Israeli Wall to Ruin Palestinian Economy

Al Jazeera, August 26, 2005

The Palestinian economy has deteriorated sharply since the start of the
uprising in 2000, and Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank will
depress it further, a United Nations agency said.

The economy shrank 1% in 2004, one in three Palestinian workers was jobless
at the end of last year and 61% of households had income below the poverty
line of $350 per month, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said in
its annual report on the occupied territories on Thursday.

“Put simply, in the wake of the past four years of Israeli occupation and
war, the Palestinian economy invests and produces less and therefore
consumes more imports, especially those from Israel,” the report said.

Palestinian net imports from Israel represent two-thirds of the total trade
deficit of $2.6 billion, it said. Some 80,000 workers formerly employed in
Israel must also be absorbed.

The Palestinian Authority must now focus on reducing widespread poverty and
boosting production to revive its war-torn economy, the UNCTAD report said.

Ability to Produce

But the barrier or wall Israel is building inside the West Bank will further
erode the fragmented Palestinian production base and resources and “people’s
ability to feed themselves,” it said.

Israel says the wall is a security measure and is intended to keep out
bombers. Continue reading

Jobless in Gaza

Mehammed Mack, L.A. Weekly, August 25, 2005

A somber note for many Gazans witnessing the Israeli pullout was the prospect of losing jobs. Al-Jazeera profiled the closure of one of the last remaining monuments of Oslo-era cooperation, the Erez industrial park, a multidisciplinary Gaza manufacturing facility that had employed more than 4,000 Arab workers. One of the newly redundant vented to Al-Jazeera cameras: “This is a cruel decision for us, I have worked here for 10 years,” he said. “I don’t have any work in Gaza, I am going to have to sit around doing nothing.” According to Israeli Gaza correspondent Amira Hass, the settlements employed around 3,200 Palestinians whose cheap labor (salaries averaging about a third of the Israeli minimum wage) inflated the wealth of Israeli farmers and entrepreneurs. The international LinkTV, whose Middle Eastern–themed programming attracts many Arab viewers because of shows like the Peabody award–winning newsreel Mosaic, ran a documentary peering into the life of a Palestinian family working on a Gaza agricultural settlement, remarkable for its unintentional echoes of the Old South. One memorable image showed the enthusiastic Palestinian father speaking in Hebrew of the brotherly bond between Arabs and Jews, while seated at a table with the settler couple that had given him a good job and food to eat.

Overall, the Arab media approached last week’s Israeli withdrawal from Gaza from an almost unanimously critical perspective. But the Middle East’s satellite commentators and editorial pages were anything but monolithic in content, sharply disagreeing over what the week’s “disengagement” meant and, more importantly, portends. Reading a sampling of reports and opinion from the region’s main Arabic and English presses, it would be difficult to decide whether the Gaza pullout was cause for Palestinian celebration or gloom.

Neglecting economics, Arab papers had particular scorn for the Western media’s “soft” treatment of previously belligerent settlers. Rami Khouri, of Lebanon’s Daily Star, wondered in his column if everyone had forgotten who the victim was: “The widespread press descriptions of the Gaza settler’s ‘emotional pain’ at being sent back to their own country of Israel lack both credibility and relevance.” Khouri, among other acerbic commentators, noted the glorification of Ariel Sharon’s “heroic” masochism in reneging on his legacy as father of the settlements: “It is outrageous that Sharon would say, even as he was evacuating Gaza, that he prefers to keep it.” The paper’s editorial, however, rationalized Sharon’s promise to “continue and develop” settlement activity in the West Bank as the words of a man trying to appease his public: “We can partly excuse the imperialist hostility of his statement by acknowledging that the pullout has stirred strong sentiments in Israel, and Sharon is now facing considerable domestic pressure and even a potential challenge to his premiership.”

Despite a few overtures, the main attitude spanning the Arab media is one of extreme vigilance and suspicion. Discussion around the seemingly benevolent withdrawal has turned to what the “catch” will be, a dreaded prospect that has precluded widespread Palestinian celebration, for fear of indicating partnership in a bargain that might mean the loss of the West Bank. A fearful Daily Star editorial raised the empty threat of international law against Sharon’s PR maneuvering: “He cannot continue to ignore his responsibilities to the international community under the ‘road map’ to peace, nor can he speak two different messages — one of peace to the international community and one of conquest to his Israeli public.” Speculation as to Sharon’s true disengagement motives was far-reaching and almost unanimously bleak. Khouri called the pullout “an expedient, grudging, defensive, reluctant endeavor” that “does not have the compelling ring of authenticity and honesty that characterized the white South Africans’ coming to terms with black majority rule.”

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The Gaza Evacuations

Disengagement or Tactical Military Redeployment?

SHAMAI K. LEIBOWITZ and KATERINA HELLER, CounterPunch, August 24, 2005

The imminent handover of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority and the evacuation of a small portion of the West Bank from Israeli settlers has been billed by the international media as a turning point in the violent history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through well-planned media strategies, which included inviting the world media to capture images of Israelis dragging men, women and children out of their homes in the illegal settlements they occupied for thirty-eight years, the Israeli government has succeeded in marketing the Unilateral Disengagement Plan as a great “concession” on Israel’s part and a revival of the “peace process.”

But the Unilateral Disengagement Plan will turn out to be no such thing as it is no more than a tactical military redeployment of Israel’s Occupation Forces. This is evident from Israel’s decision to retain military control over the would-be evacuated areas in the West Bank and control over airspace, coastline and border crossings of the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s decision to continue with the building of the West Bank Wall deep inside the West Bank.

In a December 2004 report, the World Bank predicted that by continuing to control the flow of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, rather than offering Gaza inhabitants economic progress, the Disengagement will worsen the already dire economic situation of the Gaza Strip.

Effectively, the Disengagement Plan will turn Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison with 1.3 million Palestinian inmates. The result will be a continuation, if not an increase, of the bloodshed and violence. Similarly, the removal of 4 out of 130 Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank while building and expanding others, at the expense of 2 million Palestinians who continue to live without human or civil rights, does not signal an end to the Israeli Occupation but, rather, its perpetuation.

Despite its severe flaws, can the Disengagement be beneficial toward peace? Yes, if the international community would demand from Israel a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in the mean time, deploy an international peacekeeping force to serve as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians.

In 1999, when East Timor began its transition from Indonesian occupation toward independence, the UN deployed an International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) consisting of 8,000 peacekeeping troops to quell the violence in the region. They successfully maintained the peace and served as a buffer between Indonesia and the East Timorese, allowing the latter to develop their independence peacefully.

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Amira Hass: The Remaining 99.5 Percent

For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed – worthy of wonderment indeed.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Aug 24, 2005

“I want to ask you as a Jew to a Jewess,” the young man said a few days ago. In these days, a beginning such as this invites a dialogue of the kind in which we have been drowning for several weeks now – a dialogue in which the definition “Jew” has been appropriated to describe some type of unique entity, one that is set apart from the other human species, a superior one. Sometimes it’s the Jewish boy with his arms raised from the Warsaw Ghetto; sometimes it’s the young girl whose orange shirt bears the slogan, “We won’t forget and we won’t forgive;” and sometimes it’s the soldier who refuses to evacuate a Jew. A unique entity of ties of blood, sacredness and land.

“As a Jew to a Jewess,” said the young man, who turned out to be a tourist from South America who has family in Israel and also understands Hebrew. It was at the Erez crossing, among the barbed-wire fencing, the locked gates, the revolving gates, the intimidating guard towers, the soldiers using special cameras to keep an eye on the handful of individuals passing through, and the booming loudspeakers through which they bark out their orders in Hebrew to women who have been waiting in the heat for five hours to go visit their sons imprisoned at the Be’er Sheva jail.

“Is it possible,” he continued with his question, “that the Israelis, who are so nice and good – after all, I have family here – are unaware of the injustice they have caused here?” The images of destruction left behind by Israel in Palestinian Gaza and witnessed by him in the past few days have left a look of shock in his eyes. “I am a Jew, and my father is a Holocaust survivor, and I grew up on totally different values of Judaism – social justice, equality and concern for one’s fellow man.”

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Praying with Their Eyes Closed

Reflections on the Disengagement from Gaza

Sara Roy, MIFTAH, August 20, 2005

Israel’s disengagement plan is widely hailed by the international community, led by the United States, as a first step toward the final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. This essay is a refutation of that view. After presenting the current situation of Gaza as the result of deliberate Israeli policies of economic integration, deinstitutionalization, and closure, the author demonstrates how provisions of the plan itself preclude the establishment of a viable economy in the Strip. Examining the plan’s implications for the West Bank, the author argues that the occupation, far from ending, will actually be consolidated. She concludes with a look at the disengagement within the context of previous agreements, particularly Oslo—all shaped by Israel’s overwhelming power—and the steadily shrinking possibilities offered to the Palestinians.

When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, we had the Bible in our hand, and they had the land.
—Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya

On 9 June 2005, the last legal hurdle to implementing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza was cleared when the Israeli High Court approved the plan and its removal of all the Jewish settlements there. The settlers, though angered by the decision, were not surprised and vowed to oppose their coerced departure with all means possible. Considerable media attention in the United States has been devoted to the suffering of the Jewish settlers and the personal costs for them of the disengagement. This attention has served to thaw and then humanize the often violent and zealous settler population, and in so doing, to illustrate and amplify the sacrifices Israel is making for peace.

By now a great deal has been written about the disengagement plan by both supporters and opponents. Many of the arguments in favor focus on the redeployment as an opportunity to break the near five-year-old political impasse between Palestinians and Israelis and usher in a new era of stability and peace. In April 2005, for example, President Bush stated that Israel’s withdrawal will allow the establishment of “a democratic state in the Gaza” and open the door for democracy in the Middle East. Tom Friedman was more explicit, arguing that “[t]he issue for Palestinians is no longer about how they resist the Israeli occupation in Gaza, but whether they build a decent mini-state there—a Dubai on the Mediterranean. Because if they do, it will fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.”

Embedded in both statements are a set of assumptions: that Palestinians will be free to build their own democracy, that Israel will eventually cede the West Bank (or even consider the possibility), that Israel’s “withdrawal” will strengthen the Palestinian position in negotiations over the West Bank, that the occupation will end or become increasingly irrelevant, that the gross asymmetries between the two protagonists will be redressed. Hence, the Gaza disengagement plan—if implemented “properly”—will provide a real (perhaps the only) opportunity for resolving the conflict and creating a Palestinian state. It follows that Palestinians will be responsible for their success, and that if they fail to build a “democratic” or “decent mini-state” in Gaza, the fault will be theirs and theirs alone.

Dubai on the Mediterranean?

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The settlers’ retreat was the theatre of the cynical

There was no ‘sensitivity training’ when bulldozers went into Rafah

Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, August 19, 2005

Contrast the world’s overwhelming coverage, especially on television, of the departure of Israeli settlers from Gaza with the minimal reporting of larger and more brutal evictions in previous months.
There was no “sensitivity training” for Israeli troops, no buses to drive the expellees away, no generous deadlines to get ready, no compensation packages for their homes, and no promise of government-subsidised alternative housing when the bulldozers went into Rafah.

Within sight of the Gush Katif settlements that have been handled with such kid gloves this week, families in Rafah were usually given a maximum of five minutes’ warning before their houses, and life savings, were crushed. Many people did not even have time to go upstairs to collect belongings when the barking of loudspeakers ordered them out, sometimes before dawn. Fleeing with their children in the night, they risked being shot if they turned round or delayed.

As many as 13,350 Palestinians were made homeless in the Gaza Strip in the first 10 months of last year by Israel’s giant armour-plated Caterpillar bulldozers – a total that easily exceeds the 8,500 leaving Israeli settlements this week. In Rafah alone, according to figures from the UN relief agency Unrwa, the rate of house demolitions rose from 15 per month in 2002 to 77 per month between January and October 2004.

Parts of Rafah now resemble areas of Kabul or Grozny. Facing Israeli army watchtowers and the concrete wall that runs close to the Gaza Strip’s boundary, rows of rubble and ruined homes stretch for hundreds of yards.

The house where I stayed three years ago, which was then one row back from the frontline, has gone. So have three more lines of houses behind it, thanks to Israel’s remorseless policy of clearing the zone for “security” reasons even after Ariel Sharon announced his plan to leave Gaza.

Palestinians who visit the ruins or try to use one or two rooms that survived the onslaught risk their lives from Israeli bullets. A warning shot rang out as one homeowner took me on to his roof in broad daylight last month to survey the miserable scene. We quickly came down.

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Gaza Fiasco


The Shame of it All

Jennifer Loewenstein, ZNet, August 19, 2005

A great charade is taking place in front of the world media in the Gaza Strip. It is the staged evacuation of 8000 Jewish settlers from their illegal settlement homes, and it has been carefully designed to create imagery to support Israel’s US-backed takeover of the West Bank and cantonization of the Palestinians.

There was never the slightest reason for Israel to send in the army to remove these settlers. The entire operation could have been managed, without the melodrama necessary for a media frenzy, by providing them with a fixed date on which the IDF would withdraw from inside the Gaza Strip. A week before, all the settlers will quietly have left with no TV cameras, no weeping girls, no anguished soldiers, no commentators asking cloying questions of how Jews could remove other Jews from their homes, and no more trauma about their terrible suffering, the world’s victims, who therefore have to be helped to kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank.

The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank ­handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind.

But these details are rarely mentioned in the tempest of reporting on the “great confrontation” and “historical moment” brought to us by Sharon and the thieving, murderous settler-culture he helped create.

On ABC’s Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim – a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn’t view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn’t want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain.

She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene.

The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

Continue reading

The Shame of It All

Jennifer Loewenstein, CounterPunch, August 17, 2005

A great charade is taking place in front of the world media in the Gaza Strip. It is the staged evacuation of 8000 Jewish settlers from their illegal settlement homes, and it has been carefully designed to create imagery to support Israel’s US-backed takeover of the West Bank and cantonization of the Palestinians.

There was never the slightest reason for Israel to send in the army to remove these settlers. The entire operation could have been managed, without the melodrama necessary for a media frenzy, by providing them with a fixed date on which the IDF would withdraw from inside the Gaza Strip. A week before, all the settlers will quietly have left ­with no TV cameras, no weeping girls, no anguished soldiers, no commentators asking cloying questions of how Jews could remove other Jews from their homes, and no more trauma about their terrible suffering, the world’s victims, who therefore have to be helped to kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank.

The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel ­ and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank ­handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind. But these details are rarely mentioned in the tempest of reporting on the “great confrontation” and “historical moment” brought to us by Sharon and the thieving, murderous settler-culture he helped create.

On ABC’s Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim – a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn’t view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn’t want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain. She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene. The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

In the 5 years of Israel’s brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family’s memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live. And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 — often at a moment’s notice ­ on the grounds that they “threatened Israel’s security.” The vast majority of the destroyed homes were located too close to an IDF military outpost or illegal settlement to be allowed to continue standing. The victims received no compensation for their losses and had no place waiting for them to relocate. Most ended up in temporary UNRWA tent-cities until they could find shelter elsewhere in the densely overcrowded Strip, a quarter of whose best land was inhabited by the 1% of the population that was Jewish and occupying the land at their expense.

Where were the cameramen in May 2004 in Rafah when refugees twice over lost their homes again in a single night’s raid, able to retrieve nothing of what they owned? Where were they when bulldozers and tanks tore up paved streets with steel blades, wrecked the sewage and water pipes, cut electricity lines, and demolished a park and a zoo; when snipers shot two children, a brother and sister, feeding their pigeons on the roof of their home? When the occupying army fired a tank shell into a group of peaceful demonstrators killing 14 of them including two children? Where have they been for the past five years when the summer heat of Rafah makes life so unbearable it is all one can do to sit quietly in the shade of one’s corrugated tin roof — because s/he is forbidden to go to the sea, ten minutes’ walking distance from the city center? Or because if they ventured to the more open spaces they became walking human targets? And when their citizens resisted, where were the accolades and the admiring media to comment on the “pluck,” the “will” and “audacity” of these “young people”?

On Tuesday, 16 August, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that more than 900 journalists from Israel and around the world are covering the events in Gaza, and that hundreds of others are in cities and towns in Israel to cover local reactions. Were there ever that many journalists in one place during the past 5 years to cover the Palestinian Intifada?

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Amira Hass: Khan Yunis / No Compensation for Arabs Losing Their Jobs in Katif

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 14 Aug 2005

Today is Omar’s last day of work for his employer in one of the religious settlements of Gush Katif. He will finish what he began a week ago: packing up the contents of the house and dismantling whatever can be dismantled. “I asked my boss if he would give me something from his house, as a gift,” the 29-year-old says without embarrassment. As someone who has to support his wife and two children, along with the households of his unemployed brothers and as someone who almost daily crossed over from crowded Khan Yunis, with its dowdy concrete houses pockmarked by shelling and bullets to the spacious settlement surrounded by greenery, he is not ashamed to expect a present from the man he has worked for since 1996.

Some employers, he says, gave their workmen a gift: a refrigerator, a fan, or NIS 150-200. But his boss told him he cannot give gifts and is selling whatever he cannot take to his new home.

Bidding farewell to his boss is not difficult for Omar; they had not forged a particularly affectionate tie and Omar says the same is true for most Palestinian laborers in the settlements. He does lament the loss of income and the reality of almost certain unemployment.

Some 3,200 Palestinians worked in Gaza Strip settlements in July, but neither the state nor their employers is compensating them for losing their jobs. The Evacuation Compensation Law passed by the Knesset provides two benefits for people whose job is terminated by the evacuation: a monthly adjustment payment for a former employee or business owner, and the right to quit yet be eligible for severence pay. But the new law specifically grants these benefits to Israelis only.

Asked his opinion of the discriminatory law, Omar laughed. “We never received our basic rights as workers. Not minimum wage, not vacation, not sick leave. So should we be surprised that the Israeli Knesset did not pass a law that would compensate us too?” he says during a meeting in Gaza with him and two other laborers from Khan Yunis at the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Workers’ Rights.

Omar began working for his boss nine years ago for NIS 32 a day. In July 2005 his daily wages were NIS 50. His friend Khaled makes NIS 45 for an eight-hour day’s work. The hourly minimum wage in Israel is NIS 17.93, or almost NIS 145 per day. Omar, who is active in an independent workers committee that was founded in the Gaza Strip this year, says the maximum paid to Palestinian workers there was NIS 60 per day. An Israeli who spent a lot of time in Gush Katif in recent months heard from employers that the daily wage is between NIS 40-80.

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Message from Bertrand Russell

to the International Conference of Parlimentarians
Cairo, February 1970

The New York Times, February 23, 1970

“The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was ‘given’ by a foreign power to another people for the creation of a new state. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless.

With every new conflict their numbers increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict.

No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East”.

Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate.