Hedy Epstein on a question I have wondered about: What were the aftereffects of the Holocaust? Is it possible that Israel is perpetrating oppression against Palestinians?
Hedy Epstein: They tried to intimidate me, to silence me, hoping I would never come back. Though momentarily they may have succeeded, ultimately they did not. To quote General McArthur, an American army general, who said "I shall return", I have returned four times since the January 2004, event at the Tel Aviv airport, on my way back from Israeli occupied territory, and will continue to return. They will not be able to stop me. And, so, I plan to aboard ship to Gaza in a few months.
Silvia Cattori: Was it not too traumatic for a sensitive person like you to go back to the West Bank and see the Isreali soldiers humiliating, threatening, killing, and destroying Palestinians lives and properties?
Hedy Epstein: As an American I am a privileged person. I am very much aware of this and feel uncomfortable wearing this cloak, especially when I am in Palestine, conscious of the fact that I can come and go any time I want to, a privilege denied the Palestinians, who have great difficulty in moving from one place to another, restricted by road blocks, check points, the imprisoning 25 foot high wall, by young Israeli soldiers who can decide who can pass and who cannot, who can go to school, to the hospital, to work, to visit family and friends.
I have seen the long lines of Palestinians at the Bethlehem checkpoint. I spoke to a 41 year old man, who told me he works three days a week; in order to get to work on time, he gets up at 2:30 A.M. and arrives at the checkpoint at 3:15 A.M. to wait in line, a long line, with others, for the checkpoint to open around 5:30 A.M. He has to come this early because many people line up. Sometimes the Israeli soldiers allow no one to go through. He would like to work full time, but there are no jobs in Bethlehem.
During each of my five visits I have spent some time in Jerusalem. I have been painfully aware how increasingly its current size and boundaries share very little with the city's historic parameters, Israeli only settlements, such as Har Homa and Gilo are referred to as Jerusalem neighbourhoods. East Jerusalem is dotted with Israeli flags flying from homes from which Palestinians were "removed," thus judaizing the area more and more.
During my last visit, in August 2007, I only had time for a brief visit with my dear Palestinian friend, and her husband in Ramallah. During prior visits, I and some of my American travel companions were their houseguests for several days, basking in their hospitality, typical Palestinian hospitality, which is unlike any other I have ever experienced anywhere. The wife, ever cheerful in the past, seemed downcast, though she did not complain, simply stating "Life is more difficult since my husband is no longer working." In a conversation later, alone with her husband, he stated that he left his job in order to go to school and study. There is truth in both statements, but the husband's comments reflect an effort to salvage and maintain some of his dignity.
I also visited and stayed overnight with my Palestinians friends and their children in Bethlehem. The TV, which is always on, at one point caught our attention. There was a story about Jews from all over the world, immigrating to Israel. There were many small Israeli flags waving and welcoming the new citizens of Israel arriving at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. A big banner in the background spelled out in English and Hebrew "Welcome Home".
As the story continued, we all stared at the TV, silently. Then one of us, I don't remember who, broke the heavy silence, asking no one in particular "What about the return of the Palestinians?"
At the regular weekly non-violent demonstration in Bi'lin, as the teargas tossed at us by young Israeli soldiers, choking us, as we all ran to get away from it, I overheard a conversation between two Palestinian boys, one saying to the other "I don't want to die" "Nor do I" said the other. Their fear has stayed with me. What will happen to them? What is their future?