A road trip through conflict, settlements and occupation
The sheer scale and depth of the Israeli occupation never ceases to amaze...
Last week together with four British politicians, we visited some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The sheer scale and depth of the Israeli occupation never ceases to amaze. And yet one still has to remind people – it is occupied, super occupied, more intensely in terms of daily life than even in 1967.
We entered the West Bank across the Green Line through the barrier on a major highway Route 445 through the Maccabim checkpoint (One of 60). Close by is the largest illegal settlement in the West Bank (one of 250), the ultra-orthodox settlement of Modiin Ilit with 60,000 settlers. These settlers can access this highway but most Palestinians cannot enter since 2002. The access from the villages has been blocked since six Israelis were killed there in 2002.
Palestinian villages dot the side of the road. These are just a few of the 227 separate Palestinian islands in the West Bank Swiss cheese. These are in Area B under Palestinian municipal control, and Israeli security control. Area B is non-contiguous and makes up 22 percent of the West Bank.
Palestinian cities under Palestinian Authority control form Area A. The remaining 60 percent is Area C under full Israeli control, dominated by Israeli settlements, military zones and nature zones but with 300,000 Palestinians too although only 1 percent of Area C has been allocated for Palestinian construction.
This occupation has lasted 49 years. Israel has inserted 573,000 civilians into the West Bank, plundered its resources and denied freedom to Palestinians. Yet, it is remarkably quietChris Doyle
Near the next checkpoint is the enclave of Bir Nabala, 15,000 Palestinians completely surrounded by the wall. Fear not, they have tunnels allowing the Palestinians access in and out. We pass Ofer military court. Over 750,000 Palestinians have passed through Ofer since 1967, many of them children. It claims an “impressive” 99.74 percent conviction rate. It is as vital to maintaining the occupation as the wall, military bases and checkpoints.
Most Palestinians in the West Bank cannot access East Jerusalem. It has a differing regime of occupation with 12 settlements and loads of mini-settlements dotted across Palestinian neighbourhoods. The British Consulate has one as a neighbor. The occupation here is based on IDs and permits. Palestinians fear losing residency rights (140,000 so far), and crave building permits which are almost impossible to get, hence the large numbers of demolitions.
Tool of occupation
This tool of occupation is all the rage in 2016. The UN informs us that by the end of April 2016, Israel will have demolished more than in all of 2015. There are 11,000 outstanding demolition orders to complete. The extremist NGO, Regavim is pressing for these to happen. It uses drones to monitor this.
Heading out through another checkpoint towards Jericho we visit one of the Bedouin communities in Area C, where every structure is under threat by the monster E1 settlement plan. Swings were confiscated from a children’s playground. The Israeli agriculture minister lives in the neighboring settlement of Kfar Adumim.
The day after, a home is demolished there. To the north-west of Jericho are sites for townships where 7,000 Bedouin in central West Bank may be forcibly transferred, a war crime. To the south is the site of one of Israel’s latest land thefts. One can see the Dead Sea, but this is out of bounds to Palestinians.
A necklace of settlements cuts off Jerusalem and with the wall, squeezes Bethlehem of all its agricultural land. The settlement of Givat Hamatos will complete this process. New caravans herald the expansion of nearly all these settlements. We pass Efrat where the Israeli military prosecutor resides, highlighting how the settlers are in power in Israel not opposition.
Hebron is a microcosm of the occupation, divided into H1 and H2. The centre is a ghost town, totally controlled by the Israeli army. Shuhada Street has been closed for Palestinians since 2000, the official term is sterilized. It was admitted in 2006 that it was a “mistake”, one yet to be corrected ten years later. All the old markets are closed, many shops and homes sealed. 850 settlers hold the city to ransom.
On the outskirts at the settlement of Kiryat Arba, the monument to mass murdering Baruch Goldstein is well tended. Back up Road 60, Palestinian roads are blocked off, with yet another planned settlement next to Arroub refugee camp (one of 19).
We finish our trip at a small hamlet stuck between two huge settlements in the north, their lands stolen, even their sheep pen demolished. Settler violence is common here, as we saw at nearby Duma with the burnt embers of the Dawabsheh house, where 18-month old Ali and his parents were killed by settler firebombs last July.
This occupation has lasted 49 years. Israel has inserted 573,000 civilians into the West Bank, plundered its resources and denied freedom to Palestinians. Yet, it is remarkably quiet. Palestinians killed 29 Israelis since October but thankfully attacks have declined. The occupation has not.
Palestinians face a daily battle to build, to get jobs, water, electricity and to be able to travel anywhere including schools and hospitals. Increasingly they despair of the international community, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “Nobody else but us will end this occupation,” a Bedouin tells me confidently. “Giving up is not an option.”
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He tweets @Doylech.