Saturday 30 April 2005

Little optimism in Palestine

Though many people outside Israel-Palestine are hopeful that there will now be progress towards peace, such optimism is shared by few Palestinians. The wall is being built at many places in the West Bank at an alarming pace. The building of the wall has been criticised by the EU and the International Court at the Hague. While international criticism is confined to words without actions, the Israeli government is establishing and consolidating ‘facts on the ground’ as fast as they can, not only by building the wall but also by settlement expansion and seeding.

It is essential that international pressure is put on Israel to stop taking Palestinian land and expanding the settlements. Boycotting of Israeli goods and economic sanctions are ways of applying pressure which helped bring apartheid to an end in South Africa, and may do the same in Israel-Palestine. We must not let sympathy for the fate of Jews before and during the Second World War prevent us from confronting political Zionism which is one of the major evils of the 20th and 21st centuries. Israel is an ethnocracy, not a democracy any more than apartheid South Africa was a democracy. Many Jews are implacably opposed to the current barbarous racist persecution of the Palestinians and colonial seizure of their land – acts which are the antithesis of Jewish values they were brought up to respect.

For the Palestinians, the wall’s construction and its effects are disastrous. Not only do the main wall and its supplementary loops zigzag and curve around settlements well inside the West Bank, stealing large amounts of Palestinian land and appropriating it into Israel, but much of their agricultural land is destroyed or made inaccessible. The route of the wall is also planned to isolate the Palestinians from their water wells. Once the wall, or in some places a very solid fence, has been constructed (plus barbed wire, sensors, a strip of bare ground to show footprints, together with a tarmac road patrolled by armoured vehicles), it is very difficult for many Palestinians to get to school, university, clinic, hospital, market, or to neighbouring areas to farm or to visit family and friends.

Settlements are towns occupied by Jewish Israelis. They are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. There are 155 established settlements in the West Bank , and a similar number of informal settlement sites. Ma’ale Adumin is one of the largest settlements. It is to be expanded by the building of a further 3500 dwellings and will extend from Jerusalem in the west to Jericho in the east, isolating the larger part of the West Bank north of Jerusalem from the smaller part to the south.

The harassment and humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints and at the openings in the wall continue. The checkpoints within the West Bank do not increase Israeli security but are a principal means of making life as difficult as possible for Palestinians. The declared aims of the governing right-wing Likud party are further annexation of Palestinian land, further dispossesion of the native Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and consolidation of the settlements.

(Photos I was given)

It was hypocritical of Sharon to dismiss Yaser Arafat as not being a partner for peace, as peace is the last thing Sharon himself wants and will do all he can to frustrate. Inside and outside Palestine, Arafat’s administration was criticised for inefficiency and corruption. Sharon too is accused of corruption.

In the Gaza Strip I met an 11-year-old boy whose right arm is paralysed because of damage to its nerves when he was shot 5 months ago. He was playing outside his home, as was a 7-year-old boy from neighbouring flats who was shot dead together with a number of other people in the immediate vicinity when tanks came into the area and started firing at the people.

I stayed in Abu Dis which is on the edge of Jerusalem but now separated from it by the wall. Close to where I was staying, a fine five storey Palestinian house was demolished by army bulldozers two months ago. Stated reason: lack of planning permission; actual reason: a contribution to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish Israelis. Number of Palestinian dwellings destroyed in the past four and a half years: more than 5000, leaving over 70,000 civilians homeless and without compensation; number of Jewish homes destroyed by Palestinians: none. Shame on the majority of Caterpillar shareholders who earlier this month rejected a proposal for the company to reconsider the sale of its bulldozers to Israel because of their use in the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Paralysis of right arm from gunshot

(Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions photo)


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