< Report Four
Due to a lost email sent at the end of the March delegation, we never received their last and final report. We’ve now received the pieces and send this out as final reflections from the delegation.
Children: Hopes and Values for the Future
It’s so hard to know where to start: so many images and conversations, so much pain and frustration, glimpses of hope, and the incredible need for serious concern and ACTION…
One of our meetings was at the Plaza Shopping Center in El Bireh which is next to Ramallah. In the midst is a store called CUTE KIDS (which had very trendy clothes for kids in the windows, including a bejeweled tee shirt with the slogan “I AM GORGEOUS GIRL”).
The children here are all gorgeous, as are the children in Israel, in the United States, in Iraq and everywhere else. As a mother of two, stepmother of three, and grandmother of eleven, and exchange student mother of four (Mexico, France, Ecuador and Russia), I truly believe that children are not only our future, but how we treat them reflects our hopes and values for their future.
We met a student from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She grew up in a settlement where her family still lives. She and her siblings, along with her friends, rode a school bus to school that had bullet-proof glass windows to protect them from rocks being thrown at the bus. She'd had friends who were seriously injured.
We met with a group from Combatants for Peace, an organization that brings together former Palestinian fighters and former Israeli soldiers who agree that there is no military solution and that the cycle of revenge must be broken. They have ongoing dialogue to share their stories, build trust, and call for action. This is particularly challenging work since barriers, checkpoints and the need for permits make it extremely difficult for them to meet. Our Palestinian host shared that he'd been involved with the work for almost two years, and, then, in January 2007 his eleven-year old daughter was shot in the head with a rubber bullet and died. She'd been with a group of friends, including her ten-year old sister, whom we met. A rock apparently was thrown from somewhere near the group. In his grief he recommitted to this work of peace. He said he is not pro-Palestinian, but PRO PEACE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, HUMAN RESPECT, AND SECURITY FOR ALL.
Here are some facts which I’ve recently learned…
• During the first Intifada Israel closed Palestinian schools in the occupied territories, on and off from 1988-1992, for kids in Kindergarten through university.
• University students at Birzeit University near Ramallah cannot live on campus, because if they do, or if the university is even open at night, the university will be continually checked by Israeli soldiers, jeopardizing the existence of the university and the safety of its students. Commuting, however, is also difficult and time consuming (very unpredictable) because of the wall and the checkpoints.
• Israel's national budget is decreasing per capita spending for education and social services as costs to increase security rise.
• In Israel government responsibility for children shifts from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Defense when children are 16 years old. Upon graduation from high school boys must serve three years in the military and girls must serve one year-nine months. If they attend college it is AFTER they have served in the military where, perhaps, they have learned power and intimidation.
For all of our children who are gorgeous, vulnerable, and worthy of all human rights, I commit to action. Standing aside is the crime while people of the world are destroying each other.
Variations on a Theme of Oppression
A pattern has emerged as each day of our tour of Israel and the occupied West Bank unfolds. Our schedule includes talks with individuals or representatives of different organizations each day. We have been told of many instances of oppression by witnesses or the victims themselves. As we ride our bus we can observe certain modes of oppression with our own eyes. Today it was easy to lose count of how many checkpoints we traversed going from Jerusalem to Beersheba, because all our driver has to do is say "These are Americans". This makes the Canadian member of our delegation wince, but the Israeli soldier or border guard waves us through.
Not so if you are a Palestinian. You may be waved through also, or stopped and have your car opened for inspection, perhaps cursory, perhaps detailed, or even have your body strip-searched. The system is set up so YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. A lot is left at the discretion of bored, apprehensive, 18 or 19 year old kids. Most checkpoints through which we passed were located between Palestinian neighborhoods or towns, and a few were between Israel and the West Bank or in approaches to Jewish settlements. Thus one assumes that control and harassment are more the object than real security.
The constant invasion of privacy and frequent humiliation take their toll in ways you might imagine, but the most disturbing to me was the observation made to me by Art Arbour, a Canadian peace volunteer observer with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the city of Hebron. He commented that as the youth of that city witness the humiliation of their elders, they lose respect for them. These youths are a generation out of control, which has caused a large increase in the crime rate and great stresses to an already impoverished educational system.
For any Palestinian male up to the age of 45, and especially for students commuting to their classes, the variability of time required to traverse the fixed checkpoints makes trips that should take 30 or 40 minutes last as much as five hours. Scheduling timely arrivals to classes or hard-to-find jobs is impossible. So-called “roving” checkpoints add to the unpredictability of Palestinian travel.
Another daily sight were the “Separation” or “Security” barriers, large concrete walls or chain link fences that separate the occupied territory from Israel, or parts of the occupied territory from other parts of the same territory. As with the check points, these barriers are erected in the name of SECURITY to control the movement of people. In built up areas the walls are a standard height of 9 Meters (about 28 feet, the height of a two-story house) and made of concrete, at a cost of about $2.5 million per kilometer of length. The length of the boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank is about 310 Kilometers, and the planned length of the separation barriers is about 750 KM. This means that more than half of the barrier will be inside Palestinian territory, blocking all access except as permitted by Israeli authorities. Most of the barriers within the occupied territory surround illegal Israeli settlements, supposedly to protect the settlers from hostile incursions. In practice these barriers often encompass more land than required by the settlers, often land owned by Palestinians, in anticipation of future expansion of the settlements.
Some of the barriers I have seen perform no security function because they separate Palestinians from Palestinians. They cut through long-standing neighborhoods to no apparent purpose except to force the people to make trips of several kilometers to accomplish what formerly had been a short walk. In some cases, the area on one side of the barrier is reclassified so that its residents are no longer eligible to travel to visit their former neighbors caught on the other side of the barrier.
If you just travel from one Israeli settlement to another you would not necessarily be aware of another way your movements are constrained. First of all, to be allowed to drive into such a neighborhood your car would have to have yellow (Israeli) license plates. Palestinian cars have green plates and are not allowed to use the super highways that connect Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Instead, they are restricted to secondary roads that are often poorly constructed and are not even provided with intersections with Israeli roads except at certain limited checkpoints.
Another feature of the Israeli-built roads in the West Bank are visual barriers so the occupants of the vehicles are unable to see Palestinian villages or neighborhoods. The security aspect of these barriers might be to make it impossible for armed Palestinians to take pot shots at passing Israeli vehicles, an unlikely tactic these days because of the Israeli tendency to destroy any house (or even group of houses if the exact source can’t be determined). A serious (and likely suicidal) sniper can easily find open space from which to launch an attack, so the more telling result of the visual barriers is to make Palestinians even more invisible to Israelis than they already are.
Another sight often seen as you travel in the West Bank is the bare or rubble-strewn house lots where houses have been demolished, either by Israeli military action or by order of Israeli Civil Authorities. Titles to land or buildings dating from the Ottoman Turks, British Mandate, or Jordanian control (1948 to 1967) are often ignored by the Occupation authorities if a dwelling is deemed to be in the way of a military fortification, separation barrier, or even Israeli civilian real estate development. The Israeli laws applied in the occupied territories require expensive building permits, ($20,000 per dwelling is not unusual) which in many cases are not granted anyway. These rules do violence to Arab cultural tradition where married sons usually move in with the nuclear family. Thus, when a Palestinian marries, his family would typically add several rooms to the family home and it has been Israeli policy to forbid such additions. If the additions are then made without Israeli authorization, the likelihood is that an order will be issued to demolish the entire house, at the owner’s expense.
Everything I have described thus far is readily visible to anyone who drives around in the West Bank Palestinian areas. Of course most Israeli Jews don’t do that so the vast majority haven’t a clue as to how the oppressions of the occupation weigh on typical Palestinians.
Besides the visible evidence of oppression, we became aware of other ways Israel violates basic human rights of Palestinians far beyond any conceivable justification on security grounds. Another delegate, Phil Schervish, and I spent one afternoon and overnight with a Christian Palestinian family in the town of Beit Sahour. Even though Jerusalem is a holy city for Christian, Muslim, and Jew, Palestinians of any denomination are totally excluded from holy sites (or anywhere else) in Jerusalem unless they are among the lucky few who have permits to work in that city. Thus, our host family, who used to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem every Easter, have not been allowed to for the last nine years.
You cannot tell by just walking or driving around the West Bank that every person you see has to carry an identity card or be subject to arrest. If a person is away from his or her home village, a travel permit is necessary too.
You also won’t see the 9000+ Palestinians who are currently in Israeli prisons, or the several hundred being held by Administrative Detention, a concept by which a person is arrested and held with no charges filed for up to six months, without access to a lawyer, nor any semblance of a trial. This form of detention can be extended for any number of additional six month intervals.
Until Israel, the United States, and the rest of the world face and take responsibility for these facts, justice cannot live in the Holy Land.
A Distinction on the word VIOLENCE…
I need to share a quick insight we learned on the word VIOLENCE.
We met today with people from The Holy Land Trust, who, among other things focus on Non-Violence Training. They make the distinction between Structural Violence and Personal Violence.
Structural violence is that violence which is not necessarily easily seen: the wall, the need for permits to move about, checkpoints, etc. It is built into the very fabric of lives.
Personal violence is the reaction to structural violence, is easily seen and creates more fear. Examples would be acts of terrorism, including, but of course not limited to, suicide bombings. This violence is very newsworthy.
We often see the structures as imposed after the personal violence, when, in fact it is all a large cycle of escalation: the increase in structural violence causes an increase in personal violence, which causes even more structural violence, and even more personal violence. As a global community we need to support stopping this cycle. I suggest we examine the structures to see what it is that causes the radical next step which is personal violence. (And, I might add, the personal violence leads to increased detentions, arrests, and acts of collective punishment which become part of heightened structural violence.)
I end with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., which appears in the Wi’am (Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center) brochure:
“…Returning violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
DONATE TO SUPPORT INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDERS
Nothing better prepares activists to work on the conflict than eyewitness experience. Your donation will further the education and engagement of new participants and build a larger, more diverse movement! Click here to donate online.
Donate for Scholarships: There are many enthusiastic people who want to go on a delegation but cannot afford it. Your donation to IFPB’s Scholarship Fund will directly assist young people, low income activists, people of color, and interfaith leaders who want to participate in our work. Click here to donate online.
TRAVEL TO ISRAEL/PALESTINE WITH INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDERS!
Your participation as an eyewitness will enrich your understanding of the conflict and empower your work back in the United States! Click here for information on upcoming delegations.
|Select a report to view:||Announcement | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4|