EAST JERUSALEM, Israel -- Stumbling over a rubble roadblock, waiting in the sun at a log-jammed checkpoint or climbing through a break in the great wall willl give you a taste of everyday Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.
So does finding that your trip to the West Bank city of Bethlehem has been scrubbed because of a closure or seeing your Palestinian guides, including a young Palestinian seminarian with a U.S. passport, removed from your bus and forced to walk the long way around the checkpoint near Hebron. We who live by schedules soon learn that making plans is almost impossible in occupied Palestine. It has become a gated community whose locks are on the outside.
Unlike those who live in gated communities in the United States, the residents of these gated communities are untenably restricted in their ability to reach their homes, fields, jobs, schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and family burial plots. Nowhere is this fact more apparent than in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, a town of more than 40,000 that is now sealed off by a nine-meter wall, guard towers, razor wire and only two gates.
Qalqilya used to be one of the richest towns in Palestine; it was a trading center for surrounding Palestinian and Jewish towns and a market for the abundant produce of its fertile valley. Dead stumps are a testimony to the thousands of olive and almond trees that have been uprooted or cut down. Now, 75 percent of the people in Qalqilya are dependent on humanitarian aid for their basic survival. There are no schools or a hospital within the town and water is brought in for sale by Israeli tankers. No one can enter and no one leaves who has not decided to accept "voluntary expulsion." Families who had hoped to link generations by passing on an inheritance to their children and grandchildren can no longer do so. As one aging Palestinian put it, "You no longer know where you might be buried."
I write this from Israel/Palestine where I am participating, along with 600 people from 30 countries in the Sabeel Conference. Sabeel (Arabic for "the way") is an ecumenical grass-roots movement that, since its founding 10 years ago, has promoted an awareness of the presence and identity of Palestinian Christians in the search for non-violent solutions to the violent conflict among Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews.
While I was here, President Bush publicly turned away from longstanding U.S. policy and broke faith with United Nations resolutions by recognizing the permanence of West Bank Israeli settlements and denying the right of return to the Palestinian people.
What conferees found so outrageous was that the U.S. president would endorse Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw 6,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza in exchange for a free hand in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where 450,000 Israeli settlers already reside in large settlement blocks being built to accommodate up to 1 million.
Once upon a time, Bush promoted a peace plan based on the road map; now he offers a road map to protracted struggle. Palestinians tell us that they used to look to the United States for moral leadership based on democratic principles and the rule of law. Sad to say, this is no longer true. The United States appears to have abandoned them and can no longer be trusted as a partner in the peace process.
Surely, an end to the occupation, removal of the settlements and recognition of human rights are the only ways to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land. The United States would do well to champion this cause rather than turn our backs on the international community and the Palestinian people.
Mary Pneuman is chairwoman of the Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Washington.
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