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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “A vision of peace, a reality of hypocrisy”

    The wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, as seen from the Bethlehem side.
    The wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, as seen from the Bethlehem side.

    Many Westerners – including me – enter Israel looking for signs of ethnic and religious tension so they can crystallize their black-and-white opinion of “”the conflict.”” But I’ve realized that most Israelis are past this; Arab Israelis especially know that there is no easy approach or opinion, but they’ve made peace with the turmoil of the recent past.

    My time in Israel is almost over, though, so now is my chance to opine on the issue that my friends in the U.S. often ask me about: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I’ve avoided focusing on it because I think we outsiders focus on it too much anyway. There is so much more to Israeli life.

    Still, I want to point out an overlooked aspect of the conflict: Israel’s acts of injustice and aggression. When I arrived at the Tel Aviv airport, I was detained for more than an hour by Israeli police. Why? Because I was going to Nazareth, the largest Arab Israeli town. The police asked me such tactful questions as, “”What population will you be working with?”” and “”Why did you choose Nazareth and not Jerusalem or Haifa?””

    The clearest picture of the discrimination against Arab Israelis can be drawn merely by driving from a Jewish to an Arab town. The wide, smooth roads lined by new houses and parks in Jewish towns give way to narrow, potholed streets with uncollected trash in Arab towns. Arabs are clearly poorer. Despite Nazareth’s dense population and proximity to both Lebanon and the West Bank, the Israeli government has not provided a bomb warning system or bomb shelters here.

    But more overt forms of discrimination have receded, in part because Arabs now learn Hebrew in school and usually speak it fluently. Also, while Jews and Arabs are socially segregated, legal discrimination has been mostly eliminated. Many Arabs work in Jewish areas, and they can attend university, unlike in previous days when not only colleges but schools and sometimes hospitals were off-limits to them.

    In general, Arab Israelis live better lives here than they would in many of the surrounding Arab countries. Minorities like the Arab Christians experience greater freedoms and protection in Israel than in some less tolerant Middle Eastern nations. And Israel is so gorged with American dollars that it can offer its citizens universal health care, good education, tight national security and retirement benefits.

    Perhaps surprisingly, most Arab Israelis want to be Israeli and not Palestinian citizens. The Palestinian Authority is infamous for its corruption and disorganization, and Israel is simply a better place to live. Many Arab towns on the Israel-West Bank border, for example, lobbied to be included within Israel when the wall of separation was built. Of course, they don’t want to be excluded from their jobs and lands in Israel. But the wall also stops West Bank terrorists from entering Israel, creating a more peaceful environment. As one Arab resident of a border town said, “”Before the wall was built, we could not have Jewish people visit our town because we could not guarantee their safety. Now they can come, because we know they’ll be safe.””

    But while Israel has done a marvelous job in providing a climate in which its citizens prosper, this is not the case for its neighbors. I recently drove with an Arab Israeli family from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a West Bank town that is on the outskirts of Jerusalem but is divided from it by the wall. Bethlehem residents are noticeably poorer, because the wall obstructs economic exchange. And the wall is only the beginning. Illegal Jewish settlements continue. A Bethlehem resident cannot visit relatives or go to a hospital five kilometers away in Jerusalem.

    The citizens of the West Bank and Gaza have grown up in an environment not only of poverty, but of humiliation and broken promises. Those who were forced out of their homes in Jerusalem in 1948 were promised the right to return, but that promise remains unfulfilled six decades later. Palestinians are cut off from health care, education and jobs (they are highly educated, but the unemployment rate is estimated by the CIA World Factbook on Israel to be 37 percent). According to a United Nations Special Report, 60 percent of Palestinians live in “”acute poverty,”” and more than 50 percent of Palestinians are now “”completely dependent on food aid, yet humanitarian access is frequently restricted.””

    October and November are the olive harvesting months. But thousands of Palestinians could not access their lands to harvest their olive groves. Those who are granted access can be shot on sight if Israeli soldiers see them walking toward nearby Jewish settlements. Furthermore, Israel has cut the territories off from tax revenues, so that Palestinian civil servants have no income. To get gas, for example, a Palestinian has to wait in line at the wall until he is allowed to walk into Israel to buy gas, then return. But Palestinian men between the ages of about 16 and 40 are not allowed into Israel at certain checkpoints, so many Palestinians are stranded without gas, money or food.

    Given this climate, created by Israel’s choices, Hamas’ victory in the recent elections is understandable. Hamas was the only organization that provided clinics, schools and clean governance. But the winners of these first fair, democratic elections are spurned by Israel and the West. What hypocrisy!

    I’m not defending violence on either side, but I am saying that Israel’s actions create a climate that is disadvantageous to both peoples. The greatest irony is that many of Israel’s founders and settlers were survivors of the horrors of state-sponsored racism. The very state that reminds the world of the Holocaust and warns us “”never again”” is committing acts of racism, albeit on a smaller scale. The founding U.N. charter for the establishment of Israel maintains that Israel will “”be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”” I hope that, one day, this pronouncement will be fulfilled.

    Marian Lacy is a senior majoring in Near Eastern studies, English and molecular and cellular biology. She is spending the semester volunteering at a hospital in Nazareth, Israel, and can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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