Today, is the last day of the election campaign. Media reports say that the Israeli army will halt operations in the occupied Palestinian territories “to avoid interfering with Sunday’s elections”, however, Israel has already interfered with the elections since the start of the election campaign on December 25 and the announcement of the presidential elections on November 25.
Since November 25, Israeli forces have killed 68 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. Most of them in the Gaza Strip. Seven Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have wounded 130 Palestinians and destroyed at least 95 homes.
Israeli spokespersons have announced that Israeli soldiers will stay away from Palestinian areas until after all the ballots are counted, but election observers and human rights experts have not confirmed this. The situation on the ground as far as Israeli military presence and operations are concerned has not changed.
Israel’s foreign minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday that the IDF “already begun to pull troops out of West Bank cities,” but observers who know the area and who have visited the occupied territories before haven’t noticed any difference.
In most of the cities, Israeli soldiers are not continuously present inside the cities, but they restrict every movement in and out the city and when they enter any city it is always for a temporary period, sometimes an hour but usually for a number of days and in the Gaza Strip up to several weeks. These temporary incursions cause damage and destruction and the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
The Israeli government nor spokespersons haven’t provided evidence of statements that they would ease restrictions or improve their conduct.
Many observers are concerned that despite promises by various Israeli officials both Palestinian voters and candidates are still being denied their right to freedom of movement within and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Since the beginning of the campaign period, two candidates from the Gaza Strip have been prevented by Israeli military authorities from entering the West Bank, while one other candidate from the West Bank has been disallowed from campaigning in the Gaza Strip. More seriously, it has been reported that several other candidates in the West Bank have been arrested and even beaten by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints.
Access to East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967 and later unlawfully annexed by Israel, has been denied to many of the candidates. In addition, many East Jerusalem residents, required to vote outside of the city boundaries, are intimidated by the continued presence of checkpoints, and the threat of having their IDs confiscated by members of the Israeli authorities if they decide to exercise their voting rights.
Restrictions on movement could prevent voters from reaching the polling stations. Israels repeated incursions into the north of the Gaza Strip, and into cities in the West Bank to arrest or kill wanted and ordinary individuals, severely undermine the conditions of stability necessary for Palestinians to participate effectively in Palestinian public life.
Arjan El Fassed is a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and a member of UCP’s election mission, accredited as international election observers.