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Setting the scene
A drive through the West Bank quickly dispels any notions one might have of Israel’s beneficent intentions. There are none. The first ugly blight on the horizon are gleaming white structures clumped together on hilltops. They jut out treeless, naked and unashamed as below them the green valleys continue to gently undulate in their menacing shadows. A shimmering sliver cuts through the land or over it, every now and then brought to life by cars that speed along these highways towards Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa: and below them, life barely moves at all. A looming watchtower confirms the feeling of something very wrong. Grey and threatening with cavernous windows, behind which shadows watch and aim at things that move, this is one of hundreds of such towers overseeing the mass of humanity waiting endlessly at yet another checkpoint that makes every journey torture for every Palestinian.
Soldiers, machine guns, tanks make up the rest of the set pieces as does the razor wire which coils around the kilometres of fencing before it comes up against the Wall – mammoth in size and structure and even more monstrous in the reason for its existence.
The Wall is Israel’s provocative solution to the Palestinian problem in the West Bank. It is a wall ostensibly built for Israel’s security, yet its path does not follow the borders between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Instead, at many points it goes deep into the heart of Palestinian territory. The Wall is being built, despite an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice that condemned it. It is being built despite a similar wall coming down almost two decades ago between East and West Berlin. Then, the whole world breathed a sigh of relief that such barbarity had finally come to an end – in the West at least. Israel’s Prison Wall – much higher and longer and begun only 4 years ago – hardly raises a whimper of protest where it counts, despite it being built contrary to the Court’s ruling.
It is a wall, the like of which most people cannot imagine – 8 metres high in places and up to 100 metres wide in others and running 720 kilometres the length and breadth of the West Bank – a wall in some places and electrified razor fencing with ditches and a no-man’s land in others. Already 180 kilometres of wall run right through thousands upon thousands of acres of private land – Palestinian land. Half of that wall encircles East Jerusalem, isolating the city from the rest of the occupied West Bank and separating it from its Palestinian neighbourhoods which are dependent on Jerusalem for their survival. In the process, the Wall has skirted around three of the largest illegal Jewish settlement blocs –aggressively staking out more territory – and connected them to Israel, wiping out all the areas needed for Palestinian natural growth and economic development.
The Wall is the most dangerous phase of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land because it allows for the continual expansion of illegal Israeli settlements deep inside the West Bank. The end result for the Palestinians will be three miserable truncated enclaves without access to valuable water resources or the fertile agricultural land on which they have depended for centuries. Certainly, there will be no contiguity between them or the walled-in Gaza Strip on the coast. It also means that Palestinian movement will have to be severely curtailed within the West Bank in order to protect these implanted illegal settlements. And these illegal activities are still going on while everyone continues to talk in absolute terms about a two-state solution and totally ignoring the realities on the ground. The wall has relegated Palestinian self-determination in their own sovereign state to the bulldozed, treeless dust heap of a prison that Israel has deliberately and systematically succeeded in diminishing. This is the land that Israel wants and is taking, while herding Palestinians into ever smaller disconnected Bantustans, in order to establish an exclusively Jewish state.
Apartheid by any other name
Today, the Palestinians are facing imminent ruin as Israel embarks on yet another reprehensible program that deliberately regards the Palestinians as “non-existent”. Not only are those under occupation being subjected to a worse kind of apartheid than was ever practised in South Africa, but so too are the 1.4 million Palestinians citizens of Israel who are realising, that despite Israel’s claims to being a democracy, they are in fact not equal. They are the subject of an elaborate system of laws and administrative regulations that have been designed to discriminate against non-Jews – essentially the Palestinians – in order to create and preserve an exclusively Jewish state. Now, all the Palestinians are being discriminated against in favour of Jews from anywhere in the world who want to make Israel their home, including those who want to settle in the illegal settlements being built in the areas that have long been designated for a future Palestinian state.
Those deviant laws and regulations have allowed Israel to expropriate Palestinian land, confiscate their property and demolish some 18,000 homes since 1967 to make way for the illegal settlements, Israeli-only roads, prohibited military areas and the Wall. The result has been the breaking up of lush and productive farming communities and a centuries-old Palestinian society that prospered in ancient cities like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron, Jenin and Ramallah. Long used to visiting and trading between these towns, the Palestinians have been forcibly stopped from moving freely by a grid of Israeli military checkpoints that make it difficult and sometimes impossible to get to work, school, shops, hospitals, or just visiting friends and family. At these checkpoints, Palestinians are humiliatingly subjected to endless waiting, never knowing if they will be refused permission to continue their journey or be detained or even die. Such is daily life for every Palestinian in the Occupied Territories.
And houses come tumbling down
In order to effect land clearing for new or expanded Israeli settlements, as well as the Wall, Israel uses one of its most lethal weapons – the bulldozer. A familiar sight, the specially-constructed bulldozer arrives with barely a moment’s notice and begins tearing down the family home, crushing everything inside. There is no time to save clothes, furniture, toys, books, photographs and when the dust settles, the traumatised family is reduced to finding shelter with friends until the family is issued with a UN aid tent.
To lose the family home is always devastating, but for children to see their homes demolished in such cruel and senseless ways is psychologically devastating. Yet, Palestinian children are somehow expected to deal with such arbitrary violence regularly.
The 18,000 homes already destroyed since 1967 have left some 200,000 Palestinians homeless – many of them for the second, third or even fourth time and none of them have been compensated for the loss of their homes, furnishings and personal items. Israel justifies these demolitions on the basis that they have been built without a permit on land that Israel has zoned as agricultural land according to a British plan (RJ-5) formulated in 1942, then used to freeze Palestinian building works. Family homes are also destroyed as a form of collective punishment if a Palestinian is accused of committing a terrorist act against Israel whether the family is involved or not. On both counts, it denies Palestinians the fundamental right to respect for private and family life and home.
Short of becoming a brutal dictator, Arafat could no more guarantee a complete cessation of violence than any leader whose people knew they had been short-changed and that they were just as completely under Israeli domination as ever before. Israeli soldiers were still present in their lives and their land had been diminished even further. No one was doing anything about the violence they were having to endure – the nightly raids, the beatings inflicted on their menfolk, the sudden arrests, the children “accidentally” shot, whole families blown up. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands more have been permanently wounded, scarred and traumatised with many dying unaccounted for in the statistics because of the injuries inflicted on them by the Israeli military. Last year alone, Israel fired 6,000 artillery shells into Gaza – an area not much bigger than Melbourne’s City of Casey – except that there are 1.4 million people squeezed into that space with no freedom to leave when the bombings begin. And the bombings over Gaza have begun again, almost a year to the day.
Israel’s seizure and occupation of Palestinian land after the 1967 war, drove thousands of Palestinians of all backgrounds, professions and beliefs to resist that occupation. The list includes doctors, lawyers, academics, tradespeople, business people, politicians, journalists, students – ordinary men, women and children who want to be free from Israel’s occupation. Free to come and go as they please and free to live their life without violence. Some took up armed resistance with the meagre and often home-made armaments available to them, but many more resisted non-violently through strikes, demonstrations, petitions, and other protests. So intense was the desire for freedom that even children began throwing stones at the tanks and military machines invading their towns and villages. This became known as the First Intifada of 1987. But as useless peace deals were struck and Israel increased the level of provocations against the Palestinian population, the feeling of hopelessness grew. A new generation of children was growing up in an environment that was continually violent and oppressive and there was no relief from the constant feeling of being besieged with nowhere to flee.
The Second Intifada began in 2000 – now much more violent and desperate. Whole families were seeing not only their menfolk killed, tortured and imprisoned, but also the women and children. There would hardly be a Palestinian family that has not suffered the loss of a member of their own immediate family or extended one.
With so much antagonism against the Palestinians for resisting the occupation, one has to ask if anyone of us would do things differently if we found ourselves so emasculated by circumstances beyond our control. When talks fail, when law fails, when people fail, when peace fails, resistance is the last resort permissible under the United Nations Charter’s Article 51 in order for people and nations to free themselves from colonial oppression and occupation. And the world has continuously failed to protect the Palestinians as required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In effect, the international community has driven the Palestinians to resist their occupiers and oppressors.
Sonja Karkar is the founder and President of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.