Imagine living your life as though you were in a cage in your own home, and having to constantly prove your humanity and existence at every checkpoint and having your religious beliefs questioned at every holy site? This is the daily reality of Palestinians living in Israeli Occupied Palestine, where the daily movements and activities of Palestine are under constant surveillance and scrutiny.
From the airport I took a taxi driven by a Palestinian who was in his middle ages. He has witnessed some of the worst brutalities of the Israeli Defense Force in Palestine. He narrated the inhumane treatment that Palestinians had endured under the Occupation. “They steal land, they steal dignity and they steal life you know. And they do it with pride and arrogance” the Palestinian Taxi driver said. It was not until we arrived at the first checkpoint and saw the high walls dividing Palestine from the illegal Zionist entity called Israel, that the reality of apartheid Israeli began to be material; the separation of populations of people, of Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites as though these religions had absolutely nothing in common.
The systemic apartheid is visible in the infrastructure; the narrow roads, demolished houses and buildings that Palestinians have to live in, the abandoned cities, homes and markets, particularly in the city of Hebron. The Palestinians are not permitted to build, renovate or even provide basic municipal services in their own territories, without the written permission of the Israeli government. The streets are filled with Israeli soldiers, surveying the daily activities of young Palestinians who are usually suspected of malicious activities and prone to unwarranted arrests for voicing out their anger at the ongoing occupation. It is evident that many Palestinians are suffering from severe Post-traumatic Stress Disorders, and in my observations, this is evident in their excessive smoking habits. There are barely any recreational centres and young children find pleasure in aggressive activities of showing scorn and hatred at the occupation, either by agitating Israeli soldiers through fireworks, stone-throwing and loud noises in places where there is a heavy military presence. The bravery and fearlessness of these young Palestinians is scary but commendable at the same time and it reminded me of the June 16 uprising in Soweto where young Black South Africans took to the streets to display their outrage against apartheid.
The reality that Palestinians are living through in their own land is similar, and maybe even worse than apartheid, where the walls are visibly symbolic of the divide. The religious beliefs that are meant to unite Palestinians and Jews, for example, the gravesite of Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim AS), at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, is a source of great tumultuous conflict amongst Jews and Muslims. The partition wall built inside the mosque evidences this. The wall was built because of a massacre that took place inside the mosque, prior to the wall being built, where a Jewish illegal settler shot and killed about 30 Palestinian Muslims during early morning- prayers. The Israeli occupation of Palestine has resulted in more cultural, social, political and economic divisions mostly based on racism that is centered on religious identity. The fact that Muslims, be they Palestinian or just mere tourists visiting Holy sites in Jerusalem and other cities, have to prove their Islamic identity is a dehumanizing and humiliating act enforced by Israeli soldiers, who themselves are not even Muslim. I felt like a criminal in most parts of Palestine that I visited, and even more so, in Israel at the airport where I was strip-searched after a Kifaya (Palestinian scarf) was found in my hand luggage. I was interrogated for almost 30 minutes about my where abouts and the purpose of my visit and as to why I had the scarf in my bag. I quickly concluded that Israeli’s do not want us to visit Palestinian territories; they do not want us to witness the brutal, inhumane and savage conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live under, in their own land. They are denying travelers, Palestinian sympathizers and other groups the freedom and right of affiliation, in as much as they deny Palestinians the international human right to self-determination.
There are many international observer groups that have been deployed to Palestine to make reports and findings about the conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live. One such group that we found in Hebron was the TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) which has been there for over 10 years. These observer groups have done little if any criticism at all in condemning Israel for its military occupation in Hebron and the destruction of life in that part of Palestine. These observer groups hardly publish any of their findings in public platforms that are accessible to the international community. Hence some of the atrocities and Human Rights violations committed by Israel go unnoticed and unpunished by the United Nations.
Whom can Palestinians rely on for relief, justice, restoration and right of return to their lands? International organisations such as the UN seem to have forgotten all together about the people of Palestine and Israel seems to have no regard for International Law and Resolutions and continues to rob Palestinians of their land, dignity and lives.
It is important that when we say we pledge solidarity with Palestinians we understand the depth of that pledge. Things are tough there for Palestinians and our mere presence in their territory meant much more to them than we can ever imagine. The apartheid here is more real than what we think we know about the conflict in this part of the world. Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike are barricaded in walls meant to keep them out of their heritage, their land, their dignity.
A feeling we know all too well as Black South Africans.
By: Nwabisa Sigaba.
Post- Graduate Student Assistant in the College of Human Sciences: UNISA
Masters Candidate in Development Studies: UNISA