This piece appears as an Op-Ed in the Friday, March 16th 2001 edition of
The New York Times.
Allegra Pacheco was part of the recent ten-person NLG delegation to the Middle East. A full report on the delegation is forthcoming.
Palestinians in a State of Siege
By Allegra Pacheco
On any given day or night, 200,000 Israeli settlers move freely in and out of the West
Bank and Gaza to go to work, shop, run errands and attend school or university.
Israeli trucks supply their settlements with food, fuel and the necessities to keep
these areas running, their gardens green and their supermarkets well stocked.
For Adel Ibrahim T'nuh from the Palestinian village of Teqoa, things don't run so
smoothly. A father of four young children and a day laborer in Israel, Mr. T'nuh hasn't
worked for five months because the Israelis have put West Bank and Gazan
Palestinians under total closure.
Mr. T'nuh recently tried to enter Israel through the
Bethlehem-Gilo checkpoint in a desperate effort to find work.
There, at 6 a.m., he was chased down by dogs and sent back by
Israeli soldiers for trying to enter Israel. He tried again to
enter, but was arrested and beaten. Fortunately, Israeli and
Palestinian human rights workers happened to be at the scene and
Since September, three million Palestinian civilians in the West
Bank and Gaza have been living under a siege imposed by the Israeli
military occupation. All movement of people and goods is completely
restricted and controlled by the Israeli army. The army has dug
trenches and moats and built mounds of dirt to close Palestinian
towns and villages. Only a few days ago, Ramallah, a city that
provides education, health, social and economic services for 80,000
Palestinians in the surrounding area, was totally sealed off. The
Israeli government's attempt to dampen international criticism by
easing the blockade in Ramallah has had little effect on the siege
in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza.
Food, fuel and other basic necessities have become scarce in those
areas. After announcing that Palestinians have become among the
poorest people in the world, the World Food Program, a United
Nations agency, is now distributing flour in Gaza. Poverty levels
have doubled in five months. The siege has caused over $2 billion
in losses to the Palestinian economy, and unemployment levels have
soared to 48 percent.
The cause of all this suffering is not an act of nature. It is
collective punishment that the Israelis can reverse at any time.
The failure of other nations to oppose these basic human rights
violations has allowed the Israelis to continue impoverishing a
whole civilian population.
The latest siege is an expansion of the closure policy that
restricts Palestinian movement, a policy that has been in effect
since 1993. The Oslo peace agreement further enforced the closure
policy by conscripting the Palestinian Authority to serve as the
local intake office for processing travel permit applications. But
the power of final approval still remained in Israeli hands. Since
most Palestinian officials received special exemptions from closure
restrictions, the authority made only half- hearted demands over
the years to end them. Some even profited from the closure through
exclusive permits from the Israelis to import goods and maintain
monopolies over basic goods in Palestinian markets. However, for
Adel T'nuh and the remaining 99 percent of the Palestinians,
closure simply made life worse and a real peace more elusive.
Israeli officials admit that the closure in all its forms cannot
protect Israel from suicide bombers or other potential attacks. Yet
the desperation and bitterness this policy creates among the
Palestinian communities makes the situation more volatile and less
safe for all Israelis.
When former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin imposed the
closure policy in 1993, he convinced his supporters that it was
part of a "separation" policy that would be the first step toward
the two-state solution. But in reality, Israel's 34 years of
military occupation, the integration of electric and water systems,
and the building of Jewish settlements and bypass roads have made
it all but impossible to separate the Palestinian West Bank and
Gazan communities from Israel's control. Separation leading to
Palestinian statehood is a myth. The closure policy has instead
solidified an apartheid-like system of separate rights and
privileges for Jews and Palestinians.
Americans have learned in their history that separate cannot be
equal. Israelis must understand that the way to end the cycle of
violence cannot be through closure and sieges against entire
civilian populations. Only when Israel dismantles the closure
policy and accepts equality for Jews and Palestinians alike as a
matter of human rights will peace be attainable.