Beyond the headlines: Occupied territories as hell on earth

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.S. Ahmed

Sha'ban 01, 1418 1997-12-01

Occupied Arab World

by M.S. Ahmed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 19, Sha'ban, 1418)

The smokescreen that is alternatively known as the ‘peace process’ is obscuring not only Israel’s long-term plan to steal the occupied territories but also the fact that the region has become a virtual hell-on-earth as a result of the economic, political and ‘security’ measures adopted by Tel Aviv since the signature of the Oslo Accords at the white house on September 13, 1993 - measures that make the pre-Oslo direct Israeli occupation seem like a picnic by comparison.

It would be monstrous for anyone to suggest that the military occupation was anything other than a catastrophe. The growth of the intifadah in Ghazzah and the West Bank prior to Oslo was testimony to the horrors visited on the Palestinian people by direct Israeli rule.

But Oslo has enabled Israel to withdraw its troops from certain areas of the occupied territories, subcontracting the dirty work of suppression to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority (PA) while retaining the power to control population movements, water and land rights as well as economic activity. It is this all-embracing power that Tel Aviv has exploited to ‘ethnic-cleanse’ Palestinians from Israel, Jerusalem and extensive areas of the West Bank and Ghazzah - confining them to narrow Bantustans isolated from each other - and to bring almost all economic activity to a virtual standstill, reducing the population to unprecedented levels of poverty.

When the PA was first installed in its tiny enclaves, Arafat and the other Arab dictators tried to sell Oslo as a harbinger of a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital, despite strong opposition from the Islamic movements of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The tardy trio - president Husni Mubarak of Egypt, king Husain of Jordan and Arafat - reacting truculently to this opposition, met in endless ‘consultations’ only to repeat each time the mantra that Oslo is the only road to Palestinian emancipation, and that ‘terrorism’ must not be allowed to derail the Middle East ‘peace process’.

But Israel soon demonstrated who the real terrorists and enemy of the Palestinian people as well as peace are. Claiming that Arafat had failed in his duty under Oslo to contain the ‘terrorists’ who threatened Israeli security, it unleashed a number of terrorist measures to chase Palestinians out of Israel and East Jerusalem, while stepping up the presence of Jewish settlers and Israeli troops in the occupied territories, and to prevent Palestinian goods and workers from entering Israel.

In their effort of ‘ethnic-cleansing’ Arabs from East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities simply, and illegally, withdraw residency rights from Palestinians, deny them building permits, demolish Palestinian homes for clearly concocted reasons, and deny both Muslim and Christian Arabs access to the holy places. To expand Jewish settlements, whether in East Jerusalem or in the occupied territories, they confiscate vast areas of Arab land at will even when they are demolishing Palestinian homes.

Since the Oslo accords were signed in September 1993, settlement construction in the West Bank has increased by more than 30 percent. Tens of thousands of hectares of Arab land has been confiscated to make this possible. In the same period, over 550 Arab homes have been demolished for sundry reasons. Add to this the 2,000 homes the authorities have scheduled for destruction, principally to keep Arab presence in East Jerusalem under control.

But it is not only over land that Israel has complete control. Oslo gives it the ‘right’ to control water in the occupied territories - a ‘right’ it exercises with a vengeance, shutting off drinking water to Palestinian towns for long periods. According to a recent magazine report, whenever Palestinians complain of lack of water supply, Arafat responds: ‘I have more important issues to deal with, go and see Saib Urayqat’ (minister of local government).

Arafat and his PNA have plenty of ‘issues’ to deal with but are powerless to resolve. One of these many problems is the collapse of the Palestinian economy as a result of the hammering it has received since Oslo from the Israelis. According to data by the United Nations and the World Bank, as well as research by Israeli economists, the economy is in sharp decline.

Research published in the Ha’aretz newspaper on September 4 by professor Haim Ben Shahar, the gross domestic product declined from $5 billion to $4.1 billion, while the population grew by more than 20 percent from 1.86 million to 2.38 million in the last five years. This translates into a decline in per capita GDP from $2,700 annually to $1,700 during the period Oslo has been in force. The per capita GDP in Israel is well over $17,000.

But the real problem is that the economy is at the mercy of Israeli goodwill. According to Ben Shahar, 30 percent of the Palestinian population depended, before Oslo, for a livelihood on low-paid jobs in Israel. And although the figure has declined in recent years, lack of local sources of employment ensures that the dependency is still there.

Lack of Israeli goodwill, expressed in semi-permanent closures of the occupied territories, ensures that the local industry is in constant crisis and that traditional activities like fishing and farming are crippled. To ensure the dependency remains, Tel Aviv also denies the PA permission to begin work on a deep water port in Ghazzah - ludicrously justifying the denial on security grounds. The result is that the Palestinians continue to depend on Israeli port facilities for all their imports and exports.

Tel Aviv exploits these advantages to force the PA to crack down on Islamic activists and others opposed to the zionist occupation. Judging from the enthusiasm with which Arafat and his security thugs have obliged, it seems they did not need pressure to hound their fellow Palestinians in the first place.

Arafat and his men have turned out not only murderously dictatorial but also totally corrupt. As if to prove that what is to come is even worse, PA officials and ‘security’ chiefs have embarked on a vicious infighting to succeed Arafat, who is rumoured to be ill. The infighting must surely add to the demoralisation of a people already in the grip of intractable political and economic problems.

But their worst anguish must come from the realisation that their leaders have turned Israeli quislings, and from the fear that the need to remove them might lead to a civil war.

Muslimedia: December 1-15, 1997

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