Israeli soul corrupted by 40 years of occupation
Israeli soul corrupted by 40 years of occupationTsela Barr, guest columnist, The Capital Times — 6/09/2007
Many of us who grew up both Jewish and American were taught that Israel's Six Day War of 1967 was a tale of the small country of Israel fighting off the attacking armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and winning -- a modern-day David against the Arab Goliath. Images of soldiers praying at the Western Wall of the newly conquered East Jerusalem filled many of us with warm emotions.
The question is: What did this war signify for this volatile area?
The other side of this triumphant tale was the beginning of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert. This nascent occupation compounded and intensified not only the plight of the Palestinian refugees but set the stage for almost every crisis in this region.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war and of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. It has not brought peace, prosperity or security to Israelis or Palestinians and has, in the words of one rabbi, "morally corrupted the Israeli soul."
The 1967 war created the longest-lasting military occupation in history. From it sprang the establishment of the illegal Jewish settlements in these areas, the Yom Kippur War with Egypt in 1973, the 1982 Lebanon invasion, and both the intifadas.
Most important, the Six Day War cemented the Israeli-American alliance, in which Israel has and continues to get more U.S. aid than any other country and acts with impunity despite 65 U.N. sanctions against its various illegal actions, due to the U.S. veto. According to Noam Chomsky, Israel has become a de facto offshore U.S. military base.
But what does it actually mean to be "under occupation"? For Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, it has meant 18,000 of their homes being destroyed since 1967, and since September 2000 half a million of their olive trees being uprooted (a sole source of income for many families).
There are fast-traveling roads for "Jews only" in the West Bank, while Palestinians spend hours wending their way through dirt roads and suffer through long lines at hundreds of checkpoints. There are 24-hour curfews that have sometimes lasted for 30 days. The Gaza Strip has become the largest open air prison in the world, controlled by Israeli forces by air, land and sea. Unemployment, poverty and malnutrition are high. Medical supplies are scarce, and getting an ambulance in or out of the territories is often difficult.
The human toll of the occupation is especially tragic. Since September 2000, 4,098 Palestinians and 1,021 Israelis have been killed. By perpetuating an atmosphere of misery and despair, the occupation has directly and indirectly led to the extreme violence of the suicide bomber, and to the creation of Hezbollah and Hamas.
Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker recently told members of the Bush administration that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict constituted the epicenter of global instability. Though hardly a liberal, he understands that until a just solution to the oppression of Palestinians is found, there will be neither real security for Israel, peace in the Middle East, nor geo-strategic stability for the United States. The Israel/Palestine conflict needs to be of the utmost concern to all Americans.
What can an average citizen do, you may ask? National groups like the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace are great places to get information and to take action on a national level.
Here in Madison, grass-roots groups are working hard to promote peace and justice. Madison Rafah Sister City Project is building people-to-people connections with individuals and groups in Rafah, Gaza. Madison Friends of Jewish Voice for Peace provides an alternative to mainstream Jewish groups that present uncritical Jewish support for the state of Israel.
Through these and other groups, I hope we can start to see an end to the Israeli occupation and the beginning of a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Tsela Barr is a member of Madison Friends of Jewish Voice for Peace.