The callous murder by police of an unarmed African-American man, George Floyd, has awakened at last the conscience of America.
Yet, only days after the police killing in Minneapolis, a defenseless 32-year old autistic man, Eyad al-Halaq, was shot to death by Israeli police near his special needs school in East Jerusalem. This death, unlike Floyd’s, received scant coverage in the U.S. media.
The parallels between these two deaths is striking, both rooted in racial injustice and the laws and culture of impunity that shield those who abuse their power from accountability. In the U.S., as protests erupted in all 50 states and legislation to address systemic racism advances in Congress, a time of moral reckoning and change may be at hand. But in Israel, where police and army killing of unarmed Palestinians is common, and brutality against non-violent protesters is an accepted technique of crowd control, the absence of moral outrage by our elected representatives is deafening.
I was in Palestine last fall with a group of 12 other Mainers, to help harvest the olives of Palestinian farmers and to see Palestine. There, I witnessed Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinians first hand, and although well versed on this issue I was shocked by just how bad the situation is.
I saw the disparity in the distribution of water in the occupied West Bank — Palestinian water, controlled by Israel. The Palestinians had to use their meager allotment very sparingly while the Israelis had swimming pools, and well irrigated decorative plantings in their settlements.
I walked a dirt footpath along a barbed wire fence, which enclosed an Israeli settlement built on land owned by the farmer whose olives I picked. Settlers not only harass the farmers and disrupt the harvest, but steal the olives, and burn and cut down the trees.
I visited Palestinians living in makeshift tents and shelters because Israel denied them the necessary permits to build, and because Israel had bulldozed their homes and forced them to move so yet another illegal, Jewish-only settlement could be built.
I saw a Palestinian school built of tires and mud because Israel would not permit a more permanent structure, and where not long before the Israeli military had come and confiscated donated playground equipment for the children as it was being unloaded.
I saw the grotesque wall that Israel has built and continues to build to separate Israelis and Palestinians, and protect the land Israel has stolen from the Palestinians. It runs like a great scar through Palestinian farmland and through Palestinian towns cutting off farmers from their fields, and dividing not just Israelis and Palestinians, but Palestinian families and friends from one another.
I saw and felt the complete powerlessness, humiliation and resignation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and every day felt a growing rage that my tax money helps to sustain this brutal and immoral system.
When will such moral outrages prompt American politicians to hold Israel to even minimal standards of respect for human rights?
To break the silence will require electing a new generation not beholden to blindly pro-Israel groups, and not afraid to speak up for Palestinian lives for fear of being labelled “anti-Semitic.”
In Maine, we’ll soon have a choice in the upcoming election where challengers will face Sen. Susan Collins, a politician who has not spoken out for equal treatment for Palestinians. Betsy Sweet, a Democratic primary contender, and Lisa Savage of the Maine Green Independent Party have voiced a clear understanding that more balanced U.S. policies are needed — in the interests of both Palestinians and Israelis. Democrat Sara Gideon has remained worryingly silent.
The tide of U.S. public opinion is changing, and recent polls show an increasing sympathy to Palestinians over unconditional support for Israel.
But a larger moral awakening awaits.
Kristen Salvatore of Richmond is a member of Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights.