There is an oft-told Palestinian allegory about a family who complained their house was small and cramped. In response, the father brought the farm animals inside — the goat, the sheep and the chickens all crowded into the house.
Then, one by one, he moved the animals back outside. By the time the last chicken left, the family felt such relief they never complained of the lack of elbow room again.
No doubt, the recent release of Palestinian tax receipts by Israel, some of which will be used to pay Palestinian civil servants who received only partial wages for the last 16 months, felt like the last chicken leaving.
Fundamental changes might appear to be afoot with all the recent releases — of salary payments, of BBC reporter Alan Johnston and of about 3 percent of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The problem is, Israel’s military occupation means most households are still full of goats and sheep. Nothing really has changed. Palestinians remain living in conditions of ceaseless physical and economic insecurity.
Israel continues its incursions into the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip. Israel’s armed forces and settlers continue to kill Palestinians — including civilians and those suspected (not tried and convicted) of anti-occupation activity.
According to the United Nations, during the last week of June, Israeli forces killed 20 Palestinians, including two children, injured 47 and arrested 87 in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian families, moreover, are straining under a load of debt accumulated during more than a year of sanctions, living on land cut off from fields and jobs by Israeli checkpoints and the separation barrier. For those stuck in Gaza, the United Nations has warned of “increasing concerns of shortage of essential food commodities.”
The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports 81 items on its essential drugs list are out of stock while low reserves are reported for another 43 items. This is the same place where half the population is under age 18 and 80 percent of the population lives under the national poverty line.
In a non-lethal, but still indicative episode in June, Israeli soldiers arrested 18-year old Khaled, an active volunteer at a youth center in a Bethlehem refugee camp. Soldiers plucked the teenager from the center where he was teaching folk dancing to a group of younger children.
Khaled was detained five hours, during which time he was beaten, his hands bound and his head covered with a sack, while settlers watched and soldiers snapped his picture. He passed through this ordeal one day before he was meant to take the last exam of his first year in college.
That Palestinian death-by-occupation is ignored continually and young men are humiliated, harassed and turned into souvenir photos may no longer be surprising, but it is no less worthy of mention and concern.
These conditions are troubling not only because poverty, denied freedom of movement, arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial killings are inhumane and immoral. The conditions merit notice because ignoring Palestinian suffering is not in anyone’s long-term interest.
A young man whose education is interrupted and dignity is wounded may rethink his hitherto non-militant engagement in social service. Children whose parents cannot provide them with enough food will be muddle-headed students and feeble leaders and citizens in the future.
Families who watch sick relatives weaken because the Israeli occupation has cut off their medicine may find succor in whatever religious organization can alleviate their pain, even if it means giving up on this life and looking for a noble way to the next.
A US policy focused on quashing Hamas, isolating the Gaza Strip, and supporting Mahmoud Abbas will solve nothing so long as all Palestinians under occupation are prohibited from living safe and secure lives. The international community must take real steps to end the occupation.
The relief that comes from kicking out the occasional chicken is not enough.