Todays reality in Palestine

Editor’s note: War Times Editor Bob Wing is making a first visit to occupied Palestine with Barbara Lubin of the Middle East Children’s Alliance. The following is excerpted from his eyewitness report of Oct. 5. For the full report go to www.war-times.org

WEST BANK, Palestine – Today is one of those precious few days that in Palestine are called “very quiet.” That means that, as of noon today, “only” two Palestinian teenagers were killed, one in Gaza and the other in Jenin camp.

At present, unless a Palestinian has some pressing, immediate reason to travel from Ramallah to Jerusalem, the Israelis will absolutely not allow them to do so. Not even to visit a mother or a spouse.

The Israeli government is not just militarily controlling Palestine. It thinks of every possible inconvenience and humiliation to inflict.

The idea that the Palestinian Authority is in charge of anything is pretty farfetched. Palestinians are treated like cattle, made to walk several-hundred-meter-long gauntlets, often literally in cages, to pass Israeli checkpoints – that is, those few who are allowed through. Homes and businesses are plowed under by the hundred.

Children are mercilessly killed, disease unchecked. The infrastructure is destroyed.

The Gaza Strip is appalling. It is one of the poorest areas in Palestine, despite the fact that it has miles of beautiful beach on the Mediterranean. In Gaza City, it is really hard to find buildings that don’t have bullet holes or that have not been reduced to rubble by bombing or shelling. The poverty in the Gaza refugee camps (where those who formerly lived in what is now Israel are shunted) makes Gaza City look positively like paradise. The central market area is gruesomely poor, more than half the houses are bombed out, the water is non-existent or poisoned. Shelling is daily, incursion and curfew frequent. No one has work. No one knows what new pains tomorrow will bring.

Anyone who, like myself, might be imagining the Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank or Gaza as some kind of rustic pioneer thing, needs to be disabused of the notion. The settlements are gigantic (up to 50,000-person) Darth Vaderesque suburban housing developments, with all the “conveniences.” They are state-subsidized, a core of settler zealots are organized residents, and many of the rest living there are just enjoying the cheap housing prices. They are almost always placed high on hills and otherwise strategically located for defense purposes, just as in the medieval days where every lord put his castle on a hill with a moat and/or wall around it.

While Israel occasionally makes deals like Oslo, they have never stopped building the settlements. There are now 250,000 people living in new settlements ringing, literally choking, Jerusalem and cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank, especially Ramallah just to the North. Not infrequently Israeli rockets are fired from the commanding heights of these settlements, down upon the surrounding Palestinian towns.

Yesterday we visited what the press likes to call “Arafat’s compound” in Ramallah. Actually it’s the governmental center of the Palestinian Authority. You probably know that the Israelis just recently pulled back from the third occupation of the compound since Sept. 11, 2001. Well, now there is literally only one building left standing – Arafat’s residence; the other seven or eight are rubble. There are still two tanks dominating the street at either side of the compound, and Arafat is still under “house arrest” inside.

While the majority of Palestinians are jobless and large numbers of small businesses have been destroyed by gunfire or by the curfews or by the inability to move goods, there is a thriving small capitalist and professional elite. With the exception of the occupation, nightly shelling, roadblocks, etc., their lives are remarkably like a middle-class Americans.’ Beautiful houses and apartments with all the latest appliances, computers, cell phones, satellite TV. It’s pretty crazifying to live that way in the midst of an occupation.

But the fight goes on. However pessimistic I might find many of the Palestinians I talked to, almost to the person they are convinced that ultimately they will survive and prevail. As far as they are concerned, Israel will never “remove” them; they aren’t going anywhere.

The author can be reached at editorial@war-times.org