< Report Five:   The Prospect of a Great Gift: Final Reflections from IFPB’s Summer Delegations >

July 27 – August 1, 2011
Bil’in, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Beyond


This delegation traveled concurrently with the
Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders Delegation> > >

The following Trip Report combines the final reflections of IFPB’s summer 2011 delegations: the Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders Delegation cosponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, and the first African Heritage Delegation

The two delegations spent significant time traveling and learning from each other during the two weeks they spent in Israel/Palestine, so it is appropriate that their final reflections be combined here.

The African Heritage Delegation also released an important statement this week.  Click here to read the statement and watch video of the DC Press Briefing

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.


Minutes Away, Years of Separation

I stood on the rooftop terrace of our hosts’ house in the rural West Bank village of Bil'in where the residents have waged a seven year campaign to protect 1500 square meters of their lands.  Those lands were cut off by the Israeli Security Wall constructed inside the West Bank 6 km from the Green Line, the internationally recognized border of Israel. From here, as evening descended, we could see the brightly lit skyscrapers of Tel Aviv off to the southwest and off to the southeast, just a little more distant, the lights of West Jerusalem.

At dinner our hosts told us of their fervent wishes to see two places-- the Dome of the Rock at Al-Aqsa and the blue Mediterranean Sea. They are two places only minutes away from here by car, but because of the stringent set of conditions including checkpoints, permits and age restrictions, not to mention to the Security Wall, no one in this village has been to either of those places for years and years.

- Kazim Ali
Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders Delegation


The Occupation of the Mind

"The military occupation and settlers are easy. You can look the soldiers and the settlers in the eye and the worse that they can do is kill you. But it's the occupation of the mind that you have to fight." 

Those were the words of a leader in the Bil'in nonviolent movement against the Separation Wall and occupation. Bil'in has succeeded in having the wall moved 500 meters back from their village and now they continue to fight for justice and equality for the Palestinians.

The leader went on to say that some of the stories about abuse by Israeli soldiers are so bad that they will not tell them to each other because they do not want to take away one another’s hope or empowerment.

- Christy Wise
Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders Delegation


Courage in Her Eyes

I dare you to look into the eyes of a mother I met in Bil'in and not feel something shift deep inside your core.  Her name is Suhaer Khateib, a Palestinian woman whose indescribable raw wisdom, honesty, and intensity were beyond all languages, beyond all words.   Although we did not speak the same language, it was the pain and courage in her eyes that rocked every moral fiber in my being as she told me her story. 

Suhaer grew up in the village of Bil’in, a Palestinian farming village that is on the front lines of the grassroots non-violent resistance to the occupation.  Bil’in sits amongst the mountains and the olive trees that have supported the families there for hundreds of years.  The occupation is visible in every corner of the village.  The remains of burnt olive trees cover the surrounding hills while the wall - the same wall that snakes through Israel and Palestine, separating farmers from their land, children from their schools, Palestinians from their roads…and Palestinians from Israelis - slices through the village’s land. 

As Suhaer answered my questions and told me her story it was impossible to not absorb the demoralizing starkness of my surroundings.  An old door supported by two slabs of concrete served as a bench, the stench of waste and urine stung my nose with every inhale, and the precious water that was graciously served sat nearby, stored in old plastic soda bottles.  

All around me signs of palpable destruction lay in juxtaposition to the sweet, innocent music of children’s laughter.  The children giggled with delight with the few small toys we brought as gifts.  At one point I found myself horrified by the sight of these beautiful children using empty tear gas canisters as toys, playing a game on the ground amidst broken shards of glass and bullet shells. 

I was sitting amongst mothers, amongst fellow women, amongst friends.  Suhaer sat across from me, wearing a long sleeved blouse and jeans, her hair covered with the traditional hijab.  Her three-year-old son by her side colored in the coloring books we had brought. 

Suhaer’s intense gaze never left mine as she described attending Birzeit University earning her degree in Arabic.  She met her husband at University and slightly grinned as she teased “he was the one that fell in love with me.”  They married and returned to Bil’in only to face poverty, unemployment, and homelessness due to the occupation. 

I asked Suhaer how she felt towards the people, who have stolen her family’s land, traumatized and kidnapped her children in midnight interrogation raids, and occupied nearly every aspect of her life.  She looked at me, her eyes screaming with resilience as a single tear rolled down her cheek and said without an ounce of anger in her voice, “I used to be a different person.  You used to be able to hear my laughter from the streets.  But now, the reality is the wall is here.  We live here and so do they.  We must learn to respect each other.”

- Kathleen Huerter
Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders Delegation


The Prospect of a Great Gift

After 9 days in the Holy Land, meeting and engaging with the many different communities; meeting with them to understand the conflict that has been in effect since 1948. Each community has a story and that story is a story of pain a story of distrust a story of trying to heal from community wounds. These wounds run deep; they are both communal and personal; they involve families and they involve a deep fear from within, the fear of history repeating itself…the fear of more loss of land and culture.

The African Heritage delegation visited many places but one of the places that stood out for me was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. I learned a lot because as I walked through the museum I was reminded of the bigotry that was prevalent in Europe against the Jews at that time and as Germany invaded country after country, I was reminded in very graphic way that the Jews were persecuted in each community and they experienced community after community turn their backs on them as they were rounded up into concentration camps and ghettoized. That terrible history left a deep deep wound a wound that has yet to be healed, a wound to this very day that has caused the Israeli nation to react in ways to protect itself from the pain of that wound, trying to heal the wound by pushing anybody who gets close further and further away to prevent any possibility of that pain to return.  Their trust as a people has been eroded because of the Holocaust - for too few came to help.

There is another pain and wound that is widening as I write my observations today.

That is the pain of the Palestinian people in Israel and Palestine; the people of the West Bank and Gaza and all the families who reside in refugee camps; the pain of lost land and lost history and community. That wound is ever widening as the policies of the Israeli government continue to squeeze Palestinian communities. 

But much like the Jews of Europe in the 1930's and 40's, the world is luke-warm to their plight. There is a feeling among the Palestinians that they have been marginalized by the world community, and those who take up the struggle for human and civil rights remain a small still voice in the woods.

Last week we traveled to Bethlehem and as our delegation sat in the offices of Holy Land Trust - a Palestinian organization rooted in the non-violence Peace movement for human and civil rights - members were struggling to stay and talk with our delegation.  They had mixed feelings about whether to have a conversation with us or go to a protest to save Palestinian land in a neighboring community. 

At that very moment, an Israeli bulldozer was preparing to bulldoze olive trees.  Many of these trees were 100's of years old; family trees that span multiple generations. It was also noted that one of the oldest tree in the area was over thousand years old and it was in jeopardy of being bulldozed.  Holy Land Trust staff and activists came in and explained what a tragedy it would be if this was to happen and how mean spirited and hurtful this action was. They spoke with us briefly then left to go save the olive trees to save the land.

It was at this time that I realized the special relationship the Palestinian community has with the land - very similar to Native communities in the US - and the pain it brings when the land is harmed and wounded.

We all felt the pain when a member returned an hour or so later to inform us that many of the trees were destroyed, but took some hope and joy with us knowing the thousand year old tree still remained.

After our travels around the region I see a very strong people; a people that remains strong even after many, many losses and many, many disappointments; a people that remains hopeful and have a WILL that I have not seen since our struggles as African Americans here in the states.

As a delegation we must stand with those who are marginalized those who continue to work for a JUST peace. We have an important responsibility to bring our unique experience and history in support of just solutions to this conflict.

The Jewish community is a strong community; they had to be strong and resilient to survive the pain and harm of the Holocaust.  But they must seek a just healing.  To heal at another expense is not true healing.  The scab of injustice will continue to be pulled away and the pain of this new wound runs deep; it runs deep into the soul.

As I sit here on the Holy Land of Jerusalem I now reflect what a wonderful gift these two strong peoples could give the world if they were able to find a JUST and peaceful solution to the conflict. It would be a wonderful historical Gift that would be remembered and written about for the next two hundred years. A Gift that would move us as a world peoples toward that great IDEAL of world peace.

Let us call on all our talents, both secular and spiritual, to give this special present to the world. 

- Keith B. Harvey
African Heritage Delegation


Eyewitness to Judaization
(I saw a soldier strike a young boy for walking on a road for Jews)

The following is an excerpt of the report Matt Berkman wrote on his experiences with the IFPB delegation and after.  The full report appears on Mondoweiss.

Jerusalem effectively consists of two cities, one Jewish, one Arab. Whereas these cities were at one point geographically distinct — Jews living in West Jerusalem, Palestinians in East Jerusalem — the Palestinian half of the city has lately seen its ethnic homogeneity rent by the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, a process ongoing since the city was conquered in 1967. These Jewish settlements—illegal under international law—are clean, affluent-looking housing complexes that are well serviced by the Greater Jerusalem municipality. The Palestinian neighborhoods whose physical and social contiguity the Jewish settlements fragment, on the other hand, are visibly underserviced and neglected. Traveling through them, I found these areas to be overcrowded and littered with trash; the roads were unpaved, the schools few and derelict. A visual staple of the Arab neighborhoods was their black rooftop water tanks, used to offset the insufficient level of water pressure allotted them by the city. 

The reason for the overcrowding in these neighborhoods is that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to procure building permits anywhere in Jerusalem. Permits are arbitrarily denied or left indefinitely in bureaucratic limbo. Palestinian neighborhoods are also forbidden to expand beyond their present boundaries, which have been the same since 1967. The surrounding land (and this goes for all Arab villages and cities in Israel) was nationalized after 1948 and turned over to the dispensation of the Jewish National Fund, which does not sell or lease land to non-Jews. If a Palestinian family wants to expand their home or build a new one on a vacant lot, they must do so illegally, or not at all. If they build illegally, they risk having their homes demolished on short notice (often they are given ten minutes to vacate their possessions before the bulldozers arrive). That is why the landscape of East Jerusalem is riddled with the husks of demolished Arab homes. Jewish neighborhoods and settlements, on the other hand, have no problem purchasing land or receiving expedited permits. 

This systematic discrimination, along with discrimination in the provision of municipal services, cannot be seen as other than a calculated policy of slow-motion ethnic cleansing. The goal is evidently to immiserate Arabs until they leave Jerusalem. . . click here to read the rest of Matt’s report at Mondoweiss. . .

- Matt Berkman
Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders Delegation


Ramadan in Ramallah

The following is an excerpt of a blog Kazim Ali wrote on his experiences in Ramallah following the IFPB delegation.  The full blog appears on The Huffington Post.

What I promised was a set of reflections on practicing Ramadan in the so-called "Holy Land." My plan was to come to a city in the West Bank for the first part, then return to East Jerusalem before heading north to some of the cities in Galilee with large Muslim populations before finally returning to Al-Aqsa, the Far Mosque, for the end of the month.

But for three reasons, I couldn't even begin.

Firstly, what is the "Holy Land?" And what, at the moment, is holy about it? Everyone has a different narrative about what happened here since 1948 if you don't keep your eyes and your ears open you commit the error of thinking you understand the place. As I crossed and recrossed the "Green Line" - the actual border of the State of Israel - and crossed and recrossed the Separation Barrier (in most places constructed inside Palestinian territories) I found myself changing not only my affect but my actual language as well - the "West Bank" became "the Occupied Palestinian Territories" or "Palestine," while some of the Jewish settlers I met with used the phrase "Judea and Samaria," linguistically staking their claim on the place.

Secondly, after several weeks of traveling in the area - scorchingly hot - I didn't even know if I was going to be able to fast. And if I didn't fast then how would I be able to write about it intellectually and viscerally?

Which brings me to the third and biggest problem: I have already written about fasting. A lot. . . click here to read the rest of Kazim Ali’s report on the Huffington Post. . .

- Kazim Ali
Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders Delegation

This delegation is traveling concurrently with the "Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders" Delegation > > >



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