Palestinian Culture: 64 Years Under Israeli Assault
In late July, while on a trip to Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sparked outrage amongst Palestinians by telling a group of supporters at a fundraiser that the glaring disparity between the strength of Israel's economy and that of the Palestinian territories is a result of differences in the respective cultures of Israelis and Palestinians. In response, many critics pointed out that the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, have been under Israeli military occupation for more than 45 years, with Israel tightly controlling and systematically stifling Palestinian economic activity. Moreover, some pointed out that the destructive effects that Israeli policies have had on Palestinian economic development in the occupied territories is just one part of a wider, systematic, decades-old Israeli assault against Palestinian culture and historical memory. To put this controversy into context, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet detailing Israel's more than six-decade-old assault on Palestinian society and culture.
MASS EXPULSIONS OF PALESTINIANS
& THEFT OF PALESTINIAN LAND
- During Israel's creation (1947-49) some 750,000 Palestinians, or 3/4 of the Arab population in what would become Israel, were expelled from their homes and land by Zionist and then Israeli forces to make way for a Jewish majority state in a region that had previously been populated overwhelmingly by Muslim and Christian Palestinian Arabs.
- Some 400 Palestinian towns and villages, including vibrant urban centers, were systematically destroyed by Zionist and Israeli forces during and after the creation of the state.
- The total monetary loss of Palestinians dispossessed during Israel's creation has been estimated at upwards of $100 billion (US) in today's dollars.
- At the end of 1947, just prior to Israel's establishment, Zionist Jews and organizations owned less than 7% of the land of British Mandate Palestine. Despite this, the United Nations Partition Plan passed in November 1947 allotted 55% of Mandate Palestine to a new Jewish state, disregarding the property rights and wishes of Palestinian Arabs, who comprised some 67% of the population.
- During the subsequent military campaign that accompanied Israel's creation, Zionist and Israeli forces expanded far beyond the borders of the Jewish state called for in the UN Partition Plan, conquering 78% of Mandate Palestine and incorporating it into what became Israel's internationally recognized, pre-1967 War borders.
- Most Palestinian refugees fled or were forced from their homes on short notice. Almost 65 years later, those refugees and their descendants continue to be denied their legal right to return to their land and homes, as called for in UN Resolution 194, and have been denied any kind of compensation from Israel for their economic and other losses.
- In 1967, during the June, or Six-Day War, Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the 22% of historic Palestine that remained outside its borders in 1948. In addition to creating tens of thousands of new Palestinian refugees, some for the second time over, almost immediately Israeli authorities began to colonize the occupied territories, in violation of international law, with Jewish-only settlements built on expropriated Palestinian land. Today more than half a million Israeli Jews live on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
- In 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization made what was considered a major historic compromise, renouncing claim to 78% of Mandate Palestine and agreeing to a Palestinian state on just the remaining 22%, comprising the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Despite this, Israel has continued to relentlessly colonize the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem with a network of Jewish-only settlements and attendant infrastructure, Israeli-only roads, military bases, and the West Bank wall, surrounding, dissecting, and isolating Palestinian population centers from one another and the outside world.
THEFT, DESTRUCTION & APPROPRIATION OF PALESTINIAN CULTURE
- During Israel's creation in 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinian books were systematically "collected" by the Israeli army and its precursor, the Hagannah, in cooperation with the Israeli National Library. The books included priceless volumes of Palestinian Arab and Muslim literature, including poetry, works of history and fiction. Thousands of the books were destroyed and recycled for paper, while others were added to the library's collection. Today, many remain in the Israeli National Library, designated abandoned property.
- Since prior to Israel's founding in 1948, British and then Israeli authorities engaged in a systematic campaign targeting Palestinian political leaders, artists, and intellectuals for imprisonment, exile, and assassination, starting in the 1930s with the exiling by British authorities of the Palestinian political leadership of the Arab Higher Committee. Amongst the artists and intellectuals subsequently murdered by Israel were writer Ghassan Kanafani, and poet and intellectual Wael Zuaiter.
- During Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israeli forces systematically looted and confiscated the accumulated national archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, including invaluable collections of films and other cultural artifacts.
- In a move that prompted international criticism and typifies Israeli policy towards Palestinian sites that are of cultural and historical importance, Israel is allowing the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center to build a "Museum of Tolerance" over one of the oldest and most culturally significant Palestinian Muslim sites in the Holy Land, the ancient Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem. Press reports have revealed evidence of widespread desecrations of tombs and their remains by construction workers.
DENIAL OF ACCESS TO EDUCATION
- Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians living in the occupied territories, including its network of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, travel permit system, and siege of Gaza, prevent many Palestinian students from reaching their schools and accessing their right to education.
- There is a de facto embargo against Palestinian students from the occupied territories wishing to study abroad. Students from Gaza in particular, including Fulbright Scholars, are often prevented by Israel's siege from traveling to universities in the West Bank and abroad to study in their chosen fields.
- In the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the First Intifada, or uprising against Israel's occupation, Israeli authorities shut down many Palestinian schools, forcing Palestinians teachers and students to improvise classes in secret to avoid being shut down by the Israeli army.
STIFLING OF PALESTINIAN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
- In July 2012, the World Bank released a report that concluded Palestinian economic growth in the West Bank was unsustainable citing Israeli restrictions as the biggest impediment. The International Monetary Fund has stated the same thing.
- At any given time, there are upwards of 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other barriers to movement within the occupied West Bank, -- an area smaller than Delaware -- hindering Palestinians and their goods from moving between their own towns and cities and the outside world. (Click here for December 2011 UN map of barriers to movement in the West Bank)
- Historically, Jerusalem has been the economic and cultural center of Palestinian life in the surrounding West Bank. However, as a result of Israeli policies and actions taken in and around occupied East Jerusalem (the borders of which were greatly expanded by Israel unilaterally following the start of its occupation in 1967), including settlement construction and the implementation of a permit system for non-Israeli citizens, today Palestinians living in the West Bank are largely cut off from the city, unable to visit for worship, to see family, or to do business.
- Almost 80% of the Jordan Valley, once the breadbasket of Palestine, is off-limits to Palestinians, designated for Israeli settlements, military 'firing zones,' and 'nature reserves.' (Click here for 2012 UN map)
- According to a December 2010 Human Rights Watch report entitled "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories":
'Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits... While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp -- not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes.'
GAZA SIEGE & BLOCKADE
- Although Israel withdrew its soldiers and 8000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Gaza remains under Israeli occupation according to international law as Israel continues to maintain effective control over the area, controlling most entry in and out of the territory, as well as its coastline and airspace.
- Since the early 1990s, Israel has restricted passage to and from Gaza, but in 2006, following Hamas' victory in Palestinian elections, Israel tightened its restrictions severely and imposed a naval blockade on the tiny coastal enclave of 1.6 million people. (Click here for December 2011 Gaza access and closure map)
- A 2009 Amnesty International report following Operation Cast Lead, Israel's devastating military assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, stated:
'The prolonged blockade of Gaza, which had already been in place for some 18 months before the current fighting began, amounts to collective punishment of its entire population.'
- Israeli officials have admitted that the siege is not motivated primarily by security concerns, but is part of a strategy of "economic warfare" against the people of Gaza. In 2006, senior advisor to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Dov Weisglass, said the goal of the Gaza siege was to put the people of Gaza "on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."
- Although Israel loosened restrictions somewhat under international pressure following its deadly assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010, the siege and blockade continue to smother Gaza economically. According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report:
'Israel's punitive closure of the Gaza Strip, tightened after Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June 2007, continued to have severe humanitarian and economic consequences for the civilian population.
'Gaza's economy grew rapidly, but the World Bank said the growth depended on international assistance. The economy had not returned to pre-closure levels; daily wages, for instance, had declined 23 percent since 2007. Israel's near-total restrictions on exports from Gaza hindered economic recovery. Due to low per capita income, 51 percent of the population was unable to buy sufficient food, according to UN aid agencies.
'Israel allowed imports to Gaza that amounted to around 40 percent of pre-closure levels, the UN reported. Israel continued to bar construction materials, like cement, which it said had "dual use" civilian and military applications. Israel allowed shipments of construction materials for projects operated by international organizations, but as of September Gaza still had an estimated shortage of some 250 schools and 100,000 homes.'
THEFT & DESTRUCTION OF PALESTINAN NATURAL RESOURCES
- After taking control of the occupied territories in 1967, Israel began to exploit their natural resources. Most critically in the semi-arid region, Israel began to exploit aquifers and other water sources.
- A 2009 Amnesty International report entitled "Israel rations Palestinians to trickle of water" found:
'In the Gaza Strip, 90 to 95 per cent of the water from its only water resource, the Coastal Aquifer, is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Yet, Israel does not allow the transfer of water from the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to Gaza.
'Stringent restrictions imposed in recent years by Israel on the entry into Gaza of material and equipment necessary for the development and repair of infrastructure have caused further deterioration of the water and sanitation situation in Gaza, which has reached [a] crisis point.'
- According to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, 60,000 Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, lack access to running water, and must pay high prices (up to one-sixth of their income) to bring in water tankers, which require special permits from Israel.
- According to the 2011 US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied territories:
'Between January and July, according to the UN, the Israeli military destroyed 20 water cisterns, some of which were funded by donor countries for humanitarian purposes.
'Palestinian residents reported that water supplies were intermittent, and settlers and their security guards denied Palestinians, including shepherds and farmers, access to the springs.'
- In the West Bank, Israeli settlers consume on average 4.3 times the amount of water as Palestinians. In the Jordan Valley alone, some 9000 settlers in Israeli agricultural settlements use one-quarter the total amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, some 2.5 million people.
- In addition to water and arable land, Israel also exploits Palestinian resources such as minerals, including from the Dead Sea region.
DESTRUCTION OF AGRICULTURE
- Since the start of the occupation in 1967, Israel has destroyed vast amounts of Palestinian agricultural land in order to construct settlements and attendant infrastructure such as roads and military bases, and for the West Bank wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. In addition, vast amounts of farmland have been destroyed in Israeli military operations and by rampaging Jewish settlers, who set fire to Palestinian fields and crops, uproot olive trees, and even kill livestock.
- According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, in 2011 alone some 10,000 Palestinian-owned trees, mostly olive trees, were damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers, significantly undermining the livelihoods of hundreds of West Bank families.
- Between 2000 and 2007, more than half a million Palestinian olive trees were destroyed by settlers or by Israel for the construction of the West Bank wall.