Briefing Paper April 2000
Has the world become so determined to humiliate and look down at us? Where is the people’s right of self-determination? Where is our right of return to our land? Personally, I neither want to go to Jordan, Iraq, Canada nor to Norway. I have a land and a country and I have a right to return to it. . . . I, like many Palestinians, want to return to Palestine.
Wissam Ahmad (16 years), Shatila Refugee Camp (Return Review, March 2000)
Total stalemate on the political front coincided with the launching of an international political campaign to re-affirm the rights of Palestinian refugees. The Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation launched a petition at the beginning of March which affirmed that “every Palestinian has a legitimate, individual right to absolute restitution of all of his or her property and the right to return to his or her original home.”
This followed the re-arrest of Abd al-Sattar Qasem, professor of political science at Nablus al-Najah University, one of the signatories of the earlier petition which accused the PNA of corruption and incompetence. No explanation was offered for his detention. However, sources indicated that Qasem was involved in preparing a new petition which stressed that the Palestinian leadership has no right to compromise the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and, any compromise would not be binding on the Palestinian people.
On 8 March US Special Envoy, Dennis Ross, announced a resumption of PLO-Israeli talks. The third interim redeployment of occupation forces in the West Bank was set for June. Arafat’s long held hope of including the villages bordering Jerusalem for full control of the PNA was dashed. The village of Abu Dis was excluded, as was the tiny village of Anata, originally included on the redeployment map. With, once again, Barak’s coalition under threat it was decided to remove Anata from the map because Palestinian control of this tiny village left the settlement of Givat Ze’ev (built on confiscated Anata land) “dangerously exposed.”
On 19 March, following the Israeli Cabinet’s endorsement of the redeployment, it was announced that 60 % of West Bank Palestinians will live under full PNA authority (on less than 40% of the territory which is criss-crossed and subdivided by a matrix of settler by-pass roads. This coincided with talks commencing in Washington and officials cautioning against “undue optimism.”
The redeployment, about two months after the original agreed date, transferred and additional 6.1% of the West Bank to complete PNA conrol -an area of 341 sq km with a population of about 160 000 Palestinians. Included were the towns of Salfit, Betunia and a number of villages scattered about the West Bank.
With the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Middle East, and Palestine in particular, between the 20-26 March, the international community was given a rare insight into the reality of the dispossessed and exiled Palestinian. With a framework agreement for the conduct of final-status peace talks on the horizon, his contribution was a timely reminder to the participants, and those on the sidelines, that the rights of Palestinian refugees cannot and should not be ignored.
The first week of April saw the resumption of talks in Washington. While the Palestinian side was keen to focus on UN Res 242, it became obvious that the Israelis were more intent on touting a “solution” which involved the creation of a Palestinian state consisting of two disjointed enclaves – one to the north/central West Bank, the other to the south. These would be connected by a narrow corridor bypassing Jerusalem. The remaining 50% of the land, including existing settlements and the (fertile) Jordan Valley would remain in Israeli hands on the pretext of “security.” Of the Gaza Strip, 40% occupied by Israel, there was no mention.
Palestinian National Authority
The immediate aftermath of Bir Zeit students stoning the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, for his equating the actions of Hizbollah, in the Israeli occupied area of Lebanon, with that of terrorism, demonstrated the power of the PNA in dealing with “dissidents.” The campus was immediately flooded with security personnel intent on apprehending the culprits. Their task was assisted by the sudden emergence of dozens of student informers who “fingered” those alleged to be guilty.
To those familiar with the methods of the array PNA security agencies, and the competition between them to monitor the various universities, this would have come as no surprise. The universities have networks of student informers given the task of writing reports on non-conformist individuals, including lecturers, and groups. Cash payment or promises of promotion within the security agencies is offered to the willing participants. Those at Bethlehem University can earn $200 per month, in Gaza it can be $50 or a few packets of cigarettes. Sometimes
“performance” bonuses can be awarded. (See: Middle East International 24/3/2000)
The PNA announced on 29 February that it would not meet any European official refusing to meet in East Jerusalem. This followed the refusal of the President of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, to meet with Palestinian officials in Orient House.
On 7 March, scores of women protesters were refused entry to the premises of the Palestinian Legislative Council on the grounds of “security.” The women were trying to meet with President Arafat to gain his approval for a law on the rights and personal status of women – an attempt to bring about changes to a situation, in Palestine, where women cannot marry without parental permission, they have no equal rights to take care of children, they have no right to divorce, alimony has to be demanded from estranged husbands, there is no law enforcement of court orders in relation to women.
On the first week of April The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group issud its Annual report for 1999. Oer 300 political prisoners were in PNA jails, with 250 jailed for over 1 year. One prisoner had spent over 5 years in detention with no charges or trial forthcoming. Since the creation of the PNA, there have been 27 capital sentences. Three have been executed, including one in 1999. Civilians were still being brought before miltary courts. Allegations of torture were detailed, including two deaths in custody. The Report protested the PNA practice of denying dependants autopsy or medical reports of those who die in PNA custody.
Business as usual
At the end of February, demonstrations took place over the arrest of about 120 students who were alleged to have taken part in the stoning of the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, following his comment that Hizbollah actions against the Israeli military machine in occupied Southern Lebanon were acts of terrorism. A ban on unauthorised protests and demonstrations was imposed.
Israel rescinded its decision to ban Palestinian commercial vehicles from using the main Gaza checkpoint and diverting Palestinian goods to Israeli owned lorries.
At the beginning of the month, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak countermanded a decision by his minister of education, Yossi Sarid, to have three poems by Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, included in the Israeli school curriculum. The decision had raised a storm of protest in the right wing parties (with one commentator observing that the whole incident, helped successfully bypass the territorial issues and was only part of the ongoing feud between Sarid and a right wing protective of its own school network), with a vote of confidence in the coalition government threatened. Originally from the demolished village of Al Barweh, near Acre, Darwish’s poems were obviously too much for this section of Israeli society. One of the poems was in the form of a letter to his mother from exile.
Four alleged members of Hamas were killed (the house was eventually bulldozed, crushing the occupants. One person, with a hand hanging outside the rubble, was reportedly “finshed off”.) by Israeli police in Taibeh, within Israel, on the 2nd. From the Gaza Strip, the four were alleged to be planning bomb attacks in Israel Subsequent reports indicated an elaborate “sting” operation with the Gazans being smuggled into Israel by a Gazan settler. Taibeh, it should be noted, is well known to be a haven for Palestinian collaborators. The incident led to the discovery of a “bomb factory” in Tulkarm on the West Bank and an explosives cache at a kindergarten in Shati refugee camp in Gaza.
On the 12th, the Israeli Ha’aretz published an account of continuing ethnic cleansing of the cave dwellers to the south of Mount Hebron. Four months earlier about 700 Palestinians, mainly shepherds and their famlies, had been expelled. On this occasion, the meagre possession of 17 families who had returned were removed by Israeli paratroopers and dumped half an hour away at the side of the road. The correspondent recorded children crying when they saw their belongings, a blind man crawling about in an attempt to salvage his goods.
And the reason for this outrage? Effected by people who are equally at home organising and executing humanitarian rescue missions in the aftermath of a Turkish earthquake and other disasters ? Intially the excuse was tendered that the area was designated a firing range by the military. Eventually the real reason was revealed. Israel wants to retain the area under its control. With the imminence of final status talks, the area must be cleansed of its Palestinian Arab population. [On March 29 the Israeli High Court ruled that the 700 expellees were to be allowed to return. However this was conditional on an investigation being carried out to see if the expulsions were justified!!! Apparently it was claimed that those expelled were not permanent residents of the area although they had lived there for decades.]
The students from Bir Zeit university, arrested nine days earlier by the PNA for allegedly throwing stones at the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, were released on the 5th. Human rights organisation collated reports of torture of the students. The accounts, reminiscent of treatment by the occupation forces, outlined beatings, hooding and confined in excruciating positions and one case of attempted rape. Four students were charged with stone throwing.
On the 20th, 45 year old mother of 12, Halima Sharouf, was shot dead and her husband seriously injured at an Israeli roadblock near the village of Surif, near Hebron. It happened when the car did a U-turn after the driver realised that he did not have the necessary documents for scrutiny. With no warning, about 20 rounds were shot into the car. Halima, who died instantly, was shot six times in the head, back, chest and neck. Earlier, in the same area, three settlers had been shot and wounded while driving in their car, with Hamas being accused of responsibility.
Pope John Paul II
The Holy See has always recognised that the Palestinian people have a natural right to a homeland on the basis of international law and the relevant UN resolutions and declarations
On the 23rd, ignoring counsel from the Latin Patriarch for Jerusalem, Michael Sabbah, an interfaith meeting took place between the Pope, Sheikh Taysir Tamimi and Rabbi Yisrael Lau. With the Rabbi immediately declaring that the presence of the Pope in the Holy City meant Vatican recogniton of Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital”, the scene was set for a clash between the representatives of the occupier and the occupied, with a reportedly embarrased Pope left with his set-piece speech which rang very hollow.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, who had wisely absented himself from the meeting scored an own goal when he found the need to comment to a foreign journalist on the Pope’s visit to the Holocaust Museum. Not only did this give the the Israeli establishment an opportunity to invoke images of anti-Semitism but it diverted the attention of the assembled media from the occupiers’ very real denial of Palestinian national and religious rights in Jerusalem.
The Pope’s visit to the Old City of Jerusalem left the local population and Arab merchants less than enthusiastic. The entire area was cordoned off by the 5 000 Israeli police mobilised for the occasion. Shops were closed with local Palestinians denied the opportunity to see the Pope. This left a veritable ghost town for the Pope to pass through, with one merchant commenting that “if they closed the Jewish Quarter to the residents of that quarter, they would break the soldiers’ necks.” Palestinian Christians were prevented from attending the Pope’s Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This ban was extended to Afif Safieh (the UK Palestinian rep. to the Holy See and the articulate and prominent Palestinian spokesperson, Hanan Ashrawi.)
Immediately following the departure of the Pope from Dheisheh refugee camp, outside Bethlehem, riots broke out. This followed clashes between some residents and the Palestinian police. Stones and rocks were hurled at the police with calm being restored late into the night.
On the 30th demonstrations took place at the village of Biddo, near A-Ram checkpoint, against the continuing exclusion of Arab Jerusalem, since 1993, to Palestinian Arabs. On the same day, 24 year old Murad Azaru was shot dead at a temporary checkpoint established at the entrance to Shufaat Refugee Camp. The exact circumstances were unclear, but Murad was on his way to Anata village to distribute invitations to his engagement party.
Settlements and Settlers
At the end of February, the occupation authorities issued licenses for several hotels, a 45 storey skyscraper and 400 housing units (out of an eventual 6400 units)on the confiscated land on Jabal Abu Ghneim (or Har Homa). This settlement will tighten the ring of settlements around Jerusalem, cutting off Bethlehem from the city.
At the beginning of March the Jerusalem Relief Department, based at Orient House in East Jerusalem, issued its annual report. It confirmed the rise in attacks on Palestinians and their property in Jerusalem. In 1999, 217 cases were recorded. In the first two months of this year, 143 cases have been recorded. In the same two month period there were 15 cases of house demolition threats compared with 85 in 1999.
March 30th (designated “Land Day” in memory of six Palestinian Israelis killed by Israeli troops in 1976 during protests against the seizure of thousands of acres of Arab owned land in the Galilee) saw demonstrations in Ras al Amoud, East Jerusalem, against the continuing settlement construction in this predominantly Arab area.View all →