Live from Occupied Palestine, Eóin Murray,Trócaire

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Inconvenient Occupation

On the plane on the way over I finished reading George Monbiot's new book Heat: how to stop the planet burning. In it Monbiot attacks 'NGO-types' who fly around the world, travelling, as he says, to famines in Ethiopia in the knowledge that their flight may be doing more to cause the drought then their work will do to prevent it. I disembarked - struggling with my conscience - trying to convince myself that perhaps Trócaire's work for human rights in the Middle East was doing something to stop the region burning, if not the icecaps.

Throughout the day our small delegation met many of Trócaire's remarkable partners, fascinating and brave individuals, many of whom I have alluded to in previous blogs and a number of whom I will describe in the future.

In particular, however, I want to focus on one particular story, which, also, has an environmental tinge to it. We moved through the heart of Occupied East Jerusalem where, in the words of George Bush Jnr. the Wall "snakes" accross the hilltops; winding around, accross and through Palestinian villages in the most unserindipitous fashion.

But, actually, I don't want to write about the Wall. I want to write about the bins.

We were taking a tour of East Jerusalem with B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights partner of Trócaire.

Our guide, Karim, shows us the Israeli settlements heavily peppered throughout the Palestinian side of the city. The construction of these settlements is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and their very existance is one of the main barriers to the Palestinian goal of realising their dream of self-determination.

"Look" he insisted "at this trash can." He is pointing at a large green and white wheelie-bin. The paint on it seems so new - you could feel the stickiness on your hands and the sting in your nostrils.

"It, and the others on the street, are beside the settlement. So the settlers, they have to look at it." Sure enough as we continue up the street we see five more bins, all new and each barely full of rubbish.

But as we turn away from the settlement area and drive further into the Palestinian neighbourhood it is apprent that there are few bins around here. Finally we come to one. Karim tells us that "we pay our municipality taxes the same as the Israelis." But this bin is overflowing. The rubbish is scattered from the high mound onto the surrounding road. "They only come to empty our bins when they have to look at them. Otherwise we have live with this dirt everywhere."

A startling degree of perniciousness.

For dinner I met two wonderful Israeli friends in West Jerusalem. We may not see entirely eye to eye on everything - of that we are certainly all aware. But we do have fundamental principles of univeral justice in common. After ordering dinner my Irish colleagues and I greedily demand the wine list, before insisting, in an act of utter politeness, that our Israeli hosts pick the wine.

"There is some wine on this list, does it matter where it comes from?" asked one friend - clearly referring to wine from the occupied Golan Heights [taken from Syria in 1967.]

Our other choice was wine from Chile. But I could hear Monbiot's voice at the back of my mind muttering about faux-environmentalism and clocking up air-miles for the sake of my taste buds.
Our waitress arrived and asked if we had chosen a wine. "We'll have some of your Syrian wine please." She laughs at my minor-polemic. So we drank from the Golan Heights, a wine produced in one of those illegal settlements I so readily refer to.

Edward Said says, in Representations of the Intellectual, that when faced with two evils the only moral choice is to chose neither. I clearly failed that test on its most simple level this evening. No doubt when we rise first thing in the morning for Bethlehem I'll be wishing once again that I stuck with the water.