Friday, September 03, 2004

Schwarzenegger's experience relates to Palestine, too 9-03-04

Schwarzenegger's speech recalls personal horrors
Creators Syndicate Friday Sept. 3, 2004
By Ray Hanania

I could relate to Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech to the Republican Convention in New York when he spoke about how Austrians walked past Russian soldiers during their occupation.

Schwarzenegger said the rule was "not to look the soldiers in the eyes."

If you did, you might attract their indiscriminate wrath.

You can say that about the Russians and everyone believes you. But if you try to describe the same experience with Israelis, no one cares.

During a visit I made there during the beginning of this current rebellion, Intifada, I crossed through several Israeli checkpoints with relatives who lived in Ramallah.

My cousin clutched her two small children who were at the point of tears as we tried to cross a checkpoint to go to Bethlehem where he father, a priest, lives. She said to me, "Don't look the soldiers in the eyes. They hate us. Look away from them otherwise it could cause a problem."

The soldiers were always heavily armed. They had backup soldiers in buildings nearby. Soldiers with machine guns watched from above and at some checkpoints, on nearby hills, Israeli tanks aimed their big guns at the civilians who slowly and painstakingly crossed the checkpoints to move from one city to another.

What my cousin meant, of course, was that any time, the Israeli soldiers could fire their weapon at you. You could be wounded or killed and no one would care.

When a Palestinian is killed, the area is cordoned off and Palestinian paramedics are not permitted near the bodies. Oftentimes, the people killed, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (the Palestinian version of the Red Cross) die because no one is allowed to take them to a hospital for treatment.

Many of those killed, according to the PRCS are women and even children, fired at by Israeli soldiers either jumpy because of the tension or driven by a fanatic rage that has swept over much of Israel.

They often fire indiscriminately. Everyday, Palestinians are killed and no one cares. The only time anyone really cares is when a Palestinian extremist commits a suicide bombing and kills Israelis. Pictures of the Israeli victims are splashed across newspaper front pages all the time. But you rarely see the images of Palestinians killed, and they are dying nearly everyday.

The Israeli soldiers hold their automatic weapons high. I walked past to go to Bethlehem to visit my mother's family. She was born under the shadow of the Church of the Nativity, which is today under the shadow of a constant Israeli occupation and unending Israeli military assault.

We walked past the soldiers and I made the mistake of looking up. I just couldn't believe that in this day and age, a soldier could just decide to kill you because he or she doesn't like the look you gave them.

My cousin bowed her head and held the small hands of her two children tight as they cried and quickened their pace past the soldiers.

"Keep moving. Keep moving," she whispered loud enough for me to hear but soft enough so the soldiers, who were a dozen or more yards away could not.

Off on the side of the road was a taxi that had been pulled over. The driver had been screaming at the Israelis who ripped his car apart and destroyed its wheels. The man was yelling in Arabic that he did nothing. People walked by in fright .

The soldier pointed to me as my eye caught his eye and he crooked his finger and waved it towards him. I still did not sense the danger that might take place. I pretended to look away like I didn't see him, but he started to yell in Hebrew and then in Arabic.

Other soldiers ran up to me and pointed their guns at me. And they grilled me like I was a prisoner. They were only satisfied when they saw my blue American passport. One of the soldiers said in English he had a cousin who lived in Chicago. And he asked me about the Bulls and Michael Jordan.

After the chit chat, they let me go.

But everyday I wonder aloud. What if the trigger-happy Israeli shot me? Who would really care?

Palestinians are killed there all the time. Americans, too. I didn't hear that concern in Schwazenegger's speech.

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