By Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Ph.D.
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
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 Bethlehem).
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 (à 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 Depression.
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.
-Mazin 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.