I just returned from my latest trip to Palestine, or at
least to the part of Palestine I still have access to as a Palestinian
Christian. You see, we Palestinians from the Bethlehem area (the birthplace of
Jesus) are now denied entry to over 90 percent of Palestine and even to our
capital and major economic center, Jerusalem (which is merely 7 miles from
Israeli colonies dot the landscape from the Mediterranean to
the River Jordan on land stolen from the native people. Six of the 10 million
Palestinians in the world are now refugees or displaced people and the
remaining Palestinians live in increasingly shrinking and impoverished ghettos
(� la South African Bantustans at the time of Apartheid).
In all areas we visited the trend is the same: maximizing
geography (under Israeli control) and minimizing demography (Palestinians on
their land). Israeli authorities have evolved ingenious ways of ethnic
cleansing since the more direct uprooting practiced in 1947-1949, when 850,000
Palestinians were driven out. The details of how this is done differ from area
to area. A few examples may illustrate this.
The Gush Etzion block of colonies (Gilo, Har Gilo, Efrata
etc) was successful in destroying the Palestinian economy in the Southern West
Bank (from Jerusalem to Hebron). Jewish colonial settlers live in subsidized
housing built on stolen Palestinian land and drive to Western Jerusalem or Tel
Aviv without ever seeing the victims or noticing their plight. But movement of
Palestinians is impossible between Arab Jerusalem and its suburbs like
Bethlehem and Alkhader or areas farther south. This killed the Palestinian economy
on both sides of the apartheid wall. Jerusalem's Arab old city is a ghost town
compared to what it was just 20 years ago. And the unemployment rate in
Bethlehem is twice what it was in the US during the height of the Great
The old city of Hebron, near the Ibrahimi Mosque (the mosque
of Abraham), is deserted. Tens of thousands of local Palestinians (and
thousands of foreigners) used to flock to this busy commercial district until
the few extremist Israeli settlers (with Israeli government support and
protection) literally just moved in uninvited. They took over whole buildings
or, in some cases, just the upper floors. They go on rampages, making life
impossible for the native Palestinians. From the upper story rooms they squat
in, they throw trash at the shops and pedestrians below. They routinely shoot
at Palestinian civilians and destroy shops.
Thus some 400-500 colonial racists (under the protective eye
of over 5,000 Israeli occupation soldiers, many of them from the settlements)
control the lives and destroy the livelihoods of tens of thousands of native
Palestinians. It is as if 400-500 KKK members where put in the middle of New
York's Harlem and were given permission and protection (with 5,000 white
soldiers) to do what they want with the black population.
In this season of fruits and vegetables, villagers still try
to sell products from their shrinking land holdings. But this brings much less
money than in the old days when they had more land and were free to move and
sell their products in large cities like Jerusalem or Jaffa or Nablus (or even
to other countries). The cancer of the settlements built on Palestinian lands
grows more destructive, while politicians stall with talk of a fictional
"two-state solution" and "Israeli [but not Palestinian]
security". Israel's plan was to do ethnic cleansing and colonization and
then use any Palestinian resistance as justification ("security") for
further colonization activities. But Israel's colonization continued even in
times of relative calm (e.g. the seven years between the first largely
nonviolent uprising and the more recent and more violent uprising).
All of this is done contrary to International law and with
full US military, diplomatic, and economic support. It is also not in the
interest of a just peace nor in our US national interests.
While the US infrastructure is decaying, the Israel lobby
convinced President Bush to propose giving Israel $30 billion more of our tax
money over the next 10 years. If Congress succumbs, as it did in the past, the
consequences for US interests can only be dire among 300 million Arabs and 1.5
billion Muslims (not only in increased violence but the erosion of US economic
power and interests around the world).
Palestinians and many Israelis are encouraged that civil
society in Europe and North America has now engaged in other forms of struggle
for peace with justice, including the growing movement of boycotts,
divestments, and sanctions (BDS) along the same lines that helped transform
Apartheid South Africa. That effort must now be intensified for the sake of all
inhabitants, not only of Western Asia but also in the USA and around the world.
B. Qumsiyeh, PhD is the author of "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human
Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle." He served on the faculties
of Duke and Yale Universities.