John Berger January 2006

All this is clear; it is not happening in some remote, war-locked corner of the globe, every foreign office of every rich nation is watching and not one takes measures to discourage the illegalities. "For us," a Palestinian mother says at a checkpoint after an IDF soldier has lobbed a tear gas bomb behind her, "for us the silence of the west is worse" - she nods towards the armoured car - "than their bullets".

How is it I am still alive? I'll tell you I'm alive because there's a temporary shortage of death. This is said with a grin, which is on the far side of a longing for normalcy, for an ordinary life.

bergerEverywhere one goes in Palestine - even in rural areas - one finds oneself amongst rubble, picking a way through, round and over it. At a checkpoint, around some greenhouses which lorries can no longer reach, along any street, going to any rendezvous.

The rubble is of houses, roads and the debris of daily lives. There's scarcely a Palestinian family that has not been forced during the last half century to flee from somewhere, just as there's scarcely a town in which buildings are not regularly bulldozed by the occupying army.

There's also the rubble of words - the rubble of words that house nothing any more, whose sense has been destroyed. Notoriously, the IDF - the Israeli Defence Force, as the Israeli army is called - has become, de facto, an army of conquest. As Sergio Yahni, one of the inspiringly courageous Israeli refuseniks (they refuse to serve in the army) writes: "This army does not exist to bring security to the citizens of Israel: it exists to guarantee the continuation of the theft of Palestinian land".

There is the rubble too of sober and principled words which are being ignored. United Nations resolutions and the International Court of Justice in the Hague have condemned the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory (there are now nearly half a million such "settlers") and the construction of the "separation fence" which is an eight-metre-high concrete wall, as illegal. The occupation and wall nevertheless continue. Every month the IDF's stranglehold across the territories is tightened. The stranglehold is geographic, economic, civic and military.

All this is clear; it is not happening in some remote, war-locked corner of the globe, every foreign office of every rich nation is watching and not one takes measures to discourage the illegalities. "For us," a Palestinian mother says at a checkpoint after an IDF soldier has lobbed a tear gas bomb behind her, "for us the silence of the west is worse" - she nods towards the armoured car - "than their bullets".

Original report in Open Democracy 13 January 2006

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