By Chris Hedges
The last hope of halting Israel’s steady ghettoization of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and calculated destruction of the Palestinian economy is the imposition of sanctions against Israel, especially the revoking of the $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. If we allow Israel to complete its massive $2-billion project to ring Palestinians in militarized, pod-like encampments in Gaza and the West Bank with security barriers, walls and electric fences, we will condemn Israel and the Palestinians to endless cycles of violence that could ultimately, given the mounting rage and despair that grip the Middle East, doom the Jewish state.
There is little dispute about the illegality of Israel’s actions. The International Court of Justice has called on Israel to dismantle the security barrier under construction in the West Bank and asked outside states not to render any aid or assistance to the infrastructure. But this call has been ignored, although even the U.S. State Department has gently admonished Israel for its behavior. The U.S. loans that make the barrier and expansion of Jewish settlements possible were granted with the stipulation that if the Israeli government used the funds to build housing and infrastructure beyond the 1967 border known as the Green Line these funds would be deducted from the loans. In April 2003, when Congress authorized the $9 billion in loan guarantees for Israel it said that the loans could be used “only to support activities in the geographic areas which were subject to the administration of the Government of Israel before June 5, 1967.” The legislation warned that the loan guarantees shall be reduced “for activities which the President determines are inconsistent with the objectives and understandings reached between the United States and Israel regarding the implementation of the loan guarantee program.” The State Department, acknowledging the misuse of the money, has made a symbolic deduction in the amount handed to the Israeli government and reduced the loan guarantees by $289.5 million. But unless there is heavy pressure brought on Israel soon the project will be completed, made possible by Washington’s complicity and a callous disregard for justice.
Israel is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars, some reports say as much as half a billion yearly, into its colonization of the West Bank. Since 1967, Israel has spent more than $10 billion on its settlements, and the total estimated cost for the snaking security barrier, which slices deep into the West Bank and connects with settlements and security roads to create pod-like Palestinian ghettos, is at least $1.5 billion. The barrier is being used not only to annex Palestinian land but give Israel control of Palestinian aquifers and at least 40,000 acres of Palestinian farmland. It has devastated Palestinian communities, often cutting them in half or denying farmers access to farmland. Travel, even between communities on the West Bank, has become difficult, especially for men, and many have lost their jobs, plunging with their families into squalor and despair.
The spate of deadly attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel gave Israel the right to impose draconian measures. A barrier running along the 1949 armistice/Green Line, which demarcates the boundary between Israel and Palestinian-held territory, was Israel’s prerogative. But the barrier is being used as an excuse to seize Palestinian land, with 80 percent of the barrier cutting into Palestinian territory, often as deeply as 20 kilometers. The barrier, which costs about $1 million per mile, will eventually be 703 miles long. About 450 miles of the barrier are finished or under construction. When it is done the Palestinians in the West Bank, like those in Gaza, will be caged like animals, with little ability to move, even to neighboring towns, find work or live beyond a subsistence level.
The assault on Palestinian society has been accompanied by an alarming increase in Israeli attacks against Palestinians, including the current Israeli offensive in Gaza. Fifteen tank shells landed this month in the town of Beit Hanoun, killing 19 people and wounding 40. Four women and nine children were among the dead. Two Palestinians were killed Saturday as Israel continued airstrikes and ground operations against suspected militant positions in the Gaza Strip, all coming a day after the U.N. General Assembly urged an end to the escalating violence.
Israeli leaders, angered over Palestinian rocket attacks, have dismissed calls for restraint, with far-right cabinet minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and other militant leaders to be sent to “paradise.”
When Yasir Arafat agreed to end his exile to return to Gaza, swallow his pride and formally recognize Israel’s right to exist, when he turned his Fatah fighters into a collaboration police force in the West Bank and Gaza, he was broke. The communist states that had once bankrolled him had collapsed. He was humbled to the Oslo peace accord, under which he took the bitter pill of accommodation with his detested Zionist enemy. Unless Israel too feels pressure it will never seek accommodation with the Palestinians, relying instead on increasing forms of repression and mounting violence. These measures, depriving Palestinians of hope and dignity, are the fuel of radical movements and ensure not peace but unending war. Israel has ignored the terms stipulated for the U.S. loan guarantees, and so we have a choice—to uphold our own demands and international law or be a party to Israeli policies that will lead to an unraveling of the region’s stability.
AP Photo / Nasser Nasser
A foreign peace activist holds on to a fence in front of Israeli security forces in riot gear during a protest against the construction of Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bil’in near Ramallah in 2005.