Last November I had the unique experience of attending an event titled “exploring the Israeli occupation”. The event was hosted at the University of the West of England and invited a speaker from a Christian organisation called ‘Ecumenical Accomplishment Programme in Palestine and Israel’.
The speaker; a man called Jamie Tarlton gave a presentation on his experiences in the West Bank, also biblically known as Judea and Samaria. A main talking point of Jamie was around the issue of Palestinian homes being demolished in Area C; a portion of the West Bank that is administered by Israel in both civilian and security affairs.
While he provided a critique of the demolition of some Palestinian homes in the West Bank; he did acknowledge the facts around the context of their demolition. The homes that were targeted for demolition were built illegally and therefore had been issued with demolition orders. The main point of his argument was that Palestinians had no choice but to build illegally due to the difficulties of acquiring planning permission. He then spoke about the use of force to evict Palestinians from homes who had violated planning permission laws and refused to comply with demolition orders.
The issue with this point was that he insinuated that it is exclusively a Palestinian issue. However, it is not that simplistic. Israelis often struggle to acquire planning permission in a similar way. While there is high demand to expand homes, towns and cities in Area C where immigration from parts of Israel and the diaspora has had a similar impact on demand for new homes as Palestinian immigration to Area C where job opportunities for Palestinians are greater.
In fact, due to the difficulties of acquiring planning permission; some Jewish groups have had the same demolition orders and force used against them in evictions after illegally building towns in Area C in violation of planning law.
I raised the example of the illegally built village of Amona where the use of force by police and army personnel was used to evict the illegal inhabitants of the Jewish village. Jamie admitted he had no knowledge of this case. However, it goes to show just how equal the enforcement of law in the West Bank by Israel is. Discrimination and racism may be an easy conclusion to come to when looking at a disturbing video of tear gas and fireworks being set off on both sides, but the contentious issue of West Bank housing does not come down to a single case of a Palestinian family being evicted from an illegally built home.
Another issue Jamie raised in his talk was around the high levels of Palestinian unemployment in the Palestinian authority and areas of the West Bank outside of its civil jurisdiction. Jamie seemed to suggest that the issue of unemployment was solely down to Israel. This is a misleading suggestion. The reality is that the Palestinian Authority play a huge part in employment of Palestinians as a big employer themselves and controls the wages of its many public sector employees employed in the civil service. For political reasons the Palestinian Authority has even cut the salaries of civil servants in Gaza. This has forced many Palestinians to work underpaid or work completely unpaid.
As I have noted earlier, Palestinians have been emigrating from areas under Palestinian jurisdiction to the Israeli administered portion of the West Bank due to greater job opportunities. Settlements and the Israeli enterprise they bring with them has been a source of employment for Palestinians and therefore a magnet for economic migration. One major employer of Palestinian workers had been SodaStream. Workers were paid an average salary of NIS 5,000 a month while employed by the Israeli firm. When SodaStream was targeted by the discriminatory boycott movement, SodaStream was forced to move operations out of the West Bank and to the Southern Israeli town of Rahat. Today those same workers are offered a mere NIS 1,400 by the Palestinian Authority making them significantly poorer as a result.
Ironically despite this fact and Jamie’s concern for Palestinian employment; Jamie advocates for the policies that erode Palestinian job security and economic links to Israel by supporting the boycott of Israeli goods produced in the West Bank. While he didn’t specifically mention the BDS movement; he believes that boycotts will force Israel to reduce its presence in the West Bank.
The truth is boycotts do not work. They are destructive to the lives of Palestinians who may not retain their jobs that have now moved to Israel such as the case of SodaStream who were targeted by the highly-discriminative boycott that achieved nothing more than making it harder for Palestinians living in the West Bank to put bread on the table.
It appeared Jamie hadn’t considered this fact when I raised it with him. Being able to talk to Jamie after the talk in a friendly and civil manner made it easy for me to identify and understand his grievances with the situation. The sheer frustration of the situation in the West Bank is a feeling shared on both sides. The problem is what we do with this frustration and whether our good intentions are leading to something productive or destructive. It is often the case that good intentions pave the way to unintended results.