This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War and the Israeli occupation of
Gaza and the West Bank. Elaine Strite of Harshaw lived in the Middle East for 27 years and wore many hats: She lived in Egypt for fifteen years where she was an English teacher and founded an incoming generating project for women, Lebanon for two years, and ten years in Palestine. Last week, I sat down with Elaine to hear her thoughts on the occupation.
She immediately cleared any confusion regarding her reference to the country of Palestine.
“We do refer to it as Palestine, which makes people a little uncertain because there is no country on the map that is called Palestine; however, these are the areas that are predominantly Palestinian.”
All of the countries in which she resided in the Middle East are Muslim majority countries, and she wants to dispel any notions that Muslim people are less tolerant than Christians.
“I found the Muslims that I met in the middle East were the most tolerant people. There were tolerant of me as a western Christian. There were welcoming, there were hospitable. They would say things like merry Christmas. And I found in a lot of ways it was hard for Western Christians to reciprocate to them and say happy Eid, happy Ramadan. We were less tolerant.”
Elaine outlines the importance of Palestine to the religion of Islam.
“The city of Jerusalem is the second most holy place after Mecca and Medina. When you go on the Haj, you go to Mecca and Medina. But people also revere Jerusalem as a very important city. They have two major mosques there. They have Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. So it’s a compound there that they revere and that people wish to go there and pray on Fridays. But mostly there are prevented from doing so if they are from the West Bank.”
In addition to being restricted from an important religious site in Islam, Elaine says Muslims and Christians alike in Israeli-occupied Palestine also face other discriminations. Their schools are poorly funded, their water sources are stolen, and their suffrage is limited with very little governmental representation within the Jewish State. She says they also have their movements highly monitored with invasive and inefficient checkpoints.
“You can’t go out through through Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. You must cross the Jordan River, where there’s a huge checkpoint and a crossing. It’s an international boundary. You have to go through the Israeli side, cross the river, go through the Jordanian side before you can go up to Amman to fly out. Coming back, you’re coming back into to Israel when you come back, they will keep you outside in the sun for hours.”
Elaine says these atrocities, along with others, would seem to warrant international sanction; however, she says the opposite has occurred.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the Holocaust and the guilt that the West feels. And it was also very easy for the western countries through the United Nations in 1947 to partition Palestine because it wasn’t theirs. They gave away somebody else’s farm. They didn’t volunteer their own. We didn’t say, “We’ll give them the state of Indiana.” The Germans didn’t say, “We’ll give them Bavaria.”’
While Elaine finds the situation in Palestine desperate, she believes there is a solution: one secular state where both Jews and Muslims have equal rights.
“A lot of people talk about a one-state solution in which Palestinians are full citizens with equal rights with equal opportunity. Well mind you if that happens, then the country is no longer a Jewish state.”
Elaine says too many people in the United States dismiss the conflict as “too complicated,” so nothing can be done. However, she says with diligence and conviction, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of oppressed people.