According to international law, an occupying force is responsible for the protection of the civilian population living under its control. Israel, however, ignores this requirement, routinely committing violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of principles instituted after World War II to ensure that civilians would “never again” suffer as they had under Nazi occupation. Israel is one of the leading violators of these conventions today.
Israeli forces regularly confiscate private land; imprison individuals without process – including children – and physically abuse them under incarceration; demolish family homes; bulldoze orchards and crops; place entire towns under curfew; destroy shops and businesses; shoot, maim, and kill civilians – and Palestinians are without power to stop any of it.
When a child is arrested, for example – often by a group of armed soldiers in the middle of the night – parents can do nothing. Knowing that their son is most likely being beaten by soldiers on the way to the station, stripped and humiliated in prison, quite likely physically abused in multiple additional ways, and destined to be held – perhaps in isolation – for days, week, or months (all before a trial has even taken place), parents are without the ability to protect their child. Quite often, in fact, they cannot even visit him.
Finally, when the military trial under which their son is to be sentenced – often to years (sometimes decades) in prison – all they can do is hire a lawyer whose efforts, at best, will reduce the ultimate sentence by a few months. Rarely, if ever, can even the most skilled lawyer do more than afford the child a friendly face in court and be an outside witness to the injustice of the proceedings. Meanwhile, the presence of such a lawyer provides Israel cover for its “judicial system.”
Perhaps most significant – and rarely understood by people in the outside world – is the fact that Palestinians live, basically, in a prison in which Israel holds the keys.
They cannot leave Gaza or the West Bank unless Israeli guards allow them to. If they have been allowed out, they cannot return to their homes and families unless Israeli guards permit it.
Frequently, in both cases, Israel refuses such permission.
Academics invited to attend conferences abroad, high school students given US State Department scholarships to study in the United States, mothers wishing to visit daughters abroad, American citizens returning to their families, humanitarians bringing wheelchairs – the list goes on almost without limit – have all been denied permission by Israel to leave or enter their own land.
During this first uprising, which consisted largely of Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli troops (very few Palestinians had weapons), Palestinians were killed at a rate approximately 7-10 times that of Israelis.
One of the ways Israeli forces attempted to put down this rebellion was through the “break the bones” policy, implemented by Yitzhak Rabin, in which people who had been throwing stones – often youths – were held down and their arms broken. On the first day of this policy alone, one hospital in Gaza treated 200 People for fractures.1
Today’s uprising – termed the “Second Intifada” – was sparked when an Israeli general, Ariel Sharon, known for his slaughter of Palestinian civilians throughout his career, visited a Jerusalem holy site, accompanied by over a thousand armed Israeli soldiers. When some Palestinian youths threw stones, Israeli soldiers responded with live gunfire, killing 5 the first day, and 10 the second.
This uprising has now continued for over five years, as Israel periodically mounts massive invasions into Palestinian communities, using tanks, helicopter gunships, and F-16 fighter jets. Palestinian fighters resisting these forces possess rifles and homemade mortars and rockets. A minute fraction strap explosives onto their own bodies and attempt to deliver their bombs in person; often they kill only themselves.
While the large majority of Palestinians oppose suicide bombings, many feel that armed resistance has become necessary – much as Americans supported war after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, only a small portion take an active part in the resistance, despite the fact that virtually all support its aim: to create a nation free from foreign oppression.
Most Palestinians attempt – with greater or lesser success – to go on with their lives, raise their children, attend school, go to work, celebrate festivals, organize weddings, raise their crops, provide for their families – all the things that preoccupy people around the world.
As Israel constructs a wall around them, however, prevents them at checkpoints from traveling from town to town, destroys their crops, prevents children from traveling to schools and the sick and injured from getting to the hospitals, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live even an approximation of a normal life.
Most Palestinians feel that the Israeli government’s intention is to drive them off the land, and there is a great deal of evidence that this is the goal of many Israeli leaders.
At the same time, however, there is a small but determined minority of Israelis, joined by citizens from throughout the world, who are coming to the Palestinian Territories to oppose Israeli occupation. These “internationals,” as they are often called, take part in peaceful marches, attempt to help Palestinian farmers harvest their crops despite Israeli military closures, live in refugee camps in the hope that their presence will prevent Israeli invasions and shelling, and walk children to school.
They are sometimes beaten, shot, and killed.
Some Israeli soldiers are refusing to serve in the West Bank or Gaza, stating: “We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.”
Meanwhile, the semblance of Palestinian autonomy continues. Elections held in January, 2005, resulted in new Palestinian leadership that will govern under occupation and will attempt to negotiate eventual Palestinian liberation. Yet even this election demonstrated Israel’s power, as various Palestinian candidates were arrested, detained, and sometimes beaten by Israeli forces. This aspect, however, like so much else, was rarely reported by the American media.
- “Under orders from Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin, ‘Soldiers armed with cudgels beat up those they could lay their hands on regardless of whether they were demonstrators, or not, breaking into homes by day and night, dragging men and women, young and old, from their beds to beat them. At Gaza’s Shifa Hospital 200 people were treated during the first five days of the new policy, most of them suffering from broken elbows and knees. Three had fractured skulls.’” (PALESTINE AND ISRAEL: THE UPRISING AND BEYOND, David McDowall, University of California Press, 1989, p. 7.)