Dominate Discussion at Dinner
Noor turned toward me where I was seated at the end of the table, a place of honor for a guest at the family dinner. As Noor spoke in English, the din of family conversation hushed. Everyone showed respect and listened to the family’s niece.
“Mr. Ric, let me tell you what we are discussing. A recent development has become a dominant news story. Feelings among us Palestinians are intense. Israel has announced its intention to build a new Israeli settlement here in the West Bank.” (Noor named the location. I have no memory of the name. I think it was located in an area east between Hebron and Bait Laim (Bethlehem.)
Noor continued, “This new Israeli settlement will be built on land which sits directly between a Palestinian village and a large area of olive groves north of the village. For generations, the women of the village have worked these olive groves as a means of helping to support their families’ livelihoods. These people are poor. None of them have automobiles. They walk every day from their homes for a twenty-thirty minute trek to the orchards.
“The new illegal settlement, situated directly in the women’s path, will make it nearly impossible for them to travel to and from the olive groves. There is no public transportation. No one has automobiles. They would now need to walk more than two hours each direction to and from their homes.
“The placement of the Israeli settlement is a deliberate act to interrupt and destroy a way of life, which has sustained these people over countless generations. As you can imagine, Mr. Ric, we are all upset and concerned about this recent development.”
Sitting in my place at table, I am stunned. I had listened to the discussion in Arabic tongue. Understanding no words, I discerned the emotions of anger and outrage. Now I understood the thoughts behind the words and I shared the family’s feelings.
At issue was the policy of the Israeli government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, continuing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank of Palestine. The UN declaration, affirmed decades earlier, had outlawed the continued expansion of Israeli settlements. Netanyahu has consistently and repeatedly defied the resolution. Israeli expansion continues today.
The immediate concern of the family discussion was this one Palestinian community and its future sustainability. Yet, the issue is broader and deeper. Olives represent pride for Palestinians. The olive is a national symbol of this peoples’ heritage and their longevity in the land of Palestine. With the location of a settlement in this vital spot, Israel was denigrating the identity and existence of an entire people, who live in the land of West Bank Palestine.
During my three-month visit to the West Bank in 2014, I witnessed countless acts of oppression and subjugation of Palestinians by Israeli government and armed forces. Nothing I witnessed made a stronger impression than this news about a settlement being situated in a place with the deliberate intention of eliminating a peoples’ existence.
My experience is now seven years past. I have long ached to share my experiences. I was embraced by two different Palestinian families during my long visit. I witnessed touching humanity, which was shared with me in a way so personal and intimate. I also witnessed countless signs and acts by one nation attempting to eliminate and rid itself of an entire people who live in the same territory.
Today, I find a way to tell my stories. Most will be small memoirs of intimate and personal encounters. One American man was welcomed and embraced by two Palestinian families. Yet, occasionally, I need to tell the larger and more disturbing story–one that I call cultural genocide. It appalls me. How do a people whose very nationhood was a response to genocide turn and perpetrate the similar act upon another folk?