<  Report Five:  Seeing Is Believing

Olive Harvest Delegation to Palestine/Israel
November 12, 2013

Report Overview

The final report from the delegation includes a variety of perspectives and features several pieces from delegates sharing writing for the first time on the delegation. As one piece asserts, many participants have said "If I didn't see the rubble and hear the painful retelling of the experiences, I wouldn't have believed it." Likewise with the stories of resilience, community, and resistance.

The first two sections below detail a meeting with Israeli graduate students. Then, the next the pieces report on a visit to the Palestinian village of Silwan, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The three final pieces deal with separate experiences: meeting Israeli family in Tel Aviv, touring the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib and learning of their struggles against demolition, and visiting the Tent of Nations.


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hat Is The Narrative?
By Jo Ann W.-F.

Last evening we met with three young Israeli Jews. They all served in the military, two are enrolled in undergraduate programs and the other person teaches while working on a PhD. It was our opportunity to ask them questions about the Israeli/Palestinian situation as they see and understand it. It quickly became clear to me that although they did acknowledge Israel is not perfect and could do some things different but the Palestinians needed to "ask" if they need something, choose different leaders, etc. When asked about Israel's violations of international law one responded that the Geneva Convention should be updated. When asked if they saw Israel as an occupier the collective answer was no. In fact, one of of the members said we would not be talking about occupation if "the war" had taken place 200 years ago. It was not clear what war she was referring to or if she thought Israel became a country through war.

I left asking myself how can the narrative change. A person has to be open to really listening and seeing what is around you. Earlier in the day we heard from a member of the Other Voice which consists of citizens who reside in Sderot and surrounding the Gaza strip. The message I took away from her was that when you stop seeing people as humans we lose our humanity. It seems one of the most important things to change the narrative is for Israelis to see the Palestinians as humans, but I did not leave feeling hopeful.

I have spent the last few days asking myself what will my narrative be when I return home. In order for that to happen, I have a personal and moral responsibility to share what I witnessed.

Jewish Israeli Graduate Students
By Gail B.

I was especially interested in this conversation with 3 Israeli students, as one young man is a Ph.D. student in Education. One young woman is a Sociology, Anthropology and Theater major and the 3rd, an Argentinean immigrant, is a French major.  Let me say that all 3 were articulate, open to answer questions and devoted to their work, their studies and Israel. None of the 3 have ever been to the Occupied Territories.

It might be better to avoid trying to paraphrase and simply note what they told us. It's also important not to give the impression that these young people speak for their country, their age group, or Jewish people in Israel. This was just one conversation with 3 youth.  Their comments can, however, be sources for dialogue.

"Most Israelis believe that Judaism and democracy can co-exist.  First, we are Jewish, then..."

"Israelis are really concerned with themselves.  There is volunteer service for young people but only in Israel, in our own communities.  We do not volunteer internationally; that's what the army does."

"I have never been to the Occupied Territories.  I know it must be bad - very bad. But I can't relate to any of these stories."

"Israelis (Jews) cannot go to the West Bank."

"I don't want to endanger myself."

"I don't think they want us there.  For us to go there is going way too far."

"There are certain places I cannot go."

"Day and night constantly, there are always people trying to hurt people."
"We are all using our powers to get what we want."

"But it's true that when you eat with them, sleep with them, sing with them, it does a little thing to you."


"The situation is justified.  We are not an occupier.  There is a lot of 'opposement' in the world, but this is a natural process.  It happened 200 years ago in your country.  We need to live with the consequences of the war.  It's time to win a place in the modern era."

"We need to differentiate between occupying a people and occupying the land. We are occupying a people, not the land. 

"We are eligible to have a country and this is our country."

"I don't think these are Palestinian lands."

"These are facts and we can't ignore them and not try to hide anything."

"We don't yet have a country that is fully ours.  The thing we want most is to recognize our right to be here."

"We work for social justice, but within our own community.  It is social justice that is social, not political."

I'm still trying to process what I heard.


I asked the Ph.D. student in Education (after telling him that I worked with Ph.D. students in Education!) to talk about the role of education in a democracy.  He replied, "Education is to explain, forecast, and change reality."    Indeed.


Deadline: January 24, 2014. Two big prizes (and a host of smaller gifts) will be awarded for IFPB's May 31 - June 13, 2014 Delegation to Palestine/Israel!

Make more scholarships available to students, youth, people of color and activists!

The Eyes of Hala
By Sami A.

"The eyes are the window to the soul"

We arrived at Silwan, a suburb just below the old city of Jerusalem. This was to be our second to last stop of the delegation. We met with Jawad Siyam, the director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center. Silwan is an area in which 55,000 Palestinians live, all with different stories, some have been there before the Nakba of '48, others are refugees from both '48 and '67. There are about 350 settlers living in and amongst the Palestinians, but not as friendly neighbors. All the settlers homes that I saw were heavily guarded with both an armed presence and a lot of security cameras.

Silwan is also the site of the "archeological" project called City of David and the Israeli government has been in the process of tunneling underneath the area claiming the they have found the lost City of David.

My wife and I did the tour a number of years ago and we were perplexed at the presence of bibles on the tour and could not understand the link between science and religion. The excavation is having a detrimental effect on many homes and streets, with many experiencing severe shifting and damage. Along with this excavation, many Palestinians have received demolition orders and there have been many homes already demolished.

Jawad began the walk-though tour. We saw settler homes, excavation shafts and tunnels, burned trees, and areas that were slated for demolition.

Then, we arrived at what used to be a home and we meet the owner, Khalid and his four year old daughter, Hala. Khalid, his wife, and his five daughters had lived on their property until about a month or two when the Israeli government showed in the late morning hours with a couple of bulldozers. The government destroyed their home. The family was now living in between a cave on their property and the grandparents’ home. I got to speak with Hala and take her picture.


As I looked at her I became very upset because I could see that this young girl had suffered a severe trauma. I had a difficult time holding back the tears, as did other delegates. The entire experience shook the delegation. Hala had been woken up in the middle of the night and someone destroyed her home. The look in Hala's eyes will not leave me any time soon and even now, as I write these words, I find myself getting upset.

Children should not be traumatized like that - for any reason - ever.


Silwan, City of Despair
By Carolyn K.

This morning we visited Silwan, the Biblical Siloam.  The houses, many hundreds of years old, are slated for demolition because Israeli archeologists make claims - on grounds most other archeologists consider spurious - that the City of David lies beneath it. 

Our guide, Jawad Siyam, had just received a demolition order.  I asked him what he was going to do.  "What can I do?" he asked.  His eyes looked defeated.  He showed us his grandmother's house, now taken over by Israeli settlers.  An Israeli flag flew over it, with a security guard house beside it.  He took us to Silwan's cultural center, demolished without notice under
what the Israelis call a "cleaning order." 

"They consider us garbage," said Jawad. 

He showed us an olive grove with trees dating back 800 years, two of which had been cut down by settlers.  Our last stop was at a recently demolished home.  The family's animals had been killed in the operation, except for one horse.  Their little girl watched with dead eyes - totally traumatized - as her father took us into the cave the family had moved into behind the house, a cave they expect the Israelis to demolish in a future operation.  This was the first Palestinian community we visited in which we felt no hope, no resilience in our hosts - only anger, bitterness, and despair.

Dispossessing the Palestinians, One Family at a Time
by Carolyn C.

You know the saying, "A man's home is his castle."  It is where he gathers with family and feels safe.  He can block out his cares and celebrate his day . . . all people share this appreciation for a safe haven.  In Palestine, though, no such safe place exists. Not only do Israeli Defense Force soldiers enter Palestinians' homes in the middle of the night to terrorize the inhabitants, but they can also arrive at night with US-made Caterpillar bulldozers to demolish homes and put the inhabitants on the street.

Throughout this tour, delegates said, "If I didn't see the rubble and hear the painful retelling of the experiences, I wouldn't have believed it."  We also know these are the results of Israeli policy for they happen everywhere - in East Jerusalem, in Areas B and C in the West Bank, in the internationally-recognized state of Israel to its Palestinian citizens (including the Negev Desert). Palestinians live in constant insecurity.

In the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Israel's motivation in destroying homes and dispossessing the residents of their land is for the establishment of a Jewish-only "colony" that it plans to name the City of David. It will have a Disneyland-like quality, sprouting palm trees, recreational areas, and imagined palaces and gardens that might have existed during the time of King David.  The problems are:

Despite its archeological excavations over many years, no evidence of King David has been found; and the Palestinians have legitimate deeds to the property dating to 1916 and earlier, long before Israel was even a state.

Currently, there are 88 families with demolition orders.  We visited one father of five daughters whose house, animals and belongings had already been destroyed.  The family had taken up residence in a cave with a small shack attached. He opened his door to us. He didn't have to describe his pain; it was visible on his face.  If we didn't see it, we wouldn't have believed the sadism that must motivate this action.

Zone B, according to the Oslo Agreement, is the area in the West Bank that is civilly administered by the Palestinian Authority, but the security is controlled by the Israeli government.  The former may grant permits, so home building for normal population growth is not a problem.  However, the agricultural lands that residents depend on are often located in Zone C, an area which comprises 62% of the West bank and which is fully commanded by the Israeli military and its laws.  As a result, the residents of Zone B risk being disconnected from their lands and driven from their homes.  Here, Israel confiscates the Palestinians' farm land, burns and uproots their olive trees, and erects walls to separate the villagers from the land that has provided their livelihood and symbolizes their heritage and culture.  

This happened in the village of Bil'in. The Palestinian farmers took the Israeli government to court and gained back some of the land that had not already been used for Jewish-only settlements.  Now, however, the village of Bil'in faces demolition of the new playground (with funding from France), stone terraces, and newly-planted olive trees.  If we didn't see it, we would have found it hard to believe that Israel can engage in this violent harassment with no media attention or consequences.

Zone C, according to the Oslo Agreement, is the area administered and secured by the Israeli government and army, not to become its permanent possession, but to aid Palestine in becoming economically viable. Israel has used the resources from that region for its own benefit and restricted that same right for Palestinians. They have done this most strikingly with the water found there and appear to be coveting the oil deposits recently found close to the Green Line, the boundary set by the United Nations in 1948 to divide Israel from the West Bank area of the Jordan River.

Israel would never allow Palestine to develop its own resources, as is seen with the rich natural gas deposits off the coast of Gaza. But isn't that the role of empire builders?  They subdue the native population, take possession of the land, and expropriate the resources for their own use.

The Negev Desert became part of Israel in 1948 when Israel was granted nationhood at the UN. Palestinians who had remained in their villages rather than flee from the advancing Jewish militias at that time were made Israeli citizens in the 1950s.  That means they may vote in the Israeli elections but otherwise the privileges of citizenship are limited.  They pay taxes but do not have equal access to electricity, sewerage, education, infrastructure projects, medical services or other needs.

One group particularly discriminated against are the Bedouins who have settled in about 75 small villages in the desert but which the Israeli government fails to recognize.  The government is intent on ending these farmers' way of life.  Israel has uprooted their trees and demolished their homes.  

At the site of the village of Al-Araqib, we found one extended family living in a cemetery where they had erected corrugated tin structures and tents. Even these temporary structures have been destroyed 60 times in an attempt to drive the Bedouins away from the land.  Israel will say that its aggressive action against its own citizens is for their own good, but taking away their homes and livelihood only leads to wide-scale unemployment. When we walked with them on the site where their homes once stood, the father insisted that the Bedouins are "the indigenous people here," dating back many generations.  

In the place of the village, the Jewish National Fund has planted trees that are not indigenous to the area. To match the tenacity of the people, shoots from the olive tree roots were springing up between the invasive vegetation. Our host, Aziz, kneeled above the earth, took a fistful of the dirt in his hand and let it sift through his fingers.  He held up his Israeli ID card and said, "This is my citizenship (the dirt); this is not my citizenship (the ID)." In Israel, one must be a Jew or one is next to nothing.

Israel must be held accountable for its violations of human rights and international law. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."  

While Israel continually demonizes the Arabs, it is the perpetrator for it maintains a systematic campaign of home demolitions and land confiscation that robs the Palestinians of their dignity and rights. Article 17 goes on to say that "Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others; no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property."  This stands, regardless of the Master Plan or newly passed laws that legitimize Israel's actions after the fact.

Further, the Geneva Conventions prohibits the transfer of a civilian population onto occupied land; it is on this basis that the 150 settlements with their 550,000 Jewish settlers are illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Peace can only be built on justice and equality.

One final story:  A little Palestinian girl loved her dollhouse; her father had spent many hours crafting it by hand. It was her prized possession.  One day at school she learned that her friend's house had been demolished the day before while she was at school.  Nothing was left. From then on, this little girl began carrying her dollhouse to school lest she return from school and find her home and all its contents demolished, too.  Tell me that a child will not from then on be traumatized?  This little girl, in her own way, is saving her house; that is all that Palestinians everywhere in the Middle East are trying to do.

Complexities and Fundamentals
By Ariel G.

On the last day of the delegation I decided to skip the group activities and go to Tel Aviv to meet with my family. I wanted to experience the Israel that was promised to me at my family Passovers as a child.

I took a shared taxi to Tel Aviv and arrived at the house of my paternal grandmother's cousin whose family has lived in Israel/Palestine for the last 90 years. My aunt at home had recommended that I experience the balanced perspective of secular (in fact atheist) Israeli Jews such as they are. It was also wonderful to spend the afternoon with family I had never met. She was right that they were not extremists. They expressed that they wished there could be a resolution. But, they were clear that Israel was a Jewish state and as we had won the war in 1948 we should not consider a one state solution as that would create a pluralistic state without Jewish dominated demographics.

They pointed out that the Palestinians who remained in the Green Line after the 1948 war were now Israeli citizens. They failed to mention, however, that while this is true, Israel differentiates between citizenship and nationality with certain rights and privileges only available to Israeli nationals, who are of course Jewish. They had no connection, outreach, or interaction whatsoever with the Palestinian people under direct occupation by Israel.

I agreed with them, and J Street, that the extreme right here is much to blame for the escalation. However, while they were concerned about growing movement of the religious right and settlers in Israel, they ignored civil society, Americas, and corporate investments and complicity in settlement policy.

They were warm and welcoming and wonderful to me. But they were clear: Arabs had always hated Jews. They always would. They had tried to kill us long ago and they would never want peace. I tried to tell them that I had met wonderful Palestinians who wanted peace, welcomed me, as a Jew into their homes, and were clear that the suicide bombings had been a mistake of the Palestinian fight for freedom. "No," they said. "They do not." "It is complicated."

I had the distinct feeling that they didn't consider Palestinians to be in the same category of human beings as other people. They told me that my cousin's step-father in Boston had once said to them "they are human beings, you know." It's complicated they replied.

They took me through Tel Aviv to the ocean and the shops and cafes. I saw the beauty of old Jaffa and the area where Jews had first lived in Tel Aviv before 48'. We went to a plaza where there was an outdoor theatre for music and dance underneath the orange trees.

I wondered if this was what South Africa was like for the whites before the end of Apartheid. I found myself wanting to forget what I had seen during the delegation; the stark poverty on the other side of the wall. Maybe I don't have to think about how water is controlled by Israel and given to the settlements 24 hours a day while the Palestinians only have their water turned on for a few hours every 3-6 days at best.

Still, I thought, can't I just enjoy this, the privileges of being a Jew? Then I thought about the children. I thought about the young children whose tear gassing I had been caught in in the Aida refugee camp. I thought about my friend new friend in Bil'in, Tasaheel, whose daughter was my daughter’s age. I had given her a picture of my daughter. Over and over she practiced my daughter’s name, "Isabella." "Yes, Isabella" I said to her, "Isabella, your friend in America".

I thought about a young Bedouin boy I met in the Negev Valley on a blanket under the only remaining tree on the land they had farmed for generations and generations. As their homes had been demolished and their land cleared to make room for eucalyptus trees for Israeli recreation and future Jewish apartments, they had nowhere to receive us. They had no homes to live in, no land to grow food on. They now worried where every meal would come from and when the Israeli army would come back to demolish the tents they were living in, again. The young Bedouin boy's job during our visit was to hand out bumper stickers to us Americans in the hope that people in America might find out about them.

I thought about Tasaheel's son, Mohammed, who was my son's age. As he posed for me to take a picture of him by the Separation Wall, it was obvious that he was aware that this was his responsibility; to send a message through his eyes, his smile, his youth. Send a message with me back to America that Palestinians want peace, they are good people, they need to be able to farm their land, they need food, water, and human dignity. "We are not terrorists," his rehearsed pose said. "We are human beings".


The Trees of Al-Araqib
By Jan M.

We were welcomed with coffee under the tree - the only tree left on their village lands. The rest of the landscape is graded - all dirt now. All traces of their wheat fields and olive groves, the homes and farm buildings, obliterated by the grading of the land. First the planes flew over spraying the roundup and other chemicals that destroyed the vegetation and killed their sheep and goats. This was 1999-2004. Then the soldiers came and demolished their homes and farm buildings. The first demolition was in 1948, but the recent demolitions began on July 27, 2010, a series of demolitions that continue today - 60 demolitions altogether. 

Israel wants the Bedouin to move from their lands for a "park" being built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Now, this is the Negev. It's a desert. And the JNF is planting trees everywhere. This takes a lot of water, unlike the olive trees the JNF destroyed. 

Next Aziz brought tea for us, all prepared on a small stove under the tree. 

Nearby we could see their current home, which they have set up in the cemetery. A traditional long black Bedouin tent and space for a few livestock to graze outside. 

Aziz told us they used to sell eggs, bringing in 600 shekels a week. They never worried about what they would eat. They had plenty of milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables and camel meat. Now they must buy camel meat at the market and he never knows if he will be able to feed his family and he worries about his children. He spoke to his (maybe 10 year-old?) son and then told us he wants his son to become a doctor and set up the first clinic in Al-Araqib. 

We walked around the area where the village was demolished. All that is left is rubble and a few remnants of plastic shelters on wooden frames. We saw broken tiles and I picked up a piece to bring home. It is a decorative piece that may have been a floor tile. 

All around us, on the north, west, and south we could see the JNF trees, planted to reclaim the village lands for a "national park." I took a video of the a trees, stretching as far as we could see in the distance. We watched the sun set over the desert and the JNF trees - a species of tree not native to the land. The beginnings of a vast forest. 

Aziz said he cannot understand why they uprooted his trees......to plant theirs????

He says The JNF trees stand like police over their land, where his family has lived since 1905. He showed us the area where his grandfather's house was. He asked us to tell President Obama to stop Israel from passing the Prawer Plan to remove them from their land. Tomorrow the Knesset begins debate on the Prawer Plan. You can write President Obama too:


Tent of Nations, Tent of Nonviolence
By Guillermo M.-S.

There are colorful people in every community, but Daher is more than colorful. He is glowing with neon colors that brighten the dullest, darkest day.  Daher is the third generation patriarch of a family that has been farming land in a restricted area of the West Bank, known as Area C.  His grandfather bought the 100-acre tract of land in 1916 and to this day, Daher holds the original documents as recorded by the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul.  Yet, this documentation and his 3-generation history of living and working the land is not enough for the military court that is trying to remove Daher and his family off the land.

It was Daher’s father that decided to put the land to a higher purpose, by calling it Tent of Nations.  His vision is that the land would be used as a living bridge to connect people . . . all people: internationals, Israelis, Palestinians, young, old, Jewish, Muslim or Christian in peaceful dialogue to bring about peace.

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Daher’s sister, Amal, said to us, “What good is it if the politicians shake hands and make deals if the people are not ready for peace? Here in this land we work with the children, the women and anyone who comes in to prepare them for peace.”

Religious zealots have been moving in to the settlements near the family’s farm and attacking his farm in an effort to move Daher and his family out. They uprooted 250 Olive trees and destroyed much of the property.  Their nonviolent response is, “We refuse to be enemies.”

Daher stood by and watched the settlers’ destroy in anger. When they left he began the process of replacing the trees that were cut down. “For every tree they kill, I plant two. I will plant ten. When they return they will see that the land is greener than before. That is nonviolent resistance.”

When we reached Tent of Nations we were all tired. My energy level was very low. After spending two hours with Daher I was re-energized and I felt as if I could run a marathon . . . well, maybe a 5K. 

There is much to be learned from Daher and his family, but most importantly is the lesson of living faith, hope and love while confronted with anger, hatred, injustice and adversity.





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