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2/2/02 How the occupation looks from the Palestinian side
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Click here: Holger JensenHow the occupation looks from the Palestinian side
By Holger Jensen
News International Editor
BEIT JALA, West Bank — Dressed in black, Suzanne Thaljieh is still mourning the son she lost to an Israeli sniper three months ago.
His picture hangs in a locket around her neck and graces the walls of many buildings in this Arab village adjoining Bethlehem. For Johnny Yousef George Thaljieh is now famous as the “Martyr of the Nativity Church.”
He was not a suicide bomber or even a stone thrower, just a 17-year-old kid who belonged to the small Palestinian Christian minority that is often forgotten in what is seen as a war between Muslims and Jews.
There was some shooting that day in late October, as there often is between Beit Jala and the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, but none near the Nativity Church. Nothing to make the Israeli sniper think Johnny was in any way a threat. He had just been to church and was playing with his four-year-old cousin in Manger Square when the bullet entered his heart.
“As a Christian I can forgive the Israelis,” says Suzanne, “but as a mother I can never coexist with the people who killed my son.”
The Israeli version of Johnny's death is that he was "hit by a stray bullet." They don't even admit to firing it. There never was an investigation of the shooting and no Israeli official ever contacted the Thaljieh family to express regret.
Palestinians say it happens all the time; soldiers take potshots at unarmed Palestinian kids either for the fun of it, or because they're bored and looking for a convenient target, or because they view them as a threat. This troubles many Israelis and some of the soldiers themselves.
Fifty army reservists recently signed a petition refusing to serve in the occupied territories because they did not like the actions of some of their comrades in arms. "We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line," it said, "for the purpose of occupying, deporting, destroying, blockading, killing and starving an entire people."
And what does Mrs. Thaljieh think of the young woman from Ramallah who became a human bomb, killing an elderly Israeli and wounding more than 100 other innocents on Jaffa Road?
“She had the courage to do what many would like to do,” said Suzanne. “It was an act borne of despair. When will the Israelis understand that the more desperate they make us the more they suffer too?”
Not far away, Israeli cars speed along a Jewish bypass road that tunnels under chunks of Palestinian land and takes them safely around hostile Arab communities to the settlements of Gush Etzion. Only two days ago we traveled that road to get the settler side of the story. Now we are on the Palestinian side and it is a different story.
Bethlehem and Beit Jala are under siege, ringed by Israeli military checkpoints and armored vehicles that prevent many Palestinians from traveling between their communities to schools, jobs or hospitals. One cannot visit the birthplace of Christ without the approval of gun-toting Israeli soldiers.
Tourism, a mainstay of Bethlehem’s economy, is as dead as the shell-scarred Paradise Hotel.
More than 1,400 homes in Beit Jala have been damaged since the intifada began in September 2000. The last time Israeli tanks invaded in October they came to quell gunfire directed at Gilo but left many innocent victims — dead, homeless or jobless. One of 12 “martyrs” whose pictures are plastered around the village was a mother of two shot while buying milk for her children.
Issa Shatleh, an accountant, shows us what’s left of his house. The top three floors are uninhabitable, peppered by .50-caliber machine gun fire and the gaping holes of tank shells. Bullets and shell fragments are embedded in the walls.
Issa’s elderly father had a heart attack during the shelling and is still in hospital. The only undamaged room in the house sleeps 13.
His brother, Walid, is a teacher and scoutmaster. He used to interact a lot with Israelis, even attended a camp in Germany with a mixed group of Jewish and Palestinian scouts. Now he won’t have anything to do with them. He is angry, scared and wants to emigrate.
“You Americans are always worried about Israel’s security, but what about our security?” he asks. “I’m a teacher, not a terrorist. Who is protecting me from Israeli aggression?”
Prof. Jad Isaac of the Applied Research Institute ? Jerusalem (ARIJ), which is actually located in Bethlehem, says the only way to protect the Palestinian populace is with international observers. And the only way to protect Israel from Palestinian terrorists is to end its occupation of Palestinian land and pull out its settlers.
“The only reason Israel objects to ‘internationalizing’ the conflict,” he said, “is that it does not want the rest of the world to see how it robs us of out land, our water and our dignity. What we have here is far worse than apartheid South Africa. It is colonization under the guise of security.
“And it’s being done with the help of your American tax dollars. If you didn’t give Israel your weapons, your aid and your vetoes in the U.N. Security Council, Israel would never be able to get away with it.”
International observers have been recommended by numerous foreign envoys and formally requested three times by the Palestinians before the U.N. Security Council. But they have never been accepted by Israel because it believes the United Nations is biased in favor of the Palestinians. Washington supports Israel's contention that observers can only be deployed with the agreement of both sides.
ARIJ is a statistical and map-making institute, the closest think the Palestinians have to a think tank, funded by European donations. It uses satellite imagery to create maps that show that although Israel has ceded a percentage of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian rule, it has actually taken over the occupied territories and the bulk of their resources.
Since its 1967 victory in the Six-Day War, Israel has either confiscated or declared as “closed areas” more than 55 percent of the West Bank and 25 percent of the Gaza Strip. It has also diverted West Bank water to Israeli cities, leaving the Palestinians only 15 percent of that resource.
Eighteen Jewish settlements have been built in Gaza and more than 200 in the West Bank, housing at last count 209,000 settlers. The settler population has nearly doubled since the Oslo peace process began in 1993, fueling Palestinian fears that Israel never intended to relinquish any of them.
Jewish neighborhoods also have sprung up all over annexed East Jerusalem, changing the demographics of what used to be the Arab Quarter. They contain another 200,000 Jews whom Isaac regards as “colonists.”
From Bethlehem, one can clearly see Har Homa, a controversial Jewish housing development built on an Arab hilltop. It was designed to expand the boundaries of Greater Jerusalem and consolidate Israel’s hold on the Holy City. But it stands empty except for the army troops stationed there.
Few Israelis want to buy homes within gunshot range of resentful Arabs.
The settlements and housing developments on the outskirts of Jerusalem are connected by an intricate network of bypass roads that now cover 1.5 percent of the total land area of the West Bank. More than 200 miles of roadwork, costing $3.2 billion, has been completed since the Oslo accords were signed.
“A settler can drive the length and breadth of the West Bank without seeing a Palestinian,” said Isaac, “while we remain locked up in our cages.”
The “cages” he refers to are 64 cantons where the Palestinians theoretically have self-rule. But they are isolated from each other and completely under Israel’s military control. Each is encircled by settlements, “closed areas,” bypass roads, checkpoints, roadblocks and army patrols.
Israel says these are security measures are needed to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. The Palestinians call it "collective punishment."
And what of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s offer to give the Palestinians a state of their own if they would only stop attacking Israelis? A look at ARIJ’s maps show he’s not offering much.
The West Bank is divided into Areas A, B and C. Area A, under total Palestinian control, only constitutes 18.2 percent. Area B, under civilian Palestinian administration but Israeli military control, has 21.8 percent and C, under full Israeli control and closed to all Palestinians who do not live there, covers 60 percent
“The cumulative area of the 64 cantons covers about 40 percent of the West Bank,” said Isaac. “If Sharon has his way, this area will correspond closely with that of any Palestinian ‘state’ recognized by Israel in the indefinite future. Such an arrangement would, in fact, eliminate the possibility of a viable state and leave the Palestinians permanently submissive to Israel.
“The Palestinian enclaves would be completely surrounded by Israel and movement between these areas dependent upon Israeli approval. Furthermore, what Sharon calls the western and eastern ‘security areas’, along with the hill aquifer, are the most fertile parts of the West Bank and the richest sources of water. That would leave the Palestinians with no basis for economic development.”
So what’s the solution?
“Israelis must realize the occupation is unsustainable and get out,” said Isaac. “What Israel needs is a Charles de Gaulle, someone who can see our side of the story and give us justice. Regrettably, Israel is security-centric. It’s all about their security, their blood.
“Our suffering, and their suffering, will continue until they realize they have brought it on themselves.”
Why not try peaceful means to press your case? Why resort to terrorism, which has strengthened the U.S.-Israeli alliance, cost Yasser Arafat valuable European support and increased pressure on him from Arab regimes anxious not to be caught on the wrong side of President Bush’s war on terrorism?
“We have tried peaceful means and all it has done is encourage the Israelis to steal more land,” said Isaac. “I myself have spent six months in administrative detention for peaceful protest. As for Arafat, he may be under the guns of the Israelis but this has given him more Palestinian support than ever before.
“His humiliation is our humiliation. That’s another mistake the Israelis have made.”
Brian Wood, a 27-year-old “peacenik” from Denver, has been trying to convince local Palestinians to switch to non-violence but admits it is hard to do so. “They equate passive resistance with passive acceptance of the occupation, which they can’t bring themselves to do,” he said. “I’m trying to teach them it’s really active resistance, but by peaceful means.”
Wood first came to Israel to visit Jewish friends. He even lived in a settlement for a while. But he quickly noticed the disparity between living conditions in the settlements and nearby Arab communities.
“Here I was swimming in a pool while the Palestinians didn’t even have running water,” he said. “Once you get away from the pro-Israel bias of the American media, it’s quite easy to see who’s being treated fairly and who’s not.”
Wood is engaged to Nisreen, a Palestinian girl whose father was killed in the first intifada in 1988. He has long hair, wears sandals and is frequently told by Arab friends that he looks like Jesus.
It is quite unsettling to drive around Bethlehem with someone who looks like Jesus.
Copyright 2000 Holger Jensen.
These columns may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Holger Jensen.
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