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Tanks Remain Outside Bethlehem

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  • ummyakoub
    Israelis pull out but leave trail of devastation: Anti-terrorist assault destroys Palestinian homes and crops By Chris McGreal in Beit Hanoun, Gaza The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2003
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      Israelis pull out but leave trail of devastation: Anti-terrorist
      assault destroys Palestinian homes and crops

      By Chris McGreal in Beit Hanoun, Gaza

      The Guardian
      1 July 2003

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,988618,00.html

      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
      reasons".

      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
      Gaza.

      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
      right away."

      There is little sign that the fruit and vegetable processing plant
      was next door ever existed. All that remains is a jumble of earth
      and concrete.

      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
      again.

      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
      settlement.

      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
      said.

      * 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
      Bethlehem
      Wednesday pursuant an agreement reached earlier this week between
      the Zionist
      regime and the Palestinian Authority.

      The Israeli occupation army reoccupied nearly all Palestinian
      population centers
      in the West Bank and much of the Gaza Strip last year in an effort to
      crush the
      Palestinian intifada or uprising against Israel's colonialist
      occupation of the
      Palestinian homeland.

      Zionist sources said "security responsibility" in Bethlehem would be
      handed over
      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
      Ariel
      Sharon and PA premier Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, held
      inconclusive
      talks in West (al-Qods) Jerusalem Tuesday night aimed at effecting
      further
      implementation of the American-backed peace plan, known as the
      roadmap.

      Sharon and Abbas agreed to form four joint committees that would
      tackle
      outstanding issues.

      Abbas demanded that Israel speed up withdrawal of Zionist occupation
      from
      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
      pleasantries
      and reiterated their commitment to peace.

      Both, however, avoided the major contentious issues impeding peace in
      the Middle
      East, including the question of al-Quds, the plight of Palestinian
      refugees, and
      Zionist withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

      Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic resistance group, criticized the
      meeting between
      Abbas and Sharon as "futile."

      Hamas spokesman Abdul Aziz al Rantisi said meetings as such benefited
      the
      Zionists more than the Palestinians.

      "Such meetings portray the Zionists in positive light while in
      reality they
      continue to deny our rights and refuse to withdraw from out occupied
      land."

      http://www.iap.org E-mails: iapinfo@...

      ----------------------------------------------------------------------
      --------------------------------------Dummy outposts

      Settlers quietly re-establish outposts after Israeli army dismantles
      them.

      By Jonathan Cook

      Al-Ahram Weekly
      26 June - 2 July 2003

      http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/644/re51.htm

      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
      territories.

      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
      around Jerusalem.

      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
      flats.

      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
      unrealisable.

      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
      in Israel.

      * 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
      tuition fees.

      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
      main highway.

      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
      hearts."


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