Trapped like mice
Comment: Trapped like mice
Jamal Juma* looks at the conditions of Palestinians under the Israeli "disengagement plan"
Last week the United Nations published its plan to install register offices in the West Bank to list the damages caused by the Apartheid Wall in order to compensate the Palestinian population, seemingly "enforcing" the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the illegality of the Apartheid Wall, the settlement policy, and the Occupation Wall.
The ICJ did rule for compensation, but called for this in accordance with international pressure to force Israel to respect international law. The question arises: What has happened with this essential part of the ICJ ruling?
On the ground the Apartheid Wall, with its horrendous effects on Palestinian life and land, is today merging with the long-standing Israeli settlement policy and the creation of Jewish-only infrastructure into a comprehensive scheme for colonial domination and conquest. Away from the international attention that has been focussed solely on January's presidential elections, a situation on the ground in Palestine is being shaped that will, if it is not stopped in time, more effectively shape the future for the Palestinian people than any electoral process ever could. The destiny being prepared for the Palestinian people is revealed in the new Israeli plans presented to the public in the past few months.
The Israeli political project can be found in the "disengagement plan" and the initiatives connected to this plan. The disengagement plan, far from being a withdrawal or giving the Palestinian people the right to statehood, demarcates in fact their full Bantustanisation. The rhetoric of the plan hides one of the best-elaborated and most effectively planned projects for the enslavement and destruction of an entire people.
This plan consists of four main construction projects submitted to the public that are intimately linked to the construction of the Apartheid Wall. First, the building of new settlements and the expansion of existing settlements.
Settlements have always been at the core of the colonial project to control Palestine. The so-called "disengagement plan" claims to be about the dismantling of settlements: that is, the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and of four minor settlements in the West Bank near Jenin. But at the same time, Israel has announced the annexation of all the other approximately 200 settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In addition, Israel is currently expanding and constructing new settlements in the Tulkarem and Qalqiliya areas, ensuring the permanent annexation of Palestinian lands isolated by the wall.
Second, more settlers-only "by-pass" roads: These fenced and heavily guarded by-pass roads are for settlers only. Palestinians are not allowed to use or cross them. The roads cut through the West Bank and destroy the Palestinian road system and life, allowing settlers free access everywhere, while at the same time annexing lands and isolating Palestinian communities from each other in the same way the Apartheid Wall does. Israel has announced the construction of a further 500km of roads to reinforce this apartheid road network. This will ensure that Palestinian residential areas are nothing more than enclosed islands, totally isolated among the settlements and their road system.
Third, Israel plans the construction of 16 junctions with bridges (which will be guaranteed freeways for Israelis) and tunnels (which will be controlled passages for Palestinians, guarded by the Israeli military). These will be the only passage points for Palestinians who need to travel from one area or one city to another within the West Bank. While providing a façade of "maximum contiguity" among Palestinian areas -- after all, the claim goes, these junctions will connect the Palestinian Bantustans with each other, thus providing "contiguity" -- this project is in fact aimed at guaranteeing full Israeli control over the West Bank even after a mock "withdrawal" of the Israeli army. All tunnels will be provided with gates (this is already the case in the village of Habla, where the Palestinian population is at the mercy of the occupation forces in order to pass to or from their village), enabling Israel to impose full curfew over the West Bank, perpetrate collective punishment at will, and control all Palestinian life. To do so, it will need no more than 16 military cars, one for each junction.
Fourth, the CBIZ (cross border industrial zones) as instruments of enslaving the Palestinian people. This will take place once we, as Palestinians, have been completely deprived of land, resources, trade, and livelihood by the construction of Israeli Industrial Zones on stolen lands located outside the ghettos defined by the Apartheid Wall, the settlements, and their road system. This is the key element that provides economic sustainability to the rest of the Israeli plans. These Israeli-owned industrial zones will be sites for labour-intensive industries where the Palestinian people will be forced to work as exploited labour, enriching the Israeli economy in the attempt to earn a meagre living in the only way possible behind the gates of our ghettos. Israel has asked the US and Europe to fund the CBIZ, and thus legitimise the Israeli political project, under the pretext of providing "work opportunities" for Palestinians.
The CBIZ is presented as a practical economic solution to a potential humanitarian disaster, after all, the argument goes, if the international community does not provide funding for this project, then the Palestinian population will be dependent on humanitarian aid (or simply starve to death in their ghettos, which might be upsetting for the world to watch). This humanitarian aid -- like so many other costs of the occupation of Palestine and the expulsion of Palestinians from their land -- would thus have to be paid by the international community. Under the CBIZ plan, the Palestinian people will remain subjected, enslaved, and deprived of any possibility of self-determination.
The Apartheid Wall allows Israel to implement and link all these policies into a coherent regime. It completes the Palestinian ghettos prepared by the settlement policy and the road system. It also enables Israel to completely annex Jerusalem and to isolate it from the West Bank. In the light of these facts on the ground, it is obvious that no Palestinian state will be possible. The only future envisaged for the Palestinian people is one of ghettos and Bantustans, life under permanent Israeli domination and humiliation.
A Palestinian farmer standing in front of the destruction caused by the Apartheid Wall in Beit Duqqu asked: "You took our country and killed our children. You destroyed our houses and bulldozed our fields and built your settlements, what more do you want? Why the Wall? You want to trap us like mice, you want to put a prison gate for us and start counting us as if we were some animals?"
Six months after the International Court of Justice decision regarding the illegality of the Apartheid Wall, the settlement policy, and the occupation, Israel has not given any sign that it will stop the construction of the Wall. Rather, it has thus strengthened its colonial plans. International criticism has proven unable to bring about the changes needed. The UN's plans to install register offices are at this point nothing else but a renewed failure towards the Palestinian people: the transformation of a struggle for justice into a "humanitarian problem" to be solved through relief agencies, and the legalisation of Israel's breaches of international law through "compensation" paid for by the international community. International community has -- as with all other UN resolutions regarding Palestinian rights -- "failed" to take up its obligations to ensure that the ICJ decision is implemented and international law respected.
But, the Palestinian people will never accept a life lived under these conditions, which represents the completion of an apartheid system that by far exceeds the darkest times of South Africa, aiming at the complete demise of our people. So we are asking for a response from the world to this project aimed at our demise that is clear, effective, and immediate.
So it is the people of the world who are called upon to defend the values of justice and freedom. The call for the isolation of Israel, through boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns, needs to get louder every day, in every city of the world. The trend towards a new international anti-apartheid movement is emerging, and it is upon this grassroots support that the Palestinian people can build. These campaigns around the world must initiate a process that will make Israel pay a price for its crimes. Such a worldwide movement is necessary in order to end this vicious blend of occupation, expulsion, and ghettoisation, leading to the total enslavement of a whole people.
* The writer is the coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti- Apartheid Wall Campaign http://www.stopthewall.org/