Briefing Paper May 2004

Palestine’s War of Independence

In the thirties we restrained the emotions of revenge and we educated the public to consider revenge as an absolutely negative impulse. Now, on the contrary, we justify the system of reprisal out of pragmatic considerations . . . we have eliminated the mental and moral brakes on this instinct and made it possible . . . to uphold revenge as a moral value. This notion is held by large parts of the public in general . . . but it has crystallised and reached the value of a sacred principle in [Sharon’s] battalion which becomes the revenge instrument of the state.

Moshe Sharett (Israel’s first foreign minister) Personal diary 15th March 1948

The Soldier Put his Foot on my Head

10 Jan 2004

Ibrahim Salama, who is entrusted by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to handle refugee camp issues and who has been active in peace initiatives such as the Peoples’ Voice (sponsored by Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon), was set to depart for Cairo last week. He prepared to travel with Bashir Nafa, another participant in hudna (cease-fire) talks, for another round of discussions about a possible truce.

Shortly before his departure, on Tuesday night at 10 P.M., a dozen Border Police vehicles surrounded Salama’s house in the village of Anata, north of Jerusalem. Salama described ensuing events that night to MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). The following is a summary of that description, based on a letter that Cohen sent to Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki, and to the police unit that investigates policeman.

“A group of policemen, some in plain clothes, others in uniform and some masked, barged into the house. They pulled me over, pushed my face to the floor, and put on handcuffs. The policemen hit me in the back; and an officer put his foot on my head. He demanded that I bring him the pistol I possess, and threatened to humiliate my family members and tear apart the house. I answered him that I have no pistol; he hit me.

Six masked Border Policemen went upstairs, and woke up the children. They beat me on the stairs, in front of them; my wife started to yell, and she said that I’m a man of peace. A plainclothes policeman yelled at her, `Shut up, or I’ll screw you.’ Another policeman pushed her.

“They broke a cabinet in [my] bedroom, and they found some notes – on one there was a list of names and signatures. I told them that this was a list of people who had signed a petition against suicide attacks, which Dr. Sari Nusseibeh sponsored. The officer told me: `You,Nusseibeh and Ayalon can stick it up my ass,’ and he hit me.

“After they turned the house upside down, without finding anything, they brought me outside, and looked for explosives in the car. They didn’t find anything there as well. Then they took me to a jeep; and two Border Policemen sat next to me, and started to beat me. The policeman who sat next to the driver said to the one who was next to me, whose name, I think, was Oren, `Fart on his face.’ The policeman sat on my head, and carried out the order. “In the police station at the Russian Compound, I was brought to an interrogator who claimed that my car is stolen. I gave him the name of the person from whom I purchased the car, along with his telephone number and that of a witness to the purchase. He refused to call them, and announced that I was to be detained for 24 hours. En route to the detention centre at Beit Shemesh, policemen hit me. Since then, I have suffered from pains in the back, and knees.”

Wednesday afternoon, Salama was released on bail and traveled with Nafa to the Allenby Bridge, hoping to make it to the hudna talks. Nafa was informed at the bridge that orders in effect since 1995 prevent him from crossing over. His reply that he’s crossed the bridge countless times since 1995 were to no avail; similarly futile was Salama’s and Nafa’s argument that they were headed to talks whose purpose is to bring terror attacks against Israelis to an end.

They were not allowed to cross the bridge.

Salama returned home to clean up the wreck left by the Border Police. He has taken his son, Salam, to psychological counselling – the boy, whose name means peace, is afraid to sleep at night.

. . . a regular dose of terrorism is essential for the smooth functioning of Sharon’s government. Terrorism enables it to engage in the only activity it is competent at: the spreading of death and destruction. And terrorism deflects public attention from the sad and pathetic reality of Israel today.

Michael Yediot Aharonot 23 March 2004

Twilight Zone/Journey to the Interior

Gideon Levy Haaretz 26/2/04

“He sat there curled up, freezing cold, and the soldiers didn’t care whether he was sick or not,” Avital said the next day, after her first visit to the inner checkpoints. She was shocked, she says. “On the way back, I could hardly keep from crying. Since the trip I have been asking myself how we got to be like this. It shocks me more than I can say in words. It gave me stomachaches and made me very sad. I asked myself what it would be like if I lived in one of the houses there, how I would conduct my life.”

Three MKs went to see the roadblocks deep inside the West Bank. They saw the blue hands of those forced to wait in the cold, the man with the kidney ailment sitting on the ground, the mule that wasn’t allowed to pass, the humiliation and the harassment.

Sunday of this week was a freezing cold day in the northern West Bank. A vicious dry wind relentlessly lashed the faces of everyone who ventured outside. Hunched against the wind, a group of men sat on the muddy ground, at the edges of Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus. They had been there for hours. Delayed. They wanted to go home to Beita, to work in Nablus, to a physician in Rafidiya, to a teacher in Balata – what difference did it make? After all, they didn’t dream of entering Israel. One of them hid the palms of his hands. They were totally blue. He was ashamed. Not dressed appropriately, lacking protection for their heads, unspeakably humiliated, the men sat there, like a small herd of animals that had been left by the side of a large puddle until their masters deigned to fetch them. Let them wait. Students and teachers, old and young, together on the ground. There’s no rush. Not even the rush of the wind. An hour, two hours, four hours. What’s the difference? It’s their time, not our time. Their ID cards are in the hands of the soldiers, and so is their immediate future: Will they be allowed to pass or not?

The soldiers check. What are they checking? With whom are they checking? No matter: they’re checking. They’re checking with the Shin Bet, the security service. “The Shin Bet is busy,” says one of the soldiers at another checkpoint, this one at Beit Iva, in reply to a question about why a person with a kidney ailment has been waiting there for six hours in the cold. What’s the hurry? The jailers don’t even glance at their prisoners. None of the soldiers asks himself by what right he throws elderly people onto the slag by the side of the checkpoint, to wait there like animals. And if they were their own parents? The soldiers are busy, “doing their job.” Classifying, separating, allowing, forbidding, asking things that are none of their business. Checking whether the boy is really sick, examining the x-ray of the aged woman, the size of the pregnant woman’s belly.

In the meantime, other people have gone through the checkpoint, the fortunate ones. They have learned to stand in a row, ramrod straight, like soldiers on parade at the conclusion of an army course. They know that if the straight line of the column starts to fall apart, even for an instant, the soldier will stop letting people through. Obedient, submissive, subjugated, properly trained, they stood there and waited, each holding his orange or green ID card, grasping it tightly – it’s the source of all life – his goods in his hands, tense with expectancy, uncertain whether he will be allowed through. A few of them also hold a pile of tattered notes – a doctor’s letter, an old authorization from an employer. They may not help, but they can’t hurt.

This is their daily routine: from home to work, to school, to the clinic, via this daily humiliation. From checkpoint to checkpoint, kilometers on foot, no matter what the weather, no matter what their age, no matter what their state of health. The lame and the halt, the blind and the crippled, the children and the aged, the women in labor and the toddlers, the educated and the ignorant, the rich and the poor – all of them in this march of the living, from checkpoint to checkpoint, from humiliation to humiliation, caged in their own land.

Yet however adaptive they are, their patience, too, has already run out and they have come to the end of their tether: the roads, the checkpoints, the alternative ways through the fields and rocky terraces – lately they are almost empty. In the past few months, the roads and checkpoints of the West Bank have become empty of Palestinians. In one sphere, at least, their consciousness has been burned: They have given up the right of movement. The truth is that it was hard to understand how they had put up with everything.

On Sunday of this week, a group of Knesset members – the “checkpoints lobby,” which was initiated and established by MK Roman Bronfman (Meretz) – went to visit the infrastructures of terrorism. Of the 22 members of the lobby, three showed up for the tour: Bronfman, Colette Avital (Labor) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad). The guide was Najib Abu Rokaya, from the human rights organization B’Tselem, and they were accompanied by a fairly large number of local and foreign journalists, many of them Russians who were making their first visit to the area. The vehicle was an armor-plated settlers’ bus, with the world “Children” inscribed in the front and on the side.

Two earth mounds and rocks obstruct the asphalt road that branches off from the main road to Nablus, opposite the settlement of Ofra, toward Ein Yabrud and Yabrud. Why two mounds? Isn’t one enough? Do the residents of Ofra, who pass by here every day, wonder about this, too? Have the “moderate” leaders of this “moderate” settlement – Rabbi Zvi Gisser, Israel Harel, Uri Elitzur and Pinhas Wallerstein – ever asked themselves that question? Has their neighbor, Haggai Segal, who was a member of the Jewish terrorist underground in the 1980s, and is at least not considered “moderate,” ever given the subject a thought? Have these people ever stopped for a moment to wonder why their neighbors – the inhabitants of four villages that are far more ancient than their settlement – are fated to a life of suffocation only because of them?

Has the sight of the impassable road across from their homes ever bothered them?

So why two mounds, which are separated by a few dozen meters? In order to prevent any “back to back” transfer of goods and to prevent the transfer of patients from one ambulance to another. Two is twice as good. The way to the four Palestinian villages at the bottom of the road is blocked doubly: no goods and no patients. Perfect arterial blockage.

Hardly have we had a chance to take in the road monstrosity when an army jeep appears out of nowhere, carrying three soldiers with black baklavas. “Did you let anyone off here?” Heaven forbid. The road is strewn with Israel Defense Forces vehicles. Tank transporters, jeeps, vans, trucks, armored vehicles, Border Police, blue police, a large occupation host. In the absence of other cars, this military presence is now even more pronounced, as in a war zone, and despite the reduction in the scale of the IDF troops in the West Bank that the media reported this week.

A yellow taxicab bounces along slowly and shakily, the driver taking care not to slide down the slope – a steep goats’ trail that comes down from one of the hills along the road – by the village of Sinjal, which is also caged, of course. The taxicab has no other choice. The entry gate of the village festively welcomes visitors – a colorful inscription along with lamps that once lit the sign at night, too, but that was in a different time. Now, though, the gate is shut. There is an earth obstacle directly beneath the welcome sign. It’s worth spending a few minutes to look closely at these obstacles: heaps of earth, piles of scrap and other junk that the IDF has dumped at the entrance to the villages, as though they were landfills, the refuse cans of the occupation.

Wadi Haramiya, the valley of the thieves, site of the checkpoint at which six IDF soldiers and four civilians were cut down, is abandoned. Suddenly security can be preserved without this harassment checkpoint in the middle of the road. Was it necessary for 10 people to be killed in order to bring about the elimination of this harassment obstacle, one of dozens, which have absolutely nothing to do with security? To placate the incensed settlers – they’re always incensed – they received compensation for the abandoned checkpoint: a soldiers’ memorial hostel will be erected at the site, no less, and further along the road, near Luban, the IDF impounded a large house, evacuated the residents, draped the entire structure with a huge camouflage net, like a work by the environmental artist Christo, hoisted the Israeli flag and the unit’s standard, and presto! there’s a military position on the road, for the welfare of the settlers. Where is the owner of the house and the occupants? What was their sin?

MK Zahalka is outraged by the sight of the blue hands of one of those who is waiting on the marshy ground by the Hawara checkpoint. He tries to explain to one of the officers that the man’s only wish is to return to his home in Beita. There’s no one to talk to. West of there, at the Beit Fouriq checkpoint, someone is carrying half a house on his back, in the hope that the soldiers will let him through. Cowed, buckling under the load he’s carrying, he stands in the cutting wind and waits for the soldier to give him a signal.

The Beit Fouriq checkpoint is almost deserted. This soil is saturated with the blood of Rula Ishtaya, from Salem, who last September gave birth here to a baby who died before he could be brought to a hospital, because the soldiers wouldn’t let her through. A boy waits mutely with his father, holding a new slate and chalk they bought in Nablus, his teeth chattering from the cold. Is the purchase of a slate for a boy sufficient reason to let them pass? Yoav Shamir’s excellent new documentary film, “Checkpoints,” shows plenty of similar sights. Eighty harsh minutes of checkpoints. In rain and sun, played out in front of the camera, shamelessly.

A creaking water tanker pulls up to the checkpoint and the soldiers let it through. Hardly any vehicles are allowed to go by the checkpoint, apart from water tankers. It’s hard to move the water on foot. And who is forced to open the barrier and then close it after the truck has gone through? The local residents. It’s a widespread practice: the local residents become their own jailers. Next to the checkpoint an Israeli bulldozer wounds the earth. Maybe it’s the start of a new checkpoint. By the side of the road are the trenches dug by our forces. Another method of caging people.

Five young people sit on the muddy ground at the Beit Iva checkpoint, another of the barriers around Nablus. It will soon be 4 P.M. Omar Sharaya has been here since 10 A.M. He visited his brother in Tul Karm and now wants to return to his home in Nablus. He’s 31 and has five children at home. He’s been waiting for six hours. The soldier has his ID card. Let him wait. Amjad and Majad Hamashri, two brothers from TulKarm, aged 20 and 18. They want to visit their sister in Nablus. She’s a student at An-Najah University in the city and has fallen ill and needs money for medicines, they say. Without a story about an illness there’s no way to visit your sister. They got to the checkpoint at 12 noon. Four hours on the ground. Wahid Abu Asabi, a first-year engineering student at An-Najah, wants to get to his house in Silat a-Dahar. The soldier has his papers. Four hours. Whenever he gets up to try and speak to the soldier, the soldier shouts, “Stay where you are, stay where you are!” Stay in the mud.

Mohammed Tayim has a kidney ailment. He’s 23. He has a doctor’s letter attesting to his illness, but the soldiers refused to even open the document. “I don’t feel like letting him through. Everyone here is sick,” the soldier told them. Tayim is on the way to have x-rays taken. In the meantime, he’s sitting on the wet ground in the biting cold. He’s been here since 10:30 in the morning. It’ll soon be six hours. Mks Bronfman and Avital are furious. They want to talk to the officer.

“He sat there curled up, freezing cold, and the soldiers didn’t care whether he was sick or not,” Avital said the next day, after her first visit to the inner checkpoints. She was shocked, she says. “On the way back, I could hardly keep from crying. Since the trip I have been asking myself how we got to be like this. It shocks me more than I can say in words. It gave me stomachaches and made me very sad. I asked myself what it would be like if I lived in one of the houses there, how I would conduct my life.”

“It’s none of your business,” the soldier told Bronfman and Avital. “I have my own considerations.” Bronfman asked to speak to the officer. The officer said the Shin Bet was busy. Half an hour later, with the intervention of two MKs, Mohammed Tayim, the young man with the kidney ailment, was allowed to go, to make his way between Tul Karm and Nablus. A wagoner was allowed to go through, but without his cart and mule. “Are there some asses that are allowed through and others that aren’t?” Zahalka asked. There’s the occasional laugh at the checkpoints, too.

There seems to be “a pattern of Israeli behavior that has recurred since Sharon began running the country: When a period of calm prevails in the confrontation with the Palestinians, circumstances are created that induce Israel to carry out military operation in a manner that renews, or accelerates, the cycle of violence.” Haaretz January 18, 2002, Israeli analyst Uzi Benziman

The threat of peace

Naseer Aruri Middle East International 2 April 2004

The assassination of Shaykh Ahmad Yasin represents an escalation in Israel’s ongoing policy of daily incursions, house demolitions, economic strangulation, killings of civilians and other measures calculated to block any initiatives for a political settlement consistent with the global consensus on Palestine. Sharon has invited a major retaliation, which in turn would facilitate a massive Israeli attack that would spread the conflict beyond the West Bank and Gaza and ensure a continuation of the impasse that has been permitted by the self-designated peace-maker, the United States.

Why is peace a threat for Sharon, and why kill Yasin? Thirty seven years since the occupation, ten years since Oslo, four years since the Mitchell Report, three years since Taba, more than two years since the Zinni mission, and one year since the road-map, peace remains elusive. Peace requires a political resolution in which Israel terminates the occupation, accepts responsibility for the expulsion of refugees in 1948 and 1967, and accepts an internationally agreed border separating two states living side by side in mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

These assumptions of a diplomatic settlement are considered untenable by Ariel Sharon, who has been engaged during his last three years in power in implementing his 1981 plan: to annex half of the West Bank (itself 22% of pre1948 Palestine) and restrict the Palestinians to limited autonomy in fragmented entities, in order to ensure that the area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea will never accommodate more than a single sovereign state, Israel.

For the moment he seems to have convinced President Bush that his unilateral plan, which begins with evacuating Gaza, is the centrepiece of a diplomatic settlement. It will be presented to the Palestinians on a “take it or leave it” basis. For the US, it means a price tag in monetary compensation and acquiescence in Sharon’s expansionist designs for the West Bank. Bush, who criticized the building of a 400-mile wall that “snakes through the West Bank” last year, is not likely to bring the subject up again in an election year.

For Sharon, the danger of peace emanates from a perceived “demographic threat”. By 2010, Palestinian Arabs living under Israeli control will become a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan for the first time since 1948. Short of giving the Palestinians equal rights in one state, Israel is left with three options: acquiescing in the establishment of a separate sovereign Palestinian state, expelling much of the Palestinian population, or keeping them confined in apartheid-style cantons, which in essence is Sharon’s plan of 1981.

Which brings us to the second question: why Yasin?

When Hamas was established in 1987 at the start of the first intifada, Israel at first saw the organization as a useful counter-weight to the secular nationalism of the PLO. But under Yasin’s leadership Hamas quickly dispelled such illusions.

Yasin acquired a reputation as a pragmatist willing to settle on the basis of a two-state solution. For Palestinians, he emerged as a national leader, whose influence cut across ideological and sectarian lines, particularly when he called publicly for a number of cease-fires in exchange for Israeli military withdrawals and easing the suffering of Palestinian civilians. He had become a safety valve whose red lines, prohibiting internecine conflict, were broadly respected among the various strata of Palestinian society.

Meanwhile, with Arafat sidelined and bruised by corruption charges and the dishonourable legacy of Oslo, Yasin, for many, began to fill the leadership vacuum. Hamas’ network of charitable organizations, known for honesty and transparency, gave him a legitimacy based as much on taking care of people’s social and economic needs as their spiritual ones.

Expanding the battlefield

In assassinating Yasin, Sharon has taken the battle beyond Gaza, indeed beyond the Arab world. He has declared war on both a two-state settlement and on the Muslim world. Yasin’s successors are unlikely to be able to exercise the restraint Yasin was capable of. As one Israeli authority on Hamas, Shaul Mishal, put it: “We may pay the price of encouraging the spread of Hamas activities beyond the West Bank and Gaza, meaning they will carry out attacks in other countries, and not just against Jewish targets.”

But of course as far is Sharon is concerned, expanding the battlefield fits his strategy nicely. He has long attempted to incorporate Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation into Bush’s “war on terror”. No sooner had his air force set its US-supplied missiles on Yasin, than Sharon bragged that he had got “our Bin Laden”.

Such distortion of the Israel-Palestine conflict is aimed at ill-informed public opinion in the US which is being fed a steady diet of “Islamic terror” and confrontations which are beginning to assume the character of a crusade. In that confused atmosphere, Sharon hopes to overcome his demographic concerns and keep a simple conflict about ending a military occupation away not only from the global agenda, but even from that of his strategic ally, where electoral concerns supersede peace.

Which calls into question whether a peace process can be conducted not only by a reluctant peace-maker, but also by the strategic ally, bank-roller and arm supplier of one of the protagonists? Is it not time for the world community to exercise its obligations and rights, beginning with providing protection to civilians under occupation, along the path to an international conference and an equitable settlement?

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