The World and Palestine

I opened a new book today called “Palestine Inside Out” by Saree Makdisi.  While I only had time to crack the introduction, it was well written and is one that I intend to finished.  The introduction is packed with personal stories about the hardships in Palestine, specifically the Israeli policy of “voluntary transfer” in which Israel uses its bureaucratic powers to put enough red tape on the lives of ordinary Palestinians that they are forced to move out of Palestine (the Forth Geneva Conference, unlike Israel, does not differentiate between forced and voluntary transfers of an occupied population).  It is a very effective policy as long as it is ignored by the international community.  Unfortunately, it is only one on a long list of abuses that is overlooked by the rest of the world.

In the last three years, Israel has fought two major wars: against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and against Hamas in Gaza in 2008.  The destruction caused in both Gaza and Lebanon was spectacular, even prompting an international investigation this year (The Goldstone Report, which was subsequently ignored, criticized both Israel and Hamas, but was particularly harsh in accusing the IDF of intentionally targeting civilians.  The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the IDF is updating its maps of civilian institutions in Gaza to avoid such instances.).  To be fair, these events, while tragic, are not representative of everyday life in Palestine.  Unfortunately, the day-to-day situation is not much better and any future war against the Palestinian resistance is likely to cause much more damage and kill many more civilians. In addition to the myriad permits required for everyday life, Israel recently shut down a road to a Nablus-area village, effectively isolating its inhabitants.  While there is another road leading to the village, it is dangerous to travel due to its proximity to a militant Israeli settlement.  Even if the villagers were to risk traveling the road, they would have to pass a number of Israeli check-points – a program that right-wing politicians in Israel want to expand.  As of June 2009, the United Nations reported that there were over 600 military checkpoints, gates and roadblocks in the West Bank.

Israel has the West Bank divided into three sections – A, B and C.  Ma’an News reports that Zone C, which is supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in 1995, but stills remains under Israeli control, is mostly reserved for Israeli settlements and military activities.  By prohibiting Palestinian construction in 70% of Zone C, Israel is effectively keeping 44% of the West Bank away from Palestinian construction.  Moreover, Israel is brutally effective in enforcing its zoning policies; recently 12 Palestinian homes in Zone C (and therefore existing illegally) were destroyed in the village of Barta’a Ash-Sharqiya.

It is not just the West Bank that feels the heavy hand of Israel.  Still reeling from the Israeli offensive last year, Gaza, though controlled internally by Hamas, is completely blockaded on three sides by Israel and on the forth by Egypt (see below).  Yesterday, Israel closed all commercial crossings in and out of Gaza.  It did, however, decide to allow the first export of strawberries out of the tiny area since 2007 and only the second delivery of carnations since April.  Goods imported into Gaza have been cut by 80% since Hamas took control while over 40,000 people still have no electricity due to the damage caused by Israel last year.  The crippling blockade doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon either.  Even if the proposed prisoner swap occurs between Hamas and Israel, the Israeli government has no intent on ending the blockade.

Of course, Israel has surrounded the West Bank as well.  There were mass celebrations around the globe this year to mark the twentieth anniversary if the fall of the Berlin Wall, the international community pays little attention to the wall that surrounds Palestine.  Though the wall was deemed illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice, the wall around the West Bank is still being constructed (it is currently 60% finished).  Protests against the Wall continue today, but anti-wall activists are often arrested and protesters are dispersed.

One of the largest hold-ups in the peace talks between the PA and Israel is the existence, and indeed the expansion, of the settlements in occupied Palestine.  These settlements are, by article 49 of the Forth Geneva Conference in 1949, illegal.  While Israel has made initial moves to dismantle illegal settlements in Gaza (before Hamas took control) and the West Bank.  The dismantling of settlements is very difficult politically.  Recently, a group of IDF recruits wrote a letter to the Defense Minister stating that they would not aid in dismantling any of the illegal West Bank settlements (of which there are many).  The existence of the settlements not only impedes the peace process, it also punishes West Bank citizens economically by flooding the economy with goods produced illegally in the settlements.  In an attempt to pressure Israel into removing the settlements, the PA has been trying to end the circulation of such goods. It is estimated that half a billion dollars were spent on illegal settlement goods last year.  Meanwhile, 45% of Palestinians in the West Bank live in poverty.

The situation in Palestine is dire.  While neither the PA nor Hamas is free from blame, the crushing hand of Israeli occupation has forced the suffering of nearly all Palestinians, including the refugees found in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.  PA President Mahmoud Abbas has recently been pushing hard to restart peace talks.  He has said that peace is possible in six months and that he won’t allow a third intifada.  Even if he is a bit out of touch with the situation on the ground, he seems to realize that the current situation is untenable.  Yet what is there to be done?

Richard Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, recently harshly criticized the international community for failing to end the blockade of Gaza and failing to pursue the findings of the Goldstone report.  Said Falk, “This represents both a tragic failure of responsibility by the powerful governments of the world and of the UN.”  This is certainly true.  Although much of the Western world views Hamas, who governs Gaza as a terrorist organization, the lack of action taken by the international community to ease the suffering of the 1.5 million people living there is reprehensible.  Yet Falk could have gone further.  The process that has allowed the destruction of Palestine since 1967 is embarrassing.  That Palestine is being carved up and that Palestinians are forced to live under such strict foreign guidelines within their own country is horrifying.  Clearly, the inhumane treatment of Palestinians can be blamed on Israel.  Yet there has been little outcry over the last four decades.  Those who have brought attention to the treatment of Palestine have been ignored.  Yes, the international community should be ashamed of its inaction after the war in Gaza last year, but it should be just as ashamed for what it has allowed to happen in Palestine over the last forty years.

Photos from electric intifada, Al Jazeera and sott

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