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The small village of Azun Athma is located in the southeastern part of the West Bank, not far from Qalqilyah and too close to Israel and the Jewish settlements of Etz Efraim, Elkanah, Sha'are Tikva and Oranit, which surround it in all directions. To ensure the security of the residents of Israel and for the sake of the settlers' convenience, the Palestinian village has been encircled by a fence and has become an enclave closed on all sides. In order to partake of essential services in the West Bank, the inhabitants of Azun Athma pass through a gate controlled by the Israel Defense Forces. They undergo physical searches each time they exit and enter. At 10 P.M. the soldiers close the gate and only open it again the next morning at 6 A.M.

It is common knowledge that the Palestinians suffer from a serious lack of discipline, which starts in their mother's womb. There are fetuses that insist on coming into this world right at the time when the Israeli soldiers go to sleep. What is to be done with these babies when Azun Athma only has a clinic providing the most basic services for two hours, twice a week? To make sure they will receive proper medical care during the birth, pregnant women (in an average year about 50 babies are born in the village) tend to leave their homes and move in with relatives, who reside in places where one can obtain accessible and good medical services. Thus, of the 33 babies that were born to inhabitants of the village between January of this year and the beginning of June, 20 were born outside the village. The others were born in their mothers' homes without the aid of a doctor or a qualified midwife.

According to a report published yesterday by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the publication of which coincided with the third anniversary of the ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague concerning the security fence, the 10 Palestinian communities surrounded by the fence have no access to 24-hour emergency services. The authors of the report estimate that when construction of the fence is completed along the planned route, about 50,000 people will find themselves in a similar situation.

Their examination of 57 Palestinian communities also shows that the ruling of the International Court of Justice has not resulted in a dramatic change in the situation: of the 61 passages in the fence, only 26 are open all year round for the use of Palestinian farmers, while less than half the farmers enjoy direct and regular access to their lands; the gates are open only 64 percent of the planned and declared time; in 72 percent of the communities there have been complaints about routine humiliation and verbal harassment on the part of the soldiers; 24 percent of the communities complained of damage caused to produce as a result of being refused entry to agricultural areas; and 85 percent of traditional roads have been ruined and cut off by the fence.

If the report by the UN institutions casts doubt on the justice of the fence with regard to the Palestinian side, the new Brodet Committee report on the defense budget casts equal doubt on the wisdom of the fence with regard to the Israeli side. "The manner of constructing the fence is another example of wasteful thought and conduct. The committee was not convinced that the process of building the fence is being implemented with the necessary consideration and in taking into account all the security and economic considerations."

When reading this sentence, it is highly recommended to contemplate the hue and cry surrounding the cut in the defense budget. "According to information transmitted to the committee, the cost of the fence amounts to NIS 13 to 15 billion. This large expenditure was not considered as an important element to security, nor was its budgetary significance given due attention. The army sees itself as a subcontractor carrying out instructions to build a fence, without clarifying for itself the significance of this expenditure and the price for its maintenance, which will amount to hundreds of millions of shekels a year."

Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, who represents the Council for Peace and Security in petitions against the fence route, has repeatedly presented the High Court of Justice with alternative routes that would save the state coffers hundreds of millions of shekels. He notes that it was the High Court of Justice that rejected the opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the grounds that its decision had been made on the basis of incomplete and mistaken data. According to Arieli, the fact that the government and the security establishment are ignoring a number of High Court rulings constitutes contempt of the court and the rule of law in the eyes of the world. In addition, this attitude is delaying completion of the fence and has already sent more than a billion shekels down the drain.

The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat, has also not forgotten the anniversary of The Hague ruling. In a letter he sent to American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the other heads of the Middle East Quartet, Erekat has demanded that they ensure that Israel stop construction of the fence and fulfill its commitment, undertaken in the road map, to freeze all construction in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. If the Palestinian Authority, at least the one in Ramallah, is once again a partner for agreements, then someone might well take those demands seriously. Or not.

If it did not deal with human beings, including infants, the latest report published over the weekend by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the occupied territories, on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip would be one of the funniest documents ever published here.

Betwixt flower and sugar The report, which relates to the period between June 28 and July 5, reveals that the situation is anything but pleasant. It is estimated that 75 percent of the workshops in the Gaza Strip are not operating at all or are operating at less than 20 percent their usual activity due to a lack of raw materials. However, the report states that the situation is not all that terrible. "Humanitarian imports into Gaza between June 25 - July 1 through Kerem Shalom, Sufa and Karni have met 70 percent of the minimum food needs of the Gazan population."

Basing himself on UN World Food program (WFP) figures, the coordinator notes that this is "a significant increase from the prior week, where only 21 percent of the food needs were met." The authors of the report do not confine themselves to general data. They append a table that details daily local consumption in the Gaza Strip alongside the level of imports and the local supply. Not only in metric tons; someone went to the trouble of calculating the percentages for them. And there is also a total of the two.

The report's implication is that if there is no flour, let them eat animal feed. If there is no rice, drink oil. If there is no hummus, lick sugar. What is important is that the total amount of essential foodstuffs reaches 70 percent.

In this branch of the UN they are trying to curry favor with the Israelis and the Egyptians, who, as everyone knows, are not going out of their way to enable Hamas to maintain orderly life in Gaza. The envoy's office stands firmly behind the Israeli position, which insists on operating the Kerem Shalom crossing point in particular, despite strong objections by the Palestinian side. The office also supports Egypt's objections to opening the Rafah crossing point without European inspectors. Members of the Meretz Knesset faction, who returned yesterday from a visit to Cairo, were told in the Egyptian capital that "it is necessary to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza," but "it mustn't become too good there." Faction head MK Zahava Gal-On said that to the best of her knowledge an economic boycott has not resulted in strengthening the moderates.

Kennedy's office has responded that there is no significance to the calculation of the average supply of various foodstuffs and hence to the ostensible improvement in the humanitarian situation. It was promised that this would be fixed and would not be repeated in future reports.

Temporary settlers The State Attorneys' Office has good news for the inhabitants of the territories. Good? Terrific. In an official document signed by attorney Orit Koren, the director of the department of petitions to the High Court of Justice, the State of Israel announces that its presence in the West Bank, also known by the name "Judea and Samaria," is only temporary. This according to a written statement sent by the Prosecutor's Office to the High Court of Justice, in the wake of a petition launched by Attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the inhabitants of the village of Bil'in and Peace Now. The petition concerns construction of the new neighborhood of the Modi'in Illit settlement, known as East Matityahu, without an approved master plan.

At first the Prosecutor's Office argued that with respect to a small settlement, Jordanian law allows the authorities to dispense with a master plan. But what should be done about the fact that Modi'in Illit is the largest settlement in the territories (its inhabitants number 40, 000, more than the population of Ramallah)? - The answer: Invent a new excuse. Now the state is claiming that, "When it is a matter of regional or master planning that can determine and perpetuate the development of a given area in the long term, special caution is necessary in creating the balance between the principle of the temporariness of the belligerent seizure (the usual definition of an occupation) and the need to act on planning arrangements that take the future into account."

"With this in mind," explains Koren, "the regional authorities have consciously refrained from comprehensive and long-term planning of the region's territory in its entirety." It is not clear why the regional authorities have discriminated against Modi'in Illit's little sisters, among them Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel and Betar Illit, and have required them to submit master plans. It is not clear how the excuse of the "temporary nature" of the occupation fits in with the state's position in petitions concerning the route of the fence, including in the area of the settlement of Tsofin, which claim that the planners took into account the master plan that expects expansion of the settlement.