Tanks Remain Outside Bethlehem
- Israelis pull out but leave trail of devastation: Anti-terrorist
assault destroys Palestinian homes and crops
By Chris McGreal in Beit Hanoun, Gaza
1 July 2003
The last Israeli tanks moved out of Beit Hanoun yesterday, exposing
the worst destruction since the military assaults on Jenin and other
West Bank cities more than a year ago.
Palestinians who returned to the small Gaza town occupied by the
Israeli army for six weeks found that armoured bulldozers had
levelled dozens of homes and factories, torn up roads and uprooted
trees, up to the edge of the only public border crossing from Israel
into the Gaza strip.
"I don't know why they destroyed it," said Mohammed Bishara who
found his house flattened. "The Israelis say they had to do this
because Hamas was firing rockets from here but they weren't.
Everybody knows they were using the fields. Anyway, they destroyed
my house and it didn't stop the rockets so I think it means they
wanted to punish me for what Hamas does." The Israelis said they
went into Beit Hanoun to stop Hamas firing home-made rockets, known
as Qassams, into Israel. It suits both sides to portray the rockets
as fearsome but after more than 2,000 firings not one person has
been killed and most miss their target by a long way.
The army said much of the town had been destroyed for "security
Yesterday, the Israelis completed their pullout and began lifting
the checkpoints following the ceasefire declaration by Hamas, Fatah
and Islamic Jihad after nearly three years of intifada.
But the killing continued on the West Bank as the Al-Aqsa martyrs
brigades faction, which has not signed up to the ceasefire, shot a
Romanian working with an Israeli construction team. The shooting was
not seen as an immediate threat to the truce.
In Beit Hanoun, there was relief at the Israeli withdrawal, although
in Gaza the ceasefire is seen as a lull in the conflict.
As well as destroying homes, the Israelis ripped up 1,000 acres of
citrus trees that once made the town one of the more prosperous in
The farmers began replanting a few days ago as the deal for the
Israeli pullout was in the works, but it will take 10 years before
they bear fruit.
"It's nothing less than economic sabotage," said Abdel-Rhanan
al-Masri, Beit Hanoun's representative to the Palestinian
parliament. "We have lost three-quarters of our trees to the
bulldozers. Our industry is destroyed. We have no doubt why. It was
collective punishment - and in clearing our trees, the bulldozers
cleared the path for the Israeli citrus industry."
The destruction stops at the edge of a petrol station. Khader
Massoud worked as the attendant when the tanks rolled in. He came
back yesterday. "The tanks destroyed the forecourt right up to the
door and the front two pumps are shot up," he said. "But the other
two pumps are fine and we still had petrol so I started selling
There is little sign that the fruit and vegetable processing plant
was next door ever existed. All that remains is a jumble of earth
Mr Massoud has no time for the Israelis but he is also scornful of
Hamas. "People are very angry about the Qassam rockets because it
brings destruction to us. People want to live, to survive, to be
able to work. We don't want them to fire more rockets," he said.
Last month, a few dozen residents took to the streets to protest
against Hamas firing rockets. But there was only one protest. Some
Palestinians said people were too frightened of Hamas to do it
Netzarim junction, to the south of Beit Hanoun, became notorious
early in the intifada as the place where the Israeli army shot a
terrified 12-year-old boy, Muhammad Dura, as he clung to his father.
The road at Netzarim junction has been closed for 18 months, forcing
tens of thousands of people to make a 45-minute detour through Gaza
city for what should be a five-minute drive. This was in order to
"protect" 60 ideological fundamentalist Jewish families on a nearby
Yesterday, the road was reopened, although the Israeli army has only
pulled back 100 metres to a large concrete pillbox. Beside the road,
the Palestinian police erected a small green tent with a flag on a
pole and a portrait of Yasser Arafat at the entrance.
The Jewish settlers were not happy, among them Shlomit Ziv who moved
to Netzarim 10 years ago. "There have been numerous attacks on this
road - shootings, road bombs, bomb-laden carts and donkeys. And
after each attack the road is closed for a few months, then reopened
until the next attack," she said.
The Palestinians are well used to clearing up after Israeli
destruction. A lorry from the Palestinian energy authority
drew up next to some of the downed power lines. Mohammed Al Kafarna
was driving a mechanical shovel clearing the rubble. "It's the third
time I've cleared up Beit Hanoun. I don't think it's the last," he
* Israel yesterday cut its contacts with the BBC over what it termed
coverage akin to the worst "Nazi propaganda". Officials described as
"the last straw" a documentary on alleged nuclear and chemical arms
programmes that was shown abroad at the weekend. The BBC will no
longer be granted interviews with government officials but will be
allowed to attend government news conferences.
Occupation forces pull out of Bethlehem, keep tanks outside town
Occupied Jerusalem: 2 July, 2003 (IAP News)
Israeli occupation forces were due to leave the West Bank town of
Wednesday pursuant an agreement reached earlier this week between
regime and the Palestinian Authority.
The Israeli occupation army reoccupied nearly all Palestinian
in the West Bank and much of the Gaza Strip last year in an effort to
Palestinian intifada or uprising against Israel's colonialist
occupation of the
Zionist sources said "security responsibility" in Bethlehem would be
to the Palestinian Authority as of Wednesday.
In return, the PA reportedly undertook to prevent attacks from the
city and its
surrounding villages and refugee camps on nearby Jewish settlements.
The withdrawal from Hebron comes hours after Zionist Prime Minister
Sharon and PA premier Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, held
talks in West (al-Qods) Jerusalem Tuesday night aimed at effecting
implementation of the American-backed peace plan, known as the
Sharon and Abbas agreed to form four joint committees that would
Abbas demanded that Israel speed up withdrawal of Zionist occupation
Palestinian population centers.
However, Sharon reportedly gave no commitment to that effect.
Instead, the Zionist premier demanded that Abbas dismantle Palestinian
resistance groups, particularly Hamas.
Earlier, Abbas and Sharon gave speeches during which they exchanged
and reiterated their commitment to peace.
Both, however, avoided the major contentious issues impeding peace in
East, including the question of al-Quds, the plight of Palestinian
Zionist withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic resistance group, criticized the
Abbas and Sharon as "futile."
Hamas spokesman Abdul Aziz al Rantisi said meetings as such benefited
Zionists more than the Palestinians.
"Such meetings portray the Zionists in positive light while in
continue to deny our rights and refuse to withdraw from out occupied
http://www.iap.org E-mails: iapinfo@...
Settlers quietly re-establish outposts after Israeli army dismantles
By Jonathan Cook
26 June - 2 July 2003
More than 1,000 Israeli police officers and soldiers struggled all
day last week to remove an "illegal" outpost -- home to 10 settlers
-- on a hilltop south of the Palestinian city of Nablus.
Hundreds of other settlers, mainly Jewish religious extremists, came
to defend Mitzpe Yitzhar after a court order preventing the
dismantling of the site was finally lifted on Thursday. It was the
first inhabited settlement to be taken down.
It looked -- and was meant to look -- like a turning point in
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's relationship with the
decades-old settlement project in the occupied Palestinian
During his long political career, Sharon has been one of the chief
architects of "Greater Israel": the gradual and de facto annexation
of the West Bank and Gaza. In 1998, as Israel began ceding parcels
of land under the Oslo agreements, Sharon notoriously called on the
settlers to "grab hilltops".
There is little reason, however, to believe that Sharon is a new
convert to the downsizing of Israel.
Rather he has come under intense American pressure behind the scenes
to implement the meagre conditions required of him in the first
phase of Washington's roadmap to a Palestinian state: the freezing
of settlement growth and the removal of dozens of "illegal outposts"
established under his premiership. All settlements are illegal under
international law, which forbids an occupying power from
transferring its population into the occupied territory; the
outposts are illegal in Israeli law too.
The precise number of outposts created since March 2001 is unclear.
According to Peace Now, the figure stands at around 60; according to
some US officials, it may top 100. What is known is that earlier
this month the Israeli army handed the Yesha Council, the settlers'
governing body in the West Bank and Gaza, a list of 15 outposts that
were to be removed. All but four were uninhabited.
These sites are known -- even by the settlers -- as "dummy
outposts": small clusters of tents or dilapidated caravans that are
established as bargaining counters in the settlers' negotiations
with the government.
Their destruction can be traded for the licensing of inhabited
outposts, and the televised pictures of soldiers manhandling Jewish
youths elicit waves of sympathy for the settler movement from other
Israelis, most of whom ordinarily want the settlements evacuated.
But the biggest advantage to the settlers is that a sacrificed
outpost can be quietly re-established as soon as the army and
television cameras have left. The crackdowns, despite appearances,
are a win-win game for the settlers.
In fact, this is not the first time the government has appeared to
turn on the settlers. Last October the then Defence Minister
Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Labour Party leader at the time, began a
campaign to remove a dozen outposts. Most famously, he sent soldiers
to confront hundreds of "hilltop youths" at Havat Gilad, west of
Nablus, where they were greeted with curses and stone-throwing.
Although the Gilad outpost was dismantled, it was soon
re-established as were most of the other sites supposedly taken down
six months ago.
There is every sign that the same ritual is being played out again.
Yesha Council leader Benzi Lieberman even boasted to the Israeli
newspaper Ha'aretz at the weekend that 10 new outposts had secretly
been erected. He refused to reveal their locations but at least some
of the sites were revived "dismantled" outposts. For example, the
few tents and a shipping container that comprised Neve Tsuf, north
of Ramallah, which was removed on 15 June, were replaced a few days
later. The site was hastily set up earlier this month to mark the
spot where two Israeli women were injured during a shooting attack.
Progress on destroying the four inhabited sites listed by the
government was delayed by petitions lodged by the settlers that have
been treated with unusual indulgence by the courts. The opportunity
to dismantle Mitzpe Yitzhar came only when the courts dismissed the
petitions of the settlers living there.
The timing, however, was fortuitous: the settlers were evicted the
day before US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in the region
to visit Sharon and the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. In
fact, the army began dismantling the site on the morning of 19 June,
before the way had been fully cleared for it by the High Court. The
judges still had to rule on a petition by one settler who had been
missed in the original evacuation order. Nonetheless the army
pressed ahead, with the court duly dismissing the last petition
later that day.
The political coordination between the government, the settlers, the
army and the courts suggested that, far from being a real attempt to
begin evacuating settlements, the events of the last fortnight were
a charade making use of the outposts as a backdrop.
If Sharon was serious about implementing the limited provisions of
the roadmap, he could have dedicated his energies to the more
painful but productive task of evacuating the few thousand settlers
in the Gaza Strip, a concession that would have sent a hugely
reassuring message to Palestinians that the Israeli government was
taking a new direction.
It would also have vastly simplified the proposed transfer of power
in the Strip from the Israeli army to the Palestinian security
forces under Mohamed Dahlan.
Instead Sharon chose to rearrange the furniture on a few hilltops in
the West Bank, a territory in which some 400,000 Israeli settlers
are now firmly entrenched, many of them in small fortified cities
For those who doubt the deception, including some of the more
extremist -- and literalist -- settlers, Sharon offered more than a
hint of his true intentions. On Sunday he told a cabinet meeting
that Israel could carry on building settlements in the territories
"but should not celebrate the construction". The point, apparently,
is to ensure only that Israel does not rub the international
community's nose in this West Bank farce.
Asked whether the settlement of Ariel, home to nearly 20,000
Israelis, could be expanded, Sharon said it was possible --
apparently forgetting that such a move would violate the freeze on
settlement expansion he agreed to at the Aqaba summit on 4 June. In
fact, for anyone travelling through the West Bank, the orgy of
Israeli construction is only too evident. At Avne Hafez, for
example, an "authorised" settlement of some 1,000 Israelis close to
Tulkarm, there are cranes working everywhere on erecting blocks of
Intensive settlement building has been going on since the Oslo
accords were signed in 1993: over the last decade the settler
population has increased by some 60 per cent to 400,000, and the
population living outside illegally annexed east Jerusalem has
nearly doubled to 195,000.
The reason, says Dror Etkes of Peace Now, who monitors settlement
activity in the West Bank and Gaza, is that successive governments
of the left and right wanted to create facts on the ground that
would undermine the spirit of Oslo and make a Palestinian state
By dotting settlements and outposts around the main Palestinian
population centres, Israel has gained control of nearly half the
territory of the West Bank, including its vital water resources.
To encourage Israelis to move into the territories, the governments
of Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and now Sharon have offered huge
subsidies in almost every sphere of the settlers' lives.
One study last year by Zvi Ekstein, an economist at Tel Aviv
University, suggested that settlers received as much as 16 times the
government funding of ordinary Israelis. Most is hidden in the
annual budget but some of the money has been identified:
* A treasury report last November revealed that 160,000 settlers
enjoyed tax breaks worth some $30m in 2001, including tax rebates of
seven per cent for those in the West Bank and 10 per cent for those
in Gaza. In 2003, the tax breaks were costing $120m, according to
information released by Meretz MK Mussi Raz.
* At least $60m has been spent on bypass roads in the West Bank in
the past three years, with a similar amount budgeted for this year
alone. Over the last decade three times as much has been spent per
capita on paving roads in the occupied territories as has been spent
* The army pays more than $2m rent each year to settlements for
buildings used by soldiers to protect the sites. Many outposts also
hook themselves up to the electricity supplies of military bases,
leaving the army -- and Israeli taxpayers -- to foot the bill.
* Municipal budgets, according to a study last year by the Adva
think-tank in Tel Aviv, were on average 60 per cent higher for
settlements than they were for Jewish communities inside Israel over
the past decade. Publicly funded house construction was more than 60
per cent higher in the settlements than inside Israel.
* Raz's figures revealed that 40 per cent of the rural construction
budget went to the settlers, even though they are less than seven
per cent of the population.
* A B'Tselem report shows that government discounts mean the cost of
land in the occupied territories is between 50 and 70 per cent
cheaper than in Israel.
* Almost all settlers receive a 90 per cent discount on pre- school
These figures do not include the huge defence bill incurred by
Israel in guaranteeing the safety of the settlers, including the
colossal costs currently being incurred to divert the wall being
constructed around the West Bank to include as many of the more
established settlements as possible.
Meretz MK Ran HaCohen was at a Knesset committee meeting last June
where a Defence Ministry official, Yossi Vardi, admitted that there
were three times the number of soldiers guarding the settlements and
outposts as before the Intifada. At the same meeting the army
demanded an extra $250m for settlement protection.
The parasitic relationship between the settlers and the army was
highlighted this week when it was revealed that an infantry brigade
preparing to begin service in the Palestinian city of Hebron, to
protect a small enclave of 400 extremist settlers, had been
addressed by a local settler leader, Noam Arnon. The meeting was
apparently considered a normal part of the soldiers' induction and
only came to light because a soldier objected to political remarks
made by Arnon.
In fact, it is unclear whether the soldiers are in the West Bank and
Gaza to safeguard the settlers, or whether the settlers are in the
West Bank and Gaza to justify the presence of so many soldiers.
The one certainty is that both are tools of the government, used to
provide constant justifications for confiscating more land from
Palestinians: the expanding settlements and outposts eat up land
close to Palestinian towns and villages, and the army can then
declare closed military zones around the sites, on the grounds that
the settlers need protecting.
The extent of the deception currently being perpetrated by Sharon,
in destroying a few outposts while leaving the real problem
untouched, was highlighted by a tour of the hilltops south of
Bethlehem at the weekend led by Peace Now outpost hunter Dror Etkes.
He took a group of 30 left-wing Israelis to the Gush Etzion bloc of
settlements that form a barrier between Bethlehem and Hebron. They
stopped at Neve Daniel, a settlement established by Israel in 1982
that lies across the valley from the Palestinian village of
Al-Khader, to the southwest of Bethlehem. Several cranes there are
constructing yet more luxury villas to add to those already
inhabited by some 800 settlers.
About half a kilometre along the ridge is Neve Daniel North, an
"illegal" outpost set up a year ago as an "agricultural institute".
Then there were only two caravans and a water tower; now there are
about 10 caravans, four of them inhabited by families, guarded by a
military base which is supplying the caravans with electricity.
"This is how a new settlement is born," says Etkes. "As soon as
soldiers are attached to the site it is given a legitimacy by the
government, whether or not it is still officially illegal. It
becomes part of Israel's security needs. Within time it will become
a new neighbourhood of Neve Daniel."
As the Peace Now coach pulled into the road leading to the
settlement, it was greeted by a police van and two army jeeps.
Alongside them was a car driven by the head of the Gush Etzion
settlers council, Shaul Goldstein. Although the coach was not
stopped from entering the area, Etkes told his party: "The army and
the settlers know our every movement. They work together closely."
He says the expansion of the outposts, which has been gathering pace
in the last few years, is a reaction by the settlers to the Oslo
process. "The settlement expansion began in the mid-1990s and it's
been like an amoebae ever since, constantly growing."
The inhabitants of Neve Daniel now control swaths of land owned by
Palestinians from surrounding villages like Al- Khader and Nahalin.
After the army declared the surrounding area a closed military zone,
Palestinian farmers were unable to reach their land. Under Ottoman
law, if the land is uncultivated for three years it reverts to state
ownership (in this case, becoming Israeli).
One farmer, 32-year-old Daoud Nassar from Bethlehem, has been
struggling for a decade to keep hold of 400 dunums (100 acres) of
fields registered in the name of his father in 1924. His lands are
now encircled by the "authorised" settlements of Neve Daniel,
Elazar, Allon Shevut and Rosh Zurim, as well as their "illegal"
outgrowths -- Derech Haavot, Givat Hahish and Beerot Yitzhak.
Despite having ownership papers from the Ottomans, British,
Jordanian and Israeli authorities, he has been fighting a legal
battle through the Israeli courts since 1991 when the army declared
the area state land.
Like his neighbours his lands were confiscated, in his case after
the military courts ruled in January 2000, following a series of
postponements, that he could not prove his ownership claim. He is
currently appealing to the High Court, which has temporarily halted
attempts by Neve Daniel to build access roads through his land.
But, according to Peace Now, the settlers will probably find a way
to circumvent the law. Etkes says he responded to an official advert
placed by the Gush Etzion council a fortnight ago asking for
applications from "pioneer families". Without revealing his
identity, he called the number on the leaflet and discovered that
settler families were being recruited to set up an outpost on land
close to Nassar's fields.
"Once the families are recruited, a road will have to be built
through Daoud's land and an army base established to protect it. He
will lose his land to the settlers."
Similar land thefts are taking place -- at an even more official
level -- a short distance away close to two settlements southeast of
Bethlehem: Tekoa and Noqedim. The latter is home to Avigdor
Lieberman, leader of the avowedly racist National Union-Yisrael
Beiteinu Party and a cabinet minister.
Last summer some 4,000 Palestinian villagers at Zatara discovered
that a giant bypass road had been approved through their lands to
connect the two settlements to Har Homa, a recently completed "city
settlement" close to Jerusalem.
The need for the project, which is costing at least $15m, is based
on a "combination of land and security considerations", according to
the Defence Ministry. Officials also say it will enable the
residents of Gush Etzion to reach Jerusalem more safely because they
can avoid using roads that run through local Palestinian villages.
What the ministry fails to mention is that there have been no
incidents of violence in the area during the Intifada.
With the new eight-kilometre road in place, the villagers will lose
hundreds of acres of land to the project, as well as more land that
they cannot reach because it will be declared a military zone. If
previous precedents are followed, Palestinians will also be banned
from using their own roads in the area, many of which will cross the
Taha Donun, whose home lies on the very edge of the building site
where bulldozers are levelling the land for the road, said he and
his brothers had already had 100 dunums confiscated by the army. His
cousin's house had been demolished.
Etkes said: "The road is pure incitement. It has no other purpose
other than to steal land and instill yet more hatred in Palestinian
NEWS AND VIEWS DISTRIBUTED HERE ARE THE AUTHOR'S RESPONSIBILITY
AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE OPINION OF WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW
Yahoo ads are not under WVNS control.