So how do you know if you’re in an apartheid state? Well, if you can look at a building, street or neighborhood with no people on it or in it and tell, just from looking, which of two groups lives there then you’re standing in an apartheid state. This is the case in Israel/Palestine and this blog will explain using photographs from my recent holiday in the area how to spot the difference between Israeli homes and neighborhoods and Palestinians homes and neighborhoods.
Take the photograph at the top of the page, which was taken in East Jerusalem, the area of Jerusalem that the UN considers part of Palestine but that Israel has been occupying, along with the rest of the West Bank, since 1967. The first thing you’ll probably notice about the picture is the big wall dividing the two communities. Before I went to the area, I naively assumed that the walls were to separate Israel from Palestine, for the “security” of Israelis. In fact, they are built by Israel on what is, according to the UN, Palestinian land and either divide Palestinians from Palestinians in order to make their lives as difficult as possible in the hope that they’ll leave the area or, like in the picture above, they divide Palestinians from Israeli settlers. Settlers are Jews from around the world who are paid, or heavily subsidised, by the Israeli State to live on land taken from the Palestinians.
The first way of telling which side is the Israeli settlement and which is Palestinian is the presence of the digger which is building a new Israeli home. For Palestinians, buildings (prisons excepted) aren’t built, they’re just destroyed. The second way of telling is that if you look closely at the far side, you’ll see little black boxes on top of each Palestinian block of flats. These are for storing water. The Israeli homes don’t have them because Israel controls the vast majority of the region’s water. The wells and water sources in the West Bank, the area the international community considers Palestine, have been seized by the Israeli military and exploited by Israeli water companies. These companies provide Israelis with running water at reasonable rates all year round. Palestinians receive water only haphazardly and the supplies are liable to be turned off at any time. As they need water, (it’s really hot), they are forced to pay for water to be brought in on a lorry, at extortionate rates, and to store the water in these black tanks. As a Palestinian Christian man said to me “we have to buy back the water that they have stolen from us”. According to Amnesty International, Israelis use 300 litres of water a day while Palestinians use only 70. The 0.5 million Israeli settlers in the West Bank use more water than the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli areas have swimming pools and gardens. Palestinians have these black tanks.
Another way of telling is the quality of the neighborhood and it’s public services. On the far left, you can see a nice well-tarmacked road. On the right, there are dirt tracks or no roads at all. This is because Jerusalem has an Israeli-Jewish Mayor. Although Palestinians and Israelis pay the same taxes, this Mayor spends 88% of his budget on West Jerusalem, the Israeli part of Jerusalem. Thus West Jerusalem has public toilets, regular bin collections, parks, leisure facilities,street lights and good public transport. Palestinian neighbourhoods are full of rubbish piled up, they’re dark at night with no street lamps, the roads have pot holes. If you didn’t know about the political situation you would think that the Palestinians don’t care about their own neighbourhood. You’d think they were lazy, dirty, animalistic people. This is exactly how they are painted by Israel but it’s a lie. They are forced into squalor and then blamed for that squalor.
The picture above was taken deep in the Palestinian West Bank. In the Jordan Valley, near Jericho which irrelevantly but interestingly is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world and also the city furthest below sea level (unless you believe in Atlantis). In the foreground is a Palestinian “refugee camp” which has been there since these Palestinians were forced from their homes in 1948. They live in shacks and struggle for food, water and access to medicine. In the background is the Israeli settlement placed, as a lot of them are, on a hill in order to dominate the landscape. Even from this distance you can tell where you’d rather live and where the money is spent. We met the leader of this camp who told us that William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, came to visit the camp. He had the photo below up on his wall to prove it. Hague was shown this view of the settlement, which is illegal under international law, and he saw the contrast between the poverty of the camp and the luxury of that settlement. He said he had read about the settlements but it was good to see with his own eyes. The camp leader (the man pointing) was hopeful that, having seen the evidence, this important British man would help them but the British government continues to trade with and support Israel.
Sometimes settlements are even easier to spot. The houses pictured below are settlers’ houses in the heart of East Jerusalem, Palestinian Jerusalem. Settlers aren’t shy about making themselves known and, with the backing of the occupying army, they don’t need to be. Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are a rarity, even in Palestinian neighborhoods. Palestinians don’t want to make themselves targets for the settlers or Israeli soldiers. Recently, there has been a sharp rise in the (always high) number of cases of vandalism and assault on Palestinians by Israelis in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Nobody has so far been prosecuted and I highly doubt they ever will be.
The picture below is a clear example of apartheid. It’s from the large Palestinian town of Hebron. Below the wire is the main market street where the Palestinians try and scrape a living. Above the wire live a few settlers, as marked by the Israeli flag. The wire has been put there by the Palestinians to guard against the barrage of rubbish, glass and stones which the settler family throw down at them. They have also been known to throw urine and acid. The man at the top of the photo is an Israeli soldier who’s job it is to protect the settlers from the Palestinians they are terrorizing.