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February 3, 2011

Israel has no right to exist, but only to coexist

The Canadian Charger

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"Peace is not a process. It is a state of being. You either have it or not. The Palestinians have not had peace since 1949. They have been under siege." That is how Trevor Purvis, Carleton University professor of international law summed up the situation of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself.

He was speaking on a panel with Sean Barron, a theology student, and Arthur Milner, a playwright.  The three visited Occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Israel for ten days last July and were reporting on their experiences and observations at a meeting in Ottawa on February 1.

The meeting was arranged by Independent Jewish Voices, who had organized their trip.

Milner commented on various things that they learned and encountered.  They met a family driven from their home which was then occupied by Jews.  Their house was taken from them, but they were still recognized as owning the land under it.  He noted that Palestinians were being evicted not only for housing but also to create parks.

He showed a slide taken in Hebron.  A metal mesh was placed over a walkway.  Jews living in apartments above threw debris on Palestinians living at ground level.  The screen was put up for protection.  Another slide showed what had been the main market area in Hebron.  The area was now completely empty, as the markets had been forced out.

In the West Bank, Milner commented, you can’t get away from settlements and outposts. 

One of his slides showed the view from an Arab village, with settlements and outposts scattered around in the distance.  He also showed the audience roads, which Palestinians can neither use nor cross.  There are some tunnels underneath, but the combination of restricted roads, checkpoints, and passes “disrupt the daily lives of the Palestinians.”  The separation wall, he added, is built on 75% of the occupied Palestinian territory.

When Sean Barron is asked if Israel has a right to exist, he replies, “No, it has as right to coexist.” 

Israel, he charged, is imposing “a matrix of control” on the Palestinians in the West Bank.  They are surrounded by checkpoints, settlers, restricted roads, and roads accessible to Palestinians that lack exists to their villages.  A variety of passes are also required for travel. 

The trio was introduced to a Palestinian farmer who experienced ongoing attacks on his olive groves by settlers stealing trees, burning them, and cutting them.  They also steal the crops. 

They were also told of night-time raids by masked soldiers in Bil’in, when children are deliberately awoken and people beaten.  This is the town of frequent demonstrations against the wall.  The Israeli Supreme Court ordered the moving of the separation wall years ago, but it still stands while another is being built closer to the Green Line border.  The new location will give farmers greater–but still not complete–access to their farmland. 

Purvis discussed international law as it relates to the Palestinians and Israel.  Under international law, it is illegal to acquire territory by force, whether the military action is offensive or defensive. Those living in occupied territory have the right to self-determination. International law also prohibits the transfer of populations to occupied territory.  He noted that there are over half a million Jews who have been settled in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem. International law provides for the right of return, also binding on Israel. 

Well, Purvis asked, playing devil’s advocate, why can’t the Palestinians concede some more land to gain peace with Israel?  He pointed out that there are 2,345,000 West Bank Palestinians in 2,180 square miles.  Gaza has 1.8 million in 140 square miles. East Jerusalem is 27 square miles.  By comparison, Ottawa is 2,053.4 square miles and Prince Edward Island 2,194.57 square miles.  Looking at those figures, Palestinians simply do not have that much more to give. 

On returning to Canada, Barron found himself seething with rage and frustration from his trip, and Purvis found that his blood pressure had risen considerably.  Their trip was not a vacation.

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