66 Years and Counting

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The Damascus Gate is truly a sight to see, but the city within those walls is even more awe-inspiring. I was unsure of what to expect as I headed to devotions this morning. Due to reports we had heard last night of rockets landing in Jerusalem, we were not sure if we would still be able to continue with our regular schedule. After checking with the CRC security team, and our CPT leader, it was determined that it was safe for us to travel to Jerusalem, especially since many of the news reports that are coming out are conflicting.

After settling in at our new hostel we headed to the Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum. We had about two hours to wander through the museum. Although I have seen Schindler's list, read Anne Frank, and studied the Holocaust, I have never before seen it the way I saw it today.

For everyone in the group, we came to see how the Holocaust has different layers. It started before WWII even began and the aftermath of the oppression of the Jewish people is still being played out today. We all agreed it was impossible to not see the parallels between the Holocaust and the current situation in Israel and Palestine. From the strategic and calculated plan of the leaders of the Nazi Party and the Zionist Movement, to the restrictions of movement of the targeted people group and legalized systems of oppression, to the ethnic cleansing that followed and the millions of people who became refugees. Of course the Holocaust was a terrible tragedy and we should not forget the sufferings that occurred during that time. However, everything looks good compared to the Holocaust. Are we really setting the bar so low for humanity that we are going to compare things to the Holocaust?

The Holocaust has ended, but oppression has continued. The oppressed have become the oppressors. The word ghetto did not exist in Arabic before it was brought from Europe along with immigrants. The oppression of the Palestinian people need not occur. How can we expect humanity to progress if we do not learn from the terrible tragedies we commit.

In visiting an organization that deals with the way women and children are affected by the occupation, we learned just how oppressed Palestinians truly are.  The West Bank is currently under Israeli Military Law. According to the 4th Geneva Convention, an occupying country can impose military law, but they must eventually withdrawal. That has yet to happen here. 

One of the main ways the Israeli government controls the West Bank is by terrorizing civilians. According to international law, if a country is occupying another country, it is legal for the occupied country to be under military law. However, occupations are meant to be temporary. The occupation in Palestine has continued for 66 years. Nevertheless, Palestinians who live in the West Bank are tried under Israeli Military Law. Many of those Palestinians are children. Under Israeli military law it is legal to arrest a child as young as twelve.

The main reason children are arrested is for throwing stones. If a child is suspected of having thrown stones, he or she will most likely be taken in the middle of the night at around 2am. The children that are taken may have never actually thrown a stone, but someone mentioned his name to a soldier, the child happens to live near the settlement where stones were thrown, or simply because they were arrested for throwing stones before.

After the soldiers storm the house, they bind the child's hands with zip ties and put them in a truck with the soldiers who just arrested them and harassed their family. If there is enough room in the vehicle, the child or children will get a seat, if not they will have to sit on the ground. After driving between 45 minutes to two hours, possibly being slapped and hit by soldiers, the children have to wait outside on the ground until they are questioned since the officers don't start their job until 8 or 9 am. By that time the children are all very sleep deprived and often very frightened. Before they are questioned they are not told any of their rights.

Nearly all children plead guilty, regardless of whether or not they actually threw stones. They usually end up being in jail for two to three months, where as if they plead innocent they might have to wait five months for their case to get to trial, and then the odds of them being found innocent are so slim because it is their word against the words of the settlers in the village, and if they are then accused guilty their sentence will be significantly longer still.

This is just one small way in which Israel controls the Palestinian people. It is as much a psychological occupation as it is a physical one. Israel has occupied the minds of Palestinians for 66 years and has instilled in them enough fear that they are able to exercise a high level of control over the West Bank without having to actually do anything. All empires fall. When will this one reach its demise and how far will you let it go before you take a stand?

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