Click on Link to download or play MP3 file || 16.70 MB || 18m:0sThis Week In Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www.IMEMC.org, for March 3rd through 9th, 2007.
The Israeli military continues its attacks against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, while Abbas and Olmert prepare to meet on Sunday. Palestinian leaders advance in forming the National Unity Government amidst the ongoing financial crisis and economic blockade. These stories and more, coming up, stay tuned.
Nonviolent Resistance to the Wall and settlements Continues in West Bank
Let’s begin our weekly report with this week’s peaceful actions against the annexation Wall and settlements, and other stories in the West Bank.
In the weekly protest today in the village of Bil’in near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, two peaceful Israeli protesters paid the price for standing in solidarity with the villagers of Bilin. They were protesting the theft of village land when they were attacked by Israeli troops and had to be carried to an ambulance for evacuation. Ben received a blow to the forehead from a rifle butt, whilst a sound bomb was thrown at Jonathan’s foot and exploded on his shoe, leaving him unable to walk. Jonathan talked to IMEC from his hospital bed:
After the last two large demonstrations, today’s march to the illegal wall could be seen as an anti-climax. However, the villagers of Bil’in were determined to maintain the momentum of their struggle and were not disheartened by the turn-out of around a hundred people.
As has been the pattern in recent weeks, soldiers reacted aggressively to the peaceful chanting and flag waving. When a few stray stones came their way they were quick to try and disperse the crowd with tear gas and sound grenades. Large numbers poured through the gate to remove those who remained and many were grabbed and pushed away merely for being there.
Unable to control themselves, the soldiers continued to use sound bombs and batons against the protesters. Iyad Burnat, a member of the popular committee in Bil’in who was hospitalized after the demonstration two weeks ago, was again targeted and beaten. Eleven other protesters were shot with rubber bullets.
Wadi Al Niss
On Friday midday, international and Israeli peace activists joined residents of Wadi Al Niss village in the southern West Bank for a non-violent demonstration against the illegal wall Israel is planning to construct on the village’s land. The group of around 200 protestors proceeded along the planned route of the illegal wall towards the site where bulldozers are leveling the already destroyed farmland. They carried Palestinian flags and chanted anti-occupation slogans.
A number of armed Israeli troops then blocked the demonstration’s passage, and many villagers sat down on their land in defiance before the protest eventually dispersed peacefully. No injuries were reported.
The illegal Wall will cause the isolation of several villages south of Bethlehem. Ten villages surrounding Bethlehem stand to lose 70,000 grape vines and 1000 olive trees through the construction of the wall, with countless more annexed on the far side.
This land is vital to these Palestinian communities that have depended greatly on it as a provider of food and income for centuries.
On Friday afternoon, Christian Peacemaker Teams or CPT, a nonviolent direct action group with a presence in Hebron as well as other countries such as Iraq and Columbia, held a memorial service in the Old City of Hebron for the late American CPTer Tom Fox. Tom Fox was one of four CPTers kidnapped in Baghdad in late 2005. He was killed one year ago today in captivity, while his three CPT colleagues were all released. CPT led a procession from the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron’s Old City to their apartment, where both internationals and Palestinian friends offered thoughts in memory of Fox and in appreciation of the efforts of nonviolent resistance made by Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals. The event concluded with local children planting an olive tree in memory of Fox. Toward the end of the event Israeli soldiers, at the behest of Israeli settlers in Hebron, made an appearance to investigate. Finding nothing, they left the scene where the crowd had gathered. CPTers responded by inviting them to stay for tea and coffee.
On Monday midday the Palestinian Popular Committee in the southern West Bank city of Hebron organized a non-violent protest against the Israeli army measures of restricting Palestinian residents’ movement in the old city. Demonstrators shouted slogans in Arabic, Hebrew and English, like ‘No peace with settlements’ and asked the army to stop its actions and allow the owners of the houses and shops in the old city to get to their property.
On Wednesday morning the Popular Committee against the Closure of Nablus held a demonstration at Huwwara checkpoint, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus. They protested against the curfew which was imposed on much of the city last week. The General Woman’s Union and a wide coalition of groups took part in the demonstration to mark International Women’s Day, which is on March 8th. Israeli soldiers met the nonviolent demonstration with violence; preventing the protest from reaching the checkpoint, then using rifle buts and batons on the demonstrators. Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, the director of the Palestinian relief services in Nablus city and the coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Closure was attacked by the soldiers and was detained for three hours and released later.
Keep Hope Alive Campaign
On Saturday, the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine held this year’s second International Planting Day as part of the Keep Hope Alive Cmpaign. Over 40 international participants, along with around 20 local volunteers planted olive trees on more than ten dunums of land in Beit Sahour, north of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. The land in question is owned by Palestinian farmer, Johnny Ateek, whose family have been living and farming in this area for generations. Seven fields belonging to Johnny’s family have already been annexed by the Israeli authorities, of which seventeen and a half dunums were confiscated for the construction of the illegal Wall. Some forty dunums of Johnny’s land now lies behind the Wall.
Palestinian National Unity Government Nears
Palestinian unity government talks have almost been finalized, pending the naming of the Interior Minister, as all parties concerned have agreed to participate in the upcoming government. This does not include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Arab Liberation Front and the Islamic Jihad who have all decided not to participate in the government.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that 99% of the process of forming the national unity government has been completed. On Thursday, Abbas submitted a list of 12 nominees, from whom Prime Minister designate Ismael Haniyeh will select the would-be interior minister. The list includes independent candidates, security and non-security officials.
Three out of four key ministries have been agreed upon so far. The factions agreed to name Salam Fayad as Minister of Finance, Mustafa Barghouthi as Minister of Information and Ziad Abu Amr as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Palestinian sources said some Gulf States have requested that Salam Fayad be assigned as Minister of Finance, and that they will not transfer any money to the Palestinian Authority except through him.
Salah Al-Bardawil, spokesman of the Hamas parliamentary bloc, denied on Thursday any major difference between the concerned parties with respect to the formation of the new government. He said that PM Haniyeh may be assigned the portfolio of the ministry of Interior until the factions agree on a name, even if this will be done after the government is formed.
Commenting on the interior minister post, Ahmad Abu Houli, Palestinian MP from the Fatah parliamentary bloc in Gaza, told IMEMC that the security profile is of great concern to Fatah.
“We look at the security issue with high cautious and responsibility, we believe that the Minister of Interior should have a strong character, and not to succumb to pressure by either Fatah or Hamas and should have a main target to impose the rule of law”
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet on Sunday with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The meeting is expected to tackle humanitarian rather than political issues, Israeli sources reported.
Palestinian officials, say that Abbas’ position is stronger than ever as a result of the Unity government deal. However, they expect Olmert to put pressure on Abbas not to implement the deal with Hamas. MP Abu Houli confirmed that the meeting would be difficult, as Israel still want more concessions from the Palestinians, while it gives nothing in return.
Ahead of the meeting, Palestinian factions including Hamas offered a truce with Israel in return for a complete ceasefire, provided that Israel refrains from pushing forward an international boycott on the would-be Palestinian government.
Parliament Member Yousef Rizqa of Hamas said the meeting will not make any positive change on the political level.
“I do not think that this meeting will make a breakthrough on the political level in the region. I think the discussions may be focused on ties between Israel and the unity government, and that Israel should not veto any of the Ministers of Fatah or the other political factions who will join the unity government, and they may also discuss lifting the blockade.”
Israel has been demanding that the international Quartet for the promotion of peace in the Middle East doesn’t acknowledge a Palestinian government that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept past signed agreements. The Quartet Committee, comprised by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, has cautiously welcomed the upcoming Palestinian unity government, and is waiting for its formation.
Meanwhile, Italian deputy-Prime Minister, Massimo D’alema, whose country is a member of the EU, was quoted this week as saying that the Makka deal between Palestinian factions which laid the foundation for the new Palestinian government, has implicitly recognized Israel. D‘alema then added that Israel is not satisfied with this implicit recognition.
West Bank and Gaza Strip Updates
The West Bank
During the week the Israeli army conducted at least 30 military incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, the largest of which was into Ramallah on Wednesday March 7th 2007. During those incursions, 22 Palestinian civilians, including 8 children and a woman, were wounded and at least 130 Palestinians, including 70 employees from the headquarters of the Palestinian Military Intelligence in Ramallah were abducted. Thus, the number of Palestinians abducted by the Israeli army in the West Bank since the beginning of this year has mounted to 671.
At dawn on Wednesday a large Israeli army force entered the city of Al Bireh near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, and surrounded the headquarters of the Directorate of the Palestinian Authority Military Intelligence. Troops abducted 70 employees. Troops opened fire and threw sound bombs in the vicinity of the headquarters and began seizing employees of the Palestinian security services by threatening to tear the buildings down if they did not submit themselves to abduction.
The Israeli army stated that they suspected those abducted are involved in ‘shooting attacks on Israeli targets’. Palestinian sources stated that all abducted are PA security officers.
Furthermore, the Israeli army stormed offices of the Islamic Charitable Association and a connected kindergarten in Al Shyoukh village, northeast of Hebron city in the southern West Bank. They confiscated a number of documents and books. The army also attacked and searched offices of the Almsgiving Committee and a connected kindergarten in Beit Fajjar village, south of Bethlehem in the southern West Bank. They confiscated a number of computer sets and documents and ordered closure of the offices and the kindergarten. Moreover, Israeli troops stormed and searched the Qura’an Association in Al Khader village, southwest of Bethlehem, and ordered their closure.
The Gaza strip
Palestinians began gathering at the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday, totaling nearly 5000 by Thursday morning once the crossing opened. Palestinian security personnel lost control of the situation. Medics reported that a crush of people leaving Palestine formed, injuring seven and killing one- an elderly man traveling to Egypt to see his doctor. To help restore order, the European observers declared the crossing closed temporarily.
According to the observers, the Rafah crossing has been open less than one-fifth of the time since June 2006. Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Eriqat has protested this policy, saying Israel should allow continuous traffic between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army also conducted two limited military invasions into Beit Hanoun town in the northern Gaza strip on Tuesday and Wednesday. During those incursions Israeli troops leveled areas of land, which had been already razed in a past operation.
Digging Work in Jerusalem Continues
An Israeli court imposed restrictions on the movement of Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in northern Israel, barring him from entering public places in Jerusalem if he is accompanied by six people or more.
The court, however, rejected a request by the Israeli Police to bar Salah from entering the entire city of Jerusalem. Sheikh Salah was taken prisoner by the Israeli police on Wednesday after he waved Syrian and Palestinian flags during a protest in Jerusalem.
The court indicted Salah of what was described as “rioting over Jerusalem works” referring to the Israeli excavations near the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Media sources reported that the court session was short and that Sheikh Salah refused to sign the conditions set by the court.
The report also stated that Sheikh Salah’s lawyers presented a film showing that he was not rioting and did not, as claimed by the police, kick the policemen and resist the arrest. The film also shows that the police started throwing stun grenades at the protestors.
The digging at Al-Magharba gate near the Aqsa Mosque has been met with a wide critique among Palestinian Christians as well as Muslims.
Israeli bulldozers started demolishing the bridge to the Magharba Gate, one of the main entrances to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s old city, in February. Palestinians fear that the diggings will weaken the Al Aqsa Mosque’s foundations, since they are too close to the mosque.
Attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been a major source of conflict in the past. A provocative visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in September 2000 sparked the second (current) Palestinian uprising. Nearly 5000 Palestinians and 1100 Israelis have been killed since.
On Monday evening one fighter of the Al Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad was killed while preparing explosives in Al Nusseirt refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip. The fighter, Mohammad Al Liddawi, 24, was preparing an explosive charge near his home when the explosives went off. He was seriously injured and died of his wounds three hours later, at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
Two children were injured in Jabalia town in the northern part of the Gaza strip when an unknown object exploded near them on Tuesday morning. Dr. Moawiya Hasanain, the director of the emergency and ambulance department in the ministry of Health in Gaza reported that Hassan Abu Warda, aged 5, and his sister Diane, 4, were hit with shrapnel when an unknown object exploded near them.
Monday afternoon, one Fatah gunman was shot and injured during armed clashes between Palestinian security sources loyal to Fatah, and Hamas gunmen. The clashes erupted after a disagreement over who had control of a nearby training compound.
It is reported that also on Monday, unknown gunmen fired at the house and car of a senior security officer.
Shots were also fired at a police headquarters, and police returned fire, officials said. Security forces loyal to Fatah movement demanded that Hamas gunmen leave the area, but they refused and said that the area is under the control of security forces loyal to Hamas. In another Monday attack, gunmen bombed a music store in Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian media sources reported that five unknown gunmen abducted Saturday a resident of Khan Younis city in the southern Gaza Strip. Mohammad Shahin, 22, owner of an internet café, has been reportedly abducted form his shop in the Al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis.
Witnesses said that five gunmen broke into the café and dragged Shahin away, taking him to an unknown destination. Palestinian police forces have begun searching for Shahin, while Fatah has condemned the attack, as Hamas denied any responsibility for the abduction. Shahin is affiliated with no Palestinian faction; local sources stated that the man was released shortly there after.
Financial Crisis Escalates
The financial crisis in Palestine continues to escalate as the Palestinian government is still unable to pay the salaries of civil servants, who total at nearly 165 thousand.
For nearly one year now, the PA has not regularly paid state employees due to the economic blockade initiated by the United States following the overwhelming victory that Hamas won in the January 2006 legislative council elections. This has caused an unprecedented financial crisis throughout Palestine.
Last week, the Ministry of Finance and the Worker’s Trade Union agreed that the government will pay salaries for the month of February and pay 10 percent of the overdue salaries’ total. However, the government did not fulfill the agreement. The worker’s union is now pushing to restart the strike.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website, www.IMEMC.org. Thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is Jake Talhami, Ghassan Bannoura and me Polly Bangoriad.