The three Israeli teens. Their bodies were found yesterday outside Hebron. Some say buried, some say shot and killed within a few days of their capture. Israel blames Hamas, but Hamas denies responsibility, which is curious because they have always taken credit, even pride, in the past. But regardless, the effects have been hellish. Hebron is basically on military lockdown, Israel launched 34 air raids in Gaza Tuesday morning (not where the teens were from nor found), and the authorities discuss what actions to take next, while the nation and world mourn this tragedy and offer support to Israel.
Some news highlights from NPR...
"Satan has not yet created vengeance for the blood of a small child, nor the blood of pure teenagers that were on their way home to see their parents, and who will never see them again." -Netanyahu
"Thousands of Israelis have died in wars and militant attacks over the years, and Israel has grappled with the abduction of soldiers and civilians in the past. But the ages of the victims, and the fact that they were unarmed civilians, struck a raw nerve."
"This atrocity, this murder of innocent teenagers on their way home from school, is a clear example. It demonstrates that Hamas has not changed. It remains a vicious, vile, terrorist organization that targets every Israeli civilian man, woman, and as we've seen, children as well" -Netanyahu's spokesperson
"In the operation codenamed "brother's keeper," Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area, and arrested some 400 Hamas operatives throughout the territory."
"As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing. The US condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth. From the outset, I have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authorities to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice, and I encourage Israel and the PA to continue working together in that effort. I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation. As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the US." -Obama
Yes, these deaths are a tragedy and an injustice, and I too mourn their lives. Wrongfully robbed from them, and far too young. No parent should have to bury their child. It is right for the nation and the world to weep for them, and to try to create a kind of world where these things do not happen. 3000 people went to their funerals, and I do not wish any less honor or reverence for any human life. But as we watch the lament for this tragedy unfold, I cannot help but cry out for all the tragedies that have wounded this land for the last six decades. I want to weep for them too, because no human life, nor death, should pass unnoticed. I share these stories, then, because I believe they need retelling. Not to compare them, there is no worth in measuring grief. But because I believe that violence only begets violence, and so long as we trap ourselves in a spiral of hate, we will never have peace. So here is a small insight, what I have heard and gathered from our brief time here thus far, a collection of narratives that do not often reach our communities, and I pray that we would have ears to hear.
540 villages have been destroyed. 1.5 million Palestinians now live in one of the 56 UN recognized refugee camps in the region.
Three months ago, a young woman lay sick in Aida refugee camp, hooked up to an oxygen tank, in her bed. The Israeli soldiers came and tear gassed the entire camp, because they do that sometimes. One of the tear gas bombs flew straight through her window and killed her. Her picture hangs throughout the camp, to honor her martyrdom.
Last Sunday the Israeli soldiers came to Aida refugee camp and sprayed sewage waste everywhere. The force of the water pressure broke windows and even flooded the mosque. They also sprayed it directly in some peoples' clean water supplies, which are only replenished when Israel decides to turn on the running water, which is two days per month.
1000 soldiers were in Dehasha refugee camp last week, which is an area of less than 1 square km. They have been coming almost every night, usually from around 2 to 4am. They raid homes, throw tear gas, shoot plastic coated steel bullets, drill holes in cement walls, peel off tile, and wreak all kinds of havoc.
While in Tulkarem, our guide brought us to a pile of rubble that was once a house, and showed us a picture captioned, "a Palestinian man bleeds to death while Isareli bulldozers demolish his home." I wanted to vomit. This man was at his neighbors house one afternoon drinking tea; he had received no demolition orders at all. Walking home, he saw bulldozers already tearing his home to rubble. He started running, "what are you doing to my home??" and they shot him on the spot. His neighbors tried to call an ambulance but the Israelis would not let them through, and the man bled to death.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, a friend of ours led a peaceful manifestation of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, to plant 33 olive trees, one for each of the victims. They honored their lives with silence and prayers for the families, because they know what it is like to lose children. Two hours later, a group of soldiers came and bulldozed all of it.
According to international law, it is illegal to detain someone for more than 48 hours without evidence for arrest. It is common, however, for the Israeli authorities to hold Palestinians for months, even years, without trial. Even my host brother, who works in communications at Bethlehem University, was arrested when he was 15 because he went to buy a sandwich during his school lunch break and, falafel in hand, the soldiers accused him of throwing stones and imprisoned him for two months. They told his mother, my host mom, that he would be back "tomorrow" and she was not allowed to visit or communicate with her child at all during that time, and had no idea where he was or what was happening to him.
In 2002, the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born, a sacred site honored by three major world religions, was held under siege for 42 days with 300 people trapped inside. At one point the bell ringer went up to do his duty and was shot by a sniper, splaying his brains all over the belltower. Seven others were also shot because they moved, and one child was killed in the courtyard right outside.
Around the same time in another church in Bethlehem, a group of women, children, and elderly were seeking refuge in the sanctuary during a military raid. The soldiers were blasting through walls of houses, bent on destruction. When they came to the church, they knocked on the door and put a bomb inside. A woman opened the door and the explosion killed 42 of them.
Last week we visited a family in a village outside Bethlehem. Their son, now 20 years old, suffers from severe brain damage and needs complete assistance. He was not born that way, but when he was younger he became extremely sick, with a fever above 40 degrees C. They have no health clinic in their village, so his mother carried her son to Bethlehem on foot (almost an hours drive) but they would not let her into the city, and snipers forced her to turn around. Then she tried to walk with him to Hebron (even further), but again soldiers turned her around, threatening to shoot both of them. They had no medicine, and his fever went up to 43 or 44 degrees, finally cutting off oxygen to part of his brain. When they finally got him to a hospital, the doctors told them it was too late to help their son.
These stories are just a snippet of what we have gathered the last two weeks. I retell them because I want to honor them also, and I fear they have already been forgotten by a world too blind sighted to see anything but the death of three Israeli teens. I do not want to disregard or disrespect their deaths - they are people, breathed into by a spirit of life, robbed from them too young, survived and grieved by their families and friends. But they are people, no better and no worse than other human lives, no better and no worse than the thousands of Palestinians who have had their lives and livelihoods robbed from them also as a ruthless, collective punishment merely for being Palestinian.
The authorities talk about protecting "innocent teens" and "the blood of small children," but if we are fighting for the children, then let us fight for all of them. Let us fight for the 90% of children in Gaza who suffer from PTSD, for the children in the villages whose schools are used as shooting ranges for the Israeli military, for the ones who are forced to play in concrete alleys because their land and leisure have been robbed from them. Let us fight for the children who cry atop the rubble of their homes, whose parents are held without warrant or reason, the children who grow up in fear and instability in open-air prisons, believing they are second class citizens or less than human. Let us fight for them, too, these children who have to grow up in conflict because their authorities greed and ravage, who can't go to summer camp because the soldiers terrorize them, who can no longer have electricity and running water because the soldiers cut it off, who can't even get to their homes because the soldiers have buried the road in rubble. Let us not forget these children either, who grow up throwing rocks at a 30 foot fortified wall of concrete they cannot understand, watching soldiers bomb their villages and tear gas their refugee camps and arrest their parents and kill their family and friends. Let us remember them, too, and fight for their innocence, their purity, their livelihood, their right to grow up in a place without constant threat of violence and injustice. They are children too, human beings like the rest of us, and we must remember and mourn and honor and dignify their lives also.
After every tragedy, the world cries "never again!" but until we can remember that our humanities are bound together, history is bound to repeat itself. I offer these stories then as a small step toward recognizing our common humanities, in hope. We must rise above hatred in any form, even if it's earned. We are all human, and we must claim the humanity, this divine image, especially in those in whom it is hardest to see. When tempted to otherize, marginalize, dehumanize, or demonize, we must remember that, as Momma T tells us, "if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."