As the Israeli military campaign in Gaza continues along with increased unrest across the West Bank, the world watches as the Palestinian civilian death toll rises to over 1,800, with over 200 women and 415 children victims.
Those of us who have lived and worked in Palestine feel the pain of this conflict in a more personal way than many who read the headlines each day. As a volunteer teacher this summer in the West Bank city of Hebron, I witnessed the reality of the ongoing Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the hardship and violence it has wrought on the Palestinian people.
Many people I engage with on this topic in my community back home here in Maine are unaware of this reality, which includes massive electrified and barbed-wire topped walls dissecting territory, random raids of homes, administrative detention of children in Israeli prisons without charge for indefinite periods, and indiscriminate travel bans that prevent access to health care, employment, education and commerce.
Armed extremist Israeli settlers from settlements deemed illegal by the U.N. encroach upon Palestinian farmland every day while routinely committing acts of violence against Palestinian people while enjoying the protection of the Israel Defense Forces.
The entrance to the farming village where I lived was marked by a gun tower from which Israeli soldiers are constantly present, rifles at the ready. A member of my host family was killed by Israeli snipers along with two others last week in a peaceful protest in solidarity with Gaza in the very spot where I waited for the bus on my way to work every day.
With the violence on non-military targets escalating in Gaza, what can we do?
The answer is that we must educate ourselves and recognize the complicity of the U.S. government in arming, funding and supporting Israel’s occupation and bombing of Palestine. That means looking past the talking points of the U.S. government, many of which are blatantly false and in contradiction to reports by the U.N. and respected international organizations. It means viewing this conflict with true historical context and a human perspective.
Innocent civilians in Gaza are being attacked by a powerful military while living in destroyed neighborhoods with insufficient food, limited water, only intermittent electricity, no access to proper health care and under blockade by air, land and sea with no chance of escape.
How can anyone believe that a population with no military living in such conditions warrant being attacked by an alliance of two of the world’s strongest militaries? Can it really be true that Israel and its supporters believe that Palestinians in Gaza are “killable” simply by virtue of being there?
For those who argue “Palestinians voted for Hamas, and Hamas is a terrorist group,” one needs to look into the circumstances of Hamas’ rise to power and what Hamas was campaigning on when it was elected.
Fighting Israel was not a significant part of their 2006 platform, and Palestinians elected Hamas because of their record at the time of providing health care, financial assistance and social services when other parties were rife with corruption and incapable of governing. A 2006 poll showed that 75 percent of Palestinians did not agree with Hamas’ historic position on Israel.
The people of Gaza are not terrorists. And, even if they had elected a government that committed acts of terrorism, does that mean that every man, woman and child is now a legitimate target?
The last person who made such a statement was Osama bin Laden. His argument was used to justify the 9/11 attacks on civilians and others like it. Surely we do not share this amoral ideology.
The United States has confirmed that it recently resupplied the Israeli army with powerful 120 mm mortar shells and 40 mm grenades to be used in the continued bombardment of Gaza.
They also just passed an additional $225 million in foreign aid for Israel’s Iron Dome, with the full support of Maine’s congressional delegation. The time has come for us to decide where we will fit in when the history books are written. We must examine U.S. foreign policy toward a government that practices such disregard for civilian life in armed conflict and decide if the benefit of such policy is worth the cost.
I believe it most certainly is not.
Amos Libby is co-director of the Middle Eastern Ensemble at Bowdoin College, where he is an adjunct instructor of oud technique. He also teaches Arabic music as a member of the Applied Music Faculty at Bates College.