50 YEARS TOO MANY
How the occupation began
In the simplest of terms, the Israel-Palestine conflict is about land and who gets to control it and live in it.
Fifty years ago, a war broke out between Israel and some of the Arab states neighbouring it.
Known as the Six-Day War, it was fought from 5 to 10 June 1967 and resulted in Israel capturing and occupying the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, all of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and most of the West Bank.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Syrian Arabs were added to the region’s already serious refugee problem.
Israel then took a controversial step that was designed to reinforce its own security, but has instead created a barrier to peace and caused profound suffering to its victims – they began building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.
To make matters worse, in December 2017 US president Donald Trump recklessly announced his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, further inflaming tensions across the Middle East.
What are illegal settlements?
Since Israel occupied the West Bank 50 years ago, more than 1,000km² of Palestinian land has been stolen to build illegal Israeli settlements, which continue to expand.
1,000km² is about the size of Manchester and Glasgow combined.
Israel’s relentless and illegal land-grab is one of the main driving forces behind the mass human rights violations against Palestinians.
50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished to make way for over half a million Israelis to settle in Occupied Palestinian Territories.
These settlements have been condemned by the United Nations in 2016 as ‘a flagrant violation of international law’. Yet they continue to grow.
Israel also has a complex web of military laws to crush any opposition. Senior government officials brand Israelis who advocate for Palestinian rights as ‘traitors’. Israeli armed forces have long used excessive and often lethal force against Palestinian men, women, and children, to punish and stifle protest and dissent.
It means daily humiliation, discrimination and oppression, destruction of homes, forced evictions, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, restrictions on movement and collective punishment for many Palestinians.
In fact, since 1987, more than 10,200 Palestinians have been killed (compared to 1,400 Israelis). Many of these killings may amount to war crimes.
Israel’s military rule disrupts every aspect of daily life. It affects whether, when and how Palestinians can travel to work or school, go abroad, visit relatives, earn a living, attend a protest, till their farmland or even switch on an electric light.
It also impacts whether they can have a glass of clean water, as Israel severely restricts Palestinians’ access to water across the West Bank and Gaza.
With their water supply four times bigger, Israeli settlers enjoy their swimming pools and well-watered lawns while the parched and arid Palestinian villages stand in stark contrast on their doorstep. Palestinians struggle to have enough water to wash, cook and drink, let alone nourish their crops.
Thanks to favourable subsidies and tax breaks from Israel, farms and light industry established by settlers on Occupied Palestinian Territories are highly profitable. In 2015 the Israeli ministry of economy estimated the worth of settlement exports to the EU each year to be between £154m and £230m.
Unemployment in the occupied areas has increased by 15% in the last 17 years, and while the settlers prosper, Palestinians deprived of land, natural resources and infrastructure struggle to survive.
What are settlement goods anyway?
Quite simply, settlement goods are products made on the land Israel stole from the Palestinians, or using the resources from those areas.
Common exports from Israeli settlements include fruit and vegetables, eggs, poultry, cosmetics, honey, olive oil, wine, spring water, textile products and toys.
Settlement products have been exported to many countries including the UK, USA, Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany among others.
All settlement goods are tainted by human rights abuse. The trade must end.
How can we fix this?
This illegal trade is a complex situation but there is a solution.
Governments around the world have condemned settlements over the years. However, the settlements continue to expand so it’s clear that their condemnation is no longer enough. They must take firmer action.
Many MPs in the UK are already in support of banning settlement goods – we just need to reach a tipping point where they have to acknowledge the devastating consequences of this trade. That's where you come in; if thousands of us bring this issue into the spotlight, they will have to listen.
By banning settlement products and stopping companies based in their countries from operating inside settlements or facilitating the expansion of settlements, states could make a real difference to the lives of millions of Palestinians.
Palestinians like Farid al-Atrash and Issa Amro.
Issa and Farid's story
Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash are brave Palestinian activists who recently faced charges in an Israeli military court for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Issa (pictured, left), a 37-year-old engineer from Hebron, is the founder and coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements (YAS) group in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. He is internationally renowned for his commitment to peaceful activism against the illegal Israeli settlements. In his own mournful words, these settlements are "destroying the Palestinian identity."
Issa also documents human rights violations in Hebron, organises peaceful protests, and distributes information on the settlements and the Israeli military occupation to visitors, journalists, and diplomats.
Farid, 41, is a lawyer from Bethlehem, and is the head of the southern districts of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, the State of Palestine’s national human rights institution whose main role is to scrutinise the Palestinian authorities. He is also a member of a collective of Palestinian, community-based resistance groups that organise marches, strikes and legal campaigns.
Both men have faced terrible treatment while in detention, and between them they face dozens of charges relating to their activism, including ‘wilful damage to property’, ‘incitement’, and ‘insulting a soldier’.
Some of the charges – such as ‘participating in a march without a permit’ – are not even internationally recognisable crimes.
Others relate to protests that the men weren’t actually at, or are made up of false testimonies, such as an accusation that Farid pushed a soldier – while video evidence proves that in fact the soldier pushed him.
When we spoke with Farid recently, he described in terrifying detail what happened when he was arrested at a demonstration in Hebron last year. As he was bundled to a military court, he was put in a box the size of his own body, blindfolded, “with only a small hole to breathe through. It felt like I was in a grave."
The reason Farid fights back against this treatment is simple: “We will be slaves if we don't resist the Israeli occupation”.
"We want to be equal"
The charges against both Issa and Farid are baseless – they are simply being punished for their work as human rights defenders.
“We don’t want to destroy Israel,” Issa told us, “We want to be equal.”
All Issa and Farid want is their home back and to live in a fair and just society, free from discrimination and violence.
Stand with Issa and Farid: Call on the UK government to stop trading with Israel’s illegal settlements.
Stolen goods and mass discrimination: this is what our government is supporting.
Urge them to ban Israeli settlement goods now.
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- AFP/Getty Images
- Amnesty International (Richard Burton)
- Abed Al Hashlamoun/Epa/REX/Shutterstock
- ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
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Created by Amnesty International UK
With huge thanks to Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash
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Published on 16 October 2017