Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Eyewitnesses Shocked at Brutality of Israeli Occupation

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Eyewitnesses Shocked at Brutality of Israeli Occupation

Article excerpt

When Dr. Steve Gilliland left with his family in January 1990 for a teaching assignment at Brigham Young University's Jerusalem Center, he anticipated observing the Zionist experiment at first hand.

Eight months later, he told his wife, "I have to go home. I can't watch humans being mistreated this way."

Dr. Gilliland stresses that BYU walks a fine line and does not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I'm speaking strictly from my personal convictions over the assault on human rights, the incessant harassment, and the humiliation and violence the Palestinians suffer at the hands of the Israeli government," he said.

At the time he, his wife Judy, and six of their eight children arrived in Jerusalem, Gilliland said, he was aware of the historical circumstances of the conflict as presented by the American media, and he leaned more toward the Zionist version of events.

"I simply had no concept of the degree of mistreatment the Palestinians suffer as a people," says Gilliland, who taught the Old and New Testaments at the BYU Center on Mount Scopus. The 160 BYU students there spend one semester studying such courses as history of the ancient and modern Middle East, archaeology, scripture, Arabic, Hebrew, and Palestinian and Jewish family life.

Soon after the Gillilands' arrival, while they were dinner guests in a Palestinian home, the host was called from the table to receive a telephone message. He returned to say that his nephew has been beaten to death by an Israeli mob.

"The nephew had been driving from his job in Jerusalem to Bethlehem," Gilliland recalls. "He approached a crowd of rock-throwing Jews -- no one reports that Jews throw rocks at cars too -- and when he swerved to avoid the people, his car was overturned. The Jews dragged him from the vehicle and beat him to death."

Gilliland met another Palestinian who had owned a successful men's clothing store in East Jerusalem. One day in the late spring, Israeli authorities confiscated his summer stock on the grounds he hadn't paid taxes. The storeowner showed them his tax receipts and they replied: "Too bad, the computer says you haven't paid your taxes."

Four months later, they told the Palestinian to come get his summer stock, but first he must pay storage and the salaries of the men who had taken the goods. By that time his business was destroyed and he now is unemployed.

Gilliland says his wife had her own encounters with Israeli bigotry. Her initial introduction was in the emergency room of an Israeli hospital where she had taken a student for first aid. A Palestinian man was moaning uncontrollably from pain. As she watched others being treated while the suffering Palestinian was ignored, Judy Gilliland pleaded with a nurse to check him before the American student. The response from the nurse was: "Don't worry, he's just a Palestinian."

"We became acutely aware of this depersonalization of Palestinians simply by reading the Jerusalem Post," Gilliland continued. "If a Jew was injured, his photograph was prominently displayed along with a biography, and his assailant was always described as a Palestinian. Whereas on page 16 among the advertisements, you might see one paragraph mentioning that three Arabs were killed."

Gilliland says he's also felt the brunt of Palestinian frustrations. "I've had stones thrown at my car, and one time I was spat upon." When he protested, one Palestinian said to him: "Don't take it personally -- look what your American government is doing to our people."

Since returning to the US, Gilliland, who is Southern California Regional Coordinator of the Church of Latter Day Saints Education System, has described his experiences to many audiences.

"Many Americans ask why the Palestinians supported Saddam Hussain. I try to quote an Arab proverb that a drowning man will even grab for a snake, and that's pretty much what the Palestinians did in their frustration over American disinterest over their brutal military occupation. …

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