Since returning from the West Bank, certain questions have consumed me and I am struggling to find answers.
When it comes to Israel/Palestine, security seems to be the answer always given for unwanted questions, but I believe we need to search for better.
In most lands people who occupy the same space live by the same guidelines. In the occupied territories this is not the case. Settlers are largely subject to Israeli penal law whereas Palestinians live under Military authority, even those in Area A, which under the Oslo Accords is supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). International law states the laws in which people live by should not be determined by the ethnic group they come from but this is clear cut institutionalised racism.
800,000 Palestinians have languished in prison since 1967, this includes 5,000 children in the period from 2000 - are all these terrorists? I was dared to find a family who has not had anyone in prison- an impossible task. And why do so many Palestinian houses have demolition orders, but at the same time so few receive permits to build? This is most apparent in Jerusalem where the demographics over the years have been altered beyond all recognition; the Jerusalem master plan for 2020 is having its desired effect.
Why are the areas which are the most naturally resourced, the highest settler concentrated? The World Bank estimated in 2013 this appropriation of resources cost Palestinians annually somewhere in the region of 3.4 billion. This has resulted in Palestinians having been denied access to basic water and sanitation, eventhough International humanitarian law requires an occupier to safeguard that territory.
Why do Palestinians have less freedom post Oslo? The Oslo Accords were the beginning of a peace process meant to put Palestinians on the road to self-determination. What has occurred can be described as neither peace nor process. The Palestinian Authority was created but this has given Israel the cheapest occupation it could look for.
The PA was granted full control over the population centres of Area A, political sovereignty, but not police powers in Area B with Area C which comprises more than 60% of the West Bank left under full Israeli military control. Under the Oslo agreement, areas B and C were due to be handed back to Palestinian control but this hasn’t happened. Rather than standing for its people and confronting Israel on its reneging on the agreements, the PA provides an internal colonial police force - providing public order and security while Israel gets to keep all of the spoils, as the overall structure of the occupation remains in place. The balance of power is highlighted by how the movements of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can be determined by a young gun-wielding soldier.
Oslo provided Israel with the cover it needed to peruse its colonial agenda with the West Bank now awash with settlements. A clear scenario is playing out here, most settlements are on the outlying areas of the West Bank and this has led to large numbers of Palestinians congregating in central areas, no different to apartheid type townships. Settlements are connected to both each other and Jerusalem via motorways, and in their construction Israel wants villages in the way to disappear or be disappeared.
I visited two of these villages Nabi Samuel and Susiya, but there are hundreds more, where people’s life chances are viciously sucked away by occupation and colonisation.Israelis want safety, they deserve safety, but all their actions against the Palestinians, their land and resources are playing against that. Israel is creating people filled with rage, like a man whom I met at Dheisheh refugee camp. Ten of his friends killed before the age of 25, father in jail for 25 years and uncle 20 years -what is he meant to think and do? The occupation is most apparent in Hebron with a settlement in the middle of the city. Two different worlds separated by one barrier, I asked a soldier why is this the case? After stalling, his reply was “I do not know”. If this is ever to change I believe him and others like him need to start asking these questions, both of themselves and others and then start seeking answers.
The difference between this occupation and others is that it affects all aspects of daily life- it doesn’t differ whether one is active in the resistance or not – every Palestinian is treated as a terrorist, despite the fact they are in their own land. Of the Israelis I met, most seem to be immune, indifferent or uncaring to what life is like on the other side of the barrier. The cause I believe is structural unawareness - the Israeli populace is flooded with narratives of fear, they are kept a safe distance away from the unpleasant realities of the occupation unless they are the ones in uniforms wielding the guns and power.
That is why Israeli citizens who do not conform to the mainstream need all the support they can get, they give hope of change. I had the pleasure of meeting one in particular, both she and her family have suffered greatly for making a stand – were ostracised and called everything from self hating Jew to traitors. Some of her family had also gone to jail for refusing to serve in an occupying army. They however have a vision for the kind of country they want to live in and stand by the phrase “without existence there can be no co existence”
In fifty years time will the world be looking back at what once was Palestine asking how did we allow this happen? History is full of examples where the powerful looked on. I find it hard to walk by signs outside buildings in the West Bank saying “This is a gift from the USA to the people of Palestine” when their government’s policy for years has been to assist in giving Palestinians the gift of occupation. I don’t know where the solution lies as Israelis economy largely built on the arms trade and military industry does not seem compatible with peace.
However we must not give up and must stand for justice, as without it what is living? None of us are immune from criticism either though are we? I was caught by surprise when someone asked me where I was from and upon reply, came back with “You are part of the occupation, your government has done nothing to help us”. He then went onto describe his despair at the meek and politically correct statements by politicians all over the world last year when the Gaza massacre was taking place. Thinking back to our own foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan, it was hard to disagree.