My apologies for not posting anything substantial lately, but it's been really hectic with the Action Week organised by Welcome to Palestine in aid of the flytilla. Although I realise I always use the excuse that it has been hectic. This is true.
There are two phrases used often by activists when talking about the Israeli occupation of Palestine: apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Before coming here, I thought that these might be misnomers for something unjust and frustrating - people exaggerating in their anger. Having been here for a month, I can now see that these phrases are shockingly accurate.
I was hitchhiking from Nablus to Ramallah with a Palestinian. He didn't speak much English, and I didn't speak much Arabic, so we just listened to Fay Rouz and some Egyptian music on the way. The journey should take about forty-five minutes, but on the way we got stuck at a flying checkpoint, so it took us nearly two and a half hours. He kept apologizing to me for the wait, at which point I said to him (in broken Arabic) 'You should not be apologizing for the army. They are the problem.'
'I know,' he said. 'This is our life here.'
Flying checkpoints can be set up at anytime, almost anywhere in the West Bank by the Israeli military. They stop and search Palestinian cars at random, sometimes taking down the passport details of Palestinians and internationals to add to their elusive database. I find it hard to believe that these soldiers ever believe that Palestinians are carrying weapons - this is just a way to make life hard for the Palestinians. As a friend of mine said here, the West Bank is now divided up into three main islands: Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus, and the military does everything they can to make traveling in between each difficult. This is restriction of movement.
Crossing from the West Bank into Israel, there are permanent checkpoints for when you have to pass through Jeddah - the Apartheid Wall. The worst of these checkpoints is Qalandia. The Palestinians have get out of their cars and buses and queue up in what I can only describe as cattle cages. It's like being in a prison cell, surrounded by metal bars with teenage soldiers watching you on their cameras. They are controlling everything.
There is one revolving metal door at the end of each cage, and every few minutes, when the soldiers feel like it, a green light will come on allowing three people to pass through to the scanners. You have to take off your belt, bags, phones and sometimes shoes before you walk through. You then have to show your passport to a teenage soldier as they half glare at you from behind their glass window and snap 'show me the visa'. The soldiers can decide to turn anyone away for any reason. A few weeks ago, there was a Palestinian man in front of me and a soldier, after taking his passport, threw it on the floor, laughed at him and then shouted at him to go back. He was quite old, so had to struggle to bend down to pick it up and then make his way back through the cramped cages.
This level of security is not reciprocated coming into the West Bank from Israel; you can just walk straight through.
A couple of weeks after I'd been at Qalandia, I was at a demonstration with some Israeli activists in the West Bank, and they offered to drop me off in Jerusalem. The bus pulled over, and I asked where we were.
"This is West Jerusalem," one activist replied.
"But what about the checkpoint?" I asked.
"We drove through it about twenty minutes ago." The soldiers never check Israeli cars.
From some of the hills in the West Bank, you can see Tel Aviv and Mediterranean, but the children born here have never been to the sea. A lot of Palestinians have houses in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other places in Israel that have been stolen from them - they have the paperwork to prove it, but they cannot access their land. Most Palestinians are not even allowed to go to Jerusalem to pray in Al Aqsa or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (there is a significant Christian minority in Palestine, that Israel doesn't like to mention). This is because you need a permit to pass through to Israel if you are Palestinian, and this permit is denied to most.
There are settler only roads in the West Bank and different legal systems for Israelis, internationals and Palestinians. In theory, internationals and Israelis can only be held for 24 hours without charge when they are arrested; Palestinians have been held for up to six years. Most Palestinian men have spent time in jail for 'attending illegal demonstrations' or something similarly ridiculous.
If this is not apartheid, what is it?
Yesterday morning we got a call from some ISMers working in Jordan Valley telling us that the army had invaded the Bedouin village that they had been working in, as the had demolition orders for the wells there. We went in two cars to go and help, and record what was going on. My car got escorted out of the village by a military jeep, after they took our passports - the other car managed to get in and record what was happening.
The army destroyed three wells; the soldiers bulldozed two and set fire to a third. They then stuffed the foundational pipes which carry water to the village with metal so that the village could not repair them, but would have to build new wells from scratch. It costs the village over 150 000 NIS to build each well, which are used for aggregation in the village. The 2000 villagers - half of whom are refugees - were dependent upon the wells to water their crops.
Soldiers were sighted four times in the village in the past week, coming in to document what sort of equipment they would need to destroy the wells.
I was in a small village a few days ago for a demonstration against a new wall the soldiers are building. Our contact there told me that the army had fifteen demolition orders for houses in the village - basically three quarters of the village.
The same is going on in Sheikh Jerrah in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians are being systematically evicted from their homes, and settlers moved in. When Palestinians demonstrate non-violently against these evictions, the army responds violently.
As far as I can see it, Israel is 'cleansing' the land. They are attempting to drive all traces of the Palestinians from this land, and they are willing to kill to do so. They are not going to stop - the peace talks are bull shit, a distraction for the world while Israel continues to wipe Palestine off the map.
If this is not ethnic cleansing, what is it?
If we don't rise now, it will be too late. The last beauty that is left in the West Bank will be taken; the Palestinians killed or driven away through fear and settlements will take over. Israel is blacklisting any international activists it can. A lot of us here have been blacklisted, so we need more people to come to Palestine to continue the struggle side by side with the Palestinians.
We need people to rise.