Knowledgeable Middle East watchers know that people who live in Israel are exposed to a much wider range of media coverage about the Israeli-Palestinian situation than those in America.
That's one reason three women from Jerusalem — a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian — are touring the United States this month, including a stop in Denver and Boulder last week.
"I don't know if the American public realizes that the occupation is still going on and on, even strengthening" after the Israeli pullout from Gaza, says Roni Hammerman, who is Jewish.
Even as American newspapers carried stories about the Gaza withdrawal, Israel continued to build its West Bank security wall and expand settlements in the occupied territories, she says. Gaza's borders, ports and airspace are controlled by Israel, and Palestinians still live with daily closures and checkpoints. Israeli officials have publicly said that the pullout was essentially a tradeoff for continued building in the West Bank.
"Such policies create hatred," Hammerman says.
Few Americans, says Sherene Abdulhadi, a Palestinian Muslim, really understand that their government supports policies of occupation and religious segregation, not just in Israel-Palestine, but in Iraq.
"You cannot be a citizen of Israel unless you are a Jew, even if you were born there," she says. "In America, the culture is about diversity. How is it that (your) government supports ethnic division?"
Amira Hillal, a Palestinian Christian, wishes Americans knew more about the daily miseries of Palestinians.
"We have legs and hands, we laugh and cry. ... But our life is not a life," she says, noting that most Americans (and I, in particular) live lives of comfort, security and dignity unimaginable to most Palestinians.
Under such conditions, all three women agree, many Palestinians, youth in particular, believe the only dignity they will ever have is in fighting what they see as oppression.
But even an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank — sheer fantasy, at this point — would only begin to solve the problems, the women say. There is still the contentious issue of the "right of return" of generations of displaced Palestinians, the final status of Jerusalem and other sticking points.
Demographically, Israel cannot absorb millions of Palestinians and remain both a Jewish state and a democracy. And with the long-hoped for "two state solution" not even on the horizon, these women seem to believe that ultimately, the only real solution is a single, binational state where Jews, Muslims and Christians can co-exist peacefully.
As Abdulhadi notes wryly, that's a vision of "utopia."
And Hammerman realizes that many of her fellow Jews would balk at such an idea, given that Israel was created in large part as a safe-haven for a long persecuted people. But Israelis have never really been safe and secure in Israel, either.
"This was the thing that would lead us to safety. But it hasn't," Hammerman says.
And, I must add, I'm not sure they ever can be safe, no matter what Israel does, when anti-Semitic groups like Hamas openly declare their intentions to "drive the Jews into the sea."
I remain, perhaps foolishly, a believer in a two-state solution, and in Israel. But I also adamantly believe in the separation of church and state. If the United States attempted to impose a religious test for citizenship, or declared an official state religion, I'd be in the streets, ready to fight.
If I don't support state religion in Saudi Arabia, Nepal or Alabama, am I a hypocrite for thinking otherwise about Israel?
Contact Clay Evans firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2005 Daily Camera