I Am Here
Jerusalem, July 26-27
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Hineni – I Am Here
A few days before coming to Israel, one of my sponsors, David Jacobsen of Chicago Jewish Funerals (http://chicagojewishfunerals.com), encouraged me on this journey to keep two Jewish principals in mind: “mitzvah goaret mitzvah” >> good deeds beget good deeds; and “hineni” >> “I am here.”
I am finally here in Jerusalem at the Holy Land Hotel (http://www.holylandhotel.com), and so excited about getting the interfaith delegation officially underway tomorrow. We’re meeting with over 30 groups over the next 2 weeks, and the focus is on what youth are doing to address the conflict and build relationships. Some things I’m looking forward to seeing are how good deeds are begetting good deeds, as well as observing how “I am here” is manifesting in the day to day lives of Israeli and Palestinian youth. On a personal level, and in a very concrete way, I think that we each are the hands of god – and how we move and whom we touch matters.
To catch you up on the last two days – we completed our delegation briefing in D.C. on the 25th, drove thru torrential rains to Dulles, nearly missed our flight to Heathrow but made it just in time. It was a double-decker 747, admittedly the largest plan I’ve ever flown, and I was seated in 53E. In case you don’t know where that is, it’s dangling from the tail of the plane. I was smack in the middle in the very back. Taking it in stride, a mother and daughter seated next to the window had the opportunity to move forward to join their family, so I had the chance to move to the window on the left side (my personal favorite!), and get some nice footage of the sunset and sunrise from the plane.
From Heathrow, or what I like to call the world’s largest mall, so big people fly in to shop there, we flew to Tel Aviv, where I had the pleasure of being shortly detained due to my passport having a stamp in it from Sudan. But everyone appears to be a fan of the Lost Boys of Sudan, so I was quickly given my visa and entered the country!
We joined our tour guide, boarded the bus, and came to the hotel. Upon arriving, we had some delicious fresh watermelon, which my wife Lindsay assured me would be a staple for the next 3 weeks, and listened to a hauntingly beautiful singing/call to prayer from a nearby mosque.
Welcome to Israel
This is my first time flying into Ben Gurion Airport and interacting with Israeli border control/security of any kind. Ben Gurion Airport may very well have the most unapologetic system of racial profiling in the world. Immediately off the jetway, one of the three people of color in our group is singled out by security--before we even get to passport control--for questions about his parents' names (designed to detect any trace of Arabness.) His grandfather's name, which is Jorge, apparently convinces them he is not a threat.
I expected to get some questions about why I have a Jordanian visa in my passport already, plus the normal bits about where I'm going, what I'm doing, etc. I consider myself pretty white. But apparently with dark eyes and dark wavy hair I am not quite white enough to avoid the Arab test myself at passport control. Or maybe the border control agent is just in the mood for extra questions.
"What is your father's name? What is your mother's name?" I give their first names, neither of which sound Arab/Muslim/Middle Eastern in the least. If they had, the border control agent might have asked to go further back in the family tree, looking for any trace of Arabness or alleged Arabness, which would surely have resulted in a trip to the back room for further questioning of indefinite length. "Durkay...is that an American name?" I want to tell her how absurd this question is. What the hell is an "American name?" "Yes," I say. And shortly thereafter my passport is stamped.
While I make it through passport control fairly easily, three people are taken for additional questioning in the back room: our Palestinian-American co-leader, who is always, without fail, taken for extra questioning, sometimes for hours; a young Muslim woman of South Asian heritage; and a super-white guy who happens to have gone to an Arabic-speaking country deemed suspicious. We wait for them under the "Welcome to Israel" sign. He's out in a couple of minutes. Our co-leader is thrilled to only be held for an hour--last time it was five. The third person is held for three hours. Welcome to Israel, indeed.
By the time we leave the airport it's getting dark and a surreal full moon is rising. We are instantly in the midst of an apartheid system. Here is al-Lydd (Lod), the city from which the ancestors of the main character in Gaza Sunrise were ethnically cleansed in 1948. Here is Canada Park, a vast green space built to cover up the remains of destroyed Palestinian villages. Here is the wall, dividing the Palestinian city of Ar-Ram in half. Here is Ofer military prison, with its own high concrete walls and a giant Israeli flag on the watchtower. And here and there and there, brightly lit up on hilltop after hilltop, are settlement after settlement after settlement.
We drive on Route 443, a modern highway from which Palestinians were banned until a month ago. While they are legally allowed to use it now, in practice the harassment and delays they face at the checkpoints have kept almost everyone off the road. Our bus, with its yellow Israeli license plates, skates through at least three checkpoints with hardly a pause.
It is depressing and sad to see so much of the finished product of settler colonialism (which looks atrociously like southern California) and the grinding, implacable momentum of the process still at work today.
Maps and Democracy
We have just arrived in Tel Aviv and I looked at the tourist brochure available at the airport. The map of Israel makes no mention of the West Bank, Occupied Territories, or Palestine. Instead the whole area is considered part of Israel. I had heard about this but seeing on an official Israeli map brought it home to me.
Politicians in the US often defend the military and economic support of Israel by saying it is the only democracy in the Middle East. To me this means equality for all, including the right to vote. Palestinians in Samaria and Judea, the Israeli name for the West Bank, cannot vote, and are subjected to many indignities, such as an unannounced demolition of their homes by the Israeli Defense Forces. These Palestinians are not citizens of Israel and to include the West Bank territory in the State of Israel gives me an easy answer – Israel is not a democracy. Two and a half million Palestinians in “Israel” cannot vote.
I am spreading it out like a bed sheet. The irony, laying it out to dry, to see. It is this: Of all places, it is in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, where I have found a mentality of need.
It is currently 2:05pm. Since 8:30 in the morning today, my thoughts have revolved around the word ‘need’ in all its forms--what I need to do, what I need. This state of being begs two questions. First, what is it I need? I need resources. Not time, for once, not time. I need maps, I need DC speakers, I need presentation times in classrooms, I need contacts with the media. I need clarity of mind. I need photographs to prove I saw this; that I was here; that I heard these stories.
Secondly, what is it I need to do? I need to talk; to put myself out there. I need to speak out; I need for my passion, for my outrage, to bleed through my speech. I need true concentration. I need for this headache to go away so I can better hear what is being said. I need for distractions to bypass me entirely. I need support; moral support, from my family. I need, perhaps more importantly, to know that without support, I can do everything nonetheless. I can, because I need to.
So many aspects of my day-to-day life are shaped by optional activities, optional thoughts, and optional emotions. This defies that lifestyle. This experience begs a lifestyle of need: there is no option but action. In this lifestyle, there is no use for ‘I tried’, only for words that measure effectiveness, efficiency, quality. A need for raw communication. Here it goes:
In orientation, we discussed privilege. Above all, I feel my greatest privilege is my age. There’s a tremendous sense of empowerment in being exposed to these realities at a young age. As has been the case many times throughout my life, with the combination of age and exposure, comes the tremendous feeling of responsibility. In other occasions, namely Southern Africa, the weight seemed overbearing; the responsibility was just as great as at any other time, but the action plan was incomprehensible. Southern Africa left me blank.
The weight now is just as massive, but there is a more structured sense of what I can do/what I am obliged to do. There’s comfort in that clarity. There’s also fear--I am moving to Jordan; what can I do there? This preoccupation aside, there’s the yearning for silence; for the rumble of the bus to stop, for the guide to stop using the loudspeaker. A yearning for stillness; for hours of nothing to do, no one to speak to, no place to be. A yearning to sit down on a ledge overlooking Jerusalem with my journal and a pen.
- Laura Peñaranda Currie
On Tuesday, when driving from Ramallah back to East Jerusalem we got out of the bus and went through the Qalandia checkpoint to get the experience that Palestinians go through on a daily basis. Out guide, Said, explained that his youngest daughter has chosen to switch universities because this checkpoint is adding 3 to 4 hours to her commute EVERY day. It took us 45 minutes; we were late for dinner; but we only had to do it once.
This trip is really going to help me look at the level of privileges I have in my day-to-day life and hopefully decrease how much I take them for granted.
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