Welcome to Israel, or Not!

People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh and Shay L’Estrange have recently visited Israel/Palestine. Here is their eye-witness report.

Socialist Worker

Welcome to Israel, or Not!

On arrival in Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, one is greeted with a palpable sense of tension and hostility, in equal measure.

This is in no small part due to warnings over the intercom system, advising that it is not permissible to carry guns in the airport.

This warning is not directed towards any potential terrorist treat but towards the general Israeli Zionist population who can regularly be seen carrying guns as part of their daily routine.

Nor is it helped by a very hostile immigration control who have a reputation for lengthy and aggressive questioning, an example of which was the very aggressive questioning of one of our group for eight hours.

Having left the airport our next encounter with the security services was at the Gilo 300 border crossing into the West Bank. As we were your fairly obvious western tourists, we passed through with ease unfortunately the same could not be said for the Palestinians who were passing through at the same time. Here we were about to experience our first taste of Israeli apartheid.

These Palestinians who were simply moving from one part of their own country to another were treated with total disrespect; with the barrel of a rifle they were gestured to move to the right of us and without a word spoken the Palestinians produce their ID cards. Again in silence they move forward to a turnstile.

Whole process

The whole process resembles what you might experience in a cattle mart as a farmer moves his animal from one point to another. We later realised that this could be best understood as symbolic violence against the Palestinians where they were being stripped of their very humanity, making them seem less than human, this was to be a regular occurrence throughout our visit where oppression can be seen to penetrate every level of society.

Having arrived at the Aida refugee camp which is situated on the outskirts of Bethlehem we were quickly introduced to indiscriminate physical violence which in most cases was inflicted on children. This was exemplified perfectly by a bullet hole in a poster at the entrance to the camp.

This poster was erected in memory of a young boy who had been shot and killed by the IOF (Israeli Occupation Force) just outside the camp: his only crime was he had thrown a stone. The bullet hole in the poster was a message which clearly said the IOF had no level of depravity to which they will not stoop.

This level of violence was continuous for the two weeks we spent in the West Bank, particularly in and around the Aida refugee camp.

Nightly raids on homes were the norm. IOF snatch squads regularly kidnapped children as young as ten for interrogation.  Rubber bullets, tear gas, sound grenades and live rounds were fired indiscriminately into the camp and at children as young as six who played at the entrance to the camp on a daily basis.

If we were shocked by the treatment of the inhabitants of the Adia refugee camp, nothing could have prepare us for Hebron, here we encountered the naked face of apartheid.

On arrival we were greeted by an armed settler who followed us down the street telling us how he was going to force the next Palestinian family from their home.

We were then met by deserted streets that had once been a thriving Palestinian market place, now declared off limits to Palestinians. Then on to an area where Palestinians live – here they are not allowed to drive yet illegal settlers are free to drive these same streets.

Apartheid

Next we found  roads that are off limits to Palestinians, where instead they are forced to walk on a dirt track that runs parallel to these perfectly paved roads used by the Zionists. These scenes in Hebron were reminiscent of the darkest days of South African apartheid:a  horrific and explicit example of Israeli apartheid.

And alongside the explicit apartheid we saw in Hebron, we also witnessed the insidious day to day manifestation of the Zionist oppression and occupation that Palestinians encounter at every turn in their daily lives.

Whether the more than 100 permits that make even the most banal activities, like carrying out repairs to your home, virtually impossible, or making water available for only two hours every six weeks even in the hottest of the summer months or settlers attacking Palestinian garden farms and allotments, smashing their equipment or releasing raw sewerage into their villages.

Or soldiers listing their homes for demolition and then making them pay the financial cost of their expulsion from their homes.

Palestinian refugees, like all refugees the world over have a right to return to the homes and villages they were ethnically cleansed from.

If this right of return is ever to be achieved it can only be done if Palestine is a single state.

When the Zionist state is compared to the West Bank, the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, inequality could be seen at every level including; housing, income, welfare, health, services and education.

Here we witnessed the perfect storm – capitalism compounded by an occupying racist force.

Therefore if a solution is to be found it must include the dismantling of the apartheid Israeli state and replacing it with a single democratic secular state where everyone has an equal voice irrespective of religion or none.

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