Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From North America to the Middle East: Honest People Trying to Make a Living

The South Hebron Hills often remind me of the San Diego/Tijuana region.

I recently visited Jinba, just 1/2 km north of the Green Line (the border between Israel and the West Bank). Contrary to much of the West Bank, the separation wall is not constructed in this area. The reason that construction of the wall hasn't been completed in this area is most likely because of a string of settlements which lies 5km north of the Green Line which would be included in the West Bank, not Israel, if the proposed wall route is completed.

From Jinba you can see the rolling hills of the desert trail off to the south, beautifully unhampered by 30 foot high concrete walls. Yet, the scene isn't always so beautiful in Jinba and the South Hebron Hills. Due to the open land in the area, the Israeli army acts as the wall.

The village of Jinba is a major conduit for Palestinians trying to travel into Israel to find work. Unemployment rates are high in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and work is much easier to find in Israel. Therefore, many Palestinians cross to work for the week and return home for the weekend. To curb these 'illegal workers' from entering into Israel, the Israeli army heavily patrols the area. We often get reports that the army damages cars (smashing windows, puncturing tires, removing license plates), confiscates IDs, and physically assaults people who are caught crossing the border illegally. Something that hasn't got any press that I am aware of is the Israeli paramilitary groups that patrol the area. These paramilitary groups don't have the same accountability as IDF soldiers especially given that they are in unmarked cars and don't wear uniforms. From the reports we have received, it appears the mission of these groups is to use physical violence against Palestinians crossing into Israel as a deterrent to these 'illegal' crossings.

After visiting Jinba, I couldn't help but think of the US-Mexico border and the countless workers that try to cross into the United States with the hope of some financial security. The U.S. economy is very dependent on workers from Mexico, but treats those crossing very harshly. Work is more abundant in the United States, and it pays much better than Mexico. Replace Mexico with Palestine, replace the United States with Israel. Very similar situation.

Shortly after we had arrived in Jinba, we heard shouts that the army was in the village. We ran outside to see that the army had stopped a vehicle as was removing the license plates. The villagers told us that often the army is much more violent and forceful with people, but maybe because internationals and cameras were present, only the plates were removed.

As we returned to Tuwani, several army vehicles were seen patrolling the area. Each army vehicle swooped down the hillsides towards the vehicle we were traveling in, each time taking a good look at the vehicle and passengers and speeding off when cameras were seen. Also along the journey, every time two Palestinian vehicles passed each other, they stopped to ask one another whether they had seen the army, and if so, where. It's an area where avoiding the army is crucial, because of the potential consequences of running into the army in this sensitive area.

2 comments:

Karen said...

It seems like in some keys ways, not germaine to your blog article, that the parallel of Mexico/US and
West Bank/Israel is not the same at all. The West Bank is not a seperate country. The sovereignty of a country is not being violated. I get what you are saying and the comparison is apt but the distinction is vital in the response that can be made legally. I think of the debate with our border and the different opinions about a solution and the comparison is again a good one however. Thanks for the chance to process.

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