Monday, September 18, 2006

Between a rock and a hard place

After the morning tour of the wall under construction, we went to visit a family who literally lived between a rock and a hard place. They were a Palestinian family whose house was between a settlement and the wall. To see them, we had to walk up to the wall and yell for them through the fence. As we approached, Israeli cameras noticed our presence and an armored humvee drove up to see what was going on. The father of the family came and unlocked the gate and ushered us in. The humvee just sat there and didn't bother us, thank goodness. (The Mother said that often the soldiers will not allow them to have visitors.)

We walked up to this decrepit house whose sole view was that of the large, domineering wall, that recently had been painted in bright colors by a local NGO. (We later met with the NGO who said they had been warned by the Israeli soldiers to stop painting or they would be shot, but they didn't stop and the soldiers eventually left them alone.)

Once inside the house, the Father sat in the head chair (framed by a large poster that said "Bush-Sharon: Axis of Evil") and told us his family's story.

The Israelis when they first started building the wall told them they had to leave, but the family refused. The family used to have a large greenhouse and a chicken farm which were all destroyed by the soldiers. One one side of the house is a large fence with barbed wire that separates their house from the settlement, which of course they are never allowed to enter. In fact, their house is often stoned and vandalized by settlers and their kids taunted. The only way for them to visit the neighboring Palestinian village on the other side of the wall is with the key to a small fence (through which we entered), but they cannot enter or leave if the outside gate is closed. They never know when it is or it isn't. They are allowed family visitors only and sometimes not even that, depending on the mood of the soldiers. They have no livelihood anymore, and their youngest son, now 6 has severe mental problems and anxiety. They attribute it to having grown up with the only view and life of a wall and barbed wire. Their other children don't like to come home and try to stay out as late as possible. When asked how long they can cope like this, the Father replied that they had lived like this for 3 years and would hold out as long as they could as a matter of principle. He said, "I'm a humble man, not powerful. If I had power, I would fight the Israeli government and take back our land. But this is all I can do."

It was interesting to hear him rail against the Israeli and American government for pursuing such unjust policies and actions, but he was careful to always distinguish between the people and the governments. He said, for example, he didn't even have a problem with the settlers because they were a product of the policies of the governments.

Needless to say, their predicament was shocking and depressing. The more I learn about the occupation, the more I understand the huge mistake the US made when we officially called our presence in Iraq an occupation. Also, although the overall situation is nothing at all alike, I see the difficulties our checkpoints and searches and road closures in Iraq have made. We are acting just like the Israelis. I remember seeing on the news in Iraq images of US checkpoints or troops patrolling the streets in Iraq and then immediately they would pan to images of Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, in that way, the similarities are devastating. It is the dehumanization, annoyance, irritation, humiliation of people at will and at whim.

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