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Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Letter from the Hebron: Controlling riots to justify occupation
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 Imagine living your entire life in an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. How would you feel if, when you attempted to cross the border, soldiers turned you back because you didn't have permission? Think what it would be like to have a television set as your only looking glass into the outside world. The Israeli government does grant freedom of movement to a very small number of Palestinians. Everyone else is confined. Yesterday, I travelled from Hebron to Jerusalem in a Palestinian taxi. At the checkpoint, all Palestinian identity papers were collected. The soldier went into a guard shack for about 10 minutes, returned the IDs and we were on our way. About eight kilometres later a military police officer waved the taxi to the side of the road for a spot check. After about 10 minutes we were sent on our way, again. At neither check did the military authorities even speak to me. On my return trip to Hebron, the taxi I was riding in was stopped and checked in the same way as before. This time the soldier asked me where I was from. He wanted to know why I was "here". He wanted to know why I was with "these people". As we drove away a man turned to me and said "you see what your government supports". The man next to me explained how his brother was killed by soldiers during the Intifada and that he is raising his brother's daughter. The despair here is acute. Young people have no dreams of things that cannot be. They desire what most people in the first world consider normal. Things like a secure home, a good job, a university education, travel and the freedom to choose for oneself are denied them by the occupation. The pressure builds and builds. They feel trapped. They have no hope. They strike at their oppressors with all they have, stones. They call them clashes here. In the West they are called riots. What they are is the carefully controlled release of pressure, an allowance for letting off steam, a means of maintaining control. This is what happened here last week. Clashes are restricted to very specific locations. There are three of these locations in Hebron at the borders between the Palestinian-controlled area and the Israeli occupied section. In the past couple of weeks the clashes I have seen have been very organized. There is a police line from where the soldiers fire their 'rubber' bullets - in reality rubber-coated metal bullets. The young men throw stones: shoot, stones, shoot, stones. By some unseen force, the clash suddenly ends, the soldiers leave and the street is returned to normal. It's like picking up a board game and putting it away. The international media flashes pictures of 'riots' all over the world. The world is appalled, the Palestinians are painted as villains, the Israelis are seen as victims and the occupation is once again justified in the eyes of the world. Clashes are a tool of the occupation; they both relieve internal pressure and serve to justify the occupation On days the Israelis don't want clashes they require the Palestinian police to suppress them. The penalty for not doing so is closure of the West Bank to tourists, thus damaging the Palestinian economy. The clash, as I witnessed it this week in Bethlehem, happened between the PA and young men. The Palestinian police intercepted a group of college students marching toward the Bethlehem checkpoint. This particular place creates tension because it is segregated into two checkpoints; one for the Palestinians and one for everyone else. Palestinians must walk about 700 metres off the main road so tourists don't see them. Again, the international media picks up the 'riots' and flashes scenes of Palestinians fighting Palestinians. The world is relieved the Israeli army is here to maintain order. The occupation is therefore justified once more. Everything that happens here is politically motivated and serves someone. Perception is everything. We should always ask ourselves who stands to gain from the event, in this case the clashes, and watch news reports with that perspective. In the case of the recent clashes, Israel has clearly gained at the cost of the Palestinians' public image.
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