My Turn: Sovereign Palestinian state required

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002

Please write letters to the editor and elected officials protesting the Israeli repression of Palestinians and supporting a sovereign Palestinian state. For the past 55 years, Israel has created a military state that has bred Palestinian violence while the U.S. has turned a blind eye. The Palestinian town of Ramallah is without water, electricity and medical help. Israeli tanks and helicopters are prohibiting ambulances from traveling to the casualties. Bodies are literally decomposing in make-shift hospitals and on the streets. There have been several reports of doctors burying dead in mass graves in the hospital parking lots due to the Israeli army invasion. The press has been forced out of Ramallah and even the International Committee of the Red Cross has been denied access. There have been reports of Israeli soldiers and armed militia shooting Palestinians indiscriminately. Israelis have rounded up 600-800 Palestinians and released no information on their condition. Human rights groups have no access or information on those captured.

Both Israelis and the Palestinians deserve their own separate sovereign countries. Palestinians have been the majority population in the area for 2000 years until the formation of Israel in 1947 and the displacement of thousands of Palestinian refugees. The West Bank and Gaza Strip, home to these refugees, also known as the "occupied territories," are geographically separated and all traffic between these areas goes through Israel. Palestinians must go through military checkpoints to travel between these areas and are often humiliated by the Israeli soldiers. The West Bank, the larger of the two occupied territories, is further divided into three cantons by new Israeli settlements. In the 1994-99 period, 50,000 Israelis settled and took land in the West Bank. These takings are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Oslo Peace Accords in which Israel even vowed to halt new construction. Israelis have bulldozed Palestinian homes for not having "building permits" only to build new Israeli settlements. There are roughly 200 Israeli settlements comprising 15,000 units in the West Bank alone. Suicide bombings became widespread since the doubling of the Israeli settlements after the Oslo accords.

According to Rabbi Michael Lerner, "Bombing, however abhorrent, appears the only way Palestinians can retain dignity in the face of humility and powerlessness." Lerner organized marches in New York City, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco for April 11, demanding an international peacekeeping force that prevents the Israelis and Palestinians from killing each other. Israel is delaying a UN-led fact-finding mission, which only raises complicity of war crimes.

Israel is in the driver's seat and must grant freedom to Palestinians via the state of Palestine. The Israelis control all the resources in the area including farmland, the borders and most importantly the drinking water. In 1998, Palestinian per capita annual income was $1,775 compared to approximately $14,000 per Israeli. The Palestinian poverty rate in recent weeks has risen from 22 percent to 50 percent. Unemployment has climbed over 50 percent.

The U.S. must stop "carte-blanche" military aid to Israel that is repressing and killing Palestinians. This year the U.S. has budgeted over $2 billion in military aid with several more billions in federal loan guarantees to Israel with another $720 million in economic aid. To put this in perspective, as much as 12-33 percent of U.S. foreign aid has gone to Israel. From 1949-96, sub-Saharan Africa has received $1 in U.S. aid for every $250 that Israel has received. The Palestinians have suffered many times more deaths than the Israelis, and CNN reports talk of another 200 refugees dying in the town of Jenin with 14 Israeli casualties. Hasn't U.S. foreign aid policy been to aid those needy countries that do not support repressive regimes, in theory not always in practice?

Innocent lives are being lost on both sides and it's time to stop the climate that breeds the cycle of violence. I encourage you to take action to stop the U.S.-supported Israeli repression of Palestinians, demand an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories, return of post 1967 Israeli settlements to Palestine and most importantly, demand the sovereign state of Palestine.

Michael Hekkers of Juneau is a concerned citizen who draws information from news Web sites.

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