The struggle continues

Ed Hollants 03-05-2002

From April 14th till 28th a group of five people of the Autonomous Center in Amsterdam visited Palestine, which is currently still under occupation of Israel. Several cities and villages were visited, the most time we spent in Jenin and Nablus, the cities that suffered most from the latest Israeli offensive.

One of our goals was to gather evidence of human rights violations and rights of war violations by the Israeli army, by means of interviews, photo’s and video. Also we wanted to give the Palestinian people the feeling that there are people that seriously listen to them and that there is international support from people that are willing to do something.

Also during the first intifada the Autonomous Centre resisted the Israeli settlement politics in a campaign called “Stop Israeli settlements in Palestine, boycott Israel.”

During our recent visit to Palestine, we tried to stay objective, even though we went as supporters of the Palestinian side. The facts are bad enough as they are and don’t leave any questions as to their veracity. In other words: when we got the idea that propaganda was the case, we tried to see through that and checked out the stories. These days we live in a society of television and information in which propaganda’s influence on these mediums of information can frequently grow stronger than the facts. We, as outsiders in a conflict, can easily be targeted as instruments of such propaganda. The explanation to people that we are not from the press but are part of an activist NGO doesn’t matter much to the Palestinians at this point.

Conclusions after our visit.

From all the stories we heard, we have been able to draw a few conclusions of which we are quite certain they form an objective picture of what actually took place:

-Buildings from which was fired or of which was a suspicion there might be armed fighters inside were fired upon by the IDF with tanks and helicopters, without checking for the presence of civilians.

-The IDF has refused for days to allow any form of medical supplies or medical personnel near the wounded.

-Possessions of civilians were destroyed and stolen by the IDF (looting)

-Unarmed civilians and fighters surrendering themselves were shot and killed

-A lot of the infrastructure and nearly all the buildings of the Palestinian Authority has been destroyed.

From these facts one must draw the conclusion that there serious human rights violations have taken place. What has recently happened in Palestine is not a new situation though; it has only become more extreme than before. Like a lot of Palestinian people say: “ This has been happening to us already for 35 years.” An investigation only to the events in Jenin is not sufficient here. The core of this investigation should be the violence against the Palestinian people committed over the last 35 years.

In addition to collecting direct facts of the recent happenings in the area, we also wanted to assess a picture of the newly developed situation as a whole.

Apartheid and/or ethnic cleansing.

It is possible to use the term apartheid to describe the situation but this is a term that not quite covers the situation in its entirety. When talking about apartheid, the situation would be about one state where people aren’t treated equal, like South Africa in the past. In the occupied territories this term isn’t suitable because the Palestinians aren’t seen as if they are part of the same state as the settlers. The situation is best illustrated when compared to township politics. It is being attempted to concentrate all the Palestinians in a few areas that are separated from each other in which they will be able to self-governing in a few areas, but largely staying dependent on the state of Israel. Important issues like real economic independence, the ability to freely move around and water management will be kept under tight Israeli control.

Another term applicable to the situation is ethnic cleansing. Also this term doesn’t quite cover the situation entirely. Here there is no talk of the violent and swift attacks on people with the goal to drive them out of their lands, but more the case of a slow and creeping cleansing that is taking place on almost every level of society where Jewish Israelis are favoured over Palestinians. In this way large areas are being taken over by Jewish settlers and the Palestinians are slowly getting pushed out.

The occupation and the settlement politics can unquestionably be described with the words apartheid and ethnic cleansing. We use these terms because at this time there is not one term that can adequately describe the whole situation without giving it the negative association necessary to describe it.

Failure of the international community.

Another fact that clearly surfaces when examining the situation, is the total failure of the international community. De United States are most defining in this with their current ruinous Bush politics, while both the European Union and the individual countries themselves are not doing anything more but giving weak moral accusations. Also the international NGO’s, who are always first on the scene in the case of environmental disasters and such, are nowhere to be found.

The International Red Cross, for example, hasn’t been able to, or hasn’t wanted to take a stand against Israel concerning Israel’s refusal of medical attention for the wounded. After the retreat of the IDF out of the cities there wasn’t any international help to be seen for the recovery of the dead, the removal of explosives or the cleaning up of the rubble. After calls from the United States, Europe and the United Nations to Israel to retreat immediately from the occupied cities, there were no sanctions whatsoever when it became clear that Israel was not responding to the calls and continuing their operations as they are still doing today. The Palestinians already had little faith in the international community, but any faith they might have had is now surely gone.

What the Palestinians have noticed, however, is that there has been more international attention for the conflict because of the violence that has recently been used. Not only the United States, but also the European Union are giving the impression that all they care about is an end to the violence. Once this has been achieved, the international attention will turn away from the area and Israel will once again be able to move freely and continue their settlement-politics while the Palestinians are kept on a short leash through all kinds of negotiations. Palestinians therefore have every interest in continuing the violence. It could be stated that the international community itself is responsible for the violence because it has not made even one serious attempt to force Israel to respect the UN resolutions like resolution 242 (concerning the retreat behind the borders of 1967) for 35 years.

Another case, which the UN should be ashamed of, is the existence of refugee camps, like the ones in Jenin and Nablus, where Palestinians have already been living since 1948. These camps, which have already been transformed into dense living areas with a high unemployment and poverty rate, are still under the authority of the UN (UNWRA). So these days it is possible to live for 53 years in a refugee camp with the status of a refugee. In this last Israeli offensive it was precisely these camps that got hit the hardest and suffered the most damage and fatalities. What does this say about how the UN views its responsibility to protect refugees?

Armed combat.

The violence from the Palestinian side is a result of a situation that is absolutely intolerable. The core of the conflict is the occupation and colonisation of the territories. Those who resist in armed combat against the Israeli army entering the autonomous Palestinian territories are in fact not terrorists but freedom fighters defending their land. Therefore, every Palestinian who resists the occupation is a freedom fighter first and foremost.

It is possible though to condemn the methods that have been used. It seems logical that every rational person will condemn the method of suicide attack against civilians. The problem for the Palestinians, however, is that talks have not achieved any results for them at all for many years. Also, there is no pressure from outside on Israel and direct armed combat against the Israelis is useless because the Israeli army is so strong. 35 years of repression and occupation have resulted in suicide attacks, the only methods that seem to have some effect. The fact there is international attention for the conflict now is a direct result of these attacks and the Israeli response to them. There is nothing wrong with supplying arms to people that are trying to defend themselves. The strange thing is that people criticise the idea of supplying arms to the Palestinians, while nobody seems to object to supplying Israel, the attacker, with some of the most advanced weapons available. Of course we don’t see weapons as the solution, but condemning Palestinians that are using them now is unfair, especially if these arms are used defending Palestine cities under attack by the Israeli army.

The fixation on violence, on one side by the Palestinians (suicide bombings) and on the other side the Israelis (mostly Jenin and Nablus but also the destruction of infrastructure throughout the occupied territories), has unfortunately had a depoliticising effect on the situation. Sharon has every interest in militarising the conflict and will not always be mournful in the event of another suicide bombing. The issue is becoming less and less the occupation itself and more and more about the methods both sides use against each other. We think that Israel will be ‘content’ to only be indicted for the use of extensive violence in its attacks on cities in the occupied territories, while its settlement politics can continue undisturbed.

To the outside world, the perception exists of two equal parties that both use the wrong methods against each other. Also, it is assumed at negotiations that there is the case of two equal parties that can sit down at a table and solve their conflicts. When this assumption is made, people don’t realize that one party, the aggressor on all fronts, is much stronger, while the other party has nothing but a badly-equipped resistance force. A lasting and just solution will not come until Israel is pressured to stop its settlement-politics and withdraw from the occupied territories to behind the borders of 1967. Only after this is realised will it be possible to have further negotiations.

War on terror?

Everyone in the occupied territories, and also many people outside them, is expecting that the worst is yet to come. The violence will increase and it is not a question of whether there will be more suicide bombings, but when. When this happens, Sharon will certainly seize the opportunity to strike back even harder. Sharon’s room to manoeuvre is becoming larger. Only a year ago, it was unimaginable that the IDF would enter the autonomous Palestinian territories and cities; today it has become an everyday occurrence. And what should we think about the fact that just last week, the first stone was laid in what will be the largest Israeli settlement in the Palestinian territories of all times? A well-managed political propaganda machine as a reaction to Palestinian resistance has made this possible. Of course the events on September 11th , 2001 have also played an important role as a catalyst to these actions. In fact, Sharon copies the United States’ policy of ‘war on terror’. The way it seems now is that the United States aren’t able to pressure Israel into anything (or aren’t willing to), and that Israel has got a strong hold on the United States.

Sharon has never recognized the Oslo treaties or any peace treaty that involves the retreat of Israel from the occupied territories and the founding of a truly independent state for the Palestinian people. He has managed to destroy any option of realizing these ideas and to push toward his own goals, similar to the goals of the Israeli Labour party.

There has been a problem surfacing for Sharon. In Jenin and Nablus there was serious resistance to the offensives of the IDF. It took the IDF five days in Nablus and nine days in Jenin to strike down this resistance. In the process a relatively large amount of Israeli soldiers died. More victims like this will harm the support he gets for continuing his operations. The solution of simply bombing more civilian Palestinian targets will be hard to explain to the international community. This is likely the reason why Gaza was not yet been attacked. Another reason could be that Sharon will soon come with a new ‘offer for peace’, in which he is willing to give up the settlements in Gaza. This will give him some good PR for foreign relations. And not even the Israelis in favour of a ‘greater Israel’ are really interested in the Gaza strip. There are a million Palestinians living in Gaza and there are three clusters of Israeli settlements within this region.

A strong people.

How can things go on? Nobody knows exactly. The premeditated destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure and administration gives Sharon and the United States the possibility to increase their influence by appointing a new group of leaders in the area that are more sympathetic to American and Israeli interests. The United States, of course, are not interested in a fair solution for the Palestinian people but don’t want to risk the support of the Arab states for their future attack on Iraq. The question is if the US will be successful in influencing the Palestinian leaders in such a way that they will denounce violence, and with that will keep the conflict out of the news and the attention of the rest of the world. We should hope that this new Palestinian power structure will be a fair representation of the Palestinian people. What this people want was very clear during our visit: total withdrawal of Israeli troops to behind the borders of 1967, the removal of all settlements in the territories, East Jerusalem as the capital, and a solution for the refugee problem. The Palestinian people are still very willing to keep fighting for these issues. It seems best for us to use our energy here in the Netherlands to try and re-politicise the conflict and bring the conflict back to its roots: the Israeli occupation and subsequent settlement politics.


Ed Hollants,

Autonoom Centrum Amsterdam, May 03rd, 2002

Also on behalf of the four others: Nanda, Caroline, Anton, Roje