Concluding Reflections: "So, Let's Get to It"
Interfaith Peace-Builders 34th delegation concluded Friday, August 6th.
Below is our last trip report from this delegation, including pieces from the last days of the delegation and reflections on the whole experience.
What You Do Not See
This place is clearly more about what you do not see than what you see. Don't get me wrong: what you see is amazing. The streets of Jerusalem, the church of the Nativity, the Wailing Wall. The atmosphere is truly magic. But while enjoying the atmosphere one might miss essential things.
For example, while on the bus in the beautiful outskirts of Jerusalem, one sees houses in the quiet countryside. A house is a house in many places of the world: here it carries deep social, political and demographical meanings. Many of the houses one can see in this area are Israeli settlements, built in breach of international law, with the purpose of splitting the Palestinian neighborhoods and avoiding the potential claim of a territorially unified Palestinian State.
One may want to go to the old town of Jerusalem, a city with a history spanning millennia, breathtaking views and stones that can tell you stories from the Torah, the Quran and the New Testament. While strolling by, one might miss a sign in Hebrew: it is a police station. Nothing wrong with that, except that it was installed in a building from which a Palestinian family has been unlawfully evicted. As the Israeli government did not actually need a new police station in that specific area, they put up a sign that they receive complaints only during office hours.
Taking a trip to the West Bank is certainly an experience worth having: the places are beautiful and the people extremely hospitable. While enjoying the landscape one might miss the fact that most the houses one sees from the wide highway are Israeli settlements. What is more, one might miss, because of a road block, the orchard 'Tent of Nations', owned by Palestinian family who has been peacefully fighting in Israeli courts against the confiscation of their land, surrounded by Israeli settlements. Their land is clearly very valuable for the Israeli government, but with the help of several registration acts and an impressive amount of inner strength, they have not only been opposing the confiscation but, in their own words, 'channeling the frustration into something positive', such as organizing summer camps for children.
In this beautiful country, as De Saint-Exupery would put it, 'the essential is invisible to the eyes'.
“They Who Give Me Hope”
It is Wednesday afternoon, almost a week since returning home from Israel/Palestine, and I am sitting in the quiet of my bedroom staring at the computer screen, thinking about the trip. One thought drowns out the thousands of others that I have had about the delegation--the thought of my younger sister. I think of her because of the night we spent with a Palestinian Christian family in a village just outside of Bethlehem just over a week ago. The daughter of the family, Renim, reminded me very much of my sister in just about every aspect I could imagine: sense of humor, mannerisms, interests (excluding heavy metal music), etc. Two other delegates and I spent the evening talking with her, her mother, and her older brother, sharing stories of school, work, and other day-to-day things. It was remarkable, it was as if I was sitting in New Jersey visiting and laughing with my family.
Later on in the evening, I was somewhat brought out of my mental trip to New Jersey when Renim dropped an "emotional bomb" on me that still leaves me shocked. When I asked Renim what had happened to her father, she explained to me that her father died (sometime around 2002) from a lung disease that was "not allowing oxygen into the blood" (Respiratory failure-hypoxemia? I am not sure). She went on to tell me that the local clinic was not equipped to do the lung transplant that was needed to save his life. They would have to try to get a permit to go to Israel to get the surgery at a hospital that permitted Palestinian patients. Ultimately, Israel would deny their permit request, and so they tried to arrange a surgery in the United States that they would never make it to because the airline in Amman, Jordan (that's right, they cannot fly from Israel) was giving them a hard time about the amount of equipment the father had for his condition. Not to mention, it takes people from this area nearly an entire day just to travel the short distance to Amman due to checkpoints and the border crossing, and the family was not even certain that the father would be able to make it through the trip. So, the family, without any other option, watched the man die slowly.
The amazing thing is that Renim did not seem angry when telling me this story; meanwhile, I was ready to raise hell, imagining if this were my family and my younger sister sitting in front of me. Instead, Renim is a bright 17-year-old young woman who is preparing to enter university next year, and she looks forward to a career as a nurse, if I recall correctly. Her strength and steadfastness is something that seems to be contagious among the people we have met here, from the young Israelis in Tel Aviv working to end militarization and support conscientious objectors to the young Palestinians in Gaza working to support youth and families despite a complete siege. It is they who give me hope, and they who I think we need to get off our asses to support to end this system of murderous colonization and apartheid. So, let's get to it.
Monsters and Functionaries
Thinking back to when I was a child, I remember nights few and far between, when I had moments of doubt- what if there really is a monster under my bed? A what-if question. A perceived fear. It was a moment, like all children have, when they need to be comforted and they need to be reassured that of course, monsters are not real. My parents’ reaction of comfort and clarity would then ease me back to sleep.
Thinking back to those times, I cannot fathom the insecurity that children in this region must feel. Primo Levi once said, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions." In my mind, the functionaries are the 18 year old Israelis forced to serve a monstrous government agenda. To ask questions, to face the truth is to be an outcast or a disloyal member of society.
I cannot confidently say what I would do in the same situation. Nonetheless, the effect these “functionaries” have on the children do not allow for moments of comfort and clarity like I had. A typical child has perceived fear. A Palestinian child has real fear. Nightly raids are not uncommon, and the children know this. Any given night could be their house, their family, their dignity. The functionaries arrive in the middle of the night, often masked, pointing their weapons. A vision much more horrifying than any monster I could have thought of as a child.
“If Only They’d Just Go Away”
We hear the quotes every day, “If only they’d just go away.” We read about all the hate, but never hear about debate.
“We tried for peace, they would not listen”, but never hear the other position.
The media obtain but for their gain. It’s always been, is nothing new and so to care is up to you. The world has more dependent grew upon the peace between the two.
Under the crust upon the skin that forms from all the strife within, is a view we do not hear of tolerance and not of fear.
To live in peace side by side and once more have all people thrive, upon the land that rests squarely in God’s hand.
- Susan Elias
It’s impossible to truly sum up and capture all that I have experienced on this trip – the places I have visited, the hardships I have witnessed, and most of all the people I have met, are hardly capable of being articulated in a few paragraphs. I hope that one day soon I can sit down with you all and really make a better effort to convey my encounters and the incredible impact that they have had on me, but in the meantime let me sum up some pieces of what I have learned in the past two weeks.
The Palestinians we have met are some of the most beautiful and inspiring people that I have ever had the pleasure to know. With each group, family, person that we encountered, there came with a story of tragedy. Yet with this tragedy comes hope and perseverance. Never to become victims, most Palestinians remain active in their resistance against the occupation – from weekly protests in the town of Bil’in (and many other communities around the country) to those groups working with children to lessen the traumatic effects of the war, to the moving images displayed across the wall that surrounds their homeland, these people prove that resistance can be most powerful when nonviolent.
They also possess the great capacity to make the distinction between Americans and the US government, graciously taking us into their homes and lives in spite of the direct contribution our country has in their present hardships. These people are intelligent, kind, and unrelenting in their determination for peace.
There are many Israelis working toward peace in solidarity with the Palestinians. We met with numerous Israeli individuals and groups that expressed such great grief in response to their nation’s actions, much like many of us do in response to US policy. Empathizing with Israelis was something that I really struggled with prior to my visit, but I now am aware that there are many who strive to better their country from within, fighting for justice. Unfortunately, these resisters face far greater consequences than those in the US, with the threat of being arrested and held for long periods of time, or serious stigmatization from their communities.
In my brief time here, one of the ideas I heard reiterated by a number of Palestinians was the concept that “we [the Palestinians] belong to this land.” That phrase stuck with me each time after it was said. In what I have witnessed, I believe that Israel acts in direct contrast to this theory and rather behaves with the understanding that “this land belongs to us,” abusing the people that inhabit it and destroying a beautiful land with such rich history. If Israel functioned instead with the idea that this land was something to be treasured, something to which we as a human race are indebted to, perhaps the situation would be much different.
I have such an incredibly profound new faith in nonviolent resistance. I am so inspired by people in these devastating conditions who choose to utilize their intellect and spirit rather than their physicality to break down the barriers of oppression. Prior to coming here, I admittedly did not have much faith in the possibility of a resolution. Having seen the unyielding commitment to this form of struggle, however, has drastically altered my opinion. There are ways – peaceful ways – to stand up against racism and prejudice, and these are oftentimes the most effective. In a state that claims that Palestinians are a collection of terrorist barbarians, what better way to fight the violent oppressive system by illustrating an unwavering dedication to peace?
I hope that each of you will have a newfound interest in learning more about this conflict. I became most interested in this oppression because it is one of the few that America not only indirectly permits, but actively enables. There are so many things we can do change this. If there was one unifying message that was relayed to us by every person we met with over the past weeks, it was a plea to take back their story to Americans, in hopes that the more that people know about the conflict, the greater effort we’ll make to demand that our country cease its participation in an ethnic cleansing.
One major contribution we all can make is joining the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, to pull our money out of this apartheid. For more info on this and how to get involved, go to www.bdsmovement.net. I hope you all are inspired to read more about the Palestinian struggle for human rights and potentially become active in the struggle yourself. Witnessing it firsthand has certainly strengthened my own commitment, and I am looking forward to the next step of my own resistance.
Grateful For This Group
Seeing such a new and different place is overwhelming to me. I am constantly being bombarded with new ideas, new realities, and new horrors. One example was being in Hebron old city, walking by the 500+ businesses shuttered by Israeli military order, being surrounded by children trying to sell us bracelets, and our guide being told by a soldier that he cannot access the street his house is on. It’s so different from my life it’s hard to take it all in.
That’s why it is so important for me to have this group to process things with. Whether it’s our formal group sessions or the casual chats on the bus I am so lucky to have different people I can reach out to and talk about things with. Monday morning was tough for me and just to have different members of the group offer support and validate my feelings was amazing.
I am so grateful I am having this experience and grateful I have the freedom to travel where I want to go.
I’ve been here for 9 days and seen so much and been to so many places – Hebron, Nablus, East and West Jerusalem, Jaffa, etc etc – it’s been amazing. I am so saturated with information – it’s going to take me weeks to process. This is a life-changing experience for me – I can’t wait to share it with you all.
The Occupation Bites
Witnessing the reality of the occupation, the daily resistance of Palestinian people gave a more human face to the conflict. From now on, this conflict will no longer be just a headline in the news, or even a well written piece in a newspaper, but it will be the smiles of the children in Hebron, the courage of the students in Ramallah, the hope of our host in the Tent of Nations, the subtle irony of our guide Said, the firm voices of all Israelis calling out for help against their militarized, terror-inducing, abusive government.
Being there for two weeks made it all look, sound, feel, seem so much more real. It ain't over till it's over, though. The reality of the paranoid, intrusive Israeli government became all the more evident on my way out of the country. At the airport, because of Egyptian, Moroccan and Turkish stamps on my passport, I was marked a 5 out of 6 on the security scale. After my luggage was searched and I was escorted at the check-in, my hand luggage was checked again. When the security noticed that a small piece of plastic was broken on the side of my laptop, the heavy questioning started. “Why did you have your laptop with you? Are you sure you were in Israel just for tourism?” And so on.
Then I was brought back to the first security area, where they started to go through my photos and shouted at me. “What is your business having these leaflets? Why were you photographing Palestinian flags? Were you in Gaza?” Then they brought me to a separate room, where they thoroughly searched me and asked me to pull my pants down. When I returned to the security area, they communicated they were going to keep the laptop and send it back if they thought it was safe.
It was a truly shocking experience for me. However, while I was there being questioned, searched, verbally abused, I was reminded of Nomika Zion, an amazing woman we met in Sderot during our trip. With tears in her eyes, she told us: 'while Qassam rockets were falling on our city from Gaza, of course I was scared for my children, but all the time I kept on thinking of the poor children IN Gaza, being bombed all day long by our government'. Well, when I was there in Tel Aviv airport, answering their questions, hoping they'd just be so kind as to let me get on the other side of the border, hoping they'd just let me be and do my things, feeling humiliated and essentially wishing for it for be over as soon as possible, well there I was course of scared. But at the same time, I could not help but constantly thinking: see how scared you are? And this must be the Duty Free Shop in comparison to what Palestinians have to go through at check-points every single day. Every day being treated as a suspect for the color of your skin, for the passport you hold, for the job you do, every day hoping to be on time for your class, for your meeting, hoping the Israeli police will not detain you 'for security reasons'.
The horror of the occupation, the daily resistance of the Palestinian people had already gotten in my system during the trip. After drinking one very small sip out of this bitter, bitter cup, it got all the more urgent in my mind: all the things which we take for granted here in the West, that we will be able to get somewhere if we want to, that we can move to a different town, that the police are not going to storm into our apartment unless we have called them, that we will not see a prison cell unless we have actually done something wrong... these are all things which are denied to Palestinian people. Nothing, no security reason justify this oppression and we, who are able to enjoy what to my eyes have come to look as privileges, have the moral duty to do as much as we can to stop it.
Shalom, peace, salaam.
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