Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Message from Ecumenical Accompanier Doug Whitmore

United Methodist Doug Whitmore of Kansas City is serving as an ecumenical accompanier in the World Council of Churches programme in Palestine. He has sent a number of journal notes. Here is one example. He is staying in the Palestinian village of Jayyous in the West Bank. Doug mingles serious reporting about human rights abuses with sweetly chatty notes about life with his EAPPI teammates. For reports and information about Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, go to

JAN 16 It's 5:00 pm here in Ramallah. I was planning to go back to Jayyous today but Valentina (*in the World Council of Churches Jerusalem office) sent all EAs an email that a world-renowned Quaker lady in Ramallah was giving a lecture at the Meeting House here at 4:30. Jean Zaru is her name and she was to speak about opposing Domination Systems. British EA Christopher, being a Quaker, wanted to hear her also. So we made arrangements and I reserved a hotel room at one recommended by Pauline of the staff. Christopher was to travel back to Janoun after the lecture because they need 2 people there overnight.

Anyway we arrived at the hotel at 2:30 and wanted to leave our luggage so I checked in. Then we walked a half-mile to Arafat's Memorial, which is quite nice, and took pictures. Then we walked back through the center of town and down Main Street to the Quaker Meeting House where Christopher had been to church one Sunday. There on the gate was a notice in magic marker that the lecture was postponed until next Wednesday. Apparently the 19 killed in Gaza yesterday caused a day of mourning and shops closed early.

JAN 17 I´m back in Jayyous using Tzegha´s computer as not ready to change settings on mine tonight. Jenny´s got a bad cold and in bed. Tomorrow the office staff is coming here for six hours.

This morning I traveled to Jit from Ramallah to help plant olive trees and my teammates were already there. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights, was leading the effort and brought six or eight Israelis with him. We also had Palestinians from Jit and altogether must have been 25. We had half a dozen Israeli soldiers watching in case settlers came from their nearby outpost. The soldiers made it pretty clear they were more interested in helping the settlers than us.

We must have planted 60 twenty-inch high trees before Arik had a long phone conversation and let us EAs go. Before I arrived, more work had been done on the cold and very windy hilltop. We had great misgivings that as soon as the soldiers left the settlers would pull up the new plantings.

Back in Jayyous we were buying some falafel when a village youth told us an Israeli jeep was in town. Guilliam, EA from Tukarem, and I searched for the jeep and were directed by more young men and told to go quickly as the soldiers had a boy. We approached and found the youth seated in the back of the vehicle being questioned by a major or colonel. That was unusual to see a 45-year old officer on patrol because it´s mostly young soldiers that do that. Anyway, seems other boys had thrown stones at the jeep but this one had been sitting on steps and watching instead of going inside. He was being asked, I´m pretty sure, to give names of the throwers and was not cooperating. An older Palestinian man was on the scene and seemed to be translating or mediating. Eventually the boy was released to a brother not very happy with him. JAN 18 The Jerusalem staff could be showing up at any minute. Jenny feeling less congested. Tzegha and I went this morning to Falamya gate and then took naps.

Arik Ascherman is one of the best people over here. Seems to be well respected by Palestinians and EAs and Jewish peace people. I shook his hand and greeted him yesterday as I had a couple weeks ago at a synagogue service we attended. Told him I’d seen him in KC (*when Allan Abrams of Kansas City Brit Tzedek brought him to speak). One of our contacts, Zacharia, works for him.

Our landlord Abu Azzam´s son, a law professor in Nablus, was arrested at 2 AM a couple days ago by Israelis, of course. He is in a prison in Israel and I'm hoping they question and release him. His wife told us he is not political. She and the 5 children are staying here with Abu Azzam and his wife. We are going there for lunch as are some of Abu’s Israeli friends.

JAN 18 (later) Met with Jerusalem staff most of day and ate a big lunch at Abu Azzam's. Tonight the soldiers came at 10:00 and we went out in the street in our vests. A jeep stopped and a couple of armed soldiers got out and we asked them what was going on. They said it’s an army operation and that we had to go inside as it’s a curfew. After an hour people began appearing back out on the street so guess the curfew is over.

If you could see the BS these folks have to endure every day you would be glad we are trying to help them. This village of 3500 is getting poorer and poorer as 70 per cent have lost their income because of land and permit loss.

Don’t have to get up till 6:15 tomorrow which isn’t so bad.

JAN 19 Well, it's after 9 now and this is the night of getting up at 3:30. Tomorrow afternoon we go to Jerusalem for Israeli Exposure Week.

JAN 20 This morning we went to Qalqilya North. Same thing that between 5:00 and 6:30 the system of security checks gets the line of workers backed way up. Then between 6:30 and 7 it works down as fewer Palestinians come. We go home with cold feet and tired. Don't seem to be catching cold but nose drips a bit from cool conditions.

B'Tselem folks (*Israeli peace group) due here now for a meeting before we head off to Al Quds (Jerusalem).

Need to tell you about threats the army has made to mayor and people about what will happen if kids continue to throw rocks and things at the separation fences nearby. Like cut off water, electricity, shoot water tanks on houses, bring bulldozers to tear down, dig hole in road at entrance to village, etc. There, I told you. We'll pass this on to B'Tselem and you can pass it on to lists. Also threatening to shoot to kill instead of at the legs of youths. Real cheery stuff. When the army drives their vehicles around town it is as if they are intentionally provoking youths to throw stones at them.

JAN 20 (*later, from Jerusalem) Re your question, at Jayyous we have a three layer wire fence setup. One layer has enough electricity to send a message if disturbed. That may be the source of annoyance that rocks are setting off signals to some army control point, but this is a guess on my part. Will try to verify.

It's quarter to seven here so may head to hotel dining room for supper. You should be returning from church pretty soon. I miss BUMC (*our church, Broadway United Methodist) on Sundays and Wednesdays. Too bad we have to be away from people and places to really appreciate what we have at home. Sunday is by necessity a workday here.

JAN 20 (more) Had a good dinner with my teammates who are sharing a room down the hall. We like each other which is pretty remarkable considering the gaps in age, gender, nationality and communication technology ability. These two are whizzes on computers and complicated cell phones.

Luckily they don't seem to mind helping the old fart. Tell Molly (*our daughter) I enjoyed sharing the fancy chocolate bars with teammates and the office staff. Every one of them likes nice chocolate.

JAN 21 Try to find John Dugard's recent statement on Israel and gaza on line . If it hasn't been in national newspapers please forward to all the lists receiving our emails.(*summary in Britain's Guardian newspaper,,2019547,00.html) We just had our first session of Israeli Exposure Week. Met with about 8 Israeli young men mostly in their mid to late 20s. Well educated and of various politics. One was hard right and some were pretty reasonable and some in between. Had a two hour discussion divided into two groups, then half an hour back together, then all ate together at a nice restaurant. More discussion after dinner but don't think it changed anybody's mind.

Tomorrow we'll go to the Holocaust Museum [sic] and have lunch at their cafeteria. Of course you saw it on your IFPB (*Interfaith Peace Builders) tour.

JAN 22 Kind of a grim day here. We all bussed to Efrat settlement and listened to Bob Lang first thing this morning. He's a settler who lived his first 18 years in a suburb of New York City and his next 33 years establishing settlements around Bethlehem. His current residence is in a town of 9,000 in the Palestinian Territories {Occupied} within sight of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He told us Jewish people lived there before 1948 and came back after the 1967 War when the Israeli Military took control of the area. He failed to mention that any Palestinians that had lived there are now kept behind sophisticated wire fences while settlements have greatly expanded. Actually he gave us all the rightwing settler spiel about Biblical claims and all the needed security which just happen to aid the taking of more and more Palestinian areas. Of course the settlers in the area have their own modern highways to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In the afternoon we had lunch at the cafeteria of the Holocaust Museum and a worthwhile tour by Tamar Avraham, a peace activist and active member in Zochrot That was a very sobering 2 hours of how Hitler and the Nazis persecuted and killed around 6,000,000 European Jews between 1938 and 1945. This Yad Vashem Museum has actually collected about 3,000,000 names of victims and is trying to get more.

Many young Israeli military men and women were also taking tours as part of their training, helping motivate them to carry out their duties in the occupied territories.

Adding to the grimness was a rainy and foggy day. (...) Tomorrow we tour Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek and go on to stay at the St. Charles Guest House in Haifa.

(* additional information to which Doug refers about the situation in Jayyous at )

(*commentary from Israeli peace group the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions on the general situation “Don’t Say We Did Not Know”

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

A relief convoy and Israeli demonstration on the Gaza border

I'm glad to report that Pastors Julie Rowe and Mark Holman, ELCA members in Jerusalem, are taking part in the convoy described here.

Press release
The policy of force has failed, prison walls broken

End the blockade completely!
Ceasefire now for the sake of Sderot and of Gaza!

Saturday 26.1.08:
A countrywide relief convoy and Israeli demonstration in solidarity on the Gaza border with a parallel Palestinian demonstration in the Strip.

It is impossible to keep one and a half million people in a huge prison, and if you try, an explosion is bound to happen, as happened at the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt. Residents of the Gaza Strip, like those of Israel and every other place in the world, have the fundamental right of free access to the outside world, for people and goods.

The Israeli Coalition Against the Siege continues preparations for the protest convoy to the Gaza border, on Saturday January 26, in co-ordination with the Palestinian Coalition which is preparing parallel actions inside Gaza and in Ramallah, demanding a complete end to the blockade of Gaza. The policy of naked force, undertaken by Olmert and Barak, has utterly failed. It is neither desirable nor possible to renew the blockade. Nor will the continuing military offensive on Gaza end the shooting of missiles at Israeli territory.

Well go to the Gaza border, in co-operation with Palestinian partners inside Gaza, to show there's an alternative to siege and rocket-fire - an alternative of ceasefire, peace and quiet, and the flourishing of Sderot and Gaza alike.

On Saturday, 26 January 2008, a humanitarian convoy of supplies headed by peace and human rights organisations will go from Nazareth, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva to the Gaza Strip border, decked with signs "Lift the Blockade!" The convoy will meet up at 12.00 noon at Yad Mordechai Junction and all will then travel together to a hill which overlooks the Strip, where a demonstration will take place at 13:00. Speakers will be Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avnery, Naomi Zion, Fatmeh el-Ajou, Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Prof. Jeff Halper. There will be a ’phone link between the Israeli demo and hundreds of Gazans on the Gaza side in Gaza City at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, demonstrating as part of the "Palestinian- International Campaign to End the Siege," a spokesman of whom is psychiatrist and human rights activist, Dr. Eyad Sarraj.

The convoy will contain sacks of flour, food supplies and other essential products, especially water filters. Water supplies in Gaza are polluted, with nitrates at a level ten times the maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation. Due to the Israeli blockade, Gaza has a critical shortage of water filters, creating an intolerable violation of minimum humanitarian standards.

[There is more at the web site of Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace bloc:]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gaza Crisis Threatens Nascent Peace Process

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) wrote to Secretary of State Rice and issued this Action Alert: Gaza Crisis Threatens Nascent Peace Process.

This Action Alert is available online at:

January 23, 2008

Today's news of thousands of Gazans flooding the border into Egypt demonstrates the urgency of the Gaza crisis, which has been building over some time, but has now escalated in a dangerous way.

In a January 20th op-ed, "Defusing the Gaza Time Bomb," Robert Malley presciently warned that Gaza is the "most likely trigger for the next Arab-Israeli war" with the cost of continued escalation "enormous loss of life, a generation of radicalized and embittered Gazans, and another bankrupt peace process" []. ].

In a letter to Secretary Rice earlier this month, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) expressed her concern that "this fragile [peace] process will become derailed by the continued violence in Gaza" [].

CMEP's Executive Director Warren Clark and Board Chair Maureen Shea wrote to Secretary of State Rice today, with copies to State Department and White House officials as well as foreign embassies, urging her "concerted diplomatic effort" to help bring about a ceasefire and avert a further humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (For more information on the current humanitarian situation, see Caritas Jerusalem's latest statement [].

CMEP's call for urgent action echoes that of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land who in a January 22nd message said, "Only bold steps toward [a] just peace and ending the violence will protect the human life and dignity of both people." [].
The full text of the CMEP letter is included below.


Send a message to Secretary Rice: End Gaza Crisis Now and Restore Hope for Peace

Email Web Form -

Key Points from CMEP Letter:
* As an American Christian, I am greatly concerned about the escalating Gaza crisis. I ask for your urgent diplomatic effort now to help bring about a ceasefire and avert a further humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
* The rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and imposed suffering on the general population of Gaza, including the cutoff or the threat of cutoff of vital food, fuel, electricity and adequate access to medical attention, must stop.
* We offer our prayers and support for your urgent action to ensure that the diplomatic process begun at the Annapolis conference can succeed and a peace agreement can be reached by the end of this year.


CMEP Letter to Sec. Rice on Gaza Crisis

Letter in PDF format -

January 23, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary,

We write to you today with great concern about the recent escalation of violence in and around Gaza. Rocket attacks against Israel by Palestinian militant groups and retaliatory responses by Israel that include the cutoff or the threat of cutoff of vital food, fuel, electricity and adequate access to medical attention for the residents of Gaza are creating an untenable situation that threatens to derail the nascent but vitally important peace process. Neither the rocket attacks nor imposed suffering on the general population of Gaza can be justified. Today's breach of the Gaza-Egypt border only underscores the urgency of this current crisis that risks continued escalation.

We welcome your January 22nd statement calling on both sides not only to reduce the violence but also to start to think more creatively about how to address the current situation in Gaza, perhaps by giving the Palestinian Authority a greater role at the border crossings as suggested by Prime Minister Fayyad, an idea endorsed by the Quartet and called for by the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Christian Churches in Jerusalem. We urge your concerted diplomatic effort now, together with Egypt and the international community, to help bring about a ceasefire and avert a further humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Progress towards a viable Palestinian state living at peace alongside a secure Israel as called for by the President will require wise management of the current Gaza crisis to help lay the groundwork for a united Palestinian polity capable of implementing a durable peace. We offer our prayers and support for your urgent action to ensure that the diplomatic process begun at the Annapolis conference and continued with your and President Bush's visit to the region this month can succeed.

Warren Clark, Executive Director
Maureen Shea. Chair of the Board


Save the Date for CMEP's 2008 Advocacy Conference, Calming the Storm: Middle East Peacemaking in a Turbulent Time, April 20-22, 2008 - Washington, DC [].


Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of a coalition of church bodies and religious orders and institutions.

Churches for Middle East Peace
Phone: 202-543-1222

ELCA's Metro DC Synod sends aid to Gaza

We have felt paralyzed as the reports poured in from Gaza this week. I am pleased to report that the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has pledged a gift of $700 for support of emergency aid to the people of Gaza.

ELCA folks: Is this a model you and your synod can use? This gift comes through the Metro DC Synod's Global Mission Committee, directed to the Middle East Council of Churches in Gaza City.
There are many appeals for funding coming from Israeli and Jewish American groups. For ELCA Lutherans, the Middle East Council of Churches is our established ecumenical partner in the region. Please give it some thought.

Constantine S. Dabbagh, Executive Secretary, wrote to Pastor Phil Anderson of Washington, D.C., "I really appreciate keeping us in your thoughts and for your support in response to our calls to end the severe siege on Gaza Strip in particular and the Palestinians in general caused by the continued occupation of over 40 years which must END when all forms of resistance will have to END as well and a just peace would prevail to enable us on both sides live in good neighbourhood on equal footings." He said, "I ... appeal to you and the Church to exert your efforts towards the realization of a just peace in the country of the Prince of Peace in ending the Israeli occupation. Please relay our gratitude to all those involved."

Nothing further is coordinated at this point. If you have a question, direct it to me for the time being. Use the spot on this blog provided for comments.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In the Name of God, end the siege over Gaza

The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land have spoken out urging the world to end the siege of Gaza. (Courtesy of the offices of Bishop Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land -

For the statement online, go to

In the Name of God, end the siege over Gaza.

One and a half million people imprisoned and without proper food or medicine. 800,000 without electricity supply; this is illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human and natural laws as well as International Law. It cannot be tolerated anymore. The siege over Gaza should end now.

Voices from our people there say "We feel the threat of being exterminated by this siege"

In the Name of God, we, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land urge the International Community, President Bush and the leaders of Israel, to put an end to this suffering and call upon Israel to activate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's initiative for Palestinian responsibility control of the boarders thus ensuring sufficient normal flow of medicine, food, fuel and goods to Gaza.

We urge the International Community and the European Union to act according to their recent pleas. There is no time to waste when Human life is endangered.

We urge the Palestinian Leadership to unite in ending their differences for the sake of their people in Gaza. Put the differences aside and deal with this crisis for the good of all human beings demonstrating that you care for your brothers and sisters who have suffered enough already. We would say to all concerned parties; while ever you persist in firing rockets into Israel you encourage public opinion outside this Land to feel there is a justification for this siege.

We urge Israel to act responsibly and to immediately end this inhuman siege. To deny children and civilians their necessary basic commodities are not the ways to security but rather throw the region into further and more dangerous deterioration. This siege will not guarantee the end to rocket firing, but will only increase the bitterness and suffering and invite more revenge, while the innocents keep dying. True Peace building is the only way to bring the desired security.

We pray for the day when the people of Gaza will be free from Occupation, from political differences, from violence and from despair. We pray for the Israelis and Palestinians to respect human life and God's love for every human life, and to take all possible measures to end this suffering. Only bold steps towards just Peace and ending the violence will protect the Human life and dignity of both People.

With the Prophet we keep praying and hoping:
" A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope" (Isaiah 42:3-4)

Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land

Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre - JIC
P.O.Box 741, Jerusalem 91000

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

CMEP writes: Tell President Bush Strong Leadership Is Needed Now!

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) issued an action alert, "President Heads to Holy Land: Tell Him Strong Leadership Is Needed Now!" - available at

See the text below for analysis and talking points.

The December 18 CMEP newsletter, under the heading "Holy Land Peacemaking on Center Stage in 2008," is available too:

For this fascinating analysis and action newsletter, outgoing director Corinne Whitlatch stepped back to look at the situation in the region 30 years ago and the changes that have, and have not, taken place.

Here is the text of this week's action alert:

Warren Clark, Executive Director
with Julie Schumacher Cohen, Legislative Coordinator

January 7, 2008

Last week I became Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace, succeeding Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP's longtime leader. I look forward to continuing her high standard of advocacy for peace in the region, especially regarding settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to communicating with you and hearing from you often in this important ongoing effort.

Continuing and deepening instability in the Middle East requires urgent resolution of this long-standing problem. This is not impossible. The determination of this Administration expressed at Annapolis to achieve a peace agreement this year creates a moment when vigorous public and political support for a negotiated two state solution is more important than ever.

President Bush departs Tuesday for his first visit to the Holy Land as President. He is scheduled to stop first in Israel and the West Bank, followed by Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The visit is seen, in part, as a follow-up to the Annapolis conference that he convened in November and which concluded with the promise of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the end of 2008. In an interview last week President Bush said "the time is ripe...there will be a comprehensive peace signed by the end of this year." In a departure from previous statements, the President remarked that Israeli settlement expansion is an "impediment" to the success of peace efforts. These are important words ahead of this historic trip. Now they must be backed by tough demands of both parties if this latest push for peace is going to gain any momentum.

Since the Annapolis conference, events on the ground have threatened to impede the promise of peace. In December, Israel announced plans to expand the settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem. Violence is escalating in and around Gaza, including continued Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli military raids. The Palestinian humanitarian situation is even more dire, with movement and access in the West Bank still dismal and ordinary Gazans facing a stark deterioration of their daily life. Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams tasked with delving into the sensitive final status issues met again today, but their two-hour talks made little serious progress.

Post-Annapolis success requires sustained and high-level engagement by the United States. In a December letter (, CMEP wrote to the President, "We are grateful for your leadership and that of Secretary Rice in bringing together many of the key regional players at Annapolis. Our hope for the future is based on the expectation that your Administration's commitments to a strong and continuing US engagement will be fulfilled." The CMEP letter requested that the President visit Bethlehem on this trip and meet with the Christians there. Right before the Christmas holiday, Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sent a letter ( to the President connecting the decline of the Palestinian Christian community to the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. These messages need your reinforcement now.

As the President embarks on his trip, it is important that he hear from you that American Christians support active and sustained U.S. engagement to overcome barriers to peace and that you want to see the vision of two states become a reality in 2008.


Call the White House Comments Line: 202-456-1111

Talking Points:

* Thank you for visiting Israel and the West Bank this week. I ask for your strong leadership to ensure that the negotiating process you launched in Annapolis leads to a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in 2008.

* I agree with Senators Bond and Rockefeller who wrote in a December letter to you that a peace agreement would help save the dwindling Palestinian Christian community and improve future prospects for all the peoples of the Holy Land.

* I agree with you that the continued expansion of settlements is an "impediment" to peace. I urge you to oppose all actions that undercut the peace process and to press both sides to adhere to their Road Map obligations.

* I ask you to work with Israel and the Palestinians to encourage a ceasefire that can end the Gaza violence, to help improve the humanitarian and security situation on the ground and to make progress on final status negotiations.

(This email is also available online at:

For more information about Churches for Middle East Peace, explore the web site:

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Take a trip to the Holy Land in 2008

I have updated the listing of alternative travel opportunities for the Friends of Sabeel - North America (FOSNA) web site:

In a few days the FOSNA list will include a trip I'll be leading June 9-18 under the theme, "Listening in Love and Seeking Peace in the Holy Land." More details about that soon at this blog and at the web site of Group Travel in the Twin Cities:

FOSNA writes this note:

Alternative Travel Opportunities – updated January 4, 2008

Alternative travel in the Holy Land provides an added benefit to pilgrimage by connecting you with the Living Stones of Palestine who live under military occupation. Visit the holy Christian sites, worship in ancient Palestinian Christian churches, walk where Jesus walked and bear witness to the realities of occupation — military checkpoints, refugee camps, Israel’s Apartheid Wall, bypass roads, illegal settlements and more.

This Alternative Travel page is a service of Friends of Sabeel—North America. If you know of other trips coming up, please send details to:

Alternative Tourism Group in Beit Sahour, West Bank, has published Palestine & Palestinians: A Guidebook (ISBN No. 9950-319-011-3). It is a professionally produced and very attractive book of more than 400 pages that goes beyond the scope of other guides for travelers. Palestine & Palestinians: A Guidebook provides a very detailed history of the area, as well as information on the contemporary situation. The book is illustrated with color and black/ white photos and, of course, maps of all sorts. In fact, in quality, it equals any traditional guidebook. The book is around $30.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Joharah Baker: Settlements have to Go

Joharah Baker wote this column for the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) -

Settlements have to Go
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
December 26, 2007

Unsurprisingly, the newly resumed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled yet again, this time over the highly-charged issue of Israeli settlements, which despite past commitments, Israel has continued to expand. On December 24, the two sides met for the second time since the Annapolis peace conference in November, but came out of the meeting empty handed, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat describing the meeting as “very difficult.”

No kidding. Even if we put a pin in all the other issues that have constituted major bones of contention between the Palestinians and Israelis such as the refugee problem, Jerusalem and borders, Jewish settlements alone are explosive enough to blow any negotiations to smithereens.

However, in order to fully understand why both sides are so adamant in their positions when it comes to West Bank settlements (and that, by the way includes those illegally built in east Jerusalem), it is imperative to understand their significance, to both Israel and the Palestinians.

Following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel almost immediately adopted what was known as the Alon Plan, which advocated the establishment of Jewish settlements in areas with so-called “security importance”. While these initial settlements were built in areas where Palestinian populations were sparse, such as the Jordan Valley and areas outside Jerusalem, this quickly changed in the late 70s under the more aggressive Likud government, which accelerated settlement expansion into areas near Palestinian populated regions in the heart of the West Bank, not only for so-called “security considerations” now, but also for ideological reasons. These were based on the premise that the West Bank and Gaza Strip (or what Israel calls Judea and Samaria) are part of the Zionist dream of Greater Israel, ostensibly the biblical right of the Jews.

Thus, the Yesha Council of Settlers was established in the 1970s to oversee the return of Jews to what they claim to be their biblical homeland. Since then, all Israeli governments have either openly encouraged settlement expansion, encouraged it under the table or at best, turned a blind eye. Even in the so-called “peace years” during which the Oslo Accords were signed and late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously shook hands with President Arafat, settlement expansion never ceased. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, between 1993 and 2000, the number of settlers in the West Bank increased by 100 percent.

Not all Israelis in Jewish settlements are there for ideological purposes – one Yesha Council estimation puts only half the number of secular Jews who moved to West Bank settlements for ideological purposes, while the rest made the move for economic reasons. Religious Jews, who constitute around 35 percent of the settler population, according to the same source, almost all move to the settlements because of their “Jewishness”.

The result of this monstrous movement is that it has created a population that cannot easily be swayed by economic enticements to move out of their West Bank homes. The majority of settlers are there because they believe this is their birthright, that the land of “Judea and Samaria” was granted to them by God. No compensation package can ever match that.

Furthermore, the settlers hardly stand alone in their views. If it were not for ongoing government endorsement, the settlement project would have gone under years ago. This week’s failed Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were focused on the east Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa (or Jabal Abu Gneim), which Israel has so insolently announced it would expand.
According to Israeli Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer, Israel will allocate $25 million from its 2008 budget for the expansion of Har Homa and Maaleh Adumim settlements in east Jerusalem alone.

Besides, the more Israel expands and builds in the already illegal West Bank settlements, the more de facto they become. Once these red-topped invasive constructions are built and people moved into them, they become a reality much harder to reverse. In the final analysis, Israel is vying for as much West Bank land as possible – through settlement expansion mostly – before any final settlement is reached with the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians, however, settlements mean something entirely different. Invasive, encroaching and offending, Jewish settlements are like cancerous growths in the midst of what Palestinians hope to be their future state.

International law agrees with the Palestinians. International humanitarian law prohibits the occupying power to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Fourth Geneva Convention, article 49), while The Hague Regulations prohibit the occupying power to undertake permanent changes in the occupied area or confiscate private property in occupied territory. UN Security Council Resolution 465 (1980), which was unanimously adopted, made it clear that “Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants” in the Occupied Territories constitutes “a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”. The Security Council called upon Israel to “dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction or planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.”

International law aside, Palestinians rightfully view the settlement movement as Israel’s plan to grab as much Palestinian land as possible, not to mention the hostile nature of many armed settlers towards the Palestinians. While the actual settlements take up approximately three percent of West Bank land, because of the extensive network of settler-only bypass roads, fences and other restrictions imposed on Palestinians, the settlements dominate 40 percent of the area of the West Bank. Furthermore, the separation wall, which cuts through a major portion of the West Bank has been designed to include and annex 56 settlements to Israel.

This leaves the Palestinians with a severed, discontinuous and settlement-pockmarked geographical entity, hardly raw material for a viable Palestinian state. Palestinians continue to demand that Israel dismantle all settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which they have claimed as their future capital. According to the US-brokered roadmap, Israel is to halt all settlement expansion and dismantle any settlement outposts, both obligations which they have failed to meet.

This is why negotiations, no matter how “serious”, will never bear fruit as long as Jewish settlements plague the Palestinian territories. Not only does their presence deny many Palestinians access to their own land, to water resources and to other Palestinian areas, they are built in a way that severs any contiguity between Palestinian territories, making any geographically viable future Palestinian entity virtually impossible.

If negotiations are ever to lead to lasting and substantial results, settlements cannot be part of the equation. It is as simple as that.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

MIFTA's web page:

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Baker writes for Palestine Report, and I recall her powerful piece on the status of non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the regulations that amount to ethnic cleansing, called "Being Born in Jerusalem," published by Open Democracy:

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To receive bulletins from Ann Hafften, go to "A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Middle East Peace" -

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

B'Tselem reports on Hebron and Denial of Freedom of Movement

B'TSELEM, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories. B'Tselem's English-language web site is an eye-opening resource full of maps and reports:

A new publication from B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel arrived at my home last week: Ghost Town - Israel's Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron. Here is the introduction to the summary provided on the B'Tselem web site:

"Over the years, Israel established a number of settlement points in and around the Old City of Hebron, which had traditionally served as the commercial center for the entire southern West Bank . Israeli law-enforcement authorities and security forces have made the entire Palestinian population pay the price for protecting Israeli settlement in the city. To this end, the authorities impose a regime intentionally and openly based on the "separation principle", as a result of which Israel created legal and physical segregation between the Israeli settlers and the Palestinian majority." []

A cd was included too: "Hebron Stories - From Bustling City Center to a Ghost Town." []

Ghost Town was actually released last spring; it took some months to reach me in hard copy. The booklet is available on the web:

The newest resource from B'Tselem is Ground to a Halt: Denial of Palestinians' Freedom of Movement in the West Bank -

Here is a quote from the summary: "Since the beginning of the second intifada, in September 2000, Israel has imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank that are unprecedented in scope and time. As a result, the fundamental right of West Bank Palestinians to freedom of movement, their exercise of which was limited in any event, has become a privilege that Israel extends to them as it deems fit. Indeed, Palestinian travel in the West Bank is now an exception, which must be justified to the Israeli authorities, and almost every trip entails uncertainty, friction with soldiers, much waiting, and often great expense." []

B'Tselem's press releases are informative too.

Wrapping up 2007, B'Tselem resported:

31 Dec. 2007 - 131 Palestinians who did not participate in the hostilities killed by Israel's
security forces in 2007

"B'Tselem today releases its year-end report. According to B'Tselem data, the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip dropped. However, there has been deterioration in many other measures of the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories . The primary one is the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which has declined to an all time low, following Israel 's siege on the area." For the entire release go to

16 Dec. 2007: The Israeli army does not do enough to combat abuse of Palestinians

"A survey conducted by the Israeli military and published by leading Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, found that a quarter of soldiers serving at checkpoints in the West Bank perpetrated or witnessed abuse of Palestinians. In response, B'Tselem, said that the numbers are shocking, but not surprising. The organization commends the military for initiating the survey, but states that physical and verbal abuse of Palestinians by soldiers, particularly at checkpoints, has long become routine. In spite of official condemnations, the military does not do enough to ensure accountability and to deter soldiers from engaging in such behavior.

"According to B'Tselem, most soldiers who harm Palestinians are never held accountable. Law enforcement authorities place numerous obstacles on Palestinians who try to complain against security forces personnel and only a small minority of complaints result in charges against those responsible for abuse." For the rest of the story go to

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