December 2010, Pages 61-62

Waging Peace

Hilary Rantisi Speaks in Des Moines

Hilary Rantisi speaks Oct. 2 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines. (Staff photo M. Gillespie)

Hilary Rantisi, director of the Middle East Initiative at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, spoke about peacemaking and her family's history in occupied Palestine at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa on Oct. 2.

"I was born after 1967, after the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were occupied by Israel," said Rantisi, a Palestinian Christian whose family was forced out of its home in Lydda in 1948 by Israeli military forces.

"I was born in Jerusalem," she explained, "but because I have a green ID card, which means I'm from the West Bank, I'm not allowed to enter Jerusalem. I would need to apply for a permit [to enter Jerusalem]. So, [the ID card] is mainly used as a tool for discrimination."

Rantisi, who grew up in Ramallah, described the lives of millions of Palestinians: "You're reminded, living under occupation, that you are not fully human. You don't have full human rights. It was normal for me growing up, when I went to school, to see soldiers in the street, to be shot at, to smell tear gas. This is normal under occupation."

Rantisi told her audience about other aspects of life under Israeli military occupation: imprisonment, torture, restriction of movement, limited access to resources including water and farmland, the destruction of homes.

The occupation is deadly, she noted, and during the past 10 years the conflict has taken the lives of 6,371 Palestinians, many of them children, and 1,083 Israelis.

Israel has established hundreds of checkpoints that prevent the movement of people and goods, said Rantisi. "People who need medical care, the elderly who have difficulty with movement...for the economy, it is devastating....Every town and village has an impediment to movement, every town and village is divided from the next one either by a checkpoint or a roadblock or the wall, or by a settler road or a settlement."

Nablus has 14 settlements and 16 outposts surrounding it, she added, for a total of 30 Israeli colonies and outposts on Palestinian land ringing Nablus and its 180,000 citizens.

If a person lives in one Palestinian town or village and works in another, or needs medical care or to transport goods, normal life and economic activity is all but impossible, said the Harvard executive training program administrator.

Rantisi told her audience that her uncle had died of a heart attack after the Palestinian ambulance transporting him to the hospital for treatment was delayed at a checkpoint by Israeli occupation forces.

"Everything I've described in the West Bank is similar but worse in Gaza, because it is a smaller area of land, much more densely populated, with 1.5 million, the majority of them refugees living in refugee camps," said Rantisi.

During the question-and-answer period that followed her prepared remarks, Rantisi observed that the questions she was asked indicated that Iowans are far more knowledgeable about the situation in Palestine today than when she last spoke in Des Moines several years ago.

Rantisi also spoke at the Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines on Oct. 3 in conjunction with World Communion Sunday.

—Michael Gillespie