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The abnormal normality of the occupation and its 'escalations'

To pretend as though the events of recent days are extraordinary is to ignore the context that led to this ‘flare-up’ and is disrespectful to the millions of Palestinians who wrestle with the occupation every day, in both the West Bank and in Gaza.

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

It’s Wednesday. The death toll in Gaza is in the dozens and rising as Layla*, a Christian Palestinian, gets into my car. We live in Bethelehem. She needs a ride to pick up her tasrich (permit) from the Civil Administration’s office in Gush Etzion, where Israel and the Western media claim that the current “flare-up” began.

Layla laughs at our clothes as she opens the passenger door. With her sleeveless top and above-the-knee skirt, she says, she looks like a settler. I’m in long sleeves and jeans, which Layla calls “Abu Dis style,” referring to the conservative Muslim village where I teach. Although we joke about our clothes, I wonder if they reflect the increased tension of recent days; I wonder if they reflect the anxieties neither of us want to admit to.

We leave Bethlehem and merge onto a road that’s shared by army jeeps, Palestinians, and Jewish Israeli civilians and settlers. Layla sighs, “I don’t know who to be afraid of anymore, Mya,” she says. We reason that being together keeps us safe from everyone. No matter who might stop us, we’ll be able to reason with them in their own language. Both our clothes and words will be familiar.

But, as we drive deeper into Gush Etzion, we quickly notice how “normal” things are in the West Bank. “Look at all the settlers,” Layla exclaims, tapping on the window as we pass them. Even though it’s midday, even though it’s blisteringly hot, even though three Israeli boys were murdered not far from here, even though Mohammed Abu Khdeir was brutally murdered by Jews, even though settlements are illegal, even though Israel is pummeling Gaza, there they are. Settlers. Waiting for buses. Hitchhiking.

A lone soldier crosses the road in front of us. “Oh, isn’t he afraid?” Layla asks, sarcastically.

“Look,” Layla says again, pointing at an Israeli woman standing by the side of the road in a skirt, her head wrapped in a scarf. “They’re everywhere.” Layla’s voice is indignant, conflicted. Indignant that the media has made it seem as though Jews aren’t safe; conflicted that they are.

“It seems they are having a very normal life in the street. And then they say that they are afraid and they drive us [Palestinians] crazy with their ‘security’ issues.”

Aadi,” normal, I say in Arabic.

***

That’s what this so-called “flare-up” is. More of the same. Yes, there is obviously a surge in the pace of violence and death and destruction and arrests since Israeli officials decided to shamelessly lie to the public and exploit the tragic death of three Jewish boys so they could embark on a campaign against Hamas. Yes, events are happening closer together than they usually do; yes, the timeline is sped up. But violence and death and destruction and arrests are the norm under Israeli occupation. And to pretend as though the events that have occurred in recent days are extraordinary is to ignore the context that led to this “flare-up” and is disrespectful to the millions of Palestinians who wrestle with the occupation every day.

Yes, recent weeks have seen mass arrests in the West Bank, but ask my students—many of whom have family members in Israeli jails—if arbitrary imprisonment is normal or not. Ask my quiet, pious, straight-A student whose beloved brother was taken from her for over a year on trumped up charges of stone throwing.

Or young West Bankers might talk to you about Samer Issawi, who was held in administrative detention without charge for 17 months. Or ask the more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners who are currently being held in Israeli jails, many on administrative detention. Or ask the estimated 700,000 who have been imprisoned since the occupation began in 1967.

Ask young West Bankers when this “flare-up” began and they likely won’t date it to the murders of the three Israeli boys. No, maybe they would point to May, when 17-year-old Nadeem Nowarah and another protester, 16-year-old Mohammad Odeh, were shot to death by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration.

Or pick any other number of Palestinian children who have been killed by the Israeli army recently as your starting point. Like 14-year-old Yusef a-Shawamreh. Or we could date the beginning of this “flare-up” back to December 2013, when 15-year-old Wajih al-Ramahi was shot in the back by Israeli forces.

Or, rather than starting with the kidnapping of the three Jewish boys, why not begin the timeline with the kidnappings of Palestinian children from their beds by Israeli soldiers?

Citing a report by the non-governmental organization Defence for Children International, Al Jazeera states: “In the past 11 years, DCI estimates that around 7,500 children, some as young as 12, have been detained, interrogated and imprisoned” in Israeli military detention. “This is about 500-700 children per year, or nearly two children every day.

Israeli Border Police officer detains a Palestinian child at a protest in Kufr Qaddum, January 25, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Police officer detains a Palestinian child at a protest in Kufr Qaddum, January 25, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

As for Israel’s unrelenting bombings of Gaza, as for the loss of civilian life there, we should also remember that this, too, is normal—Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip die on a regular basis. What we see in recent days is an acceleration in the deaths that are part of life in Gaza. And just as innocent civilians have been killed during this “flare-up,” so have they been killed in times when the international media has been paying less attention.

Earlier this year, the Israeli non-governmental agency B’TSelem noted a spike in the number of Palestinian civilians who were killed by Israeli forces near Gaza’s perimeter fence. In March, after 57-year-old Amneh Qdeih was shot dead along the fence, B’Tselem noted that it was “the fifth incident in the last three months in which Gaza residents who were not taking part in hostilities were killed by Israeli security forces near the perimeter fence.”

Palestinian children take pictures of each other in the No-go zone near Erez crossing, during the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Every Tuesday Palestinians and supporters march from Beit Hanoun into the "buffer zone" or the No-go zone , where the fertile land has been made inaccessible to Palestinians due to the imminent danger of shooting by the Israeli army. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinian children take pictures of each other in the No-go zone near Erez crossing, during the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Every Tuesday Palestinians and supporters march from Beit Hanoun into the “buffer zone” or the No-go zone , where the fertile land has been made inaccessible to Palestinians due to the imminent danger of shooting by the Israeli army. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Even when there is not an “operation” per se taking place, Gaza is subject to bombings by the Israeli air force. This year nine Palestinians in Gaza, including one child, were killed by Israeli strikes before the current “flare-up.”

There’s also the Israeli blockade, which visits violence upon the people of Gaza by crushing their economy, devastating healthcare, and curtailing educational opportunities. To name a few. The blockade is also a psychological and social battering of Gaza. Its disastrous effects cannot be overstated.

That it’s not just about this “flare-up” was the sentiment some Palestinians expressed to The Washington Post’s William Booth:

One afternoon, we were talking to a gathering of middle-aged men… I asked them if they thought the war, or whatever one calls this, would go on long.

“Who cares?” answered Abu Ahmed, 46, an out-of-work construction worker. I asked what he meant. “We lived in hell before, we will live in hell again,” he said.

***

In the West Bank there are insidious forms of everyday violence. Things that, on the surface, might not look like violence. Like getting a permit.

Layla and I arrive at the Civil Administration’s Bethlehem area office. She enters her identity number into a machine, which spits out a slip of paper. She approaches an entryway that is blocked—floor to ceiling—by a barred turnstile. On the other side, a soldier sits in a booth behind a thick, glass window. The message of the architecture is: the soldier’s life is valuable and he must be protected from the dangerous savages. The architecture itself is accusatory, condemning, and violent.

“Excuse me, I’m here to get a permit,” Layla says politely, in English, through the bars.

Ma?” What? The soldier shouts, in Hebrew, through the intercom. Layla doesn’t speak Hebrew.

Tasrich?” Layla tries again.

He unlocks the turnstile and Layla enters and passes through a metal detector. She disappears into the building.

There are about half a dozen men in the waiting room, including three who are there to be interrogated by the mukhabarat, intelligence, the Shin Bet. The soldier tells one of the men, “Come, come.”

He heads to the turnstile and waits to be let through.

“No, no, sit,” the soldier barks in Arabic.

The man returns to his seat. Only to be told to come again. Only to be sent back to his chair.

It seems like the soldier is playing with the man.

Once she’s inside, Layla discovers that the computer “isn’t working” on Wednesday. She won’t be able to get her permit. We leave, making the 20 minute drive back to Bethlehem, only to turn around on Thursday afternoon—when the death count in Gaza is even higher—to make the drive back to Gush Etzion again.

This time, Layla has brought lollipops to lighten the mood. She offers me a cherry Chupa Chup and unwraps the strawberry one for herself.

There are more people in the waiting room then the previous day. Today, it’s mostly women, including a young mother with a tiny newborn, a baby girl. The young mother and the women are waiting to be interrogated by the mukhabarat. They’ve been waiting for a while when we arrive and they’ll still be there when Layla and I leave an hour and 40 minutes later with the permit she shouldn’t need—part of her family was from Jaffa. They were on the land before the state was. Now, they’re refugees. And when Layla and I went back to Jaffa a few months ago to look for the house, she couldn’t even find it.

The women sit and wait as the soldier on the other side of the bars calls out random names—names of people who aren’t there. It seems like he’s calling out every name but theirs. It’s Ramadan and it’s hot and the women are fasting. Their faces are tired. They move and sit by the open door, the one source of fresh air in the room. There is a sign on the wall opposite the women that reads “Drinking Water” in Arabic. But the water fountain is unplugged and dusty.

And they sit and they wait as the soldier shouts, “Amal? Amal?” through the intercom.

I wonder if the soldier knows that this name means hope.

Layla and I leave. On the way to the car, she tells me she met Palestinians inside who were also there on Wednesday for hours waiting to get permits for medical reasons. They were told to return Thursday and waited for hours again.

“This is called structural violence, Mya,” she says. “It’s dehumanizing. And it’s humiliating to wait for an 18-year-old to give you a piece of paper that allows you to get into Jerusalem or any part of ‘48 [Israel] except for Eilat. I don’t know what their problem is with Eilat. What’s there in Eilat?”

She shrugs and laughs, “They’re so silly, I swear.”

As we drive away, I wonder how long the women waiting will be there. I remember what countless Palestinians have told me. That one of the things, perhaps the most valuable thing the occupation steals from them is their time. “Land can be taken back,” they say. “Time cannot.”

A Palestinian worker wait outside the Ni'lin checkpoint. In the background the settlement of Hashmonaim, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian worker wait outside the Ni’lin checkpoint. In the background the settlement of Hashmonaim, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The time that people spend waiting: for permits, at checkpoints, driving circuitous routes to reach places that before the occupation and before the separation barrier took them half the time. I can’t count the times that Bethlehemites have told me that they miss going to Ramallah to meet friends for coffee. How it used to be a short trip, how it used to be possible. “Now,” they say. “It takes an hour and a half just to get there.” How these relationships have been lost or weakened as a result.

This is the normal, everyday violence of the occupation. This is what the Israelis don’t want you to think about when they start their timeline of this “flare-up” with the kidnapping and murder of the three boys.

*Not her real name. “Layla” wishes to remain anonymous for, as she put it, “security reasons.”

Related:
What ‘no country in the world’ should tolerate
Shock, not awe, among ‘battle-hardened’ Gazans
A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel

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    COMMENTS

    1. Arb

      Those Israelis are just so silly.

      So to review:

      Settlers live normal lives. Palestinians do not. Israelis are indecent people who are foolishly paranoid and deeply disrespectful of Palestinians, but Palestinians are decent people who confused by Israeli foolishness and respectful of Israelis.

      Brilliant.

      Reply to Comment
      • Arb

        Funny, I checked out Ynet to read the news and found this video distributed by Hamas to celebrate the shooting of a school bus in 2011 in which they murdered a 16 year old Israeli:

        http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4543021,00.html

        That’s right, as if the murder of a boy isn’t sufficient, and as if targeting a bus, much less a school bus, isn’t disgusting enough, they actually celebrate and boast of this action and then try to use it as psychological warfare against Israelis.

        Oh, and just to remind you: Israel has been entirely out of Gaza – every last Jewish civilian and soldier – since 2005, and in Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian Authority has been ruling for 20 years now. That’s without getting into the peace offers made by Israel which would have granted your friend the opportunity to live in her own Palestinian state. Sadly, those offers were rejected by her leaders. Apparently 98% of what they claim they want wasn’t enough.

        Reply to Comment
        • Goldmarx

          Israel may be “out” of Gaza, but it has surrounded and choked Gaza ever since its unilateral unnegotiated withdrawal in the 2000. Sea lanes cut off, sonic booms terrorizing the citizens; forcing many to build and rely on tunnels.

          The peace plan offered to the Palestinians were a joke – the West Bank would be transformed into cantons separated by a crisscross of roads leading to Jewish settlements hogging all the best land and other resources. ‘98%’ is bullshit if it’s not contiguous.

          Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            You’re living with excuses from 2000 that have long been immaterial. As I note in another discussion, since you don’t know your stuff you should really keep to other conversations.

            Reply to Comment
          • Goldmarx

            You have demonstrated nothing of the kind. You try to comfort yourself by telling yourself that, but it won’t work. You’re giving masturbation a bad name.

            Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            Dude, look up “Clinton Parameters.” You will see what Israel offered at Taba which removed the bisecting roads of the Camp David offer. Those bisecting roads, particularly the big one from Jerusalem to the Jordanian border were the reason claims were made the Israeli offer was not for a contiguous state. At Taba and then with Olmert’s offer, that bisecting road was gone. No longer could anybody claim the Palestinians weren’t offered contiguity.

            Will you pay me for providing you with lessons?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Lisa Goldman

      Barrabarb —

      When you lose your compassion, you lose your humanity. Your comments have gone beyond self-parody. There’s nothing in them worth responding to anymore. Except to note that anyone who can read this account and respond as you have is morally lost.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard

      Lisa – Barrabarb is doing the same thing Mya is doing in this piece – repeating the same idea over and over because that’s an effective way to persuade people of ANY idea. That’s why every +972 piece boils down to “focusing on this is a mistake because we should be focusing on the OCCUPATION” or “focusing on that is a mistake because we should be focusing on the APARTHEID.” Its an old propaganda/advertising technique and its this site’s entire content strategy, so it seems hypocritical of you to knock it.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lisa Goldman

      Richard. Touch a match to that strawman of yours and it’ll go up in a poof of smoke within a nanosecond. The anagram a-r-b commenter never responds to the content of a post. Sarah Pailin-like, she basically says, “I’m not going to deal with the content of your post but speak directly to my people.” And then she rattles them off, over and over. It’s quite true that +972 contributors are all against the occupation. That’s actually written in our ‘about’ section. But your claim that every post is an iteration of “occupation=bad” is so absurd that it’s not worth addressing. And I suspect you know that, too.

      Reply to Comment
      • Arb

        Actually, Lisa, I addressed the article very specifically.

        For example, the article states,

        “She approaches an entryway that is blocked—floor to ceiling—by a barred turnstile. On the other side, a soldier sits in a booth behind a thick, glass window. The message of the architecture is: the soldier’s life is valuable and he must be protected from the dangerous savages. The architecture itself is accusatory, condemning, and violent.”

        I wrote in response and jokingly, “Israelis are indecent people who are foolishly paranoid and deeply disrespectful of Palestinians.”

        Seems to me that’s a direct response.

        Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen many government and bank offices in the USA that have significant security measures. In my city, for example, I cannot enter primary local government offices for services without going through a serious security check that includes a physical barrier. And they don’t have terrorism here.

        So am I supposed to assume that my local city council or my local bank deem me to be a “savage” and go out of their way to hassle me? No. They do it because they have legitimate security concerns. In the case of the Israeli soldier behind the glass wall, the Israelis have excellent reason to be concerned, mostly because Layla’s government, the PA, and Layla’s people in general, are engaged in a war against Israelis.

        So what type of response would have satisfied you, Lisa, when it came to this negative anti-Israel propaganda piece? Did you want me to respond like your anti-Israel crazies on this site and spout some more hostility against Israel?

        In a normal world, I could and would have shown sympathy for Layla’s plight. Unfortunately, her situation was depicted in such malicious anti-Israel baiting terms by Mya Guarnieri that the only fair response was to point out their ridiculousness.

        In my past, I’ve had to spend hours and days running around Israeli administrative offices trying to work out this document or that. Sometimes the people who were there to “help” me were unhelpful, uncaring, assholes (and sometimes they were charming and helpful) and my time was significantly wasted. I was mightily pissed off with no recourse. There are plenty of such failures in Israel. But to turn it into a story about the peace-loving Layla and the bastard Israelis who make her life miserable? Really? As if in the last 15 years we haven’t seen sufficient reasons to make security an overriding issue for Israelis? Do thousands of Palestinian sniper attacks and hundreds of bombing attempts not qualify as legitimate reasons for concern? Did you watch that video of the Hamas guys targeting a bus and boasting of their murder of a 16 year old?

        On a side note, since you want to talk substance, permit me to say that I have deep sympathy for Layla’s plight. I wish she lived in freedom in her own state with the same rights and peace that I enjoy in the US and that Israelis enjoy (to a limited degree but not fully because they are surrounded by enemies). Unfortunately, the situation is complex and nowhere near a resolution. I truly believe that activists such as you and Guarnieri are further undermining the possibility of peace, even if your intentions are kind towards others. Sometimes you kill with kindness, and weakening Israel with your constant propaganda articles against everything Israel does, is probably the worst conceivable approach to resolving this conflict. You strengthen those Palestinians who want to promote and prolong the conflict. And, by extension, you weaken those like Layla who would love to just live normally and peacefully. Your articles make her plight worse and strengthen both Hamas and the elements in the PA and Fatah who don’t wish to see a resolution. It’s more than naivete on your part, because you actually turn your beliefs into actions.

        Reply to Comment
      • Arb

        Oh, and Lisa, do me a favor and please don’t ban Arb. After Bar and Rab were banned (for what, exactly? For pointing out what UNSCR 242 states according to Rostow and Carradon?), I was left with Arb and Bra as my remaining name options (Rba just doesn’t roll of the tongue). You’ll agree the latter option will look ridiculous which will force me to come up with silly monikers like Bar 2 or Bar the Second Coming.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Richard

      Lisa – you’re right: using every piece of news to write a piece that rehashing the horrors of the occupation according to the standard checklist is not +972’s ONLY content strategy. Sorry to exaggerating. You guys also publish content about Mizrahi identity that are designed to divide Israeli Jews and tell the Mizrahim that their allegiance should be to Arabism. And there are other anti-Zionist tropes you rely on as well. I can’t be comprehensive in one comment. But what your pieces and Arb’s comments have in common, is that neither side is writing about the events AT HAND, a la Anshel Pfeffer’s recent piece about the pros/cons of invading Gaza (which actually told me something I didn’t already know). +972 is anti-Zionist activism dressed in the garb of journalism, which is why MOST (not all) of your content is so repetitive. And your funding sources offer a very satisfactory explanation for why this is the case. No straw man there, sorry. Once you start putting up actual reporting, you will have the upper hand on Arb. Until then, you guys are on the same level.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        Apologies for over-gerunding. That’s a common typo for me.

        Reply to Comment
      • Arb

        Wait a minute. Why insult me? Nobody has offered me a chance to write? I am a commenter here and I respond to the articles. It’s true there is a lot of repetition, but that’s because 972 writers return to the same themes, which in turn means I’m going to be responding similarly.

        It’s unfair to hold me to the same standard when I’m always responding. Hold me to the same standard if I’m an author.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lisa Goldman

          Collectively you’ve presented a case study to illustrate a social media investigation into why nobody reads the comments. I shan’t either. And Bar, I didn’t ban you. The question is, why you would insist upon returning obsessively to a place that just doesn’t want you. Poor social skills.

          Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            I think an objective outsider who would read our interactions would find your hostility toward me, usually expressed in extremely hostile and “personal” attacks, to be very curious.

            I suspect plenty of people read the comments. Far fewer than people who read the articles, but still a large number, particularly when the commenter is informed about the topic.

            However, you are welcome to ignore my comments.

            Reply to Comment
        • Reza Lustig

          There’s a difference: 972 writers give commentary, you give us rhetoric and talking points, a lot of them depressingly repetitive. Like, for instance, justifying stuff “you” did because “they” did it first; crying crocodile tears over civilian deaths, and demanding Hamas be held responsible for “making us do it.”

          Yes, Bar, obviously Layla must be held in contempt, and responsible for her own suffering, because as a Palestinian civilian with no political power whatsoever, it’s all her fault for not leading a Pro-Jewish revolution to overthrow Hamas and install a pro-Israeli government. And it goes without saying that the poor overworked IDF are given a bad rap; they’re just doing their jobs *coughcoughcoughEichmannDefensecough*.
          When will you leave us alone? We have heard all this before.

          Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            My heart breaks for you, Reza.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            How droll. And ineffectual.

            Reply to Comment
      • Arb

        There is supposed to be a period, not a question mark after “Nobody has offered me a chance to write.”

        Reply to Comment
    6. Y.

      Lets recap. Layla needs a permit to go into “48′ Israel”. She comes across the typical bureaucracy, a bureaucracy which is wary of her (wonder why) and eventually gets one. The “structural violence” is that she even needs one to get into “48′ Israel” (“permit she shouldn’t need — part of her family was from Jaffa”).

      This site sometimes pretends to support a two-state solution (any version of which would have to have some border), but sometimes the mask falls off. Thanks. +972 is often for all purposes a very useful ad for right wing politics.

      Reply to Comment
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