Provocations, one after another, test Palestinian patience — and challenge tourists to visit
When I was in the Palestinian Territories/West Bank/Palestine last June, I tried to keep my feelings about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians measured as I wrote about my experiences and observations. I believe in the principles of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism, which is “dedicated to fostering and facilitating tourism initiatives which contribute to international understanding and cooperation, an improved quality of environment, the preservation of heritage, and through these initiatives, helping to bring about a peaceful and sustainable world.” Palestine could, should and hopefully will be the poster child for bringing this about.
I witnessed among the Palestinians a longing for their own state — no less so than Israel itself when it was carved out of Palestinian lands more than six decades ago. Faith-based travel is growing, and much Christian travel to the Holy Land should include important West Bank sites, not just Israel (Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Galilee) and preipherally to Jordan. But the Israeli government kneecaps the Palestinians at every turn, discouraging tourism and even prevening Israeli Jews (other than settlers) from visiting another part of what is still legally part of their own country. IMHO, the Israeli government does not want its secular citizens to see how it is mistreating and humiliating Muslim and Christian Palestinians on the West Bank.
Most incidents, a few of which I witnessed and an arbitrary checkpoint holdup that I epxerienced last June, are minor and are unreported in the world media. But recent ones again are shining the international spotlight on the situation. The two-state solution, which had again seemed closer, is being torpedoed by a barely restrained Israeli military. Young Israeli soldiers with their UZIs slung over their shoulders remind me of farm boys in the woods, ready to shoot at anything that moves. Tensions rise, and with every bullet and every dose of tear gas, the opportunity for tourism to help bring peace fades again.
Here’s the recent news — and I write about these incidents not to discourage visitation butactually to encourage it. Not only is the West Bank a key part to the Holy Land and an area rich in archeology and history, but I believe it provides visitors a rare opportunity to spend a few days on the cusp of history — with awareness of what is happening. I never felt in personal danger — and I suspect that if were there today, I wouldn’t feel I was in harm’s way either.
One Week; Four “Incidents” Resulting in Palestinian Deaths
Now, when much of the watching world had hoped for a real chance of peace, the Israelis are at it again. The four incidents below happened within just one week; the dates might be off by a day due to the time zone between the Middle East and the US. I’ve been clicking back and forth among websites, so I hope I embedded the correct link for each incident. Each one is another nail in the coffin of the peace process.
On January 1, Israeli troops fired what was described as a “massive” amount of tear gas to put down what they called “”a violent and illegal riot” but was probably the weekly demonstration protesting the security wall in the town of Bilin. A 36-year-old, asthmatic Palestinian woman died from tear gas inhalation. Israeli authorities are investing. — Reported in the New York Times, Agence France-Presse and elsewhere
On January 2, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man early after he approached soldiers “from an unauthorized lane” at the Hamra checkpoint northwest of the city of Nablus. He allegedly tried to attack troops with a bottle and ignored orders to stop as he approached the soldiers. The Palestinian had a bottle. The Israeli soldiers had guns. Israeli authorities are investigating. — Reported in the Christian Science Monitor, Agence France-Presse and others
On January 7, Israeli troops made a pre-dawn raid on an apartment in Hebron to arrest suspected Hamas members. Problem is, they stormed the wrong apartment and killed a a Palestinian man who was asleep in his bed. He was variously reported to be 65, 66 or 67 years old, but reports agree on the rest of the story. Israeli authorities are investigating. Reported by the Associated Press, the New York Times, CNN and elsewhere
On January 8, Israeli soldiers shot and killed another Palestinian man, again at the Hamra checkpoint. According to a CNN report, “a Palestinian man made his way toward Israeli security personnel yelling “God is great” in Arabic while carrying a ‘suspicious object’ in his hands, a spokesman for the Israeli military told CNN. Soldiers began an ‘arrest procedure’ and yelled at the man to stop and fired warning shots, but the man did not stop advancing, the spokesman said. ‘The soldiers were left with no choice but to fire at him,’ the spokesman said. The Palestinian had a “suspicious package.” The soldiers had guns. I suppose Israeli authorities are investigating. — Reported by CNN and elsewhere.
If you search the ‘Net for “Nablus” or “or checkpoint. or “Palestinian killed,” you find incident after incident reported by the international media. Sometimes the Israelis say they found explosives or weapons or something. Often, they don’t bother explaining anything at all. After all, thee’s always another incident to investigate. Untold thousands of Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with human rights organizations alarmed at accusations of torture and abuse. But these watchdog groups are powerless in country whose government pays scant attention to any critics. A search for “Palestinians in Israeli jails” brings up thousands of links. Wikipedia’s summary is as good as any.
Shepherd Hotel Being Demolished
What kicked off this post was a report earlier today that Israeli bulldozers began knocking down the historic Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem to build yet another illegal Jewish settlement. The European Union reminded Israel that settlement building on occupied Palestinian territory is illegal, but the conservative Israeli government has never paid much heed to international law when they are breaking it. The hotel was vacant, but that is not the point, is it?
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called it a “disturbing development” that “undermines peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution.” United Nationals Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said that “inserting settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem” undermined prospects for addressing the city’s status.
First Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton said, “I strongly condemn this morning’s demolition of the Shepherd Hotel and the planned construction of a new illegal settlement. I reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace….The EU does not recognize” the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and again expressed concern for recent violence and growing tension. The Israelis have a habit of pushing the Palestinians to the breaking point and then retaliating harshly. — Reported by The New York Times, Reuters and elsewhere
When I was there in June, Israeli bulldozers knocked down more than 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for an amusement park of some sort, so this latest demolition project does not surprise me, but it still saddens me. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations haven’t totally broken down, but they can be described as being at a standstill. KAIROS Palestine, an interfaith peace initiative of the dwindling Christian population on the West Bank, is still supporting it.
Winter is not prime travel season to the Middle East. I hope that tensions will easy, the Israeli soldiers will be less trigger-happy and that when authorities say that they are “investigating,” they really are. And I hope that visitors will again be encouraged to see some of the Palestine/West Bank sites. My June visit certainly opened my eyes to the region’s history, faith, archeology, landscape and humanity.