“Developing” Israeli Apartheid: The World Bank, International Aid and The Ghettoization of Palestine
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“Developing” Israeli Apartheid: The World Bank, International Aid and The Ghettoization of Palestine

Every day in Palestine, entire villages actively protest against the Apartheid Wall and the Occupation that has stolen their land, demolished their houses and imprisoned them in ghettos of poverty and oppression. They demand that the Wall and the Apartheid infrastructure of Jewish-only bypass roads, military zones and settlements are torn down. Not “modified” or made more “tolerable,” but dismantled entirely, a demand that is supported in international law, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and a number of UN resolutions. However, the complicity of the international community in the crimes of the Occupation is impossible to hide.

Against a reality where children participating in demonstrations are shot dead simply for defending their own right to exist, it seems absurd to talk about ‘development’ without first addressing the racist, colonial Occupation that perpetrates such destruction. Yet the prevailing discourse of economic “development” for Palestine chooses not to challenge this reality, but actively embrace it. Far from confronting the Occupation’s existence, it seeks to sustain it and the total Israeli control over Palestinian life.

The guiding document in this respect is the World Bank’s latest report on Palestine: Stagnation or Revival? Israeli Disengagement and Palestinian Economic Prospects. It outlines the mutual interest of global capital and the Zionist occupation, vigorously promoting a vision of “economic development” that legitimizes, relies on and provides financial support for the long-term Apartheid system on which the Zionist project of expulsion is based.

The very framing of World Bank policy is rooted in its explicit support for the parameters set out by Israel’s “disengagement plan” – a warped term that in reality means increased Israeli engagement in its control over Palestine through the finalization of the Apartheid Wall and connected measures of land grab and ghettoization. The Bank describes the “disengagement” as providing Palestinians with a “significant amount of land” and an ideal environment for development. In fact, Gaza will be totally imprisoned, surrounded by a second eight metre high iron wall, with all borders, coastline and airspace controlled by the occupying power. In the West Bank, just four tiny settlements are being disbanded, while simultaneously 46% of the West Bank is annexed through the Apartheid Wall and infrastructure, which is facilitating the expansion of settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim and the Gush Etzion bloc.

Against the ICJ’s instructions to the international community “not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by (the Wall’s) construction,” the Bank formulates its entire plan around “borders” of the Palestinian prison-state as defined by the illegal Apartheid Wall. It accepts that settlements, military zones and any “areas in which Israel has a vested interest” will remain under Israeli domination. The Wall annexes the Palestinian capital of Jerusalem to Israel, and so the Bank follows suit and removes Jerusalem from its plans.

While Palestinians are imprisoned, facing continued denial of their rights and aspirations, the Bank portrays a golden economic opportunity of a cheap, controlled labour force. The Bank’s blueprint for a new export-based economy, subservient to the strategic needs of Israel and global capital – with Israeli/foreign investment creaming off the profits – merges with the Occupation’s destruction of Palestinian farmland and local markets. Indeed, the Bank’s reports hardly refer to agriculture at all, traditionally the core sector of the Palestinian economy. Instead, imposing Israeli-run industrial zones, military checkpoints and Jewish-only road systems onto the West Bank are policies that reflect the Bank’s overall strategy for a Do-It-Yourself Apartheid Guide for the 21st century.

As with any other “Third World” population that the World Bank subjugates into the global economy, the role assigned to the Palestinian people is simple: to cheaply produce goods for export to wealthier countries, strengthening economic dependency on global capitalist systems. The Bank insists that Palestinians must not only be willing to accept brutal military occupation, dispossession and expulsion, but must also sustain their oppressor’s economy through primary goods and industrial output. Furthermore, walled-in Palestinians are marked as a captive audience, forced into a system of dependency upon the Occupation for even the most basic needs. Israel has drained Palestine of her natural resources, stealing around 80% of Palestinian natural water outputs on an annual basis. Now, in Gaza, the Bank states Palestinians who have been robbed of their water for decades should enter into trade agreements with Israel whereby they can buy back – “at Israeli commercial rates” – the same water stolen by the Occupation.

The convergence between Zionist actions and World Bank economics is clear, with international investment transforming the destruction and dispossession caused by the Israeli colonization policies into the Bank’s new showcase project: a series of massive Israeli industrial estates built on annexed Palestinian land. The so-called Tulkarem Peace Park, for example, is to be built on farmland stolen from the village of Irtah; land that sustained 50 families for generations and formed an integral part of community and family life. Now their only source of employment will be as an exploited worker on an Israeli industrial estate surrounded by walls, checkpoints and prison gates.

The World Bank ignores the inherent illegality of such estates and instead celebrates that they will employ cheap labour “with a minimum of red tape,” i.e. the absence of trade unions, health regulations and other worker’s rights. Israel’s most toxic and environmentally destructive forms of industry will be transferred to the West Bank, where Palestinians work for around a quarter of the wages in Israel (though even this is still too high in the opinion of the Bank’s reports). They may try and dress these sweatshops up as liberation and independence, but they represent nothing more than a devastating system of racial capital not seen since the days of Apartheid South Africa.

Such plans demand that goods and limited numbers of Palestinians are “allowed” to move within their own land, between the isolated ghettos carved out by the Wall and the Apartheid network of Israeli-only roads. High-tech military gates and checkpoints are proposed, through which Palestinians can be herded and controlled. What the Bank terms “alternative transportation systems,” including walled roads and tunnels that can be opened and closed at the whim of Israel, will provide a transfer system for the imprisoned Palestinian population, enabling movement between ghettos without access to the land around them.

In order to circumvent international law and whitewash their crimes, the World Bank and Israel have created another euphemism behind which to hide their own interests: “for the benefit of Palestinians.” The Bank justifies its collusion with the Zionist project by claiming that financing the same Occupation checkpoints which have imprisoned Palestinians and meted out daily humiliation and violence for years, in fact serve the needs of Palestinians. The US has already provided Israel with $50 million to construct these prison gates; the French government has followed suit offering $120 million to Israel, “for the benefit of the Palestinian families in Gaza,” so that the Occupation can modernize checkpoints. Included among the “modern” systems utilized by the Occupation are naked spy machines which take photographs penetrating through clothes. As well as being demeaning and degrading, many experts believe the radiation involved will cause serious long-term health problems. That governments are claiming to help Palestinians by giving money to the regime at the very root of Palestinian suffering is not only preposterous but shows their denial of any Palestinian right to self-determination.

Such support is making the World Bank an increasingly powerful player in Palestine. Outgoing President James Wolfensohn has been named as international coordinator of the “disengagement process” and has already stated that his work will be based upon World Bank policy; a policy which does not consider the Apartheid Wall, Israeli occupation and colonization, or Israel’s innumerous breaches of international law to be of concern. Nor is it just the World Bank. The acceptance of Israeli crimes is influencing NGOs at all levels, in projects that seek merely to adapt to the Wall and the Occupation rather than work for its removal, which must be the first and foremost priority. Any genuine form of development can only come when the Wall and settlements are dismantled, the Occupation ended and a truly independent and sovereign Palestinian state is established. One wonders what kind of dream world the World Bank and the Zionists are living in if they believe that Palestinians will simply sit back and accept this annihilation of their past, present and future.

In the reality that is slowly being shaped on the ground, the role assigned to the Palestinian Authority is that of prison guard, preventing the Palestinian people from defending their lands and rights in the interest of creating “an attractive environment for investors.” Acting in the name of the Palestinian people means that it is necessary for the Palestinian Authority and civil society to stand up against these projects – not by “modifying” or “only partially backing” them but by completely refusing and opposing them.

Palestinians are not looking for economic models of subservience, or ways in which to make the Wall and the Occupation more “bearable.” Palestinians want genuine liberation. That this is ignored by the World Bank is not accidental. It reflects the Bank’s conscious choice to support the needs and vision of the Occupation. That vision is the expulsion and ghettoization of the Palestinian people and in this crime the World Bank is a more than willing accomplice.

The partnership between Israel and the World Bank highlights the extent to which international support sustains the Occupation. Without the $5 billion of annual US aid, the World Bank investment and the contributions of countless governments, corporations and organizations, the Zionist project is simply not sustainable. Individuals and civil society the world over have the responsibility of building a movement to pressure and isolate Apartheid Israel while supporting the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation.