There is an overriding reality that cannot be dismissed here in Palestine. Israel controls just about every aspect of our lives. No matter how we try to turn it around, candy coat it or look at it from a “different perspective” this is the truth and the main reason why no partial agreement will ever hold.
One only has to travel in the occupied Palestinian territories to know this to be true. Over the Eid Al Fitr –” the Muslim holiday following the month of Ramadan –” the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem (itself only a recent reality) was jam packed to kingdom come. People spent literally two, three and four hours trying to make their way out of a one-kilometer area because the Israelis had decided to block all traffic going out of Ramallah towards Jerusalem. It did not matter that people had plans, needed to get back to their children and parents or in the worst case scenario, get to a hospital. At the iron gate opened in the separation wall at Qalandiya, a group of young Israeli soldiers stood with their weapons cocked and smirks across their faces as they watched desperate Palestinians trying to inch their way out of the mess. Rather than the [Israeli] authority responsible for the chaos trying to alleviate the situation, instead young Palestinian men exited their cars and tried to direct traffic.
It is not only the traffic and checkpoints Israel controls. Palestinians across the West Bank are plagued by water shortages. In my Ramallah-area village, the water is cut off four of the seven days a week. Families have to ration out the water usage because if tanks are emptied there is absolutely no way to fill them again until the water comes back on. This is not because there is no water in the West Bank, contrary to common belief. According to a report issued by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Israel controls and exploits 80 percent of ground water from the Mountain Aquifer, which is the largest water source in the region. The remaining 20 percent is basically leftovers distributed among the Palestinian population.
To give a more concrete idea of just how much Israel controls the water resources and distributes it to its own people’s benefit, according to the World Health Organization in 2008, the minimal daily consumption per capita should be 100 liters. In Israel, the per capita consumption reaches 242 liters while the Palestinians consume an average of 73 liters a day. In some places, the WHO says, Palestinian consumption is as low as 37 liters.
Settlers illegally living on Palestinian land have no shortage of water. Just pass by a Jewish settlement, past the lush greenery and the swimming pools and it It’s more than obvious that Jewish settlers never have to think about whether they will have enough water to shower or not. Reports have indicated that in places like the Jordan Valley, Jewish settlers use up to six times more water than Palestinians living in the same place.
So, when the Palestinians say they are not continuing with peace talks if Israel continues building in settlements, this is hardly an unreasonable demand. On the contrary, this is the least of the least they can demand given the detrimental effects settlements have had and continue to have on the Palestinians.
Right now, as the negotiating parties head to Sharm Al Sheikh for the second round of peace talks launched in Washington on September 2, Israel is already casting blame on the other side. It is calling the Palestinians’ demand that Israel renew it settlement freeze –” already severely riddled with flaws –” an “all or nothing strategy” which could ultimately derail any peace efforts. Israel is portraying the Palestinians as the intransigent party for their very legitimate demand of halting settlement construction. Many Palestinians even see this as way too little and a lot too late, saying the leadership should demand nothing less than a complete halt to settlement construction and a dismantlement of settlement structures in accordance with international law.
However, Israel has no plans of relinquishing its settlement enterprise in the West Bank for one reason, which is its control of the land and consequently of the oppressed people living on it. Since its occupation of the West Bank in 1967 Israeli governments have encouraged settlement growth by offering enticing economic incentives such as subsidized housing and reduced utility expenses. By keeping a presence in the West Bank through its settlements, the bypass roads, separation wall and the checkpoints such as Qalandiya, it maintains complete control over the populace, all under the false guise of its own security.
While Israel continues its rants about how the Palestinians are unreasonable and are placing obstacles in the way of peace, it is worthwhile to remind the world what it is like to live under occupation. Control and oppression is multi-faceted. Israel’s military presence and confrontations with the occupying army are definitely important features of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem but they are not the only ones. The overall control Israel wields over Palestinian lives is suffocating because it is so comprehensive. Leaving and entering the country is controlled by Israel, entering Jerusalem, working inside the Green Line, exporting and importing goods, building a house, tending to your land (if you have access to it) and even the amount of water you are allowed to consume are all controlled by the mighty hand of Israel’s occupying power.
So, before blame is laid or the world judges us too quickly, let us all remember the overriding reason we are at the negotiating table at all. Then after the occupation is duly mentioned, just imagine spending four hours trying to get home from a 45 minute trip only to find no water for your shower.