Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dying of Occupation

By Bradley Burston, Haaretz Correspondent

Opinion polls consistently demonstrate that most Israelis would like the occupation to end. These words are directed to the substantial minority which disagrees.

This past weekend, a Gaza cancer patient named Nail al-Kurdi, 20, waiting since July for permission to cross into Israel for treatment, died of his illness. For five months, officials of the Shin Bet security service received request after request from Physicians for Human Rights, asking that they grant al-Kurdi a permit to be treated in Israel.

Request after request was denied. The stated reason? Security. In July, he was referred to Ichilov hospital for urgent diagnostic procedures. As the refusals mounted, his cancer spread. In a case involving al-Kurdi and a number of other seriously ailing Palestinians denied travel requests for treatment, the physicians group appealed the Shin Bet refusals to the High Court. The court allowed prosecutors an extension in the case to allow them to study it further. Al-Kurdi did not survive the extension.

The case bears special significance for Israelis who want the occupation to continue. Right-wing Israelis should be spearheading the fight for the rights of people like Nail al-Kurdi There is no evil quite like the evil of denying crucial medical treatment. Except one, perhaps.

Consider the case of Y.H., a 37-year-old Gazan in need of open-heart surgery. By contrast to al-Kurdi, the Shin Bet granted Y.H. an exit permit, so that he could travel to the West Bank city of Nablus for the operation. According to the physicians group, when he came to Erez Crossing to leave Gaza, Shin Bet agents called him aside for interrogation.

"If you help us we will help you," Y.H. quoted the agent as telling him, adding that the Shin Bet man asked him to provide information about his acquaintances.

The physicians group said that when Y.H. replied that he had no such information, "the interrogator said 'If you don't help up we won't help you. Go and die in Gaza.' He sent him back home, promising that he would never leave Gaza."

You may be among those who want to see the occupation continue because they believe that Arabs, and the greater Muslim world, will never truly abide the existence of a Jewish state, and that Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza will serve as a base for unending attacks against Israel.

You need to fight for the humanitarian rights of Palestinians.

You may believe, with the Bible and/or Revisionist Zionism as your guide, that the borders of Israel should encompass all of the Holy Land from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan.

You, of all people, should work to see that Palestinians in need receive the aid they require.

You may ardently, wholeheartedly, unabashedly side with the settlers, and want to see their enterprise grow, prosper, and become permanent. You may be among those who dismiss entirely the rights of the Palestinians to a homeland and even to peoplehood.

You, more than anyone, should be zealous in seeing that the Palestinians in your midst are treated with the respect and concern that you accord any fellow human being. The same respect you would accord a fellow Jew.

For the rest of us in Israel, the struggle to support the rights of needy Palestinians encompasses all of this, plus the broader effort to undo and dismantle the occupation, before it undoes and dismantles the state of Israel.

Many on the right have suggested that it is now too late by far to end the occupation. Many on the left have become fearful that they are right.

In the meanwhile, however, the occupation continues to kill innocent people, and not only because they were unlucky enough to be in harm's way, caught in a crossfire. All too often, the occupation kills because we - right and left both - do much to little to keep it from killing. We have become too used to allowing cancer to go untreated, especially when it is eating away at our own conscience.


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