Thursday, February 26

MCC Palestine Update #96

MCC Palestine Update #96

February 26, 2004

“I keep the curtains at the window drawn so I don’t have to look out at the fences that separate me from my land,” shared the mayor of Jayyous, a village of 3,000 people in the northern West Bank. During the last part of 2002 and the first part of 2003, the Israeli military constructed its separation barrier next to Jayyous village. As a result, Jayyous is a village today with a very tenuous economic future. Jayyous farmers own 12,500 dunums (1 dunum = ¼ of an acre). 600 dunums were bulldozed under to make way for the separation zone (consisting of barbed wire, foot trace paths, patrol roads, fences with electronic sensors). Another 8600 dunums are now on the western side of the separation zone. Soldiers open a gate in the fences two times a day (unless they don’t, thanks to Jewish holidays, or state holidays, or reasons unknown). In order to pass through the gate to the western side of the wall, one needs a permit issued by the Israeli civil administration of the military government. Obtaining this permit involves arduous bureaucratic procedures reminiscent of a Kafka short story. Many who apply are rejected for unspecified “security” reasons. Sometimes in one family only very young children or elderly persons who cannot carry out taxing agricultural work are given permits, while the healthy-bodied adults are denied them. As at the checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the regime instituted by the soldiers at the gates in the separation zone are arbitrary expressions of the soliders’ supreme power: at Jayyous, for example, farmers may not take their tractors through the gate, nor their sheep (unless they get permits for the sheep); in Falamiyyeh village just north of Jayyous, however, soldiers (at least sometimes) let tractors pass.

I visited Jayyous and Falamiyyeh this past Monday with a colleague from Catholic Relief Services and with videographers in the country who are working on a video sponsored by MCC, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision on the separation wall. We heard from numerous farmers in both communities tell how their livelihoods had been crushed thanks to the barrier. MCC and Catholic Relief Services are joining with the Palestinian Hydrology Group in both communities (and three other nearby towns and villages) to help farmers repair and renovate wells and water networks damaged and destroyed by Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers during the construction of the separation zone. “We sit around all day, looking out towards our land,” shared one farmer. “We see our trees dying. It’s tearing us up inside.”

This past Monday the International Court of Justice began hearing arguments from various parties about the legality of the wall. Israel has refused to attend the hearing, saying that the ICJ has no right to hand down an advisory opinion in this matter. Israel claims that the wall is to protect its citizens from violent attacks, such as the horrific suicide bombing in Jerusalem this week that claimed 8 lives. Some Israelis, however, with whom the film crew has met, disagree: “This wall won’t bring me security. It’s about grabbing land from Palestinians and separating them from one another. That won’t bring me security,” Na’ama Nagar of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, an MCC partner organization, told them.

Even as walls that divide and dispossess are being erected, there are Palestinians and Israelis who are working together for justice, peace and reconciliation. This Lenten season, please remember these peacemakers in your prayers. Pray for a future of bridges instead of walls, that the God who, in Christ, has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile might sustain the efforts of those Palestinians and Israelis who reject the legal, psychological, spiritual and physical walls that have divided and continue to divide the two peoples.

Below you will find three pieces. The first, by a 15-year-old Palestinian girl from the West Bank village of Budrus where the wall is currently being built, explains why the wall is not a security barrier but a land grab. The second, by Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, looks at the tenuous future of communities trapped between the wall and the Green Line or surrounded by walls and fences inside the West Bank; with the Israeli military government demanding that residents of these villages obtain permits simply to remain in their homes, a process fraught with difficulties, the Palestinian fears of “transfer” are becoming increasingly real. Finally, Gideon Levy of Haaretz reports on the wanton, brutal exercise of power at one checkpoint in the northern West Bank.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted on Fri, Feb. 20, 2004
It exists not for security but for apartheid
Iltezam Morrar

A 15-year-old Palestinian student living in the West Bank

On Monday, the International Court of Justice in the Hague will begin hearings on the wall Israel is building around Palestinian cities and villages. I live in one of them: Budrus, a small village west of Ramallah. It is a very simple life here. Old women and farmers tend their sheep; children go to school, and people live together peacefully. Our village has many olive trees, which are very important for food and oil.

Americans should know that, from our viewpoint, the wall is not a security wall. Security and safety do not come from stealing land (Budrus lost about 80 percent of its village area in 1948, when Israel was formed, and stands to shrink by another 20 percent if the wall goes up). Security does not come from killing or harassing people (there is hardly a family in Palestine without some member who has been killed, hurt or imprisoned) or cutting trees (which Israeli officials have started doing around my village). So this is not a security wall. It is an apartheid wall.

Palestine will be separated into little pieces. Many people will be unable to go to work. Students won't be able to travel to university. After all this, when we are without land or olive trees, unable to work or study, people will leave. That is what the Israeli occupation is for. In 1953, for example, when Ariel Sharon led a military operation resulting in 69 civilian deaths at Qibya, the next village over from us, some people in Budrus were afraid and left. Everything the Israeli government has done is to make the people leave their land.

At the first demonstration to stop the wall in Budrus, only three old women participated with the men. I asked my father if the demonstrations were just for men, and he said no, they were for women as well. Some women and girls came to the next demonstration but left when they didn't see many other women. I told my father that we needed a demonstration only for women, and we made one.

On the first day Israeli officials came to cut the trees, I was at school. I said, "We should go; the land is more important than our exams." We marched to the fields, the boys and then the girls. Soldiers threw tear gas into the middle of us. We carried on; we were still holding our schoolbooks when we came to the Israeli captain. He was very angry and shouted, "Stop here. If you walk one more step, we will hit you." He pushed me, so I stood beside him and shouted "Free, free Palestine."

Because of the occupation, I cannot see my country. I can't travel in my country. It is like a big prison, and the wall will make it worse. If there were no occupation, I could be free. For me, the day my country is free will be my birthday. In the occupation, I have no future.

I want to study to help my country. I want to be a doctor, because here in Palestine, many people get hurt and there are few hospitals or doctors and little medicine. I want four children, but then, I want to be a doctor and will work late nights, so perhaps two is enough.

We don't hate Israelis because they are Israelis. The only thing between us is what we see as their theft of our land. If they gave back our land, nothing would be between us. We need enough land that all the Palestinian refugees who live outside could come and live here. Many Palestinians live in other countries, in tents, with no work.

Peaceful struggle is very important. It is the only way in which we can become free and stop the wall, even if we know the Israeli army does not want peace and will use violence. I think: If I use violence, all the children in Israel will feel in danger and they will use violence. So this makes the two sides always live in violence. It is important to show the world we are a peaceful people and all we want is peace.

The hearings in the Hague are very important even though we are not sure they will stop the wall. It is very important that the international community does something to say the wall should be stopped, even if it doesn't succeed.

2. Has the transfer of enclaves begun?

Haaretz, Feb. 24, 2004
By Amira Hass

"The Tanzim showed up one day," said the woman, 60-ish, the fear visible in her eyes. These are not Fatah people. This is a department within the Civil Administration - "the subcommittee for supervision of the supreme planning council," whose accepted and frightening abbreviation among Palestinian residents of the West Bank is "the Tanzim" (the planning). This is the department that issues demolition orders for Palestinian houses and stop work orders for construction projects.

H.A., an official in the Civil Administration's Tanzim, which the frightened woman was referring to, came twice during the last two months to the small Bedouin town of Arab a-Ramadin, south of Qalqilyah, on December 28, 2003 and on February 10, 2004. He hung up and took down three different kinds of orders: four "stop work orders", six "final stop work and razing orders and two "notices granting the right to object to demolition orders."

The buildings designated for demolition are: tin structure 10x8, tin structure 8x6 and tin structure 12x10, cement block and tin structure 10x10, cement block and tin structure 18x8 and cement block and tin structure 14x8. Two orders dated December 28, 2003 grant the residents a three-day extension to request that another cement block structure not be razed and one to request that the generator building and electricity pylons not be razed. The rest of the buildings in this town are like the structures for which demolition orders were issued: around 10 small, simple concrete structures and another 23 tin huts, that are boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, in which the 250 members of the tribe live.

Eight kilometers from the Green Line

The speakers beg that their names be omitted, that whatever they say not be attributed to them and that their photos not be printed in the newspaper. "I just want to get home to be with my family, I don't want them to prevent me from being with my family at home," said one tribe member. They are frightened; they fear possible revenge from the Civil Administration, or in its alternate, euphemistic name, "the Coordination and Liaison Administration," which issues them permits allowing them to be in their homes that are valid for six months. Arab a-Ramadin and another four neighboring Palestinian communities (Arab Abu Farda and the villages of Wadi ar-Rasha, Ras a-Tira and a-Daba) are trapped in one of 80 enclaves, the loops that have been and will be created by the separation fence between them and the Green Line.

These enclave-loops were created in order to ensure that most of the settlements are outside the fence. The enclave of Arab a-Ramadin was created to ensure that Alfei Menashe is outside the fence. The fence - with its barbed wire, ditches, patrol tracks, wide security road and the gates that should open three times a day - creates a loop here that penetrates deep into the West Bank, a distance of around eight kilometers from the Green Line. As in other enclaves, it cuts off residents from their fields, separates clinics and their medical staffs from their patients, grocery stores from their customers, students from their schools. A school and grocery store that were respectively 300 and 700 meters away until a year or two ago, are now several kilometres further away and that in turn also imposes economic hardship on the family: the cost of taxi fares.

Three of the older Bedouin who still tended sheep had to sell them: the enclave does not provide enough space for grazing. The families no longer have the means to regularly purchase fodder for the sheep and goats due to the loss of job opportunities in Israel and the West Bank. All three of the elderly shepherds became physically ill after they sold their flocks.

The IDF and the Civil Administration in October 2003 created a special category for those thousands of Palestinians who live in the area between the fence and the Green Line, which has been officially declared a military area closed to Palestinians, but not closed to Jews: "long-term residents." The regulations that apply to this new category and the fact that the area is a closed military area grant Civil Administration officials full authority to check residency permits once every few months, and to renew or not renew them.

The new category obligates the residents to request an entry permit to those areas for anyone who is not registered with the Israeli authorities as a resident of the enclave: relatives, cab drivers, doctors, sanitation men, teachers, etc. Some receive the permits; others do not. The permits issued to Arab a-Ramadin residents - so that they can stay in their homes inside the closed military area, leave and then return - are valid until April 2004. Tribe members are convinced that if they are quoted, someone in the Civil Administration or the Shin Bet General Security Service, upon whose good graces they depend, will decide "due to security reasons" not to renew their permit to enter their home.

The word "home" prompts tired smiles on the faces of Arab a-Ramadin residents. Their small tin huts and concrete structures are spread over a green hill and its rocky slopes, in between a few sheep pens, small vegetable patches, improvised fences, family diwans (spaces covered with cloth sheets and rugs). They are originally from the Be'er Sheva area and were expelled and fled in 1948. They first settled in the Hebron area and in the mid-1950s headed north with their flocks to the Qalqilyah region. Gradually, and especially after the economic changes sparked by the capture of the territories in 1967, they began to settle down, and attempted to modernize: from tents and a nomadic life of shepherding, they switched to corrugated tin huts, more urban livelihoods such as construction, and started sending their sons and daughters to study in local schools. It was a natural process, not something imposed on them from above. Some of them purchased their lands from the surrounding villages, others leased lands or swapped other parcels of land for the lands here.

Without a master plan

According to some of the final demolition orders, it seem that already in 2000 stop work orders were issued for some of the structures, including the one that houses the electricity generator. Arab a-Ramadin residents always knew that the Israeli authorities did not draw up a master plan for them and that there was no point in submitting requests to build real houses that matched the improved financial situation of several of them and their changed, modern tastes. Because there is no master plan, they also did not connect to the electricity grid - the one that lights up, for example, the neighboring community which has been developing since 1982: Alfei Menashe. They are also not officially connected to the water network: they hooked up a long plastic pipe from the village of Habla. In the summer, the water is boiling. The Oslo Accords designated them as Area C, which is under Israeli civilian and security responsibility. Several demolition and stop work orders were also issued in two nearby places: the village of Wadi ar-Rasha and the corrugated tin hut community of the small Abu Farda tribe. Each one has around 90 residents. Both of them abut Alfei Menashe: one is located adjacent to its industrial zone and the other is adjacent to its western neighborhoods.

When Israel started building the separation fence's loops around them, the workers razed one of Wadi ar-Rasha's barns, built by its owners six years earlier. The reason: It was too close to the fence. In April 2003, when construction of the fence was fully underway, five additional demolition orders arrived in Wadi ar-Rasha: for a concrete structure, for an extension of an existing house and for a large tin structure. And there were another two demolition orders for two barns. This village, like several other neighboring villages, was apparently set up in the 19th century by residents of the village of Tulat, which is located to the east, whose lands officially extend to Jaljuliya in the west. It was a natural process of Palestinian settlement, typical of the rural residents who went with their flocks several kilometers away from the parent community, made homes inside caves and gradually settled in the new location. In recent years, after the Civil Administration issued demolition orders, building extensions intended to ease the crowding in Wadi ar-Rasha were razed.

In the two Bedouin communities and in Wadi ar-Rasha, residents are convinced that the Civil Administration's aim is to eliminate them completely from the area so that Alfei Menashe can develop even more, in the direction of the Green Line. One of the residents points to section six of their residence permit: "this permit does not represent proof of legal rights, including legal ownership or residency rights in the area, whichever is relevant." In other words, say the threatened residents, someone will come tomorrow and say that the land we are living on – not just the house - is not ours and that we are trespassing, that we have to leave.

And indeed, the Civil Administration, in its response to Haaretz, claims "the settlement of the Ramadin tribe, Abu Farda and Wadi ar-Rasha are illegal [the mistakes are in the original - A.H.]. Over the years, orders were issued, as they are issued for all illegal construction." The Civil Administration spokesman also stated that there is no connection between the construction of the fence and the issuing of demolition orders. "This a statutory legal process, civilian, of enforcing the law ... the Civil Administration is charged with enforcing the law as it relates to all matters of illegal construction in Area C of Judea and Samaria."

According to one Arab a-Ramadin resident, a Civil Administration official has tried over the last few months to lobby them to leave the area and settle elsewhere. In her response, the Civil Administration spokesman does not confirm or deny this claim. But, she said, "The Civil Administration is now in the middle of concerted efforts to review the correlation between master plans in Area C and the reality and the needs of the Palestinian population living in the area, in order to find solutions for issues of this nature." The Civil Administration's response also stated that work is now underway to connect the villages to the electricity grid (but in Arab a-Ramadin, for example, they do not know about that and haven't seen any signs that they're being connected to the electricity grid).

The Palestinians in the Alfei Menashe enclave do not believe the Israeli promises. For them, the demolition orders are more tangible than any promise given in response to an Israeli newspaper's query, while the discussions in The Hague are going on. "If they raze all of our tin and cement block structure," says an Arab a-Ramadin resident, "we will move into tents. The way it used to be. And if they want us to go away from here, then please, send us back to our natural place, where we were originally - Be'er Sheva."

3. When soldiers become bullies

By Gideon Levy

Three armed bullies in black ski masks get out of the jeep quickly. One breaks into shouts at the taxi driver who is letting off a female passenger, waving a rifle in the driver's face and ordering him out of the car. The bully then orders the frightened driver to hand over the keys to his taxi and get going. The helpless driver hands over his keys. In a feeble voice he asks if and when he can get his taxi back. "Maybe at the end of the day, maybe Wednesday. We'll see," says the thug, sticking the keys into his pocket, getting back in the jeep and driving away.

Highway bandits in Chechnya? Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Balata? No. The three bullies were Israeli soldiers. They confiscated the car from its owner, as they routinely do, because he let out a passenger on the other side of a blurry yellow line painted onto the Tul Karm road. The road is blocked by an unmanned iron bar. Passengers are supposed to cross on foot, from taxis on one side to taxis on the other - it's not at all clear why - and the drivers know that if they cross the yellow line the soldiers will appear out of nowhere and confiscate the cars or slice the tires. Indeed, one of the soldiers threatened to slice the tires of our car, which was parked past the remnants of the yellow line.

This "battle heritage" is passed down through the Israel Defense Forces without obstruction and all the Palestinians drivers know it. Any time they venture onto one of the few roads left to them in the West Bank, they are taking a risk. Maybe they'll be shot "by mistake," maybe their car will be confiscated for some vague reason. That's why the few roads of the West Bank where Palestinians are allowed to drive are nearly always empty. The driver whose car was confiscated, Samr Abdullah, did not know how to get home.

A brigadier who serves in the territories said in a private conversation on the weekend that the confiscation of cars and ID cards is prohibited by the army. Really? After all, if the army wanted to put an end to it, it could easily do so. The IDF Spokesman's Office also says there is no policy of confiscating cars and if it turns out that the events we witnessed last Sunday happened, "the soldiers will be severely punished."

Is the IDF Spokesman's Office being naive or disingenuous or was this really the first time it heard about soldiers confiscating the keys to a Palestinian car or slashing its tires? It's not clear what's worse. Any soldier nowadays can take any Palestinian car for any reason and for as long as he wants. When every soldier is a king, any group of soldiers can turn into a gang.

Confiscating cars is only one example of how an IDF regime of bullying has emerged and is being strengthened in the territories. There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the talk about how anarchy will reign in the territories after the IDF leaves. The disintegration of the rule of law and order begins inside the army. Every day one can see soldiers confiscating ID cards from residents, making them line up for hours in the sun and rain for no reason whatsoever, and just for the fun of it smashing memorial monuments to Palestinian casualties - like last week in Beir Furik.

In the last three years, an atmosphere of anything goes has taken root in the IDF in the territories. Any soldier can do whatever he feels like to any Palestinian - the incident won't be investigated, the soldier won't be punished.

The disintegration of the rule of law does not stop with the soldiers. Brothers Naim and Ayad Murar, who organized nonviolent demonstrations against the separation fence in Budrus, were arrested a month ago with the intention of throwing them into long months of administrative detention without trial. At the last minute, Ayad was freed by a judge who ruled that nonviolent demonstrations are no cause for administrative detention. But his brother Naim was sent to four months of administrative detention for his "terror-supporting activity." Only due to the intervention of attorneys Tamar Peleg and Yal Barda, and the courageous position taken by Lieutenant Colonel Shlomi Kochav, was Naim freed on the weekend after a month in detention, thus preventing a further disgrace. Serious questions are raised by the arrogance of security officials who wanted to lock people up for attempting to organize nonviolent demonstrations against a fence being built on their property.

There is a direct and disgusting line between the car confiscators and those who jail demonstrators without trial. Both are manifestations of gangland rule. Despite the separation fence, that kind of behavior will inevitably cross the Green Line.

No comments: