55 — not 35 — years of occupation

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, using massacres and other forms of terrorism against civilians, and rumors of more to come, Zionist militias drove 800,000 Palestinians out of 415 Palestinian villages, creating a refugee crisis unresolved to this day. Israel’s current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was deeply involved in the horrors of this period, most famously as commander of the Israeli unit that carried out the Qibya Massacre in 1953.

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including Jerusalem) in 1967 to further colonize Palestine in defiance of the Geneva Conventions and multiple UN resolutions. Israeli courts were increasingly employed to further empower the colonization process in the face of international distaste by giving it a veneer of legality. Palestinian homes were now razed due to lack of building permits rather than any racist reason. The fact that Palestinians would never be granted a building permit was buried too many layers beneath the surface for most observers to notice.

Outright ethnic cleansing continued after the military occupation. In August 1971, Israeli forces under the command of current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon destroyed around 2,000 homes in Gaza, making 12,000 Palestinian refugees homeless for the second time in their lives. Massive deportations were taking place, numbering in the hundreds. In the latter half of 1971 alone, Israeli death squads assassinated over 100 Palestinians.

In the wake of increasing international recognition of the Palestinian cause following Arafat’s UN appearance in 1974, Israeli targeting of any manifestation of Palestinian national identity increased. The president of Birzeit University was deported following student protests. He remained in exile for 19 years.

Of all of the myriad military orders created in the wake of the 1967 occupation, MO101 allowed for a maximum 10 years imprisonment for participating in a gathering of more than 10 people that Israel deemed political, for publishing political material against the Israeli occupation, or even for raising the Palestinian flag.

Israeli colonization of Palestinian land increased exponentially during this period. Again, current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was deeply involved. The 1977-1992 Likud-era of Israeli government was characterized by more land confiscation and more settlement activity than had ever been seen before in Israeli history. The number of settlers in the occupied territories rose to approximately 110,000 people, an increase of over two thousand percent.

The Sabra and Shatila Massacre in September 1982 was one of the most infamous events and directly resulted in the firing of current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon from his then post as defense minister, bearing ‘personal responsibility’ for the massacre.

Contrary to popular wisdom, some of the gravest human rights abuses against Palestinians living in the occupied territories took place in the few years prior to the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987, which is traditionally only considered a low point internationally primarily because it brought these abuses onto the world stage as never before.

The first Palestinian Intifada, from 1987-1992, primarily consisted of the disengagement of Palestinian civil society from the control structures of the Israeli occupation. Boycotts, community organizing, the foundation of tens of Palestinian non-profit organizations, the mass resignation of Palestinians serving in the Israeli police force and so-called Civil Administration that implemented the bureaucracy of the military occupation – all these measures were characteristic of this first ‘shaking off’.

Israel increased its repression and colonization during this period. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were imprisoned, those that protested with stones had their bones broken on the orders of then Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and curfews on entire towns and neighborhoods were endemic.

Gaza saw the imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew that was to last for 7 years. Family homes of child stone throwers were demolished. Universities, schools and kindergartens were closed by military order. Modems and fax machines were effectively banned by requiring a permit application for their use. The list is endless and as intrusive as Orwell’s 1984.

From 1990-1992, current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon served as Minister of Construction and Housing, responsible for the construction of 144,000 more settler apartments. The Madrid Peace Conference in late 1991 made no dent in the continuing colonization.

In May 1993, Jerusalem was closed to Palestinians, barring all except those who were granted permits by the Israeli Civil Administration. This percentage occasionally amounted to 3% of the Palestinian population and these permits were tenuous as they were regularly cancelled, necessitating a tortuous period of reapplication, lasting days.

Following the Declaration of Principles signed in September 1993 -– purportedly intended to herald the resolution of this conflict over land -– Israel continued to demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes, confiscate land, and dramatically increased the number of settlers in the occupied territories.

Ariel Sharon was appointed head of settlement construction during this period. Israel established 30 new settlements and doubled the settler population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from 109,000 in 1993 to nearly 200,000 in 1999.

The confiscation of yet more Palestinian land to build ‘Jew-only’ bypass roads for settlers added further burdens to Palestinian daily life. Closures preventing movement between Palestinian towns were a new feature of the landscape.

The international media and foreign governments called this period ‘the peace process’. Those of us living in the occupied territories during this time stopped watching CNN or got used to chewing on furniture. The gulf of reality between the television screen and that, which literally took place outside our windows, was enormous.

1948. 1967. 1982. 2002. The dates do not mark isolated atrocities or war crimes (which is the legal term for these grave violations of the Geneva Convention). Rather, they are merely milestones along an unbroken path, a continuous half-century of pushing a native people off their ancestral homeland, while spending millions and millions of dollars on PR agencies to creatively find new language and rationales to justify the state violence necessary to achieve this goal.

In any case, it is true that 35 years have passed since Israel militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip after it ‘won’ the ‘Six Day War’. The very terminology itself is indicative of the mythology that has come to surround this tiny country and its occupied lands, the land area of which is just one-eleventh the size of the U.S. state of Minnesota, where I now live.

In reality, according to Palestinians who lived through the period, the ‘Six Day War’ was in actuality a ‘Six Day Promenade’, resistance being absent in almost every geographical area. The Jordanian soldiers stationed in the West Bank town of Ramallah had been issued with a single clip of bullets and therefore wisely chose to shed their uniforms and blend with the local population. Israeli tanks thus rolled in unchallenged. This would later be claimed as a biblical ‘miracle’ by Israel’s secular government, ever the spin masters.

I was there the next time Israeli tanks came to Ramallah, 29 years later during the September 1996 Clashes. In just three days, 88 Palestinians were killed. The Israeli forces, deluded by the mostly passive resistance to three decades of occupation shot dead 5 Palestinian demonstrators on the first day, while cheering and giving each other high fives according to several friends and journalists who witnessed the initial events.

I remember speaking to an Israeli peace activist on the telephone that day, who refused to believe this account. In her mind, Israeli soldiers only shot at people when they absolutely had to, to protect their own lives.

This didn’t explain then why 5 were killed and 263 injured in just a few short hours and it doesn’t explain today why, 20 months into the Intifada, more than 1,500 Palestinians have been shot dead, another 20,000 injured, around 3,000 of whom have been permanently crippled.

Once you have seen your first child or teenager shot dead outside of stone throwing range by an Israeli soldier – which I have – you realize at a heart level that not everyone shares what you previously imagined were universal human values. This is different from accepting this happens. It is utterly disturbing and clears away years of self-righteous propaganda in an instant.

The defiling power of a militaristic society on the humanity of its members is a key reason for the perpetuation of the conflict. Israel’s traditional reliance on the clearly unsuccessful strategy of brute force to address the violence of Palestinian militant groups is evidence enough of this.

Undermining this false trust in military might by ceasing American and European arms exports to Israel represents the most important step there is to forcing Israeli society to reevaluate its state of perpetual war of colonization against the Palestinian people.

Israel’s wanton disregard for civilian life and institutions is all too apparent from the published research of human rights organizations from around the world.

This war typically involves broad strokes of unfocused violence against Palestinians. It involves the weekly bulldozing of homes and agricultural land around existing Israeli military installations and settlement, generally justified as a necessary ‘security perimeter’, strangely endlessly expanding.

A statistically tiny percentage of Palestinians react to the Israeli occupation – which has literally wounded every single Palestinian family – with violence. Watching the media – based far away from the violence against Palestinians – you would imagine that this was not the case. Terrorist violence against Israelis is the only story because it happens down the road from where the media is based, not because it truly is the only story. I write this as a four year resident of Ramallah.

There is not some balanced “cycle of violence” bouncing back and forth as if like a tennis ball between Israel and the Palestinians. This, the more ‘liberal’ version of the suicide bomb-obsessed coverage trend described above, is equally misleading.

Rather, there has been a 55-year-long pattern of Israeli violence that accompanies the 55-year-long (and continuing) colonization. This ‘spiral of violence’ increasingly drags more and more Palestinians off the tenuous plateau where they are desperately trying to live like the majority of other people on the planet.

All the demonization myths in the world – about the supposed contents of Palestinian children’s textbooks, about Arafat’s supposed links to terror, about supposed Palestinian intransigence in the face of Israel’s ‘generosity’ – do not change this basic reality.

People who blame the Palestinians for ‘the violence’ are missing the point on this, their 35th or 55th year of loss, depending on how you look at it. And sadly, these people include the current president of the United States – the one person best placed in the power dynamics that perpetuate the conflict to finally end this bloody mess.