Between the lines

IssueMarch - May 2004
Feature by Rudi Friedrich, Ghassan Andoni

It is January 2004, the sun is shining and it feels like a warm day in Jerusalem. We are starting our journey early in the morning, to meet up with Ghassan Andoni from the Palestinian Centre For Rapprochement Between People, based in Beit Sahour. He has invited us to come to Bir Zeit, a Palestinian University close to Ramal-lah, where he is a professor of physics.

Ramallah is not far away from Jerusalem, just 20 kilometres. The town is located in the occupied territories and can only be reached by crossing Israeli checkpoints or by taking long round-about country roads and lanes.

Every few hundred meters, our taxi driver asks how long the queue is at the checkpoint ahead. But we are in luck. We cross without any problems and on the other side see a line, a kilometre long, of cars, trucks, people, who are waiting to travel in the opposite direction - from the occupied territories to Jerusalem.

At Bir Zeit University we are greeted by yet another checkpoint, though this time staffed by Palestinian guards. After several phone calls we are able to pass through. Finally we are sitting with Ghas-san Andoni in the university cafeteria.

What can we offer?

We have come to know the Rapprochement Centre as one of few organisations,who employ nonviolent methods against the occupation. For those of us coming from abroad, although we have been warned, the situation strikes us as strange and leaves a bad taste: we make use of their time and energy, but what can we actually offer this organisation?

The experiences of Palestinian groups are reflected in Andoni's first comment,”We don't need people making proposals from abroad about how we should organise resistance. In a way, this is like colonialism. The Palestinian people can only accept those who are engaged in the resistance themselves and those who support approaches already existent in the society.”

Broad, nv, civil disobedience

Again and again, the Israeli army destroys houses in the occupied territories, as well as in cities that have autonomous, self governing status under the Palestinian Authority as provided by the Oslo agreement. Although rarely successful, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which is supported by the Rapprochement Centre, tries to prevent this destruction.

Ghassan Andoni says that this [ISM] is one of the few ways in which support from outside can be accepted. After so many years of conflict the populace has a large amount of mistrust. They need to feel: here are people who are putting themselves on the line for us. He believes that it is only with this method that a strategy that would bring about a different focus for the intifada could emerge. “Only when we succeed in integrating as many people as possible will we be able to have a discussion about the strategy of the intifada and a clear counterweight to the policy of self-suicide attacks.” In the end, these militant groups are comprised of only a few thousand people. “With a broad movement we can counter them and bring about political change.”

However, time and again the limitations of nonviolent action are reached. The Israeli military seldom restrains itself from destroying houses or repeatedly entering autonomous areas and groups like Hamas are not prevented from carrying out their violent actions. In spite of this, Ghassan Andoni argues that the decisive point is that only with this kind of nonviolent action, can a broader movement be created. “The Israeli Army knows this as well. It is taking severe action against several of the civil disobedience leaders.”

We asked whether Ghassan thought Israelis conscientious objectors could bring about changes in Israeli policy: “I appreciate their attempts,” he answered, “but you have to understand that this movement is very small and marginalised. They have hardly any influence in the mainstream of Israeli society, because they are dismissed as leftist lunatics.” Perspectives Meanwhile the separation wall continues to go up, virtually unchecked. In East-Jerusalem the eight-meter high wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods. A fence equipped with trenches to repulse tanks, cameras and a special road for military patrols, is splitting the West Bank. It meanders between Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages.

Ghassan Andoni expects that the Israeli government will have their way with the construction of the wall. The consequence of this construction will be the total isolation of the Palestinian areas,because there won't be any way of reaching the other side of the fence/wall with-out passing through military checkpoints.

Breaking isolation

We rode back to Jerusalem. The taxi driver found out that, this time, the most favourable route was to bypass the Kalandia-Checkpoint and take a long way around. After 30km on country roads that led us around the outskirts of Jerusalem,we came to a small checkpoint east of the city. We crossed there without any problems. But what will it be like if the fence/wall is constructed? Will it mean the abrupt end of an international presence in the occupied territories? Looking at in this light the PCR's media project takes on a new dimension: it will be necessary in breaking the isolation in the future, too.