In Focus85 Stephen McCloskey wrote about the human rights situation of Palestinians after a trip to the West Bank
In November 2009, an Irish delegation of 22 people visited the West Bank to assess the human rights situation for Palestinians living under occupation. Our programme included meetings with human rights activists and NGOs based in both Palestine and Israel. The recurring issues that surfaced in these discussions were the notorious security wall that is devouring Palestinian land, the expanding settlements that “create new facts on the ground”, the checkpoints that disrupt everyday life for Palestinians, and the arbitrary imprisonment of men, women and children.
Internment by another name
Palestinians are mostly incarcerated under the legal guise of Administrative Detention, whereby detainees are held without charge or trial for a period of up to six months. The period of detention is frequently renewed and this process can continue indefinitely. This is internment by another name, the form of detention disastrously used by the British government in the north of Ireland in the 1970s. At the end of 2008, there were 700 administrative detainees in Israeli prisons. Addameer, a Palestinian NGO, believes that Israel has used this measure in a “highly arbitrary manner’ that ‘leads to other, grave human rights violations, such as degrading and inhuman treatment and torture”.
These concerns are shared by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, which believes Israel has “made a charade out of the entire system of procedural safeguards in both domestic and international law regarding the right to liberty and due process”. B’Tselem is part of a growing level of dissent and activism within Israeli society challenging the human rights abuses related to the occupation.
This activism includes the courageous women of Machsom Watch who monitor Israeli military checkpoints for human rights abuses on a daily basis and post their reports on the internet (www. machsomwatch.org). Our group met with a 64 year old woman activist from Machsom monitoring the Bethlehem checkpoint. She stands at checkpoints every day at 6am and 2pm keeping a careful eye on the treatment of Palestinians. The presence of these women can prevent serious abuses and shines a light on the daily grind and humiliation created by the checkpoints.
The traditional Israeli justification for its punitive judicial apparatus and network of checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank is “security”. This is also the rationale for the notorious security wall which is allegedly under construction to prevent attacks in Israeli territory. The wall is approximately 700km long (60 per cent completed) and up to eight metres high and has, on average, a 60 metre wide exclusion area. Around 1.5million trees were uprooted to clear a path for the wall, only 20 per cent of which runs along the recognised border, the Green Line. If security was Israel’s primary reason for constructing the wall then it would adhere to the Green Line and ensure that the entire Palestinian population was on one side of the wall. In fact the wall deviates substantially from the Green Line to make major incursions into Palestinian land and annexes large tracts of fertile farming land. In 2004, the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion that the wall runs “contrary to international law” and should be removed.
The checkpoints and security wall help to siphon off more and more Palestinian land for the construction of new Israeli settlements. There are 135 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and 450,000 settlers, with Palestinian-run areas amounting to just 17 per cent of the West Bank. Settlement construction means loss of homes and possessions, livelihoods and income for Palestinians. We were given a tour of settlements in East Jerusalem by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The group estimates that 24,145 homes have been demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and 4,247 alone destroyed in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three week military bombardment in the winter of 2008-09 which killed 1,400 Gazans.
Non-violent resistance to the land annexations, house demolitions and security wall is evident across the West Bank, most notably in the small agricultural village of Bil’in, west of Ramallah, which has had half of its land seized for the construction of a settlement. Since March 2005, the residents of Bil’in have organised direct actions to reclaim their land and the village has become an internationally recognised popular movement supported by large numbers of foreign nationals. Our group participated in a demonstration which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. With the imagination and creativity that has characterised the Bil’in protests, the villagers created their own mock Berlin wall that contrasted the collapse and failure of one form of separation and division with the continued construction of another.
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions
The villagers of Bil’in and Palestinians across the West Bank need our support to resist the expansion of settlements and ensure Israel’s meaningful participation in negotiations. We need to support implementation of a wide-ranging Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) strategy that will lead to financial institutions and companies shedding their investments in Israel. Nothing short of Israel’s isolation on the world stage through cultural, sporting and academic boycotts and economic pressure will lead to positive change in the Middle East. The Irish delegation’s visit to the West Bank saw Palestine at a crossroads which could lead to another intifada or uprising in the absence of political hope, or the completion of the Zionist programme of eroding any possibility of a coherent Palestinian society. Alternatively, civil society and political movements around the world can mount sufficient international pressure on Israel to ensure that it become a serious participant in negotiations worth their name.