Harvard Square Observer: Jimmy Carter and Israeli Actions - Part 1

Ernest Cassara


Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi are just two who have jumped on Jimmy Carter for his new book - which, of course, they have not read - Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Well, I am reading it, and those two democratic leaders don’t know what they are talking about.

But, before discussing President Carter’s book, I would like to tell of the experience of our study group when we arrived in Israel and Palestine in October 2002.  One of our first appointments was with the staff of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions.  We no sooner had arrived than the two young ladies who were staffing the office suggested we all climb into the van we were traveling in, for they wanted to show us something. 

Our trusty driver followed their directions and we were soon at the site of a new Jewish settlement being built on Palestinian land.  The ladies pointed out that this settlement would be connected with other Jewish settlements by roads on which only Jews could drive, no Palestinians allowed.  As we traveled the next couple of weeks, we observed many such roads crisscrossing the West Bank.

Now, I am not sure how my much-admired Howard Dean, and the new Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, would define “apartheid,” but were they free to travel, I would suggest that they witness what our group did.

By the way, we could not help but notice that the Jewish settlements tended to be on hilltops, so that they - literally - could look down on their Palestinian neighbors.  And, in many cases, we were told, they sent their trash down the hills. 

They, also, manage to monopolize the water tables, so that the settlements can enjoy an abundance of water, and luxuriate in swimming pools, their Palestinian neighbors expected to get along with a few gallons a day.

Then, we discovered 500 or so Jews had moved into Hebron, to live in the midst of  more than 100,000 Palestinians.  Would not be so bad, except that the Israel army stationed troops to “protect” their settlers.  In the particular neighborhood, Palestinian shopkeepers found it necessary to string chicken wire above the road in front of their places of business, to catch the rubbish thrown down on them by the settlers.

When our group visited the house the Christian Peace Maker teams used as headquarters, the ladies guided us to the roof, where we could see the Israeli soldiers stationed on roof tops to “protect” the settlers.  I gave into the urge to smile and wave at them. 

Among the activities the Peace Maker teams took on was to accompany Palestinian children to school, for the kids were often hassled by Jewish settlers.

Our group chatted with several soldiers stationed in the street, among the Palestinian shopkeepers, and discovered a couple of them were from Miami!  Their response to some of the challenging questions that we asked regarding Israeli treatment of the Palestinians was to point to the experience of European Americans in conquering the native Americans! 

Later, straggling behind the rest of our group as we walked out of town to meet our van, on the other side of a huge mound of dirt that Israelis had put in the middle of the road, I stopped to chat with a young soldier stationed in a doorway.  He seemed not at all happy with his duties.  When I asked him if he were from Hebron, his answer was, “No way!”

I should mention that early on we met Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and discovered he is an American, who served a congregation in Somerville, not far from Harvard Square.  He was head of Rabbis for Human Rights, and, just in time for this commentary, I received in the mail the latest issue of the organization's North American branch.  One of the featured articles deals with the fact that it is practically impossible for Palestinians to receive permission to build homes, only Jews receiving approval.  It is headed: “You Shall Have One Law,” and deals with the terrible trouble a particular Palestinian family is having with Israeli authorities to alter their home in East Jerusalem.  In a side bar, the article asks:

Why Care about Home Demolitions?

While thousands of homes are built for Jews in different neighborhoods of Jerusalem,
applications by Palestinians to build additions or new homes are almost always rejected.
Since the 1990’s RHR has opposed this policy as a violation of Jewish values (“You shall
have one law for stranger and citizen alike; I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 24:22) and
Zionist values (“a state that is based on freedom, justice and equality.”) We believe that
this policy of administrative home demolition, which has nothing to do with security,
endangers Israel by creating hatred and animosity.

-Rabbi Brian Walt,
Executive Director, RHR-NA

I have only to remind you of the fate of Rachel Corrie, who attempted to stop a giant bulldozer from destroying the home of a physician in Gaza.

I am as troubled as the Rabbis for Human Rights, and wonder why it is that the civilized world turns a blind eye to such goings on in Israel-Palestine.  If, say, German authorities were to blow up homes, would no one object?  Or, if British authorities, or American authorities, or the authorities of any country that comes to mind?

So, the Jimmy Carter book is very timely.  Next week, we will discuss it in detail.



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Harvard Square Commentary, January 8, 2007