Extended Palestinian Autonomy: A Palestinian state in the making
As long as it persists in trying to squeeze the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and to install Israeli settlers in their place, the government of Benyamin Netanyahu will only encourage the bombers of Hamas. Albright would do well to point out that neither she nor Yasser Arafat can guarantee the security of Israel if that security is to be built on the insecurity of everyone else.
Middle East International, 12th Sept. 1997
By mid-August the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had announced a boycott of Israeli goods in response to the harsh economic siege imposed by Israel in response to the suicide bombings at the end of July. At the same time Israel decided to release some of the tax receipts collected by Israel but belonging to the PNA. Some $12 million out of $55 million (60% of the PNA budget) owed was released. The announcement by UNRWA that its budget had to be cut with consequent effects on education and health provision for those Palestinians with refugee status only added to the suffering. It was, however, anticipated by the PLO. Over the past year 29 refugee committees have been formed for the 31 refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.The committees draw their authority from the PLO refugee department, not the PNA. This, it is hoped, will forestall any attempt to transfer the function of UNRWA to the PNA or any other host country – a move which is widely expected.
The latest bombings are a direct result of the repression, subjugation, humiliation and siege that Israel has inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Our government is guilty, doing their utmost to destroy the peace process. They bring upon us death and destruction. I do not criticise the terrorists. They are our creation. Almost every Palestinian family has been hurt by Israel, and they live in squalor and despair. The suicide bombers are our mirror.
Nurit-Elhanan-Peled, the mother of 14 year old Smadar Elhanan who was killed in the suicide bombing in Jerusalem, 4th September
(quoted in Middle East International 26th Sept. 1997)
On 3rd September a pessimistic Palestinian delegation left for the USA to attend a preparatory meeting prior to the visit to the Middle East by the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. 24 hours later a triple suicide bomb exploded in Ben Yehuda shopping mall killing eight people (including the bombers) and wounding 137. The siege of the Palestinian occupied territories was renewed with strict controls on contact between major Palestinian population centres imposed.
Albright’s visit was inconclusive. Not too surprising since “security” in the guise of fighting terrorism was at the top of her agenda. Israel’s failure to honour the Oslo agreements, cease settlement activity and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people were a poor second. In fact, in actions reminiscent of visits to the area by previous US Sec. of States, settlers took over two Palestinian owned houses in Ras Al-Amoud, East Jerusalem at the end of Albright’s visit – as if to reinforce that change of policy was not on the agenda.
With Albright’s departure, it was arranged that the 6 month stalemate on peace talks should end. Talks would commence on 6th October with a second round a week later in Washington,eventually postponed.
Then, on September events in Palestine were eclipsed, briefly, by the bungled attempt by Israel’s Mossad on the life of Hamas’ political head in Amman. Khaled Mish’al was attacked by two Mossad agents carrying forged Canadian passports. Their attempt to administer a fatal drug, with the effect of restricting breathing, was only foiled by the presence of Mish,al’s bodyguard or chauffeur. The agents fled, more or less, into the arms of Jordanian police while at least 3 other get-away accomplices escaped.
An infuriated King Hussein, one of Israel’s few allies in the area, demanded of Netanyahu the antidote for the drug as did, according to reports, President Clinton. As a condition for the release of the two agents, the paraplegic and partially blind spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, was released, eventually to arrive to a hero’s welcome in Gaza. Other Palestinians/Jordanians were released as part of the bargain, however few of them were of any political significance, detainees who had contravened minor Israeli or occupation dictums.
Palestinian National Authority
The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) formed a committee, at the end of September, to investigate corruption of the various PNA agencies. This was followed by the resignation of PLC member, Haidar Abdel Shafi, over the failure of the PLC to implement earlier decisions with regard to much needed changes within the PNA.
The PNA faced criticism over its arrest of 90 alleged Hamas activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the last week of September. Further criticism was levelled at the closure of 16 charity institutions, licensed by the PNA. 15 were Islamic charities based in the Gaza Strip which help about 50 000 people, providing services from kindergartens to alms payments to the needy.
The Palestinian Supreme Court of Justice rejected an appeal for the release of Al-Azhar University (in the Gaza Strip) lecturer, Fathi Soboh detained for 3 months with no formal charges made. Apparently Soboh had set exam questions for his students concerning corruption within the PNA and the university.
Business as usual
Israel has confiscated over 167 000 acres of Palestinian land since the Oslo Accords were signed on September 1993. 210 000 trees have been uprooted and 1 599 homes demolished. Israel still controls 97% of the West Bank and 40% of the Gaza Strip.
Since it came into office, the Netanyahu government has demolished 373 homes and has issued 705 demolition notices to Palestinian families’
Sa’eb Ereikat, PNA Minister of Local Government
A 14 year old Hebron boy, Yousef Ibrahim Jabari, died on the 14th following rubber bullet wounds to the head 3 weeks earlier. The Israeli human rights body, B’Tselem issued a report documenting Israeli Border Guard brutality towards young Palestinian males during July and August. The frequency and nature of the attacks suggested that a specific unit was responsible or that instructions had been issued. They were carried out in the vicinity of either Gilo or Gush Etzion checkpoints. “In each case the victims are stopped by a patrol and attacked, always in the same way. Their IDs are ignored. The soldiers instantly set upon them, beating on the arms, legs and face, after which they are left behind or dumped in Palestinian controlled areas.”
Palestinian businessman Muhsen Shihdeh from Gaza was at the receiving end of Israeli practices following the July suicide bombing. Security personnel at the Israeli port of Ashdod were responsible for emptying about half of the containers containing imported sunflower oil. Of the remaining 11000 gallons, 30% was damaged.
On the 26th the 3 week closure on Bethlehem was partially lifted, with checkpoints removed but freedom of movement restricted in this “closed military zone”. Roads linking the town were still blocked by mounds of earth and boulders.. The previous day some 40 young girls, pupils at Ibn Jaser Elementary School, were assaulted by tear gas being flung into their classrooms. It was the first time that Bethlehem had ever been cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Israeli claims of easing the siege on Bethlehem were disputed by the town’s residents. Tourism had stagnated causing severe economic problems.
On 29th August Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian demonstrators, at gun point, from Jiftlik Agricultural Station near Jericho. Several elderly farmers were beaten up during this peaceful protest against settlers tilling the land. Under the Oslo Accords the Station should have been returned to Palestinian hands in August 1995. On the same day seven Palestinian families had their homes demolished in the village of Faroush Abu Dajan in the Jordan valley. The families are part of a group of 1948 refugees who settled in the Jordan valley during the 50’s after fleeing their homes and denied the right to return.
Following the suicude bombing of the 4th an estimated 400 Palestinians were detained by Israel while a further 35, members of Hamas – which had claimed responsibility for the attack , were arrested by the PNA.
Disturbances broke out at the village of Assire Al-Shamaliye following Israeli raids. It was alleged that the suicide bombers used the village, situated in Area B and hence an Israeli security responsibility under the Oslo Accords, as a base. The town was placed under siege (eventually lasting 19 days) by 600 Israeli troops on Sept. 20th. The entire male population of the village was herded into the local schoolyard where, according to eyewitnesses, they were subjected to various forms of “torture and humiliation”. Homes and mosques were raided by heavily armed soldiers, defenceless villagers beaten up and 70 arrested on the suspicion of being Hamas supporters.
In a parallel move, Palestinian security forces arrested 20 suspected Hamas activists in Nablus. The local TV station, run by “adherents of the Islamic movement” was also raided.
Deep trenches, from 2 to 4 metres deep, were dug round, or in the vicinity of, two villages – Beit Sahour and Nu’man. Speculation and anger was rife as to their purpose. Either part of a plan to link the 18 settlements in the Bethlehem area by roads or preparation for construction of fences. Either way “separation” is the key word. Isolate Beit Sahour and cut Nu’man off from Jerusalem and, with immediate effect, cut off the pupils from the village from attending their schools in Sur Baher and Um Tuba.
On 22nd September the occupation authorities ordered the one month closure of the Grand Mosque in the village of Dura following a midnight raid on the mosque by scores of Israeli soldiers.
At the beginning of the month Israel took the first steps in what could be the start of a campaign to remove some 5 000 Jordanian families from Jerusalem. 47 year old Ali Salam Ahmad and his family of 7 were deported to Jordan. Ahmad, who has a Jerusalemite wife, came to Jerusalem 3 years ago to apply for family reunion. Israeli policy makes this very hard to obtain, he had no permanent residence status – hence deportation.
On Monday 13th,to the south of Bethlehem, two partially built Palestinian homes on the main Bethlehem -Hebron road were demolished. The first to be demolished since Albright’s visit, this act helps clear the way for further settlement expansion and settler-only roads.
Destroying Arab homes has become a daily occurrence in Jerusalem
Hatem Abdel Qader, PLC representative
Following the suicide bombing on July 30th Israel’s minister of internal security, Avigdor Kahalani, announced – not for the first time – the closure of of the offices of the Jerusalem Committee. Established in 1987 to help Palestinian Jerusalemites restore their homes inside the Old City, Israel alleged that it was connected to the PNA.
This latest attempt to strip Jerusalem of its Palestinian institutions coincided with the setting up of a makeshift camp on the Mount of Olives by the victims of Israel’s ethnic cleansing tactics. The Solidarity and Steadfastness Camp was established in cooperation with the Centre for Civil Rights. Its residents have either had their homes demolished, their ID cards withdrawn or are one of the estimated 30 000 Jerusalem families in desperate need of a house. By the mid-September there were 75 families camped in tents.
At the end of August Israeli bulldozers began construction of a multi-million dollar hotel project on 4 acres of land seized from the residents of Jabal Al-Mukkaber in the south of the city. At the same time the Al-Ghuzlan family went to the Israeli High court in an attempt to halt the construction of a police station on their land. Both buildings are on a site that overlooks Al Aqsa Mosque compound and dominates the city.
An appeal was made to Israel’s High Court to have rescinded the order to close down the charitable organisation, Al-Quds Society for Welfare and Renovation.
By the end of August, in the space of one month, 44 homes had been demolished in the city.
Within 48 hours of the US Sec of State counselling Israel to refrain from further “unilateral actions” the Palestinian neighbourhood of Ras Al-Amoud became the focus of Palestinian, settler and international attention. On September 14th, 3 settler families took over one house and an office in the Quarter with the occupants being thrown out into the street. It resulted in clashes between hundreds of Israeli troops and a similar amount of Palestinian youth. The decision to remove the settlers but to leave behind 10 Jewish religious or yeshiva students was totally rejected by the Palestinians with long experience of Zionist foot-in-the-door techniques. This technique has been well honed in Hebron where the first step is often to establish a synagogue, so that the owners are never allowed to return. PNA Minister, Faisal Husseini, observed,
Even if we assume that the houses were legally purchased by Jews. I do not see any reason why they should be taken over. What about our property in West Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel?
Reports suggest that the real owners of the houses, the Al Ghoul family, rented them to a lawyer whose sister married into the family now suspected of selling the protected tenancy rights to the American millionaire, Moskowitz, for US$1.5 million. Minister of National Infrastructure, Ariel Sharon, stressed the importance of this acquisition “as it will block Palestinian plans to form a continuous area from Abu Dis to the Old City of Jerusalem”. As it is, apart from the ancient Jewish cemetery on the opposite slopes of the Mount of Olives, this exclusive Palestinian of 11 000 inhabitants has never had a Jewish presence in living memory.
Meanwhile the extremist religious group, Hai ve Kayyam, petitioned the Israeli High Court to halt restoration work currently being carried out at the Marwani prayer site in the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. The group has already been given permission, in July, by the District Court to enter the Mosque area to hold prayers. So far the Israeli police have used their discretionary powers to prevent this, for fear of Muslim reaction.
At the beginning of September details were revealed of Israeli excavations beneath the old city of Hebron. The Land Defense Committee gave details of a tunnel, apparently started during the British mandate, going from the settlement of Beit Romano to the Ibrahimi Mosque, then through Qasabeh Square to the Avraham Avinu settlement and terminating in the Central Vegetable Market. Floors in a number of shops have already collapsed following reports of powerful underground vibrations. There is a real fear that tens of houses will be threatened.
Then, during September, Israel banned the muezzins at Ibrahimi Mosque from calling the faithful to prayer on Saturdays. The occupation authorities claimed that muezzins’ calls to prayer desecrated the holiness of the Sabbath. All part of the process of Judaising the city.
Settlements and land confiscation
The hand of American Jewish millionaire (whose fortune is derived from successful bingo halls in the USA), Irving Moskowitz – a benefactor well known in settlement circles was revealed in plans to build a total of 22 new settlements in the Jerusalem area. It will involve 2 000 housing units on about 70 acres of Palestinian land. The plans are a reflection of extreme right wing Member of the Knesset, Beni Elon’s belief that it is important to start establishing settlements in Palestinian areas, not just on the outskirts of the city. By doing this it is hoped that Jerusalem will remain in Israeli hands no matter the circumstances.
In a move regarded as a preliminary to confiscating about 8 000 acres of land from the villages of Khiljan, Um Dar and Tourah, the occupation authorities levelled 125 acres near Khiljan in the Jenin area with the objective of expanding stone cutting operations. The area is considered to be one of the richest sources of marble in Palestine. Already the local environment has been badly affected by the stone cutting operations. Tunnelling operations have been responsible for structural damage to houses in the area. Dust pollution from the stone cutting has affected the agricultural potential of the area with local residents suffering respiratory diseases.
In the Gaza Strip work began on constructing a settler road between two settlements in the Mawasi area, regarded as the first step in Judaising the area. To the east of Jerusalem , on 28th September, 3 Bedouin encampments, 53 tents housing 70 families, were bulldozed in “the most savage anti-Bedouin campaign mounted by Israel since 1967.” Hundreds of housing units are planned in the area, to extend Ma’ale Adumim settlement.(In the first week of October the Israeli High Court rescinded the decision to evict 37 Jahalin Bedouin families for their encampments in Wadi Abu Hindi and Al-Mintar. The court accepted that the military do not use the area despite the claim that it is a closed miltary area. It remains to be seen if the judgement will be honoured.) In the same week Israel announced plans for another 300 housing units for Efrat settlement. Built on land confiscated from the village of Khader, to the south of Bethlehem, this will bring the settlement to within 50 metres of the village.
Bulldozers were also in evidence to the south east of Hebron. Land parallel to the “green line” close to the settlements of Ma’on and Carmiel was levelled. The area has long been a target of Israeli settlement policy with a stream of military orders closing off the land, hundreds of acres, as “closed military zones.”
31 year old administrative detainee alleged Hamas activist, Marwan Maali, was found hanged in his cell in an Israeli prison. The prison authorities refused to provide medication to the father of three who was arrested following the suicide bombings.
During August and September it was estimated that 500 arrests were made following the suicide bombs. Of those about 250 were considered to be administrative detainees held in Megiddo Prison. By the beginning of October it was estimated that over 3 000 Palestinian prisoners were incarcerated within Israeli prisons. Of those, 40 were minors.
During October the Israeli military took the decision to change the status of three Palestinian police arrested 3 months previously. Unable to prove that they intended to attack settlers, the three became administrative detainees and were sent to three different prisons throughout Israel.
The PNA’s Minister for Civil Affairs demanded an end to the abuse of Palestinian and other Arab prisoners by Israeli pharmaceutical companies. Last August it was confirmed that the Israeli Ministry of Health had sanctioned experiments on the prisoners. Apart from being an obvious, blatant and racist infringement of their human rights, a German specialist confirmed that their lives were being endangered.View all →