Reporting On Palestine


Arnove and Ahmed Shawki

People look back on apartheid South Africa with horror and disgust. But you

don’t have to go to the history books to find out what apartheid is like. You

only need to visit Palestine.

Since

the Oslo peace accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation

Organization in 1993, the United States has acted as if Palestinians all but had

their own state. But try to visit the land that Palestinians supposedly control,

and you realize what a lie that is.

Even

in the small amount of historic Palestine that is now controlled by the

Palestinian Authority is broken into numerous bantustans. The West Bank alone is

divided into 64 sub-regions, with border points controlled by heavily armed

Israeli security guards.

During our visit, one family outside the Palestinian town of Ramallah, had the

second floor of their home seized by the Israeli army for "security" reasons.

While

politicians talk about peace, Israeli settlements continue to expand rapidly on

Palestinian land. Settlements have nearly doubled during the Oslo period —

under both Labor and Likud governments, but more rapidly under Labor. There are

now around 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza and another 200,000 in

Jerusalem.

During our visit, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited a settlement in the Golan

Heights and proclaimed, "Only through developing the Golan, expanding the Jewish

population, expanding the settlements and bringing in new residents … will we

be able to turn the settlement of the Golan to a reality that cannot be

reversed."

One

settlement that we drove by, Ariel, has a university with 6,500 students, a

modern sports complex, and high-speed Internet access. "The faculty says it is

holding fast to … a master plan that calls for 20,000 students [at Ariel] by

the year 2020," the Jerusalem Post reports.

Ariel’s lush lawns are kept green with water taken from Palestinian lands.

Meanwhile, nearby Palestinians living nearby face terrible poverty.

They

also face harassment and routine violence from zealots in the settler movement

who seek to drive even more Palestinians from their land. Olive groves, which

are a staple of the Palestinian economy, are routinely burned down by Israelis.

The army also uproots olive trees as one of its many forms of collective

punishment.

In

Medar, a village near Ariel and a dense cluster of other settlements, a local

agricultural center helping Palestinian farmers was ransacked by settlers.

The

settlers also have a license to kill from the Israeli army. Ahmed Hofash lost

his son Amin last year to a settler who deliberately drove his car off the road

and aimed toward Amin, then aged 7, and his 15-year-old brother. No one from the

IDF came to investigate the murder.

"Nobody cared," says his father.

Most

of Israel’s settlements are connected by Israeli-only bypass roads, modern

highways that cut through Palestinian territory. In contrast, every Palestinian

road is a maze of Israeli "security checkpoints," where Israeli soldiers disrupt

and dominate the lives of every Palestinian.

One

day during our visit, two Palestinians — a woman giving birth and man having a

hear attack — died while being held at Israeli checkpoints.

Other

Palestinian roads have simply been blocked off by the Israeli army with piles of

concrete. "Hundreds of roads were demolished," explains Tayseer Arouri, a

Physics professor at Bir Zeit University and a board member of the Jerusalem

Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, based in Ramallah.

"People living in the western part of Ramallah, they used to have access

directly to Ramallah in twenty minutes. Now they have to follow a road which

goes five, six times longer, with many check posts. They need minimum two hours

to come from Ramallah, sometimes more."

This

spring, students at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah found that one their way to

school one day, the access roads had been closed. Students, faculty, and staff

had to walk through two security checkpoints to get to the campus.

Since

the beginning of the second Intifada last fall, Israel has sealed its borders to

Palestinians — and replaced its Palestinian workers with indentured slaves

brought in from Thailand, Singapore, and other poor countries.

The

Occupied Territories are literally under a state of siege. As a result,

unemployment has skyrocketed, families have been separated, and lives have been

torn apart. In Gaza, unemployment is estimated at 50-70 percent.

Israel has also escalated its campaign of demolishing homes of Palestinians. On

one day during our visit, the Israeli army destroyed fourteen homes in the

Shufat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Residents were given only a day’s notice

that their homes would be torn down because of "permit" violations.

It is

almost impossible for a Palestinian to get a building permit from Israeli

authorities. Israelis, of course, expand their homes with government

encouragement.

"They

came with bulldozers and just tore them down," says Hassan, telling us about the

demolition of his home and 13 others in Shufat. When Hassan, his family,

neighbors, and anti-demolition activists tried to stop the soldiers, they were

beaten. Journalists trying to cover the demolition, and lawyers trying to stop

it, were brutally pushed aside.

Hassan, who walks on crutches because of a childhood case of polio, now has

difficulty making his way through the rubble that remains of his home. Because

of the demolition, Hassan and his brothers, one of whom has scars on his back

from an Israeli soldier’s rifle, are forced to share a small room with their

mother and her grandchildren. One brother was planning to get married, but now

Hassan’s mother fears, "We think she will not come."

The

same week, Israeli’s tore town 22 Palestinian homes in Rafah, a southern town in

the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border. "The only thing I have left is the red

shirt I am wearing," said Mohammed Abu Lideh, whose home was destroyed. "I spent

all my savings to build this house."

In an

even larger demolition during our visit, Israel destroyed the homes of hundreds

of Palestinian shepherds in the South Hebron hills. "The destroyers blocked up

the wells — the source of life for these families that have neither running

water nor electricity," Ha’aretz Magazine reported. "Now hundreds of children

have no roof over their heads in the midsummer sun, and nowhere to go."

Palestinians we met consistently said that their living conditions have dropped

steadily since the PLO signed the Oslo accords with Israel. But everywhere we

went in Palestine, people were clear: They won’t give up their struggle for

their freedom and justice.

Some

day people will look back on the United States’ political, military, and

economic backing of Israel the way they look back on its open support for

apartheid in South Africa. We have to work to make sure that day is soon.

An

extended version of this report will appear at

www.socialistworker.org. To find out about a solidarity rally for

Palestinians planned in Montreal on September 15, visit:

http://www.sphr.org/rally/Rally.htm.

 

 

 

 

 

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