Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gilad Shalit and a Woman Called Ooma

Sent  24.June.2010

Dear friends and acquaintances,
A few observations re: some recent activity……………

Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier captured by the Hamas and held for 4 years concealed somewhere in Gaza with no possibility of contact with family or Red Cross. This morning Iris and I (and Marcia Greenfeld) joined a few thousand other Israelis in a march from Gilad Shalit’s home in Hilla all the way to Jerusalem via Nahariya during the first day of the 12 day march in support of securing Gilad’s release. Along the way Iris and I were interviewed by some TV network who asked me why I was there and whether I thought the march would do any good. I told them that I’m there in order to help keep the affair of Gilad Shalit alive in the public eye as one more issue screaming to our government that its policies towards Gaza, Hamas, and the Palestinians in general are so deeply flawed and not working.

Let me digress a bit (bear with me, and we’ll get back to Shalit)….…….

A few days earlier, with a very small group, I visited Ooma’s home in the Palestinian town of Burin not far from Shchem (Nablus). The town of Burin with its population of almost 3,000 sits on a low hill between two very hostile Jewish settlements. The settlement of Yitzhar sits on a higher hilltop to the south, and the settlement of B’racha sits on a higher hilltop to the north. Ooma is a mother of a few young children. She and her husband and a set of grandparents live in a house on the periphery of Burin right below the overlooking hilltop of Yitzhar. Ooma’s house has windows with bars….but not only. Each window is also covered with a sturdy meshed net as protection against the stones thrown at them on many occasions, but mainly at night, by both youngsters and adults from the settlement of Yitzhar. A few years ago Ooma’s family still had a herd of goats and sheep. The goats were set on fire (!!) while grazing on the side of the hill close to home. Later Yitzhar settlers came and led away all of their 40 sheep. While this was happening they had time to call the police who came and saw the sheep being led away. They asked Ooma’s husband for papers of ownership. There are none. Sheep have been in the family for generations. Ooma’s husband asked them to use the true and tried Palestinian method of identification: allow the sheep to freely make their Pavlovian way to their memorized home. This was unacceptable to our Israeli police who never asked for papers of ownership from the Yitzhar sheep-robbers. The sheep kept being led up the hill to their new home in Yitzhar. The goat and sheep pens outside of Ooma’s house remain empty. Ooma is also a “Video Volunteer” for the NGO B’tzelem. She received a video camera to record whatever she can of violent excesses by the settlers of Yitzhar. Outside of Ooma’s home, facing the hilltop of Yitzhar is the family olive grove. Some time ago Ooma managed to film Yitzhar settlers setting fire with bales of hay to a section of the grove and smashing trees and branches in another section. Her film went via B’tzelem to the proper authorities. No settler was ever taken into custody for questioning. The settlers of Yitzhar and B’racha have a well known and recognized policy. It’s called a “Price Tag”. If the police or army attempts to pressure them as a result of their actions, an immediate additional “Price Tag” is paid by the local Palestinian towns, especially Burin and Hawarra. Cars are set aflame, rocks are thrown, people are injured, homes are graffitied ….all by settlers bearing legal rifles. Ooma’s family has been living this life for thirty years, since first Yitzhar graced their hilltop. The settlers of Yitzhar are radical orthodox Jews who see the use of violence as a proper method of letting the Palestinians know who are the lords of the land, and as a way of pressuring the local populace to begin accepting the need to leave. We, the Israeli public and our various governments have allowed Ooma and her family to live like this for thirty years.

This brings me back to our soldier Gilad Shalit……..

What help can be expected by thousands of us marching from Hilla to Jerusalem?? Should we really release 1450 prisoners, many with murdered Israelis in their resumes, in exchange for one soldier?? (something unheard of in the history of prisoner exchanges…..except in Israel.) Without releasing all those prisoners how can we face Gilad’s parents and the parents of other young soldiers who we send out to defend us with a promise of always being there for them?? Yet how can we face the parents or wives or children of murdered Israelis by releasing their murderers??...and, perhaps, the real issue is what is best in the long run for our problematic country as a whole?? No, I can’t comfort myself with clear answers. I tend to hope that we are strong enough and will be wise enough to create policies which will inhibit a return to violence and terrorism by those we release. But my confidence is awfully hesitant. Of some things, though, I am certain. As long as Ooma and her family in the town of Burin live the way they do with the Yizhar hilltop overlooking their home; as long as there are so many other Oomas and their families throughout the occupied territories; as long as there are so many settlements like Yitzhar with violence so transparent or even subtly hidden under the guise of “fringe elements”; as long as all of that continues, we will have more Gilad Shalits and we will have many more prisoners with which to make (or not make) exchange deals.


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