Perception of Palestinian Rights in Israel and the West Bank
Conflicts between different ethnic groups are usually very hard to solve. Often times both sides believe that they are right while the other side has manipulated the truth for their own gain. Unfortunately, these conflicts can easily foster violence, instability and large amounts of suffering among all the parties involved. This only adds to the difficulty of finding a peaceful resolution to these complex problems. However, by studying these conflicts, we can begin to learn what is needed to move towards a solution and end the pain they cause. A perfect conflict to study is the Arab Israeli conflict. For decades, each side has believed that they have been right about every facet of this conflict. Because of this, it has been very difficult to create peace between the two sides. In order to better understand what has been fueling the conflict in recent years, it is important to examine how the Palestinians perceive their rights, both in Israel and the occupied West Bank. After researching this topic, it becomes clear that both groups of Palestinians feel that their rights are being ignored by the Israeli government: those in Israel because they feel they are an unrecognized minority, and those in the West Bank because of the continued occupation of the territory despite the advances of the attempted peace process.
First, it is important to know a little bit of the history of this conflict. Palestinians and Jews both have claims to modem day Israel that go back hundreds of years. The issue of who has the right to this territory started at the end of the 19th century when Jews began to return to the largely under-populated land of Palestine, which later became Israel. For the first few decades, the two sides attempted to gain the favor of the rulers of the land, first the Ottoman Empire, then Britain. After World War II, the newly created United Nations attempted to solve the conflict and the large amount of violence that was occurring in Palestine by passing UN Resolution 181 in November, 1947 (Dowty, 2012, 89). This resolution sought to partition on the existing populations of both sides. While the Jews in Palestine largely celebrated this as a victory, most Palestinians were furious and were unwillingly to accept this so-called compromise. This led to the 1948 war, in which Israel fought against the Palestinians, its four neighbors, Egypt, Jordan. Syria and Lebanon, and Iraq (Dowty, 2012, 94). In the end, Israel not only survived the fighting, but expanded its boarders even further. The remaining Palestinian territory was absorbed by some of the Arab states, Egypt took the Gaza Strip, Jordan took the West Bank and Syria took the Golan Heights (Dowty, 2012, 96).
During the fighting, many Palestinians fled from the violence and left what would become Israel. Many went to the newly created West Bank. Those who stayed in Israel were granted citizenship and were allowed to stay in the new state (Ghanem & Mustafa 2011, 82). However, those who left were not al lowed to exercise their right of return to their former homes, which most felt they were entitled to. This was in violation of UN Resolution 194 which states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date" (UN Resolution 194 1948). This created a separation between the two groups of Palestinians, those who stayed in Israel and those who left for somewhere else. Later on, after the Six Days War in 1967, Israel would gain control over many of the Palestinians who left in 1948 by gaining control over the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights.
All three of these areas have since developed their own stories and each one has a very different relationship with Israel. for the purposes of this paper, we will only be comparing the West Bank Palestinians with those still in Israel. Ever since Israel took control of the West Bank it has had a major impact on the people who live there. While these has been some effort to give the West Bank more autonomy, such as after the Oslo agreement in 1993 which has led to 41% of west Bank land being put under Palestinian control, Israel has always had strong control of the region (Dowty, 2012, 164). This is what has created these two separate Palestinian perspectives on their rights in these areas.
For the Palestinians living in Israel, their situation does not seem to be so bad on the surface. They have been granted Israeli citizenship and rights, they were allowed to stay in their homes after the 1948 war, and as of 2010 there are 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel, which makes up sixteen percent of the population (Ghanem & Mustafa 2011, 78). However, in the eyes of the Palestinians, their lives are not as good as they appear. One of the largest complaints the Palestinians have is over the designation of Israel as a Jewish state. Many Palestinians believe that calling Israel a Jewish state inherently discriminates against them because they are not Jewish and that they cannot be recognized as the national minority they are if Israel makes this claim (Susser 2009, I 05). One document created by the Palestinians in Israel actually claims that Israel is an "ethnocracy" (Susser 2009, 114). This means that they feel the Israeli government creates policies that benefit the Jewish ethnicity, at the expense of Palestinians. This perception of discrimination also stems largely from the whole Arab Israeli conflict. Because the Israelis have fought with the Palestinians so much in the past century and because the violence is still continuing today, many Palestinians think Israelis sees the whole Palestinian population as the enemy, not just the ones causing the violence (Ghanem & Mustafa 2011, 84). It is now common for Palestinians to believe that they are being discriminated against by a government that they feel does not trust them.
For the Palestinians living in the West Bank, the story is quite different. Ever since the Six Days War when Israel began the occupation of the West Bank, the Palestinians have been largely subject to the will oflsrael and have only recently had a small opportunity for some self-rule. Finding a consensus on any issue in this territory is very difficult because the population supports many different factions, often revolving around age, or religious affiliation (Tessler & Nachtwey 1999, 26). Thankfully, Raja Shehadeh does a good job of connecting these different ideologies in his book Strangers in the House. Shehadeh's book tells his story of growing up in the occupied West Bank and helps to uncover the feeling of the local population. Shehadeh explains the humiliation that has come with being occupied. At one point, Shehadeh says, "I felt my manhood compromised" (Shehadeh 2003, 54). In fact, according to Shehadeh, an estimated one-third of young males in the West Bank have been humiliated or harassed by occupying authorities in some way (Shehadeh 2003, 166). This type of treatment is a large part of why the West Bank feels their rights are being ignored. They feel that they have lost one of the basic rights humans should be entitled to: their dignity. And if they do not even have the right to dignity, any other rights must also have gone as well.
Even the Palestinians' right to security seems to be nonexistent. Shehadeh explains how in his town of RalJ!allah "there was not a police force/here to help the community, to keep away the criminals, to apprehend the lawbreakers, and to provide security for the local population. This was an Israeli police establishment whose only interest was in Israeli security" (Shehadeh 2003, 207). This quote sums up the perception of many Palestinians toward the occupation. It is felt by many that that the Israelis are only there to protect Israeli interests and therefore the Palestinians' rights only matter when they do not conflict with these interests. The presence of Israeli settlements has only exacerbated these feelings. Shehadeh says that at one point, "[I] could see that an apartheid-type system of law was developing before my eyes. Two parallel unequal legal systems, one applicable to Palestinians, the other to Israeli Jews" (Shehadeh 2003, 170). The Jews Shehadeh mentions in this quote are those that have come to live in the West Bank in Israeli government built settlements. These settlements are built on land the Palestinians feel belongs to them because it is in the West Bank, not in Israel. The act of building settlements in the West Bank has often been seen as a way for Israel to take more territory away from the West Bank before any peace agreement is made. As a lawyer, Shehadeh is able to see how the law in the West Bank is extremely biased towards these settlers. Israel wants to protect the people living in the settlements because they fit into Israeli interests. This insight by Shehadeh represents many different groups in the West Bank and, therefore, does a good job of giving the general attitude of the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Even with the gains of the Oslo peace process and the small amount of civil control granted to them, the Palestinians still do not feel that their rights are being respected. Since Oslo, the West Bank has been granted some amount of self-rule and has some control over the way it is governed. However, it is still under Israeli occupation and is therefore still subject to Israeli control. The BBC has recently given some insight into Israeli's treatment of West Bank Palestinians in this post Oslo system. In one article, the BBC describes a Palestinian man being sentenced to death for throwing a stone at an Israeli car and killing the passengers (Palestinian Stone 2013). In the article, the defense lawyer claims that the court reached this verdict unfairly because the man was Palestinian. The lawyer claimed that the justice system used loopholes to give the maximum possible sentence due to pressure from Israeli settlers (Palestinian Stone 2013 ). Another article describes the anger in the West Bank over the death of a Palestinian prisoner. Many in the West Bank claim that the inmate, who had a terminal illness, was not given proper medical care in the Israeli prison, leading to a much faster death (Palestinian Prisoners 2013 ). According to those in the West Bank, this is because the prisoner was Palestinian (Palestinian Prisoners 2013). There are many other cases that could be given to show this reoccurring picture why those in the West Bank still feel that their rights are not being respected. Despite the gains of the Oslo peace process, the West Bank
population still believes Israel is infringing on their rights.
This analysis only illustrates one side to a very large and complex issue. Israelis could easily argue that these conditions are a necessity to protect themselves from the continuing violence that exists in this region. In addition, the arguments taken here must be read with a grain of salt because anyone who is capable of giving first-hand information about this conflict will have their own bias. There are no first-hand, neutral voices in this conflict. But even with the amount of bias that is inherent to anyone speaking on this conflict, it still becomes clear that more could be done to try and solve this issue. The first Oslo agreement was in 1993, and while there have been some gains made since then, twenty years have passed and we are still trying to think of a way to end this conflict. Both sides can do more to move this process along, and one of the major steps could be Israel accepting the fact that they have not handled their interactions with the Palestinians very well. Both sides have strong amounts of animosity towards the other and we have now seen part of the source for the Palestinians' anger. Israelis have their own reasons for their anger at the Palestinians, and it would be simple to analyze that in a similar way. Until each side recognizes where this hatred comes from, this conflict will not end. So for starters, it will be necessary for Israel to accept that Palestinians, both in the West Bank and in Israel, feel that their rights are being suppressed by the Israeli government and that they are not being granted the rights they are entitled to.
If this fact is recognized, then maybe we can move closer to peace.
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