On any given day or night, 200,000 Israeli settlers move freely in and out of the West Bank and Gaza to go to work, shop, run errands and attend school or university. Israeli trucks supply their settlements with food, fuel and the necessities to keep these areas running, their gardens green and their supermarkets well stocked.
For Adel Ibrahim T'nuh from the Palestinian village of Teqoa, things don't run so smoothly. A father of four young children and a day laborer in Israel, Mr. T'nuh hasn't worked for five months because the Israelis have put West Bank and Gazan Palestinians under total closure.
Mr. T'nuh recently tried to enter Israel through the Bethlehem-Gilo checkpoint in a desperate effort to find work. There, at 6 a.m., he was chased down by dogs and sent back by Israeli soldiers for trying to enter Israel. He tried again to enter, but was arrested and beaten. Fortunately, Israeli and Palestinian human rights workers happened to be at the scene and intervened.
Since September, three million Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under a siege imposed by the Israeli military occupation. All movement of people and goods is completely restricted and controlled by the Israeli army. The army has dug trenches and moats and built mounds of dirt to close Palestinian towns and villages. Only a few days ago, Ramallah, a city that provides education, health, social and economic services for 80,000 Palestinians in the surrounding area, was totally sealed off. The Israeli government's attempt to dampen international criticism by easing the blockade in Ramallah has had little effect on the siege in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza.
Food, fuel and other basic necessities have become scarce in those areas. After announcing that Palestinians have become among the poorest people in the world, the World Food Program, a United Nations agency, is now distributing flour in Gaza. Poverty levels have doubled in five months. The siege has caused over $2 billion in losses to the Palestinian economy, and unemployment levels have soared to 48 percent.
The cause of all this suffering is not an act of nature. It is collective punishment that the Israelis can reverse at any time. The failure of other nations to oppose these basic human rights violations has allowed the Israelis to continue impoverishing a whole civilian population.
The latest siege is an expansion of the closure policy that restricts Palestinian movement, a policy that has been in effect since 1993. The Oslo peace agreement further enforced the closure policy by conscripting the Palestinian Authority to serve as the local intake office for processing travel permit applications. But the power of final approval still remained in Israeli hands. Since most Palestinian officials received special exemptions from closure restrictions, the authority made only half- hearted demands over the years to end them. Some even profited from the closure through exclusive permits from the Israelis to import goods and maintain monopolies over basic goods in Palestinian markets. However, for Adel T'nuh and the remaining 99 percent of the Palestinians, closure simply made life worse and a real peace more elusive.
Israeli officials admit that the closure in all its forms cannot protect Israel from suicide bombers or other potential attacks. Yet the desperation and bitterness this policy creates among the Palestinian communities makes the situation more volatile and less safe for all Israelis.
When former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin imposed the closure policy in 1993, he convinced his supporters that it was part of a "separation" policy that would be the first step toward the two-state solution. But in reality, Israel's 34 years of military occupation, the integration of electric and water systems, and the building of Jewish settlements and bypass roads have made it all but impossible to separate the Palestinian West Bank and Gazan communities from Israel's control. Separation leading to Palestinian statehood is a myth. The closure policy has instead solidified an apartheid-like system of separate rights and privileges for Jews and Palestinians.
Americans have learned in their history that separate cannot be equal. Israelis must understand that the way to end the cycle of violence cannot be through closure and sieges against entire civilian populations. Only when Israel dismantles the closure policy and accepts equality for Jews and Palestinians alike as a matter of human rights will peace be attainable.