Thursday, September 1

MCC Palestine Update #113

MCC Palestine Update #113

1 September 2005

Welcoming new colleagues

Greetings from Bethlehem! MCC Palestine is excited about the growth of our program, in more ways than one. This month, we are welcoming Andrea and Mark Stoner-Leaman of Pennsylvania who have accepted a teaching position at the Latin Patriarchate school in the northern West Bank village of Zababdeh. MCC has had a long relationship with this school in Zababdeh, both by placing North American volunteers there as well as by offering support through MCC’s Global Family program.

This past month another new MCC worker has been getting used to his new “home.” Darren Birch of Vancouver, British Columbia has been working full-time with one of our Israeli partners, the Zochrot Association in Tel Aviv. This is a very new and different move for this program. MCC Palestine, as its name portrays, has been very intentional about its position of advocacy for Palestinians as an oppressed people, working here since responding to the refugee crisis in 1949. But we are excited about this opportunity and are already seeing how this can contribute to the work of MCC here.

We are looking forward to the growth that MCC Palestine is experiencing. And to our new colleagues, welcome!

Disengagement from Justice

The disengagement process continues as does the ubiquitous media coverage of it. If only the situation here in the West Bank or those not-so-nice parts of Gaza like the shelled-out refugee camps received the same amount of media coverage.

It is difficult to communicate the frustration of seeing all of the coverage of tears shed for the removal of individuals who knowingly decided to oppose the international community and participated in decades of oppression and murder of a whole people (most of whom are refugees). But when four Palestinian day laborers are murdered by a settler in the West Bank or when four Palestinians are murdered on a bus by an Israeli soldier in northern Israel—the victims’ families of whom will not be recognized and therefore will not be compensated as victims of terrorism—very little coverage is given (“Four killed in Shilo terrorist attack, four injured,” 18 Aug. 2005,; “Shfaram victims won't be recognized by terror law,” 30 Aug. 2005, It is nothing but blatant racism, the devaluing of darker skin and anything that sounds Arabic. We should be so ashamed of ourselves.

Unfortunately, though there are definitely some positive elements to this “disengagement” scenario, things do not look different from where we are standing here in Bethlehem. Still the same checkpoints, the same “settler-only” roads, and the same Separation Wall imprisoning this community and closing off Palestinians’ hopes for their children's future.

Whatever optimism that could have been salvaged has been duly shattered by last week’s news of the order handed down by the Israeli courts to expropriate more Palestinian land to make room for the construction of this Wall, expanding to accommodate the expansion of illegal colonies such as Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest in the West Bank. (“Israel to expand Ma’aleh Adumim barrier,” Aug. 25, 2005,; “Israel to seize land for barrier,” Aug. 25, 2005,; “Livni: Israel can expand Ma'ale Adumim,” Aug. 22, 2005,; “Settlers from Gaza going to Ariel in West Bank,” Aug. 23, 2005,

Not to mention recent reports about the potential humanitarian disaster in Gaza. (“Palestinians’ ongoing humanitarian crisis deepening in Gaza,” Aug. 19, 2005;

It unfortunately appears that instead of reviving a peace process, this praise that Israel is receiving for their unilateral action is only emboldening them to continue on the path they choose, intransigent in the face of international law, and irrespective of basic Palestinian rights. (“Olmert to Rice: No peace moves for now,” Aug. 25, 2005;

Moving toward action: New resources for advocacy

Many of you may remember the video project MCC Palestine was working on last year. Well, this new documentary, Children of the Nakba, has been released. In it, a look is taken at the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” that led to the Palestinian refugee crisis in which 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed and between 700,000 and 900,000 Palestinians were expelled from their lands. The ongoing dispossession that defines so much of Palestinian life today is also examined as well as the efforts of those Palestinians and Israelis who believe that a peace in this land built on justice requires an honest grappling with that history. The documentary should soon be available in MCC’s Online Resource Catalog: For more information on these refugee issues, please visit MCC’s partners the Badil Resource Center at and the Zochrot Association at

As we mentioned in our last update, the July-September 2005 edition of the MCC Peace Office Newsletter titled “Christian Zionism and Peace in the Holy Land” is now available online at

And as another reminder, the MCC discussion paper “Peacebuilding in Palestine / Israel: A Discussion Paper” meant to help facilitate a conversation in communities back in North America about stewardship, divestment, and economic justice can be found online at (as well as a paper titled “Frequently Asked Questions: Economic Pressure as a Tool for Establishing a Just Peace in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”).

Always a good source of theological reflection on the situation here is our partner the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center ( The summer edition of their quarterly newsletter Cornerstone is available: “Morally Responsible Investment: You Were Faithful in Little Things...” ( Also, for a perspective on the Gaza pullout from a Palestinian Christian perspective, see their “Reflections on the Gaza Disengagement” at

Attentiveness and Hope…

Something as simple and mundane as home repair can be a risky undertaking in a place like this. For here, even the routine cannot be separated from other realities of daily life. For example, our neighbor is fixing up their home for their son and future daughter-in-law. A few weeks ago, our neighborhood was pretty “active”—the Israeli military came into Bethlehem during the day to detain a local man. There was much shooting and explosions into the night. A friend of ours who is painting for our neighbors (who has not had consistent work over the past year) painted throughout the whole incident. He did not skip a beat and just kept on working—and out on their balcony nonetheless! As I talked with him he laughed and said, “this is not bad; this is normal.”

In the midst of such distress, we continue to struggle to affirm the notion, described by LeRoy Friesen in his Mennonite Witness in the Middle East (MBM, 2000), that “the restorative, salvific activity of God is operative throughout creation,” seeking to discover how to bear witness to “God’s drawing up together in Christ of all parts of creation,” a movement that, as Christians, we “hopefully and joyfully declare to be en route” (105). Maintaining an attentiveness to the “evidences that God always and everywhere is working to make all things new” (111; Revelation 21:5) is our challenge and our hope.

We are looking forward to the coming months and the changing season here when the barren, sandy hills of this desert landscape will miraculously turn green. What a wonderful witness to the beauty and persistence of life—green and verdant—breaking through an oppressive and cruel climate. How apropos for this place.

Peace to you all,

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

Attachments and Links:

· “State: W. Bank settler population grew by 12,800 in past year,” Haaretz, 27 August 2005
· Scott Wilson, “In West Bank, Israel Sees Room to Grow: Government Moves Swiftly to Capitalize On Pullout From Gaza Despite Criticism,” Washington Post, 28 August 2005
· Dr. Azmi Bishara, “Deconstructing disengagement,” Arabic Media Internet Network, 25 August 2005
· Amira Hass, “The remaining 99.5 percent,” Haaretz, 24 August 2005
· Tanya Reinhart, “How We Left Gaza,”, 19 August 2005
· Amira Hass, “Cheap labor, cheap deal,” Haaretz, 17 August 2005
· Paul Beran, “On Divestment, Even Failure Breeds Success,” MIFTAH, 9 August 2005
· Amira Hass, “What business is it of Chirac?” Haaretz, 3 August 2005
· International Crisis Group, “The Jerusalem Powder Keg,” 2 August 2005


State: W. Bank settler population grew by 12,800 in past year
By News Agencies

27 August 2005

The population of West Bank settlements grew by 12,800 people over the past year, a government official said Friday.

Thousands of Israelis have streamed into West Bank settlements from June of 2004 to June of this year, increasing the number of Jews living in the West Bank to 246,000, said Gilad Heiman, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Heiman said that even after factoring in Israel's evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank this week, the overall number now living in the West Bank has grown by about 12,800 Jews.

"When you factor in the removal of settlers and take into account about 10,000 newcomers, mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews, you arrive at a figure of about 246,000 settlers. This is correct as of June 2005," he said.



Washington Post
In West Bank, Israel Sees Room to Grow: Government Moves Swiftly to Capitalize On Pullout From Gaza Despite Criticism
Scott Wilson

28 August 2005

MAALE ADUMIM, West Bank -- In the tan hills a few miles east of Jerusalem, construction cranes dangle over a string of red-roofed neighborhoods that make up the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank. It is here that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reengaging with his electoral base following Israel's efficient but divisive exit from the Gaza Strip.

Enjoying a moment of international sympathy, Sharon's government is moving swiftly to capitalize on its unilateral withdrawal and ongoing demolition of 25 Jewish settlements. The government's efforts are focused largely in the West Bank, land of far more religious and strategic importance to Israel than the remote slice of coastline it has left behind.

A little more than 31,000 Israelis live in Maale Adumim, a suburban settlement built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israeli officials say it will grow to more than 50,000 people and eventually touch the edge of East Jerusalem, even though the U.S. government and Palestinian leaders have said that such growth would severely complicate efforts to establish a viable Palestinian state.

Last week, as the world watched settlers being hauled from their homes in Gaza, government officials ordered the confiscation of 400 acres of West Bank land for a barrier that will separate Maale Adumim from Palestinian-populated territory. Just east of the main settlement, where construction plans had been frozen because of U.S. opposition, Israel will soon break ground on a new police headquarters serving the entire West Bank.



Arabic Media Internet Network
Deconstructing disengagement
Dr. Azmi Bishara

25 August 2005

Sharon's disengagement plan opens as follows: "The State of Israel is committed to the peace process and aspires to reach an agreed resolution of the conflict based upon the vision of US President George Bush. The State of Israel believes that it must act to improve the current situation. The State of Israel has come to the conclusion that there is currently no reliable Palestinian partner with which it can make progress in a two-sided peace process.

Accordingly, it has developed a plan of revised disengagement, based on the following considerations: "One: The stalemate dictated by the current situation is harmful. In order to break out of this stalemate, the State of Israel is required to initiate moves not dependent on Palestinian cooperation.

"Two: The purpose of the plan is to lead to a better security, political, economic and demographic situation.

"Three: In any future permanent settlement, there will be no Israeli towns and villages in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, it is clear that in the West Bank, there are areas which will be part of the State of Israel, including major Israeli population centers, cities, towns and villages, security areas and other places of special interest to Israel." (Disengagement Plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- revised, 28 May 2004).

I cite the foregoing passage because with all the fanfare surrounding the withdrawal people may have forgotten what it is really about. Let me clarify.

Sharon's disengagement plan is a bid to sideline the roadmap. It is an attempt to pre-empt anyone else from taking the initiative to break the "stalemate" -- a product of Israeli intransigence or, otherwise put, of the non-existence of a Palestinian partner prepared to accept Israeli dictates for a permanent settlement -- and compel the US, if only to improve its PR in the region following the occupation of Iraq, to pursue the roadmap as it was originally devised.



The remaining 99.5 percent
Amira Hass

24 August 2005

What talent it takes to live for 35 years in a flourishing park and splendid villas just 20 meters from overcrowded, suffocated refugee camps. What talent it takes to turn on the sprinklers on the lawns, while just across the way, 20,000 other people are dependent on the distribution of drinking water in tankers; to know that you deserve it, that your government will pave magnificent roads for you and neglect (prior to Oslo, before 1994) to the point of destruction the Palestinian infrastructure. What skill it takes to step out of your well-cared-for greenhouse and walk unmoved past 60-year-old fruit-bearing date trees that are uprooted for you, roads that are blocked for you, homes that are demolished for you, the children who are shelled from helicopters and tanks and buried alongside you, for the sake of the safety of your children and the preservation of your super-rights.

For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed - worthy of wonderment indeed. And also amazing is how most of the other Israelis, who did not go themselves to settle the homeland, suffered this reality and did not demand that their government put an end to it - before the Qassams.

A big, well-fed goat was removed from the Gaza Strip this week. And therefore, the sense of relief felt by many of the 99.5 percent is understandable - although it is a far cry from the reality emerging from the so-superficial media reports that are focusing on the celebrations of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In the words last week in the Khan Yunis refugee camp of a former worker at one of the settlements: "The settlements divided the Strip into three or four prisons. Now, we will live in one big prison - a more comfortable one, but a prison nevertheless."


How We Left Gaza
Tanya Reinhart

19 August 2005

We will never know with certainty what took place in the mind of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in February 2004, when he first declared, without consulting anyone, that he is ready to evacuate the Jewish settlements in Gaza. But if we try to put together the pieces of the disengagement puzzle, the scenario that makes the most sense is that Sharon believed that this time, as before, he would find a way of evading the plan. This would explain, for example, why the Gaza settlers have not yet received compensation money and why, as the Saturday Supplement of Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot revealed on August 5, almost no steps have been taken to prepare for their absorption into Israel. (1)

Sharon had good reason to believe that he would succeed in his avoidance tactics. In the previous round, when confronted with the Bush administration’s “Road Map”, he committed himself to a cease-fire, during which Israel was to revert to the status quo of pre-September 2000, freeze settlement construction and remove outposts. None of this was carried out. Sharon and the army claimed that Mahmud Abbas (in the previous round) was not trustworthy and had failed to rein in Hamas. The army continued its assassination policy and succeeded in bringing the Occupied Territories to an unprecedented boiling point, followed by the inevitable Palestinian terror attacks that shattered the cease-fire. During the entire time, the first-term Bush administration stood by Sharon’s side and dutifully echoed all his complaints against Abbas.



Cheap labor, cheap deal
Amira Hass

17 August 2005

Omar had a reason to laugh: Good people from Tel Aviv are agitated that the Evacuation Compensation Law passed by the Knesset discriminates against Palestinian and foreign workers, on the one hand, compared to Israeli workers. The good people are the Kav La'Oved organization and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which gave up on the idea of petitioning the High Court of Justice because it expected the court would not get involved in this piece of legislation.

Omar is a 28-year-old resident of Khan Yunis who has worked for an Israeli employer in the hothouses in Gush Katif since 1996. ACRI and Kav La'Oved are troubled by the fact that he, as a Palestinian, won't receive the "acclimation payment" the law assures to workers who lose the source of their livelihood as a result of the evacuation. But Omar is laughing because he never even received his basic rights: His last salary was NIS 50 for a full workday - slightly more than a third of minimum wage, which is NIS 145 a day. And he didn't get vacation or sick leave. According to Omar, the most workers could earn in Gush Katif was NIS 60 for a full workday. But even if it is NIS 80, as Israeli inspectors in Gush Katif reported, it is still a lot less than minimum wage.

The Evacuation Compensation Law, without shame, explicitly states that only Israeli workers have the right to the acclimation payments, up to six months worth, based on the average monthly salary for every year worked. Neither the Palestinians nor foreign workers (Thais, Chinese, Nepalese) have the right to acclimation payments. The same law also gives Israeli workers the right to quit and be considered laid off for the purposes of severance pay. Omar, on the other hand, is going home, after nine years of labor, without any severance pay.



On Divestment, Even Failure Breeds Success
Paul Beran

9 August 2005

In the last six months, civic groups and churches in the United States have independently launched campaigns to divest financially from companies profiting from the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. These groups have targeted town governments, university boards and religious bodies in an effort to publicly spotlight the low standards that human rights have been accorded in the U.S.-dominated "peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians. The American Presbyterian Church, a body of some 2.5 million followers, last summer decided to selectively divest its pension funds from companies profiting from the Israeli military occupation. The church has paid a price for daring to criticize Israel's human rights record. In November, church leaders were threatened with violence, called anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli for their stance. One hate message the church received said: "I promise violence against Presbyterian churches, they will go up in flames - that's a terrorist threat." Beside these words was a hand-drawn swastika. In addition to these attacks, the church has been publicly rebuked by such ardent pro-Israel supporters as high-profile law professor Alan Dershowitz.

In addition to the Presbyterian churches' activities, the first municipality in the U.S. to publicly be asked to divest its funds from Israel was Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston. In November, a local group,
with over 1,000 citizen signatures in hand, asked the town council to divest their pension funds from companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation. Passage of the resolution, which is non-binding, should have been easy: Somerville has a tradition of using its pension funds to uphold human rights, for example when it banned investment in Burma due to its human rights abuses.



What business is it of Chirac?
Amira Hass

3 August 2005

Why should Chirac and the other European leaders take an interest in the millions of trifles of the calculated dispossession, which dictate the lives of the Palestinian people? Trifles that add up to a clear picture: Sharon is determinedly striving to realize the master plan - integrating most of the West Bank into the sovereign State of Israel.

The Jordan Valley, the settlement blocs that continue to merge into each other, the monumental Jews-only roads, the demilitarized zone long since annexed to Israel, the area annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, the de facto annexations of the fence - these already cover most of the West Bank. They will call the densely populated Palestinian pockets that will remain a state, and the world will applaud.

Reasons abound for not taking an interest in the trifles of this dispossession: a mere three and a half million people are at stake, with no oil and no support from any international power; their brethren in the Diaspora and in Israel do not constitute a lobby. There are places in the world where tens of millions are being wronged far more cruelly, and nobody makes a peep. And, after all, Israeli colonialism doesn't even come close to the murderousness of the European variety.

But Europe does take an interest. The billions of dollars it's pouring in here prove that it knows that this "little" usurpation is being perpetrated at a highly sensitive juncture. Perhaps European leaders are hoping that the money being showered on the Palestinian Authority - and effectively on Israel, which thus escapes its responsibility as the occupying power - will compensate for their impotence. It was they, after all, who failed to implement international decisions regarding the illegality of the settlements.



International Crisis Group
The Jerusalem Powder Keg

2 August 2005


While the world focuses on Gaza, the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations in fact may be playing itself out away from the spotlight, in Jerusalem. With recent steps, Israel is attempting to solidify its hold over a wide area in and around the city, creating a far broader Jerusalem. If the international community and specifically the U.S. are serious about preserving and promoting a viable two-state solution, they need to speak far more clearly and insistently to halt actions that directly and immediately jeopardise that goal. And if that solution is ever to be reached, they will need to be clear that changes that have occurred since Israelis and Palestinians last sat down to negotiate in 2000-2001 will have to be reversed.

Since the onset of the Arab-Israeli conflict, control over Jerusalem has fluctuated, as have the city's contours. Speaking of the city today, one refers to substantial areas, some Jewish, others Arab, that were part of the West Bank and that no one would have recognised as Jerusalem prior to 1967. Stretching municipal boundaries, annexing Palestinian land and building new Jewish neighbourhoods/settlements, Israel gradually created a municipal area several times its earlier size. It also established new urban settlements outside the municipal boundary to surround the city, break contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and strengthen links between these settlements, West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.

Settlement expansion has been pursued by Labour and Likud governments alike and has always been highly problematic and deemed unlawful by the international community. But Prime Minister Sharon appears to be implementing a more focused and systematic plan that, if carried out, risks choking off Arab East Jerusalem by further fragmenting it and surrounding it with Jewish neighbourhoods/settlements:


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