Wednesday, June 23, 2010

MIFTA report: Barriers, Borders, and Blockades

"MIFTAH seeks to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society; it further seeks to engage local and international public opinion and official circles on the Palestinian cause." -

Writing for MIFTA, Leah Hunt-Hendrix posits that physical and informational controls exerted by Israel are working against the possibility of peace, and creating barriers between Palestine and the rest of the world.

Barriers, Borders, and Blockades:
Policing Movement and Controlling Information

By Leah Hunt-Hendrix for MIFTAH
June 23, 2010

To keep some out. To fence others in. To police movement, instill fear, uncertainty, and instability. Palestine is a land cross-hashed with separation barriers, walls, fences and checkpoints. For many people, these structures make one either an exile or a prisoner, barred from returning or unable to leave. But in addition to the policing of movement, these mechanisms correspond to a policing of information, a control of what truths are able to travel beyond the borders of these territories, to reach the world outside.

Crossing borders always leads to new experiences. But one of the first things I noticed upon arriving in the West Bank is the very particular and peculiar transition that takes place when the border one is traversing is Israeli. Before I passed through Allenby Bridge, which provides entrance from Jordan into Israel, I thought I had an idea of the situation here. But until you come face to face with a machine gun-carrying-19-year old, the frightening nature and intense stranglehold of the occupation is hard to imagine. Without the experience, it is hard to understand how, despite complete innocence, one can be made to feel like a criminal, what it feels like to be interrogated, held for hours, and finally cast outside in the darkness of the night. And the experience of a foreigner is nothing compared to the harassment of those with Palestinian documents.

Once you are finally able to cross that border, however, something odd begins to happen. The reality of the situation becomes so obvious, that it is suddenly difficult to remember that there was ever a time when one didn’t grasp the severity of the occupation. It becomes hard to believe that others might not be fully aware of what goes on within Israel’s borders, under its control of Gaza the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But this creates a dilemma, a kind of information gap. For those on the outside, it is almost impossible to wrap one’s head around the fact that this level of oppression can still exist in the modern world. Meanwhile, those on the inside are perplexed at how others don’t seem to understand.

In a world as technologically advanced and information-saturated as ours seems to be, the lack of accurate representations of the conflict in Israel and Palestine in mainstream western media is astounding. As much as the borders and walls around Palestinians lands hinder people’s movement, they also seem to hinder the spread of reliable information. The blockade of goods into Gaza mirrors a kind of blockade on the speech and perspective of Palestinians, a silencing of their voices. Unless one knows where to look and actively seeks out the right websites and news sources, one is otherwise barraged with faulty information and mischaracterizations, which shape public opinion internationally, and become yet further mechanisms of domination.

A recent poll, commissioned by the Israel Project, shows that 56% of Americans think the American government should support Israel, and only 7% think it should support Palestine. This is related to the fact that most Americans think Palestinians are the ones stalling the peace process. At a ration of 2 to 1, Americans think that Palestinian “incitement” is a worse obstacle to peace than settlement-building in Jerusalem.

The claim that Palestinians are engaging in incitement through their media and school curricula, however, is itself, in large part, an Israeli media creation – yet another warping of the perspective that makes it into the public arena.

Palestinian Media Watch is an organization that aims to expose the use of extremist language in Palestinian media, which glorifies terrorism and creates a culture of hostility towards Israel. The organization claims to work in the interest of peace, and its materials are cited by a wide variety of institutions. It is a central informational link on the website of the Israeli foreign ministry and its founder, Itamar Marcus, has testified before the American congress and participated in a conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While PMW is received as an objective and unbiased resource, however, what goes unnoticed is that it is actually connected to right-wing Israeli funders, and Marcus himself lives in a West Bank settlement. This is highly ironic. For while PMW spreads the message globally that Palestinians are engaging in vicious incitement, the almost unanimous opinion within the borders of the West Bank is that the main obstacle to the peace process is precisely the issue of settlements, like the one in which Marcus resides. Despite the fact that the Middle East Peace Quartet and the international community have declared the building of settlements illegal, Israel persists in the establishment of these communities.

Continued construction of settlements not only undermines trust. It is also, day by day, destroying the possibility of a two-state solution. This is another fact that seems to be inadequately captured in international media. Many abroad see the situation here as the same as ever, just another year in a never-ending struggle. But for a large number of people on the ground, there is a sense of real urgency. With each new settlement, more Palestinian land is illegally claimed, land which may never be returned.

As the walls and fences enclose Palestinian villages and cut them off from their land, they sever the world from the critical voices and perspectives that must be heard. For a moment, it seemed like the Turkish Freedom Flotilla fiasco might penetrate the blockade on public opinion. But as Al Jazeera reported, information was once again confiscated and altered, with only two minutes of film released out of hours of footage, and the world largely buying into the incredible Israeli story of fanatic humanitarians. Like the contrived arguments of PMW, the physical and informational controls that Israel exerts are working against the possibility of peace, and creating barriers between Palestine and the rest of the world that must be rejected.

In the past, the international community rose up and challenged regimes of apartheid. It is unconscionable that in the present, through its inaction and unwillingness to demand accountability from Israel, the international community (in the shadow of the United States) is implicitly supporting the system of separation and segregation here, and is complicit with an ongoing system of apartheid. At some point, the walls will fall, and the barriers will be broken through. The question is whether or not the US and international community can shake off their blindness and be a part of a peaceful solution before it is too late.

Leah Hunt-Hendrix is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at



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