I recently returned from North Africa and Palestine. I found myself giving a talk to a group in the USA where I mentioned my trip as a way of discussing the manner in which events can unfold very rapidly. I mentioned that I had been to North Africa and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Barely had I finished speaking before an individual rose from their chair and moved toward the front of the room. When the session broke, the individual approached me and challenged my use of the term “occupied Palestinian territories,” claiming that that terminology is inflammatory and that I should have used a more neutral term like “West Bank” or “the disputed territories.”
I looked at the individual and listened to what they said. I then responded: “Well…it IS an occupation!”
It is difficult to describe the Occupied Territories. I have followed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since the June 1967 War and I have been an advocate for peace and justice for the Palestinians since the spring of 1969. I have studied countless documents, articles, speeches, etc. I have seen pictures of the so-called settlements and the apartheid separation Wall. Yet, to be honest, I still was not prepared for what I actually experienced.
I was part of a labor delegation. When we crossed from Jordan into the Occupied Territories we immediately experienced the arrogance of the Israeli occupiers.
While waiting on line to go to the first passport control I was watched by an Israeli security person. I somehow knew that this was not a good sign. When my delegation awaited clearance to actually enter the Occupied Territories this same security person came up to me and me alone (in my delegation) and proceeded to ask me all sorts of questions about the objectives of my visit. Perhaps it was my naturally curly hair, or perhaps it was that I am told that I look North African, but in any case, there was nothing approaching politeness in this exchange.
The Israelis held us at the border for about two hours for no apparent reason and then let most of my delegation through. They then held one member of my delegation – not me – for an additional hour, again for no apparent reason and without explanation or apology (when they were released).
Driving from the border to Nablus is actually quite beautiful except for a few things. You drive past these so-called settlements. You can clearly distinguish an Israeli settlement from a Palestinian village or town, both by the newness but also by the often lush character of the surroundings of the settlements. But here it is important for me to note that even the use of the term “settlement” does not convey what you see. You see, in effect, either very big farms or you see suburban communities. I don’t know about you but when I hear “settlement” I tend to think about something that can be easily disassembled. Forget that idea, my friend. These settlers have no intention of going anywhere.
This brings up another point or question of terminology. What is going on in the occupied Palestinian territories is not really an occupation; it is an annexation-in-progress. The Palestinians are being squeezed out, with the obvious Israeli hope being that they will simply give up and move out of the West Bank and go to Jordan, Lebanon, or who knows where ever, but just out of the area.
When you think about an occupation, you think about the troops of one country taking over another—which, of course, happened to the West Bank—but you do not normally think about settlers moving in, unless you are thinking about the way the United States expanded west; the manner in which Morocco took over the Western Sahara; or what we have been witnessing in Palestine.
Whatever the original ambitions of the Israelis in the aftermath of the June 1967 War, it is clear that the settlements are no longer a bargaining chip but are there as part of a process of annexation.