Perpetual Conflict by Israeli Design

And so for a moment or two the slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the destruction in Gaza City has ceased; the oppression, intimidation and terror throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories though continues unabated. The ‘Pillar of Cloud’ has done its destructive work and blown over, until the next time Israel feels the urge to wreak chaos, kill civilians and tear families apart. How many times must we watch this slaughter, how many more tears will be shed, lives ruined, futures denied, as the peace activist Izzeldin Abuelaish in The Observer 18/11/2012 asks “How many more massacres can Palestinians stand? How many can onlookers tolerate?”
During the week long Israeli military storm, and amid the circular argument espoused by the chief Israeli military spokespeople and repeated infinitum by Israel’s spineless allies, that ‘when Hamas stops firing rockets, Israel will cease its brutality’, 162 Palestinians were killed and according to Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights (AMHR) 1,039 injured – half of which were women and children, so much for ‘surgical strikes’ Prime Minister Netanyahu; homes, schools, mosques, Universities, places of work and infrastructure were reduced to rubble. Six Israeli’s died according to the United Nations (OCHA) and 219 injured, from the 1,456 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel. Despite the heavy Palestinian civilian loss of life, in particular children, Netanyahu, who loves a fight, said, the BBC 15/11/2012 report “Israel will do ‘everything in its power’ to avoid civilian casualties in the conflict with Hamas.”
Israel with the fourth most powerful military in the world, thanks largely to the American arms industry, have the ‘monopoly of force in the area’; firing rockets, albeit firecrackers compared to Israel’s sophisticated arsenal, into densely populated areas of the country, will inevitably bring about an excessive reaction from the Israeli armed forces. The bully always responds with overwhelming force, firstly because he usually has it and secondly because he is itching to use it. Human Right Watch (HRW) proclaims that, “there is no justification for Palestinian armed groups unlawfully launching rockets at Israeli population centers.” Sitting comfortably upon the moral high ground, it is easy to pronounce the platitude, that violence is never justified. Live though in what Noam Chomsky describes as “an open air prison,” where intimidation and abuse is a daily affair, manipulation and control the norm, where your dignity has been stolen your liberty denied, where hope is constantly squashed, and remain liberally infused and politically passive; such provocation will (understandably) bring an exasperated scream of frustration and hate, prescribed reactions of the aggressor. In the face of such sustained injustice the wonder is that expressions of anger do not occur all the time.
Assassination & truce
Israel has been carrying out ‘targeted killings’ for years, with America legitimizing extra judicial assassinations there is nothing to stop Mossad or the Israel Air Force (IAF) from killing whoever they like, whenever the choose; Israel is after all, the champion of democracy in an area besieged with unstable dictatorships. The latest IAF assassination of Hamas Commander and negotiator Ahmed Jabari on 17th November, Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, told Haaretz, “killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators ability to function.” The ‘targeted assault’ also killed HRW 15/11/2012 report, “at least five civilians… (and) wounded at least 115 people, including 26 children and 25 women.” Collateral carnage that precisely contradicts Netanyahu’s claims of the IAF’s millimetric accuracy.
Such an action at such a time was guaranteed to illicit the required inflamed response from Hamas, HRW quote a spokesman saying that “Israel would ‘pay a heavy price,’ indicating an intention to resume rocket attacks, suspended in the Baskin truce proposals. Haaretz reported that 85 rockets landed in Israel the day of the assassination,” allowing Israel to unleash it’s baying military; Ever ready, armed and extremely dangerous, waiting with violent anticipation for an excuse, to respond with their customary excessive force.
Shooting civilians in a barrel
Palestinian children continue to be a favourite Israeli target; according to If Americans Knew (IAK) “1477 children have been killed” since the new millennium was rung in. They make up 45% of the Gaza population, a demographic that terrifies an aging Israel, indeed it was a child, 13 year old Abu Daqqa, playing football near his home in Abasan al Kabira who was the first Palestinian to die, the first of 37 children to be taken from their families in this, the latest Israeli killing spree. The frightened, entrapped civilians of Gaza make easy pickings for the Israeli forces, as Norman Finklestein on RT (16/11/12) put it, like ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ it is. In the 2008/9 massacre ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the Israeli militaries last Gaza outing, IAK record, 1,417 residents of Gaza were killed of which B’Tselem calculate 318 were minors.
As would be expected many of the children that survive are traumatized, the Gaza Community Health Programme estimate that “half Gaza’s children – around 350,000 will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder”, the latest attacks on innocent civilians will serve to intensify the children’s mental suffering and anguish. One of the authors of the UN’s Goldstone Report, Colonel Desmond Travers, cited a psychiatrist in Gaza as saying: “children exposed to so much violence they have no option but to terminate their childhood and move into a different frame, (and) the likelihood is that they will never stabilize.” Their childhoods lost, they become radicalized, hateful of those that have killed their parents, brothers, sisters and friends. Hatred and resentment that fulfills the intentions of the aggressor; an enemy is after all essential in the mind of the oppressor, allowing a perverted justification for continued violence and applied suffering.
Cause and destruction
The recent round of killing and mayhem is but the latest in a long series of violent acts perpetrated by Israel. Perspective and appropriate responsibility is apt, intentionally so, to be distorted unless seen in a broad context, a rational requirement of understanding that Israel and its supporters are always at pains to negate. Israel’s carefully planned and interconnected policies that HRW state in ‘Separate & Unequal’ “have no conceivable security justifications” perpetuate suffering and generate conflict, by design: the illegal occupation of the West bank, the siege of the Gaza Strip, extended settlement building, the false imprisonment of Palestinians, men, women and children, the illegal use of the draconian ‘administrative detention’ order, the demolition of Palestinian homes, torture of Palestinians held in Israeli custody, including children, withholding of business permits, blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza and on and on. The list is long, endlessly so, burgeoning with actions that violate all manner of international laws and countless United Nations resolutions, violations that individually and collectively add up to little more than State criminality. Or to give it it’s technical term, conforming to the authoritative US military definition – terrorism. And this, let us add and never forget with the tacit support of America, who bankrolls the whole illegal business. If America Knew (IAK) record that ”during {the} fiscal year 2011, the U.S. provided Israel with at least $8.2 million per day.”
Ideologically driven political positions and cowardly media coverage, which promote the nonsensical argument that the peace loving Israeli bombers are simply reacting, reluctantly, to the cause of the crisis – recent or historical, namely Hamas/Palestinian terror, support and justify continued Israeli violence, hinder peace and serve neither the Israeli population or the Palestinian people. Israel is painted as the victim who once again is being persecuted simply for wanting a homeland for its long-suffering people. Such perverse propaganda omits a mountain of facts, e.g. as IAK state “in every cycle of violence Palestinians are killed first and in far greater numbers,” and perpetuates the injustice and suffering, causing resentment and anger, simmering constantly.
Gaza gasping for air
Israel’s highly restrictive border closures imposed after Hamas was democratically elected to run the enclave in 2006 have according to the CIA country profile , caused “the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets. The population is reliant on large-scale humanitarian assistance led by UN agencies.” Livelihoods have been destroyed unemployment has rocketed to over 40%, with a similar number living below the official poverty line. The 1.65 million residents of Gaza, living on this tiny 320 km. sq. slither of land, are, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “denied the exercise of basic human rights related to access to safe and potable water, sanitation, housing, health, [and] education,” The people are completely isolated and trapped, Israel denies Gaza an operational port, control of its airspace and freedom of movement, either abroad, into the West Bank or across the border into Israel. B’Tselem report, “entry of residents of the Gaza Strip to Israel for family visits or to enable spouses to live together is forbidden.” The West Bank with Gaza is recognized as one territory under the 1995 Oslo Accords, as such one would imagine movement to and from one area to another would be unrestricted, and all resources in particular water would be shared, however as B’Tselem state, the Interim Agreement stipulates “residents of the Gaza Strip … are not allowed to obtain water from the West Bank.”
Israel is suffocating Gaza, destroying its economy and when inclined, its infrastructure and society, B’Tselem again “import and export of goods is limited, and frequently stopped completely. In addition, only a small number of Gazan’s have been allowed to work in Israel, and tens of thousands of Gazan’s have lost their source of income.” It’s worth noting the GDP per capita (2011) of the West Bank/Gaza Strip was $2,900, compared with their Israeli neighbours $31,500. The Sea’s around Gaza are also controlled by Israel, with the exception of a three-mile radius, reduced from the 20 miles stated in the Oslo accord, thereby prohibiting fishing and the docking of international shipping. Injustice and intimidation is the shadow under which the people of the Gaza Strip live. It is time long overdue that their human rights were observed and international law honoured, allowing the men women and children presently persecuted to live decent dignified lives,
Crying out for justice desperate for peace
Peace, the number one priority for humanity, is a universal goal seemingly not shared by Israel’s leaders, certainly not in relation to the Palestinian people. The word has been perverted in the justification of positions of hostility by an Israel that seeks not the implementation of peace and works not for its realization, no matter the politically correct political rhetoric. The word has no meaning when actions that work against peace continue as they do; Peace is however the word of the hour the goal and keynote of the days ahead. Not a sentimental image or some vague ideologically constructed notion of peace, confined in a straight jacket of conditions, but a vibrant living movement that seeks at all costs to address and remove the obstacles to its realization.
The people of Palestine are desperate for peace and no doubt most decent Israelis share this desire. Is there the will amongst the politicians whom the innocent rely on, have Israel’s allies the courage to do what is right for the people; observe and implement International law, remove the diplomatic support and stop funding the occupation. Is there the will to go beyond platitudes and act, for as a wise man has explained, “nothing happens by itself man must act and implement his will”. Let that will be the will of the people for peace, for the ending of death and suffering, for the chance to live together free from fear. To this end the parties must now work. Let an atmosphere of hope be created, for enough pain and suffering has been wrought on the Palestinian people, enough death and heartache, enough anger and insecurity sown into the Israeli people by hateful ambitious leaders.
Let this ‘Pillar of Cloud’ be the storm that reveals a new day of peace and harmony, based on sharing and justice. The choice in the region and more broadly for humanity is stark and clear, share and save the world or continue in the ways of separation, division and violence. Sharing offers the possibility of justice settling upon what was once truly a Holy Land, allowing for trust to be slowly built and peace to gently germinate and flower.
November 2012

Incarcerated inside Israel:Palestinians Tortured and Isolated

Detention without trial, the presumption of guilt, denial of family visits, solitary confinement, torture, violent interrogation, and denial of access to appropriate health care.  Such is the Israeli judicial system and prison confinement experienced by Palestinian men, women and, indeed, children.
Currently there are, according to B’Tselem “4,484 Palestinians – security detainees, confined in Israeli prisons.” Family contact is virtually impossible for prisoners, most of whom are held inside Israel. This contravenes international law in the form of the universally trumpeted Fourth Geneva Convention (Articles 49 & 76), consistently violated and disregarded by Israel.
International laws, legally binding upon Israel, which is not above the rule of law, must be respected and enforced. Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, in the UN news 2/5/12 called “on the international community to ensure that Israel complies with international human rights laws and norms in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners.” The UN makes its feelings clear in the “Question of Palestine Administrative Detention” report (UNQAP) when it says, Israel “has historically ratified international agreements regarding human rights protection, whilst at the same time refusing to apply the agreements within the Occupied Palestinian Territory, attempting to create legal justifications for its illegal actions.” A comprehensive list of international legally binding agreements dutifully signed, ratified and consequently disregarded by various Israeli governments are cited by the UN, which sits hands tied, impotent it seems in the face of Israel’s illegal and violent occupation (a fact that cannot be stated often or loudly enough), submissive to the imperialist Godfather. America.
Since the six-day war in 1967 an estimated 750,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated in Israeli prisons, including 23,000 women and 25,000 children. This constitutes, Richard Falk states, “approximately 20 per cent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied territory or 40 per cent of the Palestinian male population there.” These staggering figures indicate a whole nation is being held captive and intimidated by an illegal occupying power in their homeland.
Hungry for Justice
On May 14th a major hunger strike by Palestinians held captive within Israeli prisons ended, just in time to save the lives of two prisoners close to death, having not eaten for 77 days. They were protesting their treatment in custody, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) use of solitary confinement, torture during interrogation and inside prison and administrative detention, which allows for incarceration without charge. The peaceful action initiated by two men held under the draconian administrative detention order in late February, grew into a mass action, which began on April 17th with, Amnesty estimates, 2,000 prisoners on hunger strike.
Israel, through the IPS, responded to the strike with their customary brutality, assaulting striking detainees and imposing, according to Amnesty in “Starved of Justice. Palestinians detained without Trial,” “systematic measures to punish hunger-striking prisoners and detainees and pressure them to end their strikes, putting their lives at risk. These measures included solitary confinement; preventing the detainees from contact with family members and lawyers; refusing to transfer hunger strikers whose health was in danger to hospitals suitable for their condition.” In fact, these were many of the very issues the strikers were protesting.
An agreement was reached between the Palestinian prisoners and the IPS, in which The United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL; June 4th, 2012) reports,“Israel committed to meeting some of the prisoners’ demands in exchange for security guarantees.” The UN goes on to say, “As part of the deal, Israel committed to ease conditions as long as prisoners refrained from “security activity” inside Israeli prisons, such as “recruiting people for terrorist mission.”
By ‘easing conditions’ Israel committed to move prisoners from solitary confinement into the main block — they ought not have been held in isolation to begin with — and agreed to allow family visits from Gaza, denied since June 2007 when Hamas, to the fury of Israel, was democratically elected and took over governance of the Gaza Strip. However, “limitations” are to be placed upon family visits, the details of which Israel has yet to clarify. Ambiguity — a weapon of control and manipulation utilised by the occupying power. In addition they conceded to “ease restrictions on visits from the West Bank, and improve the conditions under which ‘security prisoners’ are being held.” All sufficiently vague as to be impossible to enforce or monitor.
They also agreed to not extend the detention of those being held under — the contentious and illegal — “administrative detention order,” providing there is no “new information that requires their detention.” Such ‘new information’ would no doubt be conveniently filed within top-secret folders, and remain undisclosed on ‘security’ reasons, a term increasingly and universally employed to justify the unjust in a World built on fear and the perpetuation of injustice.
All measures written into the agreement are long overdue, they constitute the minimum conditions that should be adhered to within any law-abiding society and, if implemented, would be a positive move. It should not, however, take a large group of starving men to force Israel to observe prisoners’ human rights including due process of law.
Israel’s concessions, though, are indifferent to the rule of law, carefully designed to be easily manipulated and over time forgotten. As Aber Issa Zakarni, the wife of Abadallah Zakarni, an imprisoned member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and one of those on hunger strike, told IRIN:

If this agreement is implemented, it means a great victory for us and for human rights. But I am also scared. In the end everything might just stay the same.

Her fears are well placed.  A month after the deal was agreed Amnesty International in its detailed report “Starved of Justice: Palestinians detained without trial by Israel” found:

The Israeli authorities had agreed as part of the deal to release administrative detainees at the end of their current orders “unless significant new information was received”, our information is that it is business as usual when it comes to detention without charge or trial.  Israel has renewed at least 30 administrative detention orders and issued at least three new ones since this deal was struck, and family visits for Gazan prisoners have still not started.

This failure by Israel to honour the agreement, their word and signature, will surprise nobody but disappoint many. The Israeli authorities cannot be trusted, close monitoring of any agreements the IPS/IDF sign  is required and clear methods of implementation and indeed enforcement are necessary, although historically neither happen. For standing behind Israel, supporting them ideologically and diplomatically, arming and financing every area of illegal action of the occupation of Palestine, is of course their partner in crime, America.
Imperialist Measures
A key issue in the hunger strikers protest was administrative detention, a brutal relic from an imperial past. The darkest page within a catalogue of abuse and judicial arrogance, it is one of a series of suppressive measures written into the “Defence (Emergency) Regulations”, that formed part of the British authorities rule-book in mandatory Palestine to control the “Great Arab Revolt” against British colonial rule and the influx of Jews in 1937. The draconian regulations were quietly pasted and copied into Israeli domestic legislation in 1948, where they remain, legitimizing actions such as house demolitions, extensive stop and search measures, the imposition of curfews, and indefinite administrative detention.
Administrative detention (AD) gives the occupying Israeli authorities the power to detain Palestinians (or indeed Israelis) without charge, withhold any evidence and to hold them “presumed guilty” and as B’Tselem states, “since detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it.” With no notification of the “crime” for which they are being held, negating all process of law and assuming guilt until proven innocent, it (AD) is, as the UN (UNQAP) describes, “a procedure whereby a person is detained without charge or trial.”
The observation of due process of law is a fundamental human right. The European Convention on Human Rights report on Due Process, states, “the rights to an effective remedy, to access to court/fair trial, to fair trial in criminal matters, to reputation, to freedom of movement and to property are all contained in the UDHR (Articles 8, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 17 respectively).” Administrative detention is only allowed under international law in extreme circumstances.  It should, the UN report (UNQAP) makes clear “be used as a last resort and on an individual, case by case basis.” Far from being exceptional, over the past year the number of administrative detentions has almost doubled, as of March 2012, from a total of 4,610 Palestinians being held captive, B’Tselem states: “Israel was holding 320 in administrative detention”.
Administrative detention should not, the UN goes on to say, “be used as a substitute for criminal prosecution when there is insufficient evidence.” As it clearly is being used by Israel, whose use of AD, like, of course, pretty much everything the Israeli forces are doing within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, “does not meet international standards set by international law” (UNQAP). The UN report found that Israel contravenes the laws that apply to the use of administrative detention, the list of violations warrants inclusion in full. Israel:
  • Widely practices the use of torture and corporal punishment;
  • Deports and incarcerates administrative detainees outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory;
  • Uses administrative detention as a form of collective punishment;
  • Engages in humiliating and degrading treatment of administrative detainees;
  • Administrative detainees are usually not informed precisely of the reasons for their detention;
  • Is obliged to release administrative detainees as soon as the reason for the detention ceases to exist;
  • Detainees are not given the right to communicate with their families.
  • Israel fails to separate administrative detainees from the regular prison population;
  • The conditions of detention regularly fall below an adequate standard required by international law; and, in the case of child detainees, Israel regularly fails to take into account the best interests of the child as required under international law.
The tone of frustration is heard within every exasperated UN sentence. Israel tramples on international law, believing itself above and beyond its reach; laws, which, when dutifully lined up in opposition to Israeli criminality and abuse, and consistently implemented would be giant steps in righting the wrongs daily inflicted upon the Palestinian people and creating the conditions for peaceful co-existence.
Administrative Abuse
Detainees under administrative detention are sentenced to periods of six months, at the end of which the term may, and inevitably is, repeated, without limit. Those held captive are not informed if they will be released or held for a further six months until the end of their current term. The IPS manipulates inmates, tormenting them with promises of liberty and threats of incarceration, cultivating hope in order only to crush it, maximizing suffering and control. Human Rights Watch in “Israel: Stop Jailing People Without Charge,” reports the case of one of the hunger strikers, Tha’er Halahleh, 33 years of age:  “Israel has held him in administrative detention a number of times since 2000, for a total of more than four years in jail without charge or trial.” Four years made up of six-month terms. As well as being illegal under international law (as the UN report makes clear), this is psychological torture, not only for the prisoners but their families , who, as Amnesty International in (SOJ) make clear, suffer great anxiety. “Administrative detainees and their families must live with the uncertainty of not knowing how long they will be deprived of their liberty and the injustice of not knowing exactly why they are being detained.”
Arrests and detention without charge based all too often on spurious “evidence” secured by the unaccountable and secretive Israeli intelligence agency, whose claims cannot be verified, must stop, a legitimate demand human rights groups have been making for decades.  Amnesty (SOJ), for one, has “urged Israel to end the practice of administrative detention and to release detainees or charge them with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and try them according to international standards” Even Israel’s supreme spinner, Mark Regev, seems to agree.  In a report in the The Guardian(13/5/2012) he stated:  “We would prefer administrative detention was only used when there was no alternative”.  Sadly, though, as Regev, explained:  “In some cases you can’t expose in a public forum your confidential sources and methods because it may put lives at risk.” By “sources”, one suspects he is obliquely alluding to Guantanamo Bay, where the use of torture is a useful method employed to elicit or coerce whatever information, coined evidence is required.
Adding Torture and Insult to Injury 
Whilst held by Israel Administrative detainees “regular” Palestinian prisoners suffer verbal and physical abuse. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) 2011 report details:

Methods of torture included: insults; beating using batons, sharp tools, feet and hands; tying the feet and hands to a chair and beating with batons or wires; and other methods. Additionally, detainees were held in cells or small rooms, were placed in solitary confinement, and were forced to stand for long hours in cold weather or under the sun.

All are illegal under international law, in the form of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The practice of isolating inmates completely from their family constitutes another form of torture.  Palestinian prisoners are not allowed family visits, are denied access to health care which contributes to deteriorating health for those with serious and chronic illness.  In addition they face forcible transfers, deportation and solitary confinement.
Words and Action
The UN secretary General, Ban ki-Moon in The Guardian (13/5/12) “urged that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees or released without delay.” To all rational minded people, this is the correct and right course of action, echoed by Amnesty (SOJ): “Israel has a duty to uphold due process and fair trial rights, and to take effective action to end torture and other ill treatment of detainees.” Fine words; however, Israel does not listen to such pronouncements.
It is time long overdue that Israel was treated as the criminal state it is, one that disregards the law, tramples on human rights and sees itself as unaccountable. Action is needed to support such calls for the observation of human rights and to enforce the repeated demands for justice. Let Israel, who has imprisoned a nation’s people, be placed in solitary confinement, subjected to sanctions and forced to honour agreements and the rule of law, international and, indeed, domestic.
Perhaps then, after so many painful years, the suffering of the Palestinian people would come to an end and a gentle peace would be allowed to settle upon what was once the Holy Land.
August 2012

Confined Cruelty: Israeli Treatment of Palestinian Minors

For many Palestinian children their childhood is lived under a cloak of fear, and the threat of violence and abuse at the hands of an armed force that stalks the streets of their homeland.
In the eleven years since 2000, Israeli forces have killed “1,471” (1) children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the bulk of which are aged between 13 and 17 years old. The children of Gaza have been and continue to be at greater risk, with almost a thousand murdered in the last twelve years, on the streets of their city, on their way to and from school, whilst playing with friends, shopping for their family or simply relaxing in their homes. Most are shot randomly, indiscriminately, or killed as a result of Israeli air and ground attacks. Around 50 were taken prematurely from their families by unexploded ordnance.
This latest attack on the people of Gaza began on Friday 9th March, “killing 25 Palestinians.” (2) The Israeli air force fired missiles from the comfort of their warplanes at civilians in an arbitrary way, shooting onto the streets of Gaza and into peoples homes, “in the Jabaliya refugee camp that were mostly full of women and children,” (PM) The faceless attackers even shot at mourners attending a funeral. Such is the callous, vicious nature of the Israeli security forces, that kills, injures and intimidates innocent women and children, destroying all hope of living peaceful decent lives, and all in the name of ‘security’. Nonsense, this is criminal violence nothing more or less. These most recent atrocities come on the back of the massacre that took place in December ‘08/January’09, when a total of “1417” (IOAK) Palestinians were murdered, of which ‘318” (IOAK) were children and 116 women. Fresh in the children’s young memories lie the echo of that horrendous time, the constant bombardment, the loss of loved ones, and the shootings. In addition to the deaths around 1000 children were injured in the three-week assault, many children were left with severe physical disabilities and deep psychological wounds. The mental/emotional effects more difficult to see and or to treat than broken bones and scared flesh. “The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that half Gaza’s children – around 350,000 – will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.” (3) This is staggering but unsurprising, and the attacks this March on unarmed civilians, will serve to intensify the mental suffering and anguish that these children are living with, “both parents and psychologist fear that Gaza children could be affected psychologically in the long run.” (OP)
Children make up around 45% of the four million or so total Palestinian population in the occupied territories (4) – a fact that terrifies an aging Israel. And what impact does living under the brutal Israeli occupation have on them, are they inclined towards peace and brotherhood, is tolerance fostered in their hearts and minds or are the seeds of hate and the desire for revenge being carefully sown. Does violence ever bring peace, or perpetuate conflict. Violence we see begets not harmony but further violence. Colonel Travers: “we spoke to a psychiatrist in Gaza,” (5) who said, “We already see in our schools in Gaza the next generation of Hamas revolutionaries, children exposed to so much violence, they have no option but to terminate their childhood and move into a different frame, and the likelihood is that they will never stabilize.”(Ibid) In order to justify the un justifiable, the unjust Israel needs to instil hate into another generation of Palestinians – to maintain their (Israel’s) position as the ‘enemy within’, thereby excusing in some perverted distortion of the facts, their continued aggression, violence and violation of international laws, too many to count.
Intimidation and Torture
Palestinian children living in the West Bank and the Gaza strip under the illegal Israeli occupation are subjected to brutal treatment, illegal imprisonment, torture and intimidation by the Israeli security forces. Defence for Children International states “a pattern of systematic ill-treatment [of Palestinian children] emerges, [from their report ‘Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted’] much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture – both of which are absolutely prohibited.” (6) Since 1967 Palestinian children as well as adults have been subjected to Israeli Military Law, a legal system based on prejudice and short on justice. In the time since this emergence system was instigated 726,000 Palestinians have been arrested and detained. The numbers of children arrested and taken from their homes is shocking. “In the past 11 years alone, around 7,500 children, some as young as 12 years, are estimated to have been detained, interrogated, and imprisoned within this ‘system. This averages out at between 500-700 children per year, or nearly two children, each and every day.” (BBCC) Mostly the arrested children live in villages in areas of tension, “friction points, namely settlements built in violation of international law, and roads used by the Israeli army or settlers.” (Ibid) The situation seems to be escalating particularly in certain areas of the West bank. “The extreme Golani Unit of the Israeli military is escalating its arrests of Palestinian children in Al Khalil (Hebron), targeting boys between the ages of 12 to15 years old with at least 10 reported cases of child arrests made (in early February 2012) just in the span of one week.” (7)
As well arrests, incarceration in solitary confinement has also increased, with almost a quarter of all children arrested being held in isolation. Children, mainly boys, aged from 12 to 17 years old are forcefully taken from their family, often at night, imprisoned in a tiny, dank cell, illegally beaten and tortured, intimidated and on occasion subjected to electronic shock treatment. Most children are detained for the terrible crime of throwing stones at soldiers armed with M16 rifles and tear gas, all courtesy of the American arms industry. 
Like 15-year-old Yahia, who, with four friends was arrested and taken to the [illegal] Israeli settlement of Zuffin, where there “hands tied behind their backs, they were blindfolded, before being forced to kneel on the ground for several hours.” (BBCC)The inevitable insults then began to rein down on the children. “After about two and a half hours the boys were loaded into a truck and transported to a police station … the boys were interrogated … the interrogator grabbed the boys head and slammed it against the wall, slapping him twice, a short time later he returned holding a small electric shock device [Taser]. ‘He placed the device on my body and I felt a great powerful shock and my body started shivering’. This shock treatment continued until ‘I couldn’t feel my arms or legs and I felt extreme pain in my head. I felt I was going to be paralysed, so I decided to confess”(BBCC) In another example of torturous abuse at the hands of the Israelis, there is 16-year-old Mohammad Shabrawi from the West Bank town of Tulkarm, arrested in January 2001, again accused of throwing stones. His ordeal mirrors in part that of Yahia – taken to a settlement, his hands tied and being forced blindfolded to kneel on the asphalt for an hour or so, before being taken to “Cell 36, deep within Al Jalame prison in northern Israel.”(8) Reports The Guardian: “It is one of a handful of cells where Palestinian children are locked in solitary confinement for days or even weeks. One 16-year-old claimed that he had been kept in Cell 36 for 65 days.” (Ibid) Mohammad spent “17 days in solitary, apart from interrogations. He first saw a lawyer 20 days after his arrest, he said, and was charged after 25 day” And the effect of this terrible ordeal on the boy, “Since his release, he said, he was “now afraid of the army, afraid of being arrested.” His mother said he had become withdrawn.” (Ibid) 
The use of hand ties and blindfolds is extensive, in 2010 the UN documented 90 cases of “ill treatment” (9) of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, of which 75 had their hands tied behind their backs and were also blindfolded. Almost a third of children were under 15 years of age. Of the 90 detained “62 children reported being beaten, 35 children reported position abuse and 16 children were kept in solitary confinement. In three cases, children reported the use of electric shocks on their bodies. Particularly concerning was the fact that there was an increase in documented cases of sexual violence” (UNDOPI). All of this contravenes international law and conventions signed and ratified by Israel and the democratic principles Israel so loudly proclaims. Mark Regev, the chief Israeli purveyor of propaganda and deceit, and Spokesman for Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu said, according to the Guardian, “The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors.”(TG) Democracy damned by words of duplicity. Much of the mistreatment exercised towards Palestinian children not only contravenes international law, but also violates Israel’s own domestic laws. 
When in Israeli custody children are violently interrogated; they are shackled, blindfolded and bound to a chair whilst being questioned. According to Israeli Law, “Interrogation of a minor may be conducted only by an interrogator who is trained as a youth interrogator. A parent is allowed to be present at all times,” (10) and ”Minors have the right to consult with the parent before the interrogation.” (BTSR) They are verbally insulted “You’re a dog, a son of a whore is common. Many are exhausted from sleep deprivation. Day after day they are fettered to the chair, then returned to solitary confinement.” (TG) Eventually the majority of children sign confessions that they later state were coerced, “Children under interrogation unsurprisingly eventually admit to the ‘crimes’, DCI “in the end at least 90 percent will plead guilty, as this is the quickest way out of a system that denies children bail in 87 percent of cases.”(BBCC) Accusations of crimes justifying these illegal detentions are commonly, throwing stones, or occasionally Molotov cocktails at soldiers or settlers – both of whom let us remember are illegally present upon Palestinian land. A few are arrested for “more serious offences such as links to militant organisations or using weapons,” states the Guardian
Major Violation, Minor Insecurity
And what ‘National security information’ is being elicited from the interrogation of these children, who the Israelis are abusing? “They are pumped for information about the activities and sympathies of their classmates, relatives and neighbours.” (TG)) Within walls of intimidation a child can be forced to betray their friends and families, eliciting the names of other stone throwers is a primary aim of the torturer. B’Tselem: “One method the police use to identify juvenile stone throwers is incrimination: the police arrest one or more youths, they are required to give names of other youths whom they saw throwing stones, and these youths are then arrested and required to provide the names of others, and so on.”(BTSR) The children under interrogation in a frightening isolated place, far from the sanctity of home, are under great emotional stress and inevitably give up the names of friends, the experience then compounded by the added trauma of guilt.
Children are mostly held inside Israel itself, which restricts access to legal support and excludes family members from visiting, their freedom of movement is constrained under the occupation, the necessary permit to visit the prisons is often impossible to obtain. Families are therefore unable to support their children through the ordeal of confinement. Holding children in prisons inside Israel is in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers. According to DCI, “testimonies [from 310 children] reveal that the majority of children are taken away to an unknown location for interrogation.” (BBCC) This process of arrests, detention and torture operating inside Israel and outside international and national law, offers the victims no legal recourse, DCI (“there is a general absence of effective complaint mechanisms.” (Ibid)
Legally Binding, Illegally Bound
The Israeli judicial system as it currently pertains to Palestinian children, allows illegal practices to take place within the walled settlements –themselves illegal, inside police stations and Israeli prisons. International law on the rights of the child, to which Israel is bound, is clear and extensive: “The main document establishing the rights of children is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in November 1989. Israel signed the Convention in July 1990 and ratified it in August 1991.”(BTSR) In the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, we find: “Condemning the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals.” (11) Schools are repeatedly targeted by Israeli security forces, according to the UN in 2010 there was an increase in the number of attacks on education institutions. The Un continues its findings, “these attacks resulted in damage to schools or interruption of education, placing the safety of the children in Gaza and the West Bank at risk. The majority of cases involved the presence of Israeli security forces within school compounds following raids, forceful entry, and search and arrest operations, including the use of tear gas on students.” (UNDOPI) All international treaties and conventions signed by the lawbreaker, Israel, safeguard children in conflict, and Israel ignores them all. DCI: “These treaties relevantly provide that: in all actions concerning children their best interests shall be a primary consideration; children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;” (BBCC) Held for ‘17 days in solitary’ as Mohammed was, is neither short nor appropriate, indeed it is illegal. It is one example within a catalogue of atrocities that sees Israel contravening another convention, breaking yet another international law and doing so with impunity. This must stop, urgent action is required to safeguard the children of Palestine and protect them from the tyranny that is Israeli policy in the OPT’s. 
In order to fuel what is a raging furnace of legal standards raging around Israel, let us add The Fourth Geneva Convention, which “grants special protections to minors” (IOAK) and provides 146 articles that protect in law the lives of all Palestinians living under the illegal Israeli occupation. Israel is in breach of them all. Indeed ‘grave breaches’, which in itself constitutes war crimes, “the world has seen those [grave breaches] inflicted every day by Israel against the Palestinian People living in occupied Palestine: e.g., wilful killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army and Israel’s illegal paramilitary settlers.” (Ibid)  Israel is guilty of ‘grave breaches’ of the convention and the more serious offense of ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ against Palestinians “as determined by the U.N. Human Rights Commission” (Ibid), which is the “legal precursor to the international crime of genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” (Ibid) The argument that Israel is or has in fact already committed the crime of genocide, is powerful and to many indisputable. 
Genocide, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, crimes against humanity; titles that all fit Israel bespoke. Call it what you will, the actions of Israel in the OPT’s are vile, murderous, calculated and illegal. It is for the international community acting in unity, and led by the UN to finally stand up and act to protect the lives of the innocent men, women and children of Palestine, lifting the shadow of constant fear, intimidation and aggression from their lives. Humanity is one. Together we must stand in the face of injustice, violence and hate to safeguard the lives of the innocent, the oppressed the defenceless.
March 2012
(1) If only Americans Knew. (IOAK)
(2) The Palestine monitor (PM) 13th March 2012
(3) Occupied Palestine (OP) 17th March 2012 
(4) See Wikipedioa
(5) See Mondoweiss.  
(6) Defence for Children International report, bound-blindfolded-and-convicted-children-held-military-detention-2012 (BBCC)  
(7) See International Solidarity Movement
(8) The Guardian (TG) The Palestinian children – alone and bewildered – in Israel’s Al Jalame jail 
(9) United Nations Developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel (UNDOPI)
(10) B’TSELEM report No Minor Matter: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors Arrested by Israel on Suspicion of Stone-Throwing (BTSR)
(11) OHCHR  Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict

Homes Destroyed, Land stolen, Lives Shattered: Criminal Demolition in the OPT’s

Within the catalogue of criminality that is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the destruction of Palestinian homes must rank as one of the most cynical and heinous. “Some 90,000 people are currently reported to be at risk of displacement as a result of Israeli policies such as restrictive and discriminatory planning, the revocation of residency rights, the expansion of settlements and the construction of the West Bank Separation Wall.”1 All, let us note and explore further, with the tacit engagement of America, which bankrolls the entire operation.
A home should be a refuge from the world, safe and secure, but this simple image of normality is unknown to many Palestinians living under the brutal illegal occupation by Israel. “The Israeli practice of demolishing homes, basic infrastructure and sources of livelihoods continues to devastate Palestinian families and communities in East Jerusalem and the 60 per cent of the West Bank controlled by Israel, known as Area C. Many of the people affected already live in poverty, and demolitions are a leading cause of their on-going displacement and dispossession in the West Bank.”2
Last year (2011) saw more homes demolished than in the previous six years, and record numbers of people made homeless and displaced: “By November 2011 Israeli authorities had demolished 467 Palestinian homes and other buildings in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), displacing 869 people.”3 The UN puts the figure even higher, at 1000. (HRWHD) Alongside the illegal destruction of Palestinian homes, the settlement expansion has accelerated and with it, according to Human Rights Watch, “an escalation of violence perpetrated by settlers.”
The total number of recorded house demolitions since the occupation began in 1967 is estimated to be “24,813”.4 With Palestinians perversely being forced to either demolish their own home or face a charge for the IDF to do it, some homeowners undertake the task themselves: “It [the family] is liable for the costs of the house demolition which can run up to tens of thousands of dollars. To avoid these costs, Palestinians subject to administrative house demolitions may ‘opt’ to undertake the demolition of their own home -it is not known how many Palestinians choose this route.”5 These ‘homemade’ demolitions will not be included in the (IAK) figure quoted, making the actual total much higher. Let us ponder for a moment on the absurdity of living under the cloud of an illegal authority that forces families to bulldoze their own home.
Lives demolished
The impact on the families whose homes are demolished and the effects, immediate and long-term, are devastating. Children are particularly vulnerable, as too are pregnant women and the elderly. Families are displaced and separated, children made homeless, frightened and unsettled for years. “Children who have had their home demolished fare significantly worse on a range of mental health indicators, including: withdrawal, somatic complaints, depression/anxiety, social difficulties, higher rates of delusional, obsessive, compulsive and psychotic thoughts, attention behavior – even six months after the demolition. They cry more, are afraid to go to school, feel they are not loved or that others are bad to them, feel guilty, nervous and are very tense.” (BH)
House demolitions add to the numbers of Palestinian refugees, who constitute the largest single group of refugees in the world: “In 2007, there were an estimated seven million Palestinian refugees worldwide and 450,000 internally displaced in Israel and the OPT.” (BH)
Propaganda permitting violence
As well as the demolition of homes, places of work, businesses and sources of livelihood are destroyed, in addition to basic groundwork, including “wells, rainwater harvesting cisterns, and other essential structures”. (HRHD) When in the West Bank in 2009 I witnessed numerous roadside market stalls outside Hebron being demolished. I counted eight smashed to ruin or in the process of being destroyed at the hands of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). “Most demolitions in 2011 affected livelihood structures, negatively affecting the sources of income and living standards of some 1,300 people.”6The reason given? “Palestinians set up shop without the required official permits.” (ISOPT)
Israeli explanations justifying demolitions are of no consequence, serving only as propaganda, seeking to justify the unjust, the illegal, the inhumane. The nonsense of permits tramples on sanity. It is the Israeli authorities (in particular the IDF) who grant, or refuse to grant, permits for various aspects of daily life: housing, importing goods, travel, trading and infrastructure development, such as water pipes, electrical lines, communication, etc. The IDF claims that it only destroys homes which are built without a permit (13%), or for “military reasons” (41%); this is disingenuous nonsense.
This bureaucratic maze of madness, established, maintained and administered as an instrument of control, adds to the armoury employed by Israel to bring Palestinians to their knees. There exists a system of “military law (that) systematically deprives Palestinians of their rights and denies them the ability to have any real effect on shaping the policy regarding the land space in which they live and with respect to their rights.”
The two-tier legal structure installed by the occupying force is designed and implemented to maximise the suffering of the Palestinians, leaving them with no choice but to live outside the system. “Israel’s discriminatory planning restrictions result in the lack of building permits for the Palestinian population in the West Bank forcing them to build without permits and live under the constant threat of eviction and demolition.” (ISOPT) 
Flouting conventions.
Whilst Palestinian homes and essential structures are destroyed, Israelis living comfortably and secure within the illegal settlements are allowed to flout the law. Peace Now has documented “a dramatic increase in the number of new illegal buildings in the settlements, construction is proceeding according to plans that were never approved by the IDF. At least 507 unapproved housing units are currently being built in 29 settlements”. These (Israeli) developments are not subject to a demolition order, even though they are building without the necessary permits which are supposedly “compulsory” under Israeli law. “House demolitions exercised exclusively against Palestinians have displaced thousands of families, while neglecting to enforce the planning laws on Israeli settlers.” (ISOPT) Contradictions abound, exposing the IDF’s actions as a web of dishonesty and deception.
Israel has no legitimacy in establishing such regulations or requirements for permits. No right, under international law, to build in the occupied territories or to create subsidised settler ghettos, or to destroy the structures of those who do so without their permission. Full and complete domination of Palestinians is the Israeli aim, with all land under Israeli control; as the unlamented Israeli leader Menachem Begin once said, “The return of even one bit of earth to the Arab would be a betrayal of the nation.”
The demolition of homes, infrastructure and places of livelihood, are illegal under international law. “The systematic policy of house demolitions carried out against Palestinian residents in Jerusalem contravenes the 4th Geneva Convention which forbids ‘any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons’ except where such destruction is rendered ‘absolutely necessary’ by military operations.”8 Furthermore, “extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly constitutes a grave breach to the Convention, which can theoretically be prosecuted under the universal jurisdiction of States party to the convention.”9 Theory needs to turn into action, collective complacency giving way to international outrage; the law needs to be implemented and enforcedaw.
Add to the above a raft of relevant articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), where we find “Article 9, 1 State Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his/her parents against their will; Articles 24, 1: States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. Article 27, 1: States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. Article 31: The right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts, and crucially, Article 38: State parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.”10 All are implicitly relevant in the impact of house demolitions on children.  A plethora of International law engulfs Israel. What is required and most urgently is the implementation and enforcement of the law.
Quiet please, Ethnic transfer
The demolition policy is a tool of terror in a planned campaign, with the clear intention of subjugation, control and intimidation. House demolitions are tied-in with the overall strategy of expansion by Israel and the realisation of imperialist goals; “the grand design of Judaic-Zionist expansionist doctrine is to seize all the oil-rich lands from the shores of the Euphrates to the banks of the Nile”.11 This includes the continuing illegal settlement building, violence at the hands of settlers and the IDF. “Israel has continued to flout agreements for a moratorium on illegal construction in Israeli settlements, evictions of Palestinian families to make way for incoming settlers continue apace,”12and “throughout the eastern half of the city [Jerusalem] nonstop pressure is applied as part of ‘silent transfer’.” (GHD)
The “silent transfer” is far from quiet or peaceful. It is the violent, forced eviction and displacement of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. It refers to the technique by the IDF of disempowering the Palestinians and extinguishing all hope by making daily life tortuous, leading to the voluntary “transfer” of East Jerusalem citizens out of the city into the West Bank. “The increasing rate of settlement expansion and house demolitions is pushing Palestinians to the brink, destroying their livelihoods and prospects for a just and durable peace.” (HRWHD) Just after Christmas last year, “Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced plans to strip IDs from 70,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and transfer them to the West Bank civil administration. Though not a physical transfer, this stripping of IDs will mark the largest en masse stripping of citizenship rights, since 1967.” The process of ethnic cleansing continues apace in Jerusalem; it is illegal, so implement and enforce the law.
Intimidation, unjust house building controls, the theft and rationing of water and the issuing of demolition notices constitute a methodology of suffering underpinning the policy of “silent transfer” in East Jerusalem. “Once [Palestinians] leave, they rescind their rights to Jerusalem ID papers, destroying any hopes of employment in Israel proper – effectively keeping them caged in the poverty of the West Bank forever.” (GHD) Homes, infrastructure and businesses are demolished within East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank: “the rate and the method of house demolitions show that this is more a policy of gradual ethnic cleansing than anything else, with clear political and strategic purposes.”13
Everything Israel does inside the OPTs forms a constituent part of an overall plan, a vision of total domination. Demolitions are no exception to this rule. “Each demolition is a microcosm of the occupation: why they are demolishing a particular house in a particular area exposes how the wider occupation works and how the process of house demolitions is contributing to the wider occupation. We want to unmask the way Israel frames the occupation as a conflict of security. The policy of house demolitions shows exactly the opposite. In more than 90% of the cases the families whose house was demolished didn’t have a security record. House demolitions go hand in hand with land expropriation for settlements expansion.”14
Settlement building is illegal under international law: so implement and enforce the law.
American partners in crime
Israel disregards international law, with the support and involvement of its chief ally and partner in crime, America. Every time a Caterpillar bulldozer from the US storehouse of suffering smashes into a Palestinian home, Israel commits another illegal act and the US corporate giant is an accessory to a crime, causing ever more human agony and distress. “Caterpillar [has a] long history of complicity in widespread human rights violations within the occupied Palestinian Territories. Caterpillar routinely provides Israel with equipment designed specifically for military use knowing it is used to demolish Palestinian homes, to kill and injure Palestinian and international civilians, to destroy olive trees and farmland, and to facilitate expropriation of Palestinian territory through construction of Jewish-only settlements and Israel’s apartheid wall.”15
America is the supplier of all that destroys and contaminates in the OPTs, from white phosphorous bombs burning the children of Gaza to Caterpillar bulldozers demolishing their homes. “The U.S. is providing Israel with at least $8.2 million each day” (IAK) in military aid alone. Amnesty International’s report Fuelling Conflict states, “transferring weapons to a consistent violator of human rights is illegal under international law.” Norman Finkelstein, referring to Amnesty’s findings, says”Israel is a consistent violator of human rights, [emphasis mine] and therefore there has to be a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.” The consistent supplying of arms by America to Israel maintains and sustains the occupation; “the US is by far the biggest supplier of weapons to Israel; supplying those weapons to Israel is not only illegal under international law, it’s illegal under domestic US law.”16.” So, implement and enforce the law, international and domestic, within America and the OPTs.
Those sitting in comfort, shrouded in complacency, within the White House know well what US corporations are supporting, where US arms are deployed and what consecutive US administrations’ silence is allowing to continue. By its support the US is condoning the steady on-going demolition of homes and the destruction of lives. And what words of condemnation and righteousness issue from the Obama administration, which only pays lip-service to justice, the rule of law and the truth. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “described the demolitions as ‘unhelpful’, noting that they violated Israel’s obligations under the US ‘road map’ for peace.”17 The US “road map for peace” is a blood-soaked road of shame leading directly and swiftly nowhere. Do not pass go, do not rebuild your homes, do not re-establish your homeland and do not for a moment believe in justice, the legitimacy of international law, where America/Israel is concerned, or the promise of freedom. At the hands of a broker, whose vision is not of peace ‑ “the US has blocked the two state-vision supported by virtually the entire world since the mid 1970s”18 ‑ but of extended hegemony and dominance, throughout the Middle East and the world.
Any “road map” to peace could be navigated swiftly and traversed gently were America to withdraw the manifest support it gives to Israel; the diplomatic, economic and military tools that are fuelling the illegal occupation and causing untold suffering to the Palestinian people.
The days are numbered for such tyranny and injustice; even the world’s richest, most heavily armed nation cannot stand for long in the face of the emerging world superpower, that of the people of the world. A growing wind of change builds in strength daily around the globe, shining light into the darkest corners ‑ and there are few darker than Israel ‑ sustaining all those who call for justice, freedom and unity. All that would pervert and soil the life of men women and children everywhere shall be exposed and seen for what it is. Goodness will out, justice shall be done. So implement and enforce the law.
February 2012
[2] (UNRWA)
[3] (HRWIP)
[4] (IAK)
[5] Broken Homes. Addressing the Impact of house demolitions on Palestinian children and families. (BH) Save The Children (UK)
[6] Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan. Report of the Secretary-General (ISOPT)
[8] (ICAHD) – House Demolitions and International Law
[12] The Guardian. 15th July 2010 (GHD)
[14] with Angela Goldstein
[17] March 2009
[18] Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival, Americas quest for Global Dominance.

Unsettled, Unlawful, Unresolved: Israeli Settlers in a Foreign Land

Violence, abuse, non-accountability, hate, such is communal living today within the occupied West Bank, where some 518,974 colonisers[1] sit within “200”[2] illegal settlements. Noam Chomsky, “The settlements cover over 42% of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), not counting the Jordon valley, which they are taking over”[3] Estimates of colonisation vary from the 42% reported by Chomsky and BT Salem to that of Human Rights Watch who at 60% set the figure even higher.
Around half a million ‘settlers’, more accurately, colonisers, now squat upon Palestinian soil, huddled within walled encampments upon stolen land, branded blue and white. Noisily perching upon hilltops, rooms with a view, or flourishing in verdant valleys, these settlements creep shamefully throughout the West Bank and the sacred city Jerusalem, East, West North South; The City of Peace. 
Jimmy Carter, “The occupation & confiscation of Palestinian land that doesn’t belong to Israel, the building of settlements on it, the colonisation of that land, and the connecting up of those isolated but multiple settlements, (there are some 200), with each other by high-ways on which Palestinians can’t travel and where quite often cannot even cross. The persecution of the Palestinians under the occupation [by the Israelis] is one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation” 
Inside the West Bank Outside the Law
The building of one single settlement is illegal. This is a fact, a fact well known, a fact Israel signs up to and a fact in International Law. Article 49 of The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to which Israel is a signatory (1949) and has ratified (1951) and Mother-ship USA is a High Contracting Party, “aims at protecting the civilian persons in enemy hands, notably those residing in occupied territories”[4] and “explicitly prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into occupied territory”. [Emphasis mine]  Foundation For Middle East Peace (FMEP),
The Geneva conventions agreed and adopted after the Second World War are “one of the major sources of international humanitarian law and are binding [emphasis mine] upon [the] 189 signatory states” (FMEP), meaning you can’t simply ignore them. As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States is obligated “to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.[5] [Emphasis mine] Israel and the USA, two of those bound, some feel gagged and bound would serve well, by the conventions, failed to attend a conference in December 2001 in Geneva, concerning the application of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories. A scandalous absence by the two key ‘players’ or ‘builders’ – not of peace, but builders of conflict, separation walls and Israeli housing condos.
“Notwithstanding this ban, almost half-a-million Jewish Israelis with Israeli government support have moved into settlements it has constructed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and formally annexed occupied territory in East Jerusalem, a move not recognized by any other government in the world.”[6]
The settlers are living illegally, often violently, supported by all manner of subsidies from the Knesset, “which entitles them to a number of benefits: in housing, by enabling settlers to purchase quality, inexpensive apartments, with an automatic grant of a subsidized mortgage; wide-ranging benefits in education, such as free education from age three, extended school days, free transportation to schools, and higher teachers’ salaries; for industry and agriculture, by grants and subsidies, and indemnification for the taxes imposed on their produce by the European Union; in taxation, by imposing taxes significantly lower than in communities inside the Green Line, and by providing larger balancing grants to the settlements, to aid in covering deficits.[7]
These subsidies are little more than bribes, all thanks to Mother Goose USA. Chomsky “We’re [USA] paying for it [settlement building, subsidies, security], stop paying for it, stop supporting it, stop subsidising. Stop allowing the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to remain in the territories. The setters are subsidized to stay there [the OPT], if the subsidies are withdrawn, they [settlers] will have to face the fact that they are not the ‘Lords of the Land’ they will then go back to Israel”
Israel however disregards, with impunity the many and various, binding agreements, such is the arrogance of the aggressor. Tzipi Livni, when serving as Israel’s foreign minister, “I’m a lawyer and I’m against the law, international law in particular”. Norman Finkelstein commenting ”She had good reason for saying that because under international law “Israel loses, on Jerusalem, on the West Bank and Gaza, on settlements and right of return for refugees”[8] There is a rising light of freedom and unity throughout the World Miss Livni, it glints from the cleansing sword of justice, law, International, National, ignore it at you’re peril Israel.
Israel is supported, sustained and supplied, in words, arms and deed by the US. During 2011, the U.S. provided Israel with at least $8.2 million per day in military aid”[9] alone. The One who rides shotgun above any treatise, convention and or nation, Big American Brother, allows [Israel] to dissent encourages violation of international law and leads by example. One has only to recall the International Court of Justice judgement against them (USA) in 1984, when the ICJ found in favour of Nicaragua. As Noam Chomsky puts it, “America was condemned by the World Court for, what they called unlawful use of force for political ends, another word for International terrorism. Tens of thousands of people [were] killed [and] the country ruined perhaps beyond recovery. The ICJ ordered the US to terminate their crimes and pay substantial reparations”.[10]  The US ignored the court and continued unabated, in fact escalating the terror.  It seems international laws apply to some but not to others, ‘Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you’. Good idea unless it’s Israel or their Godfather in and of arms, America.
In February 2011 the USA, vetoed a proposed United Nations Security Council Resolution calling upon Israel ‘to end illegal policies that promote settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem’ (HRW)[11]. In so doing they undermined international law and gave the green, or should we say the blue and white light, to their Middle East proxy, to continue committing criminal acts, by expanding the settlement building, the colonisation, within and of the West Bank, to include East Jerusalem.
In the UN report (UNSCIIPA)[12], the concerns of the General Assembly are made plain. ‘Despite the repeated calls from the international community and the illegality of settlements, the State of Israel is continuing to expand settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in violation of its international legal obligations [emphasis mine]. The report continues, ‘Israel is in violation of international humanitarian law, relevant United Nations resolutions, agreements reached between the parties and obligations under the Quartet road map’.
The Clash
Clashes between settlers living illegally upon the West Bank, a line drawn in the 1967 sand –walled and fenced, and Palestinians in their homes, upon their land, inside their schools and mosques, is growing, intensifying and escalating. The UN report makes clear how serious the problem is “Many of these incidents have been overtly violent acts targeting Palestinian individuals and communities with live ammunition, destruction and denial of access to property, physical assault and the throwing of stones. Some incidents have led to the killing and injury of Palestinians”.
According to Defence for Children International (DCI) ‘there has been a sharp increase in settler violence incidents against children. As of May 2011, DCI documented 19 cases of violence against children involving settlers, two of them fatal’.[13]
Two cases of murder, murder of two innocent children at the hands of the colonisers.
We find in the UN report (UNSCIIPA) the following. “From September 2010 to May 2011, 5 deaths (including three children) and more than 270 cases of injury of Palestinians by Israeli settlers were recorded, lack of accountability for Israeli settlers persists. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) not only failed to protect Palestinians, there are documented instances of their direct involvement in violence perpetrated against Palestinians”.  Noam Chomsky says, “We [USA] now have in the OPT a neo-colonial army, the IDF, to control the population.” [14]
The following shocking examples of settler violence as monitored by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) are given in the UN report, they are illustrative of the violence that Palestinians suffer at the hands of Israeli settlers, and are simply some of the loudest in a crowd of screaming atrocities committed by Israeli colonists against Palestinian men women and children, their places of worship and of education. So here they are, to the shame of the ‘settlers’.
“On 7 March 2011, a group of at least 12 settlers from the “outpost” of Esh Kodesh in the northern West Bank attacked Palestinians from the adjacent village of Qusra. Three of the settlers were armed with a handgun and two rifles while the rest were carrying baseball bats and metal bars. One of the settlers had a dog. The settlers hurled stones at the Palestinians and fired guns in the air, before physically assaulting the Palestinians. Israel Defence Forces soldiers reached the scene 30 to 45 minutes later, but the Israel Defence Forces personnel acted only in support of the settlers. One of the Palestinians was shot in his left wrist by a settler. An Israel Defence Forces soldier shot another victim in the leg from a distance of some 30 metres. Once on the ground the same Israel Defence Forces soldier shot him again from close range in the other leg. While trying to flee, the victim was hit in the leg and kicked in the face by a settler with a wooden stick, in the presence of the Israel Defence Forces soldier who had just shot him. An Israel Defence Forces soldier hit another Palestinian in the head with the butt of his rifle. Once the victim fell on the ground, a settler and the Israel Defence Forces soldier started kicking him”.
“On 27 January 2011, an 18-year-old Palestinian grazing his goats on his land was shot dead at point blank range by a settler on Palestinian land south of the village of Iraq Burin. Footage of the killing captured by a security camera appeared in various media. On 15 February 2011, an 18-year-old Palestinian from the village of Jalud south of Nablus, which is surrounded by six Israeli settlements and “outposts”, was shot in his stomach”[15]
 “Settler violence [According to the UN]  is not random criminal activity; in most cases, it is ideology-driven, organized violence, the goal of which is to assert settler dominance over an area.”
The Israeli methodology of suppression, control and terror, is organised and systematic, ‘policies and practices’, as the UN calls them, the settlement building, land theft (UN diplomatically, calls it ‘confiscation’), ‘zoning’ – a term invoking images of social, ethnic and racial manipulation, or cleansing. Add to this Eviction, from their own land, and the barbaric practice of house or home demolitions and you have a witches brew of control, victimisation and criminality, which has cast a toxic cloak over the lives of Palestinians and a shadow over history.
In their Sites
Sites for settlements, like everything else the occupying Israeli force undertakes, are chosen with care, on hilltops overlooking valleys, Palestinians, and Bedouins. A demographic dot to dot, one colony merges with another, the dots connected, a line is formed. The line a triangle, the triangle a star, six armed and driven hard into the freshly watered Palestinian earth, to flutter in full intimidation, as the settlers sit high above the valley and the law, eagle eyeing the Palestinians, upon their homeland. And from that height settlers establishing new lows “dump raw sewage down the hillside, contaminating the well[s] and making it unusable for agriculture and drinking’. (IMEMC)[16]
Duel Lives
Two parallel ways of life exist within the West Bank, a controlled, unjust, frightening existence for Palestinians living behind walls of servitude upon their homeland. And a comfortable, flourishing life within their tree lined encampments for the settlers. Palm trees and gardens bursting with colour create a theme park image of artificial beauty upon a battleground of injustice and hate.  Defence for Children International states “Over 90% of settler violence incidents that are investigated by Israeli authorities are closed without any charges being filed. There is a dual system of law operating in the West Bank. The settlers are subject to Israeli civil law, with all the rights of a democratic state guaranteed to them. Palestinians, on the other hand are governed by a series of military orders within a military system, which deprives them of the rights guaranteed to their Israeli settler neighbours. This dual system of law discriminates against Palestinians’.[17]
A ‘dual system’ indeed, “Human Rights Watch recently documented Israel’s two-tier system for the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish populations in the 60 % of West Bank area that Israel controls and in East Jerusalem. Israeli policies deliberately withhold basic services from Palestinians, causing tremendous hardships by preventing and punishing the construction of homes and infrastructure for their communities, while providing generous financial benefits and infrastructure for Jewish settlements. Such differential treatment lacks any security rationale, but is meted out on the prohibited basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin[18]
 A two tier system of injustice, cruelty and control, If they could they would bottle sunlight and ration its use. They have turned day to night, and in the darkness of division, violence and hate they march, out of step with the men and women of goodwill that would bring peace and harmony to the land, out of pace with the winds of change that are sweeping humanity towards peace and unity, out of sync with the destiny of the nations to live safely side by side as enshrined in International Law.
 A ‘dual system’, where a settler, shoots and kills, with impunity an innocent Palestinian, as in the case of the “18-year-old Palestinian grazing his goats on his land was shot dead at point blank range by a settler on Palestinian land south of the village of Iraq Burin”[19] A system which allows a six year old child on his way to the neighbourhood shop for his grandfather to be ‘detained’ by the Israeli army, “they kept the child in detention for four hours at a nearby police station (to Al-Esawiyya town), and interrogated him in an attempt to intimidate him in to giving them names of youth who hurled stones at the soldiers” said. Mohammad Ali Dirbas, after the ‘kidnapping’, ‘“The Police tried to terrify me, but they can’t scare me, they must leave our land.” (IMEMC).
The UN concludes its detailed excellent report (UNSCIIPA) with six clearly articulated recommendations. All recommendations should be applied forthwith. The two most prescient measures are:
1. ‘The Government of Israel should bring its policies and practices into compliance with its international legal obligations and its commitments in the Road Map, as well as the repeated calls of the international community to immediately cease the transfer of its civilian population into occupied territory and to completely freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and to immediately dismantle all “outposts”.
2. The Government of Israel should take all necessary measures to prevent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians and their property in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Enough, enough of the injustice, violence and fear, let International Law be done and let the Palestinian people live in peace in their country. Mohammed Ali Dirbas, you speak for all decent men and women everywhere, here here and God bless that child and all those upon the land that is rightly their home.
January 2012
[1] The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS)
[2] Jimmy Carter. Interviewed on EVTV1. See – ‘Peace Not Apartheid’ by Jimmy Carter
[3] Noam Chomsky From ‘a conversation with Noam Chomsky at MIT 2/09/2010 
[4] [4] The four Geneva Conventions were adopted in 1949 by the representatives of 48 states convened at Geneva
[5] Foundation for Middle east Peace
[6] Human Rights Watch (HRW) February 2011
[7] Foundation for Middle east Peace
[8] Norman Finkelstein. November 15, 2011 occupied Palestine
[9] If only Americans knew
[10] Noam Chomsky. 9-11 Seven Stories.
[11] Human Rights Watch
[12] UN report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (UNSCIIPA) September 2010
[13] Defense for Children International (DCI)
[14] Noam Chomsky From ‘a conversation with Noam Chomsky at MIT  2/09/2010
[15] UN report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (UNSCIIPA) September 2010
[16] IMEMC
[17] Defense of Children International
[18] Human Rights Watch (HRW) February 2011
[19] UN report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (UNSCIIPA) September 2010.
OHCHR monitored case

West Bank Diary 2009

In July 2009 I went to the West Bank to run a series of creative education workshops, with Palestinian children and informal, discussion-based training sessions with local staff. The work with the children had various aims: to build self-confidence and self-belief and to provide a means of expression. Inherent in all the work was the objective of encouraging independent creative thinking and cultivating an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding amongst all the beneficiaries, children and adults alike.
From Ben-Gurion airport I took the Sheruk minibus to Jerusalem, where, at the Jerusalem Hotel, I met Henry, an Englishman working for Sharek Youth Forum, the local Palestinian NGO I would be collaborating with. After a much needed breakfast, we took a bus to Ramallah. There are two bus stations in Jerusalem, one filled with white and blue Israeli buses, the other in East Jerusalem, five minutes walk away, with white and green Palestinian buses, these are not allowed to pass into West Jerusalem.
Ramallah is a mere 15 km from Jerusalem via the notorious Qalandia checkpoint. Qalandia is one of the largest Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Located between Ramallah, Qalandia refugee camp, and the Palestinian town of Ar-Ram, it separates Ramallah residents from southern Palestinian towns and Palestinian neighbourhoods in (East) Jerusalem, where  around 200,000 Palestinians live.
Israeli soldiers check identity cards and passports when moving from the West Bank side in Ramallah. Travelling into Ramallah from Jerusalem elicits no such checks.
A Wall of Separation
As we drove through the checkpoint I had my first sight of the Wall – known variously as the Apartheid Wall, Separation Wall, Security Wall or simply the ‘fence’. No matter the name, it is an abomination in any language.
The ‘wall’ is being constructed mainly on Israeli occupied territories inside the West bank and substantially deviates from the 1949 Armistice or ‘Green Line’, which demarcates the West Bank. A concrete structure eight metres tall (the Berlin wall was 3.5 metres high) makes up around 5% of the total barrier’s length. In many places three fences of barbed wire, act as the dividing barrier.
The Wall has in places become a kind of ‘notice board’, a place for Palestinians to vent frustration and shout a message. On the West Bank side around Qalandia it is covered in graffiti – from slogans and cries of anger to an image made by Banksy (the well known British graffiti artist) of two children dressed in swimming trunks, holding buckets and spades and sitting below a coloured photograph of a tropical island beach – an idealised image of escape. 
There seemed to be construction work taking place everywhere in Ramallah, new apartment buildings, hotels and office space. Many buildings are left semi-built where funds have run low. Al-Manara, is a typical city centre area, noisy and hectic, full of shops, cafes and stallholders. Cars, lorries and minibuses crowd the busy roads, honking their horns as they hurry around the city. It is the picture of a bustling, vibrant, commercial city, an expensive city – the cost of living in Ramallah is the highest in the West Bank.
On the surface life here, certainly in Ramallah, where I stayed, looks fine. Nobody is homeless, children are well dressed, clean, healthy and in school. Shops are filled with produce, café’s are busy, everyone seems to have a mobile phone. Life ‘appears’ much as it does throughout the developed world. The appearance is deceptive of course, it is estimated that 50% of Palestinians – 2 million people, live in poverty. The average income in the West bank is around $11,000 per annum, compared to their Israeli neighbours’ $21,000 a year. Much of the Palestinian economy is remittance based, with Palestinians living abroad supporting hundreds of families.
It is late July and the wedding season is in full swing, this is a rather noisy affair with convoys of wedding cars driving through the streets sounding their horns and waving at passers by. Fireworks often accompany the marriage celebrations, my first night in Ramallah was spent listening to explosions overhead, I was somewhat relieved to discover they were nothing more than firework rockets and ‘bangers’.
It’s the first day of a Creative education programme we are running in Halhul. A district of Hebron, Halhul is roughly 30 km south of Ramallah beyond Bethlehem.  A volunteer from Sharek, Dahlia a student from the USA, will be assisting me.
The short journey by mini bus from Ramallah should take no more than 40 minutes. The direct route would mean passing through Jerusalem, taking three buses and having to pass through Albania checkpoint where there are often long delays.
Our journey avoids Jerusalem and rather than being direct is more like a huge semi-circle, taking us around Jerusalem. The journey takes one hour and 25 minutes. By 10.30, when we arrive at the community centre in Halhul, the temperature is already 30 degrees. We are met at the bus stop by Fahed, the co-ordinator of the centre. A large group of children await us, and with numerous local volunteers we run a short introductory workshop, outlining the underlying ideas to the volunteers.
After the introductory workshop lunch and a delicious falafel sandwich, the first of many. Dahlia and I take the mini bus back to Ramallah.
A few miles outside Halhul we spot an Israeli military lorry and jeep. They are parked in a ‘lay-by’ at the side of the road, where a young Palestinian has set up a simple stall selling fruit and vegetables. Israeli soldiers are breaking up the stall, pulling the makeshift tarpaulin roof down and kicking in the sides. Continuing along the road, we see a further eight stalls destroyed and abandoned. A common practice, I later discover, and one that is illegal under Israeli law. According to the Israeli military the stallholders are trading without the required paperwork; Permits (issued by Israeli authorities) that according to Palestinians are difficult to obtain, yet are required by the Israelis to trade inside the West Bank, supposedly Palestinian land.
Thanks to further checkpoints and searches, our return journey takes almost two hours.
I visit Nablus where we will be delivering a programme, to meet the Sharek team who are running a summer camp for children and youths in the city. There are a large percentage of young people in Nablus, approximately half the population are under 20 years of age – a representative demographic throughout the West Bank and Gaza – something that terrifies Israel.
Around 45 km north of Ramallah, with a population of 134,000, Nablus is the most populated city in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT.
It is chaos when we arrive at the community centre. There are over 60 children whom we divide into two smaller groups and spend an hour outlining the programme. Local volunteers, somewhat heavy-handedly help to organise the groups. 
Later I wander around Nablus with Yasmin, the 20 something daughter of the centre’s manager and my translator. Over tea and halweh (a sickly sweet pastry), we talk about male/female relationships for Palestinian Muslims. She has had one ‘boyfriend’, who she’d only physically met on a few occasions. The relationship was maintained via mobile telephone conversations and text messages. This partitioned, inhibited relationship continued for some months until they could stand it no longer and separated, with much sadness on both sides. Yasmin’s mother, she says, is very open-minded, but her father is more conservative.
The settlements
The road to Nablus is dotted with Israeli settlements built strategically on hilltops. Initially, armed military ‘outposts’ are established using trailers as accommodation. Concrete houses soon follow, shops and the usual social amenities are built and a village is created. As these individual hilltop settlements grow, they merge to form one large town.
The settlements are a world within a world, often gated with Israeli flags flying, always guarded. The Israelis settlers live altogether more comfortable, privileged lives than their Palestinian neighbours. Stories abound of settlers attacking Palestinian farmers, beating them, burning or cutting down their trees and crops and generally making life intolerable. The settlers have access to Israeli-only roads and tunnels, use settler only buses, and have ample, disproportionate supplies of water and good electricity services. Settlers live in subsidised housing, often leaving a small city apartment for a large family home in a sanitised settlement.
Friday is a weekend day, a day of rest. Government offices are closed, as are public buildings, shops and many café’s and restaurants. Fortunately my local supermarket is open. Whilst buying pitta bread, humous and water, I meet Taleb Abu Remeis a local resident and we begin to discuss life in the OPT. Taleb had spent three years in an Israeli prison when in 1968, as a student, he was arrested for peacefully demonstrating against the occupation.
Now working for Coca Cola in Ramallah he described how a regular business journey that once took 30 minutes now takes up to three hours, due to the establishment of new checkpoints and the ‘wall of separation’ on Palestinian land. A land-grab has taken place as the Israelis have redefined boundaries and demarcated territory through the construction of the wall, branding land that had been in the West Bank and therefore Palestinian, as part of Israel. This has caused many problems, both sociological and economic, the supply of water being a major issue.
De-development is a term often applied to Palestine. Taleb gave me an example from Coca Cola of the impediments to healthy, normal business practice. All goods being imported into Palestine come through Israel; import permits have to be obtained from the Israeli authorities. Coca Cola applied for a permit to import a material needed for the packaging of the soft drink. Permission to import this harmless material was refused, justified under the umbrella term ‘security’.
A small example of the daily inconvenience and controls placed upon Palestinians by the occupying Israeli forces: I met a man working in a pharmacy in Ramallah, from a village outside Nablus. For three years He had been denied access to the city, where he had work and family, due to what the Israeli military described as ‘problems with his ID’. He would repeatedly queue at the checkpoint for hours, only to be turned away. Offers by the man to have his ID renewed were dismissed by the soldiers. Disempowerment and loss of dignity are strategies of control employed to smother hope, creating despair and immense frustration.   
House demolitions
Later in the day I meet up with Henry, the co-ordinator for the project. He has been in Ramallah for six months and heard many stories of Palestinian suffering at the hands of the occupying force. House demolition is a particular horror for many families. Demolitions are usually done without prior warning and often during the night. The inhabitants are given little time to evacuate – anything from a few minutes to half an hour. Once a demolition order has been passed (by the Israeli authorities), it may be executed anytime – immediately, or after 10 years, 20 years or more. A family known to Henry have been living under the ‘imminent’ threat of demolition for 37 years, causing them untold stress and anxiety.
Once an order has been passed, the family has a choice. They are free to move before the house is levelled, demolish it themselves, or stay in the knowledge that at any moment their home may be knocked down. If the Israeli authorities carry out the demolition, the family may be presented with a bill for the work, up to $20,000 – lose your home and pay for the privilege!
I have been in the West Bank for just one week. It’s an unsettling, disorienting place, a ‘Truman Show’ reality, where subtle and not so subtle modes of manipulation build insufferable obstacles to harmonious, easeful living. On the face of it life appears normal. Children are in school, shops are busy, the buses run, and no one is starving. So what’s the problem? If one speak to the Palestinians, look beyond the surface of ‘normality’, travel around as the locals do, very quickly a picture forms. It is an insidious image of fear and control. There is a kind of pervasive suffocation taking place, it may be likened to dropping a frog into a bucket of warm water and slowly, almost imperceptibly, increasing the heat.  the hand of repression looms large and day-by-day the feeling of entrapment grows.
The Israeli Committee against House Demolition (CADH)
I am Travelling to Jerusalem by bus, my first journey into the ‘City of Peace’ from Ramallah. I have arranged a meeting with Angela Godfrey Goldstein, a Director of ICADH, The Israeli Committee against House Demolition (
ICAHD is an Israeli NGO, comprised of members of many Israeli peace and human rights organizations. It is a non-violent, direct-action group, originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolitions of Palestinian houses in the OPT. Angela an artist, is British, has been living in Israel for some 30 years and has a great deal of knowledge and experience of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
 Checking out Qalandia
I leave from Ramallah bus station, a bleak concrete building housed in a multi-storey car park in the centre of the city. To enter Jerusalem we must go through Qalandia checkpoint.  I had been warned that passing through Qalandia was a pretty ghastly ordeal and could take some time.
The bus parks up on a mini-roundabout at the entrance to the checkpoint. Having been issued with a second bus ticket, the passengers disembark and walk through a full body turnstile into the checkpoint. Inside the part-covered area there are what I can only describe as three caged corridors, 10 metres or so long, with at the end of each, another full body turnstile, a cctv camera and a red and green light. Once inside there is no way back, there is no choice but to stand in the queue and wait.
Each ‘corridor’ has roughly the same number queuing; I join a line of around 12 people.  It is 2pm and very hot – the temperature must have been over 30 degrees. People are pushed up against the turnstile, which is not moving in any of the corridors. After 15 minutes or so a loud siren blares out, the green light shines and one, two or perhaps three people push through the turnstile, then nothing for another 10 minutes.
I am standing with a young Israeli woman, a university student. It is her first time at Qalandia too. I ask what she thinks of the checkpoint and the occupation in general. She becomes quiet, then in hushed tones whispers: ‘It is not safe to talk of such things, they have spies everywhere.’
The atmosphere in the queue was calm and quiet to begin with, but after 30 minutes in very hot, claustrophobic conditions with little movement, the anxiety level began to rise, there was some jostling for position in the line and shouting through the turnstiles to the unseen guards on the other side. After 45 minutes or so the turnstiles were released and two by two we passed through to the security check. Much like checks made at airports, all bags, wallets and metal objects pass through an ex-ray scanner and ID papers, passports and permits, are checked by security personnel.
After presenting my passport to a young female officer, I walk out to a car park where a number of buses are waiting.  With my previously issued ticket I board my original bus and after a wait for the remaining passengers we leave Qalandia. The whole process takes over an hour, it is an unsettling experience, which many people face daily, designed to inconvenience, frustrate and to chip away at the dignity of the Palestinians.
Touring East Jerusalem
I finally arrive at Angela’s apartment in a residential area of Jerusalem; she has arranged a guided tour of east Jerusalem, for two French journalists and myself. Our taxi drives up the Mount of Olives, upon whose slopes sits the world’s oldest continually used cemetery, some 150,000 Jews are buried here. At the top of this historic hill is the beautiful Russian Chapel of the Ascension, with its three golden onions rising to the heavens, behind the church runs a newly constructed concrete section of the wall, which divides this part of the city. I’m struck by how completely unsightly the structure is, and how in a place of such historical and religious importance, something symbolising, indeed fuelling, hatred and division has been built. Checkpoints have been set up and what were busy local city streets are now closed, making simple journeys impossible.
Within East Jerusalem, with a total population of around 430,000, there are estimated to be 190,000 Israeli citizens living in settlements – almost half of the population. It is difficult to see how a two-state solution would deal with this social problem. It is akin to mixing water and orange juice then attempting to remove the water.
Angela points out a large residential building near the Mount of Olives, which in September 2005 was demolished. It is the largest single building to be destroyed under the house demolition programme. The apartment building was to be home to 28 Palestinian families: it now lies in ruins, covered in graffiti.
Water monopoly
We drive out of Jerusalem passing Maale Adumim, with 30,000 residents it is one of the largest Israeli settlements in the OPT. In an arid area bordering the Jordan desert, the settlement is adorned by palm trees and gardens bursting with colour, creating a theme park image of artificial beauty upon a battle ground of injustice and hate.
 The supply of water in the region – on average 1100mm annually in the North, but only 100mm in the far south – is a major issue. The ‘wall’ has played a major strategic part in allowing Israel to confiscate sources of water.  Springs and ground wells, which were once on Palestinian land, are now, thanks to the wall, inside Israel.
Israel steals the water, provides ample supply to settlements inside the West Bank, enough for tree-lined avenues and landscaped gardens, and effectively rations water flow to Palestinian communities. The apartment I stayed in for example, received mains water only once a week, water tanks and jerry cans are filled to provide water until the following week.
Palestinians have no legal control over their own water resources. The Israelis determine the water supply, which is far below that of Israel’s, and well below that of World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. The inadequate water supply is also a key factor affecting the Palestinian economy and is having a de-development effect. Try buying fruit, which is produced inside the West Bank and you’ll find it very limited.  I would estimate that 80% of all available fruit and vegetables are ‘imported’ from Israel.
Perched on a hilltop on the outskirts of East Jerusalem and overlooking the city, we pass a newly built, and I understand, state-of-the-art Israeli police station.  Constructed at great expense – $1 billion was one figure mentioned – it is an intimidating statement of intent by a country purporting to be working for peace.
The Bedouins plight
Our tour ends with a visit to a Bedouin camp, situated at the side of a busy main road in the Jordan desert. This semi-nomadic community lives sandwiched between Israeli settlements, in wooden shacks with no mains water or electricity supply. Barely tolerated by the Israeli authorities, they are constantly being moved on by the military and subjected to attacks and intimidation by settlers. The community have built a school on the site, made out of reclaimed car tyres covered with mud. The building has two classrooms and will serve as a nursery/primary school and community centre. At the time of our visit they were waiting for funding from the Palestinian Authority to cover salaries for two qualified teachers. 
I take a shared taxi back to Ramallah with two Palestinian construction workers, returning to Ramallah from working on an Israeli construction project inside the West Bank. Avoiding Qalandia checkpoint, the return journey takes 30 minutes and is straightforward.
Friendship in Halhul
Friendship is the theme of our work with the children; what it means to be a friend, what draws individuals together, what are the qualities we look for in a friend and need to demonstrate ourselves. Workshops are structured to encourage group responsibility, tolerance and understanding of others.
It’s the first day in Halhul of this part of the project, our journey from Ramallah is slow. At a checkpoint in the hills outside Jerusalem, previously unmanned, soldiers are stopping and checking all vehicles. There are long queues in both directions. When we finally reach the barrier a young Israeli soldier, around 20 years of age, leans into the minibus, his arm intimidatingly resting on the driver’s open window, automatic rifle in hand. He asks the nervous Palestinian driver a series of questions, the driver replies and we are waved on. It takes us one and a half hours to cover the 30 km journey today.
The session begins with the usual two minutes or so of silence. Usually this is conducted in a circle, eyes closed, with boys and girls mixed up and holding hands; here, however, the children are loath to stand with a member of the opposite sex, let alone take their hand. We discuss friendship with the group and they are encouraged to share examples of friendship based on their own experiences. They are then asked if they could be friends with someone who has completely different interests to themselves. This question causes a major rift in the group, with roughly 50% saying they could, the other half adamant they could not.  A highly animated debate followed, with both sides marshalling their arguments and presenting their case through an elected spokesperson – it was a fiery, articulate 12-year-old girl who definitely could not be friends unless one shared her interests and led the argument.
After 45 minutes or so of debate, the balance had shifted: there were now 75% in agreement that ‘yes’ friends could have different interests. A quarter however refused to see how this was possible, this group even maintained that had a friendship been established prior to realising a difference in interest, the friendship could not then continue. It had been a good session with lots of the children contributing to the discussion and debate. A closing period of silence as always concluded the workshop.
 Blessed Bethlehem
For the return journey to Ramallah we decided to go through Jerusalem instead of the circuitous journey around it. We first took a bus to Bethlehem, no longer a ‘little town’, but at first glance at least much like any other bustling commercial Middle Eastern city. At Bethlehem we change buses, leaving the hot and crowded Palestinian minibus, and board a white and blue air-conditioned Israeli coach.
Bethlehem is in the West Bank, in order to enter (West) Jerusalem it is necessary to pass through an Israeli military checkpoint. The checkpoint looks much like a European motorway toll station, a new structure, with booths where the Israeli soldiers sit.
Our coach is stopped the passengers are ‘asked’ to disembark and queue at the side of the coach to have IDs checked. With the exception of three women from the USA and myself, all the passengers are Israeli.
The soldiers, two men and a woman in their early twenties, collect all the Israeli IDs, the passports and strangely the bags from the American women, to be scanned and searched. The whole process takes around 45 minutes. We continue into central Jerusalem through heavy traffic, as it is now rush hour.  At the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem, five minutes walk from the Israeli bus station, we board a green and white Palestinian bus to Ramallah.
Although there are no checks passing from Jerusalem into Ramallah the heavy build up of traffic coming into Jerusalem is causing congestion all around the Qalandia checkpoint. Finally after some imaginative manoeuvres from our bus driver, involving driving over a roundabout and onto the opposite side of the road, we arrive in Ramallah. It is at 6.30pm, 2 hours 40 minutes after leaving Halhul.
Children’s workshop in Nablus
I am en-route to Nablus by minibus, to conduct a creative education session. The Palestinian drivers all seem to be frustrated Formula One drivers; today’s driver is no exception. We hurtle through the green valley from Ramallah to Nablus and arrive, somewhat relieved, in one piece and in record time.
It is the turn of the children in Nablus to discuss friendship. They were asked could they be friends with children/people from different countries. Certain countries, yes, but not if the child came from Israel, USA (‘because they arm Israel’) – understandable perhaps, it was less clear with Denmark and Canada? Would it be possible to be friends with people holding different religious beliefs?  Very difficult, probably impossible in fact was their response, as we simply would not understand one another.
A powerful way to break or dislodge conditioned patterns of thinking is through the use of abstraction. With this aim in mind workshops are designed which, encourage abstract thought. Working in pairs within small groups, the children were asked to make drawings using geometric shapes to depict qualities of friendship. These sketches were then used as a template for body sculptures expressing the same quality.
A difficult exercise perhaps, the group were able to associate qualities of friendship with forms when shown to them, but were not able to invent forms themselves. The tendency was to create a recognisable familiar image. One boy for example draws a circle, with arms and smaller circles; this drawing morphs into an army jeep and a soldier with a gun.
Final thoughts
Living in Ramallah, even for a short time as I have, creates the feeling of being imprisoned. It is a most extraordinarily unsettling experience. There is a creeping claustrophobia in the city, a helplessness, which grows in strength the longer one is there.
The logistics of working in the OPT place a strain on all involved and affect the success of any endeavour.  However, simply to bear witness to the plight of the Palestinian people made my time in the West Bank worthwhile. Trust is a major factor when working with people who have been victimized in any way, the building of this jewel sometimes takes time, particularly where there has been so much betrayal, false promises and duplicity. The young throughout the World are crying out for justice and freedom, loud and clear their voices united are bringing changes to many dark corners. Working with the children within the West Bank was a privilege and a joy. The future is theirs and it is safe in their hands.
In order for reconciliation, forgiveness and healing to begin, the Israeli occupation must end the illegal building of settlements cease and the 1967 borders be recognized by Israel. These are the essential foundations upon which any movement towards lasting harmony must be built.
It is abundantly clear that the Palestinians and Israelis need to share equitably this tiny piece of land and begin to live in harmony, to reach out to one another as fellow human beings, as brothers and sisters and to unite in peaceful living. Tolerance of differences and understanding of a shared humanity are essential and will help move toward the co-operation needed to bring about right relationship in this divided land.
September 2009
Published in Share International Magazine