Outside of Bethlehem I bent down to pick up a stone, a sliver of shiny marble among the crumbled dust of a demolished Palestinian home. The stone in my hand was very real, but symbolized something that was invisible beneath the beautifully embellished house that stood there not long ago. An entire population was unseen, and my eyes were opened to see it in that moment. In the summer of 2006—when Ehud Olmert was prime minister—I saw for the first time the suffering Palestinian people.
I am a natural-born American citizen with no family ties to either Palestine or Israel. I resided in both the West Bank and Israeli-controlled areas in the summer of 2006. During this time, I saw the horror that Ehud Olmert’s administration brought upon the Palestinian people. I did not truly understand the nature of this conflict before I threw myself into the reality of the dark dust of the destructed homes. I needed to see young Jewish girls harass Arab women going to their mosque in Hebron, as well as the Israeli bombing of Palestinian water plants, power stations, and roadways to render these Palestinian people visible in my life.
During my stay, I became ashamed that we, the Americans, are the chief supporters and protectors of Israel. Furthermore, we are a nation who should understand the negative effects of oppressing a minority group in our own country. We have a social responsibility to help Israel recognize that it is hurting itself as well as the Palestinians. It is in Israel’s best interest to treat the Palestinian population with respect and kindness.
Do not think, however, that I consider either side of this conflict to be without fault. The Palestinian people have been responsible for numerous acts of terrorism and kidnapping. I was in the West Bank with Palestinian families when a few Israeli soldiers were kidnapped that summer. Yes, violence has come from the Palestinian side, but I believe that the violence against Israel is often provoked by the many injustices that the Israeli defense forces carry out against the Palestinian people.
I truly believe that Israel uses collective punishment to make the lives of the Palestinians so miserable as to induce them to leave their homes. This treatment comes in the name of security and is instituted in the form of a wall that has been built through people’s backyards, the checkpoints that keep them from reaching proper health care, the demolition of homes, the murders of civilians, and the kidnapping and imprisonment of thousands of people. When I was there, I spoke with a refugee who had his home of many generations demolished with just three days’ notice because his family could not produce papers. Soon after it was demolished, an Israeli settlement was built on his land. I met a man who had not seen his nearby daughter in four years because of the recently built wall in his backyard. This is not a plan to simply keep Israel safe. It is Israel’s rationalization to the world of taking land in the name of security.
When I heard that Olmert was coming to campus to speak, my immediate reaction was to go and hear how anyone could justify what I had seen. I wanted to hear what Olmert had to say and bring thoughtful questions for him that would open the eyes and ears of the audience to the Palestinian side of the conflict. I am upset that I never got the chance to hear Olmert’s justification of his actions or question his motives in his plan for peace. I am ashamed that the Palestinian supporters behaved as the uncivilized, hotheaded people that the Israeli supporters expected them to be. I am disheartened to think of the respect that the Palestinian cause has lost because of its supporters’ inability to allow for the beginning of a fruitful discourse on the topic with one of the most important Israeli figures alive today.
Some may say that the Israeli side has never allowed for the fruitful discourse of which I speak. I say, however, that it must begin somewhere, and the most powerful place to begin would be with the exasperated and oppressed population, which the world expects to behave rashly. Throughout my stay in the West Bank, I found the Palestinian people to be welcoming and rational human beings. I only wish that the rest of the world could see this. In the future, I hope for the sake of the Palestinians that controversial events here on campus relating to this conflict will be met with an attitude of constructive discourse and understanding.
Dorea Martin is a fourth-year in the College majoring in biochemistry.