Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

Memo to UK Parliamentary Select Committee 2006
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Memorandum submitted by Maurice Ostroff

 

 

"All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes." (Winston Churchill)

In planning for the future, the key is to avoid repeating past mistakes. As the declared main purpose of the inquiry is to examine the effectiveness and external coherence of the UK's peace building and post-conflict reconstruction policies, I respectfully submit the following information, which I believe, must be taken into account in evaluating the practicality of any proposed steps towards achieving the commendable objects of this inquiry.

 

1. Redevelopment

This worthy objective poses a dilemma - how to ensure that positive projects will not be destroyed? Sadly, the golden opportunity for a new prosperous Gaza created by Israel's disengagement from the strip was missed. Respected Arab journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh reported last May that Gazan gunmen wantonly destroyed thousands of greenhouses and other projects left behind by the Jewish settlers; projects that could have provided income for over 4,500 families. Toameh's credibility is widely respected. His articles are published in The Sunday Times, Daily Express and the New Republic. He has produced documentaries on the Palestinians for the BBC, Channel 4, Australian, Danish and Swedish TV. (See also Appendix A)

 

Gaza has no natural resources. It cannot survive without trading with the Israeli economy. Before the Palestinian uprising, up to 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, providing an economic lifeline. Palestinian trucks moved freely on Israel's roads facilitating the export of thousands of tons of agricultural products from Gaza to Jordan and beyond.

 

Even during times of violence about 5,000 Palestinians continued to work in Israel, many in the settlements that have since been evacuated. Similarly Palestinian businessmen traveled freely and conducted their affairs in Israel.

 

Unfortunately very little is known, even by experts on Palestine, about the many cooperative efforts established by Israel that were thwarted by the Palestinian uprising, quite apart from those in the pipeline which were not given the chance to be realized. Redevelopment plans must avoid the same fate.

 

Israel believes that an increase in the standard of living of the Palestinians is an important goal for the achievement of good neighborly relations between the two peoples. See http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace%20Process/Israeli-Palestinian%20Economic%20Relations

 

Very importantly Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperated in creating employment opportunities along the "seam-line" between Israel and the territories (West Bank, Gaza) and in areas under the jurisdiction of the PA. A successful industrial zone was created at Erez which grew to employ about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. They produced everything from plastics to car parts and continued to do so even as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raged. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs. In addition a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.

But all these positive efforts were unfortunately thwarted. The GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks leading to closure of the enterprise. In one typical attack, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the Erez Crossing killing four Israelis and wounding 10 as well as destroying part of the facility. Hamas and the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility.

 

The aspect which must be taken into account in plans for redevelopment was encapsulated by one of the Palestinian factory owners, 40-year-old Ashur Salha,. "It's simply stupid," he told Haaretz, "Whoever ordered the bombing must have known that 30,000 mouths depend on our employment here. After all, this hurts us [the Palestinians] much more than it does the Israelis."

 

2. Funding

 

The problem is complex since experience shows that donated funds are not always used for the purposes intended by donors. There is no longer any doubt that monies intended for aid were diverted by the late Yasser Arafat. According to a CBS report in 2003 he had diverted nearly $1 billion in public funds. And even recently, Khaled Abu Toameh, who has an intimate knowledge of the Palestinian territories, wrote that many Palestinians were asking whether PA President Mahmoud Abbas was hiding more than $1 billion of donors' money in secret bank accounts This issue was first raised by Hamas minister Atef Udwan.

 

It is quite obvious that it is not a shortage of money that is preventing payment of salaries and economic development. Rather the problem lies in the available funds being misappropriated to promote incitement and terrorism and to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons smuggled through expensive, sophisticated tunnels and stored in even more costly underground cities.

 

 

3. Peacebuilding

While no person of goodwill wishes ordinary Palestinians to suffer because of the actions of their government, the dilemma exists of how to provide much needed aid and talk of peace while the Hamas government continues to reject the Quartet's three principle demands viz.

renouncing violence;

recognizing Israel's right to exist

and signing on to previous peace agreements.

(See DFID web page http://www.dfid.gov.uk/countries/asia/palestine).

 

If peace is to be achieved by negotiation, the question must be asked how this can be done while the Hamas charter declares there is absolutely no room for peaceful negotiation.

 

Article 13 of the Hamas Charter unambiguously declares:

"Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

 

This attitude was confirmed by the late Hamas leader Dr. Rantisi who told NY Times journalist Joel Binkley, "We in Hamas believe peace talks will do no good". Palestinian PM Haniyeh has since reconfirmed this attitude.

We also need to figure out how one negotiates with people whose concepts and outlook appear irrational to Western minds. The imaginative irrationality of the Hamas outlook is illustrated by obsessive phobia expressed in the Charter, about freemasons, rotary clubs, Lions and similar organizations, promising that the day Islam is in control, these organizations will be obliterated.

 

These groups are accused by Hamas of everything from control of the world media, starting the French Revolution, the Communist revolution, World War I and even forming the League of Nations. They are alleged to have been behind World War II, and instigating replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council. An English translation of the Hamas charter is available at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/hamas.htm. Every person attempting to understand the Mid-East conflict should read it.

 

Even more difficult to figure out, is how to deal with a government in Palestine headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh but controlled by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus. Nor can one ignore the fact that according to the Hamas charter, it is

"one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterised by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgement, the spreading of Islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to Islam."

 

It is also informative to recognize that, contrary to popular opinion, the majority of Palestinians did not vote for Hamas. According to the Israel/Palestinian Center for Research and Information, Hamas candidates gained the majority of district seats with only 36.45% of the national proportional vote, which is the true measure of overall support. Non-Hamas candidates received a massive 63.54%. The reason: in the district "Winner Takes All" method of voting, Hamas presented a unified list in each district while the non-Hamas votes were split between Fatah and others including independents.

 

4. Conclusion

 

Point 9 of the issues addressed by the inquiry is the role of development assistance in supporting political solutions to the conflict. In this connection, I suggest that a program of intensive investment in "Education towards peace instead of violence" would provide a high return in enabling progress towards a political solution.

 

It is readily understandable that Palestinians who have been taught to hate in schools, from early childhood and who are continuously exposed to incitement to violence in mosques and in local media, will have difficulty in accepting good relations with their demonized neighbors.

 

There can be no hope for a peaceful solution while the PA TV airs songs praising terrorists, including the first Palestinian woman suicide terrorist and sermons like those of Dr. Ibraham Madi, who mandates suicide bombing as a religious necessity or those of Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, Rector of Advanced Studies at the Islamic University in Gaza who demands that "Jews must be butchered".

 

October 2006

Appendix A

MSNBC report http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9331863/

Looters strip Gaza greenhouses

Facilities seen as key to Palestinians' rebuilding of area vacated by Israelis

Updated: 10:25 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2005

 

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip - Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses on Tuesday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

 

American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.

 

Palestinian police stood by helplessly Tuesday as looters carted off materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized assets. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police even joined the looters, witnesses said.

 

"We need at least another 70 soldiers. This is just a joke," said Taysir Haddad, one of 22 security guards assigned to Neve Dekalim, formerly the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza. "We've tried to stop as many people as we can, but they're like locusts."

 

The failure of the security forces to prevent scavenging and looting in the settlements after Israel's troop pullout Monday raised new concerns about Gaza's future.

 

'We are not going to tolerate chaos'

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told his people in a televised speech Tuesday that he would take immediate steps to impose order. "We have one law for everyone and no one is above the law. We are not going to tolerate chaos after today," he said.

 

The Palestinian leader is under intense pressure from his people and the international community to stop the growing lawlessness in Gaza, where rival militant groups are jockeying for power. As Abbas spoke, hundreds of masked Hamas gunmen wielding rifles and grenade launchers paraded through the streets of a nearby refugee camp.

 

The greenhouses are a centerpiece of Palestinian plans for rebuilding Gaza after 38 years of Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority hopes the high-tech greenhouses left by the Israelis will provide jobs and export income for Gaza's shattered economy.

 

During a tour of Neve Dekalim, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia implored Palestinians to leave the structures intact. "These greenhouses are for the Palestinian people," he said. "We don't want anyone to touch or harm anything that can be useful for our people."

 

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