If you ever had any doubt about why Israel imposes a “closure” (in effect, a siege) on Palestinian towns and villages, you should have been with us today. It would have become clear.
We were a group of 30 activists, Israelis and internationals, in an action co-sponsored by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, and Ta’ayush. We came at the invitation of the residents of Hares, a small Palestinian town in the West Bank.
Last week, a settler claimed that gunshots had been fired from fields near Hares. Although the villagers denied that shots were fired, and nobody was hurt, the army immediately tightened the closure on three adjoining villages — Hares, Kif al-Hares, and Dir Istya. You recall the big mounds of earth and/or deep trenches created by the Israeli army on Palestinian access roads to prevent cars from entering or leaving their villages? Well, ever since the alleged shooting, the ante was raised: The 8,000 residents of these 3 villages are no longer allowed to enter or leave their villages even on foot. And to add to the problems, the settlers from nearby Ariel attacked one of the villages and cut their water and telephone lines. This is an ongoing harassment campaign conducted with impunity by Ariel settlers against these three villages.
But that’s only part of it.
We reached Hares after negotiating some side roads and then climbing a hill on foot that leads to the village. At the top, we found many Palestinians awaiting us. One made a speech welcoming us and appreciating our solidarity. In contrast, he said, “Your government sows hatred”. He also apologized that they could not offer us refreshments, but the closure prevented fresh produce from being brought into the village. Then he took us on the tour of the 3 villages.
The Israeli government claims that closure is a matter of security: Closure, they say, is imposed to prevent Palestinian terrorists from getting out of their villages, and so prevent their entry into Israel. Yes, says the Israeli government, it’s unfortunate that the general population has to suffer for the bad conduct of just a few of its members, but security is a priority, and we cannot afford to take chances.
So this may interest you: The army gouged out two big ditches between Kif al-Hares and Dir Istya, thereby preventing the residents of one village from driving into the other. But this is an internal road — it connects only the 3 villages, and gives no access to Israeli settlements whatsoever! In short, this closure, as in so many locations, serves no security purpose whatsoever. It merely prevents Palestinians from having access to each other — and to jobs, schools, medical treatment, and food.
But why should Israel want to impose such constraints? The answer is that the closure in the territories is not primarily related to security, but to power. Closure is fundamentally the arbitrary exercise of power for the purpose of asserting control. To assert control over a hostile population, what is required is intimidation, and intimidation is the heart of the occupation. Intimidation is crucial for maintaining a violent and oppressive system.
Our group stayed long enough to fill in about half of one of the ditches, working side by side with the villagers, using spades, hoes, pick-axes, and our bare hands. But it was quite late, we had to leave, and a Palestinian-driven bulldozer was on its way in to finish the job. I hope the road remains level for as long as possible, but there are no guarantees. Occupation also instills the understanding that the next arbitrary measure is only around the corner.