I have just returned from a trip to Palestine/Israel. My purpose: to understand more; to interview/have conversations with people; to report back to those who might already be interested and, fond hope, to encourage more widespread interest – and action.
The bulk of my time was spent in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), taking the opportunity to have conversations in Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Hebron.
The Palestine/Israel conflict receives relatively sparse coverage in the mainstream media and where it does, coverage seems to me and many others to lean heavily towards an Israeli state narrative that seeks to frame the conflict in terms of Israel’s security concerns, terrorist threat and the absence of a Palestinian ‘partner for peace’. One aim of this and the next post(s) is to attempt, in however minor a way, to offer a counter narrative that helps illuminate the institutionalised viscousness of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Having said that, most of the examples I offer in these posts cover the West bank and illegally annexed East Jerusalem.
Israel society is, for the present, ensnared in the current regime. This has got to change.
The one thing the current Israeli regime fears is loss of international support, in particular of the USA, UK, and EU. Israel’s occupation, and it’s colonising programme are utterly dependent on the willingness of the USA, UK, EU to actively support it (see Trump’s USA, but in fact practically every administration), turn a blind eye, or to offer ritualised statements of regret at this or that incident or policy, with no further consequence. Yet all these countries have to hand the levers that can help contrain, and turn round the worsening situation.
This post offers a little backround to the conflict, and a few examples of what Israeli policy means in practice. It’s not pretty. Subsequent post(s) will offer a commentry on the situation and try to expose some of its essential, underlying features.
We start in Occupied East Jerusalem:
Hashimi Hotel, Old City (Palestinian) Jerusalem, 25 October 2018. in the part of Jerusalem illegally annexed by Israel in 1967 after the six day war of that year
I’m writing this from the rooftop terrace – by no means a ‘luxury’ terrace, but fine – of the hotel with a view of the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Islam after Mecca and Medina. The hotel has quite a number of Muslim pilgrims based here.
Jerusalem is awash with a variety of pilgrimage groups from virtually everywhere in the world. You can’t walk in the Old City without encountering a snake of seemingly welded-together pilgrims on their way to Al Aqsa or, this for Christians, walking the Via Dolarosa (the Way of Tears) and pausing at each of the Stations of the Cross. There is also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over what is believed to be the site both of Jesus’s crucifixion and his burial tomb, a site for often emotional veneration.
Jews (my lot, in general terms) are at it too, for they head towards the Wailing Wall which is ‘a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall’. Together, the entire area incorporating the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque is known as Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif by Muslims. This is an area of sharp contention, religious passion and naked political power games, further destabilised by virtue of Israel’s annexation of the city and its own less than commendable agenda. Which I shall no doubt come to.
Not infrequently, one can get a sense of a place, a sense of ‘what’s going on’ by way of a series of vignettes, actual incidents that illustrate, in shorthand form, essential features of a wider canvass. I was at the threshold of the country, queuing at passport control to enter Israel. The manner of greeting can say a lot about the nature of a home.
My queue contained a group – a family group: mum, daughter, three lads, probably in their twenties – all obviously Muslim. The lads had what I suppose we think of as typical beards, one or two wore skull caps, and one had that long garment, the name of which escapes me. I was next to them and so heard them talking – talking in northern British accents and clutching their British Passports ready for examination. We started chatting.
They were already prepared for some at least not to be allowed through passport control without being interviewed, and perhaps denied entry. Sure enough, the three lads were turned back and walked past me smiling as they went to the interview area. Mum and daughter got through.
By coincidence, it turned out that I was staying at the same hotel as that family and the following day asked the three lads what had happened.
They were kept for three hours, just waiting, with only a very sparse interview. They got to the hotel after 1.00 a.m. some four hours after landing (I got to the hotel in less than an hour).
What might we read into this story?
- One, the Israeli state uses racial/religious profiling.
- Two, that this is an expression of a wider racist rationale that underpins much Israeli policy and practice;
- Three, that the interview incident was consciously directed at displaying unchecked, arbitrary power: ‘We can keep you here, mess with your arrangements, cause anxiety, give no reason, just because we can. And don’t you forget it’.
If you read this and the next post or so, you’ll come to appreciate this is the standard modus operandi of the Israeli state.
Me? I went through passport control asked only whether I was a tourist, and did I have friends in Israel. That was it. White skin you see, not Muslim looking – free pass.
A little about context
I’m conscious that some readers may have only limited knowledge about the Palestine/Israel issue. I thought it might be useful, therefore, to offer a glimpse of the wider context.
Naqba v Independence
Nothing perhaps so accurately captures the essence of the issue and its seeming intractability as knowing that for Israel the 15 May 1948 marks its founding as an independent state – celebrated every year. But for Palestinians that date marks the Naqba, the ‘Catastrophe’ of 750.000 Palestinians fleeing their homes, and not being allowed to return – a population movement and displacement upon which the Israeli state is founded.
The Oslo II Accord, 1993, divided the Occupied Palestinian West Bank into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B and C.
Area A is meant to be exclusively administered by the Palestinian Authority.
Area B is meant to be administered jointly by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, with Israel having ‘security’ control.
Area C, which contains the Israeli illegal settlements, is under the control of Israel – totally. Area C comprises approximately 63% of the illegally occupied territory.
Areas A and B are constructed in such a way as to ensure that these areas are surrounded by Israeli controlled Area C.
Israel imposes severe, and often arbitrary, restrictions on Palestinian movement between areas A and B which has to be via Israel controlled Area C so that, for example, ambulances cannot get to hospitals without Israeli permission, and farmers are often cut off from their land which has been absorbed, illegally, into Area C.
Area A is, theoretically, under the control of the Palestinian Authority but the Israel Defence Forces abolished the prohibition on entering the area and enters regularly, mostly at night, to conduct raids to arrest suspected militants.
Together Areas A, B and C together comprise territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.
I want now to offer some examples of the afflictions the Israeli state visits upon Palestinians, day be day, night by night. What follows stand as exemplars of the perrenial, unrelenting, oppressive actions of the Israeli state against Palestinians.
‘Breaking the Silence’ is a group of ex-combat soldiers who came to hate what they had done – what they were ordered to do – whilst in the conscript armed forces of Israel. They aim to heighten awareness of the consequences of occupation with the ultimate aim of changing government policy which is the true motor of army activities. One way they do this is to collect testimonies from ex-soldiers. Here’s one from their web site:
One of the high rank commanders, he really liked the D9s [massive military bulldozers]. He was a real proponent of flattening things. He put them to good use. Let’s just say that after every time he was somewhere, all the infrastructure around the buildings was totally destroyed, almost every house had gotten a shell through it. He was very much in favor of that.”
Breaking the Silence also explained that the Israeli army enters Palestinian homes in, for example, Hebron without warning, at night, two, three, more times a week. It confines the family to one room, and then takes up sniper positions on the roof.
Hebron is officially in Area A, i.e. notionally under full Palestinian Authority control. So the question arises: why is the army here? The ex-combat soldier answered: ‘For the army, there is no Oslo Agreement; the army goes where it wants’.
Another Jewish organisation, Military Court Watch, works to hold the Israeli state to account. It is scrupulous in its use of data and statistics. Here are some:
- 750,000 – 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained since 1967.
- Children as young as 12 years can be prosecuted in the military courts.
- Approximately 800-1,000 children detained each year.
- Children are most commonly prosecuted for stone throwing.
- Approximately half of all detained children are arrested at night and report physical and psychological abuse during arrest, transfer and interrogation.
- Over 99% of cases in the military courts end in conviction.
- Approximately 50% of Palestinian child detainees are held in prisons in Israel in breach of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, monitors Israel actions in the OPT. Here’s one report for one night in August 2018. There have been many other similar nights since.
On 15 Aug. 2018, at about 2:00 A.M., soldiers with dogs entered 10 homes in the village of ‘Azzun. They woke the inhabitants, kept some confined to rooms in their homes, intimidated children and conducted violent searches. Raids on homes in the dead of night, in which soldiers wake families and ransack their houses, are by now a routine part of the occupation in the West Bank. These actions, which are clearly intended to intimidate the population, are unjustified. This is yet another example of daily Palestinian life under occupation.
From Israeli newspaper Haaretz June 2018
Every night, Israeli soldiers, the Border Police or its counterterrorism unit carry out raids on Palestinian homes throughout the West Bank, whether to detain suspects or potential informants, or for military exercises or general deterrence. If soldiers aren’t hurt, information on those raids doesn’t reach the Israeli media and get attention.
Often attack dogs accompany the soldiers, as they did last month during an encounter in Jenin. Not only did the dogs accompany the troops, they assaulted four civilians, among them a 13-year-old boy, a woman paralyzed on one side, and an elderly man.
On 4th October 2018, the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was demolished…for the 134th time. (Much of what follows is from an ICAHD UK report)
Al-Araqib is one of the 35 ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev (Naqab) region of Israel. Like most of the other unrecognized villages, it existed before the creation of the State of Israel. Prior to 1948 (and the creation of the Israeli state), around 90,000 Bedouins lived on 99 per cent of the Negev land and the residents of Al-Araqib have documents from the Ottoman era showing their ancestors purchased the land in 1906.
The majority of Israel’s Bedouin villages were forcibly moved to new locations within a tightly defined zone in the Negev in the 1950’s and now over half of the population of 220,00 is corralled into the seven urban centres, or ‘townships’, specially created by the Israeli State in order to solve the ‘problem of the Bedouins’.
The aim, always, is the judaisation – ugly word, ugly concept – of Palestine/Israel and this is why Jewish only Settlements are located on Palestinian land. And this, of course, requires the removal of the indigenous population, the Palestinians.
These settlements are generally built on hills, like medieval forts or castles, so that they can dominate and surveille the surrounding countryside.
The surrounding countryside is – soon to be ‘was’ if allowed to continue – populated by Palestinians who have lived there for generations, but now are to be evicted. As part of the strategy to induce their departure, the villages receive no main suppliers of anything. Not water, not electricity, not drainage or sewage removal. But the settlements on the hills, by contrast, have full access to utilities and services at subsidised prices. And to add insult to injury, many have swimming pools as well.
The continuing Naqba
This is why Palestinians say that the Naqba is not an isolated event that happened in 1948, but that it is a continuing process – an ongoing Naqba that repeats and repeats the original injustice.
While settlements expanded in 2017, Israeli authorities destroyed 381 homes and other property, forcibly displacing 588 people as of November 6, in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as part of discriminatory practices that reject almost all building permit applications submitted by Palestinians.
Between January 1 and November 6, 2017, Israeli security forces killed 62 Palestinians, including 14 children, and injured at least 3,494 Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, including protesters, suspected assailants or members of armed groups, and bystanders. Palestinians killed at least 15 Israelis during this same time, including 10 security officers, and injured 129 in conflict-related incidents in the West Bank and Israel.
Summary of control and coercion
The key fact to appreciate is that Israel ultimately controls every aspect of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories. The Israeli Occupation includes control of (not an exhaustive list):
- Ability to keep one’s home and live in it;
- Ability to travel (a) at all; (b) when, where and for how long;
- Access to water and power – including depriving communities of mains water and power;
- Permission to, for example, visit your mum who just happens to live beyond the barrier or fence the Israelis constructed and control – but did not live out of reach prior to the occupation;
- Ability to get to a hospital when needed;
- Ability to demonstrate;
- And much more.
This post has been in the order of 2,570 words long and all that I’ve said feels inadequate to the task of offering apt and necessary description. A good cartoon, however, can at once penetrate and illuminate an issue more accurately and succintly than the preceeding paragrpahs.
So here are two cartoons by a Palestinian cartoonist I was fortuante to meet, Mohammad Sabaaneh.
I’m conscious that there is what might be considered a structural fault in this post, and that is that I have referred to Israeli Jewish organisations that oppose Israel’s policies and not given sufficient attention to direct Palestinian testimony.
I think it is justifiably designated a ‘fault’. By way of explaination, not excuse, is that this and subsequent posts are based on a series of what I called, with a touch of pretention, ‘dispatches’ to an email list of about thirty. The content of the dispatches reflected, more or less, the order of encounters and events. The next post will be substantially based on direct encounters with Palestinians and will also highlight a key Palestinian quality or virtue, their commitment to ‘Samud’, ‘Steadfastness’in the face of of an oppressive power.
For those that did, thanks for getting to this Endword.
 I was for four days with an avowedly political tour
 From Wikipedia
 From the Guardian, October 2018: ‘The most authoritative analysis of the data since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry nearly 20 years ago found that black Britons are now nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, despite using illegal substances at a lower rate’ (my italics).