Two months after leaving Gaza I arrived in the West Bank, the larger "half" of occupied Palestine. Although there is no destruction or death in the West Bank that can be compared to what I witnessed in Gaza, there is a different type of suffering which, in its own way, is very acute.
I was one of sixteen Qubeckers who landed in Ben-Gurion airport, near Tel-Aviv, on May 17th and from there headed to East Jerusalem, a city illegally occupied and annexed by Israel with total disregard to the international law or the objections of the international community.
Over the following six days we traveled throughout the West Bank, unsuccessfully attempted to enter Gaza and also visited Yaffa, the Arab southern suburb of Tel-Aviv/Yaffo.
East Jerusalem does not officially exist anymore. It is now a part of the municipality of Jerusalem that includes both East and West Jerusalem. When the city was merged the Palestinian population of the city was around 27%. Israel had hoped that this percentage would drop as years passed by. Many tactics were used to push this plan, some of them illegal, most of them immoral. These included the establishments of settlements, colonizing the Arab neighborhoods, and the confiscation of lands and houses.
An example of Israel's actions to change the landscape of Jerusalem reaches even the dead, although this time in the western part. Plans are made to destroy a Muslim cemetery to build a Museum of Tolerance. Yes there is no typo here.
In the Old City of Jerusalem the Jewish settlers are gaining a stronger foothold year after year. Last time I was in the old city in 2005 the Jewish population was less obvious and clearly far less comfortable when moving around. Today they are very obvious and clearly more confident and established in the old city.
Yet, despite all this the percentage of Palestinian population in unified Jerusalem has not decreased. Actually it has risen to approx. 33% of the total population.
In Hebron, the southern population center of the West Bank, the scene is much more disturbing. A few hundred ultra orthodox Jewish settlers protected by the army have taken control of strategic locations in the old city. There presence, coupled with the protection the Israeli army provides them, has turned the lives of the Palestinian population into a nightmare of road closures, checkpoints and business bankruptcies.
Moreover the settlers in Hebron are acting like thugs, burning their Palestinian neighbors' properties, shooting at them and terrorizing their children. All this happens under the eyes and ears of the Israeli army that only protects the settlers with total disregard to the lives and dignity of the Palestinians.
Gaza / Erez
We attempted to enter Gaza so that we would all have a first hand impression of the damage and destruction the Israeli invasion of December-January caused but our attempt ended at the Erez border crossing when the Israelis refused to let us through. The siege of Gaza is a horrible act of war and group punishment of a civilian population happening under the watch of the whole world. We expressed our objection through banners and signs after being denied passage.
The forgotten Palestinian population of Israel, who are full citizens of the state, live as second class citizens and are discriminated against in many ways. This photo of a house in the Palestinian neighborhood of Yaffa (Yaffo) just south of Tel-Aviv, says it all.
The highlight of our visit was visiting the village of Bil'in. Bil'in is a symbol of continuing resistance in the face of brute power as well as an example of unjust practices by a group of people against a weaker people.
For four years now and since the people of Bil'in knew that the path of Israel's security fence (aka Apartheid wall) will be cutting through their livelihood and separating them from their farm land they started a peaceful struggle against it. First they tried to stop its construction and change its path. Now they are challenging it against the courts of law in Israel and in Canada and have a regular weekly action against it every Friday. We joined them on Friday May 22nd, just a month after one of their own was killed on a Friday action in April. The killing of Bassem Abou Rahma did not deter the people of Bil'in or their supporters from Palestine, Israel or beyond from continuing their weekly marches against the wall.
(more photos at: www.lotayef.com)
The many people we spoke to and the NGOs we met with helped complement what we saw on the ground. The suffering of the Palestinians in the West Bank as the dominant Israeli power persistently and unjustly carves into their property and lives is devastating. Yet one can only say that their persistence and determination to live through this suffering till justice prevails restores one's confidence in the human race.