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
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.
Nonviolence in Bethlehem
The first day we went to Bethlehem we visited the Holy Land Trust, a group in Bethlehem dedicated to the practice and implementation of non-violent civil disobedience. The speaker from this group, Sami Awad, was one of my favorite speakers of the trip so far for many reasons:
- He shared his personal family story more than any other speaker.
- His narrative really illustrated so many parts of the Palestinian experience from 1948 to the present day.
- His unyielding commitment to and faith in non-violence, and his calm, compassionate, patient, clear headed approach was utterly mind-blowing to me.
Sami's grandparents and parents lived in Jerusalem in the time of Israel’s creation, in a town like many towns in Palestine, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived together as neighbors in peace. During the 1948 war however, Sami's grandfather was killed by the Jewish militia, shot by a sniper as he was trying to put a white flag over his house. The military then forced the Arabs in the neighborhood to leave despite the fact that their Jewish neighbors fought against this racial expulsion.
Despite the fact that the militias had killed her husband, Sami's grandmother was a steadfast believer in non-violence and taught her kids that they should love and never retaliate against their enemies, even the one that killed their father. After the family fled, Sami's grandmother had to send her children out to various orphanages. One of Sami's uncles actually lived in an orphanage on a hill overlooking his old house that he could never return to.
Sami's father was adopted and brought to the United States, returning in the 1970s to get married to a woman in Gaza. The couple settled in Bethlehem where Sami grew up learning more about non-violent resistance from his uncle, Mubarak Awad, who some consider the Gandhi of the Palestinians. As the first intifada began, his community organized weekly creative forms of non-violent civil disobedience acts. One that stuck out to me was during the daylight savings the town didn’t change the hour like the Israelis in order to “free” an hour of their time. The idea behind this was for the Palestinians to run on their own “Palestinian time,” a way to metaphorically resist the logistical control that Israelis had on their life. Israeli soldiers caught on to this, started asking people what the time was, and would beat up and arrest people that refused to change it back. At the end of the first intifada, Mubarak Awad was arrested and deported, despite efforts by an Israeli Jewish Professor going on a hunger strike to convince the government to let him stay.
After his uncle’s deportation, Sami wanted to step up in leadership of the nonviolent resistance movement but was sent to the US by his father until things calmed down. In the US Sami studied Peace Studies and returned in 1996—threeyears after the Oslo Peace Accords. He pointed out to us that during the peace process Palestinian life became more restricted than ever and the settlement expansion grew heavily so it was seen as a failure in the eyes of most Palestinians. In 1998, Sami helped establish the Holy Land Trust, which aimed to strengthen the community and to figure out how to resolve challenges facing it. As the Second Intifada started, the group continued to educate the community in ways to promote non-violent resistance.
The last part of Sami’s story was amazingly touching. I’m not sure what year, but he joined a Peacemakers Circle International delegation, in which a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian go to visit Auschwitz together. The experience shocked and changed him in many ways, but there were two things that influenced him the most. First, the three delegates actually asked permission to spend the night in one of the bunkers. Sami described how though he had plenty of blankets, the bunkers were still bone-chilling cold, and he couldn’t imagine how the people who had nothing in these camps survived.
The second thing that affected him was that he overheard Israeli tour leaders talking to Israeli kids about the camp. Time after time, Sami told us, he would hear the guides telling the kids that what they experienced here at the camp was why it was so important that they fight for Israel, and that the Arabs would do the same thing to them as the Germans if they could. At this point, Sami told us, he gained more understanding and compassion for Jewish people than ever. Walking up to a soldier now, he could understand their narrative and their fear. He believes that an imperative part of the struggle against the occupation is to fight for the human rights of Israelis, to liberate both the oppressor and oppressed from oppression. He also believes that the international community “hasn’t given the proper respect to the true Jewish pain of the Holocaust,” and instead has given them complete political power and billions in guilt money. Any true peace process, according to Sami, must be active in the healing process of the pain of both the Jewish and Palestinian people. I’m not sure I could ever reach this kind of spiritual maturity, to have experienced so much violence, hate, and oppression and come out of it with such a positive and humanistic mindset. I’ve met many activists here like Sami and it is immensely inspiring…
- Kim Nesta
Today we went to a vigil held by the group ‘Women in Black’, which they hold every Friday.
As we walked from across the street towards the group of about ten demonstrators holding a big black banner that said “End the Siege of Gaza”, cars passing by started honking their horns and sticking their middle fingers out and shouting obscenities at the demonstrators. I thought “oh boy, that was quick, it’s already starting?” and ironically, someone in our group didn’t see them sticking their finger out and thought the cars were showing their support.
Well, it didn’t take long for the insanity to begin. As I got across the street to say hello and introduce myself, I saw in the background what appeared to be one of the others in my group having a somewhat loud discussion with a local who had been walking by and obviously didn’t agree with the statements the Women in Black were making.
I kept talking to the group of three who were holding signs and before you know it, two young girls about 18-20 years old started debating with us and said, “Why don’t the Palestinians just leave if they don’t like it?"
They went their way and we stayed about another thirty minutes and said our goodbyes. I now see how much courage it takes for these people to put themselves out there on the frontlines taking abuse from people, people who could easily have been spitting or throwing stones if they chose to. You have to respect these people!!
I’ve met a lot of good people on this trip, people I have things in common with; I had started thinking they might not be out there…..
We then hopped on the bus to take another closer look at the Wall.
This time we got up close and personal with it. . . and I still don’t like it, it makes me angry and even hateful, and I’ll need to look at that.
We took a lot of pictures and were then on our way to The Phoenix Center.
One of the volunteers took us for a tour of the refugee camp, it’s amazing how people could live like this and not just give up, which is exactly what the Israeli’s want them to do.
We heard the Director of the organization and quite a few others speak this night, and it was at that I point I realized the amount of respect I have for the Palestinians. Having read about them in many books, but now having now heard their personal stories directly from them and having seen so many of the situations they have to endure, and that they still remainstrong and never giving up—these people are really incredible!
I guess you could say today was about a newfound respect for others!
- Rob Kuhlmann
"As Fiercely As If It Had Never Happened Before"
As we drove into Bethlehem from the West Bank, the Israeli separation wall did not loom over our tour bus as much as it sat squat and unchanging in front of us; not so much a shouting declaration of its presence as a constant reminder. As I stood at the base of the wall, I was not moved; I was not in awe. I have been in this country for five days and the occupation already feels like an unflinching reality. What did put a flicker of feeling in my heart was the art, writing, and graffiti painted on the wall by the Palestinians—the words and colors layers deep and overlapping up to varying heights along the six-meter tall cement slab of canvas.
It’s not how I expected to feel about the wall and not how I expected to feel in the occupied regions of Palestine. I didn’t feel defiant or resistant. I didn’t feel a want to beat the wall or tear it down with my bare hands. I felt the need to examine it and look at it and read it and listen to it. The wall itself has a complicated story with many hands and actors, which is separate from and bigger than my story about the wall. Now that I have seen it—touched it—now that members of our delegation have written on it in bright pink paint, we are part of its story. But still, what I’ve contributed is a tiny moment in the wall’s unfurling story and seems miniscule compared to the role it plays in my story of my time within the West Bank.
Similarly to how our drive within the gates of the Israeli settlement of Ma’alei Adumim felt different from our time in East Jerusalem, being within the wall and then, further, within the Dheisheh refugee camp felt truly different than sitting in classrooms or coffee shops, talking about the conflict and the plight of the people. Where as the settlement felt cushioned from the conflict, the camp felt seeped and heavy with it in a way that is hard to describe. Walls are meant to separate, just the same as iron gates, just the same as elective fences. And not only did it seem like our friends in Dheisheh were far separated from the heady academic talks of border agreements and mass amounts of paper-pushing happening in offices in Jerusalem, but they seemed very much trapped within a cage made for them by the wall.
One young man told us how he and his friends would drive around the perimeter of the town for entertainment, which takes a mere ten minutes.
Still, the people in Dheisheh are warm and resilient. We stayed at the Phoenix Center, an organization started to address growing needs of the camp through service, cultural, and educational programs and so named because of its on-going reconstruction due to multiple demolition orders issued by the Israeli government. The center receives many international volunteers, and so, as we toured the winding, graffiti-covered streets of the camp, children approached us happily often offering us greetings in English and colloquial Arabic.
Our guide, Aysar, led us through the neighborhood, stopping to tell us about the artwork on the walls and to explain how the Israeli army would do nightly raids in the neighborhood, just to train their troops. He talked of many hardships, but he had such a natural ease about him as he paused his talks to light a cigarette then continued, sauntering through the streets, greeting friends along the way. In fact, as we walked through the camp, I was put quite at ease. In appearance, it was not unlike areas in Morocco, Malawi, or Guatemala where I have traveled before and the projects of the Phoenix Center reminded me of NGO work around the globe. Some people insist that the Palestinian conflict is not unique. In many ways they are right; history repeats itself. But the fact that finding a bittersweet familiarity in poverty and struggle makes one more comfortable amongst their manifestations—as I felt walking through the camp—is a sick phenomenon that needs addressing.
I felt these waves of familiarity throughout the day as Naji, the director of the Phoenix Center, and his wife shared their stories. I felt them still as Aysar and his friend Ahmad smoked with us on the roof of the center after dinner and then led us through the now-unlit streets to another cultural center in the camp to smoke hookah. As we sat around a small table in a dining area on the top floor, passing the hookah pipe and listening to Ahmad play al-‘ud, I felt that I could be anywhere in the world at that moment and that I was truly among friends. I let the sweet smoke and warm summer breeze brush my face and felt an intense calm.
Then the song changed. “We often traveled and played concerts with another friend. One day we were crossing through the checkpoint back into the West Bank and he was shot and killed. We wrote this song for him.”
Ahmad plucked the strings of his instrument with purpose, his back curved so that his cheek could rest wearily on the smooth curve of its body. A cigarette dangled from his lips and his friends gently took it from him when the ash accumulated, replacing it after taking a drag from it themselves. I stared out the window as one of the two large, bright nearby rooftop lights meant to illuminate the pathways of the camp flickered and waned against the dark of the night.
Palestine is like no other place on earth; the Palestinians like no other people.
- Alexandra Hartman
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