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Dying to live

Every death from the thousands of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation has been a despicable crime. Yet some of them acquire a symbolic significance in the way that the personal horror speaks to something more fundamental in Israel’s colonial policies. The murder of Nizar al-Adeeb is one such case. Nizar was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as he approached the border separating the occupied Gaza Strip from Israel. He was 22 years old and a resident of Nusseriat refugee camp. His death was recorded by the Associated Press in the following way:

Israeli troops shot three Palestinians as they approached the fence around the Gaza Strip Saturday, killing one and lightly injuring the other two, the army said.

The soldiers fired when the Palestinians appeared to plant an explosive, the army said.

The Sydney Morning Herald, however, published an unsurprisingly divergent account of what happened, as related by a survivor, Nizar’s cousin Abdullah Faraj. According to Abdullah, the three men were trying to get inside Israel in search of work:

“The situation here is getting worse and worse so we said let’s go and check and see if we can cross,” he said. “As soon as we got close to the border fence the Israelis opened fire on him. He didn’t have time to do anything. He was shot through the side and we hid in a hollow in the ground while they shot at us. “He was bleeding for two hours before they helped him. Then it was too late.”

Scan through the news in recent months, and these anonymous casualties of Israel’s imprisonment of 1.4 million Palestinians appear in the small print. Despite the risks, despite the knowledge that if they are spotted, they will be instantly killed, some in Gaza are sufficiently desperate that they still try:

The Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza says it has records of at least 55 unarmed men who were shot dead while trying to enter Israel in search of work…His cousin, Abdul Minar, 23, said that Mr Adeeb’s death would not deter him from making his own escape attempt. “What else am I going to do?” he said. “Sometimes I wake up and ask myself what am I doing here? I wake up, I wander around the neighbourhood and then I go to bed again. “For me to die is better than staying here. Life? There is no life here.”

In one sense it is encouraging that this version of events is published at all, but there remains a critical flaw in how the mainstream media is reporting Gaza4. Israel’s crippling isolation of the Gaza Strip is discussed as a primarily humanitarian problem that is a result of Israel’s security concerns, as in this description in the same SMH article:

But ever-tighter Israeli restrictions on the flow of Palestinian goods and people, ascribed to security concerns, have progressively isolated Gaza from the world.

Israel’s culpability for the impoverishment of the Palestinians (when it’s not in fact being attributed to infighting or corruption) is almost accidental, or, to borrow an appropriately deceitful term, collateral.

Yet only the naïve or the propagandist can seriously entertain this interpretation. Israel’s collective punishment of the Gaza Strip has specific aims, as does its fragmentation and impoverishment of the West Bank. The purpose is to dash Palestinian resistance against the twin rocks of chronic deprivation and internal division. Take this report by the UN, reported in The Financial Times just a few days ago:

Almost 40 per cent of the West Bank is off-limits to Palestinians because of Israeli settlements, military infrastructure and a system of roads designed to ease access for Jewish settlers, justified by Israel as protection from terrorism. The report points out: “These measures are also intimately linked to maintaining settler access and their quality of life.”

Then there is the report released by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem in early August, which detailed the extent of the Israeli fragmentation of Palestinian territory, under the guise of ‘security’:

Palestinians face collective punishment in the occupied West Bank under security pretexts as Israel applies an intricate system of barriers that effectively splits it into six enclaves, an Israeli human rights group said Tuesday. In a report, B’Tselem rights group said the restrictions on Palestinian movement were “directly related” to the presence of illegal Jewish settlements in the territory and called for their removal. “The settlement enterprise, which is directly related to denial of Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank, is illegal, so Israel must dismantle them,” it said.

It is the “sociocide” of Palestine, “the gradual undermining of the communal and psychological structures of Palestinian society in order to compel the Palestinians to leave”. Another key part of Israel’s strategy has been to foster divisions within the Palestinian ruling elite and political factions, a policy that has regrettably born significant fruit ever since the Nakba (the recent Hamas-Fatah confrontation being a particularly severe example). For all the talk of ‘peace corridors’, Israel does not desire a flourishing, independent Palestinian economy: it desires hand-crawling, prostrate dependence.

I am reminded at this point of an article in this week’s Economist, which discusses the challenges of effecting Palestinian and Israeli ‘coexistence’ through isolated schemes such as ‘peace camps’, communal villages and the like. The article, though once again attributing Israel’s fragmentation and isolation of the West Bank to “security measures”, hints at the reason why ‘coexistence’ can prove tricky:

Palestinians were unhappy that such projects often ignored the inequalities between them and Israeli Jews, or acted as a conscience-salve for the Israelis. “Existence first, co-existence later”, became a common Palestinian slogan.

A dictionary definition of coexistence describes it as existing peacefully together, or, “to live or exist together at the same time or in the same place”. In its former sense, but more pertinently, in its latter sense, it is the antithesis of all forms of colonialism and apartheid, Zionism being no exception. To the extent that Zionism can tolerate the presence of the Palestinian other at all, the latter must be both grateful for their accommodation in the civilising mission of the colonists, or, at the very least, be sufficiently dependent that they are incapable of effective resistance. On Thursday, the UN released a report describing how “the economy of the Palestinian territories is increasingly tied to Israel”:

‘The case of occupation and the increasingly tight Israeli measures and closure policies which … restrict the movement of people and goods from, and to and even within the West Bank and Gaza in the past seven years have effectively isolated the Palestinian economy from the rest of the world,” said Mahmoud Elkhafif, an official with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)…The Palestinian trade deficit stands at 73 percent of GDP, and 65 percent of this is owed to Israel, Elkhafif said — meaning that for every one dollar produced, 50 cents must go to Israeli coffers.

To be dependent is to lack independence. It means that you are at the mercy of your overlord, on whom you depend, at all times, for all things, sometimes even for continued existence. Dependent colonised subjects, desperate for bread or the semblance of a false dignity, are malleable indeed: they may collaborate, they may fight their comrades for scraps. They may sit back, resigned. But they won’t, they can’t, resist.

At least, that is the intention.

Published in Palestine Chronicle.

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