The World Bank, the apartheid wall and the ghettoisation of Palestine

12 September 2005 | Guest comment

After the facade of ‘disengagement’, 1.4 million Gazans continue life in the world’s largest open-air prison. Denied access to the outside world, they lack sovereignty over water, borders and air space. In the West Bank, the 700 km long apartheid wall and its gates strip Palestinians of 47 per cent of their lands, sealing them inside disparate ghettos. Israeli settlements and road systems expand on Palestinian land in a new wave of the Zionist colonization that began in 1948.

The World Bank has been placed in charge of co-ordinating “development and growth” efforts within the Bantustans that Israel is carving out for the Palestinian people. Renewing the work begun in the aftermath of Oslo, the Bank’s plans ensure the economic ‘viability’ of an illusory Palestinian ‘state’. This ‘state’ of miserable ghettos, imprisoned by walls and settlements, totals 12 per cent of mandate Palestine. It forms the focus of ex-Bank president Wolfensohn, chosen to oversee ‘disengagement’ and liaise the initial round of the Bank’s projects.

Against the Palestinian communities, steadfast in their grassroots resistance, the Bank’s latest report, Stagnation or revival? Israeli disengagement and palestinian economic prospects, cites Israeli “facts on the ground” as given and permanent scenarios, using them as the foundations for its projects. It evades any discussion of the illegal apartheid wall, the occupation, its expanding colonies, or the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It shuns numerous UN resolutions, the Geneva Convention and the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice, which declared the wall illegal and to be torn down, and instructed all nations “not to render any aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by it”. The Bank believes it can circumvent international law and rights of the Palestinians as if justified by some kind of divine ‘humanitarian project’.

the Bank believes it can circumvent international law and the rights of Palestinians

Key to this project is the creation of ‘free markets’ and export-oriented production, hinged upong primarily Israeli, but also international investments. In the Palestinian context, economic colonisation is combined with the complete control and imprisonment of a people. The Bank has begun the process of funding for Israeli-controlled high-tech military gates in the apartheid wall and checkpoints, through which Palestinians and their exports can be conveniently transported. This will be supplemented with a ‘transfer system’ of walled roads and tunnels to funnel Palestinian workers to their jobs while denying them access to their stolen lands around them.

Central to the success of these ‘free’ markets is the construction of industrial zones. These are being financed by the Bank and the donors and agencies it controls. Previous initiatives in the Gaza Strip are being used as the model for the way in which Palestinians imprisoned by the wall can be ferried from their ghettos to industrial zones and sustain the economy of the occupation. In the case of Irtah in Tulkarem, land for the zone is confiscated and located behind the wall, on fields which used to provide for over 50 families. These sweatshops will provide the only possibility to earn a living for the landless Palestinian population. The Bank openly celebrates how Palestinians can be put to work for a fraction of the cost of Israelis, elaborating a devastating system of racial capital not seen since the days of apartheid South Africa. Their notions of ‘development’ and ‘aid’ once again support the smashing of the global commons, local-local trade systems and social structures. Yet alarminglyin the case of Palestine, they ensure the perpetual control and dispossession of a people by the World’s most brutal military occupation.

The Palestinian people and their popular movements remain unswerving in opposition to external interference from agencies such as the World Bank, which support the occupation, our ghettoisation and ultimately our expulsion from our lands. NGOs and ‘development’ agencies may be tempted to get involved in schemes and machinations of the international financial institutions. To them we send a stark warning of our total rejection of such work and our right to assert resistance to any outside organisation which serves (directly or indirectly) to strengthen the occupation.

If our Palestinian Authority is to be representative of Palestinians, including the refugees, it must distance itself from the schemes of the Bank immediately and embark upon a national programme to confront the occupation and its international allies, and strengthen the resistance of the people. We ask civil society worldwide to follow the lead of our daily grassroots resistance to the wall and occupation, and support our struggle for genuine freedom and liberation.

Jamal Juma is campaign coordinator of the Palestinian anti-apartheid wall campaign: StoptheWall.