Wednesday, December 27, 2000
An Intifada in search of a leadership
By Amira Hass
A late-night urgent phone call from a village in the Salfit region of the Palestinian Authority: "My nephew has been arrested. It happened a week ago. He is only 15. We do not even know where he is being held in custody. To whom should we turn?"A phone call from the same caller, a few weeks earlier, a little after midnight: "Jewish settlers, with the assistance of the Israeli army, are in our orchards now and are uprooting trees. What can we do? To whom should we turn?"
Yet another phone call from this caller, a week ago: "The road to our village has been obstructed since the start of the Intifada. Twice we have cleared away one obstruction, so that we could travel along this road freely. We got into arguments with the Israeli soldiers. We said to them, 'We aren't a bunch of animals that you can put in a cage.' 'Yes, you are!' they replied. Twice, the Israeli soldiers restored the obstruction. The third time we removed the large concrete blocks, the mayor of the town was with us. 'I'll argue it out with the soldiers,' he said. Whether or not he argued with them, a week went by and the huge concrete blocks were not brought in again. Thank God, now we can travel in our cars along this road."
These three telephone messages indicate a blatant side-effect of the second Intifada: The absence of the Palestinian Authority as an agency capable of offering support to the residents under its authority in the face of measures undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or as an agency capable of initiating activities that could be defined as a civil uprising.
Palestinians whose loved ones have been arrested are continuing to turn to non-government organizations (NGOs), Israeli and Palestinian alike, or to seek the assistance of lawyers. No emergency organization has been set up in the PA to coordinate the monitoring of the arrests and to offer legal and financial aid to the families of arrested persons.
The PA has not initiated a thorough investigation of even some of the shooting incidents or even some of the cases in which Palestinians were killed by IDF personnel. Most of the updated and more precise information can be obtained from NGOs, especially from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which is based in Gaza.
The IDF set up hundreds of road obstructions throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Except for a small number of cases, the PA's regime, which is the official leadership of the Palestinians, made no practical attempt to challenge the IDF by sending in bulldozers, by filling in ditches that Israeli soldiers dug across roads to prevent vehicular traffic from using those roadways, or by removing obstructions consisting of huge concrete blocks or earth ramparts - even in places that were not continually patroled by the IDF. Instead, the PA's regime focused on issuing press releases and publicizing its grievances to world audiences.
Palestinian experts have sadly stated that only the Palestinian ministries of education and health acted quickly in order to adapt their operations to the state of emergency and in order to serve jointly as an agency offering support to the residents of the PA. Local resident committees were set up in some communities to provide mutual assistance and to provide help to needy persons. The establishment of these communities was the initiative of either local community figures or NGOs.
During the first few weeks of the present Intifada, veterans of the first Intifada and members of NGOs, who (and this is no coincidence) belong to the Palestinian left, said that this Intifada should be an unarmed popular struggle, as was the case with the first Intifada. These individuals failed in this attempt. There is a need to study the connection between this failure and the different nature of the Israeli occupation today: Tight, stifling rings of encirclement around Palestinian enclaves, instead of an occupation army that confronts the populace at every corner, on every street and in every government agency. There is a need for investigating to what extent the failure was due to the effectiveness of the splitting up of the PA into separate territories and to the effectiveness of the severing of the natural ties between various parts of the PA (this situation did not exist prior to the signing of the Oslo agreement).
The PA has been so fragmented that the regime cannot function as a centralized, unified agency. That fact in itself, incidentally, can serve as proof that the PA's leadership did not plan this uprising.
The new character of the Israeli occupation is not the only reason for the absence of the PA as a supportive agency capable of initiating actions. Another reason is the breakdown in interpersonal contact between the PA's top leaders and the Palestinian public as a whole over the past seven years. From the very start of the Oslo process, the Palestinian leadership has exhibited a split personality. As the leadership of a public still under the control of a foreign occupying power, it issued declarations left and right in its capacity as the spearhead of a national liberation movement. However, as a leadership capable of exerting only partial control in accordance with permits issued by the occupying army operating under the guidance of American, British and German espionage services, the PA's regime functioned as a body that safeguarded the special privileges of its own members. In the course of this very brief Intifada, the PA's regime did not display sufficient insight - or sufficient capacity - for adapting itself to the spirit of rebellion that took hold of the Palestinian public at large.
Members of the Fatah movement - the backbone of a regime that, in the course of seven years, has been unable to improve the living standards of the residents of the PA - tried to restore its past legitimization as a national liberation movement. However, they preferred to do so by focusing on the "militarization" of the Intifada - the opening up of safety valves and the use of firearms, which immediately erased the popular-civic character of this uprising.
At this point in time, an official leadership, whose presence during its nation's most difficult hour was simply not felt, must now act decisively: Can it waive its claim to the right of return, and, if so, how can that decision be implemented practically? Can it agree to the West Bank being split down the middle by blocs of Jewish settlements, and, if so, how can that decision be implemented practically? Can it agree to one street in East Jerusalem being Palestinian, while the street running parallel to it is Israeli, and if so, how can that decision be implemented practically?
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PALESTINIAN REFUGEES; ISRAELI HYPOCRICY
It is almost ironic that the Israeli demand for a renunciation of the right of return comes up at a time when a new flow of Palestinian refugees is created, and that the alleged offer to evacuate the Gaza strip is made while great efforts are underway to enlarge the existing settlements at the expense of Palestinian homes and lands.
Irit Katriel Dec 22, 2000
Another 'peace' production has begun, and again the impression is that what is on the table is an end to the occupation, dismantling of "most" settlements, exchange of land for a few settlement blocks in the West Bank which will be annexed to Israel, and a peaceful and prosperous rest-of-our-life alongside independent Palestine. We were almost there, the story goes. Only Temple Mount was in the way. And now, Barak is reportedly willing to give up even that: "Minister Yuli Tamir said Tuesday morning that the Jewish state could give up sovereignty over Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem in exchange of the Palestinians 1948 war refugees renouncing their right of return as stipulated in Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly." (AFP, Dec 20).
Renunciation of the right of return. Meaning: Tamir is selling us that if the Palestinians will completely absolve Israel of the robbery of 1948, Barak will agree to return that which was stolen in 1967. But will he really? Examining the current course of events makes that very hard to believe.
The Israeli media, forever preoccupied with internal politics, is no longer reporting the crimes comitted daily in the West bank and Gaza. But when the smoke will clear, the reality on the ground will be very different than it was three months ago. We will wonder how it happened and why we didn't know when it did. Reports from the ground are very scarce, since "no Israelis are allowed in [to Gaza] not even Israeli journalists" (NY times, Dec 10). To the West Bank, Israeli journalists can go, but they probably don't bother to anymore. Yet, detailed daily reports are distrbuted over the internet by Palestinian human rights and observer groups. An occasional foreign media report also reveals what is being done by the army. The pattern of events, even if not their full extent, is very clear and extremely alarming.
It is almost ironic that this Israeli demand for a renunciation of the right of return of 1948 refugees comes up at a time when a new flow of Palestinian refugees is created, and that the alleged offer to evacuate the Gaza strip (and even enlarge it in the land swap deal) is made while great efforts are underway to enlarge the existing settlements at the expense of Palestinian homes and lands.
The most systematic and vicious destruction appears to be taking place in the Gaza strip. Residential areas close to settlements and military posts are the targets. Khan Yunis refugee camp has been shelled and shot at almost every night for weeks, damaging a few houses every time, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). The residents of the frequently shelled neigborhoods have already evacuated. While this can be sold as unproportional military reaction to attacks on the settlers and soldiers, the same cannot be said for the bulldozers that daily sweep agricultural land, tear down greenhouses and wells, and demolish homes. The general pretext for such measures is the elimination of hiding places for stone throwers, shooters or bombers. But even this excuse doesn't explain why vegetable fields are levelled.
The following is from the daily report of PCHR for Dec 12, which I selected at random from the ones they have sent:
Yesterday evening, at about 21:00, the Israeli occupation forces swept more areas of agricultural land to the north of a road branching from Salah El-Din Street (the main road between the north and south of the Gaza Strip) leading to Gush Qatif settlement bloc. The affected areas are 800 meters away from Al-Matahen junction in the middle area of the Gaza Strip. The sweeping lasted until 2:00 local time this morning. It included:
1) A 40-donum area of agricultural land planted with palms and guavas, owned by Salem Mohammed Abu Shmas. In addition, an irrigation network was destroyed. 2) A 10-donum area of agricultural land planted with vegetables, owned by Jehad Abu Madhi. 3) A three-donum area of agricultural land on which three greenhouses planted with vegetables were established, owned by Mohammed Abu Nahyeh. In addition, an irrigation network, a well and a water pump were destroyed.
A similar paragraph, with different names, appears in each one of their dry and factual lists of events. It takes a rare media report to put a human tragedy behind an uprooted olive grove, as in this article about the West Bank village of Hares:
When Ali Abed Daoud Jaber, 76, awoke the next morning, he found he was ruined. More than 400 olive trees were cut down by the Israeli army along the highway leading to three Jewish settlements. At least 110 were his. His entire olive orchard lay felled on the stone-strewn ground.
"Where is God?" the old man screamed, gesturing with his cane as villagers tried to calm him. "They cut down trees my grandfather tended! Trees hundreds of years old! I depend on my trees completely.. . . What will I eat now? What will I drink?"
"He is become without a brain since he saw this," said Nasfat Khufash, who belongs to a rural development committee in the vicinity. "He was sitting in the middle of the road, crying, this morning."
(The Atlanta-based "Cox" News Service, Nov 28th).
Palestinians who have their own land, are relatively independent. In times of strict closure, when the wage-working residents of the refugee camps are unable to work and quickly run out of money and require food aid, the villagers can work their land. And if they are unable to sell their produce, they can still grow vegetables between the trees, and survive. This is what they did during the first intifada, and they were generally spared the starvation suffered in the camps. Now, even this is denied of them.
"The olive trees gave us food. Now they are only fit for the fire," said Nawaf Suf. "We believe they want to deprive us of our livelihood, drive us off the land and make common laborers of us, so we have to go to the cities and work for Israelis." (there).
This is one explanation. Another is that the plan is to take the land for the benefit of expansion of the nearby settlements. In quiet times, destruction and expropriation in such dimensions would have been impossible. But nothing is better than the smoke cloud created by the chaos of fighting to distract attention from some olive trees and tomato bushes.
But the evil doesn't end with trees. The following unbelievable story was reported by Phil Reeves in The Independent On Dec 7th:
The residents of El-Kararah, a scattering of Palestinian smallholdings in the Gaza Strip, were preparing for bed when the Israeli armoured bulldozers came to flatten their homes and to drive them off the land. [...]
The bulldozers came at night - three armoured machines crowned with machine guns and backed by Israeli tanks - and began uprooting their orange and olive orchards, transforming them into a moonscape of twisted roots, broken tree trunks and rubble.
The villagers say that, as the bulldozers crashed into their houses, they grabbed their children and whatever possessions they could carry, and fled on foot, weeping and screaming. Several of their cattle were crushed to death as the bulldozers flattened the cow sheds.
The villagers briefly tried to stay on the land by holding a sit-down protest, until Israeli soldiers began firing bullets at them. They spent the first night, shivering and bewildered, huddled in the open. Now they live in stark poverty in tents supplied by the Red Cross and the Palestinian municipal authorities, in a palm grove near their former homes.
In at least one case, the Palestinians tried to resist, at a heavy price in blood. On Dec 13th, PCHR reported:
PCHR’s field officers reported that this morning, at approximately 1:45, a bulldozer, some tanks and dozens of troops of the Israeli occupation forces moved from Al-Tuffah roadblock towards the refugee camp of Khan Yunis in order to demolish a number of Palestinian houses, 150 meters away from military posts of these forces. Hundreds of Palestinian citizens confronted the Israeli occupation forces, which fired artillery shells and heavy and medium bullets at Palestinian civilians and houses. The incident developed into an armed confrontation in which some members of the Palestinian National Security Forces participated. Fighting lasted until 8:00 local time this morning. The bulldozer of the Israeli occupation forces was able to reach a number of houses and partially demolished them. Artillery shells also hit other houses.
Four members of the Palestinian National Security forces were killed and 28 Palestinian civilians were wounded in this incident, PCHR said.
But not only Gaza is targetted. Jerusalem area seems to be going through similar demographic 'adjustments'. In Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, Bethlehem and Ramallah, which have been under heavy fire, thousands are reportedly displaced. The shelled neighborhoods have been evacuated. Already on Nov 6th, the Emergency Committee of Beit Sahour reported that "An emergency camp has been set up in Beit Sahour in order to provide shelter for families whose homes have been destroyed or damaged by the Israeli occupation forces since the beginning of Al-Aqsa Intifada. [...] To date, eight homes have been completely destroyed, over 100 homes have been damaged in various ways, and over 130 families have been displaced. Those who have not been able to stay with relatives or friends now live in this emergency camp."
A month later, on Dec 5th, Edward A. Hazboun, President of The Bethlehem Association, distributed a letter in which he states "Shepherd's Field and Manger Square have become refugee quarters for people whose homes have been destroyed [...] Thousands are being made refugees in their own towns [...] New refugee camps are sprouting everywhere, from shepherd field near Bethlehem to the suburbs of Ramallah and Nablus."
If Barak is now offering to withdraw from the Gaza strip, why are the army's bulldozers working so hard to take more land near the settlements?
This question isn't asked, partly because the mainstream news isn't following the events on the ground, and mostly because it's elections season, when statements are much more important than deeds.