In this post I thought I would take a closer look on what is happening within Palestine which is now ‘officially’ a state following the overwhelming yes vote in the UN General Assembly in November 2012. This will not focus on the elite players on the different sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but instead focusing on what the people of Palestine are doing to improve their situation under the Israeli occupation. Having never visited Palestine it is difficult for me to frame exactly what the situation is facing the people there. I tried to remedy this by getting in contact with some Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through friends of mine with the following questions;
How do you see Palestinians helping each other in everyday scenarios, struggling against the occupation? i.e. movement, access to services.
How does your situation change on a day-to-day today basis under the occupation?
What does the occupation stop you from doing, on an everyday basis?
What are your hopes and fears for the future of Palestine and its people?
Here is the response from a taxi driver living in the West Bank;
To be honest this is not easy questions and it’s difficult to answer it, and i think if i try to answer he will not understand me because he is not living here, but i will try, People help each other in psychological support and some times in finance support The situation has changed for me personally when i lost many best friends during the first and second Intifada and also when i became a father and have my own family because my responsibility is grown and grown especially in this bad economic situation in which we live since the second intifada my hope to be free like the others and to have the respect by others. And fears that my children if they live the same life experienced by their father Occupation stop me from doing many daily things like lack of freedom of movement, also just when i’m looking at the western side of my village and see the wall that’s enough to have very bad feeling daily the occupation stopped me to go and visit the ocean and for my and to my children is something special.
From a resident of Gaza;
Hi, thanks for this. I must say, however, that I am not helping myself. I think that there is something derogatory about how we are often perceived and portrayed. In Gaza, we are not “helping” ourselves by partaking in civil society groups, I think it’s more of establishing ourselves, just like anyone anywhere does.
I found these responses very interesting due to their variance. Does this have variance something to do with the different places within Palestine that these two inhabit? From the viewpoint of an outside observer the West Bank and Gaza Strip appear as almost two different nations under occupation and siege respectively. As a result of this deliberate cutting of the link between the two territories by the Israelis and the different social and economic situations facing the people as a result, the differing responses of those I spoke to is understandable. The first response is from a West Bank resident who still holds some hope of a resolution to the daily problems that the occupation places on him and his family, whilst acknowledging the tremendous cost to those close to him and the wider Palestinian people that the occupation has placed upon them. The very fact that he and his family live so close to the separation barrier, an everyday reminder of who holds the power, clearly has an effect psychologically, which was part of the intention. The Gazan resident challenges my questions and the framing of the people in Gaza through this solely humanitarian lens that I and many others (mistakenly) view the situation facing the people. This response also suggests everyday life, despite the occupation of the West Bank and siege of the Gaza Strip, is much like the rest of the world. You wake up, you try to make a living to support your family, you go to sleep, however more difficult this may be living under the domination of another power.
How can it be the same though, under the restrictions that permeate the everyday life of the Palestinian people? The answer is people are very adaptive and people persevere, particularly the Palestinians. The Palestinians have never allowed themselves and their history to be wiped away by the Israeli political and military elite. Since 1948 and before under British domination, they have kept intact their identity and the root idealism of their cause, which is a chance to live free in a country of their own, on land they and their families have worked, loved, worshipped and lived on for centuries.
Despite this resilience shown by the people the economic and political situation for the Palestinians is only worsening. Just recently the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have had to survive a great deal of flooding following storms in the region. These storms were further compounded by the very poor housing stock and infrastructure that exists in the Strip which is largely as a result of the Israeli military siege of the territory which prevents many building materials from being imported. Gaza is also in a needless and perilous situation regarding its water supply. Israels occupation of the West Bank is estimated to be costing the Palestinians 35% of their Gross National Product (GDP). Placed in an everyday context this translates to huge unemployment and suffering for Palestinian families as the Palestinian economy is not able to reach anywhere near its full potential and provide the jobs needed for its growing population.
Not that there is no hope left, even after almost a century of conflict. Palestinian and Israelis often work together on the ground level for the common cause of securing justice for the Palestinians, despite the antithesis shown by their leaders. The very fact that the Palestinians, despite political differences, have held together is their greatest strength. The worldwide support for their right to a homeland is also important within this struggle. It places governments (such at the UK) under pressure to persuade Israel in to dismantling the occupation, an occupation which I continue to believe that, despite its endurance, is untenable and constantly at risk of collapsing under the weight of its own morally bankrupt premise. I hope to visit one day, either as a country under occupation or hopefully as a free nation living side by side and at peace with Israel.
By Jonathan Woodrow Martin
Note: All pictures taken from Sarah Rowes fantastic blog, Living in the Shadow of the Wall, of her time working in the West Bank in 2012. Please do pay a visit to the site for more photos from the West Bank.