Monday, November 14, 2011

Post #74 - Handwriting on The Wall

Israeli Knesset
The man who actually designed the Barrier Wall, Jewish settler Dan Tirza, was quoted (Washington Post, August 7, 2007) as saying, "There is a problem with hatred...The main problem now with this separation is that they don't know us any more." Azmi Bishara, until recently a member of the Israeli Knesset, wrote (LA Times, May 3, same year): “Most of our children attend schools that are separate but unequal. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live next to an Arab and nearly half would not allow a Palestinian into their home.” “[A] shrinking number of Israelis and Palestinians are studying each other's language [Arabic or Hebrew],” reports Scott Wilson in the Washington Post of April 1, 2007. A teacher in a Palestinian cultural center in Hebron told the reporter that there used to be hundreds enrolled in his Hebrew courses. "Now, you can count them on one hand.” The founder of a department of Arabic at Tel Aviv University was quoted as saying, “The attitude on both sides toward the other language, and by extension those who speak it, is very disappointing. Both sides are just very afraid of each other.”

In the Jerusalem area, thousands of Christians, including those whose families have been Christian since Jesus himself spread the Gospel there, are cut off from the churches and convents that serve them. The difficulties for Muslim Arabs are even worse. Recenlty, I attended a program at a Unitarian Church in Maryland where a local peace activist described her recent visit among the Palestinian people in a dozen communities. She described one Palestinian mother whose house happened to be adjacent to a dividing line. They had their front door (which now suddenly faced on “Israeli” territory of the West Bank) welded shut by soldiers. It was reopened after several months, but she then had to obtain a special permit (renewable after three months) to use the door of her own home; her mother was required to have her own permit as well. Some 193 miles of roads on the West Bank were closed, at that time, to cars with Palestinian license plates.

An Israeli, Alharon Shabti, wrote about the barrier, calling it: “a wall of fear, of hate, of incomprehensibility.” The wall is being built, though, said Shabti, “within the people themselves.” As it is a “barrier” for some, a “protection” for others, an “insult” to still others, Shabit says, the use of words in today‘s Israel “ruins the fabric of the language itself.” His critique is the same that George Orwell was known for – one that points to the signals and symbols that exhibit inner attitudes and changes in values. [These poets were heard on the PBS “News Hour” program March 21, 2007.]

In citing examples of the events that have created distrust and distance among the parties over the years, we must mention the very disturbing and mystifying USS Liberty incident that occurred in 1967. Though many Americans seem never to have heard about it, we just observed the 44th anniversary of what was one of the most damaging attacks on a U.S. vessel since the Second World War, inflicted by our reputed ally, the State of Israel. The two-hour attack on the Liberty, a U.S. intelligence-gathering ship, off the Sinai coast, was unprovoked. It resulted in over two hundred U.S. casualties, thirty-four of whom never returned home alive. The assault, which included attacking aircraft jamming the ship's American emergency radio channels and Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunning Liberty life rafts that had been lowered to rescue wounded sailors, was deemed “deliberate” by a 2003 independent commission headed by former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Thomas Moorer. Due to the political sensitivity of the incident, surviving U.S. personnel have never been permitted to comment publicly. Thirteen million dollars in compensation eventually paid by Israel but the settlement included no admission of guilt. The captain of the ill-fated vessel received a Congressional Medal of Honor in a quiet ceremony.

When will we start talking about the fundamental issues that divide Israel, the Palestinians, America and Iran? When will we have enough of the plots and counter-plots, attacks and counter-attacks, suffering and loss-of-life?

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