Everyday life under occupation in the West Bank
Over winter break, I met a man whose home had been demolished twice by American-made Caterpillar brand armored bulldozers. Not because the structures were unsafe or because the man is a terrorist, but simply because those were the orders of the soldiers who are occupying his country with arms, helicopter gunships and other equipment provided by the United States.
Yet this same man, against whom people have inflicted so much groundless cruelty, showed more hospitality toward me than anyone else I've known, even people in much richer parts of the world than the West Bank. His family served us an enormous dinner of maqlubeh (a dish of chicken, rice and cauliflower), gave five foreigners beds to sleep in, served us another enormous breakfast the next morning and even rode with us in our taxi until we arrived back in downtown Hebron. Three of us were from the country that provided the bulldozers that had destroyed his home twice.
The hospitality of this man and his family was one of the highlights of the time I spent in Israel and Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which promote nonviolence and mutual dialogue in conflict areas around the world.
On another day, we visited Bethlehem, also located within the occupied West Bank. To enter the town where Jesus was supposedly born, we had to walk past soldiers carrying American M-16 machine guns, through an inspection facility and through a 25-foot-tall guard tower-laden "security wall" with an enormous sign proclaiming "Peace Be With You."
A few days later, in Hebron, I saw Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man at gunpoint for walking on Shuhada Street, a street built with American aid money for the use of everyone in Hebron. This street may be legally open to anyone, but in practice, only soldiers, Israelis living in illegal settlements and foreigners can use Shuhada Street without risking arrest.
One morning, I watched children pass through military checkpoints and metal detectors on their way to school. Are these children going to grow up believing that it's entirely normal to see soldiers and machine guns every day on the way to and from school, or to arrive at school only to learn that the soldiers haven't allowed the teachers to pass through the checkpoint?
Israel has as much of a right to existence and security as any other nation, but its policies in the West Bank are both illegal under international law and immoral. The U.S. government gives Israel billions of dollars in military aid, allowing these policies to continue. There's nothing wrong with giving aid to Israel, but our country must stop aiding this illegal occupation.
If you agree, call our senators and let them know. Every time a Congressperson hears from a constituent, he or she assumes that 10 more constituents feel the same way but simply haven't spoken up. Small steps like those are part of the path to peace.
Ryan Sweeney is a German studies graduate student.