For a change, here’s some good news from the occupied territory: on the eve of the holiday, people from the Nature and National Parks Authority moved some Gilboa irises growing along the route of the separation fence. The rescue operation certainly pleased quite a few Israeli nature lovers for whom rescuing the flowers was the equivalent of rescuing an entire world.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But that minor action serves to highlight the apathy of the same people concerning the fate of the people living near the irises, and the fate of the nature and landscape throughout all the areas under occupation. The irises were saved, but what about the thousands of people made of flesh and blood, the innocent farmers who live inside the separation fence areas? Their lands have been expropriated and the areas where they live have been turned into corrals cut off from their surroundings. They can’t be moved the way the irises were replanted, and few are really interested in their fate.
The Parks Authority, a government body, and the Society for the Preservation of Nature, an NGO, which were so worried about the irises, have never raised a voice against the systematic and brutal destruction of nature being done daily at the hands the Israel Defense Forces in Palestinian areas. Tens of thousands of trees have been uprooted, groves and vineyards have been crushed, ancient buildings in heritage neighborhoods like the Casbah in Nablus and that of Hebron have been demolished, green spaces have been paved into roads for settlers only, while mountain ridges have been shaved for the sake of settlements, and none of the green activist organizations on our side have gone into action to prevent it. Except for one case – a bypass road at Wolja – the Society for the Preservation of Nature and the Parks Authority were silent. They raise a cry over every tree uprooted on our side, but are totally apathetic when it comes to the fate of the trees on the other side, because it’s not their, meaning our, nature. It really isn’t their nature, but the destruction is being done in their name.
Thus, those green groups join a long list of other bodies – doctors, working women, artists, journalists and academics – who don’t want to see what is being done in the territories in fields they presumably are supposed to care about and protect. And thus, they have become accomplices to a crime. Those who think that responsibility for the crimes of the occupation rests only on the shoulders of the government and army, and all those who think they are innocent because they do not take part directly in the daily activity of the occupation, are wrong.
After 35 years, the occupation has penetrated every aspect of society and the silence of the various organizations and institutions turns them into full accomplices to what is being done in the name of all Israelis. The occupation is not only the civil administration. The occupation is us.
The Histadrut has never taken an interest in the Palestinian workers. The essentially overnight firing of 120,000 workers was no reason for intervention. The same holds true for women’s organizations. Palestinian women are giving birth at checkpoints? Losing their babies? Has WIZO said anything? Na’amat? Do the members of those organizations know that in the last two years, infant mortality rates in the territories have multiplied five times? That the number of births taking place at home, because of closures, has risen from 5 percent to 50 percent?
Universities in the territories are closed for months by military decrees. A-Najah was closed last year for three months. Soldiers go on campuses and wreak havoc, like at the Open University of Ramallah or the Agricultural College in Tul Karm, but that doesn’t touch the heads of our universities. Academic freedom exists only here. Student organizations, too, which conducted stormy demonstrations about tuition, are utterly apathetic to the fate of their Palestinian counterparts, locked up at home, unable to get to school.
Dr. Khalil Suleiman, the head of the Red Crescent Society in Jenin, was shot to death by soldiers. The Israel Medical Association wasn’t interested. Sixty-five Palestinian ambulances were damaged in the last two-and-a-half years and the IMA has never said a word about the working conditions of the medical teams in the territories. Does the Ethics Bureau of the IMA regard the IDF’s preventing ambulances from reaching their destinations a less weighty ethical problem than to what extent can a doctor advertise his or her service? Is it an exaggeration to expect the Society for the Prevention of Cancer to make its voice heard about the abuse of oncology patients in the territories? Aren’t health organizations supposed to be shocked by the travails kidney patients are forced to go through to reach their dialysis treatments?
Israeli artists channel all their protest against the government cuts in the arts and culture budgets and don’t have any words left to protest against the cultural paralysis imposed on people living under siege not far from our stages. The confiscation of press cards, limiting the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists in the territories, let alone preventing them from entering Israel, and of course actual harm done to the lives of Palestinian journalists, has yet to prompt a protest worthy of its name from the Journalists’ Association of Israel. Israeli journalists should be ashamed.
Thus the various organizations – women, farmers, greens, academics, artists, workers, journalists, doctors and their like – have all become a safety net for the occupation. They grant it a facade of decency and their silence legitimizes the outrage. If they were doing their jobs properly, and were really protesting against what is taking place in their fields of expertise in the territories, it’s possible the days of the occupation would be shortened. Surely, its brutality would be lessened.