Palestinian Autonomy A Palestinian state in the making
We say to the Israeli side you must give Palestinians their full freedom to achieve peace. If you do so, violence will be stopped. The absence of peace has been motivating all phenomenon of violence in the Palestinian street.
Michael Sabbah, Jerusalem Patriarch
On 12 December Palestinian delegates of groups opposed to the the current developments met in Damascus to recommend the expulsion of Yasser Arafat from the PLO and for the PNC’s abrogation of the Palestinian Charter to be declared null and void. With the common link that “not one square inch” of Palestine had been liberated, the meeting was attended by eight PLO opposition groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad together with a delegation of dissidents from Arafat’s Fatah faction.
As far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers [in 1999 read the US and Israel] have made no statement which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy. . . they have not always intended to violate.
A J Balfour (of Balfour Declaration fame) [MEI 15/1/99]
With President Clinton’s three day visit to the autonomous areas, commencing 13 December, which included the opening of Gaza International Airport, a meeting with the children of Palestinian prisoners, not forgetting his speech to those members of the Palestine National Council willing or able to attend (which was boycotted by at least 20 members of the PLC and others who objected to the “humiliating terms” under which the meeting was being held) – certain areas of Palestine took on a euphoric air. Many regarded the visit as an indirect endorsement of a Palestinian state. Many seemed to think their world was about to change for the better when Clinton expressed US empathy with the Palestinian people who had suffered “a history of dispossession and dispersal”.
This did not last long, for two main reasons. There was an immediate breakdown following a three-way meeting between Arafat- Clinton-Netanyahu on December 17. Israel shelved the second phase of the Wye agreement whereby a further five per cent of occupied land was to change status, to joint Palestinian-Israeli control. This followed the announcement of early elections in Israel. Israel refused to release any more political prisoners and tried to impose new conditions, including a ban on on talking about any intention to create a Palestinian state.
Then there was the bombing of Iraq. Once it transpired that while Clinton was singing “Joy to the World” in front of the Church of the Nativity he must have been planning the blitz in Iraq, the euphoria turned sour. It did not help matters when he tried to invoke the recent “rapprochement” with the Palestinian people as a camouflage for his actions in Iraq.
With Christmas approaching, there was no sign of celebration in Bethlehem , no Christmas tree in the centre of Manger Square which was reminiscent of a building site, all in preparation for Bethlehem 2000. The US and British airstrikes over Iraq had cast a pall over the town. “People have no sense of any sort to celebrate. We have made our preparations as usual, but the feelings of people are different.” said Abdalla Khader Haj, a member of the town council.
With Israeli elections on the horizon, there was much debate as to whether there should be a declaration of Palestinian statehood on 4 May. This date marks the end of the five-year interim period stipulated by the Oslo Accords. The debate centred around the proposal that any declaration should be delayed until after the Israeli elections for fear that Netanyahu and his entourage might benefit.
Netanyahu’s position on any declaration was quite clear. On 9 January, at a meeting of Likud supporters, he announced that any declaration of Palestinian statehood could lead to the annexation of Israeli controlled “Area C” or 70% of the West Bank. Arafat would not be allowed to determine Israel’s borders or “redivide” Jerusalem. Three days later there was the further threat that Arafat and his followers might not be allowed to leave the autonomous enclaves should a declaration be made.
It is anticipated that, with the Israeli election due, there will be an upsurge in colonising activities in the West Bank. Few will be prepared to criticise for fear that Netanyahu’s popularity will rise thus enhancing his re-election prospects.
With the death of King Hussein of Jordan on 7 February, Netanyahu was determined that any spotlight should focus on himself – regardless of the reasons. This first emerged when, two days before Hussein’s death, he called a press conference to express his condolences to the Jordanian people. The outrage felt by Jordan was only surpassed when the tactless Netanyahu ignored Jordanian sentiment that he should not attend the funeral with the preferred senior representative being President Ezer Weizman.
Earlier in the week Weizman angered Palestinians when he commuted the sentences of five Israeli civilians imprisoned for murdering ten Palestinians between 1990 and 1993. Included was Ami Popper who shot dead seven Palestinian labourers, in 1990, after lining them up at the roadside. The excuse was that the PNA had released Palestinian prisoners with “blood on their hands.” Even the local CIA overlord refuted this accusation..
[The Israeli human rights body, B’Tselem, reported that during the Intifada 91 Israelis in the occupied territories died at the hands of Palestinian assailants. This resulted in 24 Palestinians sentenced to life imprisonment in Israeli courts, 9 in Israeli jails waiting to be indicted, 21 waiting for their cases to be processed and 10 suspected to be victims of Israeli undercover death squads.
In contrast, during the same period, Israeli civilians killed 113 Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. Two Israelis were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment (subsequently commuted to 13 and 15 years), 38 files were closed, 73 Israelis were convicted of lesser offences.]
With this date looming, the date when the interim period as stipulated in the Oslo Accords is due to come to an end and independence of the Palestinian people due to start, Yasser Arafat left on 20 March for a tour of European capitals. By the end of the tour his rhetoric on declaring a Palestinian state on the 4th had diminished to one of pleading the US to fill any political vacuum which may be left on that date.
Five years on from September 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed, when euphoria engulfed the occupied territories, the Palestinians still find themselves at the mercy of Israeli domestic concerns. Pressure is still being applied to Arafat not to rock the boat with regard to Israeli elections which take place two weeks later.
The 4th could leave many vacuums in its wake:
- the legitimacy of the Palestinian National Authority could come to an end
- in the eyes of his own people, Arafat’s legitimacy will be on the line; should the interim period not be extended, Arafat’s legitimacy in the eyes of the US and Israel will be imperilled
- the PNA’s “security obligations” could come to an end
Arafat’s own Fatah group have supported the call for the PLO Central Council to assert itself and fling off the constraints of the recent Wye agreement.There have been calls for the dissolution of the PNA and the Legislative Council, and the holding of new elections which will not be regulated by the Oslo Accords.
Palestinian National Authority
Dec 18: Eight Palestinian journalists were arrested for covering pro-Iraqi demonstrations. Their film was confiscated and they were forced to sign guarantees not to film or file reports harmful to the image of the PNA. On the same day the PNA shut down private TV and radio stations that broadcast anti-American rallies. Two days later when the bombing stopped, the closure was lifted. A strike planned for the 30th, organised by the Arab Journalists Syndicate was called off after agreement had been reached with the police.
With the murder of a PNA security officer in Rafah, Gaza Strip, some 60 Hamas suspects were detained. During an attempt to catch fugitives, two children were run over by the security forces during the car chase.
On Dec 23rd the PNA released Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, from house arrest following his vocal oppositon to the Wye agreement. [Two days later the Sheikh was calling for the continuation of armed struggle.] January: A vigil was held in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the start of a campaign to free prisoners held without trial by the PNA. Widescale protests continued into early February, with scores of detainees in Jericho and Nablus going on hunger strike. In Hebron a PNA official admitted that there was constant pressure from the USA to keep as many Islamists as possible in prison.
February 12: 1 000 demonstrators took to the streets in Nablus in protest at the detention of 50 Islamists in the local jail. On the same day, in Jericho, hundreds stormed the police HQ in protest at the detention of five prisoners, now on hunger strike, without charge. The next day the PLC called for the prohibition of political detention and the immediate release of those detained only for political reasons. On 15 Feb, Arafat formed a committee to study the file of every political prisoner with a view to possible release.
On February 25th, near to midnight, a special military court sentenced Colonel Ahmad Abu Mustafa of the Palestinian border police to death. Two hours later he was executed, the third to be executed out of 24 sentenced to death by Palestinian courts since 1995. While the common perception was that this was for carrying out a sexual assault on a six year old boy (for which he was given 15 years hard labour), the crime for which the death sentence was carried out was for inciting the public against the Palestinian Authority.
On March 10th following a trial in a special Palestinian court, described by human rights organisations as “theatric”, a former Hamas activist was sentenced to death by firing squad. Following the guilty verdict on Ra’ed Attar for the murder of a PNA security officer, with circumstantial evidence being offered by the prosecution, demonstrations followed in Rafah and the nearby refugee camp of Yibna.
The demonstrations and calls for the dissolution of the State Security Court and against the PNA security bosses resulted in the deaths of two teenagers when the police opened fire.
Business as usual
December Israel’s refusal to release prisoners “with blood on their hands” caused widespread riots resulting in the death of 5 Palestinians and injury to hundreds. Dec 20: At Ashkelon Prison in Israel, Palestinian prisoners refused to meet representatives of the PNA in protest at the Wye agreement which had provided no cast-iron guarantee for their release. Five days earlier the prisoners had called off their hunger strike with, it was reported, a sense of betrayal, a feeling shared by the population at large.
Spontaneous protests swept Palestinian controlled areas over the bombing of Iraq and in support of the Iraqi people. In Ramallah, Israeli troops opened fire on demonstrators, many being students from Birzeit University, fatally wounding nineteen year old Mohammed Daoud from Beit Daq. Nablus witnessed the angriest demonstrations, with thousands marching through the streets.
January Four vehicles owned by British Consulate officials were confiscated by Israeli tax officials. A retroactive income tax demand of $425 000 was demanded. All part of the Israeli scheme to assert their claim to East Jerusalem. 12th. Fayez Zitawi, 57, was stabbed and seriously injured on his way to work in West Jerusalem. He was the ninth victim of a a killer, believed to be Jewish, who has already murdered 2 Palestinians. In sharp contrast to the draconian measures taken by the Israelis when the victim is Jewish and the perpetrator believed to be Palestinian, the police have made little headway in apprehending the attacker who always commits his crimes in early morning.
13th: Mounted Israeli police used tear gas to disperse young Palestinians outside Al Aqsa mosque. 19th: Ten political prisoners were released by Israel two weeks before the end of their 14 month sentence. Three days later it was reported that the Israeli security agency, the Shin Bet, were to change some of their interrogation techniques as a result of a High Court ruling. This will not include the method of torture known as “shaking.” Already Palestinians subjected to this torture have died as a result of brain dislocation.
5th: The occupation forces declared Nablus a “closed military zone” as a result of demonstrations against the detention practices of the PNA 1 200 olive trees were uprooted by the occupation forces. The trees were owned by four families from Anayn village near Jenin. The bulldozers were protected by Israeli soldiers. The suspicion is that a military camp is to be established on 18 acres of confiscated land.
In mid-March a meeting of European Union delegates at Orient House in Jerusalem, the de facto, headquarters of the PLO, was met by a howl of protest from Netanyahu. The man who has observed the Oslo Accords more in breach than observance, protested that the venue for the meeting contradicted the obligations made under Oslo. The Israelis were duly informed that the EU continue to regard Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, under the 1947 UN resolution on Jerusalem.
Settlements, land confiscation and house demolition
28 December: The Israeli army evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in the village of Kifl Harith, situated in an area under Israeli security control, as a prelude to the demolition of the family homes. Seven Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were injured following clashes between stone-throwers and the return fire of tear gas and rubber coated metal bullets. The village of Kifl Harith, population 5 000, along with six others, lies in the path of the encroaching Ariel settlement. Two other homes face the same fate in the near future.
During the confrontations, 20 women refused to evacuate the 3 room house of Husam Abu Yacoub. However tear-gas fired into the house forced them out. Husam, clutching his toddler son, was wrestled to the ground during a vain attempt to block the bulldozers and soldiers. One of his neighbours, Mahmoud Shaqur, whose own home is threatened with partial demolition, works as a construction worker at the settlement – the only job he can find to support his family of eight.
3 January: Bids were submitted from 7 Israeli contractors for building the illegal settlement (Har Homa) on Jebel Abu Ghneim belonging to the villages of Sur Baher and Umm Touba. An eventual 6 500 housing units are planned on the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Israeli TV further reported that 7 000 housing units are under construction in the Ramallah area. Tenders were issued for the construction of an extra 650 units at Betar Ilit, a religious settlement south of Jerusalem currently housing 10 000 of a population.
US bingo millionaire, Irving Moskovitch was given the go-ahead by the Israeli Archaeological Authority for the construction of a 132 unit high-rise settlement in the heart of Arab Ras al Amoud in East Jerusalem.
Bethlehem witnessed measures which indicate clear Israeli intention to annex the town to Jerusalem. Street vendors were forcibly removed from the route to the city. The following week Palestinian cars parked near a checkpoint were forcibly removed and owners of commercial property in the area were told to pay taxes to the Jerusalem municipality.
This coincided with a virulent campaign by Efrat settlers to acquire land belonging to the village of Artas, south of Bethlehem. Settlers systematically destroyed hundreds of acres of land, including ancient sites, stone walls on land belonging to the ancient monastery of Artas.
To the east of Bethlehem, bulldozers started work to create a new settlement on land confiscated from the village of Teqoa- in addition to a nearby newly created hilltop settlement.
On February 5th protests took place at the village of Walaja to, the west of Bethlehem, against Israeli army orders to demolish a number of buildings, including the mosque. On the same day, Israeli media reported that a group of Israelis had secretly purchased 2 000 acres of land between Jerusalem and the west of Bethlehem, from Palestinian owners, over a period of 10 years. A private company planned to build a Jewish Israeli neighbourhood comprising several thousand housing units.
On the 15th bulldozers demolished 3 unfinished homes in Nablus, bringing to 21 the total destroyed since the Wye Agreements was signed. Nine days earlier an Israeli newspaper reported the transfer of eight municipal inspectors from West to East Jerusalem, possibly in response to Mayor Olmert’s announcement that house demolition would be stepped up in East Jerusalem.
A couple of other buildings awaited the attention of Israeli bulldozers. There was Omar Ajaj of Jabal Mukaber, East Jerusalem, who despairing of ever getting a building permit after a 3 year wait, was waiting for the legal 30 minutes notice to get out of his newly built house. There was the headteacher of Hope Flowers School. Noted for promoting Palestinian- Israeli coexistence and having been visited by Clinton’s wife during December, the two top floors of the school, it front yard and kitchen awaited the attention of the occupation authorities.
Following the shooting and injuring of two Israeli women, settlers from Kiryat Arba, on 4 January, a curfew was imposed on 20 000 Hebronites. During this period, gun toting settlers patrolled the area, seizing rooftops of buildings, occupying houses in the area. Israeli snipers manned the rooftops, some homes were raided with families forced to remain outside for hours on end. Live ammunition was used to enforce the curfew.
At the end of three days of riots and curfew, 26 year old Badr Kawasmeh was shot dead by occupation soldiers when he pointed a toy gun at them.
On 10 January, during a peaceful demonstration against the curfew of the previous few days, members of the Chicago based Christian Peacemaker Team placed themselves between the demonstrators and the opposing Israeli soldiers. This resulted in two of them being arrested in a situation where the soldiers had levelled their guns at the demonstrators as they tried to make their way to worship at the al Ibrahimi mosque.
The curfew was lifted on 11 January, following the arrest of seven alleged Islamists on suspicion of being involved in the earlier attack on the settlers.
On 13 January, gunmen opened fire on a group of settlers south of Hebron, killing one and wounding another. One Palestinian was killed and one wounded at the scene. Seven villagers from Dura were subsequently arrested on suspicion of having ties with Hamas.
Neighbours from Hell
Hasan Al-Arjan has for 30 years lived within the boundaries of Gush Katif settlement, between Rafah and Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.
Through his window, 15 metres away, he can see the adjoining house of his son. Then his settler neighbours took action. Up went the barbed wire – effectively the two homes were now in different countries. A journey of 1.5 km, around the settlement, is now necessary for one to reach the other. They are insulted by settlers and his son has to wait for hours at the gate to get permission to enter. Hasan and his 13 member family are not allowed to leave their home after 6pm. Arab cars are not allowed near them.
They are treated as if they are ambassadors of Palestine, comments Hasan. They are subjected to barbed wire, bypass roads, degrading “security”checks, episodes of searching and provocation by individuals who only speak the “language of arrogance and wrath.” Yet the family refuses to leave their land.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights met in Geneva in November 1998 to review Israel’s compliance under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. – one of the covenants based on the now 50 year old Declaration of Human Rights. The 18 independent members from different countries concluded:
- The World Zionist Organisation, Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund, which are linked to the state of Israel by law, operate as public bodies with the government granting them a vast amount of resources (including confiscated Palestinian land and property) for exclusive Jewish use. This was deemed to be “an institutionalised form of discrimination” against that 19% of Israel’s Arab population and a breach of Israel’s obligation to the Charter.
- While “Basis Law” links such exclusionary bodies to the state, gives Jews anywhere in the world the right to Israeli citizenship, the Committee noted “with concern” that Israel makes it “almost impossible [for Palestinians] to return to the land of their birth.
- Specific forms of discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens were outlined: housing, land, basic services, education and employment rights. The spotlight was put on Arab-Jew mixed areas where government policy has allowed the Arab areas to degenerate into “virtual slums.” (Lydda and Jaffa). There was the position of “unrecognised villages” within Israel which lack basis services and which face the constant threat of eviction to government allocated “concentrated areas.”
- The Committee addressed the problem of some 200 000 “present absentees” who are also citizens of Israel, forced to leave their homes in 1948 with property confiscated by the Israeli state.
- Jerusalem featured with the continuing denial of right of access to most Palestinians, the systematic and discriminatory restrictions on travel, family reunification and travel, continuing house demolition and Israel’s continuing policy of “population transfer” including the implanting of colonial settlers in Jerusalem and other areas.
- The diverting of water for exclusive Israeli use, the restrictions on Palestinian use of water, the construction of by-pass roads which isolate Palestinian communities was noted. The Committee called upon Israel to halt this settlement and road construction.
- The widespread violation of many Palestinian rights was noted – closures, restrictions on movements of people and goods, blocking access to medical care, notably in emergencies, at road-blocks, resulting in deaths. Poverty and lack of food during closures have particularly affected children, the elderly and pregnant women.
In drawing up its recommendation that Israel act to comply with international human rights law, Israel was asked to produce information omitted from its mandatory report to the Committee under the Covenant. In two years time, it should cover East Jerusalem and the provision of services to the “unrecognised villages” within Israel.
Israel was urged to review the status of its relationship with the World Zionist Organisation and other bodies to ensure non-discrimination. Israel was asked to review its entry policy for Palestinians to bring it to a level comparable with the Law of Return as applied to Jews. With regard to closures, Israel was urged to respect the right to self- determination, so that no-one would be “deprived of its own means of subsistence.” The Committee urged an end to state-sponsored violations against Palestinians – both citizens of Israel and occupied Palestine – including house demolition, land and water confiscation, arbitrary evictions.
The data was compiled over two years by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. It showed that the population of the Gaza Strip was 1 022 207, the West Bank 1 873 476 (including 210 209 in East Jerusalem). By the year 2 000 the population in the occupied territories is projected to reach 3.2 million. By 2025 this will reach 7.4 million.
Currently 47% is under 15 years with 3.5% over 65 years.
Refugees make up 26.5% of the West Bank’s population and 65.1% of Gaza’s, giving a total of 1 074 718 or 41.4% of the population. Only one third of the population is connected to a central sewage system; 19.5% of the families have telephone lines; the illiteracy rate is 11.6%. And 1.8% or 46 063 of the population are handicapped.
The peace process has pitted each group against the other, enabling Israel to extract concessions at the expense of the Palestinians in the diaspora in return for the illusion of Palestinian independence.
So observed Lamis Andoni of Middle East International (25/12/98) while commenting on the burning of Clinton and Arafat effigies in the refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan while the American flag flew over Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. One group saw their rights further marginalised and ignored. The other saw the end of Israeli occupation hopefully loom closer.
The article argued that while the Charter was long overdue for an overhaul, the Palestinian leadership has allowed Israel to shape Palestinian goals. The Charter continued to offend Israel with its statement of Israel as a “threat to peace” and that “liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist presence”. It had to go.
“The abrogation of the Charter without replacement means that the Palestinian leadership is giving the US and Israel a free hand in redefining Palestinian identity and rights to suit Israel’s interests. . . . . and absolves Israel of having to confront its past and the consequences of Palestinian dispossession. . . . But the vindication of Israel’s past by abrogating the Charter cannot lead to freedom and justice for the Palestinians, nor can it bring security and peace for the Israelis.”View all →