Israeli Ethnic Cleansing
Helen Bowler from Nottingham Respect on her recent visit to the West Bank
Caroline Johnson from Birmingham/Ramallah Twinning Committee & Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Betty Hunter General Secretary of PSC
Nottingham Palestinian Solidarity Campaign
It was reasonably well attended, having 75-80 or so people there. Only one of these was identified as a possible “troll” (a Zionist who came along only to disrupt the meeting with provocative comments - see the Indymedia editorial guidelines as they have a similar definition) and he, rather than do this, just made copious notes and left without taking part in the Q&A session. I suppose we can expect an article from him, sooner or later. But we didn't have to throw him out.
Helen Bowler talked about her visit to the West Bank and showed photographs of the things she'd seen. She went with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and one of their policies is to try to endure some of the same things as the Palestinians. For example, there are hundreds of checkpoints scattered about the Occupied Territories (most of them NOT between the OT and Israel, incidentally, but between, say, Nablus and Jenin, therefore blocking movement between PALESTINIAN cities, not between Palestine and Israel. Worth remembering the next time some moron goes on about how Israel needs to “protect itself” - it's clearly not protection, but collective punishment.) Anyway, if you're not Arabic then the soldiers will wave you through these checkpoints. ISM people refuse to go, they say they'll queue up with the rest of the people, not have any preferential treatment. Apparently this really pisses the soldiers off - they're happy brutalising Palestinians but are uncomfortable when doing it to non-Arabs. It shows up their racism so that even they can see it and I guess that's why they're pissed off.
Helen talked about the Israeli ethnic cleansing she'd seen – the photo above is hers and she showed us a “before” photo of the house, intact. What happened there was that occupation troops came to that street and dragged everyone out of their houses, separated them into men and women and drove them off. They were imprisoned in the local school overnight and when they returned, their houses and everything in them had been destroyed. No warning or explanation was given, nor was compensation paid. And this is, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence. Helen showed us photos of a desolate plain that had once been a village before the Occupation forces demolished it. The (slightly) happier ending to this was that it was being rebuilt by the Palestinians, the ISM and some Israeli peace activists. Building permits for Palestinians are virtually impossible to get, so it was being rebuilt without one and then a permit would be applied for – apparently there's more chance of success this way. All too often, though, it's turned down and then the buildings (and their inhabitants) live in uncertainty, knowing that at any time (whilst the decision is being appealed) the occupation forces could turn up, drag them from their homes at gunpoint and destroy them – again. This is usually reported in the media here as Israel demolishing houses that had “been built without a building permit” and is invariably followed by a quote from an Israeli official about how no government lets its citizens build houses without a permit, likening the Israeli government to, at worst, a jobsworth council refusing people the right to build a garage extension instead of a government involved in ethnic cleansing. Because that's what it is when people are dragged out of their homes at gunpoint and then their houses are demolished. Slobodan Milosovitch did similar things and we gave his excuses the contempt they deserved.
Helen also showed us photos of Palestinian protesting (peacefully, non-violently) against the Wall and the Israeli response – a barrage of tear gas (with the cannisters fired directly at people, so there were a fair few broken bones also.) Peaceful protest cannot be accepted by Israel as it wishes to paint the Palestinians as being all violent terrorists, so any peaceful protest is either ignored by the media or broken up with considerable violence. This intifada is more violent than the first intifada in part because the Palestinians have seen what happens to peaceful protests – witness “bonebreaker” Rabin's injunction to his soldiers to break the arms of Palestinian protesters back in 1988. And Rabin was (rightly) considered a moderate, was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic for being too moderate. One result of this is that the casualty rates for the second Intifada are more “balanced” – as of 29/9/05, 3,414 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, including 670 children (20%) and 996 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian, including 113 children (11%). This is a ratio of nearly 3 and a half to 1. The first intifada, in which the Palestinians used far less violence and far less guns, saw 1,166 Palestinian deaths, including 250 children (21%) and 179 Israeli deaths, 5 of them children (3%). This was a ratio of over 6 and a half to 1. So, in the “devil's arithmetic” of attrition, the Palestinians are doing “better” this time round.
I don't like or even support this, especially as most of the casualties on both sides are civilian. But I can see how it looks to a Palestinian. They tried (relatively) non-violent protests in the first intifada and were brutally slaughtered. They tried (relatively) non-violent protests in the first few months of this Intifada and were brutally slaughtered (the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths in the first 2 months of the second Intifada was around 9 to 1 and the numbers were horrendous – over 300 Palestinians killed in 3 months.) So, if you're going to be brutally slaughtered anyway, you might as well fight back.
(The figures above, incidentally, are taken from B'Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organisation. First intifada numbers are from its outbreak in December 1987 to the Oslo accords in 1993. Neither set of figures includes suicide bombers who killed themselves in a suicide attack, but they do include Israeli soldiers and armed Israeli settlers, regardless of what they were doing at the time.)
The next speaker was Betty Hunter from the PSC. She spoke about the current situation in Palestine – the main event being the election of Hamas as the Palestinian government – and the likely reaction to it by Israel and the international community. She saw Hamas' election as being hopeful, a controversial viewpoint but one I have some sympathy with. Let me explain.
Since Oslo – possibly since 1988 when the PLO recognised Israel – the PLO have been making concession and concession in return for promises from Israel that never seem to materialise. They recognised Israel in 1988 and no equivalent recognition of a Palestinian state was forthcoming – all Oslo did was talk vaguely about the Palestinians “administering” themselves. At Oslo, much was given up by the Palestinians in return for an agreement from Israel to cease expansion and negotiate “eventual” return of “some” of the Occupied territories – but the expansion never stopped, increased tenfold in fact, and the areas returned never went beyond the initial Oslo agreement and even they were delayed and reneged upon. And after the Intifada started the Israelis seized more and more land, reoccupied more and more Palestinian areas and built walls, fences, checkpoints, etc., whilst blaming the Palestinians for not complying – Mahmoud Abbas', one of the more concessionary PLO members found his position undermined by Israeli acts when Prime Minister and more so since becoming President. Yet he tried to go along with whatever latest humiliation the Israelis or Americans tried to foist upon him in the hope that eventually, Israel might keep a promise. But it never happened.
Hamas aren't like that. Anything Hamas give up – and they may give some things up – will only be gained if Israel, too, gives something up. Nothing for nothing, something for something. In short, negotiations between equals, not scraps thrown from the table. The points that Israel and the West find themselves criticising Hamas for are good examples. Israel and the West wants Hamas to say they recognise Israel's right to exist. Well, it could happen – Hamas aren't inflexible. But only if an Israeli government formally acknowledges the Palestinians' right to a state, something no Israeli government has yet done. Nothing for nothing – but something for something. Likewise, if the Israeli government wants Hamas to give up its claim on all of historic Palestine, then Hamas might – they've already said that it could see the Occupied Territories serving as a state for the Palestinians as a truce for a generation (the hope being that the next generation might work out something more lasting.) But only if Israel renounces it's claim to the Occupied Territories. And as Hamas would have to change its constitution, so would Israel. Nothing for nothing – but something for something.
On the subject of violence and the Israeli/Western demand that Hamas cease to attack Israel, this isn't impossible – Hamas have largely held to a truce for the past year, something that hasn't been reported much – but it would need to be matched with an Israeli withdrawal of it's troops from the Occupied Territories and cessation of attacks on them. Nothing for nothing – but something for something.
The weird thing is that this is considered unreasonable or hardline by Israelis and their supporters. It goes to show the racist assumptions implicit in most Middle East debate.
Finally, Caroline Johnson talked about the trip she and others made to Palestine and her attempts to twin Birmingham with Ramallah. She said that – surprise, surprise – the council weren't interested in taking the lead on this but that once links had been forged the council would support them. So the forging of friendship links between cities is a good first step and allows the twinning to be build “from the bottom up”, which is far better than the council imposing it from above. In the case of Nottingham twinning with Jenin some links have already been established and more will, hopefully, follow. Palestinians do like this as they often feel a sense of international isolation and the forging of friendship links and eventual twinning breaks them out of this cycle. More work on this will be done.
The Q&A session was short – we'd nearly overrun the time limit – and succinct. No trolls surfaced, so we didn't have to throw anyone out. All in all, I'd say the meeting went well. Watch this space for more info on twinning (Personally, I'd love to see “Welcome to Nottingham, twinned with Minsk, Karlsruhe, Ghent, Harare and Jenin” on our road signs, and I believe we can achieve this eventually.)