Monday, October 20, 2008

Changing Geography - Facts on the Ground

Today we're joined by H representative of the Israeli Campagn Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD). H is a Jewish Israeli, veteran of the IDF and dedicated activist against the human rights violations he sees being undertaken in this land.

We start with a history lesson, with maps that I've seen before in my pre-trip studies, territories and lines defining the political positions, outcomes of war, UN determinations and human realities at key points from the Ottoman Empire, through the British Mandate (oh yes our hands are soiled), the declaration of an independant Jewish state, the 1948 war, the Six Day War of 1967 and finally to the Post-Oslo Accord current era.

But a new mapping detail is introduced, the geography of occupation and settlement.

A geography that has already become apparent to us in our travels around just a small section of the West Bank and the Jerusalem area.

From a cluster of caravans 'claiming' hill tops, to Milton Keyne-esque towns of tens of thousands of homes, Israeli settlements within the occupied territories are an undeniable reality. Illegal in many eyes under the Geneva Convention, claims of ceasation of settlement creation and extension, are simply not bourne out by the facts on the ground.

And facts on the ground are what this game is about.

Negotiations and peace talks become inherently influenced by the facts on the ground, with historic claims out-matched by current day realities.

How can you continue to argue Palestinian sovereignty of any given area in the face of inhabitation by a majority Jewish population, or an Israeli military or police base, or a network of settler roads?

Place these areas strategically, grab key bits of land, push people out of here and there, join up the dots, build a wall...and you change the game.

Encircle the land east of Jerusalem and you further your dream of a unified Israeli Jerusalem and destroy that of a workable Palestinian capital city in East Jerusalem.

Form a ribbon through the centre of the West Bank and you make the reality of a unified Palestinian state in the West Bank unviable.

Change the facts on the ground, change the facts.

As we head out, we see this in evidence again and again. The patterns are undeniable, this is no coincidence.

We start our journey through West Jerusalem, filled with suburbs that look like any mediterenean modern city; decent highways, proper pavements, civic soft-landscaping, municple services in full effect. Then we head to the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem.

The contrast is stark and immediate. Highways are in a poor state of repair, pavements almost non-existent, municiple planting nowhere to be seen, refuse collection clearly patchy, utility service rather sporadic and so on and so on.

It's hard to believe that citizens of both areas come under the same municple authority, pay the same municple taxes. The stats quoted (iirc) are that the Palestinian population contribute around 33% of the city's taxes, but receive less than 10% of the tax spend.

Facts very evident on the ground.

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