Danger ahead

It doesn’t take the UN to say it, but the UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East, Robert Serry, today told the UN Security Council that “The events of the past month demonstrate a dangerous combination of no political progress, instability and violence on the ground, especially in Gaza, and an increasingly precarious situation for the Palestinian Authority [PA] … The very viability of the Palestinian Authority is at stake, and ensuring its sustainability remains a fundamental priority”.

Right.

That has come to mean throwing money at it.

Twice a year, major Donors who keep the PA afloat meet to discuss the financial situation — and the spring meeting was held in Brussels this year, on 21 March.

Serry told the UNSC today that, in that meeting, “the primary concern of all AHLC members was the dire financial situation of the Palestinian Authority”.

Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz, just ahead of the meeting, that the between-the-lines significance of the report presented by Israel was: the Palestinians are not ready to have a state. A very self-serving message indeed. He wrote that:

    “Parts of the report are worded in a way that aims to make clear that the Palestinian economy is unable to support an independent state … ‘While the present fiscal crisis was caused by a shortfall in donor aid, there were also deviations in the execution of 2011’s budget’, the report said. ‘The public finance management system’s role in the current crisis may undermine its track record as a system that meets the requirements of a well-functioning state’. The report also indicated that the PA’s fiscal management contributed to the current crisis. ‘This demonstrates the need for further reform in order for the PA to meet the standards of a well-functioning state … The fiscal crisis is especially acute because much of the West Bank economy still depends on the public sector and on construction projects, both still heavily financed by foreign aid. It also serves as an alarming warning sign for the stability of the Palestinian economy … The current fiscal situation raises doubts about whether the PA will be able to reduce its dependency on foreign aid in the coming years’.”

Barak Ravid’s article, based on an insider briefing, is posted here.

Amira Hass took the Israeli report apart, in another article entitled Ignoring Israel’s complete domination, published in Haaretz here:

    “Who better than these delegates [the Donors, at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels last week] knows the great service the family of nations is doing to Israel by providing massive, ongoing aid to the Palestinians? Taxpayers around the world are the ones who are relieving Israel of its obligations as an occupying power and repairing the damage it is causing. It turns out it’s easier for the family of nations to fund the occupation than to force Israel to put an end to it. The guys in our finance and defense ministries – upon whose data the report is based – state, in fact, that the donor countries should get their checkbooks ready, because our policy this year won’t be different.

    With smug arrogance, the report’s authors ignore Israel’s complete domination over the resources essential to economic progress and expansion: land, water, time, a Palestinian population registry, currency, territorial expanse, air space, radio-frequency spectrums, territorial contiguity, banking services and television broadcasts, freedom of movement, border crossings, foreign nationals who are allowed entry and the duration of their stay, highways, and personal and communal security.

    With all the precision of a shopkeeper, the drafters of the report recount all of the measures that Israel, in its great magnanimity, has taken ‘to support economic growth in the West Bank’. But beyond all the means of support detailed in the report, there are the unmentioned hours wasted by Palestinian, American and European bureaucrats seeking to convince their Israeli counterparts to put them into practice

    The number of tourists coming to the West Bank city of Bethlehem last year, for example, was 1,174,280 (compared to 1,092,811 – note the precision! – in 2010), according to the report. Then there was the extension of the hours of operation at checkpoints; the agreement over the Palestinian police presence in Area B (which is under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil responsibility); construction of a visitors’ lounge for meetings between Palestinian and Israeli business people at one of the checkpoints; the drilling of four wells in a nature reserve’s eastern aquifer; 17 (again, note the precision!) preparatory meetings (regarding water infrastructure) with representatives of the U.S. State Department and USAID; one meeting with a Dutch representative over Israeli-Palestinian cooperation; 434,382 cars, owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel, that were allowed passage via the West Bank town of Jenin; consideration of a Palestinian request for a customs exemption for cars owned by foreign investors and the disabled; and approval of 2,777 requests for changes of address on ID cards from Gaza to the West Bank (of 3,857 people who sought approval).

    With a whiff of the theories of economist Milton Friedman, the report sneers at the size of the Palestinian public sector. But if there is anything that assures Palestinian social stability – and in turn quiet and prosperity for Israel – it is the regular (if unreasonably low ) salaries paid to that public sector. Since the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO were drafted in the 1990s, payment of wages has been a major means by which support of and dependence on the PA leadership has been buttressed. The adaptability of the Palestinian leadership to Israel’s policy of carving out Palestinian territorial enclaves was based in part on that very internal instability“…

Taybeh checkpoint last week at 4:00 am

This is another of our posts in our Do not say you didn’t know series … [Most of our posts are actually in the series…]:

Filmed by a member of the World Council of Churches current team of Ecumenical Accompaniers in Israel and Palestine [EAPPI], here is Taybeh checkpoint last week at 4:00 am… Palestinians start lining up at 3:30 am.

It is, unusually, a “privately-run” Israeli checkpoint for Palestinians — that is, it is run by a security company subcontracted by the Israeli Defense Ministry.

Read more about it on the EAPPI blog, here.

The video is also posted on Youtube here or here.

So, please, do not say you didn’t know…

Because the Qalandia Checkpoint still stands …

Because the disgraceful Qalandia Checkpoint still stands — a monstrosity that defies easy description, mostly because of disbelief that anything could be deliberately made so bad — as we enter a new year, we will call attention to it, yet again.

Today, we will leave aside the awfulness of all other passage through Qalandia Checkpoint, and focus just on the issue of pedestrian crossing of Palestinians from the West Bank of those who need to be at work, or who have any other appointment early in the day on the other side.

Here is a video compilation comparing the situation facing of people [yes, human beings] waiting to get through the checkpoint in January 2008, and again on another morning in December 2011, nearly 4 years later. The video — prepared by friends at Machsom Watch, the organization of Israeli women for human rights — was posted on the Mondoweiss blog on 24 December by Adam Horowitz [Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net] here.

It can also be watched on Youtube here:

Horowitz wrote about it on his post on Mondoweiss, simply saying: “As you watch this video keep in mind that the Qalandia checkpoint is not a border crossing between Israel and the West Bank. Like most Israeli checkpoints in the occupied territories, Qalandia is located squarely in Palestinian territory”…

For Israel, Qalandia Checkpoint — and a stretch of the road further north going from Jerusalem towards Ramallah — is within the boundaries of the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality” — a unilateral composite extension of “Jerusalem” in late June 1967, several weeks after the Israeli military conquest of the area in the June 1967 Six-Day war.

For Palestinians, for the United Nations, and for most European and many other countries, Qalandia Checkpoint is within the West Bank — as defined by the UN-negotiated cease-fire lines of 1949 [later known as the Green Line], which is not quite exactly, but still largely, the same line across which Israeli and Jordanian forces faced each other until 4 June 1967.

As such, according to the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory“, posted here, in English + French, which was developed in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly after Israel started building The Wall in mid-2002, and which was handed down by the ICJ in the Hague on 9 July 2004:

    [140.]…
    “In the light of the material before it, the Court is not convinced that the construction of the wall along the route chosen was the only means to safeguard the interests of Israel against the peril which it has invoked as justification for that construction.[141.] The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens. The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.

    [142.] In conclusion, the Court considers that Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defence (or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall resulting from the considerations mentioned in paragraphs 122 and 137 above. The Court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international lawContinue reading “Because the Qalandia Checkpoint still stands …”

Today is the 7th anniversary of ICJ Advisory Opinion on The Wall

It was on 9 July 2004 that the International Court of Justice in The Hague handed down its Advisory Opinion — issued after more than a year of deliberations following a request from the UN General Assembly [this request for opinion was limited to “the legal consequences of the construction of those parts of the wall situated in Occupied Palestinian Territory”].

Part of the argument it considers says, in summary form, that: “Construction of the wall and its associated regime create a ‘fait accompli” on the ground that could well become permanent -Risk of situation tantamount to de facto annexation – Construction of the wall severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination and is therefore a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right“.

The ICJ concludes, in this Advisory Opinion, that: “Construction of the wall and its associated regime are contrary to international law”.

It also concludes that there is a “need for efforts to be encouraged, with a view to achieving as soon as possible, on the basis of international law, a negotiated solution to the outstanding problems and the establishment of a Palestinian State, with peace, and security, for all in the region”.

Continue reading “Today is the 7th anniversary of ICJ Advisory Opinion on The Wall”

Three flat tires on my car: one Dahiet al-Bariid morning

About ten days ago, as I was headed off to a conference in memory of Ibrahim Abu Lughod at Bir Zeit University (outside Ramallah), I was only able to get about 75 meters to my destination.

Why?

My leased car, which had been parked on the street, suddenly had three flat tires, all at once.

Of course, it was not an accident.

All three tires had the cap removed from the air valve.

Two of the tires, it turned out, had been slashed.

One result: I never got to the conference at Bir Zeit University…

Yes, this is the same neighborhood in Dahiet al-Bariid (on the JERUSALEM side of The Wall) where I received death threats, written (in Arabic) on the windshield and (in English) on the window of driver’s side of the car, in August 2009. [Our earlier report in that is posted here…]

This is about 150 meters or so from the observation towers of the IDF Central Command Headquarters in Neve Yaakov. It is around the corner from Ahmad Tibi’s house. It is up one level from the World Bank office in Jerusalem (East Jerusalem).

Note: Before The Wall came here, they used to say the World Bank was in ar-Ram, and this was the supposedly “neutral” place where the Geneva Initiative people used to meet every month, the Israeli team and the Palestinian team. All that is now gone, long gone…

As The Wall was being constructed, almost all of Dahiet al-Bariid was going to be immured. Most of Dahiet al-Bariid (except for some meters of land down by the road going to Atarot and Qalandia, ending around the “jisr” where the water pipes come from Ramallah) was just outside (but immediately adjacent to) the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality” boundaries drawn unilaterally by Israel after its conquest in the June 1967 war. When it became evident that The Wall would sever the neighborhood from Jerusalem, a number of residents and the Christian institutions in the southern part of the neighborhood petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to stay in Jerusalem. The Israeli Supreme Court said yes, apparently before I came here, and now takes this decision into account when dealing with any problems in this area. But the Israeli military did not make the changes on the ground that would enact this Supreme Court decision. Even after The Wall was closed here, at the beginning of September 2008, the “ar-Ram” checkpoint still remained in place until mid-February 2009. During that terrible time, there was no way in or out except through that miserable “ar-Ram” checkpoint, which was a particularly and notoriously bad one. Everytime you needed fresh food, or medicine, you had to get in line at the checkpoint, for at least half an hour, and be subject to teeth-grinding, stomach-pain humilation. On the day the “ar-Ram” checkpoint was finally removed, the Commander of Qalandia Checkpoint was there (“Captain Uri”), and I asked him what the status of the neighborhood was, now — was it finally and clearly Jerusalem, I asked? Who said that? he asked. The Israeli Supreme Court, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, I replied. “No”, he told me, “this is a Kaf ha-Teva” (“manteqa tamas”, or seam zone), “We have to let the negotiators do their work”…

Well, that could take a good long time.

Meanwhile, no law authority comes to this neighborhood, though it seems to be under the jurisdiction of the Israeli police in Binyamina, on the other side of the Hizma checkpoint, on Road 60 in the West Bank — though the police officers there don’t readily admit responsibility, and don’t know the area, because they apparently never come here.

For the moment, that’s all I have to say.

Israeli District Attorney orders reopening of investigation into shooting of Tristan Anderson

In response to an appeal, the Israeli District Attorney has reportedly today ordered the police to reopen their investigation into the shooting that critically injured American activist, Tristan Anderson, during an anti-Wall protest in the West Bank village of Ni’ilin on March 13th, 2009.

Anderson was hit in the face by a high velocity tear gas projectile shot by an Israeli Border Police officer. He was hospitalized for more than a year in Israel, and has just returned to the U.S. with irreversible brain damage.

The case was closed earlier this year on grounds of “lack of wrongdoing”.

The appeal, filed on behalf of Anderson’s family by attorneys Michael Sfard and Ido Tamari, argued that an independent investigation showed that the original police investigation was “fundamentally flawed and negligent”.

UPDATE: On 24 June, Israel’s YNet website posted an AP story reporting that “On Thursday, Justice Ministry spokesman Ron Roman said police have been asked to investigate selected aspects of the case”. This is posted here.

Continue reading “Israeli District Attorney orders reopening of investigation into shooting of Tristan Anderson”

Qalandia Checkpoint: warping strategies of adaptation – cont'd

This is Part Two, a continuation of extended excerpts from Reema Hammami’s article (from the Spring 2010 issue [No. 41] of Jerusalem Quarterly, edited by the estimable Salim Tamari), on the growth and tightening of Qalandia checkpoint — which has now become a “border terminal” between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Her article continues: “But how was order created from chaos? … If we take just one small part of the organizing needs of the checkpoint – public transport on it’s northern [Ramallah] side – we might get a sense of what is involved. Walid, in his forties from the [Qalandia refugee] Camp, was a main transport organizer for five years on the Ramallah side of the checkpoint. Like many of the checkpoint workers, he had spent years working in construction in Israel before the checkpoints put him out of work so he began to operate a secondhand unlicensed van. He describes what happened when the checkpoint was made at Qalandiya:

    In the beginning it was a mess, drivers would come, there was no turn, nowhere to stand, the strong one would eat the weak one. So in the Camp we decided that we should organize it, we made a subcommittee and decided to make a stand, you know for the vans and to try organize the situation of turns. In the beginning it was all voluntary, each day a group of guys from the camp would come down and try and organize. But it didn’t work – drivers didn’t get to know them or build a relationship because it was different guys from day to day. And there were problems happening everyday, you know people fighting for turns– you needed to enforce things. So we said, we have to make a permanent group – nine guys – and they’ll take ten shekels a day from the drivers to use the stand and for the other services – the money was equivalent of half a load of people. We’d pay some to the organizers and the rest we donate to the committee. We got the political organizations in the camp to come down and speak to the drivers, to give us some legitimacy. Abu Wagih the owner of the quarry donated gravel and we fixed up a stand on the empty land about 20 meters from where the soldiers stand. And we made a system, each location together, each one by turn, one of them breaks the rules, jumps his turn and we punish him – he can’t come for a day, he gets in a fight – that’s it, he misses a day two days or he harasses the girls passing we send him off for a week. But it didn’t last – the soldiers kept running us out. strong>The soldiers would come by and start shouting over the microphone and say that’s it all of you move out or we’ll shoot – and it’s a disaster – you can’t move all at once – two three hundred vans, and they’re firing tear gas into the windows, breaking windows. …

Continue reading “Qalandia Checkpoint: warping strategies of adaptation – cont'd”

Qalandia Checkpoint: warping strategies of adaptation

The Spring 2010 issue (No. 41) of Jerusalem Quarterly, edited by the estimable Salim Tamari, contains a fascinating — though academic — analysis of the disgraceful Qalandia (Qalandiya) checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah (and the rest of the northern, middle, and western West Bank).

Salim, who has been teaching for a semester at Georgetown University, writes in his introductory that “Rema Hammami’s pioneering work on Qalandia (the Palestinian Tora Bora)[this is explained in Part Two of this story — it refers to the stone quarry which is the only alternative route around when Qalandia becomes a real hell-hole] takes an ethnographic look at Israel’s regime of checkpoints and barriers within a global context of ‘policing inequalities’. In particular she examines the politics of security, which ‘creates myopia, blindness to the very facts it engenders’. Her essay also examines the creative forces of survival among its victims. In her work the carnavalesque atmosphere of market and circus that permeates ‘border’ zones like Qalandia (and Surda before it), both camouflage and underscore the misery created by the security regime behind it”….
Salim’s editorial can be read in full here.

Reema’s long analysis [Qalandiya: Jerusalem’s Tora Bora and the Frontiers of Global Inequality] tries — almost journalistically, though she probably wouldn’t like to hear it — to describe the infernal atmosphere.

You have to know the place to understand, however, that she is walking, and not driving, through the checkpoint, and that she is describing the passage going from the Ramallah side to Jerusalem
“Heat, wind, dust, garbage. Cars stuck in line, jammed bumper to bumper – probably a two-hour wait. I squeeze through the few inches between an articulated lorry and the next car. On the other side is a porter shifting two television sets tied to his cart weaving in between the oncoming traffic. Ramallah, Ramallah Ramallah, the calls of a van organizer. I shake my head – and point toward the checkpoint. Up through the first set of blocks, the wind blows up white dust from the quarry, the peddlers clutch their sun umbrellas. I pick up my pace, it’s rush hour. Through the second row of blocks and I can see the crowd up ahead, spilling out from under the zinc roof and concrete pens of the crossing. I reach them and ask an old man, how long he’s been waiting: ‘From the time I was born’…

Continue reading “Qalandia Checkpoint: warping strategies of adaptation”

An eye for an eye?

No, of course I am not advocating this kind of justice.

But I am taking a break from the on-going saga of the Freedom Flotilla and as many of its implications I can think about, to note that a 21-year old American woman, an artist and art student (originally described as a journalist) was shot in the face with a tear gas cannister fired by an Israeli soldier or Border Policeman at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Emily Henochowicz lost her left eye, as a result. It was removed in surgery at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.

She had been with a group of women protesting the Israeli naval attack on the Freedom Flotilla at sea earlier in the day.

Qalandia checkpoint is a disgrace, as I have said many many times here in this blog. Leaving aside criticism of the policy and logic that placed the checkpoint there, it is a shameful and scandalous place where there is utter disregard for the safety and dignity of the many tens of thousands of people who are obliged to pass through the difficult, stressful, dangerous and humiliating conditions there, at least twice daily (including tens of thousands of legal residents of the Jerusalem, whose Israeli-defined Jerusalem neighborhoods are now cut off and placed on the Ramallah side of the checkpoint.

Emily could have been part of the women’s demonstration, she could have been a journalist reporting on it, or she could have been a completely uninvolved innocent bystander who just happened to be passing through at that moment. Tear gas cannisters were sprayed by an automatic weapon in her direction, and fell on either side of her, before she was hit — in her face. And as a result, she lost her eye.

Emily Henochowicz shot in the eye by a tear gas cannister at Qalandia on 31 May 2010

There is a good post, with some ugly comments, on the Willy Loman blog, here.

There is utter disregard for the lives and bodily integrity of those obliged to pass through — Qalandia is a scandal and a shame.

Shooting multiple rounds of tear gas cannisters in a crowded place from which there is little easy or quick escape is, I thought, banned by Israeli rules of engagement.

It is not funny, and it is not comparable, but I noted on this blog earlier that a journalist friend just happened to be driving through Qalandia at a moment when clashes erupted between demonstrators and Israeli forces posted there. Soldiers (Israelis, of course — nobody else is allowed anywhere near there) shot off stun grenades from right next to her car, and all her air bags inflated — frightening her and bruising her. She said she thought she was going to die. And, it cost many thousands of shekels at the garage to have her air bags replaced.

When it rained there in February, Qalandia was flooded. Apparently, there were storm drains constructed there when USAID improved the Qalandia road after a Hamas-free goverment was formed in Ramallah in June 2007. But recent months of Israeli remodling of the checkpoint configuration, and the lack of any rubbish removal system, clogged the storm drains. Cars which unwittingly entered the Qalandia installation were trapped in almost a meter of standing water — and of course there was no way these cars could turn around an exit. That lasted for days. Palestinian TV showed footage of one lone man driving a mini-pick-up truck who drove into the flood and could not proceed. He climbed out of his seat and onto his roof, raising his hands in the air to show the soldiers overlooking the scene that he did not have any weapon!

The traffic jams there are scandalous, and enormously stressful — there is no way to adequately describe the conditions in words, or even in pictures. You have to be there…

Recently, two skinny Palestinians in unmarked navy uniforms with neon green safety vests are sometimes on duty, during regular office hours, and they do help untangle some of the traffic on the Palestinian side, where there is also entering and exiting traffic to other destinations which has also to pass on the single two-lane road around Qalandia.

But there is no traffic control whatsoever on the Israeli approach to the crossing…

It's Friday – Bili'n and Nil'in are (update) not-so-Closed Military Zones

It’s Friday — and now we know that the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Nil’in, who have had weekly demonstrations for years, every Friday after the noon prayers, against The Wall that has taken so much of their lands are Closed Military Zones.

That means: by Israeli military order, no non-residents (not other Palestinians, not Israeli and international activists — even those who have been living with families there — and not even journalists) are permitted to be present from 8 am to 8 pm for at least six months (until 17 August).

This order was, apparently, actually in effect from 17 February — but it was just announced last week, more than two weeks after it went into effect. That is very characteristic of the Israeli military occupation.

The issuance of this order has drawn the attention of some Israeli activists who been visible in the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations that have become weekly since late last year, but who have not, so far, been regulars in the weekly demonstrations in these West Bank villages.

It is not clear how they will express their solidarity today, given the closure orders. UPDATE: They went to the West Bank demonstrations…

A Jerusalem Post article by Dan Izenburg yesterday reported: that “ACRI [Association for Civil Rights in Israel] attorney Limor Yehuda said that ‘the military commander’s order will keep out Israeli and international protesters, precisely those who are recognized as having a moderating influence in the field. That raises questions about what are the reasons behind the order. If the establishment of the barrier on their land was not enough of a violation of the villagers’ human rights, in its latest act the state is failing in its duty to allow and respect the right of the residents to protest against the illegal acts being perpetrated against them’. Yesh Din legal adviser Michael Sfard said ‘the popular protest in Bil’in has become a symbol of the joint struggle of Palestinians and Israelis against the injustice and land robbery caused by the route of the security barrier’.

Continue reading “It's Friday – Bili'n and Nil'in are (update) not-so-Closed Military Zones”