Thursday, June 6, 2013

Disturbing News from Palestine

The road to Shufa was closed for the second time in two years.

The news from Palestine continues to be disturbing.  The village of Shufa, in which my fellow EA, Adeline and I enjoyed a weekly “English” discussion group with the local women, recently had its main access road closed for the second time in two years.  Fortunately, this closure (for reasons no one knows!) was relatively short-lived; the road was re-opened after about two weeks.

Then I read that the US Congress has been asked (by the "Israel Lobby") to pass legislation that would include Israel in the US’ “visa waiver program,” while allowing Israel to continue to block the admission of American citizens who Israel deems “unacceptable” (i.e. those of Palestinian/Arab backgrounds or those who are known “peace activists.”)

1929 poster at Israel Museum
This one takes a bit of explanation.  A number of countries currently participate in the “visa waiver” program which means that US citizens can visit those countries without a visa, and their citizens can visit the US without a visa.  This bit of legislation (HR 938 and SB 462 - which I am sad to say is co-sponsored by Oregon’s own Ron Wyden!) would grant visa waivers to Israeli citizens who come to the US, while accepting Israel’s continued refusal to grant admission to ALL US citizens who wish to visit Israel.  And our legislators are supporting this institutionalized discrimination against our own citizens?!  Memo to US readers - Tell your elected representatives to vote NO!

Another troubling piece of news involves Israel’s “new” policy of requiring certain visitors to Israel to sign a statement that they will not enter the West Bank.  My friend Naomi, an ordained UCC pastor working for the YMCA in East Jerusalem, had to sign this waiver – which means she cannot even enter Bethlehem!  I have not heard any explanation of why this policy has been enacted, or who is being targeted (although many stories I have heard involve Christian clergy!) but I have a theory – and it isn’t pretty!
Checkpoints and soldiers do not make good neighbors!

I have long thought that peace would have come to this part of the world a long time ago if the people could only meet each other on common ground – and learn that they are really more alike than they are different.  Sadly, the Israeli government is making this increasingly difficult – walls, checkpoints, armed soldiers and militant settlers are not the best way to develop personal relationships.

And this policy of denying tourists access to the West Bank can only increase the isolation and estrangement.  When I was preparing to leave Palestine, I asked a number of my contacts what they most wanted me to tell people when I got back home.  Without exception, they said, “Tell them to come and see for themselves.” 

But it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the Israelis don’t want the rest of the world to see Palestine!  Not only do they want to keep the people locked up in a huge open-air prison; they don’t want them to have visitors (who might, after all, go home and protest to their governments about the way the Palestinians are treated)! 

Entry to Bethlehem Checkpoint 300
Even in Palestine, there are warnings about the “danger” of entering Palestinian villages.  Versions of the red sign in the photograph are posted all over the West Bank – presumably aimed at tourists and settlers.  Every time I saw this sign, the South Pacific song, Carefully Taught, popped into my head.  Take a listen – and see what you think!

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