Last month the Chapel Hill Town Council hosted four members of the Israeli Knesset sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitors’ Leadership Program. Immediately protesters made their objections to the visitors because of human rights violations by the Israeli occupation in Palestine and where millions have been displaced.
Why would anyone protest? This type of exchange happens frequently, even with countries with the most egregious human rights records. But this case is different, perhaps because of our close ties to those we love in Israel and our high expectations for them because of their own horrendous suffering in the Holocaust.
What is the protesters’ message to the Council and our town? To get out the truth about the terrible suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank under the illegal Israeli occupation.
The narrative has been carefully controlled through the 54 Jewish lobbying groups effectively lobbying Congress and by very active opposition to any reference to Palestine and sometimes by outright intimidation. In support of the Zionist movement, Israel gives free trips to African American and evangelical clergy, state legislators, members of Congress and of course large campaign contributions. Today Palestinians are living under intolerable, inhumane conditions in Gaza but Americans have not heard their story. Sadly, Jews have suffered for millennia, yet they cannot see the suffering they are inflicting on the Palestinians.
Gaza is an open air prison where one and a half million people are deprived of adequate water, electricity, opportunities to farm, and the right to move about their own land or the world freely. Palestinian children are detained without charge for months and when charged, they are tried in military courts. Gazan schools are insufficient and the funds often cut. An Israeli museum is built over a centuries old Muslim graveyard. Ancient olive trees, the livelihood of Palestinian farmers are burned. Homes are bulldozed. A blockade prevents goods from coming into and out of Palestine, inhibiting commerce and the means for a livelihood. Water is diverted from its source directly to Israel where it is abundantly available, including for swimming pools, while Palestinians have to buy water from tanker trucks. (A Durham Presbyterian church funded water purifiers for Gaza schools after the bombing of U.N. schools.) The wall closing off Israel from Palestinians makes everyday life difficult. Israeli settlements take more land from Palestinians every year. Drones fly 24 hours a day spying on and frightening the residents of Gaza.
The asymmetry of the two sides is extreme. A few rockets a week fall into north Israel and if they hit an Israeli citizen, Israel attacks with an over-the-top force, killing hundreds of Palestinians. Palestinians have only stones, and now knives, to express their frustration and anger.
Those who support Israel based on religious beliefs do not realize that Palestine Christians also suffer under the burden of the Israeli occupation. The Presbyterian Church of America, and The Episcopal Peace Fellowship have spoken out about the repression in their book and DVD called, “Steadfast Hope” for their parishioners. It is painful to watch and read.
Media bias goes unchallenged. Studies of the New York Times shows that Palestinians were referred to as “terrorists” 42 times but Israeli violence only once. Eighteen of the 35 New York Times headlines depicted Palestinians as the instigators of violence, none for Israelis. Israel is perceived as the victim, under attack from Hamas’ rockets. But the statistics are telling: in the 2010 Gaza war, 2,000 Palestinian died to Israel’s hundreds. When Elie Weisel took out an anti-Palestine ad, the bias was so blatant that 327 Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors felt compelled to write in protest in August 2014 to condemn the “ongoing massacre of the Palestinian people.”
Palestinian student campus organizations face bureaucratic harassment, severe restrictions on and censorship of their columns, even cancellations of their speakers. If they do win the battle to publish their viewpoint, Jewish organizations immediately spring into action to overwhelmingly deny and refute their message.
Movies, media and games perpetuate stereotypes with Palestinians depicted as terrorists and villains, vicious gunmen, wide-eyed maniacs killing anyone, anywhere, any time for any reason. Movies and television programs such as “Tyrant,” “Dig” and “Homeland” depict Arabs as the lowest of human beings.
This in contrast to positive portrayals of Israelis, such as Ziva David as a Mossad agent in “NCIS.” Europeans are speaking out about the Gaza tragedy, but American voices are silenced out of fear of being accused as anti-Semitic. A major conference, “The Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the US, Is It Good for Israel?” received no main stream media coverage.
How to get the message out? Jewish organizations inside Israel and the U.S. are working for peace and to let the world know of the suffering of the Palestinians. That is the message the protesters want to bring to the council and the public.
Eleanor Kinnaird is a former state senator and mayor of Carrboro.