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Understanding the Reality in Palestine

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There is a natural affinity among Americans for Israel due to historic and religious connections. However, most Americans have little or no understanding of the plight of the Palestinian people as they struggle to claim the state that was promised to them when the United Nations partitioned Palestine in 1947.

As the Quaker representative on a fact-finding delegation to Israel and Palestine last year, I wanted to see the situation there for myself. I talked with both Jews and Palestinians who were working to end the Israeli military occupation and to bring peace to this troubled land. I learned that there are many inside Israel who believe that their government is pursuing the wrong path.

I visited with Rabbis for Human Rights who believe that Israel's occupation is a violation of the principles of justice in the Torah. These Jewish rabbis work with Palestinian farmers to harvest their olives from groves that have been cut off from the farmers' villages by the Separation Wall that Israel is building on Palestinian land.

I talked with the Jewish leaders of Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, who told me that Israel's security will best be served by a negotiated peace with Palestine. Jewish members of Gush Shalom regularly go into the West Bank and join with Palestinians in protests over the building of the wall which they call the Apartheid Wall. I met with representatives of B't Selem, the leading Israeli Human Rights agency that monitors conditions in Palestine. These Jewish human rights workers shared documentation of thousands of human rights violations by the Israeli military in Palestine.

I saw for myself the 28 foot-high Israeli-built concrete wall cutting through Palestinian land that is separating Palestinian farmers from their olive groves making it impossible for them to earn a living. I visited a Palestinian farmer named Atta Jabar whose home has been demolished three times by the Israeli military because he has had the temerity to object to the fact that 80% of his land had been seized by Israel to build another illegal Jewish settlement on the West Bank. I spent a day in the village of At-Tuwani in the south Hebron hills where ultra-religious Jewish settlers are trying to drive the Palestinian shepherds from the village they have lived in for centuries because they claim that God gave them this land. There are now more than 200,000 illegal Jewish settlers living on Palestinian land on the West Bank. These settlers travel on a highway system throughout the West Bank that only Jews can use.

I talked with a young woman member of the Christian Peacemakers Team who has been working to try to stop violence between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian shepherds. She told me that their team escorts Palestinian children to school to protect them from attacks from the settlers and that she had been attacked six months earlier by chain-wielding settlers who came out of the woods and broke her arm as she tried to shield the children from harm. Since I have returned, I have learned that these same Israeli settlers have been spreading poison on the fields in order to kill the Palestinian shepherds' sheep.

I talked with a young Palestinian woman at Birzeit University near Ramallah. She told me about her humiliation at the Israeli military checkpoint that students must go through to get to their classes. She said that the Israeli soldiers told her that she would have to bare her breast in order to get through the checkpoint. I talked with other students who were told that they had to do a dance or to get down on their knees to beg permission in order to cross the checkpoint. There are over 600 Israeli military checkpoints like this one throughout the West Bank and Palestinians routinely must endure this kind of humiliation.

What is happening in Palestine is a complete denial of human rights. Since the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian people have been living under a harsh military rule. Israeli forces regularly confiscate private land, imprison individuals without due process and abuse them, demolish family homes, bulldoze orchards and crops, and often shoot and kill civilians-and Palestinians are without power to stop one of the world's best armed militaries. Many more Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombs and bullets than have Israelis who have been killed by the minute fraction of Palestinians who strap explosives to their own bodies in order to drive out the invaders of their land.

It is time for Israel to end its four decades of military occupation of Palestine and accept the Palestinian state as its neighbor. Peace will come to Israel when justice finally comes for the Palestinian people.

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Joe Parko is a retired college professor who taught for 28 years in the School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and serves on the steering committee of Cumberland (more...)
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