Ring Around the Rosy, Pockets Full of Palestinians

Ein el-Hilweh is the largest Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon, both in area size and population. (Arjan El Fassed)

The 38-year Israeli military occupation of Palestine and 57 years of ongoing Palestinian dispossession at the hands of the State of Israel has brought us to a point of total despair. Today, in 2006, Palestinians have been condensed into pockets of caged-in communities, taking on varying shapes and forms.

Over 50 percent of the Palestinian population lives in exile and squalid pockets called refugee camps. Having being forced out of their homeland in 1948, again in 1967, and again in 2002, they eke out a meager existence in the land and countries surrounding Israel (West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, etc) and yearn to return home. All of the political activity in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip completely ignore these pockets of people living outside of Israel/Palestine. The end result will be that the majority of Palestinians, those living as refugees and in exile, will not be part of any organized process of governance, and thus the chance for any stability at all has been reduced dramatically.

Another pocket of Palestinians is sitting in the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated area of the world, home to around 1.5 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are refugees or the children of refugees, like those living in surrounding countries. This pocket is surrounded by an Israeli mixture of a fence and wall.

These Palestinians are literally living under a publicly announced land and air siege by Israel. Their occupation is a “new and improved” kind, one that has moved from direct occupation to aerial, land, and sea control via an infamous process known as “Unilateral Disengagement.” The mode of operation for Israeli control of this pocket ranges from sonic booms from F-16’s to regular tank and artillery shelling, along with a regular dose of assassinations by helicopter gunships.

Yet another section of the Palestinian population, over 2 million, is in a set of pockets located in the West Bank. These pockets were recently caged in by an infamous and illegal Israeli Separation Wall. In addition to this wall, twice the height of the now defunct Berlin Wall, these pockets are locked in by a matrix of Israeli checkpoints, controls, barricades, and the like.

Yet another set of pockets located throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel proper are Palestinians confined in Israeli prisons. Most are serving time as political prisoners condemned to a slow death by virtue of an Israeli mastered procedure called “Administrative Detention.” Historically, Israelis had a hard time explaining this practice until the U.S. opened Guantanamo Bay and instituted the exact same practice. Administrative detention allows Israel to remand suspects to prison without trial, often without presenting any evidence at all, for extended periods of time, often years. Today, there are over 7,000 Palestinians detained by Israel, many in makeshift outdoor tented prisons.

The authors of this article wrote back in June 2001,

“Israel has no choice but to end the brutal occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. Not to do so clearly spells the beginning of the end of the State of Israel as it is known today, and will lead to the creation of a fanatical pariah state built upon the agendas of a radical minority. The sooner the better, before the vision of these merchants of death and destruction becomes the only option that Israel has.”

If one wants a preview of this, all one needs is to view the violence committed against Palestinians in Hebron by Jewish settlers in recent days, while the army is seemingly powerless to stop them.

The upcoming Israeli elections do not bode well for the future. Kadima, Sharon’s party, is likely to win with a large majority, allowing the further pulverization of the Palestinian population locked within pockets and enclaves, thus strengthening radical groups and distancing any chance for a just solution. Israel, in its methodical way, is making the slogan “there is no partner on the Palestinian side” a reality by grinding any potential partner into dust. The real question is whether there is a partner on the Israeli side. It would seem not.

It is commonly thought that the popular English childhood song, “Ring Around the Rosy,” is rooted in the middle ages and the plague. Rosies were the sores that broke out, and posies were used to cover the stench of the dead bodies. Today we say we will no longer cover the fetid stench of the occupation. Today we say, “Ashes, Ashes, we are all falling down!”

This is an SOS for the world community to act now to end Israel’s military occupation, once and for all, for the sake of both our peoples, Palestinians and Israelis, and our own two small families.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the Occupied Palestinian City of Al-Bireh/Ramallah. Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem and teaching at an Israeli University.

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