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November 10, 2010

Apartheid Israel: An eye witness account

Reuel S. Amdur

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Israel calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East, but you would not know it from what happens in the West Bank, according to Ala Jaradat. Jaradat, the program manager for Addameer, a Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, was addressing the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Group on November 1 on Parliament Hill. Addameer assists prisoners from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.

Jaradat described police-state conditions in the West Bank.  There are many aspects of the oppression.  For example, there is a literary censorship.  Among the authors banned is Nobel laureate Naguib Mafouz.  Other measures are economic.

There is the problem of land seizures. 

When land is confiscated a closed military zone can be declared.  There is a buffer area set along the boundary, on the Palestinian’s side of the boundary.  If a farmer attempts to farm in the buffer area, he may be arrested.  After a certain number of years, the fallow buffer area is declared abandoned, under old Ottoman law, and the boundary is moved, with a new buffer established.  The process can continue. So farmers may end up in prison for violating the rules and cultivating their own land.

The situation of the farmer who is separated by the wall from his land is similar.  Use it or lose it, but using it can be difficult.  To go beyond the wall requires a permit.  The permit is expensive and can be revoked at any time. 

In the Occupied West Bank, there are two laws, one for Palestinians and one for Israelis.  Thus, when arrests were made at a demonstration against the Apartheid Wall at Bil’in, the Palestinians were charged under military law, while their Israeli allies were charged under Israeli law.  Thus, the law is not based on geography.  “It is racial,” he charged.

Jaradat said that all organizations in the West Bank are forbidden by military regulation, not just political organizations but even social and professional organizations.  Thus, there can be no medical or pharmaceutical organization and no student organization. 

As a result of the extremely restrictive environment in the West Bank, some 20% of the population (750,000 to 800,000) have suffered arrest and detention–60 to 70% of the men. 

Currently, there are around 6,180 political prisoners.  Remember, this includes the farmers cultivating in buffer zones.  212 are in administrative detention, without charge, including four women and two minors under 18.  Administrative detention is based on secret information that someone is a threat to security, and it can be imposed for one to six months and can be renewed.

37 of the detainees are women and 264 are minors, 32 under 16.  Nine are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.  691 are from Gaza, including four labeled as unlawful combatants.  The Gazans have had no family visits or phone calls for four years.  200 prisoners are from East Jerusalem, a growing contingent because of the ongoing displacement of Palestinians.  All prisoners are incarcerated in Israel.

Family visits are severely restricted.  Those who may apply are spouses, parents, grandparents, and children under 16 or over 48.  “It is very rare,” he said, “for all who apply to be granted.  It is usually one or none.”  Visits are for half an hour, through glass.  The travel and the waiting to have one’s turn and then for the bus back, along with the multiple extensive searches, mean that the process can take 20 to 24 hours from the time of leaving home to the time of return.

The courts that the Palestinians face are military courts.  The Israeli army commander is the governor of the area.  He issues the military orders, currently some 1650 of them.  For example, you need a permit to dig a well.  The commander appoints the military prosecutors, the judge, the court reporter, and the translators.  Courts are conducted in Hebrew. 

Addameer has found the situation virtually insurmountable.  Their current strategy is to bring in observers from foreign parliaments, and that step has improved trials somewhat, he reported.

Jaradat gave some examples of charges.  One case was that of a teacher who took part in the demonstrations at Bil’in against the Apartheid Wall.  He was charged with incitement and being in possession of weapons.  The details: He had told the youngsters taking part in the protest, “Don’t let the Israelis shoot you.”  As for the arms, he was in possession of used shells and tear gas canisters which he was taking for an exhibition for international visitors. 

Canada also came in for criticism.

Jaradat noted that an Israeli living in the West Bank in a settlement close to his home can hop on a plane to Canada and pick up a visa on arrival.  He had to go to Amman to apply for a visa. So Canada is also guilty of racism in the West Bank. 

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