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This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, for Thursday March 9, 2006.
Jewish extremists disguised as Christian pilgrims set off firecrackers in one of the holiest Christian sites. The first session of the new Palestinian Legislative Council sees a controversial vote and a Fatah walkout. Meanwhile, Israel continues its killing spree, with six children dead and many more residents dead or wounded. And the Israeli Defense Minister threatens to assassinate the democratically elected Palestinian Prime Minister. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned 
Separation Wall: Expansion and protests
The peaceful protests to the Separation Wall are spreading like wildfire across the West Bank, even as the Israeli military attacks and injures protestors with tear gas, sound bombs, and clubs. This week, Bil’in villagers and Israeli supporters engaged in street theater, dressing in shrouds and ‘hanging’ themselves in mock nooses from the Wall, to symbolize the Wall’s ‘death sentence’ on the Palestinian people. Others locked themselves to the Wall with chains and metal tubes. Israeli soldiers beat the demonstrators with batons and rifle butts, wounding two – Mohammad Khatib of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, and Yossi Bartal of Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall.
In the village of Kharbatha Al-Misbah, 100 residents gathered at the Separation Wall. Four were injured by Israeli soldiers, and one Israeli officer was also injured.
In Tulkarem, hundreds of Palestinian and international peace activists, along with local and international journalists protested the Separation Wall and were also attacked by Israeli soldiers.
In the village of Aboud, Israeli soldiers picked continued construction of the Wall despite the Israeli High Court’s ruling to halt construction. The Israeli Defense Ministry called the illegal construction "an error," claiming contractors had not received the instructions to stop.
Meanwhile B’tselem, the Israeli center for human rights, reported that Israeli authorities plan to route the Wall to surround five Palestinian villages northwest of Jerusalem, isolating and ghettoizing them. The five villages are Beit Hanina al-Balad Bir Nabala, al-Jib, al-Judeira, and Qalandia. At the completion of construction, the villagers will be cut off from East Jerusalem, on which the residents depend in all aspects of their lives, even though thousands of the enclave’s residents hold Israeli identity cards and are entitled by Israeli law to free movement in and out of Jerusalem. The Wall will furthermore cut villagers off from hundreds of acres of land, crippling their economy.
Israel will also confiscate the villages’ three main roads, designating them "For Israeli Use Only." Israeli authorities claim they will build two roads, built of underground tunnels and bridges, to link the ghetto to the rest of the West Bank. One will lead north to Ramallah, the other west to Biddu. But many are skeptical of the plan, which would cost millions, take years, necessitate advanced engineering techniques, and require Israel to shift its focus from settlement expansion and self-armament to helping the very Palestinians it seeks to ghettoize.
Settlements & Settlers
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced the removal off seventeen illegal outposts as the first stage of a four-year withdrawal plan. The evacuated settlers will then be relocated to major settlement blocs. Unlike last year’s redeployment in the Gaza Strip, Israel is not planning any significant settler evacuation in the West Bank.
Olmert has indicated that Israel will annex the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, and the major settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Ariel, and Gush Etzion, before drawing a final border for a Palestinian state, consisting of non-contiguous Bantustans on eighteen percent of historic Palestine.
On the other hand, John Dugard, the South African lawyer and UN expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has issued a report for the annual UN Human Rights Commission next week, on Jewish settlers’ state-sanctioned terrorism of Palestinians.
Settler violence, especially the intimidation of children going to school, stealing olive trees, burning farmland, and poisoning water wells, is especially prevalent in Hebron. Hebron settlers have also attacked numerous international human rights workers, including Dugard in June 2005.
A group of settlers uprooted olive trees in the village of Yatta near Hebron in the West Bank bringing the number of uprooted trees in this village in one month up to 1000. Eyewitnesses said that Israeli soldiers who were at the scene turned a blind eye and did not intervene.
In the village of Tubas, settlers attacked two Palestinian residents, causing them to be hospitalized for bruises and concussions.
In villages near Salfit, settlers from Ariel Settlement continued to pump sewage water into Palestinian farmland and into the main water spring that provides fresh water to Salfit residents and some surrounding villages.
Human Rights Violations during the week
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights released its weekly report on Thursday and listed the military violations in the Occupied Territories during the past week.
The report indicates that Israeli soldiers killed six residents of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, four of whom were children, and five of whom were killed during an extra-judicial execution. The Israeli military also wounded eighteen civilians in the reported period, including eight children.
According to the report, the Israeli military continued to shell areas of the Gaza Strip, and conducted twenty-nine incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Houses were raided and thirty-eight Palestinian civilians arrested. At least one house was occupied by Israeli soldiers and turned into a military site.
The report added that the Israeli military has continued to undertake a total siege of the Occupied Territories, especially in the West Bank. The Jordan Valley remains separated from the rest of the West Bank, and the occupied East Jerusalem continues to be isolated.
15-year-old boy killed in Nablus
A fifteen-year-old Amer Basuny received a fatal bullet to his jaw while standing on his roof in Al Ain refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Dr. Ghassan Ahmad Hamdan, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee in Nablus, described Israeli soldiers prevented medical workers from reaching Basuny.
<Dr. Ghassan>
"Our medical team rushed to the house of the boy, he was injured then. We were delayed by the army who surrounded the house. When we arrived at the house we found boy dead already. The ambulance was stopped again on the way out with the body of the boy. Troops inspected the body and our documents as well before they let us go. "
The murder was part of an Israeli invasion, the latest in a series of invasions that have targeted Nablus in the past two weeks. Nine civilians have been killed and 89 injured, many of them children.
Extremists Attack a Church in Nazareth
On Friday, three Jewish extremists disguised themselves as Christian pilgrims, entered the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth during a prayer service for Lent, and set off firecrackers, starting a fire. The Basilica of the Annunciation is one of the holiest Christian sites, built where an angel miraculously appearance to Mary.
The frightened and angered worshippers verbally confronted the culprits, then made their way to the church courtyard, where they were joined by many more Christians and Muslims in spontaneous peaceful demonstrations. The Israeli police attacked them with concussion grenades and tear gas, injuring at least two people seriously.
Latin Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the most senior Catholic figure in the Holy Land, said the Vatican was following closely the events in Nazareth. Sabah said that the person who tried to perform the terrible deed was born and bred on racist views and wild incitement against Christians in particular and Arabs in general.
Father Jamal of the Catholic Church in Bethlehem comments on the attack
<Fr. Jamal Clip>
First Palestinian parliamentary session headed by Hamas sees Fatah walkout
The Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council held its first official session this Monday. Thirty of the Council’s 132 members are imprisoned in Israeli jails or wanted by the Israeli army and were therefore unable to attend. Legislators from Gaza were banned by Israel from traveling to Ramallah, where the session was held, and had to attend by videoconference.
The session came to a head when a decision taken by the outgoing Fatah government on February 13 that would form a constitutional court with the authority to dissolve a Hamas-led Parliament was voted down by an absolute majority of 64 legislators. In response, Fatah members walked out, saying they would pursue the decision in the Palestinian Supreme Court.
Staging up the threats, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz threatened to assassinate the democratically elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas said the threat was a form of state terrorism and insisted it would not deter Hamas’ commitment to Palestinian human rights.
World Bank approves aid package to PA
A new World Bank aid package of $42 million approved Wednesday should (quote), "maintain economic and social stability in the short-term by covering urgent recurrent expenditures such as salaries of [Palestinian Authority] employees and the vital basic services," according to David Craig, World Bank director for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Due to Israel’s systemic attacks on the Palestinian economy, the Palestinian Authority is largely dependent on foreign aid for its yearly $1 billion budget. It is unclear how many countries will withdraw funding following the formation of a Hamas government, but any drop in aid is sure to have a drastic effect on the already frail Palestinian economy. One in four Palestinians is employed by the government.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, visit the International Middle East Media Center, Thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, I’m Dina Awwad
Contributors: Lora Gordon, Terina Eguilar, George Rishmawi, Manar Jibrin, Aysha Saldana
Sound Tech: Ghassan Bannoura