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The Government of Australia pretty much tows the Israeli Government line that Israel has no partner for peace because of the alleged Palestinian refusal to refrain from violence/terrorism. The notion that Palestinian violence/terrorism might stop if Israel stopped oppressing Palestinians is not seriously considered. Maybe if more members of the Australian Government (and people) understood the facts on the ground, this attitude might change.

A case in point is that of house demolitions. Although the Israeli military has reinstated the practice of demolishing the homes of terrorism suspects and their relatives (against International Law), the vast majority of demolitions have nothing to do with acts of violence from Palestinians. These demolitions are a result of the planning and zoning policies of the Israeli Military, who govern the West Bank. There have been nearly 25,000 house demolitions in the West Bank since 1967 and over 90% of them have nothing to do with punitive measures against terrorism. All house demolitions in the West Bank by the Israeli Military are just as illegal under International Law (4th Geneva Convention) as the Israeli settlements that Israel is so determined to build.

These zoning and planning policies are chiefly devised to facilitate the construction of Israeli settlements and the accompanying infrastructure. As the Mayor of Bruqin told us, “They (the settlers) get houses and settlements, we (the Palestinians) get demolitions!”. Allowances made in the policies for the expansion and development of Palestinian housing and infrastructure are grossly inadequate. Nearly 70% of the West Bank is designated area C, for Israeli settlements and areas that come under full Israeli control. Palestinian homes and structures in area C are extremely vulnerable to demolition orders and building permits are virtually impossible to get even if the building is to be done on land that a Palestinian can prove is their own.

Obtaining a building permit is extremely expensive and statistics show that there is a 97% rejection rate of building permits in the West Bank. To even get the proper documentation together, which includes a very expensive land survey, for the application, can cost tens of thousands of shekels. Sometimes the cost of the application is more than the cost of the construction of the structure itself. These factors combined leave Palestinians with little choice but to build without a proper permit, hence leaving themselves open to demolition orders.

Another problem seems to be that the exact location for area C seems to be very hard to assertain. Area A, under full Palestinian control (in theory anyway), is for the highly concentrated areas of Palestinian population, like the towns of Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah, Qalqiliya and so on. Area B is for slightly less built up areas with area C taking up all the rest of the space. The only contiguous zone is that of area C. Area A and B comprise some 227 enclaves of Palestinian population “swimming” in an ocean of Area C. Yet we have been shown a hospital and main road right down the centre of Tulkarm which is designated area C.

Structures most vulnerable to demolition orders are those closest to the separation barrier, Israeli settlements, settlement roads and military zones. But this is not always the case. We discovered this when we went to the village of Hajja last week after hearing that six new demolition orders had been given by the Israeli Military. Amongst the buildings set to be destroyed was a furniture factory in the middle of the village which employs 45 people and a banquet hall. As well as this, there included a number of beautiful houses all of which were not within 10 kilometres of any type of Israeli settlement or settlement infrastructure. The logic seems hard to follow.

Wedding Venue under demolition order in Hajah (2)

Banquet Hall in Hajja, soon to be demolished.

Factory under demolition order in Hajah (3)

Furniture factory in the middle of Hajja, also soon to be demolished.

According to sources that I have been talking to over the last few weeks, it is virtually impossible to stop the demolition of a structure once it is ordered. Generally the best that can be done is to delay the demolition. It must be remembered that the cost of the demolition falls on the people whose structure is demolished. The only way to avoid this cost is, for the people owning the structure, to do the demolition themselves. We know of a case, in the village of Farun, where a man had been slowly building his dream home for his family for some 20 years. He started building the home before the separation barrier was even started and on the day that he finished building his house and was ready to move in, the house was demolished by the Israeli Military because it was too close to the barrier. I have seen many Palestinian houses closer to the barrier than the one in Farun that have no demolition order on them.

Since our EA team has been in the West Bank (5 weeks), there has been 84 structure demolitions displacing some 247 persons, according to OCHA’s protected persons weekly reports. With the housing situation already in crises due to land confiscation, poor planning and zoning policies and the desperate state of the Palestinian economy, these people are left in a desperate situation to say the least.

A recent increase in the number of house demolitions in East Jerusalem, along with threats by right wing settler groups to blow up the Al Asqa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and added to that the deaths of 6 Palestinians and injuries to nearly 600 others ( all in the last 5 weeks), all add up to a massive level of incitement by the Israeli Government that goes largely unreported in the western media.

Ordinary Palestinians keep asking me how it is that any country can take Israeli Government statements about the Israeli desire for peace seriously, when they continue to maintain this “status quo” of violence, land theft and dispossession. I struggle to give them an answer that makes any sense.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

The Real Obstacles to Peace.

During the negotiations of every part of the peace process in the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel has continued to increase the number of settlers and settlements in the West Bank of Palestine. They have continued to confiscate land never allotted to them by the United Nations and have continued to build Israeli only highways on Palestinian land, doing everything they can to make life difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian people have been forced to live with the indignity of a brutal and illegal military occupation of their lands. Israel has demolished over 25,000 Palestinian homes and have continued to deny the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. During this time Israel has killed thousands of Palestinians (many of them children), far more than the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians.

All this has only provoked the Palestinians to further resistance, as could be predicted by any sane person. A peace process in continual paralysis has definitely suited the cause of Israeli dispossession of Palestinian Arabs. Stalled negotiations have definitely not helped the Palestinian cause. So why is it that we believe that the Palestinians are the ones who have been the real party putting up obstacles to peace when it has clearly not been in their favour to do so? The answer is simply that this is the Zionist spin that is forced, uncritically, down our throats by the western media.

Israel has always benefited by stalled negotiations and intransigence towards finding peace. The Zionists have never wanted REAL peace. They have only wanted a cessation of fighting on their terms completely. They have been empowered to do so by the west because it is Israel (not the dispossessed Arabs) who have pledged to support western economic and strategic interests in the region. The Zionist state has wanted peace without justice and this is the real reason why the conflict continues to this day.

Christians are called to be  not just peace lovers, but to be peace makers. They have been entrusted with the Gospel of reconciliation. Reconciliation can only start when previous wrongs have been acknowledged. While the Zionists do not take responsibility for the crucial role they have played in Palestinian dispossession, while they continue to deny the overwhelming evidence of the crime of ethnic cleansing that was perpetrated in their name in 1948, while they continue to peddle the odious lie that Palestine was “a land with no people for a people with no land”, peace will be illusive. But at this stage, that is fine with them. They are happy in their illusion of denial. That’s just the way denial goes.

The Zionist state seems happy to keep provoking the Palestinians by claiming entitlement to the land of Palestine over and above all logic and reason. While Israel claims that Jewish migration to Israel (even if it occurred yesterday) has an innate legitimacy while indigenous Arabs  have no rights to ownership of their land in the same way that Jewish newcomers do, we will see continued hostility in the Middle East.

How have we let such an appalling situation develop? How is it that we have come to accept as normal and reasonable the idea that a Jewish person can migrate to Israel tomorrow with full rights and legitimacy to a state of his/her own, when an Arab Palestinian whose family has lived there for hundreds of years, or even a Palestinian who has only lived there for 10 years, can not do the same, and that any protest to this absurd notion is met with cries of racism and anti-Semitism?

The fight against anti-Semitism starts with a fight against all racism. It does not start with the idea of unconditional support of  Israel.

The Zionist state has no innate title to any of the land of Palestine. If it does not dignify all who live there regardless of whether they are Jewish or not, it will continue to grow in its status as a rogue nation.  Israel is an apartheid state by the decrees of Zionism, not by the decrees of God. Dignity means equality. Dignity means Arabs owning the state of Israel in a manner identical to the way that it is owned by Jewish people. Nothing else is acceptable to God or international law.

Craig Nielsen

ACTION FOR PALESTINE

No Peace Without Justice.

The savage killing of a Jewish family by a Palestinian Arab in the Israeli settlement of Itamar in the West Bank, evoked feelings of disgust, anger and sorrow in all who care about justice. This was not the first time that deadly attacks on settlers have occurred in this settlement.

What has not been reported is the massive crackdown that has been inflicted on West Bank Arabs by Israeli forces since the attack. The Israeli military raided homes and arrested around 300 people (did they really have 300 suspects for the attack?) as well as many instances of Israeli settlers taking revenge on innocent Palestinians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (which means all of them at every time according to the doctrines of religious Zionists be they Christian or Jewish). Nor is the fact that Palestinian deaths at the hands of the I.D.F. and Israeli settlers (of whom the Palestinian Authority has no power over) occur on a regular basis in the West Bank and greatly outnumber the amount of Israelis who are killed by Palestinians. The Israeli Government has responded to recent attempts to be more reasonable in peace negotiations with the Palestinians by saying that they are “in no mood to talk of peace while they are burying their dead”. Palestinians, however, are expected to comply with any demand with regards to the peace process regardless of the fact that they are continually burying their dead, or be labeled as obstructionist.

On February 25th 1994, (the day celebrating the feast of Purim that year) Baruch Goldstien entered the Cave of the Patriarchs where Muslims were gathered in prayer. He proceeded to murder 29 of them and wounded a further 125. Purim has long been a day of celebration whereby extremist Zionists in the West Bank in particular feel they are entitled to vent their hatred of Arabs.The Israeli Government totally condemned the act but the extremist settler community still hail Goldstien as a hero. Goldstien was killed by Muslim worshipers who grappled with him, disarmed him and beat him to death. At Goldstien’s funeral, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin celebrated the achievements of the slain gunmen saying that “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” In the rioting that followed, 25 more Palestinians and 5 Israelis lost their lives.

Such is the brutal legacy of the violence and hatred that is the reality of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I wonder if we can really be surprised by this legacy given the nature of these settlements. The burning sense of injustice felt by Palestinians who have, for 4 decades, watched while their homelands have been taken from them is met head on by the almost insane zeal of extremist settlers whose sense of entitlement to the land outweighs all other considerations. The settlements show in stark detail the reality of the consequences of colonialism however it is justified in the minds of those who consider that they have an entitlement to that which does not belong to them. I challenge anyone to read the websites of the extremist settlers in the West Bank and see if they are any different in their insanity and violence to even the most militant Islamist group.

Recently the U.S. had another chance to put pressure on the Israelis to end settlement construction in the West Bank, but once again they failed to act. How can the Palestinians feel anything but betrayal and abandonment by the West when the worlds only superpower will not move a finger to help them against Israel whom has violated some 69 U.N. resolutions while at the same time the U.S. attacks Arab countries that have broken only one decree of the United Nations?

We need to seriously ask our leaders to explain what kind of just solution to the Israel-Palestine they would be willing to submit to if they were the Palestinians. Or maybe we need to give up on our leaders and mobilize ourselves to bring justice and peace to the Middle East. The provocative nature of the settlements will not ease or disappear. Even Ronald Reagan recognised that they were an impediment to the peace process. The U.S. can not have it both ways. They can not continue to veto U.N. resolutions declaring settlement construction to be illegal and still pretend that they disapprove of that same provocative activity.

The legacy of hatred, violence and injustice that has been the inevitable consequence of Israeli expansionism in territories never allotted to them by God or the international community can only end when our desire for justice for all people outweighs all other considerations.

Craig Nielsen
ACTION FOR PALESTINE