by friend of SLLU, Jenny Haston
The recent attacks on Gaza have brought Palestine back into the front pages of the international news. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza, brought on first by a siege lasting months, and much worsened in the last two weeks by air strikes as well as ground incursions, are a terrible crime. Life in Gaza is becoming unliveable. But this is far from the only problem Palestinians face. A ceasefire is urgently necessary, but this cannot be the end of our demands.
The future for Palestine does not look good. At each point in which the PA demonstrate their willingness to compromise and concessions are made, Israel pushes them further, never making any concessions of their own. The apartheid wall, a well known symbol of what the occupation stands for, is still under construction in the West Bank. The large majority of the wall’s route is not on the internationally recognised 1967 border, but a route chosen by Israel which annexes large chunks of crucial Palestinian land, dividing villages and depriving Palestinians of agricultural land they need to survive. Where it is being constructed, land is confiscated, houses demolished, people are separated from their friends, families and jobs in nearby areas which suddenly become inaccessible. Where people demonstrate peacefully against this wall, they are often injured or killed by the Israeli army.
The wall is only the beginning of the story. On the other side of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley is also occupied by the Israeli military and is colonised by settlers. This means the border with Jordan is under Israeli control, leaving Palestine with no passable border that is not controlled by Israel. The catch all excuse of “security reasons” is still used to cover this aspect of the occupation, despite the fact that it Jordan is far from Israel. Between the wall in the west and the occupied Jordan valley are a series of roads for Israelis only. These effectively cut the West Bank up into smaller, more manageable sections. Israel is able to cut off the road links that remain by means of roadblocks, military outposts, settlements and checkpoints.
Settlements are another problem faced by all Palestinians. On one or two occasions, the Israeli government has made a token display of their efforts to evict what they call “unauthorised settlers” – a phrase which ignores the fact that all settlements over the 1967 borders are illegal. The building of settlements continues, and has grown hugely during the years of peace negotiations, despite Israel’s promises to reduce settlements. Their construction is a visible attempt to control the area. The clearest example of this is in the West Bank near to Jerusalem, where the expansion of settlements cuts deeply into the West Bank and destroys the territorial continuity of Palestine in this area. Another example is in Hebron, where a settlement is built in the middle of a Palestinian city. Here, far from the rest of Israel, the worst extremists have formed their outpost. In the past months, there have been fierce riots, especially in Hebron, when Israel evicted a single house of this settlement. The riots extended to Nablus, other areas of the West Bank, and even in the Old City of Jerusalem, involving hundreds of settlers.
Once the wall is completed, to enter any of these West Bank areas, non-citizens will need a second visa. This means it will be very easy for Israel to stop people from going to Palestine altogether. People suspected of being peace activists are already often stopped from entering at the Israeli border. If they were to need a second visa, it would mean many having to find a way of bypassing the wall illegally (as many Palestinians already have to do to find work) in order to get to Palestine. Important international links, such as the international students program I participated in last year with 50 other students, would more or less cease to exist. Essentially Palestine would become a few enclosed areas, isolated and inaccessible, much as Gaza has been in recent years.
The new plans for Palestine also include the development of joint industrial zones throughout the West Bank. International funding for these has been discussed in recent conferences in Paris and Annapolis. These developments are being promoted as a way of developing the Palestinian economy and creating jobs. In reality, they will lead to increased liberalisation and cheap Palestinian labour in these areas. Palestinians already earn only a quarter, on average, of what Israelis earn. The way in which these industrial zones operate means that the only form of labour will be casual day-labour, severely undermining workers organisation and any gains it has made. The involvement of Israel in these joint enterprises will lead to Israel profiting from products which they can claim are Palestinian made when they are exported and sold.
All of this is being carried out through the “peace process”, negotiations that have been continuing for the past 20 years, often involving other nations as well as Israel and Palestine. These negotiations are heavily weighted against Palestinians, who are pressured into huge compromises, while Israel is under no such pressure. Apart from Israel’s own superior military force, they also have the support of the USA, which has never been conditional on Israel meeting their obligations under international law. The US refuses to even speak of the situation as an “occupation”, and whether Republican or Democrat, the government in power has consistently followed a pro-Zionist line. It would take huge popular pressure from Americans to change the governments tactics, and there is little sign of this at the moment. While the EU is more moderate in its language, it still supports Israel. Even when events turn more extreme, the response is mild. While there is some criticism, there is little in the way of action.
The rest of the world has only taken small steps in the direction of helping Palestine. It is crucial for us to recognise the “peace process” for what it is: an attempt to normalise the occupation. This will not lead to a functioning Palestinian state, and therefore cannot lead to a peace that will last. A two state solution will face problems, but if international law is respected and Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, an important first step will have been taken. For this to happen, a change in policies from America and Europe will need to put pressure on Israel, or at least to stop donating the means for Israel to have such a huge military advantage over every other country in the Middle East.
Monday, 23 February 2009
by friend of SLLU, Jenny Haston