<  Report Four:  Witnessing Harsh Realities. . . And Reasons for Hope >

Olive Harvest Delegation to Palestine/Israel
November 8, 2013

Report Overview

In the waning days of the delegation the group visited Tel Aviv, Sderot, Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. Delegates were exposed to the harsh realities of occupation (and state violence inside Israel), heard arguments for the need for civil society actions like BDS, and met activists whose perseverance and work for justice inspires hope.

The first piece below explores the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). After that, a poem dedicated to Palestinians. Next, the Karchers share their experience visiting the village of Al-Arakib in Israel -- a village that has been demolished over 60 times. The experience of passing through a checkpoint comes to life in Ariel Gold's description. Finally, visits to Hebron and the Tent of Nations lift up the ongoing struggle for freedom.


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I Found What I Was Looking For

By Guillermo M.-S.

After several days of visiting towns and villages that were impoverished, it was a breath of fresh air to visit Ramallah. I found this city to be diverse and with a hopeful economy.  The surprise is to learn that this city is completely surrounded by the wall, limiting the interaction of its residents with the rest of the region. Despite the wall, the economy is growing and ideas are thriving.

It was in Ramallah that I heard the BDS prophet, Omar Barghouti, and I experienced the divine light of BDS that is able to transcend the wall.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement seeks to effect change by hitting the Israeli government where it hurts: its image. When Stephen Hawking refused to lecture in Israel as a form of protest, the Israeli people were forced to ask themselves the question: Why? What are we doing wrong that offends other people? When Israeli corporations that are complicit in the oppression of the Palestinians lose contracts worldwide, they are forced to ask the question: Why? What are we doing wrong that offends other people?

BDS forces the raising of the question. BDS forces the rest of the world to see what is happening. BDS is a nonviolent means toward achieving the end of equality and human rights.

I already knew all this when I entered Ramallah, but to hear it again from Barghouti (who was sitting 4 feet away from me) was equivalent to attending a U2 concert with front row seats - after years of hearing Bono on the radio.  Omar Barghouti is offering the solution to the problem. He is offering the arguments, the historical facts and the logic that will save both Israel and Palestine. Unlike Bono, I have found what I was looking for, and to my surprise I found it in Ramallah. 

Poem for the People of Palestine
By Will T.

This poem by Langston Hughes, I dedicate to the people of Occupied Palestine.  This is for their strength, perseverance, resiliency, and grace as they live under a cruel and oppressive occupation. Their stories have touched our hearts as we learn more about the Israeli military checkpoints, the arbitrary detention of Palestinian children, and the Israeli control of Palestinian water resources wherein Palestinians often go without water for weeks. These are all human rights violations. Our delegation promises to tell other Americans what we have seen.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights says: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.  Tell that to the 7.5 million Palestinian refugees. It is time for Israel to stop pretending it is a democratic state.

Hold Fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Let us all dream for a better future for Palestinians and all of humanity.


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Contrasting Realities
By Carolyn and Martin K.

This evening's meeting confirmed what Dorothy Naor of New Profile and Nomika Zion of Other Voice told us previously: Israelis don't know and don't want to know what their government is doing to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, or even in Israel proper.

We spent the afternoon visiting the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib, which has been demolished 60 times since 2010.  The village Sheikh apologized for receiving us under a tree because his house and tent had been demolished.  The community's olive groves were uprooted, their land was sprayed by helicopters with poisonous herbicides that killed their livestock, they were deprived of  water and electricity, and in the place of their olive trees the Jewish National Fund planted eucalyptus trees, which are not native to Palestine, require enormous amounts of water, and drop noxious leaves on the ground.  In spite of this, the Sheikh said he was deeply grateful to the Jewish Israelis who were fighting for his people's rights.

Then after dinner we met with three young people who represented mainstream Jewish Israelis: a Ph.D in education and two undergraduate students.  They showed a stunning obliviousness to the plight of Palestinians, a mouth-dropping insensitivity. 

Asked whether they wanted to see the situation in the Occupied Territories for themselves, as we had been doing, they said it was forbidden.  Asked whether they considered what Israel was doing to be an occupation, one said no.  One said that Israelis were only doing what other nations, such as Spain and the US, had done 200 years earlier--that it was unfair to blame Israel for having gotten into the act two centuries too late. 

Asked about the tremendous disparities we had observed between Palestinians and Israelis in access to water, land, garbage collection, education, and health care, one said that Palestinians first had to want those services and ask for Israeli help in improving their standard of living and way of life. 

Asked whether they believed Israel was conforming to international law, one said international law needed to be modified to fit their circumstances.  Only in response to the last question--how they could square their oft-repeated belief in social justice with the demolition of Palestinian homes, with the construction of a wall that deprives Palestinians of their land and olive trees, and with the building of settlements--only then did one of them admit that he could not square the two.

The meeting left us feeling very depressed about the prospects of any change coming from within Israeli society.

Passing through a Checkpoint
By Ariel G.

Entering the Jerusalem checkpoint building on foot the first thing I noticed was the smell of urine. The floors were painted concrete in disrepair. We walked into line that moved back and forth winding like the line of velveteen ropes they use at airport check-counters to keep a long line contained into a small area. Rather that velveteen ropes this line was contained by bars within a square cage of bars. The width of the line was narrow, adding to the claustrophobia, and leading me to realize that being a Palestinian crossing into Israel literally requires weight management.

After winding through the narrow line the room opened up to metal turnstile, like that which is used to exit the subways in New York City, with the other side having a metal detector that we were to walk through. Unlike New York City subway exits, the turnstile only allowed you to pass through when the light above it charged from red to green. It would seem that this light should easily change to green as the checkpoint was not crowded at this particular moment. It instead stayed red most of the time and seemed to arbitrarily turn green very briefly during which time you had to rush to push the gate and get as many people through as quickly as you could before it stopped again.

On the other side next to the metal detector the checkpoint officials, young Israelis, seemed relaxed behind the glass dividers in no rush to see your identification. This part of the process reminded me of the DMV or bureaucratic lines at welfare offices except that in this case there were military weapons, surveillance equipment, and the checkpoint daily for commute to work. Unlike the DMV in the US there is no allowance of care. West Bank Palestinians cannot drive to or within Israel. They must walk through this checkpoint, which takes so long and in the summer is so hot, that often they are reduced to urinating on the floor, to board a bus or take a taxi to their work or other reason for undergoing such a degrading and difficult process to enter Jerusalem.

The maintaining of this occupation is carried out by the youth who staff these checkpoints; buildings of bureaucracy. Through growing up amid this militarism and dehumanization of the “other”, they have lost their capacity to empathize and see their Palestinian kin as human beings. Without realizing that there is an alternative, they carry out the crime of perpetuating the same types of oppressive systems and institutions that Jews were for so long the victims of.

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” – Hannah Arendt

Hebron and the Tent of Nations
By Carolyn and Martin K.

Today we saw two more examples of Palestinians' amazing strength, resilience, and resourcefulness. 

First Issa Amro of Youth Against Settlements took us on a tour of Hebron.
Issa was a pupil in the school near Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque when the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on worshippers, killing 29 people.  Several of his friends were among the slain.  Instead of taking measures to control the settlers, the Israelis closed the mosque for three months and shut down Hebron's market, destroying the merchants' businesses. That experience turned Issa into an activist. 

Issa showed us the rows of closed shops, the children's playing field turned into a parking lot for settlers, the street divided by a fence, so that Palestinians and settlers would be forced to use separate lanes, the check points, and more.  Near one of the checkpoints we met some Israeli women belonging to the group Machsom Watch, whom Issa greeted warmly and thanked profusely for their dedication to intervening to protect Palestinians at checkpoints.  The most shocking sight we saw in Hebron was the metal grill and netting covering the market, on which the settlers threw bricks, bottles, garbage, and excrement.  We heard that they were now trying to defeat the purpose of the netting by throwing down acid.  Issa told us he had been injured again and again by settlers, but he was especially concerned about the traumatization of children who are arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned by soldiers.  Everyone in Hebron seemed to know and admire Issa.

From Hebron we went to the Tent of Nations, an environmental farm run by a Christian family who have lived on the land since 1916.  Denied the right to build on their own land, they have built caves.  Denied the right to water, they have built cisterns to store rain water.  Denied electricity, they have recently installed solar panels.  Although they have four documents proving their ownership of the land - documents dating from the Ottomans, British, Jordanians, etc.- the Israelis have declared the property to be state land, and the family has had to spend huge amounts of money fighting the case for more than ten years with the courts putting up new obstacles at every turn.

We were received by Amal Nassar,whose name means "hope" and who truly conveyed hope.  She has been reaching out to the settlers in the five settlements that surround the farm.  She invited a settler woman to visit her.  With much trepidation, the woman came and later brought her husband. The couple now consider Amal a friend. 

"Before we can have peace, we must work on people to accept each other and refuse to be enemies," says Amal.  "We must educate the settlers." 

The purpose of the tent of Nations, she explains, is "to break the cycle of violence" by building bridges and promoting reconciliation and dialogue.  In different ways, both Amal and Issa embody the Palestinian struggle for freedom, dignity, and coexistence in equality.


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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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