November 2002

What really happened

28 November 2002

An office swivel chair is still posted at the third- floor window of 75-year-old Tawfiq Marhad’s home. Hidden among the skirts of some heavy blue drapes are a handful of Israel army bullet casings fired during a gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants in Jenin refugee camp last Friday. “I thought we had cleared them all away,” says Marhad. It was from this window that the bullet that killed Iain Hook, 53, a British United Nations worker, was almost certainly fired. He bled to death some time after 1.15pm, after a UN ambulance was blocked by the army from reaching him. Although the autopsy report has yet to be issued, he is believed to have been hit by a single bullet in the back.

Miriam as human shield

28 November 2002

Discarded in a narrow alleyway behind a row of shoe shops in Jenin’s old town are a pile of metal doors, each with a hole twice the size of a human fist where once the lock was to be found. New doors, courtesy of the council and freshly painted white, now guard the entrance to each home and lead like footsteps up the alley to a cul de sac where a small, two-storey house still has no front door to protect its privacy. In fact it has no privacy left to protect. All its doors are either missing or hanging off their hinges. On the top floor the walls are crumbling, part of the roof is missing, debris of rocks, concrete and earth lie on every surface and there is a rubble-filled hole in the floor with a large metal spike sticking up from its centre.

JERUSALEM: The adoption of the dovish Amram Mitzna as leader by Israel’s Labor Party opens up the central fault line between Israel’s left and right for the elections: the question of whether Israel should stay in the Palestinian territories or begin some kind of separation. Although this row overshadows all else – at least in the foreign media coverage – another debate is raging that will play an equally important part in determining the outcome of the election and hence the face of the next coalition government. It is the urgent question of how to preserve the ethnic purity of the Jewish state, how to prevent Israel from being dominated by non-Jews.

Alone with the settlers

21 November 2002

For the past month the tiny village of Yanun, south-east of Nablus, has breathed deeply the air of liberation that has followed its briefly being thrust into the limelight. Children play on the rocky track that winds up from the wide valley below, men sit on low stone walls smoking, while women lean chatting in huddles on the balconies of their homes. The relaxed atmosphere is, all of them are aware, as temporary as it is contrived. A few weeks ago the alleys of this West Bank village were empty, the last families having fled under a relentless campaign of attacks from neighbouring Israeli settlers. Today, the villagers’ safety is ensured only by the heavy presence of outsiders.

Bloody electioneering

14 November 2002

The horrific shooting spree in which two brothers aged four and five were sprayed with bullets, along with their mother, by a lone Palestinian gunman who later slipped back into the West Bank marked the wretched start to the election campaign between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his rival for the Likud leadership, Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu joined the cabinet last week after being cornered by Sharon into accepting the post of foreign minister or risk appearing driven more by personal ambition than the country’s good. Sharon hopes the job will limit Netanyahu’s room for criticising him in the run-up to 28 November Likud leadership primary.

Finishing the job

14 November 2002

hat caused Benny Morris’s recent conversion to the racist ideology of transfer? The “new historian” who began unravelling Israel’s narrative of the war of 1948 — that the Palestinians fled rather than that most were expelled or terrorised from their homes — says he now believes David Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, made a grievous mistake in not finishing the job of clearing the land of Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In an article in The Guardian (October 3, 2002) Morris concludes that peace in the Middle East might have been possible had the entire Arab population been removed from historic Palestine to make way for a Greater Israel.

JERUSALEM: Israel’s 19-month unholy alliance between Likud and Labor finally unraveled Oct. 30, ostensibly over funding for the settlements. The Labor leader, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, had spent the previous few weeks distancing himself very publicly from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the issue. First Ben-Eliezer, the unity government’s defense minister, waged a campaign to dismantle what are known in Israel as “illegal outposts,” huddles of caravans illegal under Israeli law established close to West Bank “parent” settlements that fall foul of international law. Then when Sharon pledged to continue the heavy subsidies in the budget for his settler allies, Ben-Eliezer quit his post, taking Labor with him.

Small red ribbons fluttered in the early evening breeze among the olive groves of the West Bank village of Falamia, leading like a child’s paper trail from the greenhouses and fields of vegetables up a gentle rocky slope towards the brow of a wide hill. There the trail ended and the devastation began. Olive trees lay upended or their trunks had been cut close to the ground, the leaves on the branches already shrivelling in the late sun. “The ribbons mark the path of the fence Israel wants to build through our lands,” said 29-year-old Sami Dahir, a civil engineer whose family owns 250 dunums (60 acres) of farmland. “Each day they inch closer. If we don’t do something soon, they will reach the wadi and we will lose everything.”