Friday, July 22, 2011

"Well, It is An Occupation!"

"Well, it is an occupation!"

The African World


By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Editorial Board


The Black Commentator

July 21, 2011


I recently returned from North Africa and Palestine.  I

found myself giving a talk to a group in the USA where I

mentioned my trip as a way of discussing the manner in which

events can unfold very rapidly.  I mentioned that I had been

to North Africa and the occupied Palestinian territories.


Barely had I finished speaking than an individual rose from

their chair and moved toward the front of the room.  When

the session broke the individual approached me and

challenged my use of the term "occupied Palestinian

territories," claiming that terminology is inflammatory

and that I should have used a more neutral term like "West

Bank" or "the disputed territories."


I looked at the individual and listened to what they said.

I then responded:  "Well. it IS an occupation!"


It is difficult to describe the Occupied Territories. I have

followed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since the June

1967 War and I have been an advocate for peace and justice

for the Palestinians since the spring of 1969.  I have

studied countless documents, articles, speeches, etc.  I

have seen pictures of the so-called settlements and the

apartheid separation Wall.  Yet, to be honest, I still was

not prepared for what I actually experienced.


I was part of a labor delegation.  When we crossed from

Jordan into the Occupied Territories we immediately

experienced the arrogance of the Israeli occupiers. While

waiting on line to go to the first passport control I was

watched by an Israeli security person.  I somehow knew that

this was not a good sign.  When my delegation awaited

clearance to actually enter the Occupied Territories this

same security person came up to me and me alone (in my

delegation) and proceeded to ask me all sorts of questions

about the objectives of my visit.  Perhaps it was my

naturally curly hair, or perhaps it was that I am told that

I look North African, but in any case, there was nothing

approaching politeness in this exchange.  The Israelis held

us at the border for about two hours for no apparent reason

and then let most of my delegation through.  They then held

one member of my delegation - not me - for an additional

hour, again for no apparent reason and without explanation

or apology (when they were released).


Driving from the border to Nablus is actually quite

beautiful except for a few things.  You drive past these so-

called settlements.  You can clearly distinguish an Israeli

settlement from a Palestinian village or town, both by the

newness but also by the often lush character of the

surroundings of the settlements.  But here it is important

for me to note that even the use of the term "settlement"

does not convey what you see.  You see, in effect, either

very big farms or you see suburban communities.  I don't

know about you but when I hear "settlement" I tend to think

about something that can be easily disassembled. Forget that

idea, my friend.  These settlers have no intention of going



This brings up another point or question of terminology.

What is going on in the occupied Palestinian territories is

not really an occupation; it is an annexation-in-progress.

The Palestinians are being squeezed out, with the obvious

Israeli hope being that they will simply give up and move

out of the West Bank and go to Jordan, Lebanon, or who knows

where ever, but just out of the area.  When you think about

an occupation, you think about the troops of one country

taking over another-which, of course, happened to the West

Bank-but you do not normally think about settlers moving in,

unless you are thinking about the way that the United States

expanded west; the manner in which Morocco took over the

Western Sahara; or what we have been witnessing in

Palestine.  Whatever the original ambitions of the Israelis

in the aftermath of the June 1967 War, it is clear that the

settlements are no longer a bargaining chip but are there as

part of a process of annexation.


This is a slow-moving annexation that is accompanied by

slippery rhetoric out of the Israeli government.  The

creation of the so-called Separation Wall, but what most of

the world condemns as the Apartheid Wall, is all part of the

annexation process.  The Wall is one of the ugliest, most

offensive pieces of work you will see.  It was NOT created

along the so-called Green Line (the pre-1967 border of

Israel) but along lines that protect some of the key

territories that the Israeli government seeks to formally

annex.  It also is used to divide Palestinian territories

such that farmers are separated from their land.


When you stand near the wall, however, you do not think much

about the larger political issues at stake. Rather, it feels

like you are inside a prison.  You look up and down the

expanse of the Wall at the guard towers and, frankly, you do

not know what will happen next.  The environmental damage

created through the building of the Wall is a sight in and

of itself. Piles of dirt, rubbish, concrete, weeds, etc., on

the Palestinian side of the Wall reminded me of construction

debris that some contractor `forgot' to remove from a

project.  This damage makes the land in the immediate

vicinity of the Wall useless and, for all intents and

purposes, dead.


The sense of being imprisoned was more stark when we

witnessed thousands of Palestinian workers pass through the

Qalqeelya border crossing to go to Israel for work. We

arrived at the border crossing around 3:30am and workers

(men and women) were already crossing the border, though in

small numbers.  As dawn approached this trickle of workers

turned into a flood.


The workers proceeded down a covered walkway and then went

to a turnstile, reminiscent of one you might find in a

subway system.  But this was not a turnstile that one can

jump over, but fully metal where only one person at a time

can pass, assuming that the light over the turnstile is

green.  There is an assembly point on the other side where

the workers then gather and seek transportation to their

jobs.  They have to arrange their own transportation, either

through their employers or on their own, because public

Israeli transportation is denied them.  They cannot drive

into Israel and go to work because that is forbidden.  The

process is so demanding that many Palestinian workers remain

at their worksites   for days rather than go back and forth

in this process.  And, while this is going on, it is all

under the watchful eye of the Israeli guard tower, shouting

commands to the Palestinians in Hebrew.


The violence of the Occupation is what you feel more than

any other sensation.  Not the violence that you hear about

on mainstream television when they discuss a terrorist

attack or a military action, but rather the silent violence

that includes traffic signs in big Hebrew letters, while the

Arabic wording has been crossed out by fanatical settlers.

Or it may be the violence of the apartheid Wall, supposedly

constructed to stop Palestinian terrorist and military

attacks, yet no one can seem to explain if that were the

case, why the Wall was not built on the Green Line rather

than over and through Palestinian territories.


There were moments when I forgot where I was.  My own anger

boiled to the surface and I came close to yelling at the

Israeli security personnel or making signs at them with my

fingers, only to stop myself and realize that I was not an

angry African American in the USA (which carries its own set

of risks), but a North African-looking man in Occupied

Palestine who could easily get shot - or cause my colleagues

to get shot - with the assurance that my wife would get a

letter of apology from the Israeli government for the

incident, which they would certainly alleged to have been

the result of my unprovoked actions.


This is what Palestinians experience every day and then



So, yes, this is a violent occupation, and no semantics will

get around that simple fact. Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher,

Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy

Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and

co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized

Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of

California Press), which examines the crisis of organized

labor in the USA.


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