Palestinian Autonomy: A Palestinian state in the making
A long history of mutual hostility can only be aggravated by efforts to shove the Palestinians into Bantustans, “autonomous” regions which
are little more than glorified labour camps.
Middle East International, 24 Oct 1997
In mid October, Arafat and Israel’s defence minister met at Erez crossing in the Gaza Strip.The U.S mediator or facilitator, Dennis Ross attended this fruitless encounter. With the Israeli emphasis on “security” and Palestinian concern over Israeli practices in occupied Palestine, lack of progress in troop redeployment,Gaza airport and harbour, the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, release of prisoners, settlement activities, the outcome surprised no- one.
Meanwhile the economy of occupied Palestine continued to plummet. With the cumulative effect of internal and external closure, private industry reported over a 50% drop in revenue in the Gaza Strip. Mainly due to the inability to market their products, lack of raw materials and cash shortage. This has been exacerbated by delays and consequent increased fees at seaports and crossover points. Israeli businesses refuse to accept cheques drawn on banks in the occupied territories. Adverse weather, particularly in the Jericho area, where severe thunderstorms ruined agricultural produce and destroyed homes only added to the problems and the misery.
In an unprecedented development, the US Congress threatened to withhold some of Israel’s $3 billion official aid. It had nothing to do with violation of the Oslo accords, UN resolutions or the occupation of Palestinian land. It arose over Israel’s outright refusal to agree to the extradition of a Jewish youth who had fled to Israel following his alleged involvement in a gruesome murder in the US. Within about 2 weeks, Israel backtracked and allowed the extradition. This coincided with another action to possibly hold back funding to Israel. The first time in recent history that the US has dared consider breaching the sacrosanct.
…Netanyahu is negotiating for the sake of negotiating.
These talks will produce nothing because the Israeli government is not interested in implementing the agreements we signed with the previous government, they are stalling in order to create more facts on the ground and to frustrate us into making still more concessions to them.
Yasser Abed Rabbu,Middle East International 7 Nov 1997
Talks commenced in Washington on November 3rd, with no progress expected. The pessimism of the Palestinian negotiators was eventually justified. Israel’s foreign minister, David Levy, had been given no authority to make decisions. In fact it was only American pressure that brought Israel to the table, with the Palestinians agreeing to attend so that they could not be accused of destroying peace prospects by their non-attendance.
After 3 days the participants were on their way back home. Palestinian sources indicated that the crucial points of disagreement were troop redeployment and a settlement freeze with Israel failing to make constructive proposals in other areas which would make an agreement attainable.
From 16-18th November the Middle East and North Africa Economic conference took place in Qatar with the US’s major allies in the area, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, staying away in protest at Israel’s stance on peace talks. The US had been leaning heavily on participants to attend the conference, along with Israel. The final straw was possibly the sharp contrast offered by the US with regard to its insistence that Iraq obey UN resolutions to the letter while Israel’s ignoring of half a century of resolutions is tolerated if not encouraged – not to forget the weapons of mass destruction amassed by Israel, but conveniently ignored. Meetings between US Sec of State Albright, Netanyahu and Arafat suffered the same fate. Reports indicated a very weary, if not weak, looking Arafat after his meeting with Albright.
On a brighter note, the UN General Assembly voted for a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, to which the Palestinians should be invited. With no one in doubt that Israel was in flagrant breach of the Convention, the vote was passed by 139-3, the dissenters being Israel, the US and the Federated States of Micronesia.
A leaked document from the Israeli foreign ministry disclosed Ariel Sharon’s variant on Oslo which he has been pressing on the Americans. Israel to annex a 7-10 km strip east of the Green Line, annex a 20 km strip west of the Jordan River and the whole of the Jordan Valley. Israel to control all water resources, all crossing points into the Palestinian “state” including Gaza airport and harbour, and at least 13 bypass roads that connect settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. No mention is made of the many commitments made under Oslo. It would give a future Palestinian state a disconnected 30% of the West Bank (as opposed to a disconnected 45% in a similar plan drawn up by defence minister, Yitzhak Mordechai).
In fact Oslo commitments were of least concern to Israel when, at the end of November, she proposed an effective two stage redeployment, instead of 3 stage, prior to any final status talks – also predicated on a number of conditions including the PNA stopping any anti-Israel “propaganda” in the Palestinian media.
In mid-December Arafat was briefed by US Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright, on Israel’s redeployment plans. It seemed that the price Israel was demanding to effect any second phase of redeployment
was the construction of a new road (route 80) through the West Bank – which will mean the confiscation of more land. In rejecting the idea, Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Ereikat commented that the idea of the Oslo Accords was basically to partition Palestine between two states and not to partition the West Bank between a Palestinian entity and Jewish settlements.
Souvenir shops in the Via Dolorosa, in the Old City of Jerusalem, complained of the continuing Israeli practice of Israeli tourist agencies frightening off the tourists. Reports indicated that the Palestinian vendors were being branded as cheats and thieves, with their goods being sub-standard. Allegations were made that Israeli police make no effort to arrest, and put an end to pickpocketing, those responsible for the petty crime in the area. In addition, the common practice, is to divert tourists through the infamous “tourist tunnel”, the opening of which caused tens of Palestinian deaths the previous September, and then on to the Cardo Market in the Jewish Quarter.
During November the Apostolic Delegate and Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Andrea di Montezemolo, met with the PNA to give reassurance that the recent agreement, Personality Agreement, between the Vatican and Israel left the status of Jerusalem, the Holy Places and the status quo untouched. There were “absolutely no territorial implications”. The agreement legalised the status of individuals accredited by the church in accordance with Canon Law. It did not give Israel any moral or political rights over the locations in which these individuals resided.
The PNA, however, was critical of the agreement, arguing that it endowed the the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem with a legality and a legitimacy by acknowledging the rule of Israeli law with rapport to the Catholic Church wherever it is to be found within occupied Jerusalem. The PNA argued that it was in violation of both the Declaration of Principles signed with Israel and the agreement between the Vatican and the PLO.
Following the killing of one settler and wounding of another on November 21st in the Muslim Quarter, Netanyahu visited the Old City promising to increase the settler presence. He ordered two new police stations to be opened in the City. This is in addition to one opened, at the site of the killing, in the family home of the Tirhi family. This house was first confiscated in 1969. In 1991 it was seized by members of the Ateret Cohanim settler movement. Three years later the Israeli High Court ordered that it be returned to the family. It was due to be returned at the end of November.
In a second arson attack in a month, arsonists- presumed to be Jewish extremists-fire bombed an apartment in West Jerusalem where Palestinian women students lived. Knesset member, Azmi Bishara, was scathing of police inaction accusing them of racism because the victims were Arab not Jews. He warned of the rising tide of racism against Arabs in Israeli society
On the 9th December, in an unprecedented action, the Israeli Knesset rushed through, in one day, the 3 required readings of a bill preventing a Palestinian census taking place in East Jerusalem. The PNA was quick to point out this action contravened the Oslo Accords. As if to confirm this, the Israeli media reported that Israel’s Attorney general had acted to initiate an “amendment to the interim accords with the Palestinian Authority after reaching the conclusion that the original wording was insufficient to prevent the PA from carrying out its census in East Jerusalem.” Where previously the accords prohibited political assemblies and the opening of representative offices in East Jerusalem, Israel’s unilateral change to the accords now prohibited “any similar activity that does not conform with respecting Israel’s sovereignty.” The following day a census enumerator was arrested.
For years, I’ve had to move my family from rented apartment to rented apartment. The municipality simply would not grant me a building license. Now, that I’ve built this house at a cost of 100 000 shekels, I have nothing.
Zhalif Ramadah Za’atarah The Jerusalem Times 5th Dec. 1997
said Khalif Ramadah Za’atarah following the demolition of his house in Sawahrah Sharqiyeh. This was one of three houses demolished by Israel in the Jerusalem area in the same day. The previous day two others had been demolished. Adelrahman Houbani’s home suffered the same fate despite the fact that his application for a building license had been approved but a license never issued.
Two ID cards were withdrawn from residents. This brings to over 1 000 the number of ID cards confiscated during 1997.
It is most unreasonable to prevent the 200 000 people of Hebron from using the street in order to please 300 settlers. This is the height of racism and discrimination.
Mustafa Natsheh, Mayor of Hebron
Confusion reigned over the “opening” of Shuhada Street, the main artery through Hebron which links the Israeli controlled part of the city with the PNA sector. Israel’s unilateral announcement of the “opening” of the street was perceived as being a PR move. No palpable changes took place, except settlers were allowed freedom to move up and down the street, aided by soldiers whenever they harassed the locals. Local and foreign journalists were denied entry when it suited the military.
The main change observed by the local merchants was that of increased provocation by settlers. However the issue does serve a purpose for the Israelis. Despite the situation being in clear breach of the Hebron Protocols, it is one of the many side issues which the Israelis can dig up during negotiations rather than deal with the issues of substance.
During November, 8 tons of expired foodstuffs were confiscated, with 17 merchants prosecuted.
A campaign was mounted pointing out the dangers. It was reported that soldiers and settlers were dumping expired foodstuffs in the vicinity of the Ibrahimi Mosque and in the vicinity of the settlements in the city. Soldiers had been distributing expired foodstuffs to children in the Israeli controlled area of Hebron.
Business as usual
Living standards at a 10:1 ratio do not make good neighbours, particularly when the affluent side enjoys all the attendant freedoms, while the economically deprived are simultaneously stripped of human rights and dignity. Peretz Kidron, Middle East International ,24 Oct 1997.
The two Israeli soldiers accused of killing 65 year old Muhammad Abu Khalil from the village of Hizmeh, last January, walked free from court. The army prosecutor judged it sufficient that the commanding officer appear before a disciplinary court. Abu Khalil was shot at without prior warning, while one of the soldiers sat on his chest as he bled to death.
The Israeli army’s “Rimon” death squad unit, formed for the purpose of hunting down and killing wanted Palestinians, was, according to reports, being reinforced. It is worth noting that the soldier responsible for the gunning down of two British tourists, Daniel Oukaif, is a former member of the unit.
In the closing days of October, the PNA enjoined international organisations to intervene with Israel on behalf of hundreds of university students in the Gaza Strip who are not allowed to pursue their studies in the West Bank. According to the Oslo Accords a safe passage should already have been opened up between the two areas. Its absence has prevented students from continuing their studies for up to three years.
Israeli Shlomo Malol had his sentence for shooting in the head, and killing, 18 year old Palestinian Ra’ed Sha’ban in April 1993, commuted from 4 years to 2 years. The decision that Malol should pay a miserly sum in compensation to the Sha’ban family was also rescinded.
Seven year old Muhammad Jawareesh, from Aidah Refugee Camp near Betlehem, was put on a life support machine after being shot in the head by a bullet. Eyewitness reports indicate that the young boy was waving at the sniper, thinking he had a camera. He was then shot. This followed demonstrations on 12th November against the presence of Jewish worshippers celebrating the construction of a wall around Rachel’s Tomb. In breach of the agreements arising out of the Oslo Accords, the wall also encloses the Mosque of Bilal and blocks off half of the main Bethlehem- Jerusalem road.
The following week Jawareesh was declared brain dead. His parents consented that his organs could be used by Hadassah Hospital in Israel, where he died, with no prior conditions.
Bedouin in the Tamoun area had their water tanks confiscated. Already a number of houses have been demolished and families forced to leave the area, with the occupiers asserting that the land is “state owned”. In contravention of a High Court decision, in early October, which allowed 37 Jahalin Bedouin families to return to Wadi Abu Hindi, previously closed off as a ‘restricted military zone’, Israeli troops destroyed 20 tents and sheds, Wednesday 19th November.
Concern was expressed over Israeli attempts to arrest two Gaza fishermen within PNA territory. Despite agreement in the Oslo Accords over Palestinian fishing rights, the occupation authorities recently restricted access to a ‘lake’ sized area, 25km by 18km. With 3 000 Gazan’s employed in the fishing industry, the industry was only being allowed to deliver about 10% of the market demand.
Over 1 000 olive trees were uprooted on land belonging to the village of Nazlet Zeid, near Jenin. This was followed by the levelling of 30 acres of land, to prepare for by pass roads linking settlements in the area.
In the same week Israeli police apprehended four extremist settlers as they tried to scale Jerusalem’s Old City Wall in an attempt to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. The police dismissed the act as mere climbing practice.
On November 22nd , 37 year old Jimmy Qanawati, a Salvadorean of Palestinian origin was shot dead, in the back, as he drove through the main checkpoint into Bethlehem. His passenger who tried to get help was arrested by the border guards. One week later further demonstrations in Bethlehem led to 40 injured when Israeli soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets on an estimated 5 000 demonstrators.
A Palestinian motorcade was prevented by occupation troops from reaching the Nusseirat area. 30 years ago Israel seized 20 000 acres of the tribe’s land and demolished 7 villages allegedly for “military purposes”. The protestors argued that since Israel was now at peace with Jordan, there was no need to hold on to the land.
The Tel Aviv daily, Maariv, reported that 5 000 cases have been filed in Israeli courts against the Israeli army by Palestinians injured during the Intifada. A bill is currently in front of the Knesset which, when passed, will exempt Israeli soldiers from most cases of civil liability in the Gaza Strip and West Bank (but not Jerusalem), unless the perpetrator has been found guilty of inflicting the injuries.
Two homes were demolished and two others sealed (400 bags of cement were used to fill barrels,these were then placed in the rooms with doors and windows welded) leaving at least 40 people homeless in the village of Asire Al-Shamaliye on December 15th. The 40 residents were not guilty of any offence. DNA results from the remnants of the suicide bombers of July 30 and September 4 were used as a justification. The family members were never accused of complicity in the bombing.
Settlet Avraham Korman who was jailed for beating 10 year old Hilmi Abu Shusheh to death with his rifle butt, was released after 1 year in prison. The PNA has complained to the US over his release.
During October the Israeli High Court confirmed the use of torture by the Israeli secret police, the GSS or Shabak. It was made with regard to Jamal Abu Jadayel, imprisoned for two months and subjected to various methods of torture – including the “harassment” of close relatives, in his presence, to force him to talk.
Protests erupted over the detention without charge of Itaf Alayan who was re-arrested when she entered an Israeli controlled area on October 21st. In an effort to gain her release she augmented her hunger strike by refusing to take water. She was held under strict security, with shackles on wrists and ankles. Supporters and demonstrators were attacked by Israeli troops. Four were injured. Pupils at the nearby Dar Jaser Girl’s School were affected by tear gas with several fainting. Itaf’s condition is described as “critical”.
The Women’s Organisation for Political Prisoners (PO Box 311811 Tel Aviv) reported on various prisoners held in Neve Tirza Prison: Suha Mara (16) sentenced to 3 years; Suna Gha’i (27) mother of a 3 year old child, awaiting trial; Naha El Ayq (19) awaiting trial. They are in the same cell and punished severely for every misdemeanour. Also mother of 4, Nadia El-Hadad (38). Nadia having already spent 4 years in prison and described as mentally unstable,panicked and ran away when she saw a group of soldiers. Her “trying to escape” was the reason for her arrest. In the Russian Compound in Jerusalem is Omaia Suliman (19). Three women were under house arrest.
Blatant violation of the peace accords took place when, on Friday 14th November, an Israeli ‘Arabised’ unit stopped and forcibly removed two Hamas members from the custody of Palestinian police who were transferring the men from a prison in Hebron to a prison in Nablus. Israel alleged that both Abdel Rahman Ghneimat and Jamal Al-Hor, from the village of Sureif, were involved in the killing of Israelis and the bombing of a Tel Aviv cafe. Both had put themselves into the hands of the PNA for ‘safe custody’.
A further act of kidnapping took place on Nov. 18th when 27 year old Ziyad Suleiman Kamil was also seized by an Israeli military unit in an industrial zone, near Jenin, under PNA control. Ziyad ‘s alleged membership of Hamas was given as the reason. Following the incident, checkpoints were established around Jenin, with Israeli visitors denied access.
Settlement and land confiscation
In the last week of October the Israeli Military Commission for Complaints postponed hearings related to land confiscation on the outskirts of Jerusalem.. This effectively denied residents of the villages of Izzariyeh, Issawiyeh, Anata, Abu Dis and Zeayyim the opportunity to prove their ownership of the land. It will bring about the confiscation of over 3 100 acres of land to expand the settlement of Ma’ale Adumin into a city – all part of Israel’s Eastern Gate Project.
Coincident with this, was a piece of obscene, obscurantist Israeli logic directed against five Palestinian shacks built “illegally” on quarter of an acre of land, swamped by sewage from the nearby settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev. Israel accused the residents of creeping towards the settlements – and responded by sending bulldozers, guarded by hundreds of soldiers, to facilitate their demolition. The residents, many originally expelled to the area from Deir Ayoub in 1965, were once again on the move.
1st November. Despite the use of live and rubber bullets, together with tear gas, the Israeli army failed to prevent hundreds of young Palestinian protestors tearing down an iron fence erected by settlers from the adjacent settlement of Ofra. The protestors along with the owners of land from the village of Ein Yabroub then prevented bulldozers from levelling the land which the settlers had tried to separate from the village. Already hundreds of acres of village land has been confiscated.
A similar attempt was made at settlement expansion when bulldozers started to level land belonging to the villages of Qaryut and Jalout near Nablus for the purpose of expanding the settlement of Rahel.
November, in general, witnessed an increase in settlement activity. It was reported that 47 settlements were expanded during the month
Mobile homes were placed in the vicinity of the village of Jabal al-Mukaber in southern Jerusalem. In Bethlehem, near the village of Beit Zakaryia dozens of cypress trees were bulldozed, in addition to other deforestation close to Etzion settlement. Despite a restraining order from the Israeli High Court, the settlers of Efrat used explosives to level land in preparation for expansion.
Total losses for Halhoul and Jama’een farmers in the Hebron area were estimated at $423 000, with 2,000 vines and and 400 olive trees destroyed. Near Nablus settlers from Yetmar continued to confiscate and level land from the village of Awarta. To the south of the city the settlers of Ariel continued their aggressive actions against the village of Yousef. Tens of acres have been levelled in preparation for settlement expansion with bulldozers being brought in to uproot masses of olive trees.
Outside Qalqilia the Israeli army closed off roads and tracks, digging trenches, in some cases, to hinder access. 1 000 acres of land from the villages of Azzoun and Nabil Elias were then confiscated for use by the settlement of Alfei Menashe. In Tulkarem bulldozers, accompanied by the army, uprooted hundreds of olive trees – part of the expansion of Aneh Hefetz.
In the Jordan Valley, the occupation authorities destroyed a newly constructed road joining the village of Kardalah to Bisan.
The settlement, Kfar Oranim, started and frozen under the Rabin government, was reactivated when 5 settler families moved in. 20 km to the east of Tel Aviv, the settlement is an extension of the newly constructed town of Modein.It was regarded as an attempt to extend the Green Line into the West Bank.
The PNA demanded the return of over 2 acres of land seized by settlers in the Mawasi area, Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip. Already the PNA have recorded 320 violations in this area since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Clashes took place on December 4th between occupation troops and Palestinian farmers over attempts to confiscate land near Tal Zurub, near Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Levelling of the land for the purpose of settlement expansion and the installation of military structures was halted. The Tal Zurub area is considered to be one of the most fertile areas in Palestine. It also overlooks the surrounding land.
The following week it was confirmed that a resident from the village of Issawiyeh sold 20 acres of village land, for $10 million, to an Israeli land agent. The land is to be annexed to the expanding settlement of Maale Adumin. The PNA has requested the arrest of the vendor, who fled to Jordan.
Palestinian National Authority
During the intifada , people forgot about tribes. We were one people. Now the tribes are back.
A Palestinian onlooker, M E I 7Nov. 1997
In the worst breakdown of public order in two years, several thousand Palestinians stormed the governor’s house in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, on October 3rd. It arose out of a fight between two of Rafah’s powerful clans – the al-Dhair and Abu Samhadana families. The latter are also a political force in the area, with one member of the family, having failed in his attempt to be elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, then being given the post of governor – a post which never existed previously – by President Arafat.
This action, which was unpopular with the locals, was seen as result of loyalty to Arafat. It was followed by quick promotion of the new governor’s brothers, one as head of the political dept in the PNA’s interior ministry, an other in charge of the PNA’s electricity company in southern Gaza.
The power of family connection (in an area with unemployment levels of 60%) was extended to the administration of justice when in October, a heavily armed police patrol under Samhadana arrived at the home of the Al-Dhair’s mukhtar. Unable to gain access the police opened fire, fatally wounding the clan chief.
Following the funeral on October 23rd all hell broke loose. A crowd of 2 000 plus, led by the al-Dhair family, descended on the plush governor’s residence. In a battle lasting several hours, the governor’s house, and those of two of his brothers (both officers in the Palestinian police) were torched. Palestinian police opened up fire killing one demonstrator and wounding 4 others. The dead man was a member of a family already at loggerheads with the Samhadana clan, the second member to be killed as a result of clan feuding.
Observers note that since the PNA came to power in Gaza, the rule of the people has been based on Fatah, Arafat’s faction within the PLO, and the deliberate empowerment of the tribal structure. Tribal and political loyalties are now interwoven. With the consequent results.
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group reported that two elderly Palestinians, detained on suspicion of selling land to the occupiers, died while in custody in Nablus Central Prison. Both suffered from heart conditions. In December the Group reported 18 deaths in PNA custody.
Rumours, attributed to the Israeli press, Netanyahu and his media adviser, began to circulate regarding President Arafat’s health. Reports of symptons indicating the onset of Parkinson’s disease were denied by PNA spokespersons. Arafat himself said that he suffers from the side effects of his survival from a plane crash at the start of the decade, when his nervous system suffered damage. However reports also suggest that a power struggle has started within the PNA and the PLO over his successor.
Professor Fathi Soboh of Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip, following local and international protests, was released from 5 months detention in Gaza Central Prison on November 26th. During this period no charges were preferred. It was believed that he was detained for setting exam questions concerning corruption within the PNA and the University.
The West Bank head of the Palestinian Preventative Security Force (PSF), Jibril Rajub, was suspended for 6 months. Currently there are two ongoing battles for the soul of Fatah, the dominant PLO faction. One wants to democratise, the other wants to”militarise” the movement. Rajub is seen to be a supporter of the latter, highlighted when he reportedly demanded that the funds from Fatah’s Shabiba youth movement should be handed over to him since many of the young activists also work for the PSF.
Since Madrid and Oslo in 1993, travel between the West Bank and Gaza has never been so hard and hazardous. The studies and homelife of students who, ideally, should be commuting, have been severely disrupted. In other instances, Israeli intransigence and occupation diktats have torn lives apart.
There is the case of ‘Fatima’. Her wedding headdress is starting to yellow after 18 months in the cupboard. She met her Gazan fiancé in Jordan He returned to Gaza, found a house and started to make wedding preparations. Fatima applied for a permit to travel to Gaza. It was refused. As was her twelfth attempt. In desperation she decided to travel to Gaza via Jordan and Egypt. A farewell party was held. She set off the next day but was never allowed over the Allenby Bridge. She was advised that she would never be allowed to enter Gaza for ‘security reasons’ and told to go back to Nablus. (The Jerusalem Times 19/12/97)
The cost of the Intifada
December 1987 was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Intifada.. The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem
calculated the tangible and measurable human cost as follows:
*1 479 Palestinians killed
*1 346 by the Israeli army
*133 by Israeli settlers or civilians
*267 children were killed
*162 were killed by Israeli undercover agents masquerading as Arabs
*481 were expelled from their land
*18 000 were placed under administrative detention Thousands were interrogated and subjected to torture
*447 homes were demolished as a punishment
*81 because they allegedly sheltered wanted men
*1 800 were demolished because they were built without a license
*294 were sealed as a punishment
*256 Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians
*18 were children
*127 military personnel were killed
*256 alleged Palestinian collaborators were killed by fellow Palestinians
The Jerusalem Times, December 12th 1997View all →