Eamonn McCann: How America turns a blind eye to apartheid in the Middle East
Even as the noose tightens on the people of Palestine, Binyamin Netanyahu has the neck to talk about peace.
The Israeli Prime Minister has been in London for discussions with Gordon Brown and US envoy George Mitchell. Back in the Middle East, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians continues. There is no sign of Britain or America acknowledging this fact or calling it by its name.
As they listen over the airwaves to the discourse from London, the Palestinians must be close to the edge of despair. The confidence of the Israelis that there’s nothing they can’t get away with, must by the same measure be boosted.
In the last three months, the Netanyahu government has introduced new restrictions on travel to the West Bank. This is the small part of Palestine supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority, but is in fact 60% controlled by the Israeli Defence Forces.
Israel is now turning back travellers who arrive at Ben Gurion airport en route for the West Bank and requires them to enter the territory by the Allenby Bridge on the border between the West Bank and Jordan. This forces many to return to their point of origin and set out again, if they can. Transit at the crossing — between an independent country into an area supposedly recognised, including by Israel, as legitimately governed by the Palestinian Authority — is controlled by the Israelis.
Officials of the Netanyahu administration stamp ‘Palestinian Authority only’ on the passports of travellers, denying them access to West Bank areas occupied by the IDF or to East Jerusalem or Israel “proper”.
A majority of those restricted in this way are Americans.
The US goes along with this curtailment on the rights of its citizens under international law. Its consular website ( http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/border-crossings.html) spells it out: “Since the spring of 2009, Israeli border officials at the Allenby border crossing have begun using a new entry visa stamp that permits travel only in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas ... Please note that only Israeli liaison offices in the West Bank can assist — but they rarely will.”
The website highlights the following warning: “Palestinian-Americans Must Enter Through Allenby.”
Palestinian-Americans are |denied entry to the larger |part of the West Bank, while Israel encourages American Jews to come and settle |illegally in the same Palestinian territory.
The acquiescence of the Americans is no surprise. When, two days after his inauguration, Obama introduced Mitchell as his peace envoy, he had nothing to say about Israel’s leading part in the prevention of peace — just as he had sung dumb about the assault on Gaza which had conveniently ended just in time for the inaugural celebrations, apart from a remark that, “If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything to stop that.”
He was referring to Israeli children. Thankfully — and, admittedly, as much by luck as by intention — not a single child was among the nine Israeli fatalities in the Gaza conflict, whereas, according to both Red Cross and UN figures, at least 300 children were among the 1,400 Palestinian dead.
Nevertheless, some of the brightest signs of hope for the Middle East come from Israelis fighting for justice for Palestinians. Neve Gordon may be about to lose his job as chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, for his support for Palestinian rights. He wrote last week: “For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea.
Within this region about six million Jews and close to five million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5m Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights.
By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel. The question that keeps me up at night is how to ensure that my two children, as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbours, do not grow up in an apartheid regime ...
It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”
And there’s Ofra Ben-Artzi. Earlier this month, she was arrested in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem while going to comfort Palestinian friends, evicted to make way for Jewish families.
She wrote: “I could see the ultra-Orthodox men and women, in their distinctive clothing, walking quietly along the road ... nor did the bars prevent me from seeing that Umm Kamel's tent, where she had been living since her own expulsion, was also gone. From the floor of the police car I saw what looked like a complete Judaisation of the neighbourhood.
“We are walking with our open eyes into the abyss. If we will not be smart enough to live together, Arabs and Jews ... then we will be dragged into transfer [of populations], and if this is not enough, what will we do then? Erect concentration camps?”