VIOLENCE IN PALESTINE: ORIGINS OF A CONFLICT AND STRUGGLE FOR THE
SELF-DETERMINATION OF A PEOPLE

Justice and Peace Commission - Jerusalem (Catholic Church)
P.O.Box 20459
91204 Jerusalem.
sjoulain@steanne.org
Jerusalem, 06 December 2000.

THE PRESENT SITUATION

For two months now, the Israeli army and the settlers  have  been
in a situation of conflict with the  Palestinians.  The  list  of
victims is getting longer and longer: more than  300  dead,  9800
injured, several hundreds between  life  and  death,  about  1500
maimed for life. 45% of the victims are children and young people
under 18 years of age. This serious unrest  broke  out  first  in
Jerusalem, then in the Gaza Strip and has spread to the whole  of
Palestine, spilling over into Israel itself. It is clear to  many
analysts that, if the  provocative  visit  of  Mr  Ariel  Sharon,
leader of the Likud party (Israeli right), to Al Haram  as-Sharif
(Al Aqsa mosque compound) on September 28, 2000 was the detonator
of the recent violences, the latter are but a broader  expression
of  the  frustrations  of  the  Palestinian   people.   Different
humanitarian  NGO's  have  denounced  the  violence  in  numerous
reports  without  any  concrete  result  on  the  part   of   the
international community. During her recent  visit  to  Palestine,
Mrs Mary Robinson (High Commissioner for Human  Rights)  saw  for
herself the extent of the violence inflicted upon the Palestinian
people. In spite  of  this,  there  is  still  only  silence  and
inaction from the international partners in the peace process.

More than silence, there is even a tendency to blame the victims.
The way in which some of the media, especially in Israel and  the
USA, report events tends to lay all  the  responsibility  on  the
Palestinian  people.  This  selective  vision  of   the   present
situation does its  work,  and  is  beginning  to  have  dramatic
effects for the Palestinian population.

ORIGINS OF THE NEW INTIFADA

With the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington  on  September
13, 1993, many people hoped  to  see  the  end  of  a  very  long
conflict. At the same moment, in  Jerusalem,  at  Damascus  Gate,
people brought out their Palestinian flag for the first time  and
rejoiced under the amused eyes of the Israeli soldiers, who  also
wanted, that day, to believe that peace was at  hand.  Unhappily,
the attitude of different Israeli governments quickly chilled the
ardour of those who had thus celebrated the coming of peace.

In order to understand how the present situation has  arisen,  we
need to go right back to 1948 when the State of  Israel  was  set
up. The creation of Israel was in fact the first  injustice  done
to the Palestinian people. The massacres at Deir Yassin, the  530
villages destroyed, the enforced  exile  of  750,000  Palestinian
men, women and children, was the opening of the drama referred to
as "The  Nakba"  (literally  "The  Disaster").  Since  then,  the
Palestinians who have had to live as refugees have never  stopped
hoping to return to their own land, their own  home,  near  their
own olive trees.

With the occupation of the West Bank including Jerusalem and  the
Gaza Strip by Israel  in  1967,  the  gap  separating  these  two
peoples has widened still  further  and  the  sufferings  of  the
Palestinian  people   have   increased.   Despite   the   various
resolutions of the United  Nations,  especially  242  and  338  -
calling for a  halt  to  the  violence  against  the  Palestinian
people, for the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation army and for
the return of the refugees - the  situation  of  the  Palestinian
people has not altered.

The  struggle  of  the  Palestinian  people   for   independence,
Christians and Muslims alike, headed by the PLO,  and  the  first
Intifada were for Israel signs that the Israeli state  could  not
continue to occupy Palestine indefinitely. It was then  that  the
first negotiations began which resulted in the Oslo Accords.  The
Israelis finally recognised that they would not obtain a  lasting
peace without allowing the Palestinians their legitimate right to
self-determination in a sovereign state, and the Palestinians, in
accepting an accord based on United Nations resolutions  242  and
338, implicitly recognised the existence of Israel.

Unfortunately, the attitude of the Israelis quickly  disappointed
the hopes of the  Palestinians,  who  continued  nevertheless  to
participate in the peace process. Despite  a  greater  degree  of
liberty in certain regions, especially in the larger  centres  of
population, Israel continues  to  control  the  movement  of  the
Palestinians and to limit access to goods and services. Moreover,
there are key issues still to be resolved  which  will  otherwise
block the peace process:

1. Refugees: about 4 million Palestinians live outside Palestine.
If some of them have a reasonable standard of living in  the  USA
or elsewhere, a large number  still  live  in  refugee  camps  in
Lebanon, Jordan or Syria. There are also some who are refugees in
their own country, there are 27 refugee camps in  Palestine.  The
question of the right of return for refugees is at the  heart  of
the Palestinian problem.

2. Israeli settlements  in  Palestinian  territory:  born  of  an
ideology of conquest, the Israeli settlements are one of the most
difficult points of the peace negotiations. The total  population
of the settlements, including those  in  the  Golan,  is  300,000
persons. Even  since  the  Oslo  Accords  the  expansion  of  the
settlements has continued without  pause  -  37  km2  confiscated
every year - and their population has increased  by  50%  (32,750
new housing units built since 1993, 3,000 since  the  arrival  to
power of PM Barak  in  1999).  In  Palestinian  eyes  this  is  a
flagrant denial of sincerity in the Israeli will for peace. These
settlements, mostly armed, have been allotted  the  best  of  the
arable land. Their inhabitants receive  substantial  grants  from
the Israeli State. They are probably the most  dangerous  enemies
of peace, they  have  benefited  for  too  long  a  time  from  a
favourable  regime.  Besides  this,  the  settlers  are  strongly
indoctrinated, even fanatical. The examples  of  Hebron  and  the
Gaza Strip being the most striking signs of this. In the town  of
Hebron,  400  settlers  live  with  a  high  level  of   military
protection, in the  midst  of  more  than  150,000  Palestinians.
During the interminable curfews, the settlers do not hesitate  to
mock the Palestinians, confined to their homes, by walking freely
through the streets and attacking Palestinian property. While the
Gaza Strip has 1,200,000 Palestinian residents,  6,000  settlers,
protected by 12,000 Israeli soldiers, occupy  33%  of  the  total
area, often on the best land.

3. The status of Jerusalem: The question of Jerusalem is  also  a
very thorny one on account of its religious dimension.  It  is  a
holy  city  for   Jews,   Christians,   Muslims,   Israelis   and
Palestinians. The Israelis consider Jerusalem  as  their  capital
and include East Jerusalem in this. For  the  Palestinians,  East
Jerusalem is occupied territory and its annexation by Israel  has
never been recognised  in  international  law;  they  claim  East
Jerusalem as the capital  of  the  future  Palestinian  state.  A
number of solutions have been put forward for sharing  the  town.
None has so far satisfied both parties.

4. The use of water and other natural resources: There  is  total
injustice at the level of use of water and natural resources. The
Israelis use seven times more water than  the  Palestinians,  and
prevent the Palestinians from using more. The damage done to  the
environment by the Israeli State is  irreparable  and,  unless  a
solution is found rapidly, in 10-20 years no one  will  have  any
water.

In spite of all the concessions made  by  the  Palestinians,  the
Israeli government constantly asks  more  of  them,  putting  the
Palestinians into the position of begging for their legal rights.
This was the prevailing situation on the eve of the visit  of  Mr
Sharon. Frustration was at an all time high.  It  needed  only  a
spark to cause an explosion.

VIOLENCE ON THE GROUND

People  do  not  always  remember  sufficiently  that  the  first
violence in Palestine was  the  Israeli  occupation.  Present-day
violence in  'the  territories'  is  simply  the  fruit  of  that
occupation.

The situation on the ground is that of a struggle for freedom and
independence of a  people.  On  the  one  side  an  strong  army,
possessing a high capability for  combat,  with  ultra-modern  as
well as more conventional arms, and on the other side an  unarmed
civil population, and a Palestinian police force with light, out-
of-date weaponry.

The use of death-dealing weapons, tanks, helicopters, rockets and
other  arms,  as  well  as  highly   trained   snipers,   against
demonstrators armed with stones is unacceptable. After the recent
confrontations  in  Gaza,  the  press  reported  that  every  two
minutes, snipers opened fire on Palestinian children, causing  at
least thirty casualties in less than  an  hour,  the  youngest  7
years old with a bullet in his lungs. There have  been  a  number
wounded in the  head  and  upper  parts  of  the  body,  injuries
intended to kill, not to injure or frighten.

The Israeli settlers, put in illegally and without regard to  the
rights of the Palestinian population,  constitute  an  unbearable
wound. Not only do they monopolize  the  land,  but  they  are  a
veritable military force (thanks to arms supplied by the  Israeli
army) carrying out  raids  against  the  Palestinian  population,
killing, destroying homes and harvests,  confiscating  land,  all
this under the benevolent eye of the army.

Another  important  element  of   the   occupation:   intolerable
collective  punishments  inflicted  on  the   Palestinians.   For
example, the uprooting of thousands of olive trees, with all  the
emotional attachment which Palestinians  have  for  these  trees,
symbols of their identity, of their heritage, of their  life,  is
an act whose consequences are irreparable.  Irreparable  for  the
Palestinians, but also for the environment, Palestine is a  semi-
arid zone, with only slight rainfall: the more trees you  remove,
the less rain will fall. At the same  time  as  the  human  drama
there is also a whole eco-system under threat.

The blockage imposed on  the  Palestinian  people  by  Israel  is
itself beginning to be deeply resented. Many people who  work  in
Israel now have no source of  income,  some  villages  have  been
completely isolated for two months.  They  are  beginning  to  be
short of basic foodstuffs, there is no milk for babies  who  will
once again be the first victims. Although Israel says that  basic
supplies are allowed to pass, the reality is quite different.  In
some cases the supplies are there, but the people no longer  have
any money, in others there is neither money nor food.

Finally, and not least of the problems, the trauma  inflicted  on
children by  their  daily  witnessing  of  violence  and  by  the
bombardments, leaves wounds that are difficult to  heal.  Already
teachers and other educators are seeing the consequences, and are
trying to establish educational programmes to help  the  children
to come to terms with the trauma. It will  be  years  before  the
nightmares  stop  and  the  children  can  return  to  a   normal
equilibrium.

THE POSSIBLITY OF SOLUTION

It is very difficult in the present context to suggest solutions,
but it is clear that whatever happens there must be a  return  to
the negotiating table. No lasting  solution  can  be  imposed  by
force. In order to resume negotiations the following points  must
be taken into account:

1) No negotiation can succeed unless it is based on the following
points:

    i. An immediate  cessation  of  violence  (United  Nations
    resolution  1322)  and  withdrawal  of  Israeli  occupying
    forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip  (United  Nations
    resolutions 242 and 338).

    ii. Complete withdrawal of settlers from the West Bank and
    Gaza Strip and restitution of illegally  confiscated  land
    (Geneva Convention).

    iii.  Recognition  of  the  fundamental   right   of   the
    Palestinian people to self-determination and to live in  a
    sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital (United
    Nations resolution 303 and the  Universal  Declaration  of
    Human Rights).

    iv. Recognition of the right of return of the refugees and
    financial compensation for the  prejudice  to  which  they
    have been subjected (United Nations resolution 194).

2) To make an end to the violence, it  is  important  to  send  a
Commission of Enquiry under the auspices of the  United  Nations:
it must determine the responsibility of each of the  two  parties
in the recent violence.

3) The United States having lost much of its credibility  in  the
eyes of many, it  is  necessary  to  enlarge  the  frame  of  the
negotiations so as to include other partners  more  actively,  as
for example, the European Union, Russia, the United  Nations,  or
the League of Arab Countries.

It is important that the international community put into  action
all necessary means to assure the protection of  the  Palestinian
people and to help Israelis and Palestinians to take up the  path
of dialogue again. There can be no lasting peace in Palestine and
Israel unless justice is done  to  the  Palestinian  people.  The
creation of a Palestinian state is unavoidable if there is not to
be a huge  ethnic  cleansing,  as  even  the  Israeli  government
understands; it is therefore necessary not to hinder the process,
for  the  longer  the  present  situation  continues,  the   more
difficult a solution will be. It is indispensable to  smooth  the
way with the least possible delay.