Wednesday, May 25

MCC Palestine Update #109

MCC Palestine Update #109

25 May 2005

“Independence” and “Nakba”

How we look at history determines in large part what that history says to us about who we are, where we are, where we came from, and where we are going. What is good news in the grand telling of events for some often has a very different meaning for those viewing history from the underside. For most Israeli Jews, for example, May 15, 1948 means Independence Day and is part of a story of freedom, liberty, and success in overcoming great difficulties. But for Palestinians, the same events are known as the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe.”

For Palestinians, the events between 1947 and 1949 are remembered as a time when Israeli military forces destroyed over five hundred Palestinian villages and expelled between 700,000 to 900,000 Palestinians from their lands (about 85% of the Palestinian population at that time). These refugees have lived exiled from their land since then. Since 1967, the Palestinian experience of dispossession has continued in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as the Israeli authorities have expropriated Palestinian land for the construction of illegal settlements and more recently for the construction of a separation barrier in the Occupied Territories that solidifies Israeli control over all of historic Palestine.

Today it is estimated that over seven million Palestinians—about three-quarters of the total Palestinian population (and about one-third of the global refugee population)—live as refugees and internally displaced persons throughout the Middle East and beyond. Many still hold the land deeds to the properties they were expelled from and the keys to the homes from which they were driven. They wait for their opportunity to exercise their “right of return”—a right articulated in 1948 in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194(III) that called on Israel to allow the return of, to provide for compensation to, those refugees from the 1948 war willing to live at peace with their neighbors. Israel has consistently refused to allow any refugees to return home.

Several of MCC’s partner organizations held different activities this year to mark the occasion including the Badil Resource Center for Residency and Refugee Rights ( One such event was held by the Zochrot Association ( to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the “Nakba.” It was an incredible event. In the heart of Tel Aviv, in Rabin Square, Zochrot set up a huge grid that served as a map of historical Palestine. Throughout the evening participants placed cards with the names of and various information about the over 500 destroyed Palestinian villages on the grid creating a huge “Nakba map” of the landscape pre-1948. A powerful display (

A Wall that Separates and an Israeli Colony in Bethlehem

Recently MCC partner the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center ( held a conference in Jerusalem. In it, Dr. Bernard Sabella, a Palestinian Christian working with the Middle East Council of Churches, spoke about his years of working to facilitate dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians—what some would consider to be an integral component to any reconciliation process. In fact, Dr. Sabella spoke to his oftentimes criticized role in pursuing these kinds of dialogues that became very popular during the Oslo years.

Yet in reflecting on these experiences in the current context of this “Separation Wall” and on his hard work in them, he said to us “The Wall tells me that I have spent years in nonsense trying to dialogue with Israelis…The Wall tells me that Israelis live somewhere else and I live somewhere else…The future is separation.”

On our way into Jerusalem for that Sabeel conference, we noticed that the Israeli military had begun building another portion of the Wall in Bethlehem, right across the street from a hospital. Walking back home from the checkpoint later that night with some friends, we saw that this section of the Wall on this road, facing the hospital was already finished. It is a striking sight.

Just imagine, walking down a street, with a hospital to your left and this giant nine meter or thirty foot high concrete wall to your right. We stopped for a few minutes to talk with a young man that lives in one of the buildings now across the street from the Wall. He mentioned that his family was hoping to add another story to their home (because so much land has been expropriated by Israel often times the only way for Palestinians to expand is by building up). This will be impossible now because adjacent buildings cannot rise higher than the wall, as this is considered a “security threat” to those on the other side of the barrier—which many are saying will actually be Israeli settlers brought in to live in a new settlement right in the middle of Bethlehem. His home may soon be demolished for being too tall as it is now.

Farming in the West Bank

Recently MCC has joined with the MA’AN Development Center ( in a project to support Palestinian farmers who are being impacted by the ongoing construction of the Wall. One farmer we met from the village of Qatanna northwest of Jerusalem took us to his home. He showed us where 12 out of the 17 dunams of land he owns were confiscated by the Israeli military to make way for the Wall, uprooting 100 plus of his olive and fruit trees. With the little that he and his family (all 29 children and grandchildren living in one house) have, this had a devastating effect.

For more information and recent developments on the Wall, please visit MCC partners PENGON ( and ARIJ (

The Complicity of International Corporations in Occupation: Home Demolitions

Home demolitions continue in the occupied territories. On April 13th, two homes were demolished by the Israeli military in the town of Anata, east of Jerusalem. One of the homes belonged to the Yamani family. It was rebuilt three years ago (after being previously demolished) on land owned by the family with the help of MCC and MCC partner the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD It was located in Area C of the West Bank in an area where it is virtually impossible to receive a building permit from the Israeli authorities. This was the reason given for the demolition: that the home was built without a permit.

Once the demolition of the Yamani home was complete, the Caterpillar bulldozers moved on to the Dahalia home half a kilometer away. The house has served as the residence for the 22 members of the Dahalia family, 15 of them children, for the past two decades. After an hour, the home was reduced to a pile of rubble. The reason given for this demolition was the same as the first: it was built without a permit. Both of these actions violate international law. MCC provided relief assistance for the construction of temporary housing for the Dahalia family through ICAHD in partnership with Rabbis for Human Rights ( For more information on these demolitions, please visit

This destruction of Palestinian homes by Caterpillar bulldozers happened only hours before Caterpillar shareholders met in Chicago. Protests calling for a boycott of Caterpillar and other companies contributing to the Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian territories resonate from the cries of those left homeless and forgotten by the rest of the world.

This is just one example as to why many are arguing that alternative pressures (economic, academic, etc.) to ending the occupation need to be pursued. To find out what you can do to force Caterpillar to stop selling home crushing bulldozers to Israel, visit

Palestinian Christian Presence in the Land

Like all Palestinians, Palestinian Christians are suffering under the weight of this occupation. Their homes get demolished, their property gets confiscated, they have no access to work and suffer unemployment. Even churches and church property is affected by this Separation Wall.

Here in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus where half of the population is Christian, all Palestinians are feeling these effects. When it is finished, the Wall will surround Bethlehem to the north, west and south. This coupled with a settler road to the east that Palestinians are not permitted to travel on will effectively turn Bethlehem into an open-air prison with only three points of exit/entry.

Due to these oppressive conditions, many who have the opportunity to leave Palestine have. Some estimates report that up to 40% of Christians in the Bethlehem “triangle” (Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour) have left for America or Europe especially over the past several years. “If this trend continues,” one report speculates, “Bethlehem might very soon be little more than a Christian museum with many ancient shrines but no living, witnessing community.”

This speaks to one of the biggest issues facing Palestinian Christians. One of the most common responses that we hear from Palestinian Christians is that they feel forgotten by the rest of the world. With all the attention and sympathy that Israel receives, especially from Christian communities in the United States, Palestinian Christians feel forsaken by their brothers and sisters in the U.S.

They wonder how Christians in America can provide unquestionable support to a state that is crushing them on a daily basis while these same American Christians do not even acknowledging their existence in the “Holy Land.”

The presence of Christian organizations like MCC in Palestine sends the message that Christians here are not alone.

Unfortunately, this ends up being a pretty weak message compared to all of the support that the state of Israel receives.
To read more about the recent scandal surrounding the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem (and the historically oppressive role that Christianity has sometimes played in this land) and the relationship of Palestinian Christians to the state of Israel, please read “Palestinian Christians and Israel” by Daoud Kuttab at


We appreciate your thoughts, prayers and feedback for us here in Palestine. As always, if there are any comments or questions that you may have about these updates, please feel free to share them with us.

Peace to you all,

Timothy and Christi Seidel
Peace Development Workers
Mennonite Central Committee – Palestine


· Jeff Halper, “Another ‘generous offer’ mythology in the works?” The Electronic Intifada, 12 April 2005
· Gideon Levy, “The dead who walk among us,” Haaretz, 16 May 2005
· Charmaine Seitz, “Sharon's minimum solution,” Palestine Report, 5 May 2005


The Electronic Intifada
Another "generous offer" mythology in the works?

Jeff Halper

12 April 2005

In peace-making, as in law, business, and other areas of life, the devil is in the details. The crux of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is not over a Palestinian state. The "quartet" of the Middle East Road Map — Europe, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States — all agree that a Palestinian state must emerge. Even Ariel Sharon himself, the father of the settlements and a fervent proponent of the Greater Land of Israel ideology, has come to understand the need for a Palestinian state in order to relieve Israel of the 4 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories. No, the problem is not a Palestinian state, but a viable Palestinian state.

Viability, a term found in the Road Map, is not a secondary issue. After almost four decades of deliberate Israeli de-development of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the Palestinians are left today with scorched earth. No functioning economy (the Palestinians, 70 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day, are being kept alive by international relief agencies); no agriculture (since 1967 Israel has uprooted or cut down a million olive and fruit trees); no homes for the young generation (Israel has demolished 12,000 Palestinian homes since the occupation began, and refuses to issue permits to build new ones). Two generations of Palestinians have never known freedom, only military occupation. They have been brutalized, traumatized, undereducated, and left with few skills and little hope of employment. A full 60 percent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18.

Add to this equation the fact that the small, truncated Palestinian state that emerges will be required also to provide an infrastructure, services, employment, and a future to the thousands of refugees that will return — Israel, with American backing, refuses to take in any refugees even though it expelled them in 1948 — and President Bush's recent call in Brussels for a "truly viable" Palestinian state sounds hollow. While he declared emphatically that "a state of scattered territories will not work," his agreement to Israel's annexation of its major settlement blocs leaves one to wonder just where that viable Palestinian state will be.

One gets the impression that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is being set up for yet another "generous offer." At the end of the Oslo process then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was supposed to have offered 95 percent of the occupied territories to the Palestinians. It is not true (the 95 percent figure came from a Clinton proposal that both the Israelis and Palestinians accepted, but which never materialized).

But even if it were, Israel needs only 5 to 15 percent of the occupied territories to retain complete control and confine the Palestinians to a prison-state. Israel could control the borders, Palestinian movement, all the water and most of the agricultural land, the Jerusalem area (which, because of tourism, represents almost half the Palestinian economy), the country's airspace, and even its communications sphere. The Palestinians could get 85 to 95 percent of the actual territory and, like inmates of a prison, still be locked into a series of cells called a "state."

This, it appears, is what awaits Abbas in the next few months. The euphoria generated around the "moderate and pragmatic" Abu Mazen in this "post-Arafat era" is intended to put him in a corner, to place expectations of concessions upon him that he cannot possibly fulfill. Coordinated, as always, with the Americans, Sharon will spring his Generous Offer: Gaza plus 60-75 percent of the West Bank and a symbolic presence in East Jerusalem.

Sounds okay, and fleshed out on a map it will look okay to most people abroad who have no way of evaluating the issue of viability. But it will lock the Palestinians into the cantonized entity toward which Sharon has been tirelessly and openly working this past quarter century. It will be a new apartheid.

If Abbas says "yes," he will be the quisling leader Israel has hoped for. Two things will happen: Abbas will win the Nobel Peace Prize (sharing the stage proudly with Sharon and Bush), and he will be assassinated. Say "no," and Sharon will pounce: "See?!" he will proclaim, "the Palestinians have refused yet another generous offer! They obviously do not want peace!" And Israel, off the hook, will be free to expand its control of the occupied territories for years to come.

The Chinese expression has it: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. The generous offer, though fictitious, worked once. It is the responsibility of everyone seeking a just and endurable peace to ensure that it does not happen again. Viability is the devil in the details.

Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. This article was first published in the The Boston Globe on 11 April 2005, under the title "A Palestinian prison-state?"


The dead who walk among us

Gideon Levy

16 May 2005

The days of commemoration are over. After honoring the memory of our dead who perished in the Holocaust and those killed in Israel's wars, the time has come to think about the next victims. They are walking among us. The fate of the next round's victims is almost sealed. This will be the last summer for the woman with the shopping bags who boards the bus that explodes, for the soldier at the bus stop, for the teenage girl at the mall, for the grandfather traveling to visit his grandchildren and for the foreign worker at the central bus station.

The cause of death: blindness, arrogance and stupidity - despite the fact that the intelligence services, which in recent weeks have repeatedly predicted the return of terror to our streets, see it as an unavoidable natural disaster.

Terrorism has abated for many months. With the exception of the attack at the Stage club in Tel Aviv, the fear of suicide bombers has receded, and our lives have returned to normal. This fundamental change has not occurred out of the blue, and those who think it can be wholly attributed to the actions of the security forces are mistaken. It was a Palestinian decision to stop the hostilities and to give Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) a chance.

The quiet could have been exploited to create a real change in our attitude toward the Palestinians. They are now led by the most moderate leadership they have ever had, creating an opportunity to try to begin a fair dialogue with them.

But Israel chose to refrain from any expression of goodwill, any decent gesture, any serious effort to meet and to work toward rapprochement. As in the past, the quiet was seen as a sign of weakness and surrender, enabling us to continue to go our own way, unhindered. Thus another missed opportunity, which cried out for attention, was recorded in the history of the conflict.

However, the quiet prevailed almost entirely on one side of the Green Line. Even if Israel shows no interest, almost nothing has changed in the territories, except for the removal of some checkpoints. There is still little personal security, children who go out in the street put their lives at risk, the Israel Defense Forces continue to conduct raids, day and night, in cities and villages, searching for wanted men and sometimes even killing them.

Peaceful demonstrations against the separation fence face violent, deadly responses from soldiers, as if there were no cease-fire. Even if the number of Palestinians killed has declined, a sense of danger hovers everywhere. Freedom of movement is still very restricted, and the humiliation involved in moving from one place to another, even for the sick and elderly, is unbearable.

The economic situation has also hardly improved - 34 percent unemployment in the West Bank and 40 percent in the Gaza Strip, while in many villages and towns the unemployment rate has reached 70 percent. The gates to employment in Israel are locked, and no new work places will be created under the current situation. Close to half of all Palestinians - 47 percent - live under the poverty line.

On the other hand, Israel is not fulfilling its basic commitments: The IDF has only left two cities, and more importantly, almost no prisoners have been released. It seems that few people in Israel realize the importance of the prisoner issue. There is no issue that troubles Palestinian society more, and there is no step that could bring about a more rapid change in the atmosphere than an extensive release of prisoners.

This kind of step would also serve to strengthen the current leadership - something that is clearly an Israeli interest. But Israel has discharged its obligations perfunctorily, releasing about 500 low-ranking prisoners who were due to be released soon in any case, and in this way has damaged Abu Mazen's standing in the eyes of his people.

The settlements and separation fence continue to be built at full steam, as if there were no agreement to freeze the settlements. Every day, more and more farmers lose their land. The occupation, therefore, continues unchanged. And in light of what is perceived, justifiably, as the PA's impotence, Hamas is garnering increasing strength.

The government of Israel is Hamas's best ally. The government's actions express an old and bad pattern, based on the haughty attitude that there is just one player on the stage, to whom everything is permitted. Only we are permitted to arm ourselves and prepare for the next round; only we are allowed to defend ourselves, to violate the cease-fire and to use violence. The thought that perhaps the Palestinians also have the right to defend themselves and their honor is incomprehensible.

This same pattern of thought is also behind the hope that disengagement supporters are fostering. Their belief that a dramatic change is underway ignores the fact that the lives of the Palestinians have scarcely changed as a result of the disengagement plan. Residents of Gaza continue to live in poverty in a giant prison, and residents of the West Bank, meanwhile, only see more cranes and bulldozers coming onto their land.

In light of all this, it is clear that the prevailing quiet is an illusion. One can assume that at the end of the summer, when the disengagement is completed and the occupation continues in all its cruelty, our streets will again come under attack. A new generation is growing up in the territories that is more extreme than its predecessor. Unlike their parents, who worked in Israel and got to know all sides of Israeli society, the new generation of Palestinians knows only the armed and violent Israeli.

The writing cries out from every wall, as a warning to all the dead who walk among us. But, amazingly, no one is doing a thing to stop the next cycle of killing.


Palestine Report
Sharon's minimum solution

Charmaine Seitz

5 May 2005

About one year ago, the Israeli settlement industry appeared to gain new life. "Much better than Jerusalem!" proclaims a sign advertising housing in New Adam, which lies just three kilometers from Pisgat Zeev and on Ramallah's eastern shoulder. "Cottages and a garden for the price of an apartment."

Real estate agents for Rimmonim entice wary buyers even deeper into the West Bank with promises of new villas and large gardens. It's hard to believe, looking at these cheerful signs, that Israel's prime minister worries out loud that these communities are ready to wage civil war.

Indeed, if the early years of the Palestinian uprising were lean times for the sellers of occupied land, since 2003, West Bank settlements have begun once again to expand beyond the annual five percent considered natural growth. "When the Intifada broke out, demand for housing in the invasive settlements of the West Bank declined and construction concentrated in areas closer to the Green Line," explains Dror Etkes, coordinator of Peace Now's Settlement Watch. "Now the real estate market has learned how to live with the new situation." On the ground, there are no visible signs that the Israeli government has altered its policy of investing and expanding into the 1967 lands.

How then does one contextualize this right-wing Israeli government's upcoming relocation of 8,650 West Bank and Gaza settlers? Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's close advisor has described the disengagement plan as a means of preempting a political conclusion. "The disengagement is actually formaldehyde," Dov Weisglass told Haaretz's Uri Shavit in August. "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

More specifically, the disengagement plan is intended to forestall international intervention and Israeli public dissension. As incomplete as Palestinians perceive the roadmap plan to be, this broadly accepted document talks about ending the occupation, establishing a viable Palestinian state, and incorporating an international framework outside the sole purview of the United States. "Sharon will fight with a few more settlers, everyone will say that is wonderful, and the roadmap will be discarded," predicts Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. In the meantime, the strategic settlement project will grow.

There is no denying, however, that the removal of even one Israeli settlement will alter the contours of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Perhaps - as the settlers vigorously assert - it will set an influential precedent for Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory. More certainly, Israel will have committed itself to demarcating the contours of the Palestinian ghetto. Already, the first lines have been drawn in the form of the walls, fences, guard towers and gates that make up the barrier Israel is constructing in the West Bank. "The settlers are probably right when they say that everything outside the fence will be slated for dismantlement," says Etkes. "But they still can't prove it." The removal of the Gaza Strip settlements, in other words, will establish that Israel believes it does not belong there.

Because it will in effect set limits for the Israeli settlement enterprise, there are still Israelis (and many Palestinians) who believe the disengagement plan is just a ruse. After the plan was broached in 2004, analyst Yossi Alpher promised to eat his laptop if Ariel Sharon ever oversaw the removal of a single settlement from the West Bank or Gaza. Today he is less doubtful, but Hebrew University Professor Tanya Reinhart remains convinced that there will be no withdrawal. She points out that only weeks before the July disengagement is slated to begin, not a single settler has received compensation, and no temporary housing has been established. Now the Israeli government is discussing postponing the withdrawal for three weeks to dodge Jewish holidays, pushing it back to August. This week, talks to relocate the Gaza settlers near Ashkalon stalled, and an agreement will not be drafted by the May 10 deadline. As if to demonstrate official lack of conviction, the Israeli minister of agriculture proposed recently that the Gush Katif farmers be allowed to stay on past the redeployment to continue working in their valuable greenhouses.

If disengagement was born from a desire to deflect criticism from Israel, new opportunities for pointing the finger have presented themselves. In his last visit to Washington, Sharon reportedly told US President George W. Bush that President Mahmoud Abbas was a "disappointment," returning to the Arafat-era refrain that no Palestinian partner exists.

Complicating matters, the secular nationalist Palestinian leadership is today in the uncomfortable position of preparing for much-needed elections that are certain to establish the rival Islamist faction Hamas as a leading political force in Palestinian civic life. Without those elections, Palestinian institutions will remain strategically paralyzed, and scorned by the public. But the incorporation of Hamas, named a terrorist group by both the United States and Europe, will also provide Israel with added leverage for pressuring the Palestinian leadership. Already Israeli officials are quietly telling diplomats that a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas will be an outlaw government. It remains to be seen whether the international community will allow that to be an excuse for Israel to avoid acting at all.

"I suggest that the progress be slow," Sharon told reporters at a Passover ceremony. "I'm not saying that it should be deliberately halted, but we must insist that commitments are thoroughly met and not waver even the tiniest bit about their need to prevent smuggling, prevent terror, dismantle the terror organizations and stop their military industrial activity. The Americans also don't propose that we yield on these things." But it was Weisglass himself who told Haaretz in November that the torpedoing of the disengagement plan would be cause for "everlasting regret."

Etkes isn't sure what Sharon is up to, but his money is on Sharon doing all he can to stall. "I think Sharon is buying time. He really doesn't know what will be possible, and what will not be possible, and so he is just trying to wait and see."

If the disengagement plan is ultimately completed successfully, analysts say it could be part of a larger plan to cede land and Palestinian population centers, without turning over meaningful control. In fact, says Halper, Sharon could ultimately withdraw from as much as 85 percent of the West Bank without abandoning any major settlement blocs, and without giving Palestinians the resources and access necessary to build a viable state.

"Imagine going to a prison in your country and asking to see a blueprint," says Halper, using his favorite analogy. "It will appear to you at first that the prisoners are in control of 95 percent of the territory. But the truth is, it is possible to maintain control of that prison by controlling only as much as five percent of the property - the bars, the doors, and the barbed wire."

He believes that Sharon might even find it politically useful to make one final offer: "Palestinians will get a state, but a state that has no development potential whatsoever." If they refuse, then the Israeli government will once again declare the Palestinian leadership irrelevant, and continue to impose the borders on Palestinians that it desires.

"The fence is the minimum of what Sharon is willing to get out of this," points out Etkes. Otherwise, the long-term plan is war. Every withdrawal is a withdrawal to the next starting point for negotiations." The disengagement will be the first step in establishing Israel's permanent borders, writes Sharon's security advisor Ephraim Halevy. This change is driven by US interests in the region, he says, and will be completed over the next three years.

At the Qalandiya checkpoint just south of Ramallah, it is obvious that settlers, too, see the advantages of establishing a minimum border. Flying an orange Gush Katif flag, a car speeds its way through the crowded Palestinian intersection next to the eight-meter-high concrete wall that severs the town from its undeveloped hinterlands. Afterwards, the bearded driver shares a conspiratorial laugh with a kippa-wearing passenger in the back seat - no rocks through the windshield; in fact, they barely earned a curious glance.

Israelis once rarely used this intersection - it formerly connected Ramallah to the Palestinian village of al Ram, and to Jericho. It takes two settlers and a flash of clarity, however, to show how the intersection has been transformed. In less than a year, it will be the major thoroughfare connecting settlements to the east of Ramallah with their counterparts to the west, and on to Israel. A few years after that, this dusty passage will likely be lined with Israeli-owned shops emblazoned with Hebrew products and landscaped with irrigated flowering plants. On the other side of the wall, Palestinians will be standing in line, trying to get out.

No comments: