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(en) Perspectives on Anarchist Theory - V.7 #1 - Spring 2003 The Violence of Everyday life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories I (1/2)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 8 May 2003 18:23:27 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

The events recorded here occurred on a single day, November 7,
2002, in the occupied West Bank. The following occurrences are
daily ones, and November 7th might have been December 2, July
17th, or January 10th. The report below will hopefully illuminate the
scale of unreported violence daily inflicted upon the Palestinian
> Balata Refugee Camp
At three in the morning on this day of November 7th,
undocumented military operations would be waged throughout the
camp. Sleep would become impossible as heavy gunfire would be
sprayed in the streets and alleyways. The darkness of the building
where I slept would be disrupted by constant flashes which lit up
the night from bullets and other artillery racing past windows. In the
first few minutes of listening to this searingly loud cacophony, I
could not decipher what it was. Others in my apartment whispered
in panic; four Japanese men, an American woman, and I fearfully
crawled to the safety of a windowless room in the center of the
apartment. For the next couple of hours, we sat in silence and
listened as soldiers yelled orders back and forth immediately
outside the window. Everywhere, near and far, one heard the dark,
ominous sound of tanks creeping around in the city. Though all the
residents of the city were surely awake, all houses remained
shrouded in darkness and silence until the troops finally pulled out
around five a.m. People then filled the streets to investigate injuries
and assess the damages of the long night.

Such late night operations are routine, occurring as many as four or
five times per week. No explanation for the operations is ever
given, though people take it as a signal that a curfew is about to be

At 7 a.m. on that same morning, I, along with two other international
observers, accompanied some children to school in the hopes of
saving them from being tear gassed. Along the way, one could see
the many bullet holes that have pierced houses' walls and windows
throughout the main streets. Residents seemed to be accustomed
to the nightly violence and its morning evidence. The streets were
full of people going to market and school--children, dressed in neat
uniforms, holding their books and toting backpacks, on their way to
school. For these children going to school is the highlight of their
day and they walk with excitement. The city had only recently
recovered from a three month, 24 hour curfew in which these same
children were forced to remain indoors interminably; today, as far as
anyone could ascertain, there was no curfew in effect.

However, the fact that a curfew is not in effect does not mean that
getting to school is an easy task. We discovered this as we walked
with schoolgirls as they made their way to Nablus, an adjacent city.
For them, the normal way of getting to school meant by-passing the
check points by a path cut through people's backyards,
construction sites, and behind the bombed-out debris of the former
Palestinian Authority building. While the Israeli military knows that
these routes exist, they don't usually interfere since the goal is not
to disrupt attendance at school, but merely make it more difficult.

This morning was different. The entrances to these alternative paths
were blocked with jeeps and tanks, while soldiers informed children
over loudspeakers that travel to Nablus was prohibited and they
should return to their homes. When questioned, the soldiers would
not give a straight answer as to whether there was a curfew in
effect that day. I later learned that such noncommittal comments on
completely arbitrary decisions were part of the routine harassment
on everyday life.
Desperate to attend school, some of the children attempted to
negotiate with the soldiers. In response to this "defiance," soldiers
began to throw tear gas canisters and sound grenades at the
"offending" children. Many of these children were only six or seven
years old, and all ran in panic to escape. Some were handcuffed
and thrown into the back of jeeps, to be taken to the military base
and interrogated. Those who escaped ran down the streets with
their faces and eyes ablaze with the pain of tear gas. Some turned
to throw stones at the armored jeeps and tanks, an act of defiance
which, as some children lucidly explained to me, was something
which they--but not adults--could do.

While all of this was taking place, just up the street the Israeli
military had stopped traffic in all directions near the main
intersection between Nablus and Balata. Like the arbitrary decision
to cut off safe passage for school children to their schools, the
military had also decided that there would be no travel in or out of
Nablus on that day. Drivers cautiously waved their Israeli
government supplied documents in the air; soldiers responded with
such "civilized" communication techniques as aggressive hand
gestures, screams, the repositioning of tank barrels directly towards
individuals or vehicles, and threats to smash windows and hoods
with the large sledge hammers they so visibly wielded. A large
school bus carrying teenage schoolgirls was emptied of passengers
and metamorphosed into a roadblock. The driver was told to return
the following evening to see whether he would be allowed to
retrieve the bus. Meanwhile, as Palestinians turned their vehicles
around in the crowded intersection, it became evident that the
roadblocks were only applicable to them. Israeli citizens, illegal
residents in the West Bank, were waved through without

At roughly the same time, a temporary checkpoint had been set up
only a couple blocks away where all men between the ages of
fifteen and fifty were being taken into custody and interrogated.
Their identification papers were seized, they had to pull up their
shirts and unbutton the tops of their pants to prove that they were
not wearing explosive belts, and finally had to stand quietly in a
straight line while the soldiers painstakingly reviewed their
identification papers. The soldiers told me that they were being
checked as "possible suspected terrorists" (which evidently
includes all men). Like many of the other daily "military operations"
effected for "security reasons" in all parts of Palestine, the soldiers
would soon abandon the operation and move on.

Amidst the daily harassment and chaos, the potential for tragedy
was realized, as it is for everyone on the West Bank every day. On
a road leading toward the Askar refugee camp, a ten-year-old boy
was found lying in the street and bleeding. Soldiers had opened fire
on him with live ammunition after he attempted to hurl a bottle at a
tank. Only a few hours after this incident, soldiers on duty at the
Askar intersection laughed as they continued to "play" with live
ammunition with some other heckling Palestinian boys. This
stone-throwing behavior on the part of children has been
characterized by many American journalists as a form of child
exploitation or, in the words of Thomas Friedman of the New York
Times, "You feel as if you are watching a modern form of ritual
sacrifice." Such claims typically distort and decontextualize this
behavior, as well as negate the savviness of Palestinian children
who know that they can get away with more than their adult
counterparts. The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem
investigated the child exploitation allegations and found that "no
evidence of organized exploitation of children" during the Intifada.

All of the above occurred before three p.m. in a roughly six square
block area. By mid-afternoon, the military with its tanks, jeeps, and
soldiers picked up and left. Residents walked safely down the
streets and vehicular transportation again became possible. Of
course, this would be a short-lived freedom as the solders, tanks,
and jeeps would return at nightfall and re-impose a full curfew over
the entire area, and thus the pattern would continue in an endless

Later in the afternoon, students at Nablus University would
celebrate the end of their fourth day straight of school. The
University of 8,000 pupils, which specializes in sciences, economics
and management, has a student population which is 55% women.
The university had been shut down for the previous four
months--three months due to the full curfew imposed on the city's
residents, and the final month because Israeli settler snipers were
firing into the university's courtyards.
Evening hours returned again. The starry sky of previous nights
returned with the brisk cool air announcing the onset of winter.
Ramadan would be celebrated throughout the West Bank, and
feasts would be arranged at the "break fast" with family and friends.
Like the previous night, the children would run up and down the
streets with sparklers again, almost oblivious to the fact that tanks
and troops were but a few blocks away imposing curfew in another

Ramalla, the administrative center for the Palestinian Authority and a
city of about 20,000, sits about twenty miles south of Nablus and
ten miles north of Jerusalem. Like every other Palestinian city,
invasions of troops and tanks have been going on since March of
2002. The invading army arrives, closes intersections, harasses
people, searches houses and automobiles, and detains random
individuals. On this particular afternoon, the military applied full
closures to all entrances to the city. An ambulance carrying a
Palestinian civilian "accidentally" wounded with live ammunition by
Israeli soldiers was denied passage. The wounded man, lacking
medical attention, would be left to wonder whether he would be the
next person to die in an ambulance denied passage at a checkpoint.

The Qalandya Roadblock, where this wounded individual lay in the
ambulance, is but one of 120 permanent checkpoints in the West
Bank. Along with the hundreds of roadblocks between and within
town and cities, some 300 separate areas have been created in
Palestine in which travel from one place to another is extremely

Thus, even on this day, a couple of hours after the military told
everyone that no passage would be allowed in or out of Ramalla,
the soldiers started allowing a few individuals to cross. They would
search each closely and ask the usual questions: "Where are you
going?" "What are you doing here?" "What business do you have
there?" "When will you return?" "What is your occupation?" "Do you
know any terrorists?" Some people who attempted to approach
soldiers would be met with verbal abuses and physical threats; it
was common to have a machine gun pointed at your face for asking
too many questions. If or when a person was allowed through a
checkpoint, it was accompanied by comments like, "Remember that
I am doing you a favor" and "Don't think that I will do this favor for
you tomorrow," although usually they are just dismissed with a flick
of the hand.

Meanwhile, Ramallan construction workers continued to repair the
Palestinian administrative complex which had been completely
destroyed by an Israeli military attack a few months before. A
massive mural, painted at the time by the invading Israeli army on a
collapsed wall, read, "Israeli Victory"--in case the Palestinians
should ever forget.

Tulkarem, a city in the northwest corner of the West Bank, sits
along the "Green line," the 1967 border with Israel. The 1967 border
does not represent territory originally granted to Israel by the
British and the UN, but land taken after the 1948 war with Arab
countries. The 1967 border is now seen by the international
community (as well as the Palestinians) as the legitimate border
between Israel and Palestine.

For the unfortunate cities located alongside this border, however,
there are still daily invasions to endure, and a larger percentage of
Israeli settlements than in other parts of the West Bank, in some
districts totaling 40% of the total population. Protection for the
illegal settlers requires a greater military presence as well. The
settlers are "illegal" in the sense that it is against International law in
general and the Geneva convention in particular to transplant one's
population into an area or territory one has conquered.

At 8:00 in the morning, and for unclear reasons, the Israeli military
raided a school run by the UN, resulting in confrontations between
soldiers and Palestinian youths. The youths threw stones and
bottles at the occupying army and were met with live ammunition in
return, resulting in two teenagers being hit by shrapnel. "Resistance"
of any sort is usually met with an escalated military presence and, in
this case, the military called in American-made Apache helicopters
for assistance. Such hyperbolic use of helicopters, tanks, and other
equipment is common in response to minor or symbolic resistance.

Qalquilya is another city which borders the Green line, about ten
miles south of Tulkarem. The city has struggled constantly for its
very existence in recent history. It has experienced constant
curfews and closures which has resulted in travel being permitted in
or out of the city only 72 days in the past two years.

On this day, the primary task of Qalqilya's residents will be to try to
salvage anything from fields which are in the process of being
plowed in preparation for the Israeli security wall. The security wall
was promoted to Israeli voters as a way to provide a barrier
between peoples. The wall also encloses the city almost completely
on four sides, allowing but one road into the city. Conveniently, a
large Israeli military base sits at the mouth of that one road and
controls all movement with the use of a metal swinging barrier for
motor vehicles, and a walking path which require individuals to pass
through tunnels of barbed-wire fencing.

Setting aside the absurdity of walls and their symbolism, the wall
was supposed to follow the 1967 border. Yet, typical of Israeli
policies, such is not the case: it is being directed far into Palestinian
lands. It basically became an opportunity for a "land grab" as it
became evident that tremendous amounts of land and water
resources could be annexed to Israel. The wall would even end up
isolating Palestinian villages from each other. For some families, the
wall would essentially put them on the Israeli side of the border,
unable to access Palestine. These people would basically be in
no-man's land as they are not Israeli citizens and have no legal
rights or political representation. They would also have little means
of earning a living.

Qalquilya farmers who harvest citrus fruit would attempt to quickly
pick the fruit ahead of the path of destruction following them in the
fields. Families whose land would be being seized for the building
of the wall would scramble to salvage their citrus crop. They would
fill tractors, donkeys, and cars with their pickings in clear view of
the construction company hired to plow under the land, the armed
security company hired by the construction company, and the
armored vehicles and soldiers protecting both groups. Massive
Caterpillar tractors would be accompanied by armed security forces
and armored vehicles and foot soldiers to protect them from the
Falami and Jayyous

Falami is another village in the Qalqilya district along the green line
area of the West Bank. As in Qalqilya, Tulkarem and all the other
villages along the northwestern "green line," the "security wall" will
continue to be rerouted away from the line into ever new directions
east. Israeli officials will notify individuals and families that the land
which has belonged to their families for over 2,000 years will be
confiscated, and that such individuals should attend meetings in
which some form of "compensation" for the land will be determined.
The Palestinian families losing their land often refuse to legitimate
both the seizures as well as the erstwhile attempts at
"compensation" and therefore refuse to attend these meetings. The
land will be simply taken--an outcome horrible and tragic for
Palestinians, but less horrible than entering into a contract with a
land-seizing state.

On this November day in Falami, residents engaged in a nonviolent
protest against the building of the wall. Along with international
peace activists, they were attacked by Israeli soldiers using tear
gas, sound grenades, and arrests to disperse these unarmed
peaceful protesters. Even the French Consul General, who visited
Falami and attempted to negotiate with the Israeli authorities over
the apparent loss of investments in agricultural irrigation projects,
met with little success. Internationals and others would continue to
arrive in Falami throughout the day to support the protests.

In Jayyous, a nearby village, residents were also struggling with
soldiers over land seizures for the security wall. Jayyous will be hit
particularly hard with the rerouting of the wall: it will lose 80% of its
land and many of their wells. This village, in existence for more than
1,000 years and having survived many wars, will be destroyed by a
faceless zoning bureaucrat deciding that the land is needed to
protect Israel. The town will have no means to support itself
without the land upon which it depends for citrus and olive

Unlike cities such as Nablus, Ramallah, and Jenin, the hundreds of
villages throughout Palestine like Yanun face a slightly different
struggle. With their numbers fewer, they are at the mercy of hostile
Israeli settlements which surround them. Settlements are usually
built on hilltops in close proximity to Palestine villages. There is
very little security for Palestinians between the settlements and
their villages (while the settlements have both their own internal
security force and nearby military bases for protection). The short
fence which usually separates one village's land from the settlement
does not deter settlers from crossing into land they perceive as
their own.

The settlement outside of Yanun is called Itmar. Like the settlers I
encountered elsewhere, these were extremely dangerous. Just a
few days earlier, they had forced the entire village to leave, setting
fire to their homes and electrical generator. When the villagers
returned with ISM (International Solidarity Movement) activists,
they found that many of their olive fields had already been plowed
for the settlers' own agricultural enterprises. Four internationals--
two of whom were elderly--were viciously attacked with gun butts,
clubs, and blows as they attempted to document this land seizure
by Itmar settlers; all ended up needing hospitalization. Meanwhile,
Yanun residents watched in horror as settlers worked the
dispossessed land under protection of the Israeli army. It was only
a few days later that they began to cautiously return to their village.

Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank, has been in a constant state
of siege for many months now. On November 7th, a full curfew had
been in effect for eight consecutive days. Some residents and
shop-keepers would break curfew to simply feed their families and
others. Otherwise, the streets were empty except for the speeding
jeeps and tanks looking for these curfew breakers.

Over the past year, West Bank cities and villages like Jenin have
withstood 24-hour curfews more than half of the time. As reported
by human rights organizations, the United Nations, and other
international agencies, large parts of the city have been completely
bombed out and leveled in recent months. Residents must navigate
their ways through piles of rubble where their homes and
neighborhoods once stood. The streets are filled with the remnants
of vehicles set ablaze by soldiers or run over by tanks. Metal
telephone poles lay broken on the streets, and sidewalks have been
intentionally crushed by the weight of the tanks. Since most of the
water is transported in by trucks, it has become increasingly scarce.
The curfew meant that people had to use what little water was
available just for drinking, and not for cleaning, disposal, or other

On this day, residents of the small village of Yasuf would begin
finishing up the annual olive harvest in the midst of guns being fired
at them, physical harassment, and abuse by settlers. The military did
its part in disrupting the harvest by creating "closed military zones"
in the olive fields--usually as collective punishments for any form of
violence against Israelis in general, and in which these particular
villagers played no part. To enforce the closure of the fields, tanks
sat on hillsides surrounding the village with their barrels pointing
directly at it.

On this day, Israeli peace groups sent activists to various locations
in the West Bank to support nonviolent actions against the
Occupation. Groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta'ayush,
Gush Shalom, liberal organizations, and anarchist groups would join
with each other and ISM activists in the West Bank. I was lucky
enough to meet hundreds of these activists in the six weeks I was
in the region. They were welcomed into Palestinian homes, fed, and
engaged in lively debate before a direct action took place. To an
outsider like myself, I was continually surprised by the level of
camaraderie and solidarity between these two peoples. Such Israeli
individuals and groups, however, have been under increasing attack
since 9/11. They have been harassed and intimidated by the state
and media, and some have even lost their jobs.

I witnessed these events while working for the ISM as an olive
harvester and international observer during October and November
of 2002. The ISM is a Palestinian-led movement which uses
nonviolence as a means to resist the occupation. The organization
is a model of directly democratic processes, and it uses the affinity
group and consensus decision making as its organizational
foundation. The ISM works private with Israeli peace groups and
internationals to give a voice to those who resist the occupation.
Much of the work which I did with the ISM involved observation:
the monitoring of human rights abuses by the Israeli military, check
point watches, etc. I also participated in non-violent protests with
Palestinian and Israeli groups. Non-violent protests and marches,
by the way, or any other events which seek to empower
Palestinians, such as symbolic actions such as even raising the
Palestinian flag, is illegal and met with violence and arrests.
II. Israeli Occupation of the West Bank

Occupation and collective punishment for the people of Palestine
has become a routine part of everyday life. For the past thirty-five
years, Israel has actively built settlements in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip. Today there are over 400,000 Israelis residing in the
Palestinian West Bank alone. Some have chosen to reside there for
purely economic reasons, such as cheap housing and subsistence
checks, while others reside there for their ideological convictions
that Palestinian territory must be reclaimed as part of the historical
heritage of Israel. Following up on these opportunities and
convictions, people come from all over the world on any given
day--including this. Jointly, they contribute to the undermining of
the Oslo Peace Accords as they move into their American style
suburban homes, acquire jobs, and settle themselves in. Among the
many who come from Eastern Europe, Russia, and North America,
there will be some who will actively seek out and join radical right
fundamentalist forces in the settlements in a religious crusade
against the now displaced "others."

These people are granted a "right to return" by the Israeli state
based on their Jewish identity. They don't question the historical
spuriousness of this claim--the fact that they are being granted a
right to "return" to a country in which many have never lived--nor
the fact that Palestinians are made second-class citizens in the
process, denied a right to return to a country which many in their
immediate families and forbearers have had a direct connection
with. They also do not recognize the international community's
recognition of the territorial rights of Palestinians and the illegal
nature of settlements. Such international assertions are regarded as
anti-Semitic allowing, ironically, a complete denial of political
responsibility for current social events.

Though the settlements are located in the Palestinian West Bank
and Gaza, residents of these settlements are rarely seen there.
Israel has created an immense transportation, consumption, and
production infrastructure which connects the settlements to each
other and to Israel proper, thus eliminating any need for contact
between the two populations. The "by-pass roads" may only be
used by Israelis and foreigners; they are forbidden to Palestinians.
In areas where the by-pass road crosses a Palestinian's property,
they still may not access it. If they do, they run the risk of being
either shot or arrested, although the occasional soldier will let them
pass without harassment. Currently, there are 120 permanent Israeli
checkpoints and hundreds of road blocks in the Occupied
Palestinian territories. In a place smaller than the size of
Massachusetts, over 300 separate areas have been created. These
areas, which are basically islands, are cut off from each other
making travel from one place to another nearly impossible. It must
be remembered that travel prohibitions are directed only at
Palestinians. In addition to the clearly destructive effects such
measures have on the economy, there are other, less intuitive,
effects. For instance, ambulances stopped at checkpoints have
resulted in an average of one birth every three days at a checkpoint
itself. Numerous deaths have also been attributed to the travel
restrictions, although statistics illustrating occupation-related
deaths rarely refer to this most mundane events of not being able to

In contrast to these gross human rights abuses, there exists a
widespread belief that the Palestinians have, in fact, been the
beneficiaries of a "generous offer" on the part of Barak. Without
knowing the details or the context in which the offer was made,
Americans (and even Israelis) uncritically repeat the phrase "But
didn't Barak offer Palestinians 90% of what they wanted?" What fails
to be discussed is how the offer so clearly ignored the demands
and needs of the Palestinian peoples: what was not offered was the
removal of all the illegal settlements, the return of valuable water
resources to the West Bank, the return of East Jerusalem, or a
Palestinian "right to return" for those displaced by the conflict.
There is also a general veil of ignorance surrounding the fact that
Oslo Peace Accords required that Israel gradually withdraw from
the territories and grant further autonomy to the Palestinians.
Instead, Israel used the nineties to further encroach on Palestinian
territories and, in fact, doubled the number of their settlements
during this time. Understanding the relationship between the
settlements and Israeli foreign policy makes it clear Israel's actions
have been directed toward further colonization and complete
disenfranchisement of the indigenous communities from their land
and, thus, their source of subsistence, hope, and resistance.

Why has the implementation of international law failed so miserably
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why here and not elsewhere?
With so many UN resolutions condemning Israeli occupation and
demanding withdrawal, the opposite has occurred. In addition, the
"right to return" is an international law and is granted to all
refugees--not just Israelis--and is guaranteed in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The US has been an especially willful participant in the manipulation
of international accords; while it used this "unalienable human right"
as justification for war in Kosovo, the very same administration
declared that the Palestinians' right to return was "unrealistic" and
merely an attempt to derail the peace process. Thus, although a
Palestinian forced to flee at gunpoint has been denied the right to
return by the international community, Israel's policy of encouraging
Jewish return from throughout the world is formally condoned.
Currently within Israel, a growing right-wing movement has been
attempting to persuade voters to allow the permanent "transfer" of
Palestinians out of Palestine.
III. Violence, Ideology, and the Israeli State: Some Theoretical

The picture I have painted above seeks to illuminate the scale of
unreported and underreported violence which is inflicted daily upon
the Palestinian people. It is impossible to understand the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, and the motivation behind the
Intifada in particular, without understanding the extent of this
systemic violence. It is both an essential facet of everyday life, as
well as an integral technique of Israeli attempts at rule. Everyday life
for Palestinians, however, is woven with a seemingly inexhaustible
energy to resist this particularly terrorizing form of rule.

Most media and other sources represent the conflict in ways which
elide the basic nature of the conflict. They represent it as a conflict
which is about either religion, as some kind of "primordial ethnic
strife" which afflicts the region or, worst of all, as a "clash of
civilizations." This seemingly consensual and unanimous
misrepresentation contributes indirectly to the continuation of the
conflict by deflecting attention away from the root cause which, in
my opinion, is the neocolonialist aspirations of the Israeli state. By
ignoring the longer history of the British government's involvement
in the Israeli state--through establishment of the British mandate
and its support of immigration--attention can be directed toward
what are believed to be primordial dispositions toward violence and
internecine strife which supposedly afflict the peoples of the

The systemic violence of the occupied territories is not a reflection
of Israel's need for self-defense against a foreign enemy, as Israel,
the US, and the global media attempt to frame it. The argument of
"self-defense" has historically been used by many states to justify
oppression of populations within or at the frontiers of their
respective borders. Anyone traveling in the West Bank would
quickly realize that the sole reason for a military presence and its
violent techniques of rule is the protection of Israeli settlements and
the Palestinian lands which they have seized. These techniques
serve not for the protection of the Israeli state against foreign and
dangerous operatives, but for the extension of this state into
foreign lands. The military invasions and oppression are not a result
of the need of Israel's need for internal security, but rather a
response to the Intifada, which itself is a "shaking off" of the
Occupation by both nonviolent and violent means.

Thus, Israel might be understood as a colonial state using any and
all forms of organized state violence to crush opposition to its
settlement of a foreign territory. It is an expansionist state. In
contrast to earlier examples of colonial domination, this particular
conflict is aggravated by the fact that Israel considers the land
which it colonizes to be a part of its historical and religious heritage,
therefore deflecting attention again from its status as a modern,
colonizing power.

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