The Occupied Palestinian city of Al Khalil (Hebron) is governed by an Israeli military diktat known as the “Separation Principle”. Separation in this context means the segregation between a small contingent of illegal Jewish colonists and the entire city’s Palestinian population. The price that the inhabitants of the city have paid to ensure the Israeli military’s protection of an illegal Jewish colony built on Palestinian land has often been deadly and also extremely high in terms of economic losses. In recent years, the centre of Hebron, the Old City, has collapsed.
Not far away from Al Khalil, the Gaza Strip, Palestine’s poorest region is governed by a system known as ‘Policy of Separation.’ The Israel-based rights group, Gisha, has attempted to investigate the government’s definition and long-term objectives behind that form of separation but could only extract its meaning from statements made by Israeli officials. Gisha quoted then-Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who articulated his government’s position regarding the isolation of Gaza in a March 2012 speech. “The ongoing firing of [rockets] buries any chance that there will ever be territorial contiguity between Gaza and Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank by a Biblical reference. “There is no chance we will consent to a safe passage, or unsafe passage, be it overhead passage, an underground passage or any kind of passage.” The separation between Gaza and the West Bank is likely to ‘last for generations.’ Since then, Liberman has become the country’s defence minister, dedicating much of his work to ensuring that Palestinian communities continue to be cut off from one another.
Nibal Mghari is from the city of Jenin, in the northern West Bank. Many years ago, she fell in love with and married a Gaza student. She lived in Gaza ever since. Nibal is completely cut off from her family in the West Bank. Her old mother’s only wish is to see her, even if for a short while, before she dies.
In a video interview with the rights group, B’Tselem, Nibal recalls a time when her younger sister fell seriously ill. As sister was dying, Nibal spent months imploring Israeli authorities for a permit so that she would cross the Eretz Checkpoint to see her sister in the West Bank one last time. Her pleas were to no avail. Nibal’s younger sister died in 2007. Nibal’s story is that of millions of Palestinians, who know of no other reality but one form of separation or another. When Israeli policies of military occupation and perpetual sieges are discussed, “separation” is hardly invoked, although separating between Palestinian communities and families is at the heart of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. This context was entirely missing in US media, as Americans decried the short-lived family separation policy of the Donald Trump Administration. Incongruously, the very mainstream media organisations in the US that vehemently reject Trump’s separation policy continue to defend or cover up Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
This past May, the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced the government’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy at US border crossings. It was a matter of weeks before the new policy began yielding tragic outcomes. Those attempting to unlawfully cross into the US were subjected to federal criminal prosecution, while their children were taken away by federal authorities who placed them in cage-like facilities. The policy was eventually discontinued. However, many of those who have chastised the Trump administration seem wilfully ignorant of the fact that Israel has been carrying out far worse practices against Palestinians for decades.
In 2007, that same law was amended to include spouses from ‘enemy states’ — namely Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Unsurprisingly, citizens of some of those ‘enemy states’ were included in Trump’s ban on citizens, of mostly Muslim countries, from entering the US.
Even the idea of caging children is an Israeli one, a practice that was exposed by the rights group, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI). The policy, which has allegedly been discontinued, allowed for the placing of Palestinian detainees, including children, in outdoor cages, even during severe winter storms.
Today, the Israeli Apartheid wall separates Palestinians from their land and segregates between Arabs and Jews on racial grounds. As for Gaza, the entire Strip which hosts two million people has been turned into a massive ‘open air prison’.
While many Americans are relieved by Trump’s decision to end the practice of family separation at the border, US politicians and media are oblivious to the fate of Palestinians who have endured horrific forms of separation for many years.
Even more troubling is the fact that many among Republicans and Democrats see Israel not as a liability to real democracy, but as a shining example to be emulated.
Ramzy Baroud, PhD, University of Exeter, UK is Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Centre for International Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara.