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The Weight of the Past

Unrecognized Villages & Activists Working to Demilitarize Israeli Society
June 1, 2008

Our delegation activities today started when we arrived at the unrecognized village of `Ayn Hod. As we learned in our meeting at this village, the unrecognized villages are those populated by Israeli-Arabs who were displaced in the 1948 conflict, and who either resettled their old villages, or who established new villages near the site of their original village if it was demolished by Jewish forces. These Arabs are essentially given an Israeli passport and nothing else. No running water, no electricity, no garbage collection, no representation in any government above the local level, no input at all into zoning, no representation in census or other statistics, no education support, no medical services, yes tax collection, yes home demolitions. We were shown a video concerning the formidable effort and difficulties the residents of `Ayn Hod and a handful of other unrecognized villages faced in order to secure water, and, three months before our arrival, electricity to just one building. There are still some 100 of these villages, apparently, where it takes all day for the women to bring water from a well in the nearest town in containers "exotically" carried on their heads. Perhaps the best example of the false romanticization of the "rustic" conditions of these villages is that our host informed us that he also owned a restaurant. He claimed that it is renowned in Israel for being among the very best and thus receives high profile customers who apparently remind him frequently that he should not bother getting electricity as the restaurant is so much more appealing without it.

After `Ayn Hod we were taken to Kibbutz Ha'Ogen, where we met with representatives of a group called New Profile. There the group was introduced to New Profile's efforts to demilitarize Israeli society, which has a universal draft at the age of 18. I was surprised that Israeli society utilized the image of the military even more than I had previously understood. Another surprising fact that I previously had no idea about was just how little soldiers earned, forcing them to remain an economic burden on their parents for the years of their service. Furthermore, these soldiers the age of college students in the US are carrying around semi-automatic assault rifles and small arms with them on their person nearly always because the military will not take responsibility for the weapons. Apparently this does lead to a number of injuries and deaths through misuse of weapons in addition to the weapons occasionally being sold.

But perhaps the most surprising fact to me is that over half of any given graduating senior class in the recent past will either avoid service or drop out within the first year. The vast majorities of these cases are not conscientious objection, but New Profile works to support those who do decide to take that path.

I will not take the time here to go through all the arguments New Profile made for demilitarizing Israeli society since they are vast and range from mental health to domestic violence to economy and even to security. Instead I will mention the most compelling argument made by the representatives of New Profile for ending the unconditional and unmatched military support the US sends Israel every year. These two representatives, both of them mothers and grandmothers, outright refused to have their children put at risk and die for the Zionism of foreigners, American or not.

Originally posted here.

--Yotam Amit

June 3, 2008

We leave Dheshieh Refugee camp – to Hebron. Again, walls and barriers. Hebron is in the West Bank, but there are several Israeli settlements in and around Hebron. So Hebron is divided into H1 (under Israeli military control—with about 40,000 Palestinian residents and 600 Israeli Jewish settlers) and H2 (Palestinian, primarily Muslim and nominally under the Palestinian Authority).

First stop is to meet settler David Wilder, at the Hebron Heritage Institute. The Hebron settlement is one that has a strong ideological background. It has become known for the significant violence between settlers and Palestinians, and for the continuing expansion into Palestinian land. Wilder is a short rather slight man, tells us he originally was from New Jersey. I can’t help noticing he is the first civilian we have met that carries his gun on his waist. He explains that his is an ideological view; he does not see himself as extremist. He makes the choice to live in Hebron and says all Jews should live in Israel, but it is their choice. Provides his view of history; Jews lived in area during time of Moses, to more recent times. In early 1800’s small Hasidic group moved into Hebron. He barely mentions the people that were living there at the time, the Palestinians. In fact, during our question and answer period, when one of our members asks about Palestinians, Wilder says “you say Palestinian, but here we call them Arabs.”

Over the next half hour or so, Wilder explains that he believes how important security is, that he wants to always be prepared to take care of himself. “If you only use defensive means, you can never win. Look at what happened in Europe, I live in a state where 50-60 years ago our people were being shoved into ovens, six million of us died. What I learned was that no one (U.S., Europe) cared about the Jews. We know “if you don’t worry about yourselves, no one else will.” It seems clear that Wilder believes that he is protecting Israel and Jews by staying in Hebron. He sums up his views, “I don’t see myself as an extremist. I look at myself as an ideologue. I carry a weapon, but I’ve never had to kill anyone, thank God. I’ve never said to Arabs that they have to leave, neither has our other representative, but they say that about us. Everyone here is armed, we could start shooting outsiders, but we don’t.”

--Paula Roderick

Revisiting Vad Vashem

Returning to Yad Vashem was a much easier experience than the first time. Somehow the familiar museum setup allowed me to feel more at ease, even though the subject matter was of the most difficult nature. Still, I can't help but appreciate that there exists a museum to commemorate the immense loss and the perversion that led to it. It was also important to me that my co-delegates, many of whom have had only limited exposure to the true nature of the Holocaust, were exposed to this element in the overall conflict here. After all, whether or not I think it is good that the Holocaust lies at the base of the fear that leads Israel to commit terrible deeds, it is an undeniable part of the overall Jewish narrative. Furthermore, my impression is that we have been exposed a great deal to the Palestinian narrative, which I believe is justifiable as compensation for the over representation of an Israeli perspective in American media. The effect of all these powerful meetings with Palestinians, however, has been to give some among us a rather black-and-white sense of the conflict, which cannot be that simple. Now perhaps they will understand that no matter what solution is reached, Jews will need to be reassured in any agreement that we are not leaving ourselves vulnerable to have anything like the Holocaust again.

Of course we too need to work on this fear; it's not just for the rest of the world to assure us. We will never be completely free until we can do this. I felt the weight that we carry with us in the museum. I can understand the need to carry this weight, but I am convinced that to forgive ourselves is not to forget. We need not sacrifice any of our remembrance to allow ourselves to continue to heal to the point where we can, as a people, trust other peoples and feel confident about our future. Walking through Yad Vashem, reading important facts concerning the racist ideologies of the Nazi era, stripping the Jews of their rights, the camps, the deaths, I could feel myself closing off to the rest of the world, the weight of fear settling around my neck. I perceived that all these things were being tied to the Zionist narrative which holds that the Jews have been so injured that no other nation can be trusted with our safety. Carrying the Holocaust on our shoulders causes us to insist that our survival depends on having a state, and that this end therefore justifies any means to achieve it. My lifeline was in the sculpture made by my grandfather, which I had correctly identified in our previous visit. Dark, but full of life, it represented to me a hope of a way out, the ability to express our pain, fear, suffering and brokenness through art and not war and occupation.

Originally posted here.

--Yotam Amit



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