Nina Gora tells of her experiences in the West Bank and questions the legitimacy of the Israeli position.
Imagine not ever being able to leave York. Not being able to travel to another town for work or even to visit friends and family. If ever you were issued with a ‘pass’ to leave – a rare and momentous occasion – then you would be travelling, trembling with fear, through numerous checkpoints. Soldiers with machine guns watching and restricting your every move from watchtowers and tanks whilst they swagger through the streets, fully armed.
This is a daily reality for almost 1.4 million Palestinians (the number of Palestinian Arab inhabitants in the 1967 occupied West Bank and Gaza strip). However, what I experienced in just a month was part of the torment shared by the 345,000 people who live in the overpopulated refugee camps dotted around the occupied territories which are separated by illegal settlements. During my time there I saw and heard things I never imagined I would ever be exposed to, things we would never imagine happening in today’s world. This I found shocking, especially when you consider that it is done at the hands of solders of a country viewed by some to be the beacon of democracy in the Middle East. I was forced to watch while my Palestinian friends were kicked and hit with weapons; never flinching, because the humiliation was enough on its own, without the added shame of showing their weakness.
Children in front of the controversial West Bank Wall
In the camp, we were subject to the constant presence of the nine metre high concrete wall, designed to segregate the population. Watchtowers – tall concrete instruments of intimidation that make up part of the wall every hundred metres or so – contain soldiers surveilling you from the inbuilt slits in the concrete. Within your own town, you feel and see a constant military presence. Soldiers have settled on annexed land, building beautiful and ostentatious housing, a contrast to the makeshift domiciles of Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1948. For the majority of us, occupying another’s land and then building on it is illegal, and according to international law this is supported by numerous regulations.
Children are also often the victims of the violence that occurs between the two conflicting sides. As I was teaching in a school for children I took some children on a school trip, an experience which was nothing like my memories of my school days. At the checkpoint the Israeli soldiers asked the whole bus load of children to leave the bus. We stood outside, silent as commanded, as the four soldiers walked up and down in front of us, analysing us like goods at the local cattle market.
Our documents were taken and then our names were called one by one. I was not overly patient, knowing full well that often whenever you leave one town to go to another the process of passing check points can take hours. When my turn came, I had become pretty irate, and so when I was asked whether I was British I responded with a terse “Yes, unfortunately. My country supplies your weapons” at which the two soldiers laughed, saying “Yes, yes it does”. Needless to say my feelings of pride for my country reached a new low, considering that these guns were being pointed at children and toddlers standing in the blistering heat.
In my opinion, this is what terrorising a population really is. I experienced first hand the unrelenting restriction of movement, the watchtowers from which soldiers can fire at any moment and the humiliation through physical and mental oppression. In short, this is what has become daily life in an occupied territory.
We have learnt to associate terrorism with individual actions that take place on sacred western soil. While these actions are horrific and indeed a form of terrorism, there is another kind of terrorism occuring on a daily basis in the occupied territories . This involves people living in a constant situation of well-founded fear because nothing in their daily lives is free from their personal awareness of the army’s presence.
In Hebron, West Bank, 400 settlers are protected by 2,000 soldiers. This kind of terrorism should surely warrant greater media coverage, and yet it seems to be considered as almost unworthy of our attention.