Briefing Paper March 2000
The Palestinians “have locked themselves into an entirely Israeli-driven process, in which Israel holds all the cards and the Palestinians can only respond to them”
Khalil Shiqaqi, Palestinian political analyst
During the month of December there was no progress in the negotiating front between the PLO and the government of Ehud Barak with the main stumbling block being Israel’s uncompromising position on settlements. Issues discussed included a further 5% redeployment of the occupation forces, release of further Palestinian prisoners and monetary restitution to Palestinians who have suffered occupation.
On December 8th, Arafat met with US Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright. He failed to persuade her to intervene in the overdue (by one month) second redeployment or on settlements. Her only interest, reportedly, was to get a commitment from Arafat to try to reach a draft Framework Agree with the Israelis for mid-January.
Overshadowing the talks was the Syrian-Israeli negotiations which commenced mid-December with talk of a $17billion “compensation” package, including military aid, for quitting the Golan Heights which were seized 33 years ago.
However on 29th December, in an action not coordinated with the Palestinian Authority, 26 prisoners were released. For the first time these included prisoners resident in Jerusalem, seven in number, and one from the opposition group, the PFLP. Seventy year old Mahmoud Qawasmi from Hebron, jailed for killing an Israeli soldier 28 years ago, was amongst those released.
This unilateral action by Israel was followed by demonstrations by those families with relatives still incarcerated in Israeli jails. Further unilateral action followed when, on 6-7 January, a clutch of disconnected villages, enclaves and a “nature reserve” (including military bases near Jenin and Ramallah) was transferred to Palestinian control – based upon a map long rejected by the Palestinian Authority. Both Palestinian and Israeli media revealed that negotiations were taking place to “repatriate” some 2 000 Fatah fighters from Lebanon to the self-rule areas.
The Israeli cabinet decided on 15 January to postpone the next scheduled “redeployment” from occupied territory. Two days later, Arafat and Barak met in an attempt, it was reported, to “defuse the looming crisis” between the two sides.
On the 2 February, the Palestinian Central Council met to debate issues pertinent to the declaration of a Palestinian state. The meeting was boycotted by the Islamic Resistance Group (Hamas), Islamic Jihad and pro-Syrian factions of the Palestinian movement.
Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak met at Beit Hanoun (Erez) Junction on 3 February. Not only was it acknowledged that the date of 13 February for the drawing up of a Framework Agreement for future talks would not be met, but the gulf over Jerusalem, settlements, borders and refugees had widened. Arafat described Barak as a hard-liner, no different from Netanyahu, his predecessor. Barak suggested giving the PNA “partial control” over the border control with Jordan and Egypt, a 55-60% withdrawal from the West Bank with Israel annexing the rest, including the settlement blocs, the Jordan valley and areas around Jerusalem. These proposals were rejected by the Palestinian side.
Of refugees there was no public mention. Yet the end of January coincided with the disclosure of a massacre pepetrated by the forerunner to the Israeli Defence Force, the Haganah, on 14 May 1948 – the day of the creation of the state of Israel. One of the many acts of terrorism in Palestine in 1948 which preciptated the flight of an eventual 750 000 refugees seeking security and shelter and for whom Israel continues to deny any responsibility
While Palestinian oral tradition has always spoken of the massacre at the village of al Tantura, near Haifa, nobody ever listened. Now Israeli historian and researcher, Teddy Katz, with extensive testimony from both victor and vanquished has confirmed the detail. Soldiers from the Third Battalion of the Haganah’s Alexandroni Brigade took groups of ten men at a time, lined them up against a cemetry wall and shot them. In all about 200 were slaughtered for trying to defend their village from a Zionist attack where 14 of the attackers were killed.[Middle East Internaional 28/1/00]
Business as usual
On the 13th two alleged Hamas activists were killed following a 50 minute gun battle with an Israeli undercover unit in the village of Beit Awwa (situated in area B where the PNA has full administrative control, and the occupiers in charge of security), near Hebron. They apparently were members of the Hamas military wing and on the occupier’s “most wanted list.” Israeli reports that the two wanted men had fired first were denied by eye-witnesses. Apparently the village had been closed off for hours before hundreds of occupation troops and a helicopter gunship arrived Twenty alleged Hamas members were then arrested in the village. Reports of collusion beween the Israeli forces and the Palestinian Security Apparatus were denied.
On the 17th, bomb making equipment was found in a Hamas hideout” in Hebron as a result of information supplied by the Israelis and extracted from a Palestinian under interrogation.
On the 25th, the number of pilgrims in Bethlehem was reported to have been low, 15,000 short of the expected 50 000. Much of the blame was laid at the door of Western countries, particularly the US, which had issue warnings of possible terrorist attacks. On the 29th the guards of the Islamic waqf, on duty at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, arrested an Israeli-Arab carrying an Uzy machine gun and other weapons. With the man having already passed through Israeli security, opinion was expressed that the security of Muslim worshippers was, perhaps, not a serious concern of the Israelis.
The Israeli newspaper,Ha’aretz, leaked a report which stated that the Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Beit Hanina and Shufat would pass to the civilian control of the PNA.
Israeli police commenced a programme of installing up to 400 CCTV cameras throughout the occupied Old City of Jerusalem. The reason given was to “discourage pickpockets and thieves and to foil attacks on holy sites.” Yet the Israeli police refused Palestinian shop-keepers in the city the right to employ their own security-guards to help stem the recent rise in robberies in the city.
Sinc the opening of the “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank, less than three months ago, about 20,000 Palestinians are reported to have taken the opportunity to leave the Gaza Strip, perhaps trying to seek a new life for themselves.
On the 3rd an estimated 70-80 armed activists from Al Amari refugee camp descended on Ramallah firing their weapons and burning tyres. Apparently it was aimed at the release from PNA custody of a certain Nasser Abu Imaid, a leader of a group responsible for the deaths of about 20 collaborators during the intifada. The refugee camp was described as a “new republic” wih Fatah activists refusing to hand over their weapons and flaunting their ownership of cars stolen from Israel. (On the 13th, the governor of Ramallah was shot at by, allegedly, camp activists. Also on the 3rd, an Israeli guard employed at one of the many buildings seized and occupied by the extreme settler organisation, Ateret Cohanim, in the Old City of Jerusalem was attacked and his weapon stolen. On the same night about 20 Palestinian youth were arrested following stone-throwing at the occupation forces in the city.
On the night of the 4th, a freezing cold night, the Israeli electric power company pulled the plug on the Gaza Strip. With the Palestinian of Gaza being at the mercy of the occupiers, they were the ones to suffer when demand on the network exceeded supply.
The Israeli Navy arrested Palestinian fishermen, and destroyed their nets, on the 10th. The occupation authorities confine the fishermen to a narrow six mile strip along the Gaza Coast, out of reach of the major fish stocks. The Israeli army coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza Strip announced that the age restriction for Palestinian workers in Israel would be reduced to 21, from 25 years of age. It was reported that the Israeli export company, Agrexco, had informed strawberry growers in the Gaza Strip, that it had stopped handling their produce. With no alternative available, the producers faced large losses. The reason was thought to be quality related. However observers were quick to point out that the decision coincided with the start of the Israeli exporting season.
On the 17th, the occupation authorities extended the detention of Iman Nimr, head of Al-Huda Women’s Society in Ramallah. Iman was arrested on the 12th, on the way back from Mecca to her home in Ramallah, in an attempt to extract a confession that she is a member of Hamas.
On the same day there was bomb explosion in Hadera, northern Israel. Left in a litter bin, the explosion injured 26 Israelis and resulted in the arrest and detention of 15 Palestinians. This followed alleged suicidal bomb attempts by members of Islamic Jihad resulting in the arrest of four students from Ramallah Teachers Training College. A further 20 alleged Islamic Jihad activists were arrested in the West Bank, including five from the village of Surif, near Hebron.
On the 25th Israeli patrols collected data from residents in the Cremisan neighbourhood of Beit Jala, an act reckoned to be a prelude to the collection of taxes from the residents. Israel has long considered this part of occupied Palestine to be part of “Greater Jerusalem.” Meanwhile at Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, occupation troops prevented work continuing in a public park which, previously, had been a rubbish dump.
On the same day, about 700 Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prison at Asquelon staged a one day hunger strike in protest at Israel refusing to release prisoners deemed to have Jewish “blood on their hands.”
On the 1st, the home of Muhammed Sheikh Omar in the village of Essawiya was demolished by the bulldozers of Jerusalem City Council under the protective presence of Israeli police. The village was declared a closed military zone for the occasion , the second time that the family home had been demolished, with the occupation authorities refusing to grant a permit. There are a further 24 houses in the village under a similar threat of demolition. Already more than 3 000 acres of village land has been confiscated.
The following day the Israeli cabinet gave unilateral approval for a further redeployment from about 6% of the
West Bank, mainly around Hebron but also in the Nablus and Jenin areas. Concurrently, it was revealed that a settlement in the Latrun area had been annexed to the state of Israel. It followed the relocation of a military checkpoint bringing about three square kilometres under Israeli sovereignty.
Palestinian National Authority
I challenge the PA officials to go into the streets for one day only, stripped of their beautiful cars and VIP passes, to hear the people and their grievances. They would discover that the language of the manifesto is gentle and polite compared with
What the people have to say about their leadership?
Lamis Andoni, Palestinian journalist (Challenge no.59)
Six of the signatories to the “Manifesto 20”, a document which accused the Palestinian political leadership of corruption and abuse of power, were released from custody on 19 December. With Amnesty International declaring the detainees prisoners of conscience, particular concern was expressed over two detainees (eventually released on 6 January) who had been transferred to the General Intelligence detention centre in Jericho.
Those who made efforts to gain the release of the detainees suffered for their efforts. One was knocked unconscious by a stone flung at her doorway, following a threat. Seventy year old Abd al-Jawwad Saleh, a respected but independent minded member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was badly beaten up by security agents when he paid a visit to the Intelligence detention centre to try and gain the release of the two remaining detainees. A smear campaign against the signatories was very much in evidence, but Arafat had to back down when it came to Bassam Shak’a, the former mayor of Nablus. Apparently popular backlash was feared.
On the 27 December, the High Military Court in Gaza sentenced corporal Hussein Abu Nahel to death, by firing squad, for killing another man in a family feud. W ith the defendant’s lawyers having withdrawn in protest at trial procedures, at the last court session Nahel had no legal representation. [In the past five years , 17 death sentences have been passed with three being carried out.]
The PNA accused the Israeli governent of restricting the natural flow of rainwater, into the wadis which supply the Gaza Strip, by closing dams
On 21 December settlers, with the backing of Israeli soldiers and border guards, destroyed 200 olive trees on the land of the village of Mugheir, near Ramallah. Afew days earlier, 40 trees had been destroyed in the same grove. Being the fifth such incident in two years, the action was described as a plan by the occupier’s to systematically chase the villagers away in order to seize the land.
On the 24th, a UNDP funded land reclamation programme for storing water, terracing and planting almond, vine and olive groves was attacked by settlers from Gush Etzion. The land, on a hill-top sited opposite Elazar settlement on the Jerusalem-Hebron road, and owned by villagers from al-Khader was occupied by 30 settlers with the express aim of preventing Palestinian cultivation.
Towards the end of January a group of 12 settlers, in contravention of the Hebron Agreement, tried to force an entry into part of Hebron under Palestinian control. Ostensibly on a visit to a Jewish grave, they were prevented from passing through a Palestinian road-blockView all →