Photographer:Fotograaf: Joel Carillet
UM lawyer visited Israel and West Bank
She views the present - umpteenth - attempt by Israel and the Palestinians (in Washington this time) to wrestle free from their mutual stranglehold, which has been ongoing for decades, with some scepticism. Mariolina Eliantonio, a 32-year-old Italian jurist, assistant professor at the UM, travelled with a group of some 20 others through Israel and the occupied territories last summer. She joined an initiative by the American NGO Interfaith Peace-Builders, who want to bring people in direct contact with Israelis and Palestinians to develop a greater understanding of the conflict, and to spread those views.
This is what she is doing now. But a balanced view of the situation is not appreciated by everyone, she realised when she read the replies to a piece she wrote in an Italian newspaper. Eliantonio: “I received aggressive e-mails: if I defended the Palestinians, then I must certainly want the Jews driven out of Israel, I was an anti-Semite, et cetera.” But that is not what this is about, she says. “I left feeling a lot of sympathy towards Israel, but if you see the day-to-day life, then it is impossible to deny that politics towards the Palestinians, the occupation, the segregation, let’s just call it the apartheid, is a blatant violation of international law. I have not become pro-Palestinian, but I do feel that the law should be upheld. A right to free movement of persons, to education. Someone from Gaza is not allowed to attend the university on the West Bank.”
Eliantonio’s group spoke with all kinds of organisations on both side of the division and heard stories from real life. A Palestinian student who lives in Jerusalem but studies in Bethlehem and spends three hours each time at the Israeli checkpoint. The Israeli peace activist in a village near the Gaza strip who is regarded by her fellow-countrymen as a traitor because she asks for understanding for the situation on the other side of the border. Eliantonio also learned that the wall that is there to protect Israel from terrorist attacks – “which works, there are hardly any incidents anymore” – also serves other purposes. “It runs straight through Palestinian villages, which means that commuter traffic is very difficult. A lot of people move elsewhere or go abroad. Israel benefits from this. The same goes for the settlement policy on the West Bank. It also have demographic effects. The settlements are strategically located so as to break the links between Palestinian villages and cities; there is no united West Bank anymore.”
At the same time, Eliantonio found out that not all Jewish colonists are equally ideologically inspired. “In Hebron they are, but elsewhere? We were in a residential settlement in East Jerusalem, the government had advertised the houses for a quarter of the regular price. A woman told me that she had signed up without realising that it was in occupied territory. Many people in Israel have hardly any idea, and except for the odd good newspaper, the media are very biased. Yes, you could say that all they had to do was look at a map but make no mistake, maps differ. At Israeli primary schools, they use maps that show the West Bank as just a part of Israel.”