A nation occupied

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IMEU, May 30, 2007

A woman in the West Bank village of Jayyous at a gate in Israel’s separation wall. In the village, the wall deviates up to 6km from the Green Line, encircles about 500 homes and separates the people of Jayyous from 75% of their agricultural land, including greenhouses, citrus orchards and olive groves.

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What does the Israeli military occupation really mean?

Forty years ago this week, Israel began the war that led to its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed on Nov. 22, 1967, adopted the “land for peace” principle, which calls for Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for recognition within secure borders. The international community later recognized the right of Palestinians to establish a state in the areas from which Israel withdrew.

An entire generation of Palestinians has grown up never knowing anything but Israeli military occupation. What does military occupation really mean for them?

The Palestinian experience under occupation has changed over time. In the early 1970’s, Israel had an “open borders” policy with the Occupied Territories. Palestinians could travel freely between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Families who had been separated since 1948 were reconnected. However bittersweet, Palestinian refugees living in West Bank and Gaza camps could, for the first time since 1948, step foot in their native villages and catch glimpses of their homes.

Since 1967, Israel has established some 200 Jewish-only settlements and moved more than 400,000 settlers into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, on land confiscated from Palestinians. Two sets of people are now living on the same land with differing rights. Jewish settlers travel on separate roads, live in segregated housing, are subject to separate laws and courts, and consume about five times as much water per capita as Palestinians.

Palestinian resistance to occupation grew over time, and Israeli policies in the territories became increasingly harsh. Today, the policies are the most repressive they have ever been.

Daily Life. Palestinian life is characterized by a profound lack of personal security. Daily activities – whether farming the land, walking to school, or shopping for the family – can be disrupted without notice by occupation forces, making advance planning virtually impossible. Heavily-armed soldiers and settlers, checkpoints and roadblocks, tanks and bulldozers, curfews and closures, are the daily realities of the occupation. Palestinians face each day with ever-present risk of arrest, injury, or death, no matter their age, vocation, political beliefs or activities.

  • Since September 2000 alone, more than 4,400 Palestinians have been killed and more than 31,300 wounded. The majority were civilians. About 20 percent of those killed were children. Over the same time period, more than 1,100 Israelis also lost their lives in the conflict.
  • Since 1967, Israel has detained more than 600,000 Palestinians. Detainees can be held without charges or trial. Physical abuse amounting to torture is common.
  • According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs there were 537 checkpoints and physical roadblocks in the West Bank in April 2007. No Palestinian is exempted. Lengthy waits are typical, even for children going to school, women in labor and sick people requiring medical treatment.
  • Since October 2003, Israel has been constructing a “separation barrier” in the West Bank, much of it on lands confiscated from Palestinian landowners. Some Palestinian towns and villages have been almost completely surrounded, and Palestinian farmers separated from their lands. Approximately 242,000 Palestinians will remain on the western side of the wall, isolating them from the rest of the West Bank.
  • Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 34,000 Palestinian homes and refugee shelters. The demolitions are often carried out without warning, leaving Palestinians little or no time to gather their belongings.

Economy. The Palestinian economy was traditionally based on agriculture, small family industry and services. Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land and restrictions on movement devastated these sectors and led many Palestinians to seek wage labor in Israel. B’Tselem estimates that Israel has taken about half of the land in the West Bank and — until the 2005 disengagement — about 40 percent of the land in Gaza.

Since 1967, Israel has controlled all entry and exit of goods and people between the Occupied Territories and other countries, permitting it to treat them as captive markets for Israeli goods. Israel also prevented Palestinian exports other than to Israel, and barred or restricted enterprises in the Occupied Territories that would have competed with Israeli businesses.

The Occupied Territories’ economic dependence on Israel, and vulnerability to its control, was not fundamentally changed by the creation of the Palestinian Authority through the Oslo Accords of 1993. In the mid-’90s, Israel tightened restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement. As a result, tens of thousands of Palestinians were prevented from reaching jobs in Israel, and were replaced by migrant workers from other countries. These restrictions were increased in September 2000, and have been only minimally eased since.

Education and Art. Palestinians have invested heavily in education, a portable asset. Under occupation, Palestinians established 11 universities in the West Bank and Gaza. Birzeit University near Ramallah and An-Najah National University in Nablus are two leading institutions in the West Bank. Almost 50% of university students are women.

Palestinian artists in the Occupied Territories were invigorated after 1967. Art took on urgent political meaning, featuring images of resistance and reaffirming Palestinian culture. Attending exhibitions in the Occupied Territories became a political act and a celebration of identity. In 1980, Israel banned art exhibitions and paintings of “political significance.” Using the colors of the Palestinian flag in a painting was also forbidden. These restrictions have since eased.

In 2003, Made in Palestine became the first museum exhibit of Palestinian contemporary art to be shown in the United States.

Recent Developments. In August 2005, Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza, but still patrols its borders, coast, airspace, and supplies its water, electricity and other vital services. Thus, it still exercises “effective control” over Gaza – the international legal standard for military occupation.

Since the disengagement, Israel has fired thousands of artillery shells into Gaza with the stated purpose of countering the firing of homemade rockets by Palestinian groups into Israel. In June 2006, Israeli forces reinvaded Gaza, mounting two major military offensives resulting in the deaths of 387 Palestinians. Israel withdrew from Gaza on November 15, 2006, yet continually threatens to reinvade.

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