An Environment Under Siege: Occupation's Effect on People and Land
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
June 5, 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.



Reflections on Return and Our Role
By Philip Farah

My father’s family originally hails from Gaza, where Israel's "Defense Forces" killed about 1,400 people in Operation Cast Lead a few years ago. While the number of Israeli casualties during the deadly attack was tiny, in comparison, I was deeply moved by our visit to the Israeli border town of Sderot.

Our Israeli hostess described with intensely genuine emotions the terror that the children of Sderot faced, days on end, when Palestinian Hamas and other faction fired as many as 50 rockets a day. However, she also described, with comparable intensity, the sense of betrayal she felt when she recently heard an investigative report on Israeli TV detailing how her government rejected an offer from Hamas for a 20-year non-aggression agreement with Israel.

While many Americans vehemently reject the description of Israel as an apartheid state, the facts that I saw on the ground speak for themselves.  Like South Africa, an individual’s rights, access to resources and his/her human dignity is strictly governed by his/her legal classification. The legal regime that applies to Palestinians differs whether they live in East Jerusalem, the West Back, or Gaza, or Israel proper. Even within these divisions, Israeli violations of human rights vary considerably. For example, restrictions on the construction of homes are far more severe in Area C of the West Bank than in Area A.

Even in Israel proper, your access to education or ability to build on your own land effectively vary depending on whether Israeli law defines you as a Bedouin, Druze, or other Arab category. No matter how Israel classifies you, however, your rights as a Palestinian are always inferior to those of Israeli Jews.

 No matter what arrangement is reached for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it must be based on principles of equality under the law in order for it to be viable. The current situation falls far short, with Israeli Jews enjoying a far higher standard of level of living and near-complete dominance over their Palestinian neighbors. While Israel ranks very high in its scientific and technological achievements, its economy and society are based on a militarism that has ruined, and continues to ruin the lives of Palestinians. Israel’s prosperity grows at the expense of severe violations of the property rights, freedoms, and dignity of the Palestinians.

While the Palestinians, like other people fighting for their emancipation, have often committed acts of violence that I do not condone, this trip has convinced me that the majority among them place their faith in an increasingly coherent group of amazing men and women leaders preaching non-violent means of resistance to Israeli occupation and oppression.  They also have support from equally admirable Israelis in a small, but growing peace camp. 

As in the case of South Africa, however, our role, especially in the U.S., of extending international solidarity can provide hope that non-violence can bring about emancipation.  Without such hope, the Palestinians' alternative will certainly not be submission.

We can encourage the non-violent path to peace that Palestinians and their Israel supporters have chosen by heeding the Palestinians' call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions targeting those who profit from Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.

Housing Threats – Even to Israeli Citizens
By Rosie Ashamalla

We spent the evening in Sakhnin, a Palestinian town inside Israel, at Ali's house with his wife Trees (from Holland) and their two lovely daughters Aouda and Dina.  The girls have just gotten degrees in law and an MA in Anthropology, both from Columbia University in New York. One speaks four languages, the other speaks six. They have no desire to emigrate and have come back to work for the future of their country.

After an excellent dinner prepared by the girls, Trees told us the story of the house.  Although Ali's father had given his son one dunum of land (about ¼ of an acre) out of the six dunums of land he owned and although the land was located in an area where many other people had houses, they were not granted a permit to build.  The municipality of Sakhnin was not allowed to grant them a permit, they had to apply to the regional council. 

In keeping with the general policy of land transfer away from Palestinians, they were offered a permit in the center of town on one dunum if they would trade in the entire six dunums owned by Ali's father. They decided to live in a trailer on their land instead and Ali was then jailed and fined the equivalent of several thousand dollars.

It is worth noting that many Israeli settlers live in trailers on land that is not theirs and never are arrested or fined for this. Since that time the family has applied several more times for the building permit, but their applications have always been rejected.

Since Ali would be risking jail and fines in any case, they decided to build their house anyway, and with the support of the neighbors they managed to raise the roof in about a week.

This whole saga has now been going on for seven years.  They are under constant threat of demolition, they are unable to receive a permit, Ali has been jailed and fined several more times, and still they live there, because it is their land.     

Hotel Story
By Vince Stravino

I spoke at length with the Palestinian cleaning lady in the hotel. She is a trained midwife who worked in the West Bank for years but could not support her family there and came to East Jerusalem where she earns more money making beds until she can obtain an Israeli midwife certificate.

She is also an Israeli citizen but unable to live with her Palestinian husband living in the West Bank a few miles away. She has been applying for some time to reunify her family, but is in this common situation in Israel where it is difficult and now illegal for an Israeli citizen to marry a Palestinian. One more example of racism and apartheid. 

Military Presences
By Carolyn Cicciu 

It struck me after a full day here that a military presence permeates our daily lives.  During our visit with Cedar Douabis at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, our delegation vicariously experienced the violence of the Zionist militias invading Haifa to drive out all the Palestinian population.  Cedar was a 12-year-old girl at the time, and that memory of flight is as vivid to her today as then. 

Next, at a stop at the Erez Crossing at the northernmost point of Gaza , armed security personnel (apparently now hired through Academi, the company formerly known as Blackwater), razor wire, cameras, guard towers, and guard houses clearly restricted us. At an overlook further down the wall separating Gaza from Israel, military jeeps pulled up within seconds of our arrival, seemingly from nowhere.  These young soldiers, also heavily armed, said, “You must leave.  It is very dangerous here.  A sniper could have his gun aimed right at you from over there.”  I know they have not learned that from experience but from the indoctrinating military training they receive that tells them Palestinians are terrorists and they must always be alert (click here for photos from the gaza border in the delegation’s slideshow). 

Nomika Zion,  of Other Voice,  described her 25 years of living in Sderot, a small town settled mostly by Eastern and African Jews located on the Gaza border (Israel places its most vulnerable is the most dangerous locations).  It was frequently the target of rockets fired from Gaza. 

While she knew Palestinians in Gaza as friends from the time when there was no wall, she felt the fear, uncertainty, and danger this new reality created.  She felt this constant threat changed people’s psyches. She realized she faced the danger of losing her empathy, like so many others, because she lost sight of the other and saw “enemy.”  She was one of the lucky ones who recognized that this military solution to our problems really just creates a system that victimizes others who are as innocent as herself in creating the conflict.

Finally, two young Israeli men talked with us over dinner.  They still have unpleasant memories of their mandatory military service; one took a couple of years off before beginning university, “just to forget.”

Our young people in all countries that participate in war are harmed by this connection to the military.  Either they live with painful memories that surface for years afterward, they accept a way of thinking that dehumanizes others or they try to escape to cope.  Surely there is a better way than paying this huge human cost.


Final Thoughts from Home
By Marianne Torres

Home yesterday from the most useful, informative trip to Palestine I can imagine.

Sponsored, as you know, by Interfaith Peace Builders, this one was very different from my earlier trip with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).  CPT's trip was a working trip, one that included accompaniment of children, farmers, shepherds under attack or threatened attack by Israeli settlers as much as information-gathering.

This one was straight information, and was so intensely packed every single day that I had very little time for what I had planned to be daily reports. We started each day at either 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and didn't finish until at least 10:00 p.m., which left very little time or even energy for writing. For that, I'm sorry. But the quality and quantity of the contacts we had, the places we went, the breadth of information we gathered was absolutely priceless. I will write a final report in the coming days that I hope will encompass what I was unable to send while "on the road".

Keeping in mind that nearly everyone on this trip is a seasoned Palestine Solidarity activist, the comments I heard most often were variations of "I thought I knew what the situation was, but I had no idea it was this bad" or "it's worse than the last time I was here". Indeed.

We moved around freely inside Palestine, from the "Gaza Overlook" (from which we were chased away by Israeli soldiers who responded to our presence nearly immediately in three jeeps) to seven miles south of Lebanon.

We walked through one of the more than 500 destroyed villages from 1948, for which millions of unsuspecting Jewish children saved and sent their money to the Jewish National Fund's "trees for Israel" campaign throughout their childhood having no idea the intent of those trees - to obliterate the existence of those destroyed villages.

We went to a Bedouin village in the South Hebron Hills,  where a solar project is being carried out by engineers from Anarchists Against the Wall and Palestinian engineers. The village is desperately, desperately poor, but has been destroyed by the Israeli army at least once. It is hard to imagine how human beings in any army could look at that village and be willing to destroy what very little they have.

Also saw the beginnings of a recycling project, learned about a number of environmental projects at Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem.

A visit with an Israeli Jewish woman in Sderot near Gaza resulted in mixed reactions and for me and some others, sorrow that though the woman was eager to see peace and did not seem to carry ill feelings toward Palestinians, she did not articulate any understanding at all of what her nation has done to Palestinians, or how deeply they suffer, or for how long. The same with a representative of a socialist kibbutz, who spoke at length about the good relations they have with neighboring Palestinian villages (or for him, "Arab" villages - Israelis rarely use the term "Palestinian" for their existence is problematic), but when questioned about Palestinians' lack of equal rights, or injustices done to them, he repeated "…we WON" and suggested, using WWII comparisons, that if they "just surrendered", they could all live in peace.

We learned about the phrase "socially incompatible" as the new way Israel describes and excuses blatant discrimination against Palestinians. Israeli courts have ruled illegal discrimination based on race (!!!) so institutions and individuals now use "socially incompatible" as the reason to keep housing areas, schools, etc Jewish-only.

The most valuable thing for me is what I already wrote about, the concept of Samoud, or steadfastness. You don't look for victories or progress. You simply stay steadfast. You keep working for justice. We can do no less.

Originally posted here: http://mtorres555.travellerspoint.com/


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