I joined Christian Peacemaker Teams-Palestine in 2002, where I wrote countless reports, met with State Department officials five times and visited 51 congressional offices — all resulting in little change to U.S. foreign policy.
My experience indicates the human rights violations committed by Israel and its military will continue unless Christians who care about human dignity are willing to speak out.
In Hebron I helped monitor several checkpoints. Today, there are 17 checkpoints within a 20-minute walk, and some are only hundreds of feet apart. One never knows how long the wait will be.
There may be 50 or more people waiting at various checkpoints; they may have their hands up against a wall for hours in the hot sun with no water. Israeli soldiers often stop the turnstile metal grates while a Palestinian is inside, forcing him or her to stand for hours, for no apparent reason.
I witnessed countless degrading hand gestures by soldiers, humiliating Palestinians and corralling them like cattle. Our team witnessed beatings at these checkpoints, and since then the brutality has worsened. In 2015, 54 Palestinians were killed in the Hebron district, some at these very checkpoints.
In a particularly cruel form of human rights violation, Israel has installed 600 random and permanent roadblocks and checkpoints, monitored with Hewlett-Packard equipment. The West Bank is 90 miles by 35 miles at its furthest points — a relatively short distance.
Try to imagine driving through 600 roadblocks or checkpoints when traveling the 100 miles from Columbus to Cincinnati, Ohio. Imagine your fury and rage. Imagine your skin burning from the hot sun. Imagine needing to use the restroom, being hungry or fainting.
When Israel became a nation in 1948, 700,500 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. Due to checkpoints, this practice continues today, as Palestinians move away from checkpoints for the safety of their families.
More checkpoints are constructed in areas where Israeli settlements are expanding, and today there are more than 300 settlements in the West Bank, waiting to be annexed to Israel. In 2014, the Knesset approved confiscation of 7,000 acres of West Bank land for settlement expansion. Thousands of housing units have been built in the past two years, and thousands more in prior years.
Jews-only roads connect these settlements. Most Palestinians cannot access these roads and are severely punished for trying. Imagine if only white Americans could access U.S. highways.
Being stuck at a checkpoint is terrifying for mothers with babies who need emergency care, and many have died, including the child of a woman I befriended. In the past 16 years, more than 2,000 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces.
No other country is practicing prohibition of movement, occupation and land confiscation of this magnitude.
Tear gas in a school zone
CPT helps Palestinian children in Hebron get to school, navigating a maze of checkpoints. I experienced the tear-gassing of these children with chemicals condemned by international law.
One day in an elementary school zone I witnessed Israeli soldiers use tear gas and 170-decibel sound grenades on these children. I saw an Israeli military jeep heading straight for the zone.
I covered my nose with a tissue and ran into the cloud of gas. I planted myself in the middle of the intersection. The jeep revved its engine and came right at me but stopped short of hitting me and the children behind me.
I sustained a neck injury from an Israeli settler who threw me to the ground to get my camera.
I witnessed countless demolitions of Palestinian homes as friends and neighbors gathered to support the family. They held each other, cried and prayed. Sometimes only five minutes was given for the family to move out. Life savings in the form of a home and furnishings were destroyed within minutes.
Since 1948, 50,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished. Families are forced to live in a tent near the wreckage or move away. That is the purpose of most home demolitions, which typically displace a family of 10 to 20 people. Sometimes Caterpillar bulldozers specifically designed for house demolitions are used. Others houses are dynamited, leaving surrounding buildings with unsafe foundations.
CPT works with many Israeli partners who embrace a peaceful resolution. As Mennonites, we must also embrace nonviolent action. Since many news outlets portray Palestinians with a negative bias, a yes vote on the Israel-Palestine resolution at Mennonite Church USA’s convention next summer in Orlando, Fla., will help to educate the public.
This resolution also endorses building relationships with Jewish communities and cultivating relationships with Jewish representatives.
We must stand against the less-than-human treatment of Palestinians, dispossession with forced expulsion, killings and suffocation under occupation.
Mary Yoder attends Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church and served with CPT in Palestine from 2002 to 2007.