Israel/Palestine — June 2006

Sociopolitical Situation

Since the Palestinian elections, there has been a sharp deterioration in the sociopolitical situation throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since Hamas won the elections in January, international donors have been wary until the party declares its policies and recognizes Israel. But the international community is still committed to supporting the humanitarian needs of Palestinians, utilizing various agencies.

A power struggle between Hamas and Fatah threatens to destabilize the situation further. Lack of funds to pay Palestinian Authority employees, who make up 40 percent of all those employed in Gaza, has led to violence in the streets. Also, there have been assassination attempts, kidnappings and fighting in Gaza thanks to the internecine struggles. Hamas has deployed its own militia to police Gaza’s streets, rivaling President Abbas’s security forces already on duty there. Abbas has demanded that Hamas withdraw their militia while installing an “executive Support Force” of 3,000 armed personnel to restore law and order.

Since the elections, Israel has introduced trade and work restrictions on Palestinians, hindering economic recovery. Periodically, it has also closed the Karni crossing in Gaza. West Bank laborers have had difficulty obtaining work permits, preventing them from working in other areas of the West Bank. Under international pressure, Israel has allowed some humanitarian assistance (food and medicines) to reach Gaza, but the economic and security situation there remains acute.

Basic public services, including security, are imperiled. Despite the arrangements outlined by the Oslo Accord (the collection of custom and tax duties by Israel to be disbursed to the Palestinians), Israel has refused to disburse P.A. tax payments, estimated to be between $50 and $60 million. The World Bank projects that 2006 will be “the worst year in the West Bank and Gaza’s dismal recent economic history.”

Meanwhile, Israel is seeking international backing for a unilateral withdrawal from small settlement outposts in the West Bank and recognition of the country’s borders by 2010. The Separation Wall has annexed and isolated Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Religious Situation

Religious and political tensions heightened when the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth was targeted by an Israeli couple who set off firecrackers inside and outside the church. The incident triggered protests that led to the light injuries of 13 police officers and scores of civilians. Later, Muslim and Christian leaders, angered by the lack of security and the general neglect of Israel’s Arab minority, joined together to lead further protests.

Israeli police barred Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III and other religious from a church ceremony in East Jerusalem in February. The police wanted to prevent a confrontation between the patriarch and former Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos, who was in attendance. The police also forced hundreds of worshipers to wait outside the church. Shortly thereafter, Christian leaders sent a letter to Israel’s attorney general, complaining of police involvement in private religious affairs.

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued a statement on 1 February 2006 to “congratulate the Palestinian people for their democratic performance in the parliamentary elections and those who were elected.” They also asked Hamas to strive for “further cooperation” and seek “justice and peace whether in regard to foreign relations, the rule of law together with full religious freedom, especially in the social and educational fields.”

Al-Quds newspaper, recently published a story about a rumor, subsequently proved false, stating the Catholic Church leased 54 dunums of land from the White Fathers of St. Anne Church to an Israeli investor for 99 years.

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