Beyond the fence


Israeli officials are reported to debate extensively the best possible plans for securing their citizens and boundaries. The media covers these discussions, including the daily incursions into Palestinian towns and cities, the time period and intensity of force needed. Usually, we are told, the controversy is over whether to occupy all or part of the territory, “isolate” or remove Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as how to create the conditions needed for negotiation.

There is no controversy, however, that puts a dent in the nearly unanimous feeling of Israelis that the reason for these military actions is to defend both Israel and the Israeli people. While some individual “mistakes” are acknowledged here and there, the majority of Israeli officials continue to dodge the questions “where are the lands of Israel?” and “what are Israelis doing in the occupied territories?”

Under cover of these discussions, the Israeli government has initiated the first steps in creating an isolation wall. Thousands of dunums of land are being expropriated from Palestinians for that purpose and the final plans are to be completed within 24 months. After that time period, Palestinians will be living in their own ghettos, unable to leave and only partially accessible. According to these plans, it appears that the current government in Israel would redefine the boundaries of the state to be everything outside and around Palestinian cantons. These cantons will only be allowed vital needs. Should the Palestinians then declare these cantons their state or empire will then prove irrelevant.

There are some crucial steps that must be taken in order to facilitate widespread acceptance of this final resolution. These steps, already begun, include the subjecting of Palestinians to a system of closures and permits to move that are unprecedented, even when compared to those of former South Africa. The result is to make the daily lives of Palestinians an inexhaustible source of ordeal and uncertainty.

Following are some excerpted affidavits collected from Palestinians:

…I am the father of Aya, 12 years old, and Hanin, 10. Both have Thalassemia and require blood transfusions at Ramallah Hospital at least once a month. For the past month, even the alternative dirt roads have been blocked, not even ambulances are allowed to reach the nearest checkpoint…I do not know what to do… (Amin Masoud from Der Ammar village, usually a 20-minute drive from Ramallah)

Samar Tawfiq, 31 years old…Had bleeding in her ninth month of pregnancy. Was delayed for more than four hours before finally reaching Rafidia Hospital. The woman’s life was saved but the baby died… (from Beit Furik Village, seven kilometers from Rafidia Hospital in Nablus)

…My father had earlier in the day tried to take my sister Aisha, who suffers from renal failure, to Ramallah Hospital. She is required to undergo dialysis three times a week. His efforts to talk to the soldiers at the checkpoint proved futile. They even started shooting…later that afternoon, as her condition deteriorated, I tried to take her out again using a different route, but the soldiers would not allow us anywhere near them…An ambulance was also unable to come to the checkpoint…we had to go back and later that evening, my sister died… (Amjad Ali, the brother of Aisha Ali from the village of Qibya, normally a 20 minute drive from Ramallah)

These are only excerpts from only a few sample cases collected by lawyers and field workers at the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center–only one Palestinian human rights group. They were collected in the hopes that these voices would be heard and that the United Nations Secretary General or High Commissioner might find time or courage to speak up against these acts that can only be termed “crimes of war.” They were collected in the hope that signatories to the UN Charter remember what that Charter was all about. In the hope that all this might have an end.

Unfortunately, these cases are those of the common people. No statistics count them and their daily lives are on no one’s priority list. These are the people that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says must be thoroughly beaten before they accept their fate.

When human rights groups have petitioned representatives of the world’s “most humane army” on behalf of Palestinians with illnesses who must get past Sharon’s walls, the army responded that these people can apply for travel permits from Bet El military administration center near Ramallah. But if these people cannot even get to the next town, how then can they apply at Beit El?

More cynical yet are official responses to complaints that the army is preventing medical aid or movement in contravention with the Fourth Geneva Convention or humanitarian law. The army has responded that this situation is a result of Palestinian violence and, therefore, that the referenced conventions do not apply due to the nature of the armed conflict. It is as if the Geneva Convention was intended to apply in times of peace rather than in war!

All of these fences are not aimed at protecting the Israeli citizen, but rather fulfilling the ingenious criminal fantasies of Prime Minister Sharon. They have not succeeded in foiling even one suicide bombing, but provide motive and the desire for revenge for hundreds more.

As this policy continues, beyond the fence will lie more than three million Palestinians held captive in the newest racial segregation system in the world.

Ihab Abu Ghosh is an attorney and former director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center.