A recent article entitled ‘It’s the Little Things that Make an Occupation,’ in the conservative British journal, The Economist (18 January, 2007) reported on Israel’s affliction of its Palestinian captives within the ‘open-air prisons’ of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The article emphasised that the treatment of the Palestinians was grossly disproportionate to the attacks directed against Israel from these enclosures and from Lebanon, where the jihadic Hezbollah still threaten.
Citing B’tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring organisation, The Economist reeled off as evidence a string of violations including killing of women, children, civilians, assassinations, house demolitions, collective punishments, curfews, harassment, and humiliations. They also cited recent restrictions which prohibit non-Israeli Palestinians from traveling in Israeli registered vehicles only one of a vast number of travel constraints of all kinds imposed on them.
The report might have added the withholding of large sums of taxation revenue, the despoliation of Palestinian agricultural and subsistence lands, the encirclement/containment tactics of separation and isolation, destruction of scarce and fragile Palestinian infrastructure, obstruction of Palestinian economic activity as well as denial of access to food, medicines and relief supplies.
Similarly, in terms of scale alone, the many thousands of Palestinians held in actual Israeli prisons without access to the due processes of law (such as have been denied the inmates of GuantÃ¡namo Bay or the captives of illegal secret ‘rendition’) bear no comparison to the handful of Israeli military personnel captured and held by Palestinian armed factions.
Unremittingly, the appropriation of Palestinian land proceeds whether through the consolidation and privileged road connectivity of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or through the intrusion of the Separation Wall within occupied areas. Checkpoints proliferate and abuses add to the misery of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who suffer daily the irritable and at times deadly hostility of their gatekeepers.
The old Israeli taunt regarding Palestinian leadership that it never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to negotiate is really, by now, a case of the pot calling the kettle black, given the opportunities missed since (and before) the death of Arafat.
Many Israeli Jews (like Gideon Levy, a columnist of note at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and Tanya Reinhart, author of The Road to Nowhere) along with other non-Israeli Jewish writers such as Antony Loewenstein, have felt despair and revulsion at these so-called ‘security measures’ perpetrated by the once hallowed Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
Of course, the defenders of Israel will justify Israel’s steroidal armouring of itself by citing ‘Arab’ hostility to its existence and all the terrorist and military attacks it has suffered particularly the horrific suicide bombings of the last few years. And no one should deny both the moral, emotional and legal force of this experience.
A Jerusalem Memoir (Bloomsbury 2006)
Emma Williams’s recent A Jerusalem Memoir (Bloomsbury 2006) logs, in sensitive detail, the ghastly succession of suicide bombers and their tallies of terror within Israel during those years. In one horrifying episode, as Williams is driving her child to school, the head of a suicide bomber lands at the feet of their school teacher, within the school yard.
The scale and frequency of deaths and injuries, and the emotional impact of such experiences on Israelis are compassionately described by Williams, who demonstrates acute empathy for the sufferings of Israeli victims, and who shares many of their fears as an avowed friend.
A well-qualified British doctor, Williams worked professionally on public health research projects to do with the antenatal and perinatal health of Palestinian women while she wrote her memoir of the years 2000-2006. Her children attended a private Israeli school and she gave birth to her fourth child in Bethlehem. She and her family lived on farmland with Palestinian neighbours, but spent a lot of their time socialising with Israeli friends, academics, professionals and NGO personnel. She mixed with the families of expatriates, Israelis, Palestinians and across the many interfaith thresholds.
Williams skillfully connects her accumulated experience to broader international political developments. Agreements, hudnas, negotiations, ceasefires, diplomacy, 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’ are laid out on the mosaic of this masterful memoir. She penetrates the messy membranes of the world’s media in its coverage of this conflict and illuminates biases with finesse.
But her book’s great strength derives from her observations of daily life particularly as lived by Palestinians and Israelis in contact with each other. This contact occurs at the numerous IDF checkpoints throughout the West Bank. It also occurs when the IDF demolish houses, or impose curfews and collective punishments, or carry out raids, assassinations and reprisals.
The cruelty of the occupation and the savage extremism it fosters are what this quietly written memoir tattoos on the reader’s consciousness. For example, her account of a visit to a zoo in Qalquilya [Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qalqilyah] in the West Bank turns into an odyssey of thwartings, where both humans and animals become exhibits of caged life.
The power of Williams’s writing is evident in her depiction of the use of military technologies (D-9 bulldozers and tanks, assorted weaponry) and killing by sniper fire, helicopter gunships and fighter bombers. As a doctor, she brings a sense of scale and perspective which many a military journalist without her sensibilities would envy.
It is this all-pervasive sense of menace in Palestine that comes through Williams’s book. Over the years this menace has sometimes diminished only to re-emerge far too often, as a result of Israeli military intransigence unmoderated by politically weak (although numerous) Israeli critics.
Today, we have news of Israeli air force pilots flying long distances equivalent to the bombing runs required to attack Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment installations. Syrian overtures to discuss resolution of disputed borders are repudiated. Saudi brokerage offers are ignored and dismissed. Palestinian political leadership is totally rebuffed. All the while, the siege and fortress strategy thickens and extends the wall of Israeli unilateralism.
There are small signs of hope emerging. Israel’s complete reliance on US support is shaken just a little by the belated recognition within the US that it must review its entire Middle East position after the failure in Iraq.
And even if the Israeli political system cannot produce leaders with the courage and skill to seek non-military resolution of Palestinian grievances, the changing configuration of global interests may require their accommodation in much more creative ways than we have seen. This new configuration includes not only structural UN reforms, and Chinese and Russian interests, but also political changes in South and Central America, global energy demands, climate change, and, very centrally, Iran.
According to Scott Ritter in his new book Target Iran (Allen and Unwin 2006) there is still
time to head off the horrific consequences of driving Iran into a disastrous confrontation with Israel and the US.
Ritter extrapolates from the bad track record of the Bush/Blair/Howard Governments and their intelligence agencies who refused to rely on UN weapons inspections protocols prior to attacking Iraq. He argues that, right now, untrustworthy Israeli intelligence is partially responsible for creating exaggerated misapprehensions of Iranian machinations and that these can all too easily be fashioned as another pretext for a pre-emptive strike.
Such a nightmare scenario would not enable any progress to be made in improving the prospects for a viable Palestinian State, nor in persuading Israelis of the urgent need to grant Palestinians significant concessions for the sake of peace and justice, as well as security.
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