Times are changing. 60 Minutes, one of Australia’s most popular commercial current affairs programs, has done a story on the West Bank. The journalist, Liam Bartlett, has written this:
Trying to understand the Middle East peace process is a bit like attempting to unscramble an egg so we travelled to Israel to get a first-hand look at just how hard it might be to even begin a so-called ‘road map to peace’.
At the very heart of the problem are the Jewish settlers, now occupying large tracts of land that the Palestinians say are really theirs. The settlers are essentially squatting on whatever piece they choose and constructing houses and towns in a defiant gesture of “now that I’m here – it’s all mine”.
Nowhere was this sentiment more strongly expressed than at a settlement on the eastern fringe of the West Bank, south of Jerusalem, when Nadia Matar told me that her people had: “Inherited the land from God and they were not going anywhere”.
Nadia is one of the founding members of the “Women in Green” movement, which is dedicated to supporting Israel’s military and has pledged to never give back an inch of territory to the Palestinians. At best, they will let them live in Israel but without the right to vote. Indeed, Nadia told me she didn’t really care where any of the Palestinians decided to live as they had: “Over 20 Arab states to choose from so they can go to any one of them”.
Nadia’s extremism was repeated tenfold by many of the settlers we spoke to and especially through the video footage we saw from a group called B’Tselem. This unique human rights organisation has started a project that was originally dubbed the “Shooting back campaign”. As the name suggests, they armed dozens of Palestinians, not with guns but with video cameras and taught them how to ‘shoot’ when they were on the receiving end of any conflict with Jewish settlers. The result is that the rest of the world, through programmes like ours, can now begin to see that perhaps the violence and confrontations are not as one-sided as the Israeli’s would have us believe.
Certainly, there are still deadly rocket attacks from extremist Arab groups and the seriousness of these should in no way be downplayed but when you witness up close how the average Palestinian is controlled, it puts that violence into perspective.
The case of Palestinian Doctor Mustafa Barghouthi is a prime example. A trained doctor and also an independent member of the Palestinian Parliament, Dr Barghouthi was born and raised in Jerusalem and worked in a local hospital for 14 years. Despite now working only 30 minutes away in nearby Ramullah, he is never allowed to return to his town of birth. His sister is there, his friends and former work colleagues, but he is prevented from ever going back. The Israeli’s deny him access through any one of hundreds of checkpoints. I asked him if they suspected him of being a terrorist, even though he is blatantly independent of either Hamas or Fatah. He said: “Well, they never said so, but I think it’s one way of oppressing me from telling the truth.”
Nowhere is the upheaval these settlers are causing more obvious than in the West Bank city of Hebron. There, the Israeli government has allowed settlers to live smack, bang in the middle of a Palestinian town and, in so doing, has turned a once thriving shopping precinct into a virtual ghost town. Its streets are now strewn with weeds, all the shop fronts are boarded up, and the dusty footpaths are constantly patrolled by Israeli soldiers, stationed there to protect the settlers.
Overall, it’s an extremely sad part of the world, especially when you are visiting from such a blessed country as Australia. The constant animosity is incredibly depressing to observe. In some parts, the argument has become something of a blood sport. At one Palestinian village, Nilim, just north of Ramullah, the local youths protest every Friday at the fence of the adjoining settlement. And like clockwork, the Israeli police and military turn up and fire tear gas at them. Sometimes it escalates, sometimes not, but I can tell you, being on the receiving end of that gas is not a comfortable thing. It snaps your eyes shut, stings your skin and leaves a nauseating taste in the mouth.
That said, it’s preferable to rubber bullets and that’s always a possibility, too. This is the third time I’ve covered a story in Israel and whilst it never gets any easier, it is such a key plank to wider world peace, that you have to remain optimistic that things can change for the better.
This is an important story. Any fair-minded person who visits the West Bank is struck by the ever-expanding occupation and fundamentalist Jews. The occupation is the obstacle, no matter how Israel and the Zionist lobby try to hide it.
Public opinion is shifting and Israel only has itself to blame.