In an effort to mitigate the global outrage that followed its attack on the Gaza aid flotilla, Israel has (ever so slightly) eased its blockade on Gaza. However minimal, this step has only been taken because of the pressure applied to Israel by the international grass-roots protest movement. The primary aim of the Gaza aid missions has been to alert the world to the criminality of the blockade and, in this it has succeeded, though the price has been heavy: nine killed (mostly with shots directly to the head and neck) and 700 others violently abducted, detained and abused.
Unfortunately, President Obama and others have seized on the Israelis' gesture as an excuse to issue them a renewed license to proceed with their assault on Palestinian lives and rights. While now permitting some consumer goods to enter Gaza, Israel continues to block chemicals, medical instruments, construction tools, aluminium, steel and cement, making it impossible to rebuild the homes, schools, hospitals, offices and factories destroyed by Israel in Operation Cast Lead of 2008-2009.
Sealed off by Israel since 2007, the people of Gaza are not only starved of imports but denied the freedom to trade or seek work, education or healthcare. They have been plunged into an entirely human-made humanitarian crisis. The World Health Organisation reports that malnutrition is rife: 66 per cent of infants and 30 per cent of expectant mothers suffer from anaemia. Material assistance is desperately needed in Gaza and the only way to deliver it involves breaking the Israeli blockade.
Israel's assertion of an extraordinary right to assault and detain citizens of other nations in neutral waters is of a piece with its persistent disregard for international law and elementary standards of justice.
In defiance of Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of an occupying power's civilian population into the territory it is occupying, Israel has colonised the West Bank with Jewish settlements which now control 42 per cent of the territory. In total, across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there are some 200 settlements, all of them illegal, all supported by Israeli funds and protected by Israeli arms. The settlers have appropriated not only land, but water. Last year, the three million West Bank Palestinians were allocated an average 83 cubic metres of water each, while the 500,000 Jewish settlers enjoyed 1450 cubic metres each.
To entrench these settlements, Israel has constructed an extensive network of Israeli-only roads (from which Palestinians are banned), while controlling the local population though a system of more than 600 military checkpoints and a regime of curfews, arbitrary closures, house demolitions and punitive incursions. The massive 700 km concrete barrier Israel dubs the “separation fence” and the rest of the world has come to call the Apartheid Wall cuts deep into the West Bank, annexing large fertile areas, encircling major population centres, isolating villagers from their lands. In the course of non-violent protests against the wall, 19 Palestinians have been killed and 1500 injured by Israeli soldiers, not one of whom has faced charges of any kind.
Second class citizens
The charity Save the Children has found that in “Area C” - the 60 per cent of the West Bank under direct Israeli control - 79 per cent of the people lack sufficient food. On the eastern border of the country, the fertile Jordan Valley is a “closed military zone” where settlers produce crops for export while the legal owners of the land are not allowed to set foot on it.
Soon after the 1967 war, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem. Palestinians born there are not allowed to become Israeli citizens, although they pay taxes to and live under the jurisdiction of Israel's Jerusalem Municipality. This body provides the city's 700,000 Jews with 36 public swimming pools and 26 libraries, and its 270,000 Palestinians with no swimming pools and two libraries. In recent years, Israel has stepped up the colonisation of East Jerusalem with new settlements while using the wall to cut the city off from the rest of the West Bank. In 2008, more than 4,500 Palestinians were excluded from Jerusalem by Israeli fiat. As it has so often in the past, Israel pre-empts negotiations - in which the final status of Jerusalem is central - by establishing “facts on the ground”.
Within pre-1967 Israel, the 18 per cent of the population who are non-Jewish Palestinians, officially classified as “Arabs”, enjoy what is at best a second-class citizenship. More than 90 per cent of the land is legally reserved for Jewish use, while Israeli Palestinians are confined to a separate and inferior educational system and denied benefits and jobs to which Jewish Israelis are entitled. Israeli law prevents Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs from living in Israel, but anyone else who marries an Israeli is granted Israeli citizenship.
Yes, Israel's Palestinians have the right to vote, but even that is circumscribed. Any political group that advocates amending the “Jewish” character of the state by calling on Israel to become, like every modern state, “a state of all its citizens”, is banned from taking part in elections. Elected Palestinian Members of Knesset who have made such a call have been stripped of Parliamentary immunity and tried for subversion.
Some 10,000 Palestinian prisoners are currently held in Israeli jails, including over 300 children, some 50 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, plus mayors, municipal councillors and even a few ministers of the Palestinian National Authority. Six hundered are being held without charge under “administrative detention”; others have been charged but await trial indefinitely.
Israel claims all this is necessary because of its unique “security” needs. If these actions are not taken, it is asserted, the Jewish State and therefore the Jewish people will be annihilated. In fact, it is the Palestinians who face an existential threat, who are being ground out not in theory but in daily practise.
The Israeli definition of “security” means not safety for the Jewish population of Palestine (who are entitled to and must be guaranteed the same rights as any others) but perpetual Jewish domination over the whole of Palestine. By its behaviour toward Gaza and in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has sought to make the creation of any viable Palestinian state impossible. Its negotiating tools are the wall, the settlements, the siphoning off of water, the immiseration of Gaza, not to mention the bulldozers that last year levelled some 300 Palestinian homes built on Palestinian land. In this context, not surprisingly, Palestinian resistance continues. While sometimes violent, it is for the most part non-violent, but all forms of Palestinian self-assertion are regarded as a threat to Israel's right to rule and treated accordingly.
Israel claims a global ethnic mission - on behalf of all Jews everywhere - and with it special prerogatives and exemptions. Those prerogatives and exemptions are backed up by the US (another country claiming a global mission), the EU and others, including the Indian government, which has vigorously pursued military and economic ties with Israel.
In response to the complicity of governments with Israel's ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians, a worldwide citizens' movement has emerged to redress the balance. Its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions has made significant progress in the last few years. Lazy thinkers who believe “real” politics is all about professional politicians should open their eyes. From small beginnings, with few resources, and in the face of formidably well-funded, well-organised and ruthless opposition, the grassroots global movement of solidarity with the Palestinians has begun to shift the balance of power. There is, however, a long way to go. Conscientious citizens of the world, wherever they find themselves, should stand with the Palestinians, doing whatever they can to remove the immediate threats to their existence and to ensure, in the long run, their right to a free life in their own land.