by Melanie, Hebron team
“I think people don’t want to see what is going on.”
I am in Haifa, Israel talking to a group of 16 year old Israeli students about life in the West Bank, when one of the girls makes the above statement. I just summarized what takes place in Hebron – Israeli soldiers, Israeli settlers, life for Palestinians. I struggle to hold it together when speaking, both because of the reality of life in Hebron, but also because I am acutely aware that these young people are the next generation of Israeli soldiers. Any of them may serve in Hebron in a couple of years: protecting violent settlers living in illegal settlements and doing the things I have observed, like searching Palestinian children’s schoolbags, harassing ordinary people going about their business and detaining children.
Some of the students tell me they have never heard of Hebron and had no idea about what goes on there, or about the situation with checkpoints and other problems that my EAPPI colleagues based throughout the West Bank describe. A lively discussion between the students arises as to why this might be. A few blame the media. We point out that these issues are in the press on a daily basis, including the Israeli press, and there is a vast amount of information on the internet. After all, none of us EAs come from the region, and we managed to find out about what is going on.
The conversation changes when a girl suggests that many Israelis don’t want to see what is going on, they don’t want to know.
Certainly, it is possible to live a fairly normal life in Israel, while mostly ignoring what goes on just a few miles away on the other side of the wall that separates it from much of the West Bank. Ruth, another Israeli who kindly hosted me with her family in Haifa for a weekend, told me that in the last five years there were just three days when the conflict with the Palestinians touched her life in some way. The rest of the time, if she had chosen to, she could have completely ignored that it was happening. This is despite the fact that, if things carry on as they are, her two sons will be conscripted into the army in a few years.
This girls’ observations are similar to what many Israeli organizations are saying. Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers says,
“Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years… While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny what is done in its name.”
During our meeting with the young people at their college in Haifa, they showed us a memorial room which has photographs of 20 Israeli students or former students who were killed in the conflict. Although significantly fewer in number overall, the examples of tragic loss seem to be everywhere you turn in Israel, as in Palestine. But still, those young people were entirely ignorant of Hebron – one of the most notorious examples of this conflict.
I find this deeply troubling. In a previous blog, I mentioned that a 20 year old Israeli soldier was shot and killed recently at checkpoint 209 in Hebron, apparently by a Palestinian. His name was Gavriel Kovi and, as it happens he came from Haifa, the city where I spent the weekend staying with an Israeli family – Ruth, Sarah and their two sons. I have seen no outcry in Israel about why he was there in the first place and this is puzzling. He was there to protect a group of Israeli settlers who use violence to further their views, which I have both witnessed and experienced. Such acts of violence would normally be subject to the force of the law but instead, the Israeli government sends its army to protect them. This army is made of young people who are sometimes tragically killed, as with Gavriel Kovi. I fail to understand both how it is in Israel’s own interests for this to be happening or why people don’t want to see this.
*Read the full article on Melanie’s personal blog.