What Itís Like for a Greek-American to Live Under Israeli Military Occupation
Debra George

Maria Khoury spoke at St. Elias Church in January about her experience living in the West Bank. Photo: Elizabeth George

As someone born in Greece and raised in Denver, Colorado, Dr. Maria (Kouremenou) Khoury never could have imagined becoming a resident of the Occupied West Bank, much less the wife of one of its Palestinian mayors. But, as she described on January 22 to her Syracuse audience (which included several members of CNY Working for a Just Peace in Palestine & Israel) at St. Elias Church on Onondaga Hill, her life changed.

Maria met David Khoury at Hellenic College; they married and were convinced by the Oslo Accords that a two-state solution with lasting peace for Palestine and Israel was imminent. The time seemed ripe to move to David’s native village of Taybeh in the West Bank (where his family’s residency dates back 600 years), so they could take part in public service and contribute to economic growth.

Oslo never realized its goal of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. In the years that followed, the Khourys became entrenched in a business they had started. A credit to their vision, their company, Taybeh Microbrewery, is the first of its kind—the only microbrewery in all of the Middle East. The product is sold to surrounding West Bank towns (including non-alcoholic choices to Muslim communities), to Jerusalem, and has begun to try to export. Unfortunately, the number of Israeli military checkpoints the company’s transporters must go through has had a draining effect on the company.

She explained further that, “We have no access to the roads going in or out of our village to Jerusalem without Israeli permission. The Israeli settlers have paved roads, but even when we can obtain a permit, they only allow us to use the steep gravel back roads with large potholes that often damage our cars and are extremely dangerous in the winter rains. This is a form of punishment for Palestinians. Even on these back roads we are stopped by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints along the way.”

Along with a presentation of photos showing conditions of Taybeh, she described a dismal life of continual illegal Israeli settlement expansion, a village unemployment rate of 60%, and a punishing lack of water due to Israeli control of the precious resource. “In Taybeh, we don’t have water on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. Our water is completely shut off while the three Israeli settlements surrounding us have water 24/7. If all of us were going without water, I’d think, ‘Fine, this is what we need to do to save water’. But when this only applies to the Palestinian villages, it is pure discrimination.”

A graduate of Harvard and Boston Universities with a doctorate in education, Dr. Khoury described the village of Taybeh as the “last completely Christian village left in the Holy Land. Before 1948, the Christian population in all of the Holy Land was estimated at close to 20% of the native Arab population. Today, there are over four million people in Palestine who live in Gaza and the West Bank, of whom 98% are Muslim and less than 2% are Christian.” The Christian community is therefore a two-fold minority, much fewer in number than their Muslim counterparts and no better off than them in their lives under military occupation and on-going land loss. This has led many Christians to give up and emigrate, seeing no future for themselves in the West Bank. A large portion have come to the West, where Christianity is the majority religion; they often find it easier to integrate than Muslim Palestinians, being less targeted by Islamaphobia.

Dr. Khoury admitted, “Ever since I began living in Taybeh in the early ‘90s, I’ve felt I was in a psychological prison because there are checkpoints everywhere, which means soldiers with machine guns, who may or may not let you pass. In the 1990s you always had to identify yourself and you often had to have permits to pass through the checkpoints. But with the 26-foot high, 280-mile concrete wall in 2002, this psychological prison became a physical prison.”

There are also bright spots in this seemingly hopeless situation. Dr. Khoury recognized some Jewish support for Human Rights in Palestine. “We are very grateful for the Jewish people in Israel who are for equal rights and are against the military occupation of Palestine. They are small but active groups who speak out and often have to bear the consequences of their protest.” She mentioned Rabbis for Human Rights, Not in My Name, Machsom Watch (Jewish women who document the abuses at checkpoints), and Jewish Voice for Peace (based in the US), among others.

“Letters do help,”  Dr. Khoury noted, asking people in the US to pray, and to write their senators and congressional representatives about the Palestinian situation. She also invited us to come see the projects in housing, education, etc., happening in Taybeh in its effort to sustain itself. These efforts are a testimony to the inspirational resiliency of the Palestinian people and offer hope for a better future.

Debra is a member of CNY Working for Peace & Justice for Palestine & Israel and director of St. Elias Churchís Orthodox Christian Education Program.