September 24, 2010

What Middle East Peace Talks?

The Wall

Beit Jala, The West Bank, Palestine, 2007

(Author note: This is an opinion piece. I am posting it in response to a lack of awareness around the Middle East Peace talks. I respectfully request that you click through the links included in this article before commenting. The links offer a background story that may allow you to understand the heart of this article more easily.)

Imagine you are sitting in your home. Imagine that when you look out the window, you can see a wall growing closer and closer, day by day, straight toward the walls of your home. You know that the larger wall will not correct its course. You know that soon, very soon, your walls will be gone, leaving only the larger wall standing.

I sit on a terrace that was probably built centuries before Columbus set sail…and am spitting distance from the wall, grey and shocking, monstrous, prison-like, stark and hard-edged. I am so close, in fact, that I can hear the machinery working tirelessly beneath in the large shadow – you have to be able to imagine this wall to understand. It’s built like a prison wall – about twenty feet straight up, and then another 20 at a slant, built to keep the prisoners…uh, I mean terrorists…in.

From what is to be known as the Israeli side of this “fence,” (on illegally seized land), you could perhaps scale the fence, with the right high-tech climbing gear. If you were to stand beneath it on the occupied, aka Palestinian, side of the fence, it would tower over you, insurmountable and oppressive.

I sit on the edge of Beit Jala, just east of Walaja, outside Bethlehem. The wall is heading straight into the heart of Walaja. There is no clear path. Houses have fallen before the blade of the dozer, and will continue to fall.

Right now I can hear the “screeeee” of earth and stone being torn by machines. If I were to stand, I would see, beyond the wall, on the occupied side, carcasses of olive trees, still drying in the late-summer sun. The leaves are not yet brown, death is so fresh.

According to the Qur’an, to kill a tree is forbidden even as an act of war. Yet the trees come down, the houses come down. Families are separated by tons of concrete. Lives fall to the way-side.

I cannot even hold the reality of it. I sit and there is nothing but “us” and “them”. It is impossible for me not to take on the grief, the anger,
the frustration.

Being a “landed” person, I tell myself that I would die to protect my family home if it came down to it. And even at that, I know I would not. Life is more precious, freedom more precious. What freedom there is.

To my immediate left is the settlement of Gilo. It stands, stately and rigid, on the highest peak between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. You can see it from everywhere. It, like all the settlements, stands as a brick and stone taunt to the (lack of a) Palestinian nation.

Where is the justice? Where the justification? How can anyone look at this wall, these settlements, and think these are okay, much less a good idea?

Fighting a “war” against “terror” is inhumane. Who are the terrorists? Walling a nation is ghettoization. The wall is breeding terror, and those who live in terror may choose to die by it. This wall is terrorism. These settlements are terror impersonated.

Imagine you are a young woman or man who has no citizenship, no country, no right to travel, no right to own land, no work prospects within the land of your birth, no easy way to leave. Imagine you are an old woman or man who has lived for the past sixty years in a camp run by the UN. Imagine the complex emotions that pull you between wanting your children to find a way out, and knowing that if they do get out you may never see them again.

Imagine you are a young person with nothing to lose but life itself. Imagine you are a young person with nothing to gain but paradise. What is terror? What is terrorism?

My third night in Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers came illegally into the center of town. Young boys picked plastic bottles from the trash cans, and began throwing them at the cavalcade of army vehicles. Empty, plastic soda bottles. Not even rocks. The jeeps stopped, and the boys ran.

A simple game of cat and mouse. What else is there to do? How should these boys react? Even in “Area A,” which is supposed to be solidly in Palestinian control, the Israeli soldiers make their presence known at will.

What is terror? Who is the terrorist?

Palestinian people are arrested by the Israeli government everyday for nothing. People are afraid to walk the streets after dark, not because of crime (which seems to be virtually non-existent here), but because they are afraid of being harassed, picked up, arrested, beaten, killed…by Israeli soldiers.

I see the walls, internal and external, and I find myself asking, where is the third intifada? How else will the strangle-hold be overcome?

Really, the question is, where is the hope for peace? I have yet to find it. Without justice, no peace. Just walls. More, and more, and more walls.

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