For many Americans, the travails of the Palestinian people barely register on the radar. Our awareness of the decades of injustice there, perhaps because of our country’s enigmatic relationship with Israel, seems at best to be a species of forgetfulness. As the tottering regime of Yasser Arafat enters yet another terminal phase, and the plight of Palestine continues its legacy of dispossession, now might be the time to start remembering.
We have been deeply moved by the daily prayer requests posted on the MennoLink discussion list by Alain Epp Weaver, the Mennonite Central Committee country representative in Palestine. These brief glimpses of life in Palestine – of people enduring privation, or making life more comfortable for others – illuminate what has become a shadow land of grief and suffering. The other day, prayers were sought for Palestinian teachers organizing impromptu classrooms in places like Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, where ongoing curfews essentially have crippled the school system, and much else.
A new United Nations report details the cumulative impact of these curfews and other strictures imposed by Israel. The social destruction these measures has wrought is bad enough, and more than sufficient to cripple the economy or any sense of livelihood in the occupied territories. Add to this the terrible weight of Palestinian civilian deaths, the bombing and bulldozing of homes and businesses and the psychological toll of a people confined to their homes for weeks on end.
Because economic barometers are relatively easy to measure, the U.N. report focuses on the daunting fiscal despairs the Israeli restrictions have caused. In the first six months of 2002, the report stated, Palestinian economic interests have lost $7.6 million each day, a trend that continues unabated.
The result is that the occupied territories are fully dependent on relief and aid societies – like MCC – to bring not only essential needs but to communicate to the world beyond the barbed wire and cultural blackouts imposed by the Israelis. Unfortunately, aid workers and their ability to get supplies to those who need them are sidetracked or stalled amid the maze of Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints, a maneuver publicly protested by MCC and other agencies earlier this summer.
The report concludes: “Evidence suggests that the most efficient way to relieve the economic crisis is to significantly ease movement restrictions on people, vehicles and goods. This would have to take into consideration the parties’ security concerns. But greater freedom of movement would produce immediate and significant benefits, reversing the downward spiral toward a geographically fragmented economy, raise output, employment and income, increase economic growth rates and reduce the poverty rate.”
Though little hope exists for a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute, at least not with the leadership now in place on either side, there still should be room for humanitarian compromise. This should start with the lifting of the curfews and allowing aid agencies to go about their work. We don’t see how conditions in Palestine could get much worse. Seldom have we seen such terrible subjugation of a people. But as Christians, we can no longer forget our obligations to any who are so oppressed, or whose rights are jeopardized.
We encourage continued support of the relief and peacemaking agencies in the region – like MCC, Christian Peacemaker Teams and many others – as they try to bring not only safety and reconciliation but the basic needs of daily life to Palestine. These are works of mercy, we must remember, called for by Christ himself.
This column was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.