Wednesday, January 12

MCC Palestine Update #105

MCC Palestine Update #105

12 January 2005

A Visit to Gaza

On Tuesday, January 4, MCC workers Sri Mayasandra and Chris and Tim Seidel visited MCC partner the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) of Khan Younis, Gaza. The last MCC visit to CFTA was in June, and the fall months saw heightened military activity throughout the Gaza strip creating very dangerous travel conditions throughout. But as was seen on this last visit, military activity is a part of life for Gaza Residents. Gunfire and shelling were heard throughout both the day and night hours the group’s visit.

Maysoon, a young female staff member from CFTA served as a tour guide for the MCC group, taking them around to various parts of Khan Younis to see the severe atrocities that people are forced to live with. The group saw piles of rubble from houses preceded by bulldozer tracks, holes from shelling that dotted almost every building in sight, and children playing in what was left trying desperately to have childhoods.

This heartbreaking setting makes the courageous work of CFTA even more outstanding and valuable. CFTA just expanded into a new office at the turn of this New Year and the staff was busy working throughout. The group was given a tour of the Bunat al Ghad (Builders of the Future) Teenager Centre where there are incredible resources being developed for the youth, such as a science lab, theater, library, resource center, computer lab and photography and media center.

The next day the group visited the Al Shroq Wal Amal (Sunrise and Hope) Children’s Centre as children were finishing their last final mid-terms before their January break. At this center as well, the group toured the art center, a computer lab funded by MCC, music class, and playroom. As children shared their stories of first-hand encounters with the violence around them (not the least of which was the shooting death of a classmate in school), it was apparent that beyond being a cultural, health and educational center, it was a mental and somewhat emotional escape from the situation to experiences that should be normative for young children.

Afterwards, the group visited families that living in the camp around the Children’s Centre. The needs of the families were apparent, such as home repair and employment. However, the families desired only to express their stories and thoughts and be heard by the group. All of the families were thankful that the group had come to visit them in their homes and sit and listen to them.

The process of the disengagement of Israeli settlements from Gaza is to happen throughout this year 2005. With the settler resistance to the disengagement and heightened security throughout the process, one can speculate that there will by much more unrest, injuries and killings in the coming year (including those of women and children). Many Palestinians express little hope in the disengagement plan, only stating that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will do what he wants and disengagement will serve as a license for more settlements to be strategically placed in the West Bank creating Bantustans and making access and travel virtually impossible for Palestinians. And with the cruel nature of occupation, suffering Palestinians have little hope for anything to turn out to be in their best interests or for long-term peace.

In the meantime, CFTA is working to relieve the suffering of women by creating job opportunities and helping them to access quality health care and their rights. The group is working to protect the children of Khan Younis and helping to prepare adolescents to structure their lives for the future. For more information about the activities and programs of the Culture and Free Thought Association in Khan Younis, visit their website at

Elections in Palestine: A Time of “Renewed Hope” or “Democratizing the Occupation”?

This past Sunday saw the election of Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, as president of the Palestinian Authority. The outcome and the elections themselves continue to garner international attention, especially after the visits of such foreign dignitaries as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.S presidential candidate Senator John Kerry. Many have asked if the recent elections here have brought with them a sense of “renewed hope” for the Palestinian people. And indeed if one were to look at what is being reported in the English-speaking media, one might walk away with this perception.

But facts on the ground here, such as continuous Israeli incursions into Gaza, more colonies or “settlements” that are expanding (—as well as the sophisticated system of settler roads and checkpoints that effectively divide the West Bank up into separated bantustans, more of the Apartheid Wall built, more children killed (, and the exclusion from this process of the majority of the Palestinian population living as refugees in the region, left literally out in the cold, speak to another reality.

Since the passing of Yasser Arafat, many have been looking through the lenses of optimism and with the language of “renewed hope.” The problem with this “patronizing optimism” as some have called it is that it effectively renders invisible these “facts on the ground” and the story of those left dead and dying. And Palestinians know this. Palestinians know that before "optimism" and "hope" can be discussed at a negotiations table, these realities on the ground have to be seriously addressed and justice dealt.

To move from one place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in Gaza, where Palestinians are met by shelling at checkpoints on a regular basis, and then to be greeted by gifts of holiday chocolates at the checkpoint going into Bethlehem speaks all too well to these facts on the ground that are covered over with great effort. The thought that such a gesture of “good will” will create a “bridge for peace” is functional only for those who require an Apartheid Wall to ensure that definition of peace.

Christmas and the New Year in the “Holy Land”

Nonetheless we continue to be amazed by the hope that some Palestinians continue to be energized by, especially by those that MCC partners with. Take this past Christmas for example. At an ecumenical Christmas celebration sponsored by one of our partners Sabeel (, there were at least six different church traditions represented—Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic. And they all took their turn singing their own traditional Christmas carols. It was incredible to see such a display, such a modeling of an alternative reality in the midst of occupation.

As we enter into another new year, we feel compelled to ask: How we are also modeling an alternative reality in the midst of the injustices of this world? How can we talk about hope in a genuine and authentic manner? Especially after these recent heavy experiences in Gaza, the subjective demand that is placed on our shoulders feels most pressing. The heaviness of such an exercise lies in the fact that the one who critically reflects upon “Christian praxis” is faced with a decision.

Our efforts at commitment and service must seek to find relevance and meaning and in turn offer a voice to the voiceless by way of compassion—com-passion, a “suffering with.” This essential element of a commitment that recognizes, as the Latin American theologians Leonardo and Clodovis Boff have stated, that “we are only on the side of the poor when we struggle along side them” cannot be emphasized enough to us members of the Global North as the beneficiaries of such a death-dealing occupation as the one that Palestinians face on a daily basis.

May the new year bring hope and renewal for our engagement in this critical reflection on “Christian praxis” when it comes to dealing seriously with the injustices here and all over the world.

Peace to you all,

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


New year, old story: During operations last weekend in the Gaza Strip, the army demolished 14 Palestinian homes, injured 30 Palestinians and killed 10, including a mentally disabled youth. Ringing in 2005.
Gideon Levy

6 January 2005

A quiet weekend: The Israel Defense Forces managed to conduct two operations in Gaza during a four-day period starting last Thursday and continuing through this past Sunday. This is how the New Year's celebration there looked: 10 Palestinians killed, including two teenagers, one of whom was mentally disabled; 30 Palestinians injured, including a cameraman from Channel 10; and another 14 homes demolished. While Israel was collecting food contributions for Sri Lanka, residents of Khan Yunis sat on the sand near their destroyed homes, eating a paltry lunch. On Sunday, after the operations ended, five Qassam rockets hit Sderot and mortar shells were fired at the Erez industrial zone, seriously injuring a 25-year-old worker, Nissim Arbib.

Operation "Purple Iron" had not ended yet and "Autumn Wind" had not yet begun to blow, and suddenly "Purple Rain" poured down upon the Erez checkpoint. There was a faint boom and then a mortar shell fell near us, in the adjacent industrial zone. Shlomi Eldar, a reporter for Channel 10, was on his way to meet with the Palestinians who were firing the mortars from Rafah, and we were going to meet the victims of "Purple Iron" in Khan Yunis. "See you this evening," we said, but by the time evening came, Eldar had already brought his cameraman, Majdi al-Arbid, to the hospital in serious condition. An IDF sniper shot him from a range of 300 meters in Jabalya, despite the fact that he held a television camera in his hand - or perhaps because of this.

Eldar, an experienced and honest reporter, is convinced that the photographer did not pose a risk to the sniper, who saw the camera and nonetheless shot without warning, intending only to injure the cameraman. He was hit by a bullet in the groin, two steps away from Eldar. Long hours passed before Eldar and the Channel 10 team managed to persuade the IDF to allow the bleeding photographer, whose life was at risk, to be rushed to a hospital in Israel.

The IDF is investigating.

On the way out of Erez, near Beit Hanun, there is a tank and a bulldozer, digging up the only access road. It is hard to know whether this is the end of "Purple Iron" or the beginning of "Autumn Wind," which began and ended on Sunday. How are people supposed to enter and exit Erez now?

Munir's atonement

The motorcade of candidate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is making its way through the streets of Gaza. Abu Mazen injured his finger the previous day when a bodyguard closed the door of his car on his hand. Another candidate, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, is delayed at the Erez checkpoint on his way to another election rally. Entry into the Gaza Strip is now only barely possible, via muddy paths. In the evening, dozens of tanks were already lurking in the dark groves on the side, making this route also fearfully dangerous.

Munir, a Palestinian taxi driver, quotes from the Yom Kippur kapparot (atonement) prayer he learned when he worked as a youth in the Tikva (Hope) market in Tel Aviv. In the Al-Amal (Hope) neighborhood of Khan Yunis, there is a lot of destruction from the previous night. "This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement," Munir mumbles, waving an imaginary rooster above his head, a remnant of his happy childhood in the Tikva market.

The loudspeaker barks out: "Stop." The loudspeaker barks out: "Go." And again: "Stop." And again: "Go." The defense forces, which can see but cannot be seen, are amusing themselves with dozens of cars waiting at the Abu Huli checkpoint, on the only road spanning the Gaza Strip, near Kfar Darom, opposite the road to Gush Katif, below the road to Kissufim. A huge traffic jam. It is another one of the places where the occupation looks so frightfully ugly, with invisible soldiers and the hoarse loudspeaker. All of the drivers hurry to roll down their windows in submission, to make sure they hear the soldier's command. Sometimes, the road is completely blocked for days and there is no passage between Khan Yunis and Gaza City, or between Rafah and Jabalya.

A. calls from Cairo: He has been stuck there since the Rafah crossing was closed. No one knows how long the crossing will remain closed.

"You were a son of the camp," says the voice on a different loudspeaker, at the mourners' tent for one of the Palestinians killed in the Khan Yunis camp. Nothing compares with the bleakness of this camp. Barefoot children tramp around in the mud. Water leaks through the asbestos roofs of the shacks. Hundreds of men sit on the ground idly, day after day, year after year. The well-tailored image of the leftist candidate, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, which peers down from the election posters, seems disconnected from reality.

In the nearby Al-Amal neighborhood, life had been more hopeful. Some of the more successful residents of the camp moved into reasonable-looking apartment houses. But the nearby settlements of Neveh Dekalim and Ganei Tal put an end to their Palestinian neighbors' hopes of finally living in human conditions. During the night, the bulldozers had come and destroyed a group of buildings under construction. Only a pile of rubble remains now in an empty lot, next to a wide strip of sand that was cleared during a previous operation. From every window, one sees the Jewish settlements or, more precisely, the terrifying guard towers that surround them. From here, the disengagement looks further away and more long-awaited than ever.

No one talks about the disengagement in Khan Yunis, nor about the upcoming Palestinian elections. On Sunday, everyone was busy assessing the damages of the latest operation of killing and destruction - "Purple Iron" - which ended during the night. Hundreds of stunned residents are poking in the sand, a familiar sight.

An apartment-bunker

The Sabahi family's three-story apartment building is home to 30 people. Soldiers took over the building for operational purposes. Last Wednesday night, the residents of the building were ordered via loudspeaker to vacate their apartments. On Sunday morning, we entered the building with one of the residents, Osama Sabahi, to see what the soldiers left behind. Sabahi, a pharmacist, was devastated by what he saw: His spacious apartment on the top floor was destroyed beyond recognition. The soldiers had made giant holes in the walls, using these as lookout posts and firing positions. The furniture was upended, clothes were scattered and the sights we encountered in the bathroom are unfit to print. Sabahi says that NIS 600 that he kept in the dresser were gone. (The IDF Spokesman's Office: "We are not familiar with this claim.") But why did the soldiers take the blue flour jar from the kitchen to the children's room? No one knows. Boxes of Tnuva chocolate milk were scattered everywhere. What would the soldiers think if someone did this to their homes?

Osama Sabahi's aunt, Maryam, lives on the first floor. She is about 60 years old and is mentally ill. When they evacuated the building, they left her behind. The pharmacist says that the soldiers took her up to the third floor and left her there for two days before allowing the Red Crescent to evacuate her.

The tiny playground below, the only one in the area, is partly destroyed. It was built several months ago and this is the second time the IDF has damaged it during the war against the Qassam. The entrance to the Sabahi's home is also completely destroyed. Piles of stones and the remains of the iron gate block the entrance to the home that was transformed into a military post. Osama says that he is afraid to bring his family back there. There is no electricity and no water, and his small children are liable to fall through the holes in the walls, three stories above ground. Even before the latest operation, the apartment looked like a bunker: The windows facing Ganei Tal were filled with bricks about four years ago to protect against Israeli snipers. It is not recommended to peek out from these windows - the wall of the building is full of holes and an Israeli flag flutters in the wind on the tower across the way. The plant nurseries of Ganei Tal look like a shimmering sea from the window.

A table was prepared down below. Neighbors spread trays of rice, yogurt and eggs on the sand - the first meal for the new homeless. There are also humanitarian efforts under way here, in the Al-Amal (Hope) neighborhood of Khan Yunis, in the backyard of Ganei Tal and Neveh Dekalim.

The IDF Spokesman's Office: "Before the entry of an IDF force into an inhabited Palestinian building, which is only done for operational purposes, the soldiers are instructed to avoid harming the residents and damaging property. Nonetheless, buildings may suffer damage - only in accordance with operational needs. In addition, the residents of the homes are given the opportunity to collect items of value from the home before the soldiers enter. It should be noted that the forces have operational documentation of the activities in the homes."

A new memorial poster

The new memorial poster displays an unusual-looking face. This shack on the alley of sand and mud in the Khan Yunis camp is the home of the last shaheed (martyr) from last weekend's operations, Ahmed Tuman. Afflicted with Down Syndrome, he was 17 when he died. His mother and sister, dressed in black, enter the meager guest room. Only their sad eyes are visible through their veils. An asbestos roof over our heads, the wind whimpers and the rain pounds. The mother, Sabha, and the sister, Ibtisam, speak about Ahmed: He studied at a special education school run by the Red Crescent and he loved to go to weddings, to dance, to sing and to do impersonations. He specialized in imitating Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Yassin, but was also not afraid to imitate residents of the camp - he was a local Yatzpan (a popular Israeli comedian). He especially liked posters of "martyrs." On the day of his death, he still managed to hang up a poster of the last member of Iz al-Din al-Qassam (Hamas military wing) to be killed. Here it is on the wall, pasted with brown tape, alongside the new poster - on which he himself appears.

Last Thursday, his father locked Ahmed in his room before going to the market. The father was concerned that his mentally disabled son would venture out into the street. They always locked Ahmed in when the IDF was in the streets, but when the father returned from the market and opened the door, Ahmed managed to get around him and run outside. It was 9:30 in the morning and Ahmed made his way toward his sister's home in the nearby Al-Amal neighborhood. She pleaded with him to return home and Ahmed told her that he was not afraid and went back out into the street.

He went down the street leading to the main road, where tanks and snipers awaited him. Perhaps he began fleeing when he noticed them. Perhaps he provoked them. Perhaps they shot at him for no special reason - the street was empty and no one witnessed the shooting. They sprayed his body with bullets from a distance of about 30 meters, shooting from the welfare ministry building where the snipers were positioned or from the tank deployed alongside it. Here is the hospital's death report: A bullet to the head, a bullet in the heart, a bullet in the ribs, many pieces of shrapnel in the right leg, shrapnel in the hip. He remained sprawled in the street, bleeding, for an hour before his body was taken away.

The IDF Spokesman's Office does not think that Tuman died: "On Thursday, December 30, while IDF forces in the Khan Yunis area operated against the launching of mortars and Qassam rockets, a Palestinian approached an IDF force. The force fired warning shots according to regulations and when [the Palestinian] did not halt, shots were fired at his legs and he went away." On the other hand, it appears that the spokesman's office may believe that Tuman, who suffered from a serious mental disability, was involved in planting explosives. According to the IDF statement: "It should be noted that during the operation, the IDF hit a number of Palestinians involved in planting explosives against IDF forces."

In response to the delay in evacuating Ahmed, the office says: "We do not know of any incident in which the IDF delayed or prevented an ambulance from accessing and treating the injured."

Ahmed's cousin, Hadil, who is paralyzed, somehow manages to stretch out her hand and wave Ahmed's memorial poster, as if to say - "Look what my cousin did." The two cousins shared a special love for each other. H., Ahmed's older brother, is afraid. He has worked for the past year and a half in the fields of the Ganei Tal settlement, growing spices. His wages are NIS 48 per day, more than his co-workers who started later and earn only NIS 35. H. is now worried that his employers will not accept him back at work because his mentally disabled brother was killed by the soldiers. He told his employers that his mother was hospitalized.


The Electronic Intifada
Yet another historic day
Ali Abunimah

9 January 2005

Once again, the media and the international peace process industry have declared that it is an "historic day" for the Palestinian people. The occasion this time is the election of Mahmoud Abbas as head of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories. Yet most of these Palestinian people, for whom this day has been declared historic, do not live in the occupied territories; the majority of Palestinians live in diaspora or as refugees outside their homeland, a direct result of the ethnic cleansing which created Israel in 1947-48, and of the occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967.

For Palestinians in the diaspora, such historic days feel like everyone is having a party that is supposed to be in your honor, except that no one invited you, or perhaps it is like watching a television movie of your life that bears little resemblance to reality. The feeling I have now is exactly what I felt on that other big historic day, September 13, 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington by a beaming Yasir Arafat and the recalcitrant Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, under the beatific gaze of President Bill Clinton. I feel a mixture of exasperation, hopelessness and determination.

For days now, I have done hours of talk radio about the elections, trying to explain as best as I can why replacing Yasser Arafat with Mahmoud Abbas will not lead to peace, why Palestinians aren't ecstatic, how the Israeli occupation makes democracy impossible. But for the most part, the script has been written and Palestinians are only called upon to read their lines. So the TV and newspapers are full of happy Palestinian voters who debate only whether Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) or Mustafa Barghouti is right for them. Herds of international observers are on hand to certify that a few irregularities notwithstanding, this was a model election of which Palestinians can be proud.

U.S. Senator John Sununu, who was part of the US observer delegation read from the official script: "It's a democratic election in the Arab world, and that in itself is somewhat historic," the New York Times quoted him as saying. Sununu added that the Palestinian leadership will now have "a new level of credibility to talk to the Israelis and impose reform and reorganization of the security forces, so there's a reason to be optimistic."

The reports I heard directly from associates on the ground only add to the disconnect between what Palestinians are experiencing and how the story is being told. EI's Arjan El-Fassed, an accredited election monitor posted in Gaza reported shortly before polls were scheduled to close that in the Shaaf area of Gaza City, a little more than 1,000 of 20,000 registered voters had voted -- a turnout of about seven percent. Chaos had broken out, he said, after Palestinian election officials had changed the rules at the last minute to allow voters to vote at any polling station in a desperate bid to raise the turnout and perhaps to open the possibility of a person casting multiple votes. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights immediately announced it was appealing what it called an illegal decision.

EI's Maureen Murphy, monitoring the elections in the Hebron area with the Al-Haq human rights organization reported that many people who turned out to vote did so despite feeling resigned to the fact that whoever wins will have no power to improve their lives or change the reality Israel has imposed on them.

In the ghost-written screenplay that the Palestinians are being forced to act out, the election is "good news." This means that any information that interferes with this agreed narrative — that we are at the cusp of a new era of peace, democracy and reform — has to be carefully filtered out.

As I sift through the deluge of election news, I find I am still unable to stop thinking about the murder by the Israeli army of seven Palestinian children in Gaza, literally blown to pieces by a tank shell on 4 January. This was barely reported in the US media. National Public Radio, supposedly the paragon of in-depth and nuanced reporting, actually covered up the story, reporting only that Mahmoud Abbas had called Israel the "Zionist Enemy" without mentioning the killing of the children at all, even though Abbas had made his statement in direct response to the atrocity.

A few days earlier, I had emailed a New York Times reporter to ask why in a lengthy article about the election campaign, the news that the Israeli army had killed nine Palestinians in a single day, including two children and a man living with Down's Syndrome, had been mentioned only in the final paragraph. I pointed out that whenever the victims are Israelis, his newspaper gives their deaths great prominence, and asked whether we should therefore understand that Palestinian lives are viewed as less valuable. The reporter wrote back: "Your point is very well taken ... the problem is more with the nature of daily stories than with differential humanity, but I will bear your good letter in mind. No life is worth less than any other." At first I felt satisfied by this answer, but the more I thought about it, the angrier I became.

Actually differential humanity is precisely the issue. The entire "peace process" and the discourse about Palestine today is structured around the absolutely inverted claim that Israelis are the principal victims of violence and Palestinians the principal perpetrators and aggressors.

So it would appear that in the mind of this reporter, and many others, the daily killing of Palestinians is not newsworthy because it is routine. Whereas in any period where the killing of Israelis was routine, it was that very fact which made the story newsworthy. It is the claim that the killing of Israelis is routine or threatens to become routine which is used to justify and provide context for all of Israel's actions, from assasinations to the mass demolition of homes in Gaza's Jabaliya and Rafah refugee camps to the construction of the apartheid wall inside the occupied West Bank.

In order to maintain this fiction, other crucial facts must be routinely screened from public view. While the peace process scriptwriters insist that Mahmoud Abbas can bring peace where Arafat failed, the Israelis at least know better.

The day before the election, Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper published a lengthy report by Aluf Benn headlined "Quietly carrying on building," about how Israel's settler colonies are growing apace across the West Bank. Israel is drawing up construction plans in over 120 settlements across the occupied West Bank with the full approval and knowledge of incoming US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Benn says. According to an Israeli government source quoted in the article, "If the U.S. recognizes your claim that the [settlement] blocs will remain yours forever, why should it make a fuss when you build on your own property?" Ha'aretzadded that according to Peace Now, an Israeli group that meticulously documents settlement activity, "the main building effort in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is now focused on the area between the Green Line [1967 border] and the separation fence [apartheid wall], and it is aimed at turning the fence into Israel's permanent border."

So in the long-running Palestine soap opera, Abbas, the understudy who has been hired to replace the deceased lead actor Arafat, is being offered the choice of two roles by the Israeli-American scriptwriters. He can play the obedient native administrator of a defeated people who gets to wear a suit and call himself president of a fictional state, or he can don Arafat's kaffiyeh and assume the role of the Palestinians' unreformed "terrorist" leader. If he chooses the former role, he may get the political equivalent of an Oscar -- the Nobel Peace Prize.

But like in all soap operas, repetiveness and increasingly absurd plot twists eventually wear out even the most faithful audience. And when this episode is over, the Palestinian people will still be there, steadfastly, patiently, determined to regain their usurped rights and see justice done, come what may.

Ali Abunimah is a founder of The Electronic Intifada.


The Electronic Intifada
Slave Sovereignty: Palestinian Presidential Elections Under Occupation
Omar Barghouti

7 January 2005

Many Palestinians are boasting that they will soon enjoy, again, the most free and democratic elections in the entire Arab World. The only problem is that electing a Palestinian president while still under the boot of the occupier is an oxymoron. Sovereignty and occupation are mutually exclusive. The world, including many well-informed readers, seem to think that the Palestinian people is actually practicing the ultimate form of sovereignty by freely choosing its own president. This is easily extrapolated in the heads of many to mean that Palestinians are in a way free. So what's all this talk about occupation? Notice, for example, how little media attention is given now to the almost daily killings of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupation forces. Of course, the only thing that matters is who is running; who is not; what Mahmoud Abbas might have intended to say; or what Marwan Barghouti could have done only if... Bulldozing houses in Rafah, expanding colonies in Hebron and killing innocent children in Beit Lahya is simply a bore, a peripheral story, an ordinary occurrence in the midst of an election extraordinaire. There are several things wrong in this picture.

First, some facts. This Sunday, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be electing the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), not the president of the Palestinian people. The former is an organ created according to the 1993 Oslo agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the government of Israel, according to which the PA will do little more than run the educational, health, municipal and taxation services. In addition, it will do its very best to provide security for Israel, mainly by clamping down on the armed resistance factions.

Israel and the United States helped create the PA specifically to control the occupied territories, -- while maintaining the foundations of occupation, of course -- and eventually to sign some "peace" treaty that would exonerate Israel from its legal and moral obligations to allow the repatriation and compensation of the Palestinian refugees, to comprehensively withdraw its entire colonial apparatus from the West Bank and Gaza -- not just by removing its army but also its Jewish colonies, illegal under international law -- and to end its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens.

Ironically, the PA at best represents a minority of the Palestinian people, those in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. The majority of Palestinians, refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel, are not represented by the PA. Here's where the real paradox lies: how can an entity that represents no more than one third of the people of Palestine be expected to meaningfully and legally sign away the rights of the remaining two thirds? Easy. Redefine the Palestinians to preclude those unwanted two-thirds. Since Oslo, the mainstream media in the west, and puppet Arab media as well, have done just that. They have used the term Palestinian exclusively to mean those resident in the occupied West Bank and Gaza alone. Problem solved!

Well, not quite. Those two-thirds cannot be easily written out of history and out of the identity of Palestine. They are increasingly becoming well-organized, politically active and they have developed their own channels of expression, if not yet their own frames of representation. Plus, many Palestinians in the occupied territories are themselves refugees who yearn to return to Haifa, Jaffa, Lydda, Majdal and Acre, all in what is now Israel. In all semi-accurate public opinion polls, the number one issue of political interest for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has consistently remained the right of return for the refugees. So it seems that the PA project may not after all yield the expected returns on the Israeli-American investment.

Given this picture, shouldn't any form of sovereignty, albeit limited, help Palestinians declare their independence of Israel? But that's precisely the problem. The Palestinians are not free; they should not be giving the world the impression that they are. They are a nation under a very real and brutal occupation that is committing crimes with utter impunity and passe colonial arrogance. They should remind the world in every occasion that the only just and enduring solution to the conflict in the region can be attained by ending Israel's oppression -- in all three forms mentioned above -- not by changing the Palestinians' perception of it. They should struggle to revive the moribund structures of the PLO, the only organization that ever represented all Palestinians. All three components of the Palestinian people urgently need a single, democratically elected body to represent their interests and to shoulder the responsibility for their fate. This task is well beyond the ability, the job description or the best intentions of the PA.

Ten years after Oslo, the PA's political function seems to have become restricted to acting as an accessory to colonial rule, allowing Israel to maintain its oppression, while appearing to the world as engaged in some peace process. Since Oslo, the formerly closed doors have opened to Israel: in Europe, Africa, Asia and even in the middle of the Arab World. The once formidable Arab boycott of Israel has all but collapsed, allowing Israeli businesses to reap massive profits, boosting the Israeli economy to record growth rates, just before the second intifada broke out. In fact, the only peace that this Oslo process has achieved is the deadly silence of the oppressed while the oppressors go on with their regular business.

A presidential election under these circumstances can only help Israel cover up its speeding colonization of what remains of Palestine, while the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are busy celebrating their superior "democracy."

When the slaves are distracted with "free" elections of their deputy jailers, the masters can only rejoice.

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political analyst.


Two types of disasters
Gideon Levy

2 January 2005

What would have happened, heaven forbid, if the tsunami had struck the coast of the Gaza Strip? It's a safe guess that Israel would have gone out of its way to proffer aid. Aid delegations would have left immediately for Gaza via the Erez checkpoint. Physicians, medicines and blankets would have made their way to Jabalya refugee camp and military correspondents would have reported from there with pride about the humanitarian operation mounted by the Israel Defense Forces. Every Palestinian child pulled from the ruins would have received deeply felt coverage in the media, hotels in Tel Aviv would have competed in making offers of shelter to those left homeless by the disaster and Channel 2 would have organized a marathon to raise funds for the new refugees.

Even if people are born equal, they are not equal in their death. It's important where they died and under what circumstances. The world has already pledged billions for the regions in Southeast Asia that were ravaged, conglomerates and individuals in Europe and the United States have mobilized to donate and dozens of countries are sending aid, among them Israel, albeit with its usual grandstanding. When it comes to natural disasters, the world - and Israel, too - shows far greater generosity and alacrity than it does in cases of man-made disasters.

When a tourist region is hit, attention is all the more intense. Anyone watching television in the West might think the tsunami struck Sweden or Switzerland. The majority of the survivors seen on the small screen look like Europeans. Here, we sometimes get the impression that this is an Israeli calamity. "The worst of all" was the banner headline on Friday in the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth, which reported the identification of the bodies of two Israelis.

In the past few years, 3 million people have died in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire), according to the International Rescue Community aid agency, but the world has barely lifted a finger. Few of them died in battles; they were killed by hunger and disease that spread in the wake of a war that began in 1998, as a revolt against President Laurent-Desire Kabila. Hardly anything has been written about the millions who have perished and no protest demonstrations have been held. Israel did not send aid and most countries of the world have averted their eyes from the horror.

Four years earlier, in 1994, about 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda. Not only did the international community do nothing to aid the victims, it got out of the region as fast as it could. The massacre had hardly begun when all the United Nations forces were removed from Rwanda, leaving the civilian population helpless. A few years before that, about 2 million people were killed during the 18-year war in Sudan. A million died in the Biafra conflict of the 1960s. In the past two years, some 50,000 people, by conservative estimate, have been killed in Darfur, in western Sudan, and 2 million have been uprooted from their homes.

All these casualties had the misfortune of being born in Africa and getting caught up in violent conflicts. They were born in the most forgotten place and died in circumstances for which the world least likes to mobilize aid. If they had been born elsewhere, or had found themselves in a natural disaster, their lot would have been slightly better. When the earth shook a year ago in Iran, the enemy of the international community, the international community nevertheless rushed to the country's aid. Some 20,000 people were killed in the Iranian city of Bam and no fewer than 22 countries sent assistance, including the United States, which dispatched rescue teams to its declared enemy. Even Israel offered to help. Two years earlier, the international community sent impressive immediate aid to the victims of an earthquake in the Indian state of Gujarat, where 20,000 people died. Even Pakistan sent tents and blankets. The IDF dubbed its aid operation to India "Hand Outstretched." Less than a year earlier, an international air convoy reached Madagascar, where a cyclone left 1,500 people dead. Last August, the United States pledged to send $210 million to Bangladesh, where 1,350 people were killed in floods, and Britain promised 10 million pounds. In all these natural disasters the world should and could have done far more, but it still did a great deal more than is the case with millions of people who were killed in wars, and as a result of them, in Africa.

Fewer people died in all the earthquakes that struck the world in the 20th century than in one remote war in Biafra, and far fewer than the number in another disregarded war in Congo. Whereas no one could have prevented the tsunami in Asia or the earthquake in Iran, wars can be prevented or stopped. But countries do not like to get involved in other people's wars. It is not just a matter of aid that was not delivered, but of sheer attention. The difference attests to self-righteousness and a double moral standard: The attack on the Twin Towers in Manhattan, in which 2,750 people were killed, shaped history; but few have heard of the war in Congo, where more than 3 million people have died. If it were not for the 10 or so missing Israelis in the tsunami disaster, we would have forgotten about it already. When hundreds are killed in Gaza and tens of thousands of innocent people are left homeless because of what we have done, we turn away. If they had been victims of a natural disaster, we would have already been there to help.

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