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“To Exist Is To Resist”: From the Apartheid Wall in Palestine and Beyond

Jamal Jumaa
Date Published: 
June 16, 2007
    The last few months have seen a renewed focus on Palestine. On June 9th and 10th—the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem—people all over the world took to the streets, protesting Israeli occupation and apartheid. Yet, almost 60 years after the Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948 when approximately one million Palestinians were expelled from their land to create a Jewish state, the discourse of mass media and the delegations of international diplomats seem more distant from the reality on the ground in Palestine than ever before. Jamal Jumaa takes a look at the situation in Palestine and ways forward for the Palestinian struggle.

The Wall being built by Israel is undoubtedly the Occupation’s most costly and colossal project. It is a response to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, where daily demonstrations occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. Far from being simply a “security” measure, it is one of the ways Israel will seal complete control over all of Palestine. What started in early summer 2002 as large scale destruction of Palestinian land in the Jenin District has transformed today into a system of complete ghettoization of the Palestinian population in the West Bank. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have already been living under these conditions since 1994—the start of the Oslo process when the Occupation built a razor wire fence around the Strip. They are now sealed in the world’s largest open-air prison with movement for anyone into or out almost completely barred. About 2/3 of the over 700 km (over 400 miles) of wall structure is already completed, with the rest under accelerated construction. Frightening 8 meter (almost 24 feet) high concrete blocks (higher than the Berlin Wall, which was 3.6 m high) with watchtowers manned by soldiers; razor wire reinforced and electronically surveyed fences; militarized settlement infrastructure and walled in roads only for the use of Jewish settlers; and adjoining no-man’s land patrolled by military vehicles and cleared of Palestinian villages and of vegetation all work to isolate Palestinian residential areas from their agricultural lands and from each other. These Orwellian structures of control and humiliation are creating a system of three Bantustans—north, center, and south—divided by three main checkpoints. Caged-in villages There are 22 internal ghettos of entirely caged-in villages that are connected with the outside world only via exits controlled by the Occupation (sometimes opened for just a few precious minutes every week). Almost 100 Palestinian villages, cities, and neighborhoods are doomed to disappear due to demolition orders and unbearable conditions of isolation imposed upon them. In the eastern West Bank, a series of checkpoints, trenches and fenced Jewish-only roads effectively annex the Jordan Valley and its vital agricultural lands to the Occupation and seal off Palestinian ghettos from the east, locking them completely inside the Occupation and depriving them of waterways and land routes essential to trade and sustainable economic development. Jerusalem, the Palestinian capital, is shut off behind the Wall and the gigantic checkpoints in Qalandiya and Bethlehem. Outside the ghettos and Bantustans, 180,000 Palestinians will be stuck between the Wall and the Green Line, approximately 50,000 Palestinians will be trapped in the Jordan Valley, and 240,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem will be either expelled from their city or caged in. Already in Jerusalem’ many Palestinians have been forcibly removed from their historical homes, replaced by Jewish settlers. A total of 46% of the West Bank is being stolen by the Apartheid Wall project, leaving Palestinians trapped on 12% of their land—roughly the same percentage of land designated by racist South Africa for the indigenous black population. Another similarity to Apartheid South Africa is that the Wall’s path runs along the lines of the few “self-administered” areas granted to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Agreements, residential areas encompassing only a small fraction of West Bank and Gaza, themselves a mere 22% of historical Palestine. The Wall’s path unveils the true meaning of Oslo: gaining time to prepare the administrative structure for our ghettos and to build new settlements and apartheid roads around them, making it harder for any land to be returned to Palestinians. In the light of these facts, the current international pressure on the Palestinian leadership to commit to the Oslo agreements is premised on bad faith. On the one hand, Israel never complied with any of its obligations stipulated during Oslo, while Palestinians are expected to endorse Oslo, which essentially requires their acceptance of the West Bank and Gaza’s Bantustanization. In fact, the process leading to our Bantustanization started long before Oslo. Since the 1967 war, it was clear for Zionists in Israel that it was necessary to ensure that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would not be part of their state. To this day, a number of Israeli PMs try to push through legislation to essentially deport and/or strip Palestinians inside the Green Line of their Israeli citizenship, forcing them to live in the West Bank ghettos or outside Palestine. In 1967, the Israeli Defense Minister Yigal Alon proposed a plan which would leave disparate residential areas of the West Bank (areas similar to the ghettos carved out by the Apartheid Wall) under Jordanian control, enabling the Occupation to annex the rest of the land. Palestinian “state” The Oslo agreements hoped to coerce Palestinians “voluntarily” within the Bantustans, yet the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada destroyed this plan and the Apartheid Wall stays today as the latest Zionist resort to try to enforce the “Bantustan solution”. The recent Israeli and US commitment to the creation of a Palestinian “state” is neither to the end of the occupation nor the fall of the Apartheid Wall—it gets a whole different meaning: The reality of the proposed Palestinian “state”—made of the isolated Bantustans and ghettos in exchange for acceptance of total Occupation control over all of Palestine—is the demise of our struggle for land, justice, and equality. The economic viability of the Palestinian Bantustans has been debated openly since the Oslo agreements. The task of the creation of an economy able to guarantee a minimal existence for the people enclosed within a series of Bantustans—stripped of its natural resources and free access to markets and trade as well as much of its infrastructure destroyed—is arduous even to the world’s best specialists. Since 1967, the Occupation has pursued a strategy of under-development and forced dependency of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza on the Israeli apartheid economy, exploiting the Palestinian work force as under-paid and unprotected labor. Together with innumerable laws, regulations, restrictions, and outright land theft, this economic policy has furthered the strategic destruction of Palestinian agriculture. In 1967 around 70% of Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza were farmers. Today, only 17% of the population is still gaining their livelihoods from agriculture. Most of those forced out of farming have not been able to find new jobs in the stifled Palestinian economy. According to the IMF, the 2006 unemployment rate in Gaza was 34.8% and in the West Bank nearly 20%; those who were employed were actually underemployed for their financial needs. Export restrictions and unpredictable closing of checkpoints are further aimed to render Palestinian trade almost unfeasible. Adding to this, the free trade agreement with the Occupation, stipulated as part of Oslo, allows Israeli products to flood Palestinian markets—a popular Occupation practice to further hurt Palestinians economy. The panacea for all this—developed by the World Bank and generously supported by international capital and “donors”—are the Industrial Zones. The Palestinian dispossessed farmers are to be absorbed and exploited under the control of Israeli and international capital, producing for the interests of global markets. Such an arrangement allows for a number of workers to still accept sub-standard wages and working conditions, while stifling the development of a self-sustaining Palestinian economy. This policy, officially dubbed “viability of the Palestinian state”, is just the opposite. Industrial Zones take various forms. Alongside the already existing industrial areas in the settlements, 9 to 12 new sweatshop areas are to be built on the land isolated by the Wall. The necessary “permits” to work and be exploited there serve as useful political control while the profits flow into Israeli economy. To complete the scheme, settlement agro-business in the Jordan Valley is to steal even more Palestinian land and to close off any direct connection between Palestinians and Jordan. The joint ventures between Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, and Jordan or Egypt respectively—based on the US offer to grant tax exemption on any product fabricated with at least 10% Israeli contribution—use Palestinian labor to break the official Arab boycott of Israel. Breaking the ghettos The Palestinian struggle is thus facing extraordinary challenges. Since the Oslo agreements, the Palestinian Liberation Organization that represents all Palestinians (within Palestine and the diaspora) has been sidelined in favor of the then newly created Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The body was to be an institution to facilitate “state building”. Yet, neither the Occupation nor the international community were ever willing to concede the PNA something to rule over. Neither land, nor trade and borders, nor natural resources have ever been under its control. The PNA itself was from the beginning dependent on foreign finance to be able to shoulder the burdens of civil administration over the Bantustans without having an economy to rely on. The Occupation has thus ably moved its responsibilities of administration and social welfare of the occupied population, prescribed under international law, onto the PNA and ultimately international donors. Stipulations to end the Occupation and settlement activities have always been shunned by Israel under the pretext that “there is no Palestinian partner.” When Arafat was besieged, the US and Israel demanded Abbas as partner. When Abbas obtained the presidency of the PNA, Israel’s unilateralism continued via a comprehensive boycott on the PNA imposed by the Occupation, the US and the EU. Even now that the PNA has surrendered to external pressures (which incited intense internal conflict throughout the West Bank and Gaza) and proclaimed a national unity government, the western powers are not prepared to give the PNA space to act. It has no space for political decision making, no means to support its people, and exhausts its function currently in lobbying to lift sanctions, which—ironically—would not be there without the PNA in the first place. This government is thus doomed to fail. The crucial question is how the Palestinian people will react to it. Will there be more internal conflicts and clashes dragging the Palestinian struggle into chaos or will we all have learned the lessons from the recent in-fighting and direct our anger and revolution towards the occupation? Palestinians are resisting. They have no other choice. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza resist almost daily murders and incursions, land theft, home demolitions and Bantustan-ization with steadfastness and continuous protests. Within the Green Line, Palestinians have recently started to raise their voices and denounce the apartheid nature of Israel. The regime responds with escalating repression of the Palestinian leaders and continued home demolitions, land theft and the building of apartheid walls between the Jewish quarters and Palestinian communities. Palestinians in the Diaspora are belying the Zionist prediction that “the old generation of refugees will die and the new one will forget”. They still bear the keys of the homes from where they were expelled and continue the struggle for return. However, will we be able to build a new, truly united leadership that represents all the Palestinian people and their aspirations, this time away from the impossible task of the administration of the Bantustans? A leadership that listens to its people and develops new strategies of resistance and—why not? That leadership should go back to the roots of our struggle which ask for a democratic and pluralistic state for all from the river to the sea. Not only in Palestine does the leadership seem paralyzed. Today, the international community under the US leadership seems in trouble. It was this international community who created Israel as a settler state on Palestinian land, to support it and use it as a tool for their colonial interests in the Arab world. Today the US has run itself into a quagmire. It is militarily and politically stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran’s influence on the Iraqi Shiites worries the White House more than any non-existing nuclear bombs could ever do. The Saudi regime asks for a stronger say on Palestine as a precondition to their support in Iraq. The anti-war movement in the US (and around the globe) does not die out, but in some places grows even stronger. As a response to this situation, the US has handed over the initiative on Palestine to the Saudis but at the same time ensure that the Arab Peace Initiative will not be implemented. The vision is to offer a stronger rule in the Arab world and token promises on Palestine to Saudi Arabia and to sufficiently threaten Iran in order to avoid a second Vietnam in Iraq and to protect Apartheid Israel from any repercussions. In the meanwhile the Israeli regime can complete the ghettos on the ground. Global movement But something is moving at an unexpected pace. People all over the world are starting to get an understanding of what is really happening in Palestine. Neither a “conflict” nor a “clash of civilizations”, it is about brutal apartheid and expulsion. This understanding is the fundamental basis on which the Palestinian United Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is built. Where dialogue is turned into a time-gaining strategy to finalize the Bantustans and negotiations are supposed to focus around the size of these ghettos, it is concrete and determined pressure on the Israeli apartheid regime that has to underscore the call for Justice. It is a call that does not ask for charity. It simply asks the world to stop supporting apartheid, occupation and expulsion and to rise up to its responsibilities. After 60 years of global support to our extinction, it is time to turn the tide. Launched on July 2005, one year after the International Court of Justice demanded the international community to ensure the Wall is torn down, the call for BDS has become a main tool for Palestine activism and campaigning. Hundreds of organizations and initiatives are spreading among solidarity groups, churches, trade unions and political parties. This new global movement needs a strong foundation to be able to stand the attacks it has to face, but above all, in order to keep true to the principles of liberation, justice, and equality. We need to reach out to and join our efforts with all who are struggling against racism, war and global capital. The African Americans, indigenous peoples, immigrants, workers and farmers movements stand against the same oppressive and lethal mechanisms of power. The anti-war movement may have to reproduce itself for Syria or Iran or Lebanon until it stands up to face the strongest US ally in the region—Israel. The self-evident truth for almost everybody in the region— is that there will be no peace in the Arab world while Israeli occupation continues and Palestinian refugees remain scattered around the world. This reality has still not permeated the analysis and actions of anti-war campaigners. Refuse to support apartheid, expulsion and occupation on Palestine. End ties and relations with Israel instead of continuing business as usual. Boycott Israeli goods. Divest from Israeli bonds. Stop your taxes from being channeled via foreign aid to support Israeli crimes. Make your voice count in your institutions, local councils and national authorities. This is the support we ask of you in order to bring peace to Palestine and the Arab region and to in order break the cycle of expanding US military aggression all over the world. Jamal Jumaa is the director of the Stop the Wall Campaign in Palestine ( Jamal will be appearing at the US Social Forum, as part of the “Palestine Track” of events organized by Palestine solidarity activists from around the US.