By: Zatayumni Zulkiply, Class of 2020
Disclaimer: The following article is based on the author’s experience and does not reflect the views of the paper.
In May, Muslims globally ushered in the holy month of Ramadan. By day, we restrain from food and water, and by night, we congregate as a community for iftars and night prayers. I love this time of year as it allows me to “Marie-Kondo” my life by eliminating distractions, encouraging self-reflection. This Ramadan, I have been reflecting a lot on the privileges that come along with living in a free democratic nation having recently been on an eye-opening trip to Palestine. Back in March, I joined the Law School’s annual Pal-Trek visiting major cities in the West Bank to interact with those affected by Israel’s five-decade-long occupation.
Palestine’s occupation started in 1967, following the six-day war which resulted in Israel seizing West Bank, Gaza, Syrian’s Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Under international law, an occupying power is authorized to establish military law on occupied land and its inhabitants in the interest of ensuring the occupier’s security. The concession is intended to be a transitional arrangement but Israel has lengthened it to become one of the longest ongoing modern-day occupations. Palestinians in the occupied territories are deprived of basic rights as civilians that we here often take for granted; Civil rights, freedom of mobility and access to livelihood.
Civil Rights. As civilians, we have the right to be treated equally under the law. However, a “dual system of law” governs the West Bank where Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli Civil Law while Palestinians are tried in a military court system which has been condemned by human rights organizations as falling short of minimum standards required for a fair trial and has a conviction rate of 99%. The implications of this two-tier system are severe: institutionalized discrimination. This is an excerpt from a report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel entitled that illustrates the unjust system:
“Two residents of the Hebron area have an altercation within the territory of the West Bank and both are arrested. One of them, a Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba, is taken to a nearby police station, is immediately interrogated by a police officer and is brought within 24 hours to a hearing before the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. In this hearing, the judge decides to order his release on condition of bail; this is not a very severe case, and the defendant pleads self- defense.
The second person, a Palestinian resident of Hebron, is arrested for 96 hours before being brought before a military judge. He is de facto interrogated only once during this period of time, under suspicion of committing an assault based on nationalistic motivations, which is deemed as a security offense, and he is tried before a military court, where he faces a penalty of extended incarceration.”
Freedom of Mobility. Everywhere within the West Bank, Palestinians’ mobility is restricted by checkpoints and separation walls, making it difficult for them to roam freely on their homeland. These restrictions are at its fullest effects in Hebron, a sacred site for all Abrahamic faiths as it houses the tombs of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We toured Hebron on a Monday afternoon expecting a bustling city but was overcome with solemnity as the effects of the occupation were visibly tangible. We saw checkpoints at every corner, and houses are caged within high fences, many separating families. The streets were empty, schools were surrounded by barbed-wires; discolored, outdated signs were the only reminders of previously thriving Palestinian businesses. The businesses that remain were those not shuttered by military order and carried old inventory covered in dust. Overhead wire nets held a layer of trash thrown by Israeli settlers in the upper stories at the Palestinians below. Some streets have visible lines marking the segregation of Israelis and Palestinians, and some streets are completely off-limits to Palestinians. Many Palestinians have been driven out of Hebron due to restrictive living conditions, leaving it a deserted ghost town. Just weeks before our trek, two children, four years old and 18 months old, died in their home’s fire because military roadblocks and checkpoints prevented the firetruck and ambulance from reaching the site sooner.
Access to Livelihood. Economic activity is constrained by the loss of land and resources to Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Today, there are more than 200 Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, housing about 628,000 settlers; expansion is faster than it has ever been, despite condemnation by the international community. The encroachment of settlements on occupied lands is enabled by the appropriation of land belonging to Palestinians which would have been cultivated for agricultural use. Additionally, Israel’s full control over water resources makes cultivation nearly impossible due to the lack of irrigation. This economic chokehold has resulted in high unemployment, currently at 27%, with most Palestinians having to turn to employment in either Israel or the settlements under discriminatory conditions.
A United Nations report in 2017 describes Israel’s occupation is seen as “an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” It is inconceivable for me to think that this continues to happen in this day and age ironically at the hands of the only true democracy in the Middle East. It is a long road towards restoring justice for Palestinians but I believe all global citizens should look to persistently speak out against this oppression and allow dialogue for discourse. Nothing is more venomous than silence as the human rights activist Ginetta Sagan once said: “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”
If you are interested to learn more about the PalTrek, Haroun Dada, Kiran Palla and I will be sharing our experience on May 30th. Keep an eye out for the event or reach out to any one of us!