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Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank

Jamal Juma
Date Published: 
November 01, 2005
    Through the violent occupation of Iraq, the US is laying the foundations to further open the economy of the Middle East for their corporate interests. Countries once protected by oil revenues are lining up to sign bilateral agreements leading to a Middle East Free Trade Agreement. MEFTA would impose free market policies that have enslaved other regions of the global south to global capital. In Palestine, the World Bank has played a key role in facilitating the cooperation of global capital and occupation.

In Palestine, international powers are eager to implement plans to use the apartheid apparatus of the Israeli occupation—particularly the infrastructure created by the Apartheid Wall—for the establishment of industrial zones, guaranteeing economic dependency and exploitation of Palestinian communities on top of the occupation control. The Apartheid Wall is a devastating extension and acceleration of occupation policies, designed to annex nearly half of West Bank lands and imprison the remaining population within 12 percent of historical Palestine. The Wall to date has destroyed thousands of dunums (4 dunums are equivalent to one acre) of land, uprooted olive trees, displaced families and communities, and separated Palestinians from their land and other Palestinians. Despite the 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision, which took up the Palestinian call that the Wall must be torn down and affected communities compensated—the construction of the Wall has only accelerated in the last year. Legitimizing occupation Global bodies have only increased their support for the Wall and occupation policies over the last year. The G-8 controlled World Bank has outlined the framework for this policy in their most recent report on Palestine published in December of 2004, Stagnation or Revival: Israeli Disengagement and Palestinian Economic Prospects. In the report, the World Bank adopts the occupation’s strategically misleading terminology for the Wall, referring to it and its connected infrastructure as a “security fence” or “separation barrier.” This move by the World Bank seeks to legitimize the confiscation of Palestinian lands and obscures the reality on the ground in which 80 percent of the Wall’s destructive path deviates from the 1967 Armistice Line, separating Palestinians from other Palestinians, their capital Jerusalem, land, and essential sources of livelihood. The World Bank’s vision of “economic development” evades any discussion of the illegality of the Wall, the occupation, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. To the contrary it takes Israeli “facts on the ground” as given scenarios and lays the foundations for the economic sustainability of the Palestinian ghettos created by the Wall. The World Bank thinks they can circumvent ICJ concerns if it is justified as a humanitarian project. Central to the vision of the World Bank for a thriving and successful Palestinian “state” is the development of an export-orientated economy in which Palestinian dispossessed farmers are exploited as cheap labor and dominated by markets and free trade. Israeli and World Bank interests merge to destroy local forms of trade, sustainable patterns of agricultural production, and existing social structures. Agriculture, traditionally the core sector of the Palestinian economy, is barely mentioned in the report, presumably because the World Bank realizes that Palestinians will be left with no land. The only mention of a future for agriculture in areas of Gaza focus on the use of land for export-oriented production, not local sustainability and consumption. Industrial zones Central to World Bank proposals are the construction of massive industrial zones to be financed by the World Bank and other donors and controlled by the Israeli Occupation. These are envisaged as forming the basis of economic “development” built on Palestinian land around the Wall. Previous initiatives in the Gaza Strip are being used as the “catalyst” and model for the way in which Palestinians imprisoned by the Wall can be put to work in industrial zones. International Financing Institutions are proposing a series of new or revitalized industrial zones. Primary among these are the “Green Line” zones which would be located in areas close to or on the Green Line, including sites close to Jenin, Tarkumiya and Rafah which already have backing with several European and US firms. The gates built on the 20 percent of the Wall that fall on the Green Line are integral to World Bank plans as the existing gates will facilitate their ability to fund high-tech checkpoints for the transport of goods and control of people with fewer legal barriers stemming from the ICJ decision. Further industrial parks are planned in “Seam Zones” in Palestinian land isolated behind the Apartheid Wall and the Green Line. Given that 80 percent of the Wall deviates from the Green Line, there is scope for various projects on isolated land confiscated by the Israeli Occupation. One location highlighted in the Bank’s report is the so-called Tulkarm Peace Park where construction is already underway. Construction has involved using around 600 dunums of land from the villages of Irtah and Farun that have been confiscated by the Wall. The industrial zones are designed to serve the needs of the industry markets of Israel, whether by doing the most environmentally destructive production in Palestinian areas or by providing cheap labor. Additionally these zones would benefit the Israeli Occupation abroad where goods “Made in Palestine” have more favorable trade conditions in international markets. And while the Israeli Occupation plans to stop issuing work permits in 2008 cutting about 30,000 Palestinian jobs (adding to the potential labor force in industrial zones), the World Bank as part of the overall economic plan encourages the issuing of some permits so the Occupation economy can further profit from Palestinians. Imprisoned labor Through the Apartheid Wall, the occupation and international financing institutions aim to cement several realities into the future of Palestinian people. Primary among these is the long-term sustainability of the ghettoization of Palestinians. This post-Wall vision includes complete control over Palestinian movement. The report proposes high-tech military gates and checkpoints, through which Palestinians and exports can be conveniently transported and controlled. This will be supplemented with a “transfer system” of walled roads and tunnels to funnel Palestinian workers to their jobs, while simultaneously denying them access to their land around them that lies outside the Bantustans created by the Wall. The World Bank places these conditions of imprisonment within a scenario of exploitation of the workers who will be channeled through the Occupation control system. Sweatshops will be one of the only possibilities for earning a living for the Palestinians left in the disparate Bantustans throughout the West Bank. The World Bank states: “In an improved operating environment, Palestinian entrepreneurs and foreign investors will look for well-serviced industrial land and supporting infrastructure. They will also seek a regulatory regime with a minimum of ‘red tape’ and with clear procedures for conducting business. Industrial Estates (IEs), particularly those on the border between Palestinian and Israeli territory, can fulfill this need and thereby play an important role in supporting export based growth.” The “red tape” which the World Bank refers to can be presumed to mean trade unions, a minimum wage, good working conditions, environmental protection and other workers’ rights that will be more flexible than the ones in the “developed” world. The World Bank explicitly states that current wages of Palestinians are too high for the region and “compromise the international competitiveness” even though wages compromise only a quarter of the average in Israel. On top of a military occupation and forced expulsion, Palestinians are to be subjects of an economic colonialism common throughout the Southern hemisphere for inflicting poverty and misery. Aiding displacement The governments of the G-8 have shown vivid interest in this project of displacement, imprisonment, and oppression of Palestinian communities under the pretense of development and humanitarian aid. In breach of the ICJ ruling, the US has already contributed $50 million to construct gates within these prisons to “help” serve the needs of Palestinians. Perhaps even more disturbing is the normalization of such brutal schemes within the programs of donors (such as USAID), who implement politically motivated projects under the rubric of humanitarian assistance. The World Bank, alongside the US and significant portions of the international community, are using the Palestinian Authority (PA) as an institution through which these policies can be implemented and an “attractive environment for investors” created. The PA is given the role of prison guard, preventing the Palestinian people from defending their lands and rights. The responsibility of the PA towards the Palestinian people necessitates that it stands up against these projects—not by “modifying” or “only partially backing” them, but by completely opposing them. Right to exist The industrial zones and Bantustans are not new ideas; they are reminiscent of the economic models of racial capital promoted by apartheid South Africa in Bantustans like the Ciskei and Bophuthatswana. They reflect the World Bank’s conscious choice to support the needs and vision of the Occupation which entails the destruction of the Palestinian nation. While espousing the politics of free markets and free trade, the World Bank is not interested in the creation of a free people. Quite the opposite—its interests are best served by keeping Palestinians in economic enslavement. The failure of the international community and financial institutions to work towards the implementation of the ICJ decision to tear down the Wall and to ensure the respect of Palestinian rights has come at an enormous human cost. And yet, against this bleak and overwhelming reality, Palestinian communities are actively defending their right to exist. Palestinians are implementing the ICJ decision with their own hands, where in villages like Bil`in, the Wall’s cement foundations were physically dismantled in active resistance. Villages are mobilizing regular demonstrations against the construction of the Wall in the midst of violent reprisals by the Occupation Forces and continue to direct their protest beyond these imprisoned boundaries, towards the international community at large. As history illustrates repeatedly, attempted pacification of resistance to Occupation will always be thwarted by a people’s unrelenting will for self-determination. Now more than ever it is crucial that movements step up efforts to isolate the Israeli Apartheid and support Palestinians in their struggle for their land. It is important to be prepared to resist new assaults masked in the guise of “development” and “aid” and stand behind the uncompromising demands of a Palestinian led movement—not for comfortable ghettos or colorful walls but liberation and justice. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jamal Juma' is Campaign Coordinator for the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign ( For further information on the World Bank please refer to