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Missing the Point: Palestinian Resistance and the Irrelevance of International Debate

Emily Windelstein
Date Published: 
September 14, 2004
    “I want the land because it’s my land; I have the right to reach my land. At least, if the Israelis are able to build the Wall, which I will see in front of me everyday when I look from my home’s window, I want to remember that I tried to do something to stop it…even if I couldn’t in the end. “The people in the village want their land because it is all which is left after the occupation confiscation stole most of our land in 1948. The Wall will leave us with nothing. Everybody is angry, but anger is not enough – something should be done too. After this Intifada, there is no living sources left but this land. We are a poor village – the school teacher is the richest. What do you expect the situation of the others to be? The Israelis make us feel helpless in front of their machines and guns. “The more we feel helpless, the more we feel angry. We are doing nothing. We just sit on our lands, they come and shoot tear gas, beat us with their batons and shoot bullets at us. Every night they come to our houses and arrest people. They are trying to suppress the people’s resistance, but the more the Wall comes near our lands, where thousands of ancient olive trees will be uprooted, the more we become insistent on stopping them.” —Wafa’, a 25-year-old woman from Budrus, southwest Ramallah

On July 9, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague declared in an advisory opinion, 14 votes to 1 (American, of course), that the Apartheid Wall being built on Palestinian lands in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is illegal according to international humanitarian and human rights law. While this is a welcome opinion, particularly in light of the near absence of strong public criticism of the Israeli occupation and its related colonialist crimes, the ICJ’s opinion is neither shocking nor the most relevant to be amplified in this struggle. Palestinians have been mobilized against the Wall from within their villages and on their lands for over two years, since before construction of the Wall ever began. By turning to a legal institution, in the face of an already illegal occupation, and by failing to fully recognize the daily resistance of Palestinian people on the ground, the international community misses the point – Palestinians are not resisting the Apartheid Wall in order to get recognition from institutions that have repeatedly failed them, their resistance is about their existence – the cultural, spiritual and physical existence of the Palestinian people. Since the earliest maps appeared and Palestinian communities first began to experience the devastation caused by construction on the Apartheid Wall, the people of Palestine have been mobilizing against it in vehement opposition, recognizing that the Wall is nothing more than another colonialist land and resource grab on the part of Zionist forces. The Apartheid Wall, made up of concrete slabs up to 9 meters high in some places, razor wire, electrical fencing, ditches, trenches, roads, sensors and surveillance devices is the latest mechanism of ethnic cleansing being imposed by Israeli occupation forces. If it is built to completion, the Wall will annex more than 50% of West Bank lands, while some 40% of Palestinians will either be separated from their lands or be isolated from the rest of the West Bank. As it rips through the West Bank, the Wall aims to annex all major settlement blocs and confiscate natural resources, such as land and water, while also targeting Palestinian economic focal points in what can only be perceived as an attempt to strangle Palestinian livelihood and force migration through the cutting off of trade, jobs and urban growth potential. The Wall separates Palestinians from their schools, places of worship, health facilities, markets, jobs, water and sanitation resources and families. The Wall inflicts a dangerous and brutal form of Apartheid on the people of Palestine, imposing oppressive economic, political and racially based separation designed to inhibit development, growth and ultimately Palestinian existence. Clearly a racist device, it encloses Palestinians into ghettos in which all entrances and exits are controlled by the oppressive occupying force; its path deliberately confiscates resources for exploitation by Israeli settlers and those living west of the Green line, while planning for expanded settlement colonization. The Wall is undoubtedly another attempt to establish irreversible demographic and physical boundaries in Palestine through the annexation of illegal settlements and the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their land. By nature, the Apartheid Wall threatens all viable Palestinian stability, self determination, freedom of movement and the establishment of any Palestinian state as they would choose to define it. Popular resistance In response to the racist and colonial project of the Apartheid Wall, Palestinian communities have been actively mobilizing in popular resistance, making it widely known that they are unwilling to accept the Wall and any policies associated with its implementation. The strongest mobilizations have come on the lands of those facing destruction by occupation bulldozers, razing land for the Wall’s path. Throughout the West Bank, in all areas where the Wall’s devastation has threatened Palestinian communities, resistance has been consistent, taking many forms, though not wavering in the goal of bringing the Wall down. In numerous cases, Palestinians have physically opposed occupation forces, with only their bodies and perhaps some rocks, against M16s, bulldozers, batons and other occupation weaponry. In other cases, the people have refused to leave their lands and homes marked for demolition or isolation, while countless numbers of Palestinians and their allies have taken to the streets in mass protest, despite inevitable retribution from occupation forces. Additionally, there have also been several actions of collective resistance to the Apartheid Wall and its policies through solidarity, legal and organizational appeals, exhibitions, forums, conferences, hunger strikes and any other means available. The primary actors involved in resistance to the Apartheid Wall are the local Palestinian villagers, farmers and workers whose lands and livelihoods are threatened by the Wall. For these people, who are used to rising before dawn to tend to their land, herd their sheep or harvest their crops, they now find themselves rising early to confront occupation bulldozers and soldiers who come armed with tear gas, live- and rubber-coated ammunition, sound grenades and the might of the occupation system which fails to hold soldiers accountable for any violence they inflict on demonstrators. Resistance from villagers in Budrus, like Wafa’, marked an important point in the struggle against the Apartheid Wall’s second phase. The defiance expressed by the people of Budrus, starting in November 2003, drew national and international attention, forcing the issue of the Wall into public debate, as women, men and children resisted with such vigor that, for several days, occupation forces were unable to work. During the course of protest in Budrus alone, over 100 Palestinians were injured and more than a dozen people were arrested. In Zawiya village, west of Salfit, occupation forces began their destruction in early June, and again, villagers went to protect their lands and defy the Wall’s construction. Many women, young men and children were able to find their way to their lands, even as they were surrounded by occupation military forces. The people sat in front of the bulldozers, unable to witness and allow the destruction of their lands and their lives. Rabiha Youssef from Zawiya explains, “We confronted the occupation forces with our bodies. We told them that we are not going to let them uproot our trees which we’ve raised like our children. My niece, who is not ten yet, stood in front of the bulldozers and told the occupation soldiers that this is our land, and told them to go back from where they came. My mother is sixty years old, she refused to stay in the house while they were uprooting our trees, and she came to the lands and put herself in the way of the bulldozer.” Zawiya is located in the western section of Salfit district and the village has been targeted continuously over the last 37 years with land confiscations. Occupation forces have confiscated 7,000 dunums of the village’s lands, 2,000 of which were used to construct “Elkana” settlement. Yet more land was confiscated for the construction of Israeli bypass roads and another 500 dunums were seized for an occupation military camp. The Wall around Zawiya will run in close proximity to the houses of the village and if completed, Zawiya, along with Deir Ballut and Rafat will be isolated in a ghetto, separated from the rest of Salfit in order to annex the settlements of Peduel, Ale Zahav and Brukhin. Of course, Zawiya and Budrus represent only two examples out of the far too many villages which have been forced to face down occupation forces trying to salvage their livelihoods out of the devastation of the Apartheid Wall. In community after community, throughout the West Bank, resistance has been surging on the ground and in the lands to tear the Wall down and reject all of its political implications. Focal point Biddu was a focal point of resistance, witnessing massive demonstrations on the land and drawing the issue of the Wall’s colonial devastation to a more public forum, unfortunately due in large part to the murder of 6 Palestinians demonstrators by occupation forces. In April, as villagers in Biddu continued their resistance – fighting to reach their lands each day for weeks despite the aggressive tactics of occupation forces – a popular meeting with community members from Jenin and Qalqiliya was organized by the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. The meeting offered a forum for popular committees from the northern villages (where the Wall has already been completed) to offer their solidarity to the people of Biddu. The Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign was formed in October 2002 by several local nongovernmental organizations in response to the oppressive measures of the Apartheid Wall and the immediate impact it was having on Palestinian lives, property and future. It has unified local councils, NGOs and community members into approximately 60 popular committees throughout the West Bank. The Campaign takes a strong and uncompromising position against this racist colonial project and has put forward the following demands: the immediate cessation of the building of the Wall, the dismantling of all parts of the Wall and its related zones already built, the return of lands confiscated for the path of the Wall, and the compensation of damages and lost income due to the destruction of land and property in addition to the restitution of land. All Campaign efforts are directed toward achieving these goals by supporting local communities in their resistance to the Wall. Even in communities where the Wall has been built, the people continue to resist. For example, in Jayyus – where 72% of the village’s lands have been isolated, robbing over 300 people of their only source of income – the Wall was “completed” in late 2003. Nonetheless, the people relentlessly mobilize in resistance to the Wall, burning surveillance cameras, cutting the wires of the Wall’s fencing and breaking the gates open in order to fight their way to their isolated lands. In addition, many efforts were made to keep their lands by building sheds and literally camping out on the land, though these efforts were eventually crushed by occupation forces. Many of the villagers in Jayyus also refused the use of occupation permits as they were seen to legitimize the Wall and its policies. Legal argument Though the mainstream has taken a somewhat renewed interest in the Apartheid Wall in light of two recent legal proceedings – one in the Israel High Court and the other from the International Court of Justice – it is essential to remain skeptical, particularly as these events have the potential to radically compromise grassroots struggle. On June 30, the Israeli High Court ruled that 30 kilometers of the Wall’s path through villages northwest of Jerusalem must be “shifted” in order to accommodate humanitarian concerns of the Palestinians while also minding Israeli “security.” While this decision was portrayed in the media as a “victory” for the Palestinians, it was in fact anything but. Was it really expected that the judicial body of the occupying power would function outside of its own political institutions? In actuality, the ruling plays directly into the hands of the occupation administration by legitimizing the Israeli claim that the Wall is about “security” while solidifying the position that the Wall can indeed be built on Palestinian land. The ruling also gave Israel a good face in the public eye, which worked to its advantage after the ICJ ruling only 10 days later. The High Court ruling was Israel’s way of saying, “See, we’re a good democracy – we can take care of ourselves – no need for any of that International Court business…” Of course, it is hard to sell the democracy of a racist occupation state built on stolen lands where half the native population has been forcibly expelled and the other is trapped in bantustans. As for the ICJ advisory opinion on the Wall, until the international community rises to the occasion with a widespread boycott, sanctions on aid and an arms embargo, it is simply another opinion from an institution that has failed the Palestinians too many times. As with the numerous UN resolutions that have come before – declaring the illegality of the occupation, settlements and the Wall – the decision will mean nothing on the ground as long as the UN, the EU and the rest of the international community place their allegiance to global “powers” (namely the United States and Israel) over the rights of the Palestinians. Ultimately, by directing the public eye away from Palestinian popular resistance and manipulating the reality of the Wall behind false pretenses and legal jargon, we fail the people of Zawiya, Biddu, Budrus and every other Palestinian community that is battling for existence in the Wall’s path. The struggle against the Wall can not, and will not, wait for the overhaul of a failed international system of justice – it is only by highlighting and supporting the resistance of Palestinian communities on the ground, from and by Palestinians, will we see the fall of the Apartheid Wall. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Emily Winkelstein is a volunteer with the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, .