Israel Resource Review 18th December, 2000


Cover Story:
American Bar Association Magazine,
Dec. 2000

by Jeffrey Ghannam

Where Will They Go? Palestinian refugees say international law guarantees them a right of return to their homelands. But the law has no teeth, and the refugees fear they have no champion.

Near a checkpoint between Israel and the West Bank, we prepare to be stopped, questioned, turned back or arrested.

Relative peace prevails on a bright fall afternoon a few days before the outbreak of new violence. Despite the calm on this day, a trip into Israel could lead to a fine and a few days in jail.

The rental car I am driving, carrying three members of a Palestinian refugee family, has license plates bearing a small Israeli flag. Israeli plates spirit a car through that nationís checkpoints. Cars with Palestinian National Authority plates,a symbol of a nascent nation,are restricted to the West Bank and Gaza.

Naji Aodah, 39, his son Mourad, 12, and nephew Atallah Salem, 27, live in the Dheisheh refugee camp near Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem in the West Bank, and they do not have permits to enter Israel. Without permits, which are hard to get, they are restricted to the West Bank and Gaza, though many Palestinians enter Israel illegally as cheap labor.

The dusty, crowded and trash-strewn alleys of refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza are where children like Mourad learn to throw stones and risk being killed in outbreaks of violence like the recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops.

When refugees recite their histories, their point of departure is their ancestral village, which may no longer appear as it once did on maps. Mourad points out that while he lives in Dheisheh, his family comes from Deir Aban, once a Palestinian village about 12 miles southwest of Jerusalem but now just rubble in the shadow of towns in Israel.

Mourad is among the refugees who carry on their parentsí and grandparentsí sense of dispossession. Refugees, who are into their fourth generation, want to return to their ancestral villages and properties.

Up to 3.7 million refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which provides education, training and relief for 1.2 million people in 59 camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. These refugees comprise the worldís single-largest refugee community.

As we near the checkpoint, Aodah tells me to drive straight ahead unless told to stop-routine checkpoint procedure. Many refugees who venture into Israel say that in times of relative calm, soldiers let them pass, knowing the refugees are going to visit old villages. If they are turned back, the soldiers admonish them, saying, "Just donít let me see you," to suggest the refugees take the circuitous backroads into Israel.

The car glides toward the checkpoint, and the lone soldier looks straight ahead but not at us. We pass and are slightly amazed at our luck. Aodah lets out a cheer. But even he canít quite recall the road to his familyís former village. After a wrong turn into a stunning valley of pine and olive trees that resembles parts of central California, the car groans up hills as we backtrack.

We finally find our way to the ruins of Deir Aban.

The Heart of the Issue

The refugees are campaigning for the right of return to villages now in Israel, the Jewish national homeland since 1948. The issue of the Palestinian right of return has been a growing source of moral, political and legal protest and negotiation from Washington, D.C., to the Palestinian-controlled territories.

Diplomatically, the right of return is an issue to be determined in final status talks, along with the borders of a Palestinian nation and the status of East Jerusalem. As part of the interim peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has withdrawn its military from the majority of Gaza, and from seven towns and cities in the West Bank.

This fall, after Israeli right-wing leader Ariel Sharonís visit to a site holy to Jews and Muslims, several Palestinian protesters died when Israeli troops fired on them. Funerals led to more clashes with Israeli soldiers, who fired to the head and chest, and more deaths. The cycles of unrest have unfolded in the West Bank and Gaza, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

As part of the current peace process, the Palestinian National Authority controls some areas of the West Bank and most of Gaza. Palestinians view those areas as the beginning of an independent state, and they have been seeking accelerated Israeli withdrawal.

The failures of peace efforts to resolve the daily humiliation of

refugees and ordinary Palestinians still living under occupation helped foment the frustration at the lack of progress toward an independent state. Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, contrary to international law, persist.

The vast majority of the people killed and wounded were Palestinians, but Israelis and Israeli Arabs also died. With no end to deadly clashes, the violence expanded to include sniper fire on Jewish settlements, Israeli rocket attacks on Palestinian National Authority sites and Islamic extremist car bombers.

The violence only intensifies the need for lasting resolution. Refugees see the end of their struggle in U.N. Resolution 194 (III) of 1948 as the authority for the right of return. But will the resolution be strictly interpreted or ignored altogether?

At the heart of the issue is the insistence of refugees that they have the right to return to properties in Israel. But Israel says that if they return, it must be to a Palestinian nation in the West Bank and Gaza.

To be sure, some refugees may not want to return, and large numbers have resettled all over the world. Still, the international community has repeatedly reaffirmed Resolution 194. Israel agreed to the resolution as part of its membership in the United Nations.

Without a resolution that refugees will accept, their camps will continue to be flash points for militancy in the Middle East fueled by a sense of injustice.

Even if peace negotiations resume in earnest, the character of a resolution will be a sticking point for Israel and the Palestinians for some time.

"For people with a legal interest, this is a matter that should be looked at in its universalism," says Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the Palestinian-controlled town of Ramallah. "Itís a matter of principle and basic human rights."

Other international efforts on behalf of refugee rights appear to support the claims of the Palestinian refugees. Palestinians point to the U.S.-led international coalition to repatriate Kosovar refugees, and the right of return and restitution for Bosnian refugees under the U.S.-sponsored Dayton Accords.

The billions of dollars in legal settlements that Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium have agreed to pay to Holocaust survivors serve as precedent, Palestinians say, for their own claims for lost properties and profits from Israelís use of refugee lands for 52 years. Refugee lands are largely Israeli state property.

"Palestinians are demanding what Jews are doing," says Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel/ Palestine Center for Research and Information, a Bethlehem-based independent think tank that develops public policy options. "What the Israelis will try to do as part of a negotiated agreement is to have Palestinians sign a statement that there will be no further claims."

Baskin believes that if Israel accepted responsibility for the suffering of refugees and recognized a right of return, it would be saying that it is an illegitimate state. "I donít think Israel will recognize the right of return to Israel."

Any resolution must unfold according to international law, says Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the legislative body of the Palestinian government. She is also secretary general of Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.

"I think any undermining of the Palestinian right of return will be a dangerous precedent globally," says Ashrawi, whose offices overlook an Israeli checkpoint. "Palestinians should be like other people-protected by the rule of law."

Paragraph 11 of Resolution 194 states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible."

Palestinians rejected the 1947 U.N. partition of Palestine as against the will of the indigenous population. They say 750,000 refugees were created by the panic-driven or forced depopulation and occupation of village lands in the months preceding and the war surrounding Israelís establishment.

The U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine was created in 1948 to effect the return of refugees, as well as to facilitate restitution of refugee properties and compensation for losses and damages, reports Badil, a Bethlehem grassroots advocacy group for refugee rights. But international efforts to resolve this refugee issue have focused on resettlement outside Israel, an option Palestinian refugees reject.

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer who once worked on Wall Street, says, "Many Palestinians insist on the right of return for the moral and legal aspects of it rather than out of any desire to return. Whoís going to deny me that right to go home? Itís my decision. Itís my right."

Israel rejects responsibility for the plight of Palestinian refugees, saying they fled at the commands of Arab armies that attacked the newly declared nation in May 1948. Israel blames refugee suffering on Arab host nations that have, aside from Jordan, largely refused to fully integrate Palestinians.

Further, Israel argues that 600,000 Jews lost property when Arab nations expelled Jewish citizens upon Israelís establishment. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman calls the refugee issue one of a regional population transfer, in that Palestinian claims are offset by Jewish property losses in Arab nations.

Itís a theory Palestinian negotiators in the peace talks reject, saying Israelís counterclaims must be taken up separately with those Arab nations. Further, the Palestinians say, Jews from Arab nations went to the Jewish national homeland to become citizens, not refugees.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians want to commit to accepting a set number of refugees who may return. Israel has considered allowing a limited number of refugees to return, 100,000 for instance, in a symbolic gesture or as part of family reunification over several years.

But the Palestinian leadership is unwilling to accede to such a number or commit itself to accepting a share of refugees because doing so would compromise its position that they should return to Israel under Resolution 194, Shikaki says.

The refugees fear that their rights will be cut short in a political compromise between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is conducting the peace talks with Israel.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have recognized the otherís right to exist. At issue is the nature of that existence: Where do all sides go from here?

Two Different Worlds

To refugees, crossing into Israel from the arid West Bank is like leaving a prison. Suddenly, the picture turns from black and white into color. The air is fragrant, and the hills undulate. The Green Line, the border separating Israel and the West Bank, is a few miles from the Dheisheh refugee camp but is, in every sense of the term, a world apart.

Atallah Salem has spent his life in Dheisheh, and he cites Resolution 194 for legal footing despite its failure to include a mechanism to guarantee its implementation. He says he has an individual right to return to his lands apart from what is negotiated collectively for refugees.

The specter of a sellout underlies the campaign in support of the right of return, which is aimed at the PLO as much as Israel and the international community.

Grassroots efforts in the West Bank and Gaza are in response to a sense that refugeesí rights have been marginalized in the peace process, says Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, executive director of Badil. "Nobody really knows what goes on in the negotiations," she says.

The 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles does not refer directly to Resolution 194, even though the fate of the 1948 refugees is to be discussed in final status talks launched in 1996. The future of refugees from the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is to be resolved separately among a four-nation committee.

Refugees wonder whether they will be victims again as they find themselves caught in the middle between Israeli and PLO negotiators.

Though PLO officials say publicly such a right cannot be negotiated away, the refugees fear it. That reality bleeds through remarks by refugee activists, who say compromises on sovereignty over Jerusalem and the borders of a Palestinian nation should be accepted before any compromise on the right of return.

Salem scoffs at the visits to Dheisheh camp by Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who tells camp residents to keep multiplying. "He just ignores us," Salem says. "He has lots of slogans, but thatís all. Whenever the moment comes that he will compromise on refugee rights, he will become nothing."

Salem recognizes his plight is not about to change overnight. So he raises awareness as a volunteer for Badil. "We were the victims in 1948. We were the victims in 1967," he says. "Weíre not going to be the victims again."

In Balata refugee camp, Ruqaya Jibrin sits on a stoop where she has a view of a cement wall. Many like her and her husband were made refugees before the Arabs attacked the new Jewish state. Jibrin and her husband hail from Beit Dajan-now Beyt Dagan in Hebrew-established six months after Jewish forces conquered the Palestinian village in April 1948, according to Walid Khalidi, a former senior fellow at Harvardís Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He edited a 636-page tome, titled All That Remains, about the Israeli occupation and depopulation of more than 400 Arab villages. The book is published by the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington, D.C.

Jibrin has visited her former home, now inhabited by Israelis, five times in 52 years. "Every time we go, we sit and we cry," says the woman with cloudy blue eyes. "We should go to our land. We donít want compensation." But, she adds, "Our land, our groves-theyíre gone."

She has spent 50 years in Balata. She is asked whether she would accept a home outside the camp in Nablus in a Palestinian nation. "I wonít accept it," she retorts.

Another refugee, Jamela Qasim, holds the skeleton key to the home in a village near the Mediterranean Sea that her family fled when she was 12. She and other refugees have returned to the ruins of their former villageís mosque on Fridays for prayers. She says the situation is too complicated for negotiations. "Only God can fix this."

Familiar Confines

Refugees nearly re-create their communal ties in the camps by living in clusters that correspond to their villages of origin. While the camps are depressing and drab, they are familiar. Many refugees face discrimination from the wealthier, town-dwelling Palestinians. Fathers reluctantly let daughters marry men from the camps, where the couples will make their homes.

On the walls of a small refugee camp home shared by 20 people from five families are photos of Khalil Abu Labanís daughter, whose age he struggles to recall.

The family reminds him that the girl, Rufaida, was "martyred" at 13. She was shot in the head by Israeli troops when she went outside during a curfew in the 1989 uprising. A photo from her funeral hangs on the wall. So does a poster from Pope John Paul IIís visit to Dheisheh earlier in the year, when he recognized the refugeesí suffering.

Born in 1948, Abu Laban lived in several camps before settling in Dheisheh, where he owns a billiard hall. He says no peace agreement will be durable without recognizing that refugees have a right to return to their villages of origin. Most important in his mind is to have that right; less vital is what he does with the choice. He adds that compensation cannot supplant it.

Last summer, his son, Jalal, 26, visited the site of Zakariyya, where he met several Israeli youths who told him he was welcome to return. But even if Israel accepts some refugees, it flatly rejects their claims to their villages, which it says may involve displacing Israelis. Palestinians say many village sites lie empty.

Both Zakariyya and Deir Aban were conquered early in 1948 by the Haganah, the underground Jewish militia, well before the Arab attack on the newly established Israel, according to Khalidiís book.

The remaining residents of Zakariyya were evicted in 1950, and most were transferred to Al Ramle, another depopulated and occupied Arab city that is now Israeli, according to Khalidi, who cites Israeli historian Benny Morris.

Abu Laban has two brothers who are Israeli citizens in Al Ramle. Years ago, he tried in vain to be reunited with them. Today, he would seem to reject the idea of living anywhere but Dheisheh or the ruins of Zakariyya.

Jalal, who has no work permit, earns $10 a day when he can sneak into Israel or work on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He is among those who live in the crowded home with his wife and baby girl, who is named Dunya, meaning "world." Playing with his daughter, Jalal says, "Maybe her world will change."

Israel says the right of return for Palestinian refugees could forever destroy the character of the Jewish national homeland.

"Israel is not going to change the makeup of the population of Israel by accepting large numbers of refugees," says Washington, D.C., lawyer Joel Singer, who gave his views as a former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and an Israeli peace negotiator under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Singer says if refugees are accepted, "It will be on an individual basis and not a massive basis. It will be over a long period of time, not one fell swoop. It will be largely symbolic."

Singer believes Arafat will have to sell a compromise to his people as something more meaningful than it really will be. "The refugees are still arguing for the resolution of the refugee problem in its totality," he says.

Singer envisions an Israeli proposal of funds to rehabilitate refugees in locations where they already live, resettlement of some refugees to a Palestinian nation in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli acknowledgment of-but not responsibility for-refugee suffering, and an Israeli agreement to absorb some refugees through family reunification.

Israeli Peace Now spokesman Didi Remez says, "In terms of historical justice, it would be right that all the refugees return."

But like most Israelis, Remez says itís not practical because of the threats to internal security and to the character of the Jewish state. The solution must be pragmatic, he says. "To do that, you have to put historical injustice aside. Thereís no way that any Israeli government is going to accept the right of return."

Peace Now supports a return of refugees to an independent Palestinian nation in the West Bank and Gaza with a shared capital in Jerusalem.

Remez sits in Peace Nowís Jerusalem office, in the basement of a stone villa in the German Colony neighborhood. Itís near similar clusters of artful homes that once belonged to the Palestinian Muslim and Christian elite. The idea of Palestinian owners returning to claim their properties in Israel is unthinkable, he says.

"People are physically living in these houses," Remez says of the lush neighborhoods where homes have courtyards and red-tile roofs. "For anybody living here, itís just not workable.

"We have Palestinians who say, ĎJust give us that right,í " Remez says. Even if the Palestinians say they wonít use the right, he points out, "The floodgates are open forever and ever. This is not how you build a permanent peace solution."

Remez says he doesnít think compensation for lost properties will equal anywhere near the Palestinian emotional or national loss. "It canít be framed as ĎWeíre giving you money now for your losses and lands in Israel.í In practical terms, itís never going to make up anything. Itís going to be a big compromise."

Palestinian compensation for lost properties in Israel could reach up to half a trillion dollars, according to Gassner of Badil. Figures of $40 billion-$100 billion have also been used.

Privately, Israeli peace activists envision the emergence of a binational union of Israel and Palestine, but only after several decades of Palestinian independence and development. Supporters of this idea believe both Israel and Palestinians can benefit from several decades of separation so that Israel can resolve internal issues of, for instance, religion vs. secularism while a new Palestinian state can develop apart from military occupation on all fronts.

But practical considerations do not sway Palestinians, who say the issue cuts deeper. Spokeswoman Ashrawi says Israel is acting above the law on the issue of Palestinian refugee rights.

"The one reason the Palestinians are not going back to their homes and lands which they own and which they lived in for centuries is the fact that they are not Jewish," she says. "And I think that is totally disregarded. Itís not the job of the Palestinian refugees to pay that price.

"If the peace process is to produce a just and lasting peace, it cannot be based on injustice," she says. Palestinian leaders who attempt to pressure refugees to accept a flawed agreement under the guise of pragmatism "are sadly mistaken. They will lose their constituency, and they will mobilize the majority of Palestinians."

Shikaki says, "There has to be a way to satisfy both sides." He envisions a four-pronged approach to be forged in negotiations. "I think a limited number will seek to return to Israel. But if they have the choice to make, then you facilitate closing the file. Only by giving them the choice can you get closure on the refugee issue."

In reaching a resolution, the difficulty lies in determining the number of refugees who would want to return to Israel. The remaining three options include returning to a Palestinian nation, emigrating to the West, or settling in host countries like Lebanon or Jordan.

"The negotiations will focus on who will return to Israel," Shikaki says. "The other three options arenít sticking points."

Even before violence erupted in September, Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organization negotiators remained seriously divided on almost every issue, says Omar Dajani, a 1996 Yale law graduate and legal adviser to the PLO Negotiations Affairs Unit.

"The Palestinian side has pressed for international law to be the primary reference point in the resolution of each issue," Dajani says. But he adds that Israel has resisted and has called for more "practical" solutions based on the current balance of power and the situation on the ground.

"If Israel is genuinely interested in securing its long-term security, it is imperative that it accept the Palestiniansí right of return and take concrete steps to facilitate its implementation," Dajani maintains.

"Iím convinced, however, that it is possible to maintain Israelís role as a sanctuary for Jews throughout the world while accommodating religious and ethnic diversity within its borders."

If the tensions between Israel and its 1 million citizens of Palestinian origin are any indication, the future of peaceful co-existence and equality looks grim. Israeli Arabs live in communities that are vastly underdeveloped, and residents suffer from high unemployment. Some rioted this fall against their second-class status.

Hashem Mahameed, an Israeli Arab member of Israelís parliament, the Knesset, is calling for a democracy that includes Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The nature of Israelís diversity is much-debated today. Israeli news reports say some Russian ?migr?s to Israel are Christians.

Arab Israelis wage their own campaign for the right of return under Resolution 194 for the 250,000 "internally displaced," citizens who are unable to return to their villages.

"Theyíre refugees in their homeland and in their country," Mahameed says, adding he is certain they can return to villages and lands that are not occupied by Israelis. "We donít want to uproot any Jews."

Uncovering the Path to Peace

The path to peaceful co-existence is elusive in this unforgiving land of competing nationalisms, religions and their manifestations. Can the past, the present and the future be reconciled?

The refugeesí future will continue to hang in the balance. Is their future to be forged from a compromise based on pragmatism or international law? Probably both. Israel says only a small number of refugees, if any, may return. And they will not return to their villages because of the changed realities and threats.

The Palestinians argue that international law is on their side. They ask: If the rule of law is compromised here, where will it be followed? And if the rule of law is compromised, does it not play into the hands of militants all over the world who will struggle to restore their losses with the same disregard?

The refugeesí hardship would seem to never end. But the character of a resolution could determine the future for this community and region, for better or for worse. Without better lives, the refugees arenít about to forget about the right of return, especially when faced with poverty and camp life.

On a bluff in Deir Aban, or Monastery of Aban, named after a cleric, the traces of a village can be made out. Several Israeli settlements have arisen nearby on village lands.

Last summer, Naji Aodah brought his 75-year-old mother and other elders to the destroyed village. Many elders trickle into Israel to sit amid such ruins, though they can hardly distinguish the sites themselves. He points out tombs. He uncovers water wells and drops a stone to hear its splash deep below the surface.

"I donít want to go back to Dheisheh," Atallah Salem says as he surveys the ruins for the first time, even though he grew up not far away.

These fleeting visits are a tonic for the refugees. The detritus stands as proof that they once had normal lives. Their ancestors lived in stone homes with lands of almond, pomegranate and olive trees.

An ocher sunset is visible from this hillside, unlike the shards of light that barely make their way into the cement and cinder block camps.

Aodah says that he would return to Deir Aban, even in its destroyed state with no plumbing or electricity.

He and Mourad hike through brush and debris. The father shows his son the foundation to the former family home. He points out a cave where a relative was born.

To make the former village live inside of his son, he feeds him cactus fruit, wild thyme and carob from its soil. He removes the dust from a brown carob pod that he gives his son to taste and remember.

"Bitter or sweet?" the father asks his son.

Mourad answers, "Itís sweet."

Jeffrey Ghannam, a lawyer, is a legal affairs writer for the ABA Journal. His e-mail address is

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Official Palestine Authority Radio News on the PBC's Voice of Palestine - Dec. 17

Summary and Analysis

Beginning Saturday Night, December 16, the Voice of Palestine has reported in detail on the appointment of Colin Powell as U.S. Secretary of State-Designate with a certain amount of concern.

VOP has underscored remarks by General Powell and by President-Elect George Bush that the security of Israel was the lynch-pin of a Middle East peace. VOP has also emphasized that Powell commanded U.S. forces during the Gulf War against Iraq.

Indeed, Iraq, and news about Iraq, is once more being stressed in VOP news broadcasts (see headlines below).

VOP continues to focus on the deaths of senior commanders in the Fatah, which it says are the results of an Israeli liquidation campaign.

But VOP opened a new campaign of its own, claiming that Israel was once again-according to VOP-actively digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque. "Israeli violations continue against Jerusalem and its holy places, as Israel has not stopped digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque," declared the morning news anchorman, Nizar Abud, Sunday.

Saturday Night Headlines-Dec 16, 9pm

  • "Masses of residents in Jenin, Salfit and Gaza accompany the funerals of the three martyrs who fell before Israeli bullets yesterday;
  • Dr. Saeb Erikat characterizes current contacts with Israel as an preliminary exploratory efforts aimed at a summit in Washington, but Washington has sent no such invitations yet to such a summit, but administration signals readiness to continue with peace process;
  • President-elect George Bush in his first statement says the new administration will promote the peace process but said the security of Israel was the key to such a peace;
  • Bush, speaking at the appointment of Colin Powell to be Secretary of State, said the new administration would defend America's interests in the Arab Gulf (note: Bush said Persian Gulf, but Arab news organizations customarily use the term "Arab Gulf");
  • Powell, the first Black named Secretary of State, said America would remain a friend of all the parties in the region, and it is recalled that he was army commander during the Gulf War;
  • The former Roman Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem Hilarion Capucci, on a visit to Lebanon, Ösaid he supported Palestinian children taking part in the Independence Intifada in the battle for the independence of Palestine. (Capucci was expelled from Palestine in 1977 after serving three years in Israeli jails for ateempting to smuggle an arms caches into Israel for the Fatah);
  • A senior source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said today that Moscow is working seriously to remove sanctions against Iraq at the earliest possible momentÖand is ready to develop friendly bilateral relations as quickly as possible;
  • Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister Tariq Aziz visited Moscow last month and said again that Baghdad refused new United Nations inspections;
  • A Spanish plane landed today at Saddam International Airport in Baghdad in the first direct trip to Baghdad since 1990."

Sunday Morning Headlines (7:30-9:00 a.m.)

  • "A new martyr today joins the martyrs of the Intifada, 28-year-old Samih Malahba, of Kalandia Camp near Jerusalem;
  • Occupation forces shell with heavy weapons populated neighborhoods in Dir al-Balah, and the wicked shelling does damage to residents' houses;
  • Occupation soliders fire on Beit Shaur, damaging seven houses;
  • Occupation soliders searching houses in Nabi Salah near Ramallah;
  • His excellency President Arafat receives message from President Clinton on the peace process;
  • (Other headlines-Erikat, Capucci, Bush, Powell, Iraq-repeats from Saturday night)
  • Iraq says it does not expect any change in American policy against Iraq."

Quote of the Day

"Things have been going on for four years (digging around Temple Mount), but we see new things now, especially on the southern front of Al-AqsaÖ.It is impossible for Israel to control the city of Jerusalem and the holy places" (Adnan Husseini, Engineer, Jerusalem Waqf-Islamic Council)

Rhetorical Elements

"Israel is talking about peace in English, but it speaks to its soldiers in Hebrew-to carry out more crimes." (Dr. Saeb Erikat, PA Home Rule Minister, Saturday Night interview)

Morning Commentary (Youssef al-Kazaz, Senior Commentator)

"The official view of the Palestinian Authority was given yesterday on the Voice of Palestine: talks will continue, and the Intifada will continue - the Intifada of al Aqsa and Independence."

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When PA TV takes the place of human companionship
Naomi Shira Cohen

Most recently, I went to my friend Fatima's house to visit her and see her new baby. It was the first time in about 3 weeks since I'd been there, the second time in about 2 months that I'd been there. Before the violence started, I was popping in about once a week or so, and Fatima would stop my house for coffee and a chat.

Since the violence, Fatima hasn't been coming to visit. She stopped working because of the pregnancy but still might have come to visit if it hadn't been for the big boulders set in the road to block the way from the village to our town. A couple times she called, or I called her, and we'd arrange a time to meet by the boulders, she in her car, me in mine, and we'd park on our respective sides, then she would clamber over the rocks to sit in my car, or I'd clamber over and sit in hers, and we'd talk there. I wasn't comfortable going into the village, so I put off her invitations, made excuses about the kids, my husband, the army. One day-this was the time about 3 weeks ago-she asked, and so, impetuously, I just went. I drove around the roadblock, following her in her little car. I had my baby with me but wasn't worried about our safety. Once I got into the village, I could see that everything was normal and friendly, just as it had always been.

But everything wasn't the same. Talking with Fatima and her family, I learned that her oldest daughter, who's in her last year of high school, has had trouble getting to school and in fact had switched high schools to one in a different town that was easier to get to. She still ends up missing a lot of days because every time there's a funeral for someone killed in the violence, the PA cancels school so everyone can go to the funeral and riot afterwards. Fatima doesn't allow her children to participate in such things so they spend a lot of time at home.

That's where I saw that things were different. Fatima's kids have always watched what seems to me to be a lot of television-say, several hours a day. Her husband, who doesn't work, watches pretty much all day. Usually when my kids and I visited, there'd be some silly soap opera on, all the kids glued to the screen. But for the past few months, it was all "news." I put it in quotation marks because it's not really news. It's propaganda.

To my college-educated, Western eyes, it's the most blatant, offensive, obvious kind of junk-bad actors, bad commentators reading from gory scripts of the most inflammatory kind, plainly seeking to inflame the senses of anyone watching.

I don't even like to talk about what is shown. I thought for a while, "Well, so what, no one pays attention to it, it doesn't mean anything," even though I was bothered by the one-sided, negativity of it all, the fact that it was lies. But what I've seen is that it does have an effect on people who watch it. I can't even blame the viewers: They were seeing it for so many hours, and with no alternative point of view, how could they know enough to question it, let alone criticize it or recognize it for what it was?

Fatima called me in a panic one night, saying that they had just heard that Jewish residents of our neigborhood near Jerusalem were marching on their villages and shooting everyone. I looked out the window, saw nothing, then sent my husband up to the street to check things out. It was perfectly quiet and peaceful, not a soul in sight, not a sound to be heard. I told her then that she should not believe everything she saw on television or heard on the radio, that they lied in order to get people upset and angry. Even as I told her, I could sense her skepticism: "Oh, sure, Shira. You don't know anything more than I do, and of course you don't want to believe that your neighbors would shoot us!"

It was when I spoke to her daughter that same night that I realized the extent of the damage those lies on television had caused. I have known Shiruk for years, ever since she was eleven, my oldest daughter's age. She is now nearly eighteen. We have hiked together, cooked and danced and sung together. She taught my daughter Arabic every week for a couple of months. She is a beautiful, bright, talented girl who hopes to go to college. To put that ambition in perspective, I should point out that neither of her parents finished school; Fatima can barely read Arabic, and in her village few girls finish high school.

Whenever the subject of politics came up, which it inevitably did over the years, Shiruk would wave a hand dismissively at all politicians, Arabs and Israelis alike. They were all the same, she'd say, interested only in putting money in their own pockets instead of serving the people. I suspect she acquired most of her views from her mother. It wasn't a subject we pursued for very long. We would voice our agreement on areas we could agree on, and let the rest drop.

But the night that Fatima called, I could hear Shiruk shouting in the background. Fatima kept telling her what I was saying, then Shiruk would argue with her mother, saying, "But they're showing it on television right now! They're cutting off his head!" And I'd hear her and tell Fatima to tell Shiruk that it was all lies, that I had just sent my husband out and there was NOTHING, that it was all quiet, she could go outside for herself and see. Finally, Fatima put Shiruk on the phone. I told her, "Listen to me. It is all lies, it is not true. I am here in our town and there is nothing like that going on. Turn off the television, stop watching that!" She said, "But I want to watch and be with my people!"

Never before, in the years I had known her, had I heard Shiruk identify with "her people." Her people meant her family, her relatives, her village. And in that order, with her loyalties sharply dropping for each category. She chose her own friends, made her own choices, had her own ambitions and interests. With all her talents, and with her mother's support, she could, I believed, go on to become whatever she wanted. At one point this meant medical school; at another, law school. She had talked about becoming a computer technician. It didn't matter to her if none of the other girls in the village cared about their education, cared about traveling and studying and learning. Now she wants to be with "her people", the ones who are making molotov cocktails, the ones who teach small children to throw rocks and fire guns.

If anyone could be immune to political propaganda and hate-mongering, I would have thought it was Shiruk. She has spent a lot of time with Jews, after all, she has eaten in our homes, been to our parties and shuls, held our babies. She has a good head on her shoulders, knows English, reads books. But it seems that even the brightest mind is susceptible to hate-mongering, if there's enough exposure to it. Kept out of school, Shiruk spends many, many hours watching television. She has seen decapitations, gang rapes, children being maimed and murdered-all at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Her younger siblings watch too, and I imagine that this is what is happening in most homes in that village and in the hundreds of villages scattered around the West Bank.

The writer has been a participant in Moslem-Jewish dialogues for the past decade

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Official PA radio news - the PBC radio Dec. 18th

Summary and Analysis

Perhaps because the Palestinian Authority has some internal divisions about contacts with Israel, VOP has been largely downplaying this subject. One point was stressed however: Yasser Arafat himself was quoted as denying that the Clinton Administration position paper (much talked about in Israel) DOES NOT include any trade-off of Palestinian sovereignty over the holy shrines in return for Palestinian willingness to delay the "right of return"

Instead of dwelling on the peace process, VOP has been going into great detail concerning the new appointments of George Bush (including broadcasting some Arab pronouncements that Colin Powell is "a war criminal" because of the Gulf War) and the nitty gritty of the Israeli electoral process, including the possibility that there may be an Arab candidate for Israeli prime minister.

During its mid-day Tuesday afternoon news shows, VOP gave significant air-time to reading a front-page article from the Iraqi newspaper al-Jumhouriyya ("The Republic") to the effect that Powell was a war criminal and that his appointment showed that the new Bush Administration was still strongly anti-Iraqi. (NOTE: Reading a newspaper article in the main headlines is rare, especially when it's an article from a non-Palestinian source.)

In addition, VOP continues to focus on the deaths-martyrs and funerals for them-and wounded on the Palestinian side, referring to Israeli actions as war crimes. There has been no noticeable pull-back on harsh anti-Israeli rhetoric, except on the personal front: Ehud Barak and Israeli Army commander Shaul Mofaz have not been called "war criminals" on major news shows in the last three days.

At the same time, PA officials sometimes cannot resist poking fun of their Israeli counterparts, as when Saeb Erikat was asked about Acting Israeli Foreign Minister (and Police Minister) Shlomo Ben-Ami's comments about a trade-off deal regarding Jerusalem holy sites/Palestinian refugees: "I cannot be the watchman for the lips of Shlomo Ben-Ami or other Israeli officials."

Quotes of the Day

  • "I call on the Israelis to keep the agreements they have agreed.and not to rely on violence, on artillery, on tanks and so forth against cities and other economic and military means." (Yasser Arafat, morning news)
  • "We are heading to Washington this Tuesday.and the basis (of the discussions) is the ending of the Israeli occupation. We will make every effort possible based on 242 and 338 and a solution for the refugees based on 194 (i.e. UN resolution regarding right of return).There can be no peace except based on an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 1967 lines including holy Jerusalem. " (PA Minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erikat, morning news)

Morning Headlines (from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m.)

  • "Four martyrs from Israeli attacks in the homeland, one of them from settlers' bullets;
  • Strong clashes in Khan Yunis and Hebron, with occupation forces invading our sovereign territory;
  • His excellency President Yasser Arafat says two delegations-one Palestinian and one Israeli-will go to Washington to talk to the Administration about the peace process;
  • Call for greater cooperation between citizens and security forces;
  • Bush announces appointments of Rice, Gonzalez and Hughes;
  • Netanyahu Law goes from Knesset committee to Knesset today;
  • Works Ministry denies Israel has allowed workers into Green Line;
  • In the internal Israeli scene: will there be an Arab candidate for prime minister?"

Quotes from Interview with Saeb Erikat

"President Arafat told President Clinton yesterday. there is no avoiding putting an end to Israeli actions, Israeli closures, Israeli assassinations, the continuing Israeli blockade and lock-down. How can the Palestinian people say 'let's go ahead with consultations on the peace process' while the assassination policy continues..

There can be no peace except based on an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 1967 lines including holy Jerusalem. There are Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. There can be no compartmentalization of this matter. There has to be complete and undivided Palestinian sovereignty over Holy Jerusalem including the Old City, the holy sites and the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque."

Intifada Versus Negotiations
Nabil 'Amr, PA Parliamentary Affairs Minister

Q: "Can negotiations go on with the continuation of the Intifada?"

A: "We completely realize that the Palestinian negotiator has no serious leverage without the backing of a strong and popular movement struggling with blood for its basic rights for its basic goals on all levels. For this, everyone has to know that the Palestinian people has the right to carry out its national quest, to liberate itself from occupation and to build an independent state..These are our goals, and we cling to them. No national struggle can be prohibited or constrained from our people."

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