Tuesday, May 22

MCC Palestine Update #137

MCC Palestine Update #137

22 May 2007

Who are we forgetting?

Recently, MCC helped the al-Mujaydal Heritage Committee in their efforts to construct a wall that surrounds an Orthodox Church in what was the village of al-Mujaydal. Al-Mujaydal was one of the over 500 Palestinian villages destroyed between 1947 and 1949, and its residents among the 750,000 to 900,000 refugees expelled from their homes in what Palestinians remember as the Nakba or “Catastrophe.” Today the refugees from al-Mujaydal live abroad in places like Syria, still unable to return to their lands. But there are also refugees from al-Mujaydal that live in the neighboring city of Nazareth in the Galilee in northern Israel. The reason why this protective wall was built was because of ongoing vandalism against the church from the surrounding Jewish settlement.

Many people may know about the plight of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories—those territories Israel has militarily occupied since 1967. Some four million Palestinians live in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. But what many people do not know as much about are the plight of those Palestinians living inside the state of Israel. Roughly 1.4 million Palestinians are citizens of the state of Israel, about twenty percent of the population of the “Jewish State.” (For more on this, visit http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/258.shtml.)

By definition, this is discriminatory. Though Israel, supported by the United States, proclaims itself an island of “democracy” in the region, one Israeli Jewish scholar Oren Yiftachel disputes these claims instead calling Israel’s Jewish-based system of discrimination not a democracy but an “ethnocracy” (see “Democracy or Ethnocracy: Territory and Settler Politics in Israel/Palestine,” Middle East Report, No. 207 (Summer 1998); available at http://www.merip.org/mer/mer207/yift.htm).

Palestinians in Israel are not equal under the law and experience hardships that increasingly isolate them in poor, densely populated communities, especially in the Galilee and in the south in the Negev. Palestinians experience higher poverty rates, have limited access to government services, and have to deal with the overt racism displayed by some Israeli Jewish leaders, such as the current deputy Prime Minster Avigdor Lieberman, who has openly called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the land of Israel.

Probably the most forgotten of these forgotten Palestinians are the refugees within their midst. Technically called Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) because they never crossed an international border, some 350,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel, refugees from 1948, have been denied their right to return to their homes and lands.

And this is where the al-Mujaydal Heritage Committee comes in. Though these Palestinians are able to visit what is left of their village, namely two churches—that are highly valued by both the Christian and Muslim refugees from al-Mujaydal—they are not able to live on their village lands. MCC’s support of this community and the maintenance of this church facility are tangible ways of remembering a twice-forgotten people.

Remembering those who are too often forgotten…

As MCC partners such as the Badil Resource Center (http://www.badil.org/) and the Zochrot Association (http://www.nakbainhebrew.org/) continue to teach us, it is in places such as this that the act of remembering becomes more than just an educational exercise. It becomes a political act. We can see it when Badil publishes a book about the Palestinians village of Bir’im, whose residents, like the well-known Greek Catholic priest Elias Chacour, were expelled in 1948 and are now IDP’s living in neighboring villages in northern Israel (for more information on this book, visit http://www.badil.org/Publications/Press/2007/press439-07.htm). Or when Zochrot makes a trip to the destroyed Palestinian village of Deir Yassin where they post signs by the remains of the village and hear testimonies from its refugees about life in Deir Yassin, about the Nakba, and about the massacre of over one hundred Palestinians by Zionist forces in 1948 (to learn more about this event, visit http://www.zochrot.org/index.php?id=557).

The denial of equality and equal opportunity is experienced by all Palestinians in this land, whether by those walled off into reservations in the Occupied Territories or those Palestinians treated as second-class citizens in Israel. The work of MCC here highlights that building any sustainable or durable peace in situations of protracted conflict and injustice depends on right relationships—and understanding the important role of memory in pursuing right relationships—and the elimination of all forms of discrimination.

Peace to you all,

Timothy Seidel

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

Attachments and Links:

· Philip Rizk, “Sderot created the Gaza Strip,” The Electronic Intifada, 22 May 2007
· “Statement on the Nakba and Right of Return,” Zochrot Association, 15 May 2007
· Yoav Stern, “Israeli Arabs / 'Haifa Declaration' urges Israel to own up to Nakba responsibility,” Haaretz, 15 May 2007
· Steven Erlanger, “Red Cross Report Says Israel Disregards Humanitarian Law,” New York Times, 15 May 2007
· “West Bank split into isolated enclaves – World Bank,” Reuters, 9 May 2007
· Jeff Halper, “The Livni-Rice Plan: Towards a Just Peace or Apartheid?,” Israeli Committee Against House Demoilitions, 2 May 2007
· Ali Abunimah, “A political marriage of necessity: A single state of Palestine-Israel,” The Christian Science Monitor, 14 May 2007
· Ali Abunimah, “What the persecution of Azmi Bishara means for Palestine,” The Electronic Intifada, 16 April 2007
· Sara Roy, “A Jewish Plea,” Palestine Chronicle, 11 April 2007


The Electronic Intifada
Sderot created the Gaza Strip
Philip Rizk
22 May 2007

Israeli historian Benny Morris writes this: "the Jewish state would not have come into existence without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them ... There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing." Today Gaza is reaping the consequences of this "necessary" ethnic cleansing. Refugees arriving in Gaza in 1948 must have asked themselves, "Where will I go? This is my country, that was my home, there is no other place." The home they were referring to lay in the uprooted villages most of which were destroyed shortly after their Palestinian inhabitants were driven from them. No insurance agents came to assess the damages in Palestinian homes that day. No journalists came to write reports. They must have been haunted by that same question, "what barbarian would do this to me?"

The difference between these two cases of questioning is the fact that the coming into existence of Sderot created the hell that the Gaza Strip is today. A little town by the name of Sderot become home to poor immigrants in the early '50s, only years after it had been cleared of Palestinians living in what was the village of Najd. Another resident of Sderot told me that when he got there in 1989 he thought he was in "the safest place in the world, in the middle of nowhere." And yet, it was not the middle of nowhere, he had moved onto what was once someone else's land and adjacent to where that displaced person and their displaced descendents were held imprisoned. There, his displaced neighbors daily faces the consequences of the past…

Today fear fills the hearts of Gaza's people. A fear that they may one day return from their perpetual search for charity and donation empty handed (80 percent of Gazans are receiving international food aid); a fear of waking to another day of hopelessness (70 percent of Gazans are either unemployed or largely unpaid government employees); a fear that the economic disaster they are experiencing today may overcome their lives (60 percent of the population live under the poverty level of $2 per day); a fear is that this economic crisis will divide the entire population in inter-factional feuding and result in a lawless chaos as factions and political parties vie for the little power that does exist in Gaza.

Please read more at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6934.shtml


Zochrot Association
Statement on the Nakba and the Right of Return
15 May 2007 – International Nakba Day

The Nakba is the story of the Palestinian tragedy: the destruction of communities, civilization, culture and identity, the expulsion and the killing that took place in 1948. It is a story that constitutes the past and present of the Palestinian people and shapes a large part of Palestinian identity. Yet in many respects the Nakba is also the story of Jews who live in Israel. A story that is not easy to cope with, a story that raises difficult questions about the possibilities of life together in the space that is today the state of Israel.

It is almost impossible to speak about the Nakba without speaking about taking responsibility and repairing the historical injustice that was committed against the Palestinian people. Such repair must begin first and foremost with the recognition of the right of Palestinians to return.

What is the right of return? The right of return is the personal right of every refugee who was expelled from the country, and their descendants, to return to their place of origin, based on international law and UN Resolution 194 passed on December 11, 1948. It is also the collective right of whole communities to return and live as a community, as a group, to carry out a social framework in shared spaces such as cultural centers, religious places, schools, recreational areas. The right of return is an individual and collective right.

Who is considered a refugee? A question that frequently arises is: how many generations of descendants will be considered candidates for return? The most moral and logical answer is that the refugees will cease to be refugees when they are given the opportunity to choose whether or not to return. The right of return does not mean only physical return, but the option to make an unhindered choice — the ability to choose that makes a person free.

What about Jews in Israel? Acknowledgment and implementation of the right of return will not only begin the task of correcting the historical injustice committed against the Palestinian people, but may also usher in a new beginning for Jews in the country. The right of return can open up an opportunity for Jews to encounter the country in a new way, no longer as occupiers, but as equals. An injustice cannot be corrected by another injustice, and the right of return, like any other right, must be implemented with care to ensure that other rights are protected.

Please read more at http://www.zochrot.org/index.php?id=582


Israeli Arabs / 'Haifa Declaration' urges Israel to own up to Nakba responsibility
Yoav Stern
15 May 2007

A group of Israeli Arab intellectuals are calling on Israel to recognize its responsibility for the Nakba ("The Catastrophe," the Palestinians' term for what happened to them after 1948) and to act to implement the Palestinian refugees' right of return and establishment of a Palestinian state.

These moves will pave the way to a historic reconciliation between the Jewish nation in Israel and the Palestinian people, says a position paper entitled "The Haifa Declaration" published in Haaretz for the first time today.

The composers urge Israel to become a democratic state that upholds "national equality" between Jews and Arabs.

The demands in the Haifa Declaration are similar to those made in previous position papers and consist first and foremost of abolishing the Jewish state.

"A democratic state based on equality between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs in Israel will ensure both groups' rights in a just and egalitarian way," it posits.

This is the fourth position paper released by leading organizations of the Arab community in Israel in recent months. It follows the Ten Points of the Mossawa Center, The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Democratic Constitution of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Please read more at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/859557.html


New York Times
Red Cross Report Says Israel Disregards Humanitarian Law
Steven Erlanger
15 May 2007

The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a confidential report about East Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, accuses Israel of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law — and the law of occupation in particular.”

The committee, which does not accept Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, says Israel is using its rights as an occupying power under international law “in order to further its own interests or those of its own population to the detriment of the population of the occupied territory.”

With the construction of the separation barrier, the establishment of an outer ring of Jewish settlements beyond the expanded municipal boundaries and the creation of a dense road network linking the different Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in and outside Jerusalem, the report says, Israel is “reshaping the development of the Jerusalem metropolitan area” with “far-reaching humanitarian consequences.” Those include the increasing isolation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the increasing difficulty for some Palestinians to easily reach Jerusalem’s schools and hospitals…

The report considers all land that Israel conquered in the 1967 war to be occupied territory.

Please


West Bank split into isolated enclaves - World Bank
9 May 2007

Israeli restrictions have divided the occupied West Bank into 10 economically isolated enclaves, severing financial links and denying Palestinians access to some 50 percent of the land, the World Bank said.

The Washington-based international lending agency, in a report released on Wednesday in Jerusalem, said Israeli security concerns were "undeniable and must be addressed".

But the World Bank said Israel's West Bank barrier and system of road and zoning restrictions were aimed at "protecting and enhancing the free movement of settlers and the physical and economic expansion of the settlements at the expense of the Palestinian population".

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been hard hit economically by a year-old Western embargo of the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

A freeze on direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority has prevented it from paying full wages to its work force since Hamas Islamists came to power in March 2006.

The World Bank report said the damage was compounded by Israeli restrictions that prevent Palestinian businesses from functioning and stymie investment.

"Palestinian economic revival is predicated on an integrated economic entity with freedom of movement between the West Bank and Gaza and within the West Bank," said David Craig, the World Bank's country director for the West Bank and Gaza.

Please read more at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L08675346.htm, and also read more at “World Bank exposes the blatantly obvious,” The Electronic Intifada, 14 May 2007, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6889.shtml, and Amira Hass’ “Words instead of actions,” Haaretz, 18 May 2007 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/861119.html


Israeli Committee Against House Demoilitions
The Livni-Rice Plan: Towards a Just Peace or Apartheid?
Jeff Halper
2 May 2007

For years I have been one of the doomsayers, arguing that the two-state solution is dead and that apartheid has become the only realistic political outcome of the Israel-Palestine conflict– at least until a full-blown anti-apartheid struggle arises that fundamentally changes the equation. I based my assessment on several seemingly incontrovertible realities. Over the past 40 years, Israel has laid a thick and irreversible Matrix of Control over the Occupied Territories, including some 300 settlements, which effectively eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. No Israeli politician could conceivably be elected on the basis of withdrawing from the Occupied Territories to a point where a real Palestinian state could actually emerge, and even if s/he was, the prospect of cobbling together a coalition government with the requisite will and clout to carry out such a plan is highly unlikely, if at all possible. And given the unconditional bi-partisan support Israel enjoys in both houses of Congress and successive Adminstrations, reinforced by the Christian Right, the influential Jewish community and military lobbyists and a lack of will on the part of the international community to pressure Israel into making meaningful concessions, a genuine two-state solution seems virtually out of the question – even though it is the preferred option espoused by the international community in the moribund “Road Map” initiative.

Now if it is true that the two-state solution is gone, the next logical alternative would be the one-state solution, particularly since Israel conceives of the entire country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River as one country – the Land of Israel – and has de facto made it one country through its settlements and highways. Seeing that Israel has been the only effective government throughout the land these past 40 years, why not go all the way and declare it a democratic state of all its inhabitants? (After all, Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East.) The answer is clear: a democratic state in the Land of Israel is unacceptable (to Israel) because such a state, with a Palestinian majority, could not be “Jewish.”

Which leads us back, then, to apartheid, a system in which one population separates itself from another and then proceeds to dominate it permanently and structurally. Since the dominant group seeks control of the entire country but wants to get the unwanted population off its hands, it rules them indirectly, by means of a bantustan, a kind of prison-state. This is precisely what Olmert laid out to a joint session of Congress last May when he presented his “convergence plan” (to 18 standing ovations). And this is precisely what Condoleezza Rice, together with Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have been working on during Rice’s monthly visits to the region.

Please read more at http://www.icahd.org/eng/news.asp?menu=5&submenu=1&item=433


The Christian Science Monitor
A political marriage of necessity: A single state of Palestine-Israel
Ali Abunimah
14 May 2007

As Israel celebrates 59 years of independence, Palestinians on May 14 commemorate the Nakba, the catastrophe of expulsion and decades of exile that continue to this day…

But while some see Israel as a miracle, many Israelis themselves recognize that the Zionist project has been far from a success: Today the number of Israeli Jews and Palestinians inhabiting the country is roughly equal at about 5 million each. Just more than 1 million Palestinians live as citizens of Israel, albeit with inferior rights, while almost 4 million live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Their high birthrate means that in a few years, Palestinians will once again become the majority as they were prior to 1948.

To assert, as Israel does, that it has a right to be a "Jewish state" means to recognize that it has a right to manipulate demographics for the purpose of ethnic domination. This outlook violates fundamental human rights.

Palestinians, many of whom are already being forcibly displaced by the cruel wall that snakes through the West Bank, fear another 1948-like expulsion. At the last Israeli election, parties that explicitly endorse ethnic cleansing of Palestinians made major gains, including the one led by Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Palestine/Israel is as unpartitionable as was South Africa and Northern Ireland, where similar ethnic conflicts had also defied resolution for generations. In both places, it was only when the dominant group dropped its insistence on supremacy that a political settlement could be reached. What was once unimaginable happened: Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and F.W. de Klerk's National Party joined hands in a national unity government in 1994. Leaders in Northern Ireland made similar progress this year.

Neither political marriage came about through love, but through necessity and with outside pressure. In time, social reconciliation may come, but it has not been the prerequisite for political progress in South Africa or Northern Ireland. Such pressure on Israel as the strongest party is necessary, which is why I support the growing movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions modeled on the antiapartheid campaign. At the same time, we must begin to construct a vision of a nonracial, nonsectarian Palestine-Israel, which belongs to all the people who live in it, Israeli Jews, Palestinians, and all exiles who want to return and live in peace with their neighbors.

Please read more at http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0514/p09s01-coop.html or http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6896.shtml


The Electronic Intifada
What the persecution of Azmi Bishara means for Palestine
Ali Abunimah
16 April 2007

The Israeli state and the Zionist movement have begun their latest assault in their century-long struggle to rid Palestine of its indigenous people and transform their country into a Jewish supremacist enclave: the persecution of Azmi Bishara, one of the most important Palestinian national leaders and thinkers working today. This case has enormous significance for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Bishara is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, one of more than one million who live inside the Jewish state, who are survivors or their descendants of the Zionist ethnic cleansing that forced most Palestinians to leave in 1947-48. Elected to the Knesset in 1996, Bishara is a founder of the National Democratic Assembly, a party which calls for Israel to be transformed from a sectarian ethnocracy into a democratic state of all its citizens.

On Sunday, Bishara appeared on Al-Jazeera, after weeks of press speculation that he had gone into exile and would resign from the Knesset. He revealed that in fact he is the target of a very high level probe by Israeli state security services who apparently plan to bring serious "security" related charges against him. Censorship on this matter is so tight in "democratic" Israel that until a few days ago Israeli newspapers were prohibited from even mentioning the existence of the probe. They are still forbidden from reporting anything about the substance of the investigation, and Ha'aretz admitted that due to official censorship it could not even reprint much of what Bishara said to millions of viewers on television…

In practice this means that the Palestinian solidarity movement needs to fashion a new message that breaks with the failed fantasy of hermetic separation in nationalist states. It means we have to focus on fighting Israeli racism and colonialism in all its forms against those under occupation, against those inside, and against those in exile. We need to educate ourselves about what is happening all over Palestine, not just in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We need to stand and act in solidarity with Azmi Bishara and all Palestinians inside the 1948 lines who have for too long been marginalized and abandoned by mainstream Palestinian politics. Support for the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is particularly urgent (see http://www.pacbi.org/). In practice we need to start building a vision of life after Israeli apartheid, an inclusive life in which Israelis and Palestinians can live in equality sharing the whole country. If Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and hardline Northern Ireland Unionist leader Ian Paisley can sit down to form a government together, as they are, and if Nelson Mandela and apartheid's National Party could do the same, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility in Palestine if we imagine it and work for it.

Please read more at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6798.shtml


Palestine Chronicle
A Jewish Plea
Sara Roy
11 April 2007

I grew up in a home where Judaism was defined and practiced not so much as a religion but as a system of ethics and culture. God was present but not central. Israel and the notion of a Jewish homeland were very important to my parents, who survived Auschwitz, Chelmno and Buchenwald. But unlike many of their friends, my parents were not uncritical of Israel. Obedience to a state was not a primary Jewish value, especially after the Holocaust. Judaism provided the context for Jewish life, for values and beliefs that were not dependent upon national or territorial boundaries, but transcended them to include the other, always the other. For my mother and father Judaism meant bearing witness, raging against injustice and refusing silence. It meant compassion, tolerance, and rescue. In the absence of these imperatives, they taught me, we cease to be Jews.

Many of the people, both Jewish and others, who write about Palestinians and Arabs fail to accept the fundamental humanity of the people they are writing about, a failing born of ignorance, fear and racism. Within the organized Jewish community especially, it has always been unacceptable to claim that Arabs, Palestinians especially, are like us, that they, too, possess an essential humanity and must be included within our moral boundaries, ceasing to be "a kind of solution," a useful, hostile "other" to borrow from Edward Said. That any attempt at separation is artificial, an abstraction.

By refusing to seek proximity over distance, we calmly, even gratefully refuse to see what is right before our eyes. We are no longer compelled, if we ever were, to understand our behavior from positions outside our own, to enter, as Jacqueline Rose has written, into each other's predicaments and make what is one of the hardest journeys of the mind. Hence, there is no need to maintain a living connection with the people we are oppressing, to humanize them, taking into account the experience of subordination itself, as Said would say. We are not preoccupied by our cruelty nor are we haunted by it. The task, ultimately, is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone. Such willful blindness leads to the destruction of principle and the destruction of people, eliminating all possibility of embrace, but it gives us solace.

Why is it so difficult, even impossible to incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history? Why is there so little perceived need to question our own narrative (for want of a better word) and the one we have given others, preferring instead to cherish beliefs and sentiments that remain impenetrable? Why is it virtually mandatory among Jewish intellectuals to oppose racism, repression and injustice almost anywhere in the world and unacceptable -- indeed, for some, an act of heresy -- to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor, choosing concealment over exposure? For many among us history and memory adhere to preclude reflection and tolerance, where, in the words of Northrop Frye, "the enemy become, not people to be defeated, but embodiments of an idea to be exterminated"…

What then is the source of our redemption, our salvation? It lies ultimately in our willingness to acknowledge the other-the victims we have created-Palestinian, Lebanese and also Jewish-and the injustice we have perpetrated as a grieving people. Perhaps then we can pursue a more just solution in which we seek to be ordinary rather then absolute, where we finally come to understand that our only hope is not to die peacefully in our homes as one Zionist official put it long ago but to live peacefully in those homes.

Please read more at http://www.palestinechronicle.com/story-04110750600.htm


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