Last night I returned from the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. I met with religious and political leaders from both sides, spoke with Red Cross workers and people from UNRWA returning from Jenin and Ramallah, and had talks with a Jewish American man and a Japanese woman who’d been trapped in Ramallah, both attempting to go back in with medicines despite the shrapnel still lodged in the Japanese woman’s leg.
With incredible difficulty, I got into Hebron and Jericho, was refused entry into Ramallah and Bethlehem, waited for hours at Israeli checkpoints watching injured or sick Palestinians pushed in wheel barrows and passed over checkpoints to wheel barrows on the other side because no ambulances or medical aid would be admitted. Children hid behind their parents because they thought I was Israeli and would hurt them.
Everywhere I went I saw too many young men with no past, no present, no futures, their jobs taken from them, their schools, computers, records of vital statistics systematically destroyed, their homes leveled, and all this after having lived entire lives with the daily humiliation and deprivation of occupation, while my country supports and lauds the occupiers.
I stood ten strong with members of Peace Now in West Jerusalem, silently facing oncoming traffic with crudely made signs saying “End the Occupation” and “Justice For All” while passers-by spat, raised their fists and hurled obscenities. Directly across the street, more than forty teenage boys waved a twenty foot long Anti Palestinian banner and shouted songs proclaiming that only the removal of every Arab will end terrorism. I circled a square near Ariel Sharon’s home with Women in Black as the police forcefully removed an irate Israeli physically shoving an American protestor saying she wasn’t Israeli and had no right to be there. I spoke to three young people in blue tops with white ties called Guardians of Peace, kids from different Kibbutzes who spend a year in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv helping promote peace.
I have been going to Israel and Palestine since 1989, the last time a year and a half ago. I saw a Jerusalem which is a myriad of quickly thrown together apartment buildings, hotels and settlements, now carefully re-titled “neighborhoods.” The West Bank is linked by a series of intricate, Israeli-only, freeways that connect landscaped, swimming pooled Levitown-like settlements. Palestinians travel by narrow, disconnected, blocked-off bypass roads, many forced to buy back water from their own siphoned-off wells. Building cranes are everywhere, the rush to cover every piece of land more urgent than ecology or aesthetics.
You can drive a long time and not see a Palestinian.
Where is it all leading? I don’t know. I am moved to quote Mahatma Gandhi. “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and, for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fail—-think of it always.”
Judith Bustany is a former member of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) in occupied Hebron