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.

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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.

Amira Hass: What Business Is It of Chirac?

The Jordan Valley, the settlement blocs that continue to merge into each other, the monumental Jews-only roads, the demilitarized zone long since annexed to Israel, the area annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, the de facto annexations of the fence – these already cover most of the West Bank.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Aug 03, 2005

A European journalist was asked to write about the wall being built around Anata, which will transform it into an enclosed ghetto within Jerusalem. Sorry, she said, the paper’s editors are only interested in the disengagement. It has it all: upbeat news, lots of action, Jews cursing Jews, Jews beating up Jews. We’re fed up with the repetitious details of the wall’s damages.

The other side of that coin is the affection with which Ariel Sharon was welcomed in France last week. And honestly, should Jacques Chirac care that last week the Israeli authorities demolished three homes in the village of al-Khader? And is it his responsibility that a short distance from there, the illegal settlement of Efrat continues to expand at the expense of the biblical landscapes of al-Khader?

What is it to him that the crossings Israel is now building, east of the Green Line, rob hefty square kilometers from West Bank territory and the private property of hundreds of families, with a transparent objective of institutionalize them as “international terminals?” And why should he and other European leaders be shocked by the news that the West Bank’s main roads have nearly no Palestinian traffic, as though a transfer has been implemented there? Israelis are not shocked by this information.

Who can find the words to explain to Europe’s newspapers that once every few weeks, Israel Defense Forces soldiers prevent all residents of the northern West Bank from driving south? At the Za’atara checkpoint south of Nablus, near the illegal settlement of Tapuah, they send people packing as the IDF declares a “hot security alert.” In the creative diction of the IDF, this is called “separation.” They separate between Judea and Samaria. Sometimes this lasts four days, sometimes 10. As usual, whoever is determined to reach his destination finds a roundabout way that takes several hours, between hills and dales, rocky terrain and olive groves. But most forgo their right to mobility.

Why should Chirac and Le Monde, or Le Figaro, be interested in shepherds in the southern Hebron Hills whom IDF soldiers kicked off their grazing lands on Monday, shouting distance from another illegal settlement?

Why should Chirac and the other European leaders take an interest in the millions of trifles of the calculated dispossession, which dictate the lives of the Palestinian people? Trifles that add up to a clear picture: Sharon is determinedly striving to realize the master plan – integrating most of the West Bank into the sovereign State of Israel.

The Jordan Valley, the settlement blocs that continue to merge into each other, the monumental Jews-only roads, the demilitarized zone long since annexed to Israel, the area annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, the de facto annexations of the fence – these already cover most of the West Bank. They will call the densely populated Palestinian pockets that will remain a state, and the world will applaud.

Reasons abound for not taking an interest in the trifles of this dispossession: a mere three and a half million people are at stake, with no oil and no support from any international power; their brethren in the Diaspora and in Israel do not constitute a lobby. There are places in the world where tens of millions are being wronged far more cruelly, and nobody makes a peep. And, after all, Israeli colonialism doesn’t even come close to the murderousness of the European variety.

But Europe does take an interest. The billions of dollars it’s pouring in here prove that it knows that this “little” usurpation is being perpetrated at a highly sensitive juncture. Perhaps European leaders are hoping that the money being showered on the Palestinian Authority – and effectively on Israel, which thus escapes its responsibility as the occupying power – will compensate for their impotence. It was they, after all, who failed to implement international decisions regarding the illegality of the settlements.

Europe and its media – which were hoodwinked by the peace propaganda of Oslo while Israeli colonization accelerated – has a duty to stop ignoring the reality depicted by their diplomatic envoys to the region. Israel is perceived as part of the West, the enlightened world which presumes to have drawn lessons from its colonialist and Nazi past and to combat racism.

The Citizenship Law and the law against intifada compensation which passed in the Knesset, along with other laws, contradict proclaimed European concepts of “combating racism and discrimination.” But Israel participates in European sports tournaments and maintains close economic, scientific and cultural ties with Europe, as though it met the criteria of the human rights charter.

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Amira Hass: Fooling the High Court of Justice and the Hague

The legalistic deception of the Israeli Civil Administration: “It is all Israel”

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 13 July 2005

Listen to the soldier in the field. He says what his commanders were trained to cover up and embellish. Listen to the red-headed soldier, who prevented residents of Qafin from passing through the gate in the separation fence last month to get to their lands. These are 5,000 out of 8,200 dunams of agricultural land in a village in the northwestern West Bank. These are lands belonging to the families of these residents for several generations, and for so-called security reasons they were separated from the village – as has happened, and will happen, with hundreds of other Palestinian villages.

Several residents have Civil Administration permits allowing them to pass through the closed gate. Signed permits serve as written proof – intended for the High Court of Justice, and indirectly for the world court at The Hague – that the security establishment and the state are keeping their promises, whereby the security fence does not keep farmers away from their land, that it is “measured.” This could be used as evidence in a future international court that will clean out the entire system: the commanders, the politicians, the judges. A written document is better evidence than the undocumented long hours during which people waited for nothing outside the gate, under the beating sun.

But the soldier knows better, because he’s in the field, and he doesn’t lie: These permits don’t obligate the army, he said (and the Civil Administration confirmed this, when asked), because this gate is only for the olive harvest season. That is, the autumn – but now it’s summer. Since the gate near their land is closed, there’s no chance that the Qafin farmers can pass through to plant 7,500 olive saplings received as a donation, to replace the 12,000 trees destroyed by the fence. Since the gate near! their l and is closed, when fires break out they can’t get there quickly and save the groves their grandfathers planted. And since the gate is closed, they are unable to plant wheat, okra or corn between the groves to slightly improve the nutrition of their families, which are trapped in a cycle of poverty and unemployment.

But the red-headed soldier didn’t discuss only the gate. He didn’t hide the geopolitical worldview in whose name he is commanded to safeguard the gate’s welfare. “There is no entry to Israel from here,” he said. When he was told that the farmers don’t want to enter Israel, but to walk 200 meters to get to their age-old lands, a few kilometers away from the Green Line, he responded: “To be politically correct, it is all Israel.”

How right the soldier is. From his standpoint, on the security road that links up with bypass roads for Jews only, which in turn link up with settlements and Israel proper, this is what he and his colleagues watch every day: The space called “Israel,” from the river to the sea, containing all kinds of “crowded population concentrations” surrounded by fences and imprisoned behind locked gates.

It’s not only one locked gate that separates the farmers of Qafin from their lands. Another locked gate in the separation fence, in the north of the village, also divides them from their lands. And there’s a third gate open only to those who have permits, but it involves its own tricks to ensure that the residents of Qafin won’t really be able to work their lands. It’s 12 kilometers away from the center of the village and is located in what’s called the Reihan terminal, which cuts off and isolates some of the northwestern West Bank villages from other parts of the West Bank. In other words, it costs money no one has to get to this gate, which is between four and eight kilometers away from village lands. Residents aren’t allowed to get to the lands by car or donkey. They are not allowed to take tools or saplings. In short, it’s a hike of several hours, so as to! cry ove r the neglected land. This is the nature of “the access to the land” that the security establishment promises the High Court justices, who believe what they are told.

The tricks don’t end here. Out of 1,050 people who submitted requests to the Civil Administration to be allowed to get to their lands, only a minority received the permits (the residents put the number at 70; as of June, and the Civil Administration says 206). Hundreds were refused because the Civil Administration officials decided the residents were “distant relatives” of the people under whose name the land is registered. Several sons and grandsons of landowners were denied permits because they were considered “distant relatives.” In one case, a permit was given to a man but not his wife; in another, only the elderly wife was granted permission to go on the long journey, alone, to the family land.

The residents of Qafin have come to one conclusion: The goal is to bring about the neglect of their green agricultural lands until they become wilderness. Then Israel can rely on an old Ottoman law that allows neglected and abandoned land to become public property, in order to make the wilderness bloom. In Israel, as every soldier knows, the “public” is the same as the “Jews.” And so will the mistake of 1948 be rectified. At that time, some 18,000 dunams from Qafin became part of Israel, became Jewish land. Now it will happen to an additional 5,000 dunams.

Amira Hass: There’s a Settler in Every Israeli

Amira Hass, Haaretz, July 6, 2005

The hunting season is at its height, and the settlers are the prey. They have become a target for criticism in the media to an extent whose like is hard to remember. They are criticized for sending their children to block roads, for hitting and cursing soldiers, for the disappearance of blue-and-white ribbons on cars (and sometimes the antennas, as well), for occupying a Palestinian house in Muasi and for throwing stones at a Palestinian youth.

The neighborhood’s spoiled brat, who feels he should get it all, has suddenly lost his temper, and the neighbors are losing patience. But the child is spoiled because the entire neighborhood has spoiled him, and he is convinced he should get it all because for years all the neighbors have proved through their actions that this is so.

It began with the tolerance displayed by all Israeli governments, as well as the legal establishment, for the settlers’ behavior toward the Palestinians. It reached a peak with Yitzhak Rabin’s leniency in 1994, when instead of evacuating the fundamentalist Hebron settlers in light of the general disgust for the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein, he imposed a lengthy curfew on Palestinian Hebron. He thereby gave a green light to incessant criminal acts of persecution and expulsion, long before the lynching in Muasi.

It was Israel’s governments, ever since 1967, that charted the policy of colonizing the newly conquered territories, from the annexation of some 70 square kilometers of the West Bank to Jerusalem through the Nahal outposts that eventually became cities. Messianic settlers forced the Mapai and Labor governments to agree to the place they had chosen for their colony, and the governments were happy to be forced. The difference is that the messianic settlers also claimed divine authority for the collective Israeli appetite for real estate, rather than relying solely on security doctrines. The settlers are the product of an Israeli policy that enjoyed ever-increasing support from the Jewish-Israeli public, especially after Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon turned the settlements into a mass enterprise from 1977 onward. And throughout the entire Oslo period, even under Rabin and Ehud Barak, it continued to be a mass enterprise.

The generous compensation being paid the 8,000 settlers of the Gaza Strip has not sparked mass social protests in Israel. After all, thousands of Israelis know that Jews have been expelling Jews (and not just Palestinians) for a long time: Families that do not meet their mortgage payments are removed from their houses by good Jews, government officials. Tens of thousands of Israelis know that successive Israeli governments also sent their parents on the national mission of pioneering settlement in outlying areas, and they suffer from discrimination, neglect and chronic unemployment to this day. Yet, this knowledge has not sufficed to cause either the public discourse or government action to deal with the explosive question of why settlers have more rights – not only than Palestinians, but also than their fellow Jews who remained inside the Green Line.

This question has been neutralized of its explosive power because the West Bank settlement enterprise has become a means of socioeconomic advancement for many Israelis. Some 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements. They have hundreds of thousands of relatives and friends who visit them regularly, and for whom the settlements are a natural and formative reality. They know that they, too, can obtain houses in Gilo, Ma’aleh Adumim or Alon Shvut the likes of which they could not obtain in Israel. For them, this is a way of dealing with the gradual destruction of the welfare state.

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October 30 – November 20, 2003
Reporting the Middle East, From the Road Map to Iraq: A Lecture Series

Amira Hass
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Morgridge Auditorium, UW-Madison Grainger Hall
7:30 pm

Amira Hass covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. She is the only Israeli journalist who actually lives in the Occupied Territories. Author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she has just published a second book, 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.

Ali Abunimah
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Madison Area Technical College, Room D240
211 N. Carroll St.
7:00 pm

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of and major contributor to The Electronic Intifada, an online educational gateway to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and one of today’s most prominent critics of mainstream U.S. media coverage of that conflict. He is also vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network of Chicago.

As’ad Abukhalil
Thursday, November 13, 2003
The “War on Terrorism” and its Impact on Middle East Politics”
UW-Madison Memorial Union, Great Hall
7:30 pm

Dr. Abukhalil is a Professor of Political Science in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at California State University-Stanislaus. He is the author of the just-released book, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.: The Tale of the ‘Good’ Taliban.

Robert Fisk
Thursday, November 20, 2003
The Fantasy War: “Democracy”, WMD’s and “Liberation”
Orpheum Theater, Madison
8:00 pm

Robert Fisk covers the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia for the London Independent. One of the leading independent journalists in the world today, Beirut-based Fisk has put the mainstream American media to shame for 28 years with his unflinching on-the-ground reports from the frontlines in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and more. He has received more awards for excellence in reporting than any other journalist in his league. Author of Pity the Nation on the Lebanese civil war and Israelís invasion, he is currently working on a book covering events in Iraq since the first Gulf War.

Sponsored by the the A. Eugene Havens Center of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Sociology, Madison Area Technical College Global Horizons Series, Global Studies Program, Middle Eastern Studies Program, the Harvey Goldberg Memorial Fund, the Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA), The Borders and Transcultural Research Circle, Chadbourne Residency Center, and WORT 89.9 FM.

Endorsed by the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP), the Madison Area Peace Coalition, the Madison Islamic community, Progressive magazine, the Wisconsin Book Festival, and the Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative.

Financial support provided in part by the UW-Madison Office of International Studies

Contacts:
http://groups.Yahoo.com/group/PIPAJA
RafahSisterCity at Yahoo.com