A Call for New Beginnings
Hebron, Bil'in, the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem
April 3 - 6, 2008
April 3, 2008
Sami is one of two brothers whose family graciously allowed our group into their home and organized homestays for us for the night. Sami lives in Hebron which is in the southwestern corner of the West Bank.
The city of Hebron contains 180,000 residents and 300,000 - 500,000 people in the metropolitan area and is nearly all Muslim. There are between 500 and 1000 Jewish settlers in Hebron, and they reside close to the city center in a total of four settlements. In the mid-1990's, as part of the Oslo Accords, Hebron was broken up into two areas H1 (Palestinian Authority controlled) and H2 (Israeli controlled). The H2 zone contains all of the Israelis in Hebron and roughly 25,000 Palestinians.
In terms of size, 80% of the land area in Hebron is H1 and 20% is H2. Therefore, roughly 0.5% of the population controls 20% of the land area in the city . . . . . . . Rewind
Part 1 - During the first Intifada, 1987 - 1993, Sami was a young boy, no more than 10 years old. He was playing soccer on the street with some of his friends when a car of Israeli settlers drove past them on the street. The settlers stopped, got out of the car, and proceeded to beat Sami. Not only did Sami get assaulted as a child, he had to suffer the humiliation of urinating in his own pants. It is important to note that during the first Intifada there were no suicide bombers and the revolt was largely nonviolent . . . . . . Fast forward
Part 2 - In 2003, during the second Intifada, Sami was outside of his home on the street and several Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers approached him. They told him they were looking for twelve kids who were throwing rocks. The soldiers asked Sami where the kids were, and he replied that he had no idea what they were talking about. The soldiers told Sami to go find the kids. He retorted, you're the police, it’s your job to find them, not mine. Not liking his response, they took Sami into a garage where they proceeded to severely beat him with their fists, legs, and butt ends of their M-16s. The severity of the assault left Sami bedridden for two days. [click here to see photos from Hebron]
-- Jason Hicks
A Visit to a Graveyard
April 3, 2008
The delegation met a young Palestine youth (guide). He told us about Hebron and he told us how he was unable to visit his father’s grave because it was near the Israeli settlement which was off limits for him. We escorted him to his father’s grave. This visit was the first since they buried his father in 2000. We were all overcome with emotions. Then we had to travel a great distance to the bus because of the checkpoints and roadblocks. Chains, wire, and fences cannot hold back emotions. [click here to see photos from Hebron]
-- Gene Smith
The Fence and the Olive Trees
April 5, 2008
The delegation met with a farmer and activist in the village of Bil’in. At his home, we dined on a delicious rice and chicken meal. After a short video about peaceful demonstrations, the delegation traveled to see how the village’s olive orchards have been affected by the installation of the separation wall which was a fence, roadway, electric fence, barbwire and another gravel portion in the spot where many olive trees had previously been planted. This was an olive grove which had supported his family and many more families.
As visitors we walked a short distance on the gravel portion before we encountered Israeli soldiers with drawn weapons. The soldiers insisted that we leave the area. There were no signs posted. The soldiers escorted us down the gravel strip and stayed watching us until we left the area in our bus. [click here for photos from Bil'in]
-- Gene Smith
The Palestinian Gulag
April 5, 2008
We walked toward the electric fence along a major highway in the Samarian Hills near Bil’in with the one of the leaders of the local Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement. We went for a closer look at a few miles of the ever expanding Wall that confines the Palestinians to ever decreasing fields on which once they labored peacefully for their families.
Pulling some razor wire away from the fence we did not notice the approaching jeep - an Israeli patrol - approaching us. The soldiers dismounted, rifles slung from their shoulders watching for any suspicious moves we might make.
One of our group spoke to them: “This has been paid for with our taxes,” he said.
One of the soldiers responded callously, “That’s your problem!”
I wondered how the Israeli military had known we were near the fence until I noticed the slowly moving camera high on a steep tower, the ubiquitous roving monitors that are located in villages, towns and cities — watching, watching, watching.
Across the road the hills were covered with Israeli settlements, occupying diminishing Palestinian land and defended by the fourth largest military in the world, the only nuclear power in the Middle East. Built for alleged security against terrorists, they have ignored the humanitarian consequences and made prisoners of their ancient tribal brethren, virtual slaves in a once flourishing nation. In addition to penitentiaries that confine at least 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, the Israeli military and economic embargo of Gaza is sustained by a 25 foot wall on the southern border, a network of fences to the north, east and south, and by air and sea surveillance depriving Gazans of everything the Israelis enjoy and the rest of the world takes for granted: food, water, energy and communication.
Who cares? A Gulag? Yes, ignored by their Arab neighbors in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Western Hemisphere including the US, they have been sentenced to death.
This is The Unholyland. This is the Gulag we helped to create. It is a problem but not ours alone. [click here for photos from Bil'in]
-- Tom Chisholm
Traveling the Jordan River Valley
April 6, 2008
As the delegation travelled the highway along the Jordan valley, it was so interesting to see the border fence which separates the countries of Israel and Jordan. I can not believe my eyes.
These were two small fences about three feet high not like what we saw separating two peoples of Israel and Palestine. Why and how different!!!!!! Then as the bus passed each Palestinian village, the Israeli military outposts with the high towers positioned above the village. Why?
People everywhere need and only want Peace. Why are there so many fences and barriers and soldiers to separate people and make their lives so difficult. Why? Why? Why?
Basic human rights for all people!!!!! Children are our future.
-- Gene Smith
April 6, 2008
The Azzahra hotel and restaurant — the home base of our delegation — is located just five minutes from the apartment I “occupied” during graduate school.You see, I was once a settler.
I came to Israel in 2006 to study Peace and Social Justice. I ended up ironically and ignorantly living in what some would call an occupied territory. A sentiment I now agree with. French Hill is certainly occupied. If I lived here today, there is no city, town, or settlement in which I would not feel like an occupier. Perhaps if things were to change, if there was a shift in consciousness, if I had a solid belief that people were being treated humanely and with respect, I would be able to live here again.
As a young Jewish woman from a moderately religious background with strong Zionist parents, I have the ability to speak to the Jewish people of Israel and the Diaspora. Most of my education and spiritual upbringing revolved around my love for Israel and the Jewish people. I understand our need for a homeland. I believe in our need for safety and security. I can see, feel, touch, and recognize the origins of our decision to “come back” to Palestine. But now, I must ask my fellow Jews, at what cost are we willing to have a homeland?
I must say that I do take some calm in that most people in the U.S., Jews included, truly have no idea what the occupation entails. For if they did, I truly believe with all of my heart and soul that the occupation would end! The Jewish people are a humanitarian, liberal, and loving people who dedicate themselves to helping one another and others. Tikkun Olam . . . If they only knew . . .
That is where I come in. It is my hope to provide one of the most important first steps to ending the occupation of the Palestinian land: The education of North Americans, specifically the Jewish people. It will be my greatest pleasure and upmost duty to educate with love and nurture the truths of my experiences here. I will not rest until Israel is safe and the Palestinian people are free.
I leave you with one of my favorite brachot (prayers), the Shecheanu:
Baruch ata adonai elohenu melech ha olam,
Shehecheyanu, v'kiyimanu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe,
who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day.
This bracha is used to commemorate new beginnings. Can I get an AMEN??!!
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