By Bryan Saario
Following up upon a Christmas donation to Palestine Children’s Relief Fund in 2006, I offered my services as a retired oral and maxillofacial surgeon for one of their future cleft palate missions to Palestine/Israel. I was looking for an opportunity to fulfill a sense of not having done quite enough during my professional career to justify the self indulgent life I was living as an affluent American retiree; and in my research of looking for worthy causes, I had uncovered a disturbing scene of utterly neglected children devoid of medical care, living in the desperate conditions of refugee camps in a time warp of 1948 when their grandparents and great grand- parents were forced to flee their farms and homes.
I eagerly accepted PCRF’s invitation to participate in a mission to the West Bank, and in April of 2007 entered though fortified gates and checkpoints into Nablus in the (militarily) occupied Palestinian territories and on to Rafidia Hospital where throngs of parents with their children awaited our surgical team. In a dawn-deep into the night schedule we operated on children who had a plethora of developmental and acquired facial disfigurements of cleft lips and palates, deformed and misaligned jaws, and untreated or poorly treated facial and traumatic jaw injuries stemming from the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
In my attempt to contribute something of value to a people in need, I found my specific surgical skills to be limited to an assistant surgeon’s role for the many cases which we treated. I soon realized though, that my unmet expectation of being able to find fulfillment in my personal mission was dwarfed by the misery of the people I had come to help. However serious might be the physical maladies that I observed around me, the spiritual and mental impairment caused by sixty years of oppressive occupation was by far the most serious injury to be seen, and it was afflicting the entire Palestinian population.
I had expected to see general deprivation in the Palestinian population before I arrived, and that in good part was why I chose to come to this part of the world and contribute in some way, but the desperation and hopelessness that I observed in their plight was overwhelming. It astounded me that a tragedy of this proportion could go on and be glossed over by the main stream media outlets of Western television, radio, and newspapers. Here in Palestine was occurring a human tragedy that matched the greatest injustices in modern history; meanwhile Americans were being led to believe that Israelis are innocent victims of constant Arab terrorism, and all Palestinians are terrorists that inflict rocket attacks and suicide bombers on a civilian population without cause or reason.
The Israeli public relations program makes seemingly plausible statements that depict a scenario of Israeli reasonableness and a Palestinian position of irrational and ill founded demands for a just settlement in a well coordinated script with the Western media that belies both reality on the ground and the truth. Nowhere in American reporting is the story of the Palestinian Nakba or Diaspora ever presented on a level that gives unassailable reverence to the preservation of Israeli Statehood at the expense of the Palestinian people.
My observations of ongoing, constant oppression of the people in the occupied territories were enlivened by the many stories I heard from Palestinians with whom I came into contact while on the mission, and was given historical context after arriving back in the U.S. and reading The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. In his accounting of the take-over of the Palestinian lands by European Jews in 1947-1948, based upon reports uncovered in Israeli Defense Force files, he described the extermination of whole Palestinian villages in such a way that all romantic notions of Israeli Nationhood were over shadowed by the truth of reality.
The ongoing racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, non judicial executions, house demolitions, confinement within their isolated towns, villages, and enclaves with restriction of travel to anywhere outside their locale, land confiscation, imprisonment without trial, and denial of civil and human rights – are all well documented by United Nations agencies, Israeli and International human rights organizations, and Israeli and Western peace activist groups – so why doesn’t the world community speak out against the Israeli elephant sitting in the living room of human rights violations? The collective will of nations of good conscience forced the compliance of South Africa in regard to democratic reform. Why can that not be done in regard to Israel and its egregious mal treatment of its occupied population?
If Israel is to be brought into the community of nations that conforms to upholding basic human rights for all inhabitants subject to their authority, so must its chief progenitor, the United States, be brought into alignment with the force of boycott, divestment, and sanctions. This measure can only be achieved through courageous United Nations leadership accompanied by concurrent enforcement of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (which provided the basis for the creation of Israel), United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, and United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.
The insanity that allows Israel alone to determine the destiny of seven million displaced and dispossessed people must be rectified, and nowhere else can that be better accomplished than in the chambers of the United States Congress. Our Representatives and Senators must be weaned from the financial draw strings of an Israeli First lobby, and made to respond to the wishes of their constituencies that have overwhelmingly stated that we want an even handed and fair American foreign policy to bring justice and peace to the Middle East.
– Bryan Saario, D.D.S., M.D., is a retired oral and maxillofacial surgeon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: http://holylandconversations.org.