Oct 232005
Authors: Amber Baker

Amira Hillal, a Christian Palestinian; Sherene Abdulhadi , a Muslim Palestinian; and Roni Hammermann , a Jewish Israeli, share a common vision – the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the beginning of peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The three women, who spoke last week at the Lory Student Center, have joined with Partners for Peace, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The speech was part of the group's 11th national speaking tour to raise the general public's awareness of the issues surrounding the conflict and inspire Americans to do whatever they can to aid in the quest for peace.

The three women each hold distinct positions of influence in their respective communities.

Amira Hillal, 26, coordinates the Women's Project for the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization, in Beit Sahour, a town near Bethlehem, where she lives.

"We work together, Muslims, Jews and Christians, to inform Palestinians, Israelis and internationals about our current situation," Hillal said.

Hillal shared her experiences of living under the harsh Israeli occupation in her homeland. To travel through the military checkpoints segregating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, she had to obtain a permit from an overcrowded office and speak to someone through a bulletproof glass window.

When Hillal applied for a Visa to travel to the United States, she had to first obtain a permit to go to the hospital, even though she was not sick. This was the only way she was able to gain entry into Jerusalem where she could get her Visa.

"I didn't come to tell you how we are living so that you could say 'poor Palestinians,'" Hillal said. "I want you to feel that our struggle is yours. I want to give you hints about what is happening so that you can educate your families and friends and tell them truth about what is happening. We are all humans and citizens, and we need to take care of each other."

Hillal dreams of one day being able to move freely throughout Palestine without barriers and delays and taking her 2-year-old daughter to the zoo. As it is, she has been refused a permit to do so.

Roni Hammermann, 65, a Jewish Israeli, heads the Department of Humanities at the Hebrew University's library in Jerusalem. She is also active in Checkpoint Watch, a women's human rights group, in which more than 500 women visit 25 checkpoint stations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem daily to give water to Palestinians who are detained for hours. They report on the Israeli soldiers' conduct toward Palestinians.

Hammermann said Israeli soldiers will punish Palestinians who don't have permits by making them wait two to five hours, sometimes blindfolded and sometimes handcuffed.

"It's a sign of complete disregard for the Palestinian's time," Hammermann said. "It is not an issue for the military. It has no value to them."

This detainment has led more than 120,000 laborers to lose their jobs in the last year. Even doctors, teachers and students who don't have permits are made to wait hours at the checkpoints.

Women have also given birth at the checkpoints. Last year, 36 babies were born at checkpoints, of which 60 percent died. People in need of medical treatment have also been forced to wait.

To get from their villages to the main roads, Palestinians must climb over separation walls – huge rocky ramparts stuck right in the middle of their neighborhoods.

"These walls and checkpoints create and perpetuate hatred," Hammermann said. "The degrading treatment and excessive force are counterproductive to security."

Hammermann also explained how the Israeli population accepted these securities because of the fear of terrorist suicide bombings and that terror is an everyday thing for them. Fear also motivates the actions of many Israeli soldiers, she said. They fear they will lose control of the people at the checkpoints and will be overtaken by them.

"The occupation has penetrated people's hearts," Hammermann said. "Without removing it, there is possibility to achieve peace."

Sherene Abdulhadi, 30, a Muslim Palestinian from Jerusalem, works for the United States Agency for International Development's West Bank and Gaza Mission as a trade and industrial advisor.

Abdulhadi spoke about the recent evacuation of 6,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. One of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's objectives in doing this, she said, is to preserve the Jewish heritage for the majority of Jewish people.

"This responsibility is something Israel should have done a long time ago," Abdulhadi said.

The Israeli evacuees will be resettled on newly built West Bank settlements and will be compensated for the demolishment of their homes with $300 to $400,000 in U.S. dollars.

While this is happening, more security walls are being built. These concrete electrified fences are 12-meters high, operated electronically from satellite stations and have the capability of shooting.

These walls are built inside cities and villages, not to separate Israelis from Palestinians, Abdulhadi said, but to separate Palestinians from Palestinians. Villages are enclosed behind these walls, and the only access out is through security gates that open and close at certain times.

"There are children who know nothing but these walls and realize that they're prisons," Abdulhadi said.

Abdulhadi also said the United States has endorsed Israel's control of the West Bank and is financially supporting the security walls along the West Bank.

"How can you, as U.S. citizens, accept that?" she asked. "It's your responsibility to make yourself aware of what is going on in the Middle East and to deconstruct the American media's myths and lies. America shapes our future and will dictate our children's future."

Several CSU students attended the event.

Jacwylyn Rauch, a freshman Spanish major, said she wanted to hear the women's viewpoints. She was intrigued that they were all of different faiths, but she didn't quite get what she expected.

"They kept talking about my specific responsibility," Rauch said. "But I still don't know what that is or what I'm supposed to do. I don't feel like I really have a role or that I'm capable of doing anything."

For Mona Bakheet, a water resources and civil engineering graduate student, the women's stories struck a chord. Bakheet is a native of Gaza, who has been here for eight months on an American scholarship.

"It really took me home," Bakheet said. "It reminded me of what we're still going through and the mental and physical prison we're still in. It's hard to see the future. But I really admire American help."

After she graduates, Bakheet hopes to return home to her family and help find solutions to the water problems in the Gaza Strip.

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