Inside the occupied territories

Issue 

By Jenny Long

The combined effect of the dislocation of Palestinians from their land and competition from Israeli mass production agriculture has all but destroyed the Palestinian farming industry and driven Palestinian male unemployment to 75%, a visiting academic from the Israeli-occupied territories told a public meeting at the Uniting Church in the Sydney suburb of Strathfield on July 16.

Dr Ilham Abu-Ghazaleh, currently an associate professor with the Department of English Language and Literature at Birzeit University and previously a teacher in other universities and colleges in both the occupied territories and the United States, spoke of the current situation for Palestinians, particularly those living in the West Bank and Gaza, displaced from their land and existing beneath the shadow of the occupying Israeli forces.

Many of the residents of the crowded Gaza area were formerly farmers, for whom land was key, Abu-Ghazaleh told the meeting. Many were made refugees in 1948, and their family support networks, so important in Palestinian society, were ripped apart. They are now camp dwellers in extremely cramped mountainous areas, often under curfew conditions imposed by the Israeli security forces.

The situation in the West Bank is somewhat better, she said, as more Palestinians are living in their villages and still have some land. But Palestinians living in the cities are in a worse position, often in cramped accommodation and with fewer economic means than those in the villages. But for all in the occupied territories, every facet of daily life is overlaid with the unrelenting repression of the Israeli security forces.

The recent Israeli closure of the territories has also meant in effect the closure of many cities, said Abu-Ghazaleh, so that Palestinians cannot now travel to Jerusalem from the West Bank, to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, to Hebron from Bethlehem, or from Hebron to

Gaza.

Since June, she reported, Palestinians cannot even travel between cities in the occupied territories. The only Palestinian link with outside world is now the bridge over the River Jordan.

The closure of Jerusalem, she said, is particularly severe, as the main Palestinian hospital and most Palestinian institutions are located there — in many cases because they were not permitted to be established in either Gaza or the West Bank. Mobile hospitals are now operating within the occupied territories, but they cannot make up for the service which was provided at the main hospital.

Dr Abu-Ghazaleh said she believed that the failure of the continuing peace talks to discuss Jerusalem has meant that there has been no acknowledgment of the importance of Jerusalem to Palestinians. She also saw that the failure of the Israeli government to implement UN resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the dismantling of the settlements, has only reinforced the view of the Israeli settlers that the land is really theirs.

She said that the lack of acknowledgment of the Palestinians as the indigenous people of Palestine has perpetuated the "land without a people" mythology of Zionism, which has been reflected in the exile of doctors, lawyers, students and leaders of Palestinian society, as evidenced by the recent deportation of the 400 to the south of Lebanon.

In discussion following the address, a question was asked about the role and effect of the intifada. Dr Abu-Ghazaleh said she thought that one positive effect had been the unification of the struggle by the population, as opposed to the multitude of small fighting groups which had previously existed. She said the intifada has been about creating a new life for Palestinians on a great number of levels. It has been trying to erase the effects of many years of occupation and oppression, she said, and has resulted in an examination of democracy and of Palestinian culture and society.

She said that strikes organised through the intifada closed businesses and workplaces for a part of each day. This time was used by the Palestinians to organise neighbourhood activities, to feed families, to socialise, to discuss and to teach children whose education has suffered from the periodic school closures by the Israeli authorities.

All work and activities in the neighbourhoods was then declared illegal by the Israeli authorities, with the threat of jail for those who were caught continuing these activities. She said that since this time, the strikes have continued but there have begun to be empty, non-productive periods.

Dr Abu-Ghazaleh said she believes that one initiative of the intifada which has had a net negative effect has been the tax boycott that was organised in Bethlehem. The collection of taxes from Palestinians by the Israeli state is illegal by international law, which forbids the collection of taxes from inhabitants by an occupier. It was therefore decided to boycott the payment of taxes to the Israeli government.

The Israeli security forces then began to come into homes and confiscate personal goods and possessions. They took away televisions and furniture and other items in lieu of the unpaid taxes. Interest bills were issued to Palestinians for the unpaid taxes, and non-

payment would result in jailing. As many Palestinians could not afford to pay, their only alternative to jail was to leave the country. The result was a wave of economically forced deportations.

One very progressive aspect of the intifada, she said, has been the links made with Israeli progressive organisations and academics. One such organisation, Women in Black, is a group of extremely courageous women who weekly surround and picket the Knesset (Israeli parliament). They have been the target of harassment by other Israelis and are often spat upon and subject to other abuse.

On a wider scale, the intifada has shown the world that the Palestinians are a people under occupation, and the result has been an increasing number of visitors to the occupied territories from all over the world. People have come to assist the Palestinians in

the education of children and other community development activities.

In response to a question on whether the Palestine Liberation Organisation truly represented the Palestinians of the occupied territories, Dr Abu-Ghazaleh described the history of the PLO. She explained that the formation of the PLO in 1964 was very important for all Palestinians, not only in terms of providing a political representation for Palestinians but also for the role played in taking care of Palestinian culture, education and providing welfare, especially to Palestinians forced to leave their homes.

This second role was undermined with the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, where a large part of the PLO was based, and the subsequent withdrawal by the PLO. While the disenchantment with the peace talks was very high, a majority of Palestinians of the occupied territories would support the PLO and almost all would regard them as their representative.

Questioned on the Palestinian perspective on the two-state solution proposed by the PLO, Dr Abu-Ghazaleh stated that if the proposal was accepted, the land that was formerly Palestine would be 20% Palestinian and 80% Israeli. While it is a great loss to Palestinians, she felt that there was an acceptance based on a long-standing desire for peace.

Agreement on the two-state solution, she said, was premised on the condition that the Palestinians dislocated as a result of the 1948 events be allowed to return to their homes, and be compensated if they could not return. There has been international acceptance of this arrangement, as reflected in a UN resolution.

In response to a question on the role of the church in the Palestinian resistance, Dr Abu-Ghazaleh said that both the church and the mosque have been important centres for discussion and planning. She explained that both Christians and Muslims gather weekly, at the mosque on Fridays and at the church on Sundays.

She said that the importance of the church as an organising centre had increased with the Israeli

state's repression of the mosque. Since the closure of Jerusalem, both Muslims and Christians had gathered at the border set up by Israeli soldiers on Fridays and Sundays to pray together.