26th February 2006
I have been here for a week. There is a huge amount to learn. Not just being in a new culture, acclimatizing my ear to the sounds of a new language and learning so many new names. But about the occupation itself, there are so many layers to understand, to become aware of, to see.
As I suspected the things that have so far been most shocking for me are the unexpected, the things I had not read about or seen documented. The Wall, the checkpoints, the lack of freedom of movement, the daily violations of the human rights of Palestinians....all these things are deeply disturbing, but are the things I was expecting to see.
I am only just beginning to comprehend the numerous and not so obvious ways the Israeli government works to erase evidence of Palestinian life in the West Bank. The absence of road signs to Palestinian villages. The prevalence of road signs to the illegal Israeli settlements. One Palestinian village in this district has tried numerous times to put up a sign which is continuously taken down. Speaking of road signs in the face of more obvious and violent manifestations of the Occupation may seem trivial but it is about trying to make a whole people invisible, non-existent, erased from the map.
I am staying in the Salfit district in central West Bank. The area is heavily populated by illegal Israeli settlements. There are about 55,000 Palestinians living in this area, and shockingly 50,000 settlers. The settlers are living on land stolen from Palestinians. From my limited knowledge there are, broadly speaking, 2 types of residential settlements, those motivated by religious ideology and those motivated by economics. The ideological ones are responsible for repeated violence against Palestinians, often when they are trying to access their land or just attempting to go about their daily lives. The ones driven by economics are inhabited by poorer Israelis who can have a higher standard of living in the settlements than in Israel. Ariel, close to where I'm staying, is the biggest settlement in the West Bank. It is motivated by economics and inhabited by approximately 30,000 Israeli settlers. It is huge, consumes a massively disproportionate amount of water and electricity, and is connected by a settler road to Tel Aviv.
In Salfit district the Wall is already complete in places. In some places everything is prepared to start constructing. In other places the route is not yet finalised. Ariel and countless other settlements will be taken in to the Israeli "side" of the Wall. This will mean even more Palestinian land is lost, as well as a further carving up of the region making travel extremely difficult, time consuming and expensive for the Palestinians. In places the "Ariel finger" will cut 22km into the West Bank. That is a huge amount of land being stolen.