Life under occupation

The afternoon began with a film documenting daily “life” at the Qalandia checkpoint on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah. An Israeli activist took it upon herself to spend each day for about eight years filming what was happening at the checkpoint.

We saw crowds of people in the “cattle pens” pushing to get through the turnstiles, which are reminiscent of the machines which are used to remove the feathers from chicken. Once through the first turnstile, you have to put whatever you are carrying onto a conveyor belt to go through a scanner as at an airport, and walk through an arch to be scanned yourself.

Then you have to show your passport or ID card by placing it up against the glass screen which separates you from the Israeli soldiers who decide whether or not to let you pass through into Jerusalem. If you are an international or a Palestinian with a valid permit you are allowed to go through a second turnstile. There is then a third turnstile at the exit from the checkpoint.

Workers who need to get to work in Jerusalem or further inside Israel face delays of up to two hours. Or they may even be refused entry into Jerusalem. They are likely to lose their jobs, if they don’t turn up for work, or if they are too late too often.

The film also showed scenes of would-be worshippers, including elderly women, being forced to wait for hours in the hot sun during Ramadan.

After the film, Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting, talked to us about the violence being done to Palestinians in the occupied territories. The direct violence, such as the shooting of two Palestinians at checkpoints last week, is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a great deal of structural violence, which is economic, political, cultural, and religious.

The response of many Palestinians to this oppression is to withdraw into themselves (“inner emigration”), to accommodate or adjust to the situation as best they can, or to manipulate the system to their own advantage by fair means or foul. And those who have family connections in the USA or elsewhere may literally emigrate, if given the chance.

Jean advocated nonviolent resistance as the Christian response to oppression. Jesus’ way was to oppose evil without becoming evil oneself. He preached the reign of God, which is free of domination. “Struggle changes us. It gives us life. … It not only transforms us, but also makes us transforming people.”

The second of three speakers was a human rights lawyer working with the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. There are 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 15 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, nine of whom are being held in administrative detention.

Prisoners can be kept in administrative detention for six months at a time. But the detention order can be renewed indefinitely, sometimes for as long as eight years. Detainees are not charged and their lawyers are not allowed to see any evidence which may (or may not) justify their incarceration.

According to international law prisoners who have committed crimes in an occupied territory must be imprisoned within that territory, not inside the occupying country. But all Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis are held in jails within Israel. This means that family members are often not able to visit them, because they are not able to obtain the permit required for entry into Israel.

What can we in the West do? Campaign for a boycott of G4S, which provides security in Israeli prisons and interrogation centres, and at checkpoints.

The third speaker was Sam Bahour, managing partner of Applied Information Management, a Palestinian business which provides “professional and independent consulting and research”. Sam explained how Israeli control of Palestinian infrastructure restricts economic development.

Palestinians who are experts in particular fields, but who live in other parts of the world, are not allowed to enter Palestine. Israel controls all the borders, including those between the West Bank and Jordan and between Gaza and Egypt. The journey between Ramallah and Bethlehem – only about 20 miles as the crow flies – takes about 1 hour 45 minutes because of the circuitous route: south to Qalandia, east to the Jordan Valley, south towards the Dead Sea, and then west to Bethlehem. And there are three checkpoints on the way.

Sam told us about his daughters’ reading of history and prediction of the future. There was the “Catastrophe” of 1948 when many thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes. Palestinians have been trying in various ways to reclaim their homeland ever since.

War and armed struggle hasn’t worked. Appealing to international law hasn’t worked, because the superpowers turn a blind eye to Israeli violations. Negotiations with Israel brought the Oslo Agreement which has allowed Israel to entrench the occupation and further colonise the West Bank. The “facts on the ground” created by Israel make a two-state solution virtually impossible.

So, Sam’s daughters say, we will let Israel have everything, the land and the people. We will then campaign for our civil rights within a unitary state. It may take some time. But we will win.

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