THE OCCUPIED: LIFE IN THE WEST BANK
A small group of boys on bicycles cheered and laughed as they rode through the narrow streets of the ancient quarter in the city of Hebron. As they neared a checkpoint, their fun came to an abrupt end as Israeli soldiers carrying assault rifles rushed towards them. The children quickly tried to pedal away but one boy was caught and taken away by the soldiers. Despite having committed no crime, the child was detained and his bike confiscated. Such encounters are commonplace in the occupied West Bank, where civilians, including children, are often targeted by Israeli occupation forces as part of their government’s campaign of intimidation and oppression.
Daily life for Palestinians living in the West Bank is characterised by a stark lack of access to justice, human rights and individual freedoms. The actions of Palestinian civilians are governed by Israeli military law, allowing the military authorities to restrict their movement not only between towns and villages but also within them, denying them access to basic human rights and civil liberties, and creating a pervasive and threatening presence.
Israeli settlers who live in those same towns and villages in the West Bank, and whose occupation of the land is deemed illegal under international law, enjoy all the freedoms and protections afforded them under Israeli civilian law. “There is no law enforcement on the Israeli settlers or soldiers,” explains Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights defender and non-violent activist. “As a Palestinian I am under Israeli military law, and my Israeli settler neighbours are under Israeli civilian law. We are under different laws even though we are living in the same neighbourhood.”
The partition of rights and freedoms along ethnic lines is manifested in the Separation Wall, (also referred to as the West Bank barrier and the apartheid wall), built by the Israeli government in 2000, which divides the land, separates Palestinian communities and families, and segregates those without access to civil liberties from those who do.
Checkpoints, watch towers, razor wire and tear gas are all familiar features of daily life for Palestinians, and those resisting the occupation are often targeted by Israeli forces. Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro is himself no stranger to detentions, arrests and confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers. Born and raised in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, Amro has dedicated his life to peaceful resistance against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. As a result, he faces frequent arrests, targeted attacks by settlers and unrelenting efforts by Israeli occupation forces to sabotage his non-violent resistance and to undermine his legitimacy as an internationally recognized human rights defender.
Inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, Amro believes that non-violence is the most effective strategy for community resistance: “Non-violence is the best tool because it strengthens civil society and it gives a role to each person: the kids, the women, the elders and the youth. With non-violent activities you get more international support and you neutralize the violence of the oppressor.”
As founder and coordinator of the non-violent direct action group Youth Against Settlements (YAS), Amro works with young people, educating them about the meaning of non-violence and motivating them to resist in a direct but peaceful way.