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The Silent Destruction of Palesinte

by Rev. Sandra Olewine

So much of the destruction against Palestinians which happens here is ‘silent destruction.’ This term was rightly used by Nigel Roberts of the World Bank quoted in an the article by Amira Hass describing the economic crisis within the Palestinian areas.

Silent destruction, though, is also an apt term for what is happening to the land of Palestinians. News cameras seldom catch the stories of land confiscation, crop destruction, or barrier construction that happens day in and day out across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Such stories don’t seem to make ‘exciting’ or compelling video segments. Yet, on and on it goes. More olive trees uprooted, more farmland confiscated, more areas declared ‘fit for only settler or Israeli military use.’ The ‘prison’ called Palestine gets smaller and smaller each day. The pressure builds and builds.

And with the new system being put in place by the Israeli government, the prison is about to get even smaller. Palestinians will soon need permits to travel between Palestinian areas. If someone from Bethlehem wants to travel to Ramallah, already a journey that takes a couple of hours on a good day, they will have to apply to the Israeli ‘Civil Authority’ for a permit. The permits will be valid from 6 am to 6 pm only. No travelling at night, no emergency trips, no evening meetings, no weddings or funerals to go to. And in many instances the road will be blocked–one will not be able to take a private car–but will have to walk through barriers on the road, getting into taxi after taxi trying to get to one’s destination. As one of my colleagues at ICB said, “This will end our life completely. No one will tolerate this.” There will be no direct delivery of goods either–whether food, medicine, building material–all of it will have to be moved ‘back-to-back’, meaning a truck has to back up to the road block and unload to the back of a truck on the other side. This is already the case in most Palestinians areas, increasing the cost of items due to the increase cost of delivery.

Electric gates are being constructed across Palestinian roads. Evidently one is already in place on the Wadi Nar (the twisty, narrow West Bank road between the southern West Bank and the northern West Bank.) Barbed-wire fences are being put up around Palestinian cities, along with patrol roads for the Israeli military. While the answer to a query about these fences will be that are in response to suicide attacks inside Israel; they have slowly been constructed throughout the last 20 months. They didn’t just appear overnight.

During the Israeli invasion into Bethlehem in early March, a trench was already being dug across the northern edge of Bethlehem from the road into Bethlehem across to the settler by-pass road. During the 40-day siege of the city in April and May, work went on 24-hours a day. On one of the instances when I snuck back home during the siege, the family I live with asked me exactly where the trench was being dug. I knew instantly why they were worried. Many of the olive trees between Bethlehem and Tantur Ecumenical institute are theirs. “They’re gone. I’m sorry. The trench and road has cut you off from the trees. They’ve cut us much of the land between Tantur and Bethlehem off as possible,” was all I could say.

A thriving stone factory and a little coffee shop which were near the Bethlehem checkpoint were destroyed as well, even though the new road and fence is behind where they stood.

Coming back from Tantur the other day from a meeting I took my camera with me to document the complete destruction of the stone factory and to get pictures of the new barbed-wire barrier. Behind me I heard a soldier bellowing through a loudspeaker on a jeep, but I ignored it as I continued to take my pictures. As I got up to the new road, a backhoe was digging a new trench on the Bethlehem-side of the barbed-wire. As I came around a tree to get a closer view, men around an Israeli Border police jeep began to yell at me to stop taking pictures. A taxi driver I know pulled up alongside me and told me to get in the car. He said, “They’ve been yelling at you back there to stop taking pictures. They’re getting out of their jeep now. Come on!” Having what I came for, I got in the car and went back to the office.

This silent destruction is the creeping hand of occupation. It is what has everyone here held in a death-grip. Without removing its stranglehold from the lives of Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis here will tragically and brutally continue to die.

Rev. Sandra Olewine is with the United Methodist Liaison in Jerusalem.

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