<                    Report Five                    

Final Reflections
Hebron, Jenin and Jerusalem
Wednesday - Saturday, November 4 - 7, 2009

 

“Cameras bring truth.  Guns only create more problems”

We met a freedom fighter today.  His weapons are not guns and bombs, they are words and ideas and video cameras. 

Issa Amro is coordinator of B’Tselem’s video project in the city of Hebron.  As he gives us a walking tour of the Old City and the neighborhood he grew up in, everyone seems to know him – shopkeepers, children, Israeli soldiers.  He says the community considers him a hero for his nonviolent action against the oppressors. 

When he started, he was pretty much alone, with some support from Israeli peace activists. Now he can count on 50 people from Hebron to join him in nonviolent resistance to the military occupation of their city.

Issa shows us the house where he was born, but from a distance.  An Israeli soldier nearby is guarding the limit of the area in which Palestinians are allowed, and the house is on the other side of the line.  Issa explains that the city is divided into sections, with part of it under the control of the Palestinian Authority and part under Israeli government control. 

Israeli soldiers seem to us to be everywhere, and Issa tells us that most of them routinely act in arbitrary and unjust ways.  He says that he always carries in his backpack copies of Israeli military orders for patrolling Hebron, so that he can pull out the copies and ask the soldiers to act in accordance with their orders.  Usually the effort is futile.

Issa walks us around the neighborhood, and shows us where streets are barricaded, making even pedestrian travel – for example, from home to school – longer and more difficult for the people who live there. 

“If I were a sniper,” he says, “these barricades would not stop me.  I would climb over these rooftops, jump down, and shoot where I pleased.  These barricades are not for security.  Their real purpose is to harass the peace-loving people who live in this neighborhood – to make life so difficult that we will decide to move away and leave our city to them.”

Issa says that it is common for a soldier to try to provoke a Palestinian.  “They push you, and if you push back, then they arrest you and you spend three, four, five, six months in jail.” 

He tells us about a family he knows who had soldiers break into their home while they were sleeping.  The soldiers tried to provoke them and arrest them, but this family had been given a B’Tselem video camera, and they got most of what happened on film.  The film went to Issa, and then out through the B’Tselem network to all the TV stations and to Youtube. 

Were the soldiers disciplined for invading a civilian home for no valid reason?  “Of course not.  But the family was protected – none of them are sitting in jail.  That’s what’s important for now.”

As we stand near a checkpoint listening to Issa, someone points out to him that a soldier appears to be filming us.  Is that a problem?  “Not at all,” Issa replies.  “Let them film what they wish.  If we all film, then the truth will be known.  Cameras bring truth.  Guns only create more problems.”

Note: B’Tselem is an Israeli Human Rights organization: www.btselem.org

-- Linda Bronstein



“A Future We Can All Participate In”

On Friday we arrived along a little country road at a new, wide and tall tan stone building, outside Jenin.  We first noticed high small snack tables with wide flatbread, hot out of an oven, and bowls of pale green extra virgin olive oil. 

We tore off chunks of bread and dipped it in the olive oil and hummed in delight.  Then Scott introduced Nasser Abufarha, the Executive Director of the Palestinian Fair Trade Organization. He is a tall, round-faced man with thin black hair and a warm smile.  His story speaks a future we can all participate in.

Nasser was born and raised in the Jenin area.  Jenin includes the Jenin Refugee Camp, known as the source of many of the previous suicide bombers. Jenin is also the scene of a massacre of 63 citizens during an invasion by the Israeli military in 2002, and as victim of a tight military siege after the invasion.

At that time Nasser was in Madison, Wisconsin, studying for a PhD in Anthropology.  He returned to Jenin in 2004, began organizing, and in early 2005 convened a national fair trade conference.  43 family farms and 6 women producer-cooperatives have joined in the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA).

Now, PFTA does $4 million in trade with the United States and Europe. Nasser and co-workers trained PFTA cooperative members to meet global fair trade certification standards, maintain continual monitoring, and work hard to find markets.  Whole Foods and Dr. Broner’s soaps have contracts with the Palestine Fair Trade Association.   Now they are negotiating with Ben & Jerry’s Europe for a contract for almonds.  He finds specialty stores that publicize the value of PFTA products are most successful.  The products are certified organic, sustainable processes, fair trade, and enable Palestinian self-reliance.

The PFTA also conducts a scholarship program (last two years 15 women, 5 men, awarded, all on merit).  A priority is awarding to first child in the family going to college.  They also organize a micro loan program for women’s cooperatives, and Trees for Life (available through Jewish Voices for Peace), planting olive, almond, and pomegranate trees.

We toured their new processing facility, which has the capacity to increase production four times current levels.  And we sat under olive trees in back of the factory, joining with farmers to celebrate the harvest year.

We had a few minutes to learn another dimension of Nasser.  His anthropology dissertation is published as a book, The Making of a Human Bomb, An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance. In it he interviewed families and leaders of suicide bombers, and analyzed the place of those acts in Palestinian culture.  He studied the construction of this violence, how it became meaningful, references to history, land, and cultural significance in Palestinian culture.

One of our group asked if he worried that others would consider the work an endorsement of suicide bombing.  He answered, “If we don’t try to understand it, how can we go forward and respond to the situation in which it arose.”  He also said, organizers of suicide bombings told him the Separation Wall makes no difference.  Determined people can get around it.

Nasser said, if you compare everything Palestinians do to resist, 90% is nonviolent.  His own action exposes the lie to those who imagine Palestinians as essentially violent.  The Palestine Fair Trade Association he has built and marketed has in four years become a prominent part of the global fair trade movement.

And fair trade is an accessible way each of us can directly participate in the nonviolent economic uplift of a people who have so many obstacles to accessing any economy beyond their villages.  He gives them the access of a multinational organization. 

And their prosperity depends on our choices to buy the only fair trade olive oil and couscous sold in the world. Ask for it. Buy it.

Yes it costs more. It is organic, and the farmers are paid more, without government subsidies given Spanish olive oil producers.

To learn more about PFTA, go to www.palestinefairtrade.org.

-- Peter Klotz-Chamberlin



My Mom’s Hometown

We walked the streets of the Old City in East Jerusalem. The Jewish presence is clear: soldiers with guns, settlers with the Torah, the Star of David on doors, and the Israeli flag on roofs and balconies.  Surveillance cameras in every corner ensure the Israeli control and dominance.

“Help Us Build Jewish Life in the Old City” says one sign printed on a metal sheet in Hebrew and English mounted in a busy alley for everyone passing by to see.

A Palestinian woman selling vegetables on the street shared her grief with me. “We live a miserable life. We’re threatened everyday and no one cares.”

My heart ached for I have felt her broken spirit and had nothing to say to comfort her. Waves of tourists passed her. Some acknowledged her presence and others ignored it, celebrating Israel and the distorted history. Since when has an illegal occupation become a tourist attraction!

Then we went to Jabel Al Mukhaber, a small town near Jerusalem where my mother was born. We drove by the 30 foot high wall that separates, in some areas, Palestinian towns from Palestinian towns slicing through the lives of families and friends, farmers and their land, students and their schools.

I have read about it. I have seen pictures of it. And now I have no words to describe it after seeing it with my own eyes.

It is a beast; a devastating reality that prevents any kind of dialogue between the two peoples to achieve a just peace.

The wall on the Israeli side is hidden by trees and cleverly planned landscapes just like some destroyed Palestinian villages are hidden under forests. And the wall on the Palestinian side is just across the street, blocking the air they breathe.

There is nothing holy about the Holy Land. It is divided, broken, and strangled with injustice. 

-- Amal Othman



The Palestinian Spirit


The spirit I encountered among the Palestinians I met impresses, even amazes, me. In spite of all the suffering; the cancer-like spread of the Israeli “settlements,” the apartheid walls erected by Israel to separate Palestinians from their farmland and block their freedom of movement, the theft of their water resources, the use of state terror which includes constant harassment, collective punishment, microcontrol of their lives, the routine presence of the military and the demolition of their homes and olive groves, Palestinians remain stoic and will not be crushed.

The ever-expanding provocation of Israeli “settlements” often as the dominant feature in the Palestinian landscape and the ongoing encroachment into East (Palestinian) Jerusalem were a shock to me. I have no doubt that the Israel government intends to destroy Palestinian culture and drive Palestinians from their historic and legal lands. Israeli leaders ignore international law and aggressively persist in depriving Palestinians of their rights, their freedoms, and their dignity under the guise of anti-terrorism. Israel’s actions, as an occupying power, should be condemned by the international community. Most importantly, the United States should immediately halt its financial support for Israel since it is precisely American funds and military hardware that allow its government to commit such inhumane and illegal behavior.

At this point Israel may possess overwhelming military power which it displays everywhere.  But the more it attempts to obtain absolute control the stronger resistance it will encounter from the Palestinians. I further believe that the Palestinian spirit, characterized by quiet determination, hope, and desire for peace, will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state free from Israeli interference and domination.

At that time both Israelis and Palestinians will cease being victims, halt the pattern of violence and again live peacefully together and, I hope, be free from the pernicious interference from the world’s superpowers.

-- Tim Zorach



Imbalances of Power


What imbalance of power vitiates an accord? All of us are acquainted with the idea of statutory rape: a young person is not considered qualified to give consent, and so any sexual intercourse by an adult with such a minor is considered rape. Similarly, a psychologist is considered to have so much power over a client that the client is considered not free to agree or disagree to sexual intercourse: hence, the code of ethics which forbids sexual relationships between the two.

After days of observation on the ground and of listening to concerned Israelis and Palestinians, I am led to conclude that any and all so-called accords between Israel and Palestinians should be considered (by an international body with the power to decide and the will to enforce its decisions) null and void on grounds similar to those in the two cases described above.

What I am seeing and commenting on is the result of the implementation of accords (Oslo, Camp David, Madrid, etc.) between a very powerful state, Israel (in itself and with the overwhelming power of the United States always supporting it), and a weak and not-even-defined-as-a-state entity, Palestine. This series of accords has constituted, in my opinion, a series of statutory rapes of the Palestine people, should be declared null and void, and should be replaced by accords achieved with adequate representation of the Palestinian people by a competent authority. Just as the parents of a person accused of statutory rape would not be permitted to serve on the jury trying his/her case, the United States, a proven interested party – as evidenced by historical and financial support - should not be allowed to serve as part of the competent authority.

I have seen the hilltop settlements connected by highways and walls which block Palestinians’ access to their fields – fields, which, if not worked and/or not harvested, then become Israeli government property, ready for further development. I have heard (from Israeli groups) that 87% of the water from the West Bank aquifer is drawn by Israel, resulting in a situation in which West Bank Palestinians are required to pay high prices to Israeli companies for water drawn from their own aquifers and in which the average Israeli uses about four times more water than the average West Bank Palestinian (the latter average use being only two-thirds of the quantity considered essential).

I cannot consider past accords brokered by so powerful an ally of Israel as the US, and which result in such totally unbalanced losses for Palestinians as valid. In my eyes, the next accord will be the same unless a more balanced negotiating broker is arranged.

-- Pat Fontes



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