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From: arens@ISI.EDU (Yigal Arens)

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To: bashar@point.cs.uwm.edu

Subject: 118-Situation_in_OT_3_93

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Report No. 118 Israel Shahak, 9 March 1993

The fundamental aspects of the situation in the Territories

 

As I have frequently observed in my previous reports, the only

factor which may prompt the Israeli Jewish public to contemplate a

change in the status quo, or even to reassess the existing situation,

is a sense of tangible failure, especially military or intelligence

failure. At present the sense of failure is strong in regard to the

Israeli rule in the Gaza Strip, although not in the West Bank. With

the exception of the "leftist" Al Hamishmar, and of the Jerusalem Post

which seems to have no purpose other than keeping the U.S. Jewry in

good mood, the Hebrew press in the last 10 days is filled by analyses,

polls, scenarios, admonitions and other forms of debating the coming

Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and its consequences: so much

so that it would be difficult to report their contents in the form of

a single summary. The debate has a curious side-effect, in that the

Israeli rule over the Territories, in terms of both its strategic

assumptions and facts on the ground, which have never been previously

discussed in depth, is now discussed in amazing detail. The cause of

the sudden eruption of interest in the subjects under debate is

obvious. February 1993 marks the high point of Palestinian resistance,

much stronger in the Gaza Strip than in the West Bank; not of the

killings or the oppression of the Palestinians. It was the killing of

two Jews in Tel Aviv and another one in Rafah which brought home the

realization that as long as Israel rules the Gaza Strip, it cannot

stop such killings anywhere. The debate was certainly not sparked by

demolition of houses by anti-tank missiles and evacuation of their

inhabitants without letting them carry away any of their belongings,

nor by serendipity in devising other forms of humiliation. Twenty-one

Palestinians, some of them children, were killed in February 1993

without making the public noticeably concerned.

 

This aspect of the situation was best expressed in an article by

Alex Fishman (Hadashot, March 5), bearing the telling title "Didn't we

forget the lesson of Algeria?" Fishman opines that "three pillars of

the [Israeli] rule in the Territories, the Shabak, the army and the

administration" have failed in the Gaza Strip ignominiously, but fared

not so badly in the West Bank. He concludes that "nothing can salvage

the Israeli rule in the Gaza Strip any more: financial investments, no

matter how huge, not excepted. The concluding chapter of the book is

already being written up. Even in the Security System there are

individuals who say, not for attribution, that `we have really lost

all chances to sustain our rule there'". This report will first

briefly describe the present balance of political forces supporting or

opposing Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, unilateral or

conditional, and then disclose some basic aspects of the situation in

the Territories, with emphasis on the Gaza Strip, disclosed by the

debate.

 

Let me begin with the political forces. The bulk of Maariv's March 5

issue is devoted to exploring this subject. It turns out that

according to the latest poll of the Jewish population, taken by the

Israeli branch of Gallup, 33% were in favor of immediate and

unconditional withdrawal from the Gaza Strip; 34% in favor of

negotiated withdrawal; and only 23% in favor of "the continuing

Israeli rule" over the Strip "for a long time yet". More important in

my view are the opinions of prominent politicians and commentators.

Menahem Rahat solicited for Maariv the opinions of all government

ministers except Rabin, who is anyway known to fiercely oppose any

form of withdrawal. Only Peres refused to answer, but he allowed his

deputy-minister (in the Foreign ministry) Yossi Beilin, to write for

the referred to Maariv issue an article entitled: "We must withdraw,

but not yet". Popularly, Beilin is known as "Peres' poodle". The

appellation was actually coined by Rabin several years ago. The just

quoted title of Beilin's article in my view means: "We really must

withdraw right now, except that Rabin stil stands in the way". Of the

other ministers, only three (Ramon and Baram from Labor and Rubinstein

from Meretz) openly said that they favor an unconditional withdrawal

following a specified period of time. Let me quote excerpts from

Ramon's statement, which is quite similar to the other two: "Israel

should at once set a date of its total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip,

and announce to the entire world that by that date we will already

quit the entire area of the Strip". The small number of open

supporters of withdrawal can perhaps be attributed to the rather

recent Rabin's rebuke of ministers making public statements at

variance with his opinions. The same factor can perhaps explain the

ambiguites in replies of some ministers who came out in opposition to

withdrawal. The most vocal among them are the Finance minister Shohat,

and two ministers known to be personally close to Rabin, namely

Ben-Eliezer (Housing) and Tzur (Agriculture). But the three Meretz

ministers oppose withdrawal from the Strip no less fiercely, adding a

peculiar twist of their own to their arguments. Whereas all other

ministers opposing the withdrawal speak in terms of Israeli raison

d'etat, the Meretz ministers invoke altruism as a reason for their

advocacy of Israeli staying in the Gaza Strip. Their opinions are

worth quoting. Yossi Sarid says that "even if Israel were ready to

give the Strip away, the power over the area can devolve only to the

local Palestinians. They alone could possibly pick our gift on

condition of being free to establish an independent Palestinian state

there, in the hope that it would be economically assisted by the

international community". Yossi Sarid opposes withdrawal in order to

avert this danger. Shulamit Aloni opines that "after Israeli

withdrawal the conditions of the Strip's inhabitants will become worse

than prisoners. The withdrawal will lead them to join the ranks of the

terrorists". For a comparison it should be noted that the former

Defense minister, Moshe Arens, when interviewed in the same issue of

Maariv, makes a strong case in favor of Israeli withdrawal without

faking any altruism. And no wonder: because contrary to what is

thought in the West, the Zionist "doves" have always been more

militaristic than the mainstream of Likud.

 

For a variety of reasons, however, serious Israeli commentators by

now lean in favor of Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Their

main reason is, as noted above, the continuing terrorist acts

perpetrated by Gaza workers in Israel. Unlike the infiltrations by the

PLO units from outside the country, this is considered to be both

unavoidable and attributable to Israeli policies. After describing the

conditions in the Gaza Strip forcing the young Gazans to seek work in

Israel (a topic to be yet discussed), Danny Rubinstein (Haaretz, March

5), goes on: "It was due to those conditions that Ziad Salama, 19, who

at the beginning of the last week murdered two persons in Tel Aviv and

wounded others, had arrived in Israel to seek work... Like the

majority of Hamas militants, he had never been abroad, and has never

been recruited by any organization and trained in any Arab state. He

has never received orders from any command post located outside the

Israeli borders. A Palestinian journalist of East Jerusalem thus poked

fun at Shabak's revelations that the infrastructure and the command

posts of Hamas were located in the U.S: `They look for the

infrastructure of Islamic zealotry far away, while really it exists

right under their noses in concentrations of unemployed workers of

Gaza'".

 

Even more to the point is Ze'ev Shiff (Haaretz, March 5), whose

analysis deserves to be quoted extensively. "From the viewpoint of

[Israeli] security, the Gaza Strip is a vivid and deplorable proof of

the utter failure of the Israeli strategic thinking, which is really a

mishmash of decisions dictated by emotional or ideological

considerations, with some added spices of military tactic. What is now

happening in the Gaza Strip could have been predicted at least ten

years ago, or even earlier, by anybody, even by the blind. It could

have been seen even then that the Strip had been a festering

demographic sore in our body, bound to get aggravated with time to the

point when all conceivable remedies would be beyond our powers. A

pamphlet issued by the Civil Administration six years ago, forecasting

the conditions in the Gaza Strip under Israeli rule in 2000, already

contained many indications of the deterioration. The Gaza Strip proves

conclusively that a small nation cannot have enough power to hold

another nation under permanent curfew.

 

"Yet we have continued to steal the Strip's water, even though its

quality deteriorated from year to year. We have continued to steal the

Strip's tiny land resources, in order to found there more and more

[Jewish] settlements as if we deliberately wanted to make the

inhabitants despair and in their despair think in terms of having

nothing to lose. It is of our own doing that the Strip's workers must

now spend for travelling to their workplaces almost as much time as

the whole day of work. From the military point of view, we have kept

controlling no more than a half of the Strip's area at an increasingly

exorbitant price in expenditure of resources and energy by the Israeli

army. About a year before Moshe Arens left [the Defense ministry], I

already heard him saying that we should withdraw from the Strip,

irrespective of its being a part of the Land of Israel. His argument

was that Israel sinks into the Strip ever deeper and deeper. He told

me he had made a motion to this effect to Yitzhak Shamir but the

latter rejected it".

 

The theft of the Strip waters Shiff mentions, actually goes on in

two ways. First, underground waters are being tapped in Israel before

they can reach the Strip, to be used by the kibbutzim and moshavim

located to the east of it. Since the matter is intricate and evidence

scarce, I will not dwell upon it here. But the Strip's water are also

being stolen in a more flagrant manner which is open to inspection.

The beneficiaries of this kind of theft are the Strip's Jewish

settlers who number no more than 5,000, but who already use about 30%

of the Strip's lands confiscated for them in advance. Let me just

mention that the religious settlers of "Katif Bloc", established by

the Rabin-Peres government of 1974-77 right in the middle of the

Strip, were even before the Intifada encouraged to dig a huge

artificial lake right in front of their luxurious hotel, for purposes

of merry-making and encouraging tourism. Now tourism is no more, for

five years already. Still, each year, in the middle of the summer, a

festival of religious songs is organized on the shores of that lake,

under the National Religious Party's auspices and with the army's

help. According to my sources, at least 10,000 soldiers need to be

mobilized each time for the sole purpose of guarding the celebrants'

security. Still, vast crowds of youth do celebrate there, right in the

midst of massive starvation!

 

Forcing the Gaza workers to spend as much time on travelling to

their workplaces as on work also antedates the Intifada. It was

conceived around 1975-77, at a time of relative quiet, when Israelis

were still travelling en masse to the Gaza Strip as tourists and

shoppers. It was introduced as a "sociological measure" (to be yet

dealt with later) in order to keep the population "stable". I well

remember the "learned" explanations of the "experts", who kept

assuring the Israelis that after the entire day spent at work and on

the way to work and back, Arab workers will have no time for anything

apart from sleep, as a result of which things will "remain quiet". It

is true that the Gaza Strip tended to remain relatively quiet for long

periods of time, but for reasons quite different from those envisaged

by the "experts".

 

Shamir at one time tried to somewhat improve the conditions in the

Gaza Strip. But the story of his attempts, told at length by Fishman

(ibid), although perfectly truthful, sounds like sheer wonderland.

Fishman first says, correctly, that "during the entire time we have

ruled the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government has refused to allocate a

single cent from its own budget for the Arabs in the Territories".

(This subject will also be dealt with later.) Next, Fishman recounts

Shamir's February 1987 idea of coaxing Reagan to alleviate the

conditions in the Gaza Strip. "His idea was to raise $5 million, from

donations of course, for 830,000 inhabitants [i.e. about $6 per head].

Upon hearing this, Reagan dispatched Elie Wiesel as his envoy to

appraise the situation in the Gaza Strip. Wiesel was shocked by what

he saw and proposed a world-wide appeal for relief. Before it could

begin, the Intifada started, and all such plans were cancelled". Yet

Fishman's story has its counterpart in the fact that the Palestinians

in the Territories are year after year robbed by Israel of enormous

sums of money. Whatever they pay as custom duties in Israeli harbors

and airports goes straight to the Israeli treasury. Social security

payments of workers employed in Israel (to which their Israeli

employers contribute as well), get in their entirety deposited in some

mysterious fund from which no inhabitant of the Territories has as yet

received a single service.

 

Prior to their resignation in March 1990, Rabin as the Defense

minister and Peres as Finance minister pursued the policy of

suppressing the Intifada by ruining the Palestinians financially. In

the Gaza Strip this was implemented with particular cruelty,

aggravating the already desperate economic conditions. Fishman informs

that "upon becoming Defense minister in March 1990, Arens tried to put

some order into the economic policies in the Territories". But he was

paralyzed by the prohibition of allocating any money from Israeli

sources for the purpose and the fact that "the tiny Civil

Administration budget, which last year in the Gaza Strip amounted to

no more than 232 million Shekel [about $95 million], and which on the

revenues depend almost entirely on taxes of local inhabitants, is in

more than 50% spent on the salaries of the Civil Administration's

employees, while parts of the remainder go into purchases of partly

armored jeeps". Under those conditions, Arens could hardly do a thing.

At present, informs Fishman, "the entire development budget of the

Gaza Strip amounts to 65 million Shekel, or 80 Shekel [about $30] per

head yearly. This happens in one of the most densely populated and

poorest areas of the world. This is not even a drop in the sea".

As far as I can see it, extensive discussion of the budget of the

Civil Administration, its purposes and the real aims of Israeli

economic policies in the Territories are total novelty. Until about

two weeks ago the Civil Administration budget was top secret. In the

end, the Civil Administration made it public, via the Defense

ministry, in response to public scandal threats by a group of Israeli

professors with "good connections" (i. e. those cooperating with the

Palestinian delegation to the "autonomy" talks), desperate about the

lack of any data to work with. True, about four months ago, after an

intervention by Shimon Peres, the Finance ministry released the

supposedly identical budget figures to a Palestinian economist, Dr.

Ataf Ala'una, on condition of keeping them off the record. After the

secrecy was lifted, Michal Sela ("Whom to believe?" Davar, March 5)

compared Dr. Ala'una's data with those of the other "official" budget

for 1991. Ala'una discovered discrepancies which Sela describes as

"astounding". "The Finance ministry informs that the total taxes

collected in the Strip amounted to 86.836 million Shekel, whereas the

Defense ministry's figure is 139.420 million Shekel... The taxes on

cars in the Strip amounted to nearly 14.5 million Shekel according to

the Defense ministry, and to over twice that amount, 29 million

Shekel, according to the Finance ministry". Even more remarkably,

"according to the Finance ministry the taxes on cars collected in the

West Bank amount to about one seventh (!) of the taxes on cars

collected in the Strip, in spite of the fact that the number of cars

is by several magnitudes higher in the former than in the latter". And

so on and so forth. The only possible conclusion, which I myself drew

already at the very onset of my political involvement in 1968, is that

all, or almost all, Israeli official data concerning the Territories

are fabrications, in parts or in entirety. (I have never seen a

truthful Israeli official announcement relating to the Territories,

but I cannot claim to have seen them all.) On the other hand, the data

of responsible Hebrew press correspondents relying on their

"connections" or on leaks can usually be trusted. But even though all

Israeli governments have lied on the Territories, the degrees in

mendacity should in my view be discerned. The worst liars by far are

the Zionist "doves'. They surpass even Ariel Sharon.

 

Wisely, Dr. Ala'una decided to pay no credence to any Israeli

official data. "The economics professors at the Hebrew University [of

Jerusalem] who cooperate with him share Dr. Ala'una's viewpoint. They

recognize that lots of data are still inaccessible to them, but they

differ from him in conjectures of what exactly is inaccessible". Dr.

Ala'una prefers to rely on his own computations which I consider

dependable. According to him, "In 1986 the yearly budget per capita

amounted to: in Israel $2,413, in Jordan $825, in the West Bank $120

and in the Gaza Strip $90".

 

The figures of Dr. Ala'una accord with a qualitative description of

the present economic situation in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli

contribution to it by Danny Rubinstein (ibid). He deserves to be

quoted extensively. "From the viewpoint of Israeli economic situation,

Gaza Strip could already be sealed off hermetically and all the

Strip's workers could be barred from entering Israel. It was not so

three years ago, when long seal-offs of the Strip began to be imposed

by the Security System, primarily in order to punish its inhabitants,

but secondarily also in order to prevent their lynchings [in Israel]

in revenge. The Security System was then flooded by frantic pleas of

Israeli building contractors and other employers entreating the

authorities to let their workers return to work. Indeed, in many

factories production had to stop and export deliveries had to be

delayed. During the Gulf War, when both the Gaza Strip and the West

Bank were under a long curfew, hardly any apartment housing

construction for new immigrants could proceed on schedule. It was the

Israeli employers, then still highly dependent on their Arab laborers,

who were first to really struggle, often with success, against the

seal-offs of the Gaza Strip.

 

"Today the situation is different. Even though accurate data are

hard to come by, it is indisputable that during the last two years the

numbers of Gazan workers arriving daily to work in Israel has markedly

decreased. In the mid-1980s, those numbers were crudely estimated at

80,000, today at only 40,000. But the decrease is not only due to

restrictions imposed in the intervening years on entering Israel from

the Gaza Strip. It is also due to the drastic curtailment of demand

for labor of Gazans in Israel. Unemployment in Israel is soaring,

apartment housing construction has anyway been halted. The workers

from Gaza are no longer really needed. Pressures for relaxation of the

entry of Gaza workers to Israel now come from some elements in the

Security System and some officers of the Military Administration, who

just fear that the present levels of destitution in the Territories

and particularly in the Gaza Strip may have downright disastrous

consequences.

 

"As is well known, the entire economy of the Gaza Strip is already

totally dependent on Israel. A report of the Jerusalem Media Center

for Communication (JMCC), headed by Ghassan El-Khatib, who is a member

of the Palestinian delegation to peace talks, described this economy

as `dependent and backward'. The report accuses Israel of destroying a

modicum of economic viability that the Gaza Strip had had. Indeed,

citrus fruit cultivation was once flourishing but is now dwindling

rapidly, and fishing has been paralyzed by security restrictions..."

"On the other hand, however, a form of economic activity which did

develop in recent years in the Gaza Strip, is the sub-contracted work

for Israeli factories. There may be as many as thousands of small

workshops, employing on the average four workers. They get their raw

materials or unfinished products, together with detailed working

instructions, from Israeli factories". Rubinstein provides a list of

production branches those sub-contracted workers are engaged in.

Predominantly, they perform the relatively labor-intensive tasks in

pruduction of textiles, footwear and the like. Rubinstein attributes

this development to the fact that "the average salary in the Gaza

Strip is merely 40% of that in the West Bank, which in turn stands at

50% of the average salary in Israel; and besides, the Gazan employer

doesn't need to pay any social security for his employees, nor any

municipal taxes, nor various other expenses which an Israeli employer

has to bear". If an average salary in the Gaza Strip is merely 20% of

the Israeli one, the profits of Israeli factories and even of

Palestinian second-hand contractors must be fabulous. They are higher

still, when, as Rubinstein explains, "a Gazan sub-contractor provides

labor to be performed at home, with the family's help. The livelihood

of tens of thousands of Gazans depends on such sub-contracted work.

Many of them are women and children, paid in the vicinity of 10 Shekel

[$3.60] per day". Of course, there are no worktime limits under such

conditions: the working day may well last 12 hours. "This is the best

a Gazan can expect", Rubinstein continues, "as a substitute for being

forced to seek work in Tel Aviv. Instead of all the burdens, all the

humiliations, all the chance misfortunes he may encounter on the way,

work is being supplied to his home. But the salaries are so low

compared to those paid in Israel, that many are still ready to take

all the risks in order to find work there".

 

The fact that an average salary in the Gaza Strip amounts to only

20% of an average Israeli salary is pregnant with political

consequences. But it should be also noted that the salaries of

agricultural workers are even lower than that average. According to my

sources, the Gazan workers employed by Jewish settlers in the Strip

tend to earn less than 10% of the average Israeli salary. Other

categories of workers can also be worse-off than the statistics would

indicate. Cases are known, for example, in which Gazan workers who had

lost their work in Israel, were subsequently offered work in Gaza for

a salary of 12-15% of what they had been earning before. There can be

no doubt that profits from exploiting cheap Gazan labor are one of the

reasons of the stubborn opposition of Rabin and of the majority of

Israeli ministers to withdrawal from the Strip in any form.

 

The extent of exploitation of Gazan workers by the Strip's Jewish

settlers can be seen from the data provided by Nahum Barnea (Yediot

Ahronot, March 9). He recounts that after the murder of a Katif Bloc

settler by two of his workers, "the Israeli army arrested his entire

Palestinian workforce, in the number of about 120 males, including

many small boys, and 9 females", i.e. of about 130 workers in the

employ of a single settler! My own sources consider that figure as

falling below what a Jewish settler employs on the average: which in

the Katif Bloc amounts to about 160 Gazan workers per settler. This

estimate is plausible, if the huge amounts of water diverted for the

exclusive use of the settlers, their specialization in labor-intensive

cultivation of vegetables and flowers in greenhouses, and the demand

for their produce in Western Europe are considered. Efraim Davidi ("A

Paradise attained in the `Katif Bloc'", Davar, March 9) provides some

data which indicate how important for Israel this enterprise is.

"Katif Bloc is now producing 40% of Israeli tomatoes destined for

export, and a substantial proportion of exported flowers." Davidi also

deals with the subsidies the settlers receive, in value considerably

augmented by the present government. Owing to them, the prices of

housing units are dirt-cheap. But he also notes that construction work

in Katif Bloc is now performed by the Histadrut-owned company "Solel

Boneh". The present government does not spare efforts to recruit new

settlers to Katif Bloc. "Any prospective settler will get a 95%

mortgage for his house, plus a grant of 18,000 Shekels". But,

concludes Davidi, "cheap labor swells the revenues of the settlers to

fabulous sums".

 

Let me add that the Katif Bloc was founded by the first Rabin

government of 1974-77 (along with another bloc of Jewish settlements),

with the intention of partitioning the Strip into three separate

enclaves. It is apparent that the present government pursues this idea

onward.

 

The emergence of Palestinian sub-contractors as a new wealthy elite

is seldom mentioned by Palestinian sources, because they still carry

an aura of "heroes of the Intifada" they earned while helping enforce

the ban on purchases of Israeli-made products and encourage the

reliance on Palestinian-made ones. The problem is that "Israeli-made

product" means a product finished in Israel, or even a product with an

Israeli label. Rubinstein recounts the case of a Gazan "industrialist"

who purchased some Israeli-made cans, replacing the Hebrew label by

his own. Palestinian organizations intervened, and he had to desist

from the practice. But when another Gazan "industrialist" bought

Israeli-made produce wholesale, to retail it in his own cans, he was

acclaimed as a genuine Palestinian industrialist. The bulk of

Palestinian industry in the Strip consists of such or similar tricks.

It can be suspected that this factor can explain the difference

between Israelis who want to withdraw from the Gaza Strip

conditionally and unconditionally. The ranks of the former seem to be

comprised of those who would like to ensure that enormous profits from

exploitation of Gazan labor keep flowing. An unconditional withdrawal

would perforce mean the renunciation of those profits.

 

The economic conditions created by Israel in the Gaza Strip,

especially in recent years, are exploitative to the point of cruelty.

Qualitatively, however, they don't differ from the patterns set up at

the onset of the Israeli conquests elsewhere. There is no reason to

expect any fundamental change in those patterns as long as the Israeli

rule lasts. In this respect, one shouldn't be deluded by the talk,

nowadays fashionable, about Israeli gestures intended "to encourage

economic development in the Territories". Michal Sela ("The good

colonialist", Davar, February 18), devotes her article to a discussion

of those "gestures". About some of them, such as the permits for

opening a limited amount of new factories, she is downright sarcastic,

recalling that "all permits for opening new businesses and even for

taking employment depend on a prior approval by Shabak". She concludes

that mere "gestures" are bound to fail, for the reason no other than

the insistence of the Israeli authorities on always stressing in

public, even on ceremonial occassions held jointly with Palestinian

beneficiaries of their gestures, "that it is they who control the

oxygen supplies" to the Palestinian economy. "Behind all the professed

good will there is no desire to solve problems. All that there is, is

the attitude of a good colonialist, willing to do something for the

benefit of the natives, but on strict conditions that they behave

nicely, do not become uppity, and never do anything against the

interests of the metropolis, its economic interests included. All

professed good intentions imply, first, that the Palestinians are

never to be treated as equals, and second, that the Israeli economy

should defend itself from any possible adversity resulting from their

actions. During 25 years of our rule over the West Bank and the Strip,

Israel has treated them as horses guided by their rider by means of

two reins he never drops from his own hand: economic and political".

The development of sub-contracted work in the Gaza Strip accords

perfectly with Sela's diagnosis. It can hardly be doubted that it has

been designed by the Israeli authorities.

 

Sela also shows how exactly the economic controls work. "In all

branches of Israeli economy and business enterprise, lobbies have been

set in motion for purposes of freeing Israeli production from the

threat of any Palestinian competition. The method is simplicity

itself. As soon as any Israeli producer succeeds in persuading the

government, or even the Trade and Industry minister alone, a military

[government] regulation is issued prohibiting the export of a given

product to Israel. If this does not suffice, a given [Palestinian]

factory may be denied permit to work, or bureaucratic obstacles may be

mounted so as to paralyze its production". Among the most active of

such lobbies is the agricultural one. It has succeeded in preventing

all exports of Gaza-grown vegetables (except for those grown by the

Jewish settlers which count as Israeli-produced) not only to Israel

but also to Europe, where they otherwise might compete with the

Israeli exports, the Katif Bloc vegetables included.

 

Sela provides plenty of historical examples showing how Palestinian

efforts to develop their economy were time after time paralyzed by

Israeli prohibitions. One of her examples is more recent. It concerns

water, the crucial factor in the general situation in the Strip. "The

mentality of the good colonialist shows up in every academic exchange

between Israelis and Palestinians on the subject of autonomy. A

perfect case in point was the symposium on the subject of water held

about two month ago in Zurich, under the chair of professor Hillel

Shuval and Dr. Jad Yishak. The Israeli discussants advanced a number

of proposals of how the problem of water scarcity could be solved by

them for the Palestinians, but they declined off-hand any suggestion

that the Land of Israel's waters could be divided equally in

proportion to the respective populations". The symposium has failed to

reach any conclusions, while the Israelis, as usual, blamed the

Palestinian discussants for their "lack of realism". The Israeli Water

Superintendent, when interviewed by the Hebrew press on his return

from this symposium, stated explicitly that Israel can agree to the

principle of equality only in the distribution of drinking water in

all urban settings, Israeli or "autonomous", but on condition that the

distribution itself is managed by Israel alone. In regard to all other

uses of water, the efficiency considerations, presumably of the Katif

Bloc variety, must in his opinion override the considerations for

equality. Meron Benvenisti recently wrote that such symposia are

exercises in both futility and dishonesty. He compared the

academicians of both nations participating in them to "pheasants

walking among the ruins with their tails raised high". The

underlying principles of the Israeli rule over the Territories,

explained by Shiff, Rubinstein and Sela, have been always opposed by

the Arabist advisers of Shabak and its "experts in Arab mentality".

They have been recommending the oppression only select segments of the

population, usually the intellectuals (whether secular or religious),

while relieving to some extent the conditions of the masses. Those

experts promised durable effects if their advice is followed

consistently. The Israeli government and the army usually have

deferred to these opinions for a while, only to stop following them up

as soon as the first act of guerilla or terrorism was perpetrated or

whenever political pressures from the extreme right were mounting.

 

The failure of the Israeli administration in the Gaza Strip is not

the only reason of the current advocacy of Israeli withdrawal from

there. Many Israeli professionals in the military and intelligence

criticize Rabin's goverment harshly, and support strongly Israeli

withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, precisely because they already despair

that any Israeli government would be capable of following their

"expert advice" consistently and persistently. Such criticism can

assume grotesque forms. A prominent Israeli expert of this type,

deputy director of the prestigious Yaffe Center for Strategic Studies

of the Tel Aviv University, Yoseph Alpert (Ha'olam Haze, March 3),

could blame Rabin for jeopardizing the prospect of future mass

expulsions because he had impatiently refused to listen to "expert

advice" prior to the expulsion of the 415 in December 1992. Had he

consulted the genuine experts, opines Alpert, he would have been

advised "to board the 415 Palestinians onto a boat which would drop

them on the coast of Saudi Arabia or Sudan", with no adverse

consequences. But some military correspondents can argue more

seriously than Alpert. Fishman ("Sociological Experiments", Hadashot,

March 2) deserves to quoted in this context extensively. "During the

Intifada, the Territories in general and the Gaza Strip in particular

can be viewed as a huge laboratory for testing the military

government's successive theories. Everything which could have been

tested has already been tested: the seal-offs, partial curfews, total

curfews, short curfews, long curfews, mass detentions, peculiar

methods of census taking, magnetic cards, expulsions. Also tested have

been various economic theories, for example whether a satiated or

hungry populace is more prone to violence? To test this question the

entire economic development of the Territories would be stopped for a

while, and then restrictions relaxed a little. All this has been done

depending on which particular sociological theory held at a given time

sway in the Security System. Unfortunately, all the theories have

failed to solve the problems.

 

"In December 1992, a new and distinct policy toward Hamas was

adopted for the first time since the inception of Intifada. After five

years of dealing only with symptoms of that problem, Israel has

decided to proceed to putting all Hamas sympathizers under relentless

pressure - in plain language to make their lives as difficult as

possible in the economic, social and religious domains alike. But

suddenly, the Security System got a nervous breakdown, and decided

instead to seal off the entire [Gaza] Strip [on March 1]. But this

implies a renewed demand for sociological testing. Right now under

debate is the question of how long the Strip's population can hold on

before it breaks down under the burden of insufferable economic

hardship".

 

Since the Israeli government continues to disregard the advice of

its "experts", in this particular case "of professionals who serve in

Gaza Strip and who oppose the seal-offs which in their view affect the

security situation adversely", Fishman sadly concludes that "the real

problem is that the State of Israel hasn't yet learned to rule another

nation, because it remains incapable of behaving with any consistency.

All its policies can not endure more than a few weeks at a time.

Therefore, since we don't know how to rule, let us leave it alone".

 

In his already quoted article of March 5, Fishman goes further. In

his opinion, Israeli governments during the 25 years of their rule

over the Territories made the same mistake as "the French governments

had made in Algeria during over 100 years of ruling that country". It

consisted of not developing the country sufficiently to let the masses

of natives benefit from it to some extent. In neither case was the

development encouraged until it was too late. The noisily proclaimed

Israeli official plans "to encourage foreign investment in the Strip"

(so strikingly at variance with realities described by Rubinstein),

are compared by Fishman to "the last chapter of the French rule in

Algeria, when De Gaulle admitted in October 1958 that `Algeria was an

underdeveloped district of France' and to remedy that underdevelopment

launched a gigantic five-year plan to atone for the sins of the past

100 years". The plan was then dropped, so as not to contribute to the

economy of the independent Algeria. This is why Fishman counsels not

to invest in the Strip, since "the only well-organized body there is

Hamas rather than the PLO, so that any investments are bound to

devolve to Hamas' benefit, contrary to what any Israeli would want. It

may sound surprising, but our most logical option is to let a

Palestinian state emerge in the Strip. That state will be barely 10

km. wide and 35 km. long, but it will be totally independent. It will

be more advantageous to conduct negotiations about the future of the

West Bank with such a state than with an organization headquartered in

Tunis. Such a state doesn't necessarily need to be engaged in

terrorism. Most likely, it would be too preoccupied with its own

domestic affairs. Most importantly, however, whatever economic

investments may be made in the Gaza Strip by states willing to offer

their assistance to the new Palestinian state, will be made direct.

The nowadays fashionable Israeli notion of the `Gaza Strip first'

makes sense only under those assumptions". Fishman views can be

usefully compared with those of the Zionist "doves". Such a comparison

can only show that the PLO leadership's trust of the latter is

completely misplaced, and bound to court disasters.

 

Of course, ideas such as Fishman's are in the Hebrew mainstream

media quite unprecedented (and in the Jerusalem Post still

unmentionable.) No wonder they meet lots of opposition. Much of this

opposition is too muddled to be reported more than cursorily. With one

exception, though: that of an idea to perpetuate Israeli rule in the

Strip by way of an uninhibited reliance on Shabak torture. This must

be treated seriously in view of its meaning in human terms. Opposition

to withdrawal, however, is being advocated in a version, already

sounding hackneyed as a result of its endless reiterations. The

version is that the army and Shabak are holding things under control,

as a result of which "terror will soon be defeated" and the

Palestinians made to keep as quiet as they once had been. The term

"once" usually refers to several years of relative calm in the Strip

after Sharon's suppression of the Palestinian resistance in 1970-71.

The argument rests on the assumption that nothing ever changes: that

the "remedies" which once proved effective, will always prove to be

effective in enforcing order among the Palestinians. But if those

"remedies" are not resorted to, Israel's very survival will be at

risk. Of endless perorations in this spirit let me quote two. Israel

Zamir, in the "leftist" Al Hamishmar (March 9) looks nostalgically

back to 1970 "when we were called up for reserve service, and our task

was explained to us by the then commander of the Southern Command,

Arik Sharon... We had to do exactly what the army had earlier

mistakenly decided not to do any more: namely to enter the refugee

camps in force... So we combed the entire Strip with all its orchards

during the 80 days of reserve service, and thus purged the area from

terror", in the best interests of the natives, of course. Zamir

believes that unless we do it again, let alone if we withdraw, "things

are sure to deteriorate. The crazies from Hamas are now sure to murder

all the Strip's moderate PLO followers, get hold of weapons from Iran,

and then proceed to killing Israeli Jews... We cannot but expect them

to shell the kibbutzim and development towns". Under such

circumstances, Israel will have no option apart from "reconquering the

Strip", and the sooner it is done the better.

Virtually identical opinions are voiced in Maariv (March 5) by David

Ronen, presented by that paper as "a former senior officer of Shabak".

He claims that "we already left the Strip once", when "the army

mistakenly decided to refrain from entering the refugee camps in

force..." except that the salutary measures of Sharon subsequently

restored order. His anticipations in the event of "our leaving the

Strip again" are the same as Zamir's. He concludes that "we need to

pursue our war against terror not only with maximum force but also

with determination. No borders should ever separate the Israeli army

from the terrorists".

 

Even more extreme are predictably the ideas of Jewish settlers in

the Gaza Strip, shared by the West Bank settlers as well. One of their

leaders, Zvi Hendel, proposes (Hadashot, March 9) "to seal off the

Strip for two weeks, and to deploy large forces for seaching every

house". The operation should be crowned by "the instant expulsion of

all inciters" which is recommended as "the most humane solution

available". Hendel estimates that "no more than 1% of Strip

inhabitants would need to be treated harshly, some of them expelled"

and that once this treatment is accorded, the remaining 99% will be

quiet. There is one condition, however. "No international pressures

should ever have any influence on the Jews. Once we ignore

international pressures, they will cease being exerted", provided the

government ministers now advocating withdrawal from the Strip "begin

to emulate the settlers in keeping their mouths shut, in recognition

that any talk about it can only encourage the murderers".

 

The political clout of the settlers is this moment obviously at low

ebb. Their ceaseless demonstrations against the government's supposed

inaction in fighting Arab terror, or against its supposed sell-outs of

the Land of Israel to Gentiles are attended by hardly anybody from

outside their own ranks. Even the National Religious Party youth

appear at them seldom. The masses of supporters of Likud or even of

the extremist, but militantly secular Tzomet party, decline to support

them overtly. Moreover, the days of virtually unlimited financial

support from the government secured for them by Sharon are over. By

now the discoveries of their corruption and inefficiency follow one

another in the Hebrew press. Omitting the corruption stories, I am

going to limit myself to quoting a data-filled report of "The Center

for Peace" as summed up by Ofer Shelah (Maariv, March 5). "The

concrete figures provided by the report show the extent of the

[settlers'] failure. In spite of their emotion-laden rhetoric,

grandiose plans and all the money which used to flow to them like

water during Likud's rule, Ariel Sharon's or Gush Emunim's forecasts

of their growth in numbers turned out to be far of the mark. Worse

still, insofar as their economy and employment is concerned, their

settlements actually established are for the most part nothing more

than the outlying suburbs of big Israeli cities which happen to be

located beyond the Green Line".

 

Shelah deplores this fact and attributes it to Likud's inefficiency.

He shows, significantly, that the peak yearly settlement growth

"occurred during the term of office of the National Unity government

[i.e. in 1984-90] in which Rabin served throughout as the Defense

minister and Peres for part of the time as the Prime Minister". About

40% of the present settlers took occupancy in the Territories in this

period, under the impact of "a blend of Likud's ideological zeal with

Labor's reliability as an achiever". Likud's reputation for settling

the Territories more energetically than Labor is a misconception, due

to the great many of tiny settlements founded under Shamir either "to

provoke Baker" or for other symbolic reasons. The profitable Katif

Bloc is Labor's creation.

 

Of particular interest in the report are the figures quoted by

Shelah which illustrate the patterns of West Bank settlers'

employment. "About 70% of them are employed within the Green Line",

and a high proportion of the remainder in their own overstaffed

municipal or other government-supported institutions. But the

settlers' worst offense in Shelah's eyes is the fact that "in

factories set up in the West Bank settlements" at so great an expense,

"half of manpower is not Jewish but Palestinian". This can be

explained easily. Those factories operate under Israeli laws which

means that their management can not lower salaries beyond the Israeli

legal minimum. For an Israeli a salary at this level is miserly, but

in the West Bank where the average salary amounts to only one half of

the average Israeli salary, it is perceived as decent. But Shelah also

has another indictment up his sleeve, even if restricted only to the

"Gush Emunim" settlements. The demographic report proves that "the

main source of their population growth are their own births", which

plainly means that the Gush's Israeli and diaspora supporters hardly

join those settlements. No wonder Shelah concludes that the settlement

campaign has failed to "Judaize" even the West Bank, let alone the

Gaza Strip; and accordingly, that money expended that campaign had

been wasted. Such arguments carry in Israel more conviction than any

moral exhortation.

 

As the foregoing shows, the advocates of the continuation of Israeli

rule over the Gaza Strip find themselves short of persuasive

arguments. In this predicament, they are prompted to pin their hopes

on effects of an increased use of aggravated forms of torture and, in

general, on granting Shabak more powers than it already has. Torture,

which in Israel goes under the official name of "moderate physical

pressure", is in this country perfectly legal, its use having been

approved by the Supreme Court. In practice, it is applied both against

the occupied and, somewhat less often, against the Israeli Arabs, but

never against the Jews. A description of some of its methods commonly

practised in the Territories has been provided by Avigdor Feldman

(Hadashot, February 12). He singles out the method officially termed

"waiting", but also called "Shebekh" by both the Palestinian detainees

and Shabak interrogators. "In one variant, a detainee to be

interrogated is waiting, with a stinking sack on his head, with his

hands tied behind his back and fastened to a hook in the wall. He is

sitting on a chair which on purpose bends slightly forward, perhaps by

no more than 10 degrees. His backside is thus soon sliding down,

causing pain by stretching his hands. He takes pain to accomodate

himself on the chair, only to slide down again, and so on. The waiting

may last from 5 to 10 hours", and, let me add, it may be resorted to

repeatedly. Other forms include the "cupboard", the "refrigerator" and

various other imaginative ideas. The "cupboard" means a very small and

narrow cell in which a detainee can only stand. The "refrigerator"

means any cell frozen on purpose, in the summer by electric

refrigeration. Common Israeli apologias for torture invariably rest on

the assumption that "we" don't pull out the nails or apply electric

shocks (which were applied until 1977). It can be recalled here that

the Inquisition also used only the "approved" methods of torture,

devised so as not to cause permanent damage to life or limb. In fact

the most common form of pressure under the Inquisition was the

"waiting" of long duration and under painful conditions, exactly as

now in Shabak.

 

Some relatively mild forms of torture applied against the Israeli

Arabs have been described by Hayim Broida, (Yediot Ahronot, February

23). His article appeared after a juvenile Court judge in Kfar Saba

[Israel] ruled that a confession of an Israeli Arab boy, 15, as

recorded by Shabak interrogators, was invalid, since "it had been

extracted by torture, humiliation and threats". The judge didn't rule

that torture was perforce illegal. She merely stated that "I have

received no explanation of why the security threat was grave enough to

warrant pressures as humiliating as putting a minor under the feet of

an interrogator for the alleged purpose of confrontation". (The boy in

question was tortured with the aim of extracting from him a confession

to his alleged rioting two years earlier.) The judge further stated

that "the boy was interrogated throughout with his hands chained

behind his back, laid under a table at which the interrogator was

sitting and touching the boy's testicles, while threatening to crush

them by stepping on them... Much of what the boy's advocate was

claiming, was acknowledged at the trial by the testifying Shabak

interrogators who claimed that all of it was perfectly legal".

 

The problem is that Shabak's failures are already apparent to anyone

concerned. To contest this public knowledge the Hebrew press opened at

the beginning of February a well-orchestrated campaign of appeals to

grant the Shabak still more extensive discretionary powers. From the

beginning of the month until the 24th, when the subject suddenly

disappeared from newspaper pages, I counted 23 pro-Shabak articles,

mostly rehashing the same arguments. Let me just quote a few. Dan

Margalit ("We need a much stronger Shabak", Haaretz, February 8)

scolds "those who ruminate over Shabak, wanting to proscribe the few

inadequate methods [of interrogation] it still has at its disposal,

and thus damage Israel irreversibly". He adds that "since, as reported

by Shiff [in a previous article in Haaretz], the Palestinians know

well how remarkably restrained Shabak's practices are, its methods of

interrogation of the really extremist Hamas militants should perhaps

be toughened". Shiff (Haaretz, February 17) makes a qualification that

"even if Shabak's interrogations serve the struggle against terror,

the suspects should not be tortured to death, and if, as sometimes

happens, they do die, an investigation should be launched". On this

occasion Shiff was the first to disclose that, after a Palestinian was

indeed tortured to death in a Shabak installation in Gaza in 1989, "an

investigation followed, resulting in dimissing three interrogators

from Shabak". But nothing is known about their punishment beyond

dismissal from work. Shlomo Gazit (Yediot Ahronot, February 7) makes a

fervent appeal: "Don't let Shabak be investigated by committees:

support it instead". And so on and so forth.

 

In Haaretz and Hadashot there have appeared few columns opposing the

demands to extend Shabak's powers any further. But neither the two

most popular papers, Yediot Ahronot and Maariv, nor the two

"left-wing" papers Davar and Al Hamishmar, have let anyone "ruminate

over Shabak" on their pages. Reading the pro-Shabak articles between

the lines, one could conjecture that the described press campaign had

to do with the continuing deliberations of a ministerial committee,

secretly appointed by the Shamir government for the purpose of

investigating Shabak's methods. Much as those deliberations must have

been under Rabin devoid of meaning, Shabak wanted to disband the

committee altogether. One can even hazard a guess that once the

committee's deliberations were suspended, campaigning for an extension

of Shabak's powers lost its utility. One can likewise assume that its

torture chambers have worked throughout as usual.

On the other hand, the excoriation of Shabak for its inefficiency

(as quoted in report 116) does persist, but without touching upon the

subject of torture. In my view Shabak is not strong enough to contain

the present high tide of pleas for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Although Shiff and Margalit dutifully supported Shabak on the issue of

torture, they joined the ranks of advocates of Israeli withdrawal from

the Strip. There are many who already say that Shabak had been sorely

wrong when, in the wake of the expulsion of the 415, it reassured the

public that the Palestinians would keep quiet, and that Hamas would

soon collapse. Three months after that expulsion, the security

situation is perceived by all and sundry as worse than it was before

that event.

 

To conclude: the period of about two weeks prior to the date of this

report marks a major qualitative change in the thinking of Israeli

masses and especially the Israeli power elite. The change was

obviously sparked by the failure of the expulsion to produce its

intended effects in terms of overcoming Palestinian resistance. On the

contrary, that resistance turned after the expulsion to become visibly

stronger, assuming forms less palatable for the Israelis than ever, in

defiance of Israeli efforts to oppress the Palestinians to the utmost.

The change expresses itself in unprecedentedly vocal demands for

unconditional withdrawal from at least some territories held by

Israel: or at least a withdrawal to be negotiated in a genuine manner.

The change can be compared to developments which heralded the Israeli

withdrawal from wide areas of Lebanon in June 1985.

 

But the press debates covered by this report also indicate that the

faith in the "peace process", the "Madrid framework" and the

"autonomy" is gone. All this is no longer perceived as serving any

Israeli interests. It is still too soon to try to predict what this

change may lead to. After all, Rabin, with the unconditional U.S.

backing he now has, may yet order more mass expulsions, or undertake

some military adventure, or even open a full-scale war, with results

unpredictable. Nevertheless a change has occurred, due not to any

diplomacy or moral exhortations, but to refusal of the Palestinians in

the Territories to submit to the Israeli diktat.