‘We want to live without fear; we want our freedom’
Hana Al Bidaq visited Hastings in the UK to explain how the Israeli apartheid regime affects Palestinians on a daily basis
By Katy Weitz
Hana Al Bidaq lives every day of her life in fear.
Fear of the soldiers that constantly invade her community in Ramallah, disrupting their lives, making even the smallest of chores, like buying bread from the bakery, impossible.
Fear of travelling from Ramallah to Hebron to see her family where she will have to cross many dangerous checkpoints and the presence of her two teenage sons attract the unwelcome attention of trigger-happy soldiers.
Fear of walking out onto the streets where fully armed settlers march around with the most advanced automatic weaponry casually slung over their shoulders.
And fear of the future, which every day becomes more and more restrictive, difficult and deadly for Palestinians, no matter whether they live inside Israel’s 1948 truce line or apartheid wall borders, in the West Bank or Gaza.
‘There is no secure place for Palestinians,’ she said to a meeting at The Nest hosted by the Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Saturday 9 January. ‘You see young children of the settlers walking around with advanced modern weapons. What life do we have here? He could shoot you without any reason and at the end they would say it was a security incident.
‘You may have seen the footage of the soldier recently who killed the young guy in Huwara — he was fighting with his hand. He had nothing! And the soldier had two types of weapons and he just took his gun and killed him, in front of the cameras. This is our life.’
Hana, a computer systems engineer and civil rights organizer, flew from her home in Palestine to give a talk — ‘Life Under Apartheid’ — where she laid out in granular detail the mechanisms by which Israel enforces the apartheid regime against a population of five million Palestinians.
This includes fragmenting and dividing the people and land with the wall, myriad laws, apartheid roads, checkpoints and industrial zones.
There is now 800 kms (around 500 miles) of what has become known as ‘the apartheid wall’ built by Israeli occupation around Palestinian towns and cities, separating and dividing Palestinians from their lands and each other, with more under construction.
In some places it is over 8 meters high and around Gaza it also runs 6 meters deep.
Giving an example of the most ‘critical’ case of how the wall destroys lives and livelihoods, Hana drew attention to the city of Qalqilya, in the north of Palestine, known as the breadbasket of the West Bank since it produces most of the fruit and vegetables for the region.
The city controlling the governance is surrounded by the imposing concrete wall, cut off from its lands and totally enclosed except for one small gate in and out of the city.
This has led — for the first time in history — to unprecedented flooding during the winter as the wall traps all the rainwater inside, preventing water drainage, turning the whole city into a giant pool.
The knock-on ecological effect is that the soil is full of salt, slowly destroying the land and its ability to sustain crops.
The same story is repeated all over the West Bank where cities are encircled by the wall and access in and out is heavily restricted by city gates and blocked by checkpoints.
There are now 64 permanent checkpoint ‘blockades’ in the West Bank, manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year.
‘Once, I went to Hebron with my children when they were still young,’ said Hana. ‘When we came back they closed this worst ‘Container’ checkpoint and we waited for four hours and the traffic became horrible.
‘The children wanted to go for a bath, they wanted water, food, they wanted many things. But it is not allowed for you even to get out of the car.’
Hana said that moving through checkpoints is extremely dangerous and they must be careful not to move quickly or do or say the wrong thing as many Palestinians have been killed at checkpoints. Now that her sons are older, they are more likely to be harassed or arrested at the checkpoint.
‘So what the life we are dreaming?’ she said. ‘What is the life we are giving to our children?’
The permanent checkpoints do not include all road closures due to ‘earth blocks’ — roads closed off with cement blocks — or the dreaded ‘flying checkpoints’.
‘At any time you can find a surprise with the checkpoint coming from the sky,’ said Hana. ‘I am a Palestinian citizen. I have a driving license from the Palestinian Transportation Authority and I should take a fine from the Palestinian. But once I am on the connecting road between the cities the Israeli occupation police could stop me and give me a fine. It is a huge fine. It is not equivalent to our income.’
Failure to pay these fines result in punitive steps to restrict movement even further.
Meanwhile, Israelis travel freely throughout Israel and the West Bank on 1400 kms of ‘apartheid roads’ — sleek, modern highways, cutting deep into Palestinian lands on the hillsides, and which Palestinians are forbidden to travel on. They are confined to old roads which are increasingly congested and unsafe due to poor maintenance.
And every day the number of colonies — otherwise known as ‘settlements’ — grows throughout the West Bank, the land which is supposedly Palestinian.
There are now nearly 200 official colonies housing around 850,000 colonists with new outposts springing up all the time. No Palestinian is allowed to set foot inside these massive sprawling estates, maintained and serviced by modern infrastructure and free-flowing services.
‘If you, by mistake, drive to the entrance of the colony you will be shot without question,’ said Hana. ‘It is not allowed at all that you come to the entrance. And around the colonies the border surrounding land, you are not even allowed to visit or farm your land.’
There are also large Industrial Zones being built in the West Bank exclusively for Israeli use — 18 so far with five more under construction.
Said Hana: ‘Israel prepares the area with infrastructure to encourage the investor to come to Israel from outside and to build up their economy.’
On top of this there is the fragmentation of identity which further divides and separates Palestinians.
‘We are Palestinian living in the West Bank so we have Palestinian ID with a green colour, explained Hana. ‘The Palestinian people living in Jerusalem have a blue ID and live under Israeli administration. The Palestinians under ’48 borders they have another ID, an Israeli ID, and can have Israeli citizenship, passport. But the rest, no. So we are also fragmented according to the ID. In order to get a permit to go into Israel we have to get another ID, called a magnetic ID. We have to go to one of the Israeli occupation Civil Administration points and submit our biometric fingerprints. Then they give us this permit which is limited, and classifying people: there is a work permit, a visit family permit, a holiday permit and special for Christian people to visit Jerusalem at Christmas and Easter.’
Hana said that all these systems of division and control have been engineered in service of achieving the ultimate goal — to create a ‘Greater Israel’ on all the West Bank land, taking over East Jerusalem, pushing Palestinians into smaller and smaller sustainable ghettos.
Israel plans to attain this long term displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by making their conditions so unbearable that Palestinians have no choice but to leave.
How has this been possible?
The biggest culprit, says Hana, was the Oslo Accords. This, she says, was the real catastrophe, the ‘real Nakba’ for Palestinians.
‘Israel designed Oslo,’ she explained. ‘It didn’t come from Norway. Israel occupation government had a master plan in 1992.’
The approval and support of the international community bought Israeli occupation government the time it needed to continue state-building as it chipped away at Palestinian autonomy and freedoms over the next few decades.
Experts and academics from all over the world lent this process the fig leaf of respectability and the pretense of ‘peace’, even as Israeli occupation forces and settlers encircled Palestinian towns and cities with the wall, built colonies on West Bank land and demolished Palestinian homes, violently enforcing rules through belligerent military rule.
All dimensions of this state building were assisted by the international community while the Palestinian Authority (PA) gave the appearance of autonomy but was actually fully under the control of the Israeli administration.
‘They give these people titles — Ministers, President, Prime minister, advisor to the PM and so on — but all of them are fake,’ said Hana of the PA.
‘This government they created is under the control of one person, the head of Israeli Occupation Civil Administration for the West Bank. All of them, even the President, if he wants to go from his house to his administration or where he goes to practice his work, he has to coordinate with them. If he doesn’t they tell him to go back. He is not allowed to move. So what is the need for such people? They have no power, they are corrupted, they have a life of luxury while the living conditions of ordinary Palestinian get worse and worse.’
Today, all elements of life within the West Bank are controlled by the Israeli occupation, from the education curriculum in schools, to water and electricity services, industry, imports, exports and banking. There is no part of life not fully under Israeli military and intelligence control.
Hana gives the example of water.
‘On top of each Palestinian house is a water container because there is no continuous water in the network,’ she said. This contrasts with the free-flowing taps and hoses inside the settlements where swimming pools are kept liberally topped up.
‘I lived in my husband’s village for two years,’ said Hana. ‘In those two years no water came through the network at all. We had to buy water which costs even more than it should.’
The water proportion allocated to Palestinians is 1 liter to every 15 for Israelis.
And apartheid exists in electricity allocation too.
‘At the peak of summer and the peak of winter they turn off the electricity because they want to give the capacity for the settlements not the Palestinian people,’ said Hana. ‘We’re not even allowed to build up our generator station for electricity.’
But there is hope.
Hana says that popular resistance and unity in Palestine, supported by the international solidarity movement can challenge the prevailing pro-Israeli narrative that currently supports the apartheid system.
Above all, she encourages all people of conscience to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, otherwise known as BDS.
This is a long term, non-violent resistance movement and a rights-based approach which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel in all areas until three basic goals are achieved: ending the military occupation and colonization of Arab lands since 1967, recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab Palestinians citizens to full equality and respecting the rights of refugees to return to their homes as outlined in UN Resolution 194.
‘Stop buying their products,’ Hana urged. ‘Look at the code and if it is Israeli throw it away.
‘And also stop supporting Israeli military production,’ she added.
‘All new products are tested on our people, mainly in Gaza. Each war, if you are following the news you will find a new weapon they are testing on our people in Gaza.
‘That is why I am here today,’ she concluded. ‘We hope that in this session and in these meetings we build up a new type of diplomacy — popular diplomacy — hearing Palestinians tell their stories. We want to live our lives without fear, we want to decide where to go. This is our land. We want our freedom. And the international community is crucial to helping the struggle.’