"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank (book review)

Victory For Us Is To See You Suffer was written by Philip C. Winslow, a UN worker stationed in the West Bank for 30 months. In his book he describes life as he saw it lived out from day to day. He tells of events as he witnessed them and also ones told to him by others. He doesn't draw many conclusions, but presents the facts with a fairly objective eye.

The author tells of the hopelessness of many of the Palestinian youth and how this has lead to an almost unruly madness in the society. But he also shares of other Palestinian young people who have decided the best way to fight is by studying. He shares of the many ways the Israeli soldiers make life miserable for the Palestinians.
Speaking of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, he mentions the long lines at check points, the difficulty in getting to and from work (and the resulting high unemployment in certain West Bank areas because of it), hospitals, doctor's appointments and even the hardship faced when one wants to buy shoes. He explained in detail how the Israelis tore up roads with bulldozers, destroyed houses where supposed terrorists lived or took shelter and taunted children to throw rocks at their armored vehicles among other things. He shared how the Jewish settlers moved into occupied lands and made Palestinians feel as if they were thieves while they were just trying to work their own olive farms. Of course much of the soldiers' actions are justified under the guise of watching out for terrorists. Indeed the Palestinians' decision to use themselves as suicide bombers has lead to harder times for them plus the loss of sympathy from many people who find this practice inexcusable. After reading this book, I better understand why the Palestinians have resorted to this practice (part frustration, madness, desperation, honor and incentive from a religion that rewards martyrdom with instant gratification). The author describes some Israeli groups that are against the Jewish settlements, the checkpoints and other methods the IDF uses. One group is made of former soldiers who are "breaking the silence." I especially enjoyed reading their accounts.

The accounts of the author's interaction with the children interested me. He spoke with some of them in school and they asked why America unwaveringly supported Israel and if George W. Bush really hated Palestinians. As for what they want to do after leaving school: "I want to be a suicide bomber!" or "I want to kill Jews!" were common replies from children under ten. (pg. 95) One little 5 year old saw the author coming to his house and ran inside crying. His mom rushed out and explained, "Uday ran in and said the Jews were coming!" (pg. 87) The easy manner in which the children talked of death startled me. In one example the author had warned two small children to be careful because they were headed out with some older children to throw stones at armored Israeli vehicles.

"I want you guys to be careful, " I said through my translator. In shocked tones, she told me what they both said in reply. "We hope the Hummer comes back and runs over you both, and we hope you die!" they had said cheerfully. The translator, a woman with grown children of her own, leaned over and gently asked why they would say such a thing. "Because we all want to die! We want to be martyrs and go to heaven!" they said as they ran off to chase the Humvee. It was not an idle boast by children too young to know what violent death looked like. And it wasn't that they wanted anything bad to happen to us; they just figured that if we were crushed under the wheels of the Hummer, we got a special pass. Life on earth -- theirs or ours -- was nothing special, and paradise awaited. (pg. 87)

A few surprising facts I learned was that so much money was being spent "in the territories" dealing with Jewish settlements and keeping the Palestinians at bay that 1 in 3 Israeli children were living in poverty, roads were not maintained and as one leftist Israeli peace activist put it, "Do you know how many Israelis live in California? They don't want to live in this militarist atmosphere. The cost of the settlements ... all at the expense of Israeli children." (pg. 133)

Upon seeing evidence of how the Israelis treated the Palestinians the author admitted to a lingering question: "was Israel trying to crush the Palestinian economy, either to encourage people to leave or to keep them under complete control? As cynical as the question was, much of what I had seen, and was seeing again, had nothing to do with protecting Israelis from terrorists." (pg. 132)

One group of Israeli women who are against the mistreatment of the Palestinians had this to say regarding their work at checkpoints: "We are far outside the mainstream of Israeli society . . . Israelis think we are undermining the government. Security is the magic word in Israel." Her friend agreed, "The government has brainwashed people and exploits fear . . . They are frightening people over terrorism." (pg. 160)

"Soldiers saw their personalities change during violent patrols and particularly at checkpoints, where they exercised total control. One solider said:

You start playing with them, like a computer game. You come here, you go there, like this. You barely move, you make them obey the tip of your finger. It's a mighty feeling. It's something you don't experience elsewhere . . . It's addictive. When I realized this I checked in with myself to see what had happened to me. I thought I was immune ... a thinking, articulate, ethical, moral man. ... I thought of myself as such. Suddenly I notice that I'm getting addicted to controlling people. (pg. 179)

At one point a former Israeli soldier discussed the curfew that was imposed upon the Palestinians. If anyone were caught walking in the streets between a certain time, they had orders to shoot and kill them. One night a Palestinian was killed during these curfew hours as he walked to his bakery. His bag had pita bread in it. According to the solider, "Turns out he was a baker. He had pita bread in his bag! He was on his way to work! I know his name, his age, where he worked. You know what the IDF statement was, that same morning? That the IDF shot an armed terrorist suicide bomber that was on his way to explode on the IDF forces. Did anyone ask a question? No! Did anyone go and check who was killed and why? No. That is not about war. That is about a society that doesn't want to face the truth. That's about a society that sends their best sons and daughters to oppress, to kill, to violate, to humiliate, to abuse and doesn't want to know about it." So why is the occupation still going on? "I don't think that is the right question [Yehuda Shaul] replied. "It's very obvious why it's going on. Why not? Because on one side you have people who do it, who live this life. You have a lot of people who benefit from it. And the majority is silent." As another Israeli put it, "...There's a sort of pathology with the Jewish people, especially Israelis, a people who have been persecuted for along time. It's a paradox that we, as the powerful, don't see ourselves as the oppressor." (pgs. 180, 181)

Another interesting story is told by Ami Ayalon, a former head of Shin Bet and a retired career naval officer. He is now a peace campaigner and member of the Knesset for the Labor Party.

I had a very interesting meeting in London . .. during the intifada. A Palestinian friend approached me [and said], "Ami, we won. We Palestinians won." ... I asked him, "Are you crazy? What do you mean 'We won'? You are losing so many people ... and we are losing so many people. What is the whole essence of victory?" He said, "Ami, you don't understand us. Victory for us is to see you suffer. This is all we want. Finally, after so many years, we are not the only ones who suffer in the Middle East. (pg. 193)

A veteran aid worker told the author that "in thirty years of working in the world's war zones he has not seen such intense hatred between combatants." (pg. 193)

Avraham Burg from the Knesset had this to say in an article "The End of Zionism" published in the Guardian,

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in the West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. You can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Travelling on the fast highway that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it's hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won't work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism's superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below -- from the wells of hatred and anger, from the 'infrastructures' of injustice and moral corruption. (pg. 201-202)

As Dr. Yehudit Elkana put it, "It is a rotten society with no moral standards." (pg. 202)

I wrote more about this book and quoted much from it because I don't want to forget what I read. I grew up with a pro-Israel mindset because they are our allies plus I feel some kinship with the Jews because my Savior came from them, and they were chosen by God to bless all nations.

It has only been in recent months that my views on the current Israel have been challenged. After reading of the ideology behind the founders of Zionist Israel, I am not convinced I have to stand behind their cruel and deceptive ways. I believe I can still love the Jews without supporting secular Zionist ideology which goes against the Bible's teaching.

God's goodness to Israel wasn't because of Israel's goodness, but because He is good and faithful to the promises He made Abraham. God wants us to love Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds. And He wants us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. Obviously, Israel of today is not there. I pray one day they will be. Then they will be a shining example to the world of how GOD changes hearts and lives. Right now they are an example of how depraved and sinful we are without God. The Palestinians aren't any better. Their excuse that "Israel made us do this" makes them out to be unable to control their responses. Their own words cheapen them and make them seem powerless. Does Israel now control their attitudes and reactions?

The Lord makes the difference in our hearts and lives! I look forward to Him doing a glorious work in the hearts of Israelis, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Palestinians and Arabs alike so that one day the world will see that area of the world and say, "They are now at peace! What happened?" Then we can rejoice and say, "Oh, that is God at work!"

All glory and praise to Him! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

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