Briefing Paper July 2004

New Palestinian elections – and now, before any Israeli pull-out from Gaza – would allow the PA and Fatah the space to regain some of their lost political will and get their acts together. Second, they would help Hamas integrate into the Palestinian political system, allowing it pause to reconsider the role of its militia and strategy of armed resistance. Finally, they would give the Palestinian system the accountability, transparency and legitimacy it lacks in so many Palestinian eyes today.

Khalil Shiqaqi, Palestinian political analyst


Why it will not happen

Neither Israel or the US would tolerate any Palestinian suffrage that would grant Arafat a new lease of political life or Hamas and the young guns of Fatah a stake in Palestinian government. Nor do elections figure in any of the Egyptian plans to bring “stability” to Gaza. The PA’s old guard leadership is also opposed. These man and women understand that Sharon’s disengagement plan has brought them, their governance and their strategy to the very brink of the trashcan of history. New Palestinian elections, contested by Hamas and Tanzim [Fatah youth], would tip them into it

MEI 13 June 2004

Disengaging from Gaza

Jessica Montell (TIKKUN May/June 2004 Issue)

The violence descends on Palestinians without warning. I sometimes try to imagine what it must be like to live in a place where the heavens can suddenly open up and rain down missiles. Dr. Eyad el-Sarraj from the Gaza Community Mental Health Centre surveyed 944 Gaza children, ages ten to nineteen, and found that virtually all of them (94 percent) had been to a funeral. Eighty-three percent had witnessed shooting incidents, and 61 percent had seen relative killed or wounded. It should therefore not be surprising that virtually all of the children (97.5 percent) were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, with a third suffering severe symptoms. Given the life experience of these children, should it surprise us that one fourth of the children in the same study aspire to die in attacks against Israelis?

Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza is a sort of palimpsest-almost anything can be read into the plan.

Disengagement may or may not include relinquishing control of the Gaza- Sinai border; may or may not include the continued employment of Gazans inside Israel; may consist of the complete evacuation of Gaza settlers or just a partial evacuation. The devil is in these details, making it difficult to analyse.

Some argue that disengagement from Gaza is simply another Sharon smokescreen to distract the public from the criminal investigation against him. It does seem surreal: Sharon has not even fulfilled his obligation to dismantle the “illegal” outposts in the West Bank, a move that causes significantly less controversy within his own party. Yet, now that he is just talking about removing thousands of settlers from Gaza, some of whom are raising a second generation into these communities, the whole world is taking his plan seriously, as if he would actually follow through on it.

Whether or not this was Sharon’s intention, the plan has gained momentum. From the intensity of the rhetoric, as well as the “pre-evacuation” military activity-including the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin-one might suppose that “disengagement” is imminent, rather than, at best, long months, even years, away. While this virtual Gaza occupies the headlines and keeps senior bureaucrats flying across the Atlantic, however, the actual Gaza remains far from the public eye. In the real life flesh-and-blood Gaza the situation is dire: overcrowding, poverty, siege, destruction, and violence. More than removal of settlements will be needed for Gaza to become a vibrant, economically viable and psychologically healthy place for Palestinians to live.

The Gaza Strip comprises a total area of 141 square miles and is home to over 1.3 million Palestin- ians. With a population density of 65,800 persons per square mile, the Pales tinian areas are among the most densely populated places on earth. The 7,800 Jews who live in Gaza occupy 21 square miles; the population density in the built-up area of the Jewish settlements is 1,700 persons per square mile. Settlers, comprising one half of one percent of the population, inhabit 15 percent of the land. Together with military controlled areas, 20 percent of the Gaza Strip is under Israeli control.

According to the World Bank, 75 percent of Gazans live below the international poverty level of two dollars per person per day. The poverty level has doubled over the past four years, and today a shocking 86% of Gaza households receive food relief packages from international organizations. Over 13 percent of Gaza children suffer from acute malnutrition. These horrific figures result from several factors: underdevelopment throughout the years of occupation is compounded by laborers’ current inability to gain access to jobs in Israel, difficulty for Gaza businesses to export their products, and a continued lack of investment due to the instability of the area.

Settlements also inhibit the Gaza economy. Gaza’s only natural resources are the land and the sea. The settlements occupy a significant portion of the fertile land and control the entire southern seashore, thus restricting potential income from agriculture and fishing. .Removal of settlements would open up this potential. However, this in itself will not significantly reduce poverty. To fully exploit these resources, Gazans must be able to import and export goods (through Israel or their own ports). Agriculture alone cannot sustain the Gaza economy, so access to jobs within Israel, or the stability to raise significant amounts of foreign investment for development are also crucial. The disengagement plan does not address these issues in a clear way.

Nor is the problem limited to movement of goods and people between Gaza and Israel or other countries.Israel has divided the Strip into three sections, frequently blocking movement between them. In addition, the community of Al Mawasi is literally trapped between the sea and the Gush Katif settlements. Mawasi farmers or fisherman have great difficulty “exporting” produce across the fortress-like Israeli military checkpoint to neighboring towns. Teachers from other towns are frequently unable to reach Mawasi’s two schools. For any medical care more serious than Mawasi’s two very basic clinics can provide, residents must leave the area. There have been cases of women giving birth while waiting at the checkpoint, and patients have been late for surgery after being delayed at the crossing points. Residents who leave Mawasi for a brief shopping trip may suddenly find themselves stranded for days or even weeks until the crossing opens up again. For Mawasi, removing the settlements would lift their siege. For disengagement to make a real difference for the rest of Gaza however, Israel would also have to remove its military installations from the area.

In addition to preventing physical movement within Gaza, Israel has demolished over 1,500 houses and destroyed thousands of acres of agricultural land, turning fertile, cultivated areas into a barren wilderness. Some of these demolitions are taking place at the Gaza/Egypt border, as Israel makes a sterile buffer out of what was once the crowded Rafah refugee camp. Other demolitions are linked directly to protecting the settlements. The military has destroyed houses, uprooted trees, and destroyed crops in order to create buffer zones around settlements, bypass roads, and army posts. All of this destruction takes place with no prior warning, no due process, and no compensation. B’Tselem has documented dozens of cases in which people were awakened by the noise of tanks and bulldozers literally at their doorstep, grabbed their children and fled, leaving all their possessions behind.

Jalal Abu Luz, who lives with his wife and their eight children in the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp, tells of the aftermath of the demolition of his home on April 10, 2001: After the tanks and bulldozers left the camp, I walked toward where my house had been. I was shocked at the devastation. I was hysterical, and began to cry and scream…. My wife and children came home and saw that the house had turned into a pile of stones. My wife fainted, and the neighbours took her to the hospital. The children started to cry. I was still in shock….

[A few days later] my children went back to school, but their behavior changed. They started wetting the bed, and screamed in their sleep because of their nightmares. The incident also destroyed my relations with my wife.

Most incalculable of all is the level of violence Gaza has experienced during this intifada. Although Gazans are 36 percent of the total Palestinian population, they comprise 46 percent of the casualties, and Gazans are 54 percent of the children killed. Over 1,100 Gazans have been killed between October 2000 and March 2004, at least half of them unarmed civilians, taking no part in the hostilities. Two-hundred-fourty-nine Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza, including 92 children younger than fourteen.

Over the past three and a half years, Israel has assassinated at least 139 Palestinians, sixty-seven of them in Gaza. In the course of these assassinations, an additional ninety-six Palestinian bystanders were killed, seventy-one of them in Gaza. While Israel has decreased its assassinations in the West Bank, it has increased them in Gaza, most infamously assassinating Sheikh Yassin of Hamas this spring. Because Israel employs aerial missiles and bombs in Gaza assassinations, they cause more casualties. In fact, Gaza assassinations have killed more bystanders than “targets.”

The rules governing the IDF’s use of lethal force are also more lax in the Gaza Strip. Ammunition like fletchette shells, which scatter thousands of darts over a wide area, is used in the Gaza Strip,though prohibited in the West Bank. In addition, certain areas of Gaza have been declared “danger zones” in which soldiers may open fire at any Palestinian who approaches them. The exact meaning of “approaching” is not clear, and even soldiers serving in these areas told B’Tselem that they are not sure whether the order is to shoot to kill or simply to wound. On June 22, 2003, for example, So’ad al-Bahadari, a twenty-seven-year old woman who was mentally ill, was shot while “approaching” the Morag settlement, which is adjacent to her house.

Shuqri Salman Hussein al-Maqadmeh tells of the death of his wife, Nuha al-Maqadmeh who was nine months pregnant, in an IDF invasion into the al-Bureij refugee camp in March 2003: On Sunday night, I closed my restaurant around 10:30pm. I went home and began to prepare food for the next day. My wife asked if I heard the buzz of a drone airplane in the sky, and I said that I did. She said that she was afraid that the army would invade the camp. I tried to calm her and joked with her….

We sat in the bedroom, and listened to the buzz that was getting louder and louder. Muhammad, our six-yearold, came into the room, shaking in fear. “Daddy, Sharon’s plane came to butcher us.” Majid, my oldest son, came into the room and said that the army had apparently invaded the camp. I asked him to wake up his brothers and sisters and have them come into our room. I did not want the children to stay in their room because it faced the main street, making it more exposed to gunfire. So all twelve of us sat on the bed.

Then I felt an enormous explosion, like an earthquake, and found myself under the ruins. The southern wall of the room, which separates our house from that of our neighbor, collapsed on top of us. I heard my wife say, “Help me, Shuqri, help the children,” and then she was silent. It was totally dark, and I couldn’t see a thing. I began to clear away the stones. I saw Yusef, and picked him up. As I did, I saw Muhammad. I took Yusef into the yard and then returned to remove the rubble on top of Muhammad. I freed him and took him outside. As I was clearing away the stones and the rubble, I saw Nur’s clothing. I went over to her, picked her up, and took her into the yard. I heard Majid call for help. He was buried under stones. I pulled him out and he said, “Nasma is there.” She was covered by rubble and furniture. Majid and I removed the stones covering Nasma and took her into the yard. I suddenly had trouble breathing…. Some of the neighbors came over and began to remove the rubble…. One by one, the neighbors extracted Nissim, Al’a, Jamil, and Saqer from the ruins and brought them to me…. Then I heard a neighbor say that they found Nuha, “and here is the little girl.” They brought my wife and daughter out and laid them on a blanket…

The violence descends on Palestinians without warning. I sometimes try to imagine what it must be like to live in a place where the heavens can suddenly open up and rain down missiles. Dr. Eyad el-Sarraj from the Gaza Community Mental Health Center surveyed 944 Gaza children, ages ten to nineteen, and found that virtually all of them (94 percent) had been to a funeral. Eighty-three percent had witnessed shooting incidents, and 61 percent had seen relative killed or wounded. It should therefore not be surprising that virtually all of the children (97.5 percent) were suffering from posttraumatic stress syndrome, with a third suffering severe symptoms. Given the life experience of these children, should it surprise us that one fourth of the children in the same study aspire to die in attacks against Israelis?

Evacuation of Gaza settlements will result in a tremendous improvement in the daily lives of Palestinians: freeing up lands, halting the massive destruction of agricultural land and some of the house demolitions, enabling free movement, and reducing flashpoints of violence. Given this reality, and the fact that settlements are a violation of international humanitarian law, human rights advocates must embrace the Gaza disengagement plan. At the same time, we must remain vigilant regarding the effects of the Gaza disengagement on the West Bank, and on Gaza itself both before and after disengagement.

The idea has been raised that a disengagement from Gaza will strengthen Israel’s hold on the West Bank. In exchange for dismantling Gaza settlements, Israel has apparently asked the United States to support its claim to large settlement blocks in the West Bank. Such a move must be resisted. We are already seeing military incursions and assassinations in advance of an eventual disengagement, and many Israeli commentators contend that we are likely to see more massive military operations as Israel will want to destroy Hamas prior to any withdrawal. The implications of such operations are additional deaths, destruction, and suffering for the civilian population.

We also must look at what kind of society Israel will be leaving behind. The Palestinian Authority -which had a poor human rights record during the Oslo period-is barely functioning today. An Israeli departure may cause a violent power struggle within Palestinian society. Israel’s policy of stepped-up military incursions and assassinations in advance of disengagement, designed to weaken Hamas, may have the opposite effect. Ha’aretz analyst Danny Rubinstein argues that the assassination of Yassin in fact strengthens Hamas in its battle with the PA. It is still too early to gauge the implications of Yassin’s assassination. Many commentators argue that it will exacerbate the growing anarchy. Others add that it will result in massive attacks on Israelis and Jews worldwide, perhaps ultimately torpedoing any disengagement plan.

Even if Sharon did not intend to actually carry through with disengagement, his declaration has important rhetorical significance, undermining the rhetoric of Greater Israel-the idea that Jewish claims to all of the biblical land of Israel supersede Palestinian claims or political exigencies. Were a right-wing government to dismantle even a few settlements, it would constitute an earthquake in the Israeli political landscape. We must applaud any level of disengagement, but at the same time we must work to make sure that Israel disengages in a way that enables Gazans to rebuild their homes, their economy, and their shattered lives.

US policy on the status of settlements

Illegal under Carter

Not illegal under Reagan

An obstacle to peace Bush Snr

A complicating factor in the peace process Clinton

Firmly rooted facts on the ground Bush Jnr

As Long as the plan contains the term, ‘withdrawal’ it is seen as a good thing

Ilan Pappe London Review of Books (UK) May 6, 2004 Issue

The day after the assassination in Gaza of the Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, Yuval Steinitz was interviewed on Israeli radio. Steinitz is the Likud chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in the Knesset. Before that he taught Western philosophy at the University of Haifa, where his epistemological world-view was shaped by romantic nationalists such as Gobineau and Fichte, who stressed purity of race as a precondition for national excellence. The translation of these European notions of racial superiority to Israel became evident as soon as the interviewer asked him about the government’s plans for the remaining Palestin- ian leaders. Interviewer and interviewee giggled and agreed that the policy will be, as it should be, the ass- assination or expulsion of the entire current leadership: namely, all the members of the Palestinian Authority – about forty thousand people. ‘I am so happy,’ Steinitz said, ‘that the Americans have finally come to their senses and are fully supporting our policies.’

On television, Benny Morris of Ben Gurion University repeated his support for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, claiming this as the best means of solving the conflict in Palestine. The New York Times and the New Republic were among the many stages on which Morris was invited to rehearse his views.

Opinions that used to be considered at best marginal, at worst lunatic, are now at the heart of the Israeli Jewish consensus, and disseminated by establishment academics on prime-time television as the only truth. Israel in 2004 is a paranoid society led by a fanatical political elite, determined to bring the conflict to an end by force and destruction, whatever the price to its society or its potential victims. Often this elite is supported only by the American administration, while the rest of the world watches helpless and bewildered.

Israel nowadays is like a plane flying on autopilot. The course is pre-planned, the speed predetermined. The destination is the creation of a Greater Israel which will include half of the West Bank and a small part of the Gaza Strip (almost 90 per cent of historical Palestine): this will be a Greater Israel without a Palestinian presence, with high walls separating it from the indigenous population of Palestine, who will be crammed into two huge prison camps in Gaza and what’s left of the West Bank. Palestinians inside Israel can either leave and join the millions of refugees languishing in the camps or submit to an apartheid system of discrimination and abuse. In many parts of the Western world the media still describe this as the only safe route to peace and stability. The discourse of peace employed by the Quartet – the US, the EU, Russia and the UN – since the Road Map came into being seems to blind many reasonable observers, who still seem to believe that this course makes sense. But it should have long been clear that Israel is heading for disaster.

Ariel Sharon’s latest proposal – yet another destructive ploy masquerading as a peace plan – fits very naturally into the history of peace-making in Palestine since Oslo. The process began with a genuine effort to create two independent states in Palestine and Israel, but turned into a way for the Zionist centre in Israel to impose its vision of a Greater Israel with a Palestinian Bantustan alongside it, and no rights of restitution and return for Palestinian refugees. In the summer of 2000, Israel and the US demanded that the Palestinians back this vision of their future.

Sharon’s ‘peace’ plan may not deviate much from previous Zionist schemes, and yet it seems that things have got worse in Israel during the last few weeks. The assassinations of Sheikh Yassin and Rantissi, with America’s support for Sharon’s plans in the background, are terrifying landmarks. The feeling is of being trapped on a plane which is following a course that will end in catastrophe for the Israeli citizens onboard, and will also annihilate the Palestinians in our way.

Yet this course has now been sanctioned by Washington, and is no longer questioned in Israel. Dissenting voices inside and outside the country seem to have weakened or disappeared. Past attempts to impose the vision of Greater Israel under the pretext of a peace plan were challenged: many used to shun such policies, or at least hesitate before supporting them publicly. This has changed: the critical instincts of both intellectuals and journalists have petered out in the last four years. There is an ethical void which allows the government to go on killing unarmed Palestinians and, thanks to curfews and long periods of closure, starving the society under occupation. Even worse, it also encourages mainstream politicians and intellectuals to call for ethnic cleansing and the further ruin of Palestine and its people.

Previous American governments supported Israeli policies, as long as they represented Jewish consensual positions, and regardless of how they affected, or were perceived by, the Palestinians. This support, however, used to require negotiation and some give and take. Even after the outbreak of the second intifada in October 2000, some in Washington tried to distance America from Israel’s response to the uprising. For a while, Americans seemed uneasy about the fact that several Palestinians a day were being killed, and that a large number of the victims were children; there was also unhappiness about Israel’s use of collective punishments, house demolitions and arrests. But they got used to all this, and when the Israeli Jewish consensus sanctioned the military assault on the West Bank in April 2002- an unprecedented episode of cruelty in the unsavoury history of the occupation – America objected only to the unilateral acts of annexation and settlement that were expressly forbidden in the Anglo-American sponsored Road Map. Now, exactly two years later, Sharon has asked for American and British support for the colonialist settlement of the West Bank, and got it. His plan, which passes in Israel for a consensual peace plan, was at first rejected by the Americans as unproductive (the rest of the world condemned it in stronger terms). The Israelis, however, hoped that the similarities between American conduct in Iraq and Israel’s policies in Palestine would cause the US position to change.

Sharon’s plane stood on the tarmac for three hours while, inside, Sharon refused to allow it to take off for Washington until he got American approval for his new plan. He said he wouldn’t be able to unite the Israeli Jewish public behind his disengagement programme without American support. It used to take a while for the US finally to submit to Israeli politicians’ need for a consensus (and in this case Sharon’s need to persuade the Israeli public to trust him in the face of a pending court case in which he might be found guilty of widespread personal corruption). This time it took only a few hours.

It ought to have taken the American administration much longer than that. In essence, Sharon was asking Bush to forgo almost every commitment the Americans have made over Palestine. The plan offers an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (although the Israelis left it in 1993), and the closure of the handful of settle- ments which remain there, as well as several others in the West Bank, in return for the annexation of the majority of the West Bank settlements to Israel. This will happen only after Israel has cordoned off the entire West Bank with a wall which will take years to complete and which most countries believe constitutes a violation of the Palestinians’ human rights. Sharon also demanded a clear American rejection of the Palestinian right of return – a right which was recognised by the UN in December 1948. For the first time, Washington gave its support to a road map that leaves most of the West Bank in Israeli hands and all of the refugees in exile.

Bush is influenced by Christian Zionists who see in the present Israeli ploy yet another step towards the fulfilment of a doomsday scenario that will bring about the Second Coming of Christ. His more secular neo-con advisers are impressed by the war against Hamas which accompanies Israel’s promises of eviction and peace. The seemingly successful Israeli operations are a proof by proxy that America’s own ‘war against terror’ is bound to triumph. Israel’s ‘success’, trumpeted every day by the defence minister, is a cynical distortion of the facts on the ground. The relative decline in guerrilla and terror activity has been achieved by curfews and closures, by imprisoning more than two million people in their homes without work or food for protracted periods of time. Even neo-conservatives should be able to see that this is not going to provide a long-term solution to the hostility and violence provoked by an occupying power, whether in Iraq or Palestine.

Sharon’s plan has been approved by Bush’s spin doctors, who can present it as another step towards peace and a distraction from failures in Iraq. It is probably also acceptable to more even-handed advisers, who are so desperate to see something change that they have persuaded themselves that the plan offers a chance for peace and a better future. These people long ago forgot how to distinguish between the mesmerising power of language and the reality it purports to describe. As long as the plan contains the magic term ‘withdrawal’, it is seen as essentially a good thing by some usually cool-headed journalists in the United States, by the leaders of the Israeli Labour party (bent on joining Sharon’s government in the name of the sacred consensus), and even by the newly elected leader of the Israeli Left party, Yossi Beilin.

Two senior political scientists from Tel Aviv University, one on the radio this morning, the other on the TV news this evening, explained that Hamas has moved its headquarters to Damascus, and so – they have this on good authority – Israel will have to act there as well (Haaretz carried a similar report). They also estimated that since it would take years to complete the wall around the West Bank, there would be no real withdrawal from the Gaza Strip for a long time. The good news was that the intifada had been broken and Israel has time to decide, without any outside pressure being put on it, especially not by the US, how best to construct its future state now that Palestine is gone for ever.

The key term is ‘outside pressure’. The governments of Europe and the US are unwilling or unable to stop the occupation and prevent the annihilation of the Palestinians. Those Israelis who are willing to take part in an antioccupation movement are outnumbered, demoralised and crippled in the face of the consensus and its hegemony. The onus is on civil society in Europe and the US to do all it can to make the Israelis understand that policies such as Sharon’s have a price. From academic boycott to economic sanctions,every possible means should be considered and employed in the West: their governments are no less responsible than Israel for the past, present and future catastrophes of the Palestinian people. This should be done not only for moral or historical reasons, but also for the sake of Europe’s security and even survival. As the violence that has followed the events of 11 September 2001 has so painfully shown us, the Palestine conflict is undermining the delicate multicultural fabric of European society, as it pushes the US and the Muslim world further and further into a nightmare. Putting pressure on Israel is a small price to pay for the sake of global peace, regional stability and reconciliation in Palestine.

The nightmare comes true

Uri Avnery Counterpunch June 14, 2004

I thought it was terrible. I was wrong. It is far, far worse!–These words sum up my feelings at that moment.

I was standing on a hill overlooking the infamous Kalandia checkpoint.

Below me was a narrow road, packed with Palestinians in the blazing sun, 30 degrees centigrade in the shade (but there was no shade) trudging towards the checkpoint. Very soon this road will be transformed. It will be widened to three lanes and be reserved for Israelis: on both sides of it, 8-meter high walls will spring up. It will allow the settlers of the Jordan valley to reach Tel-Aviv in about an hour. The Palestinians living on either side will be cut off from each other.

This is a small part of the new reality that is rapidly being created on the West Bank and that is changing the country we knew and loved beyond recognition.

I was standing near the edge of a-Ram. Once this was a small village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on the road north to Ramallah. Since successive Israeli governments have prevented the Palestinians in East Jerusalem from building new homes, the severe overcrowding has forced a mass exodus to a-Ram, which has grown into a town of 60 thousand inhabitants. Most of them are officially still Jerusalem residents,carrying the blue identity cards of inhabitants of Israel. This allows them to come to Jerusalem, a drive of 10 minutes, work there, tend to their businesses, go to the hospitals and the universities there.

This is about to stop. Along the age-old road from Jerusalem to Ramallah (leading on to Nablus, Damascus and beyond) construction of the 8-meter wall is due to start any minute now–not across the road, but along the middle of the road, the full length of it. The inhabitants of a-Ram, east of the wall, will not only be completely cut off from Jerusalem, but also from all the townships and villages to their west–their relatives, the schools which thousands of their children attend, their cemetery and their places of work. A small part of a-Ram remains outside the wall and will be cut off from the main part of the town in which they live.

But this is only part of the story. Because the wall (or in some places a barrier, consisting of a fence, trenches and roads) will completely surround a-Ram from all sides. The sole exit from this walled-in area will be a narrow bridge connecting it with the adjacent area to its east, consisting of several Palestinian villages, which will be surrounded by another barrier. This enclave will have a narrow exit to the Ramallah enclave. Through this it will be possible for a person from a-Ram to reach Ramallah, God willing, by a roundabout route of some 30 kilometers, instead of the ten minutes or so it took before the occupation.

A few kilometers to the west of a-Ram lies a group of villages centered around Bidou (where five Palestinians have been killed so far in protests against the wall). This area is rapidly becoming another enclave, completely surrounded by a separate barrier. The only way out will be a tunnel to be built under road No. 443–the settlers’ road of which the section I mentioned before will become part. All existing roads to Bidou have long since been cut off by trenches or piles of dirt, one can enter only at one spot controlled by a checkpoint. This will cease to exist.

If a villager from Bidou has some business in a-Ram, he will have to go through the tunnel to Ramallah, turn to the enclave east of a-Ram and enter a-Ram by the narrow bridge, a semicircle of about 40 kilometers instead of a drive of a few minutes.

A-Ram will be especially hard hit. Because of its location, it has developed in the last few years into a kind of transshipment point for goods travelling from Israel to the West Bank and vice versa. Israelis and Palestinians do business there. All this will end with the wall. The means of livelihood for many of its 60 thousand inhabitants will disappear.

This is only one example of what is happening now all over the West Bank, turning it into a crazy quilt of walled-in enclaves, “connected” by bridges, tunnels or special roads, which can be cut off at any moment at the whim of the Israeli government or of a local army officer–and, all around them, roads-for-Israelis-only, expanding settlements and military installations. Every Palestinian town—Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Kalkilia, Bethlehem, Hebron and others-will become the “capital” of a tiny enclave, cut off from all the others, from their “hinterland” and villages, except by tortuous roundabout routes.Fifty- five percent of the West Bank will be Israeli, the Palestinian enclaves will amount to 45% (about 10% of historical Palestine).This is no longer just a nightmarish future prospect–it is happening now, visible to the naked eye, while Sharon babbles about a “disengagement” to happen sometime in the future in one small part of the occupied territories.

Practically no Israeli has any idea about all this. It may be happening one kilometre from his home (in Jerusalem, for example), but it might as well be on far side of the moon. The media are not interested, nor is the world. This is the peace Sharon has been dreaming about. This is the “Palestinian State” George Bush promised. This is a cornerstone of the new democratic Middle East. It will lead, of course, to bloodshed on an unbelievable scale. No people on earth will submit to such a life. For thousands and thousands of young Palestinians, a martyr’s death will be preferable. This awful structure will be torn down, like the Berlin wall, which, evil as it was, was much less inhuman. As always, after much suffering, the human spirit will prevail.

Almost as a riposte to the resolution [UN Sec Council Res 1544 condemning the Israeli carnage in Rafah], in the early morning hours of 20 May, the IDF smashed their way into the UNRWA office in Jenin and occupied it, shooting in the direction of Paul Wolstenholme, the agency’s senior project manager, when he came to the office. In a gratuitous display of disregard for the UN and international law, Israeli soldiers detained Wolstenholme, handcuffing and blindfolding him. In one sense he was lucky. They had shot dead his predecessor, Iain Hook, in 2002.

MEI 28 May 2004

A tour of the Palestinian refugee camps

Peter Hansen (Internat.Herald Tribune) 19/5/04

If you find yourself in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon or the occupied Palestinian territory, go and visit a Palestinian refugee camp and take a look around.

On your tour, you’ll see alleyways so narrow that the dead need to be removed upright, because coffins cannot negotiate the twisting lanes. Peer into the concrete refugee shelters, some scarcely better than Dickensian hovels, and you will see families of 13 or more share a room with no windows. In some especially benighted places you will meet mothers who sleep with their babies on their laps, to keep them safe from rats.

If you’re unlucky enough to visit during the rains of winter, you’ll see how the sewage that is fly-specked and rank in the heat of summer now floods into these wretched homes. Now visit the schools in the camps. Here you’ll see decrepit classrooms with grimy walls coated in a patina of poverty where three children cling to each splintered desk.

Look in on classes that are bursting at the seams, where teachers struggle to cope with more than 50 pupils at a time. Wait a while and watch, and you’ll see one entire school – teachers, pupils and all – troop out early in the day and be replaced by an entirely new, afternoon school population, as one dilapidated building tries to fit two shifts into one teaching day.

Now go to the clinics that serve these crowded camps. Among the wailing babies, the queues of the lame and the crowds of the prematurely aged are doctors who see 115 patients in a single day. Clinics where only a few minutes can be devoted to each case of stunted growth, wheezing lung or dietary malaise. Talk to the doctors about the agonizing choices they have to make, thanks to meagre resources, about who will get help with the cost of their lifesaving operation and who will not. Try, if you can, to add up the distress you see on this refugee tour and then add another figure to your sum – the 56 years of dispossession and conflict that have battered this exiled population and left them stranded in a stateless limbo.

It wasn’t always like this. The United Nations agency that has cared for the Palestine refugees since 1950, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa), once spent about $200 a year per refugee. Refugee schools and living standards once at least kept pace with standards in the countries that played host to them. According to some social indicators, such as female literacy and mass immunization, the refugees were a regional success story. Sadly, for the last decade or so, the story has been one of decline. Unrwa’s spending per refugee has fallen to $70 a year. Thanks to a growing population – now over 4 million, and the fact that voluntary donations from the international community have failed to keep up with needs, the gains of the past have been eroded. A spiral of declining services and limited opportunities looms. In order to try to stop the rot, Unrwa and the government of Switzerland have invited more than 70 countries to take part in a major conference in Geneva this June to plan new strategies for improving the lives of the refugees. The theme of the conference will be helping the refugees to help themselves through improved access to jobs, housing, education and health care.


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