Jewish peace activist condemns Israeli crimes

October 23, 2010
Anna Baltzer

Anna Baltzer is a US activist who worked in Palestine with the International Women's Peace Service documenting human rights abuses. She is author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories.

Baltzer is touring Australia and will be speaking at the Australian National BDS Conference, in support of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting Israel. It is in Melbourne over October 29-31. For details, visit . She spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Tony Iltis. Her answers are paraphrased below.

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How is life in the West Bank for Palestinians and for Israeli Jewish settlers?

Palestinians in the West Bank live under a system of forced discrimination.

There’s a system of segregated roads. In the West Bank, there are more than 500 obstacles. Imagine Sydney with 170 road obstacles in it. It often makes it impossible to do things such as get to work or school, or to hospital in an emergency.

There is also the wall Israel is building, with US support, through the West Bank, separating Palestinians from their land and livelihoods.

It is very difficult for Palestinians to move around and get to their land or water sources. Water is an important issue because Israel has been able to get hold of almost 100% of water in the area.

Palestinians’ water is taken from under their feet and sold back to them by their occupier. Palestinians have to pay higher prices than Jewish Israelis for water that comes from their own land.

Jewish Israelis living in the West Bank — the settlers — have a very different life. Palestinians have trouble getting enough water to drink, but many settlements have lush green lawns and swimming pools.

Settlers have no trouble getting from place to place. Israel convinces its citizens to move to the West Bank onto more Palestinian land with financial incentives. The settlements are exclusively reserved for Jewish people.

Christian and Muslim Palestinians, who own the land that they are built on, are not allowed to live in them because they’re not Jewish.

Israel pays for people like me, a Jewish woman living a comfortable life in the United States, to move to and live on Palestinians’ land.

In one example I documented, a billboard offered Israeli citizens about $25,000 to move into West Bank settlements.

Many things in the settlements, such as education, transport and mortages, are subsidised. If you live in the settlements for 10 years, often your mortgage is removed. They give you a free house.

A lot of the settlers are not ideological fanatics who are focused on harming the Palestinians. They are often poorer Israelis — immigrants and people of colour — who move because the government pays them.

Of course, there are ideological settlers, who are aggressive and violent towards Palestinians. They enjoy a kind of impunity in the Israeli courts.

Both types are doing the same damage in terms of taking over Palestinian land, but it’s important not to just say “the problem is these fanatical settlers”. The problem is the Israeli government is actively colonising these areas.

The ideological settlers have power because the Israeli and US governments support them.

Is there any significance to current peace talks, in which Israel is refusing to freeze settlement building?

You can’t have a lasting peace without justice and you can’t have justice under a system of apartheid. The fact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not willing to stop the colonisation, let alone removing the colonisers, shows that peace will not come from him.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Change doesn’t come from the oppressor, it comes when the oppressor is forced to change.

We have to force change. Israel won’t do it voluntarily.

Why have Palestinian negotiators, who have been criticised for being too eager to compromise, refused Israel’s demand to recognise a specifically Jewish state?

To ask Palestinians to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state means they are being asked to recognise the right of a state to exist on their homeland that excludes them for eternity.

This is an example of the myth that both sides have to compromise.

This sounds reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with compromise, unless it happens to be compromising on basic human rights.

The world tells Palestinians: “You have to recognise the right of Israel to colonise you.”

But human rights are non-negotiable. They belong to Palestinians and until Israel recognises this, it will come under pressure from people supporting the campaign boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Can peace come through a two-state solution?

The two-state solution is becoming more and more unrealistic. There are Palestinians living inside Israel and Jews living all over the West Bank. They are all living under the control of one government.

It’s as if, as a solution to South African apartheid, someone said: “Let’s build a wall and put all the people of color on one side and whites on the other.” It’s absurd and racist, yet surprisingly mainstream.

The two-state solution does not address the key grievance of the Palestinian people, most of whom are refugees, or the issues of Palestinians citizens of the state of Israel.

Most of all it doesn’t address the racism that is underlying the entire conflict.

What did you observe of Palestinian resistance?

International law protects the right of an occupied population to resist occupying forces with force (this does not extend to attacking civilians though), and yet the vast majority of Palestinian resistance is non-violent and this has a long history.

Some of it involves demonstrations, with communities linking arms and marching down to the lands that are being taken from them. Sometimes there are Israeli and international activists alongside them in solidarity.

Sometimes it takes the form of cultural resistance. As with Australian Aboriginals, resistance can take the form of cultural preservation — the prevention of the complete destruction of their cultural traditions.

Resistance can be through music. Palestinian hip hop, for example, is very popular.

Daily life in Palestine is a kind of resistance. For example, students who get up in the middle of the night because they have a four-hour journey to school through checkpoints and roadblocks.

The fact they still do it every morning and every afternoon because they insist on being an educated people is truly a kind of resistance.

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