Briefing Paper May 2006
Palestine’s War of Independence
Human Rights Violations, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
Why an Economic Boycott of Israel is Justified
Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that “many” Palestinians have not been accidentally killed but “deliberately targeted,” while the award-winning New York Times journalist Chris Hedges reports that Israeli soldiers “entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”
[EDITORS’ NOTE: In early January Kristin Halvorsen, current Norwegian Finance Minister and leader of the Left Socialist Party (a member of the current three-party governmental coalition), expressed her personal and party support for a Norwegian boycott of Israeli goods and services. Almost immediately the Israeli ambassador to Norway protested and Condoleezza Rice threatened Norway with “serious political consequences” if Halvorsen’s statement represented the policy of the current government. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre then dashed off a letter to Rice (addressed “Dear Condi”), assuring her that the Left Socialist Party’s position on a economic boycott of Israel “has never been and will never be” the policy of the Norwegian government. For her part Halvorsen distanced herself from her previous statements, as top leaders of the foreign affairs department criticized her and drew parallels between a boycott of Israeli goods and the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops. Finklestein’s piece was published in Norway’s most influential newspaper Aftenposten this past week.]
The recent proposal that Norway boycott Israeli goods has provoked passionate debate. In my view, a rational examination of this issue would pose two questions:
1) Do Israeli human rights violations warrant an economic boycott?
2) Can such a boycott make a meaningful contribution toward ending these violations?
I would argue that both these questions should be answered in the affirmative.
Although the subject of many reports by human rights organizations, Israel’s real human rights record in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is generally not well known abroad. This is primarily due to the formidable public relations industry of Israel’s defenders as well as the effectiveness of their tactics of intimidation, such as labeling critics of Israeli policy anti-Semitic.Yet, it is an incontestable fact that Israel has committed a broad range of human rights violations, many rising to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include:Illegal Killings.
Whereas Palestinian suicide attacks targeting Israeli civilians have garnered much media attention, Israel’s quantitatively worse record of killing non-combatants is less well known. According to the most recent figures of the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), 3,386 Palestinians have been killed since September 2000, of whom 1,008 were identified as combatants, as opposed to 992 Israelis killed, of whom 309 were combatants. This means that three times more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed and up to three times more Palestinian civilians than Israeli civilians. Israel’s defenders maintain that there’s a difference between targeting civilians and inadvertently killing them. B’Tselem disputes this:”[W]hen so many civilians have been killed and wounded, the lack of intent makes no difference. Israel remains responsible.”
Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that “many” Palestinians have not been accidentally killed but “deliberately targeted,” while the award-winning New York Times journalist Chris Hedges reports that Israeli soldiers “entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”
“From 1967,” Amnesty reports, “the Israeli security services have routinely tortured Palestinian political suspects in the
Occupied Territories.” B’Tselem found that eighty-five percent of Palestinians interrogated by Israeli security services were subjected to “methods constituting torture,” while already a decade ago Human Rights Watch estimated that “the number of Palestinians tortured or severely ill-treated” was “in the tens of thousands – a number that becomes especially significant when it is remembered that the universe of adult and adolescent male Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is under three-quarters of one million.” In 1987 Israel became “the only country in the world to have effectively legalized torture” (Amnesty). Although the Israeli Supreme Court seemed to ban torture in a 1999 decision, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel reported in 2003 that Israeli security forces continued to apply torture in a “methodical and routine” fashion. A 2001 B’Tselem study documented that Israeli security forces often applied “severe torture” to “Palestinian minors.”
“Israel has implemented a policy of mass demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories,” B’Tselem reports, and since September 2000 “has destroyed some 4,170 Palestinian homes.” Until just recently Israel routinely resorted to house demolitions as a form of collective punishment. According to Middle East Watch, apart from Israel, the only other country in the world that used such a draconian punishment was Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In addition, Israel has demolished thousands of “illegal” homes that Palestinians built because of Israel’s refusal to provide building permits. The motive behind destroying these homes, according to Amnesty, has been to maximize the area available for Jewish settlers: “Palestinians are targeted for no other reason than they are Palestinians.” Finally, Israel has destroyed hundred of homes on security pretexts, yet a Human Rights Watch report on Gaza found that “the pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat.” Amnesty likewise found that “Israel’s extensive destruction of homes and properties throughout the West Bank and Gazais not justified by military necessity,” and that “Some of these acts of destruction amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes.”
Apart from the sheer magnitude of its human rights violations, the uniqueness of Israeli policies merits notice. “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality,” B’Tselem has concluded. “This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” If singling out South Africa for an international economic boycott was defensible, it would seem equally defensible to single out Israel’s occupation, which uniquely resembles the apartheid regime.
Although an economic boycott can be justified on moral grounds, the question remains whether diplomacy might be more effectively employed instead. The documentary record in this regard, however, is not encouraging. The basic terms for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict are embodied in U.N. resolution 242 and subsequent U.N. resolutions, which call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these areas in exchange for recognition of Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbours. Each year the overwhelming majority of member States of the United Nations vote in favour of this two-state settlement, and each year Israel and the United States (and a few South Pacific islands) oppose it. Similarly, in March 2002 all twenty-two member States of the Arab League proposed this two-state settlement as well as “normal relations with Israel.” Israel ignored the proposal.
Not only has Israel stubbornly rejected this two-state settlement, but the policies it is currently pursuing will abort any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. While world attention has been riveted by Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, Sara Roy of Harvard University observes that the “Gaza Disengagement Plan is, at heart, an instrument for Israel’s continued annexation of West Bank land and the physical integration of that land into Israel.” In particular Israel has been constructing a wall deep inside the West Bank that will annex the most productive land and water resources as well as East Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian life. It will also effectively sever the West Bank in two.
Although Israel initially claimed that it was building the wall to fight terrorism, the consensus among human rights organizations is that it is really a land grab to annex illegal Jewish settlements into Israel. Recently Israel’s Justice Minister frankly acknowledged that the wall will serve as “the future border of the state of Israel.”
The current policies of the Israeli government will lead either to endless bloodshed or the dismemberment of Palestine. “It remains virtually impossible to conceive of a Palestinian state without its capital in Jerusalem,” the respected Crisis Group recently concluded, and accordingly Israeli policies in the West Bank “are at war with any viable two-state solution and will not bolster Israel’s security; in fact, they will undermine it, weakening Palestinian pragmatists and sowing the seeds of growing radicalization.”
Recalling the U.N. Charter principle that it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war, the International Court of Justice declared in a landmark 2004 opinion that Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the wall being built to annex them to Israel were illegal under international law. It called on Israel to cease construction of the wall, dismantle those parts already completed and compensate Palestinians for damages. Crucially, it also stressed the legal responsibilities of the international community: all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. They are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. It is also for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination is brought to an end.
A subsequent U.N. General Assembly resolution supporting the World Court opinion passed overwhelmingly.
However, the Israeli government ignored the Court’s opinion, continuing construction at a rapid pace, while Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the wall was legal.
Due to the obstructionist tactics of the United States, the United Nations has not been able to effectively confront Israel’s illegal practices. Indeed, although it is true that the U.N. keeps Israel to a double standard, it’s exactly the reverse of the one Israel’s defenders allege: Israel is held not to a higher but lower standard than other member States. A study by Marc Weller of Cambridge University comparing Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory with comparable situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, occupied Kuwait and Iraq, and Rwanda found that Israel has enjoyed “virtual immunity” from enforcement measures such as an arms embargo and economic sanctions typically adopted by the U.N. against member States condemned for identical violations of international law.
Due in part to an aggressive campaign accusing Europe of a “new anti-Semitism,” the European Union has also failed in its legal obligation to enforce international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Although the claim of a “new anti-Semitism” has no basis in fact (all the evidence points to a lessening of anti-Semitism in Europe), the EU has reacted by appeasing Israel. It has even suppressed publication of one of its own reports, because the authors – like the Crisis Group and many others – concluded that due to Israeli policies the “prospects for a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine are receding.”
The moral burden to avert the impending catastrophe must now be borne by individual states that are prepared to respect their obligations under international law and by individual men and women of conscience. In a courageous initiative American-based Human Rights Watch recently called on the U.S. government to reduce significantly its financial aid to Israel until Israel terminates its illegal policies in the West Bank. An economic boycott would seem to be an equally judicious undertaking. A nonviolent tactic the purpose of which is to achieve a just and lasting settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot legitimately be called anti-Semitic. Indeed, the real enemies of Jews are those who debase the memory of Jewish suffering by equating principled opposition to Israel’s illegal and immoral policies with anti-Semitism.
(Norman Finkelstein’s most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press)
A Chilling Heartlessness as Israel’s Hamas Team Laughs
Gideon Levy Ha’aretz 22/02/06
“It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die,” the advisor joked, and the participants reportedly rolled with laughter. And, indeed, why not break into laughter and relax when hearing such a successful joke? If Weissglas tells the joke to his friend Condoleezza Rice, she would surely laugh too.
The Hamas team had not laughed so much in a long time. The team, headed by the prime minister’s advisor Dov Weissglas and including the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the director of the Shin Bet and senior generals and officials, convened for a discussion with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on ways to respond to the Hamas election victory. Everyone agreed on the need to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority, and Weissglas, as usual, provided the punch line: “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die,” the advisor joked, and the participants reportedly rolled with laughter. And, indeed, why not break into laughter and relax when hearing such a successful joke? If Weissglas tells the joke to his friend Condoleezza Rice, she would surely laugh too.
But Weissglas’ wisecrack was in particularly poor taste. Like the thunder of laughter it elicited, it again revealed the extent to which Israel’s intoxication with power drives it crazy and completely distorts its morality. With a single joke, the successful attorney and hedonist from Lilenblum Street, Tel Aviv demonstrated the chilling
heartlessness that has spread throughout the top echelon of Israel’s society and politics. While masses of Palestinians are living in inhumane conditions, with horrifying levels of unemployment and poverty that are unknown in Israel, humiliated and incarcerated under our responsibility and culpability, the top military and political brass share a hearty laugh a moment before deciding to impose an economic siege that will be even more brutal than the one until now.
The proposal to put hungry people on a diet is accepted here without shock, without public criticism; even if only said in jest, it is incomparably worse than the Danish caricature. It reflects a widespread mood that will usher in cruel, practical measures. If until now one could argue that Israel primarily demonstrated insensitivity to the suffering of the other and closed its eyes (especially the stronger classes, busy with their lives of plenty) while a complete nation was groaning only a few kilometres away, now Israel is also making jokes at the expense of the other’s suffering.
This was not the first joke or contribution by Weissglas to the racist and lord-like public discourse vis-a-vis the Palestinians. His true face was already revealed about a year and a half ago in the famous interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz, when he stated,” And we educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate … The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens – when Palestine becomes Finland.” This was the peak of cynicism: The man who was involved up to his neck in the Annex Research affair – the shell company for channelling huge contributions to the prime minister – is conditioning negotiations with the
Palestinians on transforming them into the country ranked as least corrupt in a survey in which Israel was ranked in the unenviable 26th place.
The recommendation for a “diet,” along with the edicts Israel is poised to impose on the Palestinian people, should have aroused a hue and cry among Israeli society. Even if we put aside the awful political inanity of pushing Hamas into a corner instead of giving it a chance to change its ways, and even if we ignore the fact that Israel plans to confiscate tax revenues that do not belong to it, the policy of the Kadima government raises questions about its humanity. Where do we get the right to abuse an entire people this way? Is it only because of our great power and the fact that the U.S. allows us to run wild and do whatever we want?
We stopped talking about morality a long time ago – after all, we are not living in Finland. Still, it would be good to ask: What country would dare to exacerbate the living conditions (which are so miserable in any case) of the residents of a territory under its occupation? What was the sin of the 4,000 lucky people from Gaza whom Israel still allowed to work within its borders, and to whom it is now closing the gates? Did the decision-makers call to mind the sight of these downtrodden people, crowded and humiliated at the Erez crossing on their way home from an exhausting day of work? More than half of all Palestinians are already living in poverty according to the last United Nations report, published in December. Last year, 37 percent had difficulties obtaining food and 54 percent of the residents of the “liberated” Gaza Strip cut back the amount of food they consume. Child mortality rose by 15 percent and the average unemployment rate reached 28 percent! To travel in the West Bank, the Palestinians have to traverse no fewer than 397 checkpoints and, in addition to this, Israel now wants to wield an even heavier hand.
If there is still a staying obstacle, it is only the constraint of image: Israel fears the spread of hunger only because of the world’s reaction and not because of the bestiality it entails. Nonetheless, politicians here are competing with a range of extreme proposals, including cutting off electricity and water and abandoning millions of innocent residents. Is this also election spin? Is this what the Israeli voter wants?
What you see from there is truly not what you see from here: From the posh restaurants where Weissglas and his colleagues from the Hamas team dine, from the sophisticated road system on which they race along in their official vehicles, from the splendid concert halls and frequent trips abroad – you cannot see the suffering. From there, it is easy to impose more edicts with the flick of a tongue, without considering their frightful implications in the miserable alleyways of Jenin and ruined huts of Rafah. From there you can even joke about it.
One racist nation
Gideon Levy Ha’aretz 26/03/06
Contrary to appearances, the elections this week are important, because they will expose the true face of Israeli society and its hidden ambitions. More than 100 elected candidates will be sent to the Knesset on the basis of one ticket – the racism ticket. If we used to think that every two Israelis have three opinions, now it will be evident that nearly every Israeli has one opinion – racism. Elections 2006 will make this much clearer than ever before. An absolute majority of the MKs in the 17th Knesset will hold a position based on a lie: that Israel does not have a partner for peace. An absolute majority of MKs in the next Knesset do not believe in peace, nor do they even want it – just like their voters – and worse than that, don’t regard Palestinians as equal human beings. Racism has never had so many open supporters.
It’s the real hit of this election campaign.
One does not have to be Avigdor Lieberman to be a racist. The “peace” proposed by Ehud Olmert is no less racist. Lieberman wants to distance them from our borders, Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from out consciousness. Nobody is speaking about peace with them, nobody really wants it. Only one ambition unites everyone – to get rid of them, one way or another. Transfer or wall, “disengagement” or “convergence” – the point is that they should get out of our sight. The only game in town, the ‘unilateral arrangement,” is not only based on the lie that there is no partner, is not only based exclusively on our “needs” because of a sense of superiority, but also leads to a dangerous pattern of behavior that totally ignores the existence of the other nation.
The problem is that this feeling is based entirely on an illusory assumption. The Palestinians are here, just like us. They will, therefore, be forced to continue to remind us of their existence in the one way they and we both know, through violence and terror.
This gloomy chapter in the history of Israel began at Camp David, when Ehud Barak succeeded in planting the untruth that there is nobody to talk to on the Palestinian side, that we offered them the sky and they responded with violence. Then came the major terror attacks and Israeli society withdrew into a sickness of apathy never before known to it. While it used to demonstrate complete indifference toward Palestinian suffering, that apathy spread and intensified to include weak Israelis – Arabs, the poor, the ailing. From that aspect the current election campaign, more boring than ever, seems almost like an expression of the state of public caring. Nothing can awaken the Israelis from their coma – not the imprisonment of the nation next door, not the killing and destruction that we sow in their society and not the suffering of the weak among us.
Who would have believed that in Israel of 2006, the killing of an 8-year-old girl at short range, as happened last week in Yamoun, would barely be mentioned; that the ruthless attempt to expel an Ethiopian with AIDS who is married to an Israeli, just because he is not Jewish, would not raise hue and cry; and that the results of a poll showing that a majority of Israelis – 68 percent – don’t want to live next to an Arab, did not raise a stink. If in 1981, tomatoes were being thrown at Shimon Peres and in 1995, there was incitement against Yitzhak Rabin, now there are no tomatoes, no incitement and not even any election rallies.
Nothing can get the Israelis out to the streets, nothing can enrage them. An election without involvement and interest is more dangerous to democracy than any tomato. It is a demonstration of apathy and indifference, which the regime can exploit to do whatever it wants. The fact that there are no real differences between the three main parties, with this one saying nearly the entire country is mine, and that one saying nearly the entire country is mine, is bad news for democracy. The coming elections have been decided already. A massive majority will cast its vote for the racist arrangement that ignores the Palestinians, as proposed by Kadima, Likud and, to a large extent, Labour. None of them tried to propose a just peace; their leaders never said a word about the war crimes and suffering caused by Israel. They’ll be joined by the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox, and there you have it: a nation in which racism is the real common denominator uniting us all. Nearly everyone will say no to peace, yes to the continuing occupation (even if it is in new camouflage) and yes to the total focusing on ourselves.
Morality has become a dirty work, and the worst corruption in the country’s history, the occupation, was never mentioned. Only one-sided maps, similar to one another, all including the humongous “settlement blocs,” a withdrawal based on “our needs,” with a separation wall and the frightening air of indifference hovering above it all.
Amira Hass Ha’aretz 12/04/06
Two weeks ago, on Election Day, at 8 A.M., drivers wishing to leave Tul Karm from the eastern exit (toward Anabta) discovered that their permits were invalid. A soldier at the checkpoint, who prevented the passage of the drivers, apologized: Today, leaving the city by car is permitted only to residents of the three neighboring villages – Shufa, Safrin and Beit Lid, he explained to Machsom Watch activists. “And in general, this is not a checkpoint (through which the permits are meant to allow passage – A.H.), but a barricade. And here there are no permits; here there are procedures.”
Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation are imprisoned in a thicket of physical, corporeal barriers of all types and sizes (checkpoints, roadblocks, blockades, fences, walls, steel gates, roads prohibited to traffic, dirt embankments, concrete cubes) and by a frequently updated assortment of bans and limitations. There are permanent bans, to which various periodic bans are supplemented, such as the aforementioned ban on travel to Anabta. Even without recurrent nighttime raids by the army to arrest wanted men, even without the shelling that fails to stop the firing of Qassam rockets, life is completely disrupted.
The disruption of life and the bans are not reported as “news,” because they are the routine. And this routine erodes any hope for a humane future.
Gazan natives are not permitted to be in the West Bank. Palestinians, including residents of Jericho, are not permitted to be in the Jordan Valley (except for those with official addresses there). It is prohibited to drive in a private car through the Abu Dis checkpoint (which divides the northern and southern parts of the West Bank). It is forbidden to enter Nablus by car. It is forbidden for Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem to enter West Bank cities (except for Ramallah). Citizens of Arab states married to Palestinians are prohibited from entering the West Bank.
The soldier at the checkpoint or behind the Civil Administration counter is the last, least important, link in the thicket of restrictions and limitations. The soldiers do not question the orders and bans, but they didn’t invent them. They are low-ranking jailors, and behind them is a faceless battery of bureaucrats who enact regulations, constantly tweaking methods of imprisonment and proscription.
The Israeli uber-wardens seem to have special fondness for meddling in Palestinian family life, and not only when one of the spouses is an Israeli citizen. Their agents in the Civil Administration prevented, for instance, entry into the West Bank (not Israel) to the Turkish wife of a Palestinian resident; to an individual whose relative died (“because the relative was not a first-degree relative”); to a woman whose father-in-law died (a relation that is not considered firstdegree); to a father whose son had taken ill (with the excuse that other family members had entered the West Bank on tourist visas, and, according to records, had not left the West Bank when their visas expired).
Natives of Gaza who live in the West Bank are 70 kilometers away from their parents and siblings in Gaza; some have not seen each other for five-to-eight years, since they have not received transit permits through Israel. Jordan Valley residents may have relatives living 10 kilometers away who are not allowed to visit them.
Planners of the separation fence have shown not only a weakness for the available lands of the Palestinians, but also a weakness for separating families. If the fence route now being proposed is approved, approximately 570,000 dunams (140,000 acres) of Palestinian land (approximately 10 percent of the area of the West Bank) are expected to be wedged between the separation fence and the Green Line. In other words, they would be essentially annexed to Israel.
Residents of the villages imprisoned behind the separation fence have relatives in nearby villages.
One father in Azoun Atma, for instance, relates that his daughter in Saniria, a neighboring village that’s a fewminute walk away, is not receiving a permit to visit him. Youths whose families own orchards on the other side of the separation fence are not receiving permits to enter via the gates of the fence and help their elderly grandfathers work the land. Weddings, funerals, olive harvests and mass family events are celebrated – thanks to the initiatives of the Israeli uber-wardens – via telephone, e-mail or videocam, for those who have it.
One can only wonder what the planners of these separations are hoping to achieve by forbidding a grandson to help his grandparents to work their land or a woman to live with her husband, and decreeing that entire villages lose their lands, that is, their futures. They are backed up by almost across-the-board support for any measure they take, ostensibly in the name of security.
They continue to invent prohibitions because there is no one raising a voice against it. And they are responsible for not only seriously disrupting the lives of Palestinians, but also implanting the jailor mentality in thousands of Israeli young people, soldiers, clerks and policemen – an intoxicating mentality of those who treat those weaker than they with impunity.
Hungry and shell-shocked
Amira Hass Ha’aretz 24/04/06
Gaza – Where will the next blow land? That is the question. Not if it will come, but rather when, and on whom will it land, and what kind will it be?
Five-year-old L. believes the solution is to sleep every night in his parents’ bed, and in that way to be protected
from the shelling. But even there he is not able to fall asleep because he is so worried and afraid. In the kindergarten in the yard outside the house, the children speak all the time about the “booms” that fill their day. Booms from the sea and booms from the land. Day and night. Sometimes three per minute, sometimes three per hour. Sometimes simultaneously from the land and from the sea. The air quivers, a flock of birds takes off in fear, and for a minute the silence of terror reigns. Are there casualties? Who, where, how many? If the parents succeed in hiding from their children pictures of the other children who have been killed or wounded by the shells, the older children fill in the gory details from what they saw on TV or read in the papers. They strengthen each other’s fears.
In an agricultural neighbourhood near the border in the northern Gaza Strip, north of Beit Lahiyeh, the fears are made concrete by the shrapnel that has fallen countless times on the asbestos roofs. The parents have sent the children to relatives in Gaza city, so they may go to school far away from the shells. “In our neighbourhood, people have not yet been killed,” Z. says cynically. But the shells have taken their toll: two donkeys, a few sheep and a handful of chickens.
In the northern Gaza Strip, thousands of farming families are due to return to work their lands which were destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers over the past five years. Immediately after the Israeli army pulled out of the Gaza Strip, government and non-government bodies joined forces to rehabilitate the scorched earth. They hoed and they ploughed and they distributed seeds and saplings. But the farmers are afraid to go out to their lands.
Z spent many years in jail, as did his brother. Another brother was a wanted man until he was killed in an assassination. Z. says he has several times prevented armed groups from firing rockets from their area. Because of his family history, he was able to stand in front of them and say that they have “had enough of destruction and bloodshed, we are not afraid of you. No benefit comes from fighting the occupation with the homemade rockets you are firing.”
In places where large and strong families live, such as Beit Hanoun, they have succeeded several times in chasing away those who fire the rockets. They move to more open spaces or to areas where the families are less strong, such as Beit Lahiyeh.
During a meeting of pupils, angry voices were heard saying, two weeks ago: “Let them fire the rockets from where they are, in [the refugee neighbourhood of] Sheikh Radwan.” But people do not vent their anger in public against those who fire the rockets. “Anyway, whether there are rockets or not, the Israelis fire shells,” is the unequivocal conclusion in Gaza. Z. says: “There are no rockets in our area now, only Israeli shellings. I act as a guard protecting the Israelis, preventing rockets from being fired here by armed groups, but nevertheless the shells fall in our area.”
“There is a law in Israel that every soldier must fire a shell every hour,” says B. He lives in a new housing development in the northern Gaza Strip, in which mainly Palestinian policemen who returned home from abroad reside. Three shells have already fallen on this development but by some miracle no one has been killed. One time, a shell fell on an iron banister, another time in the yard, and another time it did not explode. They are so close to the Erez checkpoint, to the border, that they can hear when the shells are fired; they hear them whistling above and landing and exploding. This Wednesday morning was strange, he said. By nine o’clock there had been no shells.
B.’s wife gave birth two weeks ago and is staying with her parents in Gaza city. But she is due to return home today (Friday). “Where will we go? We are like all those who live in Gaza. If there is no shell from the sea or land, we will be hit by a missile from a plane or drone. In the beginning, the children who fired the rockets from among us would move around next to us. As a policeman, I have instructions to prevent firing. We chased them away several times. But I too, as a policeman, have become a target for the shelling. With or without rockets, you shell us. Everyone here is walking around dazed, without sleep, because of fear of the booming noises. We sit in our homes, waiting to see who will die first.”
The disaster of the shelling near his home has made the disaster of the economic situation seem easier for B. As a policeman, he has not received a salary, like the other workers in the public and security sectors of the Palestinian Administration. Israel does not transfer to the Palestinian Authority the money which comes from collecting taxes on goods imported via its ports. The United States and Europe have cancelled their assistance to the PA. The salaries of 140,000 families in the West Bank and Gaza, amounting to some NIS 1,000 – NIS 2,000 per month per family, are already three weeks overdue.
“My situation is good. My wages did not get to the bank but I can buy from the shop on credit,” says B. “What can the unemployed do? No one sells them anything, even on credit.”
L’s father is currently unemployed. He is an engineer and was promised a new job in one of the infrastructure projects being supported by DIASU, an American aid fund. But now the fund has cancelled its donations to the projects that were due to be carried out through the PA and its government offices. The contractors he knows do not even answer the tenders that are published in the newspapers. What is the point, one of them says, we can’t take on any commitments – we don’t know when the raw materials will arrive, when Israel will open and close the checkpoints. We have no estimate when the work will be finished because this depends on the raw materials. I can’t make an obligation to pay the workers because I don’t know when those ordering the work will be able to pay me. Even the shopkeepers are unemployed: There are no buyers, no goods, there is no point in keeping them or in paying for them from an income that does not exist.
The supermarket in the teachers’ neighbourhood in Tel el-Hawa in Gaza was closed for two days and its workers sent home on forced leave. There were no shoppers in the el-Kishawi supermarket in the Rimal quarter on Wednesday afternoon and its shelves were half empty. Worried parents said: We won’t be able to pay registration for the universities next month.
The roads are also empty: The centre of Gaza city is no longer blocked with traffic as it used to be. The emptiness is particularly felt after 2.30 in the afternoon when the school children and clerks go home. The roads are empty because people are saving: They do not shop, they do not want to pay for transportation, they do not want to pay for gas. Although vegetables are very cheap, even the markets are empty. The vegetables cannot be marketed in the West Bank and they have flooded Gaza and Rafah. A suggestion was even made that they be distributed free, through some non-governmental agencies. The roads are empty, also, from fear – fear that a shell or missile could explode at any moment.
“I am not surprised that Israel is shelling us like that,” says H., a Hamas activist. “That is its nature; that is what it has always done. I am surprised at those of us who are doing everything to trip up the government.” In the streets, people do not point an accusatory finger at the Palestinian rocket launchers “because everyone is busy with the missing salaries, with trying to save money, with being afraid of the shells Israel is firing, and with anxiety about the future,” says M. who is opposed to firing the rockets. S. who is also opposed, complains that people are stuck in a mentality of “reaction and revenge” and therefore they approve of the firing.
But accusatory voices have been raised in Hamas; they say that senior Fatah officers are behind those who are
firing the rockets, that they send them out to fire the rockets so that there will be greater political and security chaos and more pressure on the new government to resign. One side makes accusations and the other rebuffs them.
A field worker for an NGO who does not have ties with either side, says this appears to be a baseless allegation. “Official Fatah opposes firing rockets. The groups that are continuing to fire the rockets are those who are close to Islamic armed groups,” he says, quoting informed sources of his own.
But, he confirms, senior Fatah officers are behind the verbal incitement campaign being waged against the new government: They are behind the complaints that the government does not pay salaries and therefore is not fulfilling its duties – as if this is the first time that a Palestinian government is late with salaries, as if it alone is responsible. They are also behind complaints that its ministers are funding advisers and senior officials known for their support of Hamas, while most of the public sector in the past consisted of people known for their support of Fatah, as well as complaints that the Hamas ministers are not as competent and talented as expected.
There are two opposing points of view among the population. There are those who complain that the Hamas movement should have taken the Israeli and international response into account when it ran in elections for a parliament with limited authority and when it agreed to set up a government that was limited in advance. In other words, it should have taken different decisions in accordance with its political ability – not to form a government, or to agree to Abu Mazen’s terms and to have a platform that would not make it possible for the entire world to boycott the Palestinian people and impose another economic and political sanction. Every day another country announces that it is cancelling the economic aid that over the past five years has become the Palestinian nation’s oxygen. The latest one, for the time being, was Japan. Israeli banks do not transfer money to Palestinian banks. The Arab Bank is not prepared to give the government loans. Even if Iran and Qatar send money to the PA, how will it reach them? It has to go through Israel’s central bank which, of course, will refuse.
The other school of thought represents people like Z., who does not support Hamas. He is convinced that the pressure will have the opposite effect: It will merely serve to strengthen the public’s support for the government.
But everyone is afraid that, in addition to the security blow – in the form of shells – and in addition to the economic blow, there will be yet another blow, and it will be felt as an explosion when the tensions between Hamas and Fatah become even greater. About ten days ago, Fatah supporters blocked the way of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. He did not make a fuss about it. Last Tuesday, people in Gaza said, members of Izzadin el-Kassam opened fire at the person they consider responsible for blocking “their” prime minister’s way – the preventive security officer in Jabaliyeh. The more the Fatah people and their armed supporters complain and demonstrate about the failure of the new government, the more the armed Hamas members feel obliged to defend its honour.
There are mixed and confusing messages. Official Fatah is opposed to military escalation and Abu Mazen condemned the terror attack in Tel Aviv in no uncertain terms. But for their part, the Al-Aksa Martyrs’ Bigade, which Abu Mazen and the security forces are not able to rein in, condemned his condemnation. Hamas still officially holds on to the theory that the Palestinian nation has the right “to defend itself.” In a video conference with Palestinian foreign ministry officials, the foreign minister, Mahmoud a-Zahar, said that the platform of the new government remains loyal to the right of armed resistance. One of the officials in Ramallah asked him whether this meant he should go and blow himself up with an explosives belt. This was the opening shot in the tense relations.
On the other hand, Interior Minister Said Seyam held a secret meeting with the mukhtars of the large and important families in Gaza. Sources in Fatah and Hamas say that he proposed they sign a petition calling for an end to the rocket firing from Gaza to Israel. “Sign it yourself,” the mukhtars replied, “You are the minister.” But the Hamas is afraid to make public any position that can be seen as retreating from an armed struggle for fear that the Fatah will use it in propaganda against it.
Hamas is busy trying to quell false rumours that abound in the streets. One such rumour is that salaries were paid but only to those who support Hamas. Another is that Haniyeh participated in a heavy meal immediately after delivering his “hyssop and oil” speech a week ago in which he stated that the Palestinian people could exist on those two items rather than surrendering. Hamas is also accused of behaving in ways typical of Fatah during its rule.
Z agrees with Haniyeh and educates his children in this way: “I was born in a refugee tent, I studied with the light of a candle, we ate hyssop and oil and we received clothes from UNRWA. My children can also live like that.” S. laughs bitterly: “Which oil? And which hyssop? People have found out how expensive they are. You pay 20 shekels for a litre of oil and seven shekels for half a kilo of hyssop. People no longer speak about oil and hyssop. They eat a cheaper substitute, ‘duka,’ derived from the sumac spice.”View all →