Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pursuing Injustice - Restricting Movement - Part 1


Today is Day 14,271 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rabbi Akiva - “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) - this is the major principle of the Torah.”

As you read Part 1 and the rest of the posts on how the government of Israel ( I will in the future try to remember to abbreviate it as “GOI”) restricts movement in the West Bank, try to imagine your reaction if the Department of Homeland Security, after finding that the great majority of the killings in the Boston area were by minority residents of Dorchester and Mattapan, were to set up checkpoints on all of the major roads leading into the remainder of Boston through which white residents could freely pass while minority residents needed to wait in long lines while their papers and vehicles and personal belongings were examined. In addition assume that throughout the area roadblocks and road closures were created in order to discourage gangs from gathering, to prevent them from causing disturbance, to keep them from protesting and to stifle acts of violence. I assume that you would be shocked and immediately join with human rights groups in an effort to end this policy.

It is difficult to start each day conflicted – I would like to take the sports section of the Boston Globe, read about Dice-K and the Red Sox and walk the beach for the rest of this beautiful day. But I know that I will read the rest of the newspaper, some blogs and my e-mails and will be upset when I find out about the latest act of GOI oppression of the Palestinians.

Today was no exception. The World Bank does more than try to fire Paul Wolfowitz (You’re not doing a heck of a job, Wolfie?). This week it released a report “Movement and Access Restrictions in the West Bank: Uncertainty and Inefficiency in the Palestinian Economy”!OpenDocument

The Executive Summary states that freedom of movement and access for Palestinians within the West Bank is the exception rather than the norm contrary to the commitments undertaken by the GOI in the Oslo Accords which provided that the movement of people and vehicles in the West Bank “will be free and normal, and shall not need to be effected through checkpoints or roadblocks” and the Roadmap where the GOI agreed to ease restrictions on movements of persons and goods. The failure of the GOI to meet these commitments led to the November 2005 “Agreement on Movement and Access” aimed at “facilitating the movement of goods and people within Palestinian Territories.”

Read more from the Executive Summary.

“In the West Bank, closure is implemented through an agglomeration of policies, practices and physical impediments which have fragmented the territory into ever smaller and more disconnected cantons … limit the freedom of Palestinians to move home, obtain work, invest in businesses or construction and move about outside of their municipal jurisdiction. These administrative restrictions, rooted in military orders associated with the occupation of West Bank and Gaza (WB&G), are used to restrict Palestinian access to large segments of the West Bank including all areas within the municipal boundaries of settlements, the “seam zone”, the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, restricted roads and other ‘closed’ areas. Estimates of the total restricted area are difficult to come by, but it appears to be in excess of 50% of the land of the West Bank. While Israeli security concerns are undeniable and must be addressed, it is often difficult to reconcile the use of movement and access restrictions for security purposes from their use to expand and protect settlement activity and the relatively unhindered movement of settlers and other Israelis in and out of the West Bank .... sustainable economic recovery will remain elusive if large areas of the West Bank remain inaccessible for economic purposes and restricted movement remains the norm for the vast majority of Palestinians and expatriate Palestinian investors .... Only through a fundamental reassessment of closure, and a restoration of the presumption of movement, as embodied in the many agreements between GOI and the PA, will the Palestinian private sector be able to recover and fuel sustainable growth.”

The “Presumption of Movement” is not only part of the GOI and Palestinian agreements but incorporated into international law.

“International human rights law requires Israel to respect the right of residents of the Occupied Territories to move about freely in the occupied territory. This right is recognized in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, international humanitarian law requires Israel, in its capacity as the occupier, to ensure the safety and well-being of the local residents, and to maintain, to the extent possible, normal living conditions. Freedom of movement is important because it is a prerequisite to the exercise of other rights, such as those set forth in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among these are the right to work (Article 6), the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11), the right to health (Article 12), the right to education (Article 13), and the right to protection of family life (Article 10). Furthermore, Israel’s policy is blatant discrimination based on national origin since these restrictions apply only to Palestinians. Jewish residents are permitted to enter and leave settlements without restriction. The IDF has even explicitly admitted that the restrictions of movement imposed on Palestinians are intended to ensure the free movement of Jews in the Occupied Territories. Thus, Israel’s policy violates the right to equality that is expressed in human rights conventions of which Israel is a party.” Restrictions on Movement – B’Tselem

This right is also set forth in Article 5 of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1969 Signed by Israel: 7 March 1966 Ratified by Israel: 3 January 1979: " States Parties (Israel) undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: The right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State.

At some point, a person or an organization or a government is in violation of so many laws and moral strictures, you either become inured or you suffer from fatigue trying to decide where to focus what are always limited resources. A case in point is the administration of President George W. Bush. (The question I begin with in nearly all my conversations is “So which of the scandals of the Bush administration upsets you the most?)”

Another case in point is the vast array of human rights violations by the government of Israel in the West Bank. The issues that reach our eyes and ears most of the time are the deaths of innocents, the politics of the GOI and the Palestinian Authority, coverage of stories about politicians or political intrigue and protests. We need to have a longer sustained perspective on some of the critical issues such as the terrible suffering caused every day through the restrictions of movement of the Palestinians in the West Bank - so pervasive, so harmful and so underreported that I intend to devote more posts to it and hope that you will find them worth reading.

Deutoronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.

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