A Slap in the Face

Note: I visited today with Ashraf, a friend of mine from Zababdeh living and working in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, his center's website is in progress; otherwise, I'd direct you there. In one year, Ashraf has transformed the idea of an Italian-Palestinian cultural exchange program into a multifaceted, creative approach to healing and building Palestinian civil society. It was an encouraging conversation about the kind of work that goes on well-below the radar of even the most informed folks. The cover of Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, carried a picture of Senator Hilary Clinton on her visit to Israel. The backdrop was a map bearing the title "The Anti-Terror Fence." Blurred in the background was a section of the twenty-five foot high wall surrounding Bethlehem. Senator Clinton spoke of Israel's wonderful efforts to defend itself with minimal disruption to Palestinian life.

I was two miles away, on the other side of this "fence," meeting with church partners and leaders of civil society. We discussed in great detail and with great nuance the grievous harm the Wall is doing to Palestinian life, as we strategized what could be done with these facts cemented in place.

Fact: 60% of Bethlehem's land is outside of the Wall. If farmers cannot harvest this land for six years, Israel can (and likely will) seize it under the laws instituted during the Ottoman Turkish Empire regarding "absenteeism."

On Saturday, the Clinton's visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, paying their respects to the holy place and, by doing so, honored the indigenous Christian community. Less than forty-eight hours later, Senator Clinton aggressively slapped that same community in the face. Standing just outside of Bethlehem, choosing not to venture into the besieged city, she allowed herself to be used as propaganda. If one is to believe her remarks, the suffering of the Palestinian community is fully and completely its own fault.

I have always stood firmly against the evil - and I don't use the word lightly - of suicide bombing. Most Palestinians believe that the Second Intifada brought them far more harm than good, and I agree with that assessment. I also agree with the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem that Israel has a right to defend itself, and could do so by building a barrier along the internationally-recognized Green Line. However, given the path that the Barrier has taken, I am convinced that Israel is, once again, using security as an excuse. This is Middle Eastern "Manifest Destiny" at its clearest.

It's not a good day to be an American.