July 2009

Thursday July 30th

I work hard but at least I know at the end of each month I’ll get paid. This security makes life a little easier: you know you can pay your the bills, you’ll have food on the table and your children will be able to access education. This is not so for many Palestinians, though.
Despite the construction of a barrier, supposedly for “security” but actually for control of the West Bank, Palestinians regularly seek work in Israel, or building the illegal settlements which continue to spring up and expand across the West Bank. A is one of these Palestinians who, having spent some profitable years before the Intifada running a small construction company, now relies on an Israeli to give him work. Israelis are very keen to exploit Palestinians: they are a source of cheap labour who they can use and abuse, should they wish to. Not all Israelis who use Palestinian labour do so, but all are enjoying the profits of the labour of people who are so desperate for work that they’ll accept inadequate recompense for their work.

A has no rights as a worker, no protection. If A has an accident, there is no compensation or financial assistance available. If he is poorly treated by his “employer” he has no recourse through law to gain his rights. A has a family to support, a daughter at university, a son with no job, and younger children still at school. He has no choice but to work for a person who is taking advantage of his circumstances. And this person has not paid him for the last 60 days.

But A continues to work for him as he has no choice. If he leaves, then he’ll never see the money he’s owed. So, each day, he undertakes a perilous journey in the hope that, in the end, he will be paid what he is due.

More about Palestinian workers in Israel.

Friday July 3rd
When the next town is a world away
It is easy to take freedom for granted when you’ve never have that freedom taken away. We don’t have to think twice about a journey to the next town or district. If we want to go, then we go.

Khadija is around 70: she’s not exactly sure, but she remembers being forced form her home in 1948 as a young girl. Since then she has, more-or-less, lived in Bethlehem. From there the journey to Jerusalem should, in an ideal world, take about ten minutes by car. It’s just up the road. But it’s not an ideal world, particularly for Palestinians wanting to visit. For them it takes a few days, at least.

First, you have to travel south, to the Israeli army security centre, Etzion, near Hebron. This on its own can be an arduous journey with an unknown outcome. The usual story of checkpoints, queues, and arbitrary decisions made by kids in uniform with absolute power and a finger on the trigger. Oh, and you have to leave really, really early.

On arrival, you have to wait in line. It always turns in to a very long line and if you’ve not left home early enough, you’ll be far from the front. After some hours of waiting, you get to the front and pay 150 NIS – around $40. Of course, this all goes to the Israeli government, along with other taxes and charges Palestinians are forced to pay their oppressors. You pay this before you make your application and regardless of the outcome, you don’t get it back. The lucky few receive an ID card which entitles the holder to access Jerusalem. The rest go home, empty-handed having lost another day of their life and 150 NIS poorer. And just because you have the pass in your possession, it does not guarantee entry to Jerusalem.

Families are really struggling. Most have little regular income and the associated costs of travelling to Etzion and paying to apply for a permit mean that a visit to Jerusalem is now beyond the reach of many. Israel, despite claims to the contrary, holds the populations of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under complete and total control. The flawed Oslo Accords continue to strangle a society that can barely function.

For Israel, severing Jerusalem from any form of Palestinian influence or connection is fundamental to its goal of an undivided capital of the Jewish state. And, as an added bonus, they can make a profit from this policy. But this goal will never be realised. Israelis also know, even if they choose to ignore it, they’ll never erase the history, the emotional tie or the tenacious will to exist that lives in the heart of every Palestinian. No matter how hard they try.

Friday June 26th
I had always felt that to write about Palestine, and the reality — and often brutality — of life there, I also have to be there. I have since decided this is not true. There are a number of reasons for my change of heart. First, I watch the news and read the media and am frustrated by some of the interpretation and analysis of current events affecting the region. Second, and more importantly, my nephew was forcibly removed from his home by the Israeli army over three weeks ago.

Amir is currently being held in the notorious Russian Compound (al-Muskubīya) in Jerusalem, under interrogation. He is, along with many thousands of Palestinians, being deprived of his liberty and his rights. He will also be tortured. Torture is routinely used to gain information or confessions. Most often, any information obtained is useless. After all, when you are suffering excruciating pain and mental anguish, you’ll say whatever you think will make them stop.

You may be thinking, what has he done? Amir is a quiet and  thoughtful young man who has never been politically active, nor has he ever had any affiliation with any party. Amir’s current situation is fundamentally about a sequence of events over which he had no control. No Palestinian has complete control over anything, especially their own life.

The story started a few years ago, when Amir accepted a university place in Tulkarem. If you know the West Bank, you will understand how difficult the relatively short journey between Bethlehem (south of Jerusalem) and Tulkarem (the north) is. Amir’s course was Islamic studies. Within the first week he had been detained and beaten at one of the checkpoints. This happened a few times and after less than a month, Amir quit his studies. Students are regularly targeted for the simple reason that Israel fears an educated Palestinian population.

The Israelis are very good at gathering and compiling data on Palestinians. And so, because of his checkpoint experiences, Amir’s record is likely to indicate that he as an “Islamic sympathiser”. A few years passed, and the tension between Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank increased. The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority started a campaign of harassment against members, or alleged members of Hamas. Amir’s home was raided by the PA and he was detained for a few days of “questioning”.

I have no doubt that the techniques used by the PA do not differ much from those used by the Israelis. Amir was subsequently detained on a number of occasions over the following two years.

It is also likely that someone, maybe another innocent Palestinian unable to bear the horror of torture, said Amir’s name to make them stop. Or maybe it was a collaborator who had no information to give but their handler was demanding something from them. It happens more often than you might think.

And so, this sequence of events has led to Amir’s imprisonment. There is no doubt that what he is experiencing now will affect him for the rest of his life: he’ll never be the same person again. Who knows how anyone can accept being the target of groundless accusations and suffer physical and mental abuse.

I know many Palestinians who have been through this, time and time again. Most rarely speak about it, especially with one another. Often this is because they know that all their friends have suffered in similar way, so why should they make a fuss about it? What’s the point of discussing something that is such an integral — and abnormally normal — part of every day life?

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