Over the past week American viewers have consumed endless images of Terry Schiavo as she lay on her bed in a vegetative state. Scenes of protests outside the hospital and multitudes of political pundits on news programs waded in to give analysis and opinions. People came out in droves to decry the euthanasia of one woman who has been in a vegetative state for 15 years. As Americans were consumed by the media circus surrounding the case, unimaginable tragedy for hundreds of thousands of otherwise healthy people around the world went unnoticed by the media.
Meanwhile, international organizations such as the United Nations have reported that some 30,000 people are now dying daily from lack of food and water. Further, thousands more die every day from treatable illnesses. Beyond death caused by poverty, state-sponsored terror against civilian populations by governmentsâ€™ military or by militia groups is occurring on almost every continent.
Of personal interest was the upswing of attacks against non-combatant Palestinians by both the Israeli military as well as Israeli civilians who are illegally residing in the Palestinian West Bank. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a regular segment on U.S. news programs, over the past week very little has been reported. One friend told me: â€œyou must be pleased that things are very quiet in Palestine â€“ looks like peace may be on its wayâ€. It is common to assume that peace and â€œquietâ€ is the norm in places that arenâ€™t being covered by the media. Unfortunately, such is very far from the truth. Below I want to relate some of the violence that has occurred against both Palestinians and international human rights observers in the West Bank over the past few days. Most of these stories have not been covered by the media and thus begs the question: why does the media cover nearly every incident of violence against Israeliâ€™s (both civilians and military) but not of Palestinians when they are the victims?
As reported on numerous Palestinian and international human rights web sites, as well as by foreign journalists, there has been an upswing of attacks by armed Israeli civilians against unarmed Palestinian civilians. For instance, on Friday, March 25, armed groups of Israeli Talmudic settlers from the Yitzar settlement (outside of Nablus in the center of the West Bank) attacked the Palestinian village of Asira Al-Qibliya. Wearing black masks and screaming, the Israeli settlers went into peopleâ€™s homes, threw rocks through peopleâ€™s windows and beat Palestinians.
Masked Israeli settlers were also attacking villages in the Hebron area as well. On March 24, Israeli settler militias attacked shepherds and international peace activists (including two Americans) who were merely attempting to document the attacks while the Israeli military did nothing to stop them. â€œKLâ€, a Danish ISM activist wrote of the incident:
â€œThree young soldiers get out just to stand around and do nothing, despite the fact that we repeatedly ask, as the settlers begin to kick and beat us. Not until a grown man has thrown himself on top of our female American friend and punched her many times in the face, neck and chest, does one of the soldiers help to get him off of her. Afterwards the soldier decides to help the man find his glasses. We draw back toward the village with the shepherds, as the screaming settlers try to get past the soldiers. We phoned the police as soon as the two youngsters got out of the pick-up, and were positively surprised that they promised to come quickly. I had heard that the police often don’t really handle cases involving settlers out of fear. My positive attitude toward the Israeli Police did not last long. It took several calls before they finally showed up one and a half hour later. We tried to explain to them what happened, but soon the settlers came driving down again and started yelling in Hebrew at the police. Before we knew it, the police had taken our passports, the settlers were going home, and we are on our way to the police stationâ€. (Electronic Intifada, April 1, 2005).
The international human rights activists have now been informed that they are not allowed to return to the area as the masked Israeli settlers charged that the two activists had beaten them.
Also in the Hebron area, the villagers of Yatta discovered that Israeli settlers had placed poisonous feed and pellets on Palestinian land. Investigated and confirmed by the Christian Peacemaker team, they reported that many animals have died and others have been injured by the poison.
On a different level, many towns and areas, such as Balata refugee camp, had been invaded and harassed by the Israeli military. Daily military incursions into Palestinian residential areas are common. The result is constant fear of unwarranted arrests or violence.
With such occurring on a daily basis it is astonishing to see that most Palestinians have kept their commitment to non-violence as their choice of resistance. Even over the past week or so, over a dozen protest marches and demonstrations have occurred throughout the West Bank.
On Wednesday, March 30, in commemoration of â€œPalestinian Land Dayâ€, there was over half a dozen demonstrations that occurred. Hannah Mermelstein, a Boston-based activist, wrote of a march that she and other internationals attended in Salfit:
â€œWe marched with â€œWomen for Lifeâ€, a Salfit womenâ€™s group that formed in part to oppose the impending Wall in this region, to a polluted valley called Wadi Qana. Surrounded by settlements and outposts, this village was evacuated in the 1980s and most of the land and water has been stolen or completely contaminated by sewage from the settlementsâ€.
The Israeli government is doing its own part to dispossess Palestinians from their land for the benefit of Israeli civilians. Over the past week, it has been discovered that the Israeli government is in the process of building another 3,500 housing units in the West Bank. Authorized by Ariel Sharon, these housing units will be located between Maaleh Adumim and East Jerusalem. The project is designed to make Palestinian claims to Jerusalem less viable. Though Israel had invaded and annexed Jerusalem in 1967, the international community has refused to accept its legality. While applauding Sharonâ€™s â€œbold movesâ€ for removing 5,000 settlers from the Gaza strip, American leaders have given little attention to the rapid growth and development of settlements in the Palestinian West Bank. Indeed the extension of the Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank has been designed to take in the settlers who are being evacuated from Gaza.
Settlement building and expansions are in contradiction to the internationally backed â€œroad mapâ€. Further depressing is the fact that George W. Bush has made repeated statements of recent saying that large Israeli settlement blocs in the West bank need to be accepted as a reality for any future peace deal. This policy statement is in direct opposition to international law and the 4th Geneva Convention that states that an occupying power cannot transfer its own population into the territory that it is occupying.
Along with settlement expansions, Israel continues to build the controversial â€œSeparation barrierâ€ throughout the West Bank on Palestinian land, effectively annexing thousands of acres into the state of Israel. Thus even while it is widely recognized as illegal under international law, it continues to be built at an ever quickening pace. For the past few weeks, the wall is being built at the northern entrance to Bethlehem. The wall has segregated a number of Palestinian families from Bethlehem leaving them in â€œno-manâ€™s landâ€ as they are not Israeli citizens and now have no access to Palestinian areas. The wall has also destroyed thousands of olive trees and other agricultural properties.
Thus, not only does the Wall continue to be built on Palestinian land further impoverishing the indigenous population for the benefit of a select ethnic group, the continued unchecked violence by both Israeli settlers and their military against unarmed and non-combatant Palestinian has continued daily. Of course we must not forget about the hundreds of roadblocks and dozens of military checkpoints in the West Bank that prevent people from attending school, going to work, or visiting family.
Of course the media is generally complicit to uncritical reporting. Most of their information comes from the Israeli government itself and few reporters leave Israeli proper or Jerusalem. During my three 6-week visits to the West Bank, foreign journalists were rarely seen. This should not be a considered a surprise. Israel regularly refuses journalists (as well as all foreign citizens and human rights workers) from traveling to Palestinian areas. Israel believes that part of its war with the Palestinians is a public relations war. Israeli officials actually speak openly about their need to control the way the conflict is represented in the United States and Europe. People who get all their news about the conflict from the mainstream media in the United States and Europe will never be able to understand this conflict. Without searching for alternative news sites that cover the events that occur there, most people in the â€œwestâ€ misunderstand the conflict as a â€œwar between two peoplesâ€ or â€œIsraeli response to Palestinian violenceâ€ without understanding the basic fact that the Palestinian people live under a harsh military occupation by a foreign army – an occupation which today is the longest running in history.