Update and Appeal on the Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

 in Light of President Bush Speech

Palestinian Church Related Organizations

Jerusalem, June 28, 2002

With the reoccupation of Hebron on the morning of June 25th, practically all towns and cities in the Palestinian Territories, with the exception of Jericho, have come under direct Israeli army occupation. Well over two million inhabitants live under Israeli army imposed curfew for most of the time. In some localities, the Israeli army allows the inhabitants a couple of hours every two to three days in order to stock up on food and other basic commodities. Reports from all parts of the West Bank and Gaza indicate increased and abject poverty among the population and one friend who visited Nablus recently told us that he had never seen such poverty among the population and that what he saw reminded him of the spoken of poverty-stricken Nablus of decades ago. Another friend informed us that in Bethlehem there are families who practically beg for a loaf of bread for their children. But aside from wanting to meet the basic necessities that would ensure survival, the Palestinian population is held hostage by the Israeli government, as this latter wants to barter the end of suicide bombings with withdrawal from Palestinian towns and cities.

President Bush in his speech of June 24th 2002 put the entire burden on the Palestinian side in order to get out of the present impasse. By so doing, he absolved the Sharon-led Israeli government from its responsibilities of presenting a political program that would spell out or at least indicate its plans to end occupation not simply that which started in September 2000 but the original occupation of June 1967. While all of us would like to see an end to suicide bombings, achieving this could not be simply a one-sided affair, as it needs to be paralleled by Israeli expressed willingness to end occupation and live as good neighbors, and not as hegemonic occupiers and oppressors, to Palestinians. An agreed upon political framework is of paramount importance as a basis that would commit the two sides in an equitable manner as they progress towards eventual resolution of the present deadlock.

Granted, we Palestinians are in dire need of genuine reform. But such reform cannot be undertaken under the barrels of Israeli guns and tanks. The impromptu discussions that Palestinians engage in on side streets and in sitting rooms all indicate an overwhelming consensus that things need to change, not to please Mr. Bush or anybody else, but in order to spell out our own vision for our society and its future. Unfortunately, this is something we have not done since the Oslo accords and we should have. Hence a grave responsibility lies on all of us as we examine the prospects for reconstruction and rehabilitation in all areas of government and society. But as important we need to decide ourselves on our own program and political agenda whether as they relate to issues and concerns internal to Palestinian society or whether as they deal with the thorny relationships with the Israelis.

The Israelis cannot escape their responsibilities either. The absence of a clear political program by the Israeli government is tantamount to saying that military occupation would continue. The Israeli policy of destroying the Palestinian governmental and civil society infrastructure is accompanied by continued settlement activity on Palestinian lands. The Israeli government claims that it is fighting potential suicide bombers when it places hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian Palestinians all over the West Bank and Gaza under house arrest for days on end. Even relief and emergency efforts are hindered by the Israeli military from reaching the besieged population, despite claims by the Israeli government that it facilitates and does not obstruct such efforts. The trigger-happy Israeli soldiers often demolish personal and public property, cause injury and death and prohibit ordinary people as well as the sick and elderly from crossing from one locality to another within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By blaming the National Authority for all the ills of the current situation, the Israeli government lifts off the responsibility that lies squarely on the shoulders of its Prime Minister and other Ministers for the human rights infractions that are committed on a daily and continuous basis against innocent Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupying army. President Bush by putting the entire burden on the Palestinians to find a way out of the present deadlock mirrors the Israeli blame of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians, in general.

Given the current situation and in light of President Bush speech, we the undersigned call on our partners and friends worldwide to:

Address your governments and various constituencies on the need for the Israeli government to come up with a clear plan that specifies its intention to vacate the occupied territories not simply those occupied since September 2000 but also those occupied since June 1967.
Ask your governments, particularly the EU governments, to adopt one stand that would insist on the need to have an Israeli commitment to ending the occupation, and to an immediate pullout from the occupied Palestinian cities and towns, as part of the process and deliberations that would lead to the creation of a democratic and pluralistic Palestinian state, in accordance with all UN relevant resolutions.
Stress on the Israeli government and/or its representatives abroad that the infractions that its army is carrying out in the occupied Palestinian territories and at the military checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip go contrary to basic human rights as reflected in international declarations and conventions. The Palestinian people, in light of these continuous infractions, are in need of an international force of protection.
Ask the Israeli government and its representatives abroad to honor its own claims that it does not hinder relief and emergency efforts by local and international aid organizations to the besieged and curfewed Palestinian population. Note that Israel’s actual behavior on the ground on this matter is contrary to the Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response and the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief based on International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention to which a majority of countries were signatories, including Israel.
Emphasize to the Israeli government and its representatives abroad that continued curfews and closures imposed on the Palestinian population not only affect adversely the economic and social welfare of the population but also contribute to psychological and pedagogical damage that would obstruct tremendously the prospects for eventual peace making between Palestinians and Israelis.
Address your governments and the various media on the need for the American Administration to adopt a balanced and even-handed policy towards the two parties in the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, and especially to emphasize that its present policy is causing extreme human suffering to the whole Palestinian people, and is engendering ever-lasting hatred between East and West.
Indicate to Palestinians your willingness to support them as they contemplate the important questions pertaining to their society and the challenges of transformations they are likely to experience in the coming couple of years.
Continue your support to your Palestinian partners as they strive to serve their people amidst most difficult circumstances.
Join hands with all those willing to work for an immediate end of Israeli occupation. Only then can an environment conducive to the eventual resumption of negotiations between the two sides be created.We aspire for your prayers, good thoughts and action, as our country appears destined to continue experiencing the vicious cycle of occupation and counter occupation. One inspiring thought to those who not only do not see the light at the end of the tunnel but also do not see the tunnel itself in our present tragic situation: there is always light to those who care to see it and work to make it shine on the lives of the oppressed, occupied, besieged and all those who suffer because of the injustice of our situation.  May all our efforts add up to end injustice!

* Judge Khalil Aboud – International Christian Committee in Israel – Nazareth

* Mr. Constantine Dabbagh – Near East Council of Churches Committee – Gaza

* Mr. Rifat Kassis – YMCA – Beit Sahour

* Dr. Bernard Sabella – Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches – Jerusalem

* Mr. Ramzi Zananiri – International Christian Committee – Jerusalem West Bank

* Commission Justice and Peace Jerusalem

* Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center – Jerusalem