I am writing from Jerusalem, from a window with a magnificent view above the Old City--both the huge gray stones of the Western Wall and the golden Dome of the Rock.
But just a few days ago, I was visiting two Palestinian villages, sunk in poverty and sorrow.
My wife, Phyllis Berman, and I had asked Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, to shepherd us in meeting with Palestinians on the West Bank. (RHR is the only organization of Israeli rabbis that includes Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis. It has had a working relationship with Palestinians for eight years, and is one of the few Israeli groups that has been able to keep these relationships going through the last four months of violence.)
He took us to two towns: Hares, a village of 3,000 which lives almost surrounded by Israeli settlements, and Solfit, a larger town. Both places suffered sieges during the last several months.
By "sieges" I mean real sieges, not feeling besieged or even being occasionally shot at. That is, all roads closed by the Israeli army and settlers--in Hares, for two straight months. Sick people prevented from going to hospital. Students prevented from continuing their college education in other Palestinian cities. Schoolteachers from other Palestinian cities prevented from coming to teach. Purchases of food from outside prevented.
Fifteen hundred olive trees uprooted or cut down by the army and settlers.
These olive trees are not decorative. They are the life-support of the village. Some of the trees were hundreds of years old, having produced for this village oil and olives for all that time. Each one of them, as a villager explained, paid the cost of year after year of schooling for a child. Or the cost of a room built for a growing child. Or a dowry for a girl about to be married.
In short, these trees are the family bank accounts. They are also beloved members of the family. Many are now gone.
Ascherman said this was probably accurate, in regard to some of the trees. But some, cut by settlers, were so distant from the road that no stones could be thrown or shots aimed from them. The cut-down trees will be affecting not just stone-throwers now but the whole village for decades to come. And the roads are there in the first place purely for the convenience and safety of the settlers.
This village has been under Israeli occupation for 33 years. Its people have paid taxes all that time. But they said never once had the Israelis paved their streets, brought in new electric lines, or built new sewers. The visible evidence bore them out.
Across the roads, within two kilometers, were spanking new "suburbs" with advanced electric wiring, water pipes (drawing on water under the Palestinian land), and some with swimming pools. (The Palestinian village runs out of cooking water every summer, when there is no rain to collect. The settlers' swimming pools are full.)
In the second town, Solfit, we had to approach in a roundabout way because the regular road was closed the day before--adding about 30 minutes to the trip.
We met a young father who had his leg blown off by an Israeli missile that hit his private house one night when the Israelis were firing at Fatah offices in every West Bank city and town. He was asleep in his bedroom. His house is more than a kilometer from the Fatah office.
That he was not lying was manifest to Ascherman, who came the next day and saw the blackened bedroom and shreds of flesh stuck to the walls. The Palestinian father spent months in Saudi Arabia having his wounds treated and serious internal-organ damage partly repaired. He grimaced in embarrassment but showed us the scars across his belly.
Israeli-owned factories are located on nearby hills. These factories were denied licenses inside Israel because they were likely to pollute the soil and rivers. Here they were not blocked by the Israeli authorities. They pour polluted water from the factories, filled with noxious chemicals, into the streams nearby. The villagers say the cancer rate has risen.
The Israeli authorities have offered no apology, let alone recompense, to this father for the maiming of his body or the loss of his income or the traumatizing of his children on the night an Israeli missile was fired into his house.