Sunday, November 7

MCC Palestine Update #103

MCC Palestine Update #103

7 November 2004

As we walked up the steep hill to Manger Square this past Saturday evening, we were already hearing the small blasts of firecrackers that have come to be a normal part of our evenings during this month of Ramadan. Only one week remains in this month holy to our Moslem neighbors, and the shabab (young people) on the streets appear to be taking advantage of this time as much as possible.

We were heading up to Manger Square, to the Church of the Nativity—the birthplace of Jesus. Here we discovered that a crowd had already begun to gather in front of the church to celebrate the “Prince of Peace,” shielding the candles they were holding from the wind. We were surprised to see clergy from most all of the church traditions of Bethlehem—Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic (or “Melkite”), Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Methodist, and more. They had all gathered, as we had, in front of the Church of the Nativity, to demonstrate in solidarity and pray for justice and peace in the land and to pray for the health of their president Yasser Arafat.

Wi’am Conflict Resolution Center ( here in Bethlehem with its director Zoughbi Zoughbi had organized this candle light vigil. We had just arrived back in Bethlehem after spending some time up north in the Galilee. As we were driving back that afternoon, Zoughbi called us on our cellphone. “We wanted to let you know that we are holding a candlelight vigil tonight, and you are very much welcomed.”

Looking down at these lit candles, standing in the midst of this display of solidarity, thoughts went back to another last minute invitation to a candlelight vigil. This time it was organized by the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoples ( in neighboring Beit Sahour, who like Wi’am is another of MCC’s close partners. On this evening, back in the first week of October, we entered into the old city are of the town, greeted by our friend at Rapprochement George N. Rishmawi. “Thank you for coming on such short notice,” he said as he handed us two candles. “Of course,” we replied, realizing again the power that standing in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed of this world has.

On this cool evening in early October, we stood there amidst the crowd of Palestinians and internationals, reflecting on the horrible situation that our brothers and sisters in Gaza were being subjected to under what became known as “Operation Days of Penitence” by the Israeli Defense Forces. By the end of this 17 day incursion into northern Gaza, into the Jabaliya refugee camp, more than 140 Palestinian men, women, and children would be slaughtered, 500 wounded, and 80 homes destroyed in response to the death of two young Israeli children.

These two examples speak to many things, among them solidarity. And although such actions may not be seen by some as legitimate forms of resistance, and indeed in and of themselves they are insufficient, they speak to something very powerful for those of us who are Christians. They display a participation today in an alternative reality that has not yet fully come. They speak to the power of the crucified and risen God that has overcome death with a promise of new life.

As we have in the past, we encourage you again to reflect upon these stories as well as the attached articles and allow them to speak to you. And again we also encourage you to move beyond reflection to action. Whether this be in the form of being a voice for the voiceless to the powers that be in your government or even simply to those in your immediate communities (please visit for further advocacy resources), or takes on other forms, in this interconnected world that we live in, we do not live our lives in isolation. The burdens of the world become our own. Listening to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And to the words of Abuna Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian from the Galilee:

"Peace is not a matter of contemplation but of action. Get up! Go ahead! Do something, and get your hands dirty for peace."

We also encourage you to remember the people of Palestine this month, especially on November 29. It was on this day in 1947 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, commonly known as the “Partition Plan.” As its name suggests, this plan would have partitioned the region into two states—one Jewish and one Arab. November 29 is now being remembered as the “Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” remembering their rights to equality and self-determination.

Though the situation here continues to look anything but hopeful—with the Wall continuing to be built, settlements being expanded, suicide bombings, land confiscation, house demolitions, etc.—speaking a word of hope into the darkness is one of the most important actions we can take.

Peace to you all,

Timothy and Christi Seidel.
Peace Development Workers
Mennonite Central Committee - Palestine


Our shadow

By Meron Benvenisti

5 November 2004

The anticipation expressed by various experts and commentators of the demise of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was not anticipation of a joyous event, but a fear of what the future without him holds in store. Even those who did not hesitate to engage publicly in plans for his "targeted assassination" went all out to offer him medical and logistical assistance. This was an attempt to remove any pretext for blaming Israel for standing in the way of efforts to save Arafat, but perhaps also a sign of some covert awe of the enemy who is at his end.

The obsessive preoccupation with the implications of his demise and with the pathetic "legacy" he leaves behind - governing a persecuted and impoverished nation - proves the real status of the prisoner from the Muqata. The very people who made sure to convince the entire world of Arafat's "irrelevance," and to humiliate the leader of the Palestinian people, recognize the historical status of the man who for half a century has embodied the wishes of an entire nation.

When all is said and done, Arafat is the shadow who follows us, and the stations of his life - from the Arab revolt to the Al-Aqsa Intifada - are the stations of our lives in reverse. Without him - and without the generation he led - there is no meaning to our history, to our sacrifices and to our victories. Anyone who scorns his enemy dwarfs his own victory and empties his history of meaning. We walk, and with us walks our shadow - the Palestinian people; we beat the shadow with a big stick, but it doesn't leave us alone.

What will we do when the sun rises and we discover that the shadow, which is embodied in the figure of the "two-legged beast," has disappeared? To whom will we give the job of the demonic villain? Nobody can fill the shoes of the person who played the role so perfectly.

The person who understood this best was former prime minister Ehud Barak, who wove the myth of Arafat "the refusenik from Camp David": the man who was offered the moon, but refused, and began a war of terror to achieve through blood what was not achieved through negotiations. Who doesn't believe in this myth? And it's no wonder; otherwise, how would we be able to deal with the violent reality, with the cruel repression and with our tortured conscience?

We need a scapegoat on whom to cast the blame for everything, and to clear our consciences. Now, when he has tired of the job of demon and discovered that he is mortal, we are looking for an heir - not a partner but the scapegoat, which carries our sins, our frustrations and our hatred.

And this is not the first time Arafat has served to salve our conscience. The distress of the Palestinian people, and his personal distress, forced him, on the eve of the Oslo Accords, to give up the sharpest weapon he had, namely to grant legitimacy to the Zionist entity. Although it's true that the Palestinians are an occupied and vanquished nation, only they, the victims of the Zionist enterprise, were capable of granting this legitimacy. Arafat - with the support of many of the activists of the first intifada, and as opposed to the view of others - decided to recognize Israel, in return for recognition of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization).

This recognition released a sigh of relief in leftist circles, since this saved them from guilt feelings over the fact that the realization of the Zionist enterprise was bound up with the destruction of the Palestinian people; if Arafat recognizes Israel, they are free of the moral dilemmas imposed on them by the conflict and their victories in it.

It didn't take long for Arafat's historic move (in cooperation with the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin) to be forgotten. New moral dilemmas made it necessary to renew the definition of Arafat as a terrorist and the PLO as a terror organization; the desire for recognition was replaced by "there's nobody to talk to," and the partner became a humiliated prisoner. Only few understood that granting legitimacy to the Zionist entity is not an irreversible step. And in fact, the retreat from "mutual recognition" harmed Arafat and the Palestinians, but it also harmed Israel, which has never faced doubts about the legitimacy of its actions to the extent that it does today.

Arafat was fated to serve as a symbol in his life and in his death. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon apparently sensed that when he declared that as long as he himself is alive, Arafat will not be buried in Jerusalem. In his haste to humiliate the sick Arafat, Sharon provided a clear symbol of the destiny he shares with many of the Palestinians: lacking a homeland, lacking a cemetery in which they can join their ancestors. How civilized it could have been had we shown understanding and empathy for our shadow - the vanquished leader - for his suffering, his successes and his failures.


Killing children is no longer a big deal

By Gideon Levy

17 October 2004

More than 30 Palestinian children were killed in the first two weeks of Operation Days of Penitence in the Gaza Strip. It's no wonder that many people term such wholesale killing of children "terror." Whereas in the overall count of all the victims of the intifada the ratio is three Palestinians killed for every Israeli killed, when it comes to children the ratio is 5:1. According to B'Tselem, the human rights organization, even before the current operation in Gaza, 557 Palestinian minors (below the age of 18) were killed, compared to 110 Israeli minors.

Palestinian human rights groups speak of even higher numbers: 598 Palestinian children killed (up to age 17), according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, and 828 killed (up to age 18) according to the Red Crescent. Take note of the ages, too. According to B'Tselem, whose data are updated until about a month ago, 42 of the children who have been killed were 10; 20 were seven; and eight were two years old when they died. The youngest victims are 13 newborn infants who died at checkpoints during birth.

With horrific statistics like this, the question of who is a terrorist should have long since become very burdensome for every Israeli. Yet it is not on the public agenda. Child killers are always the Palestinians, the soldiers always only defend us and themselves, and the hell with the statistics.

The plain fact, which must be stated clearly, is that the blood of hundreds of Palestinian children is on our hands. No tortuous explanation by the IDF Spokesman's Office or by the military correspondents about the dangers posed to soldiers by the children, and no dubious excuse by the public relations people in the Foreign Ministry about how the Palestinians are making use of children will change that fact. An army that kills so many children is an army with no restraints, an army that has lost its moral code.

As MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash) said, in a particularly emotional speech in the Knesset, it is no longer possible to claim that all these children were killed by mistake. An army doesn't make more than 500 day-to-day mistakes of identity. No, this is not a mistake but the disastrous result of a policy driven mainly by an appallingly light trigger finger and by the dehumanization of the Palestinians. Shooting at everything that moves, including children, has become normative behavior. Even the momentary mini-furor that erupted over the "confirming of the killing" of a 13-year-old girl, Iman Alhamas, did not revolve around the true question. The scandal should have been generated by the very act of the killing itself, not only by what followed.

Iman was not the only one. Mohammed Aaraj was eating a sandwich in front of his house, the last house before the cemetery of the Balata refugee camp, in Nablus, when a soldier shot him to death at fairly close range. He was six at the time of his death. Kristen Saada was in her parents' car, on the way home from a family visit, when soldiers sprayed the car with bullets. She was 12 at the time of her death. The brothers Jamil and Ahmed Abu Aziz were riding their bicycles in full daylight, on their way to buy sweets, when they sustained a direct hit from a shell fired by an Israeli tank crew. Jamil was 13, Ahmed six, at the time of their deaths.

Muatez Amudi and Subah Subah were killed by a soldier who was standing in the village square in Burkin and fired every which way in the wake of stone-throwing. Radir Mohammed from Khan Yunis refugee camp was in a school classroom when soldiers shot her to death. She was 12 when she died. All of them were innocent of wrongdoing and were killed by soldiers acting in our name.

At least in some of these cases it was clear to the soldiers that they were shooting at children, but that didn't stop them. Palestinian children have no refuge: mortal danger lurks for them in their homes, in their schools and on their streets. Not one of the hundreds of children who have been killed deserved to die, and the responsibility for their killing cannot remain anonymous. Thus the message is conveyed to the soldiers: it's no tragedy to kill children and none of you is guilty.

Death is, of course, the most acute danger that confronts a Palestinian child, but it is not the only one. According to data of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, 3,409 schoolchildren have been wounded in the intifada, some of them crippled for life. The childhood of tens of thousands of Palestinian youngsters is being lived from one trauma to the next, from horror to horror. Their homes are demolished, their parents are humiliated in front of their eyes, soldiers storm into their homes brutally in the middle of the night, tanks open fire on their classrooms. And they don't have a psychological service. Have you ever heard of a Palestinian child who is a "victim of anxiety"?

The public indifference that accompanies this pageant of unrelieved suffering makes all Israelis accomplices to a crime. Even parents, who understand what anxiety for a child's fate means, turn away and don't want to hear about the anxiety harbored by the parent on the other side of the fence. Who would have believed that Israeli soldiers would kill hundreds of children and that the majority of Israelis would remain silent? Even the Palestinian children have become part of the dehumanization campaign: killing hundreds of them is no longer a big deal.


Reflection on the Language and Calculus of Proportionality

Timothy Seidel

3 October 2004 (updated 6 October 2004)

The Israeli offensive into northern Gaza, in and around the Jabaliya refugee camp of 100,000 Palestinians—one of the most densely populated area in the world—continues this morning. What seems to be essentially re-occupation along those lines of “Operation Defensive Shield” in the West Bank in 2002 (softened by the language of “disengagement”), this operation absurdly coined “Operation Days of Penitence” in a twisted and unholy amalgamation of militaristic and religious language has already seen the deaths of 82 Palestinians and 5 Israelis (according to a recent UNRWA statement). This offensive began last Wednesday when Israeli incursions into northern Gaza began after a “qassam” rocket fired from northern Gaza hit a target in Sderot, inside Israel, killing two small children.

The U.S. response has been predictable: affirm Israel’s right to defend itself, condemn Palestinian violence as “terrorist,” with a caveat inserted to remind Israel of the need for “proportionality” in the “civilized” making of “just” wars. This along with Powell’s statement earlier on the anniversary of the intifada (in an interview with Al-Jazeera) condemning it and its “terrorist” violence while again legitimizing Israel violence as self-defensive, seems only to have served as the needed go-ahead the warmakers in Jerusalem were looking for. Without condemnation, especially from the U.S., the silence is taken as tacit approval, as justification for acts of “civilized” barbarism such as these. It appears that if no one steps in to obstruct this momentum, this norm, that the state of Israel will not stop this ongoing systematic elimination of Palestinian existence.

U.S. complicity has never been more evident. The words of the Secretary of State, echoed by the recent U.S. veto of the proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning this recent escalation of violence, it can be argued, are directly responsible for or at least have directly contributed to this recent campaign through its silent legitimization of this “civilized” and “just” violence. The power of language—which includes silence—reveals itself in this situation. And all attempts at minimization with the language of “proportionality” are examples of hiding this complicity. The U.S. references to “proportionality,” with our own occupation in Iraq, with our pouring six billion U.S. dollars into the Israeli military complex each year, including the recent agreement to ship 5,000 new “smart” bombs—the words on “proportionality” coming out of the U.S. State Department at this time are frankly rather embarrassing.


This word’s only purpose is to hide the realities of other words like occupation, apartheid, incursion, transfer, genocide or its more politically correct term “ethnic cleansing,” violence, death, justice, and last but not least power. Its purpose is, again, to paint this situation as balanced, without a clear power differential, and with the U.S. as neutral, an “honest” broker for peace.

“Proportionality” reveals the essential weakness of the “just” war tradition. War is “just” and “justified” if it meets certain criteria, among them the criterion of proportionality. And the language of “proportionality” carries with it the assumptions of “neutrality” and a “distanced objectivity.” Words that at least in this context, and perhaps it can be argued in most contexts in this “global” age of extremes (extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme access and extreme oppression), are at best inadequate and inappropriate—in social, political, and economic terms as well as in theological terms—but most often downright disingenuous and dangerous. The continued employment of such language reveals the inadequacy and absurdity of this “just” tradition. The language of “proportionality” immediately dehumanizes, denying the value of human life. It is too often the language of violence and oppression.

2 small, beautiful Israeli children killed—within the context of occupation.

82 Palestinians, among whom were 24 children, killed in “retaliation”—within the context of occupation.



UNRWA has completed its humanitarian assessment of the Israel’s latest incursion into northern Gaza. The report can be downloaded from

UNRWA Update 25 October 2004
UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

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