Living under military occupation
The Palestinians are living under the laws and the actions of a powerful military machine. Whether they are in Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, which have been divided from each other by Israel, every move of Palestinians has been controlled by Israeli military laws since 1967. This is a key part of the discriminatory (apartheid) system that treats Israelis as civilians with rights we in Europe can understand, but systematically denies Palestinians their human rights and allows regular abuse of people young and old at the hands of the military.
For three or four generations now, the people of Palestine have been treated as second-class citizens in their own land: they are subject to military laws that do not consider their needs as civilians and to military violence that has left thousands dead, hundreds of thousands injured and the whole population restricted in very many ways. Having a foreign army ruling the people of Palestine is the basis of systematic human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law (the Geneva Conventions).
Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem less than twenty years after taking over the rest of Palestine to create Israel. This has meant control by the military for Palestinians in all of those areas but in different ways. In 1967, Israel annexed Jerusalem but did not give its people equality with Israelis. Palestinians in Jerusalem (‘residents’ not ‘citizens’) are still subject to the laws of the military while Israelis have civilian rule. Israel put its army in control of the West Bank in all aspects (still true even after the Oslo Accords) and it has been in control of Gaza for the same length of time. From 1967 to 2005, this was in the same way that they controlled the West Bank, but since Israel moved its settlers out of Gaza in 2005, it has controlled Gaza, largely from outside its ‘borders’, through imposing a siege, surveillance through low-flying aircraft and drones and many military attacks including huge ones in 2008-9, 2011 and 2014.
In over fifty years, the Israeli military has been imposing military law on Palestinians in the areas under Israeli control. (This was true from 1948 in Israel itself, but here we are discussing the occupied territories.) These military laws do not apply to Israeli settlers, who are living as civilians under Israeli domestic law. Those in control of the Palestinian people are Israeli generals, and the Israelis that Palestinians meet are in military uniform with lethal weaponry (unless they are Israeli settlers, who are also armed).
These military rules treat Palestinians as potential enemies to be controlled, and treat them very badly. Particular means of control used by the Israeli military are military orders, declaration of no-go military areas, declaration that areas will be used for military training or confiscated by land, movement restrictions including checkpoints, a system of passes and ‘permits’, military invasions, including night-time arrests of young people, collective punishments including curfews, military punishments including imprisonment in military prisons and deportation. Military camps and military roads as well as checkpoints and the Separation Wall are spread across the West Bank.
Rule by the military makes violence on the streets and even within people’s homes a familiar event for all Palestinians. All Palestinians know people who have suffered from abuses by the Israeli military and know that they are themselves in a second-class position in relation to them, and have no effective recourse to justice when such things occur as beatings, imprisonment, woundings or even killings. The numbers of such incidents are horrific (see our human rights reports that relate to only one area) and many of them are not reported. Our books tell some of these stories, and it is horrible to see more and more added every day and every week. Just between the end of March and the end of October in Gaza, 21,000 people have been injured by Israeli snipers with no recourse to justice (proper health care under siege is another story), while any journey in the West Bank brings you into contact with children and old people who have been shot or beaten by soldiers or settlers (who are defended by the military and not called to court for such things).
Most usually, if someone is shot or otherwise hurt by the Israeli military, the Palestinian family makes no attempt to take it up formally because years of experience show there will be no outcome. Israelis have impunity in bad treatment of Palestinians. In the cases where people do attempt to complain, there is no procedure within the military itself and Palestinian families cannot go to Israeli courts. Palestinians have tried to show people what is happening through posting videos on social media but the Israeli military have been attacking journalists and the Israeli government has passed laws against those who circulate pictures of the Israeli military in action, and have imprisoned people who have used social media in this way.
If there is a campaign so that a particular violation is noticed (sometimes because there is international backing), it seems that the most that can be hoped for is for the case to be investigated. Then, usually, the investigation will be dropped rather than completed, and if completed, the results will be a mockery. Israeli perpetrators will not be punished – or will be temporarily punished lightly and then have the punishment lifted – an appalling contrast to the heavy treatment of Palestinians, where people can be fined and punished with no trial or even if no charge can be made to stand against them.