Olive Branch from Jerusalem
Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

“Peace will be the fruit of Justice and my people will dwell in the beauty of Peace”

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Tuesday, 28 November 2000

Dear Friends,
 

I send you this newsletter with some news and several articles that I see very important to understand what is going in this very strange country.
 

Last Sunday, the Patriarch Michel Sabbah celebrated the mass in the parish church of Jerusalem, and during the feast of Christ the King, this parish celebrated the silver and golden jubilees of more than 15 couples from this Parish. The Patriarch reminded them of their fidelity and responsibility in the education of their children and involvement in the society in which they live. I was very glad to see that this small community of Jerusalem is still here to witness to Jesus Christ in his land as ”living stones” around the dead stones of the Holy places. We can say without any pretension that we are the continuation of the first Christian community, and that we are here by a special vocation of God who wants us to be here not anywhere else. Indeed we are “the mother church of all the churches” even if we are one of the smallest churches in the world.. this is the will of God and part of the mystery of this Holy Land.. Maybe He wants us a small folk, the salt of the earth and the light in the darkness of this world. We really thank God for this grace to be in Jerusalem and we promise to remain here forever.

You will find in today’s Olive Branch:

1) Bethlehem Diary (6) of Toine van Teeffelen, our dear friend who is always very punctual weekly diary from Bethlehem which is written especially for our newsletter.. I hope that you appreciate always what he writes, like I do, because he is an eyewitness of the events he is witnessing.. Therefore, I wanted to honor him by publishing on my Nonviolence Homepage all the diaries he wrote, so as it will become a document in the future. You can find it in this site:

http://members.nbci.com/nonviolence/toine/index-toine.html

2) I send you also the testimony of FR. George Vimard, who is living in AL-SHATE refugee camp in Gaza, but this time he wanted to go our from the hell of Gaza, not to run away, but because he had to guide a friend in a tour to the Holy Places… Imagine what happened with him? He couldn’t return back… For more details, read his adventure or come and try to move between the islands of the Palestinian Territories.. If this not allowed to foreigners, imagine what is the sort of us, poor people… I told you that we live in small and big prisons…!!!

3) I publish also an interview with Fr. Emile Shofani telling us why the Arabs Palestinians living inside Israel revolted and in which conditions they are living.

4) The article of, “For Israel, Land or Peace”, is very interesting, not because it is written by Jimmy Carter, but because I would like to show you and ask you: “Why the presidents of the Untited States don’t dare to speak when they are in the White House? Why they become peacemakers only after their presidency? You will see if I am right or not when Clinton finishes his mandate, how he will show sympathy to the Palestinian people if not more Palestinian than the Palestinians?!

With my best wishes from Jerusalem with the beginning of the Holy month of RAMADAN, hoping this fasting month and the forthcoming Christmas will bring us more JUSTICE & PEACE

                                                                                                            FR. RAED ABUSAHLIA

1-BETHLEHEM DIARY (6)

November 20-27, 2000

Toine van Teeffelen
 

The mother of a friend and neighbour of ours, Salpi, died. On Monday we attend a memorial service at the Armenian section of the Church of Nativity. The attendants, some of whom hold a candle, stand in a circle around the bier. The Armenian priests wear their remarkable triangular hats, shaped in the form of a church – as if they are walking churches. Afterwards Mary, her family and I pay condolences at Salpi’s home. Men and women go into separate rooms. All sit silently beside each other for quite a while. The silence is intensely social, the people are close to each other. The only talk is about how to arrange permits to attend the funeral next day in the Armenian quarter in Jerusalem. Later on we hear that the Israeli Civil Administration gave permits for just two cars to enter Jerusalem. Only the closest family could go. A few days later we visit the second memorial service followed again by a visit to the family. Black coffee and sweet bread are presented, as is the local custom. Now people talk more and also laugh. I feel that the two condolence meetings mark the stages of a meaningful “rite de passage.” The first meeting expresses the joint commemoration of loss, the second shows that the family and surrounding community have come to life again.

For the past several months Salpi took a leave from her work as a counselor at St Joseph’s School in Jerusalem to stay with and take care of her mother. She tells Mary how, among other things, she consoled her mother when she screamed during the bombings. Like Salpi, there are many women in the Palestinian community taking care of their parents. With almost no services for the elderly available, and often without proper insurance and medical care, it is usually the daughters living close by who take responsibility. Mary and her sister Jeanet presently take care of their father who has been weakened by a serious infection. Sawsan consoles her mother who is afraid of the shellings, while Suzy, whose mother is presently in the US, takes care of friends, and is doing various errands for a medical organization in Bethlehem. Due to the departure of many young men to countries abroad, there are more women than men in Bethlehem, and older people more than youth.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the students from Bethlehem and Hebron come to the computer lab of the Institute to share their stories with Dutch students. I have the impression that the visit to the Institute has become something special for many of the kids, not just because of the access to the computers and the Internet but also because of the opportunity of leaving home. The girls of St Joseph put on make-up. Some boys of the Freres School sit outside the computer class for more than an hour, waiting till the girls come out of the room. The girls are of the same age but think that the boys are far less mature, and they walk out seemingly without noticing anyone. Afterwards the boys look out from the windows and try to catch the girls’ attention. Both don’t have evenings to go out and mingle.

Like usual we, the teachers, share stories too. I am called by Sana’a Abu Ghosh who is principal of a United Nations School in the village of Battir, south-west of Bethlehem. I try to arrange a class of her school to be involved in an exchange program with Belgian schools. She likes the idea but the problem is that the girls cannot come from the village to Bethlehem. They have to pass “road 60” which is a bypass road for settlers who travel from Jerusalem in the direction of Hebron. Because Palestinian cars are not allowed to drive along some 1,5 km of that road, students and teachers have to walk there, which is sometimes quite dangerous because of shootings. The danger and inconvenience prevent some of her teachers from outside the village to come to work, or, if they can come on the way to school, they may not be allowed to cross the checkpoint on their way back home. We discuss whether it is possible that she would arrange having a computer with Internet at her school so that the girls do not need to come weekly to the Institute.

Like Sana’a’s school, many schools face operational difficulties. Al-Khader, a village between Bethlehem and Battir, is especially affected. The village itself is in area A, that is, under full Palestinian control. However, its four schools are located in area C, which is under the control of the Israeli army. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week, the local military commander determined that Palestinian youth threw gas canisters at the military out of the school courtyard. He ordered the schools, with more than 2000 students, closed for at least a month. (The school principal did an investigation and asserted that the canisters were thrown not from the school courtyard but from a neighbouring sports field, and that this was done by youth from other areas).  The students now study on the floor in the local mosque or in a village house, without basic equipment. The older students, who have to work for their final exams, go to schools in other villages where they take a second shift in the late afternoon, after the regular students finish studies. Some of the teachers who come from other areas have decided to stay overnight in those villages. At dark, people don’t travel and generally stay at home.

I know Al-Khader well because I used to go there to accompany school class excursions. Al-Khader means “the Green One” and represents a holy person in Islam, described in the Quran as a somewhat mystical advisor of Musa (Moses). For the Christians, Al-Khader is St George. According to local legend, he was put in prison in the village. Later on, the Crusaders took the legend of St George to the West, where he became the patron saint of England. In the center of the Moslem village is a Greek Orthodox Church in which a lone priest serves a church community which mainly consists of pilgrims - Christians but also Moslems. There is an iron chain on display, which believers put around the neck in order to be protected by the saint. On the saint’s day (May 5), many pilgrims come to give sacrifices, or to baptize their child. Palestinian folklore contains a wealth of stories about the healing properties of the saint, and, when asked, the villagers will tell you wonder stories attributed to the saint’s intercession. Traditionally, St George used to bring rain to the peasants while running on his horse over the clouds during a thunderstorm. He also provided protection, like a knightly prince. During last spring I guided a Dutch group along the place. The group leader, a reverend, was somewhat dismissive about the “superstition” of the villagers. I did not have the right theological counter-argument available but expressed my belief that the saint lent a kind of sacred meaning to community life.

Now the people of Al-Khader need protection more than ever. This week, the Yamama hospital close to the village (Mary’s father was treated there a month ago) was shot right at the moment that some youth, injured from previous shootings, were treated in the emergency room. The room had to be evacuated immediately. In another incident close to the village, a Palestinian taxi was stopped and the soldiers ordered all passengers to leave the car - not through the doors but through the windows. The taxi driver had to assist the people, who were not young, in wriggling themselves out of the windows and bringing them in along the same way. From a shopkeeper close to the Al-Husseini hospital in Beit Jala Suzy heard an even more bizarre story. After a family car was stopped, again near Al-Khader, a father and three sons were asked to come out, start creeping on their arms and legs, and bark like dogs. The middle son refused, and was hit so violently that he was afterwards treated in the hospital from where the shopkeeper heard the story. Ishmail, the school principal from Hebron, explained that there is method in this madness. To ask the father to do such things in front of his children is very humiliating, especially in Arab society where the father’s honour is central to family and community life. Moreover, in Islam, the dog is considered an unclean animal, and to demand imitating a dog is an extreme form of humiliation.

Afterwards, Suzy asked her 11th graders what they would do when asked to bark like dogs. The students told they would not comply, never. “And what if your father was threatened by a gun, would you comply or not?” In that case, most of the girls acknowledged that they would comply - what can you do?

Suzy likes to challenge her students with such “moral dilemmas.” Both at the Freres and St Joseph we used to ask students what they would do if they were in the desert and encounter settlers who had lost their way and lacked water. A modern application of the Good Samaritan parable. At the Freres, one boy in an auditorium with some 500 students said that he would not give water, since the settler was his enemy. Almost everybody else objected, saying that this was against the principles of Christianity and Islam, and that of course one should give water to whomever was in need. (Right now, I am not so sure about their opinions on the matter). One clever student developed a political compromise, saying, “OK, I would give water, but organize a press conference afterwards.” At St Joseph’s, Suzy asked her students to think about a reversal of the situation. What would the students think the settlers would do when the Palestinians were without water? As it turned out, the students did not trust the settlers as much as they trusted themselves.

The present-day moral dilemmas are not hypothetical, and underline the vulnerability of people in everyday life. Confronting her students with the story about the family forced to imitate dogs, Suzy said that one girl started to cry uncontrollably. She was related to the Abayat family, the local Fatah leader who was assassinated in a helicopter attack two weeks ago. The girl is well-known for her harsh opinions and feelings of revenge, to the point that her father regularly tells her: “Choose your words, lady.” Her opinions seem to suppress a basic fear and sadness.

These weeks I see, and hear about, many people crying. With my Western-Dutch background, I sometimes tend to become impatient with intense expressions of grievance. But Mary points out the obvious, that at many moments crying is the best thing you can do. It’s not just for releasing tensions, but also a way of showing that you are together and care about each other. Suzy tells that one of her students interviewed her grandfather for an oral history research. He spoke about the Palestinian rebellion during the time of the British Mandate, in 1936. His memories resonated so much with the present-day experiences of the girl, that she started to cry and said that it was only now that she took seriously all those family stories from before. Like silence, crying can be an intensely social act, here bridging the gap between generations.

Coming to grips with an impossible reality creates uncommon habits. One of them is this fascination with violence which in the beginning I found strange to the point of somewhat distasteful. Now I think that the hunt for knowledge about bullets and rockets gives people an almost magical feeling of controlling what cannot be controlled.  People go and watch the “firework,” and become instant experts in all kinds of bullets (except Mary and I, it seems). Karishma has set up a “bullet project” in which students search for different type of bullets and document them on digital video for exhibition and email-exchange. Suzy tells that one of her foreign students in an afternoon class that she gives at Cremisan, a seminary run by the Salesians, asked her to collect bullets for a rosary he made. I have to laugh, but Suzy says that he was quite serious. For the Italian student, praying for peace got a greater urgency when done with a rosary of bullets. Suzy’s girls now collect dozens of bullets for what may well become a series of rosaries - with beads of very uneven sizes. We also discuss that strange longing some people have for the sound of bombings, as if the bombings are somehow part of normal life. I guess that people are so jumpy inside that it feels almost uncomfortable when the world outside is quiet.

The week ends with the wedding of the son of Fuad Giacaman, Teddy. He is the coordinator of pre-school education at the Freres. Apart from the families, all teachers, and many students, are present at St Catherine’s Church. There are perhaps some 500 people, all well-dressed, and there is a gay atmosphere. In front of the altar, the groom is thrown three times into the air and women make the “ululeh” trills with their tongues. Afterwards, in the courtyard around St Jerome’s sculpture, people’s social talk strikes a pleasant echo like the expectant whispering in a music hall before the start of a performance. It is the first time since the beginning of the new Intifadah that I see people with sunny faces. Mary says that a wedding like this is now one of the few opportunities to go out and get social.

When we discuss this, a friend of ours tells about her need to have fun these days. She says that somebody told her that it was now not appropriate to go out, when all people around are so depressed. She instinctively answered, “I don’t care, I do like to go out, I want to go to the mall, and dance.” Jara, who was present during the conversation, agreed: “Yes, I want to dance too.”
 

This morning Jara tells that she is Cinderella, and I ask her “So, who is your prince?” “Yes, where is my prince?” and she looks around, searching in vain.

 

2) Témoignage d’un prêtre français

P. George Vimard

C’était difficile pour moi de quitter Gaza en ce moment où se radicalise l’oppression israélienne (rationnements, dévastation des campagnes au Sud, bombardements…). Et c’était intéressant aussi de parcourir une autre planète toute proche et où tout tourne (y compris la propagande, les futures élections…). Seuls quelques signes (aéroport vide, lieux de pèlerinage déserts…) indiquent qu’il se passe quelque chose. Que signifie ce vide, plus qu’une baisse de recettes du tourisme, sinon que cette terre n’existe que pour la rencontre des peuples et de Dieu?
 

Anne voulait voir comment je vivais ici. Avec sa famille, nous nous connaissons depuis longtemps. Elle vient juste de prendre sa retraite. Pendant 18 ans, elle a été responsable du service de nuit aux urgences d’un hôpital parisien. J’ai aimé le regard qu’elle portait sur ce pays et ses gens en situation d’urgence. Vous lirez son témoignage à la frontière Erez.
 

De notre périple de 15 jours, je retiens pour ma part plusieurs choses.
 

La visite de bons amis à Ramallah dont j’ai connu les enfants à l’aumônerie du lycée français de Jérusalem. Pour les voir, la route principale était bloquée. Nous avons dû prendre des chemins de traverse. Au cours de la soirée,  l’idée nous est venue d’écrire un texte: Les Observateurs Internationaux, C’est Nous: Manifeste des étrangers vivant dans les Territoires Palestiniens Occupés. “…Quant à nous, nous allons rester ici sur le terrain où le devoir et l’honneur requièrent notre presence. Ce n’est pas du gôut de l’occupant, lequel, après avoir adressé des avertissements répétés au membres des medias intenationaux en blessant par balles plusieurs d’entre eux, a envoyé une menace très claire aux étrangers travaillant dans tous les domaines, en abattant avec un missile un médecin allemand, Dr. Herald Fischer à Beit Jala”… ( Je peux vous communiquer le texte entier).
 

Sur la route d’ Hébron, nous avons été pris par surprise dans un affrontement entre militaires et jeunes palestiniens. Ma première réaction a été de sauver notre peau et de reculer la voiture pour protéger des pierres la personne qui m’accompagnait. Je n’ai pas su dire aux soldats d’arrêter de tirer sur les jeunes. Le lendemain à Beit Jala au cours d’une cérémonie à la mémoire  du Dr. Fischer, son épouse me confiait: “Par chance, seul mon mari a été tué, le missile aurait pu faire 30 victimes”. Je retiendrai la leçon: on a jamais fini de dépasser l’amour de soi.
 

A la sortie de l’ordination des diacres, Samer, Shaouki et Firas au Séminaire à Beit Jala, on entendait les tirs depuis la Tombe de Rachel. Pour ces jeunes, qui seront diacres et prêtres d’une Eglise au service de la paix et de la justice, le signal du risque de leur mission était clair.  Avec quelle joie j’ai reçu leur accolade, puisque c’est sans doute pour moi la dernière ordination au Patriarcat avant mon retour en France, une accolade large de six années au côté du Peuple et de l’Eglise en Palestine.
 

En terminant, je vous invite à lire entre les lignes, quelques lignes superbes du dépliant touristique de Massada: “Massada est un des plus importants symboles d’héroïsme de l’histoire du peuple juif, témoignage d’un chapitre magnifique dans la lutte de la nation pour la liberté. La résistance de quelque uns contre un grand nombre, du faible contre le fort, du choix que les défenseurs de Massada firent lorsqu’ils eurent perdu l’espoir de réaliser leur indépendance politique et religieuse, préférant la mort à l’esclavage, en servi de source d’inspiration et de symbole de bravoure au peuple d’Israël et au monde entier”.
 

A la frontière d’Erez, Samedi 25 Novembre. Reflexion d’une touriste.
 

Ce beau pays du Moyen Orient aurait-il perdu toute humanité?
 

Après Jérusalem, Bétléhem et Nazareth, je voulais aller à Gaza soucieuse de revenir en France avec un aperçu plus large du pays.
 

Groupe hétéroclyte que le nôtre: un jeune palestinien de 17 ans qui voulait rentrer dans sa famille à Gaza, une religieuse de Jérusalem, un prêtre résidant à Gaza, et deux membres de Médecins du Monde dont un médecin et une touriste.

 Premier barrage militaire: l’adolescent est séparé du reste du groupe. Le prêtre est intervenu. Peut-être est-ce pour cela que seul assis sur le sol avec ses bagages, il n’a attendu que pendant 1:30 . De loin, nous l’avons vu traverser, chargé de tout côté entouré de deux militaires armés indifférents à ses difficultés à se mouvoir.
 

Quant à nous, arrives au second poste de contrôle, après avoir remis nos passeports, nous nous sommes assis… sur des sieges. En cinq heures, le temps est donné à celui qui le souhaite d’observer. L’accueil n’est pas chaleureux et les regards de l’autre côté du comptoir sont nombreux mais fuyants. En effet, en dehors de l’officier pour lequel les demandeurs sont transparents, les jeunes militaires exécutent en s’interchangeant un vrai ballet derrière le comptoir: j’entre, je sors, je mange, je bois, je parle, je ris, je ne m’occuperai de toi que pour te délivrer un papier jaune: tu peux passer, un papier bleu: tu peux repartir.
 

Nous étions seuls au début, mais sont venus nous retrouver trois membres d’Amnesty International1, des journalistes de TF1, un homme d’affaire français, un médecin et un parlementaire italiens. La presse est passée assez vite. L’homme d’affaire refusé dans un premier temps, après d’innombrables appels téléphoniques de son mobile a franchi la barrière mais nous, banals citoyens ou oeuvres humanitaires au bout de cinq heures nous avons vu nos passeports venir et repartir sans explication et reçu un papier bleu.

Que dire aussi de voir fouiller la voiture diplomatique de la Communauté Européenne demandant à ressortir de Gaza et aussi de palestiniens assis, là où nous avons laissé notre jeune, attendant aussi longtemps que nous, le bon vouloir des militaires. Il y a un ‘No Man’s Land’ à traverser. J’ai constaté que de nombreuses fois les soldats le parcouraient se rendant du premier barrage aux guérites où les fouilles ont lieu. Le soleil donnait entre deux allers et venues une pause sur un banc se faisait et les palestiniens pendant ce temps là attendaient d’entrer dans ce morceau de terre qui leur est imparti.
 

Douloureusement, j’ai en un éclair, repensé à mon enfance sous l’occupation allemande. L’humiliation est resurgie et subitement une très mauvaise pensée m’a envahie. Que faut-il comme leçon à l’être humain pour qu’il ne fasse pas subir aux autres ce qu’il n’aimerait pas endurer lui-même?

 Mme. Anne Boulard.

Issy-Les-Moulineaux

1 le refus a été signifié à Amnesty International par les services de l’armée, le Ministère de la Justice s’étant declaré incompétent en temps de guerre !

Amnesty a appelé l’ONU à Gaza et une conférence de presse improvisée a eu lieu sur le parking. Contre la censure, les portables ont du bon.

 

3) Le Monde du mardi 21 novembre 2000
 Père Emile Shoufani, prêtre melkite et "curé" de Nazareth : "Jamais la police n'avait ainsi tiré sur des Arabes citoyens d'Israël" propos recueillis par Henri Tincq


Emile Shoufani, prêtre melkite de Nazareth, est connu pour ses efforts en faveur du dialogue entre juifs et arabes, chrétiens et musulmans. Le « curé de Nazareth », selon le titre du livre paru en France en 1998 (Albin Michel), s'interroge sur les répercussions des affrontements dans la communauté arabe (1,3 million de personnes) citoyenne d'Israël.
 

- La révolte des Arabes israéliens, dans le nord du pays, a surpris. Ils ont compté des morts. Comment interprétez-vous ce qui s'est passé ?
- Treize Arabes israéliens, dont trois à Nazareth, sont morts au début des événements, en octobre. La disproportion entre la colère de la rue – qui n'est pas rare dans nos villages arabes – et la brutalité des forces de l'ordre a surpris toute la population. C'est la première fois qu'une telle tragédie a lieu depuis les six morts de la première «Journée de la terre » [contre les expropriations] qui avait dégénéré en 1976 . Depuis, même aux pires heures de l'Intifada, et en dépit des grèves générales et des manifestations – nombreuses à l'époque du gouvernement Netanyahou – ni l'armée, ni la police n'avaient ainsi tiré sur des Arabes citoyens d'Israël. J'y ai vu une volonté de frapper fort et sans délai pour éviter que la nouvelle Intifada ne s'étende sur le territoire d'Israël. Pourtant, les Arabes en Israël n'ont jamais cessé de se dire Israéliens.
 

- Est-ce que cet état d'esprit risque de changer ?
- Pour la première fois, la guerre a lieu en Israël même. Autrefois, on se battait au Sinaï, en Syrie, au Liban. Cette fois, c'est dans les villes du pays, rue par rue, maison par maison, que des combats ont lieu. Cela a créé une peur inouïe qui a dépassé tout le monde. La peur des Arabes israéliens n'est pas différente de celle des juifs israéliens. Nous aussi nous avons peur pour notre appartenance et pour notre identité. Les conséquences sont catastrophiques. Pour la première fois, j'entends des voix arabes qui clament : « Nous sommes une minorité ethniquement persécutée ». (…) L'extrémisme s'étend. Je crois encore au dialogue, mais je regrette de ne plus entendre nos interlocuteurs habituels de la gauche israélienne et du camp de la paix. Nous avons la chance de vivre ensemble, juifs et arabes, dans un Etat de droit et il ne faut pas perdre les acquis d'une telle convivialité.
- Comment le prêtre que vous êtes explique-t-il une telle explosion ?
- Je mets en cause l'élément religieux. C'est lui qui a donné le signal de l'embrasement. Depuis des années, le slogan « La mosquée el-Aqsa est en danger ! » fait des ravages en milieu musulman. Chaque année en octobre, près de Nazareth, à Oum el Fahem, plus de 50 000 personnes se rassemblent autour de ce slogan. J'ai vu des centaines d'enfants défiler dans les rues et crier qu'ils étaient prêts à mourir pour el-Aqsa. Les esprits étaient donc déjà largement échauffés quand la visite d'Ariel Sharon à l'esplanade des mosquées a mis le feu. Quand l'absolu religieux entre ainsi en jeu, il n'y a plus de discours politique qui soit audible. La mosquée el-Aqsa de Jérusalem est plus qu'un lieu saint. C'est une donnée coranique. C'est à cet endroit précis et inviolable que le Prophète est monté au ciel. Pour le chrétien, il est toujours possible d'aller prier un peu plus loin que l'endroit où il a l'habitude de prier. Dans l'islam, c'est inimaginable.
 

- Les chrétiens arabes en Israël ont-ils des réactions différentes des musulmans ?
- Pas du tout. Il y a chez les Arabes israéliens – qu'ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans – un consensus total pour dire que, quelle que soit l'issue des discussions sur Jérusalem, il ne faut surtout pas toucher aux lieux saints. Les chrétiens et les musulmans en Israël sont également unis par la même solidarité à l'égard des Palestiniens et par la même impatience de voir aboutir leur revendication en vue d'un Etat palestinien.»

 

4) For Israel, Land or Peace

By Jimmy Carter
The Washington Post, Sunday, November 26, 2000

An underlying reason that years of U.S. diplomacy have failed and violence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to "create facts" by building settlements in occupied territory. Their deliberate placement as islands or fortresses within Palestinian areas makes the settlers vulnerable to attack without massive military protection, frustrates Israelis who seek peace and at the same time prevents any Palestinian government from enjoying effective territorial integrity.

At Camp David in September 1978, President Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and I spent most of our time debating this issue before we finally agreed on terms for peace between Egypt and Israel and for the resolution of issues concerning the Palestinian people. The bilateral provisions led to a comprehensive and lasting treaty between Egypt and Israel, made possible at the last minute by Israel's agreement to remove its settlers from the Sinai. But similar constraints concerning the status of the West Bank and Gaza have not been honored, and have led to continuing confrontation and violence.

The foundation for all my proposals to the two leaders was the official position of the government of the United States, based on international law that was mutually accepted by the United States, Egypt, Israel and other nations, and encapsulated in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. Our government's legal commitment to support this well-balanced resolution has not changed.

Although the acceptance of Resolution 242 was a contentious issue at Camp David, Prime Minister Begin ultimately acknowledged its applicability, "in all its parts". The text emphasizes  "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security." It requires the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent [1967] conflict" and the right of every state in the area "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."

It was clear that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were a direct violation of this agreement and were, according to the long-stated American position, both "illegal and an obstacle to peace." Accordingly, Prime Minister Begin pledged that there would be no establishment of new settlements until after the final peace negotiations were completed. But later, under Likud pressure, he declined to honor this commitment, explaining that his presumption had been that all peace talks would be concluded within three months.

There were some notable provisions in the Camp David Accords that related to Palestinian autonomy and the occupation of land. A key element was that "the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas to replace the existing military government."  This transition period was triggered by an election in the occupied territories in January 1996, approved by the Palestinians and the government of Israel and monitored by the Carter Center.  Eighty-eight Palestinian Council members were elected, with Yasser Arafat as president, and this self-governing authority, with limited autonomy, convened for the first time in March 1996.

It was also agreed that once the powers and responsibilities of the self-governing authority were established, "A withdrawal of Israeli armed forces will take place and there will be a redeployment of the remaining Israeli forces into specified security locations."

We decided early during the Camp David talks that it would be impossible to resolve the question of sovereignty over East Jerusalem, but proposed the following paragraph concerning the city, on which we reached full agreement:

"Jerusalem, the city of peace, is holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and all peoples must have free access to it and enjoy the free exercise of worship and the right to visit and transit to the holy places without distinction or discrimination. The holy places of each faith will be under the administration and control of their representatives. A municipal council representative of the inhabitants of the city shall supervise essential functions in the city such as public utilities, public transportation, and tourism and shall ensure that each community can maintain its own cultural and educational institutions."

At the last minute, however, after several days of unanimous acceptance, both Sadat and Begin agreed that there were already enough controversial elements in the accords and requested that this paragraph, although still supported by both sides, be deleted from the final text. Instead, the two leaders exchanged letters, expressing the legal positions of their respective governments regarding the status of East Jerusalem. They disagreed about sovereignty, of course, but affirmed that the city should be undivided.

As agreed, I informed them that "the position of the United States on Jerusalem remains as stated by Ambassador Arthur Goldberg in the United Nations General Assembly on July 14, 1967, and subsequently by Ambassador Charles Yost in the United Nations Security Council on July 1, 1969." In effect, these statements considered East Jerusalem to be part of the occupied territories, along with the West Bank and Gaza.

The Camp David Accord was signed by all three of us leaders with great fanfare and enthusiasm. President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin embraced warmly at the White House ceremony, and the final document was overwhelmingly ratified by their respective parliaments.

With the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, there was a period of relative inactivity in the Middle East, except for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent expulsion of PLO forces from Beirut. President Reagan used the announcement of this event on Sept. 1, 1982, to address the nation on the subject of the West Bank and the Palestinians. He stated clearly that "the Camp David agreement remains the foundation of our policy," and his speech included the following declarations:

"The Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza will have full autonomy over their own affairs."

"The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated."

In 1991 there was a major confrontation between the governments of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President George Bush concerning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with U.S. threats of withholding financial aid if settlement activity continued. A conference was convened that year in Madrid with participants of the United States, Syria, other Arab nations and some Palestinians who did not officially represent the PLO. At a press conference on Nov. 1, Secretary of State James Baker said, "When we negotiated with Israel, we negotiated on the basis of land for peace, on the basis of total withdrawal from territory in exchange for peaceful relations.. . This is exactly our position, and we wish it to be applied also in the negotiations between Israelis and Syrians, Israelis and Palestinians. We have not changed our position at all."

Norwegian mediators forged an agreement in September 1993 between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat committing both sides to a staged peace process. Although U.S. officials were not involved in this effort, our government commemorated the Oslo Accords in a ceremony at the White House, and built subsequent peace talks on its terms and those of the Camp David Accords. So far, these efforts have not succeeded, and this year there has been a resurgence of violence and animosity between Israelis and Arabs unequaled in more than a quarter of a century.

The major issues still to be resolved remain unchanged: the final boundaries of the state of Israel, the return of, or compensation for, Palestinians dislodged from their previous homes and the status of Jerusalem. It seems almost inevitable that the United States will initiate new peace efforts, but it is unlikely that real progress can be made on any of these issues as long as Israel insists on its settlement policy, illegal under international laws that are supported by the United States and all other nations.

There are many questions as we continue to seek an end to violence in the Middle East, but there is no way to escape the vital one: Land or peace?

Former president Carter is chairman of the Carter Center in Atlanta.

(c) 2000 The Washington Post

 

A Different Kind of Support
By: Dina Awwad (17 years old)
Beit Sahour
 It is hard to convey my feelings concerning the current situation but I feel I need to try. After all, people are dying for their country, while their homes are being destroyed. As for the schools, they remain closed, and children are obliged to stay at home wondering when – or even if – they’ll go back to school and, instead of studying, spent most of their time watching the news, trying to keep abreast of what is going on. Even as they do so, the Israeli soldiers continue their attacks, sparing little or no concern for who they kill or injure in the process: children, young men, old men, women, journalists…. these days, no one can consider himself excluded from the list of potential targets, not even a small child, surrounded by the arms of a parent.
 

People are afraid, and they don’t know what to do, except hope that they don’t lose their children or more of their land and that one day, the land they have already lost will be returned. Some 90 young men have already died in the recent clashes. How could that happen? How could the Israelis slaughter them like animals and get away with it? .
 

It is true that the Arab countries are supporting us by providing us with medical supplies, but we need another kind of support now, namely, political support, which, if comprehensive, should help us succeed in kicking the Israelis out of our homes and our land. That is what we need now, nothing more, nothing less.
 

Short story taken from the REPORTS prepared by PYALARA (Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership And Rights Activation) = http://www.pyalara.org

 

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Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia

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