The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.
“For years, Israel has severely oppressed Palestinians living in the center of the city,” notes B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, in a recent report. The authorities, it adds, “have expropriated the city center from its Palestinian residents and destroyed it economically.”
And most importantly:
It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel: Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians (almost one-third of settlement land is actually privately owned by Palestinians); Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints because Israeli soldiers won’t let them through (four documented cases last year); the diversion of water from Palestinians. (Israelis get almost five times as much water per capita as Palestinians.)
Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel. Israeli human rights groups relentlessly stand up for Palestinians. Israeli women volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through. Israeli courts periodically rule in favor of Palestinians. Israeli scholars have published research that undermines their own nation’s mythologies. Many Israeli journalists have been fair-minded toward Palestinians in a way that Arab journalists have rarely reciprocated.For years, uncritical defenders of Israel (and that includes way too many American Jews) have tried to obfuscate what is in reality a very simple situation: Since 1948, Israel has stolen, expropriated, and occupied Palestinian land, then turned around and used Palestinian resistance as an excuse and cover to steal, expropriate, and occupy even more Palestinian land.
As Kristof implies, however, many Israelis have long understood this fundamental truth, even if many American Jews are far behind in grasping the realities of the situation.
Is it really any surprise that some Palestinians have turned to violence, including "terrorism"? Back when I was a 60s radical, we used to say that the oppressor has no right to criticize the tactics of the oppressed. We were thinking of places like South Africa then, and the struggle against apartheid. I fully endorse the viewpoint that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories is equivalent to apartheid. Those who would criticize Palestinian violence, and the extremism of groups like Hamas, need to show us that they are doing something about the conditions which produce it--otherwise, to put it bluntly, they really have no right to complain.
PS--I came across a remarkable account by a British doctor who visited Palestine last year, vividly photographed and eloquently written. Worth checking out.
Afterthoughts: Sharp criticisms of Israel have become mainstream, as Kristof's piece and many others like it demonstrate. That alone is a significant sign of progress, and of hope.
Photo: Hebron settlers attacking Palestinians.
Update (June 24): The Times today publishes an article about B'Tselem's program to arm Palestinians with video cameras which resulted in a widely broadcast clip of Jewish settlers near Hebron beating a Palestinian family. For more about B'Tselem and its work, check our the human rights organization's Web site.