Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Settlements, attacks drive out Palestinians

An op-ed from my CPT colleague which ran in the Cedar Rapids Gazette

By Sarah McDonald

On Nov. 17, my colleague and I were physically attacked by five Israeli settlers in the West Bank while escorting home a Palestinian family with three young children. The five settlers circled us, then shoved the Palestinian father as he clutched his baby in his arms. They terrified the 3-year-old stumbling after his parents.

My Italian colleague and I, volunteers with Christian Peacemaker Teams, intervened and videotaped the settlers’ aggression until the five men knocked us to the ground, dragging and kicking us, before stealing our cameras.

The day of the attack, Barbara Walters’ interview with Sarah Palin aired. The former vice-presidential candidate told Walters: “I disagree with the Obama administration on that (a settlements freeze). I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow …. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

Palin wrongly conflates the occupied West Bank with Israel. International law specifies that it is illegal for an occupying power to settle its population in occupied territory. Yet since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank, building Jewish-only housing developments on land previously used by Palestinian communities. While Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not the only impediment to a just peace and a viable two-state solution, they are a stark violation of Palestinian human rights.

Israeli settlements have stolen Palestinian land and water resources. Settlement highways and “security” barriers slice through the West Bank, impeding Palestinian access to hospitals, schools, markets and family. A small but noisy minority of Israeli settlers misuse biblical texts and ideological zeal to defend their acts of violence against Palestinian lives and property.

I and others working with CPT maintain an international presence in the Hebron district because Israeli settlers in this region are among the most violent in the West Bank. We accompany Palestinian civilians trying to walk between villages or get to school. We have witnessed extremist settlers harassing and attacking unarmed Palestinians, including children and pregnant women.

The attacks on Palestinian property are no less vicious, dealing economic blows to rural communities already living in poverty. Israeli settlers have killed or stolen livestock, destroyed crops and olive groves and poisoned grazing fields.

These attacks are a systemic effort to push Palestinians off the land. According to a November report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “In a number of cases in recent years, systematic attacks carried out by Israeli settlers have directly contributed to the massive displacement, either temporarily or permanently, of entire Palestinian communities.”

Palestinian-filed complaints against Israeli settlers seldom result in indictment of the criminals or compensation for the victims.

When Palin insists that the Obama administration has no right to “tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand,” she also ignores a direct relationship between U.S. and Israeli policies. Israel is the largest annual recipient of U.S. economic and military assistance, receiving at least $7 million per day in military aid. This gives the U.S. administration — and every U.S. taxpayer—the right and the responsibility to investigate and to speak out about what Israel does with that money.

I keep thinking of the Palestinian family whose route home was so frighteningly disrupted by extremist Israeli settlers Nov. 17. The safe road to their village, and the road to a viable just peace, will not be opened until the United States is willing to stand up to Israel’s illegal settlement policy and to insist on Palestinians’ right to live in freedom.

Sarah MacDonald is a resident of Iowa City and serves full-time with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine and Colombia. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Iowa and is a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She is a member of First Mennonite Church of Iowa City.

No comments: