From the Nakba to Now:
Israelis and Palestinians Address History in Search for Peace
Sunday, June 3
The Right to Enter
Most of us have heard of the debate about the right of return for Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967. Recently, as Sam Bahour of the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory explained to us, another right has been called into question by Israeli policies. This is the right of entry and re-entry to Palestine by foreign nationals wishing to live there.
Many residents of the West Bank are foreign nationals. Some are connected to the indigenous population by ties of blood or marriage, while others are there to practice their professions, for example as professors or real estate developers. Since 2000, Israel has not processed any of the 120,000 outstanding applications for family unification, nor does it offer any other form of permanent status to such foreign nationals. The only way for a foreigner to live and work in Palestine is to obtain a 3 month Israeli tourist visa and to exit and renew it every 3 months, usually by exiting and re-entering through an Israeli point of entry such as Ben Gurion airport or the Allenby Bridge.
Since March of this year, a new, unannounced practice has come into effect. Many West Bank residents have been denied re-entry during the performance of what they thought would be a routine exit and re-entry. This denial is stamped into their passport, and no reason is given. Israel claims that no new policy has been put into place, merely the tightening of an existing policy. However, a large body of anecdotal evidence suggests that a specific directive has been issued to force out foreign nationals residing in the West Bank, and with them potentially other family members who otherwise would have no reason to leave. The effects on Palestinian society are significant. For example, Bir Zeit university has lost half of its foreign passport-holding staff, jeopardizing numerous programs. Foreign nationals without obvious West Bank ties such as Palestinian names or places of birth continue to enter and exit Israel freely.
Sam Bahour is an American-born Palestinian businessman who has lived in the West Bank for the past 13 years, where he co-founded the Palestinian telecommunications company, PalTel. He is married to a woman from the West Bank. Years ago, he applied to the Israeli authorities for family unification but has never received it. Now he fears that his ability to continue his consulting business and therefore his family's ability to remain in Palestine will soon hinge on a stamp arbitrarily issued by a customs official. He has started a campaign to monitor the thousands of denials of entry that have taken place and to lobby friendly governments to protest illegal discrimination against their nationals on the basis of ethnicity. He considers the new policy, along with other policies limiting movement and damaging livelihoods, to be a form of "Sterile Ethnic Cleansing," a term he emphasized that he does not use lightly.
A major difficulty in the campaign is the reluctance of foreign governments to intervene in what they see as a domestic issue of Israeli immigration law. The campaign seeks to educate governments about the unique nature of the situation, in which Israel controls all points of access to the territories that it occupies. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power has the responsibility to avoid unnecessary harm to the occupied population. This includes protecting the rights of the "protected population" of those territories. It is ironic that Israel claims to be interested in the development of a stable Palestinian society, while at the same time it is fundamentally undermining that society's ability to attract and retain professionals and entrepreneurs who contribute to the economy, preventing family members from providing care to sick or elderly relatives, and separating married couples.
It is hard to comprehend how one deals with the unexpected and tragic loss of a loved one. Losing one’s father to a surprise bullet is almost inconceivable. The only thing worse I can imagine is losing a teenage daughter to a suicide bomber. On Sunday evening, June 3, 2007 we met with two men, one Israeli, one Palestinian who have lived through such losses. Each went through a long, difficult grieving process, but eventually they came together as brothers – in loss. They passed through the grief, anger, revenge and other feelings and finally reached the point of recognizing the mutuality of their loss and the senselessness of that loss. Their joint mission now is to end this useless, senseless violence.
-- Zarinah Shakir and Jack Robinson
Monday, June 4
Near Jerusalem. I watched closely as the soles of my walking shoes gripped the ragged, jutting stones as we navigated a sharp descent into the Judean ravine. Ahead of us I could see the ruins of an old Arab village named Lifta. Once there we walked around the former town square centered on the natural spring and glistening pool of clear, fresh water. We followed the narrow tree-lined street to the shell of the once-vibrant mosque. The patterns of by-gone village routine were so clear, so easy to imagine.
Lifta (meaning “spring”) had been continuously inhabited since Biblical times – until 1948 when a Zionist militia entered the village, shot six men in the central square and moved on to the next community. The villagers, in grief and anticipating future attacks, got the message and evacuated, planning to return in two weeks in the wake of a victorious Jordanian army. But it did not work out that way. Israel claimed its statehood, defeated the Jordanians, and denied return access to the villagers of Lifta – as well as the residents of over 500 other Arab communities. They and their descendents remain as refugees to this day.
Tamar served as our tour guide. She is an historian of the Holocaust who volunteers for Zochrot, an Israeli organization committed to telling the whole story of the founding of Israel, not just the parts that are easy for Israelis to hear and celebrate. She spoke of the highly sensitive nature of her work.
Zochrot means “those who are remembering.” Sometimes I acknowledge that there are parts of my own history I’d prefer to leave buried . . . but I know it does not work. The memories will surface. The stones will speak. As we ascended that steep and rugged path (some of us gasping for breath!), we were “those who are remembering.”
-- Eugenia Brown
Zionism and the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
We met Israeli historians Ilan Pappe and Teddy Katz at the Anila Touma Institute in Haifa which was named for Anila Touma, a far left thinker who joined the Communist Party in 1940. Pappe and Katz are two of the best known of Israel’s “new historians.” The new historians began writing when secret documents from the founding of the state were released by the Israeli government in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Israel follows the British system of sealing documents for thirty years).
Ilan Pappe walked in a couple minutes late but relaxed and smiling. His face was wrinkled and relaxed, the face of a happy man who liked his work. He began talking about Israel's design for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
Pappe described the contradiction of wanting to have a democratic state of Israel, while at the same time throwing Palestinians from their homes, burning their fields, and expelling them from Israel before, during, and after the 1948 war. Although Israel was the center of world attention at that time, little was reported on the events of 1948 and there was little response from the international community; no one challenged the violations of international law. This set the stage of continuation of these policies in Israel/Palestine.
Pappe says that Israel has developed a state of "exceptionalism" which allows it to do whatever it wants with minority citizens and maintain an appearance of morality. The regional imbalance of power in the Middle East caused by this exceptionalism contributes to instability in the region and the world and undermines coexistence among the various religious communities living there. Pappe believes that when the first pro-US Arab country is toppled it will have a dramatic effect on European, U.S., and Middle East opinion.
When asked how to address the issue of engaging or persuading someone to address ethnic racism in Israel, Pappe offers several ideas for activists in the US:
• Organize intimate contracted workshops
• Use alternative media
• Practice alternative education
• Continue long term education
• Employ outside pressure (along the lines of the South Africa Model)
• Engage divestment and boycott models
• Work with the Jewish community
• Differentiate between Judaism and Zionism (Pappe says that Judaism and are not the same, and believes that continuing to conflate them may result in a surge of anti-Semitism that could occur as a result of unjust Zionist policies).
Teddy Katz spoke about the cover-up of the massacre of Tantura. He talked about the internalized shame (about their defeat) among Arab people who felt shamed by their loss and knew about this but refused talk about it. The details of this massacre he spoke about were horrific. People were lined up near the sea and shot. The men dug holes and when the holes were deep enough the men were shot and fell into the holes.
-- Eric Bjorgan and Lois Swartz
Tuesday, June 5
On June 5, 2007 our group met with Muhammad Zeidan, Director of the Arab Association of Human Rights. Muhammad talked about the development of a culture of racism inside Israel. There are 1,220,000 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In 1948 there was a massive destruction of over 500 villages displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Nazareth Ilite, an Israeli settlement, has been built on 4000 dunums of confiscated Palestinian lands near Nazareth.
From 1948 to 1966, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel lived under martial law. In 1967, a single legal system was established, but that did not end racism and discrimination directed against Palestinian Arabs. Muhammad also described hidden discrimination, such as the fact that Arabs and Muslims are not requested to serve in the military. Military service can guarantee special benefits to those who serve including education, housing, public transportation, and loans.
There is also legal institutional discrimination in Israel. The state of Israel gives 17 times more development money to Jewish cities as it gives to Palestinian Arab cities inside Israel. The educational budget is decided by the Minister of Education who gives more money to Jewish Israeli schools than Arab Israeli schools.
Palestinian Arab citizens are viewed as a "demographic threat" by the Israeli government and public. Muhammad sees the development of a cultural racism; only if there were development of a real constitution could you have a civil society and a democratic state. He says the head of the General Security Service in Israel sees Palestinian Arab citizens as a serious threat to Judaism in Israel and cites incidents of surveillance of people calling for democratic equality.
He believes there is a need for civil society and a real democratic state which does not currently exist. He says that Israel must face what it is doing and recognize that Palestinian citizens of Israel are here to stay.
- Eric Bjorgan and Lois Swartz
Wednesday, June 6
Grassroots Nonviolent Resistance in Bil’in
We were met at the Bili’n Community Center by a group of farmers, community leaders and local officials. Several of the villagers came with their well-behaved children like Mohammed and his two beautiful girls, and Akreem and his son Abdullah. Over cold drinks and local pastries we spoke with the villagers and community leaders who have been protesting nonviolently since February 2005 at the separation barrier (wall) built on village lands by the Israeli Defense Forces. One by one, Bili’n’s leaders spoke passionately of the importance of the active protest against the IDF. After a couple of hours of listening, the villagers took us to the fence/wall that separated the villagers from their olive orchards and goat pasture.
Bili’n is a quaint, peaceful village outside Ramallah in the West Bank. It is surrounded by hills and valleys dotted with centuries-old olive trees. It was early evening when we got to the wall. The scenery was extremely beautiful, pastoral. We saw a shepherd carrying a long stick with goats nearby. Three IDF foot soldiers carrying guns, in their early 20s, slowed our packed car to inspect the passengers. I heard international (referring to foreigner) in the conversation. They allowed us to proceed. The soldiers caught up with us again at the gate.
Since the villagers wanted us to get to the olive orchards to show us recent positive results of the weekly Friday protest at the wall, they asked permission to get to the other side. At first the soldiers refused and I got concerned, so I moved away slowly from the heavy gate with a couple of the delegates. We could see the olive trees on the other side, and the goats, and the new Israeli settlement down the hillside. The raised voices were disconcerting, and my concern intensified. There have been many previous incidents in Bili’n when internationals and Israeli activists and villagers were shot at with rubber-coated steel bullets and other artillery.
Eventually the gate was opened and we all walked onto the newly constructed dirt road. Expired rubber bullets littered the areas along the wall. A temporarily made-up prison station of coiled barbed wire for arrested protesters showed the horrible practice before the IDF soldiers transfer them to a regular jail or release them.
One villager told us that Israeli trucks or other equipment are often driven along the road stirring up dust and debris which is blown to the villagers down hill causing respiratory problems and an unhealthy environment for plants and animals. Both sides of this road have fences and so we have to get through another fence opening to finally get to the olive orchards. The villagers have to go through this permission process each time they go to their fields.
As construction of the wall proceeded over the last several years about 1,000 olive trees were uprooted and destroyed. The villagers depend on these trees for their livelihood. These trees were planted on Palestinian land, land the villagers inherited from their forefathers.
On the other side of the wall, we saw two newly built one-room mobile homes, constructed in the night by the Bili’n villagers to let the Israeli settlers living illegally in the nearby Matityahu East Settlement know that this is Palestinian land. A Palestinian flag was raised in one of the mobile homes. We were also told that two of the settlement homes were recently demolished on the order of an Israeli court. These were encouraging outcomes of the nonviolent protests. Bili’n’s nonviolent protest movement is the longest and most consistent one in Israel/Palestine and has become a model for this kind of action against Israeli occupation and land grabbing.
Back in the village, on the other side of the wall, a sumptuous dinner at the home of one of the village leaders was followed by a DVD show of the history of nonviolent protests at Bili’n produced by an international activist group. It showed the IDF response to the protesters and villagers with use of tear gas, shooting with rubber bullets (rubber coated metal), raids in the night breaking doors and hauling young men, beating them for participating in the protests.
Six of the delegates stayed with Abdullah’s family in the nearby village of Kharbata. The rest stayed in Bili’n with Abdullah’s family. I felt the 25 years of friendship between Tony and Abdullah as we receive the generosity and extended friendship of this family.
In the peace and quiet of the village, I heard the roosters crowing in the early morning telling me to get up to visit Abdullah and Tony’s memorial olive trees. In 1999, Tony with students and family members planted these trees to try and prevent the encroaching land grab and occupation. The trees were healthy, laden with young fruits, the orchard free of weeds and well-tended. I was informed of the agricultural practices that olive trees require - like the above ground pruning to regenerate the tree, root pruning, applying fertilizer, and harvesting. I also noticed that between rows of olives, weeds grow that need to be cut or removed. I thought of a cover crop that could be experimentally demonstrated that will help prevent soil erosion, keep soil healthy with additional nitrogen, prevent fast moisture evaporation, and suppress weed growth.
The concerns of the villagers are tremendous: destruction of olive trees by bulldozing and cutting, uprooting of mature trees to be sold or used for landscape purposes in illegal Israeli settlements, intimidation of farmers by settlers and soldiers, permits required to tend their lands, inaccessibility to markets, lack of water, gated enclosures around farmland, and many more.
-- Sabina Swift
Friday, June 8
A Formula for Solutions
Naomi Chazan, a Professor of Political Science and a former Knesset deputy speaker, stressed the need for moving quickly and thinking differently in addressing the conflict in Israel/Palestine.
She pointed out that Israelis are very scared and this feeling is not unjustified, yet her talk focused on the prospects for peace. She broke down the history of the conflict and the peace process in a series of well-formulated points.
According to Chazan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has four layers of historical “complications”
• 1960’s – two national movements
• 1970’s – colonialism by settlers
• 1980’s – religion
• 1990’s - regionalization
On this basis, she laid out her assumptions regarding negotiations for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement:
• There is no military solution
• International oversight rather than bilateral talks is needed. Talks should include the quartets (US, UK, Europe, etc) and the Arab States (Jordan, SA, etc) plus Israel and Palestine.
• Permanent status issues (such as refugees, the status of Jerusalem and borders) need to be dealt with now - time has run out for interim step by step solutions.
• Agreements should be negotiated with no preconditions
• Negotiations must take place with whatever parties/people are present now
• The US and President Bush must take a strong lead (she used the undiplomatic phrase - “head bashing.”)
• US activists should start putting pressure on State Department and Condoleezza Rice now
• We must all avoid victimization (there are enough stories of horror to go around)
• There is no time for a boycott which would only harden the Israeli spine anyway
Chazan’s Solutions are Seven-Fold:
1. There should be two states (Israeli and Palestinian)
2. The states should be set along the 1967 boundaries with adjustments by negotiation
3. There should be two separate capitals
4. There should be Israeli Settlement re-adjustments
5. There should be appropriate security arrangements
6. On the issue of the Palestinian refugees – Israel should say, “ I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. Appropriate steps should follow UN Resolution 194 (which demands return or appropriate compensation for the refugees)
7. There needs to be different thinking about “security.” Imagine what relations have to exist between any two sovereign states: income, law, communications, resources, quiet, etc…
-- Linda and Steve Bell
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