Holy Land Tour Reveals Inequalities for Palestinians

by Shirley Harryman, Kalispell, Mt
Shirley Harryman
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 Israel.

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 zone".

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 providers.

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.

Shirley Harryman
Kalispell MT