- Saturday, May 30, 2009
- Summer 2008: Israel's Colonization of Nablus...by Caitlin Hewitt-White* and Dr. Yousef A. Haq**
- Published at:http://www.tanwer.org/tanwer/index.php
The July attacks on civil institutions and the commercial sector in Nablus, West Bank, demonstrate Israel's determination to destroy the very roots of Palestinian life. On Monday July 7, the Israeli army raided four charitable Islamic schools, one of which has been closed indefinitely, and they confiscated their school buses. On Tuesday July 8 they raided and closed the Nafha Association for Prisoners' Affairs, the Federation of Islamic Trade Unions, Scientific Medical Association, Yazour Benevolent Society, Basma Association, and Graduates Cultural Forum. The following day they closed the Nablus mall, Beit al-Mal, and confiscated its building. Additionally, they raided City Hall, the government ministry that administers charities, a medical clinic, and the leftist Union of Palestinian Women's Committees (UPWC), confiscating documents, computers, and furniture. Throughout July, Israeli incursions into Nablus intensified, and coupled with the Palestinian Authority's arrest campaign against Hamas members, have created an increasingly unstable climate that paves the way for possible Israeli colonization of Nablus.
The expulsion of politics from Palestinian private and public life
Israel has stated that the attacks in Nablus were directed at institutions and businesses with links to Hamas, a political Islamist party that was democratically elected to power in January 2006 and has been besieged by Fatah, Israel, and the international community ever since. The rejection of Hamas as a legitimate political organization and its energetic relabeling of Hamas as "terrorist" is legible to the international community only because of the deeply racist belief that Palestinians and Muslims in general are incapable of self-rule.
Given this foundational presumption, the attacks on Nablus make sense. They are a denial of self-determination in the public sense, but more importantly, it is the denial of the Palestinian self in the private sense. We are only individuals by virtue of the collective conditions within which we exist; we contribute to the reproduction of social conditions via ideological activity that is crafted from personal experience harvested from communal life. Israel targets public institutions not as an ends in itself but also to vacate political meaning and purpose from Palestinian identity. Members of every charity and civic institution have political and religious affiliations that inform their policy decisions but, in the spirit of liberal secularism that the West claims to champion, these affiliations may be publicly executed but they are nonetheless privately held. Theoretically, the state should not interfere in the private terrain which launches our public activity. This is the essence of the basic human right to freedom of conscience and association. It is human to hold political and religious beliefs, and an attack on a space where we put these beliefs into use is an attack on our humanity. Without the ability to act out our political agency, we are reduced to atomistic individuals with silently held personal preferences but no political will or power. Israel wants Palestinians to be absorbed by their personal affairs and self-interest, and to give up on any collective activity, from the sustenance of an immediate community to national interests.
An attack on Palestinian self-rule
The deep aim of the attacks is twofold: to broaden the scope of Israeli destruction of Palestinian society, and to coerce Palestinians to accept Israeli power and Palestinian powerlessness in the form of the Palestinian Authority. First, the attacks on Nablus are evidence that Israel is upping its offensive on what little semblance of self-rule that Palestinians have in the PA-controlled areas in the West Bank (known as Area A). Nablus continues to be, as it was in the Israeli invasion of the city April 2002, a perfect target as it is one of the area's oldest cities, and a stronghold of relatively thriving Palestinian culture, economy, and resistance. Since July 2007, military operations in Nablus were (on paper) restricted to the Old City and the three refugee camps on the edge of the city - Al-Ayn, Balata and Al-Askar - after 10:30 pm nightly. Operations consisted mostly of house searches and individual arrests. The July 2008 incursions, by contrast, occurred throughout the city and so that not only impoverished refugees and Old City residents were affected. The incursions have disrupted the collective daily motions of production, consumption, and civic participation throughout the city. Whereas before July 2008, the presence of Israeli soldiers was restricted to particular areas at particular times, and to the checkpoints that choke the city, now the threat of Israeli violence and destruction is generalized. Nablus residents are currently speculating that Israel is clearing the city of its spaces of public participation and economy so that it can establish a new settlement or military base inside of Nablus.
Secondly, the attacks are forcing Nablus residents to focus their energies on the resuscitation of schools, clinics, and the mall, the destruction of which are at the bottom of an Israeli-constructed hierarchy of injustices. The destruction is an intentional display of ruthlessness so that fear reaches into new corners of public life. Residents are scared of more closures and attacks, and can no longer trust that the Israelis will limit themselves to particular neighborhoods at particular times. Politically, this fear forces people to hide or erase their political beliefs and activity. Economically and culturally, this coercive policy in effect pushes Palestinian businessmen and youth to immigrate outside of Palestine.
In this climate, Palestinians can begin to accept the non-freedom of "normal" life under occupation. The inconvenience and humiliation of the long-standing local checkpoints are normal and expected; the incursions are abnormal and shocking. Israel is coercing Nablus residents to shut up about checkpoints and travel restrictions, much less about an end to the wall, much less about an end to the occupation, much less about the right of the return of refugees and a one-state solution. Israel is saying: we'll stop kicking you in the head if you just accept that we're standing on your throat. Western media outlets (the ones that actually cover occupation news) play within this structure, limiting themselves to the atrocities at the top and underplaying the fact that at the most basic level of society, everyone's lives are damaged by the occupation. The truth is that Israel is now leaving little relief from fear and feelings of powerlessness, and is opening up previously unused terrains for colonization.
The occupation's stranglehold on education and employment compels an estimated 150 000 Palestinians each year under to leave the country, a dynamic that contributes to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine. The mall closure was the first Israeli confiscation of a building in Nablus, and signals a sinister shift in how Israel deals with this city. Palestinians now fear that Israel is planning to build Israeli settlement point inside Nablus, bring in Jewish settlers and the Israeli military, and drive Palestinians out of the city. To succeed, Israel needs to continue to confiscate buildings within Nablus - such as the mall - and to completely disorganize, disorient, and disempower the public sphere - such schools and civic institutions - where resistance can play out. The closure of the mall, civic institutions, and arrests are all part of this strategy to pave the way for the intensified ethnic cleansing of Nablus.
The Palestinian non-Authority
At time of writing, the mall has reopened due to the interventions of the Nablus governor and the Palestinian Authority. The PA's selective defense of some Nablus targets and not others belies its inability to fight the occupation. All Nablus residents understand that the PA security forces go home during military incursions. Israel will only engage with a weak representation of Palestinians; the Palestinian Authority, by virtue of its subservience to Israeli-manipulated negotiations, essentially allowed the Israeli military to conduct its raids and confiscations throughout June. It then scrambled to publicly complain about the attacks, while allowing Israeli arrests of Hamas members to continue. The last weeks of July have seen an intensification of the PA's arrest campaign against Hamas members in Nablus. On August 12, the Israeli army abducted thirteen civilians from Balata camp, with no response from the PA.
Israel and the PA share the goal of political repression and destabilization across the West Bank and Gaza. In Nablus, Israel desires disorder so it can eventually colonize the city, and the PA wants the same thing so that Palestinians switch their faith in their ability to resist to the PA's ability to negotiate on their behalf. The PA, it would like Nablus residents to believe, is strong enough to negotiate some matters such as the reopening the mall, and therefore, strong enough to negotiate the future of all of Palestine. But at the end of the day, the PA is clearly too weakened by its policy of revenge on Hamas and by its deliberately subordinate relation to Israel for anyone to believe that it has the best interests of Palestinians, including their freedom of association, at heart. By participating in Israel's deletion of Palestinians' right to associate on the one hand, and attempting to save a minimal number of institutions on the other, the PA is trying to create a politically vacant electorate that unthinkingly accepts the fiction of PA power.
*Toronto-based Caitlin Hewitt-White is a member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and Teachers for Palestine, and spent July 2008 in Nablus, West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
**Dr. Yousef Haq is Chair of Tanwer Forum in Nablus, West Bank - a non-governmental cultural and voluntary association for youth. He is also Asst. Prof in economic development at An-Najah University in Nablus
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. "PCHR Condemns IOF Measures against Nablus Charities." 8 July 2008. http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/PressR/English/2008/62-2008.html
Shahwan, Rula. "Israeli army invades West Bank cities kidnapping 18 civilians". Independent Middle East Media Centre. 12 August 2008. http://imemc.org/article/56495