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December 10 is Human Rights Day. This day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the importance of human rights in our increasingly interconnected world. Human Rights are basic freedoms to which all humans are entitled: the right to life, the freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law. But are these rights applied equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and other differences?
Last month I traveled on a two-week delegation to Palestine and Israel organized by Interfaith Peace-Builders. During my trip, I spoke with many individuals, both Israeli and Palestinian, and heard their personal stories. With every experience, my eyes were opened to the harsh reality of life in this region. I couldn’t help but feel outraged, knowing that the U.S. government is an ally that provides major funding to the Israeli government.
Israelis are living in a state of fear that fuels much of their national policy; policy that by nature violates the rights of their Palestinian neighbors. Israel’s fear may be justified by the brutal treatment of European Jews, but does that history give Israel the right to deny human rights to Palestinians?
I thought I was prepared for the situation I found in the Palestinian communities we visited, but I was shocked at the depth of the pain I witnessed. Many Palestinians have been forcibly displaced from their villages, sometimes massacred, often thrown in jail without charges. Families have been torn apart, separated by walls, barbed wire fences, and endless military checkpoints, all erected by Israel.
Israeli control of natural resources makes Palestinian communities completely dependent on the Israeli government for survival, which encourages compliance to Israeli laws that target Palestinian communities.
We met with farmers in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, north of Ramallah, who told us of how their ancient olive groves were uprooted. All around Palestine, we heard similar stories of groves being uprooted, burned, or otherwise destroyed by the Israeli military. Farming has been a way of life for the Palestinians for hundreds of years, and that life has been taken from them.
Leaving Palestine was difficult for me. I know that most of the Palestinian people who I encountered during my travels will never have the opportunity to return to their homes. Many will die as refugees or internally displaced persons, prisoners in their own land. Yet, the people we met still have hope for a better tomorrow. When talking about the future, they spoke of peace and stopping the cycle of violence. I feel like I owe it to these Palestinians to tell their stories and advocate for basic rights that all people deserve.
Reflecting on my trip now, on Human Rights Day, I find myself focusing on one particular right. Palestinians are being denied this most basic right – the right to life.
As Americans, it is hard to comprehend the severity of the situation without seeing it firsthand. It is difficult to see our connection to the human rights violations in this region, halfway across the world. In reality, we are tied to these issues because we are funding the Israeli government. Our government gives $3.1 billion per year in “military aid” to Israel while making cuts to other programs, like social security and education.
As long as our tax money is funding such oppression, we must pay attention and ask questions. It is time that we stand up and demand an end to funding human rights violations in Palestine. It is time to stop the blank check to Israel.
Casey Stinemetz recently traveled to Palestine with Interfaith Peacebuilders, a nonprofit that focuses on peace delegations to Israel-Palestine. She is the National Chapter Coordinator at Veterans For Peace in St. Louis, MO. Casey has a Masters’ in Public Administration and Policy Analysis, obtained at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville, IL.