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For the last month, since the Israeli attacks on Palestine my feelings have shifted several times daily from swallowing back tears to anger and despair. I have attempted to assuage these feelings by an obsessive and masochistic search for information, information beyond the images on television, information that could explain these images. This has only led to more tears and anger.
I am embarrassed to admit my ignorance of this situation that has been going on for 35 years. I did not know that even since the early days of the occupation, the Israeli government expropriated Palestinians from their land and homes without compensation. I did not know that the homes of people resisting the occupation, even by peaceful means, were demolished. I did not know that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) imposed curfews and shot people who were caught outside after hours on sight . I did not know that the Israeli government has diverted water away from Palestinian farmland to serve the Jewish settlements that they have established within Palestine.
This has all been done in self-defense we are told.. But an occupation with the purpose of self-defense does not last 35 years and, involve the establishment of settlements in contravention of international rules of occupation.
How could I have missed this. Me, the politics junky, the follower of world events; I have slept through this issue for 35 years. I who so pride myself in being a human being above all else. I am guilty of just glancing through the headlines and perhaps the first few paragraphs of a news article. Why pay attention, the middle east is so far away. Beside Israel must defend itself we are told so often. Some of them sound a bit fanatical but everything would be fine because Jews would never do unto others what had been done onto them.
As for the Arabs, well I know there are good and bad in all races and religions but that area of the world is underdeveloped and uneducated. The people shout and shake their fists in the streets and the terrorists who hijacked the planes in the 1970s came from there and now they are responsible for suicide bombings and their leader wears an army uniform and is an ex-terrorist fighter. They must be largely to blame for all of this.
How I cringe now when I read those words now. I was tempted to delete them but decided not to. They are true. I am a proud Canadian. A Canadian who buys into the dream of a nation that takes pride in its different races and religions and sees itself as a microcosm of the world, a haven for the oppressed and an example of how people of all races and religions can live together. I could not be a bigot.
But there has also been a problem in the language used by the media and politicians. Perhaps this has been done in the interest of promoting moderation or in attempting to remain objective by reporting the facts or because of the outcry of anti-semitism by certain Jewish groups every time a crumb is tossed to the Palestinians. There is a point where moderation and objectivity in reporting the news can create a lie. People fighting for basic human rights may be driven to terrorism by desperation but they are resistance fighters. After 35 years of Israeli settlement in Palestine it is time to call the "occupation" by its proper name – invasion. Although it is true that Israelis have not built extermination camps one has to wonder what they expect to achieve by destroying a people’s livelihood, culture and dignity. If these things had been done in a period of a few years most people would not object to the use of the word genocide. Is it different because it has taken place over a period of 35 years?
There is also a problem created by the language used by a different culture. We are horrified when we hear the Arab world praise suicide bombers as martyrs to the cause. How can they sacrifice their children that way people say? Why then, are we not horrified when Israel sends its children to control the Palestinians, who have been denied control over the water in their territory, to defend settlers sitting by their swimming pools. Yes the killing of innocent Israelis is wrong but destroying the homes of thousands of refugees to capture 50 or so alleged terrorists is collective punishment not heroic self- defense. Aside from the obvious moral distinction in the above examples, the only difference is that, for us in the western world, the words, sacrifice and martyrdom are not ‘cool’. We are so superior and advanced: we use words like heroic and self-defense.
I’ve also frequently heard condemnation of Yassir Arafat for walking away from the Camp David peace proposal without making a counter offer. I was incensed when I found the terms of that proposal. Arafat rejected it because it was an insult.
The Palestinians have been open to compromise to some extent in regard to the borders of the new state but have understandably demanded territorial continuity. According to the Camp David proposal, Palestinians were expected to relinguish nearly half their territory creating a convoluted state where one might have to drive 50 miles to get to a town which was only actually 10 miles away in order to avoid entering Israel’s territory. The remaining areas although appearing to be territorially continuous would be broken up by Israeli bypass roads, check points and roadblock. The Palestinians were also expected to accept Israeli supervision of borders crossings and to relinquish their rights over water and airspace among other things. (<www.gush-shalom.org>)
The Palestians have a right to a state, just as the Isrealis have the right to the state of Isreal as it was given to them by the British in 1948 and not one inch more. Israel occupied Palestine in 1967 on the pretext of self defense and has remained there for 35 years. Now, the Isreali govenment would have us believe that because they established settlements there (against the international laws) the Palestinians should concede territory to accomodate them.
But amidst the suicide bombings and the Israelis who justify the crimes of the occupation as self defence there are those on both sides who feel for the pain of the other side, who are putting themselves in their shoes. In a recent inteview with Larry King on CNN, Queen Rania of Jordan said:
"… I saw a few days ago on one of the channels, a mother of a suicide bomber who was saying that had she known what her son was going to do, she would have prevented him from doing it. And she said that she felt with every Israeli mother who has lost a child. I also heard on the Israeli side, a bystander after one of the attacks on one of the buses, who was saying that if he was a Palestinian he’d understand how they could become suicide bombers living under such terrible conditions. "
But how and when will this all end? How much longer can the Palestinians endure the punishment inflicted on their entire society . Ariel Sharon does not want peace. Of that I am absolutely convinced. The Israeli government is sacrificing its own people to the suicide bombers to justify continued military oppression in the hopes of eventually gaining total control of Palestine. The Palestinians have no army, no tanks, not helicopter gunships. They cannot expel the IDF, yet to stop fighting would be to deny their basic humanity. The suicide bombings are only an indication of their desperation.
Nonetheless, there is some light in this dark scenario. The Israeli peace camp is vocal and well organized. Israeli soldiers are refusing to do military service in the Palestinian territory. Israelis civilians are placing themselves in Palestinians homes to act as human shields against the IDF. I am convinced that when the Palestinians have their state and Israel is liberated from the rules of Ariel Sharon and his kind, that the people of Israel will be there using the bulldozers that were used to demolish Palestinian homes to dismantle the roadblocks that have destroyed their economy.
In the end it is the voice of the international community putting pressure on the United States to stop funding the Israeli government and to demand that the Israeli government abide by United Nations resolution 242 passed in 1967 and reaffirmed many times since. This resolution calls for:
(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
Public opinion turned the tide against apartheid . We can all play a part whether it is by writing to our elected representatives to urge them to support the UN resolutions, or to a newspaper or simply by talking to friends. The Palestinians must not be subjected to the humiliation of being asked to come to the negotiation table to discuss which parts of their territory they will be allowed to keep but rather a suitable manner and schedule by which the above resolutions are to be applied.
Yes I know, writing letters takes time; your kids have soccer practice tonight, you haven’t done your workout in a week, you are getting together with a friend, you are tired after a long days work. I understand. But silence kills.
Linda Belanger can be reached at Belalin54@hotmail.com