The Egyptian Authorities prevented the “Ansar 1” Jordanian aid convoy from entering Egypt while on their way to deliver humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued an official decree preventing the convoy from entering the country by all means, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera reported.
Hussein Al Saoub, head of the “Al Jisr Al Araby”, the Arabic Bridge Company, phoned late on Sunday at night the head of the Jordanian convoy informing him that Egypt decided to prevent the convoy from entering Egypt.
There are 138 persons participating in the aid convoy. Al Sa’oub said that the Egyptian Authorities decided that each person on the convoy is a “Persona non grata”.
The aid was sent by a company owned by the governments in Iraq, Jordan and Egypt; the plan was to leave on Monday morning from Aqaba in Jordan to the Egyptian city Nweibi’.
Despite the Egyptian decision, convoy organizers decided to head to Aqaba in order to try to sail to Egypt before heading to Gaza.
Head of the Jordanian “Artery Of Life” committee, Wa’el Al Saqqa, said that the “Al Jisr Al Araby” company is the only company in charge of shipments between Aqaba and Nweibi’ on the Red Sea.
The company granted the participants all needed travel tickets and documents but Egypt officially decided to prevent them from entering.
Which is crueler? Expelling an urban family from its home in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, or bulldozing a meager tent encampment of shepherds living on private Jordan Valley land they leased, destroying their water tanks, their tents and their sheep pens, and expelling families with many children from the land on which they live? It’s hard to say. But while the Sheikh Jarrah expulsions are attracting interest in Israel and elsewhere, hardly anyone notices or protests what’s going on in the Jordan Valley.
There, far from view, Israel has been trying for several years to methodically remove Palestinian inhabitants from wide swaths of land. And in a week when the prime minister was making more promises about a “package of gestures” to the Palestinians, in order to curry favor in Washington, the Civil Administration bulldozers brutally destroyed several more encampments, leaving dozens of residents helpless and destitute under the open sky. But the Jordan Valley is far from the public eye and the public heart, and there Israel can do as it pleases.
One look at the landscape tells the whole story: The settlement of Beka’ot, with its lush greenery and plentiful electricity and water at one end of the magnificent valley, and the ruins of the meager shepherd encampments at the other end, with no electricity, no water, no nothing. One picture is worth a thousand words. It’s a far cry from the words of the old propagandistic song once sung by the Central Command musical troupe, about the little settlement in the Valley that “guarded the line, called out for peace and served up hope in the form of colorful flowers.” Calls for peace? Gestures of hope? Go ask the neighbors about that.
This week, Dafna Banai, an activist from Machsom Watch, described the most recent expulsions: 15 families were expelled from their encampments on July 1; the week before, another 16 families received demolition and evacuation orders. For more than a year, the entire valley has been strewn with dozens of cement blocks preventing entry and warning of “firing zones” wherever Palestinians live. Israel already has enclosed all the territory west of Highway 90 with impassable ditches, and residents can exit only twice a week, when Israel opens the locked gates on the roads.
Israel declares huge amounts of private Palestinian land as firing zones and expels the residents under the false and self-righteous guise of concern for their welfare, lest they be harmed by the military training; but these firing zones are always to be found solely on Palestinian land, and never on settlement land. Have you ever heard of any settlers being expelled from their homes because their settlement was declared part of a firing zone? But against these wretched shepherds in the Jordan Valley, anything goes. This is Israeli justice, this is equality as practiced by the Israel Defense Forces.
Perhaps the explanation for this appalling expulsion policy can be found in comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicized last Friday on Channel 10. During a condolence visit to the home of a settler family in 2001, Netanyahu divulged his dastardly plan: He told his hosts he would proclaim the entire Jordan Valley a “designated military site.”
This is how the prime minister thought to mock the Americans at the time, so they would let Israel do as it pleases in the Jordan Valley. Now he is prime minister again, and his trick is working splendidly. A Jordan Valley cleansed of Palestinians will one day be more easily annexed to Israel.
The Civil Administration, naturally, attempts to deceive, dissemble and disregard all this. What connection could it possibly have with acts of systematic expulsion? After all, it is simply concerned with the welfare of the residents and the preservation of law and order. If an expulsion is taking place, the administration is not the one making the decisions; it’s just acting as a contractor.
In any event, what’s going on here is “self-evacuation,” as the spokesman put it, and “abandoned structures.”
“This is a matter of tin structures and tents, which were set up recently, without the necessary permits, in firing zones, endangering the inhabitants’ lives,” the spokesman said. “Most of the structures under discussion were abandoned independently by their residents, and a few were destroyed. Most of the people who built these structures own permanent homes in the valley, and most of the structures were already abandoned on the day they were destroyed.”
Owners of permanent homes? Have you heard of settlers being evacuated because they have another house in Petah Tikva?
On second thought: The expulsion in the Jordan Valley is worse than that of Sheikh Jarrah. It is more systematic, more large-scale, and it’s being committed against a weaker population. But the demonstrators won’t come here. It’s too far away.
The most closed open area
In an empty room that serves as the headquarters of a remote village council, local activists elaborate on their fears: Israel is seeking to expel all the area’s shepherds to here. Two big spiders silently spin their web on the ceiling. In the past month, dozens of families have received demolition and evacuation orders, all in accordance with the law, of course, the law of the occupation.
The elderly Abdel Rahim Basharat says it’s not a village, it’s a prison.
“If you close off the shepherds from every direction, to them it’s a jail, because their lives are tied to the land. If they are made to move to this village, they’ll have to sell their flocks, their only source of income. Taking our lands from us is the same as taking our lives.”
Basharat has a question: “Does Area C mean evacuation and expulsion?”
And what will you tell him? What can one tell him?
And he has another question: “Why don’t you ask about the water problem?”
Ataf Abu al-Rub, the B’Tselem investigator in the area, explains: “Sometimes these shepherds hear water trickling through the pipes that pass through their fields on the way to settlements, but they are forbidden to use it. Sometimes they hear the crackle of electricity in the high-tension wires, but the electricity is meant only for the settlers.”
Al-Rub says this is the most closed open area in the world. Four families have already left for the village, after the encampments were repeatedly destroyed and they tired of hopeless battle. The rest are persisting in a desperate fight for survival. We go out to see, driving past harvested wheat fields on our way to the sites of destruction.
Abdel Razeq Bani Awda’s family already has erected a new encampment. On July 1, the previous one was destroyed, and its ruins lie on the opposite hillside. They’d lived there for 15 years, on private land that belongs to a resident of Tubas who leased it to them. They have documents to prove it. Now they are stuck in the middle of a wheat field; when winter and planting times comes around, they’ll have to leave here, too. This is the fifth place they’ve moved to in the past few years, since Israel began implementing its policy of evacuation and expulsion. Two families – a father and son and their children, and 160 sheep, their only source of income. The sheep are now crowded into new pens, seeking shelter from the heat.
What will the children eat?
The road is too treacherous for our car, as we make our way up the hill from the ruins of their recently destroyed camp. Hardly anything is left of it. Strewn about the ground are some wrecked tent stakes, a spoon, a rusty kettle, a blackened coffee pot, a spilled container of tehina and a broken-down refrigerator. Remnants of a meager life. Basharat asks why Israel is also destroying the water tanks.
“The tents are one thing, but why the water tanks? Sometimes they empty them of water. What will the children drink? And why do they always come when times are the toughest, or in the middle of summer, when the heat is terrible, or during the rains, when there is no other shelter? It’s not by coincidence. And why do they destroy the taboun ovens? They know it takes four to five days to build a new taboun, and in the meantime we have no bread. Do they want us to die of hunger and thirst? Is that what they really want? Our children know the Israeli army is the one doing this. And what do they expect them to remember when they grow up?”
Basharat’s questions go unanswered, echoing through the valley. We sit beneath the remnants of a tin shack that wasn’t thoroughly destroyed. An old refrigerator door serves as a bench, until it, too, collapses beneath us. The Bani Awda family will return here in the winter. They have no other choice. They have already re-erected one tent. Across the way, Beka’ot is blooming; there is a spa there.
On the western part of the hillside is another ruined encampment. This is where Hassan Bani Awda’s family lived before they migrated eastward. Another encampment, closer to Beka’ot, is still standing. Nine times this family has had its home destroyed. We sit in silence and gaze out at the valley. It could be so beautiful, if not for the ugliness of the expulsion. We make our way to the next encampment.
An old wooden chair has an old sticker attached to it: “Israel is Strong with Shimon Peres.” Israel is also strong with Benjamin Netanyahu, especially in dealing with the weak: Mohammed Bani Awda and his 11 children are also living under the threat of expulsion. He has 270 sheep and a combine that belongs to the landowner from Tubas. This family already has been forced to move four times. Now they’ve been instructed to tear down just the storehouse for the sheep’s food. Is Mohammed afraid? He says: “They’re going step-by-step. They started in the east and when they finish clearing out there they’ll come here too. We’ll be the next stage.”
The two shepherds, Basharat and Bani Awda, consult with one another. What to do? Bani Awda suggests appealing to the High Court, and Basharat says there’s no point.
“There’s no point appealing to Israeli law and justice. They’ll declare the whole Jordan Valley a military zone and that will be the end of the story.”
RAMALLAH: The worst place to be in the occupied West Bank in terms of water and sanitation facilities is an Israeli-controlled stretch of land known as Area C, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is technically responsible for water services, but simply unable to deliver.
Cara Flowers, an officer with the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group (EWASH), said the health and livelihoods of communities living in Area C — covering 60 percent of land in the West Bank and home to some 60,000 of the West Bank’s 2.3 million Palestinians — were hardest hit as they have a severe lack of access to water and sanitation infrastructure.
“Many vulnerable communities are 40km from the nearest filling point,” said Flowers. “This makes drinking water less accessible and more costly during summer months.”
She said EWASH was struggling to implement emergency humanitarian water projects in Area C as it lacked the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities.
The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (also known as Oslo II) categorized land in the West Bank into areas A, B and C.
According to the agreement, Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Area B under the joint control of Israel and the PA. About 95 percent of the Palestinian population live in these two areas, though they make up only 40 percent of the land area.
In Area C, Israel has retained full control over security, while responsibility for the provision of services falls to the PA, according to EWASH.
But the Palestinian Water Authority says it has very limited control over water resources in the West Bank.
Rights body Amnesty International accuses Israel of denying Palestinians the right to access sufficient water supplies in the West Bank by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and preventing the development of adequate water infrastructure there.
The Mountain Aquifer is the only source of water for Palestinians in the West Bank, but one of several for Israel, which also has sole access to water available from the Jordan river.
Limited supplies, inflated prices
“Israel uses more than 80 percent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, while restricting Palestinian access to a mere 20 percent,” said Amnesty.
This is no clearer than to the more than 100 Bedouin families living in the water-stressed village of Ras al-Awja near Jericho in Area C. While they are forced to pay inflated prices for tanker water from the nearest filling point some seven kilometers away, nearby unlawful Israeli settlements have irrigated gardens and productive farmland, according to EWASH.
A water filling point that once served the Bedouin community has been welded shut by the Israeli authorities, causing a canal irrigation system to empty and stopping all piped water to Palestinians in the area. Without ample supplies of water, the existence of this livestock and subsistence farming-dependent community is under threat.
Israel says it has responded to the needs of the Palestinians and has increased the quantity of water provided to them far beyond that specified in the Interim Agreement.
Meanwhile, the West Bank’s water crisis is worsening, according to a March 2010 report by EWASH. Only 31 percent of communities in the West Bank are connected to a sewage network, it said.
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials in the government of Mohamed Abbas often complain they spend more time negotiating with American rather than Israeli governments. This has been particularly true of late. Since Israel’s all-out assault on Gaza nearly a year and half ago, Palestinian officials have discontinued all direct talks with the Israelis and have been talking to the Americans. US presidential envoy George Mitchell has been closely engaged in the region since May 2010, but his efforts have not proved fruitful.
The Palestinians have had no more luck with the Americans than with the Israelis. They have been consistently asked to accept US-Israeli peace terms that spell disaster and capitulation. Apart from exhausting the Palestinians, and making them edge closer to further concessions, nothing of substance has emerged from talks with either the Americans or the Israelis.
The Americans have sold the Palestinians false hopes, giving Israel the time it needed to grab land and change the demographics of their state-to-be. Now, even the fig leaf of good intentions has fallen.
In a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last Tuesday, the mercy bullet was finally fired, dealing a deadly blow to fantasies of American help.
Palestinian negotiators keep telling us that they have no other option but to negotiate with the Americans. This is not true. The Palestinian people don’t want them to do so, and their fighting spirit is alive and well. When all other options run out, the people will come up with options of their own. It is what people living under foreign occupation have always done, and the Palestinians are no exception.
President Abbas used to tell us that the ball is in Israel’s court. Now Obama has kicked it back into the Palestinian court. Once again, the White House has made it clear that the ball, the court, the referee, and the players should all perform according to American dictates.
The peace process has been at best a US- Israeli PR exercise, at worst a political ruse designed to help the Zionists and undermine the Arabs. The whole aim of the peace process has been to create a fifth column in our midst. At heart, the peace process had no bearing on peace. Fairness was never part of the equation.
It is time the Arabs, especially Palestinian Arabs, called it a day. It is time the admission was made that the peace process has done nothing at all for the peace, security, and development of this region.
Obama was pleased to see Netanyahu, just as George Bush was once thrilled to confer with Ariel Sharon. The words the two presidents used in describing the Israeli dignitaries were almost identical. Sharon was called a “man of peace”. Now Netanyahu seems to be inheriting the title, no matter that a few days earlier he ordered the massacre of peace activists on the Gaza-bound flotilla, no matter that on the same day Obama welcomed him, the Israeli group B’Tselem issued a damning report on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Obama had nothing but praise for the Israeli prime minister. There are no differences between Israel and the US, Obama declared, describing his talks with Netanyahu as “excellent” and his country’s ties with Israel as “extraordinary”. Washington is as committed to Israel’s security as it always was, and the “special ties” as binding as ever, he told US reporters.
For his part, Netanyahu said reports about a schism in US-Israeli relations were just rumours.
To reward Netanyahu for what he described as “progress” toward peace, Obama accepted an invitation to visit Israel.
Does any of this surprise President Mahmoud Abbas?
The only harsh words the American president used were in reference to the Palestinians, whom he advised to stop provoking and embarrassing the Israelis. The Palestinians should stop thinking of “excuses” to tarry on peace and start talking to the Israelis. Any conditions Obama once made on direct talks seem to have been forgotten. The current US position is that the Palestinians should start talks without preconditions.
This is not what President Abbas was hoping to hear. Instead of encouragement, the Palestinians have been admonished and told to behave.
A close associate of President Abbas told Al-Quds Al-Arabi that “all signs suggest that the US administration would press the Palestinian Authority to hold direct talks” without guarantees or preconditions. This is basically what Mitchell has been trying to do throughout his earlier visits to the region.
Now Abbas has to choose. Either he gives way to the Americans, which is what he’s done since Annapolis in 2007, or he gives up on the Americans. In the first case, he would lose any remaining credibility. In the second, he will have to step down. He has gambled everything on negotiations, and now any hope of fruitful talks has evaporated.
The only option left to the Palestinians is resistance and more resistance. It is a course that is not only long and hard, but calls for national unity. The PLO made it into government as a result of resistance and national unity. Now the lack of unity and resistance threaten to banish the PLO into the wilderness, or turn it into a lackey of the occupation authorities.
- Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories.
Israeli occupation authority still holding hundreds of cargo containers belonging to Palestinian traders
Gaza – Israeli authorities have yet to release Gaza-bound goods sequestered at Israeli seaports for over four years despite reportedly easing the terms of its blockade, independent lawmaker Jamal Al-Khoudary said Sunday.
Al-Khoudary, who also heads the Popular Committee Against the Siege, issued a statement saying containers imported by Palestinian merchants since Israel imposed its blockade have yet to receive their goods.
Detained at Israeli ports, merchants are forced to pay considerable fines despite legally importing the goods, the lawmaker said.
Israel continues to ban the entry of raw materials, Al-Khoudary added, leading to the continued closure of Gaza’s factories and forcing thousands into unemployment.
The legislator described Israel’s change in its siege policy as “nothing more than propaganda” and “marginal steps which do not have any positive influence on Gaza’s population.”
Al-Khoudary called for the opening of all crossings into Gaza, the free flow of goods, raw and for construction, the opening of a sea passage, and safe passage for Palestinians traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.
Following international pressure to lift its blockade of after six aid vessels were raided by navy forces on May 31, the Israeli cabinet published a list of banned goods for import and said it would be allowing previously barred items in.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who arrived in Gaza on Sunday, called on Israel for a “full and effective implementation of the new Israeli policy to improve the lives of the people of Gaza and meet their needs for humanitarian and commercial goods.”
The EU official further said improving the economic situation in Gaza “is not simply a matter of letting in aid – it is a matter of revitalizing the local economy.”
“For a fundamental change, private sector development and commercial activity, including exports, will be crucial,” Ashton said, expressing hope that the crossings’ capacity would be expanded.