Seeing the everyday reality of the Palestinian struggle is also seeing why our solidarity with the Palestinians is so important, writes Shabbir Lakha
One of the first things our host Abed told us when we arrived in Abu Dis summarises the dilemma of the Israeli State quite well. It wants three things: to be a Jewish State, to be a democracy (aesthetically at least), and it wants to control the entirety of the land of historic Palestine. The dilemma is that it can only have two of these things at the same time.
If it wants to be a Jewish State and a democracy, then it must let go of the land where almost 5 million Palestinians live. If it wants to be a democracy and keep the land, then it must cease to be a Jewish state. And if it wants to be a Jewish state and have the land, then it can not claim to be a democracy.
As it stands, a Jewish state with close to 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and almost 2 million Palestinians living within the ‘48 borders and legally classed as second-class citizens, Israel is de facto an apartheid state. Going around the West Bank and East Jerusalem confirmed this beyond doubt.
So what’s the solution for Israel? Push the Palestinians out, of course. Contrary to mainstream discourse of the ‘Israel-Palestine’ conflict, Palestinians didn’t simply flee in 1948, they were pushed out - by force. During what the Palestinians call the Nakba, around 750,000 Palestinians (almost two thirds of the Palestinian population at the time) were expelled from their land. They were ethnically cleansed.
And it didn’t end there. Between 1948 and 1967, thousands of Palestinians were forcibly displaced and pushed into refugee camps either in the West Bank and Gaza or outside Palestine altogether. In ‘67 there was a second big exodus with over 150,000 Palestinians expelled from historic Palestine. And ever since then Israel has been tightening its control on every aspect of Palestinian life and making conditions as difficult - and deadly - as possible to force Palestinians to leave.
For this reason, for Palestinians, simply existing where they are is resisting.
There are several areas where we saw this in sharp focus.
Despite Israeli claims to the contrary, Jerusalem is divided. East Jerusalem is the Palestinian side which was illegally annexed in 1967 and ever since there has been a concerted effort to push Palestinians out.
Since 1967, Israel developed an ID system to separate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from those in Jerusalem and in Israel. The system has become more intricate and ridiculous since. Palestinian suburbs of Jerusalem like Abu Dis were excluded altogether. This became a much bigger problem when Israel built its apartheid wall in 2002, literally separating families and in the process confiscating more land.
Israel also introduced laws which mean Palestinians in Jerusalem can be stripped of their right to reside in Jerusalem if Israel feels Jerusalem is not their “center of life” and they often get checked on in their houses, have their belongings and even trash searched through and have to regularly present their utility bills to prove they’re living there. The other way to revoke Jerusalem residency from a Palestinian is for “security reasons” - a common justification for anything the Israeli government wants to do.
Across East Jerusalem, Palestinians are having their properties confiscated or demolished. There is a particular effort being made to remove Palestinians from the Old City. During the Six Day War, or the Naksa as Palestinians call it, David Ben Gurion ordered the demolition of the Moroccan quarter of the Old City, demolishing 135 houses, killing at least 3 Palestinians and displacing 650 Palestinians overnight. The area is now known as the Jewish quarter.
A series of laws passed by Israel, mainly the Absentee law, allows Israel to claim properties of Palestinians that were expelled (but has also been used against Palestinians still living there) as belonging to the state - which it then sells to settler organisations.
Another law that applies all over East Jerusalem but particularly in the Old City is the Third Generation Law. Properties of Jewish residents of the Old City that fled to West Jerusalem in 1948, and properties of Palestinians who were not allowed to return were taken up by Jordan as custodians who rented them out to Palestinians who were forced out from West Jerusalem and other captured territories. After 1970, Israel considers three generations of tenants (starting retroactively from 1948) as protected after which the Absentee law applies and the property is confiscated. 71 years on, most of these properties are now occupied by the third generation. Some families have already been evicted and a growing number have eviction orders ready and waiting.
But of course, when it comes to getting rid of Palestinians and taking over land, things don’t always have to be legal. Fanatical settlers, mainly from New York, are encouraged by settler organisations to come to Palestine and illegally (and often violently) take over Palestinian property after which they are protected by the Israeli military.
We were taken around the Old City and shown a number of properties where Israeli settlers had entered by force and refused to leave. They’re easy to spot because of the numerous massive Israeli flags they put up.
We visited an organisation that organises programmes for Palestinian children to help them understand and deal with the occupation and domestic issues as well as connecting them with their identity as Palestinians. Next to the organisation’s centre are settlers, and a few years ago they tunnelled through the basement and broke into the centre and tried to claim it, but were fortunately spotted and stopped before they could. They also extended the wall of their property so that it closed off the window of the centre.
We went into a Palestinian family’s house where settlers had taken over the top floor and the family still live on the ground floor. They are subjected to daily harassment and often violence, in one case one of the children had acid thrown on them by a settler. Every settler outpost is flanked by Israeli soldiers armed to the teeth on rooftop makeshift military camps to defend the settlers.
Settler organisations target properties that are on their third generation - they get this information directly from the housing ministry. When they’re not forcibly taking over properties, they are harassing and blackmailing Palestinians to get them to sell their properties. One family who refused several times to sell their property which was in a strategic location then had the army declare it a military zone “for security reasons” and kick them out. Often these properties are then sold off to settler organisations within months.
Jabal Al Baba
Pope Mountain is an area near Jerusalem which was gifted to the Vatican by King Hussein of Jordan when it was under Jordanian rule. Today, there are around 57 Bedouin families that live around the mountain.
The area is in between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, the third largest settlement which houses some 37,000 settlers. It is in the middle of the E1 area, which Israel wants to build settlements on and connect Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim. The E1 Plan as it’s called would essentially sever the West Bank into two. The only reason Israel hasn’t been able to do it is because the Bedouin communities of Jabal Al Baba, in Khan Al Ahmar (north east of Ma’ale Adumim) and around the West Bank refuse to leave.
The Israeli army has demolished their houses, mosques and schools, and even the playground and communal area that is on Vatican land several times, but the Bedouin families just rebuild and stay put. They’ve had their water cut off and grazing and farming lands confiscated but they continue to resist.
One of the first Jewish settlements in the West Bank was in the southern city of Hebron. In 1968, a group of Americans from New York led by Moshe Levinger who later founded the settler organisation Gush Emunim visited Hebron as tourists and stayed in the main hotel in Hebron. Shortly after they refused to leave and requested Israeli military support.
They were moved to an Israeli military base on the east side of Hebron where they set up camp. The Israeli military confiscated more land around the base and expanded it, building military building so as to not be seen as violating international law and then transferring them to the settlers.
In 1980, a group of settler women took their children to protest outside Beit Hadrassah, a Palestinian school on Shuhada Street in the centre of Hebron. Flanked by Israeli soldiers, they think broke into the school and kicked the children and teachers out by force and declared it a settlement. After a year of ‘negotiations’ with the Israeli government, the settlement was officially recognised and the area around it was made into a military buffer zone.
In 1994, an Israeli soldier entered the Ibrahimi mosque on the Muslim side and opened fire on worshippers. 29 Palestinians were killed and over 125 injured, and in the protests that ensued during the following week, the IDF killed 21 Palestinians and injured over 120.
Israel's response to the massacre was to shut down the whole Shuhada Street which was the main market place in Hebron’s Old City for 6 months and to place Palestinians under curfew. After 6 months, Israel had partitioned the Ibrahimi mosque, where the tomb of Abraham is: 65% was made into a Synagogue and 35% remained a mosque with three military checkpoints around it. The 1000 shops on Shuhada street were officially shut by the military and checkpoints were placed on all entrances to the street. Only Palestinians who still live on the street are allowed entry.
In 1997, Hebron was exempted from the Oslo Agreement and a new agreement was signed allowing Israeli redeployment to Hebron. The city was partitioned into H1, administered by the Palestinian Authority where around 170,000 Palestinians live, and H2 administered by the Israel military where around 34,000 Palestinians live along with over 500 settlers. H2 connects the Old City to the original settlement of Kiryat Arba which now has a population of around 8000.
The centre of the Old City is a closed off military zone where only settlers are allowed to drive. Settlers are allowed to carry guns from the age of 15 and the Palestinian homes have had to install metal fences on their windows and balconies to protect themselves from stones, acid and molotov cocktails. The streets of the Old City have fence-canopies to protect Palestinians walking on the streets from sticks, stones, dirty nappies and all kinds of things that settlers throw at them. They aren’t protected from liquid however and recently Palestinians going to pray at the mosque had settlers urinate on them.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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