So What's Going On In Israel?

This is long over due, but moving took more time than anticipated, the internet is down at my new apartment, and things keep escalating in Israel.  I wanted to write about BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and the Presbyterian Church (USA) vote a few weeks ago ,but then three Israeli teenagers went missing, their bodies were found, and things keep getting worse.  I want to share a general overview of what is happening (with sources), what I witnessed while I was there, and hopefully help you understand a little more about a very complex situation.

First off I want to make a distinction: Israelis are citizens of the State of Israel, the vast majority of which are Jewish.  Jews are the followers of Judaism across the world, not just in Israel.  They are two sets of people that overlap, but are NOT the same. 
Palestinians are the ethnic group that lived have lived in the region of Israel for centuries.  Palestinians are Arabs, but not all are Muslim.  The majority of the Palestinian population (in West Bank, Israel, and Gaza) are Muslim, but there are Christian and Jewish Palestinians as well.  
Saying all Jews want to get rid of Palestinians or all Palestinians hate Jews are a factually incorrect statements.

But to explain the whole situation, you need to understand settlements.

Israel and Palestine have their own regions with set borders, often called the Green Line.

Israel and Palestine borders- Gaza and West Bank are Palestinian Territory

Israel and Palestine borders- Gaza and West Bank are Palestinian Territory

here are different levels of areas depending on who has control of the area, but that's not the important part here.  There are distinct areas designated for each side with clearly marked borders.  Makes sense, right?

Apparently not.  What has begun to happen is a combination of devout Israelis moving closer to religious sites (ie. the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron) and the Israeli government building housing complexes and communities in Palestinian Territory.  These developments called "settlements" are often subsidized or offer large sums of money in exchange for moving from Israel into the West Bank, or even any Jew from around the world!  

Yellow is Israeli land, black is Palestinian land.  Click to view larger image

Yellow is Israeli land, black is Palestinian land.  Click to view larger image

These settlements continue to grow.  The chart above shows the steady increase in settlements in West Bank, where Palestinians are removed from the land, prevented from living in the area, and a heavy military presence 'protects' the settlers from any attacks.  Although as mentioned in my previous post, often times the military ends up coming to the rescue of the Palestinians against violence from the settlers.  

Military presence in Hebron while we were there.  May 5, 2014.  Photo credit Leah Ntuala.

Military presence in Hebron while we were there.  May 5, 2014.  Photo credit Leah Ntuala.

We met one of the authors of the original chart, Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh of Bethlehem University, who explained the inspiration for presenting the information in the way came from maps of declining Native American territory in the United States.  If you need a way to wrap your head around this whole conflict, the struggles of Native Americans are very similar and a great way to put it in perspective.  Palestinian territory is being taken away, and it is very nearly past the point of no return.  Even Secretary of Sate John Kerry said the window for a two state solution only has about two years left before it is no longer a viable option.  With settlements increasing, and Israeldemanding Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state (the only ones to be asked this by Israel) before even discussing borders, the settlements continue to be built, even against US urges to stop. (Though it is worth nothing that while the official US position is in opposition to settlements, we continue to feed Israel money and have even blocked the UN from declaring all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.)  Some think it is already too late because even now there is not enough land left to declare a Palestinian state without pushing settlers out of their homes, and thus doing to Israelis what was done to the Palestinians.


In the settlements, it is easy to get into Israel for business, leisure, shopping, etc.  If something  a settler needs has not yet been built in the settlement, it's only a short drive to Israel to get it!  On the other hand, if a Palestinian needs get from one town to another just within the West Bank, expect the trip to take twice to three times as long due to restricted or even Israeli-only roads prevalent throughout West Bank.


 

So what does all this have to do with the three teenagers who were killed?

 

Everything.

 

The teens were from a settlement near Hebron, a Palestinian town that has been flooded with settlements.  When I was there, the central street, Shuhada Street, that was once the life of the city full of people and business was silent with hardly anyone but military officers in sight.  The military shut down the street years ago, and control who is and isn't allowed, killing the local economy.  To read exactly what the military does in Hebron, check out the testimonies from Breaking the Silence.

Even Palestinians who live on that street may not be allowed to walk on it, depending on their security clearance, and many families had their front doors sealed shut and are forced to leave their homes through their back doors and windows.  Settlers, meanwhile, have full freedom to move wherever they would like.  Tensions run particularly high due to the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, the site of the tombs of biblical figures Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca, Isaac, and Leah and a holy site for both Muslims and Jews.  There is both a mosque and synagogue within the building, separated and heavily guarded by the military.  We (and anyone else who visits) had to go through metal detectors under the watchful eyes of soldiers just to enter the mosque.

Military presence in Hebron while we were there.  May 5, 2014.  Photo credit Leah Ntuala.

Military presence in Hebron while we were there.  May 5, 2014.  Photo credit Leah Ntuala.

Empty streets in Hebron, the once bustling city center.  May 5, 2014.  Photo credit Ashley Sawyer.

Empty streets in Hebron, the once bustling city center.  May 5, 2014.  Photo credit Ashley Sawyer.

So when three Israeli boys disappear from this setting, and Israel blames Hamas without any concrete evidence, of course chaos ensues. 

Here in the US, if three teens go missing, there is a large search party sent out, an investigation launched, and any suspects are called in for questioning.  But this is not what happened.  The Palestinian Authority, the ruling body of West Bank and Palestine, even assisted with the search, but the Israeli military began to ransack towns, making arrest raids, and multiple Palestinians have been seriously injured or killed in the search alone (see here and here).

Of course once the bodies were found, Israel began to bomb the Gaza Strip, and protests broke out, there has been even more killing.  The Israeli High Court even approved the resumption of punitive home demolitions for anyone suspected of being involved in the kidnapping and killings.  In what world is it okay to destroy someone's home simply because they are suspected of being involved?
  
It doesn't help that Israeli extremists are reacting strongly and running through towns chanting,"Death to Arabs," rioting, and attacking Palestinians unwarranted.  Revenge attacks keep growing for every person killed on either side of the conflict, the the cycle of violence is only continuing.  The Israeli government is also looking to propose even more settlements, naming them in honor of the killed Israeli boys.  Because when settlements are causing the problem, why not build more?

What really brought it all home to me, was this video of a Palestinian mother asking, "If somebody takes your house, your land, your kids, imagine what can you do?.... This is our lives.  Every day this [the conflict] is our lives."

Thankfully not all Israelis are reacting as strongly as the far right.  The uncle of one of the boys killed asked for the killer(s) to be brought to justice, and says in regards to the apparent revenge killing of the 16 year-old Palestinian boy killed, Muhammed Abu Khdeir who has family ties here in Sacramento, that there is no difference between Arab and Israeli blood and called for rationalization on both sides.  Hamas is ready for a ceasefire whenever Israel is, and thousands of Israelis are calling for an end to violence and retaliation attacks.

I know I am continuing to pray for peace, understanding, and nonviolent protests from all parties involved.  And I hope this does not turn into a third infantada with no more killings of anyone, whether Israeli or Palestinian.