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Weekes, Anna  (2004) Life on the Wrong Side of Israel's Apartheid Wall. Centre for Civil Society : -.


Rashid in his demolished house

What can one write about Palestine that has not been written before? There is nothing new to write. The only trouble is that nobody reads what has already been written. But if you want my personal testimony, I can only say that it is impossible to translate into words the levels of barbarism that I have witnessed being perpetrated against Palestinians.

And I have not seen the worst. I was not one of the activists who watched Omar Matar, the 411th Palestinian child killed since the start of the intifada, being shot in the brain at Qalandia checkpoint by soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). Omar Matar was shot for no reason at all.

I was not with my friend Maria when she saw the rivers of blood running through the streets of Bethlehem after ten year old Christine Saidi, the 407th child, was shot dead by the IOF as she traveled home from school. I have not been in Gaza, where the IOF kills babies and small children on an almost daily basis and I was not one of the group of International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists who watched a bulldozer reverse over Rachel Corrie, or who saw a bullet from an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) tank blast away most of Brian Avnery’s face, or who tried to hold Tom Hurndall’s brains inside his head after he was shot while pulling a five year old child away from a hail of bullets.

Yet I have seen unspeakable barbarism and suffering: Israeli settlers coming into Sawiya village to viciously beat an 80 year old Palestinian woman and her donkey with the butts of their rifles. The same settlers stealing the village water so that the crops dry out and die. The Apartheid Wall being built day by day - 500 kilometres of an eight metre high concrete wall, with armed watchtowers, landmines, and electric fences being built through the middle of Palestinian villages, amounting to the unilateral confiscation of 40% of the occupied West Bank into Israel! Watching the trees and crops of my friends Ahmed, Nazeeh and Najjeh being bulldozed, then the dynamite blasting away all the underground rocks to make it easy for the Israeli contractors to build the foundation of the wall, then the bulldozer digging the ditch, then the cement being poured in. The frustration of taking three hours to get to a meeting with Khadija in a town less than 20 kilometres away, because the friend with me is only permitted to use the dirt tracks traversing the backs of villages. At midnight, accompanying the Tulkarem Palestinian ambulances to fetch two women in labour, and seeing the women having to climb over mounds of rocks and rubble and through ditches filled with muddy water to get into the ambulance. Watching elderly Palestinians change vehicles several times to get over the roadblocks that the IOF has placed at the entrances to every single village. Finally meeting Khadija and seeing how she has no choice but to embark on a futile plan of trying to feed her family of 12 off a tiny one metre patch of land outside her front door since the apartheid wall stole the several acres she used to farm. The list is endless.

Because the list of abuses is so long, here in Palestine, I often feel like I have lost all hope for justice despite having been part of South African social movements whose favourite slogan is “A Better World is Possible”. Last year South African filmmaker and Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) member Msizi Khuhlane gave up filmmaking after spending a few months in Palestine, because he became depressed and felt that filmmaking did not make a difference. He disappeared from our sight for many months and we PSC members in South Africa did not understand his reaction at the time.

Palestinians also have many reasons to feel down these days. The imminent colonization of the entire Middle East is a crushing blow to Palestinians. America and Israel imposed the new Palestinian “Prime Minister” Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, a man whose main intention seems to be to start his very own beefed up police force and not to interfere with Israel’s apartheid wall. The American invasion of Iraq is barely over and already George W. has announced his intention to set up a giant Middle East Free Trade Zone, something that can mean only further slavery and oppression not only for Palestinians but for all working class and poor people living in the Middle East. The invasion itself was bad for Palestinians in very concrete ways. First, it gave Israel the cover to speed up the building of the Apartheid Wall. Journalists in the West Bank were sent off to Baghdad to cover the invasion of Iraq, and at least two who had written about the impact of the Apartheid Wall on Palestinians had their stories scrapped and the space given over to war coverage. Second, over one thousand Palestinians living in Iraq have been evicted from their homes since the war started and now face life in refugee tents once again. Third, 500 Palestinians used to get scholarships to study in Baghdad every year, and now their studies have been terminated by the war. Contrary to public opinion, these students were not under 24 hour indoctrination by Saddam Hussein but were studying subjects like fine art, design and engineering. I met one of the art students in Nablus last month. He was devastated for this reason.

Despite this, the Palestinian people continue to resist despondency as well as occupation, capitalism and imperialism in many different ways. Palestinians not only enquire “how are you?” at every meeting, but after that they ask “are you happy?” This is quite amazing to me in the context.

Since they don’t have an army of their own to fight the fourth largest in the world, Palestinians are continually thinking of new ways to resist the occupation. Nazeeh, Ahmed and Najjeh of Mas’ha village decided that the best way would be to set up a camp on the piece of their land that had been confiscated to build the apartheid wall. They invited international activists and Israeli anti-occupation activists to join them. Six weeks later over 300 people have stayed at the camp. It has changed the lives of many people, like the mainstream French journalist who was sent for a few hours to take photographs and ended up staying for days and heading off into the occupied West Bank to document all the villages which are being destroyed by the wall.

Although Nazeeh wakes up every morning to the sound of yet more of his olive trees being destroyed, he gets more hope and courage from hearing about the mass marches and demonstrations held regularly these days by ordinary people in the rest of the world. Although he admires Nelson Mandela, he was not particularly surprised to hear that South Africa’s arms parastatal, Denel, made components for American weapons that were used to bomb Iraq or that the ANC government maintains healthy trade and diplomatic links with Israel, despite Israel being an apartheid state that used to support South Africa’s apartheid regime. “We know all the governments support Israel but the people of the world support us,” he says.

This courage and determination is found everywhere, and demands the support of peoples’ movements throughout the world, and especially the movements in South Africa. The village of Sawiya (the one invaded by the settlers who beat up the old woman and her donkey) suffers from many of the same problems plaguing South African communities right now – no jobs, and high priced privatized water and electricity. This village has its own land, rivers, wells and springs. Yet six years ago, the villagers were banned from using their natural water resources for domestic use and forced to connect their water to the Israeli privatized water system, managed by a company called Merkorot based on more stolen Palestinian land in Ariel, Israel’s second largest settlement. The Palestinians pay more for their water than the Israelis (as South African township residents pay more for water than affluent whites) and in summer, the water to Sawiya dries up because Israeli residents of Ariel use the water for their swimming pools. Does this sound familiar?

Sawiya village would be totally self-sufficient were they allowed to use their own water and land without being attacked by Israeli settlers. Since the beginning of this intifada, 396 out of 400 people who used to work across the Green Line inside Israel, lost their jobs. The village can now only survive off the land which is being stolen from them at the very same time!

The Landless Peoples Movement of South Africa recently sent a very good message of support to Nazeeh, Najjeh, Ahmed and the other Palestinians who are resisting land confiscation by settlers and the Apartheid Wall. “The LPM is struggling for the return of the majority of South Africa’s land, which were stolen by successive racist regimes of the colonial and apartheid era. The black majority of our country was dispossessed of more than 87% of the land by a racist white settler minority who used guns and inhuman laws to force us off the land and into slavery on the white farms and mines. More than nine years after the end of apartheid, we are still fighting for the return of our stolen land. The LPM also recognises that the struggle of the Palestinian people against the criminal Israeli regime is the same as our struggle against apartheid. The construction of the apartheid wall by the criminal Israeli regime is the latest in a series of intensive attacks against the poor and landless people of Palestine. The criminal Israeli apartheid regime must be destroyed, and its criminal supporters in the United Snakes must be tried and sentenced for the crimes they have committed against the poor and landless of the world, from apartheid South Africa to occupied Palestine, to the newest US colonies of Afghanistan and Iraq.”

It is clear that ours can no longer be seen to have been the only Apartheid ever experienced in the world. The Apartheid Wall in itself is a crime against humanity. It means that every Palestinian community will live in an open air prison, their homes either destroyed to make way for the Wall or totally cut off from their fertile land which will now be on the side of the Wall belonging to Israel.

South African social movements received a lot of international support in our struggles against apartheid and are still receiving valuable international support in our struggle against neoliberalism. We must make more common cause with the Palestinian people to help stop this apartheid, and also to make sure that the brutal Israeli occupation is not simply replaced by a capitalist Palestinian state, as was the case in South Africa.

We especially need to join forces to stop the Apartheid Wall. There are many land and water movements and organisations in Palestine which share the aims and objectives of the South African social movements. It is high time that South African social movements started making formal and concrete links with the Palestinian organizations. South African NGOs who commonly get funding or spend their money on the travel of suburban delegates to clever overseas conferences where they discuss emerging social movements can easily support the cash strapped social movements in a more effective way by putting resources towards bringing Palestinians over to meet the actual multitudes on the ground in South Africa and vice versa.

Doing nothing is also a choice. A choice for which, like all others, we must take responsibility.

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