Report One                    >

Contrasting Realities in Israel/Palestine

My Journey to Al-Aqsa
May 24, 2008

Phew ... did away with packing ... with the help of my youngest daughter Aasiya, the namesake of Moses's caretaker, I am ready to take off to the land of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon all of them). Here I come, O land of the Prophets & the people of my Book!

Never before, I was called upon by so many friends and family cautioning me what to be aware of and what to refrain from. Strange, that everyone is so concerned!

Never before, my son, Mujahid sent me off with a river of tears. Upon asking, he replied with childish innocence that he may not see me again! He went on to say, I knew well when you traveled to Europe, China, Central Asia, India and among so many other places that you WILL be back but Palestine ... "don't they kill people there?" he asked. I couldn't help but add few tears to his river & hugged & hugged even tighter and in silence, I prayed for a time (hopefully in my lifetime) when a kid in Los Angeles doesn't have to be so afraid to travel to Palestine & experience the land of the Prophets and their legacies.

The whole purpose of my trip is just beginning to reveal itself. Very interesting, rather fascinating. I have no plans. Don't have the slightest idea who I may meet & where and who would help me discover myself and how. Join me, if you like, and come along. I will share with what I learn & together we'll let our children heal us!

--Shakeel Syed

This report piece is a slightly edited version that first appeared on this blog.

Beautiful Occupation
May 29, 2008

How Jerusalem is being cleansed of the images of conflict

On my first visit to Israel and the West Bank, I immediately observed a terrible situation developing in the most contested land of the conflict. East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank and Palestinian land under international law, is slowly and instrumentally being cleansed of the imagery of conflict. As time goes by, Israelis can be less aware of the conditions of the Palestinians whose lives are growing increasingly difficult and untenable. The conflict is being white washed.

When we arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv we experienced the first example of the obfuscation. Israelis and tourists witness one Israel while Palestinians witness another. Miryam Rashid, a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee, a Palestinian activist, human rights advocate, and our delegation co-leader was detained by Israeli border police for five hours of interrogation and searches. For the rest of the delegation participants, however, the process was seamless. We witnessed the marble-coated architecture and machine-like efficiency of Tel Aviv’s airport oblivious to alternative experience for many of its travelers. Miryam was accused of lying and deceiving Israeli border police only to be released with no charges to lead our peace delegation. She told us later that this regular treatment of most Palestinians slowly wears at their confidence.
In one place, two people can see very different face of Israel.

The old more visible conflict appeared in East Jerusalem. Walking through the Muslim Quarter, we came across a guard stand for a Jewish settlement inside the ancient city. The image was raw and real. There was barbed wire, machine guns, and security cameras. We all could see this Israel—it communicates the true nature of the conflict. But sights like this are becoming increasingly rare. As Israel demolishes Palestinian homes and apartments and confiscates Palestinian land they are cleansing the land of these constant reminders of occupation. Segregated by the barrier, the people that enable this occupation are becoming oblivious to its consequences.

But the barrier is not a resolution. While it removes the daily reminders, it does not hold back the hostility and it does not bring about reconciliation. If anything, the radical measures its construction requires have made things worse. Jerusalem is cleansed of its signs of conflict, as it is cleansed of its Palestinian residents.

--Travis Green

This report piece is a slightly edited version that first appeared on this blog.

Witnessing Several Jerusalems
May 28, 2008

Our morning began with a walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.

I'm positive we were a strange sight especially in the very beginning of the tour. We started out in the Muslim quarter, and were systematically shown a series of Jewish settlements within the Old City walls, which is not the typical route for most tours. I was already vaguely aware of the existence of these Jewish enclaves within the Old City, acquired through aggressive, often violent intimidation of Muslims (and Christians) and the underhanded and often illegal means by which some of those properties were purchased. But seeing them first person gave me a palpable impression of desperation. I know this sounds strange when one considers the settlements in the Old City as part of an efficient and well organized strategy aimed at maximizing the Jewish presence throughout areas currently inhabited by Palestinians at their expense. Yet the amount of effort and expenses spent on acquiring and holding on to housing for a handful of families here and there suggests to me an irrational fixation much more than a calculated operation.

Of course, the reality is probably an incomprehensible combination of both states of being. It feels somehow appropriate to label Israeli policy and implementation as irrational calculation. Perhaps the theme for this morning really was paradoxes or at least surreal juxtapositions. I refer now to the content of our tour, which alternated between demonstrations of invasive Jewish presence and anecdotal exposure to some of the holiest sites in all three relevant religions. Another fine example was the souvenir vendors, who carried t-shirts with anything from "Free Palestine" printed on them to American sports teams, to clearly nationalistic Israeli slogans. One such shirt had printed upon it something to the effect of "Don't worry America, Israel is right behind you!" followed by an unmistakable image of an F16 fighter jet.

We completed our tour with the Wailing Wall, about which I have mixed feelings. We were immediately bused to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) just to the East of the Green Line, in East Jerusalem. There we were given a presentation focusing mostly on the extreme difficulty of movement for Palestinians within the West Bank due to all the checkpoints, roadblocks, and the Separation Barrier. I had been exposed to most of that information, but it was clear that those who were not already aware of this situation were horrified. In short, there are far more obstacles to movement and contiguity in the West Bank than can be justified by security for the occupying soldiers. Far more raw data is available the UNOCHA site.

After a hurried lunch, we returned to the hotel to receive a presentation from a member of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD). There followed a tour of Arab neighborhoods hit hard by home demolitions and those affected by settlement expansions in the East Jerusalem area. This was a difficult thing to see, especially since I work in housing. I try to imagine what my job would be like if I worked in a country where the government could spontaneously serve the building where I work with a demolition notice because the disenfranchised minority population are considered a security risk, or because another security threat must be dealt with by building infrastructure on that spot. See a photo of a destroyed home the delegation witnessed here.

These people who have had their homes demolished are fortunate if they have time to retrieve their belongings before the bulldozer reduces their home to rubble. Perhaps the cruelest, most Kafkaesque (a popular word here) aspect of this policy is that after a demolition notice has been served, there is no indication of how long the government will wait before arriving with the bulldozer—sometimes it is weeks, sometimes years. The safe option for those who have been served is therefore to demolish themselves the home they may have inhabited for their entire lives.

We did not have the ill fortune to witness a home demolition in progress, but we did see the evidence of several. Rubble lying in heaps in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. We saw also how this and other Palestinian neighborhoods in this part of East Jerusalem were slowly being strangled by expanding Israeli settlements on all sides, and plans for further ones to connect these into a massive block creating islands of Arab inhabitants who are isolated from essential services. This is not to mention the Separation Barrier that has split extended families from one another, an example of which we met. And they invited me into their home, and were so disappointed that we could not stay for some tea.

And then we saw the Israeli settlements: lush, manicured communities built on stolen land, overusing the water resources of a desert region. But what was perhaps the hardest notion for me to reconcile is that the inhabitants of these communities are there because it's affordable, subsidized housing. These are not those ideological settlers you hear about in the news. See a photo of a settlement here.

I am reasonably certain that I am not victim to the same denial and naiveté afflicting those so-called economic settlers who feel they can simultaneously inhabit these settlements and consider themselves peace activists. On the other hand, witnessing firsthand exactly what these settlements represent throws normal gentrification into a whole new perspective. The major differences are that displacement in the US is along socio-economic instead of (purely) ethnic lines, and there are far fewer guns involved. But on some level the intent on cleansing is still the same if you look high enough among the city planning officials, and involves the same level of naive complicity on the level of the frugal yuppies who perpetrate the cleansing. Young upper middle class infiltrators move into a working class neighborhood, staking out individual settlements and start gathering services and infrastructure around themselves, like better garbage collection, police presence, and familiar business chains, to preserve their way of life in this new environment. This can be compared to the way that an Israeli settler family will move into a house acquired by bullying Palestinians who have little to no developmental rights anyway and will immediately bring with them private body guards, and will eventually begin receiving better electric, plumbing and maintenance services once their community grows sufficiently large. What a frightening world we live in where ignorance can mean complicity in ethnic or socio-economic cleansing.

The answer, as always, has been to speak out, to break through ignorance by reaching out in earnest through education of the kind that is elided in school. Israeli school books do not apparently teach children about the Green Line. I am less surprised that so few Israelis recognized my Palestinian flag. But I am becoming increasingly convinced that this kind of delegation is one of the greatest tools towards achieving this kind of education. By observing the effects of this one day on the members of this delegation, I am convinced that the potential to educate Americans is significant. Perhaps there is little we can do to educate those Israelis who succumb to the temptation to live as economic settlers, especially considering the efforts in place by the planners to keep them in the darkness, but America, for better or for worse is a piece of the puzzle. And with more Americans returning with the first hand experiences we will cultivate here, we can change America's role.

--Yotam Amit

This report piece is a slightly edited version that first appeared on this blog.



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.


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 | 6