Life in fear under occupation
September 2, 2021
I was born in Nazareth, but spent five years of my childhood in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, where my father was the Anglican priest.
In some ways, living on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea was idyllic. I remember with joy road trips to Nazareth and fishing excursions with my grandfather. But I also remember having to speak my mother tongue, Arabic, in hushed tones on the street, lest we attract unwanted attention from our Jewish Israeli neighbors and always sensing that somehow, we might be seen as different.
All this changed when I was 12 and we moved to Nablus, after my father was posted there to serve the small Christian community. Not only were we moving inland to a conservative city, but we were venturing into the heart of Israel’s then recent military occupation of the West Bank.
My introduction to this reality occurred at school when a classmate told us that her grandparents’ olive grove had been confiscated to build an Israeli settlement. I remember we marched into the schoolyard, motivated by injustice, chanting our objections. It was not long before soldiers stormed our school, scattering the girls — except me. I stood my ground because our demonstration was peaceful and on private property — and my life experiences, up to that point, did not involve fearing soldiers.
In the commotion, a soldier grabbed my ponytail, threw me to the ground and punched me in the stomach. I thought I would die that day and realized that the rules of the game were now very different.
When I was 16, one of my best friends was a girl called Lina. Whenever us girls demonstrated, it was Lina who was out front. One summer, over the course of several days, Lina got into an argument with a soldier. This upset the soldier and at their third meeting he pushed her into a stairwell and fired two bullets into her neck, and one into her heart. For months afterward, I could not bear to see Lina’s parents, as my grief (and theirs) was too great.
Our house in Nablus was opposite my father’s church and strategically located at one entrance to the old city. One night, Amal and I woke up to the sound of heavy boots climbing the stairs outside our bedroom. Around 20 Israeli soldiers had come to take over our roof due to its strategic importance. This invasion was repeated dozens of times, but the fear did not diminish.
I now work for Military Court Watch (MCW), an organization I co-founded that monitors the treatment of children detained by the military in the West Bank and prosecuted in military courts. I sometimes travel the length and breadth of the West Bank, meeting boys who have been detained and parents whose homes have been raided. Again and again, familiar patterns emerge, and I am often reacquainted with the threads that run through my life.
First, there is Israel’s settlement project, the catalyst for my demonstration in Nablus. Over the years, my organization has collected nearly 900 testimonies from boys who had been detained. Almost all of them have one thing in common, according to MCW — they live within a mile of a settlement built in violation of international law or a road used by settlers. Secondly, no one should underestimate the terror caused by night raids on civilian homes. Thirdly, Israeli military law in the West Bank technically applies to both Palestinians and Israeli settlers alike. But in reality, military law is only applied to Palestinians — a distinction based on national identity or ethnicity. And fourthly, it is worth recalling that Israel’s legal justification for prosecuting Palestinian civilians in military courts is the Fourth Geneva Convention — the same Convention that outlaws settlement construction.
During my lifetime, Democrat and Republican administrations have come and gone — most support a two-state solution and all profess peace — while always providing unflinching political, diplomatic, financial, military and moral support for successive Israeli governments whose policies I have described. Forgive me as I enter the second half of my life if I ask myself the simple question — “What, if anything, does America actually stand for?”
This article is from the Spring 2021 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine. To subscribe for free, visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.
Salwa Duaibis, Mission Crossroads
Today’s Focus: Shades of oppression
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
O God, we ask that you would watch over the families who are in a transitional time in their lives. We pray that you would bless them and those who seek to come alongside. Amen.