An end to the occupation first
When world leaders are busy with "bringing the conflict to an end," who pays attention to the perpetuation of the occupation?
Like every year-end, once again they're promising that the next 12 months will be "a decisive year." Fact: Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that in August 2011, when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad finishes building institutions in the West Bank, the United Nations will recognize the Palestinian state.
Brazil and Argentina have already recognized a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. And most importantly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said clearly that the status quo is unacceptable to the United States; she insisted that the Israeli government put forth a map with permanent borders as soon as possible. As for me, I'll bet that next year the conflict will remain at a standstill. That's the best-case scenario. Meanwhile, the settlements will grow like mushrooms and Hamas will continue striking roots.
Fostering the illusion that the conflict is ending doesn't bring a solution closer; in fact, the focus on the final-status talks offers an alibi for deepening the occupation. The high and mighty words about two states for two peoples silence the protest voices of a nation that for more than 43 years has lived under the occupation of another nation. The testimonies of 101 discharged soldiers who served in the West Bank over past decade and collected their comments in a book published by Breaking the Silence show that even the status quo Clinton referred to doesn't reflect the situation.
Contrary to the impression that government spokesmen are trying to create - that Israel is gradually withdrawing from the territories based on the necessary caution dictated by security needs - the soldiers describe a steadfast effort to tighten Israel's hold on the West Bank and the Palestinian population.
It says in the book that the continued construction in the settlements is not only about stealing land whose future the two sides are meant to decide through negotiations. The increased presence of a Jewish population brings with it an increase in security measures such as the policy of "separation." The testimonies show that this policy practically serves to control, plunder and annex the territories. It funnels the Palestinians through the Israeli control mechanism and establishes new borders on the ground through a policy of divide and rule. These borders mark the "settlement blocs," which Israeli politicians argue are part of Israel (greater Ariel and the areas around Ma'aleh Adumim ).
Soldiers who served in the Civil Administration say the settlers play an active role in imposing military rule over the Palestinians. The settlers hold public positions and are permanent parties to the discussions and the decisions by the army on matters concerning the Palestinians in areas where they live. Settler violence against the Palestinians is also used to control the Palestinian population.
Stories about "economic prosperity" in the West Bank create the impression that life under foreign occupation can be tolerable and even not so bad. So it's not so bad that negotiations continue for a year or two. But the soldiers who have served at the checkpoints or the fence crossings describe how they decide who will pass, which goods may move from one city to the next, who may send his children to school or make it to university, and who will receive medical treatment.
The book has testimonies about the confiscation of homes, agricultural land, vehicles and even farm animals, sometimes for security reasons, but often because annexation is the motive. Sometimes the Israel Defense Forces also "confiscates" people too, for "training." They break into a house at night and take someone into custody until the end of the exercise.
According to the 2003 road map, the "decisive year" during which the conflict would end went by five years ago. The Foreign Ministry pulled the map out of storage when it wanted to protest against Brazil and Argentina, who didn't wait until the end of the negotiations. So what if Israel promised at that time that even during the process' first stage it would freeze settlement construction and remove all outposts built since March 2001?
Who can remember that Israel promised to respond to the improvements in the Palestinian security organizations by gradually withdrawing to the lines before the second intifada? When world leaders are busy with "bringing the conflict to an end," who pays attention to the perpetuation of the occupation?