Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Wall: Four Years After International Court Decision...

Yesterday, July 9, marked the four-year anniversary of the decision by the International Court of Justice that declared the construction of the Israeli Apartheid Wall illegal. (International Court of Justice, 2004) The 8-meter high, 436-mile long wall is a part of the growing geography of occupation in Palestine, where districts, towns, and even homes themselves, have been severed. The Palestinian Grassroots Anti Apartheid Wall Campaign notes that there are 17 enclaves “walled from three sides and tightly controlled from the fourth side.” (Palestinian Grassroots Anti Apartheid Wall Campaign, 2007) In some districts, the wall includes watchtowers with snipers every 400 meters, while in others there are electic fences, trace paths, barbed wire, cameras and trenches. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2004; Palestine Monitor, 2007)

Israeli occupation measures include stringent physical acts, such as the wall and associated physical measures (checkpoints, tunnels, gates, etc.), but also active economic measures, such as the Israeli control of water and agricultural land. The ruling notes “the wall will effectively annex most of the Western aquifer system (which provides 51%per cent of the West Banks’ water resources).” These measures are part of a program of active impoverishment of the Palestinian population, who suffer from what Sara Roy describes as de-development: “the deliberate, systematic deconstruction of an indigenous economy by a dominant power (Roy, 1995).” 43% of Palestinians fall below the poverty line and 15% live in deep poverty. The national GDP dropped 20% from 1999-2005. Unemployment in 2005 was 23%, and 35% among youth ages 20-24 (World Bank, 2005). The World Bank notes: “The inability of the Palestinian economy to fully use its productive potential is first and foremost the result of restrictions on the movement of people and goods (UNICEF; World Bank, 2006).”

Here in Palestine, communities have organized nonviolent protests against the continued construction of the wall. In the town of Ni’lin, ordinary citizens have been protesting since May. 26 people have been arrested, 160 have been injured by rubber coated steel bullets, and a PMRS ambulance was shot at. Live ammunition has been used on citizens who were peacefully protesting.

Many of us around the world work on issues dear to us that reflect the sacredness of human rights, self-determination, and international law. Some take exceptionally determined stands, compelled to extinguish the silence that atrocities require. I have been lucky enough to know some of these people...from an Army Lieutenant at Fort Lewis, Washington all the way to community organizers, educators, health workers, and citizens in Palestine. Knowing of their acts has made me wonder in the past few years what international law means to us all-especially those of us from occupying powers-and what we can do to burn its importance back into our collective memory.

The text of the decision:

“[By fourteen votes to one]:
The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated rĂ©gime, are contrary to international law; Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto, in accordance with paragraph 151 of this Opinion; Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.”

Yours in struggle from occupied Palestine~

(for a primer on the wall:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Launching research on mental health impacts of occupation

I'm back in Palestine for the second summer! I feel so incredibly lucky to work again with PMRS. While writing up the research I did last summer, I had the opportunity to reflect on the strength, hospitality and ingenuity of PMRS, as well as their awesome spirit to, in the face of continual assaults of the occupation, persist in promoting human rights, justice, empowerment & engagement in civil society.

This summer, I will focus on working with PMRS as a research partner to examine the relationship between the violence of the occupation and family violence, mental health and well-being. Most importantly, I will attempt to understand more the potential for resilience; factors that may help people and families to overcome the trauma of war and occupation. To this end, we will look at family cohesion, individual problem solving, and community capacity. I arrived to PMRS ready to begin work, and have an awesome research team who have translated all the materials, and are facilitating focus groups and helping to coordinate the collection of quantitative data.

We began the field work this week in Biddo, a town I visited last summer, a place that's landscape is carved up by the wall, settlements,and Israeli only roads. The clinic graciously hosted us, and recruited participants for both the surveys and the focus groups.

It was a powerful morning, with both a sense of accomplishment for beginning, and a sadness that comes with collecting and analyzing data on trauma and pain. Below is a picture of the new research team after finishing the first focus group.
I feel like this year I've come with a sharper focus, one that both seeks a greater understanding of the conditions here but that also searches to discover what people, families and communities do to mobilize internal and external resources. This focus is helping me to view Palestine more holistically, as a society that, in addition to a history of pain, injustice and struggle, also has a powerful history of growth, dignity, education and joy.

“Palestinian survival abilities and resiliency have been learned over a period of almost 100 years of trauma and conflict, not only recently, and have been handed down from generation to generation (R. Giacaman, 2005).”