Tuesday, August 01, 2006

So much for compassion

Zaina Awad '09 is a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem. She writes in response to Neta Levanon's earlier post, "In defense of a compassionate Israel."

Considering the massacre of the Lebanese village Qana and Israel's use of cruel, collective punishment as a means of "defending" herself, Neta Levanon's claim that Israel is the only consisently compassionate country in the Middle East is laughable. It seems that Neta is happily oblivious to Israel's long history of war crimes in the Middle East; she must have her eyes and ears closed while studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If she wishes to learn about this conflict, it is her responsibility to open her eyes and see Israel for what it really is. Israel is by no means compassionate.

In her post, Neta wrote that Israel has "rarely gone on the offensive, seeking rather to strengthen its own protection within its own borders." What are Israel's borders? Do they include the West Bank? East Jerusalem? The Golan Heights? The Shebaa Farms in Lebanon? Does she realize that Israel has been illegally occupying each of these territories since June 1967?

The State of Israel was not established on barren lands, it was established on the ruins of more than 500 Palestinian villages. Most of these Palestinian villages were vacated when Zionist terrorist organizations, such as the Haganah, terrorized Palestinians and committed massacres to force them out of their homes. Take the Deir Yassin massacre as an example, where in 1948 the Haganah threatened Deir Yassin's inhabitants and ordered them to leave before they were killed. They raided the village, murdered hundreds of its inhabitants and tortured them with such acts as forcing children to watch as militants raped and slaughtered their parents.

The people who created the State of Israel had absolutely no respect for the lives of others. Where was Prime Minister Golda Meir's respect and compassion for the Palestinians when she claimed that we did not exist? Where is Israel's compassion for the hundreds of innocent Arab women and children it holds in its jails? When Hezbollah kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers, it was willing to exchange them for these prisoners, yet Israel refused. Where was Israel's compassion then?

Neta also wrote that Israelis mourn every civilian and every soldier killed in this conflict. What she means is that Israelis mourn the death of every Israeli civilian and every Israeli soldier killed in this conflict. When four Israeli undercover unit officers assassinated the wrong Palestinian on November 18, 1996, the Israeli military court sentenced them to just one hour in jail and fined them just one agora (the equivalent of 1/3 of a U.S. cent) for their crime, according to the Christian Peacemaker Teams. Furthermore, Neta writes that Palestinians celebrate the deaths of their children and loved ones. I urge her to look into the eyes of a Palestinian mother who has lost her child to this conflict and see the pain, misery and frustration after years of suffering under Israeli occupation. When Israel shelled the Gaza shore the week before Hamas seized the two Israeli soldiers, did it look like the six-year-old girl who witnessed the brutal murder of her family was celebrating?

The Qana massacre last week is history repeating itself — this is the second time in ten years that Israel has laid waste to this village and the innocent civilians who live there. I can't tell you how many Lebanese civilians were killed because they are still counting the dead. Neta makes excuses for these deaths by writing that when "the Israeli Defense Forces plan to bomb a civilian area, they inform the populace that they plan to bomb at a certain time, so that the civilians can evacuate the area." It is true that Israel spread threatening messages that warned the Qana's residents to evacuate their homes. But what did it do next? It destroyed the roads, the bridges, and any exits from Qana so people could not escape. A similar humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Gaza. Gaza's people have no electricity, no water, no roads, no bridges, and no airport because Israel destroyed the city. Like the residents of Qana, Gaza's people cannot escape their doomed fate.

Not only does Neta excuse these crimes, but also goes on to insult the Palestinian people by accusing them of showing no compassion. Well Neta, here I am. I am a Palestinian. Just because I go to Princeton and speak English does not mean that I am any different from any other Palestinian. I grew up in Jerusalem. When I was eight, I watched an Israeli helicopter gunship hover outside my window and shoot rubber bullets into masses of young Palestinian teenagers demonstrating at the military checkpoint outside my home. When I was 14, I watched an IDF soldier abuse and humiliate my father for trying to cross a checkpoint in order to visit Jerusalem — the city my family has called home for centuries. During my senior year of high school, another IDF soldier shot at my feet because I defended a young boy he was dragging and hitting.

All my life, I have had my freedom of movement violated because of Israeli military checkpoints everywhere I go. Yet, despite all this, when I came home this summer knowing that things have not improved for my people, I still felt remorse when I heard of the deaths of Israeli civilians and soldiers. I do not celebrate when Israelis are killed, nor do I know anyone who does. Now things are different. These past few days, I have felt absolutely no sadness when hearing of Israeli casualties. I feel numb. Watching the dead bodies of women and children being pulled out of the rubble of their destroyed homes can do that to you.

Over the years, one thing that helped me believe in a peaceful resolution to this conflict is hope. The other day, I saw an old Palestinian man pat an Israeli soldier on the back and I knew that, if both people made an effort, things could get better for us. I have lost this hope. I have no faith in the two-state solution.

Neta wrote in her post that the Palestinian leadership should be blamed for the failure of this plan. I ask her, if Israel truly supported this plan, would it continue to build settlements on illegally occupied Palestinian land? Would it impose an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, building walls between their villages and across their roads? Would it persist in killing Palestinian civilians, as it was doing in Gaza weeks before Hamas kidnapped the two soldiers? No.

Israeli actions speak louder than words, and their actions tell me that they do not want peace. I already know what Neta's response to this will be. She will tell me that Israel, like any other democratic nation, has the right to defend herself. My reply is that any self-respecting Palestinian or Lebanese has the right to defend himself also. Neta obviously has a lot of faith in the Israeli population, writing that I would be "hard-pressed to find an Israeli who wouldn’t agree with the concept of a two-state solution." During a Model United Nations conference I attended a couple of years ago, the Israeli students were asked what they believed the solution for this conflict should be. Their answer was "Nuke the Palestinians."

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a cycle of violence and it is clear that both sides have made mistakes. I agree with Condoleezza Rice's assertion that the only way to achieve peace is to find a solution for the root of the problem. The root of this conflict is the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land since 1967. Israel's supporters have long been accusing Hezbollah, Syria and Iran of violating United Nations resolutions, yet they hypocritically turn a blind eye when Israel does so. The occupation of Palestinian land is a blatant violation of several United Nations resolutions and every applicable international law, and Israel cannot be an exception to the rules.


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