“You’ll be happy to know, my whole motorcade of a mere 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped but I am not sure if that happens to the average person.” President Bush, 11th January 2008; joking with the media about Israeli checkpoints after concluding his three-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories.
The Annapolis conference held in November of last year resulted in a near repeat of the promises offered at Oslo, the promises of peace. But could 2008 really see a final solution to the untenable situation that currently exists in Israel and the Occupied Territories, a “determination to bring an end to bloodshed” as stated in the Annapolis Declaration? To ask a more appropriate question: is this even possible given the realities of life under occupation? “Mr Bush’s reign in the Whitehouse is ending”, writes Robert Fisk for the Independent, “amid chaos in Pakistan, a disastrous war against western forces in Afghanistan, fierce fighting in Gaza, near civil war in Lebanon and the hell-disaster of Iraq.” A new President may prove, at least superficially, less extreme than the current incumbent, but undoubtedly the support of tyrannical regimes throughout the gulf and in Israel/Palestine will continue, as will the lucrative arms trade.
The acclaimed Israeli journalist Amira Hass once wrote that, to her, “Gaza embodies the entire saga of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it represents the central contradiction of the state of Israel – democracy for some, dispossession for others; it is our exposed nerve.” The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains critical and Israel officially declared the Strip a “hostile entity” in September. Gaza has been in a state of inter-factional conflict ever since Hamas defeated Fatah militants in the ‘Battle for Gaza’ in June and Israel stepped up military strikes. Last Tuesday (16th January 2008), 19 Palestinians, mostly members of Hamas, were killed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza.
A program of sanctions that John Ging, Gaza’s director of operations for the refugee agency UNRWA, called “indiscriminate” and “illegal”, continue to wreak havoc on Gazan sanitation, electricity, food, and water supplies in what he described as a display of “profound inhumanity”. The Israeli military continues to launch attacks into Gaza, and recent escalations in IDF violence have resulted in at least 28 civilian deaths and around 70 wounded according to a UN survey.
Other forms of collective punishment, such as the ‘Sonic Boom’, where Israeli F-16s break the sound barrier over population centres to terrorize and intimidate, are utilized effectively by the Israeli state. The practice was begun in September 2005 when Israel removed its settlements from the Gaza strip.
Closure of the Karni (13 June, 2007) and Sufa (28 October, 2007) crossings by the Israeli authorities has left Kerem Shalom as the only point open to the movement of goods to and from the Gaza strip. Each transfer takes around 45 minutes allowing between 15 and 50 truckloads a day, providing the crossing is not closed due to ‘security concerns’. This has compounded the devastation of the local Gazan economy with losses to private businesses estimated at $60 million over four months in 2007. As goods entering Gaza have decreased by 71% since before the Karni closure, prices for commodities such as medicines and basic foodstuffs have risen sharply. Local health clinics have reported “zero stocks of paediatric drugs, including antibiotics and Vitamin A and D supplements, and a shortage of chronic disease drugs”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). (‘Gaza Humanitarian Situation Report’, UN OCHA, 6 November, 2007)
The denial of passage through the Erez crossing for medical patients means that most will have no access to appropriate medical care in the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, or any other country for that matter, and the Rafah boarder crossing, which remains the main gateway to and from the outside world for 1.48 million Gazans, is seldom open. (‘Physicians for Human Rights: Erez Crossing closed to patients’, 15 October, 2007)
The West Bank
Approximately 450,000 settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, alongside some 2.4 million Palestinians, and the settler population continues to rise by about 5.5% each year. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993 the total population of settlers in the West Bank region has increased by 63% according to a study conducted for the United Nations. This increase is significantly higher than in Israel proper, and highlights the deliberate strategy of the Israeli government to undermine and agitate the Palestinian position further. The policy of settlement construction has been a consistent tactic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank under every government since the war of 1967.
The situation in the West Bank pits relatively wealthy Israeli settlers against the locals for control of resources, notably the region’s limited water supplies. Whilst Palestinians survive on 40 litres less than the minimum global standards set by the WHO, Israeli settlers have enough to maintain their lawns and gardens (based on a comparison of per capita water consumption in Israel and in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank).
The control of Palestinian water is orchestrated by Mekorot, the giant Israeli National Water company, which sells water to Palestinian towns and public bodies, and supplies an estimated 54% of all water to Palestinians in the West Bank. In the dry summer months the company often imposes restrictions on Palestinian water usage, preferring to give priority to the settlements. The CEO of Mekorot, Ronen Wolfman, has promised the company will “remain at the forefront of, and initiate, efforts to preserve’water sources”, the question is for whom.
It is unmentionable that these water sources might belong to the Palestinians.
Over 38% of the West Bank has become de facto Israeli territory, effectively turning the rest of the territory into an open air prison, where a network of 1,661km of roads connects the settlements, outposts, military bases, national parks and closed military areas that dominate the landscape. In many cases settlements and military positions occupy commanding positions on the hilltops, contributing to an architecture of control and intimidation. Israelis enjoy freedom of movement throughout this network (with IDF protection), and between Israel and the West Bank while Palestinian access is restricted to a regime consisting of approximately 85 checkpoints, 460 roadblocks and a permit system for Palestinian vehicles. The ‘closure regime’ is justified as a logical response to escalated violence in the region following the second Intifada, a way to restrict the movement of militants. But according to a UN commissioned report, “In practice, these measures have enforced the status of certain West Bank roads as almost exclusively for Israeli / settler use, thereby, creating a ‘sterile’ traffic flow for Israelis accessing settlements. The impact on Palestinian life has been profound.” The World Bank has noted that such a situation makes economic revival unfeasible. (‘The Humanitarian Impact on Palestinians of Israeli Settlements and Other Infrastructure in the West Bank’, UN OCHA, July 2007)
The roads have fragmented the West Bank geographically but the goal of the occupation is too pervasive to be limited to control of the land. These corridors throughout Palestinian land have created a series of enclaves that fragment and isolate Palestinian communities. Whilst transport has retained some continuity the network of occupation makes a ‘two state solution’ virtually impossible.
The plight of Palestinian prisoners is seldom reported in the European and North American media, and never given truthful representation. The truth is that despite Israeli gestures (such as the release of 87 Fatah prisoners to appease President Mahmud Abbas in September 2007), in 2007 on average 112 persons were arrested weekly by the IDF in the West Bank. Israeli ‘search and arrest’ campaigns are also closely correlated with deaths, and in 2007 these campaigns became the chief cause of death from Israeli-Palestinian conflict-related violence according to the UN. Around 10,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails and some 840 persons are kept in ‘administrative detention’. These people are held without trial or charge outside of the judicial system. They are disappeared. This is completely illegal and is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel subscribes. Children are also routinely detained without trial and sometimes subjected to ill treatment which has, in some cases, amounted to torture, including physical assault, various forms of deprivation and threats of physical harm – the ultimate aim of which is to incite fear and elicit a confession. (The Humanitarian Monitor: Palestinian Prisoners, UN OCHA – Sept 2007)
Basem L. Ra’ad is Professor of English and world Civilizations at Al Quds University, the only Arab University in Jerusalem. In an excellent piece titled The Geography of Occupation he exposes the impact the ‘geography’ of occupation has had on Palestinian education. Long standing policies including the arbitrary detention of students and staff, harassment of institutions, and attacks, began during the first Intifada in 1987 and have continued, amplified by encircling Israeli infrastructure. Despite increasingly difficult circumstances “The measures resulted in a movement of ‘underground’ education, when faculty met students in private homes and other unofficial ‘campuses'”, once again displaying the resourcefulness of Palestinian civil society, even in opposition to organizations as powerful as the Israeli state. He writes, “This geography shows the real colour of the degradation to which people are subjected and the effects of long-standing colonizing policies. One would have thought a simple, self-evident right to education should be guaranteed.” Out of the 33,000 students and 2,000 teachers in East Jerusalem schools, as many as 6,000 pupils and more than 650 teachers face difficulties reaching their schools. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, in 2005 17% of students faced delays.
The wall, begun in 2002, has further fragmented and divided the West Bank and reinforced the permanence of Israeli settlements. The humanitarian impact of the wall has been immense. Palestinians require permits to visit the six specialist hospitals inside Jerusalem and Palestinian Muslims and Christians require them to worship in the city. Entire families have been physically divided, and students struggle to get to classes on the other side of the barrier. Over half of the intended 721km had been completed by May of last year and a further 10% is currently under construction. The day after the conclusion of ‘talks’ in Annapolis the Israeli government announced it was constructing more settlements in the ‘disputed West Bank’, as George Bush now refers to it. Due to the construction of the wall in and around Jerusalem, settlement has increased rapidly and the area covered by settlements has more than doubled. All of this has contributed to unemployment levels of almost 20% in Jerusalem (figures taken in third quarter of 2006), compared with just over 8% in Israel. (The Humanitarian Impact of the West Bank Barrier on Palestinian Communities – East Jerusalem, UN OCHA, June 2007)
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated in his final report to the UN on the Middle East that the expansion of settlements is “the single biggest impediment to realizing a viable Palestinian state with territorial continuity.”
Slogans for Slaughter
The overwhelming control Israel can exert over the Gaza strip and the West Bank forms what Jeff Halper, former Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, peace activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and founder of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), calls the “Matrix of Control”. A system of dominance that is often compared to the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, and denies the most basic of human rights to some of the most vulnerable people on earth.
If the promises made at Annapolis materialise in some form it could still be too little too late. Although a two-state solution now seems impossible, if a Palestinian state does emerge there are various shapes it could take. It could – although it is extremely unlikely – comprise all of the Occupied Territories (UN Resolution 242), most of the Territories (Oslo, the ‘Road Map’, and the Geneva initiative) or less than half, as was suggested by former Prime Minister Sharon. In each case the dominance of the Israeli Government and big business over the Palestinian people would be secured.
The key slogan in the 2008 US Presidential campaign, it is said, is ‘change’. If peace is to come to the Occupied Territories pressure for change will need to come from the US government as well as the will for change among the Israeli people. The prospect of US support of the Palestinians looks as unlikely as ever as candidates announce their advisers for the campaign and we see the same mix of names, (Brezezinski, Kissinger, Albright, Negroponte, Kristol, and so forth) that have advised past US administrations in support of repressive regimes around the world. If there is ever to be peace in Palestine it will be won by the struggles of ordinary people of Palestine and Israel, not by the slogans and dealings of politicians.
ICAHD runs several volunteer programs in Israel and the Occupied Territories. To find out more visit http://www.icahd.org/eng/.
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Daniel Pye