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MER - MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 18 Feb: Though the church-based 'divestment campaign' still remains very hesitant, embryonic and unlikely to 'catch on' and be 'sustained' as would be required for it to have a serious chance of seriously impacting, the debate is at least underway in limited forums including at the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference at Georgetown University this weekend (see yesterday's MER report) and the World Council of Churches meeting now in Brazil (see last article below). Meanwhile -- thinly but so far fairly effectively masked by the rhetoric of 'unilateral separation' and 'security' as well as U.S.government support -- Israel's barriers, walls, fences, prisons, confuscations, checkpoints, and settlements are all still expanding as the recent articles below by Israel's courageous journalist, Amira Hass in Ha'aretz, help expose and explain. As for the new 'Israelis only' checkpoints further imprisoning the Palestinians into their now isolated 'population centers' of course the Israelis argue that this is not racist for it is 'Israelis only' not 'Jews only'. But then this is a 'Jewish State' and the realities of the situation are pretty clear for all to see. More and more the whole situation has become worse than Apartheid ever was in South Africa and 'divestment' is not only a fitting response but it is coming much too late, much too slowly, and much too meekly.

IDF establishes 'Israeli-only' entry points from W. Bank
By Amira Hass

Ha'aretz - 17 February: A military order that took effect last week bars Palestinians with permits to enter Israel from entering via the roads that Israelis use to enter the country from the territories.

The order also forbids Israelis to transport Palestinians with valid entry permits via these roads. Instead, Palestinians must enter via one of the 11 crossing points earmarked for them. Until now, Israelis could ferry Palestinians with valid permits into Israel without going through one of these special crossings.

The Defense Ministry's Seam Line Administration has posted signs at all other access roads from the West Bank into Israel warning that non-Israelis may not use these crossings. However, the signs explicitly define "Israelis" not only as citizens or residents of the state, but also as tourists or anyone entitled to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

"The IDF was forced to change its deployment because of the exploitation of the crossings by terrorist elements to carry out terrorist acts inside Israel," the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman said. The spokesman also stressed that transporting Palestinians via an "Israeli-only" crossing is against the law, and will be punished accordingly.

The order was signed by Major General Yair Naveh, the commander of the IDF forces in the West Bank, on December 15. It authorized the Civil Administration to determine which crossings could be used by non-Israelis, and also to determine "the arrangements that will apply at these crossing points." In addition, it defined who is an Israeli, using the same language that is now posted on the signs at the various crossings.

On January 3, Brigadier General Kamil Abu Rokun, the head of the Civil Administration, signed the list of 11 crossings that Palestinians would be allowed to use, and stated that the order would take effect a month from that date. Eight of these 11 crossings are not on the Green Line, but either within the West Bank or inside territory annexed to Jerusalem in 1967.

The order does contain one exception: Palestinians employed by international organizations - a few hundred people - will be able to enter Israel via two routes that are otherwise reserved for Israelis. One of them is the Tunnel Road, which connects the Gush Etzion settlements to Jerusalem from the south, and the other is via the Hizma Checkpoint, which is used by the settlements north and east of Jerusalem. A Civil Administration spokesman said that this decision was made because many international organizations that employ Palestinians have their offices in East Jerusalem, and the administration did not want to make it too cumbersome for these employees to reach their jobs.

Most of these employees have "long-term" - i.e. three-month - entry permits. However, they are generally not allowed to drive within Israel.

In Ze'evi's footsteps
By Amira Hass

Ha'aretz - 15 February: Someone who apparently had an especially sarcastic sense of humor decided to officially name the Jordan Valley Road, Route 90, the "Gandhi Road." The reference is not to Mahatma Gandhi, but to Rehavam Ze'evi, who advocated "transfer" - the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land. Perhaps he understood that this was indeed the appropriate name for the eastern road. For not only on this road, but throughout the enormous and beautiful expanse of the Jordan Valley and the eastern slopes of the hills, there is an oppressive sense of absence, loss, and emptiness.

The Palestinians have disappeared from the valley, aside from a few thousand who live there plus some to whom Israel agrees to give daily entrance permits for various reasons. It is not even possible to include the approximately 35,000 residents of Jericho among those remaining, because the Israel Defense Forces forbids them to travel northward of Area A, where they live.

Thousands of residents of the neighboring towns and villages in the northern West Bank, which are sometimes only a few kilometers away, are absent from the valley, even though they have relatives and friends, privately owned land, houses, commercial ties and jobs there. Also missing are the Palestinian cars that in the not so distant past used to transport these absentees. Missing as well are the thousands of potential travelers to Jordan, the vacationing families and school students. These potential customers are absent from the colorful stalls at the crossroads.

Israeli soldiers control this absence via four principal checkpoints that divide the valley from the rest of the West Bank. They obey the orders of their commanders: It is forbidden for any Palestinian - in other words, some two million people (the 1.4 million residents of Gaza are already forbidden to come to the West Bank in any case) - to enter the valley, except for those whose official address, in their ID, is the Jordan Valley.

Some will say that these are security measures, whether legitimate or excessive, citing the attacks on settlers in the region over the last five years. But primarily, this is a direct continuation of a long-standing Israeli policy that intensified during the Oslo period. This policy has turned the Palestinian Jordan Valley, about one-third of the West Bank, into a story of lost opportunities from the point of view of its Palestinian potential: a potential for agricultural development and tourism, for improving and expanding existing communities or building new ones, for enabling a variety of lifestyles - urban, rural and semi-nomadic, modern and ancient, almost biblical.

The Israeli Oslo architects were careful to ensure that the Palestinian Authority would not be able to develop the valley during those fateful years when many believed that rehabilitating the economy was the proper basis both for a peaceful solution and for increasing support for such a solution.

The Oslo architects designated most of the eastern West Bank as Area C (full Israeli control), which is off-limits to Palestinian development. Only the settlements were allowed to develop, thanks primarily to the theft and exploitation of Palestinian water sources. A military training zone, where the IDF has conducted exercises ever since it conquered the West Bank, occupies 475 square kilometers of the valley and impairs the traditional lifestyle of thousands of semi-nomadic or Bedouin shepherds in the area. These shepherds are frequently turned out of their tents or forbidden to graze their sheep on these expanses or to raise a little wheat and produce for food.

At one time the explanation was that this is a firing range; once it was an issue of illegal construction. Just last Thursday, civil administration personnel demolished the tents, tin huts and sheepfolds of some 20 agricultural families in five different places in the valley. It is clear what scares the Israeli planners: A significant portion of the Palestinian communities in the valley turned from seasonal extensions of villages in the northern West Bank into permanent communities in the middle of the last century. Jews are encouraged to settle in the valley, but every conceivable method is used to deter Palestinians from doing so.

Preventing development and halting a long-standing natural process of construction and population expansion is a form of emptying out. But over the last few months, this effort expanded to include active measures: From time to time, soldiers come during the night and remove to the other side of the checkpoint those who live or work in the valley but whose official address is elsewhere. In the morning, these people return via the hills, evading the soldiers, taking the risk of stepping on a dud artillery shell.

And in October, people were given another reason to become fed up with life in the valley: Palestinian farmers were prevented from selling their produce to Israeli farmers at the nearest border crossing between the valley and Israel. Instead of traveling five kilometers, they were forced to travel 50, to a distant cargo terminal (Jalameh), and to wait endlessly at the internal checkpoints, knowing that a large portion of their vegetables would be spoiled by the sun and the bumping around. Knowing that there would be no reward for their labor.

The army swears that these prohibitions bear no relation to the politicians' declarations that the valley will remain in Israel's hands forever. But in practice, they are helping to empty it of Palestinians, in preparation for its official annexation to Israel.

New section of separation fence to slice through Judean Desert
By Zafrir Rinat

Ha'aretz, 17 Feb: Construction of the separation fence in the Judean Desert will start in the coming weeks, the defense establishment announced yesterday.

The southern section of the fence between Israel and the West Bank will begin east of the Hebron Hills, where the barrier currently ends. The fence will likely obstruct the view in the desert and is expected to negatively impact the area's ecosystem - most of which has been classified as a nature reserve - by blocking the paths of the wild animals in the desert.

The defense establishment said it had given much consideration during construction planning to the possible impacts on the landscape and the ecosystem.

The Nature and Parks Authority had previously raised concern about these impacts and suggested enforcing the desert with Israel Defense Forces soldiers and electronic tracking systems rather than constructing the fence in the region.

Certain sections of the fence to be erected in the Judean hills are expected to have far-reaching consequences on the scenic view, particularly near the villages of Walja and Batir south of Jerusalem, areas known for their traditional agricultural preserves.

The Jerusalem municipality, which feared the fence would have a detrimental impact on its proposed intention to build a new residential neighborhood nearby, took part in the planning for the fence's construction in the Walja region.

Defense officials agreed the fence in the region be built on supporting structures so they would take the form of terraces, yet the construction would still inflict direct damage on agricultural sections and springs adjacent to the village.

In the Batir region, the government instructed defense officials to push the fence further away from the homes in the village towards the direction of the railway tracks on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line.

In such an instance, the fence would nonetheless penetrate deep into the village's agricultural plots of land.

With regards to the route of the fence in the Beit Ichsa region west of Jerusalem - which the government recently decided to alter due to security considerations - defense officials now say they are studying alternative routes.

Aside from defense needs, officials are also taking into account the desire to minimize the interference in Palestinians' freedom of movement, lessen the damage to Palestinian property and the need to preserve the natural scenery.

Churches Debate Pro-Palestinian Divestment

Campaign for Pro-Palestinian Divestment Seeks Momentum at World Church Gathering

AP - 17 February: PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil - By Brian Murphy: A wide-ranging, global gathering of Christian leaders has become a forum for a question that one delegate calls a religious minefield: Should churches use their investment portfolios to protest Israeli policies toward Palestinians?

The debate cuts across ethics, interfaith ties and Holy Land politics and has taken on an even sharper edge since the Church of England approved a motion for "morally responsible investment" earlier this month. It could lead the church to eventually reshuffle its $1.53 billion in stocks away from companies it considers aiding or profiting from Israeli control of Palestinian territories.

Supporters of pro-Palestinian divestment are now seeking more momentum at the biggest and most diverse Christian gathering in nearly a decade: the World Council of Churches assembly of mainline Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox churches that together represent more than 500 million followers and billions of dollars in stock holdings.

The amount the churches hold in companies targeted by the divestment campaign is just a fraction, so any possible action would be mostly symbolic. But organizers hope to raise the movement's profile by carrying it from college campuses to mainstream churches nearly all Protestant as a way to pressure Israel into concessions.

Powerful critics stand in the way. Jewish groups are riled by echoes of the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1980s. They call it a one-sided view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and complain it smacks of anti-Semitism. Most evangelical Protestants, meanwhile, sympathize with Israeli policies and some believe that biblical prophecy demands Jewish sovereignty over the entire Holy Land.

"The (Church of England) has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, namely Jewish-Christian relations in Britain," wrote the chief rabbi of Britain, Sir Jonathan Sacks, in an article for Friday's edition of the Jewish Chronicle.

Even mainline churches that overwhelmingly condemned Israel's security barrier are divided over whether a stand for divestment is worth poisoning relations with Jews and others. Lord Carey, the former spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, told The Jerusalem Post he was "ashamed to be an Anglican" after the vote by the Church of England, the communion's historic cradle.

"We are calling on churches to move from statements to action," said the Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican who heads the Jerusalem-based group Sabeel, one of the most active pro-divestment groups. "But we know this is a religious minefield. We are asking churches pleading with them to have the moral courage to do the right thing."

His pitch to the WCC gathering was to a friendly crowd. Last year, the central committee of the WCC-backed "economic pressure" as an acceptable policy tool for its more than 350 member denominations. But its members are still a long way from turning sympathy for Palestinians into any significant economic leverage on Israel.

Most churches studying divestment calls prefer to move cautiously, by starting talks with companies whose products are used in Israeli security operations and other roles, such as Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Inc. and ITT Industries Inc. Divestment if it occurs at all is widely seen as the last option.

Many church views on divestment were further clouded by last month's landslide election victory of the Palestinian militant groups Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction. Even pro-divestment Christian leaders take pains to support Israel's right to exist and reject calls for blanket boycotts on Israeli products. Many churches have property holdings in Israel.

"No one said this would be an easy campaign," Ateek said. "But economic muscle is really our own true weapon. I hope to see the snowball getting bigger this year."

The coming months could offer some clues.

The Church of England will examine whether to sell Caterpillar stock, valued at roughly $4.4 million. Pro-divestment campaigners allege its construction equipment is used to demolish Palestinians homes. Caterpillar says it adheres to all "local, U.S. and international laws and policies" where it sells products.

In May, the Church of Scotland is expected to study possible divestment at its general assembly. The head of the church, the Rev. David Lacy, called the Israeli security barrier an "oppressive sign of distrust and hatred in the birthplace of the son of God" following a trip in November.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) in June plans to review its 2004 declaration to support eventual "phased, selective divestment" of the church's $8 billion portfolio. Some regional Presbyterian groups have urged the church modify or revoke the policy.

"I hope that since churches are taking this so seriously" it has "in some small way contributed to a decision (by Israeli leadership) that this model of occupation won't work," said the church's top executive, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick. He is taking part in the WCC conference, which ends on Thursday.

Other churches, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the U.S. Episcopal Church, favor policies that stress investment in Palestinian development and other measures. The Roman Catholic Church, which is not a member of the World Council of Churches, also does not support divestment appeals.

"This should tell the advocates of divestment that the movement is backtracking," said Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

But it still remains a force being closely watched by Jewish organizations and the Israeli leadership. It's more a battle over impressions than investments, said professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel.

"When you talk about the word `divestment' it's associated with South Africa and the fight against apartheid," said Steinberg, who studies Jewish-Christian relations. "For Israel, it's strictly about casting Israel as a state without legitimacy. They feel some churches are trying to delegitimize Israel as a state."

Mid-East Realitieswww.middleeast.org

Source: http://www.middleeast.org/articles/2006/2/1356.htm