A Tale of Two Peoples. (Up Front: News and Opinion from Independent Minds)
Bronner, Yigal, The Humanist
The sky is overcast and it begins to drizzle on the hills surrounding Bethlehem as our convoy of about a hundred cars and four trucks, all loaded with food and medicine, slowly approaches and then halts at the mound blocking the entrance to the village of Beit Jalla. The people of that village have been under curfew for the last month. Now, for the first time in quite a while, the curfew has been temporarily lifted, allowing them to stock up on supplies (not that the village shops have much to offer).
We shake their hands and embrace them and then get down to work. The food in the cars is unloaded and passed over the mound to a truck waiting on the other side. Several boxes full of medicine--urgently needed in a hospital for the mentally ill--is exchanged as well. Three of the trucks continue via a nearby road (controlled by the Israeli army) to other destinations--to villages and refugee camps in the Bethlehem area whose situation is even worse than Beit Jalla's.
Meanwhile, as with similar convoys sponsored by Ta'ayush, an Arab-Jewish group that combines humanitarian aid with political action, a gathering is organized. The mayor of Belt Jalla is the first speaker, and I listen to his description of life under curfew and constant siege as I pass through the crowd. I am looking for the parents of Laith, a nine-year-old boy from the village. A few months ago, during a previous round of violence, he was smuggled out of his enclosed village by friends so that he could enjoy a picnic and a visit to a theme park in Israel. For one day, he was like any liberated child: free to run outside and play. This is how I got to know and like him; my family had joined him on his one day of freedom, and my six-year-old son Amos was one of his playmates.
Now I get to meet his parents, a charming couple. It is an emotional moment. For a brief time, we have what resembles a normal conversation among parents. They inquire about Amos, I about Laith. But Laith's childhood is by no means normal. He has been confined to his home for four weeks now, without a single breath of fresh air. Even today, his parents don't allow him out because it's too risky. They left him with his aunt and must return soon for another unknown period of house arrest. We part with the hope of meeting soon, perhaps under better circumstances. I try to imagine my son in Laith's situation and find it hard to accept. What do you tell a boy his age? How does one explain the necessity of remaining at home? What does he think when he sees soldiers roaming the village, imposing curfew, and taking away his freedom?
Speaking of the soldiers, they surround us from all sides. Yuri, one of the convoy's organizers, is now speaking and addressing the military. He tells the soldiers they are unwelcome here. He urges them to leave now and return another day as guests rather than as occupiers and colonizers. He wishes them a safe trip home. He tells them about the misery they are inflicting on the Palestinian civilians. About the hunger and poverty. About the feeling of the farmer who must helplessly watch his crops rotting, unable to tend to them. Yuri is followed by Liora, who speaks of the Palestinian women whose husbands have been detained by the army and who are now single mothers caring for their children--the true heroines and victims of this war.
The soldiers reveal no emotion as they stand around us. I don't know what they are thinking. But it is clear that they wish to be seen as part of our event. By allowing humanitarian aid to pass they hope to prove they are "the most humanitarian army in the world." One of them is even documenting the event with a video camera, presumably for public relations purposes. Just a fortnight ago the army spokesperson used footage of a similar food convoy headed for the devastated Jenin camp as evidence of the humane nature of the Israeli troops--which were meanwhile bulldozing homes on their inhabitants. …