<   Report Six: Things Are Changing? Final Reflections from Palestine/Israel

Today's Realities, Tomorrow's Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
July 31, 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.



Breaking Down Walls Through Education and Experience
By Sophia R.

In the summer of 2002, I traveled with a delegation of students to Cuba. This trip was incredibly transformative for me, as it allowed me to see beyond the hype and hysteria of how Cuba is represented in the media and by many US politicians and see Cuban people on their own terms. It allowed me to see how US foreign policy, such as the embargo that prevents trade with Cuba, impacts people on the ground in very real ways. It encouraged me, as a citizen of the US, to challenge my assumptions and privileges; to further engage in the world (and especially US policy) in a critical way and without presumptions.  It taught me to move beyond black and white thinking and see the nuances of any situation. It most importantly taught me to see the humanity in an entire group of people I had been taught to distrust and fear.  In many ways it was a turning point for me in my commitment to social justice, and really solidified my belief in the role of education and experience in cultivating social change. 

It's fitting to me that ten years later, I've just finished traveling through Israel/Palestine on a similarly formatted delegation, an educational trip that is structured to give US citizens an opportunity to hear firsthand stories from - and create person to person ties with -people on the ground.

This experience was a long time coming. Despite all the previous knowledge I had acquired about the occupation, about the apartheid realities on the ground, about the militarization of Israeli society, about the institutionalized racism and systematized oppression of Palestinians by Israel, there's nothing like seeing it in reality and seeing just how strong Palestinians are in their daily acts of resistance. I'm convinced that Palestinians are some of the most persevering, resilient, loving, welcoming people you'll ever meet. 

What I am reminded of most intensely after two weeks here, is the importance of challenging the common narratives that exist about this situation in the US. In the US we have been taught that Palestinians are 'terrorists', 'fundamentalists,' and 'maniacal'. Like the Cuban people, and thanks to politics, we are not supposed to see their humanity, their stories or experiences as valid -  really we're not supposed to see them in any human way at all.

US foreign policy, especially in terms of its 'unbreakable bond' with Israel and its military support and foreign aid money, significantly impacts the lives of Palestinians - it's what allows the injustice to continue. I feel that my role as foreigner and as a citizen of the US isn't to tell people, especially Palestinians what to do, or how to fix things. Rather it is to educate people in the US, to share a different type of narrative and to challenge the status quo. The more that Israel tries to erase Palestinian existence, the more we, those who care and believe in justice (and disagree with our tax dollars being used to fund this erasure), have a responsibility to hear the stories of those who are most impacted and struggling against this; it's necessary that we listen and that we respond.

This concept and process of erasure of the Palestinian experience is everywhere in Israel and was prevalent during the delegation, yet in many ways it is subtle. So subtle, that many tourists miss what is happening right in front of them on a daily basis. If you are not looking (or listening) one can easily not see any injustice or wrongdoing. That does not mean it doesn't exist; it simply means one is not attune to it. Bombings, incursions and raids by Israel that impact civilians are blatant and obvious forms of Israel's racist and violent policies towards Palestinians, but I think it's the more subtle things that say just as much.

This was especially clear during our visit to Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem, on the last day of the delegation. The residents of Lifta fled in 1947-48, during the Nakba (Arabic for "catastrophe"), the time leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel. Until this day the residents of Lifta and their descendants have not been allowed to return. The very first thing I noticed when the bus pulled up was the sign telling us where we were. The Arabic name for Lifta was scratched out, leaving only the Hebrew and the English (click here for my photo of the sign). Telling.

As we continued deeper into the village, more things stood out. Such as the former centers of town life - the spring and the garden plots- that are now trash depositories for Israeli hikers. It says a lot when the spaces that used to sustain an entire community are now covered in garbage. There have been plans to demolish much of the village to make way for a shopping mall. And yet, even if they haven't been inhabited for more than sixty years, these are, first and foremost, people's homes.

If we're to be responsible citizens of our world, I believe each of us must be engaged in a constant process of learning and act in such that is responsive to that knowledge. We're taught, in many ways, to feel helpless. To think that we cannot impact change. That problems are too great to overcome and that the walls and barriers that separate us are too large to break through. This is where accessing new and different types of knowledge (really challenging what we think we know) and lived experiences (especially the process of creating meaningful relationships across borders, real or imaginary) play a pivotal role in creating lasting and meaningful social change. 


Challenging My Evangelical Allegiances
By Kristie G.-T.

When I was growing up in the Assembly of God, many pastors held Israel in high regard and, since it is a prerequisite to Christ’s second coming, emphasized the importance of the Biblical mandate to gain and maintain Israel for the Jews.  I remember hearing of victories such as, the Six Day War, being hailed as a heroic and supernatural feat that proved God’s favor.  I remember rousing prayers services for Israel and blowing the shofar in solidarity with them as if we were cheering for our favorite team. To say the least we Evangelicals have made Israel a very important part of the Christian narrative.  

Today there are high profile Evangelicals or public figures such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, prominent ultra conservative ministers like Pat Robertson and John Hagee and, although the Assembly of God formally takes an apolitical position on the conflict, it seems to foster churches all over the world that offer unwavering and unchallenged support of, and for, Israel.  So much so that some consider it a rejection of God if you reject Israel.  All the while painting the Palestinians and other Arabs as a tool of the enemy and perpetuating a narrative that subsequently encourages the compliance to give financial aid to Israel. 

While American Christians sit in their comfortable pews waving an Israeli flag during one of their spirit filled services, the Palestinians are either considered collateral damage in the name of prophetic accuracy, the enemy against their faith, or worse, not considered at all.  Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker stated, “Rightwing conservative churches are poisoning the culture.” As a peace activist and a Christian, Zaru and many other Palestinians are making an effort towards reconciliation from within while conservative Evangelicals continue to create a strong resistance against them. She even alluded to conservatives financially sponsoring Jews to buy settlements in order to maintain their prophetic agenda and encourage an anti-Palestinian sentiment. In the meantime a Palestinian family loses a home, loses their business, or even worse, loses family members imprisoned or killed. 

Later that week our host family, Palestinian Christians as well, showed us hilltop settlements that use to be a space where Muslim and Christian neighbors use to walk and play with their children.  It was a huge complex of homes high on a hilltop surrounded by Israeli fences and guards that literally appeared to be looking down on the Palestinian community.  Our host stated in her broken English “If we get close now, they shoot us.”  This system of exclusion and fear, or what Palestinians and Israeli activists are calling apartheid, continues through the transit system, security checkpoints, water supply and many other functions of daily life.

I wonder if Hagee, Beck, Pali, Robertson or other Christians know what the consequences are to people living in Israel/Palestine? Do they really know what they are encouraging when they ask Evangelicals “to stand with Israel”?   Do they know what it means when a Israeli confiscates a home and demolishes it to build a new home for Jewish settlers?  Do they realize how the building of the wall is affecting businesses and separating families (many times the wall divides Palestinian communities, which calls into a question the security rationale)? Do they know about the strategies and policies meant to humiliate and dehumanize the Palestinian people?

I simply can’t reconcile the misery caused by the Israeli government with Christ’s message.  I can’t see how we as Evangelicals can stay apolitical, or worse, be in complete support of this oppressive government.  I believe we need to challenge what it means to be Pro-Israel.  We need to challenge our monetary support, or even prayer support, and realize how it contributes to a culture of inequality, exclusion and fear.  In many cases this Evangelical support is in direct opposition of the peace work many of the Palestinians are doing on the ground. 

In America it is easy for us to chant exuberantly our allegiance to a prophetic claim when we don’t understand and witness the consequences.  We should not stand with Israel nor stand with Palestine, but stand for humanity and peace. 

If we are faithful to Christ’s message we can’t with good conscience continue to offer any support to Israel nor hold them up as our kindred in the faith.


Jaffa and Israeli Dissidents
By Robbie W.

We started today off by visiting Jaffa which is just south of Tel Aviv on the coast of the Mediterranean (click here to view our photos from Jaffa).  It was special visiting here because the father of a member of our delegation was expelled from Jaffa by the Jewish militia shortly after 1948.  Being in Jaffa felt very much like being in West Jerusalem with all the boats, yachts, and affluence.  I couldn’t help thinking of my Palestinian sisters and brothers under harsh military rule in the West Bank.  I had the same feeling in South Africa when I visited a wealthy area after visiting a township.  The extreme contrast of wealth and poverty in one land always astonishes me, in Israel-Palestine, South Africa, or the United States.

While in Jaffa, as our tour guide Sami was walking us around and telling us about Jaffa’s rich and vast history, I found myself thinking more about the one-state solution and US history with the Native Americans.  Is what the Zionists did over 60 years ago much different than what European colonists did hundreds of years ago in the US?  If we advocate for Israel to give back land to the Palestinians and support their equal rights, should that same spirit of activism be extended to people in the US who were kicked out of their homes?  It’s easy to point fingers at other countries and their problems, but what about racism and power imbalances in the US?

The guide talked to us about how Jaffa has developed in the last 15 years but how this development is forcing the local Palestinian-Israeli (Palestinian citizens of Israel) fishermen to leave since they can no longer afford to stay.  A great socio-economic gap has existed since 1948 between Israelis and Palestinians, and, according to our guide, it has only grown larger since then.  He went on to point out that Israel doesn’t need to use violence to combat the Palestinians; they can the use socio-economic situation instead.

Jews and Muslims got along in Jaffa under the Ottoman Empire.  The problem didn’t begin until the British Mandate in 1922.  Riots broke out, and Jaffa was a violent place until 1936 when the Palestinians in Jaffa went on strike.  This helped lead to the creation of Tel Aviv.  Sami said that, despite the erupting conflict between Jews and Muslims under the British, this first occupation (1922-1947) was easier because the British had their own country and could always go back (which they did) if things did not work out in Palestine. 

The British had to pull out of Palestine, India, and their other colonies after the weakening effects of World War II.  It was decided to split Palestine into two states in 1947 to please the Palestinians and the Jews, but this split was not practical because both were promised the land.  The Jews did not give time to discuss this dilemma with anyone.  They wanted to cleanse all of the land from the Arabs and proceeded to massacre Palestinians and destroy Palestinian villages that had already surrendered.  The Palestinians were told to leave their homes or die, and an ethnic cleansing ensued which continues today.  Our guide said how ironic it is that the West tends to associate Palestinians with terrorism when it was originally the Zionist militias committing terrorist acts. 

After 1947, Jaffa became a ghetto.  The second occupation was harder because the Jews had no other land to call their own unlike the British.  Our guide described this as a “tougher colonialism” under “Zionists from Europe who were racist against Arabs and looked down on anyone who spoke Arabic.”  Palestinian homes in Jaffa were demolished or abandoned becoming barren monuments to what was.

As I was listening to our guide, a hope began to stir in me, a hope that the 21st century will be a time of acknowledgment and recognition of the pain nations and peoples have imposed on other nations and peoples.  A member of our delegation cited several examples of this: Israel and Palestine, Turkey and Armenia, Japan and China/Korea.  As Desmond Tutu has said, there can be no future without forgiveness, and there can be no reconciliatory forgiveness if someone does not first ask to be forgiven. 

When Israelis declared their independence on May 14, 1948, the Palestinians called it the Nakba which means great “catastrophe” in Arabic because it meant being displaced, occupied, oppressed, and ruled by a foreign power.  Today Israelis call Palestinians the foreigners (it’s always bothered me when I see the term “foreigner” in an airport or hear the term casually used in conversation instead of something else like “international”; foreigner is such a divisive term embracing the deceptive us-them dichotomy when in fact we are all one).  Land and homes were lost; families were divided, scattered, and destroyed.  Our guide proceeded to say that Palestine has not only suffered one Nakba under Israel but multiple Nakbas, and more are on the way. 

The roads of Israel-Palestine are paved with politics.  You cannot escape politics here as much as everyone would like too.  A solution cannot be found by avoiding the pain.  The people of this ancient land must go through the pain to find healing and a solution, and the international community may have to give Israel a little push as they did South Africa – but more about that later.

After our tour of Jaffa, we had a little free time to have lunch.  I found this spiffy looking restaurant on the Mediterranean Sea.  Oh how posh!  Do you have Piña Coladas?  No.  Strawberry Daiquiris maybe?  No.  Basically they didn’t have anything except expensive fish.  I felt like such an elite colonist.  I looked out and saw some friends from the delegation swimming in the Mediterranean.  I really wanted to join them, but I didn’t have my swimming suit or towel.  Oh well … one must be reasonable, mustn’t one?  So I looked back down at the menu.  I looked back at my friends in the water.  I looked back down at my menu.  Heck!!  If hospice has taught me anything, it’s that life is short.  Robbie, are you going to choose nasty, expensive fish over swimming in the sea??  For Palestine!!  I walked right out of that restaurant, stripped down to my undies (thank goodness I had fashionable boxers on with a lovely plaid pattern) and dove into that warm, salty water!  It was like getting a massage.  My friends in the water were surprised that a minster would do such unreasonable things, but they don’t know me very well.

After my romp with the fish (in the sea not in the restaurant), we met with an organization called New Profile at the Coalition of Women for Peace’s office in Tel Aviv.  Our speaker, Ruth Hiller, shared her story with us and how New Profile got started.  Ruth grew up and was raised as an Israeli Zionist.  She remembers getting a lot of religious and political indoctrination as a child.  The religious messages didn’t stick, but she did identify as a Zionist.  She went on to have five children, two daughters and three sons.  Unlike most Israeli mothers she knew, she remembers feeling sadness rather than pride when her eldest daughter graduated from high school because that meant it was time for her two years of military service.  Then it was time for her second daughter to serve.  Then it was time for her third child to serve.  The year was 1995, and Ruth’s son was 15.  He told her that he was a pacifist and wanted to be a refuser and not serve in the military. 

This was a huge dilemma for Ruth.  She had nowhere to turn, no one to ask for help, no organization or resources to support her with this situation.  If her son had been 14, she and her family could have left Israel, but after 14, if a family leaves, the child is considered a deserter and can be arrested if she or he ever comes back to Israel.  She described the militaristic Israeli culture to us and how it is normal and expected that everyone serve in the military after completing high school.  In this culture, you serve the state rather than the state serving you.  In this culture, people look down on dirty words such as “pacifism” and “peace”, and you do not question these normal and natural things.  As she was speaking, I remembered seeing military helicopters flying over Jaffa and soldiers with machine guns everywhere – Jaffa, Jerusalem, everywhere.

Ruth became an ex-Zionist.  She looked back at her life and felt that she had been lied to.  She felt the need to create a new ideology.  Zionism was about creating the state of Israel.  Now that that goal has been achieved, it is time for a new culture.  Ruth’s son had to go before a Conscious Committee three times to get permission to avoid three years of military service (women serve two years and men serve three).  It was determined by these committees that he was not passive enough and would join the military in two weeks.  Ruth said that the committee’s limited understanding of what it means to be a pacifist was all part of the “narrow Zionist narrative.”

It was around this time that Israel was at war with Lebanon, and Ruth demonstrated against the war.  She connected with others interested in exploring alternatives to mandatory military service in Israel, and a group of some 150 joined together.  It was out of this gathering that New Profile was created.  The group was called “New Profile” because they wanted a new profile created in the Israeli system for conscientious objectors.  They also wanted to change Israel’s profile of being a militaristic state.

Today New Profile has no office, no staff, they stay away from hierarchy, volunteers do most of the work, and they emphasize a balance among study, learning, and activism.  They have created a counseling network to support other refusers, and they collect information to create a database of resources since the military does not release any information.  Around 200 people a month call New Profile for assistance.

Ruth and her son had to go to Israel’s High Court to fight the military’s decision.  Ruth went to eight law offices, but no lawyers would take the case.  Through a friend, Ruth contacted parliament and finally got put in touch with lawyers who were willing to help her.  They were in court for three years.  The military finally granted Ruth’s son passive status because of his volunteer work in Israel, and he did not have to serve in the military.  Ruth’s other two sons refused to serve in the military as well.

Today, New Profile offers legal services to people in Ruth’s situation.  They visit military prisons to see political refusers.  Parents and families cannot visit, but lawyers can.  Ruth said they especially work with a lot of Jewish Ethiopian families who have come to Israel, many of whom cannot speak English or Hebrew.  New Profile does not charge for legal services if people cannot afford it.  According to Ruth, the refusal movement is growing in Israel.  The political pendulum is very right, but there are a lot of activist forces at work.

Ruth spoke to us about the conditioning and normalization of a military culture in Israel.  She said that Israelis don’t see the guns or soldiers anymore.  It is a natural part of the culture to serve after gradating from high school.  While the military is allowed to enter the schools and speak with children to prepare them for military service, New Profile is not allowed in schools.  Of course I am speaking here of Israeli Jewish schools only.  Conscription is not across the board for Muslims and Christians.  The focus is primarily Israeli Jewish people.  Therefore, the Israeli military does not represent all of it’s people.  Moreover, Orthodox Jews are not required to serve in the military because they have so many requirements and restrictions.  Israel does not want too large a military because it is too expensive.  Too many officers means more pensions.  There is a strong contrast between Israeli children and Palestinian children.  Israeli children say they want to be a soldier when they grow up.  Palestinian children say they want to be free.

New Profile and other NGOs are not visible in Israel, and it is taboo to discuss or critique the militaristic culture.  New Profile has summer camps to give Israeli children an alternate message.  In addition to transforming the ideology and de-militarizing the culture, Ruth emphasized the important of redefining security in Israel by moving away from a victim status. 

New Profile rejects funds from organizations that want to control or influence agenda.  New Profile supports divestment but not boycotts because that may put them under a microscope which would hinder their cause.  According to Ruth, change will never happen in Israel without the kind of international pressure Apartheid South Africa experienced.  New Profile emphasizes plurality and a breaking down of the myths if your child does not serve.  Refusers can in fact go to universities and get a job if they don’t serve.  To learn more about New Profile, I recommend you visit their website and look at the presentation entitled Exhibition 3.14, Making Militarism Visible 2012 (http://www.newprofile.org/english/?cat=11).

After meeting with New Profile, we met with Boycott from Within and learned more about the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement which is modeled after the movement in South Africa.  Boycott from Within has three objectives:

  1. putting an end to Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and to dismantling the Separation Wall
  2. Israeli recognition of the fundamental right of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
  3. Israeli respect, protection, and promotion of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

I would encourage you to visit their website for more information. 

A theme throughout this trip report has been the contrast between being reasonable and being unreasonable.  I am reminded of the famous George Bernard Shaw quote Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh shared with us on July 23rd, and I share it with you now to end my report for today:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” 
- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

By Matt J.

P is for people. The people of Palestine are far more diverse than what is commonly known. Palestine is home to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others. I’ve met people from the east coast of the United States (my home) who are living there now. One lives on an Israeli settlement in Hebron and carries a Glock.

A is for apartheid. Some say the situation in Palestine doesn’t fully compare to what was called ‘apartheid’ or ‘separateness’ in South Africa, but the use of the term ‘bantustans’ to describe isolated, dependent Palestinian enclaves is appropriate. It is also true that Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens within Israel proper and that the Palestinian population as a whole is treated as a demographic threat to the Israeli government. There are countless smaller examples of apartheid, such as separate license plates for Israelis and Palestinians. The most symbolic is the large concrete wall or ‘security barrier’ stretching across the West Bank. Although much of it actually separates Palestinians from other Palestinians, the part that does correspond to the Green Line, which demarcates Israel proper from the West Bank, was built to be more aesthetically pleasing on the Israeli side.

L is for liberation. This does not just mean liberation for the oppressed living under occupation. It also means liberation for those who oppress and for those whose humanity has been buried behind fear, misguided religion, and blind ideology. The liberation of one depends on the liberation of all.

E is for existential threat. This is how Palestinians are perceived by the Zionist government and its supporters. It’s quite ironic, given Israeli’s oft-stated need for recognition, that some go so far as to deny the existence of a Palestinian nation, insisting on referring to Palestinians as ‘Arabs,’ with the implication that they are no different from their neighbors in Jordan or Lebanon.

S is for stone. It’s for stone buildings, which are ubiquitous in such an ancient place, and throwing stones that have come to symbolize Palestinian resistance to the Israeli Goliath.

T is for terrorist. This is what still comes to mind when many people, particularly in the United States, think of the Palestinians. While suicide bombings are the source of much of this stereotype, but the biggest culprit is the mainstream press for failing to include moderate Palestinian voices and to place Palestinian violence in context.

I is for independence. May 14, 1948 is Independence Day to the mainstream Israeli citizen, who does not question how an emerging nation could drive out 800,000 people, destroy 500 towns and villages, take over more than 80% of what was then British Mandate Palestine, and still claim to be the heroic victim. One also has to question whether a nation is really independent if it relies so heavily on aid from abroad to sustain itself.

N is for Nakba. Nakba means ‘great catastrophe.’ This is how Palestinians refer to 1948. Many living in exile in the region and around the world still hold the keys to the homes they were forced out of.

E is for equality. This is what most Palestinians are asking for: merely to be treated as equals in their own land. I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Things are Changing?
by Manal F.

As a Palestinian-American woman, I choose to be hopeful. I’m adopting an attitude of winner versus “whiner”. I have seen with my own eyes and have heard from activists in Israel/Palestine much that gives me hope. Following are a few nuggets:

Israel is becoming harder and harder to defend! Why?

Because of when Israelis speak out and organize solid organizations to prevent
Palestinian home demolitions (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions).

Because of when Israelis say ”We have to have equality and justice before peace”.

Because of when Israelis openly say “The Palestinians pain has to be recognized and what we did in 1948 was WRONG!”

Because now the world knows about the political prisoners, the injustice and the matrix of the military occupation. It is shaking the foundation of the Israeli occupation.

Because of when Israelis say “Israel is in violation of many articles and has become known as an apartheid state.”

Because of when an Israeli activist, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, openly asks “I wanted to know how good Israeli boys and girls become monsters” and proceeds to research school textbooks and finds out that students are being taught a false narrative.

Because of when Israelis say “It’s time to stop prostituting the Holocaust”.

Because “the grand narrative that infects our mind has to be changed”.

Because the stealing of Palestinian land and Palestinian homes is hard to defend.

Because of when Israelis say “To resist is to be human, there is a denial of basic human rights”.

Signs of Change:
Israelis are openly speaking out against the occupation. The solidarity activist and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction campaign is gaining traction. The Presbyterian and Methodist Churches promoting BDS. Palestinians are embracing non-violence. The tide is slowly turning and we will reach the critical mass.

Now What Do We Do?
We need to have more international pressure. More awareness through social media. More collaboration and more pressure on Israel to end the occupation.

It’s Time:
To end the decades of suffering and the circle of violence. Public opinion is changing. Speak out for Palestine.


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