Report from the Land of Apartheid

The two babies lay nearly side by side in the incubator. One had eyes open, the other shut. It’s against medical standards to put more than one child in an incubator, but with only six working incubators in the hospital in Jenin they had to double up. Jenin Hospital, in the north of the West Bank, is the only hospital in the Jenin Governate. It serves 350,00 people with 123 beds.

At the moment the hospital has no working ambulance. At one time it had three. Two were destroyed by Israeli missiles during this uprising. In one the doctor inside, Khalil Sulaiman, was martyred. The last working one suffered a car accident last week and it will take another week to repair it.

The wards were crowded. In the pediatric wing each small room had three beds and not much medical equipment. There is no air conditioning though temperatures in summer are at least in the 80’s. Hospital officials said the hospital was getting aid from Europe, but it’s been cut off.

This is just one of many outrages. Conditions for Palestinians are deplorable all across the apartheid state, from the 130,000 living as Israeli citizens in “unrecognized” villages, to the thousands living in Israel or the West Bank in homes slated for demolition, to the people living in Jerusalem “suburbs” who never have their garbage picked up, to families who are cut off from relatives by the Apartheid Wall, to the people in the richest Arab towns closing up their businesses because of Palestinians can’t travel and buy goods, to families living in the H2 section of Hebron who are seeing their homes taken over by religious fanatics.

I’ve been here for nearly two weeks. Coming in was a breeze for me, a Jew in his late 50’s. (see how a young American Palestinian was harassed at Traveling around Israel (as defined by the now non-existent 1967 borders) I saw no evidence of a country girded for battle. (Admittedly I haven’t been to Sderot where the Qassem rockets strike.). I thought I’d see tons of soldiers on duty but the only ones I saw were buying refreshments, shopping or being revved up about the holocaust at Vad Yashem. Michael Warshawsky, veteran Israeli peace activist, says I’m not wrong. News about Palestinians is not page one, he says, but page four.

On the West Bank things are different. There are checkpoints all over with soldiers carrying large deadly looking weapons. People say the checkpoints have been easier this summer. It’s part of the “Make Nice with Abbas” strategy that’s no being pursued by Israelis and the US. After years of ignoring the Palestinian President the takeover of Gaza by Hamas has forced a change in strategy. One month of the millions in Palestinian tax money that the Israeli s have been withholding has been “generously” given to the Palestine Authority

Things are not that nice in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers stage constant raids. The night before we went to Jenin they captured a resident. People in Nablus say there’s a raid every day. A few nights night ago six Palestinians were killed, including three by missiles in Gaza. One man supposedly attacked soldiers at a Bethlehem checkpoint. He was hit by gun butts and then shot to death.

The Qalandia Superhighway

It should take 30 minutes to go from Bethlehem to Ramallah. The would be the case if a West Bank Palestinian could travel through Jerusalem, but that has been banned for some seven years. So the trip takes at least 75 minutes (provided there are no delays at checkpoints) because the Israelis allow only one route, and what a route it is. Near the Wadi Nahr (Valley of Fire) you descend some 500 feet in a few minutes through a series of hairpin turns at 35 degrees. It’s the only road so the two lane highway is shared with every kind of vehicle including huge trucks. In winter it’s extremely dangerous. Once through this gauntlet you reach the “Container Checkpoint”. The times I traveled it the soldiers merely check passports and hawiahs (the Palestinian travel document which shows where Israelis will allow you to travel). In worse periods Palestinians have been forced to take everything in their luggage and put it on the side of the road. There were times I was told that the men were forced to strip naked.

After a while the road becomes first class because it’s a shared road, shared with Israeli settlers. Then the Palestinian journey to Ramallah goes by the Qalandia refugee camp. Think of the worst road you’ve ever been on, bumps, potholes, ruts, gouges. For 20 years nothing had been fixed because the Israeli army won’t allow it. When asked Palestinians are told it’s a matter of “security” and that’s the end of the matter. Only a few months ago was the PA given permission to start some work.

This route is going to be changed soon. It is intolerable that settlers have to share a road with Palestinians (“security”) so a 2 1/2 mile tunnel is being built for Palestinians to keep them separate. Cars will still have to pass the Wadi Nahr and the rest, but the joint road will be a thing of the past.

The Veils of Apartheid

I met with Uri Davis in Jerusalem. He’s an Israeli, one of a handful who lives in Palestinian communities. He has maintained for decades that Israel is an apartheid society. He says, however, there’s a major difference from the old South Africa. Under South African apartheid a visitor would immediately see signs for Africans, whites and coloreds. In Israel it’s much more veiled. For instance take land. By and large land in Israel is controlled by the state and is not owned by individuals. Jews are granted long term leases to land, but through a maze of laws and bureaucracy Arab Israeli citizens can’t lease it. Well that’s an exaggeration. In the last ten years and after a Supreme Court decision two Arab families were able to build on “Jewish” land. Davis estimates that about 2.5% of Israeli land is can be owned or leased by its Arab citizens.

Another aspect of the apartheid is “unrecognized villages”. In 1947-1948 thousands of the Palestinians expelled from their towns and villages fled to rural areas that were still in Israel. The government dreamed up a delightful category for them, “present absentees” and took all their land and bank accounts. 130,000 of their descendants live in villages that the Israeli government will not recognize. These are all Israeli citizens, but they live in towns without services, no water and no electricity. I v isited one of them, En Hud. The tourists books list an Ein Hod, a delightful village with an artist colony and all the latest works of art. But Ein Hod was a Palestinian village until 1948 when its people were driven out at gunpoint. They fled up the road a mile or so and set up a new village on land some of them owned. The bus that took us to En Hud, barely made it. The road went through steep turns. Asphalt changed into god know what and five feet to the right was a drop to oblivion. Finally we came to a tiny village of 250 people (including “The House”, an outstanding restaurant) that has made a 50 year partially successful fight to gain official recognition and services.

“How are the Anti-Semites Doing Today?”

Hebron, the city of the Tomb of Abraham is deep in the West Bank. It’s a city of 120,000 Palestinians. The Tomb is holy both to Jews and Moslem. In 1929 there was a massacre of 67 Jews in the city. In the 1970’s Jewish settlers decided to make Hebron a Jewish city. Today some 400 settlers live in Hebron under the army protection as they pursue their brutal project.

Because of a dreadful agreement between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat at the Israeli government Hebron was divided into two parts H1 and H2. H1 is all Palestinian and is under the Palestinian Authority. H2 is about a quarter of the whole city and is home to Jewish settlements at war with their Palestinian neighbors.

Our hosts in Hebron H2 were members of the Christian Peacemaker team. In Hebron they are a handful of super brave people who try to observe what’s happening to Palestinians and to escort Palestinians to prevent the frequent attacks on them by settlers. Lorin Peters of CPT guided myself and another American through the streets of the Old City of Hebron (think Old City of Jerusalem, but half deserted). There were several military checkpoints, the most serious being in front of the Abraham’s Tomb/Ibrahimi Mosque. Lorin says Palestinian youth and men are routinely detaine d at the checkpoint for minutes or hours. We came through without incident. Two Palestinian stores were open with settlers freely buying items giving the lie to their myth that no one can live with the “bloodthirsty Arabs”.

We took a walk through several blocks that had once held Arab shops which were now all closed. Each building was alike, a concrete rectangle with a large folding metal doors in front. Each door was decorated with a six pointed Jewish star. The settlers have desecrated the Jewish star, making the holy symbol into a graffitti of fear, much like a swastika.

The main street of H2, Al Shohada street, was pretty well deserted. After a huge legal struggle one Arab family was able to move back into an apartment above a shop and we could see items left out to dry. They don’t dare to walk on the street without CPT escort. We passed a young settler and Lorin said, “Shalom”. The answer was, “And how are the anti-Semites doing today?” We walked on. It was just a tiny blip on the scale of provocations and assaults. Their “international ” status doesn’t given CPT much protection. Lorin mentioned that many times he has been stoned by settler children. He remarked that the boys were getting older, the stones were getting bigger and the soldiers were making even less of an effort to protect CPT or Palestinians.

Settler efforts to take over H2 are working. The population of the Old City in H2 is down from 10,000 to 1,000. Fencing has been installed over the alleys of the Old City to deal with the rain of trash and offal that settlers throw at the people from their settlements built on top of Palestinian buildings.

By chance we had gone to Hebron on Tish B’av a Jewish fast day to remember the destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem. The Lamentations of the prophet Jerimiah are read on that day. It begins with this quote, “O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary.” Perhaps Hebron was not once great, but H2 is fast becoming emptied of its native population.

The Wall

Palestinian removal is a goal sought everywhere from the Jordan to the Mediterranean by Israel’s apartheid government. What it can’t empty right away it surrounds and walls in. The Apartheid Wall is everywhere in the West Bank, supremely ugly and gobbling up thousands of acres of land. When you walk through the Bethlehem checkpoint to Jerusalem upon the wall you see a huge banner with a cheerful slogan “Peace be Upon You”. As they say it gives hypocrisy a bad name.

After leaving Jenin a few of us went east to the northeast corner of the West Bank to the place where the Wall first was started. There it divides a small town from relations in the city of Um El Fahm. It also divides farmers from their fields. After a big court fight the Israeli justices allow a few family members to care for and harvest crops without any machinery. It’s not possible to care for the land this way. In a few years it will be classified unused and confiscated.

One last bit of cruelty connected with the wall. We were interviewing one man who told us that the soldiers demanded they dig up the village graveyard and move the bodies because the graves were “too near the wall”. They could do nothing to stop the order so they dug up the bodies.

As we were concluding the interview an army jeep spotted us from about a football field away and with a bullhorn demanded we move. Evidently six people standing in a driveway were a security problem. We drove away.

STANLEY HELLER is Chairperson of the Middle East Crisis Committee. He can be reached at: