Oct 19 2000

Three million hostages

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The title of this article, “Three million hostages,” may surprise some, but this is actually what has happened to the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza during the past few weeks. These Palestinians have become prisoners in their own country. Movement between cities and towns was completely forbidden, as was the movement across the Jordan River bridge, the Gaza airport, and the land crossing with Egypt. Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport was also forbidden to Palestinians. This procedure was not limited to those wishing to exit but also applied to those who happened to be outside the area when this arbitrary decision was made. Unlike previous times when such radical steps were taken, the Israelis made no attempt to describe this action as a security precaution. This was collective punishment. 

And the prime minister was not even apologetic about saying to the press after the Sharm e-Sheikh summit that this siege will continue until the violence [meaning, of course, the Palestinian violence] stops. Such collective punishment is illegal according to international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention, which was created to deal specifically with prolonged occupations, banned such collective action against a civilian population.

According to Palestinian sources, this collective punishment was not restricted to the movement of Palestinians but it also included the banning – for a variety of reasons and excuses – of things like medical supplies and food supplies. Movements of medical staff and vehicles were also restricted.

One Palestinian newspaper ran a photo of four ambulances awaiting approval to enter the Jordan River crossing. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society has said that 18 ambulances weren’t working because Israeli soldiers shot at them. The Palestinian driver of the ambulance who was sent to pick up the 12-year-old boy Mohammed Aldura was killed by Israeli snipers. The supply of gasoline was also restricted, leaving many people unable to drive their cars within the city limits.  This problem was spread even to areas under full Israeli sovereignty. When I tried to put gasoline in my own car, the gas station in the northern parts of Jerusalem said that they were out of 95 octane gasoline because the Israeli trucks were afraid of coming to the Palestinian areas. The collective punishment of the Palestinian population has at least two immediate results.

It unifies the people. No longer is there poor or rich, city people or villagers, Christians or Moslems – the entire Palestinian people come together as a result of the Israeli blockade and siege. People quickly find ways to overcome the difficulties, give up on luxury items, provide first aid and other medical help, find alternative roads, and in general, share their resources.

The second result of such punishment is the dramatic rise in Palestinian aspirations for independence and statehood. At times of relative quiet, people are often divided as to the best way to move the peace process forward. While the desire for independence is always there, it becomes an urgent need when people see the way the Israeli occupation affects Palestinians, while they treat their own people, including Jewish settlers who are fragrantly breaking the law, very differently.

The way that Barak tried to make political gains out of lifting the blockade produced an angry response.  Discussions in homes often centered on the absurdity of the situation. People commented on how Israel places a blockade and then begins negotiations with the Palestinians on what it will get in return for lifting this blockade.

Such absolute disregard for a civilian population is not much different than what criminals do when they hold innocent people hostage and try to trade their release for money. The difference is that this time three million people are held hostage by a country, which claims to be a democracy.

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