What occupation means: shooting at the sewage repair team

The press release that follows this article — “A serious environmental and health crisis lurks due to Israeli obstruction of the repairing of the sewage network in Rafah” — offers just one account of many similar incidents taking place in Palestinian towns.

Having lived in the occupied territories, the account is a familiar one. It is just another unremarkable report of many. Painful, inexcusable, but unremarkable. Listening to Bush’s speech yesterday, it’s obvious he doesn’t get it. There was no substantial acknowledgement of what “occupation” involves because he plainly doesn’t understand what occupation is like to live under. As Ali Abunimah pointed out in his analysis of the speech, it’s merely a word to him.

The press release below is part of the picture. It’s not big enough news for CNN or its friends to report. It’s not big enough news that some unit of Israeli soldiers in Gaza is taking potshots at a sewage repair crew but this kind of incident is endemic in every Palestinian town. There have been almost nightly reports of random shooting from settlements throughout the entire Intifada, according to people I know who live there.

Sometimes the location is a checkpoint and the target is an ambulance or a child. The point is that occupation walks hand in hand with violence to the point where violence is one of the characteristics of occupation, part of the definition. The moment you set yourself up with a bunch of guns over another people, your violence will be one of the side effects.

The other day, a curfew was announced as lifted in Jenin and some children who went down to the town center to buy sweets were killed. A “mistake”, said Israel. Israel’s shooting of children is always “a mistake”. There have been over 300 similar mistakes in the last 21 months. Of course, if you let loose with heavy weapons in civilian areas, you’re going to hit civilians. Let’s make no ‘mistake’ about that.

All of this is part of the invisible ‘not shown on TV’ terror that the Palestinians must endure while jumping through Israeli and American hoops that are ultimately distractions from the real issue.

Right now something like hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians are living under curfew during the latest Israeli incursion, while Israel conducts house to house searches, damages shopping malls and restaurants, destroys the academic records of millions of schoolchildren, conducts mass arrest campaigns, drives its tanks over cars parked on the sidewalk in the vain hope they won’t be damaged, and loots shops. There was a time when the Western World united to defeat such fascism.

This fascism is excused because its perpetrators have prioritised and invested in public relations efforts that have demonised the entire Palestinian people, by painting each one of them as complicit in violence carried out by just a few of their members. Where some Palestinians, broken after a literal lifetime of violation, have surrendered to a level of hatred of their enemy that justifies these acts, their expression of this is portrayed as representative.

So we blame the Palestinians for Israel killing their children. We say that Israel will talk about ending the occupation only after the Palestinians “stop the violence”, forgetting that the Palestinians non-violently protested the occupation up until just a few years ago. And Israel didn’t end the occupation.

On the news, virtually no images of Palestinian civilian life. Orientalist images of veiled people in the markets dominate, playing into Western television audience prejudices of an ‘underdeveloped people’. So Bush feels no shame in standing up in front of the world and acknowledging Israeli pain while negating the immeasurably greater Palestinian suffering, that has touched every single Palestinian. Israelis can still go to the beach. Palestinians can shiver in fear in their homes.

Of course “there is suffering on both sides” and, from the perspectives of any individual on either side who loses a relative to violence, their entire world has ended. Yet the reality is that all of this is driven by an intrusive, racist, colonialist system that has pitted two peoples against each other who previously had no historical grievance. It is not driven by textbooks, terrorism, or Yasser Arafat.

The majority of the violence, invisible in the West, is perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. It is the side effect of a 35-year-old military occupation. But it is not this well documented system of anti-democratic foreign military domination that arouses the ire of the leader of the Free World. Rather, it’s the violence of an unrepresentative group of people who never lived a day outside this repression.

Instead of addressing the actual roots of conflict, Bush wants to tweak a virtual reality, as if he will find a Palestinian who will be able to explain away Israel’s continuing daily theft of their land to the other 3,000,000 eyewitnesses.

Palestinian Center for Human Rights Press Release: A serious environmental and health crisis lurks due to Israeli obstruction of the repairing of the sewage network in Rafah

Date: 25 June 2002
Ref.: 89/2002

PCHR is warning that an environmental and humanitarian crisis is lurking in Rafah refugee camp after Rafah municipality has been prevented from repairing the sewage system partly destroyed during an Israeli incursion in April. The Health and Sewage Unit in the municipality has been trying to repair the system several times since it was damaged but failed to do so due to Israeli soldiers shooting at the workers trying to repair the damages.

The sewage network damaged is located at the border with Egypt, and is transferring the sewage away from Bloc O where about 5.000 people live, as well as from the areas close to Salah El-Dein Gate, Omar Bin el-Khatab street and Elqasas neighborhood. The system was damaged during an incursion into the area by Israeli occupation forces at the beginning of April. According to PCHR’s information the system has not been working since and the waste water is now flooding the streets and is running towards the houses. The continual refusal of the Israeli occupation forces to allow the municipality to repair it increases the chances for the outbreak of diseases among the more than 5.000 inhabitants of the areas. The refusal by the Israeli occupation forces to allow the repairing of the system comes despite of the fact that there is already a co-ordination between the Palestinian Authorities (PNA) and Israel on this matter.

PCHR is deeply concerned about the environmental and health situation in the above mentioned areas and calls upon the international community, the United Nations bodies and international agencies to immediately interfere to force Israel to allow Rafah municipality to repair the damages in the system in order to avoid a serious health and environmental crisis.