Guest opinion: Israeli policies costly for us in several ways
Leaving the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, we were 31. Leaving the airport for Jerusalem, we were 30. One of our delegation members, Palestinian-American Quaker Sandra Tamari, from St. Louis, had been pulled aside and questioned for 10 hours before being put in a holding cell and deported back to the United States. We were told by the delegation leader who went with her that Sandra, a U.S. citizen, had requested help from the U.S. Embassy. She was asked if she was Jewish. She said she was Palestinian-American, and was told that even though she is an American citizen, they could do nothing for her.
The government of Israel does not currently permit U.S. citizens with Palestinian nationality, or even, in some cases, the claim to it, to enter Israel via Ben Gurion International Airport. At the same time, according to Israeli law, any Jew from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter Israel and make their home there.
We went to see for ourselves. Our late May delegation was the 40th led by Interfaith PeaceBuilders, which began in 2000 as a program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. IFPB’s delegations introduce participants to a variety of opinions, debates and analyses on Israel and Palestine, but they do not endorse specific solutions such as “one state” or “two states.”
Our delegation, composed of people of many faiths, visited with a United Nations agency and observers, Israeli and Palestinian organizations and individuals involved in grass-roots change to achieve a just peace, and explored the environmental consequences of war and military occupation in the Middle East.
At Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, we met with former Yale professor Mazin Quimseyeh, who is a leader of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement. At New Profile in Jerusalem, we heard from Ruth Hiller, an American-Israeli Jew working for peace and the withdrawal of Israelis from Palestinian land. We spoke with many more.
The Israeli peace movement is tiny but determined. Some Israelis work to end oppressive state practices, and we spoke with a number of them. Some said they do this work because the military occupation harms Israel, and must end. Some said they do it because the occupation is not right.
Palestinians and Israelis we spoke with exhibited a strong desire to reach an end to the conflict, from a simple “end the occupation” supported by many Israelis, to the “Two-State solution” supported by some Palestinians and many Israelis, to “One State with Equal Rights for All” supported by some Israelis and many Palestinians.
Traveling from the Gaza border in Israel to 70 miles south of Lebanon in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, we visited towns, villages, organizations and individuals, including Israeli Nomika Zion from Sderot, a target of rockets shot from Gaza. She railed against the massive violence her state has wreaked on the people of Gaza both before and after the rockets flew.
Palestinians gave details of their lives under military occupation, of the hundreds of laws that make normal life impossible, and of their large nonviolent resistance movement, more than 100 years old.
Very few Americans ever see or hear the stories we heard on this trip. Indeed, they scarcely believe them when you tell them.
One of the more gripping accounts we heard was from Miriam al-Rawi about her family’s terrifying eviction by Israeli police from the East Jerusalem home they owned and, within the hour, their replacement by a Jewish family. They received no payment for their home, no relocation assistance.
Though international law prohibits an occupying country from settling their own citizens in the land they occupy, we saw many new settler developments in the West Bank that are built on confiscated Palestinian land. We heard firsthand about the suffering caused by the 26-foot-high wall built on Palestinian land, separating farmers from their fields, children from their schools, fathers from their children.
Why is this issue important to Spokane?
1) Our involvement in a situation the global community believes is at the core of the violence in the Middle East is suicidal and calls for major re-examination of our policies.
2) Spokane is affected by the wars in the region, and our military aid to Israel – $30 billion in tax money between 2009 and 2018 – makes this untenable situation possible. Spokane County’s share of this bill would provide 34,460 people per year in our county with primary health care, or 517 households per year with affordable housing grants.
3) It poses an important question: Does support for Israel’s policies of racial and religious discrimination and land confiscation represent who we are as Americans?
Myrta Ladich is a retired high school English teacher and Spokane resident. Marianne Torres is a retired social worker and small-business owner in Spokane.