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An Honest Broker? The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
June 3, 2013

By Larry Hendel

Sally Azam Cook, a Palestinian activist from Nazareth, described the country this way:  “Israel is a democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for everyone else.” Her journalist husband, Jonathan Cook, added, “there is no such thing as a democracy with an engineered majority.

And today we learned from Nadia Ben Yusef of Adalah, an organization described as the Israeli NAACP, that the government used tear gas and rubber bullets a few days ago to stop Bedouins from protesting the demolition of their homes in the Negev desert. The Israelis want to evict tens of thousands of Bedouins to make room for highways, industry, military usage, forests and Israeli settlers.  Incidentally, the Bedouins are no longer nomads; they transitioned decades ago to small farmers and herdsmen.  The government does not seem to be restrained by the fact that the Bedouins are Israeli citizens.  Apparently they’re not the right kind of citizens . . . not Jewish.

It’s always a two edged sword visiting a place where people are in struggle. One the one hand, the situation can look very bleak and depressing. But on the other hand, it’s always invigorating to be around the brave people who stand up and resist. 


The Good in Nazareth
 By Ralph Watkins

We arrived in Nazareth this morning after spending our morning at Lifta.  Nazareth is an historic city for my faith tradition. For me Nazareth is second only to the Holy Land of Egypt as one of the most important spots for my faith journey.  It is out of Nazareth that Jesus had to flee to be raised and nurtured by the land and people of Egypt/Kemet.  It was out of Egypt/Africa that God called God’s child. 

So today, I am in Nazareth and we met more good people doing great things for justice.  The ministry of Jesus yet continues in Nazareth.  I am speaking specifically of Jonathan and Sally Cook who hosted us for lunch. They are both trying to bring peace to this land with justice. 

Sally is working bringing Jewish and Palestinian kids together.  She is trying to achieve peace with justice by helping kids meet kids and realize that they are human-beings!  She tries to reach out to Jewish kids before they do their military service.  It is hard to kill someone you have fallen in love with as a brother or sister. 

She helped me see that it isn’t the big things that change the world but the little things.  Baby steps make a difference.  To get kids, who are considered natural enemies, to talk and smile at each other, become Facebook friends is actually doing something. 

As I ponder what I shall do when I return, well really I am not waiting, I hope I am doing something now . . .  I was reminded today not to discount the little things.  You don’t have to start a movement, march downtown, quit your job, (you get the picture) just start a conversation, send a link, friend someone on Facebook, don’t be afraid to speak up about an issue when your family gathers . . . just do the little things.  Heck, just read my blog :-)

Are you willing to do the little things?
Are you willing to have a conversation?
Read a book on topic that is linked to justice?
What have you done in the name of justice lately?

This report is excerpted from Ralph Watkins' blog. Click here to read in full.

VIDEO: The Good in Nazareth
By Ralph Watkins

Ralph posted this video of the delegation’s visit to Nazareth and reflections from some of the group members:

Palestinians in the Israeli Imagination
By Noura Erakat

It is striking how little Israelis know about Palestinians. Not just what they endure but who they are at all. There is not a single sign that signifies the historic presence, agricultural production, commercial trade, or cultural influence of Palestinians. A manufactured erasure that makes otherwise ridiculous national mythologies compelling.

Lifta, for example, was home to 2,500 wealthy Palestinians who had two schools and a city center comprised of three spring wells. All of its residents fled by December 1947. We walked through its standing remains, which Israel has declared a nature reserve. Enduring limestone homes sprinkle the landscape. In one home, elaborate marble tile still lines an edge of the floor. High dome shaped ceilings still provide a cool reprieve from the searing sun. Stairs, doorways, hallways, window frames seem to ricochet with the sounds of playful children's feet (click here to view the delegation’s photos, including photos from Lifta).

That did not concern the Jewish-Israeli visitors who swam in one of the spring wells. Nor did it concern the Jewish-Israelis who liked to use the abandoned homes to get high or the musicians whose jam sessions benefited from the high ceilinged hollowed homes. But why should it? Nothing indicated that Lifta was ever home to Palestinians. In fact, most visitors think these homes are Roman ruins.

We continued our journey north to Nazareth, home to the "luckiest" Palestinian citizens of Israel. Here, some of its original inhabitants never left their homes. The city of 80,000 has a vibrant middle class, private schools immune from the Israeli curriculum (where Palestinians do not exist), a recently activated tourist economy, and the site of three hospitals.

The luckiest Palestinians, however, are also a threat to Jewish dominance and control. So since 1956, Israel has built a settlement to contain, fragment, isolate, and surveil the indigenous and numerically inferior citizenry: Netzeret Illit, or “Upper Nazareth.”  The project to overpower the Palestinian population, totaling 50,000 Jewish-Israelis, has failed and in response, Upper Nazareth's mayor has consulted Hebron's Settlement Council for advice on how to curb the presence of Palestinians. In a few years time, Upper Nazareth will be home to ideological Orthodox Jews who believe that Palestinians are stealing the land; the land they've always lived on of course. Hebron-like settlers in Nazareth . . . imagine.

Jewish-Israelis know nearly nothing about their Palestinian counterparts. The schools are segregated and horribly unequal; the public sector excludes Palestinian employment. The Electric Utility Company employs 30,000 people, exactly 6 are Palestinian. The Water Utilities Company employs 10,000 people, exactly 4 are Palestinian . . . Israeli text books explain that they invited Palestinians to stay and live with them but Palestinians chose to leave. . .  It is no surprise that Jewish-Israelis think that the whole world is biased against them and picking on Israel. In the privileged, perverse, and unchallenged bubble, that's exactly what it looks like.

This report is an excerpt of a post which originally appeared on Noura's facebook page.

Tweets from the Delegation

Delegates have shared their observations throughout the trip on Interfaith Peace-Builders’ twitter stream.  Below is a sampling of recent tweets.  For more, follow @IFPBdelegations:

razed olive trees

Ten Days in a 3-D Colonial Theory Textbook
By Clarissa O'Conor

To me, this is like spending ten days in a 3-D colonial theory textbook. I have felt this since Jerusalem, since Nazareth, since the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of Lifta, minutes outside of Jerusalem, surrounded by illegal Israeli colonies - now a park where Israelis come to swim and smoke pot.

Driving through Area C in the West Bank, with illegal Israeli colonies and seas of date palms where these settlers, these homesteaders and vehicles of ethnic cleansing and land annexation profit off of misery and trauma and inhumanity. 

These so-called "ideological settlers" share complicity with all. As long as blonde hair grows out of my head, I am the heir of a colonial privilege that I cannot escape. My complicity is a physical part of me. Never have I felt this to the degree that I do now.

To make Aliyah to Israel is to move 5000 miles to seek it. Nowhere else in the world is a law that guarantees the right to do this.  It's called the Law of Return (not to be confused with the unequivocal, internationally recognized "universal" Right of Return that has been systematically denied to Palestinians at every turn).

To make Aliyah is to accept both citizenship and nationality of Israel. The  upwards of 800,000 Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed by the founders of Israel in 1948 and their descendants will never receive nationality to their land as long a Israel remains the way that it does.

Beauty, Tension, & Prayer
By Nabil Idrisi

I attended Jumm'ah (Friday) prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday.  As I entered the Haram as-Sharif compound alongside Palestinian men and women, the Israeli soldier stationed at the gate greeted me, "Assalamu alaikum."  I reflexively responded, "Wa alaikum salaam."

Although ostensibly an ordinary greeting, the Israeli soldier used this phrase to test to see if I was actually Muslim.  I wonder why this holy space for many peoples of faith has to be militarized, and felt uncomfortable with an armed Israeli soldier testing my Muslim religion.

The beauty of the stained glass windows and painted ceilings within Al-Aqsa contrasted severely to that exchange, which epitomized the Israeli Occupation for me.  Standing amongst the thousands of Palestinian men that day, I prayed.  With my tears streaming down my cheeks and soaking the carpet as I bowed my head down, I prayed for my ailing aunt counting her final days in Bangladesh, for peace resting on my late grandparents' souls, and for the end of Palestinian suffering.

Learning the Lessons of the Holocaust
By Larry Hendel

The end of last week was a whirlwind. We started at Yad Vashem , the Holocaust Museum in Israel.  It is as powerful and strong as the one in Washington DC, probably more so. But I couldn’t help gasping at the entrance plaque which reads, “Sheldon Adelson, Patron to the Mount of Remembrance.”   Remember Sheldon from the Romney campaign?  He likes to spend chunks of his fortune on Zionist projects in Israel as well as on Republican politicians.

At the exit of the museum, one walks out on to a balcony with a beautiful view of the valley below. You can almost hear violins play an accompaniment to the thought that has been planted in your head that, “the Europeans slaughtered us, the Americans turned us away, but now we have a land of our own in Israel, etc., etc., etc….” But when you look closely at the valley below our tour leaders pointed out that you can see the outlines of rock wall remnants of a Palestinian village.  Let me repeat that…THEY BUILT THE HOLOCAUST MUSEUM OVER THE REMNANTS OF A DESTROYED PALESTINIAN VILLAGE. And nearby is the former village of Deir Yassin, the site of a massacre of Palestinians led by the Irgun (Jewish guerilla group) in 1947, which led to the Palestinians fleeing the village, sending a message to others that this is what would happen to them if they didn’t leave.   

The holocaust was unspeakably awful, but what the Jewish survivors did (and continue to do) in Palestine, using the holocaust as a reason, is a continuing atrocity.  Sheldon, are you listening?  Probably not, but the world is learning, in spite of you.

Then we visited Palestinians fighting house demolitions (yes demolitions) in East Jerusalem. The government is implementing the Jerusalem Master Plan of 2020 which outlines a plan for Jews to take over the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.  The term used is “Judaization.”  When I first heard the word, I thought this was a lefty way of describing the government’s policy. But today I learned that this is the word that the government itself has been using to describe its own agenda.  No sugar coating around here.

VIDEO:  Don't Forget to Remember
By Ralph Watkins

Ralph posted this video featuring Women in Black and Rifqa Al-Kurd in Sheik Jarrah:

"Gandalf the Black?"
By Leslie Leonard

We stood on the corner of a busy West Jerusalem intersection, holding black placards shaped like hands: "Stop the Occupation" in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Besides the fifteen or so from our group, there were a handful of the regular demonstrators  - Women In Black. They have been coming to this corner with these placards and banners every Friday for the past 25 years.

Across the street, on another corner, was a solitary woman enthusiastically waving the Israeli flag and holding a sign that read, in Hebrew, "They people of Israel will live in the land of Israel forever." She intermittently shouted things I couldn't understand. When I wasn't talking to other protestors or taking pictures, I was struck by the reactions of the many passers-by.

Pedestrians took quick pictures; an American college student stopped to ask us about our presence there; cars drove past, honking loudly - in support or defiance of which group was often unclear.  Other times, the message was inescapably clear. A man rolled around the corner on his motorcycle, middle finger sticking straight up. People spit in our direction. A couple of girls drove by shouting, "Israel! Israel!!" and a few minutes later were seen across the street with the other woman, waving their flag and blasting Israeli music. One articulate man shouted "Go fuck yourself!!" out his window as he drove by.

And so the Women in Black stood, on our island of nonviolence, surrounded by the antagonistic rejection of our cause. Our experience in Jerusalem was on the mildest end of the spectrum of protests of the occupation, as was the response, which was at worst only mildly verbally violent. But I was surprised by how personally I took these reactions, how accosted I felt. I haven't participated in very many rallies or protests, but the ones I have done were rather more widely supported and well-received (if not basically ignored). End violence against women. Free Troy Davis. I've never really known what it's like to stand for something everyone around me despised.

I began to look at our group from the perspective of the Israelis all around us. I thought of the many groups I have observed in their protests with whom I greatly disagreed and at whom I sneered with disgust. I considered the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, convinced (albeit aggressively) of the truth of their beliefs. Could this be how the Israelis see us??

In so many issues, I can say with confidence and conviction that I am on the right side of justice and love and truth and goodness. But the difficulty arises when you acknowledge that your opposition probably doesn't see itself on the side of evil. This is not the Lord of the Rings, neither Israelis nor Palestinians are orcs, and these issues are rarely so black and white as to automatically know who to defend and who to decry.

This is all just to say that no matter how strongly we believe in the righteousness of our cause, there will always be someone staunchly positioned on the other side of the street. In this particular instance, as in all others, I stand on the right side of justice and love and truth and goodness. While I feel baffled and hurt and a little bit hopeless about watching people (who equally deserve love and life) spit upon us - and, by proxy, those that we stand for - I believe that a just peace will prevail. And if I had to guess, I'd say Gandalf would have been standing there with us today.

The View from the Bus
By Clarissa O’Conor

There are probably few other conflicts in which buses play such a powerful role - rhetorically, viscerally and practically. The bus suicide bombings of the second Intifada loom in Israeli collective memory and are part of the justification for the increasingly elaborate and brutal land annexation and ethnic cleansing operation that is masquerading as the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. Buses were and remain important methods of transportation for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Yet during these past days in Israel/Palestine, the meaning of buses in this conflict has taken on new meaning for me in a few unexpected ways. This became apparent to me soon after we exited Ben Gurion airport on the first day of our trip. 

We boarded our bus, soon to be labeled tongue-in-cheek as the "Truth Bus, Destination: Justice" beside about 4 or 5 other large tour buses boarding groups of college and high school age American Jewish students, on their first trip to Israel through Birthright Israel. This is a free trip that any American Jewish young person can take to their "homeland" - Israel. The Birthright experience that many of my peers and even close friends have undertaken is never far from my mind so far on this delegation. The point of these trips is to whitewash Israel's crimes against Palestinians by presenting the "fun" side of Israel, without mentioning the words "occupation" or "Palestinian." Needless to say, the Birthright enterprise has probably paid for itself many times over in that regard. 

As we were traveling from the airport to our hotel in East Jerusalem, our guide Said was telling us how the highway we were driving on, Route 443, is the main route linking Jerusalem to the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians are now no longer granted access to this road, but this now de jure prohibition happened gradually, by slowly making it harder and harder for Palestinians to drive on the road, subjecting them to lengthy searches before entering, and blocking entrances to Palestinians villages, until it just wasn't worth it. It was eventually legally prohibited.

We passed Ofer Prison, where many Palestinian prisoners are being held. Said pointed out newly built illegal settlements and the Separation Wall. I could not even begin to imagine what the students my age on those Birthright buses were hearing from their guides as they passed the same sights. What Israel is actually doing can so easily be concealed and glossed over from the windows of a passing bus. 

As we entered the outskirts of Jerusalem, we passed by many bus stops filled with people eager to get home after work and school. One of the members of our delegation asked, "Now can Palestinians take those buses also?"

It dawned on me then that this question is really THE question; the answer to which illuminates so much about what is going on. Because you can't just say “yes”. You can't answer that question with, "Of course, all human beings who live in this land, under the control of one, sole, unified government can take any form of public transportation they would want! What a ridiculous question!" Because they can't.

And I know for a fact that those Birthright students have studied the sole other human rights conflict that I can think of in recent history in which buses have played an equally, if not more, profound role- America's very own Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

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.


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