Palestine

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Israel steals more and more of the West Bank: building of settlements and the wall proceeding fast

For four weeks I have been teaching in Abu Dis, just outside East (i.e. Palestinian) Jerusalem but separated from it by the wall. A teacher there asked me to take his classes as he had been invited by the US government to take part in a conference on education. The only travelling I had time for was a very happy visit to Bethlehem to meet the girls who acted so movingly at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Though I don’t have new experiences to share, I do want to write to you about the current situation.

I was not allowed to visit friends in Gaza , though Article 116 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupier from restricting visitors’ entry into occupied territory. Now that the occupier has withdrawn to the border check points, people and vehicles can move freely within the Strip. However the borders with Israel and Egypt are closed, effectively imprisoning the population. Only exceptionally are people or goods being allowed in or out at present.  

Maps of the rape of Palestine  

The dismantling of the settlements in the Gaza Strip (and four small ones in the West Bank ) is welcome. They were of course illegal under international law, as are the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem . There are 125 established settlements in the West Bank . In addition, 101 ‘unauthorized outposts’ have sprung up in the last decade, half of them while Ariel Sharon has been Prime Minister. The road map agreed to by Israel in 2003 requires outposts established since Sharon came to power to be dismantled, and also demands that the Israeli government freeze all settlement construction. Israel is cheating on these undertakings. Settlement building continues apace. 4,200 houses are under construction in West Bank settlements at present, and the settler population has increased by 12,000 in the first nine months of 2005.  

Three settlements (i.e. illegal Israeli towns) in the West Bank near Jerusalem

In Ma’aleh Adumim, a large settlement near Abu Dis, there are cranes on the skyline. This settlement is of key importance in the Israeli government’s Zionist strategy of stealing Palestinian land for the exclusive use of Jews, and severely limiting Palestinians’ movements in the West Bank . Ma’aleh Adumim had about 30,000 settlers at the beginning of 2005, and is projected to have 45,000 by the end of the year, and 70,000 by 2010. By then it will extend from East Jerusalem eastwards to Jericho , severing the West Bank into a larger northern part and a smaller southern part.

Many olive trees have recently appeared in the settlement. They have been stolen from olive groves belonging to Palestinian families for hundreds of years, uprooted by bulldozers in the building of the wall in the West Bank . Nevertheless, Ma’aleh Adumim is intended by Israel (and agreed, illegally, in the Bush-Sharon Letter of Understanding of April 2004) to remain Israeli after the Permanent Status Agreement which the road map leads to. To reiterate: all the settlements are illegal according to international law, and under the road map Israel has pledged not to build or extend settlements but is in fact doing so very actively.

Continued building of the wall is accelerating Israel ’s inexorable theft of West Bank land which belongs to and provides the livelihood of Palestinian families. An Abu Dis man invited me to break the Ramadan fast with him one evening. His wife is living in Jerusalem . She has a Jerusalem ID card, he a West Bank one. If he goes into Jerusalem he is liable to imprisonment. If she comes to live in the West Bank , she would lose her Jerusalem ID. By doing this she would forfeit the right to Jerusalem services such as health care and schooling. As their two girls and happy and doing well in a Jerusalem school, my host and his wife have decided it is best to live apart.

His family used to own some hundreds of dunums of land [4 dunums = 1 acre]. They now own ten dunums, most of the remainder having been taken for the building of the wall. He pointed to some olive trees below his house and said that they were 300 years old and had been planted by his family twelve generations ago.

In fact “the wall” is a wall 8 metres high in some areas, and a fence in others (plus a buffer zone 30 to 100 metres wide, with military patrol road, a broad sand path to detect footprints, cameras, electric sensors, and coils of razor wire). Only 20% of it is on the Green Line, the rest cutting – often many kilometers – into the West Bank , separating Palestinians from their land and markets, and Palestinians from Palestinians and services such as education and health care.

In October 2003 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israel to stop building the wall. Then in July 2004 the International Court of Justice at the Hague ruled that Israel must cease construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and around East Jerusalem , and must dismantle it. The court concluded that “the United Nations … should consider what further reaction is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from construction of the wall.” What was Israel ’s response? To continue building the wall as fast as possible – construction is now proceeding at 45 places. In its drive to ethnically cleanse Palestine and take all the land it can from the Palestinians, Israel ignores United Nations resolutions and international humanitarian law. For it there is one overriding law, the law of military might.

What should we be doing? We can personally boycott Israeli goods, particularly those produced in the settlements in the West Bank (boycott information can be found at www.bigcampaign.org). Europe is Israel ’s major trading partner, so we should press for the preferential trading status which Israel currently enjoys with the EU to be ended and for international sanctions to be applied until Israel obeys international law and treats the Palestinians justly. We can write to our MPs and MEPs asking them to work for sanctions, mentioning, for example, the UN resolution and ICJ ruling on the wall. Boycotts and sanctions played their part in bringing apartheid to an end in South Africa. We must oppose the racism and state terror of the Israeli government and military. They are no more acceptable now in Israel than they were in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.  

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