If it weren’t true, I wouldn’t be writing this. Part of me wishes I didn’t have to speak out, but I cannot stay silent in the face of what I have been witnessing here. Being Jewish makes it almost doubly painful to acknowledge the absolute calculated brutality and pain inflicted on an innocent people. I am talking, of course, about the Palestinians.
I am on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories which have been under Israeli military occupation for the past 50 years. The Israeli army hand in hand with Israeli settlers, and with the tacit approval of the Israeli government have established one of the most, if not the most, mentally merciless and emotionally vicious military occupations in the world.
Not everyone can come here to see the reality of what’s happening. That’s why I need to write this — to get the word out and sound the alarm. The world needs to know what is happening here, despite the blind narrative of the mainstream media. What I have borne witness to has been nothing less than the trampling on the human dignity of a people (the vast majority of whom are non-violent and peace-loving). I’ll describe exactly how in the paragraphs below.
No Right to Build
Imagine you live in a village where you own land. Imagine you have children and grandchildren that are now of age and want to build their own homes on the land to live and grow with you. Now imagine that you live under a military occupation that denies you the right to construct on your property, or anywhere else in the region in which you live. You apply for building permits (which cost thousands of dollars) only to be denied again and again.
What would you do? What can you do?
You decide to go ahead and build a home anyway. You have no choice. It’s your land after all, and you have the papers to prove it. You invest thousands of dollars, sweat, and tears in building a home for your children and their families. The day finally comes when they can move in, and the whole family celebrates.
No sooner than the fridge and stove have been delivered, you receive a demolition order from the military regime. Your new home will be destroyed, but you have no idea when; it could be days, weeks, or months. You live in constant stress and fear. A few weeks later at 4 am, the Israeli army comes storming into your house, with guns aloft and bulldozers behind them and orders you to evacuate. You have 15 minutes to collect all your things and get out. When you refuse, they pull you and your children out by force and rip down your home. You have nowhere to go.
Scenes like this happen regularly in the Occupied Palestine Territories. And they are just the tip of the iceberg where human rights abuses are concerned for Palestinian inhabitants of Area C which represents roughly 61% of occupied Palestine. They face constant pressure from the Israeli government, the Israeli army, and Israeli settlers to leave their lands and move eastward into Areas A or B which are under partial or full Palestinian Authority control so that Israel can claim their abandoned property.
A Long List of Human Rights Abuses and Crimes Against Humanity
If I listed the military actions below anonymously and asked you to identify who perpetrated them, you might say that it could only be that of a despotic regime.However, all the following appalling actions have been and are now being carried out on Palestinian villages:
- Entire villages surrounded by barbed wire or a concrete fence.
- All entrance and exit points to the village blocked except one military-controlled gate to enter or exit the village which can be opened or closed depending on the whims of the army.
- The Israeli army conducts training and firing exercises in valleys adjacent to Palestinian villages — often leaving live munitions behind that critically injure livestock, farmers, and children.
- The Israeli army randomly raids homes in the middle of the night without warrants and just cause, often arresting young men between the ages of twelve to seventeen-years-old.
- The 30-foot high Israeli concrete separation barrier (illegal under international law) cuts villages off from their legally-owned agricultural lands making it impossible for villagers to earn a living (most of whom are shepherds or farmers).
- The Israeli separation barrier was not built on the green line (which it has the right to do). It was constructed on Palestinian territory and cuts through Palestinian villages, separating friends, families, and neighbors, leaving them unable to see or visit each other anymore.
- The Israeli government erects settlements on the empty hills around Palestinian villages (hills which are legally Palestinian land).
- Daily verbal and physical harassment by Israeli settlers when Palestinian villagers try to work their agricultural fields (which happen to be near the settlements) or when Palestinian children walk to school and need to pass in front of the settlement to get there.
- Arrest and often physical and mental torture of children under 18 who throw stones at armored military vehicles to protest all the above. There are no fair trials for Palestinian kids in the military courts; there is over a 99% conviction rate.
The Process of Settlement Construction
Although all Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal under international law, 50% of Israeli settlements are deemed legal under Israeli law; some are conceived and begun by the government, and settler organizations start others. At the end of the day, what it amounts to is colonization – cold, calculated theft of legally-owned Palestinian land.
Here’s how a settlement usually takes shape. An outpost is erected on empty hills around a Palestinian village (usually by only a few people). Once the land has been “claimed,” the government paves new roads for the settlers, provides abundant water and electricity (new hydro-electric towers) to the outpost, as well as builds cellular towers. The government also offers extensive military protection including guards and security gates and fences.
However, existing Palestinian villages are given access to only a fraction of the water (for up to 5 times the price paid by Israelis) and electricity, and it is illegal for them to build new roads. If they try to re-pave any of their roads, the army will come and rip them up. Therefore, villages are left with shambles of roads practically inaccessible by smaller vehicles.
Inflicting Daily Trauma and Targeting Children
The occupation has been tactfully and surgically designed to inflict as much psychological trauma on the Palestinians as possible. They have no rights. When an Israeli settler attacks or injures a Palestinian civilian, they are subjected to civilian law and do not suffer the same consequences they would if they had committed their actions against an Israeli citizen. In most cases, they get off with a slap on the wrist, if anything. Palestinians arrested in Area C are tried in military courts under military law and face much harsher punishment.
Most Palestinians who throw stones are in their teenage years, and the Israeli army targets these youth for arrest — to curtail the activity and to drive fear into their souls as they approach adulthood. It’s a form of intimidation to deter boys from resisting the occupation in the future. Children under 18 years of age are often pulled from their homes in the middle of the night, blindfolded, and thrown into the back of an army van where they are forced to lie alone in fear for hours on end. The practice is well documented.
I understand there is no peace agreement and that the leaders of both sides have not found a way forward. The majority of people on both sides WANT to come to an agreement and find a solution. However, as an occupying military power, it is Israel’s responsibility to end the occupation and to stop breaching international law by stealing Palestinian land and resources. To collectively punish an entire people is beyond reason. To terrorize whole communities and families, imprison children, deny basic rights to water, electricity, roads, freedom of movement, and freedom to build homes is quite honestly something I would expect to have seen in a fascist sci-fi movie, not within the confines of Israel.
The Jerusalem Story
Forgotten in the occupation mix has been East Jerusalem, the longed-for capital of Palestine cut off from the rest of occupied Palestine by a 30-foot concrete barrier that extends for kilometers on end. Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem who leave the canton, say to get married to someone in Area A, B, or C, lose their unique Jerusalem ID and can never return. They aren’t allowed to bring their fiancee from those areas to live with them in Jerusalem, so they have no choice.
When the separation wall was constructed in the early 21st century, it wasn’t built on the Green Line but on Palestinian land. It cut through Palestinian villages and agricultural areas, separating friends, neighbors, and families forever. What’s more, some Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem pay more taxes than their Jewish counterparts but receive a fraction of the services the municipality provides. First and foremost among these is Shuafat, a refugee camp in the heart of the East Jerusalem municipality.
The only words to describe Shuafat are prison-ghetto. There is a border checkpoint to get in and out of the neighborhood. Shuafat is entirely within the Jerusalem municipal boundary. The residents of Shuafat pay more taxes than their Jewish neighbors across the valley in French Hill, but as soon as you enter Shuafat the sight and smell of piled up garbage hits you square in the face. The fact is that Shuafat receives NO services from the Jerusalem municipality, least of all garbage collection.
Illegal Forced Evictions
Imagine you have owned your land for hundreds of years. In fact, your ownership papers are in Turkey because your family purchased it from the ruling Ottoman empire in the 18th or 19th century! Often obtaining those papers is nearly impossible and can take years to work your way through the Turkish bureaucracy.
Imagine a settler organization comes with false papers and claims that a settler cooperative purchased your land in the 20th century. The Israeli court accepts the false claim and serves you and your family with eviction orders. You don’t know when exactly they will come, but they will.
And so it comes to pass. Just before dawn, armed soldiers and police show up at your door and drag your family and young children out kicking and screaming. They leave you on the street as you watch a settler family move into your home that same day, with an armed police guard at the front gate. What would you do? How would you feel?
This scenario repeats itself regularly in Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. The Israeli government is trying to “cleanse” these neighborhoods of their native Palestinian inhabitants. Many more families have been served eviction notices for similar bogus claims and are living day to day in fear and trepidation of eviction.
If the above scenarios weren’t bad enough, there’s the plight of the Bedouin – a semi-nomadic tribe of farmers and shepherds who, like their indigenous counterparts in North and South America and Australasia, have a deep connection and reverence for the land they live on.
For decades, the Bedouin have been subjected to forced displacement by the Israeli government both within Israel and now in the desert hills in Area C that flank Jerusalem to the east. The Bedouin have lived in these mountains for hundreds of years and are called the “Gatekeepers of Jerusalem” by Palestinians far and wide.
The Israeli government is trying to force these Bedouin out of their legally-owned lands. They want to replace villages like Khan al-Ahmar with settler colonies. The goal is to link the existing Israeli settlements east of Jerusalem and effectively cut the West Bank into two halves, north and south. What’s worse, the government wants to relocate the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar to a garbage dump situated 5 km away that the Health Ministry has deemed unfit for human habitation.
If it all sounds too crazy to be true, believe it. When one witnesses the ludicrousness of what is happening here, it’s normal to shake your head in disbelief…WTF?
Existence is Resistance
That’s where things stand now. Call it what you want: breach of international law; war crimes; ethnic cleansing; cultural genocide – you would have a case for each one.
You have to scratch your head and ask yourself what the Israeli military and government are trying to achieve. What is their end game? If they think they will drive an entire population into exile (again), they must know it won’t work. The Palestinians have dug in their heels and aren’t going anywhere. Their determination has proven unbreakable and their resilience beyond extraordinary. In fact, the Palestinian mantra for their non-violent struggle nowadays is “Existence Is Resistance.” For them, to survive day to day in the face of this most brutal of military occupations is a victory.
I am proud to be Jewish. I grew up loving the state of Israel with all my heart and soul. But our land of milk and honey has developed an infected underbelly that not enough people are aware of — an oppressive machine that terrorizes millions of innocent people and strips them of basically every human right imaginable and tramples on their human dignity.
We need to stand up and say enough is enough. The Germans who hid Jews in their homes during the second world war risked their lives and their families. Too many people (especially Jews) do not speak out because they are afraid – afraid of what their friends and family may say, scared of the consequences that may befall them.
Do we not owe it to the Palestinians, to ourselves, and to the memory of all human beings who have been subjected to crimes against humanity to speak out against this egregious Israeli military occupation?