by Jessy Hampton, Advocacy and Learning Tour Assistant, MCC Palestine and Israel
While the second 72-hour ceasefire began in Gaza, several of my colleagues and I toured sections of the separation wall in the Ramallah area of the West Bank, led by Jamal Juma, executive director of Stop the Wall, an MCC partner organization. Despite living in Palestine for a year now and generally being familiar with the methods of the Israeli military occupation, I had little experience with towns in “seam zones” (West Bank enclaves stuck between the separation wall and the Green Line, internationally recognized as the border between Israel and the West Bank).
Following the Oslo agreements of 1993 and 1995, a system of military checkpoints was developed around the city of Jerusalem, and in 2003 Israel began construction of what it called “the security barrier,” but is popularly called the “separation wall.” In 2004, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice declared that the wall amounted to annexation and unduly restricted the movement of Palestinians and should be dismantled. Ten years later, the wall still stands and its effects are felt more deeply than ever.
This is not a border wall, as it is not contiguous, does not follow the Green Line, and often completely encircles Palestinian towns while leaving Israeli settlements easy access to Jerusalem and other major cities. If constructed as planned by Israel, 85 percent of the wall will fall within the West Bank, separating Palestinians from Palestinians, and will be twice the length of the Green Line. The path of the wall is designed to claim water resources for Israel, annex Israeli settlements to Israel while excluding Palestinian villages, and claim various archaeological sites for Israel.
These villages, still considered part of the Jerusalem governorate, are completely surrounded by the wall; the only way in and out of these villages is through a kilometer-long tunnel, built under Israeli settlements and Israeli-only settler roads, connecting Bir Nabala and the other villages to Ramallah.
Even in times of “peace,” the Israeli occupation continues. Bir Nabala and the other villages of northwestern Jerusalem were cut off from the West Bank during a time of relative stability for Israel; the wall that completely surrounds the villages was completed in 2006, after the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, had ended.
Over the past five or so years, Israel has experienced an amazing level of security and calm (broken by the recent violence with Gaza), due in large part to the extensive security cooperation and activities of the Palestinian Authority. In 2012, not one Israeli settler was killed in the West Bank—quite a military feat, considering the tense situation caused by 500,000 Jewish settlers living in the middle of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Yet, Israel does not return “peace for peace;” rather, Israeli leaders maintain that they have “no Palestinian partner for peace.” In 2013, Israel achieved a 123-percent increase in settlement construction from the previous year. And several weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a speech stating what he has “always said: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” (translation: Israel will never allow a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank).
While global consensus is growing that Gaza cannot be continually destroyed and rebuilt, and that peace means addressing the political-structural confines imposed on the Gaza Strip, this same sentiment should be applied to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the situation of Palestinians inside Israel.
To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Peace is not simply the absence of violence, but the presence of justice. Occupation continues, even and especially in times of “calm,” and the time is ripe to break the bonds of oppression by addressing the root causes of conflict. The current international attention on Gaza and the Palestinians affords us all the opportunity to push for real, concrete changes that will not simply restore the unstable status quo but will encourage the development of a lasting peace. The world has been witnessing the violence of military occupation and can no longer pretend that such a system will ever bring a true and just peace.
The United States is uniquely complicit in this violence, with billions of dollars of aid and military equipment given to Israel each year. According to U.S. law (the “Leahy law”), U.S. military aid must be cut off to military units that have committed gross violations of human rights. So far the U.S. has not cut off aid to units of the Israeli military, despite documentation by multiple human rights organizations, such as B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Defence for Children International, of a policy of violating international human rights law and the Fourth Geneva Convention by the State of Israel against Palestinians.
As the U.S. is uniquely complicit, it is also uniquely positioned to encourage real, positive changes through leveraging this military aid. The occupation will continue, in times of war and times of calm, unless people, including people of faith, and their governments stand to demand an end to the injustice.
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