A from the heart report of a visit to the West Bank from one whose life has been focussed on good works in the Christian tradition. Her experiences are similar to those of Mary Baker (Issues 10 and 12).
In 1947 when the partition of Palestine took place I was an idealistic young 19 year old student at UCLA and had many Jewish friends. I rejoiced with them that the Jewish people now had a homeland. I admired those who went to live on kibbutzim and the values they embraced.
I had no idea at the time that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were exiled from their land, had lost their homes and would never be allowed to return. The sympathy that the world community had for Jews following the horrors of World War II blinded people to the dispossession of the Palestinians.
Little did I know back then that 63 years later I would go to the West Bank and join the a Palestine solidarity group as a volunteer, to stand with others in peaceful protests against the systematic dispossession of the Palestinians by the very people I and others had supported so enthusiastically all those years ago.
As a child growing up in the Christian church I had been intrigued by stories from the Bible and maps of Palestine, 'the Holy Land'. I knew that two great religions, Judaism and Christianity, were born there and that Islam had taken root there. When I was in Hebron I saw a building which had the year 1344 written in Arabic on it; historians say the Palestinians have inhabited the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea for over 13 centuries. In 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration Palestinians comprised 70% of the population and owned more than 90% of the land. In the years following many thousands of Jews from all over the world began to settle in Palestine.
I could not have dreamt what living in the West Bank would be like. In a few words, I felt I was living in a large prison. People from other countries (we are called internationals') who want to see for themselves what the situation is like, who are aggrieved that Israel has violated the United Nations directives, who had met displaced Palestinians abroad - when we are there, we want to support the Palestinians.
One way we do this is to stand with the Palestinians and Israeli activists when homes are being destroyed, when more Jewish settlements are being constructed on Palestinian land, when the separation (Apartheid) wall continues to be built. In some places this new wall is as far as 22 kms inside Palestinian land from the Green Line'. It will isolate villages and prevent the access of Palestinians to their farms, schools, shops and other people.
Internationals and Jewish activists join with the Palestinians to protest non-violently. During the two months I was in the West Bank I took part in 15 protests. I never saw a Palestinian throw a stone at a soldier or a Jewish settler. I witnessed many Israeli Occupation Force soldiers fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at Palestinians and internationals and Jewish advocates who supported the Palestinians. I saw people at protests being manhandled and taken to jail. Children of friends of mine, as young as 13 and 14, were seized in the middle of the night and taken to jail where they were beaten and shackled and seldom knew what their offences had been. The parents couldn’t contact them; they could be (and some are) kept in jail for weeks, months, years. The Red Cross reported in June 2010 that there are close to 9,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
One can understand the Palestinian’s frustration and apprehension for the future when one considers that when the United Nations partitioned Palestine into two states in 1947 the Jewish state received 55% of the land and the Arab Palestinians and Christian Palestinians got 45% of the land, even though the Jews comprised a much smaller percentage of the population. In the ensuing war the Israelis captured even more land, so that at the cease-fire the Jews were in control of three-quarters – leaving just 22% of land for the Palestinians (the West Bank and Gaza). The boundary at this time came to be known as the Green Line.
After the war in 1967 the Israeli army conquered all of Mandated Palestine and so began the longest military occupation in modern history. The death toll was very high in these conflicts and many Palestinians emigrated – there are now more Palestinians living outside Palestine than inside. Today thousands of Israeli Occupation Force soldiers and the border police control more than 600 borders, closures, checkpoints and observation towers which are on Palestinian land. 18% of the West Bank is a “closed military zone” which no Palestinian can enter.
I hate to write this but I firmly believe that Israel by and large wants the Palestinians to disappear and therefore they are deliberately colonising the West Bank (there are more than 200 settlements there; one settlement has over 100,000 settlers living in it). Jews are invited to come to live in the West Bank from every country on earth. There are close to 400,000 settlers living in the Occupied Territories and this number is increasing. Settlers live freely without any of the curtailments of the Palestinians. They carry guns, drive on special roads and menace the Palestinians. The first week I was there a fast-driving settler hit a couple crossing the highway in my village; the driver didn’t stop, the wife died the next day, nothing was done….for 43 years this has been going on.
I realize that the burden of my account is at odds with the information supplied by the skilled Israeli public relations officers and government Ministers. I have written about things which I experienced firsthand. I included a few historical facts to try to explain why the Palestinians are so aggrieved. I would like to say that I was very privileged to have been able to share in the lives of the Palestinians. I was fortunate to be able to spend many hours teaching English to them. I was surrounded with kindness, warmth, sincerity, humour, hospitality.
Many of my Palestinian friends said that they wanted me to tell people in other countries that they want to live in peace with the Israelis. I know that many good Jewish people wish to live in peace with the Palestinians. However, until the international community, especially the United States and including Australia, condemn outright the occupation and the policies of the Israeli Government, there is no likelihood of peace.
After having supported a homeland for Jewish people in the past, I now find myself duty bound to support the Palestinians’ claim for even-handed justice and a home in which they can live without oppression. Only then will it be possible for the people in the Middle East to be able to begin to live in Peace.
Marty Morrison has been an activist in human rights and social justice since her early years in the 1930s. Marty has been a teacher of English for 60 years to foreign students in Australia and overseas countries, including China, the UK, the US, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia.
The wife of former diplomat and Defence Minister in the Whitlam Government, Bill Morrison, Marty has spent the last 10 years in Australia working for "a fair go" for asylum seekers and refugees.
She has recently returned from teaching in the West Bank and supporting the Palestinian people in peaceful protests against their oppressive treatment by Israel."
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