Imagine the following:
You’re ruthlessly oppressed in an occupied country under a system of institutionalized racism, affording rights solely to Jews. You have no recognized nation, no right of citizenship, no democratic freedoms or civil liberties, including no power over your daily life.
You live in constant fear, collectively punished, politically denied, and economically strangled in a continuing cycle of violence. Military orders deny free expression and movement, enclose population centers, close borders, and impose curfews, checkpoints, roadblocks, separation walls, electric fences, dispossessions, land seizures, and domination over all aspects of life under draconian military orders like the following:
— No. 92 giving Israel control of all West Bank and Gaza water;
— No. 158 stipulating that Palestinians can’t construct water installations without (nearly impossible to get) permit permission and those built will be confiscated or demolished;
— No. 1015 requiring Palestinians get permission to plant trees on their own land;
— No 128 authorizing the IDF to take over any Palestinian business not open during regular business hours;
— No. 107 prohibiting Arabic grammar, Crusades history and Arab nationalist publications;
— No. 101 banning gatherings of more than 10 people without advance notice with names of participants;
— Nos. 811 and 847 letting Jews buy land from Palestinian owners with or without their consent;
— No. 998 requiring Palestinians get permission to withdraw funds from their bank accounts;
— No. 818 authorizing how Palestinians can plant decorative flowers;
— No. 329 preventing the right of return; and
— Nos. 1649 and 1650 turning all West Bank residents (including native born ones) potentially into “infiltrators,” making them vulnerable to deportation, fines or imprisonment without IDF-issued permits.
Overall, your land is occupied, communities isolated, homes invaded, friends and relatives arrested, neighborhoods attacked, homes bulldozed, land stolen, fields uprooted and burned, businesses closed, and livelihoods denied. You’re impoverished, unemployed, starved, tortured, murdered, punitively taxed and fined, and demonized for being Muslims in a Jewish state. You endure it daily on your own unaided, yet you go on, hoping others later will do better.
Separation – A Dominant Aspect of Daily Life
The Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement promotes, defends and protects the right of free movement, “guaranteed by international and Israeli law,” yet denied Palestinians under a draconian “system of rules and sanctions,” restricting the lives of millions in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
As a result, their basic rights are violated, including the right to life, to access medical care, to education, to livelihood, to family unity, and to freedom of religion.
Gisha’s new Safe Passage (SP) spg.org web site shows what’s “not new and not ‘internal’ or ‘geographical,’ but rather intentional, about the separation of Gaza and the West Bank,” Israel’s draconian control over daily life.
In May, SP examined the affect on families and trade, including legal obligations under international and Israeli laws, spurned with impunity.
Since September 2000 (the start of the second Intifada), travel throughout the Territories (especially between Gaza and the West Bank) has been restricted or denied, notably after Israel’s imposed siege. As a result, visiting relatives, pursuing education, accessing medical care, or living normally is virtually impossible, particularly for Gazans wanting to reach the West Bank. “The policy is taking a heavy personal toll on women, men and children, (since) many families have close relatives living in both areas.”
ID card addresses affect normal life, including for West Bank natives identified as Gazans, making them subject to dispossession and deportation, separating them from families, husbands from wives, children from a parent, and friends from neighbors – because Israel controls the process, the Palestinian registry, and remains hardline.
Since 1990, Gaza-born Samir Abu Yusef has lived in Qalqilya in the northwestern West Bank. He’s a carpenter, married with four children, yet in early 2008 was arrested entering Israel and deported because of his ID card address.
For over two years, he was separated from his family causing immense anguish and hardships, including financial ones. His application to return home was denied because he didn’t observe Israel’s permit criteria. His wife and children also couldn’t visit him for the same reason.
Gisha petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) on his behalf and succeeded, reuniting him with his family in March, Samir saying months earlier:
“Two years have passed since I saw my children. I yearn to touch them, to watch them grow up, to hug them….It’s very hard (being) away from them….The holiday season is the hardest time….On the holiday, I stay alone in my room and cry….What have my children done to deserve such a terrible punishment – to live without a father?”
Thousands of others in the West Bank fear the same fate – arbitrary removal, so they restrict their movements, fearing arrest at a checkpoint or by military patrols and deportated.
Gaza-born Ahmed Alul, a Tulkarm resident since 1996, visited his parents and family in Gaza in April 2001. He was then prevented from returning, his wife Samar saying how hard it is “to raise two boys by myself. I am both father and mother to them….no one can (replace their) father.”
Unlike most countries and all civilized ones, Palestinians are denied free movement. As a result, Gazan men and women with West Bank spouses can’t reunite to be together, yet Israel lets West Bank and East Jerusalem residents move to Gaza, but not return – an option risking livelihoods, land, homes, and family support networks, one few wish to choose.
West Bank-born Gazans face an impossible choice. They can stay with their spouse, detached from West Bank families, or return and be separated from wives or husbands who can’t leave. The toll for many is unbearable, living half lives not whole ones.
If allowed, leaving Gaza involves hardships even in extreme cases, such as battered or divorced wives or widows seeking West Bank shelter with parents or other family members. Travel restrictions between the Territories are so strict, that it’s easier for Gazans to meet family members abroad than internally, despite the difficulties reaching Egypt through Rafah.
Even Gazans managing to do it can’t enter the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge (on the Jordanian side) to reunite with families. Mohammed Abu Aishah’s case is tragic. Born in Jordan, his family moved to the West Bank when he was eight, yet his ID card address is Gaza even though he never lived there, because it was his mother’s original address.
In February 2007, he visited his brother in Gaza, couldn’t leave for over two years, got to Egypt through Rafah, and from there to Jordan. Yet he was denied entry to the West Bank and now lives under impoverished conditions, age 22, “with no future, no profession, no livelihood, no roof over my head. For three years I’ve (tried) to survive another day.”
According to international accords Israel signed, West Bank and Gaza residents live in a single territorial entity. Yet Israel’s separation policy creates “an almost impenetrable barrier,” disrupting families, including husbands from wives, parents from children, siblings from each other, and friends from neighbors and community ties – in violation of international law and common decency.
Legal Implications of Family Separation
As an occupying power, Israel is required to ensure proper functioning of public life and institutions, including protection and welfare of families. The High Court of Justice (HCJ), in fact, affirmed these obligations because Israel control’s Gaza’s borders and occupies the West Bank, the populations dependent after decades of military control.
In addition, the Oslo Accords committed Israel to recognize Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial entity in which free movement (notably safe passage) was allowed between the two by private vehicles or buses through Israel. Crossing permits were required but didn’t require residency in either area exclusively.
Yet military orders or regulations separate families, creating inducements to move to Gaza and stay. Family visits, including between spouses, are prohibited, except under specially allowed humanitarian circumstances rarely granted. In addition, Israel now arrests West Bank residents with Gaza addresses, removing them by force. Also, strict criteria restrict Gazans from reuniting with family members in the West Bank, those returning removed by force.
“Understanding this policy requires understanding control over the Palestinian population registry,” ostensibly given the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Oslo on these terms:
The PA must “inform Israel of every change in its population registry, including, inter alia, any change in the place of resident of any resident.”
Nonetheless, Israel usurped control, treating PA address change notifications as a request it can approve or deny. As a result, since 2000, Israel refused to register them for Gazans who moved to the West Bank. Palestinians relocating thus had no way to record the change. At the same time, West Bank residents with Gaza IDs must get “staying permits” (rarely granted) to remain.
To quality, they must have entered the West Bank before 2000, be married to a resident there, have children, and demonstrate exceptional humanitarian circumstances.
Israel then prohibited Palestinians with Gaza addresses from traveling to the West Bank to reunite with families, except under “extraordinary restrictive circumstances.”
Its policy states that family separation alone isn’t a qualifying factor, effectively banning reunifications, even for parents and children, spouses, and siblings, with these exceptions:
— children under 16 seeking reunification with a surviving parent;
— elderly invalids needing help from a first degree West Bank relative; and
— chronically ill people needing assistance from a first degree West Bank relative.
Even then, Gazans must prove they have no local relatives to provide care. Only then may they get temporary permits for up to seven years before being able to request an address change. However, if the humanitarian need expires before the permit, it’s rescinded. If all conditions are met, Israel conducts a security check before deciding whether or not to grant permission. As a result, “family reunification is nearly impossible.” For example:
— a very young Gazan girl would be prohibited from reuniting with her West Bank mother if any Gaza relative can care for her; if not, hard to get special permission would be required;
— a elderly invalid would be refused permission to be cared for by a West Bank niece because she’s not a first degree relative; if one is there, the applicant must prove no one can provide assistance in Gaza; and
— if all qualifications are met and permission granted, permits would be rescinded if the humanitarian need expires.
Other obstacles also exist, including the requirement for the Palestinian Civil Affairs Office Director-General to personally transmit requests to the military. In addition, if families are divided between the Territories, West Bank members are prohibited from visiting others in Gaza unless they waive their right to return.
Separation Policy’s Damaging Affect on Trade between Gaza and the West Bank
Before closure, Gaza and the West Bank comprised single territorial entity, letting goods produced in one area be sold in the other, some (now destroyed) Gaza factories earning most of their revenue from West Bank sales.
However, during the 1990s, Israel imposed restrictions, to advantage its own companies over Palestine’s. By late 2006, trade had markedly declined, and with Gaza under siege, virtually all its exports are prohibited, only limited amounts entering, including minimal amounts of essential to life items.
Excluded are medical equipment, all kinds of spare parts, construction materials, and basic items like books, wheelchairs, pens and pencils, shoes, cleaning and hygiene products to bring the Strip to its knees, induce malnutrition, illness, and systemic hardship for 1.5 million people – in gross violation of international law.
In mid-June, modest easing was announced, though hardly enough to matter, and it won’t help the West Bank. Prior to closure, dealers earned a living selling goods in Gaza at affordable prices. Afterwards things changed, restricting items to a limited few, and imposing an expensive, lengthy, uncertain process to operate.
West Bank goods must be bought remotely, without checking for quality, then await permit permission to import them, provide storage, and coordinate with Palestinians and Israeli truck drivers for transportation through Israel to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza.
About 12 days are needed, costing over $2,000 per truck, plus storage costs and the possibility that distribution will be impeded or denied, forcing longer storage, lost sales and spoilage.
Previously, Gaza merchants could travel between the areas freely, selecting goods prior to buying them. No longer, and crippled Gazan industries can’t compensate. As a result, unemployment and impoverishment skyrocketed to some of the highest levels globally, making Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, never enough because Israel restricts amounts and excludes most items, including essential ones.
Unsurprisingly, Gaza – West Bank business relationships have deteriorated, each cut off from the other, one Gaza farmer/fruit and vegetable dealer saying:
“In 2000, I used to export 10 – 12 tons of vegetables to the West Bank every day….Now I….can’t export a thing. I had 1.2 acres of land where I grew guavas, among the best (in the Strip). They used to say that someone with a guava orchard is like a king, because they could be exported to the West Bank. Now, guavas mean a loss – the market has completely disappeared….I’m broken inside.”
The few remaining Gaza businesses suffer huge losses, and most factories were either destroyed or shut down because West Bank raw material imports are prohibited. As long as the siege continues, a productive economy is impossible. So is earning a living, even one modest enough to survive and support a family.
The announced “economic peace” skipped Gaza, the World Bank saying:
“The West Bank and Gaza are now almost completely delinked, with Gaza starkly transformed from a potential trade route to a walled hub of humanitarian donations.”
Besides their damaged societies and economies, the Gaza – West Bank disconnect destroys the possibility of unifying Palestine, the World Bank adding:
“(T)he strategic goal of an economically viable Palestinian state is achievable only if Gaza and the West Bank are maintained as an integral economic entity,” what Israel prevents, keeping Gazans under siege and West Bank communities confined to Bantustans, isolated in the Territory’s least valued areas, hoping they’ll wither, perish or leave, transforming all Palestine into a greater Israel, exclusively for Jews, pressuring Israeli Arabs to comply, move, or be forced out.
A Final Comment
Phillip Weiss and Adam Horowitz blog on Mondoweiss on Israel/Palestine and Middle East issues daily. A July 18 entry related the distaste some Jews have for Arabs, one man saying they’re guests as long as they behave. Another called them stinking Arabs (“aravim masrichim”). A third hoped the next war would drive them out because they’re the modern incarnation of Amalek, the enemy of God and the Jews, and still another said “We like to be with people who think like we do.”
Settlers are especially hostile, notably religious extremists believing they’re chosen, Israel given them by God, the Messiah’s reemergence imminent once it’s entirely gotten, the “infidels” driven out.
With that mindset, American support, and a complicit world community, prevailing is a formidable task, yet achievable with enough tenacity to persist. If Palestinians are committed, can global activists do less and be true to their ethics, principles, honor, and resolve to demand equal justice, self-determination and peace.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.