New peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have focused on security arrangements. Yet for ordinary Palestinians in the occupied territories, human rights should top the agenda.
- The Tablet
The West Bank is a place of barriers: tall walls of stone, concrete or wood panels topped with barbed wire and electrified wire fences of the kind used to confine animals. Across stony fields of red-brown soil stretch deep ditches, mounds of earth and coils of barbed wire. The Israelis say the barriers are needed for security but their effect is to confine the Palestinians to ever-shrinking portions of land.
Along gleaming highways barred to Palestinians are scenes of construction as new Jewish settlements are created or existing ones enlarged. Less visible from the main roads are images of destruction; heaps of rubble and corrugated iron left behind after Palestinian homes built on Palestinian land have been demolished.
There is a scene of utter desolation in the rural village of Tal Al Smadi in the Jordan Valley, where a Palestinian family of eight sheltered under sheets of plastic held up by metal poles beside the twisted metal and broken concrete that was once their house. The youngest child, a boy of two, kicked dust and chased the lambs.
The owner of the house, Huzan Drajmeh, related how just over a week earlier, around 200 soldiers of the IDF – the Israel Defense Forces – had arrived to enforce a demolition order. He said the soldiers had also destroyed shelters for the family’s sheep, making it hard for the animals to survive the freezing nights.
It was, he explained, the seventh time the house had been demolished since the family first built it in 1983. Demolition orders have been served on 38 other houses in the village, which like all of the rural areas of the West Bank is designated 'Area C', bringing it under the control of the Israeli Government.
Hazaa Shaban, vice chairman of a local farming cooperative, put the situation thus: 'The Israelis are fighting us, but it is not a conventional war with weapons. They are depriving us of water and fertiliser for our crops and taking our land. We are being forced to become cheap hands for Israeli farmers.'
The Jordan Valley was one of the areas I visited during a trip organised for journalists by Christian Aid to highlight the work of its partners supporting the Palestinians living there.
Earlier this year, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an Israeli Government document that puts the Palestinian population of the West Bank at 2.5 million. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip began after it seized the territories in the Six Day War of 1967. In 2004, the International Court of Justice advised that Israel’s occupation is in violation of international law.