The average American finds unfathomable the desperation that drives
suicide bombers. Yet Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip is a recipe for violence. It robs Palestinians of their
livelihood, their dignity, and their faith in the future.
U.S. acquiescence in Israeli policies that render Palestinians' lives
untenable, to force them off their land, makes a mockery of
Washington's being an honest broker in this conflict. Across the Arab
and Muslim world, suffering in the Occupied Territories provokes
Local groups, such as the Rhode Island Qalqilya Alliance (RIQA,
http://www.riqa.info/) are sounding the alarm about gross violations
of Palestinian human rights carried out with American connivance, to
arouse elected officials to re-think U.S. policy in the region.
The village of Jayyous, in the Qalqilya district, is a microcosm of
Israeli policy in the West Bank. It occupies some of the most fertile
land and sits atop one of the richest aquifers in the area.
Productive and self-sufficient, the residents and their ancestors
tilled this soil for hundreds of years before Israeli settlers began
to eye these fields.
Curfews, border closings, checkpoints, home demolitions, land
seizures, settlement building, and the "security" barrier known as
the Wall have conspired to turn a thriving village into one in which
half the population has been driven into exile since 1967.
Of the rest, 50 percent depend upon foreign aid for basic survival,
and many families cannot afford the equivalent of $10 to $12 per
child for annual school fees.
Like the vast majority of Palestinians, Jayyous villagers have
struggled valiantly by nonviolent means to stave off Israeli
annexation of their land. Abdul-Latif Khaled, a local leader and
hydrologist, has argued that "nonviolent protest is the most powerful
and humanitarian tool in the struggle for freedom and democracy."
At points near Jayyous, the Wall penetrates as far as four miles into
the Palestinian side of the Green Line, or pre-1967 border. The
International Court of Justice ruled this summer that this barrier is
illegal; the Sharon and Bush administrations sneered. The Wall
separates the residents of Jayyous from their relatives, friends,
fields, markets, hospitals, schools -- in short, from their normal
lives and livelihoods. It snakes across the landscape in a pattern
that dispels any notion that its purpose is security.
In fact, it is little more than camouflage for land grabs. As Sharif
Omar, a local farmer and community leader, lamented, "The wall is an
unwritten order for emigration from Palestine, because people who
have no income will have no choice but to leave."
Malnutrition among children is rising, education is falling, despair
is simmering. Through fund-raising to subsidize school fees and books
and efforts to sell Palestinian goods in Rhode Island, the Rhode
Island Qalqilya Alliance has been trying to provide concrete and
moral support. But these are stopgaps.
The most recent outrage began late last year, when Israeli bulldozers
lumbered into Jayyous and began razing crops, to clear land for
expansion of the neighboring Israeli settlement of Zufim. In a single
day in December, 117 ancient olive trees were ripped from the ground.
The bulldozers reappeared on subsequent days to continue their
On Dec. 29, Steven Erlanger reported in The New York Times that 650
trees, many of them 600 years old, had been uprooted. For the farmers
whose livelihood depends on olive, this is a catastrophe.
Thanks to grass-roots contacts among people in the West Bank, Israel,
the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, information about the
crisis has reached politicians and the international media.
On Dec. 31, hundreds of Israeli and international peace activists
joined local residents to plant olive saplings in the fields from
which the venerable trees had been torn.
Rhode Islanders mobilized by the Rhode Island Qalqilya Alliance have
prodded their representatives. Sen. Lincoln Chafee has written a
letter conveying his constituents' concerns to William Burns,
assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs; Sen. Jack Reed
has requested clarification of the situation from Secretary of State
Colin Powell; and U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy has made an inquiry.
Yet despite these steps -- and the Israeli courts' having called for
a halt to the bulldozing, so that the situation can be adjudicated --
the bulldozers continue their destruction. RIQA is now urgently
raising contributions for a legal defense fund for the Jayyous
American tax dollars help buy the Caterpillar equipment that destroys
lives as it uproots trees. The United States belatedly intervened to
halt ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, yet in Palestine it acquiesces
-- even collaborates -- in policies that drive people from their
land. Why the double standard?
The rest of the world will never believe that the United States is
trying to nurture democracy in Iraq while it sits idly by as Israel
deprives Palestinians of their most basic human rights.
Americans are becoming increasingly aware of what is being done and
of how their government and their taxes are facilitating it.
At some point, our sense of fair play should reassert itself -- let's
hope before the Palestinian village of Jayyous disappears.
Priscilla Read is a Providence resident and educator.
© 2005 Projo.com