The people of the West Bank are walking zombie-like, or snapping at one another, shedding private tears while suddenly a thousand new poets and song writers have sprung up to express an inexpressible despair over the fate of Lebanon. And how many West Bankers have told me they decided to name their unborn child Beirut?
People complain that the daily Israeli bombardment and killings in the Gaza Strip have been forgotten in the media under the major attack on Lebanon, and that is true. Lebanon takes precedence, not only because we are accustomed to Israeli onslaughts against the Gaza Strip, but also because Palestinians remain dispensable.
And save for the Israeli orchestrated massacres on Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and the decades-long Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Beirut was once the ‘Paris of the Middle East.’ And still in many of the shops French is the first language to come out of a salesperson’s mouth. Perhaps the importance of a population in the eyes of the international community is how well they pronounce, ‘Merci.’ But at least Lebanon has Hassan Nasrallah.
However, if one would care to hear about being left out of the news and discourse, what about the West Bank which we are losing bit by bit, piece by piece, and now quite rapidly with all of this other disaster to hold the public’s attention. And what of Jerusalem? It must have fallen off the map altogether. As East Jerusalem is technically part of the West Bank, it must not be ignored in this particular discussion. Jerusalem is the slated capital of the future Palestinian state, and for that the Israelis are Judaizing it as quickly as possible. If we would like to begin at a point that is timely for a monthly publication when a new horror occurs each hour, one could safely say: it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. Part and parcel to the overall Israeli strategy of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Palestine, we have several issues to deal with: political prisoners, more arrests, daily invasions, injuries and killings, the Wall, settlements, checkpoints, bypass roads, the ensuing land confiscation, and then there is regular old occupation.
This is the story of the West Bank right now as I have been tasked to tell. God knows the people are in hell, with their own problems exacerbated when the Israelis traded the Gaza Strip in order to complete the West Bank takeover, yet continued to massacre Gazans and reoccupy the north without having ever ceasing to occupy the borders, sea and airspace. Regardless, nearly every West Bank conversation, and nearly every act of resistance, whether it is shooting at an Israeli settlement that contravenes international law by its very existence, or gathering 100 people for a nonviolent demonstration against the Wall cutting through someone’s field, is dedicated to the people of Lebanon and the people of Gaza. Farmers carry signs in front of bulldozers ripping their olive trees out at the roots, reading, ‘Stop the Massacre in Gaza’ and ‘Leave our Lebanese Brothers Alone.’
The sentiment falls on deaf ears as the US administration says, ‘Israel has the right to defend itself,’ while Israeli soldiers occupying the southern West Bank use machine gun butts to beat Hebron residents trying to stave off land confiscation with nothing more than a placard and heart felt sentiment. The same thing is happening in Al Khader Village, southwest of Bethlehem as the Wall is coming from the settler Road 60. West of Ramallah residents still fight, but get nowhere, except that some collective pride has indeed been restored. The Israelis are killing people throughout the West Bank from Hebron to Bethlehem, Nablus, which is closed from all sides while Israeli forces continue to attack, and Jenin, and points in between. And West Bank kids are still getting it in the legs. Gaza statistics prove once again that a majority of the injured are children. Israeli forces avoid killing the children as it never plays well in the press aside from being sometimes coined ‘accidental,’ instead maiming them to produce a new generation of handicapped.
In the north, Nablus and Jenin area residents are no longer allowed to move, and this is not temporary. Qalqilia and Tuklarem, even Salfit, are tossed into the mix. North of Ramallah is the cut off point in the slice across the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, and Sharon before falling into a coma, said they would do it, as did military head Mofaz. And so it is. The West Bank is cut in two, not in the mishmash way it had been when it was still possible to dodge checkpoints and settlements by taking olive field dirt paths, and rocky mountain ledges to drive a taxi full of travelers to their destinations. Now there are roadblocks, checkpoints, and Israeli patrols at every turn. Just north of Ramallah is as far as a northern resident can now get.
To its south, the Wall surrounds Bethlehem. A man trying to pick lemons from his trees was chased away, Israeli soldiers brandishing assault weapons and screaming. His former home is just a pinch too close to Rachel’s Tomb: sniper tower, military outpost and prayer ground for a group of Jews we hope know not what they do for their own sake. There are actually five Walls in this area as they twist and turn to block Aida Refugee Camp, the houses that used to be inhabited between the old checkpoint and where the new ‘Terminal’ monstrosity sits, the Wall, and Rachel’s Tomb. Inside that pocket, that is full of soon to be destroyed Palestinian homes and shops, will host a Yeshiva, a Synagogue, a settlement, and a nice little road for it all. Bethlehem’s Mayor, not generally a screamer, finally took exception to this. He said that this is how it started in Hebron, when Israeli settlers and soldiers plopped themselves down in the middle and still hold hostage the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank.
Certainly the Israelis have their hands full explaining themselves for the Gaza and Lebanon massacres, so these issues fall by the wayside. Or wait, no one is truly asking them to, are they? We get half truths, just like we get half withdrawals, one-sided ‘cease-fires,’ and disingenuous negotiations. We get broken promises from the bones thrown. And still so many swallow them in vain. Shall I mention once again that the Israelis continue to wage the most effective propaganda campaign in history, that the Americans who are not saying, ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ think that it is the Israelis under occupation? And defend it against what we must ask. Is it against the West Bank girls in striped uniforms from Al Azzeh Refugee Camp who get gassed while eating cheese sandwiches for lunch half the school year at the UN Elementary in nearby Aida Camp? Some have considered that an unfounded accusation. I must interject that when the little girls return home red-cheeked from the bullet riddled school, the first question is asked. ‘Is it from the gas or were you running home?’ Or maybe the Israelis must defend themselves from the young boys who wait for invasions so that they can throw stones at the jeeps and tanks because there is so little else to do with few playgrounds or safe spaces as, ‘the Israelis kill everything that is alive,’ to quote an Aida resident. For the Wall, Israeli forces are destroying the forest in the Cremisan Winery, one of the few green spaces left in Bethlehem after they took the Abu Ghanaim Mountain for the Har Homa Settlement.
In this light, the Israelis certainly need not explain themselves for open declarations that they will never remove the major Israeli settlements that are tearing the West Bank apart at its seams. Ma’ale Adumim, Gilo and Har Homa are among the settlements comprising the ‘Jerusalem Envelope.’ This is to ensure that no Palestinian remain in East Jerusalem. Israeli flags fly in the Old City, Hassidic Jews walk through the Palestinian streets where Palestinians are stopped, searched, and their IDs checked. Not only did the Israelis confiscate Jerusalem ID from elected Palestinian officials based on Hamas political affiliation, they continue to run Al Aqsa Mosque. Please explain to us how police in blue uniforms sporting the Star of David can keep a Muslim out of one the world’s holiest sites for Muslims, second only to Mecca, for Friday prayers? And that is not speaking of the Muslims in the Gaza Strip who have no chance whatsoever, and the West Bankers who have little chance of getting through a checkpoint. What the Wall blocks now are hope, school, livelihoods and futures. It is not people who wish to carry out the rare resistance operation inside 1948 borders. They will do it if they want to. Who is stopped are the Palestinians whose dream is to reach Jerusalem one day, who have no other way to make it for prayers or to see their city. They are among those who lay on their own land at checkpoints or Wall building sites on Fridays or during Ramadan after being turned away. Due to the Wall, Jerusalemites are cut off from basic services such as their schools and medical centers, with East Jerusalem and its surrounding villages now separated.
And that is not to speak of the Palestinians outside, whose Right of Return is being negotiated away by our well-meaning Fateh party President in Ramallah we all witness the absolute loss of Palestine. Shall I say this once again? That the occupied are still being tasked to provide for the protection of the occupier? And that the trouble is perceived to be that the people elected a Hamas government which refuses to do so?
For months most Palestinians did not receive a salary after the US threatened all banks who made transfers and imposed both a political and economic blockade based on the Palestinian democratic choice. The West Bank began to eat itself. And the US used its veto in the UN to stop another resolution, this one against the attacks on Gaza. This is after decades of the Israelis and Americans continuing to ignore the myriad resolutions and international laws against the Wall and settlements, and the Israeli occupation itself which prevented refugees from returning. Instead the US is pushing through a resolution against Hezbollah, and blaming it all on Iran and Syria, of course the next targets. But that will be no easy battle. Certainly not as easy as that against the people of the West Bank and the land itself that is dying by the minute. But Hezbollah, Iran and Syria still have a chance. That is the hope of so many inside the West Bank. A 26 year old Bethlehem refugee told me that maybe, just maybe, ‘those who are still strong and not living under occupation can some how make up for our utter and despairing loss.’
Resistance or no resistance, in the immortal words of a man trapped inside Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity in 2002, it remains true that ‘In the eyes of the Israelis, all Palestinians are wanted.’ Over 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners are in Israeli jails, most of them from the West Bank, snatched daily during pre-dawn raids. And included among the ‘wanted,’ is the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the entire region, if one cares to take a look at the clearly demarcated Zionist map. An American girlfriend of mine just married an American Jew. She now has more right to be in my adopted mother’s village of Beit Jibrin, now inside ’48, and on my father’s family land which is suffocating just next to a little Israeli eyesore now referred to as Tel Aviv, than any Palestinian has.