< Report Four
A Family and A Force
Palestinian Nonviolence in Bil’in; Transforming Grief into Action
The villagers of Bil’in struggled for many months against the barrier that now separates them from their fields with a razor wire fence, Israeli army (IDF) patrol road, and a fence wired with sensors to trigger cameras mounted on towers. We were taken to the gate controlled by IDF soldiers who refused to allow us to cross the barrier where we would have seen a new Jewish Israeli settlement encroaching on the Palestinian villagers' fields. Returning to our host's home we saw evidence of the struggles that have taken place here. Tear gas and concussion grenade remains littered the ground. Rubber bullets and rubber coated bullets also testified to the tactics used by the IDF to meet the villagers nonviolent protests. We also saw the scorched fields where the settlers have attempted to burn Palestinian olive trees. Back at the house we were treated to an incredible feast by our host’s wife. We watched videos documenting their non-violent protest and the brutal response of the IDF. Palestinians in Bil’in have used tactics familiar to most peace activists like chaining themselves to their trees and blocking bulldozers with their bodies. The IDF responded with batons, tear gas, concussion grenades, high tech devices designed to disrupt human balance via sound and bullets. Despite all that the Palestinians persist and many Israelis of conscience join in protesting the barrier.
This evening we met Rami and Ibrahim. They are two members of the Parents Circle, and organization of made of relatives of victims to Israeli and Palestinian violence. Ibrahim is a Palestinian who used to work as an educator. Rami is an Israeli combat veteran now working as graphic designer. They have similar stories. Ibrahim's only son was murdered by a settler at the age of six. Rami's 14-year old daughter was killed by a Palestinian bomber. Neither of them allow hate to consume them. Instead they have turned their energy to ending the killing and stopping the occupation.
After a UN briefing we went to Ramallah to see if we could find Laila's childhood home and the site of her father's restaurant. We also visited the Tamer Institute. It provides a reading and art program for children. We had a chance to visit with the children and see their artwork. Then a young Palestinian woman, Tala, gave us a tour of Ramallah. This involved eating lots of ice cream since there are several parlors there. Then we met another young woman, Sanabel, and listened to them while we had drinks and snacks in a nice restaurant. The women were close friends but had differing opinions. Tala dressed in western styles; Sanabel wore the traditional Muslim head scarf. Tala said that she was willing to be friends with Israeli peace activists but Sanabel said she was willing to work with Israeli activists but would not call them friends. This may be related to the fact that the IDF had used Sanabel as a human shield 3 times, or perhaps the fact that her father had been imprisoned and tortured by Israel. We ended the day by crossing the checkpoint back to Jerusalem on foot, the way most Palestinians are forced to do. Of course being from the US we were not subjected to the same abuse.
Voices of Women
Dorothy.....an Israeli Tel Aviv suburban woman- focused, informed and deeply committed to the cause of anti-militarism. We sat in her comfortable living room, listening to her and several feminist members of New Profile talk about their all out effort to help refusers wherever they may be resisting a militaristic regime.
I was struck by the speakers' respect for each other as each described the organization's work and her particular involvement in it. Last to speak was a very young woman who had grown up in a military household and community but refused to take her expected place in it. She spoke with conviction, humor and youthful enthusiasm about preferring to be at peaceful demonstrations rather than going to school.
Demilitarization needs to be part of a new way of thinking was the common theme. Feet follow fervor with these feminists; they go where the action is, to participate as a group- but always making space for individual voices.
The Palestinian Women of Al-Tuwani.... Picture a remote, barren hillside in the middle of arid desert countryside, some 20 miles south of Bethlehem. The place is known locally as home of "the forgotten ones." Four or five extended families live there in a shepherds' community. The women are by culture homebound, largely uneducated with the status of second class citizens. To lessen their loneliness and use a talent they share, the women began doing handwork together while their husbands and children were at school or tending the goats and sheep. The small cave-like space they used as a workroom became a place to display their craft. But, as one the women sadly explained in Arabic, for long months nothing sold. Someone gave them the idea of beginning a co-op that would be open whenever groups (like ours) came to visit the village. Now they feel the pleasure of earning small sums of money and a sense of worth before unknown.
As we were leaving Al-Tuwani, a line of women began their climb from the cistern where they had filled large containers with water for the evening. They climbed the dusty road slowly, one by one, carefully balancing the water filled jars balanced on their heads. It was a Biblical sight to our eyes but those women are on their way to new thoughts and new freedoms. They did not want to be photographed; pride is their new companion.
Other Feminist Voices
I listened for the feminine voice during our visits with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists. I heard it echo throughout our meetings as both women and men advocated for inclusiveness, and acknowledged their interconnectedness and equality. For me, the feminist voice values cooperation and interdependency as an antidote for pathological patriarchy evinced as domination, exploitation, and exclusion.
A feminine voice aims to help --not hurt. It protects and nurtures. The voice of feminism is not biologically determined nor does it valorize the importance of woman over men. It’s not intended to sissify men or to merely reverse the power structures between men and women. It’s about the practice and implementation of egalitarian principles.
Females can advocate pathologically inspired masculinity just as much as males. Likewise, both males and females can be use the feminist perspective in their orientation to egalitarian power structures.
Thus, ironic as it may seem, I heard a feminist voice from a young Palestinian woman who told us that wearing the veil was her choice. She informed us her decision supported her desire to be close to her husband. Further, her decision affirmed her belonging in a Palestinian culture that has long been the target of ethnic cleansing. Her veil did not symbolize her exploitation by male oppression as in pathological masculinity but seemed to be an expression of her innate feminine voice.
While she may not have overtly identified herself as a feminist, this woman was not willing to subordinate her identity to the perspectives of oppressors who have long attempted to exploit her land, her family, her home and her culture. For example, when a soldier ‘reminded’ her she could be killed when she advocated for more humane treatment of her father, she reminded him, “I wouldn’t be the first one [to die]!” At the point of a gun, (the hallmark of pathological masculinity), she expressed an inextricable interconnectedness to those thousands who have suffered before her.
This woman seemed no more willing to let go of her veil than she was to subordinate her families’ integrity to the Israeli soldiers who invaded her home, removed her people from their land, tortured and imprisoned her father, and labeled her non-violent resistance as “terrorism.” No, she could decide for herself how she belongs with her husband, her family, her land, and her people. And she could do it without resorting to bullying and exploitation, that is, without resorting to militaristic inspired brutality.
I also heard the feminine voice from Bassam, a founder of ‘Combatants for Peace.’ After his young daughter had been mercilessly shot dead while eating sweets on a walk home from school, he learned that the Israeli government would not hold those soldiers accountable.
He channeled his grief into organizing his people’s resistance. He organized a large protest outside of the Ministry of Justice office the next week. The joint Israel- Palestinian organization the “Parents Circle” joined in. His deep sorrow garnered a respect achieved not by the willful expression of violence, dominance and revenge but by the expression of deep sadness and vulnerability, resolve and non-violent integrity. His response displayed a spiritual strength that could best be described as a fruit of his wise use of power—feminist principles stewarded through appropriate and timely action. Bassam told us he is seeking to do a speaking tour in the U.S. soon. I hope so.
Just following orders
In early August, an incident occurred in the hills south of the city of Hebron in the West Bank, occupied Palestine. Three members of OCHA, a UN team charged with coordinating international relief and development activities in Palestine, were brutally assaulted by two Jewish settlers. At the time of the attack, the OCHA staff were accompanied by two Israeli journalists on a mission to document human rights abuses perpetrated on the inhabitants of the region by illegal Jewish settlers.
Amira Hass, a Jewish Israeli who lives in the city of Ramallah in Israel-occupied Palestine and who reports regularly on the occupation in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was one of those journalists. On August 8 she filed a piece about the incident entitled “The Hebron Tactic.” For those moments that these settlers were terrorizing us, she wrote, “they were the Lords of the land.” The point of her piece was that this incident cannot -- must not -- be seen as the extreme act of a fanatic fringe. The settlers are actively enabled by the government of Israel to carry out the illegal land taking and harassment of Palestinians in the cities, villages and farms in the midst of which the settlements have been built. “It is easy to blame the two men, or those like them,” writes Hass. But they practice terrorizing Palestinians because Israeli authorities let them do so. “In their own way, they do the same thing the ‘legitimate’ occupation authorities do: they drive the Palestinians off their land to make room for Jews. In other words, they are following orders.” As such, they are carrying out the will of the government and, by logical extension, the will of the people of the State of Israel. Hass is saying to her fellow Israelis: “these men and women are carrying out your orders. You are responsible.”
We saw it. Everywhere we went in the West Bank and in illegally annexed Jerusalem, our delegation of eleven Americans saw it. In Bethlehem. In Hebron and in the southern hills. On the fine new roads we traveled, privileged foreigners in the land of the Palestinian villagers, farmers and city dwellers barred from using them. We saw it at the checkpoints we sailed through with our Jerusalem license plates and our US passports. And, everywhere, the unbelievable, inexplicable wall snaking across the landscape and smashing through the streets of cities and villages. Everywhere the obscene concrete settlements blighting the hilltops, sucking up the water, gobbling up the fields and byways. We met the people of the land – farmers, political activists, educators, students. We were welcomed into their midst, ate with them, cried and laughed with them and expressed solidarity with them. And we saw their lords, walking the streets of cities built on the ruins of pre-1948 Palestine, most of them simply leading their lives, apparently unaware of this history, and a minority actively claiming their lordship, thumping their hands on the Bible they claim confers the deed to the property. We also met with another minority, those Jews born in the land who struggle to forge a birthright based on justice and coexistence. We stood in vigil with them against the occupation, sat with them in their homes and offices to learn about their struggle to establish connection and reconciliation with the people they have de facto displaced, sat in awe of those courageous Israelis who through advocacy, education and direct action have devoted their lives to holding their society to account, to making Israel a homeland in which they can live and raise their children.
We saw it – both the oppression and the struggle to right it, we saw it. We, coming from our own legacy of ethnic cleaning and oppression and our own shame and horror over our country’s current crimes against humanity, we saw it. Furthermore, we realized that as Americans we are directly involved in Israel’s crimes through our government’s huge, unconditional funding of Israel’s expansionist and militaristic policies. We have returned to our communities, united in our commitment to act on we have seen and what we now know. Each of us, in her or his own way, has been changed forever.
After a day in Hebron and Al-Tuwani, we needed an energy release
which we got by demonstrating with an Israeli group, Women in Black. They gather at busy intersections in Jerusalem every Friday from 1-2 waving Peace placards and attracting attention by wearing outrageous broad brimmed black hats and black outfits of every description, creating a noisy presence for Peace. The regulars have no trouble engaging with passers by; cars honk in support or protest. Drivers signal their feelings with all kinds of hand gestures and yells not hard to interpret.
During the hour the crowd swells; groups like ours move into the gathered throng, waving and mingling, shouting, feeling the thrill of solidarity. I will long remember an French man who emerged from the crowd, came to full height, raised his cane and holding it high led us in what has become an international song of hope- WE SHALL OVERCOME.
As we move toward home after a packed 2 weeks of listening, learning, questioning and reacting, some members of our group have thoughts to share.
Ray... It was a particular privilege to be among a bunch of empowered women--young and older--who were able to face into injustice and mince no words. Quite an honor to witness inSpirited women affirming the women of Palestine and Israel and the other women-leaders taking leadership for justice.
Stephanie... Our voices were not as important as I thought on this trip, because our ears were more. We came to listen and learn, to use our voices upon our return to translate the ground facts and deep stories of those we met. I was privileged for two weeks and it felt good. For I was among the kindest, most warmhearted and gracious people I have ever met... IFPB delegation group and people of Palestine.
Ann...4:45 am, waiting for a flight out; at first delayed, now not. A half dozen security clerks; AC just turned on; passengers singled out by race, ethnicity, religion--practices not allowed other places. It will be good to get home.
Martha...All suspicions have been confirmed; violence and separation are not the answer. It will take dialogue, open-heartedness and a return to simple truths to resolve the long-standing conflict. Partisanship and injustice should be
replaced with a creative sentiment that doesn't take sides. Mothers have been practicing this for eons. Let's try a new approach that doesn't resort to military might by default. The world is waiting...
Mark...We are a family now and a force. Our power is in our fellowship.
Meera… I have made many return trips from Israel/Palestine on my own, facing alone the intimidation and mechanical racism of Israeli security as well as the quickly passing interest of acquaintances in the US regarding my time spent in a volatile, complicated region (too complicated to understand, they often say). This time, I return home with a group of fellow Americans with whom I shared powerful experiences, with whom I became friends, and with whom I look forward to working in solidarity towards a just resolution to this conflict -- a peace that truly addresses the needs of the courageous, inspiring, and determined Israelis and Palestinians that we met in these two brief weeks. It is a wonderful feeling not to be alone.
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