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Seattle P-I: Palestinians’ lives invisible to Israelis

By Edward Mast

On a visit to Tel Aviv last month, I asked some Israeli friends what people in Israel were saying about the Palestinian situation. Not much, they told me. Israelis are more concerned about the corruption charges against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, coming on the heels of corruption charges against previous governments. Palestinians and their issues, my friends told me, are becoming more and more invisible to the Israeli people.

Palestinian lives are kept invisible in David Brumer’s Oct. 10 guest column, “Despite concerns, Israel a vibrant country.” Also invisible are Israel’s military occupation and the ongoing takeover of Palestinian land. If Brumer had traveled to the other side of the wall, as I did, he could have witnessed the many ways that the Israeli occupation crushes people with poverty, violence and injustice.

Before visiting Tel Aviv, I spent two weeks working with a theater in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. During that short time, the Israeli army killed at least 15 Palestinians in the occupied territories; several killed were children. For Palestinians, these are regular occurrences. Over the past seven years, the Israeli army has killed more than 4,000 Palestinians. The majority of these, even according to Israeli statistics, have been unarmed civilians. Many thousands more have been wounded or kidnapped. The severe underreporting of Palestinian casualties in the U.S. and Israel can leave the impression that Palestinian lives have less value.

While I was there, Brian Avery came from the United States to testify in Jerusalem against the Israeli army. Avery is a peace activist who was shot in the face by the Israeli army in 2003. At first the Israeli army denied that the shooting took place, but has been forced to launch an investigation now that Avery is bringing a suit.

In Ramallah, I learned that, though there is plenty of water near the city, the several hundred thousand residents had spent the summer with running water available only three or four days each week. That sort of fact tends to be invisible to Israelis, along with the reasons.

Ramallah is near the cluster of West Bank aquifers, which are the main sources of water for both the West Bank and Israel, but 80 percent of the West Bank’s water goes to Israel and Israeli settlements. For decades, Israel has used its military occupation of the West Bank to build an illegal network of settlements around the water sources. Palestinians have been beaten, killed and driven away to make space for these settlements, and Israel has built a continuous wall, not on the border of Israel but inside Palestinian territory, which effectively annexes the settlements and water resources into Israel.

Israelis are told the wall is for their security. Palestinians call it the annexation wall, and it is difficult for them to believe Israel can be a partner for peace while the Israeli government continues taking Palestinian land for settlements, building the wall to annex them and maintaining the system of checkpoints that paralyze movement and life in the West Bank.

With some colleagues, I spent one day traveling from Ramallah to Jerusalem. The eight-mile trip took 2 1/2 hours. In Ramallah, the wall is 25 feet high, and the Israeli checkpoint is like an airport security station. We lined up for more than half an hour with Palestinians at a remote-controlled 8-foot turnstile where people had to crowd like cattle and wait for a green light to get as many through as possible before the light turned red.

Once past X-ray security and more turnstiles, we boarded shared taxis for what should have been a short ride to Jerusalem. However, the Israeli military had set up an additional temporary “flying checkpoint” some 1,640 feet down the road, forcing several lanes of traffic down to a single lane for stopping and searching. That took almost an hour.

Business in Ramallah is at a standstill. Poverty is everywhere; jobs are not to be found. The people at the checkpoint said to us, “Take pictures. Tell people what is happening here.”

Some Israelis, such as my Tel Aviv friends, no longer accept the excuse that the virtual imprisonment and killing of Palestinians are justified by the need for security.

The Israeli government has recently confiscated more Palestinian land near Jerusalem to build a segregated road, literally underground, for Palestinians. Israeli settlers will be able to commute back and forth from the territories without having so much as to see a Palestinian. Invisibility here is no accident.

Edward Mast is a Seattle playwright who volunteers with the Palestine Information Project; palestineinformation.org.

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