Friday, December 10

MCC Palestine Update #104

MCC Palestine Update #104

10 December 2004

Advent in the “Holy Land”

Experiencing the Advent season in a place such as this is truly unique. It carries with it incredible feelings of closeness, a concreteness even as one visits those sites—the Church of the Nativity, the Shepherd’s fields—that hold so much meaning and that themselves seem to play a role of their own in the Christmas story. Yet at the same time, those feelings of closeness are easily swallowed up by a sense of distance, of separation, of forsakeness as one surveys the situation here.

An example of this might be found in neighboring Beit Sahour at the Shepherd’s Fields. This site is holy to Christians in Palestine and around the world because it is where many believe the shepherds lay, keeping watch over their flocks at night when the angels appeared to them saying:

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2.10)

For all the people. We have visited this site several times. It is truly amazing to walk into the caves where the shepherds may have walked or survey the fields where they kept their flocks. But this sense of closeness to the joyful expectation of the coming Messiah quickly disappears as one looks up from this site and surveys these fields more closely only to see a Wall snaking through the landscape that is meant to separate, divide, and oppress people. And if we look even closer, we can see in the distance a housing development where our friends the Sahouri family live. The Sahouris, who having already received demolition orders for their home in order to make way for the continued construction of this Wall, continue to live under the fear that the next time they come home after a day of work, soldiers will be waiting at their front door. And these messengers will not be carrying good tiding of great joy but a simple “you have thirty minutes to remove all of your personal belongings before this house is demolished.”

Our friends at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center ( have provided a series of Advent reflections this year. And with most liberation theologies, this series of reflections for Advent has as its starting point a Biblical reflection on the concrete, historical realties of the poor and the oppressed of this land. The focal point that these reflections emerge out of is found in both the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Ephesus:

For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2.14)

as well as the present experience of the Palestinian people as this “Separation” or “Apartheid” Wall continues to be built. As you may have already seen on MCC’s “Bridges Not Walls” website (, these words also form the guiding focus of our advocacy campaign that will continue until the end of this month. As we have urged over these past months we would like to do so again, please consider participating in this advocacy campaign. Such displays of solidarity would be especially meaningful during this Advent season.

A New MCC Documentary on Palestinian Refugees

The time here has been very full and intense over these past weeks with the passing of Yasser Arafat, the various transitions in the Palestinian Authority, preparations for upcoming elections in January, continued discussions about Israeli “disengagement” from Gaza (not to mention the impact of the U.S. presidential elections, recent Israeli politics, and the prospect of the maintenance of a death-dealing status quo).

One project that MCC Palestine has been busy of late with was coordinating for the filming of a new documentary that will look at the situation of Palestinian refugees both in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as those internally displaced within Israel. We welcomed two videographers from South Africa and journeyed with them in filming and discovery of the struggles that Palestinian refugees continue to face despite their right under international law to a choice to return to their land. The help of our partners at the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights ( as well as at the Zochrot Association ( was invaluable for making this project happen. The filming is now complete and this video project has now entered into its editing stage. We will be sure to keep you updated on this project in what hopes to be another great resource for MCC to offer for education and advocacy regarding this situation.

(For additional resources that MCC currently has available including the Dividing Wall documentary that looks more closely at the continued construction of the “Apartheid” or “Separation” Wall, please visit

On a related note, December 11 marks the 56th anniversary of United Nations resolution 194—the resolution passed guaranteeing the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes, villages, and land after their expulsion during the creation of the state of Israel. An event to mark the past 56 years is being organized by one of our Israeli partners the Zochrot Association. Zochrot will visit the former Palestinian village of Al-Ramla on Saturday to learn more about the Nakba, or the “Catastrophe”—the name by which Palestinians remember this event—by posting signs and listening to the voices of the Palestinian residents of this village as they describe their continued experiences of dispossession (we have included an article below for more insight into this).

The Advent Candle—A Light in the Darkness

The season of Advent is meant to be a time of somber preparation and yet at the same time filled with joyful expectation and hope. During the service at the Lutheran Christmas Church here in Bethlehem this past Sunday, I sat staring at the two Advent candles that had already been lit hearing the words from the celebrant

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

But as I sat in reflection, I also recognized that there were still two candles that were not lit—still more light to be shone, still more darkness to be dispelled…expectation and hope…

Below we are including one of the Advent reflections mentioned above from our friends at Sabeel. We hope that the voices of these Palestinian sisters and brothers that are so often dismissed, silenced, and dehumanized speak loudly to you this Advent season, providing both a meaning and a challenge for your own celebration of the incarnational presence of “God with us” this Christmas season.

Peace to you all,

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


Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
For Unto Us A Child Is Born: A Reflection on Isaiah 9.6-7 for the Second Week of Advent
Rev. Naim Ateek

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forever.

This passage of the prophet Isaiah is a song of liberation and joy. Christians have interpreted it as a reference to the birth of Christ. It is certainly one of the most beautiful poems of the Old Testament.

In it, Isaiah envisions an end to the Assyrian occupation of the land. All the instruments of war will be burned by fire and a new divinely gifted king will reign. He will end the violence and establish a kingdom of peace based on truth and justice.

For Isaiah as for many people throughout history, the possibility of peace has always been present in the imagination and dreams of human beings. This poem, lifts up the hope for a new day when, after the occupation has ended, the new king will be recognized as the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” In other words, he would possess all the essential qualities and abilities to bring an end to war and to usher in a permanent peace and prosperity.

Christians believe that the vision of an enduring peace came closest to its actualization in the coming of Jesus Christ. His birth was, indeed, the non-violent entrance of God into the world. Circumstantially, Jesus came into a world similar to that which Isaiah described: one under occupation (in this case Roman) when people were also longing for liberation and peace.

It is important to emphasize that there is nothing called a benevolent occupation. No matter how benign any occupation claims to be, it is unacceptable and undesirable to the occupied. Most people long for liberation, yet most think of liberation as being possible only through military might. For the prophet Isaiah, the potential of real peace lies in the reversal and abrogation of war when people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war any more” (Isaiah 2.4).

Some of us believe that this vision of peace is achievable for Israelis and Palestinians today. Isaiah’s vision for peace is realistic but conditional. It demands of both Israelis and Palestinians to “…beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks…” Such conditions must apply equally to both the Israelis and the Palestinians and not to the Palestinians alone.

The evangelist writing the biography of Jesus from the vantage point of his death and resurrection could say that his birth, in actual fact, fulfilled the prophecy or dream of Isaiah in a more perfect way (Matthew 1.21; 4.14-16). Jesus’ coming into the world was the nonviolent coming of God. For the first time, a child grows up and walks the way of love and nonviolence; and although he suffers at the hands of violent people, he keeps pointing clearly to the possibility and viability of a life of peace and love. Jesus has pointed out the way of nonviolence. Dare we follow it?


The Electronic Intifada
From Al Nakba to 'Anata: 56 Years of Home Demolitions
Jacob Pace

7 December 2004

"I never dreamed I would see my village," she said as the wetness pooled in the corner of her eyes. "I never dreamed I would go back there." And as I watched her choke back the tears, I couldn't help my own. But I wasn't as strong as the 16-year-old refugee girl that sat beside me and I had to reach up to wipe my eyes with the back of my hand.

I was sitting in a room on the bottom floor of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. With me was a delegation from Berkeley Jews for Palestine (a group of anti-Zionist Jewish Americans), the Director of Ibdaa and a group of youth from the Center. Ibdaa is a cultural center for the youth of Dheisheh Camp.


The residents of Dheisheh are from 46 villages which were depopulated by Zionist forces in 1948. There were over 418 villages cleansed of their Palestinian inhabitants in 1948 as nearly 800,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in what is now the state of Israel. Israelis mark the event as their independence day, but for Palestinians it is Al-Nakba ("The Catastrophe"). Today, there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees spread around the world. Many live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Al-Nakba stands as the defining moment in the Palestinian narrative. No other event captures the pain of Palestinians so wholly and unites them so closely. The goal of Ibdaa's Oral History Program is to tell the stories of Al-Nakba and of life in the depopulated villages. The program once included taking groups of children from Dheisheh for visits to their home villages inside what is now Israel. Since the renewed Israeli crackdown on Palestinian movement in 2000, however, the Israeli government has refused to allow the trips and has denied travel permits to the children of Dheisheh. Many of the kids have never seen their home village, although most are less than 20 miles from the camp.

The young girl continued to tell us about her village. She explained that many of the homes there had been occupied by Israelis. Other homes had been demolished. In fact, many of the depopulated Palestinian villages were totally destroyed soon after the war when the state of Israel was created. The new Israeli government quickly passed a series of laws to appropriate the vacated Palestinian land and define the refugees as "infiltrators" that were to be banned from the country. In the meantime, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 194, affirming the right of the 1948 refugees to return to their homes. A right that has yet to be honored.

In Dheisheh, as in other Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, life is as unstable as the conflict itself. The refugees have tried to make the camp as comfortable as possible, erecting cement houses and small gardens where once there were only tents. Many have the deeds to their land inside Israel and the keys to the homes which stood there. Consecutive Israeli governments, however, have refused to honor the Right of Return of the Palestinians who lost their homes in 1948. Meanwhile, the more than 5 million refugees wait for their rights to be addressed.


A day after my visit to Ibdaa, I found myself in the village of 'Anata in East Jerusalem watching an Israeli bulldozer tear down the home of a Palestinian family. There were two Palestinian homes demolished on Monday (November 29) and another destroyed the following day. I received a call on Monday morning and within the hour a coworker and I were negotiating our way through the Israeli checkpoints between Bethlehem and 'Anata. We followed the Wall winding through Palestinian land east of Jerusalem and ended up on a hilltop overlooking a small valley and the ruins of several house demolitions lingering on the hillside.

The first house was already a pile of rubble when we arrived. The house belonged to the Qaboah family. Jadoah Qaboah had worked for 30 years to raise the money for the two story structure that housed 23 people. Most of the Qaboah family was lingering around the remains of their home. Their furniture sat on the dirt nearby. About 20 Israeli Border Police were spread around the top of the hill, standing with automatic assault rifles slung over their shoulder.

We walked across the rubble of the first house to look down upon another house and another group of Border Police watching a Palestinian family remove the last of their belongings. A Caterpillar backhoe moved towards the house. The owner of the house stepped out in front of the backhoe in a final act of defiance. The machine stopped for a moment but the Border Police grabbed the man and forced him to the side. The backhoe moved forward, raised its bucket and slammed the jagged points into the roof of the house. As we watched, it continued to claw at the house, ripping apart the cement walls and rebar supports. It only took about 10 minutes for the entire house to be reduced to a pile of rubble. Meanwhile, the family could only watch.

The home belonged to the Dandees family. It housed 13 people who are now left homeless. Both the Qaboa and the Dandees families held title to the lands and are in possession of the original title deeds (Tabu) dating back to the period of Ottoman rule in the 19th Century. Both families had applied repeatedly for building permits from the Israeli occupation authorities. The requests were always denied. In fact, Palestinian families in occupied East Jerusalem are hardly ever granted building permits. It is one method Israel uses to limit the Palestinian population of the city. If people cannot build homes on their land they have two choices: either leave the land or build illegally. When they build illegally, however, Palestinian families risk having their homes demolished by Israel. The Qaboa and Dandees families are the latest victims of this policy. They received demolition orders on November 26, giving them three days to destroy the home themselves or it would be demolished by Israel. The bulldozers arrived promptly three days later.

The case of 'Anata is illustrative in more ways than one. Like other East Jerusalem communities, 'Anata has been the victim of aggressive Israeli colonization schemes. In fact, over 90% of the village lands have been illegally appropriated by Israel. Four illegal Israeli settlements have been built around 'Anata and Israeli bypass roads hem it in on three sides. More recently, an Israeli military prison has been built on 'Anata land and Israeli occupying forces have served residents of the village with land seizure documents for the purpose of building the Apartheid Wall. Land clearing operations have already begun to set the groundwork for construction of the Wall. The projected path will cut around the illegal Israeli settlements, surrounding 'Anata on three sides and turning it into a tiny ethnic Palestinian ghetto.

[IMAGE]The homes demolished on Monday were very close to the projected path of the Wall. The Dandees home was only 100 meters (approximately 300 ft.) from the Wall cutting across village lands south of the built-up area. The new military prison is on the hill opposite the homes and there are plans to build a new Israeli by-pass road in the valley between. Israeli bulldozers are also busy on the ridge in front of the prison. A new development project is underway either to expand the prison or construct a new illegal settlement there.

There is so much more that can be said about the colonization of Palestinian land, the ghettoization of 'Anata, and Israel's brutal home demolition policy. Pages of information have been scripted and distributed by Palestinian and Israeli NGO's (The Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions has been especially active in 'Anata, rebuilding one home a total of 4 times). The facts are available for anyone to access.

But it was the rapid transition between my experience at the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh on Sunday, and the home demolitions in 'Anata on Monday that gave me cause for further reflection. The refugee children of Dheisheh spoke of the loss of their homes. Homes their families had been expelled from in Al Nakba. And in 'Anata, I witnessed more expulsions. 56 years later, the story is startlingly similar. Israeli soldiers came to expel two more Palestinian families from their homes. Two more families were uprooted and made refugees in their own land. The experience of being uprooted is something most of us have never had to experience. But it is a reality for many Palestinian families struggling under Israeli occupation.

Jacob Pace lives in Beit Sahour and works with the Applied Research Institute- Jerusalem (ARIJ) in Bethlehem. His reports and photos are available online at For more information on the home demolitions in 'Anata, see the upcoming case study on the ARIJ website:


After His Death, Still The Occupation
Amira Hass

17 November 2004

On the day that Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat died, five Palestinians were killed by Israel Defense Forces gunfire. Four of them were killed in the Gaza Strip: three in a dawn raid by tanks and helicopters on a section in southern Gaza, and the fourth because he was moving around, unarmed, in an area "forbidden" to Palestinians.

At Beit Omar in the West Bank, a young man was killed by IDF troops who were trying to disperse a procession that was throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Ten Palestinians were injured in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by IDF gunfire, among them four children and a woman who was severely wounded.

The IDF carried out eight raids on villages and on the homes of various suspects. Twenty-one people were arrested, of them six under the age of 18. In 18 places in the West Bank they were busy building the separation fence; on one village a curfew was imposed. All this is detailed in the daily summary of the Palestine Liberation Organization negotiations unit.

During the week that preceded Arafat's death, seven Palestinians were killed, among them one child. Four of them were killed in a "pinpoint execution" in Jenin, without a fight. Only one was killed in a battle with an IDF unit. Six houses were demolished in Rafah, about 120 dunam of agricultural land were razed, and three houses were demolished in the West Bank in punitive actions. All this is detailed in the weekly report of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The Palestinian Applied Research Institute, Jerusalem (ARIJ) issues a monthly summary of all the activities connected to construction in the Jewish settlements in the territories, including annexations and confiscations. The detailed list for October is already on its Internet site. For example, in western Tsurif in the Hebron area, hundreds of olive trees were uprooted for the purpose of the separation fence.

In Beit Sahur, 14 families received orders for the demolishing of their homes on the grounds that they had not received building permits, even though the houses are part of an Orthodox Church housing project.

Seventeen families in Abu Dis, near the separation fence, received orders to evacuate their houses before they were demolished. Arafat's final days and the funeral - anarchy or not - and afterward the shooting in the mourners' tent - a fight over the succession or not - made people forget that there is life, that is, occupation and death and destruction, with no connection to the chairman. And the talk about how after Arafat it is possible to renew negotiations helps those who like to ignore Israeli intentions, which are embodied on the ground, to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

Now, without Arafat, will there be a reversal of the policy of the accelerated annexation of extensive parts of the West Bank? Will Israel stop the process of turning the West Bank into a jigsaw puzzle of Palestinian enclaves that are cut off from one another by blocs of Jewish settlements? Will it stop setting up roadblocks that are like border crossings, on roads like in the Third World? And at the same time, will Israel continue building for itself prestigious suburbs and roads of Californian width and quality? Clearly it will not.

During the Oslo years, the illusion was spun that the burning task was to "build a state." All the efforts of the countries of the world and their financial bolstering, the behavior of the PA and the addiction of its senior people to the symbols of sovereignty reinforced the illusion. There was a leap in the Israeli consciousness: The PA was already considered a state. A state whose territory was virtual, and where Israel with its military might determined its future borders, the control of natural resources, the registration of the population and its freedom of movement - but this has been forgotten.

As a state it was considered the aggressor, because of the outbreak of the uprising. Arafat's failure since 1993 was not in that he did not become a respected and respectable head of state, of a state that did not exist. His failure was that neither he nor his movement, the Fatah, developed a liberation strategy in the new conditions of Oslo: through diplomacy, through the UN General Assembly regarding the Jewish settlements, through exposing the neo-colonial relations that were enforced by the security and civilian negotiation mechanism, through the million forms of non-violent popular struggle that could have been pursued.

Personal interests and the pursuit of personal wealth by senior people, shortsightedness, objective or subjective weakness, mistaken political calculations, pro-American tendencies - no matter the reasons, the result was that Arafat, contrary to the image that his armed supporters are trying to create today in their scare campaigns, acted before the Camp David summit as someone whose people had already been liberated from occupation and whose state existed.

In the current circumstances of Palestinian weakness, it is hard to see how in the near future a Palestinian leadership will arise that is able to formulate a strategy of popular struggle for liberation and equality in principle, for the rights of the peoples in this land. The demand that it act as a sub-agent of the IDF and the Shin Bet security service will increase the instability.

As long as the individual and collective Israeli interests in the continuation of the occupation are not affected - and it does not look like they are being affected - there is not a chance that a broad popular movement will arise in Israel that will demand a change in the policy of "Bantustanization."

Therefore the challenge is to the nations of Western Europe, who paid generously for the illusion of the construction of the state, and whose governments are still committed to the two-state solution. For how long will they and their representatives be able to bear - politically, economically and morally - the entrenchment of a regime of discrimination and ethnic separation that is being created by a state that is considered an inalienable part of the democratic West?


The Electronic Intifada
What Palestinians Should Do Now
Ali Abunimah

18 November 2004

The first priority for Palestinian leaders now must be to defend their people against Israel's relentless colonization and violence and not to negotiate with Israeli guns to Palestinian heads. They must formulate a national strategy to regain Palestinian rights enshrined in UN Resolutions, clearly explain this strategy, and organize Palestinians and allies everywhere to struggle for it, starting with full implementation of the ICJ decision on the West Bank wall. Palestinians should seek to emulate the success of the African National Congress that freed South Africans from apartheid by confronting and defeating injustice, not seeking to accommodate it.

If the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) can transform themselves to take on this role, they deserve the support of every Palestinian. If, however, they plan to continue as they have before, they must dissolve. As constituted by the Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority harms Palestinian interests, because it obscures Israel's responsibility as the occupying power without providing any minimal protection for the people against Israel's continuous onslaught. Its existence has allowed the spurious agenda of "reform" to trump Israel's obligations under the Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions. Palestinian leaders should no longer accept the responsibility for governing Palestinians on behalf of the occupying power. Israel should bear the full cost of its choices.

Yet the conventional wisdom says that Yasir Arafat's death provides an opportunity to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Realities such as Israel's refusal in word and deed to withdraw and allow the establishment of a genuine Palestinian state in the occupied territories have simply been ignored. Dov Weissglas, the most senior advisor to Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, explained in early October that Israel's Gaza "disengagement" plan, which has been embraced by the bankrupt international peace process industry, is actually a ruse to kill--not advance--any peace process. Weissglas said, "when you freeze that [peace] process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda."

Logically, therefore, any "opportunity" for peace through the establishment of a Palestinian state depends either on a clear change of Israeli policy or a clear willingness by the United States and the international community to force Israel to change its policy. So far, the only policy announcement to come from Israel is that it plans a posthumous "anti-Arafat crusade" in the media.

President Bush has has already shattered hopes that in a second term, freed from re-election concerns, he might pressure Israel. At his November 12 press conference with UK prime minister Tony Blair, Bush was asked if Israel should at last implement a freeze on West Bank settlement expansion. He side-stepped the question, placing the entire burden on the Palestinians: "I believe that the responsibility for peace is going to rest with the Palestinian people's desire to build a democracy and Israel's willingness to help them build a democracy." Bush also stated that peace "can be reached by only one path, the path of democracy, reform and the rule of law." There is no sign yet that the EU or Arab states intend to challenge his approach.

Yet at the same time, Bush and Blair declared support for elections in the occupied territories -- a position seemingly in tune with Palestinian aspirations. But elections present both dangers and opportunities.

At a minimum, fair elections require international intervention to protect the Palestinians from the occupier and ensure all candidates have fair access to PA-controlled media and are free from intimidation whether by Israel or the PA. The danger is that snap elections in the West Bank and Gaza, under Israel's crushing rule, will offer no fair opportunity for new Palestinian leaders with new strategies to emerge. Elections must provide a genuine contest and not be mere plebiscites confirming the post-Arafat appointments of failed old guard figures like PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and their backers who control the PA apparatus with money and guns. Ominously, The New York Times reports that Israel, under American pressure, has already released $40 million in blocked PA funds to "strengthen the position" of the old guard.

In the best case, from Israel's perspective, the old guard confirmed in place by flawed elections would continue to offer disastrous concessions as they did throughout the Oslo period. And at worst, they would simply become new scapegoats to whom Israel and the US will deliver impossible demands and then heap blame when they are inevitably unfulfilled. Palestinian leaders must no longer accept this assigned role.

Palestinians should also demand elections in the diaspora as well the occupied territories. Arguably Arafat's greatest mistake is that after signing the Oslo accords, he abandoned the PLO's base in exile. Millions of Palestinians were disenfranchised and the negotiating position of the Palestinian leadership severely weakened because it could not claim that it had to refer any agreement back to its people.

Assistance from the United Nations and host countries would be essential to successful diaspora elections. The recent Afghan election, in which 740,000 refugees in Pakistan voted, proves it can be done. Currently, almost four million Palestine refugees are registered with UNRWA. All exiled Palestinians should have the right to vote and be elected to a Palestinian national assembly with the sole authority to approve any future peace agreement.

This would be in the best interests of Palestinians because it would strengthen and hold accountable any eventual Palestinian negotiating body by ensuring it accepts no deal which compromises basic rights, particularly the rights of refugees. This is exactly why such elections would be strongly opposed by Israel, the United States, the EU, and the Palestinian old guard.

But now is the time for Palestinians to set their own agenda, to build a new movement, and to see who among their self-declared allies really has their freedom, democracy and rights at heart.

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.


The Electronic Intifada
Sharon's Gaza Pullout: Not Gonna Happen!
Tanya Reinhart

16 November 2004

We gather here at difficult times, when it seems that the Palestinian cause has been almost eliminated from the international agenda. The Western world is hailing the new "peace vision" of Sharon's disengagement plan. The day this plan passed in the Israeli Knesset ("Parliament") last week was hailed by Le Monde as a historical day. Who would pay attention to the two line news piece that on that same day, the Israeli army killed 16 Palestinians in Khan Younis?

It is pretty much known even in the West that Sharon's plan is not about ending the occupation. With regard to the Gaza Strip, the disengagement plan published in the Israeli papers on Friday, April 16, specifies that "Israel will supervise and guard the external envelope on land, will maintain exclusive control in the air space of Gaza, and will continue to conduct military activities in the sea space of the Gaza Strip". In other words, the Palestinians will be imprisoned from all sides, with no connection to the world, except through Israel. Israel also reserves for itself the right to act militarily inside the Gaza Strip. In return for this "concession", Israel would be permitted to complete the wall and to maintain the situation in the West Bank as is. The innovation in the Bush-Sharon agreement that approved this plan is that this is not a proposal awaiting the approval of the Palestinian people. Now the Palestinians are not even asked. It is Israel and the U.S. who are determining the facts on the ground. Israel marks the land that it desires, and builds a wall on that route.

For those who oppose Israeli occupation, it is clear, then, that Sharon's disengagement is just a plan for maintaining the occupation with more international legitimacy. However, there is one presupposition shared in all discussions of this plan - that in the process, Sharon also intends to dismantle the settlements of the Gaza Strip, and return the land they are built on to the Palestinians. I should say that had I believed this might happen, I would have supported the plan. The Gaza settlements, together with their land reserves, security zones, Israeli-only roads, and the military array protecting them, occupy almost a third of the strip's land, which is one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Had this land been returned to its owners, it would be a step forward. We should never forget that the Palestinian struggle is not only for their liberation, but for regaining their lands in the occupied territories - lands that Israel has been appropriating since 67. As long as the Palestinians manage to hold on to their land, under even the worst occupation, they will eventually also gain their liberation. Without land, what is at stake is not just their liberation, but their survival.

But what basis is there to believe that Sharon indeed plans to dismantle settlements at some point? Certainly not the content of the resolution passed by the Israeli Knesset on October 26 - the day that has been depicted by Israeli and virtually all Western media as a "historical" day with "dramatic" resolution. In fact, the Israeli parliament voted to approve "the revised disengagement plan", which was previously approved in another "historical meeting" of the Israeli Cabinet, on June 6, 2004. So it is appropriate to check what was actually approved at that Cabinet meeting.

Ha'aretz's ceremonial headlines on June 7 declared "Disengagement on its way". But here are the smaller letters in the body of the report:

"At the end of a dramatic cabinet meeting yesterday, the government passed Ariel Sharon's revised disengagement plan, by a vote of 14-7, but the decision does not allow for the dismantling of settlements and the prime minister will have to go back to the cabinet when he actually wants to begin the evacuation process. ...The decision on the evacuation of settlements will be brought to the government at the end of a preparation period... [that] would end next March 1" ( Aluf Benn, Gideon Alon, and Nathan Guttmanm, Ha'aretz, June 7, 2004).

Elsewhere in that paper it is explained that " there was no approval of actual evacuations... A second government discussion would be held in this regard, 'taking into account the circumstances at the time' " (Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, June 7, 2004). The only thing the Israeli government, followed now by the Israeli Knesset, have approved, then, is to have a discussion of the idea of dismantling Gaza settlements sometime next year. It was also decided that in the meanwhile, building and development in the Gaza settlements may continue: "The approved plan ensures 'support for the needs of daily life' in settlements slated for evacuation. Bans on construction permits and leasing of lands were also removed from the prime minister's proposal" (ibid). And indeed, on the ground, slots of land are still being leased (for ridiculously cheap prices) to Israelis who wish to settle in Gaza, and building permits are granted by a special committee appointed by the government in the same "dramatic" meeting on June 6.[1]

Still, none of these facts were registered in public consciousness. The actual content of the cabinet decision was reported only once - on that same day - and then disappeared from the papers that keep recycling the stories about its heroic significance. Precisely the same happened in the present round. The fact that the Knesset has only voted to approve "the amended disengagement plan" that contains no decision to dismantle settlements was reported in the Israeli media:

Knesset members voting tonight on the disengagement plan have received a copy of the "amended disengagement law" the cabinet passed on June 6, plus appendices containing the principles of the plan and its implementation... According to the compromise negotiated at the time... the cabinet decision "contains nothing to evacuate settlements." To remove any doubt in this regard, the cabinet decision also states that "after the conclusion of preparatory work, the cabinet will reconvene to separately debate and decide whether or not to evacuate settlements, which settlements, and at what speed, in consideration of circumstances at that time. (Yuval Yoaz, Ha'aretz, Oct 26, 2004)

But again, this information appeared only once or twice, buried underneath bold headlines that even compared Sharon to Churchill. This is how a myth is built.

Another test-case for how serious the evacuation intentions are is the issue of compensations for the evacuated settlers. Since the cabinet's decision in June, many of the Gaza settlers began inquiring, directly or through hired lawyers, how and when they can be compensated. Behind the noisy protest of the settlers' leadership, many are relieved to be able to finally leave, and are just waiting for the compensations. Anybody intending seriously to evacuate them, would start by compensating first those who are ready to leave immediately, leaving only the ideological minority to be evacuated forcefully. Indeed, for five months, since the cabinet's decision in June, both the settlers and the Israeli public believe that this is about to happen any moment now. Again, a faith with no basis.

Special committees have worked with much publicity on every detail of the compensation plan. Many believe this was finally approved by the Knesset on November 4. Only in the small letters of what actually happened one can learn that the compensation law has passed only its preliminary first hearing (reading). In principle, the second and third hearing could take place within few weeks, but it was clarified in advance that the second reading will take place only after the government decides on actual evacuation, in March 2005, or later (Yosi Verter, Ha'aretz, Oct 8, 2004.) Till then, no one will be compensated. As Aluf Ben summarized this, "the Knesset will vote in the first reading of the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan Law, which authorizes the government to evacuate settlements and compensate those evacuated. Then there will be debates in the committees, and a second and third reading... and the law could be blocked at any stage" (Ha'aretz, Oct 27, 2004).

Outside Israel, the details of what was actually decided didn't even make it into the news once, and all that is repeated over and over again in the Western media is the propaganda produced by the Israeli political system - headlines from which one could infer that the dismantling of settlements is around the corner. Thus, the political debate around Sharon's plan concentrates only around whether it is good enough. The possibility that this is just another Israeli deceit does not even arise. And if you try to bring it up, you are perceived as having landed from the moon, as has happened to me in several European media interviews.

Deception and lies have been a corner stone in Israeli policy, brought to a new level of perfection since Oslo. While the world believed that Rabin promised to eventually end the occupation and dismantle the settlements, the number of Israeli settlers actually doubled during his rule. At the same time that Barak declared he intended to dismantle the Golan Heights settlements, in 1999, he actually poured money into their expansion. As Sharon promised to dismantle at least the illegal settlement posts in the West Bank, their number kept increasing. Still, none of this is ever remembered. Each new lie is received with welcome cheers by the Israeli peace camp and by European governments. Since Oslo, every Israeli government knows that all it takes, to ease diplomatic pressure, is to come up with a new "peace plan".

Since Oslo, every Israeli government knows that all it takes, to ease diplomatic pressure, is to come up with a new "peace plan".

The ritual repeats itself with each new "plan" of this sort. The crucial factor in convincing the world that this time "it is for real" is right wing protest. Of course when the government comes up with a new scheme of deception, the right wing and settlers believe it as well. Rabin's deceit has cost him his life. The same threats are now being directed at Sharon. This is sufficient to convince the Israeli peace camp that Sharon is determined to dismantle settlements. Even serious anti-occupation thinkers write articles warning of the danger of "civil war" with the settlers (forgetting that for this to be even remotely possible, someone should try indeed to evacuate them first). The implication is almost unavoidable: In view of this coming civil war, Sharon is our leader. We should all unite behind him, against the dark forces in Israel.

Indeed, this massive Israeli propaganda works. Throughout the Western world, Sharon is now depicted as a messenger of peace, because he has declared that he is willing to evacuate some of the territories. All of a sudden, Sharon is viewed as the sane center of Israel, withstanding right wing pressure. The prevailing perception is that Israel is finally led by a man of peace, with a respectable determination to carry out painful concessions. And as long as this is the perspective, Sharon can do whatever he wants. The Israeli army terrorizes the Gaza Strip. dozens of Palestinians are being killed, including children on their way to school, houses are demolished and agricultural land destroyed.

At the time of operation "Defensive Shield" in the West Bank and Jenin refugee camp two years ago, there was substantial world protest. The last operation "Days of Penitence" in the Jabalia camp in the Gaza Strip has hardly received any coverage. Backed by the U.S., Sharon is realizing with frightening efficiency his long-standing vision of evicting the maximum number of Palestinians from their land. In the spirit of Orwell, it was even explained that one of the aims of "Days of Penitence" is to "expand the security zones" around the Gaza settlements (namely to enlarge their lands, pushing more Palestinians out of these lands), in order to guarantee that when they are evacuated, it would not be "under fire". (Aluf Ben, Ha'aretz, Oct 4, 2004). But Europe looks the other way, reassured of Sharon's new vision of peace.

These are difficult days, when Orwell seems to pale, compared to the power of present day propaganda, when it seems that the European governments are immovable in their support of Israel, no matter what crimes it commits; and the Palestinians are dying slowly, with their suffering not even being reported. But in such times, when governments are unwilling to impose international law, the people of the world can still take matters in their hands. Largely unreported, there is a growing on-going joint struggle of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals from the International Solidarity Movement, who stand daily in front of the army and the settlers in the Palestinian territories, in nonviolent, peaceful protest, documenting the crime, protecting as much of the land as they can, and slowing down Sharon's massive work of destruction. For the first time in the history of the occupation, we are seeing joint Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Along with Israel of the army and the settlers, a new Israel-Palestine is forming.

The breathtaking scenery of the West Bank has been sliced up by the new roads that the rulers have built for their own exclusive use. Beneath them lie the old roads of the vanquished. There, on the lower level, is where the other Israel-Palestine treads. For almost two years, Israeli youths arrive in settlement buses and then make their way on foot and in Palestinian taxis among the checkpoints. They trek between the villages in groups or alone. Some sleep in the villages. Others will travel the same route the next day to reach the demonstration. Everywhere they go they are greeted with blessings and beaming faces.

"Tfaddalu," the children in the doorways say, as if they had never heard of stone-throwing. All along the "seam line" in the West Bank, along the root of the wall, the Palestinians have opened their hearts and their homes to the Israelis and internationals who come to support their non-violent resistance to the wall and the occupation robbing them of their land. These days, hundreds of Israelis are going almost daily to the West Bank to protect the Palestinian olive harvest from the settlers, who, protected by the Israeli army, try to prevent the harvest.

What has brought young Israelis to stand with the Palestinians in front of the army is the conviction that there is a basic line of justice that must not be crossed, that there is a law that is higher than the army's laws of closed military zones: there is international law, which forbids ethnic cleansing, and there is the law of conscience. But what makes them return, day after day, is the new covenant that has been struck between the peoples of this land, a pact of fraternity and friendship between Israelis and Palestinians who love life, the land, the evening breeze. They know that it is possible to live differently on this land.

This daily struggle is our hope. It has become possible with the help of individuals from all over the world who come there to join the new form of resistance. They are facing harassment. Many are being stopped and deported, but they still keep coming. As long as more people come, even for a short time, as long as they are backed and supported by many others at home who could not join in yet, the struggle will go on, offering hope where governments fail.

Footnotes 1. eg. "Yesterday, press photographers were invited in to take a picture of the first session of the committee to deal with the construction in the [Gaza] settlements, headed by PMO Director General Ilan Cohen. The committee is meant to examine the issue of construction and other development projects in settlements that are designated for evacuation. Cohen says Sharon told him 'not to compromise over security needs'. Gaza Regional Council Chairman Avner Shimoni won approval for 26 bullet-proofed buildings in Gush Katif. The new buildings are meant for residences, and school rooms are meant for Kfar Darom, Netzarim and Neveh Dekalim. So far, some 350 development projects have been submitted to the committee" (Aluf Benn and Nir Hason, Ha'aretz, July 27, 2004).

Prof. Tanya Reinhart is a lecturer in linguistics, media and cultural studies at the Tel Aviv University. She is the author of several books, including Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. This article is the text of a speech given at the Euro/Palestine concert, Paris, on 6 November 6 2004.

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