The ongoing building of illegal settlements is just one feature of a brutal occupation that foments Palestinian resentment, writes Political Correspondent Juno McEnroe
Young student Hadil was walking to her university one morning in the autumn sunshine with her bag. It was like any other day. Except there isn’t any ordinary day in occupied Palestine.
The 18-year-old was making her way through the heavily militarised H2 zone of Hebron, part the Palestinian city which has all but become a ghost town.
Dressed in her native veil or niqab and a long black dress, Hadil passed through the Shuhada barrier or Israeli checkpoint 56, one of dozens dividing the city. It was 7.45am. Half an hour later, she lay on the ground bleeding to death after her body was riddled with Israeli bullets.
Hadil al-Hashloumon never made it to college. Photographs taken by a witness moments before she was gunned down show soldiers with their guns trained on the veiled teenager and within metres of her.
Disagreements abound as to whether Hadeel had a knife. Israeli soldiers claim one was found at the scene. Palestinian photos show Hadeel’s bag, with a phone and books. Witnesses claim Israeli soldiers stopped a Red Cross ambulance attending the scene.
The 2015 killing of the Hebron girl, which Amnesty International labelled “an extrajudicial execution”, is one of dozens of recent fatal incidents which are threatening to crush the already fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Some already say it is dead.
Hebron is a microcosm of the conflict, where clashes between both sides mirror the wider struggle across the divided territories.
And as Palestinians this week mark 12 years since their former leader Yasser Arafat died (some suggest he was poisoned), hopes of a roadmap for peace are at an end and patience is running out.
At the forefront of concerns for Palestinians is the surge in illegal Israeli settlements, spreading at an unprecedented rate, and the continued and subhuman restrictions in movements put on families.
There are now almost 800,000 Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands. Numbers have tripled since the peace process began and it is now estimated they could reach one million by the end of the decade, according to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ).
Institute director general Jad Isaac says water from the estimated 380 outdoor swimming pools alone in illegal settlements could solve the water crisis faced by Palestinians, who have their volumes restricted and cut off by Israelis.
“This is colonisation, ethnic cleansing, ethnic displacement. We are being turned into the united ghettos of Palestine,” adds Dr Isaac.
Pressure should be applied on other countries to demand Jewish settlers leave, argues Dr Isaac, saying that at least 100,000 actually hail from America. Others are French and British, he notes.
Lands are confiscated for so-called Israeli parks, Palestinian areas are cut in half with motorways which only Israelis can access and building permits are more or less denied to Palestinians.
Ex-Israeli soldiers with a group called Breaking the Silence have highlighted the abuse of Palestinian rights, especially the activities of settlers which are supported by the army.
Ir Amim, a Jerusalem-based rights group is trying to put pressure on the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and the international community to stop the rewriting of land boundaries.
“We can only stand so many new settlements until there’s no way to negotiate peace,” explains Betty Herschman, director of advocacy for the Israeli NGO.
Extensive growth in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, if it continues, will break the Palestinian link between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were 275 units in the Jewish quarter in 2000. Now 16,000 settlers live there.
On the other hand, only 5,000 building permits for Palestinians were granted by Israeli municipal authorities in and around east Jerusalem since 1967. There is “vast discrimination” against Palestinians in the planning system, says Ms Herschman.
Furthermore, East Jerusalem has up to 80% in poverty rates but only gets 8% of the city’s budget (most spending goes to West Jerusalem, populated by Israelis).
Ir Amim and the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem both maintain that Israeli settlements will cut off the Palestinian area of Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
This is the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It involves fierce disagreements over land, rights, movements, security, international involvement and religion.
Palestinians pull no punches. The polite talk is long gone. Even peace advocates ask what’s the point.
Sitting in his office in Ramallah, the main city in the West Bank, one of the Palestinian’s leading figures explains what the totality of Israel’s actions amount to.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Ghandi’ of the Palestinians, Dr Mustafa Barghouti questions Israel’s commitment to a so-called ‘two-state solution’ if they continue to widen and build new settlements.
The former Palestinian minister compares the hardships endured by Palestinians to that by blacks in South Africa.
“It’s worse here, you have segregated roads. Palestinians are jailed for driving or walking on them. This is apartheid, shameful in the 21st century,” says the former presidential candidate.
For many now in the Palestinian territories, talk of a two-state solution means nothing anymore. Confidence in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is also at an all time low, with many fearing there will be a split among supporters or even a shift in support to the more radical.
There is mounting demand for some type of fresh international multi-lateral peace talks, which could be overseen by other countries, apart from the US. But Israel will only agree to direct talks.
In the meantime, there is growing backing for what is known as BDS or Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions as a way of applying pressure on Israel to alter its policies.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Palestinian BDS uses nonviolent pressure on Israel to comply with three demands. These include ending occupation, recognising the rights of Palestinians and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to lands.
BDS actions, including promoting the boycott of Israeli goods in shops to campaigning against the recognition of Israeli institutes, have not gone unnoticed. Even international ratings agency Moody’s has suggested that “the Israeli economy could suffer should BDS gain greater traction”.
“This is a movement that is growing in people’s hearts and minds, you can’t fight with money. There’s a limit to Israeli power, they cannot bomb their way out of this [tactic],” says Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of BDS.
But while the conflict continues, there is the daily struggle for families trapped in the restrictions, caught in the segregation, the fighting, and just trying to get by.
The European Union tries to make that a little easier. Over €300m in EU funds go to the Palestinian territories this year. This rises to €1.2bn when donations from member states are included.The money supports Palestinian institutions but the funds, crucially, support school building, water and sanitation work, agricultural schemes, housing, security, civil society supports and EU police training for Palestinian authorities.
Israeli army units, though, are demolishing some supports, such as schools built in the eastern Bedouin territories. They deem them illegal. Furthermore, only three EU-linked plans to develop Palestinian communities have been accepted by Israeli authorities out of some 110 submitted.
There is also disagreement, though, among EU member states about the approach to take with Israel. Many oppose the notion of boycotting Israel. Others, including the Irish Government, support the international recognition of Palestine as a state. This is promised in the current programme for government under Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Above all, increased settlement activity is threatening any hope of peace. This has been the criticism of Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, as well as outgoing US president Barack Obama. What EU members though are starting to recognise is that the two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now on life-support. The question is though, what will succeed it? What will be next because a political vacuum cannot be allowed settle, which could ultimately allow more fundamentalist groups gain a grip on disillusioned and angry Palestinians.
Israel, for its part, maintains that all its security restrictions, the 800km wall it is building across the West Bank and the excessive violence used by its soldiers are to protect its people from terrorist attacks.
Settlement building is at record levels, in line with Israel’s declaration to reclaim the historical Jewish kingdoms of Judea and Samaria. Israelis believe that the Palestinian territories belong to them. The estimated 450 military checkpoints in the West Bank are also to protect them, say Israeli authorities.
But try telling this to the family of Hadil Al-Hashloumon, the young Palestinian student left bleeding to death after being shot at near point blank distance by Israeli soldiers while trying to make her way to college.
This is the reality on the ground for Palestinians, as well as Israelis who understandably fear for their own security. While the political stagnation continues over a roadmap to peace for the region, more walls will be built and there will be less space for atonement. And the killing will continue.
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