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Today's Realities, Tomorrow's Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
July 27, 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.  Submitted reports may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do 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 Robbie W.

We spent today in Nablus (click here for our photos from Nablus) which is a city in the West Bank about 40 miles north of Jerusalem.  We met with two groups while there: (1) Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P) and (2) Human Supporters’ Association (HSA)

DCI-P offers legal aide to Palestinian children (ages 12 – 17) who are arrested by the Israeli police.  A report was released in April 2012 after collecting sworn testimonies from 311 children held in Israeli military detention.   The “testimonies reveal that most children undergo a coercive interrogation, mixing verbal abuse, threats and physical violence, generally resulting in a confession.  The most common offence children confess to is throwing stones”. 

From the 311 testimonies, areas of concern that came out in the report include: 95% of the children reported having their hands tied, 90% were blindfolded, 75% experienced physical violence, 63% were held at a detention center inside Israel which is in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, 60% were arrested between midnight and 5am, 57% were threatened, 54% experienced verbal abuse and/or humiliation, 33% were strip searched, and 29% signed or were shown documents in Hebrew which the children do not read or speak.  Our speaker shared with us some personal stories from Nablus, and it was a very powerful and moving experience.

Following the May 2002 Israeli invasion of Nablus during the second Intifada (2000-2004), a group of young paramedics wanted to reach out to children and teenagers who experienced daily traumatic events.  In June 2006, the Human Supporters Association (HAS) was officially established as an NGO and since then has continued to grow and adapt according to the needs of Nablus youth.  The speaker shared with us some personal stories as a paramedic when he attempted to assist families and children during the invasion.  The stories are too numerous to share here, but common elements included in the stories include Israeli soldiers denying the paramedics access to families in need of food, water, and medical attention, the destruction of historic sites in Nablus by Israeli tanks, and the random shooting of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers at night during the curfew.  Our tour guide was among those shot at night, and his story was incredible.

After meeting with the HSA, we got a tour of the Old City in Nablus, and it was incredible.  Nablus is most famous for two things: soap and Kanafeh which is similar to baklava except with cheese.  Nablus was an amazing city, and I am glad we had a chance to come here.


Topography of the Human Condition
By Tavia L.F.

I am spending the evening away from the group for the first time since we left DC. I find myself at Cinemetique, an Israeli Art Film venue and restaurant.  I stare out the window to the majestic valley below and watch as fireworks bounce off the hillside and dance down the walls of the Old City.  At first, delegation members mistook the celebratory combustions for gunshots - but that is not too surprising considering where we have been and where we are going.

“So are there any Palestinian artists that you know and work with?” I ask.

Emmanuel Witzthum’s head lowers and he slowly shakes it with indignity.  Regret is a feeling I am very familiar with.  Like all humans, I am a topographical map of my mistakes and my transformations. But what if you are born into this?

I look out the balcony window to the rocks of Jerusalem cobbled into features below.  Echoes of the past recycled into the present, my eyes reach out, scanning the carved landscape for the tactile tale.  This sense of place is exercising my aesthetic powers.

As an artist, I depend on my ancient instincts to guide me.  For many years I suffered from what I refer to as “the family inheritance”.  Ironically, while searching for spirituality this disease led me to exorcise my aesthetic instincts.  Paradoxically, I had to lose myself to find myself.
Although I am not Jewish and Emmanuel has not inherited my family demons, we do share a belief… a belief that art is a tool for crossing borders: physical borders, psychological borders, emotional borders, and metaphorical borders.

Brought up in New York City amongst artists and agnostics, I was encouraged to explore religions culturally. I believe in the human spirit.  Under “Philosophy” on my Facebook page both my religious and political views are listed as “non-dominational,” not “non-denominational.”  As a global citizen and being in the privileged position to lead my life as an artist, I believe it is my duty to work with humans around the world to share our struggles and revitalize the land we tend with disease and delusion.

My land, my map is my body - spiritual, mental, and physical.  I spent many, many years polluting it with “medicines” of salvation.  Some of these ideas of remedy were bred into me, some were born unto me, and some were self-induced.

I often gather in church basements with people who struggle with the same disease.  One of the sayings you can often hear is “resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to get sick”.  This saying seems applicable to all humans, no matter what they inherit.

August Wilson, an African American Pittsburgh Playwright wrote in his play Fences: “When the sins of our fathers visit us, we do not have to play host. We can banish them with forgiveness.”

“Maybe you can be the common ground?” Emmanuel suggests with hope in his voice. I can feel my usual “American guilt” rising through my blood and flushing to my face.  It is visible to others?  Is the U.S. policy and history that is screaming in my head audible to the rest of the restaurant?  I look around and no one seems to be as disturbed.

This “common ground” comment is responding to my question about safety, legalities of Israelis in certain zones of Palestine, and my desire to hold artistic workshops on Palestinian soil.  I am on this delegation to educate myself about the current situation and research the possibilities of creating an artistic exchange between Israel and Palestine.  The project is about dialoguing through art as opposed to language, and it is symbolically important to me as the curator/director, that the first step of the project, the workshop, be located on Palestinian ground. 

Like Emmanuel, I am trying to work for change. How to incorporate the current academic and cultural ban, plus the new concepts I am learning regarding “normalization” helps to make the project more challenging but also more layered. Therefore, SITES OF PASSAGE, a virtual and tangible exchange could become even more dimensional, a multifaceted lens in which to reflect and refract upon the human condition.

Similar to a topographer, artists map ideas and creatively work through concepts, building installations of sense making.  Taken from Greek, topos meaning “place” and grapho, meaning “to write,” I am hoping to make sense of us through this performance and installation project.  Even if we can’t exonerate ourselves through art, hopefully we can confess and redeem to build a new landscape.

“You will never get a Palestinian artist to work with you.  If you did he would be banished and his family put to shame”.  This is the comment of my other new friend.  We are driving to the highest point in Nablus, the third largest Palestinian city, a home to refugee camps, home to the Good Samaritans, and a home to invasion, stone throwing and therefore, houses without children. Khitam is a former principle and one of the most educated women I have ever met.  She now works with refugees.  Although her scars are deep and her words are bitter, they are not meant to harm me but educate me. She sweetens them with baked honey treats from the street.

The next day I find a sugar free sanctuary in the Friends Meeting House in Ramallah. Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker explains to the group, “To be Quaker means to be of a tradition that is open to dialogue with other traditions”.  She is a bold and charismatic woman, but not intimidating.  She sits open armed on the accustomed wooden Quaker style bench and talks with attentive and compassionate eyes explaining further, “To resist is to be human…to say non-violence works or doesn’t work is not the point.  The point is to change the discourse.”

This is of course why I came here, to learn how to change the discourse and use a different tool.  Every moment on the delegation is a lesson with a new apparatus for map-making.  In Beit Sahour (the Shepherd’s Field), just outside of Bethlehem, Mazin Qumsiyeh an entertaining academic explains to us that anything a Palestinian does is non-violence resistance, simply for the fact that the Israelis don’t want them there.  For example, when a shepherd continues to return his sheep and herd them on the land, even after toxic pellets have poisoned his flock. These are also performative acts, even if they are acts of necessity: acts of necessity to the soul, a financial necessity, or a necessity of community. 

However, one of the quotes that stick in my mind the most comes from inside the delegation and from one of our younger members.  Andrea, a student at NYU, a Christian American-Palestinian explains how when she had been asked in the past to enter into a conversation about “the conflict”, she always responded by saying, “It is a complicated situation”.  She makes it clear to the group that after this shared experience; she will no longer begin or avoid the conversation that way again.

We are all germinating, contracting, and transforming in new and various ways, changing our own individual landscape but also slowly adjusting the topography of our region, our nation and, hopefully, the human condition.


Palestinian Quakers and Our Stay in a Palestinian Village
By Robbie W.

Yesterday morning we worshiped at The Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) which was launched in 2005.  The service lasted for an hour, but we arrived late for the second half.  It was so nice, after seeing, hearing, and experiencing so much, to sit in silence for a half hour to reflect and intentionally connect with God. 

After the service, we met with Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker and clerk of the meeting where we were at.  She was instrumental in the establishment of FICR and was a founding member of Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestinian Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.  She spoke with us about her passions and work in interfaith dialogue in Ramallah which was quite inspiring.  She has written A Christian Palestinian Life and Struggle and Structural Violence among other books.  After meeting with her, the Quakers ordered us pizza, and those of us not fasting for Ramadan enjoyed that.

After lunch, we met with Jamal Juma’ in Ramallah (click here for a photo from the meeting).  He is the coordinator for the Stop the Wall Campaign.  He gave us a presentation on how Israel has a master plan to make the situation and conditions so unbearable in the West Bank for Palestinians that eventually they will have no choice but to leave.  In his presentation, he showed us how Israel is using the wall, roads, and checkpoints to cut the Palestinians off from their land, their work, their fields, their families, their livelihoods, and necessary resources such as water.  Since 1972, the number of Israeli / Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank has gone from 10,000 to over 500,000.  Moreover, part of the Master Plan is to keep Israelis and Palestinians separated through an Apartheid-like policy so that they cannot engage or interact with each other.

After the presentation, we drove to the nearby village of Bil’in.  Bil’in is a Palestinian village that is struggling to exist.  By annexing 60% of Bil’in land for Israeli settlements and construction of the wall, Israel is strangling the village.  Bil’in villagers demonstrate every Friday and against the Israeli wall and settlements and are often met by the Israeli army (click here for our photos from Bili’in). 

We stayed with families in Bil’in last night which was so wonderful.  The husband and wife have four sons.  The wife made us a rice dish with vegetables and peanuts, cabbage, a tomato-based soup with vegetables, and a delicious Mediterranean salad. 

After dinner, we sat on the roof and shared stories.  Our host told us how he has two brothers, and they are both being hunted by the Israeli police for throwing stones at a demonstration.  He told us how every night for two months the police have entered his home after midnight wearing masks searching for his brothers.  They pointed guns at him and his family terrorizing his children.  He said once his young son (maybe six years old) didn’t speak for two days after being awaken in bed by an Israeli officer wearing a mask and pointing a gun at his face.  When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t sure if we would be visited.  We were not.


The Martyrs of Bil'in (in Occupied Palestine)
By Will T.

Bassem Abu Rahma, age 30, was violently struck in the chest by a high velocity tear-gas canister at close range on April 17, 2009. He, along with about a hundred others from his village, Bil’in, and some Internationals and Israeli activists were protesting the wall that the Israeli government had built that separated Bassem and other Palestinians from their olive trees and farm lands.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had warned the villagers the spot where they were demonstrating, peacefully, was a "military security zone."  Bassem and others replied this land was legally their property. Not far from the wall, up on a hill, was a new Israeli settlement consisting of nearly a hundred houses that were built on land that belonged to Bassem and the other Bil'in villagers.

The young IDF soldier who fired the tear-gas canister was following his superior officer's command as were other military personnel who shot "rubber bullets" (which, on occasion, have caused deaths), fired "sound grenades," and  fired containers filled with "skunk juice" which takes days for the stench to dissipate from the body even after vigorous washing with soap and water.

After Bassem was hit, he collapsed, and was immediately carried away for medical aid, but sadly, he died a short time later.  We were taken to the separation wall where the Bil'in villagers march and hold a protest every Friday (click here for our photos from Bili’in).  Our tour leader was Iyad Burnat who is the head of the Popular Resistance Committee in Bil'in.  Iyad's brother, Emad, just released a film called "Five Broken Cameras" which details the ways in which Bil'in's villagers show their civil resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Iyad pointed out the spot where Bassem fell after being struck by the canister. Iyad has that empty canister - it was manufactured in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.  Greetings from Uncle Sam - have a good day!

We saw the memorial that was erected on this spot to commemorate the life of this much beloved young man. Despite the IDF's use of force, the people of Bil'in continue to march and to protest non-violently for the return of their land and an end to the repression caused by the military occupation.

There is more to this story as Bassem's sister, Jawaher Abu Rahma, continued to participate in the weekly actions against the wall despite the death of her brother.  While at a rally on December 31, 2010, the IDF fired an unusually high number of tear-gas canisters at the Bil'in protestors. Jawaher, unfortunately, was exposed to much of this gas. Rushed to a hospital in Ramallah, she died the next day, January 1, 2011, due to cardiac arrest caused by lung failure after inhaling massive amounts of the Pennsylvania-manufactured tear gas. She was 34.

Bassem and Jawaher, of course, are not the only ones to suffer as a result of the Israeli military's use of violence. Such a policy, it appears, indicates that the use of violence is not due to isolated cases of individual soldier's poor judgment, but rather is part of a widespread policy of repression.

Israel's harsh military occupation has denied the Palestinian people their freedom, offended their dignity, and violated their basic human rights. These wrongs must be addressed - soon.

We who demand freedom for Palestinians and real security for Israelis will remain vocal and unrelenting until these goals are reached. We ask you to consider doing the same, and to remember the martyrs of Bil'in, Bassem Abu Rahma and his sister, Jawaher Abu Rahma.


A Ticking Time Bomb
By Robbie W.

We spent yesterday in Bethlehem (click here for our photos from Bethlehem and the Aida Refugee Camp).  We started off at the Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp.  “Lajee” means refugee in Arabic.  According to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), there are some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees worldwide from the 1948 war and the 1967 war. 

BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, which we met with later in the day, places the number of Palestinian refugees closer to 6.6 million in addition to almost half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs).  These 7.1 million displaced Palestinians represent 67% of the entire Palestinian population worldwide.  There are more Palestinian refugees than any other kind of refugee in the world. 

As I am writing this on our bus on our way to Sderot, which is on the border with Gaza, we are going through an Israeli checkpoint where soldiers with machine guns come onboard and look at everyone’s passport (click here for a photo of our visitors).  I put our agenda under my bag because Israel does not want us to be going to these places in the West Bank.

While staying with a family in Bil’in village the other night, we watched a video of the Palestinians from Bil’in demonstrating against the soldiers (I wrote about this in greater detail in a previous trip report).  Israel requires all men and women to serve for 2 to 3 years in the military after high school, so most of the Israeli soldiers I have seen are very young.  They don’t seem to want to be in Bil’in or the West Bank any more than the Palestinians want them there.  The Israeli soldiers are victims in this conflict just as much as the Palestinians are. 

I also want to make the distinction among Jews, Israelis, and Zionists.  Most of the Palestinians we have met with bear no ill will against Jews (people of Jewish ancestry but not necessarily with Israeli citizenship) or Israelis (people with Israeli citizenship though not necessarily Jewish).  In contrast, the idea behind Zionism is to create “a land for a people for a people with no land” at the expense of the Palestinians.  It is difficult to reconcile Zionism with a one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians would live together equally.  Almost all of the people we have spoken with, Israeli and Palestinian, favor a one-state solution.  The one Zionist we met with wants Israel and the West Bank to be free of Arabs which includes Palestinians.  The second best option for him would be a two-state solution.  He rejects a one-state solution.

Back to the Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp (click here for our photos from Bethlehem and the Aida Refugee Camp).  There are some 5,000 refugees in this camp which is located in Bethlehem which is located in the West Bank which is illegally occupied by Israel in the name of security.  Half of the refugees in this camp are children – 2,500 children. 

The Lajee Center was started in April 2000 by a group of 11 young people who wanted to serve the community.  What the refugees want is the “Right to Return” to their homes in the “48 lands” and the “67 lands.”  These are the lands which were taken by Zionist forces in the 1948 and 1967 wars respectively.

After Aida Refugee Camp, we went to meet with BADIL which I mentioned earlier.  BADIL is an independent community-based non-profit mandated to defend and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees and IDPs.  If you would like to learn more about BADIL and the Palestinian refugee crisis, I would encourage you to look them up online at www.badil.org.  I would also suggest Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”  After BADIL, we had lunch in Bethlehem, and I visited the Church of the Nativity where Jesus Christ was born some 2,000 years ago.

Our third speaker for the day was Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh who teaches and conducts research at three universities in Palestine (Bethlehem, Birzeit, and Al-Quds).  He previously served on the faculties of the University of Tennessee, Duke University, and Yale University.  He is the chairman of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People.  His books include “Sharing the Land of Canaan” and “Popular Resistance in Palestine.”  He was an outstanding speaker.  He is Palestinian, non-religious, and specializes in biology.  He gave a very scientific, analytical approach, and I felt he was trying to be as balanced as possible which I really appreciated.  I would recommend his books as well as Jean Zaru’s (who we met with on Sunday) for anyone seeking to learn more about the conflict.

During our visits, several speakers described the situation in the West Bank today as “explosive,” like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.  The kind of oppression and humiliation the Palestinians are experiencing in the West Bank - and all of Israel for that matter - is intolerable, and there is only so much a human can take before there is a nationwide movement.  The situation in Hebron was described as a powder keg.  People here believe that a third intifada is coming. 

I have said to the speakers we have been meeting with that, if I were Israel, I would want to make the situation so bad for the Palestinians that they would revolt violently so that I could show the world what monsters, what animals, they are.  I have asked our speakers what the Palestinians can do to prevent an ineffective event which would undo all of the progress that has been made since the second Intifada ended in 2004.  Several Palestinians have told me how much was lost and good work was undone because of the second Intifada.  Unfortunately, no one has been able to answer my question.  A big part of the problem is leadership.  The people have lost faith in the Palestinian Authority (PA) due to the excess corruption.  There is only so much Fatah and Hamas can do under the thumb of the Israeli government, and the Palestinian people are not getting any support from the international community.  When asked where all of the Palestinian Ghandis and Martin Luther Kings are, the response is that they are either dead or in prison.

Last night I stayed with a Palestinian Christian family in Beit Sahour which is a suburb of Bethlehem (click here for photos from our group’s homestays).  The family was Orthodox and couldn’t have been more loving, welcoming, and hospitable.  My roommate and I asked them what it is like to live in the West Bank not only as a Palestinian but also as a Christian.  They said it’s not so bad living as a Christian in the West Bank.  They get along with Jews and Muslims.  It’s harder living as a Palestinian under Israeli rule. 

They said that sometimes the Israeli government actually tries to drive wedges between them and their Muslim neighbors.  For example, no one in the West Bank can enter Jerusalem without a permit which usually takes two to three days to acquire if it is approved at all.  So Palestinian Christians cannot go freely to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Palestinian Muslims cannot go freely to the Dome of the Rock to worship – even for holidays.  However, sometimes the Israeli government will give out permits to the Christians to go to Jerusalem for their holidays, but they will never give out permits to the Muslims.  So sometimes the Muslims feel envious like the Christians are getting special privileges.  The Israeli government will do things like this to cause division within the West Bank. 

It was a wonderful opportunity to spend the night with this family.  The parents have four sons and one daughter.  Two of the sons are married, and the youngest son just graduated from high school.  He scored a 97% on his Tawjihi which is a great score.  This exam is like in China where the future of high school students depends on this one exam.  He is hoping to go to college in Jordan.  They said that it is easier and faster to cross the bridge into Jordan (Amman is 46 miles away from Bethlehem) than get into Jerusalem which is only six miles away. 

I told them I hope they can visit the US someday.  They said it is almost impossible for a Palestinian to get a US visa. 


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