by Athena Moss
“The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”
Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alom, Israeli Army
It is only when a Palestinian suicide bomber strews death in Israel or the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or, more correctly, Occupation Forces (IOF) engage in some particularly horrific act such as the brutal murder of peace activist Rachel Corrie (an American) that the dire situation in Palestine enters the western consciousness and when it does the death of a Palestinian civilian, or even a peace activist, by IOF violence weighs differently to the death of an Israeli citizen. Terrorists killing innocent civilians must be unequivocally condemned but they cannot be compared to the brutal state terrorism carried out by the Israeli government against the Palestinians.
However Israel can probably continue to rely on the existing double standard in American and western media whereby Palestinian civilians slaughtered in packed urban neighbourhoods by battlefield weapons, such as heavy machine guns, helicopter gunship missiles and tank cannons, are only “collateral damage” in the search to assassinate militants and do not count as much as Israeli civilians slaughtered in Israeli cities by Palestinian militants. Israelis are victims. All Palestinians are terrorists.
To be able to wake up a sleeping world and shake them out of their comfort and apathy and make them care we have to make them understand the appalling crimes that are being committed daily in Palestine and why the young people who blow themselves up in desperate acts are also victims. To do this we ourselves have to truly understand what it is like to be a Palestinian; what it means to have endured decades long occupation, everyday violence, death, destruction and theft of their lands and what the future holds – with or without the Road Map peace process agreed on at the summit held in Aqaba, Jordan in June 2003.
Even those of us who are deeply concerned with the desperate situation in Palestine and the Middle East, whose opinions have not been shaped by the few horrific images or articles trickling through the western media and who are aware of the systematic invasion/occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the cover-ups of such atrocities as in Jenin, are on the whole unaware of the magnitude of the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
3,000,000 Palestinians have lived for the most part of the last 3 years, since the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, under siege, curfew and the constant threat of attack Traveling through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip everyone has a story of humiliation, loss and suffering to tell you. The Palestinians are a people full of dignity and pride, hospitality and friendship. They laugh and they cry…and they feel vastly ignored and abandoned by most of the rest of the world.
Violence is ubiquitous throughout the cultural, social and political context of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. Violence not only “legitimately” exercised through guns and tanks but through the daily violation of fundamental Palestinian rights by the individual soldier at the checkpoint and the individual Israeli civilian /settler attacking and destroying Palestinian villages and lands. Killings are routine and go unnoticed in the western media as if the death toll is not deemed important enough to bother with.
Destruction, demolition and the confiscation of land – for the benefit of illegal settlers- occur daily and more than 500 bulldozers are now working night and day to complete the construction of the first phase of a “security fence” which will eventually completely surround the West Bank making it the largest prison in the world! June 5th 2003 marked the 36th year of the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. 36 years of a relentless and gradual campaign to confine the growth and ultimately destroy Palestinian society and culture and to expand the state of Israel in its place.
Despite the remarkable military success of the newly founded Israeli state in the 1967 war most Palestinians did not flee the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ever since the demographic issue has continued to be the Israeli nightmare and continued attempts for massive Jewish immigration to Israel and/or massive Palestinian emigration out of the Palestinian Territories have guided the steps of each Israeli leader in order to keep the Zionist dream of greater Israel vibrant.
.In other words a strategy for ethnic cleansing that Israel has succeeded in making invisible to both international and Israeli public opinion. It is the role of the international community to make it visible. Peace is not going to come from within Israel.
Settlements – building for domination and making the occupation irreversible
Settlements are the unlawful transfer of an occupying population to an occupied territory. According to international law all Israeli settlements are illegal and continued expansion contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Oslo Accords and more recently the Aqaba Agreement. They are the cynical theft of land reserves vital for the Palestinian cities and villages; they are the denial of territorial contiguity and the potential to develop. They are the wresting of the control of irreplaceable water resources. They are the control of movement. They are all that and more.
Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967 consecutive Israeli governments have established settlements or Jewish- only housing units throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Obviously the motive is to colonize Palestine in order to consolidate and secure Israeli control of the areas and to prevent the emergence of a Palestine state. The colonization process is the most visible aspect of Zionism and has been equally ferocious during both Labour and Likud governments. From 1977, when Sharon was appointed minister of agriculture in the first Begin government, until the present it is he who has been the “author” of all the major initiatives regarding illegal settlement expansion. The location of the settlements, within and between Palestinian population centres, and their infrastructure is an effective method the Israeli government and army utilize to control movement through fragmenting and disrupting Palestine society.
The settlements and the vast network of “by-pass” roads that join the settlements to each other and to Israel are illegally built on land confiscated from Palestinians. (Since the start of the last Intifada Palestinians have generally been prevented from using these by-pass roads through roadblocks and checkpoints.) 400 kilometre road network divides the Palestinian Territories into Bantusans (cantons?) separated and surrounded by military roads thus preventing the expansion and long-term development of Palestinian towns and villages and is a major daily obstruction to Palestinian society in terms of economy and territorial contiguity. In tandem with the security wall project there is the Trans-Israel Highway that runs from north to south through a 17% swathe of the West Bank! It has a buffer zone the width of 3 football pitches and again was only possible by demolishing Palestinian homes. This Highway complements the road network and effectively slices the West Bank into around 200 enclaves.
The roads built along the Green Line and around Jerusalem extend Israeli borders beyond the Green Line and around an extended Jerusalem.
For every 100 kilometres of road 10,000 dunams (1dunam=1sq klm) is confiscated leading to a great loss of agricultural and privately owned Palestinian land. Hundreds of homes have already been demolished for this purpose and in 1999 alone more than 15,000 trees were uprooted.
In the West Bank there are 145 official settlements recognized and registered as Israeli municipal entities by the Israeli Ministry of Interior. Many are strategically located to control access to main water aquifers. These settler communities have created some 105 outposts that are considered illegal by the Israeli government but are rarely dismantled. Israeli settlements, military and industrial facilities occupy 2.1% of the West Bank and the Palestine population centres 8.5%. However settlements and the road network control an effective 46% of the WB.
There are around 380,000 illegal Israeli citizens/ settlers in the West Bank and over half (220-250,000) live in and around East Jerusalem where there approximately 12 settlements which are often misleadingly referred to as “neighbourhoods”. (Gito, French Hill, Pigat Zeer and Givat Zeer) These form a chain of massive settlements surrounding Jerusalem and, since the outbreak of the last Intifada, are being expanded at a particularly fast rate in an effort to determine Jerusalem’s future and to prevent territorial contiguity between the northern and southern territory of a future Palestinian state. Sharon, and others on the Israeli right, have made no secret of their desire to expand Jerusalem into the West Bank by building new settlements and incorporating them into the city.
There is a demographic shift as the Palestinians are slowly being squeezed out. Strict zoning plans limit the number of new homes built in Arab neighbourhoods. There is a master plan that doesn’t have official status but is widely accepted – to create a Jerusalem metropolis using settlements and roads – a Jewish metropolis. According to Yenezkei Lein of the human rights organization B’Tselem Palestinians have been restricted from moving to Jerusalem since the 1990’s but more and more Jews are being brought in. Israel argues that East Jerusalem has been formally annexed to Israel therefore house demolitions are being used for “proper” planning purposes! In the Gaza Strip – the most densely populated area in the world where more than 1,000,000 P live on 360 square kilometres of land- there are 7,500 illegal settlers, living in 19 settlements, who control 30% of the land!
A large number of settlers have views that are considered to be extreme right-wing including support for ideas such as ethnic cleansing and the most extreme who define themselves as “national-religious” are found in the small settlements around Palestinian cities. However the majority (77%) does not move there for ideological reasons but primarily for the quality of life and are encouraged to move through economic subsidies including cheap housing and mortgage grants up to 95% of the cost!.
The amount of money pouring into the settlements as compared with the amount allotted for pensions was the cause of a row within the ruling coalition before the last elections. The moral issue of the settlements – that they are the cause of a war with a daily death toll- was not important. So far this year the Israeli army has allocated 100,000,000 NIS for the protection of settlements including reserve soldiers, guards, armoured buses, fences and electronic security.
The population growth within the settlements is almost 4 times greater than that of Israel itself, contradicting any claim that this increase is due to “natural population growth”. In the period 1995 – 99 it was 24.8% as compared to 6,6% in Israel. Settlers dictate how Palestinians live- where a water pipe should be, where a sewage treatment plant should be built, where cars can drive and where a refugee camp should not expand.
Israel has turned urban planning into a tool of the government.
Settler violence – a law to themselves!
Over the course of the Al-Aqsa Intifada settlers have hurled stones, shot and stabbed, blocked roads and abused Palestinians in countless other ways. Often acting in broad daylight they attack villages, kill livestock, harass and beat farmers in their fields … sometimes even in the presence of the Israeli Occupation Forces! Looting, arson, destruction of fields and buildings, theft of property, even murder- under both Israeli and international law the Israeli law enforcement authority is obliged to prevent and punish these crimes.
Yet the vast majority of settler crimes committed against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip bear no consequences for the criminals. They are seldom apprehended but if they are the cases are either not investigated by the police and/or prosecuted by the State Attorney. Rare sentences are grossly inadequate. Two separate and unequal legal systems operate side by side – one for the Israeli and another for the Palestinian defendants who, including juveniles, are prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent permitted by law.
Not only do the settlers appear to be immune from punishment but the Israeli law enforcement do the least they can to protect Palestinians from settler violence while still maintaining some semblance of law and order. The level of police intervention is therefore just enough to permit settler violence to continue but not get out of control. If they were given a free hand this would result in a drastic escalation in violence that would lead no doubt to chaos and anarchy.
The arrogance of settlers, who know that they are granted a free reign, is most glaring in the cases of mass revenge by settler vigilantes. One horrific example is the rampage in Hebron on July 28th 2002 following the funeral of a murdered settler when a 15 year old girl was shot to death and an 8 year old boy stabbed allegedly in retaliation for Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. Fifteen Israeli police officers were reportedly injured but there was no recourse to standard methods of crowd control such as tear gas or water canons –the least used against Palestinians!
Freedom of movement- the reality after the Oslo Agreements
In 1993 the PLO and Israel signed The Declaration of Principles in Oslo through which limited Palestinian self-rule was established. According to this agreement Israeli military troops were to be redeployed from all areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the exception of borders, settlements and military installations. What has occurred however is a “repackaging” of the Israeli occupation over the Palestinian people and territories.
As Israel has complete control over the borders of the Palestinian Territories the movement of persons and goods through these borders are subject to Israeli approval and Palestine police presence at border crossings is a symbolic one with no actual authority or power. Israel cannot only block all movement of Palestinian civilians traveling abroad but inside the country as well as Israel also has control over 82% of the roads in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. All domestic and foreign travel is subject to Israeli army approval and Palestinians are required to have permits in order to travel within the West Bank between one city or village or another. Furthermore Israel has complete control over the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip with the exception of an 8km stretch and the Palestinians have not been allowed to build a seaport although the Oslo agreement of 1993 granted them the right. Fishing boats are monitored by the Israeli navy and are prohibited from going farther than 10km into the sea.
Following the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada in early October 2000 Israel imposed the most severe restrictions on movement in the Palestinian Territories since the beginning of the occupation in 1967. There is now a dense network of 120 military checkpoints and countless roadblocks that slice the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into 300 separate clusters totally isolating individual communities especially in Gaza and in rural and remote areas of the West Bank. This nearly completely paralyzes Palestinian daily life and is the cause of the destruction of the essence of life of their society. These limitations mean that they cannot manage their day-to-day lives, ranging from medical treatment to education and the economy. In the past months these limitations have been even more strictly implemented despite the current peace process.
Security claims by the Israeli Authority are nothing more than excuses for a policy of humiliation and violation of rights for it is quite clear that a healthy person intent on committing a violent attack is unlikely to go through the checkpoints and can bypass them by traveling over the mountains or other routes not requiring a permit. The State of Israel has the right to prohibit entrance onto its own territory but the establishment of checkpoints and roadblocks as a means of preventing Palestinians freedom of movement within the Occupied Territories is an overt contravention of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Every day the movement of tens of thousands of Palestinians is dependent on the whims of Israeli soldiers –many just out of their teens- whether they will allow people to pass or not. Palestinians spend hellish hours, even days, in the blazing sun trickling through the checkpoints never sure whether they will manage to reach their jobs, universities or get medical treatment. People are singled out to be searched, shouted at, humiliated, their identity cards often confiscated for no reason never knowing when they will be returned! An inhuman policy of aggressive harassment because of which people have died or given birth beside concrete blocks and sandbags because the army will not let the ambulances through. Checkpoints regularly close for no obvious reason or close early so that people cannot return home. If Palestinians protest soldiers respond violently with threats, often beatings and sometimes shooting above the heads of the crowds. Trying to bypass the checkpoints through the fields and olive groves is extremely dangerous due to Israeli army patrols.
Cars, taxis, trucks are confiscated for days often with produce rotting inside. Water trucks with permits to transport clean water to villages with no access to water are not allowed through without any explanation. Apart from the checkpoints people have to struggle with roadblocks, ranging from mounds of earth and rocks to locked gates, which means leaving vehicles and walking around in the hopes of finding other forms of transport on the other side.
As there is no movement of goods Palestinians are forced to depend largely on Israeli products and it goes without saying that the Israeli army facilitates access of Israel products by letting them through the checkpoints.
The imposition of extensive and prolonged closure, in conjunction with curfews and sieges, has effectively paralyzed the Palestinian economy that had begun to recover in 1998. Now in severe recession and, due to the unstable situation, there is currently no private investment and donor countries are also hesitant to invest in the Palestinian economy and community unless there is some progress in the peace process. As a result there has been a dramatic deterioration of living conditions. According to a report last updated September 2002, by the Palestine Monitor on behalf of the Palestine NGO Network, unemployment has risen to 65%. Since September 2000 approximately 80,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs in Israel and another 60,000 in the Occupied Territories due to decrease in demand and businesses forced to dismiss workers.
In the first 15 months of the Intifada direct and indirect losses of the entire economy have been estimated at somewhere between $3.5- $10 billion. A minimum loss of $3.5 billion means that the Palestinians have lost their GDP for an entire year. Prior to September 2000 the Palestine Authority GDP was almost $4 billion.
The sharp decline in Palestinian purchasing power and inability to transport goods either locally, to East Jerusalem and Israel has led to the food industry working at 60% of its capacity whereas light industries work at less than half their capacity. Tourism has fallen by 95% and construction, which made up 22% of the Palestinian GDP and 80% of private Palestinian investments, is working at 15% of its capacity.
Almost half of the households in Palestine live on 50% of what their income was before the current Intifada began and 75% live under the poverty line (2$ per person daily) as compared with 20% in September 2000. After the large scale invasion of the Occupied Territories in May 2002 84% of the population in the Gaza Strip now live in poverty. This situation has a disproportionate affect on children as 53% of the population is under 18. More than 2/3 of them live in poverty resulting in 30% of children under 5 suffering from chronic malnutrition and 21% from acute malnutrition.
This is a catastrophic humanitarian situation where many Palestinians have been reduced to begging.
In flagrant breach of international law Israel is not providing much needed aid. More than 30% of Palestinians depend on food handouts from NGOs and 50% of the population requires external daily food assistance. Trucks of food sent as aid or for sale to villages in the Palestinian Territories are stopped at roadblocks and unloaded. Villagers must then find another truck to load the food again after inspection and complete the journey.
The World Bank estimates that in the case of a solution to the conflict and the lifting of the closure it will take at least 2 years for the Palestinian economy to restore to a pre-intifada per capita income level.
The security fence – a new era of Palestinian struggle
Many of the atrocities committed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by the Israelis against the Palestinian population have had little coverage by news media around the world. Similar to the cover up that the Israeli government and its military attempted in the aftermath of the Jenin carnage the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Occupation Force are doing their best to cover up and divert attention from a major crime that has been in progress for some time with little attention from the world.
In 2003 the world remains largely ignorant of the fact that Israel is planning to build a 1000 km around the West Bank. Palestinians have named it the Apartheid Wall but the construction of the wall is an Israeli trademark that goes far beyond the character of the apartheid regime in S. Africa.
Likud maintains that the wall is a security and not a political matter. Ostensibly it is designed to protect Israel –that is to keep out terrorists! – but its ultimate well planned and sinister purpose is to envelop Palestinian Territories in the West Bank from all directions.
The Israeli Left, especially the Labour Party, not only defends the wall but also has its own lobby in the Knesset to argue its case. Sharon, manipulating his people’s fears and in blatant disregard of international law, continues the wall even after Aqaba. Few Israelis are aware of the magnitude of this project and most of those who know are not concerned. All they want is respite from suicide terrorism. Security experts see the situation of the closed Gaza area as a successful security experience that needs to be emulated in the West Bank!
If you want security you don’t build walls. You end the occupation, acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian people and observe international law as it applies to the question of Palestine. In reality the wall is to protect Israel’s occupation, illegal colonies and ongoing colonization of Palestinian life. The wall will entrench the occupation, squeeze the Palestinians under occupation further into their ghetto and make life more and more intolerable. A guarantee for further instability and violence in the region.
The question of how many terrorist attacks the inhuman conditions this wall is going to spawn never comes up.
Work on the “security fence”, or Apartheid Wall, started on July 23rd 2002 after it was approved by the Israeli cabinet following the invasion in May 2001. The government has refused to publish the official path so neither specifications of the wall or its exact route are known. Research carried out by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem estimates that the wall will cause harm to 210,000 Palestinians in 67 cities, towns and villages.
The Apartheid Wall in stretches is a 5m high chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire, equipped with a computerized vibration-detention system and flanked by tarmac access roads augmented with 4m wide trenches and coils of razor wire on the eastern side. The full width is about 50-60 m. All buildings within 35m of the wall –on the Palestinian side –have been razed to the ground. The fence is then replaced by an 8m high concrete wall along sections considered especially vulnerable. The wall with radio equipped watchtowers every 200m, thermal imaging cameras, deep ditches and razor wire surrounds cities, splits towns in half and cuts off farmlands. The fence line, stretching like an ugly scar across the hills and valleys as far as the eye can see, will have constant video surveillance from balloons and unmanned spy planes!
It will eventually snake down the full length (350 kilometres) of the West Bank and the 1st stage in the north is near completion. It will be 148 kilometres long and constructed at a cost of $1,000,000 per km. It runs from Salem to Rosh Ha Ayin and does not follow the 1967 Green Line. The route of the proposed wall is set to loop deep into Palestinian occupied territory, embracing clusters of Israeli settlements, cutting off much fertile land and important subterranean watersheds. The impacts on the region’s water supplies around the wall are a serious concern as the climate of Palestine is semi-arid and water sources precious.
During this period of construction the Yesha council or settlers lobby succeeded in the wall being rerouted and extended further into the West Bank to incorporate significant settlements into Israel. The northwest expanse of the West Bank is prime agricultural land with olives, fruit and vegetables in abundance. Palestine is mainly a rural society based on a traditional economy where agriculture is a primary source of income that has become vitally important during this Intifada. Reoccupation, curfews, checkpoints and isolated towns have lead to a growing reliance on local and home produce both for immediate sustenance and employment. Imagine if your families survival depends on a farm and farmlands that have been confiscated – stolen –in order to build a wall which imprisons you! Yet another cog in the machinery of ethnic cleansing.
According to local estimations the wall is being used as an opportunity to confiscate over 13% of the West Bank. When complete the wall will have kept 103,050 acres on the Israeli side and 11,400 acres will be lost in the building of the wall itself. The 1st phase will isolate 45,000 West Bank acres between the Green Line and the Wall 57% of which is cultivated with olive trees and field crops- approx 3% of the Palestinian land mass.
Completion of the first stage will have led to the confiscation of 16 villages, the disruption of the lives of 67 communities and will have direct impact on their relations with their agricultural land. 15 villages whose land remains to the west of the wall lose access to their property. The Israeli have promised agricultural gates to allow access, but the farmers will need permits that the Israeli will issue or deny at will and in order to pass through the gate the farmers will have to endure the harrowing checkpoint tactics. The idea is to make it as difficult as possible for Palestinians to reach their land and later confiscate it. The consequences for Palestinians living close to the wall are nothing short of horrific. In the Tulkarm area where the wall is already a fait accompli fields, orchards, olive groves and greenhouses are already unattended. The few gates placed in the wall are locked and patrolled by the army!
Take the case of the once prosperous town of Qalqilya. The town and its 42,00 residents, are now surrounded by the wall with only one gate in and out guarded by a watchtower. Depending on the caprice of any soldier the town can be turned into a prison at any moment! More than 1/3 of the town’s land has been confiscated and 45% of the surrounding area (the most important agricultural basket which exported 42% of all the fruit and vegetables produced to Israel and the Gulf states) that has significantly about ½ the water resources of the West Bank. Now the 18,000 residents of 9 villages, together with 19 artisan wells, are trapped to the west, between Israel and the Wall. Access to the rest of the West Bank is again at the whim of the occupier.
The land between the wall and Israel will be declared a closed military zone. According to the Israeli press the Palestinians trapped in this no-man’s -land will be issued with “special permits” that will allow them to enter the West Bank through 30 permanent checkpoints along the wall.
Apart from the demolition of buildings the wall has uprooted 83,000 trees, demolished 35,000 m of irrigation pipelines and 11,400 acres of agricultural land. It has annexed 31 water wells into Israel thus denying the Palestinians 4,000,000 sq m of their water a year.
An eastern wall along the Jordan Valley is also scheduled as part of a plan to prevent Palestinian movement to the east in order to establish new settlements. There are already many settlements that flank the planned route to the east and west. Palestine will then be left in the rocky central spine of the West Bank. The state that will be left at this point will have no borders with any other countries and will be completely dependent on Israel. An industrial zone is planned near the settlements in the southwestern area that will draw upon Palestinian labour. Israeli can then send home the hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers who have been siphoning billions of dollars out of the Israeli economy. Palestinians who cannot find work will have to emigrate. The wall is also a tool for ethnic cleansing!
Organizations such as PARC (Palestine Agricultural Relief Committee) and PENGON (Palestine Environmental NGO Network ) are demanding that stopping the wall be a central demand put forward by the Palestine Authorities in any peace negotiations. Israel argues that the construction is “temporary” but experience has shown that in the absence of external pressure- especially from the US- Israel has never relinquished any land it has occupied.
Over this period the IOF is also destroying hundreds of dunams of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip, which was a fertile area, growing produce for internal consumption and for the residents in Jericho in the south West Bank. After destroying much of the farmland over the past year and confiscating much of it for Israeli settlements there is little produce found inside the Gaza Strip which must, like Jericho, depend on Israeli sources. Over the course of this Intifada the IOF has aggressively expanded its control over the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. In Rafah Caterpillar bulldozers almost daily demolish farmland and houses in an effort to create an100 metre no-man’s-land next to an electric steel wall 8 metres high where there once existed a flourishing community. Over 945 homes have been completely destroyed.
Not a single country in the world should accept this monstrous construction. But there has been no international reaction of any consequence.
Destruction and damage
Damage in the first 15 months of the Intifada amounted to $305 million. By February 2002 shelling and demolition had destroyed 720 homes and 11,553 were damaged affecting 73,000 people. 134 water wells were destroyed, 34.606 olive and fruit trees uprooted, 1162,4 dunums of land confiscated and 14,339 dunums of land bulldozed or burned. ( 4dunams = 1 acre).
During the March-April 2002 invasion 881 homes were destroyed, 2,883 houses in refugee camps damaged affecting 22,500 people. In the Gaza Strip more than 600 houses were completely demolished. The Israeli army destroyed and looted property worth $361 million.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for P refugees gave the following statistics:
At the end of 2002 a total of 12,737 Palestinians have seen their homes demolished in the West Bank and Gaza. Total and partial demolitions had until then averaged 30 per month. In the first 3 months of 2003 there has been a rapid acceleration of Israel’s military demolition campaign averaging 74 per month affecting 401 families (2,273 people).
Demolitions often occur late at night with little or no warning. Israeli military units – supported by tanks, armoured police cars and helicopters- enter Palestinian areas to destroy a variety of targeted houses. In some cases demolished buildings belong to the families of militants or Palestinians detained in Israeli jails. Increasingly explosives are the preferred method to destroy property creating widespread collateral damage. Houses close to settlements are often also destroyed and as mentioned previously for the construction of settler-only roads or bypasses. A great many demolitions have occurred near Gaza’s border with Egypt where is building a security fence.
But it is not just homes that have been destroyed and damaged but also stores, factories, TV and radio stations, clinics, hospitals, mosques and churches. However courageously Palestinians try to withstand this horrendous Israeli collective punishment the efforts of Palestinian institutions to rebuild are faced with tremendous obstacles – mainly lack of financial resources. The Public Works Ministry has had to stop reconstruction work in all the regions of Jenin and reported that as Arab countries failed to fulfill their financial commitments funds allocated for reconstruction in the Development Bank have dried out. The owners of destroyed homes are facing tremendous difficulties and hardship, shattered by their fear of the future and lack of assistance that can help them through the present difficulties.
The murder of children
Among the most staggering aspects of the past 3 years of the last intifada that has no shortage of horrors has been the killing of children by the Israeli army. The numbers are staggering: 1 in 5 Palestinians dead is a child. Statistics for the period 28 Sept 2000 – 8 July 2003, given by UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees), show that 475 children have been killed. That is 18% of the 2,572 deaths in that period. Nearly ½ were killed in the Gaza Strip and most died in the KhanYunis and Rafah refugee camps. The Palestine Centre of Human Rights alleges that they were victims of “indiscriminate shooting, excessive force, a shoot to kill policy and the deliberate targeting of children.”
Nearly a quarter of the children killed were under 12 years old. Last year alone 50 under 8 were shot or blown up in Gaza. Eight children, one a 2-month-old baby, were slaughtered when a 1-tonne bomb was dropped on a block of flats to kill Hamas leader Sheikh Salah Mustafa Shehada. However, most children’s deaths are not “collateral damage” or from crossfire. The instinctive response of the Israeli army is to deny or justify that they had been caught in crossfire- a justification used so frequently and so often disproved that it is rarely believed.
They are not shot in combat or mistaken for Palestinian fighters even if they may be throwing stones! They have been murdered coldly by a burst of gunfire or sometimes a single bullet from an Israeli soldier’s gun while playing outside their homes, looking out of a window, walking to school. Hit in the head, stomach or chest.
Even after the Aqaba Agreement and the ceasefire declared by Hamas etc at the end of June children continue to die. The rate of killing has dropped but almost everyday the army fires into Khan Yunis and Rafah where among the latest victims were 3 teenagers and an 8-year-old playing football.
On Friday 25th July a 4-year-old boy was killed and his 2 young sisters wounded at a West Bank checkpoint when a soldier “accidentally” sprayed the car they were in with his machine gun.
Probably the vast majority of soldiers do not commit such crimes but those who do are rarely called to account. The result is an atmosphere of impunity. One of Israel’s most respected human rights organizations, B’Tselem accuses the Israeli army of having a policy of covering up its crimes. The army’s indifferent handling of the shooting of civilians has even drawn stinging criticism from a member of Sharon’s Likud party in the Israeli Parliament Michael Eitan. “ I am not certain that the responsible are aware of the fact that there are gross violations of human rights in the field despite army regulations.”
The Palestine Medical Relief Committee says that it is not rare for children to be seriously traumatized, often extremely stressed and angry. They have seen their families harassed, their homes raided and demolished. Curfews that lasted for weeks literally imprisoned them in their own homes and many of them have lost all interest in school.
They have had or even seen close relatives killed or assassinated. 5% of Palestinian children are disabled as a result of Israeli actions. If one wanted to deliberately create suicide bombers one would raise children this way. Every child growing up under Israeli occupation will grow a violent hatred of Israel.
Maram, 11 years old: “All Israelis have weapons. There are no innocent Jews. Peace will only happen when the Jews go back where they came from.”
No issue highlights the Israeli’s 36-year denial of freedom to Palestinians better than that of the prisoners. They have been subjected to the highest rate of incarceration in the world – approximately 20% of the population in the Occupied Territories has, at one point, been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned by Israel!
As of July 8th 2003 there were 5, 892 Palestinians in Israeli jails the majority of who are political prisoners and 788 of them have been detained without any charge. Abbas is under pressure from the militants to secure the release of all prisoners stating that anything short of a general release could jeopardize the 3-month truce. There appears to be growing impatience on the part of Hamas but Israel has said that it will not release those involved in attacks on Israelis.
Under American pressure Sharon had agreed to release 540 prisoners including about 200 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad but on August 6th Israel released only339 security prisoners, convicted of crimes such as stone throwing, membership of banned organizations and “administrative detainees” who rarely even know what they have been accused of. Long term detainees, women or sick prisoners were not included and most of those freed had almost completed their sentences. The 100 more to be freed in the coming days are car thieves and common criminals. Palestinians angrily dismissed the move as an empty gesture and cancelled a summit meeting in protest. It is ironical that one of the released prisoners who has spent 22 years in Israeli jails will now live in Qalqilya, a new kind of prison.
Abbas, who had fought hard to secure the release of all prisoners in part to build his credibility with the Palestinian public, has fallen far from his goal. In additional Israel has arrested almost as many people since the beginning of the ceasefire as they released – 237 “wanted” Palestinians, 72 in the first week of August!
Most of the Palestinian prisoners are regarded a as freedom fighters, fighters against Israeli’s vile terror campaign of occupation who have the full fight to defend themselves, their people, and their country. Scores of Palestinian mothers are holding weekly vigils in Gaza city, while carrying framed photographs of their beloved sons and daughters imprisoned in Israeli jails.
However, according to AFP, Avigdor Lieberman the Israeli Minister of Infrastructure commented on the prisoner issue saying:
“It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.”
Road Map peace initiative
On several occasions during the conquest of Iraq, and even more so since it ended and the US and UK embarked on the more difficult stage of ruling and managing what they “liberated”. Tony Blair – in need of exhibiting progress to opponents inside his own party – expressed a strong commitment to pushing forward a new peace process between Israel and Palestine with the aim of implementing the 2-state solution and creating a Palestinian state by 2005.
Bush was more reluctant but, apart from paying off his debt to Blair (who went to war with him at considerable risk to his own career), needing to create a pro-American government in Iraq, with credibility in the Arab world, and in Iraq itself, America was obviously required to make some mollifying gestures on the Palestinian issue.
The new peace process started in Aqaba is centered on the Road Map that was worked out more than half as year ago by the Quartet of Middle East negotiators (US, UN, EU and Russia) This document it has not yet been officially published due to various pretexts from the US. However all the stages it sets out are already well known to all concerned.
To begin with Palestine must end armed activity and implement reforms i.e. elect someone whose name is not Arafat and Israel is to withdraw from all Palestinian areas conquered in the last 2 ½ years and facilitate rebuilding of the Palestinian Authorities. Also Israel must freeze all activity in the settlements, including that attributed to natural growth. The next stage is the creation of a Palestinian state inside temporary borders, whatever that might mean, and within 2 years negotiations must be completed on the third and final stage, which will define borders and other final status issues. Nominally the Road Map requires that both sides take steps simultaneously.
Without a fixed timetable and the addition of interim stages to a process that is already prolonged means in effect the indefinite postponement of the most difficult aspect of the resolution of the conflict – the negotiation of issues like settlements, sovereignty, Jerusalem and refugees. The Road Map, in plain language, requires first of all the removal of all settlements built since March 2001 otherwise its failure is almost guaranteed.
Apparently having learned nothing from the collapse of earlier efforts – or more likely unconcerned about its success- the mainly American drafters of the Road Map fail to focus on the Israeli occupation about to enter its 37th year. Instead they concentrates on Palestinian violence and how to combat it – as if it came out of nowhere and as if, were it to be halted, the situation of settlements and occupation would be normal! ..
Sharon is very good at playing games. He does not reject the Road Map, just as he never rejects any diplomatic initiative, but adds remarks and reservations:
“I wish to move forward with a political process with our Palestinian neighbours and the right way to do that is only after a complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement, full disarmament of terror organizations and completion of the reform process of the Palestine Authority.”
In effect what he is saying is that before Israel is required to do anything substantive by way of reciprocal measures Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen or Mahmoud Abbas is required to achieve complete political control within the authority – obviously including the ousting of Arafat- and to reconstitute the Palestinian security services eviscerated after nearly 3 years of pitiless attacks. Then he must embark on a relentless war against militant factions, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for attacks both in Israel and the Occupied Territories in order to disarm, disband and possibly imprison. It does not need much imagination to see the possibility of civil war and the complete disintegration of Palestine.
Sharon is asking for the impossible and he knows it as Abbas has neither the political nor the military power to satisfy Israeli demands at this stage even if he intended to do so. Only with concrete moves from Israel can Abbas strengthen his position within the Palestinian ranks to convince them that his peaceful approach can deliver benefits and that he is neither a collaborator nor a stooge. Without a comprehensive plan that removes the settlers, security fence and secures the urgently needed release of Palestinians from Israeli prisons Abbas cannot rein in the militants or impose a peace deal. It’s a no-win situation.
Sharon, taking advantage of the fact that official Washington is obsessively fixated on Palestinian violence as the root cause of all the problems between Israel and Palestine and Bush’s simplistic determination to cast the conflict in the fundamental for-us-or-against-us terms of his war on terror, has hardened his position and he has made no mention, as he has in the past, of Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state.
He knows that Bush and his gang, who are massively distracted by Iraq and the broader domestic controversies building up as the election year approaches, have no intention of working in depth on the issues concerned mainly with “leadership moments “ that look good on television! The fact that the Republicans rely on the coalition of the right wing Jews and the fundamentalist Christians for support in the coming elections makes it easy work for the hard-line Sharonistas who dominate the Bush administration to make sure of a continued bias in favour of the Sharon/Likud interpretation of the Road Map. For Abbas this is fateful, for Sharon it is a gift.
The situation since the ceasefire – the truce hangs on a thread
Israel violates basic human rights of Palestinians at every possible level on their own land. The above statistics are part of the proof that some very sinister and criminal acts are being perpetrated against the Palestinians regularly and it is a chronic situation. They show clearly the true nature of the occupation – ethnic cleansing. (If this sort of behaviour were taking place in any other country in the world we would call it genocide.) The geo-political map of Palestine is being transformed and with it the possibility of a resolution based on the idea at the heart of the current process.
Since the 3-month ceasefire was declared Sharon is engaged in yet another old game of talking peace and grabbing more and more land. In blatant defiance of the unequivocal ban on fresh construction the “security fence” progresses. In Washington on July 30th 2003 Sharon blatantly declared that the wall “ will continue to be built with every effort to minimize infringement on the daily life of the Palestinian population.”! It is obvious that Sharon intends to subvert and rewrite the Road Map as he goes along so that the peace process will never reach the 3rd and final stage in creating a Palestinian state possessing all or nearly all of the pre-1967 lands and in full control of its own affairs and resources.
Israel has claimed that it is fulfilling commitments made to Bush at the summit on June 29th in Aqaba, to dismantle 100 or so outposts in the West Bank established since Sharon came to power and to freeze settlement expansion. But the picture from the hilltops tells a different story. Israeli campaign group Peace Now (Bet Shalom?) that monitors Jewish settlement activity says that new outposts have gone up as fast as the government has torn them down and this time the army is protecting them. The council of settler rabbis urged Jews not to resist the dismantling of outposts but to build new ones. One particularly controversial outpost Havat Gilad was technically torn down and was then rebuilt on a much larger scale 100 m away with the army’s permission!
Settlements are also expanding. On July 23rd there was an incursion by Israeli police and border guards in Sha’fat in North Jerusalem taking 200 Palestinians and issuing 30 home demolition orders. The IOF continues to demolish homes in the southern half of the Gaza Strip where a tender was recently approved by the Prime Minister’s office and the defense ministry for 22 new homes in Neveh Dekalim. This move is particularly provocative because Gaza is the crucible of the 3-month ceasefire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is therefore a dangerous threat to the peace process.
The IOF continue to conduct illegal actions and human rights violations against Palestinians. Densely populated areas adjacent to settlements and military locations in the Gaza Strip have been subject to helicopter attacks, shelling, house raids, searches, arrests and curfews. The army have also maintained a strict siege on most of the Occupied Palestinian Territories especially in the West Bank where movement has been further restricted and Palestinians under 35 must obtain permits issued by the so-called “Israeli C Administration” in order to cross checkpoints. On August 6th 2003 the IOF moved into the eastern part of Jericho and imposed a curfew. It is worth noting that Jericho is the only town in the West Bank that has not been reoccupied by Israeli in the last 2 years.
Though violence appears to have fallen sharply in the recent weeks the horrifying truth is that more than 3 Palestinians have died every day since the beginning of the ceasefire! (There were 2 deaths per day at the beginning of the Intifada that rose to 8 during the destruction of Jenin.) Recently the use of “plastic” or “rubber” bullets has declined and live ammunition is used and it appears that the orders are to aim at the head in order to kill!
A blatant example of Israeli’s disregard of the 3-month ceasefire occurred on August 8th 2003 when the IOF invaded Askar refugee camp just outside Nablus in the most violent military operation. According to information available to the PCHR (Palestine Committee for Human Rights) at 2.30am, with 4 tanks, 14 jeeps, a helicopter and 2 military bulldozers, the IOF stormed into the camp in a so-called “arrest” operation of one man! An eyewitness reported gunfire and bombing could be heard and a curfew was imposed at 4.30am. A house-to-house search began in an attempt to arrest two activists of Ezziddin-al Qassam, the military wing of the Hamas. At approximately 5.00am a missile was launched against the apartment building they were trapped in partially destroying it and after removing one of the bodies of the 2 activists the IOF then blew up the building. After a bulldozer had finished demolishing the blazing 4-storey house to be sure that no one was left alive the army left. It appeared that 15 minutes notice had been given to the other inhabitants to flee. Apart from the militants 2 Palestinian civilians were also killed – one from a bullet and the other from tear gas inhalation and 2 more critically injured.
It is transparently obvious that the Sharon government is not interested in de-escalation or any sort of ceasefire. He is intent on agitating for violence, especially by targeting members of Hamas, so he can use it as an excuse to continue Israeli’s strategy of illegal occupation and to complete the Apartheid Wall.
On July 14th 2003 The Knesset ratified a draft legislation submitted by the Likud Party, a presumed “peace partner”, claiming that the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not territories occupied by Israel. The legislation referring to the Occupied Territories as “Yehuda and Samaria suggests that the West Bank and Gaza are therefore part of the “Greater Israel”! The draft went even further by affirming what Israel calls its red lines that must not be crossed in any future peace settlements – the Right of Return, East Jerusalem, control over their natural resources and more- dashing the very essence for which the Palestinian people have aspired for after the Palestinian mainstream adopted partition in 1988. This draft represents the foundation of Israel’s peace settlementhttps://tpt4.org/?p=3370s – give us everything we ask for, expect nothing in return and don’t dare revolt in protest.
As a continuation of the Israeli attempts to Judaize Jerusalem, on August 6th 2003 the Israeli Minister of Internal Security Tsahi Hanegbi signed a decision to renew the closure of Orient House and 4 other Palestinian institutions in Jeruselam by 6 months. Hanegbi claimed that the decision was aimed at “ preventing the Palestinian Authority from carrying out activities that undermines the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
Israel is a modern state established on twisted interpretations of biblical promises and a methodology that cannot be supported in a democratic world. They are consumed by their need for security, the fulfillment of the biblical promises and keeping their race pure. The Israeli Knesset in a mad drive to create a “Palestinian –free” society in Israel recently exhibited a unique type of racism (or ethnic cleansing). A law was passed on July 31st that bars Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens (mainly Arabs) from acquiring Israeli citizenship or permanent residency the government justifying it as temporary provision for one year and simply another measure in their fight on terrorists. The tragic humanitarian consequences of such legislation would tear apart whole families and lead to tremendous hardships of displacement and loss of homes. Had this “marriage bill” been passed by any other country the world would have been in an uproar. There again how would the world have reacted if the Apartheid Wall had been constructed elsewhere?
However, though Israel is still able to promote itself in the US and elsewhere as a peace partner who is keenly eager to cease the bloodshed and restore peace talks with Palestine, Sharon’s trip to Washington at the end of July was not the complete success that the Israeli’s claimed it to be. Sharon reiterated his preconditions for negotiations on the fundamental issues that separate the 2 peoples, ominously omitted all direct reference to the Road Map, but came up against a Bush administration apparently putting on pressure to halt construction of the security fence and new settlements.
A proviso has been put on the $9 billion in loan guarantees so that any spending on settlements and other intrusions into Palestinian Territory would be deducted. Through these loan guarantees America backs Israel’s credit which given the battered state of it’s economy would not otherwise allow it to raise the money it needs at reasonable rates. It should be remembered that it was the threat to withdraw loan guarantees that forced a rightwing Israeli government into peace negotiations in Madrid at the beginning of the 1990s. Two task forces regarding the settlements and the wall are now also to be set up which cannot have thrilled Sharon!
Of more concern, however, for him is the possible beginning of an American understanding that the ceasefire agreed to by Hamas, Islamic Jihad cannot be regarded as a mere prologue to their later destruction. As the Palestinian commentator Daoud Kuttab wrote in a recent article: “The real goal should be the successful integration of these hard-line groups into a pragmatic political process so they can participate in decision making – with all the responsibilities this entails.”
The Palestinian Authorities must in fact strengthen its ties with the various militant groups, not as a clever tactic that could lead to their disintegration but because these resilient segments of the Palestinian society constitutes the Palestinian Authorities only strategic depth. Of course such an outcome would inevitably preserve the political strength and to some extent the military capacity of these groups. There is the danger undoubtedly that these radicals might go along up to a certain point with the road Map and then use that capacity to wreck progress towards peace. They might use it though to render the Palestinian society more resilient to resist against unjust peace. The bargain struck between Abbas and the radical groups brought about by the Road Map has so far the unlooked for consequence of bringing Palestinian organizations together rather than setting them at one an other’s throats.
If the Palestine leadership however does not display resolve, clarity and consistency. Israel’s deceitful tactics of violating the rules of peace and blaming Palestinians for them shall remain the vicious cycle engulfing the Middle East for years to come. It is time that Israel is treated like any other state, made subject to a global rule of law, and its actions scrutinized for such outrageous policies and practices.
Hopefully the process will be kept afloat so that prospects of further progress will be kept alive.
Khan Yunis Camp
A metal box, dangling from a crane, which evokes more constant fear than the helicopter rocket attacks and tank incursions. Nestled inside is an Israeli sniper shielded by camouflage netting and hoisted high enough to see deep into the refugee camp. Houses are riddled with bullet holes – a testament to the scale of incoming Israeli fire.
There is a growing international nonviolent movement linking Palestinian, Israeli and international peace and human rights groups – International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Ta’ayush (Arab-Jewish cooperation) etc – and Palestinian communities. Their goal is to end the military occupation and the ISM establishes peace camps that become the focal point for organizing work in the region and recently locations have been selected near the Wall. Activists assist with removing roadblocks, protect Palestinians targeted for harassment at checkpoints, shield people during attacks and organize acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Arrests, deportations and simply denying entry into Israel are all attempts to smother these voices of dissent but some human rights workers have paid a different price for their commitment. Several have escaped with severe beatings and broken bones but others like Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, now in an irreversible coma, were not so lucky. It goes without saying that no one was brought to account for these violent attacks thus implicitly allowing them to continue.
ISM NEWS ALERT Sunday, August 10, 2003
Our Direct Actions Will Continue WHO: Palestinians, ISM internationals, Israeli peace groups
WHAT: Actions against the wall and actions against the occupation
In the past two weeks, the Israeli Military has shot directly at us, wounding 14 with rubber bullets. They have shot tear gas at us, arrested us and denied us entrance at their airports. All because ISM internationals bear witness to the daily brutality of the Israeli government’s Apartheid policies. In the past week, 44 activists, including Palestinians, ISM internationals, and Israelis have been detained trying to protect a Palestinian’s home at a peace camp outside Mas’ha. Thirty-eight of the internationals have been forbidden to come back intothe occupied territories (no matter what the PR spin-doctor from the Interior Ministry says).
Join us in telling the story to the public around the globe.
ISM Media Office 022-774-602
For the latest information on ISM see http://www.palsolidarity.org
Environmental Impacts on Palestine Due to Occupation
Israeli settlements annually discharge 224,000 tons of waste into Palestine often polluting villages, streams and farms. Broken pipelines and sewage contaminate drinking water. More than 250,000 olive and fruit trees have been destroyed in the past 2 years. In addition there is the environmental destruction that is brought about by the invasion including the poisoning from the use of depleted uranium shells and property laid waste by fire and bombings etc. During the 36 years of occupation the Israeli authorities have neglected to consider the management, transfer or disposal of solid waste within Palestine. As a consequence much land is rendered unfit for either agriculture or domestic use. The Israelis also prevent Palestinian municipalities from transporting solid waste to dumping sites outside city and village boundaries resulting in air pollution in some areas due to the burning of rubbish.
Since this article was written the situation in Palestine has deteriorated gravely. Sharon’s plan to wipeout the Road Map peace process succeeded with the assassination of Ismail Abu Shenab on August 21st. Within hours of his death Hamas ended the ceasefire and the Israeli army had again invaded Palestinian towns, starting on orgy of arrests and demolitions. Israeli has officially affirmed that it will continue with the targeted assassinations of Palestinian resistance fighters as long as the PA does not dismantle the militant infrastructure.
The political risk of Palestine improving and restoring both internal and international relations had been too great a threat for Sharon’s plans. Israel knew that by targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants – something that would not meet with Bush’s disapproval – the Palestinians would be compelled to break the ceasefire and obviously take the blame for the failure of the peace process! The western media had been tactfully silent about the repeated strategic, criminal aggression of the IOF over the period since the ceasefire on June 29th.
The death of its most moderate leader Abu Shenab has radicalized Hamas and it is ironic that the group that believed in dialogue and negotiation is silenced and the extreme line has been vindicated by Israeli’s actions. The military wing has now gone underground for the first time since the Palestinian Authorities crackdown in 1996 and the escalating Israeli violence will result in making Hamas stronger and more extreme. The movement is growing just as restraint is diminishing in Gaza.
The other “victim” of Israeli attacks was moderate Prime Minister Abbas and his policy of non-violence and negotiation. Now locked in a power struggle with Arafat and undermined within Fatah, he is struggling for his political survival now that the ceasefire – his key achievement – has collapsed. Arafat, however, worried about the prospect of civil war has voiced support for Abbas’ attempt to revive the truce and rescue the peace process.
Both Israel and America dismissed Arafat’s statement and the US criticized Arafat as being “part of the problem not the solution.” If the planned next step of the Israelis is the “expulsion“ of Arafat then it does not need much imagination to predict the reactions not only of the Palestinians but the whole Arab world. This new cycle of violence can only be more brutal and without urgent international intervention Israel’s all-out war against the Palestinian people cannot be halted.
31 August 2003