Palestinian protesters run from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip against the US embassy move to Jerusalem before the 70th anniversary of Nakba. Picture: Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)
Imagine living your life as though you were in a cage in your own home, and having to constantly prove your humanity and existence at every checkpoint and having your religious beliefs questioned at every holy site?

This is the daily reality of Palestinians living in Israeli Occupied Palestine, where the daily movements and activities of Palestinians are under constant surveillance and scrutiny.

From the airport, I took a taxi driven by a middle-aged Palestinian. He has witnessed some of the worst brutalities of the Israeli Defence Force in Palestine. He narrated the inhumane treatment that Palestinians had endured under the Occupation.

“They steal land, they steal dignity and they steal life. And they do it with pride and arrogance,” the Palestinian taxi driver said.

It was not until we arrived at the first checkpoint and saw the high walls dividing Palestine from the illegal Zionist entity called Israel that the reality of apartheid Israeli began to materialise; the separation of populations of people, of Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites as though these religions had nothing in common.

The systemic apartheid is visible in the infrastructure; the narrow roads, demolished houses and buildings that Palestinians have to live in, the abandoned cities, homes and markets, particularly in the city of Hebron.

The Palestinians are not permitted to build, renovate or even provide basic municipal services in their own territories without the written permission of the Israeli government.

The streets are filled with Israeli soldiers, surveying the daily activities of young Palestinians who are usually suspected of malicious activities and prone to unwarranted arrests for voicing their anger at the ongoing occupation.

It is evident that many Palestinians are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders, and in my observations this is evident in their excessive smoking habits.

There are barely any recreational centres and young children find pleasure in aggressive activities of showing scorn and hatred at the occupation, either by agitating Israeli soldiers through fireworks, stone-throwing and loud noises in places where there is a heavy military presence.

The bravery and fearlessness of these young Palestinians is scary but commendable at the same time and it reminded me of the June 16 uprising in Soweto where young black South Africans took to the streets to display their outrage against apartheid.

The reality that Palestinians are living through in their own land is similar to, and maybe even worse than, apartheid, where the walls are visibly symbolic of the divide.

The religious beliefs that are meant to unite Palestinians and Jews, for example, the grave site of Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim AS), at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, is a source of great tumultuous conflict among Jews and Muslims.

The partition wall built inside the mosque demonstrates this. The wall was built because of a massacre that took place inside the mosque, prior to the wall being built, where a Jewish illegal settler shot dead about 30 Palestinian Muslims at early morning prayers.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine has resulted in more cultural, social, political and economic divisions mostly based on racism that is centred on religious identity.

The fact that Muslims, be they Palestinian or just mere tourists visiting holy sites in Jerusalem and other cities, have to prove their Islamic identity is a dehumanising and humiliating act enforced by Israeli soldiers.

I felt like a criminal in most parts of Palestine, and even more so in Israel at the airport, where I was strip-searched after a Kifaya (Palestinian scarf) was found in my hand luggage.

I was interrogated for about 30 minutes on the purpose of my visit and why I had the scarf.

I quickly concluded that Israelis do not want us to visit Palestinian territories; they do not want us to witness the brutal, inhumane and savage conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live under in their own land.

There are many international observer groups that have been deployed to Palestine to make reports and findings about the conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live.

One such group that we found in Hebron was the TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) which has been there for more than 10 years. These observer groups have done little in condemning Israel for its military occupation in Hebron and the destruction of life in that part of Palestine.

These observer groups hardly publish any of their findings in public platforms that are accessible to the international community. Hence some of the atrocities and Human Rights violations committed by Israel go unnoticed and unpunished by the UN.

It is important that when we say we pledge solidarity with Palestinians, we understand the depth of that pledge.

The apartheid here is real. Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike are barricaded in walls meant to keep them out of their heritage, their land, their dignity, a feeling we know all too well as black South Africans.

* Sigaba is a postgraduate student assistant in the College of Human Sciences at Unisa and a Master’s candidate in Development Studies at Unisa.