Peace

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

by Toine Van Teeffelen, Arab Educational Institute

A few weeks ago, my colleagues at work and partners came together in a restaurant in the countryside to the west of Bethlehem. The Qassieh family owns a land there of the size of a soccer field, about half an hectare. They exploit a well-known restaurant, the Makhrour restaurant, called after a broader valley to the west of Beit Jala. It is area C – the over 60% of the West Bank lands under complete Israeli control.

It is a bit far located, and so Mary and I had never visited the restaurant. However, the Arab Educational Institute created an opportunity at the occasion of the departure of the German volunteer Fabian, sent out by Pax Christi Stuttgart and Aachen, who was with us for a year. The food during the early evening tasted good and the environment was pleasant, with plenty of green trees and bushes around us, away from the noisiness and the many cars of Bethlehem.

The memories were good, too. Makhrour is an area where Mary and I, family and guests from abroad are used to hike, from Beit Jala to the west of Bethlehem to the beautifully located village of Battir – a few years ago made into a world heritage site partly to prevent the erection of the Wall. It is graced by Roman-time terraces and archeological sites, with spectacular views over agricultural fields and valleys, and an old railroad and small station. Many years ago the Makhrour was an area where the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Beit Jala used to sleep under the trees in the summer and afterwards during harvest time; sometimes even for weeks, as my Arabic teacher used to recall not without nostalgia.

At the end of the dinner we felt rested and promised ourselves to come back, with or without hike.

The Qassieh family is one of those who display sumud or steadfastness by staying on their land. As so many others – the Nasser family of the Tent of Nations immediately comes to mind – they have been absorbed by Kafkaesque Israeli High Court proceedings which last for many years, if not decades. However, they hung on, even though several dwellings on the land have previously been demolished. Many lands in area C are not formally registered though well-known to belong to certain Palestinian family owners. Add to this that almost no Palestinian gets a building permit in area C from the occupier – the Israeli army/Civil Administration.

The Jewish National Fund suddenly came two years ago with proofs of land ownership nobody knew about. Supposedly the family land was sold almost 50 years ago. In a statement about the case, the Israeli organization Peace Now speaks about the Jewish National Fund as the “Fund for the expulsion of Palestinians.” The Israeli High Court did not allow for any further appeal by the family. On Sunday the main house was demolished, live on Facebook for Bethlehemites and anybody else to see.

Don’t forget the context. These years house demolitions have been happening in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem at an exponential pace. A few weeks ago, at least 70 apartments or houses were demolished in the village Sur Bahir to the east of Bethlehem. They were not located in area C, but in area A and B, under Palestinian civil control, and built with permits. The excuse for demolition there was that the houses happened to be in an area of 250 meters on both sides of the illegal Wall which the army has designated as ‘security’ area.

Where there is a will there is a way, especially when all power is in your hands.

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Photo: https://mondoweiss.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/house-demolition-beit-hanina-east-jerusalem-2014.jpg

 

Peace

A wall without a future: Israelis and Palestinians live in two different worlds

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

The border wall between Israel and the West Bank is among the most forbidding and hostile in the world. Viewed from up close, whichever side you find yourself on, it rears up from the ground, overwhelming and dominating you. It is dispiriting, intimidating, oppressive, and otherworldly. On each side of the wall lives a different people. It is a monument to one of the world’s most intractable disputes.

I have been following the Israeli – Palestinian conflict since 1981. The conflict became increasingly complicated and, above all, unworthy. However, I could never believe that from 2002 on (during the Second Intifada) a wall would be built by Israel between the two communities. Since then I have been able to follow the construction of the wall, which has recently been completed and built on Palestinian territory. The divisions between Israel and Palestine are well established. You have to cross checkpoints in order to get in the other community, if you are allowed to do so. I regret that some visitors of the Holy Land look at the wall as “conflict tourists.”

Gaza and nonviolence resistance

The situation in Gaza can explode any minute. The Gazans are left behind and have to deal with their own suffering. The circumstances can have repercussions outside of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is not only a humanitarian problem (the water is unclean; more than 60 % of the youth is unemployed; only three hours electricity a day). It is politically a hot potato. No solution has been found between Hamas and Fatah to transfer all authority over Gaza back to Ramallah.

Israel built a security barrier on the border with Gaza, begun in 1994; it is nearly 40 miles long. In addition, a 152-mile-long fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border was completed in 2013 and has halted illegal immigration from a variety of African countries (Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia). In 2016, Israel announced a plan to build an underground wall, more than a hundred feet deep, to prevent armed groups from emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli border towns. In Israel, the protection of the citizens comes first.

The Israeli blockade against the Strip is cruel, inhumane and a violation of civilizational standards. When can Palestinians return to their human dignity and their right to self-determination? The political problem is that Hamas controls everything in Gaza, dominating all aspects of life. They established a network of social welfare and educational systems around the local mosques that endeared the movement’s leaders to the people. There seems no political space for alternatives. Since 2008, I have visited Gaza several times. Complicated to get in! You need a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza. The small territory is isolated from the rest of the world by fences and barriers. It is an open prison! The small Christian community, numbering perhaps fewer than three thousand people, feels under pressure, and many are trying to leave.

Gaza is home to almost two million Palestinians, the majority of whom are long-term refugees (a further 3.25 million Palestinians live in the West Bank). Hamas has run Gaza since the elections in 2007. Hamas is a radical ideological movement that is deeply anti-Israel. Israel, the USA and the EU among others designate the group as a terrorist organisation. The question is: do you talk with Hamas or not? Some say “yes” you have to maintain contacts, talk, and others certainly say “no”: you never talk to a terrorist association.

On 30 March 2018, a “March of Return” started as a Gazan civil society initiative expressing people’s desire to live with dignity and with hope of a better future. The plan was to hold every Friday a peace march until the 15th of May, Nakba Day. The weekly demonstrations along the Israeli-Gaza border have increased their intensity in numbers, locations and frequency. Despite the nonviolent character of the March, IDF snipers have killed more than 240 (young) Palestinians. Critics said the Israeli forces sometimes opened fire even when two crucial conditions of international law for using lethal force were absent: the targeted individual posed a danger and the threat was immediate. The Gazans asked for the end of the Israeli-Egyptian siege on Gaza. It is about putting an end to the totally unacceptable cage that Gaza has become over the past 10 years.

West Bank

Palestine has de facto two separate entities. The distance between them is not the issue. If all sides could agree, the 25 miles of intervening Israeli territory could be overcome with a highway bridge or tunnel. However, the two regions remain separated not just by geography, but also by politics and ideology. Fatah officially accepts the concept of “two states for two peoples”. They expect the same policy from the other partner Israel. Hamas rejects, at least formally, any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. All parties in the conflict should recognize each other’s existence.

Behind the great security barrier live 2.5 million Palestinians. Life in West Bank is hard, but easier than in Gaza. The health care is of a low standard and that is why thousands are treated in Israeli hospitals. Work permits are hard to obtain. Palestine is hardly an open society. The Palestinian leadership is in a deep crisis. The political leadership and the political apparatus urgently need renewal, rejuvenation and transparency. Palestine will remain a house divided.

Political process

There is no real political peace process between Israel and Palestine. It has been tried several times already: Oslo in 1993; Camp David in 2000; Taba in 2001; the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002; the Roadmap for peace in 2003; Annapolis in 2007-2008; and the efforts of former US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014-2015. All attempts have failed because of a lack of political will. The involvement of the international community is essential and that is lacking as well. It needs more vigour and teeth to bring pressure.

Israel has no real desire to unify the Palestinian people and to negotiate a peace treaty with them that would cost Israel the need to withdraw from territory in the West Bank and allow Palestinians in Gaza to enjoy a normal life of freedom and a chance of hope for a better future.

Political life in Israel

It is expected that in 2019 new national elections will take place in Israel. Israeli governments are always formed by coalitions. All Israelis want their country to be strong, stable, democratic, safe and at peace with its neighbours. The sense of unity is high among the Israelis (especially when war comes) although major differences occur on the relations between the state and the role of religion as well as on the position of the Israeli Arab citizens (a fifth of the population). Israel keeps conquering land from the Palestinians illegally. The issue of the settlements divides Israeli public opinion; the wisdom, legality and morality of their existence are always fiercely debated. Gaps between different groups in Israel are widening and poverty is growing. Differences within society also affect the political sphere. Most in the secular category see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second. Most Orthodox sees themselves as Jewish first and then Israeli. Religious political parties are almost components in coalition governments. Religious parties tend to dominate matters of education and religion. In recent years, the political and democratic space for NGOs, journalists and writers has shrunk.

Conclusion

Walls are containing the violence. Walls should be temporary. That temporality is long gone. For that to happen an agreement will be needed not only between the two sides, but also within them. New leaders should be chosen who would invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. To ever renew negotiations between Israel and Palestine, it is necessary to believe that there are partners for peace on the other side.

Many believe that the only viable way of finding a way out is the Two-State Solution fulfilling the aspirations for peaceful coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. This option must be repeated on a regular basis what the Holy See for instance is doing.