Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation

For those of you interested in my Human Rights work, I spent two weeks this month in the Israeli Occupied Territory (West Bank/Palestine) on a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. I went there in 2002, and I was interested in learning what, if anything, has changed in the past eight year.

My first reactions in Israel/Palestine was that it was, to use Yogi Berra's immortal words, "deja vu all over again." Palestinians are still being dehumanized, humiliated, abused and discriminated against, as they were eight years ago. Israeli settlers are still stealing even more land to build settlements and outposts and beating and harassing Palestinians who dare to interfere. The government continues to refuse building requests, then demolishes homes, electrical lines, cisterns and other things which Palestinians require and build anyway. The police continue to enforce two laws, one for Israelis and the other (not) for the Palestinians. The Army continues to act arbitrarily in humiliating and abusing Palestinians at the ever-present checkpoints, and it continues to raid homes with impunity to demonstrate their arbitrary power over civilians.

One particular item to mention is that settlers in the South Hebron Hills (around At-Tawani) have taken to attacking school children on their way to school. The humanity of people who attack six and eight year olds just because they want to go to school is beyond me. But that is happening. When it began a couple of years ago, CPT accompanied the children, but they too were attacked and beaten (sustaining substantial injuries). As a result, the Army has agreed to accompany children past the dangerous places in the road, which it has done on an erratic basis. Indeed, CPT and Operation Dove (an Italian human rights group also operating there) have frequently called the Army when it did not show up, or it did not wait for the children, or it left them at a place where they were still in danger. This is an ongoing effort.

Despite all of the above, I did detect some slight movement toward recognizing the humanity of Palestinians. B'Tselom, an Israeli human rights group, has supplied video cameras to record events (they jokingly call it "shooting back"), and it publicizes abuses. The Parents' Circle has formed to pair Israeli and Palestinian parents of the victims of violence, to share their mutual grief and see each other as human parents experiencing a mutual tragedy. Breaking the Silence is a group of more than 700 former military who have publicly described their abusive actions as a way to urge the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. But even so, there is very little progress. I described that whereas maybe 1% of the Israelis were concerned eight years ago, the percentage is now up to 1.8%.

There is a new Human Rights initiative which is taking place: the BDS Movement. That stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. For example, people are boycotting L'Oreal and Ahava Dead Sea cosmetics, and other Israeli goods, especially those made in the settlements (which sometimes say they are made in Palestine). Divestment would include Caterpillar, which makes the armored tanks used to demolish Palestinian homes, and Motorola, which manufactures military hardware for the Israeli Army. Sanctions include the fact that high Israeli officials can no longer go to Europe, because arrest warrants are outstanding, charging war crimes in connection with the Occupation and the invasion of Gaza. This is a way for ordinary people to express their displeasure over Israel's policies and practices toward the Palestinians in their midst. For those interested in more information, the website is: http://www.bdsmovement.net or www.bdsmovement.net
I hope you will think about and pray for the people of Israel and Palestine, who are trapped in the stereotypes of the other side, that they might somehow recognize a way to live together without the dehumanizing conditions which now exist in that part of the world. I will be talking to my Church about this, and if you wish, I would be happy to come to your Church to talk about it, or to you and your friends, or to you. I feel that this tragedy must be addressed somehow.

Frank Schneider

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