Sunday, July 20, 2008

The so-called peace process

‘Stop the Wall’ is one of the Palestinian political organisations whose work is very well organised and radical in their critique of the Israeli occupation. They work with mapping the geographical, social and economic consequences that the building of the Wall produces. They conduct their work through a series of local committees that have been established all along the building site of the Wall. They keep close records of the route the Wall takes and of the consequences it has for the Palestinian villages. They collect documentation, for example, of confiscation orders decreed by the Israeli army and they keep precise records of the seizure of Palestinian land and the undermining of local economies that’s taking place along the soon-to-be 800km long Israeli Wall. I’d earlier met Dawood from Stop the Wall at a dinner party in the park next to the Town Hall in Ramallah. He’s responsible for tracking the economic consequences of the Wall and the more long term economic development plans of the societies on both sides. He told me about a report from the World Bank in 2005 that described a future scenario for so-called sustainable economic development around the Wall; a report that was made in collaboration with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and the international community. Normally the occupation is discussed on a day-to-day basis here without envisioning any future at all, really, apart from even more insecurity and injustice. It was therefore interesting to hear about the economic plans, which of course exist, and a future where the Wall has become an accepted and permanent part of the Israeli and Palestinian landscape. The future scenarios that Dawood told me about weren’t very encouraging either. It sounded mainly like a grim fantasy where the free market protected by the military will get to transform the West Bank and Gaza into one large labour camp. Such a militarised neo-liberalism would become a reality in the guise of a so-called peace agreement. Dawood introduced me to some of these plans when we’d met the first time. I’d agreed with him then that I would come by Stop the Wall’s offices to do a more in depth interview later. Today was the day. I wanted to record the interview with the intention of showing it on tv-tv in Copenhagen. Dawood said that Stop the Wall would also like to use it for their website:

Jakob: Thanks for doing this interview. Could you start with introducing yourself and the ‘Stop the Wall’ Campaign?

Dawood: The ‘Stop the Wall’ Campaign was established in 2002 at the beginning of the construction of the Wall. Actually, it had started even before that as the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network, working with environmental issues. When the Wall came, the construction started with a massive uprooting of trees on the West Bank. So this NGO thought that this coming danger of the Wall would be an environmental threat. They held meetings in all the different villages that had their land uprooted and they advised them to create committees in each village, as a reference for themselves and for any international NGOs, news agencies or journalists that wanted to talk about this issue. And also to archive everything that is happening in these villages: from the uprooting of trees and confiscation orders of land, to photos of before and after, statistics, and any knowledge that this kind of network would need. After a while it became clear that the Wall is more than just an environmental issue, it has different political, economic, and social impacts. So they decided to create the ‘Stop the Wall’ Campaign as a coalition of these 12 local NGOs and around 54 local village committees.

Jakob: I wanted to talk to you about the future plans for the West Bank in terms of economic development, and the kinds of plans that are on the cards at the moment, not only from the Palestinian authorities but also from the Israelis and the international community. Maybe you could introduce some of the plans that have been put forward in recent years that relate to the economic development behind the Wall?

Dawood: Just to give you a background before we start with this: the Israelis have historically — even before the occupation — always made future plans for themselves which is actually very clever. Usually the plans have been for 25 years on average, and for each plan they would gather big think tanks — political and economic, social and psychological think tanks; all kinds of different kinds of think tanks — and these would put forward a framework and a strategy for Israel for the coming 25 years. In 2002, they had a big meeting in the town of Herzliya, where they launched the disengagement plan. The final detailed plans were published in February 2005, giving them three years of research to put a detailed report on the table on how to implement it on the ground. And usually what happens here, with the Israelis as the occupying power that has had the upper hand in the West Bank and in Gaza for 41 years now, the international community and especially the donors were as always... how to say it... I don’t want to say that they follow the Israeli plans, but they accept the Israeli visions for the area. We are talking mainly about donors like the World Bank, IMF, USAid, GTZ, KFW — all these semi-governmental, huge donors. They are also the main funders and strategists for different countries in the Third World. So the Israelis made the plan, laid pressure on the international community and marketed it as a peace building process.

To summarise this plan: now you have ghettos in the West Bank — or they want to build walls on the West Bank to create ghettos — they will confiscate as much land as possible: we are talking about 46%. And they will confiscate as much water as possible: and we are talking about 82% of water resources. They are putting people in different isolated ghettos, and there is no trade between them, no clear connections or continuity between the different so-called Palestinian Authority areas, and there is no real control over the borders regarding trade. The capital — the economic, political and tourist capital, which is Jerusalem — is totally surrounded by walls and annexed to Israel. Bethlehem, the second tourist capital, is also surrounded by walls and turned into a ghetto. So they have destroyed all the different economic systems that used to exist here on the West Bank. To sustain this apartheid system, or these apartheid ghettos, they had to figure out how to manage them for the coming 20 years. This was the Israeli understanding of how this conflict should be solved.

This solution can be summarised by looking at the group of industrial zones: a group of projects that will be funded by a third partner, an international partner or donor, and run under the supervision of the Israelis and using Palestinian labour. These industrial zones are of various kinds, some of them are manufacturing industrial zones, some are agro-industrial zones, some are tourism related industrial zones or service-related like electricity, water, banking, and so on. So, they did not leave out any kind of economic aspect or subject matter without working it out in detail and connecting it directly to the Israeli occupation authority; not only connecting it, but keeping it under the direct control of the Israeli authorities.

Jakob: How is this ghetto system going to be sustained?

Dawood: The Wall is a main issue in this ghettoisation plan, but not the only method. You also have settlers-only roads that will be walled on both sides; and you will have military zones in the east isolated by ditches or trenches. For us, Palestinians on the ground, there is no difference between the Wall and the settlers’ walled road or a trench. The three of them isolate us from our land and from our natural resources. And, as you can see, the whole area is separated into small ghettos and the Palestinians have lost most of their land, lost most of their water resources, lost even the grassing areas in the east, natural grassing areas — so now animal raising industries are based on buying feed from Israeli companies to feed the animals. And, again, that’s why they have to talk about how to sustain such a system. We are talking about almost 2.5 million Palestinians in around 22 isolated ghettos: without land, without resources, without trade, without anything. So they have to talk about how to sustain this ghetto system by providing some kind of work for the two million Palestinians. Here, the international community starts to get more involved. It started actually with a study done by the World Bank in December 2004, which stated that the only viability that can be achieved here — or, a ‘development plan’ that can be achieved here to provide jobs for the Palestinians — is to build ‘border industrial zones’, and again that it should be jointly Palestinian, Israeli and a third international partner. The Palestinian role will be to provide labour, the Israeli role is to build factories and the international role is to fund the infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity, and so on. For each of the three main ghettos on the West Bank there will be a group of these industrial zones ‘along the border’, as the international community defines it (the World Bank mainly). They use the term ‘along’, it is not ‘on’, it is not ‘in’, but it is ‘along’. And ‘along’ could have a very wide meaning here; Israel considers all the West Bank as under its authority and the official border for Israel is the Jordan River, which includes all the West Bank. So, when you say ‘along the border’ that leaves it open to the Israelis to decide where this border is, and what is going to be considered ‘along’ and what is not considered ‘along’. When you look now at the industrial zones proposed by the international community, they are actually talking about three different zones; you have, for example, an industrial zone in Jericho, in the middle of the West Bank. It is not close to any border except for the Jordanian border, which is around 6 kilometres away, and they consider it ‘along’ the border. And you have other ones on the path of the Wall, and they consider it ‘along’ the border; and you have others in C areas, and they consider it ‘along’ the border. So the project is simply about providing jobs in these industrial zones. The expectation for the coming 20 years is that there will be half a million Palestinians working in these industrial zones under special conditions and under a special negotiated labour law, and so on.

Jakob: Under whose authority will these new industrial zones be?

Dawood: Because it is the border, it is not under any authority. The three ‘partners’ are supposed to facilitate the zones. For example, you always have an Israeli side of the industrial zones, controlled by the Israelis; you have a Palestinian side controlled by the Palestinian Authority; then you have a joint coordination office with an international partner involved in this industrial area. And again, because it is ‘along’ the border it is not on Israeli land, and it is not on Palestinian land. On the ground, these industrial zones are in the West Bank and are in the Palestinian Authority areas, but they say — to encourage Israelis and Israeli businessmen to get involved — that it is a border area and no-one will have real authority over it. Both sides, or the three partners, have — in the different feasibility studies that were published — different roles in facilitating these industrial zones, but none are actually controlling the territories.

Jakob: Could you call them free trade areas?

Dawood: It is a little bit different. They are announced as free trade zones, more like the airport, a duty free market; at least, this is how they define it in the media. The industrial zones will not be free, there will be special conditions. The idea was to create a zone that will have special conditions and laws for the factory owners. Production will be with no tax, meaning that if you imported something to this area you will not pay taxes, but if you want to sell the product inside the same country - for example, inside the West Bank or Israel — you need to pay taxes to these authorities. The other option is to export internationally directly. In that situation, you don’t pay taxes. The West Bank and Israel are very close, mainly, to the European market and secondarily to the States. Having this cheap labour, or the cheapest labour possible, in these industrial zones will allow them to compete on a good level with the Chinese and Asian products in the European markets, even with Latin American products. This is the idea of the border industrial zones. Here the only difference from free trade areas in the rest of the world is that we are still under occupation, basically. Our border is controlled by the occupying power, so any import or export will be through this occupation power and all the taxes and incomes will go to this occupation power as well.

Jakob: Could you tell me a little bit about the role of the Wall in relation to these plans. How is the Wall used?

Dawood: When you talk about border industrial zones under occupation, and under a very bad labour law, that means that the conditions of labour will be very poor. In the previous experiences of joint industrial zones in Gaza, and in some areas here in the West Bank, the Palestinian labourers have been treated really badly, with, for example, arrests, closure of the industrial zones, and firing without compensation or any rights. So the Palestinians know what the meaning of these joint industrial zones is, and they know how badly they can affect them socially. Both the Israelis, and the Palestinian Authority and the international community, know that the Palestinians will never accept to just become slave labour in Israeli factories (or Palestinian factories — it doesn’t matter) or to become cheap labour in these areas. So they had to build on poverty in the West Bank and in Gaza. And due to poverty and unemployment, people are driven to accept anything that is enforced on them — politically or economically. This is how you build peace here.

Jakob: And what roles are the occupation forces and the military going to play in terms of access to these zones?

Dawood: Of course, everything will be controlled by the military, but mainly by special security companies. Israel is maybe the only country in the world that still has compulsory army service. When you are 18 years old, boy or girl, you have to serve at least 2 months every year in the Israeli army until the age of 45. That’s why they started a new industry here in Israel based on what they call ‘home security’, which is both technology companies producing items like cameras, sensors, security alarms, monitoring, and so on, and private security companies, which will work directly with the Israeli army on securing, for example, the industrial zones and the checkpoints of these zones. Actually all three of them will work there: ‘the homeland security companies’ will provide the cameras, the metal detectors, the sensors, the alarms, the x-rays, magnetic cards, identification systems, fingerprint systems - you can imagine yourselves what kind of systems... Then there will be an Israeli security company that will run all of this... with guns... and secure it, with a smaller number of Israeli forces that will help this company work as professionally as possible. So these three together will control the industrial zones, and decide who is allowed to enter and who is not allowed to enter. So if you were at any point a ‘bad’ Palestinian, meaning that you were an activist resisting the Wall, whether as a militant or a politician — it doesn’t matter here anymore — you will simply be forbidden to enter this industrial area, or you will never get a permit to enter these industrial zones.

Jakob: The International Community is using the rhetoric of the free market as a lever for what they call peace?

Dawood: The internationals claim that if the Israelis and the Palestinians felt that there will be a kind of profit, joint profit, or a profit if they join the project - that means that the conflict will end. The problem is that they are talking to an élite of Israelis and an élite of Palestinian politicians and businessmen. Both these groups will benefit from any condition, war or not war. They are ignoring totally the normal people on both sides. Let me give you an example: an Israeli salary in an Israeli factory inside Tel Aviv will be something like 7,000 shekels, but this idea of building peace is to move this factory to the border and bring in the Palestinian workers for 1,500 shekels to work in this industrial area. So they fire the Israeli worker and they use the Palestinian labourer as a slave in this factory. So the profit will only go to this élite. But actually, on the ground, both communities will hate each other even more; the Israeli labourer will think, look, the Palestinian labourer took my job, and the Palestinian labourer will think, look, the Israelis are forcing me to be a slave in their factory. So they are actually widening and sustaining the conflict here and not solving it.

Jakob: And finally, how do you view this peace plan in the long term; is it sustainable or what kind of resistance do you see coming?

Dawood: Look, let me tell you something about the Palestinian community: almost every 10 years there has been a revolution. But the biggest revolution, which was actually a social movement and not only a revolution, was the first intifada. Then came the second intifada, which was almost the same in the beginning. These two movements, especially the first one, happened at a time when Palestinians had their highest income in the history of the occupation. 1988 saw the highest income per person for Palestinians in the West Bank. But the revolution happened nevertheless, meaning that we are here as Palestinians; we are not looking for a job, or looking for income, or looking for I don’t know what. We are looking for our human rights, you know, such as freedom: the freedom to choose, to go to elections, to build our social system, to sustain our social system, to end our health and education and social problems. This is what we are fighting for. Now, whether they build industrial zones, or they pump in millions of dollars or throw cash at people, or they find a third thing, the idea here is not what is our relation with the Israelis or the border; the idea is, ‘what are our rights?’. And our resistance is based on this — ‘what are our rights?’. So whatever they, do there will always be a new revolution against what is built unless it satisfies totally the Palestinian demand for independence and freedom. There are, of course, conditions: ending the occupation, accepting that Jerusalem is the capital for the Palestinians, giving the right to move, the right to trade, the right to get married even, and the right to have the chance to give birth to children. Then, I think, after that is implemented, there can be an option to sustain this peace. Unless they accept this, any project that will be implemented will only sustain the conflict.

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