Contrasts & Contradictions: Difficult Realities of Occupation & Resistance
Final Reflections on Our Journey to Israel/Palestine
April 1-11, 2008
Diversity in Resistance
It is clear that the Palestinian people are united under the banner of freedom from Israeli occupation. However, within this framework exist a variety of realities in which the Palestinian people live. This, in turn, shapes their response to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and their methods of resistance. For example, in the village of Bil'in where the creation of the Barrier Wall has separated the village from their main agricultural areas, creative, non-violent approaches directly challenging the presence of the wall are their focus of resistance.
Whereas, Daoud Nasaar, owner of Daher's Vineyard and creator of the Tent of Nations outside of Bethlehem, faces a different reality than those in Bil'in. Daoud's basic right to ownership of his property, which was originally purchased by his grandfather during Ottoman rule, has been challenged by the Israeli government and Israeli settler communities surrounding his land. Simply continuing to live and grow crops on his land is an important form of non-violent resistance to encroaching settlements and the government, who want Daoud's family to vacate their ancestral land. Further, Dauod is operating within the Israeli court system to legally retain ownership of his land. This form of non-violent resistance is nearly impossible for most Palestinian landowners because of financial constraints, language barriers, and a general unwillingness of the Israeli courts to hear their pleas.
Lastly, life in the Deheishah Refugee Camp in Bethlehem differs substantially from that of Dauod Nasaar or the villagers of Bil'in. They live in conditions that most people in the United States would find deplorable. They have very high levels of unemployment (50-55%) and rely heavily on the UN for educational, municipal, medical, and food aid. They also have to endure nightly raids by the Israeli military. However, within this context, they have recently built both a beautiful community center and a medical facility to help provide much needed services to Deheishah residents. Further, they have created a standing memorial to the 43 members of the Deheishah community who have died in the second intifada. This development shows their deep commitment to improving and living their lives in face of tremendous hardship. Perhaps even more importantly, it shows their commitment to fostering an unbreakable sense of community. This strikes at the heart of non-violent resistance.
At the same time, given the human reality in Deheishah, violent resistance is also part of their culture. Signs of this form of resistance are evident throughout the camp from children pretending to shoot at us when we entered Deheishah and a boy leaning out a window with a ski mask on his face to pictures of Che Guevera and Saddam Hussein and Iraq scattered across t-shirts and building walls. Perhaps the dichotomy of violent versus nonviolent resistance in Deheishah can be most poignantly observed in their honoring the 43 martyrs in the refugee camp. Thirty-nine were either innocent civilians or armed militia killed by the Israeli Defense Forces and four were suicide bombers. This diversity in death symbolizes the diversity of Palestinian resistance in life and the socio-political and economic realities that shape it.
Searching for the Heart of a Settler
The Palestinian village of At-Tuwani stands on a sun-baked, rocky hillside almost devoid of vegetation. The stone-block homes and other structures in At-Tuwani are very basic, but its 150 inhabitants are proud of their new one-room mosque and the two-story schoolhouse that serves all the villages in the area. They also live with the fear of hearing the ominous rumble of armored bulldozers lumbering up the gravel road to destroy their homes.
Since it is common for the government of Israel to refuse to issue building permits to Palestinians, villagers were forced to build without them. Now these homeowners have been served with demolition orders from the government, a tactic used to intimidate and control. But these and other hardships notwithstanding, the residents of At-Tuwani are survivors.
Standing near the school house, I look across a deep ravine to a ridgeline where rows of well-built, modern homes resembled an upscale Arizona suburb. It’s one of the hundreds of infamous Israeli “settlements” that have spread illegally across what was supposed to be the Palestinian West Bank. These settlements have been strategically located to control water resources and slice up Palestinian lands into isolated and often inaccessible fragments. Contrary to denials in public relations campaigns, this process continues at a rapid pace. In fact, the Israeli government provides substantial incentives to people to move into settlements. Monetary support pours in from the U.S. and more than a few settlers have emigrated to Israel from the U.S. The word “settler” is far too benign to apply to this situation. Perhaps colonist, invader, or occupier would be more accurate.
Israel furnishes electricity and water to the settlement, but refuses to do the same for At-Tuwani. Villagers must rely on a generator, cisterns, and rainwater to live. Knowing how much At-Tuwani villagers depend on their small flocks of sheep, settlers have shot some of them. Villagers say that not long ago, settlers used a mixture of grain and warfarin to poison more than 50 sheep. They also dumped rotting chickens in the village cisterns and even destroyed the home of the mayor.
According to the villagers, settlers started harassing the children from other villages who must pass the settlement every day to reach the At-Tuwani school. Verbal abuse has sometimes been followed with beating small children. Trying to protect themselves, the children now take a longer path, a 60 minute trek over rough ground rather than the former 15 minute walk. Finally, international “watchers” and even an Israeli military escort have tried to protect the children. However, the soldiers sometimes ignore the settlers’ curses and, according to the villagers, have “mooned” the watchers, the children, and their teachers.
I try to see into the heart of the father in the three-story, white limestone home on the end of the settlement nearest the path taken by the frightened children. What are his thoughts when he looks across the valley to the village? How does he justify his behavior? How can he make it congruent with his religion? By what definition is he not a terrorist?
Pressuring Charities in Hebron
Just days before our visit to Hebron, the Israeli Army issued closure, evacuation and confiscation orders of properties and institutions funded by the Islamic Charitable Society which is based in Hebron. Three schools and two orphanages serving 7,000 children, 300 of whom are orphans, will be affected by this decision.
Our Palestinian hosts in Hebron explained that these kinds of actions are normal every day occurrences in the Occupied Territories. According to them, the Israeli government is attempting to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious confrontation, similar to the US government policy of equating Islam with terrorism and Muslim with terrorist. These kinds of policies only serve to further dispossess the Palestinian people and destroy the possibilities for peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In spite of these daily challenges I came away from Hebron convinced more than ever that the occupied people of Palestine are far stronger than their occupier and will continue, whatever the cost, to non-violently resist their inhumane occupation.
Zealotry and Dirty Pipes
Simcha, the middle-aged speaker, portrayed himself as hip and humorous, a kind of scholarly stand-up comedian. But as he laid out his case, I realized that beneath the veneer he was deadly serious. He stood in the synagogue and described the Biblical justification for Beit Hadassa, an Israeli “settlement” in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron. This land, he said, was part of what had been awarded by God to the Jews. He referred to it as Judea and Samaria, never as Palestine or the West Bank. To him there are no Palestinians, just “Arabs.” He simply denies their identity.
As a matter of more prosaic fact, this specific piece of land, referred to as the H-2 zone, was placed under the control of Israeli Jews as a result of the Oslo Accords. All Israelis in Hebron, numbering fewer than 1,000, live in this zone, along with 4,000 soldiers assigned to them. That means that 20% of the land area of Hebron is controlled by less than 0.3% of the population.
This tiny group of Israelis has, with the active support of Israeli government and soldiers, effectively forced Palestinians out of the center of Hebron. They have turned a bustling downtown into an urban ghost town: shops with boarded up doors, homes with shuttered windows, and streets empty of human activity. However, Simcha envisions a Hebron that is “home to tens of thousands of Jews in the future.”
Simcha described himself as “Director of Tourism.” For whom he didn’t say. Surely not for the Palestinians of Hebron. Does he take tourists along these abandoned streets and suggest that this is God’s handiwork? He mentioned that he resents the loss of tourist dollars and referred scornfully to a group of Hindu visitors as “people who don’t buy.”
As far as a solution of the present conflict, he offered a simile for the peace process: “It’s like passing clean water through a dirty pipe.” He explained that because politicians are corrupt they will never reach a fair peace agreement. He said the first step is for the Arabs to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. After that, he wants the Arabs “gone.”
He’s committed to the belief that Arab leaders preach only hate and their goal is to drive Israelis into the sea. To illustrate, he told the story of a 10-month old child who had been killed several years ago in the courtyard in which we stood. The shot came from a sniper on a far hillside covered with homes. Clearly that was a heartbreaking atrocity. In retaliation, the Israeli Defense Forces repeatedly raked all the homes on the hillside with automatic weapon fire. They also built an armed surveillance post on that hillside.
Later, I wondered whether he’d take tourists to the old cemetery just a few hundred meters away. On that site eight years ago, settlers beat a teenage Palestinian boy and threatened to kill him if he returned. He was so traumatized he never again tried to visit the grave of his father. When we heard that story from the young man, we spontaneously formed a group and walked with him to the cemetery. The entrance had been barricaded by two large concrete blocks and rolls of barbed wire so we clambered over some rocks and walked with him to his father’s grave. He wept. Standing with him, we were within easy view of settler’s living on the hillside, but none challenged him – or us.
People on the streets of Israel and Palestine seem to yearn for reconciliation, for an end of violence and fear. The situation is especially complicated here in Hebron because religious tides have flowed back and forth over the centuries. It’s possible to see the points of view of people of faith on both sides yet feel that intense religious ideology may cause blind eyes and deaf ears that block the way to peace.
A Study in Contrasts and Contradictions
While on the long flight home, I found myself trying to put our intense two-week visit into perspective. I kept coming back to the idea of the many contrasts and contradictions I had seen and experienced.
For example: a beautiful single red poppy was growing from a rocky hillside in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. Not ten yards from the flower was the separation wall of razor wire, chain link fencing, and electrified wire – cutting directly across the farmlands of the town of Bil’in. Such beauty and such inhumanity – together.
Another example: on successive days, we met with students from Hebrew University (in Jerusalem) and from Birzeit University (near Ramallah). The Hebrew University students were remarkably similar in their comments and outlook: they expressed fears for their security; most had not been in the West Bank or East Jerusalem before; several repeated the story of a bomb hidden in a Palestinian ambulance as justification for the security concern (although the most recent such incident apparently was over six years ago). One student told me that if she went to Ramallah with me, she “would be killed.” Three felt that Barack Obama was a Muslim (apparently, the news story about his pastor had not reached Jerusalem after several weeks!). In contrast, the Palestinian students at Birzeit University were open, individualistic, engaged, candid and direct. Perhaps it was because we met the Birzeit students on their own campus. Or, perhaps it was reflective of the contrasting environments that the two groups live in. How great it would be if the two groups could meet and talk together! So close (just a matter of a few miles), and yet so far - separated by the monstrous Qalandia “terminal.”
Yet another example. Driving north up the Jordan River valley from Jericho, the West Bank (occupied Palestinian) land was rocky, dry and barren, yet the East Bank (Jordan) was green and dotted with greenhouses. As soon as we reached the territory of Israeli settlements within in the West Bank, the land became remarkably green and fertile, filled with farms. Such a contrast. Yes, the rural Palestinians are more often found tending their cattle, goats, or sheep. But, we found that the water rates charged by Israel to Palestinians are many times higher than those charged to Israeli settlements, and the allocations per person are much more restrictive. No wonder there is such a contrast!
The current Israel-Palestine situation is an enigma. So much of the faiths, histories, and peoples are so similar. And yet so much of the current political situation stands in marked contrast. How can the two sides learn to live together in peace? That is the question we all want answered.
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 | 5 | Action|