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 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
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).
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 anywhere.
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
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
This is what Palestinians
experience every day…and then some.
So, yes, this
is a violent occupation, and no semantics will get around
that simple fact.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with
the Institute for
Policy Studies, the immediate past president ofTransAfricaForum 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. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.