Palestine Briefing for MPs, Part 1

Islamic Human Rights Commission

Palestine Briefing for MPs
Part 1

14th November 2000

  1. Lack of Affinity between Parties
  2. Restarting the ‘Peace Process’

1. Lack of Affinity between Parties

The current crisis in Palestine has often been characterised as one of parity between parties. The impression has been given that the violence “between Palestinians and Israelis” has been mutual. However, independent international observers have universally acknowledged that the violence has certainly not been mutual. Israel has been responsible for initiating and escalating violence – via rifle fire, helicopter gunships, anti-tank missles, etc. – against Palestinian civilians throwing stones. To date, over 7,000 Palestinian civilians, over a third of whom are children, have been seriously injured, and hundreds killed by Israel’s “excessive use of lethal force in circumstances in which neither the lives of the security forces nor others were in imminent danger, resulting in unlawful killings”, as Amnesty International concluded in a detailed recent report.

Several Palestinian medical sources report that an alarming number of them are injured in the head or legs (knees), with carefully aimed shots, and, increasingly, live ammunition. (Dr. Jumana Odeh, Director, Palestinian Happy Child Center, Oct 24 report; LAW, November 2 report.) Many will not recover, or will be disabled for life. Compare this to the number of injured Israelis, and the primary aggressors in this situation can be easily discerned.

To understand the extent of Israel’s daily crimes, we should look at the injuries, not just at the rapidly growing number of dead. On Friday, November 3rd, CNN reported a ‘relative calm’ in the territories. Tanya Reinhart, a Professor at Tel Aviv University, observes: (Reinhart, Don’t Say You Didn’t Know, Znet, November)

This pattern of injuries is not accidental. Dan Ephron, a Boston Globe correspondent in Jerusalem reported (4 November) on the findings of the Physicians for Human Rights delegation: “American doctors who examined Israel’s use of force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have concluded that Israeli soldiers appeared to be deliberately targeting the heads and legs of Palestinian protestors, even in non-life-threatening situations.” According to Medical School doctors in the delegation, law enforcement officials worldwide are trained to aim at the chest in dangerous situations (since it is the largest target). Palestinians were hit in the head and legs showing that there was no life-threatening situation – soldiers had ample time, and were deliberately trying to harm unarmed people.

A report in the Jerusalem Post explains that “the overall IDF strategy is to deprive the Palestinians of the massive number of casualties the army maintains Palestinians want in order to win world support and consolidate their fight for independence. ‘We are very much trying not to kill them…’ says Lt.-Col. Yoram Loredo, commander and founder of the Nahshon battalion.” The reason is clear enough: Massive numbers of dead Palestinians every day cannot go unnoticed even by the most cooperative Western media and governments. Barak was explicit about this. “The prime minister said that, were there not 140 Palestinian casualties at this point, but rather 400 or 1,000, this… would perhaps damage Israel a great deal.” (Jerusalem Post, Oct 30).

With a stable average of five casualties a day, they believe that Israel can continue ‘undamaged’ for many more months. Israeli journalist Arieh O’Sullivan quoted from Jerusalem (October 27) an Israeli soldier, Sgt Raz:
The Israeli strategy has been indicated quite unambiguously here.

2. Restarting the ‘Peace Process’

The international community, while consistently giving lipservice to the rights of the indigenous Palestinians, has done nothing to guarantee those rights. With regard to the latest Intifadah – triggered by the provocative visit of Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa compound, accompanied by over a 1,000 troops to (illegally) proclaim the area a property of Israel – it has been implied that the recent clashes constitute the collapse of the “peace process”.

What is rarely indicated is that no genuine peace process designed to protect the rights of the indigenous Palestinians has ever really existed. This stark but barely discussed reality has been noted by Jewish journalist Amira Hass in Israel’s most prestigious daily (Ha’aretz, 18 October 2000). Seven years after the Declaration of Principles in September 1993, “Israel has security and administrative control” of most of the West Bank and 20 per cent of the Gaza Strip. Israel has been able “to double the number of settlers in 10 years, to enlarge the settlements, to continue its discriminatory policy of cutting back water quotas for three million Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of the area of the West Bank, and to seal an entire nation into restricted areas, imprisoned in a network of bypass roads meant for Jews only. During these days of strict internal restriction of movement in the West Bank, one can see how carefully each road was planned: So that 200,000 Jews have freedom of movement, about three million Palestinians are locked into their Bantustans until they submit to Israeli demands. The bloodbath that has been going on for three weeks is the natural outcome of seven years of lying and deception, just as the first Intifada was the natural outcome of direct Israeli occupation.”

While the governments of both Rabin and Barak have declared that the settlement and construction programmes are “frozen”, in actual fact, as another Israeli journalist Danny Rubenstein observes, settlement has intensified. Rubinstein points out that “readers of the Palestinian papers get the impression (and rightly so) that activity in the settlements never stops. Israel is constantly building, expanding and reinforcing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is always grabbing homes and lands in areas beyond the 1967 lines – and of course, this is all at the expense of the Palestinians, in order to limit them, push them into a corner and then out. In other words, the goal is to eventually dispossess them of their homeland and their capital, Jerusalem” (Ha’aretz, 23 October).

The fact of the matter, therefore, is that there never has been a meaningful and just peace process. In the words of Australian international relations specialist Scott Burchill of Deakins University, “no such process worthy of the appellation exists or has done for some time. Rather, the peace process simply describes whatever arrangements Washington and its regional client are seeking to impose on Palestinian Arabs”. (The Australian, 12 October) Indeed, the current process has merely involved the attempt to “persuade Arafat to sign an agreement that would confine the Palestinian population to a small number of scattered and isolated enclaves on the West Bank and Gaza Strip – the Bantustan-style model perfected by apartheid governments in South Africa.” (The Age, 18 October) Four cantons of largely unusable land “are surrounded by territory to be annexed to Israel, which will remain in control of crucial water resources and the freedom of movement of the population between their disconnected enclaves”, continues Burchill. “Israel has good reason to expect that under these arrangements the population will be a cheap supply of labour for its economy and tightly controlled by a brutal but ultimately compliant Palestinian government – hence the South African comparison.”

With regards to Camp David, it is no secret even in Israel what they essentially aimed to achieve. A prestigious Israeli Hebrew daily reports: “Ordered from above… the [Israeli] peace demonstrators are marching in support of the leader [Barak]. Many of them were, until 1993, among the objectors of the occupation and believed that its end requires the dismantling of the settlements and return of all confiscated lands. But today they gather to convince the world, the Palestinians and themselves that it is possible to establish a Palestinian state without land-reserves, without water, without a glimpse of a chance of economic independence, in three ghettos surrounded by fences, settlements, bypass roads and Israeli tanks. A virtual state which serves one purpose: separation – apartheid.” (Yediot Aharonot, 13 July 2000)

It is this context which explains the anger of the Palestinians, who are being asked to take part in a misnamed “peace process”, which is in fact only about appeasing and consolidating the occupying state of Israel. In the words of the famous Jewish scholar Noam Chomsky, a Professor at MIT: “The goal of the Camp David negotiations was to secure PA adherence to this project”, in which “the [Palestinian] population [would be] administered by a corrupt and brutal Palestinian authority (PA), playing the role traditionally assigned to indigenous collaborators under the several varieties of imperial rule: the Black leadership of South Africa’s Bantustans, to mention only the most obvious analogue.” Meanwhile, the “peace process” would result in “cantonization of the territories that Israel had conquered in 1967, with mechanisms to ensure that usable land and resources (primarily water) remain largely in Israeli hands.” (Chomsky, Al-Aqsa Intifada, ZNet, October)

After the Camp David talks collapsed, the current crisis began. There is, however, nothing ironic about this – on the contrary, the violence was a predictable consequence of Israeli policies, as any independent observer should realise. Tensions, always high, were raised when the Barak government authorized a visit by Ariel Sharon with 1000 police to the Muslim religious sites (Al-Aqsa) on 26 September. Sharon is the very symbol of Israeli terrorism, and a pre-eminent war criminal according even to the findings of an Israeli tribunal. Sharon’s purpose was to demonstrate that the al-Aqsa compound was now the property of Israel – it was accompanied by the provocative police and military presence that Barak introduced the following day, the day of prayers, predictably leading to clashes as thousands of people streamed out of the mosque, leaving 7 Palestinians dead and 200 wounded.

The comparison to South Africa has been widely recognised. The British press, for example, acknowledges that “If Palestinians were black, Israel would now be a pariah state subject to economic sanctions led by the United State. Its development and settlement of the West Bank would be seen as a system of apartheid, in which the indigenous population was allowed to live in a tiny fraction of its own country, in self-administered ‘bantustans’, with ‘whites’ monopolising the supply of water and electricity. And just as the black population was allowed into South Africa’s white areas in disgracefully under-resourced townships, so Israel’s treatment of Israeli Arabs – flagrantly discriminating against them in housing and education spending – would be recognised as scandalous too.” (Observer, Guardian, 15 October).

The Palestinians have a great deal more courage than those who continue to attempt to obfuscate the issues by blaming the indigenous Palestinians, whose historical right to their own homeland continues to be denied under the auspices of the international community, Britain included, who are backing an illegitimate occupying regime whose very existence was consolidated through ethnic cleansing and genocide. They recognise the corrupt collaboration of the PA and its leader Yasser Arafat with Israel in the so-called “peace process”, a collaboration which has been acknowledged by independent commentators cited here among others. They recognise that the international community has sold them out, and is more interested in establishing a dominant Israel that could help keep radical Arab nationalism in check in a region of great economic and strategic value. And they are struggling to challenge the system of apartheid that Israel – backed by the British government among the other Western powers – is seeking to impose on the indigenous Palestinians in violation of UN resolutions and international law, through the so-called “peace process”.