Wednesday, November 3, 2010
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We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports.
Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports. As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals. Trip reports to not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations. We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.
My mind keeps going back to the olive tree in the settlement. I was caught off guard by my emotional reaction.
On the same trip that we saw hundreds of olive tree stumps, chopped down for some bureaucratic reason or other, we saw a beautiful old tree, clearly the product of tender attention. It had been carefully — no, violently — uprooted from the Palestinian soil where it had lived for hundreds of years. Then, carefully — no, violently — transported to the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, where it serves as a piece of living landscape art.
This symbol of Palestinian sustenance stands in the middle of a broad avenue, along with green shrubbery, lush flowers and well-watered grass, in a settlement where no Palestinian can live. For me, this beautiful tree will be a visual reminder of the injustice of the settlement scheme, of the degradation of the Palestinian way of life.
- Ann Hayles
We entered the Old City through the Herod’s Gate and into the Muslim quarter. From the gate and down the street there were small stores with very attractive produce. I asked, “Where do the Palestinians grow this food?” Our guide said that they don’t. The food comes from Israeli farms and it’s illegal for the Palestinians to sell their own produce, even if available.
Earlier in the day we drove past a group of Jahalin Bedouins. In the past these herdsman supplied much of of the meat and milk consumed by Palestinians in the area. They can no longer graze their animals as in the past as their lands have been seized and many have been moved to the nearby garbage dump. A few hold out. The herds have decreased from 20,000 to 4,000 goats. Their olive trees, an economic base for them, have been chopped down to provide sightlines for defense by the Israelis.
How can a people be free when they cannot feed themselves? My heart is sad.
So many stories that it's hard to know where to start. Jeff Halper of ICAHD offered a passionate view of the problems of the government policy of Hafrada or “separation” of Palestinians from Israelis. Jeff says that this is really worse than apartheid in South Africa, or segregation in the American South.
The Israeli people have been told for a hundred years that Arabs always have been and always will be the enemy of the Jews. Establishing this in their collective thought creates the false assumption that Israel is always the victim and that peace is thus impossible. Because of the Separation Wall and the policy of Hafrada most Israelis really have little interest in, or knowledge of, the issues faced by Palestinians. In reality they think of the West Bank and Gaza as being very far away!
In contrast, our guide Said told us the story of the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It seems that for at least a thousand years prior to WWI a certain Muslim family had possession of the key and every morning, generation upon generation, members of that family opened the door for the priests and their parishioners. However the British General Allenby felt it would be better for a Christian to have control of the key. Much squabbling ensued among the various Christian denominations so that eventually they asked that they key be returned to the original Muslim family who had so faithfully served their Christian neighbors.
The settlements and settlers are really the biggest issue in my mind. I was horrified to see the size of some of the settlements — housing for tens of thousands of Israeli Jews in the West Bank. However what was worse in my mind was the individual homes which have been taken over by Jewish families in East Jerusalem. One large home was taken over five years ago. The Palestinian family took their case to court and the Israeli court ruled in their favor. The Jewish family was to return the house. Five years have passed and the Jewish family is still there. The police refuse to help with their removal.
The injustices just go on and on. How many Israelis cannot see this injustice is impossible for me to fathom.
Thinking Beyond “Solutions”
I was dismayed by Jeff Halper’s stories about demolished houses. After 1967, East Jerusalem was declared a “green zone”. Palestinians can own land, but cannot build on it. According to Jeff, zoning is the official justification for demolishing houses, but they are demolished for all sorts of reasons. Since 1967, 24,000 homes have been demolished. There are 15,000 demolition orders outstanding. Even if a house is not demolished, its residents are fined $15,000-$20,000. The government gives the residents a coupon book and they are forced to pay 100 shekels a month on the “fine”. The government encourages “self demolition.” They will reduce the fine in half if you demolish your home yourself. Jeff reports that up to 10,000 more have been self demolished.
It was a shock to see the extent of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement on the West Bank near Jerusalem. It is a large city of 40,000 — not just residences but industries, shopping malls, etc. There is an Aeronautic and Space College because a new airport is planned to serve Jerusalem. The plan is to expand Ma’ale Adumim to 70,000 residents and connect it to East Jerusalem and to Jericho, thus cutting the West Bank in half and re-routing any traffic from north to south around a huge area.
It was very depressing to drive around this settlement. It is not even considered a “settlement’ by the Israelis. It is just a normal Israeli city. (But housing costs half as much as in West Jerusalem). The streets are paved, there are high-rise new apartments, sidewalks, green grass and trees and flowers. In the center of cross streets there are circles with ancient olive trees. These have been uprooted from Palestinian farms and replanted to decorate the settlement streets.
I felt very sad after the morning with Jeff, and seeing the “facts on the ground” of the extent of the Israeli penetration and deliberately spaced occupation—cities, industries, schools, institutions, roads—all walled off and sealed from the Palestinians.
We talked about the pros and cons of a “two-state solution” versus a “one-state solution”. They both seem impossible. Jeff says Israeli policy is to keep the status-quo and not move toward either one, and the US Congress supports this policy. Jeff concluded the morning by saying that perhaps we can’t really advocate a “solution”. The most important thing we can do is keep demonstrating to the world and to the Israelis that the Occupation is untenable. When it becomes too hard to maintain, a solution will be found.
The Value of a Group
Well, we all seem to have recovered from jet lag; The 26 of us have bonded well. We got through passport control with minimal problems. And the education started immediately with the bus ride to Jerusalem. The closer we got going up to the city (literally) the more we could see access roads to the main road cut off, checkpoints with soldiers, etc. When we crossed from West to East Jerusalem we went instantly from the sterile atmosphere of seeing settlements and isolated Palestinian villages, to being in a crowded inner city.
This morning Jeff Halper gave us a political overview and then a bus tour of the settlement blocs that are designed to create the greater Jerusalem. It became clearer and clearer to me, if that is possible, that the settlement program is a massive government effort that is central to the current regime's efforts. Ma'ale Adumim is a settlement city that will stretch from East Jerusalem virtually to Jericho by the Jordan River to cut the West Bank completely in two — and no one talks about it because it is so central to the Israeli land grab on the West Bank.
Then, when we went on a walking tour of the Old Walled City of Jerusalem, I kept getting distracted by seeing more and more of the 70 tiny settlements, one or two or three buildings taken at a time with Israeli flags and soldier protection in the Muslim and Christian and Armenian Quarters. Their children are escorted all around with armed guards! All of this with impunity, with judicial orders — when given — being ignored.
This is enough for a first report from the first day and a half. Experiencing this in a small community of Christians and Jews with Muslim friends is hopeful, particularly when facing hard facts and powerful emotions.
- Jim Clune
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