Read some facts, make a choice

David Taintor

I, like you, have read the paper and watched the news. I’ve seen the evils of war and conflict through the words and images of the mainstream media in our nation. I’ve learned that it is often the media’s responsibility to keep a watchful eye on the government, and I have discovered that it is our responsibility to keep our eyes on the media. By looking at news coming out of other countries, news from U.N. organizations and resources from humanitarian groups, I have compiled some facts on the Israel-Palestine conflict that simply need to be heard.

B’Tselem, also known as The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, states that Israel has instituted 121 settlements in the West Bank between 1967 to 2007. There are also around 100 unrecognized settlements. In 2005, in accordance to the “disengagement plan,” 16 settlements were taken out of the Gaza Strip. All the others remain.

Now Israel has around one million square-meters of Palestinian land in which they have established Israeli settlements. According to B’tselem, these settlements violate Palestinian rights to “housing, earn a living and freedom of movement.” These settlements have also changed the patterns of Israelis and Palestinians on the map so that negotiations for a two-state solution are nearing impossibility.

Large financial incentives are granted to Israelis who move to the settlements, including generous grants and loans for housing, and price reductions in leasing land. Until 2003, Israel was even reducing income taxes for businesses and individuals in the settlements.

This is all illegal under international law. It is both illegal in the way Israel is seizing the land and it is illegal in the way that Israel is ignoring the needs of the population to benefit the needs of the settlers.

Currently hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living with an extreme water shortage. This affects the personal health and economic prosperity of the Palestinian people.

Israel has also instated other restrictions on Palestinian life. This includes curfews and roadblocks. Though the Israeli army’s use of the curfew has dropped in the last few years, they have lately been used as punishment. The curfews can last hours or days. During the three week long “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002, a majority of the West Bank was affected by this curfew that lasted in some areas even after the operation was over.

The curfews and roadblocks hamper Palestinian lives economically and physically, though much more obvious atrocities are also being committed. In 2007 B’Tselem documented 12 different cases of senior Israeli officials using Palestinians as human shields.

There are many ways this has been done. On certain occasions Palestinians have been ordered to walk through buildings possibly rigged with traps to clear the way for Israeli soldiers. They have been ordered to remove objects from army roadsides. They have been ordered to stand inside occupied houses and have even been held in front of soldiers to shield from gunfire while being walked with a gun held at their back.

One issue I find most startling in all of this is the lack of statistics we have heard in the news. Upon researching the actual numbers for the conflict, I found something that might be surprising to know.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in occupied Palestinian territory, the total Palestinian casualties has reached 1,290; 222 of these were casualties under 18. OCHA also states there have been 86 Israeli casualties, eight of them under 18. These figures refer to those lost in direct conflict between Israel and Palestine.

So please, imagine if the United States began settling and taking over parts of Canada, slowly leeching away it’s best land, electricity and water supply over several decades, reducing their quality of life. Now imagine if that small section of Canada began bombing us, killing civilians and military personnel alike. Sure, plenty of us would want our revenge, but our consciences might not be on our side this time. Perhaps the issue is not so black and white after all.

President Obama’s new U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice gave her debut speech to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 23. In her speech she mentioned the allegations against Israel of breaking international law during the three-week war against Hamas.

“We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicizing these important issues.”

Rice made it clear that during Obama’s presidency the U.S. hopes to maintain a much closer relationship with the U.N. and thus with security and humanitarian issues abroad.

A cease-fire has been achieved by Israel and Hamas since Jan. 18 and is still somewhat holding. According to OCHA, tens of thousands of Gaza residents are homeless. There is hope though; water and sanitation problems are beginning to improve. Aid organizations are still having problems getting into the Gaza Strip, but a large number of truckloads are still getting in.

So go ahead, be upset because this information I have given you goes against most of what you’ve heard on the news. You can forget what you have read and go on taking what you’ve learned on the news at face value.

But if I have done anything at all, I have injected a little doubt into what you know about the conflict. I beg you to use this and any truly objective news you can find to make your own decision.

Ekern is a junior print journalism major and copy editor of The Spectator.