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.
“Ruth… 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.”
That is because the security barrier works. Because checkpoints work. If you had asked Ruth how the conflict with the Palestinian touched her life from 2000 to 2004 or so, before the barrier was built, the answer would have been very different. It would have reflected the fear of doing simple tasks such as grocery shopping and wondering if you may get caught up in a suicide bombing and die. Or your child taking a bus to school when a suicide bomber detonates himself killing your child and most everybody else on board.
If you haven’t done so, I suggest you take the time and speak to Israelis who survived terror attacks, or lost loved ones in such attacks. I invite you to walk the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and read the many memorial plaques containing the names of victims of suicide bombers. Read the names, pray for their souls, and reflect on the thugs who sent human guided missiles into Israeli squares, shops, stores, buses and discos to kill and maim as many civilians as possible.
Don’t think that by parachuting into this region from Europe for a few months makes you an expert, or all knowing about this tragic situation. Have you applied critical thinking to asking Palestinians some very tough questions, including why their leadership keeps rejecting serious Israeli offers for peace. Why Palestinians thought that sending suicide bombers to murder Israeli civilians would somehow make their lives better? How do thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza? Do Palestinians want peace, or victory? Peace means compromise with your enemy. Victory means destroying your foe.
And, while in the West Bank, please do visit the parks, football stadiums, schools and streets named after suicide bombers in their honor. Glorifying mass murderers of innocent people is hardly a statement of endorsement for peace.
EAPPI condemns all forms of violence. Violence carried out toward Israelis is horrible, as well as violence carried out toward Palestinians. We work with both Israeli & Palestinian peacemakers seeking peace in non-violent ways. We believe that there are both Israelis & Palestinians who are willing to compromise for peace and that peace is the truest form of security for both sides. We cannot deny, however, that the separation wall has affected people who were not involved in violence and has destroyed the livelihoods of many innocent Palestinian families. We stand by the International Court of Justice ruling that the separation barrier is illegal because it is built within the green line. We hope that the leaders of both countries will do what is best for both peoples.
But that is not what your display at the WCC conference says. The blog post also is missing the condemnation of violence against Israeli civilians. You had to be prompted by me for this statement, which looks kind of boilerplate to me. A kind of talking point lacking any real sincerity. As an Israeli I frankly don’t care much about what the ICC has to say given how politicized the process was in bring the case to the ICC, and the makeup of the ICC. Also, the ICC is not a ‘ruling’ but an advisory position that has no enforcement to it whatsoever.
The separation barrier does cause inconvenience to the lives of Palestinians, but that barrier is relatively new, less than 10 years old. It would not have been necessary had it not been for the violence I listed in my post above, and it was built with great reluctance by a Likkud led government. The difference between inconvenience and disruption of the lives of Palestinians, and the massive terrorism visited upon us prior to the building of the barrier is the latter (death) is permanent.
Also, the separation barrier is not a ‘wall’. You must surely know that well over 90% of it is a fence, not a wall. Where it is a wall is in those areas where shootings took place against Israeli civilian traffic, such as along Highway 6 — which I drive every day. Prior to the wall being built at Qalqiliyya Palestinian snipers had fired on Israeli drivers on Highway 6, killing some. Would you have us take the wall down there, too? Would you have us become targets for Hamas or Al Aqsa Brigades snipers again? What would you suggest beyond the palliative: “We hope that the leaders of both countries will do what is best for both peoples.”?
Can you tell me which “peace” groups you work with in Israel? My sense is they are probably highly ideologically to the radical fringe left of Israeli society, and have little to no impact on Israeli voters. Do you work with mainstream Israelis? Do you offer comfort and hope to the survivors of terror attacks? Have you met with the families of terror victims? Do you have your EAPPI volunteers meet and spend serious time with “middle Israel”? What kind of dialogue do you engage in when you meet only Israelis who reflect your own viewpoints? That isn’t engagement. That is an echo chamber and is intellectually dishonest.