Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bureaucratic Violence

We have the full right to build in it. We built in Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem and we will continue to build in Jerusalem,"- Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

This was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post yesterday. The article referred to his comments after being criticized by members of the international community for the illegal settlements Israel has built and continues to build in East Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.

Yesterday, our day was like that of zoom camera (to quote Mike) with us starting out in the Old City visiting many of the Holy Sites (such as al-Aqsa mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall) and then focusing in further on Jerusalem learning about the zoning laws and military mandates that create an apartheid system between Israeli's and Palestinians. We then ended the day visiting a Palestinian family with a heartbreaking story of having been evicted from their home multiple times, harassed and humiliated over and over again,. So we started from the wider view, a similar one to the 3.5 million tourists who visit Jerusalem annually, many making pilgrimage to the various holy sites. But then our gaze became more focused. After about 2-3 hours of walking around the Old City and learning of the political fights between various religions and sects within those religions, such as how all the Christians sects who use the Church of the Holy Sepulchre fight so much over who gets to hold the key that they had to give it to a Muslim to open and unlock it everyday, we began to look into "divisions" of land, or walls, of our ideas of each other.

With Netanyahu's comment and policies outlined above, he speaks to an attitude similar to Manifest Destiny in the United States. The song I grew up singing in gradeschool came to mind..."You land is my land is your land your land..." errr....well, actually, you're land is your land within the restrictions of what I think your land should be. It became clear that this is the sentiment of the government of Israel in regards to  Palestinians' right to land and existence.
What is the reality on the ground of his comment.?
Well here you go:
1967 all of the West Bank and the Gaza strip became under Israeli control, including East Jerusalem.  In their occupation they control water, the economy (there are many trade, travel, and food taxes on Palestinian goods) and the ability for Palestinians to build homes, schools and travel to visit family who live just beyond the wall. The separation wall runs right through Palestinian communities making it illegal for family and friends to visit each other today. They say it is for security but I don't understand why hundreds of thousands of people have to be punished on a daily basis because of the choice of a few to resort to violence.

 Usually when we think of violence, we think of bombs, shooting, stabbing, hitting, fighting etc. But what of the strangling of your life forces?  What are most peoples' life forces? Most likely we will name things like a home, food, water, ability to earn an income, family etc. Thus, what I want to make clear is that the government of Israel uses bureaucratic violence towards the Palestinians everyday by making basic life necessities virtually impossible.

Citizenship: If you were in East Jerusalem you are an Israeli resident but not a citizen. If you do not live in your house and can prove that East Jerusalem is "your center of life" you lose your residency and have to move outside of East Jerusalem economic livilihood and hardship are much worse. There are 66,000 Palestinians in this situation and there is a housing shortage, especially with the separation wall, that does not follow the municipal boundaries, cutting through communities.\

To build, you have to have a permit. You can only get a permit if your Planning Unit has a Master Plan by the City Government. The City Government only has Master Plans for 1-3% of East Jerusalem.   Their argument for not creating more Master Plans, is because the debate around one-state  and two-state still is in the air and they don't want to support building plans if it could become the Palestinian Authority capital "anyday". "Andyday" has been over 50 years. This is systematic discrimination.

To top that, even if you can apply for a permit, it costs about $20,000  to just apply! So then the Israeli government and military comes and bulldozes your house cause if you build it, they say its illegal, but they make it pretty much impossible for anyone to build!

Then, there is also the reality that if they don't bulldoze it, they evict you, forcibly within a 14 day notice and allow for extremist Zionist settlers to come into your house! The family we met with who is part of a larger coalition against these housing occupations, occupations by settlers that are supported by the government, told us their story about getting evicted at 5am, put out on the street without time to change, and then within 30 mins....30 minutes  the settlers came with their truck and moved in ...right in front of them. The Palestinian family then lived in a tent on the street and 17 times the police came and tore down their tent, took all their belongings and gave them a fine for having a tent in a public place. 17 times. Systematic.

Now, they live in a house, that half of it got confiscated by the government and settlers live there part time and harass the family making sexual advances to the women and sending trained dogs out that harass and bite them when they try and leave their house. It sound surreal doesn't it? Most Israeli's are not to this extreme  I have to make that very, very clear. However, it is important that there are also many Israelis that do not hold their government accountable for these systematic oppressive policies done in their name for "security".
This is very similar to our own ignorance of what happens in poor communities in the U.S. We normalize it, justify it through racist and classist assumptions of people. I also need to re-iterate...this is systematic. These settlers have FULL support of the police and they often have police posts created in the front of their "new" apartment buildings to escort them in and out of the building. The government send police to protect only them even though they are the one who are enacting violence. They are kicking people out of their homes and harassing them.
The "reason" for this was because supposedly they didn't have the right papers or house deeds. They had house deeds, but they were from when East Jerusalem was under the authority of Jordan. For some reason, Israel doesn't recognize deeds from that time even though they were legal by international law. This is just a taste, of the court and bureaucratic loopholes that the Israel government has created to systematically force Palestinians out of Jerusalem so they can not only annex Jerusalem  but the West Bank as well. Currently 15,000-20,000 homes are facing eviction or demolition out of a population of 300,000 in East Jerusalem  70% live in poverty due to the inablilty to find jobs (there are huge amounts of discrimination against Palestinians trying to find jobs in Israel.)
They can also lose rights to their homes if they don't pay bills or lose their residency...but if the government isn't helping them create and find can they pay them?

The Israeli government also controls the water and says they "can't afford" to  connect most of the houses into the  water system since so many of the "illegally" built houses are connected without permission and use up too much water. However, as soon as a major settler apartment complexes are built, supported by the government and funded by overseas money, they have water immediately.

And this is for security? How is this keeping people safe? This is systematic oppression. The Israeli government holds all of the control and these policies do not happen at this scale, at this frequency, for Israeli citizens.

We get easily caught in conversations that talk about listening to both sides. I believe though  that when power and access to power, (political, military, economical etc) is deeply one sided...we should pay extra attention to the experiences and policies impacting the marginalized and be more critical of the authority.

Many of us are taught that being an engaged, critically reflective citizen means to be willing and able to question authority. These facts and experiences above are more food for thought when approaching this situation. Israel is the authority in more ways than one and we should be critical, just as we should be critical of the U.S., Britain and other major powers that have historically imbalanced the global plane of power. Israel however, in its most recent modern nation state form, is a recent form of global power and influence, much at the cost of Palestinian lives.

The next day we visited with some Israelis, which I will talk more about in the next post along with a Palestinian refugee camp.

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