The streets in the centre of Ramallah are crowded and bustling. Cars make slow headway because of all the people in the road. There’s no question of striding out, if you want to walk anywhere. That didn’t matter to me too much when I went shopping this afternoon. I didn’t really have a particular destination. I was just looking for a shop that sold fresh milk. I found a couple of shops that had long-life milk and bought yoghurt and eggs in one of them. I then found a shop selling fresh milk, but it was from Israel and I prefer to support local, i.e. Palestinian, producers. Fortunately I spotted Palestinian fresh milk a little further along the shelf. Mission accomplished! I now have milk for my tea again.
Living here in Ramallah, one might imagine that this land is at peace. But one only has to read the right news sources to realise that there are so many human rights abuses going on daily that the situation cannot be described as “peaceful” by any stretch of the imagination. People have their land confiscated, their houses demolished, their olive groves vandalised. They face lengthy delays and harassment at checkpoints, if they have to go to work in Jerusalem or elsewhere in Israel. Many people are not allowed to leave the West Bank or Gaza at all. This quite often results in families being separated. Hundreds of young men are languishing in administrative detention, i.e. detention without trial, in Israeli jails. Now and then a demonstrator is killed by a “rubber” bullet or dies from injuries sustained three or four years ago.
Three news items have struck me especially today.
Most shocking, perhaps, is the news that the municipal authority of Jerusalem, which rules over occupied East Jerusalem as if it were part of Israel, has posted demolition warrants on 200 apartment blocks in two Palestinian neighbourhoods. The owners of the buildings have 30 days in which to register their objections. If the apartment blocks are eventually demolished, more than 15,000 Palestinians will be made homeless.
Meanwhile, the construction of houses continues apace in Israeli West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. One wonders whether the Israeli government is intentionally trying to sabotage the current peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is not going out of his way to make a two-state solution viable. On Sunday he announced that once “security fences” have been constructed along the borders with Egypt and Syria, a “security fence” will be built along the border between Jordan and the West Bank. He is reviving plans that were scrapped ten years ago because of international pressure. He claims that Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley need to be protected from Syrian refugees across the border in Jordan. Israel clearly intends to maintain control of the border between the West Bank and Jordan, so that any Palestinian state would not have control of its own borders.
At present the Palestinian Authority (PA) really only has control over Area A, five separate “cantons” in the West Bank, which Palestinians describe as “Bantustans”. The PA is responsible for the administration of Area B, villages and agricultural land around the major towns, but Israel has control of security. From time to time the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) carries out military training exercises in Area B. This may involve “simulating” the taking over of a village. Amidst gunfire and shelling the village is overrun by soldiers, who have no regard for the local inhabitants. It has even been known for soldiers to burst in and take over a house, causing great distress to the people living there. Several villages south of Nablus have been warned that such exercises will take place on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week.
Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of the Quaker Meeting in Ramallah, writes in her book, “Occupied with Nonviolence”: “The Oslo Accords presented the world with misleading images of peace and we were left with a difficult and hard reality on the ground. The international media referred to the Accords as historic because they brought peace and reconciliation. I often quote the words of the prophet Ezekiel who speaks of false prophets, ‘Because they misled my people, saying, “Peace”, when there is no peace’ (Ezekiel 13:10).”