As the first Israeli astronaut took off into space, tens of thousands of Palestinians, among them sick people, children and elderly people, tried to get from their villages to a nearby city. As Ramon’s satellite entered its orbit around the earth, they straggled through the mud and the rain, trying to break through the dirt barriers that seal off their villages, in an effort to get to work, to the doctor or to a shop.
It is difficult to know what went through their minds when they heard about the soaring Israeli success. Perhaps someone among them recalled the bitter comfort of Said al Nahas al Mishtaal, the hero of Emile Habibi’s novel “The Opsimist:” “And now the moon is closer to us than the fig tree, whose fruit is late in ripening in our bereaved village.”
As the Israeli media were busy whipping to a frenzy the national carnival that accompanied the launch (“Fly, Ramon, cut through the skies,” “A great step for Israel,” “Touching the sky”), they made no mention, as usual, of the travails of those who only want to move around a bit here on earth.
The festival surrounding the launch of Colonel Ilan Ramon into space only demonstrated acutely the gap that exists all the time between false enchantments and the cruel reality most Israelis turn their gaze away from. More than ever before, the Israelis’ ignoring of the Palestinians’ suffering is reaching dimensions that are difficult to comprehend. Here, their existence is remembered only when they come to spread death.
The only Palestinian still talked about is the suicide bomber, the only children mentioned are “terrorist children.” Not poverty-struck children, not orphaned children, not children whose homes were demolished before their very eyes and not children whose fathers were taken, humiliated, in the dead of night, to detention without trial, and did not return sometimes for months and years.
In most newspapers and electronic media there is no mention any more of the curfew, closure, poverty and suffering. The election campaign is not concerned with it. One hour’s drive away from all this many Israelis continue to go about their daily lives, which have hardly been disrupted in the last two years. Even those who suffer, and they are increasing, concentrate only on their own hardships. In Tel Aviv the restaurants and cafes are crowded while Jenin is dying. Television is full of entertainment programs.
Therefore it should be reiterated: as a matter of routine, in the last two weeks alone 26 Palestinians were killed. Only seven of them were armed (according to a Palestinian human rights group). Ten of them were youths and children. Demolishing houses has reached alarming proportions. Now they’re already tearing down houses of terrorists who acted a year and two years ago, leaving more and more families without a roof over their heads. Hardly a day goes by without killing innocent civilians, hardly a night passes without demolition and destruction. Close to 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested since September alone, and the number of administrative detainees has passed 1,000.
On a visit by Physicians for Human Rights last week to Kafr al Lubed, the Israeli doctors were confronted by a shocking spectacle of the medical neglect caused by the curfew and the economic plight. Serious cases are not treated or diagnosed due to the difficulty to move freely and the lack of money, while children and infants are developing syndromes of malnutrition. None of this is getting seared into the Israeli public consciousness because hardly anyone reports it and nobody is interested.
Just ahead of Tu Bishvat, the Jewish arbor day celebrated yesterday, the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture published figures on uprooting trees and the destruction of lands by the Israel Defense Forces in the current intifada: More than three-quarters of a million trees have been uprooted and more than 53,000 dunams have been flattened. Even if these figures are exaggerated, a brief tour around the territories suffices to reveal the extent of the destruction.
While Israeli children were planting saplings for the holiday, their big brothers were uprooting more and more trees, most of them olive and citrus trees that were the last source of livelihood for their owners. Did those who uprooted trees remember the Tu Bishvat plantings?
There is no sign that any of this is about to change in the near future. On the contrary. In the absence of any critical public attention and in view of the expected outcome of the elections, it appears that Israel will resort to even harsher measures. The Palestinians will increase the terror attacks, Israel will increase its bullying and no blue-and-white astronaut will be able to distract – for long – attention from the bloody results.