Palestine: Israel’s assaults face challenge

Rally in Sydney against Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla, June 5. The Gaza aid missions have alerted the world to the c

In an effort to mitigate the global outrage that followed its May 31 attack on the Gaza aid flotilla, Israel has, ever so slightly, eased its blockade on Gaza. However minimal, this step has only been taken because of the pressure applied to Israel by the international grassroots protest movement.

The Gaza aid missions have aimed to alert the world to the criminality of the blockade. In this, they have succeeded — though the price has been heavy: Nine killed (mostly with shots directly to the head and neck) and 700 others violently abducted, detained and abused.

Unfortunately, US President Barack Obama and others have seized on the Israelis’ gesture in slightly easing the siege as an excuse to issue them a renewed licence to assault Palestinian lives and rights.

Israel now permits some consumer goods to enter Gaza, but continues to block chemicals, medical instruments, construction tools, aluminum, steel and cement. This makes it impossible to rebuild the homes, schools, hospitals, offices and factories destroyed by Israel in Operation Cast Lead of 2008-2009.

Sealed off by Israel since 2007, the people of Gaza are not only starved of imports, but are denied the freedom to trade or seek work, education or health care.

The World Health Organisation reports malnutrition is rife: 66% of infants and 30% of expectant mothers suffer from anemia. The only way to deliver desperately needed material assistance is to break Israel’s blockade.

Israel’s assertion of a right to assault and detain citizens of other nations in neutral waters shows its disregard for international law and elementary standards of justice.

In defiance of Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of an occupying power's civilian population into the territory it is occupying, Israel has colonised the West Bank with Jewish settlements. These now control 42% of the territory.

The settlements, about 200 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are all illegal and supported Israeli funds and arms.
The settlers have also appropriated water. Last year, the 3 million West Bank Palestinians were allocated an average of 83 cubic metres of water each, while the 500,000 Jewish settlers enjoyed 1450 cubic metres each.

To entrench these settlements, Israel has built an extensive network of Israeli-only roads (from which Palestinians are banned). The local population are controlled though a system of more than 600 military checkpoints and a regime of curfews, arbitrary closures, house demolitions and punitive incursions.

The huge 700-kilometer concrete barrier, which Israel dubs the “separation fence” and the rest of the world has come to call the “apartheid wall”, cuts deep into the West Bank. It annexes large fertile areas, encircles major population centers and isolates villagers from their lands.

In the course of non-violent protests against the wall, 19 Palestinians have been killed and 1500 injured by Israeli soldiers, not one of whom has faced charges of any kind.

The charity Save the Children has found that in “Area C” — the 60% of the West Bank under direct Israeli control — 79% of the people lack sufficient food. On the eastern border of the country, the fertile Jordan Valley is a “closed military zone”, where Israeli settlers produce crops for export but the legal owners of the land are not allowed to set foot on it.

Soon after the 1967 war, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem. Palestinians born there are not allowed to become Israeli citizens, although they pay taxes to and live under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Jerusalem municipality.

This body provides the city’s 700,000 Jews with 36 public swimming pools and 26 libraries. The city’s 270,000 Palestinians have no swimming pools and two libraries.

In recent years, Israel has stepped up the colonisation of East Jerusalem with new settlements and used the wall to cut the city off from the rest of the West Bank.

In 2008, more than 4500 Palestinians were excluded from Jerusalem by Israeli decree.

Within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the 18% of the population who are non-Jewish Palestinians (officially classified as “Arabs”) enjoy second-class citizenship.

More than 90% of the land is legally reserved for Jewish use. Israeli Palestinians are confined to a separate and inferior education system, and denied benefits and jobs to which Jewish Israelis are entitled.

Israeli law prevents Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs from living in Israel. Anyone else who marries an Israeli is granted Israeli citizenship.

Even the right to vote for Palestinians in Israel is circumscribed. Any political group that advocates amending the “Jewish” character of the state by calling on Israel to become “a state of all its citizens” is banned from taking part in elections.

Elected Palestinian members of the Knesset who have made such a call have been stripped of parliamentary immunity and tried for subversion.

About 10,000 Palestinian prisoners are currently held in Israeli jails. This includes more than 300 children, about 50 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, plus mayors, municipal councilors and even a few ministers of the Palestinian National Authority.

Six hundred prisoners are being held without charge under “administrative detention”. Others have been charged, but are indefinitely detained awaiting trial.

Israel claims all this is necessary because of its unique “security” needs. If these actions are not taken, it is claimed, the Jewish state and therefore the Jewish people will be annihilated.

In fact, it is the Palestinians who face such a threat — not in theory, but in daily practice.

The Israeli definition of “security” does not mean safety for the Jewish population of Palestine, which it is entitled to and must be guaranteed, but perpetual Jewish domination over the whole of Palestine.

By its behavior, Israel has sought to make the creation of any viable Palestinian state impossible. Its negotiating tools are the wall, the settlements, the siphoning off of water and the starvation of Gaza — not to mention the bulldozers that last year leveled about 300 hundred Palestinian homes built on Palestinian land.

In this context, not surprisingly, Palestinian resistance continues. Sometimes violent, but mostly nonviolent, all forms of Palestinian self-assertion are regarded as a threat to Israel’s right to rule and are treated accordingly.

Israel claims a global ethnic mission — on behalf of all Jews everywhere — and with it special prerogatives and exemptions. These are backed up by the US, the European Union and others, including Australia.

In response to the complicity of these governments with Israel’s ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians, a worldwide citizens’ movement has emerged to redress the balance. Its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel has made significant progress in the past few years.

Lazy thinkers who believe “real” politics is all about professional politicians should open their eyes.

From small beginnings, with few resources, and in the face of formidably well-funded, well-organised and ruthless opposition, the grassroots global movement of solidarity with the Palestinians has begun to shift the balance of power.

There is, however, a long way to go. Conscientious citizens of the world should stand with the Palestinians. They should doing whatever they can to remove the immediate threats to their existence —and to ensure, in the long run, their right to a free life in their own land.

[Reprinted from Mike Marqusee is a London-based Marxist writer. His most recent book is If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew.]