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Strangling Palestine

Adam Hanieh
Date Published: 
September 01, 2006

On May 15, 2006, we commemorated 58 years since Palestinians were driven out of their homes and land by Zionist aggression in 1948. Over 5 million Palestinian refugees around the world remember this day and continue to hold the right of return as the bedrock demand of the Palestinian struggle. The month of June brought the 29th commemoration of Al Nakba, the dispossession of hundreds of thousands more Palestinians and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. The program of ethnic cleansing symbolized by these two anniversaries continues at full speed. While millions of Palestinian refugees wait to return to their homes and land, Israel has literally imprisoned millions more in the open-air prisons that constitute Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Over the last few months, a massive humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are facing forced starvation due to the Israeli siege on the Palestinian economy. Supplies of fuel and cooking gas have been cut off from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians are dying in hospitals because the Israeli government has prevented the entry of medical supplies. Each day, reports from the international, Israeli, and Palestinian press bring new indications of the scope of this crisis:

    On May 4, the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza reported that four people in need of dialysis have died because of medical shortages. Only a few days’ supply of surgical drugs remain. (New York Times, May 8, Guardian Weekly, May 10).
    On May9, the Israeli company Dor that provides all petrol and cooking gas to the West Bank and Gaza Strip announced that it was suspending these fuel supplies. Israel prohibits Palestinians from importing fuel from any alternative source. Moreover, Israel, the US, Canada, and other governments have cut all aid and barred the Palestinian Authority from receiving other funds to pay for fuel. (Maan News Agency May 10).
    The 160,000 Palestinians who work for the Palestinian Authority as teachers, doctors, police, and civil servants have not received wages for two months due to the cutting of all aid by Western governments and Israel’s withholding of taxes collected on behalf of the PA. It is estimated that these wages support one-third of the Palestinian population. This loss of income comes after nearly six years of Israeli attacks and siege. As a consequence, most of these individuals already face massive indebtedness and depleted personal savings. Even the World Bank warned this week that its earlier predictions of a 50% rise in poverty in the occupied territories this year (already at 50% in some areas)—driven by a sharp fall in personal income and a 23% increase in unemployment—may have been “too rosy” (Guardian Weekly, May 10).

These are the direct consequences of Israeli apartheid policies. Since 1967, Israel has pursued a policy of creating isolated Palestinian Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians are confined to a patchwork of disconnected population islands divided by Israeli settlements, checkpoints and military bases. All aspects of Palestinian life are completely dependent upon Israeli “permission.” Palestinian movement in and out of towns and villages is controlled by Israeli-issued permits and regulated by soldiers and checkpoints. Israel completely controls all imports and exports, and the flow of funds into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Massive confiscation of land in the West Bank has destroyed the Palestinian agricultural sector. In the Gaza Strip, Israel even controls where and how Palestinians can fish. The deliberate “de-development” of Palestinian industry under Israeli occupation means that most Palestinians are dependent upon either the PA or are forced to work in Israel for their survival. Deliberate starvation of the population is a war crime now openly embraced by the US, Canada and the EU. Western governments have severed all aid to the Palestinian Authority and allowed Israel to continue its program of slow strangulation. Showing its absolute disregard for Palestinians, the US Houses of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for anti-Palestinian legislation HR 4681 and a similar bill went to the Senate in the midst of the current humanitarian crises. The bill further isolates the democratically-elected Palestinian government and puts major barriers to sending even non-governmental humanitarian aid to Palestine. But this 58th year of Al Nakba also brings some hope. Around the world a confident and growing movement is challenging Israeli apartheid. Individuals and organizations around the world have embraced the call issued by 170 Palestinian groups in July 2005 for a global campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli state. This call has inspired divestment resolutions on campuses and in unions and church groups across North America. On a daily basis there are reports of initiatives to boycott academic and cultural ties with Israel. This is an inspiring campaign reminiscent of the grassroots movements to isolate South African anti-apartheid. This is a movement that all should join and support. The demands are simple: an immediate halt to all political, academic, cultural and financial ties with Israel until the dismantlement of apartheid. At the center of this campaign is the demand that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to the lands and homes from which they were expelled 58 years ago. The world cannot insist that the Palestinian right to life is conditional on acquiescence to Israeli apartheid.