During the past two weeks, two events have caught the attention of the international community: the shooting deaths of two teenage protesters in Beitunia and the destruction of thousands of fruit trees on a farm south of Bethlehem. The Nassar family has endured years of harassment by Israeli authorities and set up a retreat center known as Tent of Nations. For Christians affiliated with Lutheran churches throughout the world, these two incidents were heaped on top of the financial crisis facing Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), an institution of the Lutheran World Federation on the Mt. of Olives providing Palestinians with regular cancer and dialysis care.
These three crises exemplify different aspects of how Palestinians experience Israeli control over their lives. In Beitunia, Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Salameh, both minors, experienced the deadly threat of confrontation with Israeli military forces. The Nassar family experienced the looming threat of Israeli claims to land, either through outright confiscation or prohibited usage for reasons of security. AVH is experiencing institutional threat due to funds not being transferred in a timely fashion from foreign aid agencies, including USAID. Each level—personal, to family, to institutional—is a direct effect of Israeli occupation. Each level is cloaked in excuses and attempts to make the case for the occupation—claims are made that the trees needed to be removed since they could be used to hide terrorist activity; the video of the shootings was forged by Palestinian propagandists.
None of these situations is unique. In February of this year, Amnesty International released a stinging report titled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” documenting tremendous abuses of power by Israeli police and military units. With this context in mind, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has expressed “grave suspicion that forces willfully killed two Palestinians, injured two others” in the Beitunia incident. In the same way, the Nassar family is experiencing the same threats against farmland in “Area C” portions of the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed twenty years ago. Their case is more public, in part, because they have built an international network to support their claims. Many other farmers—especially along the so-called “seam zone” between Israel’s separation barrier and the Green Line denoting Israel proper—have not been so fortunate. And AVH is one in a network of East Jerusalem hospitals, all facing funding shortfalls due to restrictions by western governments. Each of these threats—not just the shootings of unarmed teenagers—present the overwhelming violence, both direct and structural, of the Israeli occupation, harming every aspect of Palestinian life.
These three incidents are related. International advocates seeking to raise awareness about the human toll of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought not focus on one without addressing or acknowledging the others. Even among progressive American activists aware of many aspects of life in Israel and Palestine, the deaths of two Muslim teens previously unknown to them can seem distant. Even while we seek to preserve necessary humanitarian institutions like AVH and seek to show solidarity with all farmers with generations owning land in what remains of Area C, the blood of these boys cries out for justice. Because each person has inherent dignity in the eyes of God, these matters are related when this dignity is horribly violated. There is no doubt which one demands swift investigation and swift justice.
The occupation must end. Human dignity must be respected and allowed to flourish. People in Gaza and the West Bank should have access to necessary health care. No more trees should be uprooted under the guise of security concerns for nearby colonies. No more children should die.