Just Back from Palestine: No Peace in Sight

During my just completed visit to the West Bank and Gaza Strip on a medical fact-finding trip, I experienced a brief taste of the bitter life endured by Palestinians.é I temporarily lived in a world of seemingly endless military checkpoints and army-imposed closures of entire cities, towns, and villages.ééé My éusualé life in suburbia seemed both distant and surreal.é From the moment I set foot on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, I experienced a taste of Israeli-style apartheid.é I had taken only a few steps toward the bus which transports arriving passengers to the terminal when I was abruptly halted by an Israeli security agent.é As other passengers scrambled onto the bus, many glancing at me suspiciously, the agent demanded my US passport and ticket, while punching my name into a handheld computer and insisting on knowing why I was there.é How, I wondered, did she know how to pick me out from the crowd for this special treatment?é Did she have a picture of me?é At the terminal, my passport and ticket were once again confiscated, and I was subjected to further questioning.é It did not matter to my interrogators that I was born and raised in California.é Nowhere on my US passport is the word éPalestiniané stamped.é I concluded that my Middle Eastern features were enough to warrant suspicion under racist Israeli éprofilingé policies.é To the Israelis, I was just another Arab a potential terrorist–US passport and California accent notwithstanding.é After searching my bags with an x-ray machine and forcing me to walk through a metal detector this after I had already traveled through two airports and undergone numerous routine security checks. I was finally allowed to leave.é Looking around me, I noticed that the terminal was by now empty of all other passengers who had arrived with me.é

These are indeed difficult times in the West Bank and Gaza. éA nearly one-year old Palestinian uprising has claimed the lives of some 630 Palestinians nearly a third of them children and 86% of them civilians–at the hands of Israeli army snipers and settlers, tanks, and US-supplied Apache helicopter gunships and F-16 fighter jets.éOver 18,000 have been injured, some crippled for life.é As I discovered, there were few rehabilitation services available to care for those whose bones had been shattered by Israeli bullets.é

Everyday concerns about arriving at a destination on time have been replaced by the much more basic desire to simply arrive safely without being turned away by Israeli soldiers or attacked by militant Jewish settlers, who roamed the roads of the West Bank like Wild West outlaws, with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders.éThere have been countless incidents of ill Palestinians turned away in ambulances and private cars.é Some pregnant women have delivered babies in cars refused passage at checkpoints.é One man with kidney failure who required urgent dialysis, as well as several victims of heart attacks, died after being turned away at checkpoints.é During my visit, some forty pregnant women from four villages were denied access to medical care in my familyés hometown when their obstetrician was not allowed to pass through a checkpoint to enter the town.é At several checkpoints, I watched as women with small children and elderly individuals were forced to walk long distances in the hot sun because cars were not allowed to pass.

During my one-week visit, fourteen Palestinians were killed, including several children.é Mueen Abu Lawi, a 32-year-old father of three, was gunned down by Israeli soldiers as he walked across Israeli-imposed sand barriers at a checkpoint.é He was returning home with school supplies he had just purchased for his children.é On the outskirts of Jerusalem, I watched as three large Israeli bulldozers accompanied by many army jeeps and Israeli soldiers drove down a road where they would demolish two Palestinian buildings, one destined to be a nursery school and the other an apartment building.é As usual, the Israelis used the pretext of éunlicensed buildingé to justify their éethnic cleansingé actions.é Their pretext rings hollow when one learns that Israel rarely allows Palestinians to build in the area while simultaneously doing all it can to encourage Israeli construction.é A few days later, I witnessed the abject poverty prevalent in Gaza, where over one million Palestinians are held at the mercy of thousands of heavily armed Israeli soldiers and their tanks, stationed there to édefendé some 6,000 militant Jewish settlers.é I viewed the remains of dozens of tiny, tin-roofed cinder block homes in the border town of Rafah, bulldozed by the Israeli army in recent months.é I spoke with the residents of these homes, many of whom were still living in tents provided by the United Nations and a US charity, the Holy Land Foundation.é I looked on as barefoot children, made homeless by the Israeli actions, played in and around these tents.é

At the conclusion of my trip, I felt more skeptical than ever about the possibilities of achieving a true and lasting peace in the Middle East.é As long as Israel continues to believe that it can squash with military might the genuine Palestinian desire for freedom and as long as it feels it can act with impunity because of blind, unconditional US support there can be no hopes for real peace and justice in the holy land.éUndoubtedly, the violence will continue, as the increasingly brutal Israeli policies breed more poverty, humiliation, desperation, and bitterness among the Palestinian people.