“We travel like everyone else, but we return to nothing… Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk. Let me rest my head against a stone. Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk. Let me see an end to this journey.” – Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, ‘We Travel Like Everyone Else’
I remember meeting a man named Khalid at Gonzaga. I was taking Intermediate Arabic, and he was teaching Basic Arabic at the time. I talked to him frequently before my class started, as he was cleaning up after his class ended. One day, he told me he was from Bethlehem in Palestine. He started to tell me about what life was like in Palestine: clean water was scarce, poverty was endemic, military checkpoints degraded and humiliated people, settler roads cut the occupied territories up and made it impossible for people like him to travel, he had to go through Jordan when visiting home because he would be detained if he tried to return through Israel. None of this was a surprise to me. I studied the conflict in an upper division class at Gonzaga tought by a professor who lived in Tel Aviv for 10 years. But hearing it from someone who lived it puts it in perspective in a way academic articles and books cannot.
Khalid’s life is the reality of 3.9 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories. They face obstacles few of us could comprehend. Yet the world continues to sit by and allow the conflict to ebb and flow unabated. This means the reality of 3.9 million Palestinians is about to get worse. As conditions continue to degrade, international aid organizations have warned that Gaza will be uninhabitable in less than ten years. A report by the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian Territories laid bare the reality of the blockade and continued aggression by Israel: 60 percent of households are food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, loss of agricultural lands and maritime areas imposed by Israel has resulted in an annual loss of $76.7 million in agricultural production and fishing, 10 percent of the water in aquifers is safe to drink and the aquifer could be unusable by 2016 if nothing is done, they face a current housing shortfall of 71,000 units, Israel dumps 90,000 cubic meters of raw sewage into the Meditteranian Sea and there is a current shortage of up to 250 schools. The last Israeli offensive destroyed over 6,000 homes and caused $181 million in direct damage.
Despite this bleak portrait of the future, we do nothing. Israel permits 3,300 new housing units to be constructed on Palestinian land and the best the most our government can muster is a statement from our state department saying they are “deeply disappointed” by the decision. Continued violence as a result of Israel launching “Operation Protective Eagle” has claimed the lives of almost 170 Palestinians and resulted in 1,150 people injured. Why do we allow these atrocities to continue? Why do we continue to give Israel billions despite the fact that ongoing conflict endangers our interests? (Something that even top military officials are willing to admit). These are questions few of us have answers to, but I can tell you one thing: peace will continue to be a dream so long as we do not stand up for Palestinians.
Blaine Stum is a 30-something-year-old native of the Spokane area who was raised in Spokane Valley. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He works in the local political arena and has been involved in LGBT non-profit work for several years.