It's Not Our Nature

Sunday, April 27, 2003
It's not our nature

By Gideon Levy

For a change, here's some good news from the occupied territory: on
the eve of the holiday, people from the Nature and National Parks
Authority moved some Gilboa irises growing along the route of the
separation fence. The rescue operation certainly pleased quite a few
Israeli nature lovers for whom rescuing the flowers was the
equivalent of rescuing an entire world.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But that minor action
serves to highlight the apathy of the same people concerning the fate
of the people living near the irises, and the fate of the nature and
landscape throughout all the areas under occupation. The irises were
saved, but what about the thousands of people made of flesh and
blood, the innocent farmers who live inside the separation fence
areas? Their lands have been expropriated and the areas where they
live have been turned into corrals cut off from their surroundings.
They can't be moved the way the irises were replanted, and few are
really interested in their fate.

The Parks Authority, a government body, and the Society for the
Preservation of Nature, an NGO, which were so worried about the
irises, have never raised a voice against the systematic and brutal
destruction of nature being done daily at the hands the Israel
Defense Forces in Palestinian areas. Tens of thousands of trees have
been uprooted, groves and vineyards have been crushed, ancient
buildings in heritage neighborhoods like the Casbah in Nablus and
that of Hebron have been demolished, green spaces have been paved
into roads for settlers only, while mountain ridges have been shaved
for the sake of settlements, and none of the green activist
organizations on our side have gone into action to prevent it. Except
for one case - a bypass road at Wolja - the Society for the
Preservation of Nature and the Parks Authority were silent. They
raise a cry over every tree uprooted on our side, but are totally
apathetic when it comes to the fate of the trees on the other side,
because it's not their, meaning our, nature. It really isn't their
nature, but the destruction is being done in their name.

Thus, those green groups join a long list of other bodies - doctors,
working women, artists, journalists and academics - who don't want to
see what is being done in the territories in fields they presumably
are supposed to care about and protect. And thus, they have become
accomplices to a crime. Those who think that responsibility for the
crimes of the occupation rests only on the shoulders of the
government and army, and all those who think they are innocent
because they do not take part directly in the daily activity of the
occupation, are wrong.

After 35 years, the occupation has penetrated every aspect of society
and the silence of the various organizations and institutions turns
them into full accomplices to what is being done in the name of all
Israelis. The occupation is not only the civil administration. The
occupation is us.

The Histadrut has never taken an interest in the Palestinian workers.
The essentially overnight firing of 120,000 workers was no reason for
intervention. The same holds true for women's organizations.
Palestinian women are giving birth at checkpoints? Losing their
babies? Has WIZO said anything? Na'amat? Do the members of those
organizations know that in the last two years, infant mortality rates
in the territories have multiplied five times? That the number of
births taking place at home, because of closures, has risen from 5
percent to 50 percent?

Universities in the territories are closed for months by military
decrees. A-Najah was closed last year for three months. Soldiers go
on campuses and wreak havoc, like at the Open University of Ramallah
or the Agricultural College in Tul Karm, but that doesn't touch the
heads of our universities. Academic freedom exists only here. Student
organizations, too, which conducted stormy demonstrations about
tuition, are utterly apathetic to the fate of their Palestinian
counterparts, locked up at home, unable to get to school.

Dr. Khalil Suleiman, the head of the Red Crescent Society in Jenin,
was shot to death by soldiers. The Israel Medical Association wasn't
interested. Sixty-five Palestinian ambulances were damaged in the
last two-and-a-half years and the IMA has never said a word about the
working conditions of the medical teams in the territories. Does the
Ethics Bureau of the IMA regard the IDF's preventing ambulances from
reaching their destinations a less weighty ethical problem than to
what extent can a doctor advertise his or her service? Is it an
exaggeration to expect the Society for the Prevention of Cancer to
make its voice heard about the abuse of oncology patients in the
territories? Aren't health organizations supposed to be shocked by
the travails kidney patients are forced to go through to reach their
dialysis treatments?

Israeli artists channel all their protest against the government cuts
in the arts and culture budgets and don't have any words left to
protest against the cultural paralysis imposed on people living under
siege not far from our stages. The confiscation of press cards,
limiting the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists in the
territories, let alone preventing them from entering Israel, and of
course actual harm done to the lives of Palestinian journalists, has
yet to prompt a protest worthy of its name from the Journalists'
Association of Israel. Israeli journalists should be ashamed.

Thus the various organizations - women, farmers, greens, academics,
artists, workers, journalists, doctors and their like - have all
become a safety net for the occupation. They grant it a facade of
decency and their silence legitimizes the outrage. If they were doing
their jobs properly, and were really protesting against what is
taking place in their fields of expertise in the territories, it's
possible the days of the occupation would be shortened. Surely, its
brutality would be lessened.