Israel Resource Review 6th June, 2006


An Invitation from Room 699: A Human Perspective of the "Disengagement"
George M. Stanislawski

The wedding invitation envelope looked pretty much like any other. What struck me was the handwritten return address: "Room 699" of a Kibbutz Guest House in Israel. It came from our old friends Ben and Shosh (not their real names) who were about to marry off their sixth of eight children.

For Ben and Shosh and 3 of their kids room 699 has been home since January of this year. Four months prior to moving to room 699, home was a room in another guest house in Golan Heights. No, Ben and Shosh are not itinerant migrant workers. Ben holds math and science degrees from a prestigious American university and is an ordained rabbi. Shosh is a graduate of an Ivy league women's college. Between 1978 and August 18, 2005 they lived in a 250 square meter (2500 sq ft) home in Gush Katif. There they raised their 7 boys and a girl. Today their daughter is a prominent physician. Four of their sons are officers in elite units of the IDF, two of whom are pilots. Their family was forced to leave their home not by some natural disaster like a tsunami or Katrina. Ben and Shosh's exile was man-made. For the sake of peace, they and 1300 other families numbering nearly 10,000 people were forcibly expelled from their homes by the same government that encouraged them to settle in Gush Katif 28 years ago. The Israel government termed their eviction "disengagement".

When Ben and Shosh first came to Gush Katif, the area was a sparsely populated desolate waste land in Gaza, whose barren soil was incapable of growing anything. The local Arab population called it the "cursed earth". On their first day, they were welcomed by the local mukhtar (village elder) who greeted them with bread and salt. He then inquired if they would be able to provide jobs for his people.

Over the next few years Ben used his scientific know-how to build a highly successful agri-tech export business that brought in valuable foreign currency into Israel. And yes, he and the other 10,000 Jewish settlers provided many jobs to the local Arab populace.

As part of the "disengagement" plan Ben and Shosh were promised compensation for the loss of their home and their livelihood. The government appraisal of their house was less than half of the price needed to buy a similar size home inside the green line and a fraction of what their business was really worth. In the ten months after their expulsion, they have received less than one tenth of what the government appointed appraiser recommended.

During my recent visit to room 699, Ben told me the Israel government agency in charge of compensating the former residents of Gush Katif is running out of money and all previously promised appraisals are being reassessed downwards. So much for government promises.

Like other large projects of this magnitude, there have been accounts of skimming and corruption by government officials and their cronies. Ben knows of a building contractor who offered his professional services gratis to pave the area around the caravans in one of the Jewish refugee camps created after the August exile. He only requested reimbursement for materials used. A government agency official indicated he would only approve the allocation of funds for these materials if he were given a 25% cut of the cost of the materials up front.

Ben is not entitled to unemployment insurance because he was self-employed nor does he have a pension fund. He always said "My business is my pension. I can even run it from my wheel chair when I'm ninety". Now in his early sixties he doesn't feel he can put in the time and effort needed to start over again.

Ben and Shosh still maintain phone contact with their former Arab foreman in Gaza who gives them periodic updates. Since the Jews left, Gush Katif has become a killing field by feuding Arab warlords each trying to gain control of the valuable land. Assassinations and executions are rampant. Actual unemployment figures have reached a staggering 70%. PA authority workers have not received their salaries in the 3 months since Hamas came to power. Islamic Jihad terrorists fire Kassam rockets into the Israeli city of Sderot daily with the Hamas Authority's blessing. Sometimes these rockets reach the outskirts of the resort town of Ashkelon. Residents of Sderot want to move out, but who would buy their homes?

Israel responds with artillery barrages and has been sending in elite commando units to search and destroy the Kassam missile launch sites. Yet for every site destroyed several others crop up.

The "disengagement" has taken a human toll as well and has affected every Israeli taxpayer: 1300 productive, law abiding families have turned into welfare cases. Ben and Shosh's upkeep (including full board) in room 699 costs the Israeli tax payer $5500 per month.

Psychologists report the Gush Katif youth feel betrayed, demoralized, alienated. The percentage of those students passing the high school matriculation exams amongst these former high achievers has dropped considerably. These youth who eagerly volunteered for combat units now try to avoid getting drafted. Drug use and the divorce rate are on the rise. Many formerly healthy families are in need of therapy.

Back in 2005, Ariel Sharon thought his disengagement plan was worth the risk for the sake of peace. Now ten months later, those of us who see the emperor has no clothes realize that Sharon's bold gesture has been an abysmal failure.

Winston Churchill once said "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it". For the past few weeks Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been globe trotting to various capitals seeking support for his "realignment" or "convergence plan". This newest plan will forcibly evict an additional 70,000 Israeli citizens from their homes in communities in Israel's heartland just a shoulder rocket's distance from Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. If this plan succeeds, these 70,000 men women and children face a fate similar to Ben and Shosh and the rest of the country will live in constant fear of Hamas Katushas.

The purpose of Olmert's recent visit to Washington was not only to entreat President Bush's blessing but also to seek financial aid to execute this plan. The Israel economy can not finance this undertaking on its own. Uprooting this staggering number in Israel is the equivalent of uprooting 3,500,000 a.m.ericans. Judging the catastrophic results of last year's "disengagement", are American taxpayers willing to finance Olmert's proposed "realignment/convergence"?

In hindsight, giving Ariel Sharon the benefit of doubt, his "disengagement" could be viewed as a tragic mistake. If Ehud Olmert proceeds with his "realignment/convergence" it would be premeditated reckless endangerment.

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The "Prisoner's Document: Basis of the Abbas Referendum

The so-called "prisoners' document," which is aimed at cooperation between the PLO and Hamas, does not read like document for peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestinian Arab people.

The document was drawn up in May 2006 at the Hadarim prison by representatives of the Palestinian prisoners, Marwan Barghouti (Fatah), Abed el-Halek el-Natshe (Hamas), Mustapha Badarne (Democratic Front), Abd el-Rahim Maluch (Popular Front), and Bassam e-Said (Islamic Jihad). The beauty of the document, from the Palestinian point of view, is that it does not recognize Israel, it does not even recognize the three conditions of the international community for recognition of Hamas, explicit recognition of Israel, acceptance of the agreements signed with Israel, and cessation of terrorism.

Suppose Abu Mazen persuades Hamas to accept the prisoners' initiative, or submits the issue, as he wishes, to a referendum, and wins. In what situation will the State of Israel be then? In Jerusalem a prognosis is being made but for some reason it has not yet been backed by the country's leadership. That prognosis is that in such a case Israel will be in a very difficult political situation. Everybody knows that as soon as Hamas accepts the document, this will be interpreted in the world as meaning that Hamas has recognized Israel, and from that moment Hamas will be recognized as a legitimate factor. This is in spite of the fact that the document contains elements which are very problematical for Israel.

They begin with the first article: "The Palestinian people in its homeland and in the diaspora is striving to liberate its land and to realize its rights to freedom, independence and return, self-determination, including its right to establish an independent state, with beloved Jerusalem as its capital, on all the territories of 1967, to ensure the right of return for the refugees and to liberate all the prisoners. This is based on the historic right of our people to the land of our forefathers, on United Nations conventions, on international law and on decisions of the United Nations." All the problematical landmines are packed into one article: the right of return, withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Article 2 states: "The national interest makes it obligatory to establish a new national council before the end of 2006, so that representation of all the factors and factions, national and Islamic parties and groups in our people, in every place, all the sectors, institutions and personalities, will be ensured. This will be on a proportional basis and according to presence in the struggle, politics, society and public life. The PLO must be preserved as a broad front-line framework, as an all-inclusive national coalition, as a national framework which unites all the Palestinians in the homeland and the diaspora and as a supreme source of political authority." Here is another landmine: Israel has recognized the PLO and will receive Hamas as a member organization in the PLO.

There is a practical sequel to this in article 6, which states that "a national unity government should be established, so that participation of all the factions in the Palestinian Legislative Council will be ensured, in particular the Fatah and Hamas movements." Anyone who tries to draw a distinction between Abu Mazen and Ismail Haniya will find them in a government coalition if the prisoners document is accepted.

Article 3 states: "The Palestinian people has the right to resistance and to persevere in the choice of resistance by all means. Resistance should be focused in the territories captured in 1967, alongside political and diplomatic activity and conduct of negotiations, and continuation of the public and popular resistance to the occupation in all its forms, its presence and its policy. Attention should be devoted to expansion of participation of a variety of groups, sides, sectors and the public of our people in this popular resistance." These 50 words can be summed up in two words: the terrorism will continue [two words in Hebrew].

That was a brief summary of the 18 articles in the prisoners' document. Abu Mazen, for his part, insists on holding a referendum to gain acceptance for the document. An analysis of the steps which he has taken reveals a great deal of logic in his position, and in that of Hamas, according to its lights. After Olmert's visit to the United States and the public undertaking which he gave to President Bush that he would renew the negotiations with Abu Mazen, the latter perceived the possibility of renewing the talks with Israel, but he feared - with justification - that Hamas would torpedo the negotiations on every issue placed on the table, or would force him to submit any agreement which he reached with Israel to the government - the Hamas government.

Consequently, Abu Mazen adopted an ostensibly neutral initiative, which nobody could oppose: "the prisoners' document," the document prepared by those who had personally sacrificed their freedom in the cause of the Palestinian struggle.

Why then does Hamas reject the document? Because it is perceived as an initiative of Abu Mazen, and in the arm-wrestling of the Palestinian leadership, Hamas fears that accepting Abu Mazen's idea will be interpreted by the Palestinian public as weakness on the part of Hamas.

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Do Israelis Purposefully Mislead Bush About Abbas's "Referendum"
David Bedein

Two weeks ago, I was present when a major official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry briefed his guests with what he described as the "optomistic" report that Abbas was proposing a new peace initiative, known as the "prisoner's document".

The diplomat told his enthusiastic audience that there is, indeed, "reason for hope".

And this past week, the JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which described itself as "the news service for the Jewish people", which works closely with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, reported on June 6th that "Mahmoud Abbas announced he would call for a Palestinian referendum on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".

Furthermore, that same JTA news item also reports that the referendum "calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem, the areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War"

On the same day, June 6th, the Israeli government's Voice of Israel English News Wire interviewed a left wing professor, Menachem Klein, also on June 6th, who declared that the document for the referendum carries an "implicit recognition of Israel".

However, the text of the referendum proposed by Abbas, based on the so- called "Document of the Prisoners" – (Arab terrorists convicted of first degree murder) does not make any of these statements…That prisoners document listed below, is readily available in English from official and unofficial Palestinian sources:

In that document, there is no mention whatsoever of a "two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict" . . . The document makes no mention of "eastern" Jerusalem. The document refers, instead, to all of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the document for Abbas's referendum premises the establishment of a Palestinian state on "all territories occupied in 1967" on the "right of return for the refugees".

In other words, the document for Abbas's referendum resorts to the traditional PLO demand for all lands settled by Israel after 1948.

Instead recognition of Israel and a contiguous Palestinian State, the document is only "based on the UN Charter and the international law and international legitimacy".

Yet the positive spin that Israeli official sources have placed on the referendum and the "prisoner's document" has resulted in the statement of White House press spokesman, Mr. Tony Snow, who gave an official statement, also on June 6th, in which he swallows the misrepresentation of Abbas's referendum, hook, line and sinker, as indicated in the way in which he answered the question : "Anything on the referendum that Abbas is proposing to hold?"

MR. SNOW: " Well, once again, Prime Minister Abbas has demonstrated that he's somebody who wants to work toward a two-state solution. And that was one of the things, as you know, that came up in the conversation with Prime Minister Olmert earlier with the President. Prime Minister Olmert said that he was going to be holding talks at some point with the Prime Minister, and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens -- whether he's able to have a referendum and what happens."

But I think it's important for Palestinians to wrestle with the issue of whether they want to have a two state solution"


And on June 6th, after US envoy Mr. David Welsh concluded his meetings with the Israeli goverment and with Abbas with a recommendation that Abbas be encouraged to conduct the "referendum" on the basis of the prisoners document, which Welsh incorrectly described providing recognition for a two state solution.

While the official Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman described the prisoners document as being "problematic", it would seem that other top Israeli officials may have taken it upon themselves to promote the plan, thereby misleading the Bush Administration.

As if George W. Bush does not have enough crises of credibility on his plate at the moment?

The US administration may wish to be very careful about Israeli officials who promote Abbas.

After all, these were the same Israelis who promoted Arafat as a "peace partner".

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