The Ignorance of Bush on West Bank

13 Jan

Thanks to Al Jazeera. We know how the American President, Mr George Bush, has did it again. Insensitive remarks again.

In the article, ‘Gaffe overshadows Bush visit’, Mr Bush was quoted, on his journey from Jerusalem and Ramallah to West Bank,

“You’ll be happy to know, my whole motorcade of a mere 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped… I’m not so exactly sure that’s what happens to the average person.” He was further reported to have said that he could understand why Palestinians were “frustrated” by the checkpoints, but they were necessary to “create a sense of security for Israel”.

David Chater, who reports for the agency in West Jerusalem commented in the same article, that the President’s remarks “were extraordinary given the pain and humiliation that is caused at the checkpoints.”

As Bush is whisked away safely and without any troubles at the checkpoints, his comment shows he hardly knows whats going on. Maybe if he was to move to West Bank and live as a Palestinian, he would consider twice before making such a frivolity.

While we all know he cannot become a Palestinian, the least we would expect him or his advisers to do, is to read up on the effects of such barriers. The effects of such checkpoints, according to Amnesty International, in a press release for a report on West Bank, is equivalent to ‘as having questionable security value while profoundly disrupting all aspects of Palestinian life.’

The report, entitled, ‘Enduring Occupation, Palestinians under siege in the West Bank’, published in June this year documented the devastating effects of the Occupation for forty years, focusing on the West Bank. In the report, the NGO refuted Israel’s justifications for such checkpoints. It noted that (page 3), ‘virtually all the checkpoints, gates, blocked roads and most of the fence/wall are located inside the West Bank – not between Israel and the West Bank.’

It further added that the checkpoints ‘curtail or prevent movement between Palestinian towns and villages, splitting and isolating Palestinian communities, separating Palestinians from their agricultural land, hampering access to work, schools, health facilities and relatives, and destroying the Palestinian economy. The fence/wall itself, located as it is inside occupied territory, is unlawful, according to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’

Restrictions to Freedom of Movement on Palestinians has also been condemned by another human rights NGO, B ‘Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) which has devoted an entire section to providing the background and up to date statistics on checkpoints and barriers to freedom of movement in the West Bank.

The NGO noted that, ‘As of December 2007, the IDF had 63 permanent checkpoints inside the West Bank, not close to the Green Line, 16 of them in Hebron.’

According to the NGO, that does not include:

the checkpoints along the Green Line (36 permanent, staffed, around-the-clock checkpoints, several of which are located well within the West Bank, up to several kilometers from the Green Line); 87 gates in the Separation Barrier; an average of 69 Surprise or Flying checkpoints in November 2007 (temporary, staffed checkpoints, set up for a few hours and then dismantled); Physical obstructions as of October: 67 roadside fences, 28 trenches barring vehicles from crossing, 84 locked entrance gates to villages, with keys held by the IDF, 208 dirt piles blocking roads or entrances to villages; and a total of 311 km of 24 sections of roads in the West Bank, banned for Palestinian traffic, while Israelis are allowed to travel freely.

The NGO stated that the checkpoints and forbidden roads,

‘greatly affects all areas of life for Palestinians in the West Bank and makes it impossible for them to live normal lives. Simple actions such as shopping, visiting relatives, and attending university classes have become complicated and, at times, impossible. This policy also impedes Palestinians’ access to medical care (my empahsis). Village residents, who constitute about one half of the population of the Occupied Territories, suffer the most from this lack of access because most medical services are provided at hospitals and clinics in the cities. The restrictions on movement also make it difficult to market goods inside the West Bank and thus harm the Palestinian economy (my emphasis) (the marketing of Palestinian goods in Israel has also sharply declined since the outbreak of the second intifada).’

Therefore, contrary to Bush’s remarks, the checkpoints do not just pose inconveniences nor are they necessary for Israel’s security. They are the mechanisms which subjects Palestinians to humiliation and serves as a daily remainder that they are living under the Occupation.

On Gaza, Mr Bush was reported on the AL Jazeera article, that the people of Gaza need to choose between Hamas, which has “delivered nothing but misery”, and “those who have negotiated a peace settlement”.

This is another blunder. Hamas was, in fact, chosen and popularly elected in free and fair elections in Palestine. The reason why it had “delivered nothing but misery” according to Bush, was not because of what Hamas has done, but a result of Israeli’s actions which has dragged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis – imposing economic sanctions and reducing fuel supplies into Gaza.

Bush and Israel has often retorted that Israeli’s actions are justified as Hamas is intent on pursuing ‘violent’ or ‘terrorism’ tactics towards innocent Israeli citizens. Yet, when Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, publicly announced that he was willing to negotiate a cease-fire with Israel, the latter has blankly rejected the talks.

What really stands out in the Al Jazeera article though, is Bush and his comments on previous UN resolutions with regards to the Occupied Territories, which he claims, “didn’t work in the past”; and as such, the parties should, “negotiate a new deal”. This is not surprising, coming from the man who authorised the invasion of Iraq despite global protests and without the UN seal of approval. After all, what can one expect from the man who declares the ‘war on terror’ that systematically tortures suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay and other secret rendition prisons, acts which are in direct contravention to international laws and norms.

What the peace talks need, is NOT an American President who knows absolutely nothing about Palestine and makes insensitive remarks that denigrates the human rights of Palestinians.

What is needed is an American President who will stand up to the Israel government – to heavily condemn the latter and stop American’s inflow of unconditional aid as long as the latter continues its human rights violations towards Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

That means recognizing the human rights and stopping the human rights abuse of Palestinians, which includes but not limited to, halting:

  • the illegal expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem
  • restrictions to freedom of movement to Palestinians
  • military incursions into Gaza
  • economic sanctions and fuel supplies reduction in Gaza
  • torture and detention without trial on Palestinian prisoners
  • house demolitions

What the peace process, needs, is not Bush and his brand of ‘unilateralism negotiations’ but a common understanding among all parties to recognize the various UN resolutions on this conflict. In this regard, UN Resolution 242, which is commonly cited in Middle Eastern politics, serves as a useful start. It explicitly calls for the ‘withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’ (1967 war).

===

References:

1. Israel: New report condemns Israel’s ‘blatant violation of International Law’ in West Bank, Amnesty International UK, 4 June 2007

2. ‘Enduring Occupation, Palestinians under siege in the West Bank’, Amnesty International UK, June 2007, AI Index: MDE 15/033/2007

3. Restrictions on Movement: Information on checkpoints and roadblocks, B ‘Tselem, extracted on 11 January 2008

4. Restrictions on Movement: Checkpoints and Forbidden Roads, B ‘Tselem, extracted on 11 January 2008

5. Hamas leader says he’s open to talks, CNN.com, 19 December 2007

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