President Trump’s assault on Palestinians’ rights and his ignorance of their legitimate grievances may seem unrelated to Maine concerns. We disagree.

It is a Maine concern because Mainers really care about human rights and because both of our U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, seem as blind as our president to Israel’s numerous human rights violations and to the dangers posed to our own national interests by ignoring Israel’s illegal acts and catering to its every whim.

We, among a dozen concerned Maine residents, come to the issue having completed a trip to the Israeli-occupied West Bank to help Palestinian farmers harvest their olives in a zone where settlers, with Israel’s apparent blessing, sometimes attack Palestinian farms, especially in the absence of international witnesses.

The trip brought us (the largest group on an international tour, three times the delegation of any other state) together with people from seven European nations. After each day’s olive picking, participants met with representatives of the United Nations and various nongovernmental organizations to learn about Palestinian life under occupation.

We learned things Collins, King and Golden need to learn and act upon.

The life of Palestinians is even worse than we imagined. Worst of all are the incremental actions taken by the Israeli government, army and settlers (aka colonists) to drive Palestinians off their land, to then be seized to build gated, Jewish-only enclaves.

We knew there were illegal settlements, but their extent was alarming: massive modern housing developments, high atop hills, looming over Palestinian villages and farms with small homes on dusty roads. The colonies, built upon West Bank water aquifers, boast rapid transit into Israel, swimming pools and irrigated landscaping, while the average Palestinians is forced to get by on less than a quarter of the amount of water consumed by the average settler.

We were also shocked by the wall. Far from being a border security fence, it amounts to many towering concrete barriers dividing Palestinian farmers from their fields, village from village – even snaking into the center of cities (Jerusalem and Hebron) and virtually surrounding some communities (Bethlehem) and individual homes. We learned about a toxic system of required permits – to dig a well, visit Jerusalem, build or expand a home or school, add a second floor to one’s business, etc. – with high, nonrefundable application fees, that rarely result in a permit being given. If a Palestinian builds his home anyway, it will likely be bulldozed, at his own expense, unless he destroys it himself.

We had heard that Israeli soldiers sometimes shoot unarmed Palestinians, and arrest them for protesting their lack of rights.. But we were stunned at the frequency with which this happens and the brutality of it. One of our tour guides was a gentle Palestinian man who said he had been shot three times while protesting nonviolently, the third time severing a nerve in his leg so that he walked with a dropped foot.

We learned how settlers harass Palestinians, chopping down olive trees, destroying livestock and directing raw sewage onto farmlands. Settlers are given guns by Israeli soldiers and use them on Palestinian farmers. Sometimes individual Israeli Jews and members of Rabbis for Human Rights support such farmers, but never the Israeli army or government.

Like all Americans, we know about Gaza’s rockets, but never hear of Israel’s 12-year strangling siege that prompts this Palestinian retaliation. We can testify that  we never heard hateful words about Jews or Israel, not in speech or graffiti on the wall. We found Palestinians to be warm and intelligent, fully capable of living peacefully with Israel’s Jews if only given the human rights they deserve.

The Middle East is a tinderbox where our troops, including many from Maine, could be needed at any time. Our official indifference to Palestinians’ interests and security needs makes the work of these troops more difficult and more dangerous. Further, from 2009 through 2018, Mainers’ share of federal taxes going to Israel’s military amounted to almost $75 million, enough to buy health care for some 60,000 Mainers annually

Can our senators and Rep. Golden hear all this? And learn?


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