Breaking Down the Wall

A general view over the separation wall near the Qalandya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah October 17, 2005. (MAANnews/Moti Milrod)

It is estimated that Israel’s Annexation Wall will be completed in the early part of 2006. When it is finished it will annex 47% of the West Bank, and hand it over to the settler population. At least 15% of Palestinians will be left outside the wall1, completely isolated from the rest of society, and over 222,098 refugees for the second or third times will experience, “land confiscation, destruction of property, and denial of access to their lands thus directly affecting their means of livelihood”2. In the end, it is not an over exaggeration to say that the entire Palestinian society will directly suffer by its completion, in addition to the seemingly unstoppable illegal Israeli practices that continue unhindered.

Still the question is often asked by critics and supporters alike, why don’t Palestinians resist non-violently, and continue to do so even if in the face of overwhelming military force. During this time of intensive Israeli expansionism, and growing Palestinian isolationism, internationals and Israelis alike want to know where the next Gandhi or MLK is. Many may not be aware that Palestinians have in fact engaged in ongoing organized, nonviolent resistance since the beginning of the century (request detailed Palestinian history/timeline). As well, there is too often confusion and questions about the issues of history, religion and who is right, or more deserving of a homeland. The issue however, is simply one of equality, human rights and international law.

On October 28th, 2005, eleven year old Ahmad was celebrating the Muslim holiday, Eid, while playing with his friends in a Jenin refugee camp. He was shot dead in the head by an Israeli sniper. The soldier admitted he shot the boy while “mistaking” his toy gun for the real thing. Did it ever cross the mind of this soldier with the best military technology in the world available to him, to take a closer look? In response, the parents of the boy who was accidentally murdered - donated his organs to an Israeli family. At least three young Israeli girls were saved as a result. Ahmad’s father said that the action he took in donating his son’s organs was meant as “a message of peace to the world, stating that Palestinians want real peace, and the only way of achieving that is by ending the illegal Israeli occupation.” Sadly, the difference between Gandhi & MLK, versus Ahmad’s family’s brave acts is that they were Palestinian; and for them was nether a whisper from within the oppressive Israeli system, nor the rest of the world community. In fact, the soldier that killed him like so many others guilty of the same crime, was found ‘not guilty’ of any charges. Equally disturbing, is an Israeli man present at the newly united Palestinian and Israeli family’s home, who had the nerve to tell Palestinians that they need to learn to stop their violence!

The Israeli system is one with no regard for Palestinian life. Tragic as it was, Ahmad’s death is in no way the exception. Likewise, on November 8, three teen age boys hiking in a park, armed with a ‘family-sized bottle of water’ were shot - one in the head, in short range - died on the spot. The IDF soldier claimed the four boys were a terrorist band that were about to plant a roadside bomb. Under the umbrella of security, these ongoing war crimes continue unquestioned. When recently speaking to a friend from Nablus I asked him his thoughts about the International Solidarity Movement and nonviolent resistance. He made a point of telling me how he recently counted 97 friends of his that have been killed since 2002. Occupation surely did not enter their lives peacefully, and fifty seven years of struggle to simply live their lives in peace, can not be easily forgotten or ignored. Stateless, and without protection, where is the justice in continuously placing the burden of the responsibility on the victims of so much violence?

Relative to what?

Although it seems the situation is ‘relatively quiet’ in Palestine, it is a tense calm that surrounds us. While there are no major incursions, and rarely do we see the Israeli military presence during the day - other than while crossing checkpoints - everyone knows that the building of the wall, settlements and occupation infrastructure continues at a frighteningly rapid pace. Palestinians are dying for relative calm. Since the ceasefire was declared in February 8, 2005 to December 1, 2005, upon the writing of this article - 78 Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israelis, including 20 children3. We should compare it on a humanitarian level, but sadly Palestinians aren’t relative - their lives are defined in relation to the well being of their oppressors. And of course there were no Israeli civilian casualties at the hands of Palestinians, so it does not count.

While the prospect for Palestinian statehood is tauntingly dangled overhead: the strangulation of the economy, the Annexation Wall, 8,000 political prisoners in Israeli jails, the growth of the settlements, the vicious attacks by settlers, denial of movement, especially roads - the jailing of an entire people has become the political reality. Here in Bethlehem, the first administrative detention checkpoint center has been erected, reminiscent of a border crossing but more likened to a federal penitentiary, with an armed guard perched up high, pacing back and forth. The administrative detention center serves to effectively separate Bethlehem from Jerusalem Palestinians, and will ensure that travel from the West Bank is securely severed. It serves as a model for future checkpoints that will be littered throughout the West Bank. Sadly, to an unknowing eye the spotless passage ways and sanitized surroundings make it appear as if it is actually progress, instead of an attempt to cement and beautify the ugliness that is occupation.

As we ponder the Palestinian elections and who will win what seats, what we are essentially asking is who will be the warden’s of the prison that has become Palestine. Who will administer the lock, to whom the key will not even be held - as 57 years of isolation, imprisonment and occupation continue to grow. Collectively Palestinians are all paying the heavy price of resisting the occupation of their homeland, with growing pain and resentment. This is the root of the injustice, for collective punishment is sure to enrage the entire society, while turning against its aggressors. Those seeking human rights are left longing for a lasting and just solution to end the generations of suffering.

International Law

I recently attended an international humanitarian law conference and was struck by the depth of institutionalized racism that has developed, and is accepted throughout society as a whole. As Palestinian attorney and co-founder of the pioneering human rights organization Al-Haq, Raja Shehedeh, noted in his opening remarks, “the power of a colonizer is in his technical, legal and organizational abilities. Slowly and overtime a system developed by which they re-interpreted the land laws of Palestine…a dual system of administration one for the settlements and another for the Palestinians. Their old idea of functional separation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews living in the occupied territories has been a driving force for over 25 years now.” According to a 2004 Foundation for Middle East Peace report there are over 601,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the number continues to grow at an alarming rate. The annexation wall has butchered the West Bank into a number of disconnected area units to protect these very settlers, effectively isolating Palestinian villages and homes from other Palestinians; and the rest of the world (see map of settlements/wall). Forget the state for a moment - this wall erases any hope of a viable, contiguous Palestinian life.

This December 3, 2005 six UN General Assembly resolutions (a/res/60/36-41) indicative of world opinion, overwhelmingly voted for Israel to end its illegal settlement activities and construction of the wall around East Jerusalem, demand Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights and return to the Road Map, all of which US Ambassador John Bolton dismissed as “meaningless”.

Under international law, the legal consequences of grave breaches of human rights are three fold:

1. State responsibility: the occupying power is legally responsible for the acts of its agents, and is under corresponding obligations to ensure that its agents adhere to the Convention and to prosecute those who commit grave breaches;

2. Individual responsibility: an individual who commits a grave breach is criminal liable for his or her acts and should be prosecuted accordingly;

3. Interstate responsibility: of other State signatories of the Convention: all state signatories are under an obligation to seek out and prosecute individuals responsible for committing or commissioning grave breaches (art. 146).

There is no way to have a peaceful, beautiful or just occupation. In fact, Israeli policy and practice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) has not been guided by respect for international law, but rather by how to most effectively violate it. Ignoring scores of international law rulings, regular Israeli violations continue with impunity. States with power have absolved themselves of any form of responsibility, turned a blind eye and are directly or indirectly funding the abuses. According to a March 2005 Congressional Research Brief entitled “Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance,” since 1985 the U.S. has given Israel three billion dollars a year in grants; and since 1976 Israel has been the largest annual recipient of U.S. aid and is the largest recipient of cumulative U.S. assistance since World War II. This year, three additional billion dollars were guaranteed to aid the relocation for the mere 7,500 Gaza settlers who evacuated - and will fund the relocation of Israeli Occupation Forces after the withdrawal. This aid is in addition to the more than 2.5 billion dollars already provided by the U.S. to Israel in the 2005 fiscal year for economic, military and migration resettlement assistance.

The European Union and Palestine

Under International Law the EU also has a responsibility. A recently leaked document written by the EU heads of missions from to Jerusalem and Ramallah clearly states the direness and urgency of the situation. The report found that rapid settlement growth and ongoing construction is contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law and the Roadmap. They are well aware that “when the barrier has been completed, Israel will control access to and from East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank beyond. This will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinians.” They have no illusions about the wall being for security, “Isael’s main motivation is almost certainly demographic - to reduce the Palestinian population of Jerusalem. But the policy has severe humanitarian consequences.”4 Although the EU is capable of acting unilaterally and has harshly condemned countless Israeli policies, it has yet to put any meaningful pressure on the state - neither diplomatic nor economic.

…and the building continues.

The world sits idly by and watches as states with power, with the aid of individual Israeli soldiers, commit regular war crimes against a largely civilian population. Clearly seeing the injustices and fundamental flaws inherent in this system, and the mistakes of history being repeated, we continue to hope that it will miraculously change. When states and individuals responsible for protecting human rights are the ones guilty of violating them, what options are the oppressed left with? These governments should be held accountable - yet as seen international law can not be enforced without the support of citizens worldwide. As Palestine solidarity activists, it is vital for us to take a moral stand in favor of international law by putting pressure on our respective governments to do so.

Calling on People of Good Will and Moral Conscious

The Palestinian people are calling on the international community to hold the Israeli state responsible for their actions, where states have failed them. Together, we who believe in human rights, can help stop the regular breaches of international law through economic pressure. Over 170 Palestinian NGO’s have signed onto the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, until Israel complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights:

“We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society, organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa during the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

These non-violent measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of All Arab lands and dismantle the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

Divestment, boycott and sanctions are a strategy designed to put economic pressure on the unjust Israeli system, and are so far are the greatest hope to realize human rights for the Palestinian people. A growing divestment movement world wide is enjoying early successes. Divestment campaigns, academic boycotts and economic sanctions continue to grow across the US and Europe and new ones are being regularly launched (see divestment resources).

In 1948 we saw direct transfer; it was called voluntary exodus. Today we see imprisonment of an entire people, confiscation of land, isolation and the growing prospect of Palestinian Bantu-state(s) hood; it is called security. We don’t have much time. This is more than apartheid. Only by ending the occupation, and recognizing the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people and their sovereignty over their land and resources, will positive change be achieved. Such a solution can not occur without strict adherence to human rights and international law, enforced through a wide range of economic sanctions, divestment and academic boycotts.

Noura Khouri lives in Ramallah. She wrote this article for the upcoming conference on nonviolence that will be organised by Holy Land Trust (Bethlehem) and NonViolence International (Washington DC) in Bethlehem, December 27-30.


[1] Statistics taken from the Stop the Wall Campaign

[2] The effects of the wall compiled by BADIL - A resource center for Palestinian residency and refugee rights-by gathering census information by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), and the most recent map of the wall prepared by the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

[3] Statistics gathered by Palestinian international human rights organization, Al-Haq’s, field workers.

[4] Leaked EU report on East Jerusalem (24 November 2005)

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