A thousand and one nightmares

23 October 2011

A thousand and one nightmares

Remi Poppe - ‘My congratulations to Shalit, who has had a terrible time’, says Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. ‘The Netherlands has sympathised all of this time with him and his family and the government of the Netherlands has, together with other countries and organisations such as the Gilad Shalit Brigade, made every effort for his liberation.’

Remi PoppeCertainly for Shalit this will have been a total nightmare. But why did Rosenthal talk in such a one-sided manner, only about a horror which lasted five years in the life of a very young Israeli soldier who was taken prisoner? Why not also show some concern for the thousands of Palestinian prisoners and their families? Some of these prisoners have spent half their lives behind bars, often without ever having had a trial.

During the first Palestinian Intifada I paid a visit to Israel and, via that country, to the Occupied Territories, with a delegation of local councillors, doctors and journalists at the invitation of the Palestinian Workers’ Union. We visited hospitals where we saw many badly wounded children. Meetings with the parents of children who had been wounded or shot dead left a deep impression. We spoke with Jacof, a former Amsterdam resident who in 1948 had emigrated to a socialist kibbutz and who in 1989 had joined the Peace Now movement, and with an Israeli soldier in Hebron who was our guard and who didn’t see why he should be there. I spoke also with a Palestinian who had spent many years in Israeli prisons - nightmarish stories. We saw Gaza and the West Bank, and the misery of the inhabitants, which continues to this day.

Among the liberated Palestinians are people who have also done terrible, repugnant things. But the actions of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, such as I saw with my own eyes – and will never forget – were also terrible. And more recently, during the Israeli attack on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) in 2008/2009, in retaliation for rocket attacks, an operation which cost, according to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, more than 1,300 civilians their lives. Thirteen Israelis died. Talk of a political culture of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ goes on, and is coupled with disproportionate military acts committed by one of the world’s strongest armies up against inexcusable, frightening, but also desperate acts of terrorism.

Rosenthal’s one-sided congratulations are typical of a persistently biased approach to the Middle East conflict. This creates desperation amongst Palestinian youth and drives some into the hands of fundamentalist fanatics. It is this one-sided thinking that, on the Israeli side, is strengthening the grip of the fundamentalists and fanatics on Israeli society and their idea that they have a rights to someone else’s territory.

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