Holy Land Tour Reveals Inequalities for Palestinians
by Shirley Harryman, Kalispell, Mt
Note: Shirley Harryman traveled to Palestine and Israel
with Neighbors East and West, June 13 - 26, 2011.
Shirley is a retired schoolteacher
In June I was privileged to visit Palestine and Israel with a Neighbors
East and West group organized by Sam and Ruth Neff of Whitefish and
Richmond, Indiana, and led by Dr. Tony Bing, professor emeritus from
Earlham college. Dr. Bing has visited the Holy Land thirty-five
times in the past twenty-seven years.
The purpose of the trip was to observe, listen and learn about efforts
to establish a just and lasting peaceful settlement in the
region. We visited Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Bil`in,
and Jenin in Palestine and Haifa, Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Jerusalem in
We met with Palestinian leaders, civil society organizations, peace
activists and representatives of human rights groups, both Palestinian
and Israeli, who are working toward an equitable end to the long
standing conflict in the region. We had three home stays with
Palestinian families to see and hear first hand their stories of their
circumscribed lives under repressive Israeli occupation.
In addition, we were able to visit many of the religious and historic
sites in this ancient land that are sacred to Christians, Muslims
and Jews alike. We were surprised to learn from our guide that
many groups coming to the Holy Land admonish him "not to talk
about politics" because they only want a religious experience.
In this supposedly "democratic" society we found abundant inequalities,
resulting in a fragmented, apartheid-type state which controls the
lives of Palestinians with road closures, a segregated highway
system, constant checkpoints, searches, delays, humiliations and denial
of travel privileges.
Inequalities also exist in infrastructure, taxation, municipal services
(water, garbage pickup, etc.), education and health care. Palestinian
homes are being targeted for demolition in the West Bank and in East
Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlers.
Additional territory is confiscated by the state for "security
purposes" and olive trees, a source of Palestinian income, are
systematically uprooted and burned. We saw stark evidence of this
as well as tear gas canisters fired upon villagers from Bill'in by IDF
soldiers armed with automatic weapon guarding a settlement "security
We observed and passed through checkpoints featuring long cage-like,
fenced-in tunnels leading up to a single-entry gate manned by IDF
soldiers again with automatic weapons. The immense Israeli-built
concrete segregation wall looming above was truly appalling. We
were only visitors, but the Palestinian people live with this horror
every day, many unable to travel to jobs, school or health care
Palestine is an occupied territory, and contrary to international law,
Israel is encouraging settlers to move into areas where Palestinian
homes have been demolished for "security purposes". The Israeli
government accomplishes this by offering tax incentives, attractive
pricing and the most arable land to settlers. These settlers then
must be protected by military outposts and buffer zones, also taken
from Palestinian land. Road closures and denial of access to water add
further to Palestinian suffering. All harassment and denial of
Palestinian rights are explained away in the name of Israeli security.
Despite the stark reality of living under occupation and constant
stress and pressures, the Palestinian people exhibit a remarkable
resiliency with a determination to endure, to remain on the land which
in many cases has been in their family for generations. Hope is
all that they have. The young people have grown up under
occupation, dispossession, threats and fear. This is all that
they know. Likewise, Israeli youth have grown up in a
militaristic society where brutality and insensitivity to suffering are
the norm. Both groups are being harmed. The more Palestinians are
denied rights and territory, the more Israel is diminished in the eyes
of the world. The quest for peace and justice is imperative for a
sustainable future for both Palestinians and Israelis.