< Report Five: “We Are All One Family"
November 10 - 13, 2010
Final Reflections on from Israel/Palestine
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.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”
Frost, not I, this eloquence
But on this day, the words scream out
wall of prejudice
wall of fear
wall of separation
wall of apartheid
wall of imprisonment
These walls destroy
Or finally break us …break us open
to wail for peace
To listen with the ears of our heart
to the reality that brothers and sisters
We are all one family.
What a déjà vu experience! During a study-visit to Palestine, I found myself back in the Pre-Civil Rights days in the U.S. I witnessed how the Ashkenazi (European Jew) has recreated a racist Apartheid system that resembles in many ways what they suffered under Hitler and have perpetuated the same onto the Palestinians.
As Martin Niemoeller, the German Pastor, wrote:
When they came for the Communists, I did not object because I was not a Communist.
When they came fro the Socialists, I did not object because I was not a Socialist.
When they came for the Jews, I did not object because I was not a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to object.
As an African American I must stand in solidarity with all oppressed people.
- Syrtiller Kabat
I don’t know where to begin. Driving through the West Bank past endless settlements to get to the North was overwhelming. Even after having traveled in the West Bank previously, this was the first time that the utter unfathomable inhumanity of the situation really sunk in, weighing heavy in my heart. I did not realize the extent of occupation until this dreary yet scenic drive, marked by hills, olive trees, walls, settlements, and mapped out military zones.
In Jenin, we drove past a memorial made from rubble that had been blown up in the shape of a horse, the symbol of bravery. Fifty-nine people were killed in a retaliation attack from the IDF after some Jenin suicide bombers had killed 29 people in the Israeli town of Netanya.
When you hear of this exchange of life for life, it begs the questions, “why did this circle of violence begin in the first place?” “What could make someone so angry and full of despair that they would want to take others’ lives along with their own?” This is when you realize, as a witness traveling throughout this caged land, seeing all of impostures and enclosures, this is just too disturbing, too inhumane and unjust to ignore any longer.
And then I think of Ola, my hero, the dim light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel. Ola, a 21-year-old Palestinian woman who has never left her home town of Nablus and openly tells our group of 28 that she never had a childhood. Generations of children have lost their childhoods, subjected to traumatic night raids, housing demolitions, arrests and murders in front of their eyes, causing psychological effects that seem irreversible. And yet, Ola, having grown up in violence devotes her time to the Human Support Association, not to rescue the younger generation from this reality, but to merely help them cope with it. But what is so incredible about Ola is the aura of hope, and vitality that radiates when she walks in a room and fills my heart with a solemn happiness. How is it that Ola, who has lived through atrocities unfathomable to me is able to maintain such strength, and compassion for humanity?
It is when I think about Ola and her community, walking through the streets of Nablus and looking at the posters of different people killed in each neighborhood that I feel overwhelmed, ashamed and even appalled by my own American Jewish community. Much of my community travels to Israel in great numbers to enjoy all the tourist sites, contributing millions to the economy without so much as blinking an eye towards the immense suffering of those in the West Bank, only a short distance away. How can my people not only apathetically allow the continuation of such mistreatment and injustices of fellow human beings, but actually fund and support the very regime that perpetrates the crimes?
My soul aches when I look into the eyes of an old grandmother in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood who tells us she was violently thrown out of her house during an eviction ‘process,’ or when a young, bright Palestinian university student says that his mind has become a prison from the psychological weight of the endless borders, barriers, and checkpoints.
The magnitude of violence, trauma, pain and suffering that the Palestinian people have been subjected to for over 40 years has become a great weight that I cannot easily shake. I’ve lived in Israel several times, enjoying spending time with friends in Tel Aviv and Yaffa, going to bars, moving freely without even thinking about the people only about an hour away from me who live in a whole other reality, a place which feels like an inescapable imprisonment.
In all, what hurts the most is that, I really love Israel, as a place, a people, a culture and what it symbolizes as the center of my deeply loved heritage. When I stand in the walled-in West Bank, with its settlements, demolitions, and refugee camps, my soul weeps to understand that that same Jewish nation, that I hold so dear to my heart, is capable of such.
The Song Goes On
I want to tell you about the trip to the Nassar farm and the organization called Tent of Nations. The farm is about 100 acres situated on a hilltop with a view in all directions. The view includes four settlements on surrounding hilltops. The settlements are mostly populated by orthodox Jews who are supported by the State of Israel. Settlers and the Israeli army have periodically raided the farm because they want to drive out Daher Nassar and his family. They have destroyed structures, pulled down tents, pulled out crops and olive trees, and terrorized the family.
The farm is on a high hill and is strategically important. Because of the raids, the farm has attracted international attention, and internationals come to do work on the farm, provide summer camps for children, and support the family.
It's a truly beautiful space with every inch of land planted with olives, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and almonds. Israel controls the water, so they get no water at all and no power. The water they use for personal use and for watering the trees and plants is caught in large cement catchment areas, and drained into underground cisterns during the rainy season. The only power is from a generator. They have installed clean, non-smelly composting toilets for their many visitors. They are planning some solar units, but have not been able to get them yet.
The road in to the farm has been blocked with huge boulders so they keep a vehicle on each side and transfer goods when they go in or out. They are not allowed to build structures without permits, and of course they are not granted permits, so they have only two small buildings. However there were seven caves on the property. They use tents when visitors stay overnight. Some caves have been converted to cisterns and some are shelters.
We sat in one cave for our first welcome. The walls were covered with murals and the "ceiling" was painted blue. After they served us lunch (the ubiquitous falafel and pita), we walked around through the groves and vineyards, visiting the goats and chickens, feeling the peacefulness and purposefulness of the place. We walked to the edge of the property and looked out over the settlements, while our host explained the raids and why non-violence was the way he and his family had chosen to respond. Finally we all went down into another cave and sat on benches around the sides. Again it was painted with lovely murals.
Daher Nassar thanked us deeply for coming and then started a song that was an “Alleluia” in both Arabic and then English. We all joined in and the sound filled and reverberated through the cave. Then he started singing “We Shall Overcome.” We all joined hands and sang, each new verse adding volume and more love--we'll walk hand in hand, we are not afraid. At one point it overwhelmed me and I cried so hard I couldn't sing. But the song went on and on with each new verse contributed by a different friend in this group of dedicated, warm-hearted, courageous people.
In 1963, my husband and I (and two children) went to Mississippi and joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee not only to confront racism, but to learn about non-violence and experience it. This trip has re-awakened that early passion for me. Although I still enjoy my work, I feel that my life lately has been too self-indulgent and that I have distanced myself from that early commitment to social justice. I don't know where this feeling will take me, but I know that I want to spread the word about Palestine in a more serious way and get involved with the BDS movement--boycott, divestment, sanctions.
- Jeannine Herron
The trip around Palestine was remarkable for its sobering realities: home demolitions, restricted movement for people, the wall, and military presence. I am, nevertheless, encouraged to witness courageous women and men, both Palestinian and Israeli, who are working nonviolently to be people of hope in the most tragic occupation.
Gratitude. . . and Action
I am so full of gratitude for so many reasons. First, I am grateful to be experiencing this journey with such caring, compassionate, intellectual, patient, passionate, and, above all, supportive human beings. I have seen, with my own eyes, a multitude of times, the deplorable conditions in which human beings are mandated to “live” in. And they do live, and resist, struggle, have and raise families.
And the Palestinian people on the ground are by far the most resilient people I have ever met. Yes, even just as we got on our bus to begin our day, our guide, Said, explained to us why he was up until after midnight last night. He has lived in his building for 13 years. Last night when he arrived at home his entire community, consisting of 48 apartments, have now been ordered to leave their homes because the Israeli government issued a demand for demolition of their homes and they have thirty days to respond.
The group of families got together to try to make some strategic decisions. He explained this is the one time that they were glad that the sanitation department doesn’t operate properly because they only have 30 days to respond to the demolition order which ironically was sent thirteen days prior and was found on the ground. They now have to hire an attorney to respond to the Israeli government to be able to prove their right to live there.
Said says that 48 families will be forced to leave their homes. Why? Because they are Palestinians. Oh, what a great reason to tear down a building and displace 48 families……this, in America, would be intolerable and yet our country funds Israel’s government with all the equipment they need to demolish the building…If they resist they have a five percent rate of success to be able to continue to live in their homes. This is merely one of thousands of human beings, not terrorists, human beings that have been exposed to this for the last 62 years……
When do we as humankind think these people have had enough? This is not a terrorist; he is a tour guide. He is a human being with a family. One has to question whether this is a religious struggle or an issue of control, occupation, and manipulation, not to mention humiliation and intimidation and dehumanization. Just one last thought, if I came home and someone demanded me to leave my home for being Jewish I might worry…..how about you? Just something for you to ponder……
Second, I have finally arrived at a place in my life where I finally feel empowered as an individual and now I have the strength and energy and empathy to help all of humankind become empowered as well. These are people killing people for no reason except their religious beliefs. They are not terrorists; just simply believe they deserve a peaceful place to live feeling safe and unafraid.
Finally, this delegation has motivated me to be active in the peace process and I am going to do whatever I can to help accomplish this goal……G-d willing…….
It's my last day here. I will be sad to leave but miss my daughter immensely. I met a Palestinian professor yesterday, a former Oxford staff member, who now teaches at Hebron University. He thinks that I would have a good chance at landing a teaching position there. And if I wanted to bring my daughter, she could go to school alongside other American children with families at the University. Maybe for one year or two? We'll see!
I wanted to talk more about settlements here and how it works. There are two types of settlements of Jews in Palestinian Territory. One type is where very large developments of homes, malls, schools, etc. are built with money from the Israeli government. Roads are constructed to travel to and from Israeli proper. Palestinians are not allowed to travel on these roads that cut through their land. Many times the roads will cut through a farmer’s land, essentially cutting off large sections and making it impossible to farm because the Palestinian farmer is forbidden to cross the settlement road. His land, unable to be worked, is then confiscated by law by the Israeli government after two years of inactivity. Any Jew from around the world is welcomed to move to these settlements.
The second type of settlement is just as disturbing. This is when civilian Jewish settlers break into the existing homes of Palestinian families, throw them out, and claim the homes for themselves. I have seen this first hand in every Palestinian city I've visited. The homes can be easily identified in Muslim neighborhoods by the Israeli flags waving as to claim ownership.
Today (Friday) I will be attending a weekly protest in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem where Akrum's family has lost their home to young Jewish American settlers. In Al Khalil (Hebron), settlers have taken over the second story homes overlooking streets of Arab storefronts. There, they throw trash, dirty water, metal bars, feces, anything down onto the streets of the Muslims. Here, the settlers are protected by a large visible presence of the IDF; young, armed soldiers tasked with protecting the civilian Jewish settlers. Settlers behave as high school bullies, and much worse, and Palestinians cannot defend themselves. This goes on daily in the neighborhoods where the Palestinians where born and raised, yet they cannot fight back or will be shot, imprisoned, and tortured.
This ongoing humiliation of a proud, peaceful people is too much to stomach. Yet the US government stands behind Israel with little action to stop them. Please join with me in condemning these acts by writing your congressperson, or by supporting pro-Palestinian organizations in your communities.
SUPPORT INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDERS!
Nothing better prepares activists to work on the conflict than eyewitness experience. Your donation will further the education and engagement of new participants and build a larger, more diverse movement! Click here to donate online!
Would you give an hour each month towards peace with justice in Israel/Palestine? If so, join IFPB's Hour-A-Month Program and donate an hour of your salary each month for peace in the Middle East. Click here to donate monthly!
TRAVEL TO ISRAEL/PALESTINE WITH INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDERS!
Your participation as an eyewitness will enrich your understanding of the conflict and empower your work back in the United States! Click here for information on upcoming delegations.
WIN A $1000 SCHOLARSHIP FOR A 2011 SUMMER DELEGATION: Students interested in joining a summer 2011 delegation can apply for one of two $1000 scholarships offered this year only. Smaller awards may also be available. Click here for more information and an application (DEADLINE: January 28, 2011).
|Select a report to view:||Announcement | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Action|