14 July 2014. A World to Win News Service. The following are edited notes of a conversation
with three feminist academics who have just returned from a visit to
We arrived two days after
the bodies of the three kidnapped settler youth were found. The
Israeli authorities had been blockading Palestinian communities and
arresting people before that, with the excuse that they were looking
for the three, but after that it got worse. What we saw was
collective punishment on a mass scale, resulting in the arrest of at
least 700 people, many of whom had been in prison before. The
security forces had lists of people they were looking for. These
raids were a way of creating an atmosphere of terror.
Our first night was in
East Jerusalem. Israeli settlers, in this case often recent
immigrants from the U.S., as well Russia and Eastern Europe, are
moving into Palestinian neighbourhoods and forcing the inhabitant
out. Local Palestinians identified many of the settlers in the Old
City as yeshiva (Jewish religious school) students. There are also
whole families with young children. The women are in a "permanent
state of pregnancy", with multiple young children in many
Settlers appropriate land
often by using fraudulent documents showing that they or their family
owns the property, and the police evict the Palestinians living
there. Sometimes it's a building or a whole floor of a building,
sometimes just an apartment or even a single room. Once they move in
they make life intolerable for the Palestinians around them. They
bring their guards, and they and their children harass the
Palestinians constantly to make them leave.
This process may appear
similar to what would be called "gentrification" in North
America, but in East Jerusalem and Hebron, it's a violent process.
It's ethnic cleansing.
For example, in the Old
City of Jerusalem, in one apartment complex, there is only a single
Palestinian family left. They can't use the main stairs because
settlers harass them. Instead, they have to take an old, dangerous
staircase to go in or out.
Walking through East
Jerusalem we saw a highway where, we were told, settlers in their
cars often try to run down Palestinian children walking there. One of
our hosts is known in the community and speaks Hebrew, so people come
to her for help. Children come to her and say, "Help we're being
chased by settlers." This is daily life.
Settlers are now moving
into an Armenian (Christian) community next to the Jewish quarter in
the old city in Jerusalem. The settler youth constantly spray slogans
like "Jesus is a son of a bitch" on the walls to let people
know they have to leave. The slogans are put up and then cleaned off
and then put up again constantly.
It took us two hours to
drive from Ramallah to Hebron in the West Bank, which is about 50
kilometres, in order to go around the checkpoints.
The Israeli military had
closed down Hebron a few days before we got there. They blocked off
the Palestinian area, not letting anyone in or out overnight. Then
after that they wouldn't allow males under 25 to come or go.
There are less than a
thousand Israeli settlers in the old city of Hebron, but in the name
of protecting them the entire Palestinian population is subject to
daily denigration and violence. Their lives are deliberately made
miserable. In the old city about 12 kilometres of a main street are
closed off to Palestinians. The Palestinians who live there can't
have ordinary visitors and need special permission even for family
members to come. The roofs of people's homes are on the street level
and the living areas are below that. The people who live there aren't
allowed on their own roofs.
We met a family who told
us about an unusual snowstorm. The snow piled up on the roof and
water was leaking into the rooms below. The father had to apply for
permission to go up and clean off the roof. He was given ten minutes
to do that, and it was hard for him because he was partially disabled
from once having been shot in the leg. Meanwhile, Israeli kids were
playing on the roof as they liked, making snowmen and so on.
The same man told us how
he was sitting in his living room one day when he heard water
running. He looked out and saw settler youth standing on his roof and
peeing down on his doorstep.
There are a pair of
Palestinian primary schools, one for girls and the other for boys, in
the area of Hebron that is closed off to Palestinians. The children
have to go through checkpoints to get there, and on the way they are
often harassed by settler youth. Sometimes it's verbal; sometimes
they throw rocks or bottles of urine. The settler kids go to their
parents and complain about the Palestinian kids, and their parents
come and get the school closed down. But Palestinian parents aren't
allowed to come to the school.
On Jewish religious
holidays the checkpoints are closed and so the road is too. Since the
buildings are all connected, the children can go from roof to roof
until they reach the school. The IDF (Israeli army) spray-painted
insults on the walls of the home of a lady who lives next to the
school, and they harass her for allowing children to pass through her
house to get to school.
Hebron is a Palestinian
city, but the settlements are under control of the IDF and the
Palestinian police in the old town are not allowed to protect
Palestinians from the settlers.
Israeli security forces
control the checkpoints in and out of the old town. Palestinians have
to wait in line to show their identity cards, sometimes for hours.
This makes daily life impossible. The soldiers are particularly hard
on Palestinian male youth. They are supposed to inspect ID cards and
then give them back, but sometimes they just put the card in their
pocket and make the owner wait in the sun for three or four hours.
Since you can't move around without an ID card, you have no choice
but to just stand there. They deliberately provoke people. The night
before we got there, a kid who had been made to wait a long time
started to get excited and they shot him in the leg.
The checkpoints are a
mechanism of punishment as well as control. They are a constant
source of humiliation.
On the Jewish side of one
settlement in Hebron, there is a big sign in Hebrew and English
declaring, "You are now leaving free Israel." The settlers
complain about restrictions on their movements through Hebron because
it is under Palestinian control. The settlers consider it part of
their own country where they should be allowed to do whatever they
When you cross into the
West Bank from Israel, the landscape changes. There is dust and
debris everywhere, it's not neat and clean like the Israeli side. The
Bedouin villages in the occupied territory are in a very bad state.
They are desperately poor. People might have a small garden. They
graze animals. The shelters in the villages are made of corrugated
sheet metal. In contrast, the settlers have built suburban
communities, which resemble gated communities in Florida.
When you enter Ramallah
itself, the landscape changes yet again. There are new buildings,
some for Western companies like HSBC, others for UN organizations and
the Palestinian Authority's administration offices as well as
extensive housing development, much of which is unoccupied.
Israeli settlements are
not allowed in Ramallah itself. Because it's a Palestinian
administrative centre, and a place where Palestinians are allowed to
build, Ramallah is where foreign money goes. Bahrain, Kuwait and
other Gulf countries fund university facilities. Money from the
Palestinian diaspora also ends up here.
That's one factor in the
political mood in Ramallah, a former centre of Palestinian activism
that was very, very quiet when we were there. The PA will not allow
protests. They attacked a pro-Hamas demonstration. People we talked
to were extremely contemptuous of the PA, and Fatah and the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine that are connected to the PA.
You can recognize PA officials' cars by their license plates, and
they drive luxury models.
Ramallah used to be known
as a secular city, but that has changed over the last few years. Now
many of the young women and even little girls, maybe the majority,
cover their heads. This is especially the case in the universities,
and not so much in the areas with cafes and restaurants and
businesses. We met many people who expressed support for Hamas,
Hezbollah and the Iranian regime because they supposedly stand up to
Israel. Religion has also become a big part of daily life, much more
than when some of us were there in 2005.
There were many
demonstrations against the Israeli lynching of the young Palestinian
boy while we were in Palestine, and against the attacks on Gaza. Many
took place in Palestinian towns and neighbourhoods in Israel itself,
not the West Bank. One such demonstration was in Nazareth, where 20
protesters were arrested by the IDF after use of tear gas and sound
grenades. Repression is one factor preventing protests in the
PA-controlled cities, but there has also been a strong
depoliticalization. Many people turn inward, or to NGO-type
activities instead of resistance. Many people tend to focus on
micro-identities – my region, my town. A belief that Palestinians
are different than other Arabs and people in the Middle East. Some
intellectuals rationalize that Islamism is once again giving
expression to national identity. There is no women's movement. There
is an extremely strong atmosphere of political backlash against the
revolutionary movements of the 1960s and '70s and up until the Oslo
Accords that created the PA in 1993. We haven't seen that so strongly
anywhere else in the Middle East.
There are pockets of
resistance, but largely functioning through the mechanisms of NGOs
and human rights groups. Palestinian youth in Ramallah go to
Qalandiya (a refugee camp surrounded by the Israeli "separation"
wall, with a major Israeli military presence) to thrown stones at the
Israeli security forces. They want to confront the Israeli army.
People have mixed
sentiments about what to do, depending on where you are and who you
talk to. It's complicated. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has no
credibility. People say he is Netanyahu's spokesman in the West Bank.
There's a general
disillusionment with the traditional Palestinian left like the PLO
and PFLP, especially among youth. Hamas is the only organization with
much popular support. Some people talk about launching a third
Intifada (the Palestinian uprisings against the occupation in
1987-1993 and 2002-2005). The youth and other people want to be able
to express their rage and frustration. It's not clear what that would
mean. In Ramallah, it would definitely include targeting the PA.
Can you imagine Gaza has
had one of the largest concentrations of refugee camps in the world?
Palestinians there are refugees in their own country, and
Palestinians from the West Bank aren't allowed to go there. Only
humanitarian groups, journalists, and UN are allowed to enter Gaza,
but with much difficulty and delay.
Every time Hamas shoots
off one of their rockets, they recruit. So does Islamic Jihad.
This whole situation, the
Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the Hamas rockets, actually helps
Israel. It's not clear who killed the three settler youth, or for
what purpose. No one has claimed responsibility. But it's allowed
Netanyahu to link Hamas and Da'ash (ISIS or "the Islamic state"
in Iraq and Syria) and put Israel's "security" at the
centre of what's happening in the region, in competition with Iran.
This also allows Israel to attack the unity government between Hamas
and the PA.
Years ago it was
difficult to talk about the one-state solution. Now there is much
popular discussion of a one-state solution, including graffiti and
t-shirts saying "48+67=1", meaning the
land Israelis occupied in the 1948 war plus the land they occupied
after the Six Day War in 1967 equals one nation. However, many argue
there is already a one-state solution: an apartheid state.