Witnessing -- and Being Seen
Jerusalem and Bil’in, July 26 & 27
Bored and Power-tripping
A little after 5 p.m. local time, I stood in line with the IFPB delegation to go through Israeli immigration. I had thought a lot about this moment before deciding to join this delegation. I had heard from friends who travel to Israel frequently that airport security had a tendency to bestow “special” attention to individuals seeking to enter the country who fit a certain profile. Young, and Muslim, I fit two of the top three screening criteria. I was therefore not too surprised when the young female Israeli security officer in the immigration booth took but a moment to look at my passport before she paged another officer to escort me to a partitioned detention area. It was not long before one of our trip leaders, Miryam – who achieved the trifecta by being young, Muslim, and Arab – joined me, and the other handful of mostly Palestinian people sitting in the detention room, waiting to be called for additional questioning.
After waiting for about an hour, I was called in. A uniformed security officer asked me from behind a computer the names of my father and grandfather and their nationalities. He asked me if I knew anyone in Israel, and I told him truthfully that I did not. He looked up at me for a second and asked, “Is that the truth?” I told him, again, it was. I was sent back to the waiting room.
A half hour later I was called to a different room, this time by a plainclothes officer. Oded, as the officer introduced himself, was very different from the one who questioned me first. While the latter had the distinct impression of a civil servant who pushes paper for a living, Oded was older, had a very commanding presence, sat tall in his chair across from me, and always looked me directly in the eye when he spoke. Oded commenced grilling me on my identity, the purpose and details of my trip to Israel; threatening to deport me when he didn’t believe me; trying to convince me to give him access to my personal email account to “prove” my good intentions in Israel. Periodically, he would get angry when I answered by telling him that I did not have an “activist” agenda in Israel. He would then send me back to the detention area to consult with Jake, the other group leader, with a warning to come back only when I was “ready to tell the truth.”
After about two hours of playing cat and mouse, Oded informed me that I was very lucky. Although he had not been able to prove it (since I did not let him log onto my email account) he did not think I was there to cause trouble in Israel, and therefore would let me in, this once. As we finally stepped into the Tel Aviv night (almost 24 hours after our departure from Washington) Jake pointed out that my release coincided nicely with the arrival of the next flight into Ben Gurion airport, and the next wave of potential threats to Israel’s security. As I reflect back on my first human encounter in Israel, I realize what a dangerous combination power can be, in the hands of the bored.
Selling Gum Through Steel Bars
I am going by foot through an Israeli checkpoint located in the West Bank between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Apparently this is how Palestinians living here do it every day. For me, it has taken one hour because it is the evening, but I have heard that for local commuters it can take four hours. A little boy is trying to sell me gum through steel bars keeping us contained in line. He’s a pro. Someone has dribbled fake tears in his eyes, and his gaze locks mine. I have my journal open. His thin body slides between the bars with ease, and he places two packs of gum directly onto my journal with force as to say, “now give me money.” I tell him “no, I do not want them.” He kicks me in the shins and picks up a rock, then follows us through the checkpoint until we board our bus on the Israeli side of the border.
I have joined this delegation to be a living witness of Israeli and Palestinian humanity. From what I have seen, touched, smelled, heard, and tasted after only two days, I do not choose to blame him.
Which Battle? Which Enemy?
From these two days in Israel and Palestine, it seems to me that the biggest challenge here is to identify the battle and the enemy. From the outside, it is easy to fall into the stereotypes of seeing the Palestinians’ enemies as the Jews, or the Israeli, or the Israeli soldiers as the perpetrators of gruesome crimes. It might be tempting to think that the Palestinians’ battle against eviction, against restriction to free movement and access to water could be solved in an Israeli court of law.
In these two days, I have not heard one single word from Palestinians against Israelis or Jews as people. In fact, an activist whose best friend died in a non-violent protest said, “We don’t hate the Jews, many Jewish friends come and drink tea every Friday at our home, we just want to be free, we want to put an end to this occupation”.
However, if Israeli policy, rather than the Israeli people, is the initiator of intolerable restrictions to the most fundamental of human rights, such as the right to food, to access to water, to a home, to education, it will not be through the Israeli courts that such rights will be granted to the Palestinians. Today we were at the home of someone in East Jerusalem who has been evicted, following the Israeli project of changing the demographic balance inside East Jerusalem. The lawyer there told us that it was clear that they were never going to win their case in an Israeli court, which will simply apply Israeli law and fail to apply international law. It will not be through domestic legal means, but rather through international political and diplomatic pressure that something could change.
The enemies are not the Jews, nor the Israeli people. And the battle is not a domestic one, which can be fought by Palestinians alone. It is one which must be fought by us all, outside Israel, telling our governments that this occupation must be stopped.
- Mariolina Eliantonio
Yahav of ICAHD at the Wall in East Jerusalem (see report below for more inforamtion on the ICAHD tour)
First Installment of Malachi's Video Blog
Where The Sidewalk Ends
“We’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”
Excerpt from “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein
Today we went to the place where the sidewalk ends – a small Palestinian village within the city limits of Jerusalem, near the West Bank. We went there with Yahav Zohar, a young Israeli Jew who works with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (http://www.icahd.org). There were many things which made a strong impression on me, a few of which are the following: Yahav spoke of the conflict not in terms of “Pro-Palestinian” or “Pro-Israeli,” but pro-sustainability, i.e., supporting a sustainable solution which provides basic human and civil rights to all individuals living in Israel and the occupied territories. Rather than just talk about it, we saw for ourselves--a village where they lacked many of the basic services which seemed to be par for the course elsewhere. Lack of access to consistent running water, lack of garbage collection, lack of sufficient public schools, terrible roads--and no sidewalks. The sidewalk literally ended at the edge of the dividing line between the Israeli settlement and the Palestinian village.
Before heading to Israel, a friend had asked me to take a look at the difference between the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian villages – to try and observe the “squalor” and “filth” in which the Palestinians “chose” to live compared to their Israeli neighbors right across the street-- “Why do you think they would choose to live like that?” he asked me.
Can’t say I ran into anyone in the Palestinian village who wanted to be living in place where there were no sidewalks, insufficient access to education for children, dilapidated, winding roads with garbage falling down the embankments because of the lack of trash collection by the state, and inability to obtain permits to expand housing for their growing families. We saw a home which had been demolished (one of approximately 80 per year) – if a family builds an addition to their home without a permit, and it costs $50,000 for the addition, they will be fined $50,000. Even though they pay the fine, they are still at risk for having the home demolished because it remains an illegal structure – illegal, even though the family pays the fine. Even though the settlement right across the street continues to expand and build in an area where it is supposedly illegal according to Israeli state law to build. If a Palestinian family chooses to move from the village to the outside of the city limits of Jerusalem, they risk losing their Jerusalem city ID card (similar to a green card in the U.S.), which means, among other things, they would not have access to their health care, jobs, and would have severely limited mobility. So to answer my friend about why the Palestinians “choose” to live the way they do – observing the differences for myself, I didn’t see a choice. It’s difficult to say I didn’t see discrimination.
Yahav also asked us to find ways to encourage diplomatic and economic pressure from the U.S. in order to force Israel to finally make a decision about what to do with Gaza and the West Bank. He asked us to urge the U.S. to stop supplying Israel with military aid (we’ve promised $30 billion in military aid over the next 10 years). He said “we are less secure now than we have ever been – please stop giving us weapons, we are only becoming more and more in danger because of it.” He thinks that until Israelis truly feel they have something to lose, the political climate within Israel will fail to change. He is working to try and change public opinion within Israel, but also wants to see U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East change as well. ”How can you support and promote democracy in the Middle East when you support the occupation, which is a military dictatorship?” he asked us. Israel is a democracy, he stated – problematic, but yes, a democracy (similar to the U.S. being a democracy in 1950, even though African Americans did not have the right to vote – making our democracy quite problematic). He went on to say, “We face two choices, one of which will eventually happen, and both of which are getting closer to happening – either we will be forced to change because of massive violence, which I hope doesn’t happen, or we will change because people choose to create a just and sustainable solution.”
The last thing I’ll mention is that I have so far failed to see a religious conflict here – the Palestinians whom I have met do not hate Jews. The Jews whom I have met don’t hate the Palestinians, and they don’t hate Muslims. In fact, the idea that “Jews and Muslims have always been fighting” is actually untrue. Jews peacefully lived for hundreds of years in Arab countries such as Iraq and Iran – and often lived comparatively well compared to their counterparts living in Europe and Palestine. But there is no doubt that there is fighting over land, resources, and human and civil rights.
This is an excerpt from a longer piece on Malachi’s blog. To read the original post see: http://leftbrainrightbrainproductions.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/where-the-sidewalk-ends/
On our first full day in Palestine, we are already off to Bil'in, one of the best-known (although certainly not only) centers of unarmed resistance to the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank.
The villagers of Bil'in and their international and Israeli supporters have protested every Friday for the past five years against the wall (here a fence) that cuts them off from their land. Our driver exhibits nerves of steel as he maneuvers the bus around rollercoaster hairpin turns through the West Bank's rocky hills.
Eyad Burnat of the Bil'in Popular Committee greets us at the door to his home. Bil'in is busy today--he is also expecting a crew of Belgian solidarity activists. While Eyad waits, his twelve-year-old son Majd hops on the bus and directs us out to "the battlefield," the fence and gate that keeps Bil'in's residents from accessing their agricultural lands beyond the wall. Majd knows the way; he is at the protests every week.
The battlefield looks the part. The earth in front of the gate, and in many patches along the steep, narrow path, is scorched black from exploding tear gas canisters. Spent canisters dot the ground like weird fruit. The hill by the gate is also home to the grave of Bassem Abu Rahma, killed when an Israeli soldier fired a high-velocity tear gas canister at his chest. It's hard to miss how steep and rocky the path is--bad for running crowds, bad for quick evacuations of wounded.
Eyad arrives with the Belgian group. There are now about 30 of us hanging around right near the gate. Eventually an Israeli soldier emerges from the army fortifications above the gate. Then a second one. They watch us. "I am not supposed to be here; they've banned me from the demonstration site," Eyad says calmly. He makes no effort to hide from view, though, standing on a rock to address us and the Belgian solidarity group that has arrived.
Later, in Eyad's living room, we watch video of the weekly protests and of the punitive night raids into the village by the Israeli military. Ten times they have come to his house at night, Eyad says. He lassos one of his younger sons--he can't be more than ten--to tell us about how the soldiers roughed him up for trying to film a raid on a neighbor's house with a cell phone camera. Was he afraid? "No," he answers instantly with a smile.
Eyad tells us something remarkable. "Bil'in does not observe curfews." When the Israeli military declares a curfew, locking residents in their homes twenty-four hours a day, the village simply defies it en mass. When neighboring Ni'lin was under curfew for several days, the residents of Bil'in organized a march to bring them food. One video clip shows Israeli armored jeeps apparently retreating from the village under a hail of rocks.
For its resistance the village has paid a heavy price. Bil'in currently has 85 residents in prison, including 4 minors. Within a four-month period last year, 35 people were arrested, held for anywhere from four months to a year. In Ni'lin, five people have been killed and three members of the Popular Committee are currently in prison. But Eyad says without the presence of Israeli and international solidarity activists, it would be much worse.
This is an excerpt from a longer piece on Laura’s blog. To read the original full post see: To read the original full post see: http://lauraontheleftcoast.blogspot.com/2010/07/bilin.html
From Sunrise to Evening Song
Long but fantastic day! Starting with sunrise on Dome of the Rock. Ian and I hiked up the Mount of Olives to catch sun glinting off golden dome with full moon in background setting against azure morning sky. Toured East Jerusalem and the Bil'in "battleground,” where demonstrators have died for the Palestinian cause and then walked through an Israeli checkpoint: it was an empathetic experience. Got back to Jerusalem in time for dinner and then Palestinian traditional music concert! It was beautiful warm evening and spectacular venue at the Tomb of the Kings. Miryam translated Palestinian resistance songs. Came back to hotel for team meeting at 11pm. My contribution to the discussion was that calling Israel's oppression what it is, genocide, is a necessary and important strategy for ending the conflict. Some disagree.
All great! It was an amazing first day!
- Michael Rabb
I Saw You
You, Palestinian man. I saw you.
I want you to know that I saw you.
You had tired eyes, very dark and somewhat resentful too. And I think I
know why. Because I saw them and I saw you.
I know it wasn't that much time, but I didn't need much time.
I saw what was happening. I saw it up close, uncomfortably and painfully
close. You were invisible to them and you wanted them to see you. But
they didn't see you. I really wished they had. I wish they had seen you.
But there are some things beyond our control.
What do you have to do to be seen? Be carried off on a stretcher, or maybe
scorned for offending their sensibilities because you are tired of
reassuring everyone that you too are human?
You stop reassuring them. You shield yourself from them instead. I saw the
shields in your eyes.
Give me your identity card. I'll help you safeguard it until you don't need
it anymore. Until you can be free in this land in which you are rooted, and
also in a way distorted. Until the day that you are seen.
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