Israel – Palestine – The Background by David Worth — 24th May 2021

David, a retired Nephrologist, Volunteer National Park Ranger, and Covid Vaccinator, is also Co-Clerk to the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This organ­isa­tion was foun­ded in 2002 by the World Council of Churches based in Geneva, in response to the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. It brings people from around the world (called Ecumenical Accompaniers) to the West Bank, to serve for 3 months as Human Rights Monitors. In the UK and Ireland, co-ordination is car­ried out by the Quakers.

Inspired by a talk given by Mark Steel in 2000 about the asym­met­ric over­whelm­ing force being used by Israel against the Palestinians during the 2nd Intifada, and with inform­a­tion from the International and Israeli Human Rights Groups, David decided to get involved. He has vis­ited Israel 3 times since 2008 and now gives talks on the back­ground to the dis­pute.

There are 4 groups of people in the dis­puted areas :-

  1. Jewish cit­izens in Israel, which is a troubled lib­eral demo­cracy.
  2. The Palestinians within Israel. Formally given equal­ity, but now dis­pos­sessed and dis­crim­in­ated against.
  3. Palestinians in the Israeli Occupied West Bank, who are humi­li­ated, bru­tal­ised and have their lands taken over for Israeli set­tle­ments.
  4. The Palestinians in the Gaza strip, which is no more than an open-air prison, and because of the res­ist­ance of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, is bombed every 3 or 4 years.

All areas are con­trolled by Israel with such asym­met­ric over­whelm­ing force towards the Palestinians, that the ‘’Human Rights Watch’’ have labelled it as apartheid. The evid­ence for this is in the way Israel has con­trolled, since 1948, the Palestinian people and their land, their free­dom of move­ment and their polit­ical involve­ment.

Before 1917, the ori­ginal Zionists bought land in Palestine with the inten­tion of form­ing a Jewish home­land, and giving every Jew around the world the oppor­tun­ity to return to Israel. This is referred to as ‘Aliyah’. In 1917, with the Ottomans defeated, Palestine came under a British Mandate.

Changes to Palestinian land since 1917

In 1948 Israel declared itself an inde­pend­ent state, after a war against the Palestinians. The Palestinians named the day of Israeli declar­a­tion of inde­pend­ence Naqba Day, when half the pop­u­la­tion, around ¾ of a mil­lion, became refugees, set­tling in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, includ­ing the West Bank and East Jerusalem (both Jordanian admin­istered) and the Gaza strip (admin­istered by the Egyptian mil­it­ary).

In 1967, after the 6-day war, Israel occu­pied (1) the West Bank as far as the River Jordan, (2) the Gaza strip and (3) East Jerusalem. A large area of land annexed from the West Bank, was added to East Jerusalem where Israeli Law was applied, in breach of International Law.

Since 1967, evic­tion of Palestinian fam­il­ies from their prop­er­ties in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been car­ried out in the Israeli courts under Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian or Israeli Law. The odds are stacked against the Palestinians, as, if there is any doubt, the prop­er­ties revert to the State. Owners are evicted and forced to demol­ish their own homes and are faced with large costs if the Israeli State has to do it for them.

Palestinian homes being demol­ished

In East Jerusalem, there are now 350,000 Palestinians who live in 28 vil­lages, along with 209,000 Israeli Settlers. 7500 struc­tures have been demol­ished since 2009, with 11500 people dis­placed. This is the cause of upris­ings and con­flict, and one of the reas­ons why rock­ets are launched from Gaza.

The West Bank

In 1995, under the Oslo Accord 2, Israel gave the Gaza strip to the Palestinian Authority. The West Bank dis­puted area was denoted by the Green Line, and areas des­ig­nated as 1, 2, or 3 :-

  1. Defined 165 sep­ar­ate islands of land which are admin­istered entirely by the Palestinian Authority (dark brown on the map)
  2. Defined parts which are admin­istered jointly (light brown on the map)
  3. Defined the remain­ing 60 % of the land, under full Israeli con­trol (blue on the map)

At the end of the 20th cen­tury, Israel had gone from con­trolling 6% of the land, to 100 %. Jews have full cit­izens rights in all areas, whereas Palestinians rights and status differ whether they live any­where in Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem 600,000 Jews have con­struc­ted factor­ies, farms, Universities and cities. The farms pro­duce dates, avo­ca­dos, salad vegs. and herbs which are some­times deceit­fully labelled as ‘’Made in Israel’’ instead of ‘’Produce of the West Bank’’, which some coun­tries, to whom they sell, insist on.

On the West Bank there 280 set­tle­ments or towns on expro­pri­ated land, with all mod. cons., and miles of set­tler only roads, in con­trast to the Palestinians who are lim­ited in the use of water, have their homes demol­ished and in area ‘C’ are pre­ven­ted from any con­struc­tion or devel­op­ment. They may have long detours through road blocks, and access to work in the Israeli Occupied parts is made dif­fi­cult. The Jewish set­tle­ments are per­man­ent, are a source of viol­ence, and under International Law are illegal and war crimes. The Israelis  are com­mit­ting gross and sys­tem­atic human rights viol­a­tions.

Settlers are sup­por­ted by the Israeli mil­it­ary forces, most of whom have served in the Israeli Defence Force. They have hugely more fire power than the Palestinians and they can turn a blind eye to viol­ence on the Palestinians, which can be extreme. This can include shoot­ings, burn­ing of homes, mosques and churches, attacks on crops and farm­ers and the pois­on­ing of water and live­stock. All this is an ongo­ing occur­rence in Area C and East Jerusalem, and is a major con­cern for the UN Special Coordinator of the UN Security Council for the Middle East Process as it is all illegal under inter­na­tional law.

There are also about 100 ad hoc set­tle­ment out­posts, again illegal under inter­na­tional human­it­arian law and built without offi­cial author­iz­a­tion, but nev­er­the­less encour­aged by some Israeli gov­ern­ment depart­ments. These out­posts con­trol Palestinian land, and with time, become per­man­ent.

The 320km long wall

The Armistice Line around the West Bank is 320 km. long, but the illegal wall sur­round­ing the West Bank, which is up to 8m high, meanders 700km., fur­ther divid­ing the West bank into stra­tegic pock­ets of Palestinian areas, increas­ing Israeli con­trol and the dif­fi­culties of life for the Palestinians.

The 2018 basic law of Israel, con­cern­ing land, dis­crim­in­ates against the 20% of Israelis who are Palestinians and are Muslim or Christian, and live in Israel. The devel­op­ment of 100’s of Jewish set­tle­ments is encour­aged with no hint of equal­ity accor­ded to this 20%, sac­ri­fi­cing any human rights con­sid­er­a­tions. No set­tle­ments for these Palestinians have been built and the Absentee Property Law allows for expro­pri­ation of Palestinian owned land, if not being used. The Jewish National Fund and Jewish Agency only give bene­fits to Jews. Bedouins are not recog­nised and are moved on.

The UK and Ireland train and send 20 Ecumenical Accompaniers each year, to sup­port the Palestinians who are affected by the situ­ation. They return to tell the world of the asym­met­ric force being used by Israel against the defence­less Palestinians. And the stor­ies are har­row­ing. Shootings, viol­ence, injur­ies, restric­tions of move­ment, humi­li­ation, dis­crim­in­a­tion, loss and depriva­tion of oppor­tun­it­ies for work, edu­ca­tion and med­ical care, which requires a permit to access ser­vices in Israel. The Palestinians are ruled under mil­it­ary law whereas the Israelis are under civil law. Any res­ist­ance by the Palestinians is met with dif­fer­en­tially harsh pun­ish­ment. There is par­tic­u­lar con­cern for the chil­dren who can be treated extremely harshly and in breach of UNCRC or the Geneva Conventions.

Palestinians require a permit to travel between the West Bank, Israel, Gaza and East Jerusalem. They also can be sub­jec­ted to unan­nounced road blocks. In con­trast, Jews have free­dom of move­ment within Israel and most of the West Bank, except area A and Gaza. International travel is easy for the Jews, but Tel Aviv air­port is closed to Palestinians, who have to fly from Jordan or Egypt, once they have got through the Israeli check­points at the bor­ders.

The pres­ence of the EAPPI has helped to make things better, high­light­ing the injustice and giving some com­fort to the Palestinians.

All Jews can vote and run for office. Israeli Palestinians can vote and run for office but their rights are con­stantly under attack. East Jerusalem Palestinian res­id­ents can vote only in the muni­cipal elec­tions. Gaza and West Bank Palestinians cannot par­ti­cip­ate in the polit­ical system that con­trols their lives.

Free speech has been cur­tailed with 2 new laws. Introduced by Israel they con­strain Jews or Palestinians from advoc­at­ing the cause of the Palestinians. (1) The Naqba Law which pre­vents anyone from mourn­ing the Naqba Day. This was tra­di­tion­ally done by Palestinians. (2) The boy­cott law which could impose pun­ish­ment on anyone who calls for a boy­cott of Israel. And in the West Bank there are restric­tions on demon­stra­tions, asso­ci­ations and polit­ical state­ments, all enforced by the mil­it­ary courts.

The Jewish Declaration on anti-semitism is defined as ‘’Discrimination, pre­ju­dice, hos­til­ity or viol­ence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish insti­tu­tions as Jewish)’’. Where this relates to Israel and Palestine can be seen on https://jerusalemdeclaration.org/ which gives examples which are anti-semitic, and some which are not.

This was a fas­cin­at­ing first hand insight into what is hap­pen­ing between the Israelis and Palestinians today, and was very well illus­trated. Although it is a very com­plex situ­ation, David, is obvi­ously pas­sion­ate about the sub­ject, and por­trayed a trouble­some scen­ario where we can all help, by advoc­at­ing change.

Should you wish to seek fur­ther inform­a­tion, the fol­low­ing web­sites were referred to in the present­a­tion :-

1)            https://www.twinningwithpalestine.net/palestine

2)             https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid

3)            https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

4)            https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid

5)            https://www.dci-palestine.org/

6)            https://www.childreninmilitarycustody.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Children_in_Military_Custody_Executive_Summary_English.pdf

7)            https://conquer-and-divide.btselem.org/map-en.html

8)            https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/harkov-lahav/making-the-jewish-stae-a-jewish-state/

9)            https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/6558

10)          https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/7188

11)          https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/167536–180212-israeli-minister-says-israel-to -stay-jewish-even-at-expenses-of-human-rights

12)          https://www.theguardian.com/profilr/kenanmalik

13)          https://www.adalah.org/uploads/oldfiles/Public/files/Discriminatory-Laws-Database/English/04-Absentees-Property-Law-1950

14)          https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14423.doc.htm

15)          https://www.ochaopt.org/data/demolition

16)          https://waronwant.org/

17)          https://www.ochaopt.org/poc/19-january-1-february-2021

18)          https://eyewitnessblogs.com/2020/03/13/making-a-life-alongside-soldiers-settlers-and-sterilised-streets-zidanes-story/

19)          https://www.english.acri.org.il.post/___48

20)          https://jerusalemdeclaration.org/