The Travails of Israeli Occupation

By George S. Hishmeh

Many a Palestinian finds it inexplicable, if not unbelievable, that Israelis – most of whom came from Europe, where some of their relatives or ancestors suffered shocking atrocities at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War – could in turn continuously inflict cruelty or even kill indiscriminately as they usurped the Palestinians’ homeland, inch by inch, over the past 60 years.

The walkout earlier this week of various Western envoys when outspoken Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasted Israel for its “racial policies” was an anticipated development. But all attending the UN conference on racism held in Geneva should understand that the Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, whether those under occupation or within Israel, now about one-fifth of the state, is abominable by any standard and remains a legitimate concern for all, especially those in the Middle East.

The growing number of international condemnations of the deplorable Israeli invasion of the densely populated Gaza Strip is supported by the findings of various UN officials and human rights organizations which, like the Western media, were denied access to the besieged region during the merciless and indiscriminate Israeli air raids.

Israel, for example, has so far refused to cooperate with a UN investigation into the alleged war crimes that its troops have committed there.

Regardless of the Iranian president’s performance, it behooves the world community, particularly the Western powers, to rein in Israel, since its expansionist policies continue unabated. The continued Western silence is disgraceful, especially that of Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who is bound to be meeting with his foreign counterparts. He has shamelessly maintained his residence in one of the hundreds of colonies on the West Bank in a clear snub to all who subscribe to international conventions that prohibit the annexing of occupied lands.

Palestinian and international intolerance of these harsh Israeli actions is best illustrated by the reports on life in the occupied territories by a Norwegian physician and a Palestinian professor who teaches at the Department of Computer Information Systems at Bethlehem University, the first university established in the West Bank.

Dr Mads Gilbert, an anaesthetist and a member of the Norwegian Aid Committee, an NGO, who travelled to Gaza during the first 10 days of the year as part of a government-funded emergency medical mission, reported to The Palestine Center in Washington on his excruciating trip.

He revealed that besides the hundreds killed and thousands injured, “there are some silent numbers which have not been much talked about, that is, the number of missed abortions, miscarriages and premature deliveries and delivery complications”.

He explained: “At every given time, there are around 40,000 pregnant women in Gaza. There is between 150 and 200 deliveries a day. We don’t have exact scientific data but there are around 15 to 20 Cesarean sections a day in Gaza. Of course, all these services were suspended because all hospitals had to treat the injured.”

“And this is part of the picture. The primary health care and the preventive health care [have] also stalled. Not only due to the siege, which has strained the primary health care, but of course due to the bombardment,”  he said.

In an e-mail sent to some of her friends over the Easter holidays, Muna Matar, who earned her doctorate degree in Information Technology at Ghent University in Belgium, reported that in the early hours of Palm Sunday (April 5) her younger brother dashed into her bedroom to tell her that Israeli soldiers had surrounded their house and were banging on the garage door.

Her e-mail read, in part: “Waking up very frightened, I ran to the front door of the house and heard the soldiers banging on the main entrance of the house shouting in their very broken Arabic, ‘Open the door. Open the door. Put the lights off.’

“My brother went into his room to put some clothes on and I ran to the main entrance. Four Israeli soldiers stood at the front door pointing their guns at us.

“I asked, ‘What is happening? What do you want from us?’ One of them shouted, ‘Go inside and do not say anything.’

“‘This is my house. You are coming to my house. You cannot tell me to go inside,’ I said.

“The soldier answered, ‘I am not your friend. I do not come to your house. This is Israel. Do you understand?’ And he pointed his machine gun at my chest.

“My sister-in-law, who was standing behind me, said to him, ‘I have two small children in the house. Do not shout. You will frighten them."

“The soldier replied, ‘I do not care’ and continued shouting at my brother to give him his identity card.

“Then they took my brother out of the house. I followed them. The soldier pointed his machine gun at me again and forced me inside the house. They kept my brother in the street — in the middle of the night — in the cold for about two-and-a-half hours. Those were probably the longest two hours of my life.

“When my brother finally came back home he told us that they took him out in the fields. Apparently they were looking for someone and they wanted some ‘protection’ — so they took my brother with them.

“After searching the fields and finding nothing or no one [they didn’t tell my brother who or what they were looking for], they brought my brother back to the jeep and showed him a map of the area. They had a laptop in their jeep with maps on it. They wanted my brother to then take them to a house.

“They forced him to walk with them — to ‘protect’ them and to show them the house. Again, they found nothing and no one. They brought my brother back to our house at about 4:30am — just before sunrise.”

Her letter reminded me of the famous poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who was said to be passionate about freedom and respect for humankind. His memorable line, written in 1785, put all this in a nutshell: “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!”
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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