DAY 17: Understanding Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
To understand Palestinians today, it is necessary to recognize that nothing is more pervasive than the Occupation. Every Palestinian we met is impacted by it. The dimensions of the Occupation on daily lives of the Palestinians ranges from the seemingly endless military checkpoints to bureaucratic permissions that stymie economic development and can even affect family life. To fully comprehend the extent of the Occupation, maps are needed to appreciate the vast network of “settlements,” the snaking of the "Wall" that in some places divides Palestinian lands and communities, check points, and the related system of “settler bypass roads”.
Over the last several years, the Palestinian Authority has been building infrastructure for the establishment of a Palestinian State. However, the Occupation as it has been administered is having a negative impact on these positive efforts toward Palestinian self-sufficiency through economic development. A thriving Palestinian economy promises to contribute to the future peace and security of the region. Yet the bi-annual World Bank report published Mar. 15 portrays a grim outlook for Palestinian economic viability prospects. It notes, "While the Palestinian economy continues to grow, indications of sustainable growth remain absent." The report blames the stagnation on both Israel and dwindling donor aid. "The slowdown in West Bank growth in 2011 demonstrates its dependence on donor aid, which is on a negative trend, and the lack of new Israeli easing of restrictions," the report concludes.*
The West Bank-occupied Palestinian Territory is divided into three zones. Area A represents 17.2% of the West Bank and is under the civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority. This is primarily eight separate Palestinian population areas/cities. Area B represents 23.8% of the West Bank and tends to be the properties adjacent to Area A or villages that are not near settlements. Area B is under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, but security responsibilities are shared with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Area C is entirely under Israeli civilian and security control representing 59% of the West Bank. It is within Area C that most of the "settlements" have been built.
Unless you visit the settlements and the related complex of bypass roads, it may be hard to imagine them. They are essentially very permanent towns or subdivisions with their separate Israeli system of roads. The "security wall" in some cases snakes deep into the West Bank to encompass settlements, binding them to Israel and at the same time cutting deep divides into Palestinian lands and communities. In the Palestinian city of Hebron, for example, settlements have been established that cut through the middle of the city and confiscate major portions of the markets.
Every Palestinian we met had a story of how the Occupation impeded his or her life. From the promising young students at Bethlehem University, to one of the leading Palestinian nurse educators, to the people living in the refugee camps, we heard stories of personal hardship. One professional woman told us of how she has to live in Jerusalem, while her husband has to live in his West Bank village. He is not allowed to live in Jerusalem, and if she were to live on the West Bank she would lose her Jerusalem resident permit, which has a number of benefits not afforded West Bank Palestinians. Over the years they have appealed four times to the Israeli authorities to allow for the family to be united, and the appeals have been denied. We heard many similar stories of various family or economic hardships.
To understand the lives and hopes of the Palestinians today, we must remember that nothing is more pervasive in their lives than the daily intimidation of the Occupation.