I was walking around yesterday and thinking about how much I trash Israel on this site and then thinking about the stuff I like about Israel. I like the informal manners and the rough-and-ready culture, and I’m as bad as any Zionist when it comes to liking Jews being laborers and soldiers. Also, Israel has a thriving democracy for Jews, and the countries around Israel have little democratic tradition and democracy doesn’t seem to be taking hold. This report in the Economist refers to “big men” in the dictatorships. When I was in occupied Jerusalem a couple of months ago, I pressed a Palestinian friend to say something nice about Israel, and she said, Well their health care system has been very good for us.
These truths are not going to change my orientation, though. Just because democracy is failing in Arab countries doesn’t justify racist oppression in Israel and Palestine. That’s a two wrongs argument. And this oppression is taking place in my name as a Jew. When I urge sweeping reform for Israel and Palestine, I believe that an overhaul of Israeli society that respects Palestinian rights would have a huge effect on freedom in the Arab world.
And when it comes to health care, let’s go to Ruth Carmi’s presentation at Rabbis for Human Rights the other day. Carmi is a fellow at the New Israel Fund, and lately worked for the Israel Religious Action Center. Here are my notes of her report on discrimination in occupied East Jerusalem. First, mental health. Then schools.
In West Jerusalem, there are 500,000 Jews. They have 13 government-funded clinics that serve mental health needs. They provide group therapy, art therapy, bibliotherapy.
The 290,000 Palestinian “residents” of occupied and annexed East Jerusalem have one government mental-health clinic with doctors who speak Arabic—and Arabic speaking is essential to treatment of mental issues. The clinic, Kfar Shaul, is actually in West Jerusalem, on land that once belonged to the village of Deir Yassin, the site of the landmark massacre in April 1948.
Carmi said that it is “very disturbing to go there.” The psychologists and psychiatrists at the clinic see an average of 40 patients a day (I believe in contrast to 11 a day for the Jews; notes unclear). The psychologists hardly have time to talk to the patients, patient records lie out on desks unsecured, and anyone can look at them. The psychologists basically give people meds and move on.
And how many Palestinians can even get to the clinic? It is two bus rides from East Jerusalem, nearly an hour’s ride, through a Jewish Hebrew-speaking landscape.
“It’s heartbreaking, and it’s such a fundamental right,” Carmi said.
Someone in the audience said that in Silwan, where settlers are moving in and Palestinian homes are being demolished, fearful Palestinian children are wetting their beds at night. Where can they even be treated for their terrors?
The educational system is also second class; and Carmi said that several human-rights groups have sued over the inequity recently. But no Palestinian school would join the petition.
“They are so afraid that the amount of money that they do get will be taken away, and they are so skeptical that it [the lawsuit] could succeed.” And so the schools did not join the suit, “out of fear.”
Last point: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 says that all people have a right to a nationality. The residents of occupied East Jerusalem don’t have a nationality. Many residents of the occupied West Bank still hold Jordanian passports. These people live in complete limbo. And have done so for 62 years. And this is an American Jewish achievement, given the force of Jewish community organizations in maintaining this unequal situation. The lack of democracy in the Arab world is a terrible thing. But I will save my lecture for them till I’ve dealt with the place over which I have far more power.
Update: commenter Seafoid says 500,000 # for Jews in Jerusalem would include occupied/annexed East Jerusalem colonies.