May 2, 2008
Even Palestinian Orphans Are Victims of Israel’s Punitive Measures
Seth Freedman, The Guardian
Supporters of the Israeli authorities love to blame the country’s poor reputation as being a result of woeful PR, believing that all that is required to redress the balance is a slick hasbara campaign. However, given the harsh reality of the occupation, to suggest that a superficial gloss job would do the trick is to totally miss the wood for the trees.
I found as much on Sunday, when I went to Hebron as a guest of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), who are desperate to highlight the plight of a Palestinian orphanage threatened with closure by the IDF. For nearly a month, the scores of children have been living with a sword of Damocles over their heads, after the army issued an eviction order, claiming that the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) — which runs the orphanage — is a front for Hamas.
According to an army spokesman, ICS “masquerades as a charity organization in order to cover its activities of increasing support of the Hamas terror network”, and as such any property connected to the charity must be seized in order to maintain the “general order … and security of the area”. Despite a legal challenge in the Israeli high court, “our chances of stopping the eviction are nil”, said Rasheed Rasheed, who teaches English at the ICS boys’ orphanage up the road.
He noted that this was the first time an entire organization had been targeted in such a way by the IDF: “It’s a new trend — they used to arrest individuals; now they’re taking on the institutions themselves,” he said.
As we toured the orphanage, we were mobbed by dozens of bright-eyed students, all eager to greet their visitors and beaming as they ran excitedly round the playground. They are all local children, who either lost their parents or, due to financial crises, can’t live at home, and the ICS has stepped into the breach to rebuild their lives and offer them a better future by way of education and employment.
To support the orphanage’s vital work in the community, the ICS runs several small businesses to raise funds, such as a bakery, sewing workshop and a warehouse where goods from foreign donors are stored. I was taken to see the results of the army’s heavy-handed treatment of these facilities, and the results weren’t pretty, to say the least.
The bakery looked as though it had been on the receiving end of a D9 — huge chunks missing from the masonry, debris everywhere, and the coup de grace being the torched skeleton of the industrial-sized oven, which the soldiers poured petrol over and set alight in order to totally destroy the bakery’s ability to function. Similar treatment was meted out to the warehouse, where around $300,000 worth of donations were commandeered and confiscated by the army, who smashed up the storeroom’s interior and left it utterly ruined.
Next up was the sewing workshop, which was still in operation when I visited it, with several local women hunched over their machines turning out intricately-embroidered dresses. The army had warned that the workshop would suffer the same fate as the bakery and warehouse and ordered that every piece of equipment and fabric be left in place so that it could be sequestered by their troops when they decided to pounce. (Two days after our visit, the army came in the dead of night and made good its threat, confiscating everything within the workshop’s four walls, despite the staff’s plaintive appeals)
Ghassan Mohammed, one of the orphanage’s supervisors, told me in desperate tones that “the organization (ICS) has no connection whatsoever with Hamas”, and that the army clearly knew that, “otherwise they’d have brought the world’s media to see the evidence they’d uncovered”. As far as Mary Anne, one of the CPT team, was concerned, the IDF’s motivation was simply “sociocide — they want to chip away at the Palestinian infrastructure in order to take over the whole area”.
She said that any time the Palestinians find a way to stand on their own two feet — such as supporting the weaker elements of their society, such as the orphans, or educating their children and building up their economy — the Israeli authorities sought to find a way to crush their efforts. “This area is meant to be under Palestinian control according to the Oslo Accords,” she said, “but the Israelis are still here; still asserting their authority.” Rasheed agreed: “Most of us have got over what happened in 1948,” he remarked, “and we are ready for a state based on the 1967 borders. The question is, do the Israelis even want to give us that? I don’t think so.”
Meanwhile, the orphans whose lives are being turned upside down by the army’s actions. “Our kids are terrified when the soldiers come,” said Rasheed, “and all they ask is ‘why?’.” One 13-year-old student in the boys’ orphanage told us: “This is my home — if they come to shut us down, I won’t leave.” His predicament, as well as his youthful defiance, should serve as a warning to the Israeli authorities as to what really causes animosity toward Israel from the Palestinian population. As I wrote in Occupation Breeds Terror, punitive measures such as the orphanage eviction will never win the hearts and minds of the Palestinians, and will only serve to strengthen the extremists, who will point to such actions as proof that the Israelis couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.
As I wrote in Occupation Breeds Terror, punitive measures such as the orphanage eviction will never win the hearts and minds of the Palestinians, and will only serve to strengthen the extremists, who will point to such actions as proof that the Israelis couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of the Palestinian people. Similarly, when Israel’s supporters think it’s all about PR, they should look behind the headlines and see whether the source of all the smoke is actually the ever-smouldering fire in the West Bank and Gaza.
Until they do, the Israeli authorities will continue to get away with their sadistic treatment, and the pressure will be ratcheted up another notch on the Palestinian street. Which will only bring more death, more misery, and more retaliation on both sides – leaving the likes of CPT to wonder how they can ever achieve their goal of bringing peace to a region that so desperately cries out for it.