PALESTINE: World's longest running injustice


The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel which has been in place since the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war represents a slow death for the Palestinian people.

I've recently returned from an Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA) fact-finding trip to the Occupied Territories. What we saw there is perhaps the longest running injustice in the world. Volumes of UN resolutions attest to this injustice, but still the occupying Israeli army acts with impunity — killing or arresting people or stealing more land, on a daily basis.

We saw Palestinians having to line up at the checkpoints every day to go to work in another town or city; often they are turned back without reason. Checkpoints are everywhere throughout the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

At Qalandia checkpoint in Ramallah, which we had to go through each day, there was an Israeli tank with its gun facing the people lined up in single file, and a number of small bunkers with soldiers with their rifles pointing at those lined up. The soldiers wave you to come forward one by one and show your pass.

On May 28, Israeli soldiers opened fire on those waiting at the Qalandia checkpoint, injuring 10-year-old Fadi Ghazi Subuh, who was hit by live ammunition in his back and Riziq Yousef Tawil, 56, hit in his chest and left leg. Seven people were injured by rubber bullets. Walid Mousa Habbas, 22, lost his eye. Two female students needed treatment after inhaling tear gas.

In one incident, men waiting at a checkpoint were made to strip off and sit naked on the cold ground overnight. Humiliation is part of the occupation process.

Razor wire and passes

Barbed wire and razor-wire fences encircle the towns and cities and line the roadsides in the West Bank. Palestinians have to apply for passes to move through the checkpoints. Many told us they hadn't been able to visit their families for months at a time.

Currently, most West Bank cities are under curfew with people only being able to get out of their houses for a few hours every few days. But even before that, most Palestinians couldn't get to work outside of their towns and particularly outside of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. It is often impossible for ambulances to get through checkpoints. Many women and babies have died during child birth over the last 20 months because they couldn't get through the checkpoints to medical care.

There have been numerous incidents of refusal of access to medical care — a contravention of the Geneva Convention.

Palestinians are barred from using the new bypass roads which have been built throughout the West Bank — they are for Israeli-licensed cars only. Palestinians are restricted to Palestinian roads, which have often been ripped up, blocked by mounds of dirt or by concrete blocks.

To get into Nablus, we had to get out of our vehicle and walk, along with Palestinians, about three kilometres on a dirt road, before getting into another car at the end of the dirt road.

These restrictions on movement, along with other Israeli attacks or actions, serve to make daily life almost impossible for Palestinians.

Unemployment and associated poverty has skyrocketed to around 50-60% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, not only because people can't get to their former workplaces, but because factories or workplaces in the Occupied Territories have been destroyed — close to 60 of them.

Imports and exports are controlled by the Israeli authorities, as are the basic requirements of life — water and food supply. In addition to controlling imports and exports, the Israeli authorities have destroyed many olive groves, fruit trees, greenhouses and productive land. Palestinian human rights groups told us that some trees are not allowed, by military decree, to be planted by Palestinians — presumably to block Palestinians claiming permanent residence of the land.

Water in the West Bank comes from aquifers, though 80% of it goes to Israelis. The other main water source, the Jordan River basin, is controlled by Israel and no water from there gets to the West Bank. Per capita water use by the Israelis is around five times that of Palestinians.

Around 25% of Palestinian homes are not connected to a water supply and the residents have to collect rainwater or water (sometimes polluted) from springs or wells. When these run dry, they have to buy water from the water tankers or in bottles — an expensive option for many given their poverty.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which we visited in Jerusalem, has documented the inequity surrounding access to water. It has also documented incidents where Israeli soldiers have ordered Palestinians away from wells or springs and where the soldiers have opened the taps of water tankers and ordered the Palestinian drivers to drive away with the water spurting out. Of course, by the time the drivers can safely stop and turn off the tap, much of the water is lost (see < http://www.btselem.A HREF="mailto:org"><org>).

In Bethlehem, we saw water tanks and roof-top solar panels with bullet holes in them after they were shot at by the soldiers. Deliberate attacks on water tanks have been reported in many places.

Killings and arrests

Palestinians, including children, are being killed on a daily basis. The infrastructure of Palestinian life is badly damaged or destroyed. Unemployment and poverty is at such high levels that a humanitarian disaster is looming.

Arrests of thousands of Palestinian middle-aged men and boys means that in many areas the population is comprised primarily of women, children and old men. Torture of those arrested is widespread and documented by both Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups. Israeli settlements are continually increasing in number on stolen Palestinian land and settler numbers have doubled since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993.

This oppression of Palestinians has given rise to resistance in the form of attacks on the settlers and desperate suicide bombings of civilians and soldiers in Israel. Western media coverage of Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians obscures the fact of the occupation, as Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is always presented in the media as “retaliating against this terrorism”.

Some Palestinians are calling for the development of a non-violent resistance strategy, and others for an end to the bombings in Israel. The Palestinian-organised International Solidarity Movement is sending unarmed international supporters into the refugee camps to attempt to provide some protection for Palestinians against Israeli attacks.

There is opposition to the occupation and the colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israelis. More than 200 Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories and Israeli peace groups have called for an end to the occupation.

The current call by US President George Bush to try to get rid of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is demonstrably another diversion from the real issue of the occupation. This arrogant attempt to intervene in Palestinian elections is likely to result in even greater support for Arafat or for the groups backing the bombings in Israel — Hamas and the al Aqsa Brigades.

There appears to be little hope for action to end the violence coming from Western governments or the UN. The Bush administration's actions are exacerbating the situation, as does its continuing massive military aid to Israel.

The only hope I can see is if an inspiring non-violent strategy can be developed to bring home clearly to the world the incredible repression, apartheid and brutal occupation which is occurring in Palestine. Then perhaps an end to the occupation could be in sight.

[Kathryn Kelly was the Greens representative on the APHEDA delegation to West Bank and Gaza Strip.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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