This week’s column is a Special Report written by Shirley Meckley:
Jawaher Abu Rahme and Basem Abu Rahme are sister and brother. They lived in the West Bank. In Palestine. They are Palestinian. Jawaher was killed on New Year’s Eve 2010 and Basem was killed in April 2009. Both were killed by the actions of the Israeli Defense Force at the site of the separation wall in their small rural town of Bi’lin. While non-violently protesting this wall, which separates the farmers of this village from their farmland, Basem was killed by a tear-gas cannister fired point blank at his chest and Jawaher was killed by inhaling the excessively toxic tear gas aimed at the protesters.
I visited Bi’lin shortly after Basem was killed. I stayed in the home of one of the village families and enjoyed their marvelous hospitality, the wonderful food prepared by the women, and the comraderie of sharing a cup of Turkish coffee around a circle. The children were anxious to show me their goats, bee hives, and pigeons. These villagers asked only that we, the 15 members of the Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation, tell their story when we returned home to the USA. America needs to know their stories.
Ever since 1948 when 750,000 Palestinians were displaced after the establishment of the State of Israel, the land that is called Palestine has gotten smaller and smaller. A UN partition plan after WWII and the 1949 Armistice (the Green Line) started the disintegration but the war of 1967 resulted in Israel occupying Gaza, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And since that time, in gross violation of international law, Israel has built separation walls, check points, Jewish settlements, gates, towers, and Israeli-only roads. They have also demolished Palestinian houses and put thousands of Palestinians in jail under the title of Administrative Detention, meaning without due process. All of this combined with the military occupation of Palestine has affected the daily lives of Palestinians in ways that we Americans cannot imagine.
As a result of Israeli hasbora, (a euphemism for propaganda), all of this has been done by Israel in the name of security and many people believe it is a religious conflict which has gone on for thousands of years. It is neither. The facts on the ground are clear. It is about land, water, resources and control. As one Israeli peace activist said, “if the issue is security, why are they building houses right in the middle of where the enemy lives?” Israel has even paid their citizens to move to the so-called “settlements”.
There are brave Israeli peace activists who are standing beside the Palestinians in their non-violent protestations against this oppression. They lose friends and family because of it and are frequently ostracized. We talked with some who live in kibbutzim which have received Quassom rockets fired from Gaza. Still they say “they are not our enemies, they are our neighbors” and they are ready to pay the price of social isolation, but not ready to pay the price of fear.
And we, the American taxpayer, are complicit in this brutality and oppression. The US has been aiding Israel since 1948 and the amount has steadily increased over the years. Even though the World Bank has placed Israel among the top 50 richest nations in terms of per capita income, Israel receives 1/3 of ALL US foreign aid – the largest recipient of all countries in the world! From 1971 to 2008 US aid to Israel has averaged over 2.6 billion per year. That money is financing the building of the separation wall, the demolishing of the homes, and even the killing of Jawaher and Basem.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the Palestinian people I met. They need us to join them so they can see that the world is not all against them – that they are not all terrorists. They need us to join their struggle for human rights and freedom. We can start by writing our Congress men and women and asking them to support withholding aid money to Israel. We can also educate ourselves about the truth of the matter rather than just accepting the American media‘s version.