< Report One:  Information Vital to the Struggle >

An Environment Under Siege: Occupation's Effect on People and Land
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
May 24, 2012

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.



By Marianne Torres

Those of you who received reports from my last trip know they contain joy, fun, and heartbreak, with more hard stuff than light, filled with information vital to the struggle. Just sayin'.....

Myrta and I are getting quite excited about the possibilities when we return! This trip has an environmental theme and we are going to learn a lot more about land use, water, and pollution here than we ever expected! We'll be able to speak to new audiences with this info.

We left the hotel early, without Anna, one of the trip leaders, who only arrived at the hotel about 2 am, having spent 10 hours in the little holding room with our fellow delegate who was not allowed in with us. This one ended badly, with the first Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) delegate to be turned away in 10 years. It was hard on everyone as we are already forming bonds, but particularly on her traveling partner who is a good friend of many years. Anna joined us later in the day today.

Long day! - our first stop was at Al Aqsa mosque - rather breathtaking. It has stood since 691 CE, even as buildings small and large crumbled all around it in various earthquakes. Al Aqsa is built on bedrock, and so is not affected by quakes. A bit startling... (click here for photos from our first day).

In the huge plazas surrounding the Mosque are many groups of 6 to 15 Palestinian men as well as groups of women, sitting in chairs, studying Koran or talking. We learned from our guide that the purpose of this is to keep a claim to the space via nonviolent resistance, as it is right now under the control of the Muslim Waqf.  Jewish settlers, who live in the Old City all around the Mosque, come in frequently attempting to gain some ground there, for in this place possession is all, right or wrong. Said told us that when the settlers come into the square, the Palestinians remain seated, but holler "Allahu Akbar" loudly and eventually the settlers leave.

Note to myself, and to anyone who is curious enough: check out the Covenant of Omar.  According to our guide, it is an old document still in use by Arab leaders in the region as a guide to ensuring representation of all religious groups living there. As a result of the use of this document, 10 cities in Palestine have (and always have) Christian mayors, regardless the size of the Christian population.

First organizational stop was at UN-OCHA, or the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  OCHA has all the facts and figures that will back up the personal stories we're gathering, but that I will avoid putting into this report. They spoke much about Gaza, but especially interesting was hearing about how Israel "eased" the Blockade on Gaza after this last summer's Flotilla. Remember that it did not get in, as none but the first one did (someone correct me if I missed a successful one), and yet it caused Israel to "ease" the blockade somewhat. Hardly a victory, but a clear indication that direct action is useful!!!!

Gaza still has a 34/% unemployment rate and Palestinians still cannot fish its their own waters without risk of being shot, so we have a very long way to go!

As I move on to the West Bank, you'll notice there are a thousand unanswered questions here about Gaza, but I can't write everything we learned as there is just too much for a nightly report. Much of it will show up in presentations after we return, though. Just quickly, 30-35% of privately owned Palestinian land in East Jerusalem has been given by the state to Israeli settlers. Peace Now, an Israeli peace group, has a list of settlements and how much of their land was taken from Palestinians.

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: One Perspective
By Jim McLoughlin

Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, gave us a brilliant and passionate presentation. To him, the “American-Israeli” occupation has long been the major conflict pitting the West, especially the US, against the Muslim world. He is pessimistic and he feels that Netanyahu’s total intimidation of Obama (and AIPAC's of Congress) has made the Israeli government confident that it can now get away with outright annexation of roughly 60% of the remaining Palestinian land (“Area C”).

The group was impressed with his response to the oft-heard charge that Palestinians are to blame for their lack of effective leadership.  By contrast, he notes the systemic and unrelenting effort by Israelis to quell any and all political opposition by intimidation, assassination, torture, forced separation from family and imprisonment. By his estimate, more than 4,000 Palestinians are currently in jail for politically related charges.

Equally alarming is that the conflict's sheer duration and intensity has allowed the Israelis to almost single-handedly re-frame the worldwide debate on security. Israel's steady proliferation of new weapons and its constant emphasis of security against terrorism have changed the way we look at both civil police actions and war, especially now that wars often involve local insurgencies rather than cross border fighting.  The protections given citizens under international law are steadily eroding in favor of things like the Patriotic Act, unauthorized search and seizure, and use of drones.

Despite his glum message, I left with a feeling of hope that someday there will be enough sensible and ethical Israelis like him to turn the tide.

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: Another Perspective
By Rosie Ashamalla

We spent Tuesday afternoon on a tour with Ruth Edmonds, a vivacious young Israeli/British woman who works for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.   I was impressed by her willingness to risk herself for what she believes in.  Her work as an activist has put her in the spotlight, and she recounted how many of her friends would no longer speak to her and how her two best friends call her regularly after protest actions to make sure she is not in jail. 

She spoke knowledgeably about the psychological effects of home demolitions.  One eight-year-old Palestinian girl that she encountered in a village insists on taking her dollhouse to school with her every day ever since her friend and neighbor that she plays with lost her dollhouse in a home demolition. The local population is traumatized by these demolitions, and the effect of this fear and uncertainty on the minds of the children is incalculable.

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: A Third Perspective
By Lissie Perkal

As one of the younger people on this trip, I’ve heard a lot from the more seasoned generations about how much responsibility we young people have to actively fight the injustices that face our global community. In light of this, it was especially heartening to have a two hour tour around Jerusalem with Ruth, a twenty something Israeli, anarchist activist working inside Israel to bring down the wall. She works with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD) which is a non-violent, direct action organization created to resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories.

She explained how the Israeli government has gone to great lengths to make it practically impossible for Palestinians to get building permits approved. This fact, combined with the expanding population, means that Palestinians are left no other option but to build “illegally.” Thus, their homes are in constant threat of receiving demolition orders. Once an order has been granted there is no telling how long it will take to be executed because the Israeli government knows that if it too many demolitions at one time will draw (more) negative attention from the international community. So the Palestinians live in fear of having their houses demolished for being “illegal” even though there’s no legal recourse for building “legal” homes in East Jerusalem. To add insult to injury, the Palestinians have to foot the bill for the demolition.

Despite the heavy and saddening topic, Ruth shared her massive knowledge of the history of Jerusalem and encouraged us to be critical and pro-active humans.  It was inspiring to see one of the many forms that activist work can take.

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: A Fourth Perspective
By Marianne Torres

We met with Jeff Halper, of ICAHD.  Jeff made an analogy to a fishbone caught in your throat. It's just a tiny, tiny thing, just as this area is tiny, but when it's stuck, everything stops until you un-stick it!

Jeff's presentation received mixed reviews. Some felt he was too tepid about BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), others felt he was only saying that it was not going to change anything by itself but that it is an excellent tool for Americans to use. At one point, he said "it's all over" about a Two-State solution (no surprise) and that it's also all over for a One-State solution - that WAS a surprise. He says 'one-state" is "not even on the table" as most world leaders do not yet support it, as he believes world leaders are not ready to support "the end of the Jewish State" and, he says "there is no readily apparent solution that I can point to" but later said he supports "regional organization" rather than One State. My disagreement here, of course, is that the end of a sate which runs on a system of apartheid and legal racism, would surely be the best place to start!

Soldiering on, he also says he believes Israel is about to Annex Area C in the West Bank. (If you're not familiar with Area C, please google it, it’s 60% of the West Bank). Jeff said that "Israel wants to end the occupation" and that one way they can do is annex most of the land, which holds less than 5% of Palestinian population, and this annexation is one way to do that. He believes this could happen even before November.

Jeff told us about Obama meeting recently with former chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, and for the first time in history, Israel met with the American president and Palestine was not mentioned. He said "they have succeeded in 'normalizing' the occupation!"

When asked about BDS he said he believed it an important tool to keep attention on during this time. Dismissed the campaign to divest from TIAA Cref and Motorola, but several amongst us, including both Myrta and me, disagreed strongly.

He did speak at some length about the danger Israel presents to our own Civil Liberties at home in a variety of ways and suggests we use that as a way to bring it home to our audiences: militarization of our police tactics and police weapons being just one example.

Jeff spoke about Israel's campaign of "Lawfare" designed to justify unjust wars, and that turns meaning on its head: "Soldiers" are good citizens who need to be protected, and citizens are potential terrorists who need to be neutralized".

Then on to a comfortable bus with an ICAHD volunteer, Ruth, extremely knowledgeable, feisty, lively and quite delightful. Much of what she shared I've already written during my earlier trip in 2010 and/or have incorporated into my presentations. All of that information is available on my blog (CPT Blog 2010).

One of the new things I heard - Ruth spoke about Family Reunification laws in Israel. As she described the hardships and heartbreak inflicted on only Israeli Palestinians but never Israeli Jews, she spoke of "two things that will change negotiations[over this land]:” Annexation of Area C and the "Race for Jerusalem", meaning the frenzied settlement building inside Jerusalem and the same frenzied work to evict Palestinian families in order to replace them with Jewish families.

This policy - an old one, but one now put into force with a vengeance, is part of the "Judaization" policy that is being used to destroy the homes of Bedouin citizens and to drive them into poverty-stricken "towns" that have no infrastructure. It's so blatantly racist as to be a no-brainer, and yet supporters of Israel and progressive protectors of Israel refuse to acknowledge this Apartheid that gives the lie to "the only democracy in the Middle East". She recommended, among others, palestineremembered.org.

She spoke of how a home is the center of life for any Palestinian, particularly women, and remembered a study she read recently that showed that 52% of suicide bombers during that bombing period had experienced home demolition as a child. She told of a friend who had asked the child of a friend why she took her rather large dollhouse to school every day when it was so cumbersome. The little girl replied that her friend's home had been demolished and the friend lost her dollhouse. She did not want this to happen to hers. Heartbreaking...

As Ruth ended our tour she spoke about BDS with great enthusiasm, and strongly urged all to participate vigorously in their own local campaigns. Perhaps it's time to kick our own up a notch in Spokane!

Two good reasons to do that: Caterpillar retrofits their Cats before they go to Israel now, so that they can hold tear gas canisters and weapons. And when China needed to evict people from their homes in preparation for the Olympic games there, they sent a large contingent of police to Israel to learn how to do that.

By Cori Mancuso

Today was very long (6:00am-9:00pm) and very eventful. It is too much to write about so I will be brief. We toured the Old City of Jerusalem; we saw the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the city walls, Holy Sepulcher, the venders, Center for Jerusalem Studies, and many other things (click here for photos from our first day). Sadly enough, I could not go into the Dome of the Rock because I am not Muslim. But the outside is extremely beautiful. So after the tour we ate some yummy food, I had Chicken Shawarma, pita bread, salads, and freshly squeezed orange juice. The orange juice was to die for.

Then we had a meeting with Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. After we took a tour to with a woman named Ruth Edmonds, a Jewish Anarchist Activist (her words). She did a tour of some Jewish settlements (illegal Jewish communities/homes on Palestinian land) and showed us a demolished home.

I had an unexpectedly emotional experience when Ruth was speaking during the tour and she described how the one road we were traveling on was once the road of Jericho, were Jesus supposedly walked on and how it was an important road at the time. She described pilgrims walking to Jerusalem, agricultural fields, merchants, traders, and how it connected East and West Jerusalem. I was picturing how it might have looked and how the sun would have hit the hills and the wonder of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Soon enough, we found out that they put up a segregation wall that cuts off the the road around Jericho because it is a Palestinian town. The wall was so opposite to my experience on the road of Jericho. This was the new wailing wall, covered in messages of despair and hope for a future for Palestinians in their land.

Main message today: Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, Christians – we are all humans and deserve basic human needs.

A longer version of this report was originally posted at ifpbdelegation2012.wordpress.com


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!


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.


Select a report to view: Announcement | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |