November 7-8, 2010
Jenin, Nablus and Bethlehem
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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.
Spices as a metaphor for Nablus
In the old city of Nablus we entered a spice store that was formerly a soap factory. The grinding machines had created contents for a plethora of brocade bags on the floor – spices of many textures and colors - and the aromas mixed with one another.
The grinding from the occupation has created textures and colors as well, things I witnessed with my eyes and have heard from the various people with whom we met in Nablus:
- The posters of martyrs (those who lose their lives from causes ranging from active resistance to the occupation to delay in receiving medical treatment) hanging at the place of their deaths throughout the city, much like the decorated crosses along US highways for those killed in car accidents.
- My imagination of the smell of 71 bodies in a local mosque, stacked up and only collected in a 2 hour break in the curfew after 4 days in 2002.
- The visual aspects of the story told by Wajdi about his study break on the roof of his parent’s home in 2003 when he was shot by a sniper. He bled so much that he had to get away from his hiding place to get help. He was picked up by an ambulance, but the ambulance was stopped at a checkpoint. He was beaten severely by Israeli soldiers and left naked in the street. His mother retrieved him from the street and obtained a second ambulance. That ambulance driver had to beg the checkpoint not to stop them again. Total time to get medical help from the time of shooting: 6 hours. And yet, Wajdi, is the founder of Human Supporters Association, an organization that helps women and children deal with the traumatic effects of the re-occupation (Israeli term) or invasion and siege (Palestinian term) of Nablus.
The streets in Nablus are narrow, smaller than one car width wide, mostly. The distance between windows is even narrower, as the buildings grab airspace to add some space to the living quarters. It looks so European, in many ways. But the posters, the smells of uncollected strewn garbage, the restricted movement of the population all show the underbelly of occupation. And yet, I am amazed in all this rottenness that we have met people who refuse to react with anger, but choose to work for good.
The suffering which has been endured has led to perseverance and perseverance to hope that cannot be overcome because it is grounded in goodness. Goodness is the spice that has the power to overcome evil. A little bit of spice goes a long way and there is a ways to go.
The Soccer Ball
It isn't easy to put myself in the shoes of the Palestinians we meet, who tell us their tragic stories of life under the Occupation. Many of the stories are recounted in these reports and we have heard many more than that. Perhaps as a visitor I had numbed my emotions somewhat, unable to bear the despair of hearing story after story of inhumane cruelty perpetrated by Israelis on Palestinians.
This changed in a flash in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. There 25,000 refugees are contained in a space one kilometer square. The refugee camps are administered by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) to this day. The residents depend on the UN for schools, health care, garbage collection and other services. There is rampant unemployment. They have no control over their lives and no hope for change if the so called "peace process" continues as it has for decades. For the past two months the UN workers have been on strike for better wages and benefits, and the strike has worsened the already dire living conditions.
There was a sense of tension as our group walked through the camp with our two guides. One young boy who looked to be about ten years old followed us, kicking a soccer ball around and through our group. One lucky kick sent the ball flying into the right side of my head and face. I was shocked and in pain. I didn't see it coming, hadn't expected it, and boom I was struck. My anger rose instantly and I yelled at the boy who, laughing, ran to put himself at a safe distance. I have been assured that the adults in the camp would not tolerate such behavior, and would chastise the boy.
But that is not the point of my story. What I want to convey is how instantly angry I became about an insignificant assault. And how, after much reflection, this incident gave me an opportunity to empathize at a deeper level with the Palestinians who suffer life degrading assaults from settlers, IDF soldiers and Israeli police. My pleasant day was interrupted for a short time. Their lives are manifestly destroyed. The miracle of the Palestinian resistance is its nonviolent creative response to calculated atrocities they experience 24/7.
In a way, I feel I should thank the boy with the soccer ball for displacing me from my more or less comfortable empathy to a place of feeling at least the sting of a spark, if not the pain of raging flames that Palestinians have to endure.
Our delegation has struggled the past few days with the enormous amount of information we have obtained concerning the facts of the Occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. What do we do with this information? How do we get policy to change in the US? How will our friends and family view our opinions on what we have seen on this journey for the truth?
This is something that we are all dealing with as we contemplate what we are seeing and hearing on the ground here. Human stories of bravery can often move a people and a nation to do great things. It is those human stories that we have experienced the past few days that remind us of the real brave people in the Occupied Territories.
It started for me with the Olive Harvest and sharing time with my host farmer, Walid, and his family. We stayed the night with Walid and shared our thoughts on the occupation with each other. Listening to him helped me realize that he is just a husband and father like me that worries about the economy, getting his olives harvested in time, the lack of rain and the effects on next years harvest. The next day after spending time in the olive trees with Walid, I felt the peacefulness of the work he was doing.
Next the delegation met with two young Palestinians from Nablus City, both working for the Human Supporters Association. Twenty-one year old Ola explained that like so many Palestinian children, she never experienced a childhood. She never had a birthday party or was able to just go outside and play without fear. Ola never expressed any sign of anger or contempt for the Israeli people and always maintained an infectious smile.
Her counterpart, Wajdi, co-founder of the Human Supporters Association, while giving us a walking tour of Nablus City, shared his experiences with the Israeli army. In one of his stories on the rooftop of his parent’s apartment he told us of the time he was shot through both legs by an Israeli sniper. As he tried to move to get down to an ambulance he was detained by the Israeli military for 6 hours without treatment for the heavy loss of blood caused by the gunshot. At no time during his story did he show a hint of anger towards the Israeli people. He now is working to help children in his village celebrate life rather than focus on the occupation.
Monday afternoon was spent listening to the story of the Nasser family and their years-long struggle to save their farm from being taken over by Israeli settlements. To hear the family talk about the Israeli government’s efforts to seize land that the family has owned since 1916 was a remarkable story. The family spoke of their nonviolent approach to resolving their conflict with the settlers and the Israeli government. They never showed any sign of anger or resentment towards the Israeli people.
All of these people are wonderful examples of the human spirit. They are the brave souls of the Human Rights movement to end the occupation in Israel/Palestine. Our task is only to share their stories with our communities back in the US and work to change opinions and policies. We must all remember. . . when we stop seeing others as human we stop being human ourselves.
“Hope Builds Bridges”
It is hard to be brief. And it will take time to process all of this. I’ll speak of our day in Bethlehem and the people we met at Holy Land Trust, the Badil Center, and the Tent of Nations.
Holy Land Trust. Dan Koski, their PR officer spoke to us at their office in Bethlehem. This group is faith-based but non-sectarian and is inspired by the tradition of nonviolence of Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Chavez — a worldwide tradition. They focus not just on conflict resolution, but on community building and transformation in the whole of Palestinian society.
There is so much ongoing trauma spanning generations that “Post Traumatic Stress” is far too narrow a term to describe it. There is nothing “post” about it. The Oslo Peace Agreement made things worse for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Wall and the explosion of Israeli settlements. Holy Land Trust wants to envision a future that reflects all the complexities of Palestinian and Israeli society.
They believe that nonviolence must become a household word. They try to totally engage communities rather than have brief encounters. A beautiful example of direct action they helped with was last year when a small section of the wall was taken down briefly. Holy Land Trust engages in leadership training here, and they see the need for better ambassadors for Palestine worldwide, including us. They are a media source and Dan spoke of movies and television work, etc. There is a breadth of vision here that is quite daring in word and deed.
The Badil Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. Akram gave us an incredibly well organized and detailed overview of refugee issues since 1948. He explained the difference between refugees and internally displaced persons. He gave definitions of hot button terms such as occupation, colonialism, and apartheid, and of course the right of return. And he finished with an overview of applicable international laws.
This may sound boring, but is absolutely necessary because of the sufferings of real people that goes on and on and on. We keep hearing from many people on this trip of growing frustration and despair, particularly in the refugee camps that many people wonder if we’re on the verge of a third intifada.
I hope others will say more about the Tent of Nations, but I found the Tent of Nations visit at the Nassar family farm very uplifting. I want to repeat what Amal Nassar said when she finished. “Fear builds walls. Hope builds bridges.” I hope their farm continues to be a light to the nations in the midst, literally, of four Israeli settlements.
Finally, when we were coming out of the Church of the Nativity and looking across Manger Square to the plaza of the Bethlehem Peace Center, we saw a display of material on a board speaking quite clearly and candidly and forcefully of the occupation. It was words that we could have written. It had been put up by people from the Sacramento-Bethlehem Sister City Program. Hurray for California peaceniks.
- Jim Clune
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