Palestine and Israel: The Best Available Evidence

Bansky Peace Dove Bethlehem

Bansky Peace Dove Bethlehem

As I have grown older I have come to realize I should be less certain about most issues – unless there are irrefutable facts. I have also grown to be suspicious of those who state beliefs with absolute conviction but have little or no credible evidence. I’ve also abandoned my childhood belief in one side being all good and the other all bad. Like many others today, I’ve grown increasingly cynical.

My cynicism meant I didn’t fully buy into how some of my colleagues described the situation in Palestine. Their passionate stories were genuine but the lack of hard data fuelled my skepticism. In a sense my distrust contributed to my willingness to go to Palestine and Israel as a human rights observer – I wanted to see for myself.

I had forgotten the caution offered by Oliver Cromwell, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” My cynicism prevented me from trusting what was readily available in detailed reports from reliable sources. I was mistaken and as a result of my arrogance I will be haunted forever by what I witnessed.

Cromwell

Over the past few weeks there have been three major reports that have gathered only minor media attention about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

What disappoints me the most is that those who should read these documents will be amoung the first to dismiss them. These same people will label them as: propaganda, inaccurate, filled with lies and anti-Semitic.

What is even more disheartening is that these people will be quoted in the media with the same veracity as those who have compiled the information.

Yet, based on my experience, each one of the reports is an accurate reflection of what I witnessed while I lived in Bethlehem.

I have come to realize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is like an abusive family where everything looks fine and normal from the outside but once you go inside the house you realize that violence and fear reign supreme. In a very real sense it is like Jekyll and Hyde playing itself out on an international stage. On one side (Israel) goodness and light and on the other (Palestine) darkness and horror.

“Stone Cold Justice” is an investigation into the justice system for Palestinian children in the West Bank by two major Australian media outlets. It is a chilling examination of the behaviour of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). It tells stories of night time arrests, ill treatment including torture of children while in Israeli jails. It even details the arrest of a five year old boy in Hebron because he was accused of rock throwing by an Israeli settler.

A group of boys arrested in Hebron while on their way to school. All the boys were under the age of 12. The incident took place shortly before I left.

A group of boys arrested in Hebron while on their way to school. All the boys were under the age of 12. The incident took place shortly before I left.

“Trigger-Happy” is an aptly titled report by Amnesty International that documents the mounting toll of deaths and injuries of Palestinians resulting from shooting and other violence by the Israeli military outside the context of armed conflict.

In my 3 months in Bethlehem, I visited four young people in hospital who were all seriously wounded by the IDF or settlers. One of them still has a plastic bullet lodged in his brain.

Mohammed was 13 when he was shot  last February in Aida Camp near Bethlehem. He was standing at least 100 m. away from the wall at the time. The plastic bullet was fired by a sniper rifle from a guard tower. The shell entered his abdomen and caused internal damage to his liver, kidney and bowel according to a Doctor at the hospital in Bethlehem.

Mohammed was 13 when he was shot last February in Aida Camp near Bethlehem. He was standing at least 100 m. away from the wall at the time. The plastic bullet was fired by a sniper rifle from a guard tower. The shell entered his abdomen and caused internal damage to his liver, kidney and bowel according to a Doctor at the hospital in Bethlehem.

I witnessed the Israeli military use of excessive force against protestors and bystanders. I know what it is like to be intimidated by a young IDF soldier targeting me with his rifle while I stood on a street corner. I have watched the IDF fire several tear gas shells and sound grenades as a group of demonstrators walked away from the wall after throwing a single rock.

Richard Falk issued his final report as the current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. His relationship with Israel has not been easy. He has been denied entry into and effectively banned from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories since his appointment. His comments on other issues make him an easy target to discredit. This report details the harsh reality faced by Palestinians:

“Through prolonged occupation, with practices and policies which appear to constitute apartheid and segregation, ongoing expansion of settlements, and continual
construction of the wall arguably amounting to de facto annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, the denial by Israel of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people is evident. The Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts provide guidance as to the consequences of serious
breaches of peremptory norms under international law. In this respect there is authority to suggest that the following prohibitions have attained the status of peremptory norms: aggression through military occupation and imposition of
military blockades on ports and coasts, racial discrimination and apartheid, and torture.”

Warning Sign

It seems that the pathway to peace with justice is strewn with background investigations and documents that are given short shrift by those who have an inherent interest in the status quo.

The sad reality of media coverage in the west is a focus on equal time being given to the two sides no matter what the reality is.

During this Lenten season, I hope you will consider the situation in Palestine and Israel. No matter what you believe I hope and pray you will set aside your suppositions and read learn about the conflict from first hand sources.

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About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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4 Responses to Palestine and Israel: The Best Available Evidence

  1. tamara says:

    Curious to know about your activism in other parts of the Middle East, such as Syria where more than 140,000 have died in the last three years. Also, Egypt, where the Coptic Christians are on the brink of utter extermination by their fellow Muslim citizens. Really, the list is endless. Why your particular fixation on Israel and the Palestinians? Even if all you claim is accurate and free of bias, the abuses there pale in comparison numerically and in every other way to the human rights abuses happening in neighboring countries. And to quote Richard Falk, who is considered to be a vicious anti-semite by moderate members of the Jewish community, makes your agenda suspect on this whole issue. I also the pleasure of reading your letter in the Post today. Please note the study on Anti-semitism was carried out by the Anti-Defamation League, not the JDL. Ironic that you get that basic fact wrong, given this post. The study has also been almost universally confirmed to be methodoligically valid and free of bias. You are a rare exception. I find it strange that a man of the cloth, such as you, would defend the prevalence of anti-semitism or racism of any kind amongst any group, including Palestinians. Certainly, if you wish to have dialogue with the Jewish community here or in Israel, you might want to examine your own prejudices first.

    • Steve Berube says:

      Dear Tamara,
      Thank you for pointing out my error with respect to the JDL verses the Anti-Defamation League. I would be interested in learning who has said that the study to be methodologically valid and free of bias.

      I have no expertise or first hand experience regarding the situation in either Syria or Egypt. I regularly pray for peace with justice for the people in those nations both in private and in public. I also pray for people in Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other places around the world. These days I join with millions of others around the world praying for the safe return of the 260+ girls in Nigeria.

      My original interest in going to Palestine was fueled by three factors:
      1. I did not believe it was as bad as some of my colleagues were making it out to be,
      2. The Palestinian Christian community has invited people to “come and see“,
      3. It is the land where the sacred stories of my faith are rooted; stories about Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Jesus and his followers and so many others.

      What I learned was the violence and the breeches of the Geneva Conventions as well as international humanitarian and human rights laws were worse than what had been described to me. Based on your comments, I will compile some of the data over the next few days and post that sometime next week. Statistics can be as shocking as personal stories.

      I also learned that most people truly do want what all people desire, peace with justice and hope for the next generation. I met wonderful Palestinians and Israelis alike.

      What I also learned is that Israel wants to be viewed as a modern democracy and a leader in arts, culture and science. To be viewed on this basis it also needs to be viewed in comparison to other similar nations. Israel is conducting the longest military occupation in the world by any democracy. The occupation according to the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice is illegal because it is in violation of the Geneva Conventions to which Israel is a high contracting party. (This is are a personal opinion but rather a fact.) It is also well known that Israel has somewhere between 200-400 nuclear weapons. This stockpile is on the same scale as France, England and China. Yet, Israel is not a signatory to any convention dealing with nuclear weapons. There are also several reports from credible sources that Israel maintains chemical weapons. Israel is ranked as 150 of 162 countries in terms of peace.

      As for Richard Falk he is a highly respected international law prof from Princeton and is Jewish. His critique of Israel pales in comparison to Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky. Also, his reports accurately reflect data collected by other internationally respected NGO’s such as Amnesty International. I would suggest you read their latest report, Trigger Happy.

      Anti-semitism is a serious charge. I would suggest you check out a video clip from Finkelstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0CulhsQkTA and then read the op ed in the Guardian, “Anti-Semitism should not be waved around like a propaganda tool“ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/15/anti-semitism-prejudice-anti-defamation-league.

      An Israeli patriot, Hanah Baraq reminded me of a passage from Jeremiah when I spoke with her in Jerusalem, the prophet cautioned an ancient king and the people to beware of those who say, peace, peace when there is no peace.

      Thank you for your comments.
      Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Paix,
      Steve

      What disappointed me the

      • tamara says:

        Interesting you now feature a video by Norman Finkelstein and an op ed from the Guardian. Even tho you admit that Finkelstein is an even more controversial character than Falk. By the way, Mr. Falk’s religion is irrelevant, both to him and to your position. As you may know, there were also a few Jews who cooperated with the Nazis. Do you also agree with Falk that 911 was an inside job? Finkelstein and the Guardian are hardly considered to be objective sources on the subject of Israel, and are at least as biased as you suggest the ADL is.
        Also, the Pew survey of Arab countries in 2011 showed even higher levels of anti-semitism than the ADL survey. The Pew organization is quoted in the Guardian as a reputable source, so I assume you don’t question it’s validity. But apparently you believe the Jew hatred in the Arab world is justifiable. Has it occurred to you that this is one of the reasons Israelis doubt the sincerity of its neighbors as peacemakers? Opposition to the existence of the State of Israel, in the Arab world, began long before 1967 by the way. And anyone familiar with Israelis, and not just Palestinians, would know that the average Israeli would be happy to make a peace deal and give back land should there be a willing partner. They have done so in the case of both Egypt and Gaza. Visavis your claims about the Geneva Convention, please note that Israel has never forced transfer of Israelis to the West Bank or Gaza. This is a spurious claim. In fact, international law is entirely derived from UNSCR 242 which Israel accepted and was rejected by all Arab parties and which demanded any withdrawal from territories which Israel seized in a defensive war in 1967 required direct negotiations and mutual recognition, all of which the Arab countries have rejected with the exception of Egypt and Jordan (for now). To sum up, the singling out of Israel by Christians like you is unfortunate but seems in keeping with your faith’s long history of hatred and persecution of the Jewish people. It is disappointing but not surprising.

  2. pugmother says:

    The above comments are not what one would expect in a civilised discussion;
    Accusing someone of being anti semitic because he does not approve of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian peasants is ridiculous and dangerous! I grew up in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation and lost my grandparents and almost all of my mother’s relatives; I know what anti semitism is like; The writer does not approve of Israel’s actions and he is entitled to his opinion!

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