Tuesday, December 9

MCC Palestine Update #90

MCC Palestine Update #90

December 9, 2003

Prepare the way of the Lord! proclaimed John the Baptist from the hills of the Judean desert running down from the MCC office in East Jerusalem towards the Jordan Valley. John called on his listeners to repent, to turn around, and to prepare for a new reality. In Palestine/Israel this Advent season, Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) and Israeli Jews are worn out and exhausted by the current reality of violence, economic upheaval, and occupation. They await a new reality.

Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine works alongside churches and church insitutions that believe that the good news of Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God's nonviolent love, helps to turn people away from commitments to violence towards commitments to nonviolence. MCC also works with Israeli and Palestinian groups dedicated to helping turn people away from occupation and violent resistance against it and towards a future of peace and reconciliation built on foundations of justice. The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center equips the local Palestinian churches with resources to proclaim the coming of the Lord. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions prepares the way of the Lord by bringing Palestinians and Israelis toegether to rebuild Palestinian homes unjustly destroyed. As we on the MCC Palestine team prepare our hearts this Advent for the Lord's coming, we give thanks for the faithful witness of the Palestinian churches and of Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders who, through their words and deeds, are making ready a way for Christ's coming.

MCC project update:

The Women's Training Program of the East Jerusalem YMCA began a training course for women in al-Jadawel area between Beit Jala and the Aida refugee camp. Your prayers for the training, which builds women's skills in livestock management, domestic gardening, conservation of natural resources, and dealing with finances, are solicited.

Mennonite Church USA has created a bulletin insert for congregational use this Advent, soliciting prayers for peace for the people of Bethlehem. You can access this worship resource at http://peace.mennolink.org/resources/bethlehem.pdf/.

Below you will find two pieces. The first, by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, examines what he describes as "an amazing combination of utter indifference and astonishing ignorance" among Israelis concerning the new realtieis being created by the "security fence"/"apartheid barrier." In the second, Haaretz journalist Danny Rubinstein takes a trip to Zububa village in the northern West Bank to see the impact of the barrier on that town.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Trying to hide the dark backyard
Gideon Levy
Haaretz, December 7, 2003

How many Israelis have actually seen the separation fence? How many have given any thought to its significance? Every foreign visitor interested in what is happening in the region makes visiting the fence a priority and world media constantly point their cameras at it - half a dozen foreign documentaries have already been shot along it. But most Israelis have never seen it. This ambitious strategic project that is going to make fundamental changes to the lnd, the landscape and relations between the peples, is passing through us with an amazing comination of utter indifference and astonishing ignorance.

Since the start of the settlement enterprise, which also took place with eyes deliberately closed in national blindness, there has not been a venture that with such speed created a new reality without any real discussion of its significance. Even environmental activists haven't piped up about how it is ripping up the landscape.

Just like the settlements, the project was started by the Labor Party while the Likud gave it the proper momentum, and just like the settlements, it will be a tragedy to be suffered for generations to come. Another year or in five, and the truth about the damage it caused will become evident, and then, just as with the settlements, it will be too late. After the settlements fulfilled their destructive purposes and capabilities, the separation fence is the next fateful obstacle Israel is putting up on the path to reconciliation with the Palestinians.

When its construction is completed, the two-state solution will be even further removed and practically impossible. The settlements and the fence are complementary and supplementary, together they form a victorious proposition - that with them in place it will never be possible to reach an equitable peace.

There's no doubt the people want a fence. The polls show that most Israelis are convinced that separation from the Palestinian people is a magic formula for eliminating terror and that the fence is the guarantee of it. Together with other mendacious myths, Ehud Barak is also largely responsible for that, by turning the separation concept into a vision. But Barak's mantra of "us here and them there" quickly turned into "them there and us here and also over there."

Palestinians are corralled into ghettos beyond the fence and Israelis remain on both sides. The result being carved into the hills and dales of the land separate not only Israelis and Palestinians, but also Palestinians from Palestinians. The vision of separation espoused by Barak, Haim Ramon and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has turned into a vision of apartheid.

The first outrageous aspect of this is the harm down to the tens of thousands of Palestinian families after they went through all the tribulations of the occupation - closures, land grabs, house demolitions, humiliations, checkpoints and the settlers in their midst. Now they are being torn form their fields, work places and schools, from their families and the centers of their life, living behind a fence.

"Good fences make good neighbors?" No they don't, not when the fence goes through the neighbor's backyard, over his land, and displaces the neighbors from their own land. That makes for bad neighbors. Some 75,000 Palestinians who find themselves in fenced-in enclaves, some 100,000 residents of the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods cut off from the city and the thousands of farmers already displaced from their land, are the next reservoir of hatred and despair and the new infrastructure of terror.

Israel wanted a security fence as a response to terror? It could have been so simple. It should have put it up on the Green Line, without any deviations. Israel wants separation from the Palestinians? It's so simple - it should evacuate the settlements.

Indeed, the fence does not signal good tidings for the future of relations between the nations. Instead of seeking to establish two open civil societies, living side by side in cooperation, as is desirable and possible, a wall is going up. However, even if it is sad to think that Israel converted its expressed desire for peace and conciliation into separation, if the fence had gone up on the Green Line it would have been impossible to complain about a nation trying to defend itself, and despite the serious problems that fence would have created, it would have been possible to live with it. But the fence is being built in a large part of Palestinian territory. On that route, nobody can accept the argument that the fence is apolitical. Like other occupation measures - especially the settlements and checkpoints - the fence is being justified by security rationales that only provide cover for their real purpose. That is, smashing the last chance for an agreed upon arrangement between the sides.

The fence therefore means the precise opposite of its declared purpose. It is a fence for the perpetuation of conflict. It won't separate the peoples, but perpetuate the pathological connection between the two peoples, the connection between the occupier and the occupied, blocking any chance for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

The fence's construction is heading into its last stretch, from the "Jerusalem envelope" to the "Hebron envelope" and the route in the north, and horrifyingly, "the eastern fence." Soon Israel will find itself behind walls, trying to hide from the horrific reality of its own dark backyard, where it conducts a brutal, ruthless regime of occupation.

As sophisticated as the fence might be and as high as it might go, it will not manage to hide anything. Beyond it, the occupation will continue in all its fury, and Israel's chance of becoming a just society will recede ever further and further away - until it disappears.

2. The tortuous route to Zabuba: The villages along the way are all suffering from the closure. The fence, the walls and the collective punishments have turned everything topsy-turvy
Danny Rubinstein
Haaretz, December 7, 2003

Zabuba is a relatively small West Bank village with a mere 2,000 inhabitants. It is located in the Jenin region and can be reached by traveling north on the Wadi Ara (Iron Valley) highway and turning right at the Megiddo junction. After Kibbutz Givat Oz and the Israeli-Arab villages of Zalfa and Salem, there is an Israel Defense Forces facility alongside the big iron gates that close off the road east to Zabuba. The houses of the village lie beyond the separation fence, which, at this point, more or less runs along the 1967 border.Mohammed Issa Obeidi, head of Zabuba's agricultural association, who is better known as Abu el-Abed, last weekend invited guests to see what the fence has done to his village. But a jeep carrying border policemen, who arrived at the gates, announced it is absolutely forbidden for Israelis to cross over into the Palestinian territories. Abu el-Abed, who was standing a few hundred meters away, said via his mobile phone that it would probably be possible to cross at the Tura roadblock. To do so, it would be necessary to drive south on the Wadi Ara highway and turn in the direction of Katzir and Harish. There the fence goes into the West Bank to effectively annex the settlements of Shaked and Hinanit to Israel and the roadblock at that point allows limited access for Israelis into the West Bank. Most of those who want to cross are Israeli Arabs who have family in the villages on the other side, and the remainder are settlers who wish to reach far-off settlements that do not have bypass roads.Crossing at these roadblocks requires special caution. Cars have to approach the roadblock at a slow speed and must be waved forward by the soldiers. All the vehicles, therefore, stop several dozen meters from the crossing point, waiting for the soldiers to call them forward when they have examined the previous vehicle. It is a long wait. In the past, there have been many attacks at the roadblocks and the soldiers are suspicious of any movement that is contrary to orders. If a car approaches the roadblock without being waved forward by a soldier, it could come under fire. Every month, Palestinians are killed in this way at roadblocks and two lost their lives in the past month while trying to bypass the crossing point. The soldiers propose, and sometimes demand, that the Jews traveling to the settlements wait until there is a convoy that can be accompanied by the IDF, but if one insists, they usually let one go.After crossing, we stopped at the entrance to a small village on the main road, where the owner of a grocery store warned us not to attempt to reach Zabuba through the hills in a regular car. He said the vehicle could get stuck but that it was not dangerous from other points of view. We therefore traveled in a Volkswagen van, passing a tiny point known as Hirbet el-Turam, where the large village of Yabed used to dump its garbage. The spot cannot be missed since there is a pall of smoke there, although an order from the Israeli authorities forbids the Palestinians from bringing their waste matter there now. According to the van's driver, Israeli garbage trucks, accompanied by IDF troops, come every few days to unload garbage from the settlements, as well as from inside the Green Line. "We are good enough to collect your garbage," he explains.It is a 20-kilometer ride to Zabuba along tortuous roads. Last Saturday, it took an hour and a half. Many of the village roads were covered with pits, and in some places, the soldiers had placed piles of rocks. Olive and almond orchards lined the dry river banks and the paths through the fields we passed. From time to time, we had to stop to let yellow minibuses pass. With a little imagination, you could think you were in the Sahara on an adventure ride, except there were no sportsmen enjoying the fun but simply regular passengers, including women, children and elderly people. This is how one travels in the West Bank these past two years or so.What strikes one in Zabuba, as in many places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is that all the older men speak fluent Hebrew. Abu el-Abed, like his friend the council head Mohammed Yussef Jarradat, worked for years in Israel and had many Jewish friends and acquaintances. Zabuba lies close to the main road, about four kilometers from the Megiddo junction, from where there is easy access to Afula in the east, Hadera in the southwest and Haifa in the northwest. In fact, all the men in the village had worked in Israel, most of them in construction or some other manual labor. The younger men know less Hebrew. The 25-30 age group, for example, has hardly visited or worked in Israel and therefore knows little Hebrew. In the first years of closures after the Oslo Accords, most of the villagers still worked for Jewish employers, even though they did not have the necessary papers. Their number diminished over the years, however. Now that the fence is in place, no one works in Israel any more and all of them are unemployed.The only solution is for the villagers to try to live off agriculture. The village used to have almost 14,000 dunams of fertile land at the southern tip of the Jezreel Valley. According to the Arab lexicon, "Our land, Palestine," written by Mustafa Dabbagh, most of the village's lands belong to the Christian el-Moutran family from Lebanon. They lost their lands in 1948 since most of them fell inside Israel and the Ta'anach region villages were set up there. The home of the effendi, Najib el-Moutran, still stands in the center of the village, a little palace. It was recently refurbished with the help of a Jerusalem Christian fund and now houses the village council and a computer room for youngsters.A large banner hangs from the wall of the council chamber: "Stop the cancer - the racist separation fence." Some 200 dunams belonging to 95 Zabuba families were confiscated for the construction of the fence. On most of these lands were olive groves that had been the main source of income for the families over the past few years. Prior to that, large tracts of land had been taken over by the IDF for military purposes, such as the setting up of the nearby roadblock and facility. Today all the villagers have left is some 500 dunams and some of these are across the border and a special permit is required to reach them.The fence has effectively shut off Zabuba since the eastern access to Jenin or the southern access to Nablus are fraught with numerous difficulties. Those few villagers who have permits to work in Israel have problems getting through the various roadblocks. They first have to pass through the one at Arrabe, which opens only at 6 A.M., and then get to Jenin and the Jalemeh roadblock, so that they arrive in Afula only at about 10 A.M. "No one wants workers who arrive at 10," the council head says. There is no clinic in Zabuba, for example, and it is extremely complicated to get to a doctor in Jenin. Two villagers who recently made a pilgrimage to Mecca say the road from Zabuba to the bridge in Jericho took them 16 hours, almost as long as the 1,200 kilometers from Jericho to Saudi Arabia.The road back to the Tura crossing point, through the mountains, is equally tortuous. The villages en route are all suffering from the closure. The fence, the walls and the collective punishments imposed on the Palestinian population may have lessened the number of bombings inside Israel but they have turned everything topsy-turvy inside the territories. The entire population, according to the Nablus economist Hisham Awarthani, "is busy night and day trying to survive and dreaming of revenge." Indeed, the impression one gets from a visit to Zabuba is that no one cares about the Geneva Accord or Abu Ala's new government and all that interests them is the degradation they are undergoing and the desire to inflict similar pain on the Israelis.

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