(Webster Groves, MO, April 13, 2011) Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American woman and activist for Palestinian human rights, presented some of the many problems
and battles Palestinians face living in Israel to students at Webster on April 13 in the Sunnen Lounge. She illustrated the difficulties Palestinians live through, but also shared her hope of one day seeing equality for both Israelis and Palestinians.
“This is not an issue against Palestinians and Israelis,” Baltzer said. “It’s about human rights.”
Hanan Rahman, a sophomore double majoring in international human rights and legal studies and an American-Palestinian, first heard of Baltzer through the textbook “A Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American in the Occupied Territories.”
The book portrays Baltzer’s experience in Israel, who saw for the first time the circumstances in Israel that Palestinians live with. Roadblocks and other human rights violations against Palestinians are described first hand.
“The book is very powerful,” Rahman said. “I read it and was totally blown away that this was written by a Jewish-American. It’s usually a perspective by a Palestinian or a Muslim. It reads like it was written by a Palestinian.”
Paul Moriarty, who taught Rahman’s introduction to human rights class where she first read Baltzer’s book, said he uses the book because it’s written as a sort of memoir and he feels students can relate to it.
“Students seem to be very open to what she had to say (in her book),” Moriarty said. “I feel like she’s giving a personal approach of her own experiences.”
From her travels in Israel and seeing first-hand how Palestinians live, Baltzer said the core issue, regardless of political or religious situations, revolves around human rights.
Moriarty, who asked Baltzer to come speak at Webster, said he feels it is a great opportunity for students to meet the author of one of the books they’re reading. He feels the situation in Israel is one saturated in human rights issues, so he focuses especially on those issues in his class. Moriarty said he remains hopeful that things will change.
“I generally tend to be optimistic about things like this,” Moriarty said. “Over time, things will get better. Having said that, I think it’s gotten worse in the last 15 years. Things have not been moving in a positive way. Sooner or later, this is going to have to be settled.”
Rahman said she is also hopeful, but she does not see Israeli and Palestinian issues getting better in the near future.
“I do see Israel taking over,” Rahman said. “I see things getting worse before it gets better. There are road blocks and checkpoints. How are we supposed to have a two-state solution? Why are they making it so difficult for Palestinians? I see this as a tactic for us to leave (Israel).”
Rahman said her family has dealt with this conflict ever since her grandparents fled to South America to escape war when the Israelis came in. Although Rahman’s parents grew up in Venezuela, her mother came to the U.S. in the ’80s while her father went back to the Middle East to reclaim his family’s land. Her father and mother married later and started a family in the U.S.
Along with Rahman’s family history regarding the conflict, her own personal experience inspired her to become a human rights activist.
“I didn’t know much about my Palestinian heritage until I tried to go to Palestine and was denied access,” Rahman said.
She said when she and her family flew into Israel, they were treated terribly by the Israeli authorities. Rahman said she and her family went to jail for no apparent reason and were put into a holding cell that was full of men who called them inappropriate names. She said she was afraid of getting raped.
When they were released, she said she didn’t want to leave.
“I wanted to fight for our rights; I wanted to stay there,” Rahman said. “But they threw our luggage on a plane back to the U.S.”
Rahman said she does not think this conflict has anything to do with religious matters, as she believes the Israelis wouldn’t be acting this way if it was.
“I do have respect for Jews who take their religion seriously,” Rahman said. “There a lot of Jews who think the same way Anna (Baltzer) does.”
Baltzer said there are Israeli’s against the occupation.
“Many Jewish-Israeli’s are very critical of the occupation,” Baltzer said.
Hagit Kedmi, an Israeli enrolled in the masters program, said she believes the issue is complicated. She said there are many Israelis who believe Palestinians should be treated better and have their own land and country.
“I don’t think there is a right side,” Kedmi said. “However, Palestinians deserve their own country.”
Kedmi said she has been scared of living there due to bombings or terrorist attacks.
“There are times when we live in terror and fear,” Kedmi said.
Alexander Van Der Haven, a professor who teaches a class on Israeli and Palestinian issues and who lived in Israel from 1997 to 2000, said he encountered some frightening situations while there.
“I once got into a bus and saw a backpack sitting on the ground,” Van Der Haven said. “I asked who it belonged to and everybody ran out of the bus.”
Van Der Haven said a person came to retrieve his backpack as he forgot it, and the people who ran out of the bus yelled at him.
“It was just sitting there, and the first thing you think is it’s a bomb,” Van Der Haven said.
Daniel Movitz, a junior photography major who is Jewish and half Israeli, goes to Israel once every year. Despite the bus bombings, he said he feels safer in Israel than he does in the U.S. due to the actions of the Israeli army. He said he respects everyone’s opinion, but he personally believes in the state of Israel, and what the Israeli military does is done strictly to protect Israelis.
“I’m all for the protection of my state, of my country,” Movitz said. “Israel stands so strong to protect their people.”
As for matters of peace, he too wishes it could be better.
“It’s kind of hard to negotiate with people that don’t believe (Israel) should exist,” Movitz said. “Hamas must be eradicated. It’s so hard to negotiate with terrorists.”
As for the roadblocks and checkpoints, he said Israelis don’t have much of a choice.
“What are you going do to keep out threats?” Movitz said.
Baltzer said the issue is strictly about how human beings should be treated. She said, however, that she does not have a definite solution for peace in Israel.
“As an outsider, it’s not for me to say how many states there should be, but people must be treated equally,” Baltzer said.