This month marks the fortieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Four decades of control established and maintained by force of arms–in defiance of international law, countless UN Security Council resolutions and, most recently, the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague–have enabled Israel to impose its will on the occupied territories and, in effect, to remake them in its own image.
The result is a continuous political space now encompassing all of historic Palestine, albeit a space as sharply divided as the colonial world (“a world cut in two”) famously described by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth. Indeed, Fanon’s 1961 classic still enables an analysis of Israel and the occupied territories as fresh, insightful and relevant in 2007 as the readings of Cape Town or Algiers that it made available when it was first published.
Israel maintains two separate road systems in the West Bank, for example: one for the territory’s immigrant population of Jewish settlers, one for its indigenous non-Jewish (i.e., Palestinian) population.
The roads designated for the Jewish settlers are well maintained, well lit, continuous and uninterrupted; they tie the network of Jewish “neighborhoods” and “settlements”–all of them in reality colonies forbidden by international law–to each other and to Israel. The roads for the West Bank’s native population, by contrast, are poorly maintained, when they are maintained at all (they often consist of little more than shepherds’ trails); they are continuously blockaded and interrupted. A grid of checkpoints and roadblocks (546 at last count) strangles the circulation of the West Bank’s indigenous population, but it is designed to facilitate the free movement of Jewish settlers–who are, moreover, allowed to drive their own cars on the roads set aside for them, whereas Palestinians are not allowed to drive their cars beyond their own towns and villages (the entrances to which are all blockaded by the Israeli army).
The wall that Israel has been constructing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2002 makes visible in concrete and barbed wire the outlines of the discriminatory regime that structures and defines everyday life in the occupied territories, separating Palestinian farmers from crops, patients from hospitals, students and teachers from schools and, increasingly, even parents from children (it has, for example, separated one parent or another from spouses and children in 21 percent of Palestinian families living on either side of the wall near Jerusalem)–while at the same time enabling the seamless incorporation of the Judaized spaces of the occupied territories into Israel itself. And a regime of curfews and closures, enforced by the Israeli army, has smothered the Palestinian economy, though none of its provisions apply to Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
There are, in short, two separate legal and administrative systems, maintained by the regular use of military force, for two populations–settlers and natives–unequally inhabiting the same piece of land: exactly as was the case in the colonial countries described by Fanon, or in South Africa under apartheid.
All this has enabled Israel to transplant almost half a million of its own citizens into the occupied territories, at the expense of their Palestinian population, whose land is confiscated, whose homes are demolished, whose orchards and olive groves are razed or burned down, and whose social, economic, educational and family lives have been, in effect, all but suspended, precisely in order that their land may be made available for the use of another people.