I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.
There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
Before I went, I had read a few articles about the area. It seemed odd to me that the numbers of deaths were so skewed on one side. When I was in University I heard a few fiery activists describe the situation as Apartheid. They were passionate and difficult to talk to. My Jewish friend told me that Palestinians weren’t kicked out, but given a free choice to stay or go when the Israeli state started to form. It was implied that people who left presumably did so out of a deep hatred for Jewish people, the same kind of irrationality that ended up in the Holocaust. I noticed that any time I tried to bring the subject up with anyone who was involved in the situation (including being Jewish (1) ) things immediately devolved into an irrational spin-your-tires kind of discussion, very slim on facts. I stopped bringing it up.
People called the issue “contentious” and saw the whole thing as very unfortunate. But what could you do? People fight sometimes.
I saw a play once about Rachel Corrie, an international observer killed by the Israeli army. Then I saw a documentary about reporters being killed by the army, which made me think that maybe there was something to hide. By coincidence, I met the UN lead investigator into the attack on the Gaza flotilla. He didn’t seem very impressed by the Israelis. I read about the murder of the photographer Tom Hurdall by the Israeli army. The more I learned, the more the situation caught my attention. Still, people mostly talked about it as if it was an unfortunate fight between two emotional groups who just couldn’t quite get a handle on themselves enough to achieve what they all really wanted: Peace in the Middle East.
Which is, of course, wrong. The situation is more like a mugging than a fight. When someone gets mugged, it’s not “contentious”, it’s criminal. The mugger doesn’t want peace, they want to steal the wallet. The person being mugged doesn’t want the status quo after theft; they want their wallet back.
The Zionist movement doesn’t want a negotiated peace, it wants to win which means taking all of the land within the prescribed borders, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The movement wants to take control of the land and occupy it with people of one approved religion. This has been the publicly stated goal from the beginning and remains the goal. It’s a colonization, a land grab. Talks of peace are a smokescreen to cover things up while this agenda moves forward.
This is the most important realization I have come to as a result of spending 3 months taking a full time look at the situation, spending time on both sides of the Green Line. There is a clear aggressor and a clear victim. That’s something that is very difficult to see from far away through the media, and it is very obvious on the ground. When you start reading about Oslo Accords and international treaties, theories on human rights and the socio-economic situation it is easy to lose sight of the basic situation. The situation is fundamentally criminal and is centered around stealing from fairly materially poor people what little they have (their land).
The metaphor of mugging is an understatement, of course. The real situation involves the mass scale killing, raping, and pillaging of an entire group of people, using armored machines and advanced weaponry. The reason I compare the situation to a mugging is because it’s a simple way to get to the heart of the issue, which is that there is something being taken: control of land. There is a lot of murder and other crimes involved but fundamentally the idea is to take the land. This is done by any means necessary. The only reason the farmers I lived with in the South Hebron Hills aren’t already dead or gone is because the world is watching and the Zionist movement feel some restraint from this.
It’s a lot easier to pretend that it’s two groups just fighting it out. That way observers can stand back and not do anything. If the issue can be framed as two groups in a vicious fight, both with confusing but somewhat legitimate claims, then it’s pretty hard to get involved. That has been perhaps the greatest success of the Zionist public relations campaign; to keep many people neutral. Neutrality encourages the oppressor, and leaves the oppressed abandoned.
Mark my words, people will look back on the situation happening right now in Palestine and they will think of it as parallel with what happened in South Africa. It is one of the clearest cases of injustice on an international scale in the world today. The fact that so many people do not see it as such is a testament to a complex public relations campaign, and wishful thinking. It’s not coincidence that official South African government policy is to boycott Israel.
Right now, Palestine is experiencing colonization and an dual system that is the same idea as Apartheid was in South Africa. This is especially clear in the South Hebron Hills, and since that’s the area I know the best I will back up this statement with a description of the area.
The zionist army has assumed control over all of Area C of the West Bank, where I lived with the shepherds. By “assumed control” I mean that the zionist army defeated the opposing military and are now the reigning authority because they are the most violent. If the area was democratically run then people living in Area C would have to be citizens. With authority comes responsibility, and a there would be no taxation (also civil control, regulations etc) without representation. Obviously, it’s not democratic in Area C. Palestinians living in Area C are treated as non-citizens similar to how people labeled “colored” were treated in South Africa. Palestinians have tremendous control exercised over them in their lives. There are all sorts of things they are not allowed to do. They do not have freedom of movement or normal political rights. If they want to build a home, dig a well, drive on the highway, have electricity in their home or running water they are not allowed to. The Israelis living next door are recognized as citizens (like people in South Africa granted the classification “white”) and are allowed normal access to the roads, to have electricity, build a water tank, own a house, and to participate democratically. Comparing two places like Mufaqarah and Maon, a Palestinian (“colored”) village and a settler (“white”) village, makes this fact basically impossible to miss.
A boy watches Palestine. The buildings of the colony of Maon are in the distance. The boy is standing in Mufaqarah, where above ground buildings, electricity and water systems are not allowed, looking roughly towards Maon which is allowed to have paved roads and all normal services like electricity and water.
Carving the West Bank up into sections is very similar to the creation of Bantustans in South Africa. It’s quite clear that in the South Hebron Hills the colonizer is trying to get Palestinians to leave, die, or migrate into the created “bantustans”, which are called Area A. Throughout the West Bank it is easy to see from the air which areas are the “bantustans” because they always have water tanks on their roof; they don’t have a normal water supply like the “white” (Israeli) areas do.
The color coded ID cards are a classic and obvious indication that an apartheid-like system is in effect. Obviously there is no reason to issue different classes of identification if there aren’t different classes of people. Gandhi burned his ID card when he was in South Africa. The Nazis issued them before the genocide. It’s routine for an oppressive, totalitarian situation. Any population which starts to get issued ID cards which sort them into social groups is in serious trouble.
Considering the balance of power and the culpability I observed, the portrayal by the major media in Canada is rather odd. The is a focus on violence, which is a natural thing to focus on from a “if it bleeds, it leads” media policy. But I found that the image it creates is very inaccurate. The Palestinians I met were not zealots. They want to go home. They often live in permanent refugee camps, harassed on a daily basis and frustrated at every turn. In fact, their continued patience and restraint is astonishing.
The people I lived with were shepherds. They have some olive trees, grow some grain, vegetables and live in caves. They have for generations. They are not terrorists. They do not own guns. When they throw stones it is to guide their sheep. All they want to do is live where they have lived as long as they can remember, grow their food, and have their life. The zionist forces destroy their mosque and houses, break their legs, poison their sheep, gas them with chemical weapons and collapse their caves. They do this in order to steal what little they have; their land. In Palestine, this is normal.
The farmers and shepherds are the stalwarts of the popular resistance in the west bank. They are the people who are attached to their land enough to persist and remain in the face of tremendous harassment.
And their popular resistance is inspiring. After my time in Mufaqarah I went back to visit during the Festival of Non-Violent Resistance. Palestinians there are thinking, working, celebrating and finding ways to try to live in a better way than their oppressors, one which does not involve terrorizing, stealing and murder. All demographics are involved and, in the face of oppression, striving for a better life together. People are angry at the colonizers who harass them but they are resisting strategically and in a dignified way insisting on their right to life and dignity. They are refusing to be dehumanized. Anyone out there who admires what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi or Nelson Mandela did should join this struggle. It is history in the making.
I have been outside the borders of Palestine for a few months now. Since then, a lot has happened including Gaza being been bombed, and funding for settlement doubled. Rushdi Tammimi and others have been murdered, the mosque in Mufaqarah has been demolished and rebuilt, the nearby village of Jinba pillaged, and a nearby olive orchard has been destroyed by settlers. The people of the South Hebron Hills continue to resist and insist upon their own dignity. The three months I spent in Palestine is the best work I have ever done.
I did not leave voluntarily. My visa expired, which is another way of saying that the Israeli state would have attacked me on my way out if I stayed longer in Palestine. Unlike the rule about not staying over 48 hours in the West Bank, this rule is something they actually enforce.
Although this chapter is over, like Handala, I will continue to watch what happens in this region. I will continue to work for justice and, like Handala, never forget what I saw in Palestine.
A Palestinian boy watches a Palestinian man arrested for attempting to walk up the “wrong” street in Hebron. The man is being taken to a military base which has a reputation for beating prisoners.
1) There are lots of Jewish people who do not support the colonization (not Zionist). The distinction is very important to understand the situation and address concerns about anti-semitism. For some reason the only Jewish people I spoke to in Canada were also Zionist.