Postcards from Abroad: Tensions Rise Over Disengagement from Gaza

Posted July 26, 2005 
My perception is that tension is rising in the area, especially with the approach of the "disengagement" from Gaza. I have made frequent trips to Jerusalem, and each time have run into emotional anti-disengagement protests. The protesters, draped in orange and waving flags, block the road. Miles of cars are blocked, and those with orange streamers honk in support. There is obvious tension between Israeli protesters and the Israeli soldiers who will presumably remove them from Gaza next month.

Wall near entrance to Ramallah
Palestinians stand by the wall near the entrance to Ramallah.

The controversy surrounding the Gaza pullout overlooks the deteriorating conditions in the West Bank. The West Bank is closed to movement until the completion of the disengagement, which has been pushed to a later date. Considerable (and I would say, growing) tension surrounds the continued building of the "barrier," or wall. There is daily destruction of farmland and private property in preparation for the wall's path and build-up of Israeli settlements. It has personally affected those I work with.

Other than at the Qalandia checkpoint entrance to Ramallah, I have not seen much Israeli military activity in this city. There have been gun battles on the street just outside the office, but I believe those were between Hamas and Fatah factions. What sometimes sound like gun battles are actually celebrations—for example following the publication of high school grades or weddings.

settlement in Ramallah
The Ofra settlement, near Ramallah. The road to the settlement is for the use of settlers only,
and has cut through the farmland in the foreground of the picture.

My work has been on the same project I described in the first postcard. In addition, I have gone on prison visits with Buthaina, the lead lawyer from [the] Mandela [Institute]. The prisons are all in Israel proper, and security throughout the drive is high. Passing settlements, distinctive with their red roofs and arrangement in rows, we hit checkpoints every 500 meters. Soldiers' guns remained aimed at Buthaina until I showed my magic passport.

wall leaving Ramallah
The wall leaving Ramallah.

I have had the opportunity to meet with those working in the State Department, the Negotiations Affairs Department, and the Support Unit of that department (mostly graduates of top American law schools). I have also had rewarding meetings with various NGOs, including the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As a law student and otherwise, I've had many surreal and sometimes demoralizing moments. I can spend all day reading about the Convention Against Torture or the laws that prohibit the targeting of civilians. And then I'm struck by how little law has to do with anything here. Is anyone going to tell a suicide bomber that targeting civilians is illegal? Is a Palestinian detainee going to remind his GSS interrogators that Israel ratified the Convention Against Torture? If it weren’t so disturbing, the idea would be laughable.

Melany Grout

Postcards from Abroad

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