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5 disturbing facts about living under occupation

August 22, 2016 at 11:36 am

I waited in the long queue at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, having shaved my beard so that the security officers would not stigmatise me as a “terrorist”. Unfortunately, carrying a Turkish passport is quite disadvantageous at airports these days. I was interrogated for half an hour and consider myself lucky; some of my colleagues have been held for more than 6 hours.

“Do you want to leave Palestine?”

On this trip I was fortunate indeed, for I arrived in Palestine just one day before the calamitous terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, from where I had left my country. Not only that, but since my departure from Turkey there has also been a failed coup attempt, which was followed by the declaration of a state of emergency. I found myself trying frantically to follow the news from Turkey, while also making sense of what living “under occupation” in Palestine actually means.

“Do you want to go back to your country?” one of my Palestinian friends asked, knowing that some of my secular-minded Turkish friends want to leave the country, where the government is apparently increasingly authoritarian post-coup. “Do you want to leave Palestine?” I responded, leaving his question unanswered. “I want to leave, but I think I will not.”

As a well-known quote from a Turkish movie goes, “Why does someone love his country? Because he does not have any other choice.” I cannot imagine how difficult and emotionally taxing it must be for him as a Palestinian to have to pass through checkpoints every day in his own country. Even one bad experience at a checkpoint was more than enough for me to have at least a basic understanding of the inhumane restrictions that the Israelis place on free movement.

While travelling with my colleagues to the other side of the “Separation Wall” (more appropriately called the “Annexation Wall”) in order to visit one of the Bedouin villages that the Israeli authorities want to demolish because of so-called “security concerns”, two fully armed Israeli soldiers got on the bus and checked our passports and IDs. Although the passengers were from various parts of the world, the soldiers — surprise, surprise — only asked the Turks and Palestinians to get off. They searched our belongings and interrogated us briefly. Eventually they let us go, except for one of my Palestinian colleagues. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank must have a temporary permit to travel to the other side of the Wall and although my friend had a valid permit for every day of the week, the commander at the checkpoint did not let him through on the basis that “it was Saturday”; he used his discretionary power to violate my friend’s basic human right to free movement. Unfortunately, the checkpoint was in the middle of nowhere and because my friend did not want us to stay with him, he ended up walking for more than 2 miles in the desert heat before hitchhiking to the nearest village.

“Welcome to the club!” he told me cheerfully while repacking his bag at the checkpoint. This is a common attitude amongst Palestinians who maintain their positive outlook despite the gross injustices inflicted upon them. They can still laugh at their situation. Maybe this is one of the few things left for them to rely on. For example, I met an elderly refugee at the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. Hajj Abu Sabri had to flee from his village in the aftermath of the Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948. Now he has to live in a camp, where the inhabitants suffer from the lack of even basic services. He is still hopeful that one day he will be able to return to his village. “I am older than the state of Israel,” he laughed.

Five disturbing facts

Although visitors are shocked by what they see in occupied Palestine, daily life goes on, albeit under extreme circumstances. Here are five disturbing facts about life under occupation; it is not a comprehensive or definitive list:

  1. Water is essential for life. However, the Israeli authorities implement a water-apartheid regime in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), in which Palestinians have limited access to water resources in their own land. The Palestinian consumption of water was approximately 79 litres per capita per day in the West Bank in 2014, which is well below the WHO minimum recommended 100 litres per capita per day for domestic use. Israel also confiscates water springs, which are used for irrigation and recreational purposes. Thirty of the springs are under full control of illegal Jewish settlers, with no Palestinian access to the area. Moreover, Palestinians have only partial access to the Dead Sea coastline, and even then are often not allowed to go there.
  2. The “no taxation without representation” principle has been violated with the Israeli ID system, instituted to restrict where Palestinians can live and their political participation. Around 300,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians cannot vote for the Israeli parliament and lack basic public amenities despite the fact that they are subject to taxation by the state. Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem is still illegal according to international law.
  3. Israel implements a de facto annexation policy through its settlements. There are approximately 125 government-sanctioned and 100 unofficial settlements in the West Bank, which host over half-a-million settlers in the OPT. This is illegal under international law as per Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In addition to infringing further upon Palestinian rights, these settlements exploit Palestinian resources. The Israeli government estimates that the value of goods produced in settlements located in the West Bank and exported to Europe is approximately $300 million per annum. Besides economic exploitation, Israeli settlers regularly attack Palestinians and their properties physically without facing any criminal charges.
  4. Freedom of movement is violated constantly. Israel has segregated road systems so that Palestinians are prohibited from driving on more than 65 km of roads in the West Bank, which are restricted for the sole use of Jewish settlers. Apart from hundreds of temporary roadblocks which spring up on an ad hoc basis, there are 99 fixed checkpoints in the West Bank. Furthermore, the 712 kilometre-long Annexation Wall is the embodiment of the Israeli occupation. Around 85 per cent of the Wall has been built on occupied territory, rather than on the Israeli side of the internationally recognised Armistice (the “Green”) Line.
  5. Israel has restricted the Palestinian mobile communications sector for years, and banned Palestinian providers from offering 3G internet, citing ubiquitous security concerns. Internet service in the occupied West Bank remains among the slowest in the world.

“I love Turkey!”

I felt at home in Palestine. Saying “I’m from Turkey” was the key to be treated as a fellow citizen there. “I love Turkey!” and “I love Erdogan!” are possibly the two sentences that I heard most in my daily conversations with locals. In this sense, carrying a Turkish passport is a privilege in Palestine. The Palestinians are one of the few nations to have expressed their solidarity with Turkey and its people following July’s failed coup attempt, by rallying on the streets and carrying Turkish flags.

“You have been here for more than two months,” my Palestinian friend told me. “Do you want to leave Palestine?”

“No,” I replied without hesitation, “I do not want to leave, but I have to.”

I love my country.

I love Palestine.

And I do not have any other choice.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.