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Mustafa Barghouti | Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 771 | 1-7 December 2005
The on-the-ground reality of Israel's moral bankruptcy in its genocidal policies towards the Palestinians remains as clear as ever, writes Mustafa Barghouti*
What is the current situation on the ground in Palestine? The Israeli narrative that continues to dominate the international media presents an image that is absolutely at odds with reality. The Gaza redeployment was spun as the beginning of a peace process; a great retreat by General Ariel Sharon, who was portrayed as a man of peace. Yet the fact remains that Palestine is 27,000 square kilometres, of which the West Bank constitutes only 5,860 square kilometres, and the Gaza Strip, just 360 sq km. This is equal to only 1.3 per cent of the total land of historic Palestine. So even if Sharon really had withdrawn from Gaza, this would amount to just 5.8 per cent of the occupied territories.
But the Israelis did not get out of Gaza. A big fuss was created about the great sacrifice Israel was making and how painful it was for settlers to leave. If you steal a piece of land and keep it for 20 years, of course it becomes painful to leave it but it is still something stolen that should be returned to its owners. Prior to the disengagement, a total of 152 settlements existed in the occupied territories: 101 in the West Bank, 30 in East Jerusalem, and 21 in the Gaza Strip. These figures do not include the settlements that Sharon and the Israeli army have created in the West Bank without officially recognising them. With the disengagement, and the evacuation of settlements in Gaza and four small settlements in the Jenin area of the West Bank, 127 settlements have been left in place.
The total population of settlers -- illegal under international law, and under the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which states that the separation wall and every settlement in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem must be removed -- numbers some 436,000: 190,000 in Jerusalem, and 246,000 in the West Bank. Just 8,475, or two per cent of the total number of illegal settlers in the occupied territories were removed from the Gaza Strip and Jenin area. Yet in the same period, the settlement population in the West Bank has grown by a massive 15,800.
So why remove settlers from Gaza if the disengagement was simply an exercise in relocation? Firstly, Israel never really wanted to keep them there. They were a bargaining chip to use when the time came to talk about the future of the occupied territories. But providing security for this relatively small number of settlers through a sustained military presence in the Gaza Strip was proving costly.
Secondly, Israel had already exhausted the water resources in Gaza by tapping the flow of underground water east of Gaza -- resulting in the seepage of seawater into Gaza's coastal aquifer -- and through the over-pumping of the existing aquifer by Israeli settlements. As such, Gazans have been left with brackish water resources that cause high rates of kidney failure. The maximum accepted level of chloride in drinking water, as set by World Health Organisation standards, is 250 mg per litre. In most areas of Gaza, the level stands between 1,200 and 2,500 mg per litre.
A further myth that Israel has been so successful in sustaining is that the withdrawal of its settlers has signalled an end to the occupation of Gaza. Yet the Strip is still as occupied as it used to be. What has changed is only the structure of occupation. Freed of the responsibility of maintaining a physical presence inside Gaza in order to "protect" its settlers, it is now much easier, and less costly for Israel to control the Gaza Strip from a distance using its state of the art military technology.
The Israeli army is located in the Erez area, in northern Gaza. From here, it continues to occupy a strip of land along the eastern border of Gaza some 900 metres to one kilometre deep -- again, all in an area of only 360 square kilometres -- and maintains control over Gaza's airspace, coastline and territorial waters. All entry and exit points to the Strip remain under Israeli control, and it is Israel that decides whether hundreds of patients who are in urgent need of treatment are allowed to leave the Gaza Strip or not. Despite the latest agreement brokered by Condoleezza Rice on the opening of the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, Israel retains complete control over the passage of goods and its right to monitor the movement of Palestinians; responsibilities it has frequently abused in the past.
Gaza remains a huge prison, and prospects for economic development in such a context are gloomy. The risk that Israel's continued control over Gaza will only deepen long-term efforts to sever it from the West Bank, destroying the unity and linkage between Palestinians, and the right of Palestinians to be in one unified state in the future, is a serious concern.
Sharon is using the redeployment from Gaza, which was exaggeratedly portrayed as an epic concession, to unilaterally impose the future of this area. The construction of his ignominious wall and the expansion of settlements will eventually result in the total annexation of no less than 50 per cent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the destruction of any potential for a coherent, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state.
The wall cuts as deep as 35 kilometres into the West Bank. Its construction has already resulted in the annexation of 9.5 per cent of the land of the West Bank. The area expropriated for settlement adds another eight per cent to this figure, while the building of the eastern wall in the Jordan Valley will allow Israel to annex a further 28.5 per cent of the West Bank.
The wall is being built at very high speed, regardless of the ICJ advisory opinion. It will be around 750 kilometres in length: three times as long and twice as high as the Berlin Wall. Over 1,060,000 trees -- mainly olive trees -- have been uprooted by Israeli bulldozers in the West Bank. This wall is not built inside Israeli territory, nor along 1967 borders, but inside the occupied territories, separating Palestinians from Palestinians, and not Palestinians from Israelis as Sharon claims.
This wall will isolate no less than 250,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem alone. At least 50-70,000 other Palestinians with Jerusalem ID cards will end up outside the wall, unable to access Jerusalem freely, and will lose access to health and educational services. This is the beginning of a process that will end up with taking away their IDs and forcing them to be outside the area of Jerusalem to which they belong.
In some places, the wall cuts houses into two. In Jerusalem, near Anata, the wall cuts off the playground and fields of a school from the school building itself. In the city of Qalqilya, 46,000 people are surrounded by the wall from all directions, leaving only one passage, a road 8m wide with a gate, through which they can pass. Israeli soldiers have the key to this gate, and can shut off the city whenever they choose.
A permit is required to cross the wall; one that is near impossible to obtain. And even if you succeed in obtaining this permit, you still have to negotiate unaccommodating gate opening times. In the Jayous area, you can cross between 7.40am and 8am, between 14pm and 14.15pm, and between 18.45pm and 19pm: a total of 50 minutes per day. Sometimes the army "forgets" to open the gates, and schoolchildren, teachers, farmers, patients and other ordinary people are left to wait indefinitely.
If the 1947 UN partition plan had been implemented, there would be two states: a Palestinian state on 45 per cent of the land of historic Palestine, and an Israeli state on 55 per cent. In 1967, the Israeli state constituted 78 per cent of this land. What remained was the West Bank and Gaza Strip; what Palestinians came to terms with in 1988 when the Palestinian National Council accepted a two-state solution. This represented an unprecedented compromise for Palestinians as it effectively gave up more than half of what was assigned to them by the UN.
What was offered to Arafat by Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 was no different from Sharon's plan, in that he wanted to retain the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem and big parts of the settlements. Having brought the Palestinians to their worst ever economic and humanitarian condition, Sharon has created a situation whereby he can act independently to decide the shape any future "peace process" will take. His plan, if he finishes his wall, and if he succeeds in his unilateral action to impose a solution, which is hailed and appreciated by so many leaders in the international community, will transform the idea of a Palestinian state into something that can only be described as Bantustans and clustres of ghettos.
Herein lies the real motivation behind the wall. Far from being built for security reasons, it symbolises a pre-determined plan by the army to annex the occupied territories and determine the outcome of the so-called peace process. The Israeli army has re- imposed closures and severe movement restrictions in the West Bank, declaring that main roads are barred to Palestinian vehicles, with the exception of some public transport. Instead, these roads have been designated for use by Israeli settlers and the army only, reflecting an element of segregation that did not even happen at the height of apartheid in South Africa.
Ordinary Palestinians cannot go to work, women who are pregnant cannot get to hospital to give birth, patients who are in serious need of kidney dialysis or urgent treatment for heart attacks could die at home without being able to reach a hospital, and the Palestinian economy is completely paralysed.
Where is the peace process in all of this, and when Sharon refuses to recognise the presence of a Palestinian partner, and the idea of an international peace conference? Sharon claims that there is no place for negotiations about Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, settlements, and that he will decide the future unilaterally without any Palestinian or international participation. And if there are negotiations, they are taking place between the right-wing Likud Party leadership and the more extreme right-wing leadership represented by Netanyahu, or between Sharon and the settlers.
Our demand is for an international peace conference where resolution to the conflict would be returned to its basis in international law, and where the ICJ advisory ruling would be addressed.
What is happening on the ground is the creation of a system of apartheid. Of 960 million cubic metres of water that is generated in the West Bank, Palestinians are allowed to use only 109, one-tenth of our water. The rest goes to Israel. On average, a Palestinian citizen in the West Bank is allowed to use no more than 36 cubic metres of water per year, while Israeli settlers in the West Bank can use up to 2,400 cubic metres. We are not allowed to use our own roads and streets. We are not allowed to build houses. We are not allowed to move freely. Our GDP per capita is less than $1,000 while Israel's is almost $20,000, and still we have an imposed tax and market union which obliges us to buy products at the same cost as Israelis.
This is well illustrative of the severe imbalance of power on the ground, one that cannot be redressed without the intervention and support of the international community.
One way to correct this situation is to do what was done very successfully in the case of South Africa, which is to impose sanctions. A key aspect of this lies in the discontinuation of military ties with Israel, the fourth largest military exporter in the world. We need a movement of military non- cooperation that concentrates on divestment and connects economic agreements with Israel's abidance by international law and the implementation of international resolutions.
The Palestinians deserve to be freed from the long- term suffering they have endured through 600 years of foreign rule, 58 years of dispossession and 38 years of a military occupation that has become the longest in modern history. The Israelis themselves will never be truly free unless they end this suppression of the Palestinian people.
There comes a time in people's lives when they can no longer bear injustice. This time has come for Palestinians. We aspire to be free, and we will be free.
* The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative