April 3, 2008
Amira Hass in Madison

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
7:30 pm
Pyle Center, UW Campus

Amira Hass is a world-renowned Israeli journalist, and the only one who actually lives among the Palestinians that she reports on. She is a courageous and articulate voice on the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.

Hass covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily Haaretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza and Reporting from Ramallah. Known for her honest and often brutal portrayals of the impact of Israeli occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, she received the 1999 International World Press Freedom Award in recognition of her work in the Gaza Strip. She gave this talk as part of the “Reporting the Middle East” lecture series at UW-Madison in October 2003.

Hass will also be a guest on A Public Affair on Friday, April 4th from noon to 1:00 p.m. on WORT 89.9 FM with host Judith Siers-Poisson.

Sponsored by the UW Middle East Studies Program. Co-sponsors include the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and Playgrounds for Palestine — Madison.

Amira Hass: What a Strange ‘Abroad’

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Feb 14, 2007

The Gaza Strip is ‘abroad’ in a strange way. Israelis need a passport to get there, and Palestinian Jerusalemites need a laissez passer – the same one they need to present when they fly to Paris via Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Now it is official: The Gaza Strip is “abroad.” As of February 1, the few Israelis whose entry into the Strip is approved by the army have had to present a passport at the Erez crossing, and they are listed on the Interior Ministry’s computer as having crossed the country’s borders.

The Gaza Strip is “abroad” in a strange way. Israelis need a passport to get there, and Palestinian Jerusalemites need a laissez passer – the same one they need to present when they fly to Paris via Ben-Gurion International Airport. But when these same Jerusalemites go to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge, they use a Jordanian passport. And the Palestinians who live in that “abroad” – the Gazans – are, for the meantime, exempt from crossing with a Palestinian passport; this exemption also applies to residents of the West Bank, by order of the interior minister.

The confusing multiplicity of procedures is still more remarkable in light of the fact that Israel allows only a few people to enter and leave the Strip. Only a small number of Israelis receive this permission – mainly those with relatives in Gaza or people, primarily women, who have been married to Gaza residents for years. Receiving a permit requires prior coordination, which is very cumbersome, and it sometimes takes days until the request for a permit or a permit extension finds a fax line without a busy signal at the “office for Israeli affairs” in the Civil Administration, a military body to which the interior minister has granted the authority to continue operating the crossing.

Crossing the approximately half a kilometer that separates the Palestinian side from the Israeli one requires additional coordination, on the phone, and an hours-long wait until the soldiers and clerks on the Israeli side allow permit holders to walk through. But this is not what makes the strangeness of the Gazan “abroad” unique; to many, this is simply reminiscent of the difficulties that totalitarian regimes imposed on travel between countries in Eastern Europe.

The “abroad” of Gaza is strange primarily for a different reason, a more fundamental one: All its residents are listed in the same population registry as residents of the West Bank, which is not “abroad,” and the entire list is controlled by Israel’s Interior Ministry. This control gives Interior Ministry representatives in the Civil Administration authority that the Palestinian interior minister lacks. This control allowed Israel to deprive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their residency status after 1967. It allowed the continuation of marital, social, economic, religious and cultural ties between Gaza and the West Bank until 1991 – and then, it severed those ties. This control allows Israel to prevent the addition of foreign residents to the population registry; it allows Israel to intervene in, and even decide, the choice of a partner, place of study, type of medical treatment, address, quality time with children, participation in celebrations and funerals, the writing of wills and distribution of family property. Israel has the authority to ban the entry of friends or family members who are not Palestinian residents – not just their entry into Israel, but also into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since October 2000, the ban has been comprehensive.

Only Palestinians registered as residents in the Israeli computer system can cross at the Rafah terminal, when it is open. Israel has the authority to ban Gazans from traveling to the West Bank or living there, and has been doing so with increasing fervor since 1991, when it began implementing the closure policy. This is the “abroad” that Israelis require a passport to enter. This is the “abroad” for which Israel argues that it has no responsibility. And this is the greatness of the Israeli occupation: It manages to present itself as nonexistent, while its authority reaches all the way to the bedroom.

No, this is not a recommendation to take another unilateral step and erase the Gazans from the Palestinian population registry, which is under Israeli control, in addition to the geographic and human separation. On the contrary! It is preferable for Israel to continue snooping around in their bedrooms than to take a step that would finally complete the separation between Gaza residents and their brothers in the West Bank.

There is reason for concern. A move such as erasing the Gazans from the registry fits the thought process that has characterized Israeli policy toward the Strip since 1991. Over the past 16 years, residents of the crowded, 360-square-kilometer Strip have been ordered to get used to its transformation into a kind of isolated autarkic economy and make do with the little it produces: increasingly little (and increasingly polluted) water; diminishing land; declining sources of income; industry and agriculture with no markets; and inferior educational and health institutions, due to their isolation from the world and the West Bank.

The peak of this policy, so far, was the disengagement in 2005. This is a policy that contradicts what is written in the Oslo Accords, which call the Strip and the West Bank a single territorial unit, as well as international resolutions about the solution for peace. But evacuating a few thousand settlers from the Strip was successfully marketed as Israeli moderation, even as Israel strengthened all its methods of control over the West Bank. Israel is also liable to market the deletion of Gazan names from the population registry as some kind of goodwill gesture. But such a move would only intensify the human distress of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents, as well as their separation from the world. And that is a proven recipe for keeping a reasonable peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians at a distance.

Amira Hass: Strangled in Gaza

1.5 million Arabs under Israeli siege

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Mar 22, 2006

In the elections, Israelis will not be voting just for themselves. Not only will they choose parties that affect their own lives for four years, but also those of 3.5 million occupied Palestinians – as they have done for 39 years now. The winners in Israel will form a government that will determine the most minute details of every Palestinian’s life.

This is the essence of occupation. One people casts its votes and thereby authorizes its democratic government to be a dictator in a place that it rules by military hegemony. In that place there lives a separate nation that is entirely excluded from any rights in this democratic game.

For the past two months the dictator democratically elected by the Israeli public has determined that Gaza’s residents should go on a “diet,” as Attorney Dov Weissglas advised the cabinet, immediately after Hamas’ election victory.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided that Gaza’s residents should eat less and less fresh produce and dairy produce, then less and less rice and then no bread.

By closing the Karni crossing to merchandise for prolonged periods, Mofaz intervened (as a cabinet representative) not only in the Palestinians’ eating habits. He also sent tens of thousands of Gazan Palestinians on unpaid leave. Drivers, merchants, porters, sewing workshop workers, farmers, construction workers and contractors, whose materials are not arriving, are all out of work. The already large number of people dependent on charity in Gaza will grow. The chain reaction will affect every family’s life and choices: the children’s education, medical treatment, visiting relatives, building an additional room to alleviate the crowded conditions at home.

No elected Palestinian government, headed by Hamas or Fatah, has ever intervened in everyday life to such an extent, or had such an influence on it.

At Israel’s order, the Palestinian security branches dug four tunnels with a total length of 1.5 kilometers, but did not find the suspected tunnel that served as the rationale for closing the merchandise terminal. On the day five kilos of explosive was found on Road No. 1 in a car carrying Palestinians – security explanations are all Israelis want to hear.

Since the disengagement Israel has claimed that “Gaza is no longer occupied territory,” so whatever happens there is not its responsibility. This version is more palatable to Israelis than hearing that Israel’s control over the Palestinians’ life in Gaza has ended; that Gaza is only one part of the Palestinian territory and that its population, economy and health and education institutions are tied to those in the West Bank; and that the international community has decided that the Palestinian state would be established on both parts, Gaza and the West Bank.

But the Israeli voter scorns the international community’s choices. It has decided that Gaza would be “returned” to Egypt. That is the logical meaning of closing the Karni crossing for a long time – after the number of Palestinians passing through the Erez crossing has already dwindled. Even if international pressure enables bringing “humanitarian” aid through the Karni crossing here and there – as though Gaza had been struck by natural disaster – Israel’s leaders will probably close it again for “security reasons.”

All this is intended to accustom Gaza residents and the international community to think that perhaps it is logical to direct Gaza’s products, business and plans southward, to Egypt, which will not be able to remain idle while almost 1.5 million Arabs are being strangled under the Israeli siege.

Thus Israelis will not be voting only on the Palestinians’ fate, but will also intervene in the lives of Egypt’s citizens.

Amira Hass
Haaretz Correspondent

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.

What talent it takes to live for 35 years in a flourishing park and splendid villas just 20 meters from overcrowded, suffocated refugee camps. What talent it takes to turn on the sprinklers on the lawns, while just across the way, 20,000 other people are dependent on the distribution of drinking water in tankers; to know that you deserve it, that your government will pave magnificent roads for you and neglect (prior to Oslo, before 1994) to the point of destruction the Palestinian infrastructure. What skill it takes to step out of your well-cared-for greenhouse and walk unmoved past 60-year-old fruit-bearing date trees that are uprooted for you, roads that are blocked for you, homes that are demolished for you, the children who are shelled from helicopters and tanks and buried alongside you, for the sake of the safety of your children and the preservation of your super-rights.

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. And also amazing is how most of the other Israelis, who did not go themselves to settle the homeland, suffered this reality and did not demand that their government put an end to it – before the Qassams.

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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.

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.