by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 10 February 12th 2007
Ministries encourages Christians to understand and pray
about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through
the eyes of both people groups involved, and taking the
needs, fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director,
the Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages support
of indigenous reconciliation ministry in Jerusalem. The
is available free on request to those who add their email
address to our Newsletter update list, available on the top
of the 'Newsletter'
page. Alternatively, send your email address and name to
us via our online
Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony
This year has been a very traumatic time for the Palestinian
The days immediately after our December Paradox was
circulated were dominated by thousands of Fatah activists
and PA security officers taking to the streets, protesting
at the murder of the three children of a leading PA
Intelligence officer in Gaza City. They blocked roads and
shot at Hamas institutions and buildings. Over 30 Hamas
supporters were wounded by Fatah gunmen in Ramallah. There
was an assassination attempt on Palestinian Prime Minister
Ismail Hanieyeh. His bodyguard was killed and various people
wounded. In one four-day period in late January
21 Palestinians were killed, dozens injured and over 50
The violence spread from Gaza to the West Bank when Fatah
forces kidnapped the mayor of Nablus and firebombed the
shops of Hamas supporters there. Almost 100 Palestinians
have been killed in the violence which has concentrated the
minds of the rival Palestinian leadership on the need for
The suffering and frustration of the Palestinian people
increased. One young mother working for the PA said:
"Everyone here is disgusted by what's happening in the Gaza
Strip. We are telling the world that we don't deserve a
state because we are murdering each other and destroying our
universities, colleges, mosques and hospitals. Today I'm
ashamed to say that I'm a Palestinian."
Hafez Barghouti, editor of a PA daily newspaper, said that
Palestinian democracy has become a democracy of blood, in
which "the rule of blood" has replaced the "rule of the
wrote: "Tens of millions of people now look at us as
worthless gangsters with no values." Addressing both Hamas
and Fatah, he added: "Your people no longer want a state. We
no longer like our killers and executioners." Columnist
Mahmoud Habbash said "The world is watching how the
Palestinians are destroying their institutions and
achievements with their own hands. They see how we are
mercilessly slaughtering innocent people. We are losing the
sympathy of the world. I'm afraid the world will now view us
All this is against the background of the continuing poverty
and deprivation of the Palestinians. They receive more aid
per capita than any other people but
79% of the residents of the Gaza Strip live below the
poverty line. Annual income in the Strip is less than $800 a
person, as opposed to nearly $20,000 in Israel.
They lack proper social infrastructure. Their economic and
political outlook is bleak. In Gaza the streets have been
half-deserted as militants fire at each other from behind
barricades. Bleeding children are carried to hospitals that
are swamped with needy patients.
Various ceasefires, some brokered by Egypt, were agreed but
soon broken. Then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited
Khaled Meshal, (head of the Hamas political bureau, in
Damascus) to Mecca to seek to reach
agreement on a unity government and end the
infighting. It was there that Fatah and
Hamas reached an agreement on forming a new coalition
government within five weeks that will “respect” previous
peace deals signed by the PLO with Israel. In the new
government Hamas will hold nine ministries in the cabinet
(including prime minister), Fatah six (including foreign
minister) and other factions four. Hamas will not have a
majority in the cabinet and two ministers are quite
acceptable to the US with a third being independent (though
recommended by Hamas).
Under the agreement Hamas is not committed actually to keep
the past agreements with Israel (which Abbas wanted) and it
does not directly recognise Israel. But it does accept in
theory those agreements dealing with the terms of achieving
normal relations with Israel. The wording is sufficient for
Saudi King Abdullah to discontinue his boycott of the Hamas
Government and he promised them a billion dollars for
“routine maintenance” with more to come. Russia also
believes the boycott should be lifted.
The agreement will have the effect of keeping Iran out of
the picture, which is a main concern for Saudi Arabia. Iran
has been making overtures to Hamas and committed $250
million to the Palestinian government. It seems that Iran
wants the same sort of relationship with it as it has with
Hezbollah, despite the fact that Hamas is a radical Sunni
Muslim organisation and Iran is Shia.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh recently visited
Tehran and stated: “The Palestinian government will never
recognize the Zionist entity, and its support for jihad and
resistance will continue.”
It is not clear whether the coalition government will work
and whether it will be possible to merge the armed forces of
Hamas and Fatah. Meshal promised that
Hamas would keep the agreement and he urged all the armed
groups to ceasefire. It remains to be seen if they do so. He
had already said that Israel is a reality and that “there
will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of
fact.” But he added that formal recognition of Israel could
only be considered by Hamas after the establishment of a
Palestinian state within the June 4th 1967
borders. This is a significant move on the
part of Hamas, although it must be remembered that its
primary purpose was to facilitate the agreement between
Hamas and Fatah. In December Meshal had offered Israel a
The agreement, if it works, will not immediately turn
Palestinian society into a Western democracy overnight.
Without a very strong leader Palestinian society would tend
to collapse because of tensions between clan loyalties and
political factions. Very strong emotions have been raised by
the recent violence.
After initially rejecting the Mecca agreement, Olmert said
Israel neither accepted nor rejected it, but was studying
it. He said this against the background of the Quartet
(US, Europe, Russia and UN) foreign ministers reacting by
withholding judgment as to whether the agreement fulfils
their demands to
recognise Israel, renounce violence, and ratify past
agreements (however Russia, France and others welcomed the
agreement and called for the boycott to be lifted. Hamas has
certainly moved forward in agreeing to honour (though not
implement) previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements and to
accept in principle the Arab countries’ 2002 Beirut
Agreement which agrees to live in peace with Israel if she
withdraws to the 1967 borders and acts justly over
The Israeli Ministry of Justice has begun a criminal
investigation against Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, for
alleged financial impropriety when he was Minister of
Finance. Olmert was already very unpopular in Israel (with a
recent approval rating of 14%) because of his handling of
the Lebanon War. This follows the President
being indicted on charges of sexual harassment or rape and
the resignation of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz because of
failures in the Lebanon War. Some question whether Olmert
can really do his job when surrounded by all these
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, says that the IDF
killed 660 Palestinians in 2006 - three times more than in
2005 – and that this included 141 children and 322 who had
taken no part in hostilities. In the same period
Palestinian fighters had killed 23 Israelis, compared with
50 in 2005.
Tragically an IDF soldier fatally shot a 14-year old
Palestinian girl whilst she and others were trying to cross
the security fence. Both the soldier and his commanding
officer were suspended pending an investigation. To make
matters worse, the girl’s father, who is being held in
Israel for illegally entering the country, was not allowed
to attend her funeral.
Israel TV created a stir when it showed an Israeli settler
roughly pushing and cursing her Palestinian neighbour whilst
IDF soldiers stood nearby. The prime minister expressed his
shame at this incident but when the settler was called in
for an interrogation she did not even show up. Sadly, such
behaviour is not isolated.
The Israeli press also reported disturbing scenes it had
witnessed at what it called a fairly typical checkpoint. It
accused soldiers of humiliating Palestinians in various
ways. One soldier gave a number of people traffic violation
tickets for not wearing seat belts, yet they had been
wearing belts when they arrived half an hour earlier.
Earlier farmers had been forbidden to bring produce through
this checkpoint, necessitating a 30 kilometer detour. When
it was made clear to the soldiers that this was
unauthorised, they required those transporting vegetables to
unload all crates, for inspection, and then to reload them.
The report claimed that soldiers invent
harassments and cause waiting times way beyond what is
Palestinians are expected to wait silently in line or else
At their meeting Olmert promised Abbas he would re-examine
security at the Gaza crossing to facilitate the passage of
up to 400 trucks a day. But apparently nothing was said
about West Bank crossing points.
Israel has also been criticised for making promises it has
not kept. Abbas and Olmert met in Jerusalem on December 24th
and Olmert surprised everyone by kissing Abbas. Olmert
promised to dismantle
27 out of 400 internal West Bank roadblocks so removing some
disruptions to normal life for the Palestinians. However the
IDF and Defence Minister expressed opposition to this
no action was taken in the following weeks. In fact, Israeli
peace group Peace Now reported that settlers
have recently begun additional construction at four outposts
scheduled for evacuation.
Later it was claimed that the IDF was removing some barriers
and easing security checks, but an Israeli press
investigation found that they had made it only marginally
easier for Palestinians to get through roadblocks in the
West Bank, and in many cases, no changes had been made.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry also sought to toughen
regulations against illegal Israeli developments on the West
Bank but the Prime Minister responded that now is not the
right time to act. Olmert also went back on an undertaking
to Abbas to follow custom and release up to 30 Palestinian
prisoners for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha.
In so far as Israel does not act on its promises it
undermines its credibility and weakens Abbas, the very
person Israel was seeking to support against Hamas.
On the other hand, as promised by Olmert, Israel transferred
$100 million directly to the Palestinian Authority,
bypassing Hamas. This is part of the Palestinian tax
revenues frozen by Israel since Hamas came to power.
More significant, Israel has been exemplary in maintaining
the ceasefire with Gaza despite rockets being fired into
Israel, usually by Islamic Jihad who reject the ceasefire.
Even when a suicide bomber killed three Israelis in Eilat,
Olmert still maintained the restraint. However, after two
teenagers were wounded by a rocket in Sderot, he gave the
IDF permission to
attack rocket-launching cells in the Gaza Strip as long as
they are identified shortly before the launching. The IDF
was banned from operating near Palestinian population
Another very positive development is the appointment of
Raleb Majadele as science and technology
minister – Israel’s first Arab Minister. Majadele has been
very critical of the Olmert government and particularly of
the discrimination which Israeli Arabs face in every day
Syrian overtures & the Iranian threat
Syria has recently been inviting Israel to peace talks.
Syrian President Assad challenged Olmert:
“Take a chance. Discover if we are bluffing or not.”
Israeli Military Intelligence thinks Assad is serious but
Mossad (the secret service) disagrees.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
said Israel should consider Assad’s approaches. But Olmert
is against such a move, as is the US, unless Syria cuts its
links with Hamas and Hezbollah. He also realises that Syria
wants the Golan Heights (captured by Israel in 1967) back,
which is a very controversial matter for Israel. In a
statement containing interesting logic,
Olmert said: “As long as I'm prime minister, the Golan
Heights will remain in our hands for eternity.” He also said
peace with Syria would involve giving up the Golan Heights.
The IDF believes there is a real danger of war on the
Lebanon/Syria front during 2007. Many would argue that it is
advisable for Israel to hold talks with Syria and to find
out if Assad is sincere.
It has been revealed that a series of unofficial secret
meetings between Syrians and Israelis have been held in
Europe between September 2004 and July 2006 in order to
draft a peace treaty. Olmert denied any government
connection with the talks but those involved say that the
prime minister’s office was kept informed.
Assad, who is clearly seeking a regional role, has stated
that if the US and EU want a solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and the Iraq conflict) they
must talk to Syria and Iran. The
US Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommended talks with
Syria. The conditions are that Damascus must obey United
Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and stop arming
Hezbollah (including with Iranian weapons). It must
encourage Hezbollah and Hamas to release kidnapped Israeli
soldiers, stop supplying arms to Hamas and try to convince
the organization to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Israel, understandably, feels very
threatened by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. So do moderate
Arab governments in the Middle East. Some Israelis hope for
an American military attack on Iran. 2008 is seen as the
deadline for such action and it has been pointed out that US
presidents have a tendency to make dramatic moves vis a vis
Israel in election years. However, an
agreement with Syria would create a buffer between Israel
and a nuclear Iran.
The US-inspired isolation of Hamas has had the unfortunate
effect of strengthening the influence of Syria and Iran, as
has the humiliation of Israel by Hezbollah in the Lebanon
war. There has been a corresponding weakening of US
credibility and influence and of Israel’s deterrent power.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana believes
now is the time for re-launching peace talks between Israel
and the Palestinians. He thinks there is enough "political
will" on all sides. The Arab governments want an
Israeli-Arab agreement in order to curb radical Islamism and
to combat Iran’s power.
There is however real doubt about the commitment of the US
and Israeli governments to such a peace process. We do not
yet know their reaction to the new Fatah-Hamas Accord.
Israeli Foreign Minister Livni has pointed out that the
agreement falls short of recognising Israel and renouncing
violence, but she added that peace with the Palestinians is
possible. The meeting between Abbas, Olmert and Condoleezza
Rice on February 19 will be important.
How do we pray?
For an end to Palestinian infighting and extremist
attacks on Israel.
For a continuation of Israeli restraint and support of
For the welfare of the Palestinian people not least
through wise economic policies in using new government
income which will alleviate poverty and build up
For the welfare of the Israeli people in all the
problems and threats they are facing currently.
For the IDF to treat Palestinians with respect at
checkpoints and for the removal of unnecessary
For effective peace talks between Israel and the
Palestinians, and, if Syria’s approaches are sincere,
between Israel and Syria, plus Lebanon.
For curbing of Iran’s power and prevention of its
For wise policies on the part of the US and EU towards
the Middle East.
For peace and security with justice throughout Israel
and the Palestinian areas.