A Visit to Palestine
Dr. Bill Thompson is a professor of Clinical psychology at the University of Michigan
Post-Oslo Conditions in the West Bank and Gaza
I recently returned from 2 1/2 weeks in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as part of a citizen peace delegation. While there we visited with 3-6 groups a day, ranging from Israeli settlers (including those in downtown Hebron) to representatives of the PLO/Palestinian Authority, HAMAS and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as well as dozens of ordinary citizens in Israel and the Occupied Territories. This was my second trip to the area, the first being in the Spring of 1992 (pre-Oslo).
The differences in the Occupied Territories from pre-Oslo to the present are disturbing. I observed that the level at which ordinary citizens are living has been significantly reduced, and I'm seriously concerned both as a clinical psychologist and as a student of history about the prognosis for the area. I would state at the outset that although our group met primarily with Palestinians and pro-peace Israelis, I am equally concerned about the long- range peace and security of all of the parties in the area.
While there are myriad problems and issues both within and between the Israeli and Palestinian communities, four issues struck me with particular force; the Palestinian economy, land confiscation and home demolition, administrative detention, and racism.
The Palestinian economy - Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in March of 1993, the West Bank and Gaza have been subject to significant closure and lack of movement. While there are subtle differences in types of closure, the net effects are obvious. First, Jerusalem is virtually sealed off from the West Bank and Gaza. Only 5% of the Palestinians (usually only those over 30 years of age) from the West Bank and Gaza are allowed to enter Jerusalem, the cultural, economic, religious and medical center of the Occupied Territories. This has resulted in unemployment in the West Bank of 50% and in Gaza approaching 70%. (In Gaza City an announcement of openings for 17 street cleaning jobs drew over 5000 applicants.) Inflation in Gaza is 70%. The average annual per capita income in Israel is $14,500, in the West Bank, $1500, and in Gaza, $700. Previous to Oslo, approximately 130,000 Palestinians worked in Israel; now only 40,000 are able to enter for work. Second, the closure of Jerusalem effectively divides the West Bank into separate northern and southern portions. Communication and travel between these two areas requires a wide detour around municipal Jerusalem, and makes travel for commerce, education, and normal visitation quite difficult. Third, Gaza is sealed off and isolated from both the West Bank and Jerusalem. We met several adult Palestinians from each area who had never been able to visit family members from the other area. Commerce and educational exchange is nonexistent. Finally, Israel controls over 90% of the water resources in the Occupied Territories. In Gaza, 50% of the water is reserved for 4500 settlers, 50% for the one million Palestinian residents. The water table has been so seriously eroded that salinity from the Mediterranean has entered the water supply, making it unfit to drink.
Land Confiscation / House Demolition - Land confiscation and house demolition continues at a rapid pace. Some land confiscation occurs through open theft, but more typically, Palestinian land is fenced off, and after a year, is declared vacant and under government control. Or, Palestinian lands are declared military areas, and later turned over to the government. Since Oslo, settlements (illegal under international law) increased 25%, pre-Netanyahu. The current government is moving even more rapidly. According to Allegra Pacheco, an Israeli attorney who represents Palestinians in house demolition cases, a court case to prevent Palestinian home demolition has never been won. In Jerusalem alone, 87 houses have been destroyed for being built without a permit. Permits are rarely (if ever) issued to Palestinians, and the cost averages $17,000. The Palestinian village of Esoseweea (inside Jerusalem municipal borders) has shrunk from 2500 acres to less than 20 acres through land confiscation. When appropriated by the government, residents are offered up to $4000 per housing unit for land; the estimated actual value of the land/unit is $50,000. Thus far, no Palestinian has taken the money.
Administrative Detention - A British Mandate holdover from prior to the formation of the State of Israel, the administrative detention law allows the government to hold an individual without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely for six months at a time. For two weeks, no attorney is allowed to see the prisoner. During this period, torture (outlawed by international law) is often used (torture was recently formally approved by the Israeli High (Supreme) Court), and the charges and evidence against the prisoner are kept secret, even from the defendant's attorney. As the Israeli army recently withdrew from several Palestinian cities, they would routinely pick up individuals under this procedure. Currently there are 300 Palestinian detainees; 30 have been held for over 2 years, 15 for 3-4 years and the longest has been held for 4 1/2 years, and is still incarcerated. The lone Israeli detainee was released in January after serving 2 1/2 months. The Palestinian Authority also uses this procedure; currently there are 400 individuals under Palestinian detention.
Racism - The overt racism we witnessed was severely disturbing. I could give numerous examples, but two particular instances come to mind. The first was the detaining by a teenage soldier of an adult Palestinian waiting for early morning work outside Herod's gate in Jerusalem. He was made to stand and face the wall in the corner police station for about 20 minutes, and then moved to another wall for an additional 20 minutes. After the morning workers had found work and left, he was released...another wasted day. It may seem trivial, but the man lost his chance to provide for his family that day and attain some measure of self-worth in the process. The second example concerns the detaining of a 17-yr. old youth in downtown Hebron. He was stopped and forced to squat while his identity was being confirmed. When I asked the soldier if he could stand or sit down, rather that squat, I was told that squatting was the standard procedure. Indeed, we saw five other adults detained and forced to squat, even when placed into a vehicle (with benches) for transport to another police area. The teenager was kept in this position for about 45 minutes until his father brought his identity card. Perhaps another trivial example, but one I saw repeated (with variations) at least 50 times during the 2 1/2 weeks. I am particularly concerned about the effects of this racism on the youth in the area. A survey of 2,700 Israeli Jewish high school students published in Jerusalem on November 26 found that one third hate Palestinians and that two thirds reject the idea that Palestinians deserve equal rights with Jews. We saw acts of racism carried out by youths on both sides; I saw seriously pathological drawings made by children; and I observed hollow eyes and expressionless features in children that frightened me both as a parent and as a clinician.
Since the Intifada started on 12/9/87, an estimated 2000 Palestinians (200 children) have been killed by Israelis; 575 Palestinians have been killed as collaborators by other Palestinians; and 160 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. These are terrible numbers; even to reduce vibrant human lives to numbers is somehow disrespectful and saddening. And this has occurred in an area with a total population of only 7 1/2 million. However, I would respectfully submit that these deaths pale in comparison to the level of fear, distrust and suffering that occurs on both sides on a daily basis.
As an almost pathologically optimistic person, I would like to be more sanguine about the situation. I will certainly note the many people on each side who are working diligently to achieve a just and lasting peace. I would hope that their hard work and our distant efforts, thoughts and prayers will make a difference.