< Report Three: Continuing Struggle - An Overnight in The Camp and Meetings with Progressive Israelis >
Reports from IFPB's 36th Delegation (May 21 - June 3,2011):
Delegation 36 Announcement
Report 1: The Journey Begins
Report 2: Willing Ourselves to See
Report 3: Continuing Struggle
Report 4: Like No Other Place
Summer 2011 Delegates in Action
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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.
Palestinian Refugees and Progressive Israelis
Yesterday we met with several organizations, but one was an organization in Bethlehem called Badil, which is an organization that works on the issue of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. The education that I previously received about the history of the establishment of the state of Israel always indicated that during the War of Independence or “the Nakba” (the Arabic word, that for Palestinians, means “The Catastrophe”), Palestinians were told by their leaders to flee from their villages. However, the actual truth is that this only happened in a few cases. In many other cases, they were forcefully expelled from their villages. In one village Palestinians were forced at gunpoint to march to the Jordanian army, and many Palestinians died along the way (sounds similar to the trail of tears). In other cases, the Israeli army massacred villages and then left a few people alive so that they would spread the word and cause those in other villages to flee in fear. In total more than 500 Palestinian villages were depopulated and later destroyed. Later, in the 1967 war, more than 400,000 Palestinians (35% of the population of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza) were expelled. Importantly, despite international law regarding refugees, these Palestinians have been denied the right to return. Moreover, after expelling Palestinians, many of their villages were completely destroyed and then replaced with parks, malls, an airport (Ben Gurion airport – Israel’s main airport), etc. It’s hard to say this, but it has essentially been an effort to ethnically cleanse the area of Palestinians.
Good News! Progressive Israeli groups we met recently…
972 Bloggers – there is a group of about 20 Israeli bloggers who are against the occupation who have started a website to blog in English about Israeli policy. They blog in English because they want the rest of the world (particularly the US) to hear other opinions, since we mostly get only one viewpoint. One excellent point that one of the bloggers made – the occupation isn’t about control over land – it’s about control over people.
New Profile – an organization of Israeli women who are trying to transform Israel from a military society into a “civilized society.” They have camps and workshops for young people to allow them to think and talk about militarism, feminism, animal rights, etc. They don’t encourage people to refuse their military service, but they support those young people who do. We heard from one young woman who refused, along with several friends, to join the army. This woman, and her friends, all had to serve jail time for their refusal to serve.
Boycott from Within – Israelis who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – more on this to come later.
Tomorrow we’re going to the Holocaust Memorial and then a Palestinian refugee camp – should be a heavy day.
Somewhere I heard that "Existence is Resistance."
Somewhere I read that "the arc of the moral universe is long
but it bends toward justice."
Someone once declared that "human rights are universal."
Someone once preached that "injustice anywhere is a threat
to justice everywhere."
Tonight I heard from a Palestinian mother who said "if you
breathe, the life continues. We will continue struggling."
Her message was clear and powerful -- "we are Human Beings --
why don't they think about us -- we are human and we have
Someday, this mother's plea will be heard and the equality and
justice she seeks for her four children will be made real.
Someday. peace will prevail.
The mother's tears fell from her eyes
Someday, I will be there to catch them.
There is no humanity in occupation
There's an Arab mother, caught in her "cage" of a refugee camp, who cannot sleep at night for fear of her son's safety. Will Israeli soldiers burst into her home and seize her boy? Every night is spent in fear and dread.
There's another Arab women, wife and mother, who can't sleep at night as she fears for her husband's safety. At 3:00 a.m. Israeli soldiers force their way into her home. The family witnesses his arrest. His wife and daughters languish, waiting for two weeks to hear what has happened to him.
"As a Palestinian woman, I always worry. And as a Palestinian woman with sons I never sleep. I am constantly afraid that Israeli forces will come and take my boys, arrest them, beat them.”–a mother in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp.
"A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.” -Kurt Tucholskyi, German-Jewish essayist. Written on the wall of Yad Vashem, Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Where we also visited today)
I’m sitting in the communal room of the Phoenix Center in the Palestinian refugee camp of Dheisheh. This place is amazing, although I’ve only been here for a day but it seems like it is widely supported by the community. People living in the camp started the center. They began taking surveys from the community about everyone’s needs and desires. They realized that what people most wanted was a place to hold celebrations, weddings, religious holidays, plays, etc. In the crowded camp, where 13,000 people live, there is almost no space to hold large amounts of people.
Right outside of the camp was a large open space. Camp residents attempted to acquire the land in order to build some sort of hall. However they were denied repeatedly, so they just set up tents. Naji, the eventual director, was arrested multiple times, but he kept setting up the tents until finally they relented and offered a permit. They had three months to start building or their permit would be revoked. Naji and others then gathered people from all over to start collecting stones that were unused and began building with discarded materials from around the camp. Eventually someone gave them some money and they hired people from the camp to build until they ran out of money. More money was secured and then more building. This went on and on slowly until the center could be built. It is completely volunteer run and has many young leaders, (not surprising since 50% of the camp is under 21). All of the people that spoke to us had such ownership over the project and lead various programs. They have managed to create opportunities for jobs. Most importantly the community has resisted all efforts by the government or outside forces to take over. They are completely autonomous and have created a space of true grassroots organizing, meeting the needs of the people.
It’s been interesting talking and hearing from folks from the different organizations. They almost all have a complete lack of interest in political leaders, theirs or ours, (with the exception of the UN—not surprising since they have all of these words and categorizations of the word “poverty” which I find infuriating and pointless). There is a real focus on the grassroots here and it is only when members of our delegation ask about government, do they answer. It is almost always with disgust and disinterest. (Although all seem to know the exact number of times that Congress stood up to clap for Netanyahu.) From journalists, Israeli activists, Palestinian refugee organizations, Palestinian activists and grassroots organizers to people walking on the street there is a general feeling that no government represents them.
Many are asking me about what the reaction is here about Obama and Netanyahu’s speeches and I know for some, it is important. However, I am overwhelmed by all that I am seeing and hearing that Obama’s speech is the least of my thoughts. This may be because nothing that Obama said is any different than the United States has been saying for 30 years. It may be because I am never too interested in what heads of states say, and am much more interested in what the home health care worker says whose bus line in North St. Louis just got cut or in what the mother says whose home was separated from her sister’s home next door by a gigantic wall. Or it may be because life here sees no changes based on what he said or didn’t say. I know there was a tremendous amount of hope when Obama got elected in the Middle East, including in Palestine, however the disenchantment is profound. He still reiterates the same stance that “Israel has a right to defend itself”. The facts on the ground here show that what Israel is doing, is in no way defending itself. The wall is separating Palestinian villages from other Palestinian villages. The West Bank’s “borders” run a length of 350 km. Israel has built 1000 km of walls. Not only that, to call the West Bank “borders” would be false, since Israel is the sole decision making power for much of the West Bank, either by creating settlements (500,000 settlers), or creating closed military zones (18%), or declaring nature reserves (10%), or just building the wall well into the West Bank annexing land into Israel.
All of this that Palestinians are subjected to by Israeli forces, funded by the United States, I am continuously shocked that we are welcomed openly and greeted warmly and offered hospitality. It breaks my heart that there is such a lack of understanding extended to Palestinians in the United States of what is happening here. I cannot imagine a mother out there in this big world that could not listen to Suheir, the mother we met from the refugee camp, and feel empathy for her situation and be moved to action by her anger.
From West Jerusalem to the West Bank
Today was so extremely bizarre. I have been trying to figure out how I am going to write about it for almost three hours now and just have not been able to. I wanted to dump at least a little something on here before I go to bed (it’s almost 4AM here) because we are leaving early tomorrow and may be leaving reliable wi-fi for the next few days.
The morning was spent at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. From my admittedly biased opinion, this museum is far less comprehensive than the DC Museum, but it is obviously for a different audience. Some of the exhibits moved me quite a bit—but not because of the exhibit itself. Usually it was because I was thinking about how early themes of the Holocaust (i.e., institutionalized racism, mass forced exoduses of peoples) are currently being mirrored in the Israel/Palestine conflict, and how there is no multi-million dollar museum (or two, or three) erected to commemorate the loss of the Palestinians. Other exhibits simply played on my already existing knowledge of the Holocaust and did not move far beyond the engrained social narrative of the Holocaust that is ever-prevalent in both US and Israeli society. Still the atmosphere in the museum was painful, reflective, and solemn, and the memorials were well-designed and deeply-felt.
Two hours later, I joined a group of Israeli women called Women in Black on a major intersection within the busy hub of West (read: modern, urban, Jewish) Jerusalem. I held a black, hand shaped sign that read كفى للاحتلال or “Stop the Occupation.” I received very mixed reactions from passersby, including a wink, peace signs, thumbs up, a wagging tongue, a spit wad, several middle fingers, and one man who took off his kippa to yell something at me in Hebrew. This seemed to be a far, far cry from “Never Again.”
The entire evening was spent at Dheisheh camp and the al-Phoenix Center located in the midst of the camp, which is focused on empowering Palestinian youth through a network of intra-Palestine and international volunteerism. I’m still sorting through all of this in my mind.
Okay, I have already heard the first call to prayer which means I am up waaaay too late.
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