By Daniel Breslau
Week 1979 of occupation
Palestinian municipal elections
On Thursday, 5 May, about 400,000 residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip participated in the second stage of national elections, for the purpose of electing municipal council representatives. The elections are also preparation for the third stage, the election of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), scheduled for 17 July 2005.
Turnout was estimated at 82%, much higher than the 46% that voted in the first stage, the presidential elections earlier this year. After exit polls and initial results, the Fatah movement proclaimed victory, while the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) also exceeded expectations in winning majorities in many of the large municipal councils. Hamas won major victories in the towns of Kalkilya, where the movement won 12 of the 15 council seats, and in Rafah, the largest municipality involved in the election, where Hamas won 14 out of 15 seats. While retaining its advantage in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has strengthened its support within the West Bank, although it remains the second largest party there. The leftist opposition, principally the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), ran a distant third. The results could mark the end of the era of Fatah dominance of Palestinian politics, and the beginning of a new era of democratic power-sharing among the leading factions.
International observers concluded that the elections, despite scattered irregularities, were generally fair and free.
Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, stated that if Hamas were to win the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in Gaza, the evacuation of settlements and withdrawal of Israeli forces should be cancelled, lest the area become a `Hamastan.` In response, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas questioned Israel`s commitment to democracy. Ariel Sharon, as well as Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defense minister, stated that the `disengagement` should go forward without regard to the Palestinian election results.
Israel halts prisoner release, turnover of towns
Israel announced on Sunday, May 8, that it would not release 400 Palestinian political prisoners, thus reversing its earlier assurances. The decision was based on Israel`s claim that the Palestinian Authority is not taking strong enough measures against militant organizations that have practiced terror. Planned transfer of security control of several West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority had already been halted for the same reason. Meanwhile, Aharon Ze`evi, the director of Israel`s military intelligence, speaking on Israeli radio, contradicted Mofaz and Sharon, stating that the Palestinian Authority has been gradually reigning in militants and gathering weapons. The Prime Minister and Defense Minister, however, appear to be insisting on nothing less than an effort to confiscate weapons from the Hamas movement by force. Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is not eager to provoke a violent confrontation with his largest rival, when the latter are abiding by the general cease fire.
Absentee property law still in force, despite Attorney General`s ruling
Starting in 2004, the Israeli government began applying the notorious 1950 absentee property law to lands belonging to Palestinian farmers who were separated from their lands by the construction of the annexation wall. The law, drafted with reference to the property left by Palestinian refugees in 1948, declares such lands as abandoned, allowing them to become Israeli state lands. Subsequently, Israel`s attorney general, Manny Mazuz, ordered that the state cannot use the 1950 law to confiscate lands in the Jerusalem area that have been farmed by their Palestinian owners since 1967. Despite this ruling, it was revealed this week that the rights of these landowners have not been restored in practice, and that they are still denied permits to work their own lands.
The wall: stones vs. bullets
Riad Mohamad Yassin and Alian Ibrahim Ahmad Abu Rachme, who were arrested at the demonstration in Bil`in on April 28, after confronting Israeli infiltrators who were throwing stones at soldiers, were remanded. They are charged with `interfering with servicemen in the conduct of their duties.`
On Thursday, May 5, Israel Defense Forces GOC Central Command Yair Naveh suspended a senior Combat Engineering Corps officer who commanded a force that shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank on Wednesday. Naveh said the conduct of the deputy company commander was defined as `unreasonable.` The army`s preliminary investigation, however, concluded that the lives of the soldiers were endangered, and therefore the orders to use live ammunition on unarmed protesters were justified. Oudai A`asi, 14, and his 15-year-old cousin Kamal A`asi, both from the West Bank village of Beit Lakia, were shot dead by soldiers pursuing stone throwers at a work site.
On Thursday evening, 200-300 protested in front of IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, against the killing of the two boys. At least six of the protestors were arrested as the demonstration took to the streets.
On May 8, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted a statement to the High Court of Justice stating that the wall is a clear violation of international law, and should be built only on lands within the green line. The state prosecutor claimed that the decision of the International Court of Justice in the Hague lacks `binding legal validity.`
Settler attacks on Palestinians and their property have been stepped up, possibly as a deliberate effort to inflame tensions prior to the planned evacuation of settlers in the Gaza Strip and in three small settlements in the Northern West Bank. Here are some of the incidents reported in the weekly report of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR):
- On Saturday, 7 May 2005, an Israeli settler poured an unknown substance into two wells in Kufor Qddoum village, north of Kalkilya. According to a number of Palestinian farmers, they saw an Israeli settler coming from the neighboring `Kdumim` settlement on a tractor. He got out of the tractor and poured an unknown substance from a bottle he was carrying into two wells used by Palestinian farmers. Immediately, the local council warned residents of the village through megaphones not to use the walls, and informed the Palestinian Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agricultural. A sample of water was taken from the two wells to be tested in order to identify the substance that was poured by the settler. According to eyewitness, a horse that drank from one of the wells died, which indicates that the substance could be poisonous.
- On Saturday noon, 7 May 2005, a number of Israeli settlers from `Ramat Yishai` settlement post in Tel Rumaida neighborhood in the center of Hebron launched a series of attacks on Palestinian civilians and property. They chased Palestinian civilians, threw stones at houses and destroyed water pipelines. Five houses were damaged.
- At approximately 07:00 on Sunday, 8 May 2005, some Israeli settlers moved into an area of land belonging to Mohammed and Mustafa Kamel al-Farra near `Neve Dekalim` settlement in al-Mawasi area in Khan Yunis. They damaged irrigation networks and plantation. Then, they surrounded 18 dunums of the land with wires in an attempt to annex them to the aforementioned settlement. The settlers had already seized 22 dunums of land belonging to the same citizens. According to one of the owners, Israeli settlers have seized at least 200 dunums of their land since the beginning of the current Intifada.
- Also at noon, five Israeli settlers from `Kiryat Arba` settlement, east of Hebron, severely beat 7-year-old Mohammed Hisham Edris when he was playing near his family home in Wad al-Nasara neighborhood to the south of the aforementioned settlement. IOF accompanied the settlers, but did not intervene to stop this attack.
- The Israeli daily Maariv reported according to IOF that settlers recently escalated their attacks against Palestinians, with an increase by 52% in comparison to last year. From the beginning of 2005 until the end of April, IOF initiated 265 probes against settlers for acts of disorder and violence against Palestinians. PCHR asserts that IOF do not deal seriously with complaints submitted by Palestinians against settlers.
Niria Ofen became the first Jewish settler to be placed under `administrative detention.` Ofen is a religious extremist from the settlement of Yitzhar. He is active in groups that have called for Jewish reconquest of the temple mount in Jerusalem, and is suspected of involvement in a settler terror cell responsible for shooting and bombing attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territories. His detention was in response to concerns that extremist settlers may attack such targets in order to provoke a Palestinian response, which would block the planned evacuation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. He is to be detained until 30 September, the date on which the `disengagement` plan is to be completed.
Closures, incursions and arrests
A full closure was placed on all of the occupied Palestinian territories, beginning Wednesday morning, and lasting through Saturday, coinciding with the celebration of Israel`s independence day.
Severe restrictions on freedom of movement continue throughout the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In addition to a general closure of the territories that started on Tuesday, May 10, the Erez Crossing at Beit Hannoun in the Northern Gaza Strip has remained closed for the third consecutive week.
The IDF conducted at least 14 military incursions in the West Bank. Just some examples reported by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights:
- Thursday, May 5: An IDF unit, accompanied by a military bulldozer, moved into al-Naqoura village, northwest of Nablus. The bulldozer closed an agricultural road that links the village with the neighboring village of Ejnesenia. This road had been closed since the second year of the current Intifada but residents had recently reopened it.
- Saturday, May 7: At approximately 20:00, IOF moved into Dura village, southwest of Hebron. They raided shops and forced the owners to close them. They also raided Mohammed Hassan al-Fasfous` house and transformed it into a military site after holding its eight residents in one room. Dozens of Palestinian civilians gathered and threw stones at IOF. Immediately, IOF fired live and rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at the stone throwers, wounding 15-year-old Maher Sharif Abu Ras with a rubber-coated metal bullet in the head. Four other civilians also suffered from tear gas inhalation.
- At approximately 01:00, IOF moved into Bourqin village, southwest of Jenin. They raided and searched a number of houses and arrested seven Palestinians, claiming that Ghanem had been wanted for four years for being a member of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of Fatah movement.
Sources: Ha`aretz, International Middle East Media Center, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Ynet.