Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Plight of the Palestinians

As you know from my recent article, this month I made a week’s visit to the country of Israel. My daughter Karen, who is a professor at the University of Arizona, was going to an academic conference in Tel Aviv, and she invited me to go with her. We both had a wonderful time there.
On June 24 while Karen was attending her conference, I made a trip to Bethlehem. By taxi I observed the current conditions there. Then I visited the Church of the Nativity and walked up and down the streets in the center of that recently walled city.
Since the early 2000s, the Israeli government has been building an extensive network of walls to restrict the movement of Palestinians, essentially imprisoning them within their cities/towns.  
Those imposing walls are from 20 to more than 25 feet high. Some of the sections are covered with graffiti, as you see in the picture below. That was part of the wall my Palestinian taxi driver took me by.
Bethlehem is within what is known as the West Bank, which is Palestinian territory under Israeli control since 1967. Tourists are able to enter and leave the city without much hassle, but Palestinians (which make up almost the entire population of the city) are greatly restricted and cannot leave without permits, which are difficult for most people to get. 

Seeing the people of Bethlehem virtually imprisoned in their own city was my initial introduction to the plight of the Palestinians.
Whereas Tel Aviv is a modern city with upscale department stores and restaurants, teeming with affluent people enjoying eating and drinking at sidewalk cafes as well as swimming and engaging in other fun activities on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea, Bethlehem is much more like a “third world” city.
Almost all the people in Bethlehem are Muslims but my taxi driver said he is a Christian. Like most of the Palestinians who live there, though, he bemoaned the lack of freedom and the restriction of basic human rights.
The next day, I was able to join Karen’s group for an all-day study tour of Jerusalem—and by all-day I mean we left a little after 8:30 a.m. and didn’t get back to the hotel until well after 10 p.m. Although quite tiring, it was a superb time of seeing significant sites and of learning about the history and current situation of Jerusalem, the most fascinating city I have ever visited.
Part of the tour was conducted by an NGO Ir Amim guide, who showed us how Israel is steadily building “settlements” in East Jerusalem, territory originally designated for Palestinians.
According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, by 2013 there were nearly 360,000 Israelis living in such settlements. There are far more than that now. And by settlements, I am talking about fine residential communities built to last permanently.
While these Israeli settlements are illegal according to international law, Israeli citizens continue to move freely to and from those settlements. Palestinians, though, remain trapped by the “separation walls” that have been built on their own lands.
The human rights of Palestinians have been grossly trampled on since the formation of modern Israel in 1948 and then by the nation of Israel, especially since 1967. It is high time for peace and justice advocates to stand with the Palestinian people in opposition to their demeaning and unjust treatment.
Supporting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement for freedom, justice, and equality is one concrete action we might take. You can learn more about that Movement here.


  1. Thanks, Leroy. You're so very right. And I'm convinced Israel will never be able to live in peace and safety if it doesn't find a more conciliatory way to live with the Palestinians. The walls walling people out are also walling them in.

    1. One of the Israeli scholars on the East Jerusalem tour said that the vast majority of Israelis do not know or care about the plight of the Palestinians. Of course, that is even more so with most USAmericans.

      There is so much concern for the nation of Israel in this country and so little concern for the Palestinians, it seems. But as you say, there will not be peace and safety in Israel until the Palestinian situation is dealt with more justly.

  2. Knowing a little of the bigger picture of the area, especially the last century but also through the millennia, there is another side of the story which must be known.
    The story of this region is similar to situations/history around the world. (Including my family history in Europe and North America and Africa).

    A very poignant memory from 1973 was traveling south from Bethlehem toward Gaza. A large sign was posted in four languages urging all to turn back because war was imminent.
    Many of the surrounding countries have treaties with Israel now. However, the Palestinian Authority and PLO have always refused a peace treaty, even when offered a 2-state settlement.

    There are no good sides, and plenty of bad sides, and lots of people caught in-between in everyday life – secular, Jewish, Muslim, Christian.
    And in the region, Jews are still outnumbered 10:1.

  3. Mike Greer, a fellow member of the Progressive Baptist Conversation group on Facebook, posted the following comments on FB:

    "My family and I lived in a village next to Bethlehem in the 90s. This wall is the obscene reminder that the oppressed can become the oppressor. Israel has created a prison camp that breeds hatred. The goal has been to force the inhabitants of Bethlehem to emigrate and many Christians have. The story of the Palestinians is similar in many ways to that of the Native American.

    "The divestment movement is having an effect on Israel's economy. Thanks for sharing your impressions which are true to my experience of living there.

    "This wall is an affront to humanity and to God. The ceaseless theft of Palestinian land and the dehumanization of this people will doom the future Israel. As one famous Jew said, a house built on sand cannot endure."

  4. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson, shares these comments:

    "Thanks for another enlightening blog, Leroy. I hurt for the Palestinians in Bethlehem, a town we often visited from Tantur (a mile away)."

  5. Thinking Friend Charles Kiker in Texas sent the following comments for posting here:

    "When reading your messages while you were in Israel/Palestine, I wondered if you would comment on the Palestinian dilemma. Probably was not safe for you to do so. But glad you have done so here.

    "I think Zionist Israel is a terrorist state. I think the war against Gaza last year was a totally unjust war by just war standards. (Even most “just” wars are just war, as some wag has said. Wags are often right.) And I think Netanyahu is a war criminal.

    "As you noted, the settlements are illegal under international law. Instead of supporting Israel militarily, the US needs to stop ALL arms shipments to Israel, put some economic sanctions in place to make them ease up on the Palestinians. Thanks for noting the possibility of boycott."

  6. Thinking Friend Glen Davis in Canada shares these comments:

    "Thanks Leroy for your insights on the Palestinian situation. I too have visited the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. Israel gets away with gross violations of human rights with almost no accountability"

  7. This morning I posted a link to this blog article on Facebook, and shortly afterward Rabbi Mark Levin, who became my acquaintance/friend two or three months ago, responded with these comments:

    "I am shocked, Leroy, at your very one sided arguments about Israel. Ask any Palestinian Christian why there are so few Christians in Bethlehem today and you'll discover it's because of the pressure to expel them applied by the Muslim Palestinian Authority. Ask any Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem which side of the wall they would prefer to live on, and they'll tell you the Israeli side.

    "Why is there a wall? What you didn't mention was the dozens of Israelis, including Arabs, murdered by terrorists, and how that abominable wall has saved lives. I have been a peace activist for decades, and I am certain done much more than your readers to attempt to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You can read my FB page to see what I have written about the Israeli government.

    "But your very one-sided commentary is tragic, and will do nothing to bring about peace. Jews have been boycotted in the past, and we know what they mean when they are leveled indiscriminately against an entire people without working for peace. They are simply a means to attempt to delegitimate Israel's existence.

    "I am shocked and terribly disappointed that a professor would post such narrow and prejudiced ideas about an entire nation."

    1. I am saddened by the comments by Rabbi Levin, a man a respect greatly. But I appreciate his honesty in sharing his thoughts/feelings about this difficult subject.

      I was also honest in what I wrote about what I saw and heard about the situation in Israel. The tour of East Jerusalem was led by an Israeli man from Ir Amim, which according to the Wikipedia article is "an Israeli left-wing activist non-profit organization founded in 2004 that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem. It seeks to ensure the 'dignity and welfare of all its residents and that safeguards their holy places, as well as their historical and cultural heritages.'

      I also talked with some of the Israeli scholars on the tour about the situation in their country and based my opinion partly on what I heard them say.

      What I wrote is also consistent with what I heard and read on the website of Jewish Voice for Peace, found at https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/content/israeli-palestinian-conflict-101.

      I know this is a very difficult issue, and I know that there are many Jewish people who reject the position of Jewish Voice for Peace as well as, probably, Ir Amim.

      But it seems to me that those groups want peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, and certainly I do. It seems quite unlikely, though, that there will ever be peace until the Palestinians are treated with justice and allowed to experience much greater freedom and equality.

    2. In the first line I meant, of course, "a man I respect greatly" -- and I am still looking forward to him replying to my response.

  8. Donna Nassor is a new Facebook friend about whom I know little. She was introduced to me by a mutual friend because he knew of her work with a group called Supporting Independence of Palestine. This morning Donna posted the following comments on my Facebook timeline:

    "What you saw in Bethlehem is just the tip of the iceberg of suffering/oppression and slow motion genocide Zionism has been imposing on the Palestinians since before 1948. I have spent a considerable amount of time in the West Bank, Jerusalem, 1948 Palestine areas and in Gaza. Once you witness the truth you can never forget it or the people who are suffering.

    "There are no excuses for what is going on. Prior to 1948 and the illegal influx of Jewish immigrants to Historic Palestine, Palestinians were: Christian, Muslims, Jews and Druze. They all lived together in peace as cooperative neighbors and friends. It is Zionism that has created the current conditions. You cannot claim to be a 'democracy' when you treat anyone who isn't Jewish differently."

  9. Mike Greer, whose previous comments are posted above (at 10:34), and Rabbi Levin engaged in some rather heated exchanges on Facebook. Here is the last thing that Mike posted:

    "I would affirm that it is as wrong to demonize Israeli as it is to demonize Palestinians. Here are some facts about human rights denied to Palestinians which Israel could and should address.

    "•The Right to marry and live with the person they choose and to bring their family together in the home of their choice without fear of their homes being arbitrarily demolished by bulldozers

    "•The Right to dig wells on their own land or otherwise gain access to adequate clean water

    "•The Right to protection against unreasonable intrusions and searches, and against arrest and imprisonment without due process of law

    "•The Right to own property that cannot be seized and given to others on the basis of religion or ethnicity

    "•The Right to their children’s protection from unwarranted arrest, abuse and imprisonment

    "•The Right to freedom of movement throughout the Palestinian territories

    "•The Right to non-discriminatory planning, zoning, construction, development, provision of public services, and use of scarce area resources

    •The Right to protection & redress against discriminatory racism, including denial of educational opportunities as well as abusive and violent actions by military, police, and hostile settlers

    "•The Right to nonviolent protest against unfair laws and policies without state harassment, arrest, & imprisonment

    "•The Right, internationally guaranteed by UN Resolution 194, “to return to their homes [from which they have been expelled from 1947 to the present] and live in peace with their neighbors”. (Resolution 194 has been affirmed over 110 times since it was approved in 1948.)

    "•The Right to national self-determination within their own land."

    1. I can't vouch for the validity of all of the above statements, but they certainly seem consistent with what I saw in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem and with what I heard from Israelis on the tour of the latter.

  10. I do not believe there are any easy answers to solve this problem and all sides share in some fault and blame that makes the situation worse. One reason there is a wall is because terrorists were blowing up buses. In the US, we are building our own wall between the US and Mexico. Finished the book Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael B. Oren and now reading Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. Gives perspective on the challenges of trying to find a peaceful solution. Many on both sides have been hurt and it is very hard for them to find a peaceful solution. I wish there was something more I could say that would be helpful, I feel for those who are hurting on both sides. - Maybe the words of Abraham Lincoln may be of some help - "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

    1. Very well put!
      (The other anonymous)

    2. Perhaps because it was difficult to post his comments under his name here on the blogsite, but these words posted publicly on Facebook by Thinking Friend Doug Hohulin, and I am glad he posted them here also.

      The guide on the "political tour" of East Jerusalem said more than once that the "separation barriers" were not built primarily for security purposes. Rather, they were built to control the free movement of Palestinians, keeping them out of Israeli territory for demographic purposes. In that way, they are similar to the barriers between the U.S. and Mexico, which are much more for keeping unwanted Mexicans out of the U.S. than for security as such.

    3. As highlighted by the strong opinions on each side, there are no easy answers. I plan to watch the documentary of 1913: SEEDS OF CONFLICT that Donna suggested to get additional prospective. I am concern that each side is so focused on the "right" of their opinion and facts, that the 70 year war will become the 100 year war in 30 years. While I think I have a good understanding of the history and politics of this troubled land, there are others that can bring up other points of why they are right. My guess is none of us are fully right.
      On what I think maybe a related topic, I was showing my nieces who like to travel this video that highlights the world is not that big. I have been to many of the countries in this video. Maybe rather than focusing on our differences, we need to focus on how we are the same. That's what I like about this video - where Matt danced in Jerusalem, Gaza and Syria and other troubled places around the world bringing people together. May each of us work in a similar way. Doug Hohulin

  11. Looking back, the obvious high point of Jimmy Carter's Presidency was the historic peace agreement he negotiated between Menachum Begin and Anwar Sadat. A quarter century later there was so little progress from that starting point that Carter felt compelled to come back in 2006 with "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Here we are nearly a decade later, and still nothing much as changed, as Leroy documents. Can a subject that generates so much heat even be rationally discussed? For those not familiar with Carter's book, here is Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine:_Peace_Not_Apartheid

    I tried a web search for "liberal zionism" and found a number of articles, which were all over the place in attitude. One that resonated with me was Jason Horowitz's piece in the New York Times, which actually went well beyond its title of "Can Liberal Zionist Count on Hillary Clinton?" What is at stake for many American Jews is a great tension between their humanism and their zionism. See link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/magazine/can-liberal-zionists-count-on-hillary-clinton.html?_r=1

    Perhaps Carter's book would have raised less outrage if he had pointed to how the West Bank was being made into a series of ghettos anyone with a knowledge of European history could recognize, rather than going to the metaphor of South Africa's apartheid. However, it is worth noting that Israel did examine apartheid in planning its current occupation system in the West Bank, and both South Africa and Nazi Germany looked to the American system of Indian Reservations as they thought about their policies. Lebensraum looks pretty similar no matter what country pursues it. See another Wiki link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebensraum

    President Truman made some profound decisions as he wrapped up the end and aftermath of World War II. He decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, a subject discussed before on this blog. He also, shall we say, "dropped" Israel on the Middle East. Both actions reverberate through history to this very day. America remains deeply involved in Israel. At least liberal zionist American Jews realize they have a enormous ethical problem on their hands. They are not alone. The whole Western world, and especially the United States, has a very similar enormous ethical problem as well.

    The prophet Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel repeatedly, but the final contest was not the famous encounter with the prophets of Baal. In 1 Kings 21-22 we read about how Ahab wanted the land of Naboth, which Naboth would not sell to him in return for a "better" vineyard elsewhere. Jezebel sets in motion a plot to get Naboth killed, and tells King Ahab the desired vineyard is now his for the taking. This provokes the Lord to send Elijah with a judgment against Israel even more fierce than the one for the worshipping Baal. Lebensraum is an old issue.

  12. I just now read "Divest! from Occupation," which seems to me to be a good, balanced article, in the June issue of "Sojourners." It includes criticism by American Jews as well as support by Rabbi Alissa Wise, a staffer for Jewish Voice for Peace.