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Ethnic cleansing by stealth

November 17th, 2008

Seth Freedman

With every cruel and unusual punishment meted out against West Bank villagers, Israel is fomenting more and more hate against its own people.

"When Israel was first created, I had a lot of admiration and respect for the Jews; now I want to throw them all into the sea." The choice of phraseology was no accident on the part of the speaker, who wanted to make crystal clear the effects that more than 40 years of Israeli occupation have had on him and his family.

We were sitting in his tent in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, situated just outside the perimeter fence of the West Bank settlement of Karmel. Thanks to Karmel's proximity, the Bedouins suffer almost daily harassment at the hands of the settlers and their security team, resulting in the vitriolic volte-face performed by the head of the family in terms of his feelings towards Israelis.

The residents of Umm al-Kheir, and several other villages in the area, are prevented from building on their own land, or from grazing their flocks in the pastures nearby, due to the severe restrictions imposed on them by the army and police. In order to protect the ever-expanding settlements, more and more land is annexed under the guise of erecting "security zones", effectively strangling the natural growth of the Palestinian communities, and destroying their livelihoods in one fell swoop.

Their sorry situation is by no means unique; similar repressive tactics are used throughout the West Bank. The policy was described to me by a local activist as "ethnic cleansing by stealth", with the ultimate aim being to make life so tough for the Palestinians that they hold their hands up in despair and relocate elsewhere. Where they go is of little interest to those holding the reins of Israeli power, so long as it's far enough away for the vacated land to be redistributed to a new generation of settlers.

This type of low-level bullying is neither sensational nor violent enough to make regular headlines in either the local or international media, but its effects are no less harshly felt just because the methods employed are less violent than all out brute force. Erecting roadblocks at the entrance of villages to force the residents to take hour-long detours; taking no action against settlers who routinely beat and harass Palestinian children on their way to school; demolishing shacks built in the middle of the desert on the pretext of being security risks: the army's actions play a huge part in making the impoverished Palestinians' already difficult lives ten times harder.

Judaism teaches its adherents not to "place a stumbling block before the blind"; yet – as is seen time and again – despite ostensibly being a Jewish state, Israel pays scant attention to the laws of our religion, and runs its business according to an entirely different rulebook. Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why the clan chief of Umm al-Kheir has lost all faith in the Israelis under whose control he is forced to live.

A similar effect has been had on the village of Nil'in, which I visited a day later. The town is having the life slowly crushed from its lungs, with the annexation of vast tracts of its farmland by the army, and the separation wall being erected through its fields. Two children have died at the hands of the IDF during recent protests, with dozens more seriously wounded from rubber bullets and live rounds, only adding fuel to the already raging fire in the hearts of the locals.

One family I visited had a huge Hamas flag hung prominently in the centre of their lounge, testament to their own growing disillusion with the idea that they could ever live on peaceful terms with those occupying and oppressing them. The youngest children of the house silently emptied a bag of spent missiles on to the coffee table, wanting to ram home to their guests the kind of experience they had growing up in the shadow of the IDF.

Rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, stun grenades and sound bombs were all laid out for our benefit; chubby hands grasping the weapons of war, and eyes which had seen far too much peering at the visitors to see what kind of response their display elicited. "They can even tell just from the sound what kind of ammunition the soldiers are shooting", said their father with a shake of his head, while outside their older siblings prepared for yet another demonstration against the bulldozers scything their way through the town's olive groves.

If the Israeli authorities' aim is truly to protect their citizens, then their tactics are backfiring on a massive scale. As I have said before, all that is happening is simply a case of Israel creating what it fears, and driving ordinary Palestinians into the welcoming arms of the extremists. At the climax of the film Adulthood, Sam – wielding a loaded gun as he stares at his enemies with fire in his eyes – warns: "Never fuck with a guy who ain't got nothing to lose"; his mantra could be the motto of Palestinians the length and breadth of the Occupied Territories.

With every passing day, and every cruel and unusual punishment meted out against farmers, villagers, students and labourers alike, Israel is fomenting more and more hate against its own people, and ensuring months and years of conflict to come. More than that, they are undermining their own desired goal of a two state solution, since the carving-up of the West Bank to make way for Jewish-only access roads and buffer zones around settlements erodes any chance of a viable Palestinian state being created.

Those who are too blind to see that this is what is occurring under their noses are the same people who convince themselves that the true aim of Israel is to live in peace with its neighbours. The Palestinians, however, live and breathe the reality every day of their lives, and they are not so easily fooled. And if they are to be prevented from feeling as though they've got nothing to lose and resorting once more to violent resistance, there needs to be a major change in the way Israel treats their, and their children's, human rights and needs.

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/04/israelandthepalestinians.humanrights
Photo: http://uk.geocities.com/palestine_now4ever/palestine-woman.jpg

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