By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
“It felt like being in a huge prison.” That was how I responded to questions I was asked in January after returning from a visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yes, there were other ways of describing the experience. The land is beautiful; the people are generous; and with every glance, one sees reminders of a history dating back thousands of years.
Yet, the feeling that one gets in one’s stomach is of being imprisoned; of being vulnerable; of not knowing. And this was the reality felt by African American visitors to the Holy Land. The actuality for Palestinians is far worse.
At every turn you never seemed to lose sight of the ignominious “separation wall,” as the Israeli government politely references it; the “apartheid wall” as much of the rest of the world describes it. The wall with guard/sniper towers, running, not along the Green Line (the armistice line that was agreed upon in 1949), but through almost whatever terrain the Israelis choose for it go. A wall that frequently separates Palestinian farmers from their own land, making it next to impossible for them to consistently cultivate their crops.
My delegation and I found it both frightening and sadly familiar that the Palestinians had few rights that the Israeli authorities were bound to respect. Land has been seized—illegally—by the Israeli authorities, allegedly for security reasons, or sometimes, quite ironically, for archeological reasons. And it is never returned to the Palestinians, instead turned over to Israeli settlers.
There are roads on which Palestinians cannot ever drive. That is, they are forbidden from driving unless they have special permission. We discovered this first-hand as a result of the experiences of our Palestinian guide who needed a particular form in order to permit her to travel with us on specific highways. But even with this form, she had to exit our van at checkpoints and walk through, while our delegation was permitted to remain in our van during and after inspection.
In the mainstream media we have frequently heard or read about Palestinian terrorism or military actions. Yet, in our, albeit brief experience, we felt no unease or fear arising from our interactions with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said regarding our interactions with the Israeli authorities. The young Israeli military men and women, frequently carrying automatic weapons, were quite full of themselves and felt no need to be polite to our delegation, let alone to the Palestinians. The Palestinians were treated with the sort of contempt one would expect to be experienced by a prison population.
Blink once, and you saw apartheid South Africa; blink twice, and you saw the Jim Crow South; blink three times and you realized that you were not in the past, but in a very dangerous reality where an entire population is facing the prospect of perpetual marginalization and dispossession.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He recently traveled to Israel and Palestine on an African American fact-finding team. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.