Over the summer, tour groups come to our house in Mitzpe Yericho to meet “real settlers” and hear about life in Judea and Samaria — what the world calls the West Bank. Looking at our glorious view of Jericho, the Jordan Valley and the Jordanian mountains, I talk about the religious, legal and national right of the Israeli people have to live in this small strip.
During the Q & A part of one group’s visit, I was asked if I have empathy for Palestinian suffering. I answered that of course I had empathy for their suffering — Jews wish suffering on no one. I expressed my hope that one day there would be peace between our people and all suffering would stop.
Inspired by that interaction and many more left wing friends’ challenges to see things from the Palestinian perspective, I joined an uber-left wing organization, “Machsom Watch” to take a tour around the West Bank and see the “occupation caused” suffering of the Palestinians. The goal, as our guide quoted President Obama’s charge to Israeli University students, was to “Put yourself in the [Palestinian’s] shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.”
On our seven hour bus ride through Arab villages, joint roads and visits to IDF checkpoints, we were told of the economic hardships caused by the “unnecessary” security fence and the undue delays at the checkpoints where Palestinians faced rude and abusive behavior by the IDF. We were taught of the horrific great bureaucracy, and without balance, that Jewish settlement in the West Bank was an illegal and immoral occupation. Like all previous occupations, our bus was told, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land had resulted in human rights abuses.
While I heard many stories of suffering I saw none. We visited Palestinians in their towns and places of business. Our guide, Daniela, told us of the many human rights abuses that Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis but I didn’t witness or even hear of any civil rights abuses from the Palestinians we talked to. I saw poverty, but I also saw large mansions and great wealth — one example was a well stocked Palestinian Authority office. Well stocked with plush furniture and pictures of former prisoners and Yasser Arafat. Like any urban and rural area of the world, there were some people doing very well and some people struggling.
I have been to third world countries and seen the squalor of true mass poverty. I have seen outhouses where plumbing, electricity and modern medicine haven’t reached — this wasn’t it. The poor Palestinians aren’t poor because the Israeli army and citizens live in the West Bank, they’re poor due to conditions that cause poverty the world over. When you take Palestinian poverty levels and compare them to the rest of the Arab world, the Palestinians are clearly living on the greener side.
I was told the checkpoints are pushy and crowded, and then witnessed Palestinians waltz comfortably across a checkpoint being greeted by Israeli soldiers. Our guides claimed that the army is never on time and this causes the Palestinians to get to work late and wait in the sun. We were brought to a checkpoint at 1:15, when it was supposed to open. There were Palestinians waiting — in the shade, in a bus stop like structure made to shield the people waiting, and then watched as the army showed up seven minutes late — not what I’d consider a civil rights abuse. At another checkpoint, our bus was subject to inspection, and a few members of our group were pulled off for further checks.
I decided to leave the bus and watch as Palestinians were inspected. They were told to exit the car, wait in a shaded area, while one soldier looked through their car, and a dog sniffed for explosives. The soldiers were business like, polite and courteous, but they had a job to do, and they were intent on doing it. The soldiers were much more polite than the Canadian customs and immigration agent who spoke rudely to my wife and children the last time we drove from America into Canada. Their life seemed much like mine, long commutes (think of the drive into Manhattan over the GWB), and of security checks much like I go through at any airport. Keep in mind just this weekend an Israeli soldier was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist at yet another checkpoint stabbing.
Like any bureaucracy, you can expect the Government to ruin whatever it is trying to accomplish. Government run programs are always plagued by inefficiencies and delays. To measure the IDF’s level of effectiveness and problems, one merely needs to look at America’s TSA. Anyone who has flown in America can attest to unnecessary delays, agents completely inept at their jobs, and yes, even abuse. Did you know that over 400 TSA officers have been arrested or fired for abuse? I am sure Israeli soldiers have mistreated and even abused, a Palestinian occasionally. It is inexcusable, but in a government bureaucracy, with teenager soldiers manning posts, it is to be expected. But Israel deserves credit, not demonization.
The best way to solve government bureaucracy is through privatization. As one of our Palestinian speakers told us, Israel has begun privatizing its checkpoints with companies who hire former elite soldiers. The results have been quicker and more efficient inspections — and happier Palestinians. I am not unsympathetic to long commutes and ridiculous government bureaucracy, but just because the agent checking you wears a green IDF uniform and not a blue TSA button down, doesn’t make your wait a human rights abuse. Of course in a TSA line everyone is checked and profiling is not allowed (for now). In Israel, Jews go through a checkpoint unchecked for the most part, but Arabs are taken out of the line and inspected. Israel practices profiling, and for good cause, with over 3,000 victims of Arab terror, the risk is too high for Israel not to profile.
I repeatedly witnessed something that I did find greatly disturbing. Our guides took us to visit a “suffering” Palestinian businessman, Omar. By any standard Omar is a successful businessman. He drives a luxury car and owns a bustling nursery. I have no doubt that Omar, with all the “pressures of the occupation” is making a much better living than I am. Omar regaled our group of the horror he faces. He must cross through an IDF checkpoint everyday to get to work — yet, he gave no specific examples of any abuse he suffered. In front of our group I asked Omar if he was against terror, and just as he was asking us to stand up to injustices our government was subjecting him and his people to, how had he stood up to his people when they committed terror attacks against our people? Not only did Omar not condemn terror, he justified it! Hussein, a former Mayor of another Palestinian village we visited, explained to me that it was perfectly legitimate for Palestinians to answer Israeli building in the West Bank with violence and terror. He told me the two intifadas were the Palestinian answers to Israeli settlements.
Our Machsom Watch Daniela interjected that she is more worried about being hit by rocks by ultra-Orthodox Jews when she drives on Shabbat than by Arabs. I found her claim ridiculous. Search on Google News the amount of times Palestinians have thrown rocks, Molotov cocktails and shot Israeli cars versus the amount of rocks thrown at Shabbat violators, and it’s no contest. I don’t mean to be (too) humorous, but let’s take a statistical approach. An ultra-Orthodox rock thrower will only throw rocks at a car once a week, on Shabbat. A Palestinian will throw rocks seven days a week.
For me, Palestinian advocacy for terror and our Machsom Watch guide’s absurd attempt to cover it up was my deciding moment. Talk to me all you want about the lack of peace being due to “the occupation,” but as long the Palestinian upper class and elected officials advocate terror, any pullout will, much like the pullout from Gaza, just lead to terror and more dead Jews.I believe in a two state solution, and hope that one day an Israeli and Palestinian state will live side by side in peace. There is no way this can happen as long as a false narrative of Palestinian suffering, Israeli abuse and “occupation” is spread about as gospel. Forget about recognizing a Jewish Israel, as a first step I’d like the Palestinian leadership to disavow violence and terror and agree to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel.
I went on Machsom Watch’s tour with an open mind and I was fed lies throughout my tour. I am sure that this essay will draw the ire of this group. I am sure I will be told I wasn’t there at the right time and place, yet I feel confident I received the whole story. I didn’t travel with a right wing group or the IDF as they tried to hide the truth from my eyes. I went with an ultra-left wing group who had an admitted agenda to convince us that Israeli checkpoints and occupation was immoral. That I wasn’t convinced because I saw none of what they claimed is true is either due to their ineptitude, or my ability to perceive that when it comes to the world narrative of Palestinian suffering and Israeli evil occupation, The Emperor has no clothes.
If you were on my trip, or have gone with Machsom Watch before, or you believe in the “evil occupation” like they do, I challenge you like I was challenged. Open your mind and bring your group to our beautiful yishuv. My porch can hold 100 people, and I’d be happy to explain to your group what is really happening in the West Bank — I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.