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Date: Thu, 4 Mar 1999 21:19:00 -0600 (CST)
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Palestinians Resist Israeli Occupation: Discontent Grows Organization: ? Article: 56506 To: undisclosed-recipients:; Message-ID: <bulk.2423.19990306001539@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Palestinians Resist Israeli Occupation: Discontent Grows With Antidemocratic Measures Of Palestinian Authority

By Argiris Malapanis and Ryan Kelly, The Militant,
Vol. 63, no. 9, 8 March 1999

SALFIT, West Bank - The rocky hilltop overlooking the Israeli settlement across the ravine was virtually flat and bare, its 200 olive trees uprooted by Israeli bulldozers about two months earlier. The same bulldozers had dumped dirt into the well, which the Palestinian farmers dug at a cost of $1,500 years ago.

The settlers came at night, in mid-December, with rifles. They were backed by Israeli soldiers, said Abdel Kharim Ahmed, showing his field to Militant reporters February 5. I refused to leave the tent where I was staying. The bulldozer lifted the earth underneath, the tent, and me.

At the end of the confrontation, Ahmed, whose family has farmed this piece of land and surrounding areas for generations, escaped uninjured. He has vowed to continue the fight to prevent the nearby Zionist settlement from swallowing up his land and thousands of acres of other Palestinian farms.

Look, we've started replanting trees, Ahmed said, pointing to the higher tier of the field.

We are under occupation by the Israeli colonizers who have the help of the west, especially the government of the United States, said Ibrahim Alkam, the other Palestinian farmer who confronted the Israeli bulldozers in December along with Ahmed. But we are not afraid. They'll take this land over our bodies.

The battle of Palestinian farmers and their supporters here to slow down or prevent further land confiscation by Tel Aviv has gotten attention throughout the West Bank. It's typical both of the furious Israeli drive to expropriate land and settle it with Jews, and of the determined resistance by Palestinians.

Salfit, in northern West Bank, just south of Nablus, is made up of 19 villages with a population of 55,000 Palestinians. The Jewish population in the 16 Zionist settlements in the region has now surpassed 50,000. The largest is Ariel, with 20,000 settlers and a number of factories in it - a 40 percent growth since 1993, when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the peace accord with Tel Aviv.

In fact they are planning to increase Ariel's population to 30,000 in the next two years, said Abu Shar, another farmer whose land, near the settlement's border, faces the immediate prospect of expropriation.

Battle over land intensifies

After years of legal battles, the farmers of Salfit won a court order a decade ago declaring that settlers could not confiscate planted Palestinian lands. But an Israeli military judge annulled that ruling in 1991, in the wake of the U.S.- led war against Iraq, and ordered the Palestinians to form a committee and negotiate all land disputes directly with the Ariel settlers. The settlers have never showed up at a single scheduled negotiation, we were told. They have instead used their paramilitary units and support by the Israeli army to take over more and more Palestinian lands.

After repeated protests by thousands of Palestinians in the mid 1990s, settlement activity slowed down substantially for about three years, said Bashir Amret of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) in the Nablus area. PARC raises funds to help farmers build roads to their fields and plant idle lands. According to Israeli law, any land not cultivated for 15 years becomes automatically Israeli state property.

In the fall of 1997, however, farmers found out that the settlers were breaking ground for a new road that would cut through numerous Palestinian olive groves. That's when Abdel Kharim Ahmed and Ibrahim Alkam set up a tent on Ahmed's field and moved there from their house in the village. The encampment was used as the site for rallying support from throughout the West Bank. Even dozens of progressive Israelis joined our protests several times, said Shar.

Last November, after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the Wye River Plantation agreement with Palestinian National Authority president Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, who was later named foreign minister, and other politicians in Tel Aviv called on settlers to accelerate the seizure of Palestinian lands. The Wye accord called for further redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank and turning over another 13 percent of territory to Palestinian control. But in early December - as U.S. president William Clinton visited Bethlehem, Gaza, and Israel to drum up support for the flailing peace process - Netanyahu declared that Tel Aviv would not meet the deadlines it had agreed to on redeploying its troops. It was shortly after that announcement that the Israeli bulldozers plowed into Ahmed's field.

The Israeli regime tries to justify the expansion as a natural growth of existing settlements. But the Israeli organization Peace Now has published figures showing that the number of unoccupied apartments on existing settlements would be sufficient to accommodate natural growth of their population through the year 2002.

`Peace accords have been a sham'

All the peace accords have been a sham, Ahmed said. Israel's settlement policy has intensified, rather than abated, as a result of the peace process. And it doesn't matter whether Labor or Likud runs the government. Since the Oslo accord was signed, the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza has jumped to 170,000. Including East Jerusalem, the total number of settlers in the occupied territories now exceeds 320,000 -a 50 percent increase since Oslo - among a Palestinian population of 2.5 million. According to Peace Now, most of this increase, occurred under the Labor Party government of Yitzhak Rabin from 1992 to 1994.

Even in the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has assumed security and administrative control on a majority of its territory, Israel now owns about 40 percent of the land.

In addition to military might, the occupiers use crude tactics to force Palestinians to concede and leave their villages. In the Ariel settlement, for example, plastics and chemical factories often dump waste in surrounding areas with no regard for the impact on the environment or Palestinian agriculture. Driving toward Salfit, hunks of melted plastic and chemical waste could be seen in a few gullies among Palestinian fields.

Even the names of settlements are often used as an affront to Palestinian dignity. Maale Makhmas (higher Makhmas), a settlement between Jerusalem and Ramallah, is one such example. Makhmas is the name of the Arab village on the facing hill, said Mohammad Barakat, who was driving with Militant reporters. They not only take the land, but steal the Palestinian name and tack `higher' on to it to show superiority.

Palestinian resistance is the only obstacle to a wholesale Zionist expropriation. The status of Salfit, for example, is not yet determined through the Israeli-PLO negotiations. Salfit is not under Palestinian Authority control. At the same time, the settlers' plans to set in stone that the villages will remain under Israeli military rule have been thwarted so far by the struggle of the farmers.

Explosive situation in Hebron

Israeli settlement policy has created quite an explosive situation inside one of the largest cities in southern West Bank - Hebron. The PNA now has control of all major cities in the West Bank. These areas, called A, are surrounded by the B territories, which are under joint Israeli and Palestinian patrols. The rest of the West Bank, over 80 percent, dubbed C, remains under Israeli rule.

The city of Hebron, however, is itself divided in areas under PNA control, H1, and Israeli control, H2. The occupying forces maintain 3,000 troops inside the city to protect 200 Israeli settlers living in four to five spots near the city center and another 200 Jewish children bused into school from other Zionist settlements outside city limits. Many Palestinians among Hebron's 150,000 population live in the occupied neighborhoods.

Under the Hebron agreement, struck after the Oslo accord, Israeli troops control 20 percent of the city. Driving inside city limits one has to pass through a maze of Israeli and Palestinian military checkpoints. A big section of Shuhad St., one of the main streets full of Palestinian shops, is closed off to Palestinian cars. It has been the site of many clashes between rightist settlers and Palestinians.

It's a setup crying out for conflict. One the fiercest confrontations took place in March 1998. That's when a group of settlers broke through a border police roadblock and entered the PNA-controlled area, smashing windshields and house windows and attacking pedestrians, even as Israeli troops chased after to coax them back to H2 territory. As Palestinians gathered and began throwing stones at the attackers, they faced the wrath of Israeli troops. Na'el Shyoukhi, a Palestinian journalist who works for Bissan Press in Hebron and who showed us around in the city, was shot and wounded by three Israeli rubber bullets during that incident, along with seven other Palestinian reporters. All eight were hospitalized.

Palestinians are not taking the attempted intimidation quietly. On February 5, Israeli bulldozers demolished two Palestinian homes on the outskirts of the city on the grounds they did not have proper licenses - among the approximately 550 houses demolished since 1993 throughout the occupied territories on the pretext of security or lack of building permits. While we visited the city two days later, the Palestinian owners had begun rebuilding one of the houses with support from others.

Palestinians often put their lives on the line to stop the Israeli bulldozers. Israeli troops fatally wounded 23-year-old Zaki Ubaied January 26 while his house was being demolished in the Issawiyeh village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Ubaied died in the hospital the next day. Another 27 unlicensed houses are slated for demolition there, creating the prospect of another explosion.

Campaign to release political prisoners

Land grabs, tree uprootings, and house demolitions intensified since Arafat and Netanyahu signed the Wye accord, said Jamal Cafi, a student at University, outside Ramallah, in a February 4 interview. So did our protests.

Cafi, Qifah Fani, and Fadi Abdelnour were among 20 students who waged a four-day hunger strike on campus, beginning December 7. The students launched the action in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. More than 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails had gone on hunger strike two days earlier to demand their freedom. Their action followed numerous demonstrations demanding release of the prisoners in November.

The Wye accord, signed in October, included a pledge by Tel Aviv to release 750 Palestinian political prisoners. But the Israeli regime claimed it never made such an explicit promise. It released instead 250 inmates, 150 of whom were convicted of common crimes such as robberies. The remainder were political prisoners whose terms were about to expire.

For students at Birzeit, imprisonment for political activity is common, Fani said. During the intifada, the five- year-long uprising against Israeli rule in the occupied territories that erupted in 1987, nearly 90 percent of the 4,000 Birzeit students did time behind bars. Today, 41 Birzeit students remain in jail, including two who are in administrative detention - that is, held for indefinite periods without charges or trial.

According to Najah Duqmaq of the Ramallah-based Mandela Institute, 2,400 Palestinians are behind bars today for political offenses.

While the hunger strike demanding the prisoners' freedom was going on, Israeli troops shot and killed Nasser Erekat, a Palestinian student, while he was standing on the roof of a building in Ramallah. Classes first, and then exams, were immediately suspended, Fani said. About 2,000 people, most of them students from Birzeit, showed up at Erekat's funeral, turning it to a political demonstration. Other marches followed. We ended the hunger strike to focus our energies on those street actions where we continued to press for the prisoner's release.

Prior to, and throughout this period, one of the main focuses of student activity had been getting support for the Gaza campaign.

In 1994, soon after the Oslo accord, The military authorities issued an order saying all permits of Gaza residents staying in the West Bank were canceled, Cafi said. All of us from Gaza, mostly students, were told to go back immediately. But nearly 90 percent stayed. Many have since been arrested at military checkpoints.

This is one of the ways of separating Palestinians in the two areas under some PNA control - Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinians from Gaza carry an easily recognizable red ID card. You are branded if you have that, Cafi said, showing his ID. He estimated that 1,000 students from Gaza have remained in the West Bank illegally. The goal of the Gaza campaign has been to end restrictions for student travel between Gaza and the West Bank - through rallies at Palestinian universities and communities, protests at Israeli embassies abroad, and solidarity from student organizations internationally.

We've just got a surprise, Cafi added, explaining that he and 300 other students had just gotten their permits reinstated and could supposedly travel to the West Bank again. Travel is not that simple, though, even with a reinstated permit. The day before we visited Birzeit, for example, one of these students traveling to Gaza was arrested because the information encoded in his ID showed he was blacklisted for other activities.

One of the ministers recently fired by Netanyahu, Yitzhak Mordechai, engineered the order for the student permits along with giving work permits to another 5,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories for jobs in Israel. This is electioneering. Mordechai is simply trying to get support for his new party. But you've got to exploit differences among your enemies, said Cafi, referring to the splits in the ruling Likud party leading up to the May 17 Israeli elections. The 300 permits is not what we want. But it's a small achievement.

Protests erupt after Clinton's visit

What these students, and others interviewed by the Militant in Bethlehem and Gaza City were most proud of, however, were demonstrations they held to protest Clinton's December 12-15 visit and the subsequent bombing of Iraq by U.S. and British planes.

The Palestinian Authority went out of its way to paint a picture of widespread support among the Palestinians for Washington, on which Arafat's forces has been increasingly relying to get backing in the Palestinian struggle for a homeland. The PNA distributed thousands of U.S. flags and lined up the streets with its backers for a red carpet treatment of Clinton. The largest such effort took place in Gaza, where Clinton participated in a Palestinian National Council meeting that approved the formal removal from the PLO charter of a clause calling for a democratic, secular Palestinian state throughout the occupied territories and Israel. It was a concession Tel Aviv had demanded.

They distributed U.S. flags and we distributed lighters, said Ziyad Abbas, a Palestinian journalist in Bethlehem. We knew sooner or later people would need them.

Abbas helped organize a march of 1,500 in Bethlehem on December 15 from Dehashia camp, the main refugee camp in the city, to Bethlehem's Nativity Church, tracing the route Clinton's motorcade had followed during his visit there. Demonstrators carried brooms and swept the streets along the way. We wanted to show that the president of the imperialist government of the United States dirtied our land with his presence here, Abbas said. The protest received little coverage by the Palestinian media. The PNA's security forces tried to stop the march with no success. A few Palestinian policemen joined the demonstration, we were told.

A similar but smaller demonstration was held in Ramallah, prior to Clinton's departure, Birzeit students said. For the most part, however, the PNA's campaign of welcoming Clinton prevailed.

Hours after Clinton left, though, we heard that U.S. and British planes were bombing Iraq, Cafi said. More than 2,000 people poured into the streets of Ramallah December 16 to protest the bombings. Similar demonstrations erupted throughout the West Bank and Gaza. They continued for several days. Burning thousands of U.S. flags that the PNA had distributed over the previous week became a feature of these actions.

This time, Palestinian students, workers, and others demonstrating confronted not only Israeli troops but in several cities PNA police who tried to stop or limit the scope of the protests. The Palestinian Authority ordered a ban on the actions, as Abdel Aziz Shahid, PNA minister of supplies, confirmed in a February 6 interview in Gaza City. Shahid said he voted against the ban in the Palestinian cabinet.

The PNA had a hell of a time in trying to stop the demonstrations, Cafi said. Opposition to Clinton's war against our brothers in Iraq is deep. Many of us don't support the regime of Saddam Hussein. But it's Washington that's the aggressor, the main cause of grief for the Iraqi people.

Many students and others who maintain illusions that the U.S. government may be on the side of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination also took part in the protests. Saher Safi, for example, a student at Birzeit who comes from a wealthy family in Gaza, was among them. Clinton's visit may have something good for us, Sahi said. It was an implicit recognition of the right of Palestinians to have our own state. But the bombing of Iraq is another matter. I can't agree with that.

Discontent with Palestinian Authority

One student who asked that his name not be used said he was detained by Palestinian police after the December 17 protest in Ramallah and accused of being a collaborator because he told a foreign journalist at the protest he had the right to take photos despite orders to the contrary from Palestinian police. He was released after other students demanded his freedom. How can they accuse us of `collaborationism' when they are the ones bowing their heads to U.S. imperialism, he said.

Discontent with antidemocratic measures and practices of the Palestinian Authority, along with the realization that the PNA is going along to a large degree with Tel Aviv's efforts to use the peace accords to tie the hands of Palestinian fighters, has grown throughout the occupied territories under PNA control.

The Palestinian Authority is now often carrying out the Israelis' dirty job, said Sami Swalhe, a worker in Gaza City who travels to Israel for construction jobs, in a February 6 interview. Before the so-called peace process we had the intifada. We were relying on ourselves. Now we give the appearance to the world we beg the `international donors.' And even the meager funds we get don't mean much improvement in the lives of Palestinians here.

While this was not a universal opinion, it was certainly a widespread view among workers, farmers, and students interviewed by Militant reporters. Gaza City does not have as desolate an appearance as six years ago. A number of streets that were dirt roads in 1993 are now paved. A few people say the sewage system is slightly better. But the improvements are only on the surface, as unemployment hovers between 40 and 60 percent, farmers have a harder time to export produce because of denial of licenses by the Israeli regime, and fishermen are often detained by Israeli patrol boats at the sea.

What bothers many Palestinians the most are antidemocratic measures of the Palestinian Authority and new obstacles to pressing the struggle for self-determination institutionalized in the peace accords.

The Oslo accord was a bad agreement from the beginning, said Haidar Abdel-Shafi in a February 7 interview. He is the head of the Red Crescent in Gaza and was one of the main Palestinian negotiators in the initial talks with the Israeli regime in 1992-93. It relegated the issue of the settlements to the final stage, thus leaving the Israelis an open field to continued land confiscations, which has been one of their main strategies in support of their territorial claims. It left open the issue of the political prisoners. It gave us very little control of our land. I disassociated myself from it in 1993 and called on chairman Arafat to halt negotiations. He chose a different course.

The Wye agreement put in place new strictures tying the Palestinians' hands, Abdel-Shafi said. One of its main purposes was to increase restrictions under which Palestinians live to keep people docile. One reflection of this was a presidential decree issued by Arafat November 19 and dedicated to national unity and prevention of incitement. The decree forbids illegal organizations, as well as undermining the quality of life, agitating the masses to bring about change by illegal methods of force, incitement to civil strife, incitement to violate agreements made between the PLO and Arab and foreign countries.

Implementing this new law will be an Anti-Incitement Committee of Palestinian, Israeli, and U.S. government representatives. Many Palestinians also expressed dismay at the fact that the CIA is now involved in the training of Palestinian police. The November decree was issued to satisfy Israeli and U.S. demands that the PNA curtail terrorism and help Tel Aviv safeguard Israeli security.

The decree traces its legal references and precedents to, among others, the Palestinian penal code No. 74 for 1936 and its amendments. This refers to the Emergency Defense Regulations issued by the British Mandatory Authority to punish Palestinian resistance, when Palestine was a British colony. It was then adopted by the Israelis in 1948 for the same purpose, said Edward Said, now a professor at Columbia University in New York, who resigned from the Palestine National Council in 1991.

Abdel-Shafi, students at Birzeit, and many other Palestinians said arrests of opponents have become widespread by the PNA. Nearly 200 Palestinians are now being held in PNA jails under administrative detention, without charges or trial, as many as are held in Israeli jails. Abdel-Shafi is now on the board of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights that monitors not only abuses of Palestinians by the occupying forces but by the Palestinian Authority as well.

Bourgeoisification of PLO

These are manifestations of the increasing bourgeois character of the PLO leadership. This process began in the mid 1970s. In the following 15 years, a political toll was taken by the continued dispersion of the Palestinian people. The PLO built an apparatus throughout the Middle East and North Africa, hosted and financed by the capitalist regimes in those countries. The blows dealt to the PLO in Lebanon in the following years by the Israeli regime, the Syrian regime, and Lebanese bourgeois political forces had an additional disorienting and demoralizing impact on many in its leadership, turning their eyes away from the ranks of the Palestinian masses inside and outside Israel. The intifada, while drawing a new generation of youth into the struggle, did not forge a new leadership strong enough to replace the PLO apparatus. Those dominating the PNA today come from that apparatus, having returned from abroad.

Reliance on Washington has accelerated the bourgeoisification of the PLO leadership.

The American government has yet to acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence, said Abdel-Shafi. Their involvement here, the CIA included, is aimed at establishing peace on the terms of Israel. The Palestinian Authority is at best misleading the Palestinian people.

Abdel-Shafi was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1994. He resigned three years later when the executive branch refused to take any action against PNA ministers involved in misappropriation of government funds. Referring to this, PNA minister Shahid said in a rather unabashed way, Yes we have corruption within the Authority. But we are no worse than the other Arab regimes in the region.

Class differentiation is also growing among Palestinians. Among the most ardent supporters of the PNA and its course are Palestinian businessmen, a few of whom have returned to the PNA-controlled areas from abroad in the last half decade. At the Tayebeh brewery north of Jerusalem, for example, owner Nadim Khouri, who made money in the liquor store business in Boston in the 1980s, had high praise for Arafat and for Clinton's visit.

Ziyad Abbas and several other Palestinians, on the other hand, referred to officials in the Palestinian Authority and their beneficiaries as the Oslo class. While unemployment is at an all-time high and living conditions for most Palestinians continue to deteriorate, a number of PNA officers live in newly constructed villas in Gaza.

This contrasts sharply with the overcrowded housing for Palestinians, especially in refugee camps. Nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, about 1 million, live in 29 such camps - 21 in the West Bank and 8 in Gaza. These are Palestinians whose families were uprooted from what is today Israel when their villages were razed by the Zionist colonizers in 1948.

Under these conditions, support for Fatah and other organizations that have functioned in the PLO has been diminishing. Hamas, a bourgeois organization that advocates an Islamic state and has opposed the Oslo accords, has maintained a strong backing. Hamas attracts many youth and workers to its calls for an uncompromising struggle to end Israeli military rule. It is also opposed to a secular state where both Palestinians and Jews can live together. Today, Hamas backers have a plurality in all eight Palestinian universities in the occupied territories.

This is a temporary phenomenon, due to the ebb of the struggle, commented Mohammad Barakat.

`We won't give up'

Despite the setbacks of the last decade, however, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation remains unbroken. Most Palestinian working people are not cowed or crushed and continue to press their struggle for self-determination forward.

As Abdel Kharim Ahmed, the farmer in Salfit, put it, We are not going to give up.

The Palestinian Authority acts as if they'd like those of us with a revolutionary perspective in the struggle for a Palestinian state to stop or go away, said Jamal Cafi. But we are not going away.

Progress in the Palestinian struggle for self- determination will depend both on the ability of these fighters to forge a new leadership and revolutionary developments in other parts of the world, which will have a decisive impact on this process.