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Why So Little on Israel's Brutality?
Published on Wednesday, December 27, 2000 in the Raleigh News & Observer
Why So Little on Israel's Brutality?
by Sami A. Halaby
 
RALEIGH -- During this holiday season diplomats continue to do their work while Palestinian civilian casualties increase and Bethlehem has been under siege. Public attention shifts to other matters. Those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ and who have family in this traditional Christian community wish peace and goodwill to all -- and regret the absence of public discussion about the siege in Bethlehem. We are outraged that apathy allows our government to make policy which serves the few who can bring undue lobbying influence on our elected representatives.

Some of the underlying issues:

  • Amnesty International reports that Israel has demolished 2,650 Palestinian homes and confiscated some 750,000 of the available 1.5 million acres in the West Bank since Israel occupied it by military force. Confiscated land is used for illegal settlements, usually built on hilltops interspersed between Palestinian villages. Many settlements discharge their untreated sewage on Palestinian land. The settlements are made possible by some $10 billion in loans guaranteed by our government.

  • Israel implemented draconian regulations and military orders that severely restrict Palestinian movement between cities and which affect Palestinian quality of life at the most basic level. These include deportation, unequal allowances on water usage, building permits and the availability of essential services. Daily life is interrupted by numerous army checkpoints, which harass the population and make travel uncertain. All this in the name of security, but with the real nefarious design, confirmed by Israeli historians as state policy, to encourage Palestinians to leave.

  • Currently, there are 300,000 Jewish settlers, about 70,000 of them moved in since the start of the Oslo peace process. The Israeli Peace Now movement recently called attention to increases in the budget for additional settlements. These activities together with the failure of the Palestine Authority to improve living conditions resulted in spontaneous street demonstrations that escalated to an independence resistance movement.

    The Israeli response to the demonstrations has been swift and predictable. It proceeds on two fronts.

    The first is brutal and military. More than 300 Palestinians have been murdered and 10,000 injured since last October. The casualties are lightly armed civilians and stone-throwing citizens, many of whom are children. The military uses tanks, assault helicopters and heavy firepower against civilian targets. Much heavy armament and munitions are supplied to the Israeli Army by our government. This comes from some $84 billion in aid supplied since 1947 and continues unabated.

    Accompanying these assaults has been an acceleration in house demolition and destruction of agricultural land. Thousands of olive tress on which villagers depend for their livelihoods have been destroyed. This has been widely documented by U.N. Human Rights Organization, Amnesty International, the Israeli Peace Now movement and the Christian Peacemaker Team, to name a few. The Peacemaker Team is sponsored by American Mennonite and Quaker communities.

    The whole world has condemned Israel's excessive use of force, and Amnesty International charges that some Israeli government actions rise to the level of war crimes. Our government has shamefully prevented the United Nations from acting more forcefully by using its veto and/or actively lobbying on behalf of Israel.

    The second response is an attempt to silence the world press -- although curiously the Israeli press openly discusses the army's brutality. The silence is most acute in U.S. media. Open discussion is not readily presented; instead we see the all-too-familiar sound bites uncritically repeated. For example, children throwing stones are accused of placing Israel under siege, rather than the other way around. Commentators censure Palestinian parents for sending their children to the front lines and never questioning Israeli settlers who send theirs through the same front lines in armored buses -- or for that matter the kind of society that allows its army to target children.

    Israel is portrayed as a victim/democracy surrounded by hostile dictatorships rather than as an aggressive nuclear power that expands its territory at the expense of it neighbors and the native population. One reads about the generosity of Prime Minister Ehud Barak in offering the Palestinians part of what is theirs, and not about his brutal attacks on Beirut. Jerusalem is described as the eternal undivided capital of Israel and not one word about the U.N. resolution to internationalize it.

    My U.S. passport says my place of birth is Jerusalem, period. It does not say Jerusalem, Israel or Jerusalem, Palestine. This is in keeping with the U.N. resolution. After all. we are still governed by laws and not by political expediency, political spin or sound bites.

    Sami A. Halaby is a retired Palestinian-American scientist who came to the United States in 1951.

    © Copyright 2000, The News & Observer

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