As the Israelis prepare to withdraw from Gaza, it is inevitable to evaluate what has happened in Gaza under Occupation, and what continues to happen in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. After all, there is a human price, not just for the Palestinians but also the Israelis. While there is absolutely no symmetry between a well-equipped military Israeli Occupier and the Palestinian Occupied who live at their mercy, the humanity of both peoples has taken beating in a chess game where each move gives short-term bragging rights. In the end, it is the people who pay a long-term human price.
For Palestinians, the cost has been a loss of human dignity and a struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy for each generation. And when you’re living under an Occupation that can see husbands and wives living in different regions because of Israeli government policy, normalcy can be extremely challenging.
Consider that much ado is said about the “culture of death” that has gripped Palestinian society. To a degree, that is the reality as posters of those killed during the uprising abound on buildings. However, raising children to believe that they can realize their dreams is difficult in the face of harsh Occupation policies.
For example, Palestinian national soccer players competed toward reaching the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The athletes, who hailed from the Occupied Territories, as well as the Palestinian Diaspora in Argentina and Chile, immediately won the admiration of young boys. And in a community that thirsted for interferences from a suffocating Israeli occupation, Palestinians were glued to their TV sets as they cheered on their players, with each triumphant goal such as during an 8-0 thrashing of Taiwan. But the odds against claiming a spot eventually prevailed as players were often prevented from getting to practice and/or political problems interfered. Sadly, not a surprise.
Back during Korea/Japan World Cup 2002 qualifying, a number of Palestinian players were prevented from leaving Palestine. That frustration turned to anguish when word came that gifted midfielder Tariq al-Quto was killed in a clash in the West Bank.
That is just one area where struggles at normalcy are made. Other examples range from concerts to theater. At times, there is success and many other times, there is failure. But the attempts never end.
It was French painter Francis Picabia who once said, “Wherever art appears, life disappears.” It is no wonder that the arts have proved to be a great escape for Palestinians despite the heavy travel restrictions and severe lack of funds, particularly in refugee camps like Aida, which has successfully churned out the Al Rowwad Children’s Theatre Troupe — currently on a rare US tour.
One cannot discount domestic violence and poverty (2/3 live on less than $2 per day). Many families live day to day doing the best they can, but it’s a mistake for the international community to shirk its responsibilities of enabling a brutal military occupation which has helped lead to frustrations, confusion, feelings of powerlessness, and desperation. Accountability is a two-way street.
Further, despite billions in US annual aid, a recent Bank of Israel survey shows the number of poor Israeli families reaching 28%.
The unemployment rate is high and prostitution among young Israeli women has increased.
As for violence, consider the story of former Israeli Staff Sergeant Liran Furer, author of "Checkpoint Syndrome":
A graduate of at prestigious art school, he “became an animal at the checkpoint, a violent sadist who beat up Palestinians because they didn’t show him the proper courtesy, who shot out tires of cars because their owners were playing the radio too loud, who abused a retarded teenage boy lying handcuffed on the floor of the Jeep, just because he had to take his anger out somehow.” (“Twilight Zone,” Ha’aretz, 11/21/03)
In a nutshell, violence is encouraged.
However, this moral bankruptcy doesn’t stop at checkpoints but also affects other facets of life. The reality is that learned dysfunctionalism can take years, if not a lifetime, to work through. People just don’t turn off these behaviors at the flick of a switch.
Ultimately, the Gaza withdrawal is a welcome first step, provided that is done with honorable intentions. The strengthening of Israeli settlements elsewhere understandably dampen the enthusiasm and raise suspicions. But it’s time to start thinking of the human price — a price that has no dollar amount nor gets much attention.
Yet, it’s painfully real and incredibly heavy.