One could be excused for thinking that Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinians stopped since the Palestinian factions began fighting each other. Just about every report and article written in the Western media these past weeks have focused on the rift between Fatah and Hamas and US overtures to broker a peace deal that may finally allow the Palestinians a state of sorts. Any mention of Israel is in the light of urbane diplomatic discussions between it and the other main players minus, of course, Hamas with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert showing a most remarkable willingness to agree to a peace settlement that would see the Palestinians getting back around 90 per cent of the West Bank. If only there was reason to believe that the leopard has changed its spots.
The truth of the matter is that nothing has changed on the ground for the Palestinians. Israel is rolling into the occupied Palestinian territories with its tanks and armored vehicles and using its war planes to fire rockets on an already severely beleaguered people in Gaza. Only last week, there were at least twenty-nine such military incursions that ended up with four Palestinian resistance fighters being executed by Israeli soldiers while a fifth Palestinian ended up dying from tank shell wounds. Palestinian civilians always bear the brunt of such incursions and eleven people were seriously wounded including five children and an elderly woman. The daily arrest of civilians has been routine for decades, but certainly the seventy-two civilians arrested this week make a mockery of the 250 prisoners just released as Israel’s goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
These are specific attacks on people that will be recorded as statistics. However, we do not hear about the personal agony of families as they see their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters die. Neither do we hear about the suffering these families must endure if any of them survive crippled physically and emotionally for life. These human details disappear into the homogeneous whole of the conflict, with so far no promise that tomorrow or next week, there will not be new victims. Such is the terror endured for forty years of Israel’s unrelenting occupation. And that is not counting the horrendous ethnic cleansing that Israel engaged in over a twenty year period before that.
As for the recently promised easing of restrictions on movement in the West Bank, Palestinians have only seen more checkpoints erected with ever greater severity in who can go where and if they will be allowed to go at all. Similarly in Gaza, Israel refuses to lift the siege on this tiny strip of land with its burgeoning population and is refusing to allow European observers to open Rafah crossing. This has left some 6,000 Palestinians stuck for weeks now on the Egyptian side of the border unable to return home. More than a dozen Palestinians have died when their health deteriorated fatally in the harsh conditions. The commercial crossings are being opened only long enough to allow in the bare essential food aid that will just keep the Palestinians from starving to death.
Perhaps the most tendentious of Olmert’s promises is the “land for peace” deal with promises made and nothing delivered. Just more of the same. Sharon was a master at such dissembling tactics — going along with the Quartet’s Road Map for peace while he furiously and illegally engaged in new and expanding Jewish settlement building in the West Bank. The settlers he pulled out of Gaza in his much-lauded unilateral disengagement project are even now being re-settled illegally in the West Bank. Olmert’s own propensity for such deceit on the settlement project was exposed last month in a Jerusalem Post news report that quoted a senior Israeli diplomat stating: “We are being sent abroad, quite simply to lie” and Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer said that Olmert’s government “had built more settlements than any previous government.”
It is the ordinary people who are suffering nearly every human rights violation imaginable at the hands of Israel’s army, the fanatical Jewish settlers and Israel’s policy makers and spin doctors who have never seen the Palestinians as human beings. The world media fail to report Israel’s crimes although it is absolutely clear that Israel has breached and continuous to breach international law. For the Palestinians living this cold and brutal reality, Israel’s true intentions are very apparent. If Olmert has indeed had a change of heart, then a bona fide way of showing that would be to immediately commit to a timeline and begin easing the restrictions on movement as he has promised Abbas and to stop all settlement building and expansion as he falsely claims has been done. There is little cause for hope, though, if the last fourteen years of peace games are anything to go by. Yielding absolutely nothing for the Palestinians, these peace games have only resulted in Palestinians losing even more of their land to Israel and suffer more bloodshed and destitution at the hands of Israel’s minions. With nothing being said about Israel’s violations during last week of July by those talking peace, that is reason enough to worry that the welfare of all Palestinians is not what is priority in the minds of those negotiating this so-called peace.
Sonja Karkar is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.