A demonstration against the separation barrier in the West Bank
A demonstration against the separation barrier in the West Bank. Photo by Haggai Matar
Text size

* "Humanitarian crisis." "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," say official Israeli spokesmen such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Ministry director general Yossi Gal say repeatedly. And they are correct, because a "crisis" is a sudden change, a deviation from a norm, while what's going on in Gaza has become the routine.

They are right also about the "humanitarian" aspect, if what they mean is that hundreds of thousands are not dying of thirst or hunger. There is no humanitarian crisis, if you think that all a person needs is a set number of daily calories. And for someone who lives in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, it is easy to ignore the non-crisis-like fact that 90 percent of the water produced in the Gaza Strip from its only water source - part of the Coastal aquifer - is not fit for human consumption. People who do not get purified water are risking their health - high blood pressure, and kidney and intestinal diseases. Indeed, only thanks to the extended-family support system, charitable organizations, UNRWA, international aid programs, public-sector wages and the "tunnel economy" are people not being starved.

But what about a person's need for freedom of movement, a person's right to create, to produce, to earn a living and study, to leave for timely medical treatment and to travel? The spokespeople and PR professionals who try to prove things are fine reduce human needs to a graph containing only water, food and shelter. These graphs tell more about their presenters than they do about human beings.

*  "Israel transfers humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip." This is a routine statement that leads many to conclude that Israel pays for the Gazans' food and medicine that do enter the strip. This is a mistaken conclusion, but it might be based on an accurate perception of the situation: In prison, the warden is responsible for providing the inmates' food. But not in the 360-square-kilometer Gaza prison, which houses 1.5 million people. What we should be saying is, "Israel permits basic commodities to enter Gaza." Some are ordered, paid for and distributed by international organizations. Most are sold to Gaza merchants, who sell them in the markets, stores and pharmacies.

* "Closures/a closure was imposed/a closure was lifted." Once, before the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, these misleading definitions included the Gaza Strip. Now they refer to only the West Bank. On the eve of every Israeli holiday, the radio news reports that "a closure has been imposed on Judea and Samaria." And then it is lifted. That is also the source for the strange plural form, "closures." A closure comes and a closure goes and in between everything is fine.

But the "closure" has been in effect since it was declared in January 1991. Since then, all the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been deprived of the right to freedom of movement. Since then, they have been subject to a complicated regime of permits which is becoming ever more sophisticated. Israel decides which categories of people get permits to move around, and determines the number of people in every category. It is always a small minority that gets to move, and always under restrictive conditions. Meanwhile, Jewish settlers in that very same territory come and go without permits.

* "In 2002 when the West Bank was reoccupied." One hears this fairly often from Palestinian spokesmen. This is an extremely senseless statement, even when replaced by "When the Israel Defense Forces reoccupied the towns of the West Bank." When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, the Israeli occupation and its far-reaching authority was not abolished. When IDF troops left West Bank towns at the end of 1995, the presence of armed Palestinian policemen did not make the towns un-occupied. When the PA took responsibility for most of the Palestinian population and its health, sewage and education problems, it did not receive the authority and resources of a state. Israel still has these. And the sovereign has remained the IDF - in 1996, in 2002 and today.

* "A non-violent struggle." The IDF rejects Palestinian and international claims that the fight against the separation fence is "a non-violent struggle." The IDF is correct. This should be immediately erased from the lexicon. "Non-violent" is not an appropriate term for the demonstrations at Na'alin, Bil'in, Nabi Salah, Walaja, Maasra, Iraq Burin and the others to come. But this is not due to the reasons given by the army and other Israeli officials. "Violent" has a negative connotation, of course, implying the unjustified use of force, which goes against the existing order and the values of civilization.

When we define the struggle against foreign rule as "non-violent" or "violent," it's as if we asked the occupied to prove their resistence is kosher (or not ). And to whom? The very foreign ruler who considers boycotting settlement products to be unkosher. The adjectives "non-violent" or "violent" presume that the occupation is a natural state of affairs, whose violence is permitted, a civilized norm meant to tame its subjects. "A non-violent struggle" therefore diverts attention from the fact that forced rule is based on the use of violence. Every soldier at a roadblock, every camera on the separation fence, every military edict, a supermarket in a settlement and an Israeli diaper factory on Palestinian land - they are all part of the nonstop violence.