July 18, 2014 10:41:28 AM
In 1991, one year after my college graduation, I flew into Tel Aviv and took a hot and dusty car ride to the Palestinian town of Ramallah, a historically Christian town located about six miles north of Jerusalem.
I lived there for two years where I taught English to Palestinian preschoolers. When I flew back to the States in 1993, there was great hope for peace between Israel and Palestine.
In the weeks before I left, I saw elated, young Palestinians walking in the streets offering olive branches to smiling Israeli soldiers in their military jeeps; restaurant and shop owners talking of plans to expand and build for what would surely be peaceful and prosperous days to come and a general buzz of excitement from the high hopes and renewed belief in more optimistic possibilities we all felt.
I was thrilled for the residents of both Israel and Palestine; they were places I had come to love and where I had been welcomed and cared for as a young woman far away from home. Many years have passed, along with countless political ups and downs, but the very special place in my heart for this region of the world still remains.
I have been brought to tears by the most recent news. Now, as a middle-aged woman and mother of a 4-year-old, I have an intensified sadness and mourning for the shedding of any child's blood, wherever they may live. The news of the kidnapped Israeli youths who were killed, and the Palestinian youth who was then burned alive in retribution, breaks my heart.
I think about the teachers and preschoolers I came to know and love during my time in Ramallah. I wonder how they are. I wonder about the young adults my former students have now become and how they have been affected by the most recent violence. I hope they are safe, and when I hear the terrible news reports, I wish I could do something.
When I received a request last week from Jewish Voice for Peace http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org for subscribers to its email updates to write letters to our local newspapers, I knew what I could do. I was grateful for the pointers for this piece and the opportunity to add my own personal story to an issue that I care about so very deeply.
The terrible violence in Israel and Palestine is not a recent, isolated case of human rights violations. It is the intensification of a long enforcement of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. When I was there over 20 years ago and again in 2004, I witnessed many incidences of discrimination against Palestinians, young and old, wealthy and poor, and heard horror stories of lives, land, and homes taken by Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers.
Anti-Palestinian bigotry continues to be widely accepted in Israel as it was years ago. A conversation I once had with a young soldier at an Israeli checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem is etched in my memory.
We looked to be about the same age and after noting from my passport that I was an American, he looked me in the eye and asked very sincerely if I was not afraid for my life living in Ramallah. He believed the anti-Palestinian lies and propaganda he had always heard and was amazed when I told him I was not only surviving in Ramallah, but also regularly and lovingly welcomed into the homes and families of the teachers with whom I taught.
Anti-Palestinian bigotry has been used for many years as a powerful political tool in Israel and surely helps to motivate Israeli soldiers, like the young man I met, to serve in the occupied territories and even commit unthinkable acts of violence against Palestinians.
Palestinian and Israeli mothers are just as deserving as I am of having the luxury of tucking their 4-year-old into bed at night, knowing she will be safe while she sleeps, without fear of missiles dropping on their house, troops invading their home, or their husbands, sons, fathers or brothers arrested, beaten or killed. Israeli and Palestinian children will not be made any safer by the terrorizing of an innocent civilian population through massive collective punishments such as mass arrests and missile drops.
The United States must end our unconditional military and financial support for Israel. We Americans must take a closer look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its root causes in the Israeli government's commitment to occupation of Palestinian territories over the well-being of Palestinians or Israelis.
Although we are miles away and worlds apart, I want Israeli and Palestinian mothers to know that I stand with them and want for them the same things they and all mothers and parents want for our children: safe, healthy, and happy childhoods free of war, degradation and want. Where one's child can thrive and grow into his or her full potential.
What can I do? At the very least I can speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and against anti-Palestinian lies and propaganda. I can raise my voice and stand with both Palestinians and Israelis who are ready to embrace equality and a peaceful path ahead.