<   Report One:   Lines Green and Red — Physical and Psychological Realities in Israel/Palestine >

July 20, 2011
Jerusalem

 

This delegation is traveling concurrently with
IFPB's African Heritage Delegation > > >



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Where Every Street Has Three Names

I was driven from the sea through the mountains to Jerusalem. Where every street has three names that do not always translate from one to another. Street of the "Mujahideen" rendered in English and Hebrew as "Lion's Gate Road." But the "mujahideen" are not the 20th century martyrs but instead refers to the men who fought with Saladdin nearly 1000 years earlier.

History has long arms in a country crossed and recrossed by lines. Buildings, neighborhoods and whole cities are built one on top of another. Sound familiar?

But before I even got to Jerusalem, before I even got in the taxi I sat in the Passport Control room, waiting for hours. I talked to three different homeland security officers about why I was coming to Israel, what interest holy places had for me, and what my fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers did for a living.

Finally at the end of it, strung out, agitated, annoyed, I waited to talk to yet another officer. His name was Adam. So named for the first man he asked me point blank, "Do you intend to do violent acts while you are here?" In spite of myself, and probably it wasn't the best reaction, I burst out laughing.

Later at the hotel, with the others in my delegation who had all arrived hours early, I recounted my adventures. Met with their indignation on my behalf I soothed their feelings with a bitter admission: it was nothing I hadn't experienced before at the hands of the TSA in the United States whenever I returned to my home country from abroad.

I have as hard a time going home as I do coming to the one country that is most emphatically not my home, that excludes millions of people like me based on their faith, including the ones that live inside its own borders.

Today we went first to Al-Aqsa, the Temple Mount. As we climbed the creaky wooden causeway we could see through the slats, Jewish worshipers who had come to the small fragment of the Western Wall. It was a poignant sight: a wandering people in their homeland, but still hovering at a remnant and in very temporary settings - sitting in plastic lawn chairs or dragging makeshift podiums over on which to place their prayer books. And there, just ahead of us on the causeway, the other side of the whole equation - twenty or thirty body-length riot shields, stacked with easy reach for quick use.

On the Mount itself, the enormous Dome of the Rock and a mosque, built and destroyed many times. Around the mosque in the great tree-lined park, many small groups of men reciting the Quran. As with many mosques, it is not the building but the space itself that is important. In this case, the rock under the mosque. When you go inside there is a little stairwell under the rock you can climb into to pray.

Where one can and can't pray is fraught here with all kinds of meaning. When a group of Jewish men came up onto the plaza the Muslim men began reciting loudly at the top of their lungs, a sonic resistance but a resistance nonetheless. One of the Arab men called the Jewish people "settlers."

Though I had always thought of settlers as people out in the territories building their kibbutzim, it isn't so. There are settlers inside Palestinian cities like Hebron and there are even settlers buying up or confiscating Palestinian buildings and apartments inside the Muslim Quarter of the Jerusalem’s Old City and in other neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. You know them by the enormous Israeli flags hanging from the roof and by the barbed wire, surveillance cameras and other security measures.

Unlike the Jews who are not welcome inside the Dome of the Rock or the new Al-Aqsa mosque, I went straight up to the Western Wall. I put my hands on it and thought about what it would take for these two peoples to find their way to a peaceful understanding. I know there can be no peace without justice. I thought about writing a note dreaming peace and wedging it into the wall but felt instead to send it into the wind and air. To leave the spaces in the rock for others.

We drove out to East Jerusalem and there found another wall.  The huge concrete barrier constructed around the territories is inside Palestinian land. It separates neighborhood from neighborhood, and choked off the livelihood of countless Palestinians, prevented them from reaching their jobs, squelched the growth of their economy and isolated them from Jerusalem, still the largest Palestinian city, with
a population of more than 300,000 Arabs.

Nothing is simple in this place and the more you find out about what is actually happening here - not in history or in legend but in the immediate daily lives of people living in the place - the more complicated things become.

How does one travel from one wall, representing the lost hopes of a scattered people, to another - which not only metaphorically represents but physically actualizes the lost hopes of another scattered people?

The characters are different, the events take place in different times, but one can't help but slowly realize that the story is the same.

- Kazim Ali



The Game

I was touched yesterday by the story of an Israeli activist named Micha Kurz who became personally aware of the inequality between Israelis and Palestinians while serving in the Israeli Army. 

Micha and his colleagues were assigned to protect settlers in a settlement community and, one day, discovered that some settlers were attacking Palestinian shopkeepers in an effort to incite them to violence. If the Palestinian shopkeepers had responded with violence, they would have been handcuffed and jailed regardless of the fact that they were acting in self-defense.  They would not have had any legal hearing or recourse. Both sides, he said, were aware of what Micha called “The Game.”  He and his fellow soldiers tried to shoo away the settlers without suffering too many blows in the process. 

Micha witnessed other instances of injustice and harassment toward the Palestinians throughout his time in the Army. When he had finished his tour of duty, Micha began a lifelong journey devoted to justice and equality for the Palestinians, starting with the founding of an organization called “Breaking the Silence,” continuing with work in ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions) and including his current work founding an organization called Grassroots Jerusalem.

- Christy Wise



Choices and Consequences

Micha, former Israeli soldier, founder of Breaking the Silence, organizer for ICAHD, and new founder of Grassroots Jerusalem, is sitting with arms spread wide and kinetic next to one of our delegation facilitators, Emily. We are fanned out around them, standing or sitting on the steps facing a ledge whose backdrop offers a wide zoom view of Bedouin camps, Palestinian villages, and Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.

Micha points out the road with the wall down the middle heading to West Jerusalem and explains that when the settlements in these areas are finished, one side of the road will be for Israelis and one side will be for Palestinians.

“People across the world get nervous when I use the word ‘Apartheid’ to describe this situation, but I think it very much describes what’s happening here,” he says.

We have emerged from our gleaming white bus whose skilled driver navigated our untraditional tour route through the twisting hilly roads of East Jerusalem. While on the bus, we make a few pit stops. Micha points out a demolished Palestinian home and clarifies that the Israeli government allots a budget to demolish a certain number of homes per year, recently between 100 and 200 in East Jerusalem that they deem to be ‘illegal.’  Aerial photos inform government sources of homes that have been built without permits. Building permits, meanwhile, are practically impossible to procure for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, while West Jerusalem is growing so quickly that Micha jokes he used to sit and count how many cranes were in the air at any given time.

When the government locates illegal buildings, they post eviction notices. Then, Micha explains, “Families have two choices. They can demolish their own homes, which many choose to do. Or they can begin the waiting game. They don’t know if their house will be picked in the lottery.

It happens like this:  Bulldozers roll into neighborhoods while the father is at work and the children are at school. People see the bulldozer and don’t know where it’s going. They begin calling each other, ‘The bulldozer’s here!’ They all leave their homes and follow the bulldozer until it reaches its destination. The police, ten or fifteen in army trucks accompanying the bulldozer, give the mother 15 minutes to pick up what she can…

I see children here pick up their biggest toy to bring to school every day, and when I ask them why, they say, ‘Well the boy next door lost all of his toys when they tore down his house and I don’t want to lose my biggest toy.’”

We talk a lot about the Green Line today; the borders that are supposed to separate Israel from the Palestinian territories according to the 1949 armistice. We learn about Israel’s failure to stick to the Green Line. The Israeli wall, settlements, roadblocks, and checkpoints that Israel continues to build inside Palestinian territory instead, breaking it up into scattered fragments. The persistent attempts to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem through abuse of their civil and human rights, in order to make Jerusalem an “undivided and united city.”

Micha talks about red lines; the red lines he and his soldier comrades crossed when the IDF inculcated hatred and fear into their attitudes, the inability to rewind to a time before they crossed such lines. 

“The first time you see a 10 year old kid in your [gun] sights, you have to sit down and have a drink of water, because, whew! That is traumatizing. The second time it gets maybe a little easier. The fourth and fifth times, easier still. Until it’s nothing, you have seen a thousand kids in your sights before.”

In the space to our right, two Palestinian boys around ten years old fly kites manufactured in the shapes of military aircraft. They are patient with their finicky tools, reminding me of steadfast fishermen.

- Jozi Zwerdling



Children with Toys and Guns

Today on our first day of touring and meeting with activists, it was our privilege to meet with a representative of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. 

There were two times during his presentation when I was close to tearing up.  First, when he spoke of the callousness with which demolitions are performed.  Families, usually just the mother since others are off at school and work, generally have 15 minutes to collect family items prior to the demolition beginning.  Indicative of the lack of caring are that no social worker is provided to assist the children during this traumatic period, nor is a welfare worker available to assist with family relocation.  One striking result: some children, fearing demolition and learning from friends’ experiences, have learned to adapt by taking their largest toy to school with them.  At least they will have that.

The other emotional moment for me was when our speaker described his experiences enforcing curfew in Hebron as an IDF soldier.  He underwent a progressive dehumanization, repeatedly crossing lines he never thought would have been possible.  In a nation with mandatory military service, he described this as “sending children to manage a tense situation”. 

He said, “I needed and wanted my mother to understand what she sent me to do”.

- Rand Clark





This delegation is traveling concurrently with
the African Heritage Delegation > > >



 

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