Left with tiny scraps of land

December 7, 2017

Donald Trump has declared that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking with decades of precedent and the attitude of the rest of the world's nations, which consider the status of Jerusalem a matter to be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But though Trump's decision repudiates conventional U.S. foreign-policy wisdom about how to determine the future of Jerusalem, he is continuing a long U.S. tradition of providing support--diplomatic, political, economic and military--to Israel's drive to colonize and settle Palestine.

Though Israel's apartheid system is rarely examined by the mainstream media, it is obvious to those who travel to the West Bank and Gaza. In late November and early December, Neil Rogall wrote a four-part series for the revolutionary socialism in the 21st century website (see part one, part two, part three and part four) to report on his visit to Palestine organized by the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA), a human rights group dedicated to forging links between communities in the UK and Palestine. Here, we reprint the four entries together to provide insight into daily life facing Palestinians living under the U.S.-backed occupation.

Part I

Sunday: The Wall
Nothing compares to being here. The reality is so tear-drenchingly shocking. A day in Abu Dis, surrounded almost completely by the wall, with the settlements not in the distance, but on top of you, the endless checkpoints for no reason except to demoralize the Palestinians. The ruined farmland destroyed by Israeli sewage, the half-demolished homes. The tiny specks of farmland desperately held on to by the Palestinian farmers. Nothing prepares you for it, not all the words or the books or the speeches.

One of our photos shows cars by the wall. It's not a random thing. This is the site of a demolished Palestinian village. But sumud, the refusal to leave, means the villagers are now living in their cars.

Monday morning: A school attacked by the army
This morning in Abu Dis we visited a primary and a secondary school. Education here is at the heart of resistance. Even when the Jordanians ruled the West Bank between 1948 and 1967 there was no support for education. Under settler occupation it is even worse. And remember 70 percent of Palestinians are under 20.

Israel's apartheid wall runs through the Palestinian town of Abu Dis
Israel's apartheid wall runs through the Palestinian town of Abu Dis (Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association)

The building of the wall made things even worse for the Palestinians--2,500 young people could no longer go to school in Jerusalem and 1,500 teachers lost their jobs. There was already a cultural society running a primary school in Abu Dis. This had to expand enormously. We visited classrooms and saw the small children learning English. But by far the saddest thing was the room full of crutches and wheelchairs. Even little kids are victims of the Israeli military.

Then we visited the boys' secondary school run by the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli army regularly attacks students at the school and even invades classrooms with tear gas and rubber bullets. When this happens the teachers try to negotiate with the soldiers, but they often get beaten up themselves.

Three weeks ago the army came with a deliberate intention to arrest students--so teachers locked the students up in their classrooms and got their families to take them home. The Israeli Army is less inclined to attack their mothers and sisters.

Finally this morning we visited the elected Fatah mayor. His father was killed under the British mandate by Zionists, His son was killed by Zionists during the first Intifada. A fellow 40-year-old councilor has spent 20 years of his life in Israeli prisons. The mayor told us the town is floating on a sea of sewage but Israel refuses to allow a sewage system to be built in Abu Dis for "security reasons." The mayor may hold office but in reality he has no real power, not even enough to deal with sewage!

Monday afternoon: Forced eviction
This afternoon we visited Jabab Al Bab village. The Bedouin here are facing forced eviction and transfer because their home is a block to Zionist expansion. Their settlement is directly in the way of the expansion of the Ma'ale Adumim settlement, a crucial Israeli project. The expansion of this settlement bloc and its joining up with other Israeli-controlled areas and Jerusalem will allow the Israelis to finally annex the whole of an expanded Jerusalem to 1948 Israel. It will also divide Palestine east and west, north and south, preventing any contiguous territory under Palestinian control. It will be the final nail in the coffin of a Palestinian state, leaving nothing but a moth-eared collection of tiny scraps of land for the indigenous population.

But the Bedouin here are themselves 1948 refugees, displaced from their traditional home in the Negev from which they were evicted. Even now their traditional life as herders has been severely curtailed by settlement expansion and planning restrictions. Their nursery and school was demolished along with many homes by the Israeli army. I have a photograph of me with the Palestinian flag and one of their community spokespersons on a barren hillside where they live with few comforts overlooking the Israeli settlement with its incongruous western homes and swimming pools. I felt a mixture of rage, anger, despair but also hope. Hope because they are still resisting, as are the majority of Palestinians against the overwhelming power of the colonial-settler state. For us around the world it is our duty to support the struggle of the Bedouin of Jabab Al Bab with every method at our disposal.

Part II

Going through the security checkpoint gate at Abu Dis to catch the bus to Jerusalem with the X-rays, I have a sense of panic as the buzzer goes off because of coins in my pocket. The gun-toting Israeli soldier, so young, spotty and callow, watching closely. I show my passport and say London, British. I feel fear and I'm white, British and "Jewish." What it must be like for Palestinians on a daily basis. Jail or a bullet really a mistake away. And of course so many people in Abu Dis don't even have the right to go to Jerusalem, even though they were born there. Finally through the gates, we catch the shabby, battered bus to Jerusalem.

We enter the Old City at the Damascus Gate. Normally I would take tourist photographs of the narrow passages and the old buildings. But this is not a tourist town despite the trappings; this is a city under occupation. Heavily armed soldiers threatening everywhere. But then we go to an open-air sports and leisure center where young boys are dancing dabke, waiting young girls with fairy wings eager and excited to do a dance routine. No army, no occupiers. Normal life except it's far from normal, and as our guide Issa says every stone in the old city has seen blood and death. And then we walk down Via Dolorosa, with the surreal sight of singing South African Christians and groups of Israeli Jewish teenagers on a school trip, some wearing Israel Defense Force (IDF) T-shirts. We see the house in the heart of the old city that Ariel Sharon bought with the flag of conquest draped down it. And then when the call to prayer cuts through the air from every direction, it feels like the old city fighting back.

We went to meet the staff at the Community Action Center of Al Quds University in the heart of the old city. We were given a horrifying talk on the status of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians have only the status of residents, not citizens of Jerusalem, and the occupiers can revoke their residency on a whim. In fact, legislation is currently going through the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, that means Israel can expel any Palestinian citizen from Jerusalem on the grounds of "breach of loyalty" (to the Jewish state). This would necessarily apply to every Palestinian in Jerusalem--what Palestinian could be loyal to a state that is a colonizer, an occupier and murders them with impunity? And of course there are thousands of people living in Jerusalem without even residency rights who live in constant fear of deportation. If a Palestinian from Jerusalem marries a Palestinian from Gaza or the West Bank, they are not allowed to bring their spouse to the city. They can apply for permission for "family reunification" if the spouse is from the West Bank, but even if they are successful, it is only temporary and has to be renewed annually.

My two women companions go off to pray at Al Aqsa. One of them dressed appropriately for prayer and speaking Arabic is challenged by a gun-toting Israeli soldier. It is only "for Muslims," he says viciously. So at the second holiest site for Muslims, it is an Israeli occupier who is the gatekeeper.

Part III

Yesterday was the international day of solidarity with Palestine: the anniversary of the UN resolution to partition Mandate Palestine. Two schools were attacked that morning, including the secondary school in Abu Dis we visited on Monday--the Jawarhalal Nehru (JN) school. This was a training exercise for the IDF. The JN school was invaded by the army; tear gas canisters were fired into the school before the students arrived. The only person there was the housekeeper, who was beaten up. When the students arrived, the army forced the school students into the gas-filled classrooms. A student was injured by a rubber bullet, another with a tear gas canister. A teacher was beaten up by the army. We sat in the headmaster's office as worried parents turned up to find out if their sons are safe.

Driving north to Ramallah, we pass settlements barely separated from the road except by checkpoints and armed security. On the low hills new settlements are being built despite Israeli "promises" to the "international community." Army jeeps are parked off the highway. Water pipes lead from both sides of the highway to the settlement, stealing the Palestinians' means of survival. An Israeli factory extracts rocks from the hills to take to 1948 Israel and to export. Huge electricity cables for the settlements hang low over Bedouin villages that have no electric power. Everywhere Israeli army camps, everywhere settlements, everywhere the wall and fences carving up the land. There are now 700,000 settlers in the West Bank, some third generation. This drive alone shows up the myth of a Palestinian State on the West Bank. It will never happen.

In Ramallah, the PA's "capital" full of fancy shops and Abbas's security forces, we visited NGOs. The young woman at the Palestine Research Center explained to us that the reason Israeli soldiers are so trigger-happy with Palestinians is because the soldiers constantly fantasize they are under threat. A young boy puts his hand in his pocket to take out a mobile phone is imagined by the soldier as being a gun so the boy is killed.

She explained how the Israelis ridicule women's role in the struggle by claiming their resistance is simply because they are divorced and unhappy. She then described a recent instance of the reality. A Palestinian woman arrested at a checkpoint was taken to a police station in West Jerusalem and raped. When she took it to the courts, the Israeli authorities denied such a policeman with her description ever existed.

Our last visit was to the Addameer prisoner support organization founded in 1992 as a response to the growth of the Palestinian prison population in Israeli jails. Most Palestinians are arrested in raids by the army between 12 midnight and 4 a.m. They invade a house, split up the family in different rooms, strip-search them, destroy property, steal money and computers, blindfold and arrest them with the help of attack dogs. If the arrests are to be made in Area A, which the PA supposedly controls, the IDF "coordinates" with the Palestinian Authority. Those arrested can be held for 75 days without charge, 60 of them without a lawyer. Prisoners can be tortured if the IDF believes it will "save lives." Trial is in a military court where there is a 99.74 percent conviction rate. Twelve-year-olds are tried as adults for throwing a stone. Either private companies or the Palestinian Authority run the jails for Israel funded directly by U.S. aid. The cells are wildly overcrowded, vermin-infested and prisoners have to pay for their food and clothes at inflated prices. All in all this is a very profitable neoliberal prison system.

There is also a system of administrative detention without charge. People can be imprisoned for years and years without even a charge or a trial as long as the order is renewed every six months. One prisoner was held for 19 years in total all without charge. It is a system aimed at grinding down Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is utterly complicit in this, providing at best a padded cell for the Palestinians. In fact the PA has just passed the electronic crimes law. It is now illegal to post anything online that threatens the "stability" (i.e., any criticism) of the so-called Palestinian state. As the head of the advocacy section of Addameer insisted, the PA is running an occupation within an occupation. And he concluded, "Israel and Palestine are one place not two, and the Israelis allow the PA to call it Palestine sometimes."

Part IV

Bethlehem is surreal. At the center there is the crowded Church of the Nativity, full of foreign tourists seemingly oblivious to the occupation. But not far away is the Aida refugee camp, with 6,000 inhabitants. Originally founded in 1948 by Nakba refugees coming from 43 different villages, it grew enormously after Israel occupied the West Bank following the 1967 war.

As we enter, the names of the villages from which the people were driven are painted on the walls. A watchtower, an Israeli military base and the wall loom over the camp. There have been lots of clashes with the army here, many young boys have been killed, and we can see the bullet holes. We visit the camp's Alrowwad Center for Culture and the Arts, which provides training in the visual arts and theater for women and young people.

The road to Hebron seems ordinary, with lorries and cars, fields and homes around it. But there are many illegal settlements on the hillsides. And our driver, a schoolteacher, tells us that a few days ago a young man from his village accidentally hit a settler with his car. The army shot him four times.

The old city in Hebron is undoubtedly the most disturbing place I have ever been. The most fanatical settlers, numbering a few hundred, hold a city of 400,000 people to ransom. What was once the main shopping area, Shuhada Street in the old town, has turnstiles at the entrance, and the occupying forces only allow a handful of Palestinians who have homes in the street to enter. Meanwhile, the settlers have occupied many Palestinians' homes there, driving them out.

At the entrance to the narrow bazaar streets, an Israeli military outpost looms overhead. Soldiers point automatic rifles down at us. As we walk through the shopping streets, there is netting hung above to catch the garbage that the settlers throw down on the local people. I ask a shopkeeper whether the settlers harass him. He replies that they abuse everyone, throwing filth or stones at them, always protected by the army. My friend speaks to a young boy, perhaps 10 or younger. He tells us that an Israeli soldier shot his classmate. He is clearly traumatized. We visit the Ibrahimi Mosque, the fourth-holiest mosque in Islam, where, according to tradition, Ibrahim (Abraham) is buried. By the entrance stands an armed Israeli soldier. This is where the American-Israeli Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 worshippers in 1994. It is the prophet's birthday, yet I am allowed inside. I feel very honored.

As we eat burgers back in the center of Hebron we discover from the TV that the Israeli air force is bombing Gaza again.

First published at the rs21 website.

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