Free and Fair Palestinian Elections not Possible Under Military Occupation

Election posters on a Ramallah wall. (Maureen Clare Murphy)

Today the Israeli military declared the closure of the Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip for 48 hours, blocking the movement of all Palestinians into and out of the Gaza Strip. The closure also prevented Palestinian Presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouthi from leaving Gaza to campaign in the West Bank until late this evening.

Yesterday, in the Gaza Strip seven Palestinian civilians, five of them children, were killed by an Israeli tank shell in Beit Lahia. Areas in Khan Yunis, Beit Lahia and Rafah remain under Israeli military siege, making it impossible to carry out a presidential election campaign there. Last week a 17 year-old boy, Riziq Musleh, was shot by an Israeli sniper in Rafah while attempting to hang a campaign poster.

In the West Bank, 15,000 Palestinians in the Jenin district who live trapped between the Apartheid Wall and the Green Line have been denied freedom of movement to campaign events. Similarly, in the Nablus district, a suffocating system of checkpoints and ongoing military incursions make it virtually impossible for citizens to carry out campaign activities.

American actor Richard Gere in a screenshot from a TV advert sponsored by grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace lobby One Voice. “Hi, I’m Richard Gere and I’m speaking for the entire world,” says the actor during the spot, “We’re with you during this election time. It’s really important. Get out and vote.” Reuters reported today that many Palestinians have no idea who Gere is. One Gaza soap factory worker interviewed by Reuters, Manar an-Najar, was quoted saying: “I don’t even know who the candidates are other than Abu Mazen, let alone this Gere. We don’t need the Americans’ intervention. We know who to elect. Not like them – they elected a moron.” It remains unclear why Gere and One Voice did not address the more important issue of restrictions on freedom of movement that have plagued Palestinian election campaigns, which many observers are concerned will prevent many Palestinians from voting on January 9th. WATCH [MPG format, 24MB]

In occupied East Jerusalem the Israeli government continues to attempt to deny Palestinians’ assertion of their identity and rights. The Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) is conducting a door-to-door campaign in an attempt to register East Jerusalem voters. Israel has banned CEC staff from carrying any documents identifying them with the CEC or the Palestinian Authority, and from displaying the Palestinian flag and colors.

Many Palestinian Jerusalem residents have expressed to International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers their reluctance to vote in Sunday’s elections in fear that Israel will strip them of their Israeli-issued Jerusalem identification card, and that they will consequently lose the rights to which they are entitled as Jerusalem residents, and the benefits that they have paid for through taxes.

Only four days before the election, Presidential candidates are still struggling to obtain Israeli permits to campaign in East Jerusalem. Over the past weeks, candidates Bassam Salhi and Mustafa Barghouthi have both been arrested by Israeli police as they campaigned in East Jerusalem.

Over the next four days, ISM volunteers will continue to monitor and report on Israeli violations of Palestinians’ right to free elections, particularly in East Jerusalem, and will stand with Palestinians as they exercise their rights. It is already clear that only an end to Israel’s military occupation will allow for the conduct of free and fair elections.

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