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.

Earlier this week Israel finished evacuating all 21 Jewish settlements in
Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank, part of its plan to withdraw
completely from Gaza, where some 8500 Israeli settlers lived close to 1.4
million Palestinians.

The Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza, broke out in 2000 when peace talks stalled. Israel had
occupied both territories since the 1967 Middle East war.

Occupation-related Distortions

“The top priority at this stage of the Palestinian economy’s development is
to focus on poverty reduction while nurturing productive capacity,
eliminating occupation-related distortions and laying the ground for
sustainable economic recovery,” the UNCTAD report said.

The estimated opportunity cost to the economy over the past five years,
representing the value of goods and services that were not produced because
of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, is estimated at 6.4
billion, while capital stock losses are estimated at $3.5 billion during the
period.

“Economic realities on the ground after the prolonged conflict remain very
harsh and uncertain, regardless of all the positive developments we’ve
witnessed recently,” Raja Khalidi, the report’s main author, told a news
briefing. “In both Gaza and the West Bank, challenges of recovery are
overwhelming.”

Distortions due to decades of Israeli occupation and dependence on the
Jewish state must be corrected before the future Palestinian state turns to
trade liberalisation, the report added.
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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.”

As Western anchors gaped at Ariel Sharon’s incredible personal sacrifice, getting teary over the drama of internecine Jewish conflict, Al-Jazeera sat back like a pessimistic theater critic and waxed unenthusiastic: “The question of the evacuation of the settlements has not come with the difficulty the Israeli government is trying to project,” sighed Palestinian correspondent Shereen Abu Aqla. More curious to Al-Jazeera was the soldiers’ “excessive sensitivity” in evicting the settlers, and all the “images of self-control, patience and kindness that the eye has not witnessed before from the Israeli forces,” especially in comparison to the Israel Defense Forces’ callous and sometimes deadly management of Israeli Arab protests. An article on the Al-Jazeera Web site had six references to Israeli “tears” and seemed to make much of the sympathy-provoking practice by which settlers would wave their children in front of phlegmatic soldiers, portraying their behavior as a kind of child endangerment similar to Michael Jackson’s toddler-dangling. One report read, “Another man who had been forced onto a bus held his infant nephew out of the window, shouting to the soldiers, ‘You want him?’”

Veteran journalist Daoud Kuttab, writing in the Jordan Times, cautioned against believing that the withdrawal came in response to Palestinian resistance, especially during the current climate of ambiguity: “It would be a mistake to attribute the Israeli withdrawal exclusively to Palestinian attacks,” he explained. “After all, this bittersweet Israeli action was neither a clear result of military defeat nor a consequence of political negotiations.” He acknowledged the political stakes of Sharon’s decision, stopping short of using the word “courage”: “There is no doubt that the evacuation of Jewish settlers in areas that Israelis consider part of their God-given territory represents a huge ideological reversal.” One analogy that kept re-appearing throughout media speculation of Sharon’s pullout motives was that of military strategizing, as in the words of Ghassan Sharbal, editor in chief of the influential pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat: “Sometimes a warrior is forced to retreat a step. But that doesn’t mean he wants peace,” he wrote. “The retreat aims to redraw the lines, a redeployment to strengthen his ability to fight the next battle.” The Al-Ahram Weekly viewed the withdrawal as a smoke screen to distract from accelerated construction in Palestinian East Jerusalem, where new settlements and the growing Separation Wall threaten to imminently cut the civic and economic heart of Palestine out of the West Bank. The paper quoted the somber prediction of professor Ali Jarbawy, from Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University: “By giving up Gaza, the Israelis are winning 15 years’ advance in materializing their project,” he explained. “The formula for Sharon now is not land for peace, but land for time.” The disengagement has expanded the almost-deaf disconnect between the sides, with both dreaming up isolated and unrealistic endings to the story that begins with Gaza, as Cairo’s Al-Ahram Weekly’s Sherine Bahaa described.

“It would seem as if the two parties are speaking different languages,” she said. “Palestinian officials believe Gaza is but a prelude to the liberation of Jerusalem and the West Bank while the Israelis are reiterating that no more retreats are expected, neither now nor ever.”

Ehud Asheri, of the Israeli left-wing Daily Ha’aretz (whose coverage of Middle East affairs many Arab journalists prefer to The New York Times), cut through the satellite fog and gave the best summary of the media circus, calling attention to “the real battle being waged in the Gaza Strip — the battle over the disengagement narrative,” which the settlers were “winning,” regardless of real events, “on television.”

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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.

Based on this precedent, the UN Security Council should issue a similar resolution to deploy “INTERFIP- International Forces in Israel/Palestine”, which would be stationed in the West Bank and Gaza, monitor Gaza’s border crossings, airports and coastline, while serving as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians. These forces would terminate the system of closures, curfews and arbitrary restrictions imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinian movement which have devastated the Palestinian economy. This would allow for economic growth and progress in the West Bank and Gaza, and foster a peacebuilding environment on both sides.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the World Bank and the European Union, have publicly supported international intervention, whether in the form of a UN-based force or a NATO force. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed this idea. There remains a “small” problem: The Israeli government has objected to it.

Israel should learn from its past mistakes. The deterioration and eventual collapse of the Oslo Accords have been attributed mainly to the absence of international armed peacekeeping forces to enforce the agreements and prevent human rights abuses. To prevent the same mistake from happening twice, the international community must economically pressure Israel to agree to the deployment of a neutral armed peacekeeping force. This has the power to transform Disengagement into a peacebuilding operation, leading the way to the implementation of the “Road Map to Peace” – the plan, sponsored by the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the U.N., to establish an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state by 2005.

As Israelis, we are proud of our country’s decision to start complying with international law, but we are terribly worried this will not bring peace and security to our people. We urgently need the support of the international community – by deploying peacekeeping troops now.

Shamai K. Leibowitz is an Israeli attorney who holds a Master of Laws in International Legal Studies from American University’s Washington College of Law and is an active member of Gush Shalom – the Israeli Peace Bloc.
Katerina Heller is an Israeli organizational psychologist and founding editor of The Occupation Magazine. They can be reached at: legal@012.net.il

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.”

As naive as it may have been, the question was like a breath of fresh air. Here was a Jew who was voicing his opinion on the fate of 1,300,000 people, while the entire world appeared to be focused on every one of the 8,000 Jews who are moving house. Here was a Jew who was moved by what have become dry numbers – 1,719 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip from the end of September 2000 until today; and according to various estimates, some two-thirds of them were unarmed and were not killed in battles or during the course of attempts to attack a military position or a settlement.

Based on figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, of those killed, 379 were children under the age of 18; 236 were younger than 16; 96 were women; and 102 were the objectives of targeted liquidations during the course of which the Israel Defense Forces also killed another 95 individuals who, according to the military too, were “innocent bystanders.”

Some 9,000 Gaza residents were injured; 2,704 homes to some 20,000 people were razed by the IDF’s bulldozers and assault helicopters; 2,187 were partially destroyed. Some 31,650 dunams of agricultural land were left scorched.

The Israeli responses to these numbers are standard: They invited it upon themselves, or: What do they expect when they fire Qassams at children and peaceful homes, or try to infiltrate and murder citizens in their houses – that the IDF won’t come to their defense?

A direct line is drawn between these questions, which expressed the public’s support for the Israeli assault policy, and participating in the sorrow of the evacuees and the wonderment at this “magnificent chapter” in the history of the Zionist settlement enterprise – a direct line of fundamental belief in the Jews’ super-rights in this land. Indeed, one can join those who are amazed by the settlers in general, and the Gaza Strip settlers in particular.

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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?

It would be useful to consider what the Palestinians in Gaza have to work with to achieve success.

Today, there are over 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Strip. By 2010 this number will reach close to two million. The Gaza Strip has the highest level of fertility in the region—5.5–6.0 children per woman—and the population grows at a very high rate of 3–5 percent annually. Fifty years ago, 80 percent of the population had not yet been born. Fifty percent of Gazans are 15 years old or younger, with rapidly declining access to health care and education. The half of the territory in which the population is concentrated has one of the highest population densities in the world. In the Jabalya refugee camp alone, there are 74,000 persons per square kilometer, compared with 25,000 persons per square kilometer in Manhattan.

Palestinians are currently experiencing the worst economic depression in modern history, according to the World Bank, primarily caused by long-standing Israeli restrictions (especially closure) that have dramatically reduced Gaza’s trade levels (especially exports) and virtually cut off Gaza’s labor force from their jobs inside Israel. This has resulted in unprecedented levels of unemployment ranging from 35 to 40 percent. Some 65 to 75 percent of Gazans are impoverished (compared to 30 percent in 2000), and many are hungry.

In 2004, a Harvard study concluded that the increase in Gaza’s population by 2010 will require the “creation of some 250,000 new jobs . . . to maintain current employment rates at 60 percent and the establishment of an additional 2,000 classrooms and 100 primary healthcare clinics annually to bring access to education and public health services at par with the West Bank.” Yet, the disengagement plan states that Israel will further reduce and eventually bar Palestinians from working in Israel. Researchers on the same Harvard study also stated that in a few years, Gaza’s labor force will be “entirely unskilled and increasingly illiterate.” As for educational services, between 1997 and 2004, student-teacher ratios declined by 30 percent, with 80 students per class in government schools and 40 per class in UNRWA schools. Test scores for Palestinian children are well below passing, currently under 50 percent, and the majority of 4th graders fail to advance to the next grade.

About 41 percent of Gazans are now assessed by the World Food Programme (WFP) to be “food insecure,” defined as lacking secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development; in five areas of Gaza, the figure exceeds 50 percent. An additional 30 percent of the population is “food vulnerable,” which places them under threat of becoming food insecure or malnourished.

Since 2000, the economy of the Gaza Strip and West Bank has lost potential income of approximately $6.3 billion. In addition, the economy has suffered over $2.2 billion worth of physical damage by the Israeli army, which means, in effect, that the “occupied Palestinian territory has lost at least one fifth of its economic base over the last four years as a consequence of war and occupation.”

Yet, despite these conditions, the plan states: “The process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” This idea rests on another powerful assumption of the Gaza plan and the discourse surrounding it: that Gaza’s agony is a recent phenomenon borne of the last five years of intifada, and that the return of the land taken up by military installations and settlements—anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the territory—will easily redress the situation. Under this widely held notion, the context for understanding the disengagement begins in 2000, not in 1967. Israel’s primary role in creating Palestine’s misery and decline over nearly four decades is quite simply expunged from the narrative.

There is no doubt that the destruction wrought by Israel over the last five years has been ruinous for Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip—the demolition of homes (some 4,600 between 2000 and 2004), schools, roads, factories and workshops, hospitals, mosques, and greenhouses, the razing of agricultural fields and the uprooting of trees, the further undermining of the economy, the spatial imprisonment of the population and denial of access to education and health services resulting from near total closure. But one need only look at the devastated economy of Gaza on the eve of the uprising to realize that the devastation of Gaza is not recent. By the time the second uprising broke out, Israel’s closure policy had been in force for seven years, leading to levels of unemployment and poverty that were, until then, unprecedented. Yet the closure policy proved so destructive only because of the near 30-year process of integrating Gaza’s economy into Israel’s, which undermined the local economic base by making it deeply dependent on Israel. As a result, when Gaza was severed from Israel through closure, the means for self-sustenance no longer existed. Thus, closure and the destruction caused by the intifada occurred on a foundation already undermined by thirty-eight years of deliberate Israeli policies of expropriation, integration, and deinstitutionalization that had long ago robbed Palestine of its developmental potential, insuring that no viable economic (and hence, political) structure could emerge.

The destruction of Palestine’s present (and any strategy for addressing it) can only be understood as part of its destroyed past. The damage—the de-development of Palestine—cannot be undone by simply “returning” Gaza’s lands and by allowing Palestinians freedom of movement and the right to build factories and industrial estates. Enlarging Gaza’s sliver of land—or Palestinian access to it—cannot solve Gaza’s myriad problems when its burgeoning population is confined within it. Density is not just a problem of people but of access to resources, especially labor markets. Without porous boundaries allowing for the migration of workers to job markets, which the disengagement plan does not address and in effect denies, the Strip will remain an imprisoned enclave, precluding any viable economic solution. Yet, it is the opposite idea—that with disengagement development is possible—that Israel is striving to instill, since it will absolve it of any responsibility for Gaza’s desolation, past and present.

The Terms of Disengagement

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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.

These cruel evictions have of course been reported, and some foreigners who tried to block or record them, such as Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall and James Miller, paid with their lives alongside scores of murdered local Palestinians. But coverage was never as comprehensive or intense as this week’s removals of Israelis. Sharon wanted the world’s media to see the protracted agony of the settlers, so as to make the (spurious) point that if it is hard to get 8,500 to leave Gaza, getting 400,000 to withdraw from the West Bank and east Jerusalem will be impossible. However sincere the settlers’ grief is at leaving their homes, for the organisers of the retreat it was theatre of the cynical.

The exaggerated focus on the settlement evictions has some benefits. Those who claim, genuinely or dishonestly, that the world’s media are biased in favour of Palestinians had their argument collapse this week. TV viewers around the world have also been exposed to the ugly sight of rampant religious fundamentalism.

As they were dragged off, some Israeli zealots had no shame in minimising the Holocaust, absurdly comparing unarmed Israeli police to the Gestapo. Others used racist insults. “Jews do not expel Jews,” they shouted, presumably wanting to imply that only non-Jews do it. They apparently did not realise that most people will see the irony in terms of contemporary rather than historical events – “Jews do not expel Jews … Jews expel Arabs.”

Perhaps the ugliest part of the Israeli settlers’ behaviour was their corruption of youth, with parents instigating their children to wrap themselves in prayer shawls and sob or shriek defiance.
No one who spends time in Gaza’s Palestinian communities can avoid being saddened by the ubiquitous focus on the gun, which also diverts children from normal growing up. It appears on graffiti everywhere alongside the names and faces of those who died by violence, in suicide attacks or shot down by Israeli fire. Almost every teenage boy aspires to use a Kalashnikov or hand grenade. At a recent wedding, I saw a dancing mother twirl a rifle in both hands above her head like the baton of a majorette.

Trapped in their Israeli-enforced ghetto, Gazans can at least claim that this pervasive and corrupting militarism is the legacy of a decades-long national resistance movement to defend land that belongs to them. Islam is part of the mix, but religion follows the national flag. For many Israeli settlers in Gaza that dynamic was reversed. Religion was their driving force, and they had no individual or national right to the land on which they built their armed camps.

Israel’s worst practices from Gaza are likely to be transferred to the West Bank now. Controls over freedoms in the West Bank have been tightened relentlessly in recent years. More roads were closed. More checkpoints sprang up. Walls and fences were extended, in defiance of the international court of justice’s ruling that they are illegal. However, even with this creeping oppression, life in the West Bank is not yet as constricted as it was for those in Gaza.

That will probably change. Sharon – one of whose nicknames, appropriately, is Bulldozer – wants to expand the West Bank settlements and demolish more Palestinian homes around Jerusalem. Unless his strategy of unilateralism is blocked, evictions may reach Rafah-like proportions.

The break-up of the settlements will give those in Gaza freedom to move within their narrow enclave, but this benefit may be outweighed by the West Bank’s losses. One of the worst places in Gaza used to be the Abu Houli crossing, a tunnel for Palestinian vehicles that went under the road to the Israeli settlements of Gush Katif. At any moment Israeli Land Rovers or tanks would emerge to block the tunnel, leaving Palestinians stranded on what was the only road linking the north and south of Gaza. Pregnant mothers could not get to hospital. Relatives missed weddings. Students failed to reach their colleges to take exams.

Israel intends to build at least 16 gated crossings in the West Bank. It is one thing to have segregated roads – a step that America’s Deep South and apartheid South Africa never reached. But to insist on the right to block even those roads that are allocated to Palestinians is grotesque. The West Bank will be sliced into a series of ghettoes that Israeli forces can isolate at will. Whatever the security justification, the effect is to impose collective punishment on every Palestinian.

No one should be surprised if, in the face of such injustice, Palestinian anger and resistance grow.

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.

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?

Where were the 900 international journalists in April 2002 after the Jenin refugee camp was laid to waste in the matter of a week in a show of pure Israeli hubris and sadism?

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?

Where were the 900 international journalists in April 2002 after the Jenin refugee camp was laid to waste in the matter of a week in a show of pure Israeli hubris and sadism? Where were the 900 international journalists last fall when the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza lay under an Israeli siege and more than 100 civilians were killed? Where were they for five years while the entire physical infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was being destroyed? Which one of them reported that every crime of the Israeli occupation ­ from home demolitions, targeted assassinations and total closures to the murder of civilians and the wanton destruction of commercial and public property- increased significantly in Gaza after Sharon’s “Disengagement” Plan – that great step toward peace – was announced?

Where are the hundreds of journalists who should be covering the many non-violent protests by Palestinians and Israelis against the Apartheid Wall? ­Non-violent protesters met with violence and humiliation by Israeli armed forces? Where are the hundreds of journalists who should be reporting on the economic and geographic encirclement of Palestinian East Jerusalem and of the bisection of the West Bank and the subdivision of each region into dozens of isolated mini-prisons? Why aren’t we being barraged by outraged reports about the Jewish-only bypass roads? About the hundreds of pointless internal checkpoints? About the countless untried executions and maimings? About the torture and abuse of Palestinians in Israeli prisons?

Where were these hundreds of journalists when each of the 680 Palestinian children shot to death by Israeli soldiers over the last 5 years was laid to rest by grief-stricken family members? The shame of it all defies words.
Now instead report after report announces the “end to the 38 year old occupation” of the Gaza Strip, a “turning point for peace” and the news that “it is now illegal for Israelis to live in Gaza.” Is this some kind of joke?
Yes, it is “illegal for Israelis to live in the Gaza Strip” as colonizers from another land. It has been illegal for 38 years. (If they wish to move there and live as equals with the Palestinians and not as Israeli citizens they may do so.)

Sharon’s unilateral “Disengagement” plan is not ending the occupation of Gaza. The Israelis are not relinquishing control over the Strip. They are retaining control of all land, air and sea borders including the Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza/Egypt border where the Egyptians may be allowed to patrol under Israel’s watchful eye and according to Israel’s strictest terms. The 1.4 million inhabitants of Gaza remain prisoners in a giant penal colony, despite what their partisan leaders are attempting to claim. The IDF is merely redeploying outside the Gaza Strip, which is surrounded by electrical and concrete fences, barbed wire, watchtowers, armed guards and motion censors, and it will retain the authority to invade Gaza on a whim. Eight thousand Palestinian workers working in Israel for slave wages will soon be banned from returning to work. Another 3,200 Palestinians who worked in the settlements for a sub-minimum-wage have been summarily dismissed without recourse to severance pay or other forms of compensation. Still others will lose their livelihoods when the Israelis move the Gaza Industrial Zone from Erez to somewhere in the Negev desert.

The World Bank reported in December 2004 that both poverty and unemployment will rise following the “Disengagement” even under the best of circumstances because Israel will retain full control over the movement of goods in and out of Gaza, will maintain an enforced separation of the West Bank and Gaza preventing the residents of each from visiting one another, and will draw up separate customs agreements with each zone severing their already shattered economies– and yet we are forced to listen day in and day out to news about this historic peace initiative, this great turning point in the career of Ariel Sharon, this story of national trauma for the brothers and sisters who have had to carry out the painful orders of their wise and besieged leader.

What will it take to get the truth across to people? To the young woman of Neve Dekalim who can speak her words without batting an eyelash of embarrassment or shame? As the cameras zoom in on angry settlers poignantly clashing with their “brothers and sisters” in the Israeli army, who will be concerned about their other brothers and sisters in Gaza? When will the Palestinian history of 1948 and 1967, and of each passing day under the violence of dispossession and dehumanization, get a headline in our papers?

I am reminded of an interview I had this summer in Beirut with Hussein Nabulsi of Hizbullah ­ an organization that has had nothing to do with the movement for Palestinian national liberation whatsoever, but one that has become allied with those it sees as the real victims of US and Israeli policies and lies. I remember his tightly shut eyes and his clenched fists as he asked how long Arabs and Muslims were supposed to accept the accusations that they are the victimizers and the terrorists. “It hurts,” he said in a whispered ardor. “It hurts so much to watch this injustice every day.” And he went on to explain to me why the Americans and the Israelis ­ with their monstrous military arsenals ­ will never be victorious.

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN will be a viisiting Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University beginning this fall. She can be reached at: amadea311 [at] earthlink.net
 

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.

K., a secular Gush Katif farmer, employed in his greenhouses some 20 Palestinians, four Nepalese and three Israelis who lived outside Gush Katif. A week ago, as the conversation with him was taking place, the Palestinian laborers were dismantling his house and greenhouses. The veterans among them had been in his employ 14 years. Asked whether he would give his workers severence pay, he said: “I’m supposed to compensate the workers, but who is supposed to compensate me? We’re not really compensated for what we’re losing. I didn’t fire them, the state fired them, let the state pay them. Why didn’t it think about that?”

K. insists his Palestinian workmen made NIS 2,800 a month, and up to NIS 3,200 with overtime. Informed that this was much more than other Gush Katif employers pay, he replied: “Minimum wage doesn’t apply here. Palestinians in the Strip have no work rights. I pay more because I have long-standing laborers.” (Omar said in response that he has never heard of a Palestinian earning a basic salary of NIS 2,800 in Gush Katif).

Yossi Tzarfati, who heads the Agricultural Committee of Gush Katif, could not say whether employers are giving or will give their Palestinian laborers dismissal letters – so they can receive severence pay. He also did not know how much Palestinians earn because that is “an individual matter between employers and workers.” He did say that the Palestinians “are not part of the minimum wage.”

But the minimum wage requirement does apply to Israeli employers in the occupied territories with Palestinian workers. Back in 1982, a GOC Command order was issued in the territories stipulating that “a person employed in a community [an Israeli settlement – A.H.] is entitled to receive wages from his employer that do not fall short of the minimum wage and will also be entitled to cost of living adjustment, all as updated in Israel from time to time.” The Civil Administration is supposed to oversee and enforce that order, but the office of the Government Coordinator in the Territories (to which the Civil Administration is subordinate) stated that “so far, we know of no complaints filed about the lack of enforcement of this order.”

Indeed, Omar and his friends have not complained officially that the wages they get in the settlements are almost a third of the obligatory minimum wage. Low income and high unemployment in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the past five years, have shielded employers from complaints and let the Civil Administration off the hook. Now Omar is troubled by a more pressing problem: he knows about a dozen laborers whose employers have already left, without paying them wages for the past week or two. Now they have no way of locating their bosses to get at least those few hundred shekels.

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.