I want to start this post by asking a simple question: do you know who Rachel Corrie is? My guess is that if you are interested in Palestine you will have heard her name many times. She was a courageous young American woman activist who was crushed to death in the occupied West Bank on March 16, 2003, run over by a bulldozer normally used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes while she was trying to save a Palestinian home. There is a write up about her life and legacy here for those who are interested. But what about Mahmoud Al-Titi, the 25-year-old journalism student who was shot dead by the IDF when they stormed Al-Fawar refugee camp in Hebron on March 12? What about 22-year-old college student Muhammad Asfour of Aboud Village in Ramallah who died on March 7 from injuries sustained by an Israeli rubber bullet that had been shot at his head, fracturing his skull (see last week’s post)? Of course the list goes on. While it is important to celebrate Rachel’s contribution to peace and global awareness of the Palestinian struggle, as well as commemorate her death which has gone unpunished, we must not forget that countless Palestinians continue to die under Israeli occupation whose names we will most likely never learn.
The Contours of Apartheid
Firstly, following on from the new Israeli segregated bus service for Palestinians reported on last week, I’d like to make a note about why we choose to use the word apartheid in order to give some context to those of you who are unsure about its applicability to the situation in occupied Palestine. Firstly, this is the general consensus of over half of the population inside Israel with regards to the treatment of the Arab population inside Israel. Poll findings published in liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz in October of 2012 showed that 58 percent of agree that apartheid is currently being practiced by Israel and more than half would support apartheid if Israel were to formally annex what remains of the occupied West Bank. Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights agrees with the Russell Tribunal’s decision in 2011 that Israel is guilty of apartheid. And of course one might ask Palestinians how they feel about being forcibly expelled from their family land and homes, many repeatedly since 1948, to be hemmed into militarily contained cantons with separation walls and Jewish-only highways or contained in what has been correctly referred to as the world’s largest outdoor prison by military siege.
The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on March 12 about the violent racism directed against Palestinians inside Israel who are often viewed and treated as second class citizens. The article discusses the apathy around the lynching of Palestinians on separate occasions which has aroused little public concern inside Israel. Video footage shared by the Middle East Monitor recording the spraying of homes with ‘Skunk’ by Israeli forces in the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank that we mentioned last week can be viewed here. Israeli human rights organization B’tselem is calling for the end of the use of dogs by the IDF in residential areas of the West Bank during military operations due to the number of attacks on civilians.
Former deputy IDF chief Dan Harel has expressed concern that Gaza was “not hit hard enough” in the November 2012 bombardments which left over 170 Palestinians dead based on the fact that the so-called deterrence period (the time after Israel’s last bombardment and the first rocket attack into Israel from Gaza) was shorter than after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.
While it is believed that Israeli doctors may have played a role in torturing 30-year-old Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat who died while in Israeli custody in February, the UK-based Arab Organization for Human Rights has accused the Palestinian Authority’s security services of “practicing systematic torture in its prisons [against Palestinian detainees] without any monitoring by the Judiciary”. In what human rights groups are praising as a more positive step, the PA is offering Palestinians who are thought to have collaborated with Israel an amnesty in contrast to the harsh sentences usually meted out previously if they come forward by April 4.
The World Bank has published a damning report on the state of the Palestinian economy that is worth quoting at length: “Palestinian institutions have the required capacity to exercise state functions, but Israeli-imposed economic restrictions continue to constrain sustainable economic growth… [T]he structure of the economy has deteriorated since the late 90’s… The share of exports in the Palestinian economy has also been in steady decline since 1994, dropping to 7 percent in 2011, one of the lowest in the world. Moreover, Palestinian exports are concentrated in low value-added goods and services, the majority of which is exported to Israel.”
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its report on the devastating IDF bombing campaign against Gaza called Pillar of Defense from November 14 to 21 that took the lives of 174 Palestinians (including 101 civilians) and 6 Israeli’s (including 4 civilians). The report found that much of the Palestinian rocket fire had been fired indiscriminately into civilian areas and also reported the summary executions of 7 Palestinians by the authorities accused of collaborating with Israel during this period. It also details the devastation imposed on the besieged population of Gaza including details of the targeted bombing of civilian infrastructure such as residential buildings and properties (382 damaged or destroyed and 2,300 persons displaced), farmlands (the damage to the agricultural sector is estimated at US$20,000,000). It also documents the destruction of a mosque east of Gaza City, targeted attacks on media offices and journalists, the damaging of 13 primary care health centers through indirect shelling, the targeting of a bank, shelling of two stadiums, eight sports clubs, and a government-run youth sports facility (with the damage to sporting facilities totaling US$3,654,400). In addition over 240 educational facilities sustained damage and two bridges were also destroyed (estimated to cost around US$586,000 to reconstruct) along with a main water pipeline that left 20,000 Gazans without their source of drinking water for a week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government was sworn in yesterday (March 18), bringing the PM’s own Likud party together with the centrist Yesh Atid (There is Future) and the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party. It will likely be business as usual with the settlement expansions as both the new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, and new housing minister, Uri Ariel, are strong supporters of the settlements and unlikely to change tack. It is worth bearing in mind that over half of the West Bank is off limits to Palestinians as settlements encroach further into Palestinian land, cutting off Palestinian communities from each other and sometimes literally dividing them in half.
Reiterating the international community’s stand on colonial settlements, the chairperson of the Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements, Christine Chanet, recently stated in an interactive dialog that “settlement building [is] a growing, creeping form of annexation which compromised the right to self-determination of the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel should put an immediate end to this colonization process, begin a process of withdrawing settlements, and ensure effective remedy. It should also put an end to the arbitrary detention of Palestinians, to violations linked to settlements and to impunity, and it should make sure that justice was handed down for all victims in an indiscriminate way.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pilay, also condemned settler violence against Palestinians, commenting on the 383 reported acts of settler violence between 2005 and 2011 that injured 169 Palestinians and damaged or destroyed over 8,000 of their olive trees.
U.S. President Obama will fly into Tel Aviv on Wednesday, March 20 for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will visit the West Bank for what is being brushed aside by some Palestinians as a coffee break stopover of three hours. There appears to be little hope that he will achieve much in terms of ending the occupation in his brief visit.
Finally, for those of you who would rather listen to a weekly news wrap up on Palestine, I recommend heading over to the International Middle East Media Center where they record a brief weekly bulletin. Check out the latest one here.