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The Methodist Conference notes the call of the World Council of Churches in 2009 for an international boycott of settlement produce and services and the support given for such a boycott by Christian leaders in Palestine in the “Kairos” document, Palestinian civil society and a growing number of Jewish organisations both inside Israel and worldwide and calls on the Methodist people to support and engage with this boycott of Israeli goods emanating from illegal settlements. (Pages 2-3) [Emphasis added]
The Methodist Conference directs the Methodist Council and the Connexional Team, as a matter of urgency, to consider and develop further ways in which the Methodist Church of Great Britain and its people, in conjunction with both ecumenical, inter-faith and other interested groups, can work for an end to the Occupation, an end to the
blockade of Gaza, adherence to international law by all sides and a just peace for all in the region. (Page 3)
1. Occupation has made life intolerable for many.
2. Public awareness of what is actually happening
Palestine is largely lacking
3. A more robust theological analysis is required.
4. The report identifies ways in which individual members and
the Connexion as a whole might take appropriate action.
The Separation Barrier
'For Jabotinsky the Iron Wall was a metaphor. In the crude hands of Sharon and his colleagues this metaphor is being metamorphosed into a monstrous physical reality' (The war of the Israeli historians, by Avi Shlaim, p.9)
Epitomising the increasingly desperate plight of the Palestinian people and the Israeli obsession with security, this barrier, begun in 2002, will, on completion, cover a distance of 702 km - 4 times as long and twice as high as the Berlin Wall. It is described in a recent UNOCHA report as consisting of 'fences, ditches, razor wire, groomed sand paths, an electronic monitoring system, patrol roads and a buffer zone.' Around 45 km of the constructed barrier consists of a 8-9 metre high concrete wall particularly in urban areas. Far from following the Armistice (UN Green) Line it bites deep into Palestinian territory sometimes by several kilometres.
It not only separates Israelis from Palestinians, but Palestinians from family members and friends. In rural areas it effectively cuts them off from their olive trees and fruit/vegetable plantations. With the construction of the barrier, GOI has declared the land in between the route of the barrier itself and the Green Line a “closed area” for an indefinite period of time by the Israeli military. This 'seam zone' accounts for roughly 8.5% of the territory of the West Bank. About 50,000 Palestinians in 38 villages and towns will find themselves in the seam zone once the barrier is completed. Furthermore, approximately half a million Palestinians live within 1km of the barrier on its eastern side and many of these people have been negatively affected by a structure that cuts through properties, economic networks, service access routes and neighbourhoods.
Palestinians who find themselves residents of the seam zone are required to apply for a permit (permanent resident ID) from the Civil Administration in order to remain in their homes and gain access to their property. Even if Palestinians have the required permit the barrier acts as a significant physical hindrance to movement, because passage is only available via gates operated by the IDF often on a temporary, ad hoc basis. In a recent UNOCHA report it was estimated that more than 50% of communities surveyed no longer had direct, regular access to their land and that roughly 60% of families owning land in the seam zone area of the northern West Bank could no longer access it because they were refused permits by the GOI. These findings were re-enforced by another recent study funded by the New Israel Fund and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv and conducted by the Israeli organization Bimkom which stated, 'the route of the Separation Barrier … totally ignores the daily needs of the Palestinian population and is focussed almost exclusively on the desire to maintain the fabric of life of Israeli settlers'. It also states that it is causing serious damage to residents' healthcare needs and undermining social and family life.
On 9th July 2004 the International Court of Justice declared the separation barrier illegal and called on Israel (the Occupying Power) to 'cease construction, dismantle constructed parts and provide reparation to those materially damaged by the construction. (Pages 35-36)
Collective Punishment and Administrative Detention
Two other aspects of the Occupation also form a vital part of what ICAHD's Jeff Halper calls 'the matrix of control'. Collective punishment is the disproportionate response to acts of violence in which whole families or
communities are singled out to be “punished”. An outstanding example of this was the Israeli bombardment of Gaza at the end of 2008 and the continued blockade.
Administrative detention is the practice by which the state can
detain civilians without charge or trial, such detention being by administrative order (usually by the Israeli military), rather than by judicial decree. As at February 2009 Israel was holding more than 560 Palestinians in administrative detention facilities run by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS)93. Many of those detained are young people who can be held up to six months or longer and the order can be arbitrarily extended without limit. Some have been kept for years, often without knowing what crime they are charged with.
Torture and extreme harassment frequently occurs during these periods of detention. Although International Law authorizes the practice of administrative detention under rigid rules for state security reasons, it should be noted that Israel has never defined the criteria for what constitutes 'state security'. The practice has come under severe criticism by Amnesty International, who believe that it breaches Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which makes clear that 'no-one should be subjected to arbitrary detention; deprivation of liberty must be based on grounds and procedures established by law.'
In total, many thousands of Palestinians are currently detained
by Israel. The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B'tselem, reported that in November 2009, 296 children below the age of 18 were detained. After the elections of 2006, a total of 47 Palestinian Parliamentarians were detained including the Speaker of the Parliament, Aziz Dweik95. Mr Dweik, who was in bad health, was only released in 2009. (Pages 37-38)
The situation in Gaza
Despite the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, the territory's borders, airspace, coastline, access to imports, electromagnetic sphere and population registry remain under the control of Israel and thus, according to bodies such as the Red Cross, the territory remains under Occupation. In addition, whilst around 8000 settlers were withdrawn from Gaza, in the following year a total of 12,000 Israelis settled in the Occupied West Bank.
In 2006, the Islamic resistance movement of Hamas were the clear winners in the Palestinian elections. Fatah, the party that had been led by Yasser Arafat and which had for many years been dominant in Palestinian politics, was beaten into second place. Consequently, power within the Palestinian Authority was transferred to Hamas and its new Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Despite the certification by international observers that the election result was free and fair, it was not, however, accepted by Israel or other key powers such as the United States and European Union. Due to the leadership of Hamas in Government, these powers imposed severe financial and other sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. Amongst these were the freezing of tax revenues that under a 1994 agreement, Israel had collected on behalf of the Palestinians. Their key objections to Hamas' presence in Government were that it had not unambiguously accepted Israel's right to exist, it had not accepted previous agreements with Israel and it refused to finally and completely renounce violence.
In February 2007, the leaderships of Fatah and Hamas met in the city of Mecca to agree a coalition or unity Government. The hope was that with both main parties in power together, and with Fatah's repeated acceptance of the US, EU and Israeli conditions, the sanctions would be lifted. However, behind the scenes, and with the sanctions still causing desperate poverty in both the West Bank and Gaza, huge tensions were building between Fatah and Hamas.
In June 2007, these tensions resulted in violent conflict in Gaza and the de facto takeover of the territory by Hamas. The West Bank was then taken over by Fatah.
Following this takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the Israeli Government imposed severe restrictions on the access of a wide variety of goods and services as well as people to and from the territory. The Methodist Conference of 2008 noted a report by 8 aid and human rights agencies which described conditions in Gaza as a “humanitarian implosion”. At that time, 80% of families in Gaza relied on humanitarian aid compared to 63% in 2006.
The blockade was reported to be destroying public service infrastructure in Gaza, hospitals were experiencing power cuts of 8-12 hours per day, emergency medical treatment for residents of Gaza within Israel was being denied and 30-40 million litres of sewage was being discharged every day into the sea due to the lack of fuel to pump or treat human waste. Furthermore, family members within Gaza have effectively been separated from relatives living in the West Bank and elsewhere. Justice Richard Goldstone has stated in his recent report to the United Nations, his view that Israel retains its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to ensure Gaza is adequately supplied with humanitarian resources.
Since that time, the conflict between Israel and Hamas not only resulted, according to Justice Goldstone, in around 1400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths, but also widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza. Justice Goldstone, reports, for example, the “deliberate and systematic” targeting of “industrial sites and water installations”, as well as “extensive destruction of houses and private property”.
A year after the start of the Gaza war, a group of agencies including Amnesty International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International, reported that the blockade is still preventing Gaza from rebuilding. Only 41 truckloads of construction materials had, for example, been allowed to enter since January 2009, whereas the task of rebuilding will require thousands of such truckloads. In addition the siege is being tightened further on the Egypt/Gaza border, by the construction of a metal wall designed to prevent smuggling of goods via cross border tunnels. (Pages 39-41)
The plight of Palestinian Israelis
Whilst much has been said aboutthe situation faced by Palestinians living within the Occupied Territories, it is important not to neglect the challenges faced by Palestinians living within Israel. The definition of Israel as a “Jewish state” has profound implications for the rights of the 1.4 million members of the Arab minority, those Palestinians and their descendents who remained within Israel after its foundation. Thus, for example, the law of the right of return to Israel applies preferentially to Jews, no matter where in the world they were born. Arabs who may have been born within the current recognised boundaries of Israel are not accorded this right. There are large disparities in the provision of public funds between Jewish and Arab communities, and this has affected the level of service in areas such as education, roads and housing. Discrimination in employment is commonplace. Currently, despite being 20% of the population, only 3.5% of Israeli land is in Arab-Palestinian ownership. Many Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert are “unrecognised” and so remain unconnected to municipal services such as water, and are frequently demolished. The official Israeli Or Commission Report, released in 2003, provides details of some of the discrimination faced by Israeli Arabs.
Since the election of the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2009, the political agenda towards Israel's Palestinian citizens has worsened and additional discriminatory measures have been proposed.
(i) A bill to prohibit public funding of institutions commemorating the Nakba or “catastrophe”. Whilst the foundation of the state of Israel is a cause of celebration to many Jews, it is a time of mourning for Arabs as they remember their compatriots who were forced to leave their homes in 1948. Earlier drafts of the bill were even more extensive.
(ii) A bill to criminalise the public denial of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state - which has the potential to inhibit the peaceful campaign for equal rights for both Jews and Arabs.
(iii) The hard line Yisrael Beiteinu Party, a key member of the Israeli Government's ruling coalition, has proposed a controversial 'loyalty Oath' bill, which would force any who wish to retain citizenship to declare their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.
(iv) A bill to make it easier for the Government to revoke the citizenship of Israelis who are deemed to have betrayed the state. The current Interior Minister has said he will use it to revoke citizenship of former MK Azmi Bishara and 34 other Arab citizens.
(v) The continuation of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel law, which denies the rights of Palestinians who reside in the West Bank or Gaza to live in Israel, even though they may marry Israeli citizens. This law disproportionately affects Arab citizens of Israel, who are most likely to be married to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stated that this law violates international human rights law. (Page 42)
Israel and the Cycle of Fear and Mistrust
Why is it that the Israeli government seeks to enforce such harshconditions as have been described? It is important to understand the fear of many Israelis of what could
happen were such strict conditions not in place. The Israeli government has frequently said that such actions as we have described above are for security reasons and are necessary because many Israelis live with a real fear of what Palestinians might do to them. Suicide bombings, bus bombings and rocket attacks have involved indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population. Such bombings have made government and people very wary of the Palestinian presence.
This fear, placed alongside the conservative religious attitude that Jews have a right to ownership of the land presently belonging to Palestinians, as well as an historical political belief going back to Ze’ev Jabotinsky in their right to the whole of the “Land of Israel,” has given rise to the considerable internal support for the actions the Israeli government has taken. Israel’s occupation of land taken from others by force and demolition of the homes of others in order to build their own has inevitably added to an already tense situation and heightened fears as to what might happen in retaliation. The vicious circle of “tit for tat” actions and responses has at times seemed to have become unbreakable and spirals back through the complex history of relationships summarised earlier in this report.
The Israeli government believes strict security measures are vital; Palestinians fi nd them disproportionate, oppressive and crushing, and point to their own fears of Israeli violence. The Israeli government believes it has a right to keep the settlements and infrastructure that it has established in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; Palestinians believe this prevents the establishment of a viable state for themselves.
Another aspect to the cycle of fear that prevents progress on the road to peace is the mutual fear and mistrust between Israel and other Middle East states. Israelis have legitimate fears, especially of those states that do not recognise Israel’s right to exist, or whose leaders make infl ammatory and threatening statements or support violence on Israel from groups such as Hezbollah. On the other hand, on the basis of past experience, e.g. Israeli violence on Lebanon, Syria etc, many Arab states fear what the might of Israel’s military may do to them. The presence of large numbers of Palestinian refugees in neighbouring countries, especially in Lebanon and Jordan, is another injustice that affects the attitudes of all parties. Their presence has been contentious in the life of some host countries, is a running sore for Palestinians and a source of further fear for Israel.
Given this set of circumstances, it would be understandable to feel there is no way out, but one must be sought, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians. (Pages 43-45)
Story: Monitoring the barrier gates; Extract from the weekly log of Ecumenical
Accompaniers in Jayyous and Falamya, October 2008
Thursday, Jayyous, South Gate.
We arrived at 7.50 am. Many men, women and donkeys were waiting. The gate was opened on time. The control was completed in ten minutes but two men were denied access to their land very close to the gate. They had land also in the Falamya district with permits only valid for that gate. The DCL (Israeli District Co-ordination Liaison Offi ce) will only accept one permit per person, per agricultural gate. The men had previous experience of some soldiers allowing them to pass without permits for this gate. One of the men showed us that he had a valid working permit to go to Tel Aviv but could not go to his land 250 metres on the other side of the South Gate. To walk from Falamya Gate to the land close to this gate would take three hours each way. He was not allowed to walk along the patrol road parallel to the wall but was forced to walk across country on agricultural tracks. (Page 36)
Story: Abu Jamal
Abu Jamal is a UNWRA-registered refugee, his father having fl ed from Jaljoulia to
Jayyous in 1948. He is 34 and has been farming since he was 14. The family holding
comprises land he inherited from his father and some he bought himself. It includes
olive groves and fi ve greenhouses. In the initial round of allocation in 2003, Abu Jamal was refused a permit ‘for security reasons’. After a successful appeal he was granted permits, on one occasion for a period of two years. His last permit was valid only for three months for the 2007 olive season and expired in December. Since then, he has been refused repeatedly, again on ‘security grounds’. His brother Saleh now tries to look after all the family greenhouses..he is hard-pressed to carry out his own work, during
the limited times the gate openings allow, in addition to looking after the well whose
water irrigates the land of dozens of farmers. Abu Jamal describes his frustration at
sitting in his home during the most productive time of the year, knowing that his
brother can’t do all the work and that tomatoes and cucumbers will wither from lack
of care. ‘We have the ability to work. We just need the permits. I feel like a refugee all
over again.’ Source: Humanitarian Impact of the Barrier, UNOCHA 2007 p.18
Story: Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, and the killing of his daughters
Dr Abuelaish, a physician from Gaza but who worked in the Jewish Hospital in Tel Aviv,
was a voice from the war zone, telling Israeli radio and TV in fluent Hebrew about life
under fi re during Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
During the war, Abuelaish, a 53 year old gynaecologist, widower and father of eight
stayed with his extended family in a 5 storey building in Jabalya in Gaza. There were
25 people in all. They were unable to leave for fear of being shot. There was no water, electricity, gas or phone. He charged his mobile phone from a radio battery. Amongst Abuelaish’s daughters was his eldest, Bisan, 20. After the death from leukaemia of his wife, Bisan was effectively mother to his younger children. She was a senior at Gaza’s Islamic University and had met Israelis at a peace camp in New Mexico. When the fighting in Gaza began, she had received calls from Israeli friends, worried for her safety.
After lunch one day, the doctor’s daughters and 2 cousins went to the girl’s bedroom. Then, the unspeakable happened. An Israeli shell hit the room where his daughters had gathered, killing 3 of them and a cousin. “I found my daughters in pieces,” he said. His eldest, Bisan, was among the dead.
The Israeli army said they were investigating and claimed they had been fi red on from the building “or its vicinity”. But Dr Abuelaish said there were no Hamas fighters in the area and he would not have allowed them near his home. “Even if someone was firing, why did they shoot only at my daughters’ room?” he asked. Chicago Tribune, 17 January 2009 (Page 41)
Suicide Bombing in Israel
“I and my friend Avi went on the night of 7 May to go to a club to visit a friend who works there. We got to the club and we didn’t see our friend. After two minutes, I went right, he went left and immediately there was a huge bang and blackness. I must havebeen fi ve metres from the terrorist who must have followed me in … I saw people lying right and left … As I was lying there I just thought of my baby to come. They didn’t tell me that Avi had died til later. They’ll let me out [of hospital] and I’ll go at once to the cemetery to Avi’s grave. Now I just think of my baby to be born; this and my wife give me strength. She comes every day. And my family gives me a lot of support. I still have a lot
of pain.” “T”, a victim of a suicide bombing of a billiard club in Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv, on 7 May 2002 in which 16 people were killed. Interview with Amnesty International