Monday, February 26, 2007

Witness discusses W. Bank

Monday, February 26, 2007

By Michael Woyton Poughkeepsie Journal

Last year, Paula Silbey was invited up to the roof of a home in Israel's West Bank by a Palestinian family. Neither she nor the family were fluent in the other's language so she taught the children how to dance. Suddenly the flat roof was illuminated by klieg lights from a nearby Israeli guard tower. "They had seen us doing the Mexican hat dance, which was very, very sinister," Silbey said, with a small laugh.

The Woodstock resident was talking and showing photographs Sunday afternoon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in the City of Poughkeepsie. The subjects were her two trips in 2006 to the West Bank.

She spoke passionately about the people she met and the circumstances under which they live - the Israeli occupation of their homeland. While she was living in Haris, which is in the Salfit region, and working under the auspices of the International Women's Peace Service, Silbey helped Palestinian families harvest olives so they could make oil. Some groves of trees had not been tended for years.

Sympathizes with citizens

"It's very dangerous for the families," she said, because of the constant threat from the Israeli military. Among the slides Silbey showed were a few taken Thanksgiving Day. A man stood on top of a pile of concrete and rebar. The Palestinian had saved for 15 years to build his house. A month earlier, he received a notice from the Israeli government his home was slated to be demolished.
"The reason?" Silbey said. "It is illegal to build or renovate a home on Palestinian land unless you have a permit, and it's next to impossible to get a permit."

While in the West Bank, she saw check points erected at a moment's notice, delaying Palestinians and foreigners alike. One trip to Jerusalem, which should have taken only 45 minutes, lasted five hours, Silbey said. It makes it almost impossible for the Palestinians to hold down jobs or go to school, she said.

There were also pictures of children smiling and happy. "It's hard to grow up with the military in your face," Silbey said. "But they are the hope for the future."

Pine Bush resident Susan Fodor lived in Israel for 20 years. She thought Silbey's presentation was good, though one-sided. Fodor said she has an Arab friend living there. "We know what hell he goes through," she said. "What about the cafe that was blown up?" That has to stop before a real peace can be realized, she said.

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