Transparent ballot: No vote for Palestinians in West Bank
Op-ed: Though voting ballots are created in the West Bank by Palestinians, they still do not enjoy voting rights, even though their settler neighbors do, because unlike settlers they are not Israeli citizens but subjects of an occupying military regime.
The Palphot print shop in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron was hard at work until last week – printing 230 million voter ballots for Israel’s upcoming general elections. A media photo showed one of the employees holding an uncut sheet of ballots, with the codes for all 26 parties running for Israel’s 20th Knesset proudly on display.
Since the print shop is located in a settlement and the majority of its employees are Palestinians, it is safe to assume that some of the workers who were busy printing ballots were residents of nearby towns and villages.
They may be from Jayyus, a village that lost a large part of its farmland to the invasive and greedy route of the Separation Barrier. While the route near the village has been changed recently, it still cuts off much fertile land from its Palestinian owners. Or maybe they’re from ‘Azzun, a town where some homes were built in Area C, without a permit from the Civil Administration, and are therefore facing the threat of demolition; a town where tens of thousands of residents are collectively punished by the military for stone-throwing by some local youths. Maybe they even come from Qalqiliya, a city that the barrier surrounds on three sides, stifling any possibility of construction and development. This has caused hundreds of businesses to shut down and an exodus of residents from the town.
Although the government of Israel and its various agencies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories directly affect almost every aspect of life for millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, these residents will not be able to elect the next government: They are not Israeli citizens but subjects of a military regime living in occupied territory. Yet no one would dream of imposing any restriction, including the right to vote, on the Israeli settlers who live in the same occupied territory, outside their country’s sovereign borders.
Many Israelis are willing to accept this reality because they think Palestinians have their own political representation within the Palestinian Authority. The lack of elections for the Palestinian parliament since 2006, and the fact they do not appear likely in the foreseeable future, is due at least partly to internal Palestinian issues. However, the Palestinian Authority is simply irrelevant when it comes to most of the decisions that affect Palestinians’ lives in the West Bank, including those living in Areas A and B, ostensibly under full PA control.
The partial, limited autonomy granted to the Palestinian Authority to run certain aspects of Palestinians’ lives allows Israel to absolve itself from the need to manage (and primarily fund) infrastructure, welfare, and health and education services for the occupied population, while retaining control of the territory and exploiting its resources. The Palestinian Authority is subordinate to Israel and cannot make any real changes, not even in the areas that are ostensibly under its control.
Be it construction and planning, connecting communities to the water supply system, running the economy or governing who can and cannot travel abroad – the decisions are made by Israeli politicians, government officials and Civil Administration and military officers, who are all committed to Israel’s own interests rather than the needs and rights of the Palestinian population. The latter are transparant, excluded from policy making processes.
The 20th Knesset (if it lives out its days) will usher in the 50th anniversary of Israeli occupation. Millions of Palestinians have no political representation – a right most of them would rather exercise in their own independent country, Palestine. For now, the Israeli government is holding the stick at both ends: It controls the entire area, but pays no attention to the opinions of a large part of the population living there. Until this situation changes, we’ll be left with a sad irony: Palestinians are good enough to print voter ballots, but not to actually vote.
Sarit Michaeli is the spokeswomen for the human rights group B'Tselem