Jerusalem (AHT) – As Apartheid Israel proceeds with its ethnic cleansing of Palestine, financed and armed by the imperial powers, Palestine’s camps and Israel’s colonies (‘settlements’) remain the focus of much day to day colonial violence.
There is no need to waste too much time over the character of Israel. The Adalah group within Israel, for example, has documented more than 65 laws that make Israel a racist state (Adalah 2017). The most recent authoritative report from the UN, by US lawyers Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley (2017), makes it clear that Israel is indeed an ‘apartheid state’ and, therefore, a crime against humanity. They conclude that “the situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of the organized international community to resolve a conflict partially generated by its own actions.”
Meantime, people in the camps maintain a strong community spirit, which drives them to resist; while fanaticism and self-interest amongst the often immigrant new colonists encourage them to make regular forays, destroying Palestinian crops and trees, and participating seizures of nearby Palestinian lands.
The camps all date from the years after ‘The Catastrophe’ of 1948, when Jewish colonists got the green light to take over a large part of the ‘British Mandate’ of Palestine. Camp families are mostly those evicted from their lands by that violent event. The ‘colonies’, for their part, represent steady incursions into West Bank lands, after the 1967 war.
Israelis and Jewish populations today are encouraged to believe that, in the colonial manner, military conquest entitles Israel to Arab lands. The zionist state illegally occupies Lebanese and Syrian, as well as Palestinian lands.
On a recent visit to Palestine’s West Bank, I had the opportunity to observe the camps and the colonies. First of all, it is obvious that the Israeli state pretends to own it all. At the border Israeli officials do not even want to acknowledge that outsiders might be entering ‘Palestine’; nor do they want to hear that anyone might want to visit Ramallah, Nablus or Hebron, the major Palestinian cities. The mere mention of these names incurs suspicion. The Palestinian Authority itself – established in 1994 and recognized by at least 40 governments as a fledgling state – so far only functions as a municipality under Israeli control.
Zionist storm troops make regular raids on any part of the Palestinian territory, but particularly the camps, most often to make arrests, mostly of young men. Raids are also signals of zionist power and are sometimes even used just as training exercises. Ali, a young man in Dehaisheh camp, now part of the southern suburbs of Bethlehem, told me the history of this camp.
Dehaisheh was created in 1950, to house the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by ‘1948 Israel’. They did not resettle, as they imagined they would be going back soon. They kept their house and land title deeds and keys. A UN agency later helped them build mostly 3 x 3 meter concrete box-dwellings. After the 1967 war, when Israeli troops took control of the West Bank, these camps were policed heavily. They were seen as hotbeds of resistance and were denied access to books (which they had to hide, and often bury) as well as to normal freedoms of movement and association.
The camp communities remain distinct to those of the municipality and the village. Ali says that for three generations they have had ‘no privacy and no property’. They had no individual titles to land. In their little box houses, which could only expand upwards, those next door could hear everything, from the bathroom to intimate moments.
Yet these conditions also meant that camp communities developed a strong collective spirit, with little crime and no voting, instead common consensus agreements. That spirit reinforced their resistance to the colonists. The presence of these strong values was confirmed to me by Naji and Amal, experienced Palestinian activists who do not live in the camps.
The camps contain various groups and political parties but, in Deheisheh, they kicked out religious sectarians, such as those of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Israelis were already skilfully fomenting divisions between Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Bedouins.
Around 2016 a new Israeli commander (‘Captain Nidal’) began a wave of terror on the southern West Bank camps. He told them that instead of killing youth he would ‘teach them a lesson’ they would not forget. From there began a wave of ‘knee-capping’ (shooting in the knee, to cripple), which has been widely reported (Hamayel 2016; Hass 2016; Ashly 2017). ‘Ali’ told me that over 200 young men in the camps have been crippled in this way.
Dehaisheh youth began a library/reading group, but that came to an abrupt end, Ali says, when 22-year-old Raed al Salhi was shot dead (Benoist 2017) and 9 others were imprisoned.
By contrast, there is a strange air of normality in Arab cities like Ramallah, in the middle of a countryside of fences, walls and storm troops. Unlike Jerusalem, which is a heavily policed ‘mixed’ zone, life in Ramallah goes on with little day to day Israeli presence. Yet they come at night. There has been widespread international coverage of the arrest of young Ahed Tamimi, and many of her family members in Ramallah; but such arrests are an everyday occurrence, affecting thousands of families.
Each major Palestinian city these days encompasses a few ‘camps’ and is surrounded by several colonies, mostly on the surrounding hilltops. The entire West Bank is fractured with these colonies and their no-go zones, roads, and fences.
People hear a lot about the recent separation wall, which annexes all of what was supposed to be the ‘international city’ of Jerusalem to ‘1948 Israel’. Yet there are also dozens of walls throughout the West Bank, protecting the colonies, their associated army bases, linked lands and feeder roads. These colonies also line the Jordan River and indeed all perimeter areas of the West Bank. There are more kilometers of walls and fences protecting colonies throughout the West Bank than there are in the infamous separation wall.
An impressive sign on the outskirts of Ramallah declares, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English: ‘This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under the Palestinian Authority The Entrance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law’ [exact punctuation]. This is all a show of deference, of course.
Israeli troops make regular night-time raids on all Palestinian cities and towns. But special attention is paid to the camps. Troops raided Balata camp, just south of Nablus, the day before I visited Nablus. They killed a young local man in custody, the day I arrived in Jericho. Elsewhere the resistance sniped at Israeli troops, as the zionist government announced plans to criminalize criticism of the Israeli military.
Ali says heavily armed Israeli troops invade Dehaisheh about two times every week. Nevertheless, this camp remains strong and cohesive. When Israeli lawyers offered Ali some money to buy his family land in ‘1948 israel’, he refused. It is not just the land, he said; it is about culture and identity.
Israel sometimes recognizes historic Palestinian land title, but often does not. Land is seized in a variety of ways. It can be bought, compulsorily acquired for infrastructure such as separation walls and roads or simply taken without notice. Amal’s family land on the outskirts of Ramallah was seized without notice, for the perimeter land and fences of a new colony outside Ramallah. Land is also stolen through punitive demolitions. In a peculiarly colonial form of collective punishment, homes and lands are taken from the families of those convicted of resistance activities.
Ali wants international support but resents western aid agencies which come to Palestine, pretending to help communities with their own ideas of ‘empowerment’. He recalls a young European woman preaching to experienced Palestinian mothers about ‘how to be a good mother’. Some of the women laughed, finding it hard to believe. ‘We are not helpless victims, we are people with a strong culture’, Ali said.
Ethnic cleansing has advanced substantially in recent decades, despite the withdrawal from Gaza and Israel’s 2006 defeat in south Lebanon at the hands of Hezbollah. To that extent, some limits have been imposed, by the Resistance, on the expansion of ‘Greater Israel’. Israel would have annexed large parts of southern Lebanon by now, were it not for Hezbollah.
However, the West Bank is under serious threat. In the late 1960s, the plan of Yigal Allon called for the annexation of 40% of the West Bank, and control of the Jordan River (Reinhart 2006: 51). Israel’s Labor Party broadly backed that idea, in contrast to the extreme right which has always wanted it all. Now Israel controls about 60% of the West Bank, choking it with walls and fences. The territory is almost cut in half. One consequence of this expanded ethnic cleansing has been to mark a definitive end to any ‘two-state solution’.
Adalah (2017) ‘The Discriminatory Laws Database’, 25 September, online: https://www.adalah.org/en/
Ali (2018) interview with this writer at Dehaisheh camp (Bethlehem), Occupied Palestine, February [‘Ali’ is a pseudonym, to protect him from Israeli reprisals. The Israeli parliament is currently trying to pass a law which would criminalize criticism of the Zionist military. Already such criticism serves as grounds for interrogation and possible imprisonment.]
Amal (2018) interviews with this writer at Ramallah, Occupied Palestine, February
Ashly, Jacyln (2017) ‘How Israel is disabling Palestinian teenagers’, Al Jazeera, 21 September, online: https://www.aljazeera.com/
Benoist, Chloé (2017) ‘Raed al-Salhi, another Palestinian life of promise snuffed out by Israel’, Middle East Eye, 8 September, online: http://www.middleeasteye.net/
Falk, Richard and Virginia Tilley (2017) Palestine – Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture; East Jerusalem Vol. 22, Issue 2/3, 191-196; also available here: https://counter-hegemonic-
Hamayel, Mohammad (2016) ‘Israeli military practice kneecapping against Palestinians’, Press TV, 29 August, online: http://www.presstv.com/Detail/
Hass, Amira (2016) ‘Is the IDF Conducting a Kneecapping Campaign in the West Bank?’, Haaretz, 27 August, online: https://www.haaretz.com/
Naji (2018) interview with this writer at Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine, February
Reinhart, Tania (2006) The Road Map to Nowhere, Verso, London
This post originally ran on American Herald Tribune.
Also published on Medium.