Four decades of occupation

Palestinians approach a soldier at a roadblock erected by the Israeli army near the West Bank city of Qalqilia. (Maan Images)

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Zahi Khouri, San Diego Union-Tribune, Jun 3, 2007

This article was originally published by The San Diego Union-Tribune and is republished with the author’s permission.

“I don’t know what I would do if my daughter had to go through that humiliation.” A U.S. Congressman said those words to me while watching Qalandia checkpoint, the key Israeli roadblock between Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As we mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 War and Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory, his comment is particularly poignant. As both a Palestinian and an American, I wonder what my fellow Americans would do if they lived for 40 years with every aspect of their lives controlled by a foreign army, or what Congressmen would do if they had to pass through an occupier’s checkpoint on Capitol Hill.

In 1995, I worked with other Palestinians to launch the Coca-Cola franchise in the West Bank and Gaza. I am one of many Palestinian-American businessmen who invested after the U.S.-brokered Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. They were supposed to have ended the occupation and led to the formation of an independent and economically viable Palestinian state. We were determined to create jobs and build businesses that would bring Palestinians hope for a free and prosperous future. Instead, the occupation has become more entrenched. And we see the toll it takes on the new generation of Palestinians – every man, woman and child under the age of 40 who has not known a day of freedom in his or her lifetime.

Israel is the leading foreign destination for privately-sponsored congressional trips. Yet while the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is one of our most critical foreign policy issues, few Congresspeople visit the occupied Palestinian territories. I tell those who do that a trip through Qalandia checkpoint will show them most of what they need to know.

The checkpoint is a microcosm of the Palestinian experience. More than 500 Israeli checkpoints are scattered throughout the West Bank, which is roughly the size of Delaware. Palestinian students wait at checkpoints, sometimes for hours, to get to school. Others wait years to visit their parents in Gaza while studying in the West Bank. Laborers wait to get to work, mothers to the grocery store, and doctors to the hospital. With a wave of a soldier’s hand, they might pass through and make it to their final exam or to the hospital in time to deliver a healthy baby. Just as easily, the soldier can stop them. Hours at a checkpoint can mean missing an exam or losing a baby to a miscarriage.

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