Photo Credit: Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow

You know how critics of Israel are always claiming that Israel “occupies” the Palestinians and “prevents their freedom of movement”…? Well, it turns out that hundreds of these persecuted, suffocated Palestinians go hiking for miles and miles every Friday, and never see any Israeli soldiers along the way.

This fascinating information emerges from a May 14 report on National Public Radio about groups of Palestinian Arabs who take long hikes each week, supposedly “to escape the tensions of life under Israeli military occupation.”

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Apparently it never occurred to NPR correspondent Daniel Estrin that the reason they are able to go on these wilderness adventures, without encountering the soldiers or tanks of the “occupation army,” is precisely because there is no “occupation army.” It left 22 years ago.

The summary of Israeli-Palestinian history that Estrin included in his report somehow forgot to mention that in 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin withdrew Israel’s forces from the areas where 98 percent of Palestinian Arabs reside. I suppose Estrin didn’t want to let that inconvenient fact get in the way of a good anti-Israel story.

“Scores of informal Palestinian hiking groups have sprung up in recent years,” according to Estrin. They consist of 20 or more hikers each. “To walk for three or four hours without checkpoints, without seeing soldiers, something like this, it makes you feel, somehow, you can feel free,” hiker Ammar Jawdat told NPR.

Again, the reason Jawdat and his friends can walk for four hours without seeing any Israeli checkpoints is because there aren’t any Israeli checkpoints in the areas where 98 percent of the Palestinian Arabs reside.

Those areas are controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The PA security forces are the ones in charge there. The Israeli checkpoints are along the border with Israel; they serve the outrageous purpose of checking to make sure non-Israelis who enter Israel aren’t strapped with suicide bombs. Talk about oppression!

The “Shat’ha” hiking clubs began eleven years ago; today there are 70 such groups. “They wanted to get some fresh air after the violence of the Second Intifada,” according to NPR’s Estrin. “Life in the West Bank is tense.”

Of course it’s tense – because the Palestinians keep launching intifadas. Which is to say, they keep stabbing, shooting, bombing, and running over Jews. If they stopped murdering Jews, life sure would be a lot less tense.

Of course, no NPR report about life in the territories would be complete without a little anti-settler slander. But this one has a surprise ending. Three years ago, the NPR story explained, Shai Yagel, who was the trail-marking coordinator for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, came across a hiking trail that had been made by amateurs. He immediately assumed it was the work of those dastardly settlers. Yagel “erased the trail and called a settler group to complain.”

But lo and behold, a spokesman for a group called “Abraham Path,” which assists Palestinian hikers, contacted Yagel to say that “his Palestinian counterparts had forged that trail – and were certain Israeli authorities had destroyed it to spite the Palestinians.” (Because Israeli natural protection groups have nothing better to do with their time than to think up devious new ways “to spite Palestinians.”)

Yagel was miffed that the Abraham Path fellow criticized him. “In the West Bank, no matter what you do, people are sure it was political. You move a rock…and someone thinks it’s because you are for or against someone,” Yagel said, evidently forgetting that he had just done exactly that, when he rushed to blame settlers for the incident.

Anyway, the next time you hear somebody complaining about how Israel is crowding and restricting the Palestinians, ask him if knows about Ammar Jawdat and the hundreds of other Palestinian hikers who go on four-hour hikes every Friday “without checkpoints, without seeing soldiers.” Their reality shatters the myth of “occupation.”

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