Sharon Conlon (Omaha, Nebraska)

Sharon Conlon D61 94.JPG

Before I left on this trip to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, someone asked me if I would be presented a balanced view. “Balanced” is a code (tip-off) that a person is unaware (clueless) of the Apartheid here.

I know the words I choose reflect my bias but when I am overwhelmed with rage and sadness of the injustice here, I want to use words that are direct, forceful and call a spade-a-spade. But I know if I want to kindly educate an uninformed person, I should use milder words. But hearing and seeing the illogical. erratic, arbitrary racial discrimination of the Occupation, it is difficult to use soft words.

We have been talking to dozens of people who are impacted by the Apartheid system of government here. There are so many injustices, the few I’d mention are only a small fraction of an institutional system that is not held accountable:

The Bedouin woman who had her 300 sheep poisoned by settlers (colonizers) and the few remaining ones couldn’t be milked;

The refugee camp where our house host has laundry piled high because the camp only gets municipal water every 2 weeks, sometimes only once a month and they have to buy private water at exorbitant prices;

Our Hebron guide who can’t walk the streets that we and the Jews can because he is Palestinian and has to cut through the cemetery to meet us at the end of the route;

The counselors from the YMCA treat children for PTSD because kids are ripped from their homes in the middle of the night and ill-treated from the moment of arrest, then detained in Israeli prisons for anywhere from 3-12 months. These arrests and rearrests affect everyone in the community.

Biblical Judaism is not the same as Political Zionism. The first is a religion, the 2nd a land grab to create a Jewish (religious nationalist) state. Zionism uses Judaism to further their goals. Zionism is about control and the legalization of terrorism against the Palestinian people, it is not about religion. Seen on a t-shirt, “Occupation Is Not Our Judaism”. Anti-Zionism is not the same as Anti-Semitic (Palestinians are also Semitic). Zionism is a strategic, systematic colonizing plan by the Israeli government to “maximize land and minimize Palestinians”. It is called the “Silent Transfer” They make the lives of Palestinians so miserable and intolerable that they will voluntarily leave.

The Wall here is OBSCENE! 600 miles, and more to come (85% of it in occupied territory). It is one wall, making two prisons. We visited Claire and her husband's home and business - walled in on three sides. She had to petition to stop the 4th wall. It has destroyed her business and the other thriving businesses in this area. She must travel a long circuitous distance to visit her uncle who lives a block away. The only reason they didn't put the wall down the middle of her street, is because a sewer pipe runs under it. If you are against Trump's Mexican border wall, our tax payer dollars have underwritten this one.

Everything in this country is based on racial profiling. If you are a Jew (the desired population), coming from anywhere in the world, you can become a full citizen with every privilege and right. With no constitution, the indigenous Palestinians are second class citizens. The legislature makes laws that are illegal by international standards. There are two sets of laws here. Israeli Jews can violate Palestinian rights with impunity: steal land, demolish houses destroy people’s livelihood, imprison with no charges, the list goes on.

There are way too many 18 and 19 year olds walking around with M16s, even at city bus stops. The US gives Israel $10.2 million each day ($38 billion over the next 10 years, a 20% increase from previous US aid agreements of 3.1 billion annually)! This is the most military aide given to any country in our history (even while Israel continues to expand the illegal Jewish settlements.) That spending is evident everywhere: soldiers, surveillance cameras, watchtowers, nearly 600 barriers and military checkpoints (not counting temporary surprise “flying” checkpoints), fighter jets or drones flying over us, electric fences and unseen sophisticated technology. When you are over-militarized, you don't have to think about peace.

Everything here is backward and upside down from how Israel brands itself in the US.

Israelis terrorize Palestinians in the name of security. We stayed in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Israeli soldiers raided the night after our stay, which they do 3-4 times a week. The majority of children are arrested in the middle of the night. Children are woken with guns in their faces. Soldiers take them to prison without telling their parents where they are taking them. Arrests are made with no warrants, charges or evidence. Our host Naji spent over 10 years in Israeli prisons, his sentence at 14 was for throwing stones. There are over 7000 Palestinians political prisoners, including 500 under administrative detention (without trial or charges) and 300 children under the age of 18.

The laws are bifurcated and are applied by nationality. Only Palestinians are tried in military courts. In military courts a military officer writes and signs the laws and there is no oversight. Jews are tried in civilian court where the laws meet International standards and Israelis have rights and protections.

As we went to enter our hosts house to spend the night, we were told by soldiers posted outside that there was a new law that tourists couldn’t stay with Palestinians. It’s as if they make the laws up at whim. With every encounter with a soldier you know your place, you are always conscious that you do not have power and you are at the mercy of their mood that day. As a Palestinian you can get up to one year sentence for insulting the honor of a soldier.

Colonizing the mind goes hand-in-hand with colonizing the land. The Arabic language is erased from street signs and cities renamed in Hebrew (Romans did this to Jews in ancient times). Driving around the country on roads allowed only for Jews, Palestinian villages go unnamed. The Israeli flag is flown everywhere, Palestinians suffer grave consequences for showing theirs and I very rarely to saw one. Israeli are allowed to spray hateful graffiti on Palestinian property. Palestinian history is absent from schools. There is a strategic plan called Judaization and is meant to eradicate anything Palestinian.

Checkpoints suck. We went through Qalandia Checkpoint, it is time-consuming, inconvenient (putting it mildly), unpredictable and humiliating. It is a hundred times worse than going through airport security. Thousands of people will go through a checkpoint to get to work every morning and have to do the same at night, always being suspect. You can easily be detained or sent back. Between the wall and checkpoints, its remarkable that any young Palestinians persevere and get a university education.

Everything here, living under Israeli military occupation is about restriction and humiliation.  I am a white privileged foreign visitor who can leave this Jim Crow country. I can’t say this softly, the government’s polices here disgust me, every day I have been filled with rage at an illegal colonizing system that is not held accountable by anyone. They treat one set of people, the Jews as superior to the “other”.  I could never forget which side I was on. If you are Palestinian this the land of a million cuts, cuts to: your freedom of movement(in and out and within your own country), your future aspirations, your pride, your health access and education, your right to be innocent before proven guilty, even extrajudicial killing.

Palestinians' main form of dissent is non-violent resistance. We listened to Omar Barghouti, founding member of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BSD) movement - a non-violent effort against multi-national corporations that are complicit in the settler-colonization and with the goal to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

Companies don't do morality unless they are forced to. It is a task of the world “to do no harm” by withdrawing our cooperation. Israel has labeled the non-violent BDS movement as a “threat” equivalent to the threat of Iran and also try to link it to anti-Semitism.

Whether one state or two state, the discussion is about basic human rights. Hearing from so many different Palestinians, I am so impressed with their dignity and perseverance. Never once did I hear a desparaging word against Israelis, it was always about their policies. They were so grateful that we took the trouble to come to them to hear their stories. And so very hopeful that we would go back to our countries and advocate for them. One Palestinian asked us to “take responsibility and please be faster so Palestinians do not die”.

I don’t know where this phrase comes from, “To be awake in a land of sleepwalkers” but I ask you all to start waking up to the taxpayer funded Apartheid system of oppression and injustice that Americans are supporting in this country.

Does Israel have a right to exist? Yes. BUT NOT UNDER THESE CONDITIONS.