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Posts Tagged ‘Great March of Return

The State of Israel Is a Lying, Murdering, Moral Disgrace

Shooting unarmed Palestinian demonstrators ‘preserves Israeli values’

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Dispatch from Palestine: A year in review

Yumna Patel (Dec.31, 2018) is a multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

Looking back on this year, it is difficult to choose one moment, one tragedy, or one political decision that stands out among the rest.

Palestinians witnessed a tumultuous year in 2018, as they saw hundreds killed from the West Bank to Gaza, their rights slowly stripped away inside Israel, and the heart of Palestinian identity, Jerusalem, pushed further out of reach.

We have seen the Israeli occupation expand its reach through its growing settlement enterprise, increasing home demolitions, and extrajudicial killings of unarmed protesters, all with the full backing of the United States and relatively No accountability from the international community.

2018 marked 25 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, but a fair and just peace agreement for the Palestinians remains far out of reach — the dream of an independent Palestinian state even further.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which was supposed to be a temporary government according to the accords, has developed into a despotic regime, focused more on quashing dissent and policing free speech than achieving liberation and statehood. (Its function is plainly to distribute and allocate salaries)

2018 also marked 70 years since the Nakba, the tragedy that has shaped the Palestinian issue for generations.

But as evidenced by the ongoing fight for the rights of refugees in Gaza’s Great March of Return, the fight against expulsion in places Silwan and Khan al-Ahmar, and the fight for equal rights as citizens in Israel, the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, of the Palestinian people did not end in 1948.

The impact of Trump

President Donald Trump talks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

It goes without saying that perhaps that most defining moment of the year actually took place in late 2017, when President Donald Trump announced that the US would be recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The decision sparked widespread protests that lead to the arrest of hundreds of Palestinians and the injury of many more.

Even after the initial protests died down, Trump’s Jerusalem decision has continued to be a feature of nearly every demonstration, big and small, across Palestine.

Over the course of the year, the Trump administration has relentlessly unleashed a series of political decisions aimed at harming the Palestinian people and forcing their leadership to the negotiating table.

From defunding UNRWA and USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, to moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s decisions will have a lasting political impact on the region. The human impacts have already begun to be felt.

More than 60 Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli forces on the Gaza border on May 14th when they were protesting Trump’s decision to move the embassy.

Last week, a three-year old Palestinian refugee boy died waiting for treatment in a Lebanon hospital. (He was actually treated but his case was serious) Many have attributed his death to the UNRWA financial crisis, saying that the family could not afford to pay and that the hospital delayed the treatment because they were waiting for the insurance payment from UNRWA.

As time goes on, more than 5 million Palestinian refugees will feel the effects of UNRWA’s financial crisis in the form of job cuts, reduced healthcare coverage, and the shut down of primary schools across the region.

The existence of UNRWA is truly essential to the lives of Palestine’s most vulnerable communities. Living in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, I have witnessed my neighbors skip doctor visits and unable to purchase necessary medications due to the fact that the current health care they receive UNRWA doesn’t cover all of their needs.

If the already lacking coverage is taken away from them, it is not out of the question that many more will suffer the fate of that young boy in Lebanon.

The UN has reported that despite a rise in humanitarian needs across the occupied Palestinian territory, funding levels for humanitarian interventions declined significantly: only US$221 million had been received (from other donating governments), compared to the $540 million requested in the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Gaza & The Great March of Return

Much of this year’s coverage of news in Palestine has focused on the besieged Gaza Strip, which entered its 11th year under siege in 2018.

With every passing day, the situation in Gaza grows more and more dire. People see only a few hours of electricity a day, unemployment rates are at an all time high, and hospitals are closing their doors due to lack of medications.

In 2018, the UN reported that around 1.3 million people in Gaza, or 68% of the population, were food insecure.

We have reported on a series of stories from the Gaza Strip this year, each one more distressing than the last.

We have seen children with cancer forced to travel alone to the West Bank for treatment without their parents, UNRWA employees set themselves on fire after losing their jobs, and the ever rising death toll from the Great March of Return.

On Saturday, one Palestinian was killed and six more were injured along the Israeli border fence.

UN documentation reported on December 28th that the death toll from Gaza’s Great March of Return stood at 180, and that over 23,000 people had been injured (mutilated and handicapped) in the protests. Among the dead are journalists, medics, women, and children.

This year marked the highest death toll in a single year since the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2014, and according to UNOCHA,  the highest number of injuries recorded since the group began documenting casualties in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2005.

The Great March of Return has galvanized Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip to demand an end to the crippling Israeli siege.

The Great March of Return in Gaza, August 10, 2018 (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Despite nine months of death and injuries, and no tangible wins for the protesters, the continued participation of Gazans in the march is evidence of the growing desperation in the coastal enclave.

With nowhere to go, no future for Gaza’s young people, and no medicine for the sick, the only remaining choice for many is to try as hard as they can to tear down the walls and fences surrounding them, knowing full well that death awaits them at the borders.

Growing discontent with PA

In the PA-controlled West Bank, there is a growing sense of discontentment with the government and its leaders, who continue to prioritize their consolidation of power and resources over the rights of the people.

The state of hopelessness and frustration among Palestinian citizens is on a steady rise, with polls showing that Palestinians ranked corruption as the second largest problem they face after the economic crisis – higher than the Israeli occupation, which ranked third.

Palestinian economic and social decline has led to higher rates of poverty and unemployment, with college graduates witnessing the highest rates of joblessness.

The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), once the most important official instruments of control and accountability for the government, has been dysfunctional for the past 11 years. (And lately dismissed by Mahmoud Abbas with no date for election)

The PA’s executive authority and security apparatuses have continued to impose restrictions on media and journalists through the Cyber Crimes Law, blocking websites that publish dissenting voices, and detaining journalists and activists critical of Mahmoud Abbas and his regime.

Over the summer, PA forces violently suppressed youth-led protests that criticized the government’s policies in Gaza and its security coordination with Israel, which has been denounced as a “revolving door” policy funneling Palestinian activists from PA jails to Israeli prisons.

In the wake of a spate of attacks earlier this month allegedly orchestrated by Hamas, demonstrations erupted in support of the PA’s rival faction, and in condemnation of Israel’s punitive ongoing home demolitions, road closures, and massive arrest campaigns.

Video footage of the protests showed PA security forces using batons to beat demonstrators, many of them women.

Despite widespread public outcry and ongoing protests, the PA is moving forward with a controversial social security law which will see citizens that work in the private sector paying 7% of their monthly salaries taxes to the Palestinian Social Security Corporation (PSCC), with no clauses exempting workers who receive minimum wage.

While the law claims workers will be able to apply for a retirement pension at age 60, it stipulates that widows, orphans, and the families of Palestinians killed by Israel will not be eligible to receive benefits.

Palestinians have voiced their opposition to the law, citing concerns that if subjected to monthly deductions, workers receiving already low wages will not be able to provide for their families or pay off hefty bank loans, which many Palestinians use to purchase homes, cars, etc.

The primary opposition to the law lies in the fact that many Palestinians do not trust the government to uphold its end of the deal, and that under the Israeli occupation and an increasingly unstable PA, there’s no guarantee they would ever see the benefits of their contributions.

Business as usual for the Israeli occupation

According to UN documentation, a total of 295 Palestinians were killed and over 29,000 were injured in 2018 by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Over 459 Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished by Israeli forces, marking a slight increase from 2017. The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 472 Palestinians, including 216 children and 127 women.

In the wake of this month’s spate of attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers, Israel has stepped up its efforts to demolish the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks on Israelis, a policy that has been widely criticized for years as collective punishment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on so-called “deterrence”efforts, instructing security officials to fast track punitive home demolitions, despite previous recommendations from an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks.

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed the first reading of a bill to forcibly transfer families of Palestinians involved in attacks against Israelis, despite heavy opposition from intelligence and army officials.

If passed into law, it would see that within a week of an attack or attempted attack, the Israeli army would be permitted to expel the relatives of the Palestinian assailants from their hometowns to other areas of the West Bank.

Forcible transfer is considered a war crime under international law.

Since the election of Trump, the West Bank has witnessed a steep increase in the expansion of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

In the 22 months before Trump was elected, 4,476 settlement housing units were approved, according to settlement watchdog  Peace Now. But since his election, that figure has more than tripled to 13,987 housing units.

Earlier this week, Israel advanced plans for nearly 2,200 living units in 47 settlements.

Palestinians in the West Bank have also witnessed a frightening increase in settler attacks on them and their property, with settlers more emboldened than ever before.

In 2018, UNOCHA recorded 265 incidents where Israeli settlers killed or injured Palestinians or damaged their property, marking a 69 per cent increase from 2017.

One Palestinian woman, 48-year-old Aisha al-Rabi, a mother of eight, was killed in October when settlers attacked her family’s car with rocks as they were driving home in the Nablus district of the northern West Bank.

Some 7,900 trees and 540 vehicles were damaged or completely destroyed in settler attacks, the UN reported.

The Palestinians that shook 2018

Amid all the devastation of 2018, several Palestinian faces have emerged from the darkness to offer a sense of hope, inspiration, and resilience for their people.

The following men, women, and children have been iconicized through social media for their roles in combating the Israeli occupation and bringing the plight of the Palestinian people to the international stage.

Ahed Tamimi

16-year-old Ahed Tamimi in Israeli military court (Photo: Tali Shapiro/Twitter)

Ahed Tamimi was propelled on to the international stage when she was arrested by Israeli forces in December 2017 after she slapped an Israeli soldier during a raid on her hometown of Nabi Saleh.

As she severed out an 8-month sentence in Israeli prison, she shed a new light on the issue of Palestinian child prisoners and the struggles of Palestinian youth under occupation.

By the time she was released, she had reached star status in Palestine and beyond, and has remained outspoken in her criticism of the Israeli occupation, travelling the world raising awareness about the Palestinian cause.

Yasser Murtaja & Razan al-Najjar

Razan al-Najjar, photo shared by the al-Najjar family.

Yasser Murtaja, portrait from his Facebook page.

During the Great March of Return, Israeli forces shot and killed Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja and medic Razan al-Najjar, drawing outrage from the Palestinian and international community.

Their deaths highlighted Israel’s widely criticized open-fire policy along the Gaza border, and the ongoing killing of unarmed civilians.

The funerals of both Murtaja and al-Najjar drew thousands of mourners, and their status as heroes of the Great March of Return has been memorialized on Palestinian social media.

The Bedouins of Khan al-Ahmar

Ibrahim Khamees, a member of the Khan al-Ahmar village council, watches as armed Israeli forces guard a bulldozer that razed lands on Wednesday to create a pathway for Israeli forces to use in the imminent demolition of the village (Photo: Akram al-Wara)

As the battle to save their village came to a head this year, the bedouins of Khan al-Ahmarremained steadfast in their nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation’s efforts to expel them from their lands.

Through grassroots efforts, the people of Khan al-Ahmar galvanized international support for their struggle, resulting in the indefinite postponement of the village’s demolition.

Rashida Tlaib

On their way to Congress: Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (left) of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Omar is the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States. (Photo: Twitter/Rashida Tlaib)

Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District made headlines across the US and the world as one of the first Muslim-American women to be elected to Congress, and the first ever Palestinian-American woman to do so.

In Palestine, Tlaib’s win was a form of poetic justice: the descendant of Palestinians from a small occupied West Bank village would now be serving in one of the highest levels of US government.

Since her election, Tlaib has been outspoken in her defense of the BDS movement, and has even announced that she will be leading a delegation of her colleagues to Palestine, as an alternative to AIPAC’s annual Israel trip for new members of congress.

Looking forward

As we enter the New Year, there is little reason for optimism in Palestine.

The Israeli occupation continues to tighten its grip with the help of the US, and the prospect of any reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and free democratic elections in Palestine are virtually nonexistent.

Palestinians in the West Bank continue to see their family members cycled through the Israeli prison system, with 5,554 Palestinians in prison as of November.

The current security situation in the West Bank has created a climate in which Palestinians are scared to drive their cars between cities, fearful that a settler attack or wrong move at a checkpoint could spell their death.

In East Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees are bracing for the worst as Israel moves forward with its plans to shut down UNRWA’s operations in the city.

In Gaza, the Great March of Return pushes on into its 10th month, and an end to the Israeli and Egyptian siege is nowhere in sight.

The Trump administration continues to tout its “deal of the century,” which many Palestinians anticipate will attempt to erase any Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, and force them to once again compromise their rights for the sake of Israel and the settlers.

The political future of Palestine is as uncertain as ever, and 2019 will likely see a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation here.

This year, we have interviewed hundreds of Palestinians from the borderlines in Gaza to refugee camps of Bethlehem. Countless people have have opened up their homes to Mondoweiss, to tell us, and show us, the reality of their existence under occupation.

Time and time again, we have asked people what their message is to the world, and to the Israeli government.  And time and time again, there is one common theme to every person’s answer:  sumud, or steadfastness

“A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History”: Interview with Jamal Juma’

Israel/Palestine

 on 

For weeks now, (since the pronouncement of Trump on Jerusalem Capital of Israel) Palestinians everywhere have been galvanized by events taking place in the Gaza Strip, the site of weekly (since March 30) mass protests demanding the end of the siege and blockade of Gaza (in place now since 2007) and the right to return to the homes from which they or their elders had been transferred (kicked out) since Israel creation in 1948.

Dubbed the Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza have assembled as close as they can to the Israeli-designated buffer zone separating Gaza from Israel. (Going on for the 16th Fridays)

Israeli soldiers at a distance, crouched behind earth barriers that they created in the days preceding the march, and at absolutely no danger of attack from the unarmed protestors, pick off demonstrators at their leisure (with live bullets, assassinating over 160  and targeting the legs to handicap the marchers, over 1,600 badly injured)

By June 14, at least 129 Palestinians had been killed and 13,000 injured; the dead included medics like the 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar and journalists including Yaser Murtaja—typically seen as off-limits in conflict zones but transformed by Israel into prime targets.

Jamal Juma’ leads a nonviolent march against the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank town of Al Walaja.

On June 4, I spoke to Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, about the popular resistance in Gaza, the Trump administration’s policy toward the question of Palestine, and Palestinian options to chart a new course.

Ida AudehI interviewed you in August 2011 to learn more about the separation wall and its effect on communities in its path. Describe Israel’s current system of control over the occupied territories, of which the wall is a part.

Jamal Juma’: It is clear that the wall was designed to isolate and lay siege to Palestinians. The project to place Palestinians under siege by means of the wall has been completed.

On the popular level, we see serious activity in search of an alternative to the status quo, the largest and the most important of which is taking place now in Gaza with the Great March of Return.

These actions are important for a number of reasons. They changed the stereotypes about Gaza as a launchpad for rockets, a place of terrorism that has been hijacked by Hamas.

In fact, the marches in Gaza since March 30 represent a widespread popular movement, massive popular resistance. Just like the first intifada emerged from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, today we have the beginnings of a mass civil disobedience movement.

(Note: the First Intifada took place in 1935 against the British mandated power for refusing to organize democratic elections, even in municipality, on the ground that the Jews were minorities. It lasted 3 years. Britain had to dispatch 100,000 troop to quell this civil disobedience and exacted horror torture techniques)

Gaza has a population that is resisting, and Hamas does not control this resistance. The discourse we generally hear, that Hamas is leading people to their death, should be recognized as racist and dehumanizing.

For that reason, the marches in Gaza are very important in defining the trajectory of the Palestinian question and restoring the role of popular resistance to the forefront. They lay the popular foundation for the coming phase. They might also have prevented another massive disaster.

I think Israel was preparing to implement the Trump administration’s proposals; the scenario that the Israelis were planning for was to pull Gaza into a military confrontation, which would justify more intense bombing than it has done in the past.

(Actually, an Israeli pre-emptive re-occupation of Gaza would serve the Palestinian cause and foil the USA new idea of a resolution by re-transplanting the existing Palestinians)

The borders with Egypt would open, and people would flee into Egypt. But the mass participation in the march thwarted that plan.

IA: I find it hard to understand how Ramallah can be so tranquil considering the carnage in Gaza.

JJ:  It might seem that what is happening in the West Bank is not at all comparable to what is happening in Gaza. And that is true, it isn’t as massive. But actions are taking place in the West Bank, and they are also important.

On a weekly basis people are gathering to protest at the checkpoints.

Since 2011 there have been continuous outbursts (in Arabic, habbat); for example, in Jerusalem in the Bab al-Shams encampment and in the aftermath of the Abu Khdeir and Dawabshe killings (January 2013, July 2014, and July 2015, respectively).*

These outbursts were significant and exemplary, the way Gaza is today. They reminded us of what the Palestinian people are capable of doing.

I expect that these outbursts here and there will lead to widespread civil disobedience. Young people in Jerusalem and the West Bank have been going out to checkpoints in the hundreds, on a daily basis, and these conditions put one in the mindset of the first intifada.

We should take note of what Palestinians in Israel are doing as well.

There are youth movements that are taking action in ways that are very impressive and a source of pride.  They defy the occupation and they involve large numbers of people, in Haifa and elsewhere (The women marches).

IA: Let’s look at the relationship of Palestinians to formal political bodies. Recently the Palestinian National Council held its first meeting in 22 years. One might have thought that over the course of more than two decades, several issues and events warranted a meeting – regional events, the assassination of Yasir Arafat, and the status of the Oslo accords come to mind.

But the convening of the PNC doesn’t seem to have generated much popular interest.

JJ: People did not pay much attention to it, but in fact they should be talking about it because it poses a threat. Meeting for the first time in 22 years, it did not even discuss what it has done since the last meeting!

What it did do is effectively cancel itself, which means it is changing the structure of the PLO. There is an attempt to replace the Central Committee with a body consisting of the private sector, the political currents in the PA today, and elements of the security apparatus.

No representation of Palestinians from the 1948 areas, or the diaspora, or even the Palestinian street. This is a threat to the Palestinian project.

The PLO as it has been transformed by Mahmoud Abbas threatens the national cause. It has been hijacked; our task is to restore it as a representative and unifying entity that works to support the Palestinian cause. The reform should be led by Palestinian groups and movements.

People have no confidence in the leadership; they don’t think it is capable of leading in the coming phase.

In fact, the outbursts I referred to earlier had the potential of triggering a third intifada. People were waiting for a leadership to emerge, as happened during the first intifada; three months into the intifada, a unified leadership emerged and took charge.

But this time, the PA wasn’t interested in assuming that role; three months into these protests, the PA sent its people to disrupt actions and prevent young people from gathering at checkpoints. The national factions were unable to form a unified leadership for obvious reasons.

IA: What is the alternative?

JJ: People have to create a national movement that can lead the change. What will lead the movement for change will not be a single individual. It will be a widespread national movement that has a real relationship with people on the ground, a movement that will direct the street. This is the only way change will take place. People have been waiting fora long time, but who are we waiting for?

There is not going to be a great charismatic leader. We don’t talk about a heroic leader, we talk about a heroic people and a leadership of institutions.

We want a Palestinian state that represents all Palestinians. Within that broad outline, we say that right now, we have to protect the Palestinian project – the right to self-determination, and we all struggle for that right.

We don’t have to get into a discussion about the final outcome. The time for the two state solution is clearly over—and in fact, that proposal provided the basis for trying to destroy our cause. The other option is clear. But like I said, we don’t want that discussion to detract from our focus now or to place us in conflict with the position of the PLO.

(I do disagree: the 2-State option is very much ripe after Trump project fail, and it will fail)

How do we support the Palestinian project? We have to confront what is happening in Jerusalem, the settlements. There has to be a practical program, not just slogans on paper. Palestinians in the diaspora should support these activities, get involved in the boycott movement, because we are part of that boycott movement.

We are trying to keep the political work and the boycott movement separate to protect the boycott movement, because there is a Palestinian effort underway to weaken the BDS movement; through normalization, by invoking the PLO position.

We consider the boycott movement an essential component of our activism.

This is what people are discussing today, here and with our people in the 1948 areas, and in the diaspora. Many meetings have taken place, and they are being expanded. I expect that in the next few weeks there will be a meeting to put in writing some of the agreed upon principles underlying all of these actions.

There has to be a movement that preserves the unity of the Palestinian people and protects the national cause from liquidation. That’s what we are working on now.

Notes

* The 2013 encampment known as Bab al-Shams was an attempt by Palestinians to thwart Israeli plans to establish a settlement on land in the E1 zone, between East Jerusalem and the Jewish-only settlement Ma’ale Adumim; the Israeli plan was designed to permanently sever the West Bank from East Jerusalem. Another encampment, Bab al-Karama, was set up in Beit Iksa and stormed by Israeli soldiers two days later.

In July 2014, Israeli settlers in Jerusalem abducted 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir from Shufat and set him on fire; the ensuing demonstrations resulted in 160 Palestinians injured.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began five days later.

One year later, settlers set fire to the Dawabshe home in Duma. The soul survivor of the attack was a 4-year-old child; the child’s parents and infant brother were killed.

In 2015, a tent encampment, “Gate of Jerusalem,” was set up in Abu Dis to protest the Israeli government’s plans to displace Bedouin communities there.

Beginning in September 2015 and lasting until the end of the year, protests spread from the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem throughout the West Bank; 108 Palestinians were killed and 12,260 were injured.  Palestinians in Israel demonstrated in solidarity.

About Ida Audeh is a Palestinian from the West Bank who lives in Colorado. She is the editor of Birzeit University: The Story of a National Institution, published by Birzeit University in 2010. Other posts by .

“A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History”: Interview with Jamal Juma’

Israel/Palestine

 on 

For weeks now, (since the pronouncement of Trump on Jerusalem Capital of Israel) Palestinians everywhere have been galvanized by events taking place in the Gaza Strip, the site of weekly (since March 30) mass protests demanding the end of the siege and blockade of Gaza (in place now since 2007) and the right to return to the homes from which they or their elders had been transferred (kicked out) since Israel creation in 1948.

Dubbed the Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza have assembled as close as they can to the Israeli-designated buffer zone separating Gaza from Israel.

Israeli soldiers at a distance, crouched behind earth barriers that they created in the days preceding the march, and at absolutely no danger of attack from the unarmed protestors, pick off demonstrators at their leisure (with live bullets, assassinating over 160  and targeting the legs to handicap the marchers, over 1,600 badly injured)

By June 14, at least 129 Palestinians had been killed and 13,000 injured; the dead included medics like the 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar and journalists including Yaser Murtaja—typically seen as off-limits in conflict zones but transformed by Israel into prime targets.

Jamal Juma’ leads a nonviolent march against the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank town of Al Walaja.

On June 4, I spoke to Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, about the popular resistance in Gaza, the Trump administration’s policy toward the question of Palestine, and Palestinian options to chart a new course.

Ida AudehI interviewed you in August 2011 to learn more about the separation wall and its effect on communities in its path. Describe Israel’s current system of control over the occupied territories, of which the wall is a part.

Jamal Juma’: It is clear that the wall was designed to isolate and lay siege to Palestinians. The project to place Palestinians under siege by means of the wall has been completed.

It closed off all the dynamic areas that Israel considered necessary to isolate various areas. 80% of the Wall is within the West Bank. The second part of the siege is reinforcement of the settlements.

Each settlement has what Israel calls a buffer zone – a security apparatus consisting of barbed wire and roads that Palestinians are not allowed to use.

This, together with the alternative (bypass) roads (which we call the apartheid roads), allows them to control the territory. Today there are two road networks: one is for Israeli settlers, about 1,400 km long, and its purpose is to connect all settlements to one another and to Israel in a kind of network. And this is complete.

This network is the dominant one in the West bank, and it includes the major roads. The other network, the alternative roads, is for Palestinians to use; these roads will intersect through 48 planned tunnels and bridges, some of which have been created already.

The two road systems are separate. This is the basis of the racist discriminatory system we talk about: isolating Palestinians and confining them in limited spaces, control of their resources through settlements, the road network, and military installations, and the wall, which take up about 62% of the area of the West Bank.

With the extension of the settlements, we no longer just talk about Palestinians being ghettoized in the north, south, and central region. There is more fragmentation of Palestinian residential areas.

New settlement outposts are not being discussed in terms of whether they should be removed or not.  They are being transformed into settlements. When you see 150 outposts, you are really talking about 150 new settlements. This project is being intensified, and especially since Trump took office.

IA: So you noticed a clear acceleration after Trump?

JJ: It’s much more than an acceleration. This is a watershed moment in Palestinian history. Since Trump took office, US policy fully adopted the Zionist project and embarked on a process of liquidating the Palestinian cause, of eliminating it. It is clear program.

This began with Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Zionist entity, the transfer of the embassy, targeting the refugees by cutting financing of UNRWA, and other forms of pressure on areas that host large numbers of refugees including getting them settled permanently in the host countries.

Israeli colonization, the geographic engineering of the political map, is another component in the liquidation of the Palestinian cause. Israeli proposals for colonization are massive.

They are concentrating on the Jordan Valley – creating new settlements, expanding existing settlements, creating the supportive infrastructure, and huge incentives are given to Israelis who work in agriculture (including cash payments of $20,000 for anyone willing to move there).

Now the settlements are on the tops of the mountain chain that overlook the Jordan Valley, which enable them to encircle lower lying towns.

When you talk about Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim, and so on, it will be as though the entire West Bank is a suburb of Tel Aviv. This will make it impossible for there to be any separation in the future, for there to be any independent Palestinian entity; instead, an apartheid system of cantons will be imposed on Palestinians.  This is the reality on the ground.

Back to the new US policy: In addition to a shift in standing US positions on Jerusalem and the refugee issue, there is the use of Arab countries that are ready for normalization with Israel and eager to be aligned with the American project – first and foremost, Saudi Arabia, and also Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, which are pressuring the Palestinians to accept the US project to liquidate the Palestinian cause.

This has complicated things and taken it out of the sphere of international law and the UN; everyone had previously worked within that framework. We have been demanding the implementation of resolutions. But the US dealt a blow to international law.

IA: The US now proposes the “deal of the century,” which Gulf states are eagerly endorsing. Can you describe the contours of that deal?

JJ: The proposal is to create a Palestinian state in Gaza with extensions into the Sinai Desert, to be administered by the Palestinian Authority. The West Bank and Jerusalem are not part of these calculations, although Israel might be willing to give up some areas around Jerusalem that are densely populated with Palestinians.

(This part of the proposal has been floated by extremist Israeli groups even before the Trump proposal.)

They might be willing to remove from Greater Jerusalem areas with high Palestinian density, like Jabal Mukkaber, Isawiya, Silwan, and Sur Bahir. 

There has been some discussion about removing Beit Hanina and Shufat.

The Israelis would retain control of the Jewish settlements and the Old City, which together make up about 87% of the area of East Jerusalem—not exactly a small territory.

IA: What is the Palestinian response to these plans?

JJ:  On the formal political level, the PA is in a crisis. It placed its faith in the US, but now US determination to liquidate the Palestinian cause is very clear.

(The “Palestinian Authority” never placed faith in USA: they had no serious political or financial support alternative from anyone. Those employees, waiting for their monthly paycheck or stipend, just hide their head in the dirt and wished they die before they watch another Nakba)

The only real option remaining to the PA is to cast its lot with the Palestinian people and on free people around the world, international solidarity and movements that support us. The Palestinian people have to make a decision, and so does the PA.

On the popular level, we see serious activity in search of an alternative to the status quo, the largest and the most important of which is taking place now in Gaza with the Great March of Return. These actions are important for a number of reasons. They changed the stereotypes about Gaza as a launchpad for rockets, a place of terrorism that has been hijacked by Hamas.

In fact, the marches in Gaza since March 30 represent a widespread popular movement, massive popular resistance. Just like the first intifada emerged from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, today we have the beginnings of a mass civil disobedience movement.

(Note: the First Intifada took place in 1935 against the British mandated power for refusing to organize democratic elections, even in municipality, on the ground that the Jews were minorities. Britain dispatched 100,000 troop to quell this civil disobedience that lasted 3 years and exacted horror torture techniques)

Gaza has a population that is resisting, and Hamas does not control this resistance. The discourse we generally hear, that Hamas is leading people to their death, should be recognized as racist and dehumanizing.

People are not robots. Gazans of all ages, family situations, and economic and educational levels are taking part in these marches to raise their cause to the world.  These people are saying that the siege of Gaza cannot continue. We are human beings, we have rights, and one of those rights is to live like human beings. Gaza is no longer inhabitable.

Gaza has been turned into a prison and a hell. Even the UN acknowledges that. The numbers around Gaza are just astounding.

The Great March has returned focus on the refugee issue and put it squarely on the table despite all the efforts to ignore and erase it. More than 70% of Gaza residents are refugees, and they are demanding the right to return to their original hometowns.

For that reason, the marches in Gaza are very important in defining the trajectory of the Palestinian question and restoring the role of popular resistance to the forefront. They lay the popular foundation for the coming phase. They might also have prevented another massive disaster.

I think Israel was preparing to implement the Trump administration’s proposals; the scenario that the Israelis were planning for was to pull Gaza into a military confrontation, which would justify more intense bombing than it has done in the past.

The borders with Egypt would open, and people would flee into Egypt. But the mass participation in the march thwarted that plan.

IA: I find it hard to understand how Ramallah can be so tranquil considering the carnage in Gaza.

JJ:  It might seem that what is happening in the West Bank is not at all comparable to what is happening in Gaza. And that is true, it isn’t as massive. But actions are taking place in the West Bank, and they are also important.

On a weekly basis people are gathering to protest at the checkpoints.

Since 2011 there have been continuous outbursts (in Arabic, habbat); for example, in Jerusalem in the Bab al-Shams encampment and in the aftermath of the Abu Khdeir and Dawabshe killings (January 2013, July 2014, and July 2015, respectively).*

These outbursts were significant and exemplary, the way Gaza is today. They reminded us of what the Palestinian people are capable of doing. I expect that these outbursts here and there will lead to widespread civil disobedience. Young people in Jerusalem and the West Bank have been going out to checkpoints in the hundreds, on a daily basis, and these conditions put one in the mindset of the first intifada.

We should take note of what Palestinians in Israel are doing as well. There are youth movements that are taking action in ways that are very impressive and a source of pride.  They defy the occupation and they involve large numbers of people, in Haifa and elsewhere.

IA: Let’s look at the relationship of Palestinians to formal political bodies. Recently the Palestinian National Council held its first meeting in 22 years. One might have thought that over the course of more than two decades, several issues and events warranted a meeting – regional events, the assassination of Yasir Arafat, and the status of the Oslo accords come to mind. But the convening of the PNC doesn’t seem to have generated much popular interest.

JJ: People did not pay much attention to it, but in fact they should be talking about it because it poses a threat. Meeting for the first time in 22 years, it did not even discuss what it has done since the last meeting! What it did do is effectively cancel itself, which means it is changing the structure of the PLO. There is an attempt to replace the Central Committee with a body consisting of the private sector, the political currents in the PA today, and elements of the security apparatus. No representation of Palestinians from the 1948 areas, or the diaspora, or even the Palestinian street. This is a threat to the Palestinian project.

The PLO as it has been transformed by Mahmoud Abbas threatens the national cause. It has been hijacked; our task is to restore it as a representative and unifying entity that works to support the Palestinian cause. The reform should be led by Palestinian groups and movements.

People have no confidence in the leadership; they don’t think it is capable of leading in the coming phase.  In fact, the outbursts I referred to earlier had the potential of triggering a third intifada. People were waiting for a leadership to emerge, as happened during the first intifada; three months into the intifada, a unified leadership emerged and took charge. But this time, the PA wasn’t interested in assuming that role; three months into these protests, the PA sent its people to disrupt actions and prevent young people from gathering at checkpoints. The national factions were unable to form a unified leadership for obvious reasons.

IA: What is the alternative?

JJ: People have to create a national movement that can lead the change. What will lead the movement for change will not be a single individual. It will be a widespread national movement that has a real relationship with people on the ground, a movement that will direct the street. This is the only way change will take place. People have been waiting for a long time, but who are we waiting for? There is not going to be a great charismatic leader. We don’t talk about a heroic leader, we talk about a heroic people and a leadership of institutions.

We want a Palestinian state that represents all Palestinians. Within that broad outline, we say that right now, we have to protect the Palestinian project – the right to self-determination, and we all struggle for that right. We don’t have to get into a discussion about the final outcome. The time for the two state solution is clearly over—and in fact, that proposal provided the basis for trying to destroy our cause. The other option is clear. But like I said, we don’t want that discussion to detract from our focus now or to place us in conflict with the position of the PLO.

How do we support the Palestinian project? We have to confront what is happening in Jerusalem, the settlements. There has to be a practical program, not just slogans on paper. Palestinians in the diaspora should support these activities, get involved in the boycott movement, because we are part of that boycott movement.

We are trying to keep the political work and the boycott movement separate to protect the boycott movement, because there is a Palestinian effort underway to weaken the BDS movement; through normalization, by invoking the PLO position. We consider the boycott movement an essential component of our activism.

This is what people are discussing today, here and with our people in the 1948 areas, and in the diaspora. Many meetings have taken place, and they are being expanded. I expect that in the next few weeks there will be a meeting to put in writing some of the agreed upon principles underlying all of these actions. There has to be a movement that preserves the unity of the Palestinian people and protects the national cause from liquidation. That’s what we are working on now.

Notes

* The 2013 encampment known as Bab al-Shams was an attempt by Palestinians to thwart Israeli plans to establish a settlement on land in the E1 zone, between East Jerusalem and the Jewish-only settlement Ma’ale Adumim; the Israeli plan was designed to permanently sever the West Bank from East Jerusalem. Another encampment, Bab al-Karama, was set up in Beit Iksa and stormed by Israeli soldiers two days later.

In July 2014, Israeli settlers in Jerusalem abducted 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir from Shufat and set him on fire; the ensuing demonstrations resulted in 160 Palestinians injured. Israel’s assault on Gaza began five days later. One year later, settlers set fire to the Dawabshe home in Duma. The soul survivor of the attack was a 4-year-old child; the child’s parents and infant brother were killed. In 2015, a tent encampment, “Gate of Jerusalem,” was set up in Abu Dis to protest the Israeli government’s plans to displace Bedouin communities there.

Beginning in September 2015 and lasting until the end of the year, protests spread from the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem throughout the West Bank; 108 Palestinians were killed and 12,260 were injured.  Palestinians in Israel demonstrated in solidarity.

About Ida Audeh is a Palestinian from the West Bank who lives in Colorado. She is the editor of Birzeit University: The Story of a National Institution, published by Birzeit University in 2010. Other posts by .

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