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Report from the Land of Apartheid

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Message Stanley Heller

The two babies lay nearly side by side in the incubator. One had eyes open, the other shut. It's against medical standards to put more than one child in an incubator, but with only six working incubators in the hospital in Jenin they had to double up. Jenin Hospital, in the north of the West Bank, is the only hospital in the Jenin Governate. It serves 350,000 people with 123 beds.

The wards were crowded. In the pediatric wing each small room had three beds and not much medical equipment. There is no air conditioning though temperatures in summer are at least in the 80's. Hospital officials said the hospital had been getting aid from Europe, but it's been cut off since Hamas won the election in 2006.

Conditions for Palestinians are deplorable all across the apartheid state, from the 130,000 living as Israeli citizens in "unrecognized" villages, to the thousands living in homes slated for demolition, to the people living in Jerusalem "suburbs" who never have their garbage removed, to families who are cut off from relatives by the Apartheid Wall, to the people in H2 in Hebron who are seeing their city taken over by religious fanatics.

I've been here for nearly two weeks. Coming in was a breeze for me, a Jew in his late 50's. ( see a young American Palestinian's experience, however at http://www.imemc.org/article/49636 ) Traveling around Israel (as defined by the now non-existent 1967 borders) I saw no evidence of a country girded for battle. (I haven't been to Sderot admittedly where Gaza Qassem's do explode). I thought I'd see tons of soldiers all about but the only ones I saw were shopping or being revved up at the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust. Michael Warshawsky, veteran Israeli peace activist, says I'm not wrong. News about Palestinians is not page one, he says, but page four.

On the West Bank things are different. There are checkpoints all over with soldiers carrying deadly looking weapons. People say passage through checkpoints has been easier this summer. It's part of the "Make Nice with Abbas" strategy that's no being pursued by Israelis and the US. After years of ignoring the Palestinian President the takeover of Gaza by Hamas has forced a change in strategy. One month of the millions in tax money that the Israelis have been withholding has been “generously” given to the Palestine Authority

Things are not that nice in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers stage constant raids. The night before we went to Jenin they captured a resident. Two nights later six were killed. Three were killed by missiles in Gaza. One man who supposedly attacked soldiers at a Bethlehem checkpoint was hit by gun butts and then shot to death.

The Qalandia Superhighway

It should take 30 minutes to go from Bethlehem to Ramallah. The would be the case if a West Bank Palestinian could travel through Jerusalem, but that has been banned for some 16 years. So the trip takes at least 75 minutes because the Israelis allow only one route, a route along some incredible roads. We start through small winding roads and then to the “Container” checkpoint. The times I traveled it the soldiers merely checked passports and hawiahs (the Palestinian travel document which shows where Israelis will allow you to travel). In worse times Palestinians have been forced to take everything in their luggage and put it on the side of the road. There were occasions I was told that the men were forced to strip naked. After the checkpoint you drive next to the Wadi Nahr (Valley of Fire)and you descend some 500 feet in a few minutes through a series of hairpin turns at 35 degree angles.

It's the only road so the two lanes are shared with every kind of vehicle including huge trucks. In winter it’s extremely dangerous.

After a while the road becomes a highway because it's a shared road, shared with Israeli settlers. Then this thoroughfare to Ramallah changes as it goes by the Qalandia refugee camp. Think of the worst road you've ever been on, bumps, potholes, ruts, gouges. For 20 years nothing had been fixed because the Israeli army won't allow it. When asked Palestinians are told it's a matter of "security" and that's the end of the matter. Only a few months ago was the PA given permission to start some work.

This route is going to be changed soon. It is evidently intolerable that settlers have to share a road with Palestinians ("security") so a 2 1/2 mile tunnel is being built for Palestinians keep them separate. Cars will still have to pass the Wadi Nahr and the rest, but the joint road will be a thing of the past.

The Veils of Apartheid

I met with Uri Davis in Jerusalem. He's a Israeli, one of a handful who live in Palestinian communities. He has maintained for decades that Israel is an apartheid society similar to old South Africa. He says, however, there's a major difference. In South Africa a visitor would immediately see signs for blacks, whites and coloreds. In Israel it's much more veiled. For instance take land. By and large land in Israel is controlled by the state. Jews don’t own it, but have long term leases to live and work on the land. Through a maze of laws and bureaucracy Arab Israeli citizens can't lease it. Well, that's an exaggeration. In the last ten years and after a Supreme Court decision two Arab families were able to build on "Jewish" land. Davis estimates that about 97.5% of Israeli land cannot be owned or leased by its Arab citizens.

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Stanley Heller is host of "The Struggle" a weekly TV news program seen on public access stations in the northeast and at www.TheStruggle.org. He is chair of the Middle East Crisis Committee.
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