Most tourists to the Holy Land move in a ‘bubble’. They have no idea of what is going on under their noses. They see the ‘dead stones’, the historic church buildings for example but they make no contact with the ‘living stones’, the people.
An alternative, educational tour is quite a different experience. It is an opportunity to meet Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists too, who want the outside world to know the truth about the appalling abuses of international humanitarian law being committed by the Israel regime, its military and some of the settlers.
Martin and I joined a group from England and Wales for the recent ICAHD study tour, which provided an intensive eye-opening, nearly 2 weeks of seeing and hearing so much that is kept hidden from the world.
Our group visited the Ramallah Office of Defence of Children International where an international lawyer described the shocking treatment of Palestinian children: arrested in the middle of the night, accused of throwing rocks (could be at the Wall or a tank). Under Israeli Civil Law, for settlers, throwing a rock is not an offence unless damage is done. But under
military law which applies to Palestinians in the OPTs, throwing a rock is a chargeable offense. Children are beaten, tortured, taken out of the OPT & imprisoned in Israel, all violations of the International Rights of the Child.
One of our most poignant visits was at the YMCA Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. We heard stories about the efforts to help children recover from their traumatizing experiences in prison, and to help prepare
parents so they can help their children re-integrate into society .
With ICAHD we learned that Palestinians are being forced out of three areas in particular: East Jerusalem and its environs, the Jordan Valley and the Negev Desert. There is a calculated plan to Judaise all of Jerusalem, of ‘greater’ Jerusalem, from West Jerusalem to the Jordon River, cutting through the West Bank and ensuring that East Jerusalem will never be the capital of Palestine, should there ever be a Palestine. There is a plan to remove all Palestinian farmers from the Jordan Valley by denying them access to water and to remove all Bedouin herders from their traditional grazing lands and dump them into crowded townships.
We visited the Khan Al-Ahmar Bedouin School built by an Italian NGO that is under demolition orders. We heard from a Palestinian whose house was demolished several times, about the effect on people of seeing their lives destroyed in front of their eyes. “When you demolish a house, you demolish a family”.
The stories we heard are shocking but also galvanizing and there is no substitute to actually going there, seeing things and meeting people . The experience goes to the heart. Our entire group went home determined to share what they have learned with politicians, religious groups, everyone!
Palestine is the issue of our time. Justice must prevail in the Holy Land or there will be no peace in the world. Palestine is today’s Vietnam.