Politics

03.31.14

Chris Christie Dares to Speak the Truth About Palestinians

The Republican accurately described the West Bank as “occupied territories” and then immediately took it back. The people living there know he was right the first time.

Chris Christie is a guy who prides himself on telling it the way it is, even if you don’t like what he has to say. That is unless you happen to be billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Then Christie will apparently say exactly what you want to hear.

We saw this on Saturday after Christie made a big “blunder” in the eyes of Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition with the statement: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

What was wrong with that comment? Well apparently Adelson objects to the term “occupied” territories when discussing Palestinians. Consequently, as Politico reported, Christie apologized to Adelson for using the word “occupation.”

Little tip to Christie: if you are trying to get money from Adelson, make sure you demonize Palestinians whenever you get a chance.  Don’t forget Adelson dumped $15 million into Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign and we heard Gingrich parrot Adelson’s views that Palestinians are an “invented people.”

But this incident made me wonder: Could Adelson be right? Has the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank that began after the Six Day War in 1967 finally come to an end? This certainly would be great news to my relatives and the more than 2 million other Palestinians living in the West Bank.

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Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp., listens to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada March 29, 2014. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

When I was in West Bank several years ago visiting my cousins, it seemed like Israeli checkpoints were everywhere.   This was especially aggravating for me because after living in New York City for so many years, I’m not good with waiting on long lines that don’t move.

But my relatives, many of who have been born into occupation and have only known a life where their freedom of movement is controlled by the Israeli military, have a different philosophy. As one cousin commented, the occupation is like the weather: we have no control over it so each day we just hope for the best.

So in an effort to get to the bottom of this issue, I reached out to a cross section of people to hear about current life in the West Bank.

Even in the areas that are legally under Palestinian control, the Israeli military still controls ingress and egress.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Editor of Tikun magazine and a peace activist, commented that, “the Israeli army controls not only all of its [West Bank] borders but also all connections between its cities. Palestinians wishing to travel between one city and another often have to spend hours at check-points, often subjected to humiliating searches.”

So how many checkpoints are we talking about? Per B’Tselem, “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” as of February 2014, there were 99 fixed checkpoints across the West Bank, including 59 within the West Bank that affect Palestinians traveling within the Palestinian areas.

So what do these checklists mean for Palestinians on daily basis?  It affects their lives in every way possible—from simply knowing when and if they will be able to make it to work, school, or doctor’s appointments to simply visiting friends and family.

Palestinian-American Maysoon Zayid, who has for years spent time working with disabled children in the West Bank, explained that, “15-minute trips can often take hours.”  As a result, parents of disabled children can’t afford to leave work potentially for hours while waiting at checkpoints to take their disabled children to rehab centers or special schools. Sadly this translates into many disabled Palestinian children remaining homebound.

Another Palestinian-American who recently visited (and wanted to remain nameless for fear that the Israeli military would not allow him to visit his family again in the West Bank), told me about how checkpoints had recently backed up for five hours with no explanation. The result is you simply have no control over your own life.

Rania Shoukier, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian heritage and a lawyer admitted to practice in US and Israel, explained hat the Israeli government controls the West Bank’s borders, airspace, and natural resources. She noted that even in the areas that are legally under Palestinian control, the Israeli military still controls ingress and egress.

This is just a small glimpse into the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. It’s a world where you lack the ability to control your daily life let alone your own destiny.  A place where dreams are deferred on a daily basis simply because the child happens to be born Palestinian.

And just so it’s clear, I’m fully aware that many of these checkpoints were installed in response to terrorist acts committed by Palestinians and to prevent future ones. But I also believe in the American system of justice where we only punish those involved in a criminal act, not everyone living in the area that happens to share the same race, ethnicity or religion as the criminal.

But does this fight over the word “occupation” actually matter? Very much so according to Sydney Levy, the Director of Advocacy for “Jewish Voices for Peace,” who explained that under international law, the West Bank is without a doubt “occupied.”  Consequently, this legal determination triggers certain obligations for Israel as the “occupier” under international law, including the categorization of the settlements it has built as “illegal.”

And as Rabbi Lerner noted, not using the term “occupation” is denying the destructive impact it has had upon the Palestinian people, which he views as detrimental to both Palestinians and Israelis.  The point being that if the two parties deny the actual suffering each has endured, how can they find common ground to reach a lasting peace accord. I couldn’t agree more.