<    Report Two: Human Connections    >    

November 4-6, 2010
Sderot, Jerusalem, Jenin

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The importance of voice

 “I am not a lonely voice, but a muted and silenced voice” – Nomika Zion

I have noticed how often people in Palestine talk about voice – not having one and not being heard. Sometimes, at great personal cost, people break through with great courage to have a voice. Nomika Zion, an amazing Jewish woman in Sderot, in the midst of the invasion of Gaza, raised another voice of empathy for those affected: her community, the Israeli soldiers, and the people of Gaza. Maybe you have seen her article, “Not in my name, not for my security.” She spoke passionately that when we stop seeing the other person as a human being we will eventually stop being human ourselves. Her voice led to her isolation in her community and she said, “I would rather pay the price of social isolation, but I am not ready to pay the price of fear.”

On the other hand, Palestinian farmers working with the Palestine Fair Trade Association have a voice in their membership organization. They negotiate with the Canaan Fair Trade and the association has produced an amazingly productive local business. I found hope in this place where voice counts. Despite continued harassment from those who don’t want them to succeed, the structural problems of groves outside the walls, times when their groves are burned, the representative said that they remember the following:

“Insist on life” – Vivien Sansour from the Canaan Fair Trade

Voice – telling the story, having it heard, sharing it with others – few things could be more important.

- Susanne Methven


Three Stations on a Pilgrimage

The difficulties of this pilgrimage (I’m using the religious term deliberately) are not so much physical as emotional and moral and dealing with sensitivity. Pardon me if this gets slightly abstract, but I’m not trying to be a journalist relating hourly happenings, but grappling with some thoughts and experiences. Here are three of them.

First of all, three women’s communications resonated with me.  Nomika Zion in Sderot (an Israeli village just outside Gaza subjected to years to Qassam rockets from Gaza) stands her ground trying to help foster Jewish-Gazan contacts.  She is a woman with a backbone of steel.  The next is the young woman in Sheik Jarrah in East Jerusalem in telling of her family’s experience of eviction.  She was so eloquent in describing watching commando soldiers throwing their furniture in the street and then eating their food and playing with their toys.  Her words tumbled out in a “stand-one’s-ground” way that was startling in its depth.  We then heard from young Ola here in Nablus about her experience of growing up in Nablus during the first and second intifadas saying-- “They stole our childhood.” Now she’s helping people younger than her cope with violence and have a life.  Such women!  —and I’m not even mentioning the women on our group.

“Issues of biblical proportions” This unfortunately calls to mind Cecil B. DeMille blockbusters with large casts in a big landscape. Nope. This land is tiny, but it has been dealing with issues of identity versus assimilation, law and justice, life and death for a long time. A pressure cooker. It makes for an intensity that goes far beyond concerns about “holy places” and addresses, in a thoroughly incarnational way, real choices that have real lasting consequences in real time to real people.

Language.  The Separation Wall is ubiquitous.  I woke up in Mahmood’s home in Amin and looked outside the window and saw the Wall.  So close.  Again and again through this trip. The young Israeli soldiers we conversed with took “separation” to mean military disengagement. No. Not by any means. This separation is the use of military means to read other people out of one’s life. Completely.

In this context it means exactly the same as apartheid in Afrikaans.  Coupled with subjugation and almost willful ignorance of consequences, it perpetuates and fosters and ensures the continued slide toward more bloodshed. 

“Nakba” in Arabic, the word used by Palestinians to describe their eviction in 1948, means catastrophe.  So does “Shoah”—the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.  This is not to equate sufferings, but to point out similarities of experience and the deathly importance of waking up out of our fears and living in the real world.

- Jim Clune


Asylum and Olive Oil

Each day is so intense it seems like at least a week. We’ve now been here four days and have seen and heard so much. The injustices seem to multiply.

We met with three men who had been elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in the elections of 2006. Their platform was named “Hope and Change” and was basically linked to the Hamas party. The election was extremely carefully monitored by internationals, including former President Jimmy Carter. Within three months they and another had been arrested and put in administrative detention as they were considered “disloyal to Israel”. 

Israel and the Europeans and Americans (as well as others) had called for a democratic election. But when the outcome was a majority for Hamas, there was a sudden change of tune and Hamas was not allowed to take control of the Palestinian authority.

These men spent three and a half years in prison. Only two days after their release from prison, they received a one sentence order telling them they had only 30 days to leave Israel. They sought asylum at the International Committee for the Red Crescent and have now been here for 130 days. This is a very small compound and they cannot leave it or they will be arrested and deported!

These men never had a trial.  These men are not an aberration. There are now 8000 Palestinians in prison, most just sentenced to “administrative detention”, that is without trial. Yet no one hears of them, only the one Israeli soldier who was captured inside Gaza.  One of their statements is hard to get out of my thoughts: “Our only enemy is the Occupation”.

Our trip to Jenin was amazing. We had the opportunity to visit the Palestinian Fair Trade Association where we got to watch a bit of how olive oil is made. Then we had a rare treat of celebrating the Olive Harvest with a wonderful dinner outside under the stars, sitting in a circle on bales of hay. We were entertained with music and singing. One of our delegation joined in for a while in a small drumming circle. As that time drew to a close we went off to stay in various olive growers’ family homes. We spent the rest of the evening getting acquainted.

The family I stayed with had four sons and two daughters ranging in age from 6 to 21. The eldest son was quite fluent in English as was his mother. We went to their olive grove the next morning where we enjoyed an amazing family style breakfast prepared fresh and early. We ate homemade falafel and many other treats on the plastic sheeting under the trees. We also helped with the harvest by gleaning olives from the ground. As I said at the beginning it has been an amazing time so far and we still have a week to go!

- Peggy Love



Her nails are broken to the quick
And with those hands…

She adjusts her headscarf
Greets us warmly
Makes us coffee

She nurtures ten children
Runs a household
Prepares the meals

She makes a sleeping space for us
Breastfeeds her baby
Washes dishes

She guides us to our room
Softly touches me
Guides the little ones to bed

She makes our breakfast
Prepares the table
Shows us how to share the meal

She gathers us for harvest
Picks olives for hours
Brings us tea

She stops for prayer now
Asks us to pause, too
And kneels upon the ground

She makes our lunch
Then spreads the picnic
Serves us tenderly

She holds my face in fond farewell
“Pray for Palestine” she pleads
“Oh, yes,” I say, “I shall”

Her nails are broken to the quick
And with those hands
She makes us one.

- Jean Carr


The Variety in Settlements

Even having been prepared for some of what I am witnessing now during a previous trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies, I find myself shaken to the depths of my soul by the institutionalized discrimination and violence aimed daily at the Palestinian people by Israel and its extremists, and helped by “regular” Israelis who are either too apathetic, too programmed to fear, or too sheltered to take a stand for human rights and justice, and helped further by massive support from the US.  Flagrantly ignoring international law and worldwide criticism (including from many of its own citizens), Israel is steadily implementing a policy designed for no other discernable purpose than to systematically drive Palestinians from their homes in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, a West Bank city unilaterally annexed by Israel. 

One aspect of Israel’s policies that I find particularly disturbing is the combination of methods used.  They range from overtly violent and seeringly vicious (imprisoning 1.5 million people behind electrified fences and 24 hour surveillance in the world’s largest prison, the Gaza Strip, and then attacking them non-stop for months with some of the most highly developed weapons in the world), to numbingly banal (writing and manipulating laws to strangle Palestinians in bureaucratic red-tape, exorbitant fines and Catch-22 regulations, which causes them to lose their homes and land, and sometimes their lives or loved ones). 

I think that when Americans read or hear about “settlements” in the West Bank, they have little grasp of the range of living spaces the word actually describes. Some start as small trailers on a hill top on Palestinian land, occupied by one or more Jewish families who truly believe that God promised them all the land in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Israel.  In their eyes, Palestinians are the land stealers, going not only against the Jews, but against God.

Another type of settlement we have seen is one in which Palestinians are forcibly driven from their homes, and the settlers move in.  Sadly, this is often done with the full cooperation of the Israeli military and police.  We met with one such family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  Family members showed us photographs of the ugly event.  One female family member had a heart attack during the eviction which started at 2 AM with the doors and windows being blown inward with explosives set by Israeli military and police in collusion with Orthodox Jewish settlers.  Everyone (17 people including small children) was forced out to the street, through broken glass barefoot and in their night clothes.  As religious Muslims, the added insult of not allowing anyone to change, or the adult women to cover their hair was powerful. (This would also have been unthinkable for Orthodox Jewish women who are also required to cover their hair in public). 

I saw a photograph of a line of maybe six young Orthodox Jewish men, arms linked, circling an older Muslim woman who was among those being driven from her home.  The men’s faces were grotesque masks of ridicule and hatred as they jeered and screamed at her.  This photograph troubled me so deeply that I can’t get it out of my mind.  Who teaches their children to hate so blindly?  And why are mobs of Israeli police and military personnel helping them? 

The story is complex, but briefly, the Palestinian family had moved to that land in the 1950s after having been evicted from their lands during the creation of the state of Israel.  They had built the homes and lived there since that time.  More recently a group of Israeli settlers produced papers claiming the land as their own.  The Israeli courts upheld their claim, naming the Palestinians as tenants instead of owners, and declared that they owed rent, but lawyers working for the Palestinian family challenged the ruling.  As a precaution, the family paid into a fund which was to be considered rent if the ruling held up against their lawyer’s challenge (so that even if they lost ownership, they would be in compliance with rent), but the courts moved ahead with an eviction notice before the case was resolved.  The notice was for a single home in the name of one family member.  However, seven housing units were invaded that night.  We heard that the explosions which blew open doors and windows were only the beginning, and that immediate reconstruction followed to connect all the units and declare them a single unit (to more or less fit the court order). 

The family described how they were forced to stay in the street from 2 AM until 6 PM.  Neighbors who tried to take them in were threatened with arrest.  During their long vigil, the settlers taunted them, destroyed their things and dumped them in the yard, ate the food from their kitchens and played on their children’s’ swing set and with other toys from the houses.  The police, we were told, joined in the “fun.” 

The story sounds farfetched, but the photographs taken of the event corroborated their account, as do the Israeli flags and giant menorah on the roof of their former home.  They eventually moved in with neighbors across the street, but settlers have now taken over the front part of that house, as well.  We have seen more examples of settlements in the form of home takeovers than I can count.

The dullest, but probably most dangerous kind of settlement is rarely recognized as a settlement by those who live in it.  These are massive neighborhoods built on Palestinian land with funding from the government and hefty financial incentives for young families to move into them to escape the high taxes and housing costs of Jerusalem.  These settlers are not ideological.  These settlements are growing rapidly, and already section off the West Bank such that Palestinians cannot move directly from one region to another (since they are prohibited from passing through Jewish settlements).  They also surround Jerusalem and cut Palestinians off from their city of East Jerusalem.  A young student from Hebrew University who spoke with us said that he believes that freezing the expansion of the settlements is a precursor to peace, but that it was probably a “pipe dream” to imagine that Israelis would ever leave them. 

So, Palestinians face a system rigged against them, they suffer daily humiliations and the constant threat of having all they own destroyed or stolen, and the international community does little to help them (especially my own nation, the U.S.A.)  I feel helpless in the face of this nightmare.  I can only imagine how they must feel after 63 years of occupation by Israel.

- Johanna Silverthorne


The Human Connection

After two days of hearing about and seeing with our own eyes the ravages wrought by oppression of Palestinians (e.g., armed guards walking before and behind an Jewish Israeli settler child in the Old City Jerusalem, the rubbled ruins of demolished Palestinian homes, the "Security Wall" comprised of eight meter high concrete slabs topped with barbed wire, the apartheid road system where beautiful "bypass" highways have been constructed for Jewish Israeli cars bearing yellow license plates, whereas the Palestinian cars with white and green plates are consigned to inferior roads with no access to main highways; villages and families  divided by roads, walls, electrified fences, towers manned by armed soldiers) we drove to Sderot, the small city famous for its proximity to the Gaza Strip. Sderot experienced a rain of homemade rockets fired from Gaza for eight years. Everyone was traumatized by the sound of incoming explosives. A "safe room" was added to every house. Schools were built like bunkers, with concrete shelters scattered around the school grounds instead of playing fields. A playground creatively incorporates concrete tunnels disguised as cartoon caterpillars. Every bus stop is a bomb shelter.

Sderot is for many a symbol of terror felt by Israeli Jews. Yet it is here that we met two gentle Jews who speak out against the wrongs committed by the occupation, by their government against the Gazans and all Palestinians.

Eric Yellen and Nomika Zion, together with residents of nearby towns, have found a group called Other Voices. They believe that communication with Palestinians is the only path to peace. They decry the violence of the military attacks and the oppressive mentality of mainstream Israeli society. They invite fellow Jews to their homes, they pick up the phone, and call a friend in Gaza. They say that when Sderot residents have spoken with Gazans, and have found commonalities, e.g., that each is a parent concerned about children's sleepless nights; uncertain futures; lack of water and electricity, they see that hearing the voices of Gazans has an impact here - that attitudes shift. And they know their voices are heard in Gaza.

Other Voices has expanded to create seminars and workshops where invitees from Gaza can meet with invitees from Israel. Many obstacles must be overcome to continue this process, a small nonviolent step towards making peace possible.

Nomika Zion, a petite woman with long wavy black hair comes from a family of social innovators. Her grandfather founded the kibbutz that was the origin of Sderot. She has founded an experimental "urban kibbutz" within the community. Courageously she speaks against the mainstream of Israeli thought.  She says, "The most dangerous thing that happened to us as a society is that we lost the ability to see the others as human beings. We lost our empathy, part of our humanity." When she published a letter protesting the assault on Gaza, she declared, "Not in my name. Not for my security." 

The gentle Jews with the courage of lions stand up for humanity for all of us. They pick up the phone to call a friend in Gaza. A simple, impossibly difficult task. They make a human connection.

- Wendy Hartley



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