Invisibility and Resistance
“Tourist Privilege”: Seeing More Than Israelis See?
On my first day here in East Jerusalem, I decided to wake up a bit early and explore the area near our hotel. Walking South on Jericho Road, I walked past the Mount of Olives before I decided to turn west to take a photo of the Old City. I saw a gold dome (Dome of the Rock, it says on my map) and what appears to be the top of Al-Aqsa Mosque (also on my map). I took my photos and continued south on Jericho Road. When I stopped at a point overlooking a valley, I saw many houses with black water tanks on top of them. The black water tanks are not unusual to me because I have seen them in Latin America. I assumed they are just a part of the water system and I raised my camera to take a photo. Before I pressed the button, I noticed a large gray wall in the background. Is this the separation wall I have read about? I am not sure, but it was almost time for breakfast and I needed to get back to the hotel. I snapped my photo and hurried back the way I came. I am a tourist. I know nothing about what I am seeing.
Later on, I am on a tour bus with my fellow delegates and a guide from the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an Israeli Jew named Yahav. We are following a road along the walls of the Old City, and soon we are driving on a well developed road that passes through an Israeli settlement. The roads and sidewalks in this settlement are wide and clean. There are traffic lights, manicured lawns, and large apartments and homes (Wait, where are the black water tanks?). We turn down an off-seeming road, heading down the hillside. Meanwhile, all of the other tour buses, cars, and taxis continue onward on the beautiful boulevard, bypassing the way we are heading. We are the only tour bus on this road. On our way along, we pass an Israeli Border Police station (there is a border here?), and a building under construction with huge water pipes spread out alongside the roadway (Yahav explains that it will be a new apartment building for the Israeli settlement). Then, suddenly, as we continue down the hill, the sidewalks evaporate, the roads shrink and become bumpy, piles of garbage and rubble flank the street, the houses cram up (the black water tanks have returned!), the land is barren and not fully inhabited, and the houses are smaller. Some houses are destroyed altogether. Yahav explains that we have now entered a Palestinian neighborhood and are no longer in the settlement. I wonder how it can be so different.
We learn from Yahav that this Palestinian neighborhood, while paying their taxes to the Jerusalem municipality just like those living in the Israeli settlement at the top of the hill, only receives – to Israel’s own admission – about 10% of those funds for services in their neighborhoods. Unlike their counterparts in the Jewish settlement, the Palestinians here have no proper sewage or water systems (that explains the black water tanks), no sidewalks, no traffic lights, and no wide and well maintained roads. The Palestinians in this neighborhood are not allowed to build bigger houses or develop on the land without a permit, but the permit is nearly impossible to obtain. When a family builds without a permit, the structure is deemed illegal. If they do expand their homes, which many have done, they risk having their homes completely demolished by the Israeli government. Currently, the number of home demolitions in Palestinian East Jerusalem is about 80 per year.
Continuing further down the road, we are eventually met by the Separation Wall. Its location blocks entry to the neighboring Palestinian neighborhood. What is this wall for? Israel says security from Palestinian suicide bombers, but if that is the case why hasn’t it been placed around this entire Palestinian neighborhood? Why is this Palestinian section cut off from the Palestinian area on the other side? Yahav explains that the wall is not about security as much as it is about trimming off Palestinian populations from the area around Jerusalem in a policy of “controlling the demography” (municipal authorities have a goal of keeping the city 70% Jewish and 30% Palestinian). Yahav says that Israel is doing this to eventually annex Jerusalem as its capital. We drive up a hill and come out by the minaret I saw on my morning adventure. I soon realize that the valley I had been overlooking earlier in the day was this place we just visited – a place under occupation. Why had I not realized that before? According to Yahav, anyone visiting here is not supposed to see this because the roads and byways are meant to keep settlers and tourists away from the Palestinians and the reality of occupation. Things are becoming clearer now. Even if I lived here, I could completely miss that there is an occupation happening.
The next morning, we tour the Old City. We see the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Our tour guide, Said, says to me on the bus, “You will have seen in two days more than some have seen in their entire lives living here.” His words make me think about my tourist experience from the previous day. I was clueless as to the reality of what was happening in the valley. I could not see it or grasp it until we diverted from the road that was purposely created to keep me (and Israelis) away from the Palestinians. Said was right, I was seeing more of this country than many Israelis even have.
Later that night, I ponder again what Said had said to me during the day. I realize that I simply thought about what he said from the perspective of privilege, the perspective of a tourist with a U.S. passport. It is frightening to know that I as a tourist have seen more in two days than many Palestinians and Israelis have ever seen. Of course, the fact that Israelis are not able to see the things I am seeing is more of a matter of selective Israeli policy, while Palestinians are just outright restricted in various ways from moving between these areas the way I am now. How is one ever supposed to understand the land on which they live, let alone resolve a crisis over it, if they are being restricted in these ways?
Sheikh Jarrah: “Beitna, Beitna—Our Home, Our Home”
“Beitna, beitna,” the woman veiled with a golden hijab exclaims, gesturing to a worn house across the street . A house whose rafters are flanked by Israeli flags. “Our home, our home.” In front of the house, two small Israeli settler children play behind a rusty gate — a gate that is locked to the Ghawi family, the house's original inhabitants. “Beitna beitna. Our home, our home.”
Refugees of the 1948 war, the Ghawi family is one of twenty eight families that was granted land in East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule. In return for forfeiture of their refugee status cards and monthly rent payments, the Arab families would be allowed to live in a community called Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. But they did not know that Israel would annex East Jerusalem and other surrounding areas. They did not they know that the government would throw their family out on the street in the middle of the night. They did not they know that they would be forced to pay the cost of their own eviction. “Beitna, beitna. Our home.” A green tree sways in the front yard of the Ghawi family house, propelled by a chilling Jerusalem breeze,
International law is clear here. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” As such, the evictions of the Ghawi family and other Arab refugees are illegal under international law. But international law is nearly unenforceable; international law is a dangerous mix of political aspirations and good intentions. And so the Ghawi family lives in a tent on the street opposite their home. “Beitna. Our home.”
Sheikh Jarrah: Samoud
Effusive welcomes, gifts from people who have little to give, unrefusable offers of cool drinks and strong coffee, incredible spirit and amazing resistance...ahh, here is the Palestine I know and love! It's in Sheikh Jarrah.
For the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, the Nakba is quite literally at their doorstep. Jewish settlers have moved not just into their neighborhood, but right into their homes, evicting them with the help of the police. This is just one of a myriad number of efforts to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of its native Palestinian Arab inhabitants and maintain a Jewish demographic majority.
The evicted families have been stubbornly living in tents in their own backyards, facing harassment, humiliation and often violence from settlers. If Palestinian residents of the neighborhood go to the police to complain about settler violence, they are more likely to find themselves arrested than helped. And, in the final Orwellian absurdity, at least one family has been fined by Israeli authorities who claim the tent they sleep under in their own yard is an "illegal dwelling"--erected without a building permit. The tent has been torn down and confiscated seventeen times. They keep putting it back up.
We meet with several generations of the Hanoun and Rawi families and one of their lawyers, a man diligent enough to represent them in a court system completely stacked against them. At first the women are fairly quiet while the men do most of the talking. But when someone asks one of the women a direct question, the most amazing stories of resistance come pouring out. "Every time we're attacked, I get stronger," says a mother from one of the families. "Before I faced them, I was afraid of the police, but now I have no fear. Now I'm as strong as any man in the neighborhood and maybe more so." Other women echo her sentiments. Since many of the women of the families don't work, they play an important role in Sheikh Jarrah's resistance, maintaining a physical presence near their houses during the day and confronting police and settlers.
These women are awesome. They are exploding the stereotype of the meek, submissive Muslim woman and teaching us all about resistance. If only to meet them, the trip has already been worth it.
P.S. Samoud is an Arabic word generally translated as “steadfastness,” as in being a total badass who won't back down for anything. A generally abundant Palestinian trait.
This is an excerpt from a longer piece on Laura’s blog. To read the original post see: http://lauraontheleftcoast.blogspot.com/2010/07/samoud-in-sheikh-jarrah.html
Interview with Palestinian Legislative Council Members
I keep going through my notes, and realize “Yes! Today felt like 72 hours packed into 12!” We had the chance to meet and interview 4 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who had immediately been imprisoned after the Palestinian elections in 2006 because they had chosen to run on the Hamas ticket to better their chances of election. Their platform was non-religious, non-militant, pro-civil and human rights, and called for the end of occupation. (These elections had been carefully monitored by the international community, including the Carter Center, and were pronounced to be free and fair.) Upon being released from prison this past June, the elected officials immediately received papers to be deported. Rather than obey, they went to the headquarters of the Red Cross here in Jerusalem to protest.
We met with them today, and I asked them what the charges were that the state used to justify the arrest. I specifically wanted to know about any history or involvement in violence against the state of Israel because this would definitely be a question I would be asked when I returned to the US. Their charges – being members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Nothing about violence or involvement in terrorist activities. They support the end of occupation, and the state wanted them to instead support the state. One of the men said, “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, what I was being asked to do. How can an occupier ask us to support them in their occupation? And when we say no, they arrest us? How does this make sense?” And all the while – no animosity towards the Jewish people. 3 1/2 years in prison, and no call for the destruction of Israel. I’m now thinking of Mandela.
During our interview the PLC members, we were also joined by the Archbishop Theodosios, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He was as big a human being as his title suggests! He said that it was his duty as a Christian to come to the aid of those who are oppressed. That’s why he was there at the Red Cross with the PLC members. He called on churches and Christians around the world to support an end to the occupation, and to support Palestinians who are in need. Christians and Muslims, getting along. I’m loving it.
This is an excerpt from a longer piece on Malachi’s blog. To read the original post see: http://leftbrainrightbrainproductions.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/just-like-a-man-but-maybe-more-aka-ghandi-is-a-woman/
‘Like Belgium but without problems’
‘Do you know how you say when there are people on the same territory governed by different laws? I can tell you, there is a word for that in Afrikaans.’
This is how our first guide, Yahav, described the current situation of Israel, where Israeli citizens are subject to Israeli law (Israel being, according to Yahav himself, an imperfect, yet functioning democracy), and Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to the military law. What is worse, in Israel, unlike South Africa, the rules that Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to are not spelled out in legislation but in military orders, against which, needless to say, there is no right to appeal, let alone to a fair trial.
Nothing reasonably justifies such differences, not even security reasons, as the Israeli government claims. What is the security reason behind segregating two Palestinian villages with the wall? Said, our permanent guide and a Muslim Palestinian from East Jerusalem, told us ‘I am not sure what the wisdom behind that is’. There is nothing wise in dividing people from their relatives, subjecting them to hours in queue at checkpoints every day.
What is the solution to this? One state, two states, perhaps even one and half (as apparently some advocate). ‘I would like Israel to be like Belgium but without problems’ said smilingly Paz, one of the students from Hebrew University of Jerusalem we met with today. The Belgians would probably be thrilled and perhaps slightly surprised to know that they are taken as example of a functioning multi-cultural federation. Paz advocated--and I must say that after just three days here this seems to me the best solution--a one-state solution with a secular basis and equal rights, obligations and representation for Palestinians and Israelis.
Once the peace agreement is on its way, Paz and I have agreed to draft a new constitution for the country--a paradise for comparative constitutional law. I am totally looking forward to it.
An “Aha” Moment
I had an ""aha"" moment today. I get the connection between human rights and political policy and it applies to many situations, not just this one. I realized I am part of a similar situation where I live, in Hawai’i. Native Hawai’ian people lost much of their land at time of the overthrow of the monarchy in the 1890’s, lost many water rights essential to growing taro - a staple of the Hawai’ian diet - and almost lost their language.
Only in the last 15 years has the immersion program in schools given some hope for the language to be perpetuated. They have limited access to gathering traditional plants for cultural purposes and cannot access many of their fishing grounds because they are closed off or hotels impede the way to the beach. And often parking spaces are reserved for tourists. Native Hawai’ians have higher rates of incarceration and certain diseases like diabetes and breast cancer. These are similar types of human rights abuses as those that occur here. It took going on this delegation to give me the perspective.
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