Israel’s control over approximately five million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is not merely a theoretical-political issue to be resolved through negotiation at some future date. Nor are its effects limited to the extreme incidents usually reported – albeit partially – by the media, such as severe acts of violence carried out by soldiers or by settlers. This control is a regular fixture in the lives of all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Their lives are subject to a daily routine of violence – some of it overt, but more often implicit. Blatant displays of Israel’s control over the Palestinians, as well as instances that do not involve the direct use of physical force, are both forms of organized, ongoing state violence by Israel.
This organized state violence is inextricably linked to Israel’s ongoing control – by a variety of military, civilian, legal and administrative means – over Palestinian civilians. First, because subjecting millions of people to decades of foreign rule in which they have no political representation is in itself a form of violence. Second, as history has shown time and again, it is unfeasible to keep a civilian population subjugated under foreign occupation without resorting to the use of force.
The very fact that Palestinians have no political representation in the Israeli state systems that govern their lives leaves them open to the potential of arbitrary use of force, both physical or administrative, that is subject to virtually no restriction. This results in harassment and abuse of Palestinians, sometimes for no apparent reason, and at times on the basis of barely plausible security grounds. Regardless, the actions always conform to the power structure of ruler and subject, mechanisms that leave Palestinians entirely at the mercy of decisions made by Israelis: officials of the Civil Administration (the branch of the military designated to handle civil matters in Area C of the West Bank), judges, politicians, Israel Security Agency officers, prison guards, soldiers and Border Police officers. Life under these conditions means being in a state of constant uncertainty about the present and the future. It is a life bereft of privacy, a bare life subject to intrusion at any given time.
In the years that have gone by since 1967, circumstances have changed and evolved differently in the various areas that Israel controls. Accordingly, it uses different methods to control Palestinians in every area: there are differences between Israel’s external control over Gaza and its direct control over the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem.
In the Gaza Strip, it is Israel that determines critical aspects of daily life as it the main power deciding who and what can enter or leave Gaza: Israel decides which foods will be available to Gaza residents and which food they may export. Israel does not allow Palestinians to leave Gaza – with very few exceptions – and prohibits them from visiting their relatives in the West Bank. Israel does not permit Gaza residents to go study at West Bank universities, and so on. Israel determines the level of medical care available in Gaza, as it decides which medical equipment will be allowed in, what medications will reach hospitals, and what professional seminars doctors can travel to attend. As Israel’s decisions mean that little more than nominal care is available, many Gazans in need of medical assistance must seek proper care outside Gaza. Yet here, too, Israel is the one deciding who may or may not have access professional care. Similarly, the critical shortage of electricity in Gaza lies is primarily Israel’s doing. The power shortage has led to a shortage of potable water and prevents proper waste treatment. In other words, decisions made by Israeli officials are what determines the standard of living in Gaza as well as opportunities for economic development, education, starting a family and so on. The upshot is that the nearly two million Palestinians living in Gaza are left with no control over their lives.
Israel’s control of the West Bank takes a different form for several reasons: because Israel directly oversees and handles the use of land throughout the West Bank; because of the presence and attendant consequences of Israeli settlements; and because of the unmediated daily contact between Palestinians and Israeli security forces or other Israeli authorities. The military disrupts Palestinians’ lives by restricting their freedom of movement as it sees fit. Often this is done without a moment’s notice. Soldiers block off roads temporarily or with permanent roadblocks, detain Palestinians at checkpoints, demand that they follow instructions, humiliate them and sometimes even use physical violence against them. Free of the obligation to present search warrants or offer any other justification, soldiers enter homes throughout the West Bank every day – and every night – disrupting family life, intimidating the inhabitants and invading their privacy. The Civil Administration (CA) implements a strict yet arbitrary policy when it comes to issuing the permits that apply to every aspect of life in the West Bank. CA officials determine who may travel abroad, who may work in Israel, who may worship in Jerusalem, who may pay a visit to Gaza, who may receive goods ordered and who may show up to work on time. This permit regime does not operate according to any clear rules and offers no explanations for the decisions it makes. Israel considers every permit it issues a Palestinian an act of benevolence. The upshot is that the nearly three million Palestinians living in the West Bank are left with no control over their lives.
In East Jerusalem, which was illegally annexed to Israel’s sovereign border, Palestinians suffer severe discrimination in budget allocation and services compared to the western part of the city. Additionally, their right to continue living in the city is always at risk. The police imposes extreme restrictions on the movement of residents without giving them any advance notice. The wall that Israel built, which lies between several Palestinian neighborhoods and the rest of the Jerusalem, means about 140,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem must go through a checkpoint every single day on their way to work, to hospital or to pay a visit to friends. Above all, the various authorities implement a planning and construction policy that keeps residents from building homes and necessary public structures, condemning them to a life of overcrowding. When residents, left with no alternative, build homes without permits, authorities often issues demolition orders, which in some cases are carried out. This subjects Palestinians to living in a state of constant fear and uncertainty about their future. The upshot is that the 370,000 or so Palestinians in East Jerusalem are left with no control over their lives.
The reality described above is the outcome of actions and decisions made by voters, politicians, judges, civil servants and soldiers – all of whom are Israeli and belong to a different societal ingroup than the people whose lives they run. Israel’s superior power and its absolute control over all walks of life are used to police the Palestinian population, to suppress resistance and to perpetuate the occupation.
All Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza live under Israeli control of one kind or another. Israel views this situation as absolute and permanent, considering it a given that these persons have no political rights. Palestinians are not taken into account when decisions that determine every aspect of their lives are constantly being made by Israelis – be it at the voting booth or in CA decisions or in military orders. Thirteen million people live on the land that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but only eight million of them have a voice, have political rights, have the right to have rights. The rest are forced to live their lives according to decisions made by people they did not elect and under whose rule they never chose to live. This is a routine that is inherently violent. It is a violence that will only end when the occupation does.