A New Draconian
the Israeli oppression is a like playing chess with the devil:
the evil minds behind the occupation are always two steps ahead
of you. What was the real aim of "Operation Defence Shield"?
The official pretext "dismantling the infrastructure
of terrorism" cannot be taken too seriously. Now that resumed
suicide bombings have to be explained, military experts suddenly
claim that the simple equipment of the suicide bombers hardly
needs any infrastructure at all. The further expansion of the
settlements, mentioned in my previous column, is always an aim;
"Defence Shield" has undoubtedly given it a great push, with Palestinians
too weak and too frightened by the extent of Israeli terror to
resist their on-going dispossession.
journalist Amira Hass has now reported
a new draconian measure imposed on West Bank Palestinians,
which may be a real break-through that "Defence Shield" was aiming
"The Israeli army has been tightening its grip on movement of Palestinians
in cities and towns in the West Bank by insisting that they obtain
new freedom-of-movement permits from the regional administration
to travel from one city to another. [...] Pedestrians, as well
as drivers, have been left with one entrance into the area which
can be crossed only after receiving the proper freedom-of-movement
permit. [...] [T]he new measures have divided up the area into
eight population regions, effectively isolated from one another,
with traffic and movement control exercised by the Israel Defence
Forces. The eight regions are Jenin, Nablus, Tul Karm, Qalqilya,
Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron."
once the economic heart of the West Bank, annexed by Israel and
cut off from the rest of the West Bank, can be added as a ninth
sealed-off enclave. And whoever believes Gaza is the tenth enclave,
is too optimistic: the Strip itself has also been split in two,
with the 200.000 residents of Raffah ordered to get a permit to
Palestinian freedom of movement has been a central feature of
Israeli occupation during the last decade. "Terrorism" has always
served as a good excuse for this premeditated policy (and was
served by it in turn). Up to 1991, Palestinians were free to move
both within the occupied territories and to Israel; in fact, they
formed the basis, in terms of cheap labour force, of Israeli economy.
It was during the Gulf War that Israel for the first time closed
its territory to Palestinians. The 1990's, especially the Oslo
period since 1994, saw a gradual routinisation of this measure,
for which the euphemistic term "closure" was introduced. At the
same time, massive import of cheap labour force from Asia, Eastern
Europe and Africa replaced Palestinian workers. In 1996, the notorious
"internal closure" was introduced, later known by the Hebrew euphemism
"keter" (original meaning: "crown"!), correctly translated as
"siege": cutting Palestinian towns and villages from each other.
Since October 2000, Palestinians are no longer given permits to
enter Israel, and the closure policy has turned into a strangling
Thus, step by step, Palestinians have been dispossessed
and surrounded by settlements, military camps, by-pass roads and
checkpoints, squeezed into sealed-off enclaves. Palestinian towns
are besieged by tanks and armed vehicles blocking all access roads.
West Bank villages too are surrounded by road
blocks, preventing the movement of vehicles in and out: three
successive mounds of rubble and earth, approximately 6 feet high,
with 100 metre gaps between them. All residents wishing to move
in an out of the village old or young, sick or well, pregnant
or not have to climb over the slippery mounds.
this policy seems to have been perfected to an extent that it
can be further institutionalised by long-term bureaucracy: a permit
system, considerably worse than the "pass laws" imposed on blacks
in Apartheid South Africa.
The severity with which the restrictions on movement are
imposed was demonstrated again this week, when, in two different
incidents, Israeli soldiers shot dead innocent Palestinians in
the vicinity of road blocks. Since both Palestinians were Israeli
citizens, the army "regretted" their killing; otherwise the incidents
might have been dismissed as "self defence" or whatever. But the
army made its point: movement in the occupied territories is an
exclusive privilege of Jewish settlers. All other people the
local residents and their visitors may pay for it with their
lives. "Regret" or not, Israeli terror prevails.
damage to the Palestinians as a nation is obvious. Nation building
often means political unification of territory: think of Italy
or Germany. Israel is imposing on the Palestinians the very reversed
process, hoping to reduce them into numerous separate groups with
no collective interests, consciousness and institutions. The human
catastrophy too is not hard to imagine: any movement outside your
enclave becomes a tedious project, to say the least: going to
school or university in a neighbouring town, moving patients or
medical staff, not to mention "luxuries" like visiting friends
But the economic
side is just as essential. While travelling thousands of miles
in the United States and in united Europe is free, Israel is putting
towns and villages individually under siege, dividing the West
Bank into nine separate "cantons" (Swiss tranquillity aside).
The entire West Bank is about 130 km long, never more than 50
km wide, its eastern third a desert. Jenin is just 25 km away
from Nablus; Tul Karm is 15km away from Qalqilya; and Bethlehem
is just a few hundred metres away from East-Jerusalem. The Gaza
Strip is about 50 km long and just a few km wide, and has been
cut in two. The Israeli travel permits are valid from 5:00 A.M.
until 7:00 P.M., and must be renewed every month.
the new system, goods can be transported within the territories
only using a 'back-to-back system' in which a truck goes to a
certain location where goods are unloaded to another awaiting
truck, which then carries the merchandise further."
business (or just providing for a village) under such circumstances.
There are reports of big price differences between towns: one
town is flooded with cheap vegetables, in the other town vegetables
are rare and expensive.
Real income pro capita in the occupied territories has
been proved inversely proportional to the number of closure days.
Compared to 1994, income per capita was dropping 15% up to 1996,
while closure periods were rising towards 80 days a year. In the
relatively quiet Netanyahu years, 1996-1999, days of closure were
declining towards zero in 1999, with income per capita on the
rise, almost reaching the 1994-level. With Barak elected in 1999
and provoking the Intifada a year later, the tide turned once
again. 2001 saw a record of 210 days of closure; Palestinian income
level now lost 30% on its 1994-level. 2002 will be worse.
In September 2000, 600.000 of about 3 million Palestinians
were defined as poor, living on less than $2 a day. At the end
of 2001, the number of poor reached 1.5 million half the population.
After "Operation Defence Shield", it is estimated that 75% of
the Palestinians have reached poverty.
So the main measure to subjugate Palestinians is not war,
but closure and siege. This is why Israel is so anxious to institutionalise
it. World Bank experts estimate the damage caused to Palestinian
economy by Israeli military attacks at $305 million in the first
15 months of the present Intifada (up to "Defence Shield"). The
damage caused by closure and siege during the same time is estimated
at $2,4 billion. (Ha'aretz, 19.5.02.)
pushed the Palestinians out of its labour market, Israel is now
institutionalising their long-term seal-off in besieged enclaves
by a system of "permits". It counts on the world community "the
donor states" to finance the intentionally impoverished people
through the Palestinian Authority. This dirty game must be exposed.
As the "permit system" demonstratees, Israel is clearly the effective
force ruling the occupied territories, and thus solely responsible
for their welfare. It must stop the systematic destruction of
Palestinian economy and society. Freedom of movement is a basic
right; due to its disastrous human, political and economic implications,
Israel's policy of curtailing this freedom should be fought against
at top priority.