give so Miro broke someone's hand, and Boaz slashed their tires." Chilling confession The most chilling of all the personal confessions: "I ran toward them and punched an Arab right in the face. I'd never punched anyone that way. He collapsed on the road. The officers said that we had to search him for his papers. We pulled his hands behind his back and I bound them with plastic handcuffs. Then we blindfolded him so he wouldn't see what was in the Jeep. I picked him up from the road. Blood was trickling from his lip onto his chin. I led him up behind the Jeep and threw him in, his knees banged against the trunk and he landed inside. We sat in the back, stepping on the Arab ... Our Arab lay there pretty quietly, just crying softly to himself. His face was right on my flak jacket and he was bleeding and making a kind of puddle of blood and saliva, and it disgusted and angered me, so I grabbed him by the hair and turned his head to the side. He cried out loud and to get him to stop, we stepped harder and harder on his back. That quieted him down for a while and then he started up again. We concluded that he was either retarded or crazy. "The company commander informed us over the radio that we had to bring him to the base. `Good work, tigers,' he said, teasing us. All the other soldiers were waiting there to see what we'd caught. When we came in with the Jeep, they whistled and applauded wildly. We put the Arab next to the guard. He didn't stop crying and someone who understood Arabic said that his hands were hurting from the handcuffs. One of the soldiers went up to him and kicked him in the stomach. The Arab doubled over and grunted, and we all laughed. It was funny ... I kicked him really hard in the ass and he flew forward just as I'd expected. They shouted that I was a totally crazy, and they laughed ... and I felt happy. Our Arab was just a 16-year-old mentally retarded boy." In his sister's rooftop Tel Aviv apartment, where he is living now, Furer, 26, comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent young man. He grew up in Givatayim, after his parents immigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Before Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, his mother was a right-wing activist, but he says that their home was not political. He wanted to be in a combat unit in the army, and served in two elite infantry units. He did his entire army service in the Gaza Strip. After the army, he traveled to India, like so many others. "Now I was free. The crazy energies of Goa and the chakras opened my mind ... You stuck me in this stinking Gaza and before that you brainwashed me with your rifles and your marches, you turned me into a dishrag that didn't think anymore," he wrote from Goa. But it was only afterward, when he was studying at Bezalel, that the experiences from his army service really began to affect him. "I came to realize that there was an unchanging pattern here," he says. "It was the same in the first intifada, in the period that I was serving, which was quiet, and in the second intifada. It's become a permanent reality. I started to feel very uncomfortable with the fact that such a loaded subject was hardly mentioned at all in public. People listened to the victim and they listened to the politicians, but this voice that says: I did this, we did things that were wrong - crimes, actually - that's a voice I didn't hear. The reason it wasn't being heard was a combination of repression - just as I repressed it and ignored it - and of deep feelings of guilt. "As soon as you get away from army service, the political and media reality around you is not ready to hear this voice. I remember that I was surprised that no soldier had gone public with this yet. It all somehow dissolved in the debate about the legitimacy of settlement in the territories, about the occupation - for or against - and nothing connected to the routine of maintaining the occupation appeared in the media or in art." Not an individual caseFurer is out to prove that this is a syndrome and not a collection of isolated, individual cases. That's why he deleted a lot of personal details from the original manuscript, in order to underscore the general nature of what he describes. "During my army service, I believed that I was atypical, because I came from a background of art and creativity. I was considered a moderate soldier - but I fell into the same trap that most soldiers fall into. I was carried away by the possibility of acting in the most primal and impulsive manner, without fear of punishment and without oversight. You're tense about it at first, but as you get more comfortable at the checkpoint over time, the behavior becomes more natural. People gradually test the limits of their behavior toward the Palestinians. It gradually becomes coarser and coarser. "The more confident I became with the situation, as soon as we reached the conclusion - each one at his own stage - that we are the rulers, we are the strong ones, and when we felt our power, each one started to stretch the limits more and more, in accordance with his personality. As soon as serving at the checkpoint became routine, all kinds of deviant behavior became normal. It started with `souvenir collecting': We'd confiscate prayer beads and then it was cigarettes and it didn't stop. It became normative behavior. "After that came the power games. We got the message from above that we were to project seriousness and deterrence to the Arabs. Physical violence also became normative. We felt free to punish any Palestinian who didn't follow the `proper code of behavior' at the checkpoint. Anyone we thought wasn't polite enough to us or tried to act smart - was severely punished. It was deliberate harassment on the most trivial pretexts. "During my army service, there wasn't a single incident that made us understand, or made our commanders interfere. No one talked about what was permitted and what was not. It was all a matter of routine. In retrospect, the biggest source of guilt feelings for me didn't happen at the checkpoint, but by the Gush Katif fence, when we caught the retarded boy. I demonstrated the most extreme behavior. It was a chance for me to catch one - the closest thing to catching a terrorist, a chance to vent all the pressure and impulses that had built up in all of us. To lash out the way we wanted to. We were used to giving slaps, to handcuffing, to a little kicking, a little beating, and here was a situation in which it was justified to let go entirely. Also, the officer who was with us was himself very violent. We gave the kid a real beating and as soon as we got to the post, I remember having a great feeling of pride, that I'd been treated like someone strong. They said, `What a nut you are, how crazy you are,' which was basically like saying, `How strong you are.' "At the checkpoint, young people have the chance to be masters and using force and violence becomes legitimate - and this is a much more basic impulse than the political views or values that you bring from home. As soon as using force is given legitimacy, and even rewarded, the tendency is to take it as far as it can go, to exploit it much as possible. To satisfy these impulses beyond what the situation requires. Today, I'd call it sadistic impulses ... "We weren't criminals or especially violent people. We were a group of good boys, a relatively `high-quality' group, and for all of us - and we still talk about this sometimes - the checkpoint became a place to test our personal limits. How tough, how callous, how crazy we could be - and we thought of that in the positive sense. Something about the situation - being in a godforsaken place, far from home, far from oversight - made it justified ... The line of what is forbidden was never precisely drawn. No one was ever punished and they just let us continue. "Today, I feel confident saying that even the most senior ranks - the brigade commander, the battalion commander - are aware of the power that soldiers have in this situation and what they do with it. How could a commander not be aware of it when the more crazy and tough his soldiers are, the quieter his sector is? The more complex picture of the long-term effects of this violent behavior is something you only become conscious of when you get away from the checkpoint. "Today it's clear to me that that boy whose father we humiliated for the flimsiest of reasons will grow up to hate anyone who represents what was done to his father. I definitely have an understanding of their motives now. We are cruelty, we are power. I'm sure that their response is affected by elements related to their society - a disregard for human life and a readiness to sacrifice lives - but the basic desire to resist, the hatred itself, the fear - I feel are completely justified and legitimate, even if it's risky to say so. "It's impossible to be in such an emotional state and to go back home on leave and detach yourself from it. I was very insensitive to the feelings of my girlfriend at the time. I was an animal, even when I was on leave. It also sticks with you after your service. I saw the remnants of the syndrome in India - something about being in the Third World, among dark-skinned people, brings out the worst of the `ugly Israeli,' which is as Israeli as it gets. Or the way you react to a smile: When Palestinians would smile at me at the checkpoint, I got tense and construed it as defiance, as chutzpah. When someone smiled at me in India, I immediately went on the defensive. "I was an average soldier," he says. "I was the joker of the group. Now I see that I was often the one to take the lead in violent situations. I often was the one who gave the slap. I'm the one who came up with all kinds of ideas like letting the air out of tires. It sounds twisted now, but we really admired anyone who could beat up some guy who supposedly had it coming. The officer we admired most was the officer who fired his weapon at every opportunity. Out of everyone I've spoken to, I've been left with the most guilt feelings ... A friend from the army read the book and said that I'm right, that we did bad things, but we were kids. And he said that it's a shame that I took it too hard."

2. Conflict Management or Conflict Resolution

BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 13November 2003

This Bulletin aims to provide a brief overview of issues related to Palestinian Refugee Rights

Peace agreements--provisions on rights, refugees and participation: This analysis of human rights provisions is the first of a 3-part series on recent agreements. Part Two examines how they deal with refugees and Part Three is on public participation in formulating agreements.

Conflicts are unique and so are the mechanisms set up to resolve them. But in most cases, human rights are considered an important element for conflict resolution.

What makes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its resolution particularly unique is the virtual absence, in any peace proposals to date, of human rights regulations or provision for the establishment of human rights institutions. This implies that the two parties have yet to agree on the underlying root causes of the conflict and how they should go about resolving the conflict.

Peace agreements, like national constitutions, replace “the arbitrary use of power with its legal regulation through checks and balances.”* Thus human rights are a key element in a successful agreement, providing a common framework to regulate relations between former antagonists, mediate future disputes and reconcile past injustices.

Many agreements include provisions for new human rights institutions to monitor respect for human rights, educate the general public, hold accountable persons who have violated the human rights of others and investigate and recommend remedies for past violations.

The following is a summary of the role of human rights and the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation process; a comparative overview of human rights provisos in other peace agreements; and observations on recent peacemaking experience.

Missing from the start

Human rights have been marginal to the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking process that began in Madrid more than a decade ago. The Madrid-Oslo process focused primarily on security and the transfer of certain powers to a limited self-governing authority in 1967 occupied Palestine.

According to the initial framework agreement (1993 Declaration of Principles) Israel and the PLO agreed to recognize “mutual legitimate and political rights” in order to “achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process.” There is no mention of international law or the UN Charter as the basic framework for negotiations and future relations between the two.

Subsequent interim agreements include only limited references to human rights. They are first mentioned in the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement (Article XIV; Annex I,
Article VIII) in regard to the exercise of “powers and responsibilities” under the agreement. Annex III, Article II also stipulates that the parties to the agreement shall
ensure that persons transferred for criminal investigation will be treated in accordance with accepted human rights norms. The 1995 Interim Agreement (Article XIX; Annex I, Article XI(7), Article 11(7)(h)(1)) and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum (Article II(4)) include similar provisions.

While the agreements include numerous references delineating agreed-upon “rights” of both parties the only reference in the agreements to “legal rights” concerns “Government and Absentee property” that was “acquired” by Israelis in the occupied territories (Interim Agreement, Annex III, Appendix I, Article 16(3) and Article 22(3). Palestinians are obliged under the agreement to respect these rights.

Common to all these agreements is the absence of specific references to internationally accepted human rights norms. None establish human rights institutions to monitor and investigate human rights violations. Moreover, both the Interim agreement (Article XI(1), Annex I) and the Wye River Memorandum (Article II(4)) suggest that internationally accepted norms are subject to the agreement rather than vice versa.

Recent unofficial initiatives on the outlines of a final status agreement follow a similar approach, omitting rights altogether (e.g. Nusseibeh-Ayalon and the Geneva understandings). The latter actually states that where the agreement and the UN Charter conflict, the agreement itself overrides the UN Charter Article 2 (6).

The absence of human rights and international law, in general, from past agreements and current initiatives can be explained in part by looking at some historical background.

Focus on security: Since 1967, peacemaking has largely focused on security based on the political notion of ‘land for peace’ under which Israel would return some conquered land in the occupied territories for a lasting peace agreement. This incorrectly implies a symmetrical relationship between the parties and that Palestinians have peace and only need land. Human rights norms are secondary and their inclusion has been undermined or even cast aside when they interfere with Israel’s security considerations.

Unwillingness to recognize certain rights: Recognition of certain rights such as refugees’ right to return to their homes of origin could lead, in Israel’s view, to unacceptable political outcomes. Human rights interfere with its arbitrary exercise of power.

Unresolved and conflicting narratives/views on the conflict itself: Human rights and international law have played a fundamental role in the Palestinian view of the conflict. Their proposals during pre-Oslo talks in Washington, for example, include key references to international law. Israel disagrees fundamentally, hence the absence of human rights.

Key role of human rights in other agreements

Human rights are a key element in peace agreements, playing a particularly important regulatory role in ethno-national conflicts. Agreements in Bosnia, Kosovo, Burundi, and Rwanda, for example, contain particularly detailed human rights provisions. In general, they delineate applicable norms; provide for legal, including constitutional, reform to incorporate greater recognition of human rights principles; and establish institutions to monitor, investigate and adjudicate future and past human rights violations.

The peace agreements in Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Burundi, Cambodia, East Timor, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda all have specific reference to applicable international human rights conventions and most delineate specific human rights. A list of 14 international human rights instruments to be applied in Bosnia Herzegovina is even annexed to the 1995 Dayton Agreements.

Provisions for constitutional reform to strengthen recognition of human rights norms are also included. The constitution attached to the 1999 Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo, for example, states that the rights and freedoms set forth in the European Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and its Protocols shall apply directly in Kosovo and have priority over all other law. Similar provisions for constitutional reform are found in Bosnia and Cambodia.

Education is also an important component of peacebuilding. The 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, for example, calls for a major educational and awareness program for peace, unity and reconciliation. In Cambodia, the UN transition administration was required to develop and implement educational programs to promote respect for and understanding of human rights. In Sierra Leone, the parties pledged to promote human rights education through schools, media, police, military and the religious community.

Mechanisms to monitor respect for human rights, investigate and provide remedies for future human rights violations also feature in some agreements. The 1994 Protocol of Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front on the Rule of Law establishes an independent National Commission on Human Rights to investigate human rights violations and use the findings to sensitize and educate the public on human rights and bring legal proceedings where necessary.

Similar commissions are provided for in the Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Burundi, Bosnia, and Kosovo agreements. Remedies for victims of human rights violations include compensation.

Some establish independent mechanisms to investigate and prosecute individuals found responsible for past grave human rights violations. The Burundi agreement, for example, asks the UN Security Council to establish an international criminal tribunal to try and punish those responsible for acts of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. The Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights in Guatemala (1994) establishes a Commission to clarify past violations and issue recommendations to encourage peace and national harmony. Agreements in Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda establish similar mechanisms for transitional justice.

Finally, many agreements also include provisions to commemorate the victims of human rights violations. The Arusha agreement (Burundi) calls for a national monument in memory of all victims of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity and a national day of remembrance. The Guatemala agreement requires measures to preserve the memory of the victims to foster a culture of mutual respect and observance of human rights and to strengthen the democratic process.

Human rights, the common framework

Human rights are sine qua non for a peace agreement. Human rights provisions may not provide ironclad guarantees that violations will not recur, but they provide a common framework to regulate relations between former antagonists, resolve future disputes, rehabilitate victims of past violations, and ensure that no individual or party is above the law and can act with impunity.

As numerous human rights organizations have observed, recent experience around the world has shown the legitimacy and sustainability of political processes are strengthened, not weakened, by the inclusion of human rights standards. Disregarding human rights, or subordinating these rights to political considerations, can only undermine the prospects of achieving durable peace and security.

The inability of the international community to effectively monitor and enforce human rights in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the lack of political support to ensure codification of such principles and the establishment of corresponding human rights mechanisms in peace agreements between Israel and the PLO has led to a situation where the peacemaking process continues to be governed by the arbitrary use of power.

A deeper problem

The virtual absence of human rights from Palestinian-Israeli peace agreements and current political initiatives also points to a deeper problem. Comparative experience

suggests that human rights provisions in peace agreements stem from agreement between the parties about the function and role of human rights and, therefore, an agreement about the nature of the conflict itself and related remedies.

The absence of human rights in existing agreements and recent initiatives thus implies that the parties have yet to agree on the underlying root causes of their conflict. Such agreements and initiatives can, at best, provide for conflict management, but cannot be seen as resolving all outstanding claims between Israel and the Palestinians or providing just and durable solutions for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Past experience, community involvement and the rule of law are three major components of any peace and reconciliation plan, according to BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. BADIL promotes research into these areas, encourages Palestinian community participation in formulating peace agreements and organizes fact-finding visits to areas repairing the damage of conflict such as South Africa and Bosnia-Herzogovina.

* Christine Bell, Peace Agreements and Human Rights, 2000

3. A strangulation fence
Danny Rubinstein
Haaretz, 24 November 2003

Despite all the criticism of the separation fence both in Israel and abroad, a majority of the Israeli public is still enthusiastic about it (83 percent support it, as opposed to 12 percent who are against it, according to the Peace Index of October, 2003, as published in Haaretz on November 4). This enthusiasm clearly has a security background, but also a political background. Everyone who wants to arrive at the solution of two states for two peoples supports separation between the two entities - and if separation, then why not a fence?

A certain enthusiasm for separation between the two peoples has prevailed in Israel ever since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967. Moshe Dayan, who laid down the lines of Israeli policy in the territories after the Six Day War, favored maximum possible integration between Israel and the territories - but he too called again and again for "not getting into the Palestinians." That is, to minimize as much as possible a permanent Israeli presence in heavily populated areas and not to fly the Israeli flag in every corner of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He wanted the Arabs in the territories to manage their civil affairs themselves. "My father didn't come to Degania and Nahalal in order to run the education system in Nablus or the orchards in Gaza," he once said.

Yitzhak Rabin's electioneering slogan "Get Gaza out of Tel Aviv" was one of the reasons for his success in the 1992 elections - and another call for separation formulated as "We here and they there" was among one of Ehud Barak's popular statements.

The bloody clashes and the terror attacks of the Al Aqsa Intifada of course brought the Israeli support for separation and the construction of the fence to a peak. Among the supporters of the fence in Israel are hawks and doves, centrists, leftists and rightists. In short, nearly everyone.

Among the Palestinian public, the picture is different. Their main sources of employment are in Israel, and they also want free access to the centers of commerce, medical services and recreational sites in Israel. But the official Palestinian position cannot be opposed in principle to the fence; they oppose only any deviation of the separation wall from the Green Line (the pre-June 1967 border). Palestinian spokespersons have frequently stated: Israel is entitled to build as many fences and walls as it wants - but only inside its own territories and not in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestine Liberation Organization steering committee, which convened at Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's headquarters at the end of last week, decided that the Palestinians will apply to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to file a suit against the construction of the fence. In Jerusalem, the head of the Islamic courts Sheikh Rajib Bayyud al Tamimi (whom Arafat appointed about a year ago), announced the launching of a public struggle against the fence in the city, as its aim is to "strengthen the Judaization of Jerusalem."

The deviations of the fence from the old 1967 border into the territories are not a marginal issue in the affair. They are the main issue. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government ministers, who support the fence, are exploiting the large public support that there is in Israel for ideas of separation in order to build fences and walls. However, more than these stand between Israelis and Palestinians - they are creating, in a large part of the West Bank, a reality of siege and distress in which the Palestinians cannot live. It sometimes seems that most of the Israeli public that so yearns for separation and security does not realize that in fact a wall of strangulation is being built in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

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