<   Report Three:   The Power of Personal Stories >

An Environment Under Siege: Occupation's Effect on People and Land
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
May 28, 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.



Afternoon: Gaza and Sderot
By Marianne Torres

We left for a long bus ride south across the Negev Desert, to visit the Israeli town of Sderot, which has experienced the rockets occasionally shot across the border by militants in Gaza. We were able to go to what's called Gaza Overlook afterwards. Climbed a tower where we could look across the landscape and see Gaza.

In Sderot we listened to an Israeli woman, Nomika Zion, who has lived in Sderot for 25 years in the collective community of which she is an original member. She spoke of the "Safe Room" in her house that is a bomb shelter, and said the State requires all homes built in Israel to have one. Given the way the state has chosen to live with its neighbors, it probably makes sense. The idea of all Jewish Israelis having a "safe room", when Palestinians are the ones under rather constant bombardment is ironic beyond bearing. What privilege and what fear-mongering.

She seemed a good woman, and certainly is a brave woman, for she has always spoken out against Israel's attacks on Gaza. She spoke for a long time about what it is like there, how they had good Palestinian friends from Gaza for many years, and how people on both sides of the border crossed regularly to shop and visit in each other's towns.

She was honest about Israel breaking various cease fires, and of her conflict as Summer Rains 2006 and Cast Lead 2009/10 happened. She said she had to support her army even though she was against the attacks. She called them wars, but in fact, they were not - only one side had weapons.
She had much to say about the agony of living under the stress of the rockets for several years, and that she and many in her community became quite depressed, and most of them went to therapy and she spoke of this at great length. I could not help but compare the lives of Palestinians who have lived for 45 years with periodic military attacks, spending long periods of time not knowing if they will see their children again when they leave the house, not knowing whether their home will still be standing when they come home from work....... and on and on and on and on. I understand the danger of comparing hardships, but I was not the only one struck by the uncomfortable disparity.

All in all, I believe her to be a brave woman, doing all she believes she can. I wish her well.


Erez Checkpoint and Gaza
By Cori Mancuso

We stopped at at the Erez Checkpoint. Here we met some Palestinians living in Gaza who came to Israel for work. They were very welcoming and told us stories. Then we stopped to eat and it was very strange to see soldiers in the restaurant eating with their guns on the table or by their feet. It is scary to think any Jewish Israeli can carry a gun anywhere in public and it is viewed as normal. We also went to an overlook of Gaza and four Israeli soldiers in three jeeps came up to our group and ask us politely to leave. They said a sniper was on us and we need to be careful here. Also, that the Arabs are dangerous in Gaza so we shouldn’t be over here. What they don’t understand is that they are more frightening than Arabs in Gaza and far more threatening. After that we met a woman named Nomika Zion living in Sderot who spoke of her experience living near Gaza and in Sderot. There was a time when 10-60 rockets would land in Sderot every day for months. There were bomb shelters on every corner and even the children’s playground had bomb shelters disguised as play areas. She wrote an article called "War Diary from Sderot" including the lines “Not in my name and not for me did you go into this war” reflecting on the Israeli government’s insistence that refusing peace treaties and continuing wars with Gaza and the occupation is for the Israel citizen’s safety and in the name of Israel.

Hopeful point: Neve Shalom or Wahat Al-Salaam “Oasis of Peace” is a village of Jews and Palestinian Arabs with Israel Citizenship living peacefully in the same village together.


Vad Vashem
By Jim McLoughlin

Today the group visited the Holocaust Museum – a must if one wants to have an educated view about the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The museum chronicles what happened and the narratives are well supplemented with photos, personal effects of the victims and their many letters.   The last exhibit -- the Room of Names – is a solemn and somber ending but I wanted more. I was hoping that the final exhibition would leverage off the suffering to send everyone -- particularly young Jews - a message that the best tribute they can pay those who died is to ensure protection of human rights in their own society. The Israeli government and the designers of the museum missed a golden chance here. 


Two Things
By Jim McLoughlin

The group has had many good meetings with both Christian and Muslim Palestinians as well as some Israelis. Most were pessimistic, some were practical - all were passionate. Two things stand out for me so far.

The first is the diametrical use of religion.  Many Israelis use to it to justify an ever more brutal occupation while the Palestinians – both Christian and Muslim - turn to it as the last source of hope. 

Secondly, virtually all of the non-Israeli speakers have, at some point in their lives been jailed and tortured or have had this happen to someone in their family.  Most were jailed under the notorious “administrative detention” -- an arrangement giving the Israeli military carte blanche to arrest Palestinians without charge. While an Israeli is guaranteed a court hearing within 24 hours, Palestinians can be jailed for up to six months without being told what the charges are and incredibly, they can be held an additional 12 months under the same scenario.  Why are Americans paying $3+ billion a year to Israel when we fought so hard for habeas corpus in our own country?

Tearful Moments
By George Muedeking

Each day there is a tearful moment, yesterday there were two. Participating in a demonstration that is held every Friday at noon by "Women in Black," I was confronted face to face by a young women shouting In my face, "Don't you know they are trying to bomb us, to kill us?" we were told to remain silent at all times otherwise I would have asked her why her government continues to send out its citizens to forcibly settle in Palestinian neighborhoods or extend its borders into its bricked lands. She finally wore down and started crying. I wanted to put my hand out and pray for her release from fear and hate that her government seems to require among its citizens in order to achieve its agenda. Tears flowed from my eyes as I walked away.

Later we listened to the stories of two Palestinian families who were tossed into the streets at five o'clock one morning along with their possessions. They then watched as Jewish settlers who had been waiting outside moved in. The Palestinian families cases are still in court three years later and they are still homeless. Meanwhile settlers continue to move into the neighborhood. Again tears flowed as we made our way up the street to join a weekly street demonstration in their support. This time passersby honked their horns and waved in support.


Praying for The Judaism of Justice
By Cori Mancuso

How can this be a Jewish state when their is so much injustice? Is this the same Torah, writings, prophets, and traditions that I know? It cannot be. Israel would have heard the cries of Micah, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Israel would have defended the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor. Zechariah said, “Do not plot evil against one another.” Is this not what you have done Israel? When you devised plans that would overcome “obstacles” like the Palestinian population, land ownership, and colonizing the territory? Did you not do this through depopulation, massacres, destroying homes and villages, settlements, and breaking international law? “The sword comes to the world on account of the delay of justice and perversion of justice” Pirkei Avot 5:11. When God promised Abraham this land, it was meant for all the generations after him, woman, men, and children from different nations and races. “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Adonai your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16:20. Justice should occupy the land. Even if there was a divine right for Israel to live in this land (there isn’t), Israel would not oppress and depopulate the people already living there. “You shall not oppress then stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the Land of Egypt” Exodus 23:9. Even more so for you Israel, for you were a stranger in Palestine, Palestinians were not strangers in this land before you. Israel, “let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream” Amos 5:24. I pray that one day we will be able to say, “In the return of the Lord, the restoration of Zion, we will be as dreamers. Our mouths will be filled with laughter, our tongues with shouts of joy” Psalm 126. I pray that the Judaism of justice will fill the hearts of Jews, not Zionism.


Home Evictions in Sheikh Jarah
By Marianne Torres

"They came for us at 5:00 in the morning when everybody was asleep. It was August 2, 2009 when the soldiers came after 10 families with 38 family members. They came, more than 100 soldiers and Special Forces, police on horses and water cannons filled with sewage water.”

This is the beginning of a story we heard today from Mariam Alrawi in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  She continued:

“I heard the heavy steps of soldiers outside. I awoke and moved to the door. Before I got there the door was blasted open. Children had come out of their beds to see what the noise was and the soldiers grabbed them and threw them into the street in their pajamas. The women were still in bedclothes, and they were forced or thrown out into the street, too. A police was sitting on top of one of my children.”

“I ran out to [the neighbor] Nabil’s house and cried ‘the army is in our house and I want to put the kids in your house.’ Soldiers were in front of all the other houses on the street and didn't allow anybody out.”

“By half an hour, all of us were in the street. In one hour, settlers were at our home and moving into it. We had 12 kids altogether, outside, crying, screaming, asking ‘what is going on? Why are they doing that? Why are we in the street?"’

“They put all of our furniture on a truck and we don't know where it went. Soldiers were playing in the street with some of my children's toys. Our youngest family member was born on the day we were evicted. We put up a tent outside on the sidewalk and stayed in that tent for 6 months. We got mattresses and chairs, and we ate there, lived there. It rained, it was cold, the children had nowhere to study and the settlers harassed us. But we refused to leave. This is OUR home. But the army came and destroyed our tent and all that we had 17 times.”

“I have two young children who are always scared to go to sleep now, want to sleep in her bed and be with her all the time. They wake in the night crying. It has been 2 years and 7 months, but we will remain steadfast. We will not give up."

Mariam is a refugee from the Nakba in 1948. The Israeli government has been evicting Palestinian families who settled in Sheikh Jarah for years, as they are in the process of building a Jewish-only corridor from West Jerusalem to Hebrew University, right through the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that are not in the state of Israel.

We also heard from members of the Hanoun family, and several others whose names went by too fast for me to capture, and I apologize for any names I did not get correctly. Mr Hanoun told us how they had acquired the home in 1956 when they bought the land from the government of Jordan and UNRWA helped them build the house. After living there for decades, the Israeli soldiers came for his family at 4:00 a.m. and he also explained that they slept under the trees for 6 months "to show what happened". He said "they have transferred our family again and again, and it is not fair."
He said "we need support from all the volunteers who come to us, to help us stop more evictions." He said we must pressure the Israeli government and the American government. He said we had to "stop giving money to Israel for building settlements on top of our houses."

We heard from others that these families celebrated Ramadan (a serious challenge) and Eid while living under the trees through the winter. All the time they were there, Israeli settlers attacked the children. When they called the police about it, the police arrested the Palestinians and did nothing at all to the settlers. (We hear this constantly, everywhere we go). They arrested women as easily as men, and every arrest resulted in a heavy fine.

One time the harassment and bullying was so bad that Mr. Nabil called the police, who told him to go to the Police Station to make a complaint. He did that, and was arrested and held for 3 days. Nothing was done about the settlers' behavior.

Another young woman, a college student, spoke passionately about the experience. She told the same story Miriam had told, but with her own pain, her own passion. One of our group filmed it and I am eager to share it.

Part of Myrta's response was "who on earth sat to think about all the ways these people are tormented? How did they come up with the plans that make every Palestinian's life miserable?" As we spoke about it later, we both realized that we cannot find ways to describe this Master Plan for Ethnic Cleansing - the closest we got was Myrta's description of "evil genius", but that really doesn't touch it.

I'm so very sorry that we did not have that whole visit with the family on film. The power of hearing from the people themselves what they experienced, to hear their anguish and their anger was nearly overwhelming. Several of us (including me) spoke later of the deep sense of shame we felt, listening to them. I really have no vocabulary, or perhaps not the emotional bottle right now to speak more of this day.



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