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40 Years of Israeli Occupation

Rafeef Ziadah
Date Published: 
June 10, 2007

June 2007 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. The Israeli government, backed by a steady flow of US tax dollars, continues its assault on the Palestinian population. Over 700 Palestinians were killed in 2006. Ten thousand Palestinian political prisoners remain locked behind bars while millions more are trapped in their towns and villages, surrounded by settlements, checkpoints, and the ever expanding apartheid wall. The policy of deliberate starvation of the Palestinian population continues unchecked as poverty and unemployment reach never before seen levels. Al-Naqsa Following its victory in the 1967 War, Israel occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrian Golan Heights. These occupations have shaped the daily lives of people in the region for the subsequent decades, none more directly than for the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, following a mere six days of fighting, one-fifth of the Palestinian population was driven from their homes and lands. The vast majority of these people would be prevented from ever returning. Palestinians call this second expulsion (the first being the Nakba in 1947-1948) the “Naqsa” (disaster). After the occupation, Israel declared a military government that controlled every aspect of Palestinian life in the occupied territories. Over 2,500 military orders were passed that apply only to Palestinian residents in the area, exempting Israeli settlers who are governed by Israeli civil law. This dual, discriminatory system of laws for two people living in the same area is one illustration of the apartheid system established by Israel. Apartheid The end result of the process set in motion by the 1967 occupation of the West Bank is the confinement of Palestinians to scattered population centers divided from one another by Israeli settlements, military checkpoints, walls and Israeli-only highways. The Wall, and its associated infrastructure of settlements, military zones and roads, annexes some 48 percent of the West Bank. This leaves Palestinians living on approximately 12 percent of historic Palestine. The get a sense of what the future holds for the Palestinian ghettos in the West Bank, we can look at the Gaza Strip. Only 45 km long and about 10 to 12 km wide, there are over 1.4 million Palestinians crowded into shantytowns—with a massive electric fence surrounding the Strip, which is guarded by the Israeli military. Israel has continued to prevent movement in and out of the area while subjecting its residents to repeated military incursions, shelling and house demolitions. This ongoing process can best be described as “bantustanization”, in reference to the brutal apartheid regime South Africa. From the 1950s onwards, the white South African government established pockets of “self-rule” known as Bantustans in isolated and economically unviable areas for the rural black population. Apartheid was sustained through a superstructure of laws and regulations similar to those used by the Israeli occupation; 87 percent of South African land was reserved by the Land Acts for exclusive white ownership and occupation. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Yet as we mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation, there is for the first time in decades, a growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid. Fed up with the empty rhetoric and cheap condemnation of the “violence on both sides,” people around the world are taking action. Unions, churches and student groups are getting organized in an effort to extend real solidarity to the Palestinian people. The historic resolution by CUPE Ontario (Canadian Union of Public Employees) to support the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions has been followed by similar resolutions in other unions. Britain’s biggest journalist union, The National Union of Journalists, criticized Israel’s “military adventures” and voted in favor of a boycott of Israeli goods. The resolution called for “a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid in South Africa,” urging British and United Nations sanctions on Israel. In a letter appearing in the Guardian on April 21, 2007, 130 UK physicians called for a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association and its suspension from the World Medical Association. The letter stated: “Persistent violations of medical ethics have accompanied Israel’s occupation. The Israeli Defense Force has systematically flouted the fourth Geneva Convention guaranteeing a civilian population unfettered access to medical services and immunity for medical staff. Ambulances are fired on (hundreds of cases) and their personnel killed. Desperately ill people, and newborn babies, die at checkpoints because soldiers bar the way to hospital. The public-health infrastructure, including water and electricity supplies, is willfully bombed, and the passage of essential medicines like anti-cancer drugs and kidney dialysis fluids blocked. In the West Bank, the apartheid wall has destroyed any coherence in the primary health system. UN reporters have described Gaza as a humanitarian catastrophe, with 25% of children clinically malnourished.” Over the past two years there have been gains and loses on the academic and cultural boycott fronts. The celebrated novelist, critic and artist John Berger called on British writers and artists to undertake a cultural boycott of Israel. This letter was co-signed by, among others, the artist Cornelia Parker, the musician Brian Eno, and writers Arundhati Roy and Ahdaf Soueif. On March 28, the Irish state-sponsored academy of artists, Aosdána, debated two resolutions on Palestine at its annual general membership meeting. The first motion called for Aosdána to “back the call from Palestinian Filmmakers, Artists and Cultural Workers to end all cooperation with state-sponsored Israeli cultural events and institutions.” This motion was defeated after lengthy discussion. The second motion mentioned the Palestinian call and encouraged “Irish artists and cultural institutions to reflect deeply before engaging in any cooperation [with Israeli cultural events and institutions].” This motion was passed. Local action In Canada, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, is responding to the call from Palestine to mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation, by organizing a national day of action targeting Chapters and Indigo bookstores. This is part of the ongoing campaign to force the majority owners Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz, to cut all financial ties to Heseg—Foundation for Lone Soldiers. Heseg distributes three million dollars in scholarships to former so called “Lone Soldiers”. These are individuals who have no family in Israel, but decide to travel there to join the Israeli military. At any time there might be 5,000 “Lone Soldiers” in the Israeli military, working in various capacities including in combat units. As soldiers, they participate in a military that operates checkpoints that restrict Palestinian freedom of movement, enforces the occupation of Palestinian land, and has a documented history of human rights violations. The coalition is using the boycott as a regular educational tool around Israeli apartheid, and there are weekly informational pickets being held outside Chapters and Indigo stores. Boycott, divestment and sanctions formed a critical part of global efforts to end South African apartheid. They were an expression of popular refusal to participate in and sustain the structures of racial discrimination and oppression. It was widely seen as morally repugnant to be openly associated with South African apartheid. Today we have an opportunity to once again be part of a global movement for justice, please join us! About the Author Rafeef Ziadah is a third generation Palestinian refugee and member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid