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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.