I read an article a few days ago in the Israeli press about how a group of college students in Israel have decided to implement a ‘politeness patrol’ on buses to challenge people who talk on their cell phones too loudly, or refuse to give up their seats to senior citizens.I found this idea strangely ironic, given that these are college students, most of whom have no doubt just completed their compulsory 2 years of military service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories….how bizarre that the relatively minor (albeit noble) goal of getting senior citizens seats on buses is at the forefront of their minds.

After participating in and witnessing the daily injustices and humiliations of the occupation – forcing old men to lift their shirts to show there are no bombs underneath every time they pass through a checkpoint, forcing Palestinian men and boys off buses and knocking them with rifle butts, blindfolding them and forcing them to strip as their mothers and sisters watch in shame and horror…And what about stopping ambulances? Preventing pregnant women, wounded children, dying old people from reaching the hospital, stopping them at checkpoints for hours – watching as a humiliated young woman gives birth at a checkpoint, with no doctor or midwife around, because some of these very same youth now engaged in “politeness patrols” refused to let her pass.

Not to mention the shooting, the bombing, the blowing off of limbs that many of these former soldiers no doubt participated in. And while I’m sure they must have justified their actions to themselves by saying “these are only terrorists”, surely they must have noticed at some point that none of their victims had a chance to face a jury for the accusation made against them, surely they must have noticed the so-called “collateral damage” of these bombardments, in which children, families, passers-by were killed and maimed along with the accused, so-called “terrorist”. These young college students, remorseless and unrepentant of their actions in the Occupied Territories, now head back into Israel and feel their greatest priority is stopping cellphone use on buses.

What disconnect! What irony!

Although I’m sure they do not see it that way at all. After all, they are now dealing with their fellow Israelis, fellow humans, people on their same level. Whereas the Palestinians they dealt with in the Occupied Territories were somehow less than them – less human, perhaps, or maybe they just saw the Palestinians as intractably different, the other, the enemy – and therefore less entitled to respect and dignity.

Imagine if the Palestinians had only to worry about the use of cell phones on buses. This would mean the occupation had ended, their lives were back to normal. But instead, they are under the rockets, fearing daily for their very lives, facing tanks, bulldozers and rocket-propelled missiles, along with checkpoints, land confiscation, humiliation and brutality by the Israeli occupying army, everywhere they go, every single day.

This disconnect, this juxtaposition of priorities and realities, reminds me of something I saw when I was in Qalqilia. We had just come from a home demolition, in which Israeli forces used a US-made D9 armored bulldozer to destroy the home of a man they had just arrested – no judge, no court order, no justification on “security” grounds this time – this was merely a demolition of spite, of revenge. We saw the bulldozer hit the building, watched the men’s relatives kneel to the ground, sobbing involuntarily, praying to God to stop this travesty of justice, to keep these children from becoming homeless. But the soldiers gleefully continued, laughing as the bashed the house to bits.

There was nothing we could do, no appeal we could make, no one who would listen, no compensation for the loss, nowhere for this man’s family to go.

We headed away from the demolition toward our friend’s house, but faced an invading military force. We heard the tanks a couple of blocks away, and made a beeline for the house to get inside before they saw us on the street during the ‘manatijawal’ they had declared – this means that no one is allowed to leave their homes for any reason, even a medical emergency, as long as the soldiers want to keep the ‘curfew’ in place – in some cases, these ‘curfews’ have lasted up to 90 days. This one had been going for over two weeks, and people were getting desperate – hungry, antsy, angry.

We saw the turret of the tank’s mounted gun turning the corner. Terrified, we ran to the metal gate of our friend’s house and dashed inside. Just as the gate was closing, I glanced up to the sky and saw parachutes – frantically, I asked my host, “What are they doing now? Dropping paratroopers?” He looked up and said “No, no, those are just Israelis doing recreation.” Paragliding! I know Qalqilia is close to the ‘Green Line’ border with Israel, but it shocked me to see that Israelis were paragliding right on this border, where they were able to engage in recreation and fun, while Palestinians below them (surely they could see the tanks from their vantage point) had been locked inside their homes for two weeks straight while bulldozers and tanks rampaged daily and nightly through their town. What a juxtaposition of values!

Surely some Israeli somewhere feels something other than disdain for the Palestinian people whose land they occupy. Surely there is one who feels that their fellow humans should not be treated this way. It just seems so bizarre to me that the soldiers would engage in such brutal practices on a daily basis (and there is not a soldier who has managed to avoid this type of treatment of Palestinians, so they cannot get away with saying they ‘did not know’ or didn’t see it), and then return to their lives in Israel and prioritize ‘politeness’ on buses.