The following reports document a visit to Palestine and Israel in August 2004.
Song cycle with visuals based on these journals, remixed 2015, is viewable here.
Got to Tel Aviv and through immigration with no problems whatsoever, though our group leader was queried for 3 hours. We are staying in a convent across from the Dome of the Rock; we sit on the roof and take it all in.
Toured Jerusalem today with a human rights worker who was in jail 17 years. Lots of settlers everywhere walking around with guns.
We visit Deheishe – “a paradise among refugee camps,” hard by Bethlehem. They’re only here temporarily, just for a few generations. Just since 1949. To some extent they feel they are less than others, who are able to plan on their land. So they go about their weddings and births as best they can. The cultural center has birthed a dance troupe, Ibdaa (“Something from nothing”). The military rules, since 1967, of curfew and collective punishment, families divided even before the wall, are most surely designed to enhance security and bring peace. Someone says. The refugee nation, scattered far and wide, at least now has the internet at these cultural centers for keeping in touch with families.
“Their curfews are supposed to drive us out, but it confines us to the house, where we multiply. They made a mistake. We are a productive people.” Demographics will require democracy to make a choice: racism or gettin’ along.
From 1967 to 1995 these books were banned: Fanon, French resistance…one banned book, one 6 month sentence. This adds up. Law 854 requires universities to clear all new books with the military. All the while the whole world is….hardly watching.
Half are unemployed. Half. New housing was facilitated by remittances from relatives working in the Gulf States, till ’91 when they got kicked out for being non-pro-US.
At night yet another unknown noise; we awake to find another house destroyed, another son taken, no reason given. The mother sits by the front door: “They fought the Nazis. Why do they act like them?”
Bethlehem is surrounded by settlements on the hills. But our brothers and sisters from Brooklyn expand at will, our cousins from Russia, many not even Jews by any stretch, but welcomed as comrade Europeans. In the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem a shopkeeper asks me, “Do you speak Arabic?” No. “Good for you.” Racism or democracy, that’s the choice.
Other settlements are mostly working class Jews, “Oriental,” from Arab countries. Poor. Subsidized to cleanse their Arab cousins outa here.
In his first 6 months in office, Sharon destroyed all the Palestinian police stations. Then he blamed Arafat for not thwarting terrorism. I love logic. And the press that lets him get away with it. Actually the American public could learn a lot from a close reading of Ha’aretz. But then, so could the Israeli public. Well, you can lead a public to the wall, but you can’t make them see over it.
To the tents we went, a toilet for 12 families
Maybe we’ll forgive, but never forget
16 years of 4 month curfews
Stepped outside, shot and died
Old man shot 30 times by tanks
Dying words to the USA “Thanks.”
Plant a tree for Israel, they told me as a child
Pine trees brought from other lands
Like settlers on the moon, they stand
The ultimate in arrogance as if the people here
Were never farmers for 14 centuries
O little town of Bethlehem, how dare you persevere
Surrounded by these settlements, we’ll take all you hold dear
One gunshot to the window, he holds a baby there
One shot from helicopter made in the USA
O yes the Jews die in Israel, there’s no excuse for that
And the circle goes round and round
And the bulldozers go up and town
We’re captive on a carousel of crime, crime without punishment
It was a grand plan, turn Palestine over to a Palestinian formation
1st 6 months Ariel destroyed all their police stations
That way it was easy to say there was no partner for negotiations
Would this ever be acceptable conduct by any civilized nation?
Hebron, house to house colonial conquest. We can’t take photos of anything military, therefore nothing in Hebron. OK a slight exaggeration. But the process of getting into the Mosque where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca are buried and Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshippers is worse than any checkpoint.
Our guide translated for the British army before 1941. His joke: “What was Adam and Eve’s phone number, 3 numbers and one word?” 2-8-1-apple.”
We met Abu Ibrahim, an old Palestinian Jew who lived here before Israel. They even took his house. Today he lives in a settlement and comes to visit his old town and clown around with the locals and the soldiers. How can he live among those who stole his home? “The earth belongs only to God.”
A highly exercised settler woman yelled at us, “This is MY Hebron. You came here to incite Arabs. Go home!”
Our host is another incredibly warm and funny fellow. He told a joke: 3 guys died in a car crash, went to hell, and were allowed one call home. The American called, and his call cost $100. The Brit called, 60 pounds. The Gazan called, 1/2 shekel. “Why so cheap?” “It’s a local call.”
Visited with Christian Peacemaker Team folks. They said Israel has a policy called shaving the land, so these women are shaving their heads. A new revolutionary skinhead movement. Those in the group who were here 4 months ago or 2 weeks ago notice changes – a new fence here, a new closed street there. On roofs you can see video cameras, camouflage netting, snipers, Israeli flags. They take schools and bus stations for army HQs. They took the top floor of a house for surveillance and put the family on the bottom floors under house arrest.
They harassed shoppers in certain streets to drive them away; the shops shut, then they put up new walls. Behind some walls families climb over roofs to get in and out. Settlements ring old towns on hilltops to cut the towns off from any expansion, then the colonies crawl down the hill. Every possible geography of aggression has been employed. In this way the West Bank is carved up into cantons and eaten out from the middle of each village and city.
Har Homa settlement was set up for 6,000 people, they said. Now it happens to be 17,000, headed for 55,000. But they said 6,000. These are the sayings that try the souls of those who say them. But not in the World Court.
All along the watchtower, soldiers keep the Pax Israeli. We follow the yellow plate road, while West Bankers ride a road of a different color, if at all.
500 settlers are active in the center of town, swaggering around, harassing shopkeepers, pushing outward, pushing inward. Settlements on the hillside circumscribe the town, a ring of power looking down, jumping the road like wildfire, fanning out in a star shape, linking up, reaching out like an octopus. It’s luke war on the best of days. Meanwhile there’s a colony in the center of town, looking around, putting out more flags.
I admire the distinctive landscape of terraced hillsides, olive groves and lovely houses with families who leave only with permission because they’re near a wall, a road, anything at all. A family is driven from its house one tree at a time. Next week they come for the flowers and shoot the dog. Next month there’ll be a new fence around the neighborhood. A house by any other name smells like a cell.
What you see is what they’re getting, the same terrorism used 60 years ago by those who decry terrorism. “It’s ’48 again, but this time we’re not leaving.”
Now they’re taking pieces of land daily
It’s a circus but not like Barnum and Bailey
When we say Israel/Palestine
That means one exists, the other persists
One’s a state, the other doesn’t rate
Some have a voice, some have run out of choices
One has tanks, the other has rocks
One puts locks on the street
The other has feet to run from a gun
A very large gun
A very large number of very large guns
Colonizers grab the center and radiate out in a star
The star of Goliath, dba the star of David
Grab the ends and pull
Till the folks are full of fear and anger
and throw stones,
Bring on the soldiers and the settlers
Let them roam, seal the street where people meet
Yes, in 1929 there was a massacre of Jews here
Dianne and Donna’s landlord’s father sheltered 18 Jews here
Hisham’s grandpa told how Jews and Christians were equal, that’s no news here
So it was till foreigners came to kill and steal the land
So one can understand when the locals say
“We and our friends the Jews don’t like the Zionists.”
We will guarantee the security of our citizens
By making hundreds homeless
Ride in at 2 am, order everyone out
Shell the building, then destroy it
Well it’s their fault, stubborn Hebronites
And their stubborn Hebronite buildings
Tell that to old Abu Ibrahim, a Palestinian Jew
Whose house in Hebron was taken in the ’48
He tells of Jewish woman breast feeding Muslim babies and the other way too
He comes to town to clown around with former neighbors
Tells a story of Solomon and two women who quarreled over a baby,
Old Sol says will the real mother please cut the baby in two so you can share
The real mother walks away
Now the moral of the story
Is that she who loves the land won’t split it up
We hatch a plan to move Abu Ibrahim into his old neighborhood
Reality TV, Hebron – oh the ratings!
Think of it as the South in the 1950s
Except the civil rights movement has been tried and failed
George Wallace in the school door arm in arm with Ariel
Bull Conner in a bulldozer made in Peoria for a war on the poor
Goodman, Cheney, Schwerner look down and shed a tear
Arm in arm with Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall
It’s not a conflict, not at all
It is a conquest, only one side builds a wall
It’s not an occupation
It’s a type of gentrification
Known as ethnic cleansing sociocide of an entire God-fearing nation
And on every former shop door they have painted
The star of Goliath
Pengon: Anti-Apartheid Wall campaign
Sometimes a wall, sometimes a fence, 9 meters high, electrified here and there, patrol roads, cameras, let’s not argue about what it’s made out of, but what it does: confiscate land. People are throwing food to each other over the fence. Doctors are checking up on children through the fence. Humiliation and degradation at the gates. That sounds like a viable state for sure.
103,000 olive trees have been uprooted, some over 1000 years old. Some are replanted in Israel. There’s even an Olive Tree National Bank – not in the West Bank though. The chutzpah. Lest there be doubt: the trees are destroyed in season so no crop can be brought in. Who’d want to hang around a place with no crop? Who’d be left alive to move away? 243 wells have been cut off by the wall, 907 reservoirs destroyed.
If there’s no land, water, jobs, beehives, barns, warehouses or nurseries, why not just give your country away?
In phase one, 51 villages, 73,000 people are separated from their fields. That’s real good for security. The mob can rezone land for green areas, then build on it. Or rezone for industrial, then build a wall around it. In phase two, they seize more of the best agricultural land, presumably for security, but possibly for peace. In phase three, they complete their task in the Jordan Valley. After which, 43% of the West Bank is annexed, de facto. What remains is a 786 km wall around 10% of Palestine, with 80% of the settlers annexed into Israel. “Palestine” is left with no agriculture, no commerce, its people forced into cities enclosed by settler colonies. In 20 years the cities will be full. Then they’ll leave. A sign reads: Transfer = security + peace.
Seems like a plan.
Of course lots of people believe it’s for security. If suicide bombings are down, they credit it to the wall. Maybe true, though it’s doubtful you can crush such a resilient people by denying that they’re people and then building a wall around them. Scholars differ, but most doubt it. International law aside. The bunker mentality, the nation of Archie’s Bunkers, is way beyond xenophobic. It’s downright chosen – a letter in today’s paper says the land and the people of Israel are sacred. But not the land or people of anything or anyone else. Even if it happens to be the same land. And for those less holystically or hysterically inclined, there’s a simple formula: We won, get over it.
They’re even going to put up some trees – here one moves (steals) trees at will – on one side of the wall so the important people won’t even see there’s a wall there. Kind of like there’s nothing on the other side of it. Wall? What wall? What people? What Palestine?
Pengon, a Palestinian organization with roots in environmental concerns, shares information from various villages with international campaigns. Resistance, they say, is a right and a duty. No negotiation till the wall stops. Their fine presentation can be downloaded – see stopthewall.org
PS Their board chairman was arrested yesterday and given 6 months detention.
Jenin is a big agricultural center, right on the Green Line. People get separated not only from their fields but from their traditional markets in Israel. Perhaps if they can’t live, they’ll leave? It’s a thought, if not a plot.
There are 13,000 people in the one-square mile camp, the majority children. In April ’02, 800 houses were destroyed. It would have been only 700, but they need the security. US A.I.D. builds projects here, Israel destroys them, US doesn’t complain. They like to be constructive.
The waste water from military bases drowns the town and its fields. They will waste you, any way they can.
Children’s communication program hooks up kid to kid on the web, to camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and other towns around Palestine. Israel will perhaps build a fireWall to stop it. At the Jenin Mental Health Center, Rihab al-Sadi tells us about the psychotherapy they undertake since the incursion. Mothers are depressed; men are unemployed and lose sense of self. Hopelessness and despair are addressed with art therapy, women’s groups, all manner of underfunded social work. Kids who witness violence re-enact it. Their sense of trust and safety gone, they grope for community in increasing isolation from the world and each other. Often people don’t know what’s going on in the next town, and are certainly glad to hear that anyone from overseas cares. 100 organizations came after the incursion, but most are gone.
HOPE: the center tries to find one area of passion in each person. People can heal themselves, given the right conditions.
Cola wars, redux: An entrepreneur has introduced Mecca Cola for Palestinians in Israel, as an alternative to imperialist black death liquids. Free market demands a choice – Medina Cola? We’ll bring you more on this, unless you’re lucky.
With the Ism of Zion they want to erase 2,000 years, erase their sorrow by bringing tears from others, but if there’s one thing we know, it’s that this has never worked. Not for the terrorized turned terrorist. Throw as many names as you like, when you are done the best you can hope for is that your people will rot from the inside and become their own worst enemy. When the chosen people become a superior race, the Star of Goliath has risen. All that’s required is enough slingshots.
Here’s HOPE: At some point, not to far from now, Israel will have to deal with being a minority ruling over indigenous people, like South Africa. You can’t trap them in Palustans forever. Either someone will notice, or something will blow. And then someone will notice. Meanwhile, the Palestinians inside Israel aren’t going anywhere, except maybe to more demonstrations against their second-class citizenship. Give the rulers enough rope, there’s hope they’ll hang themselves by their own demographics. All empires over-expand, and pride goeth forth to make a wall but one day even the people who lie to themselves in their sleep will wake up to the fact that democracies that plunder others are not democracies.
Jerusalem: Mental Health in Wartime
We meet Rana Nashashibi and Siham Rashid of the Palestinian Counseling Center in East Jerusalem, founded in 1983. The PCC has pioneered mental health, a previously suspect concept here. Psychological warfare is a systematic policy; research is ongoing on humiliation at checkpoints, particularly of women. And the intimidation of women also wounds the men, who can’t prevent it. With all the unpredictability of what passes for life these days, people become “primary,” focused only on survival. The normalization of oppression and surveillance destroys creativity and analytic ability. Something dies inside; people become apathetic, helpless, hopeless – they withdraw. Locked down in town, they may stay out of trouble, but also out of common work and solutions. Men stay out of the house, smoking and drinking coffee. Women sleep, do housework, withdraw.
Children withdraw into selective mutism. They can’t protect their environment, and their parents can’t do it for them. The usual symptoms of PTSD arise. The PCC seeks a new description for trauma from an ongoing crisis – pre-, post-, and permanent traumatic stress.
The media say moms don’t care about their kids, but the kids go to demonstrations despite the attempts of adults to stop them. Sometimes kids identify with soldiers, as with the suicide bomber: identifying with the strong. Not the father, not the political leader – role models have been destroyed, knocking the pillars out from under the community.
The Center’s “Girls Without a Frame” group – girls not in school or at work, some with learning disabilities – acts on the principle that any war is a war on women. They work on life skills, math, Arabic; they hope to integrate their innovations into schools. Locally, people with skills hold the line to keep hope alive. There’s plenty to support here.
What Israel is doing to Jerusalem is called Judaization. They accomplish this by grabbing houses here and there, inserting their flags and people and schools and shops in formerly Arab areas, or in the case of the Old City, the Muslim quarter. They can build hotels in the Arab section while denying Arabs permits to fix their houses. Land seized for Hyatt Regency, from sea to Galilee. They demolish neighborhoods around Hebrew University so they can teach about democracy. But that’s no new trick, we know Columbia, Yale, etc. All the while they’re building new settlements in a ring around the city. They then annex the suburbs, enlarging (illegally occupied) Jerusalem into the West Bank. The city was 59 sq km, now it’s 130, and slated to be 600. Hilltop colonies gentrify the world – the locals can go be local somewhere else. After all, they’ve had it for 1,000 years, it’s our turn.
Then they set up numerous checkpoints to prevent people traveling between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Meanwhile, you can lose your Jerusalem ID on all kinds of pretexts, and thus be cleansed from the city. There are 160,000 Jerusalemites in the West Bank who can’t come back, even to the hospital. You can be looking at the city from a hillside, but you can’t visit your mother. So much for people getting along.
This is also the course of events throughout the West Bank: rings of settlements around towns, gradually linking up and cutting off. Such colonies demand bypass roads (Jewish-only) that further isolate Palestinian towns, with checkpoints proliferating until it’s checkmate. And everywhere, at any time, soldiers, jeeps, tanks, shooting, tear gas, anything they want. We’re careful to avoid crossing them, like a black man stepping off the sidewalk for a white.
Then there’s the Wall, which cuts villages off from their lands. At Jayyous we saw the two gates, open 3 times a day for a half hour. And if somehow you can’t get to your land for a while, they just take it, like in ’48: “You left, the state has it now, sorry.” Or not sorry.
Members of our group have roots here. In West Jerusalem in ’46, Menachem Begin blew up the King David hotel, killing 97, including, David notes, his uncle. We drive through the neighborhood taken away from Mona a generation ago, and find the U.S. consulate next to where her Auntie Linda lived. It’s nice to know your roots.
Palm trees uprooted in the Jordan Valley are replanted in Jerusalem in Jewish neighborhoods, making them Jewish trees. Olive trees not totally destroyed in life-giving orchards are transplanted to Israel. For which of all these are the trees we were supposed to give money to plant in Israel? Good thing they came and made the desert bloom. I wonder at what point this becomes racism? Politely, one could call it democracy for me, not for you.
What about the psychology? A child comes home from school to find the home gone. The town suffers for generations. War doesn’t end when it’s over.
Forget the verbiage batted around about no partner for negotiation, needs for security, suicide attacks. These are all symptoms when they’re not lies; the problem is the plan to take the land. Sharon wrote 22 years ago he wanted all o them people out, gone. And with the Swiss cheese strategy, there’s no chance of two states side by side no more. They want it all.
There are summer camps in Jericho, Hebron, Ramallah. Ten cultural centers, in villages, cities, and camps. They held a summer camp for the diaspora kids in Cyprus.
This year the first mental health summer camp: 220 young people working with trauma.
This year the first women’s basketball team.
This year expansion of the kids’ dance troupe.
This year the first Palestinian musical play, produced in Ramallah with a German chamber orchestra and lots of singing and dancing youth.
This year a 15 year-old webmaster is putting all the kids together.
“I like the wall,” says Ziad. “We have many walls. Some are roads. Some are curfews Finally now the world must see this beautiful wall.” What goes up….
We met in Tel Aviv with Roni Ben Efrat of the Organization for Democratic Action, a small mixed Jewish and Palestinian political party in Israel. The ODA works internationally, bringing unionists from Europe to visit. Their educational work includes children’s camps that are mixed boys and girls.
In ODA’s opinion Israel lost a chance at Oslo to allow a Palestinian state. This lost them the Jewish state as well: not only the moral right to one, but in practice it will no longer be possible to have two states, so there will have to be one state for everyone. Somehow. But then, the forces governing Israel never intended to allow a real Palestinian state, so clearly they are gambling that in the long run they will prevail and the Palestinians will leave – against all evidence.
ODA maintains that Palestine cannot liberate itself without help from an outside power. Who or what would that be?
In the Tel Aviv area the main beaches are for Jews only. “Go to the Arab beach,” you will hear. I recall country clubs that didn’t admit Jews. Next door Jaffa, the original city, was Arab, and is now being yuppified as a nice seaside resort without its original inhabitants. Any beautiful arty neighborhood used to be a village of people who can’t come here now. This is true elsewhere of course but in this country it shouts out, to those who will hear. There is a group of Israelis who go around putting up signs with the former names of towns, squares, streets. They don’t last long, but they persevere.
Surrounded by five settlements, most of its land cut off behind the wall, Jayyous seems poised to become a major success story of the nascent independent and viable Palestine.
Well, that is unless the farmers aren’t able to get to their land, in which case it becomes state property. This local tidbit went to the International Court of Justice and was probably a factor in their decision.
Gate Watch is conducted by locals and an ecumenical group from Europe, formerly by ISM and before that by “Boston to Palestine.” But you need a wall, you see, because kids throw stones, because there’s a wall. And because their father can’t go to the field, so he stays home and fights with mother.
Mayor Fayez Salim describes the struggle for water permits. The few granted often go to exiles, old dying folks, and two year-olds. Then there’s the permit to go through the gate to the fields. It’s good for 3 to 6 months and can be denied for no reason. To try and get one must go a fur piece and pay a good price.
When is a checkpoint not a checkpoint? When it’s a humiliation point. The end result of permit thuggery is that produce can’t get to other towns, only to neighboring villages, which are broke. Overall, Palestinian vegetable exports have been cut in half in four years.
Since 1967 the farmers have been restricted to the same amount of water, excepting wells that are polluted, blown up, or off limits. Israel takes the rest. Water is not scarce here, it’s just poorly shared. Some folks need it to grow food, others for swimming pools. Beverly Hills Style is a syndrome worse than thinking you’re Jesus.
Hydrologist Abdul Atif Khaled speaks to Americans: “Don’t be partners in oppression.” He has supervised the counting of 15,000 trees dying behind the wall, and is watching settlement waste streaming through the town’s waterways.
We sit on the roof in the evening and look at the sea, but mainly at the pretty lights surrounding the village, lights of the five colonies in a ring around the town, like a noose, like a snake, like an encroaching nightmare from which a whole town can’t wake up.
We met with Tikva Honig-Parness, who is old enough to have fought for Israel in 1948 with the Palmach Brigade, a strike force of Hagannah. She was a socialist and an officer. She served in an area whose people are now refugees in Deheishe.
Tikva met the Zionist left in high school, read Marx, and couldn’t see a contradiction, so she became a socialist. She was bred for ethnic cleansing. “My generation never asked why. We were never told why.” The Zionist left played a central role in setting up colonialism here. The Histadrut (union) for example, worked for the quieting of labor in service to the greater cause. The moral corruption was there already. Israeli society has remained indifferent.
No one’s saying you can’t have Israel. You just can’t have racism. The struggle is for the democratization of Palestine, whatever you call it. As Jeff Halper says, “I don’t care if there’s one state and it’s not called Israel. Just so it’s spelled Palestein.” Win-win.
The peace camp doesn’t deal with ’48. ’48 is the problem. And there is an escalating persecution of Palestinians inside ’48 Israel.
A leader of the uprising of Palestinian Israeli students told Tikva: We’re back to the fear of ’48. Three percent of Palestinian land in Israel remains in our hands. Judaization penetrates areas of high density. And penetrates minds: the Palestinians in ’48 are being pushed into Hebrew, the groovy tongue. Already many do not identify with their counterparts in ’67. Divide and conquer, by the numbers.
It’s really not so much an occupation as the murder of a society: sociocide. Erasing the people, languages, towns, names of towns.
You can’t fight the occupation without fighting the root cause: US imperialism.
What would that take? Another superpower, as ODA says? The other existing superpower (world opinion)? Time wounding all heels? Stay tuned.
Palestinians in Israel
In Haifa we met with Baladna, a youth education group. Nadeem Nashef told us the Palestinians are concentrated in three areas: the territories, the Negev Desert (Bedouins), and the area up north in the Galilee.
Discrimination takes many forms. Palestinians don’t serve in the army, which cuts them out of many jobs available only to those who served. Health care is a two-tiered system. In education there are three systems: Jewish, ultra-Orthodox, and Arab. Palestinians have no control over curriculum, but they are now demanding it. Their national identification has been erased from texts – also their relationship to the Arab world. There are no Palestinian poets, no history. The teachers stay out of controversy, or pay the price.
Niami Ali is working to help youth with their identity, their history. They tell “both narratives.” 25% of Palestinians in Israel, counting Niami, are internal refugees – this happened to them, somehow. “We live with another people. They occupy our history, our education. Our state is fighting our people.” Leadership projects in the high schools teach youth to move beyond fear, to dare to share the buried story.
Housing: there’s a rule that you can’t build houses of stone. You being you, not me. So they build of stone, and cover them with tents. It’s waiting to explode.
What to do? Close the community against the majority? Integrate? Or some combination? In 20 years Palestinians will be more influential, not less. Solution: transfer us, or give up some land.
HOPE: People can build agreement on the ground, going around the leaders. This has happened elsewhere and is happening today. Time will tell.
In Ein Hod we meet with The Association of Forty, a group of unrecognized villages in Israel. Mohammed abu Heijah explains that under a 1965 master plan, Israel recognized 153 villages out of 193. They defined some of the village land as agricultural, some as national park, some as military or archeological.
They laugh in front of crying women as they bulldoze their nation. If you leave for a few days, you can’t go back. Sorry, you left, you don’t exist. You are a present absentee, at best. After a 1986 order to demolish the villages, the third generation says, enough. We are here.
Pressure from elsewhere helped break the non-recognition policy. Pressure from people and governments. In 1992 Israel recognized five villages. In ’04 they made a new master plan, under which some villages got water. Eventually they may get roads.
Case study: Ein Hod. There’s a new town next to the old town. The old town was taken and redone as an artists’ colony. The mosque is now a restaurant. So the Arabs went up the road and built again. The artists’ colony is gorgeous and infuriating. Remember, any beautiful man-made thing probably has blood dripping inside the walls. The residents of New Ein Hod, descended from Old Ein Hod, have had contact with the artists’ village, but the artists aren’t interested. “They are sitting in our houses,” say the old folks in the new village. They want to forget you and your problems.”
They do take enough interest to lean on the New Ein Hod’ers to change their town’s name.
“I have no problem with Jews. I have a problem with the system. Jews don’t want to understand that this is a racist government. Jews don’t know Palestinians. Only from the media.”
The government is not so much Jewish as Kafkaesque. Jews cannot say that.
“Who knows about Palestinians in Israel? No one. Let me be equal first, then I’ll tell you if I want my house back or just want 55 years of rent. Or nothing. Let me be equal.”
The Association of Forty is grassroots; we struggle to solve our problems.” I live without running water 300 meters from the highest civilization in the world.”
“It’s a problem. We will live with this problem.”
Gaza was known as the Prize, or Treasure, when it was the gateway to various deserts and empires. Today it is an amazingly vibrant, not to mention teeming, center of resistance. We have met with a number of health care and mental health professionals who give sobering accounts of the effects of war on people, especially children. As throughout Palestine, the civil society professionals are concentrating on ameliorating the emotional damage to the youth and women, trying to save the next generation. The current generation of militants is, according to one expert, the direct result of the previous intifada, of growing up under occupation and watching their parents, helpless to protect them. There is a cycle of helplessness, depression, restlessness, anxiety, anger, internal violence, and defiance, leading inexorably to martyr actions. These are widely condemned in the community, at least among people we talk to, but also widely understood as to their origins.
In Rafah we visited the area along the border, where in May the IDF demolished many houses and created an empty strip of land. People who lost their houses as recently as 2 days ago presented us with lengthy emotional discourses on the situation, and asked why we came now and not when this situation began. We have no answer.
We visited the Rachel Corrie kindergarten, part of the neighborhood community center. Rachel’s name and her meaningful life live on here, in the awareness of the children that she came to fight for them.
A doctor gave us a tour of the most recently demolished dwellings. He has worked in hospitals in Israel, even treated Israeli soldiers. He holds up a broken tricycle and asks, “Is this the bomb they came to find?”
Here, as everywhere in Palestine, we have never heard an anti-Jewish remark. On the contrary, we hear eloquent statements about Jewish friends the people have had, about people who could get along if it were not for their government.
At the Egyptian border crossing, controlled by Israel, hundreds of people wait for the gates to open. One girl has come every day for a week waiting for her mother to come across. An old woman is trying and failing to get across for a gall bladder operation. Young men approach and ask why we are here, do we do anything to stop the madness. “We can’t live like this!” One asks me “Who do you like, Bush or Kerry?” I say no, neither. He counters, “Condoleeza?”
Mental Health and Politics
We met with Dr. Eyad Saraj of the Gaza Community Health Program in Rafah. They have 60 professionals in Gaza. They go to the scenes of attacks and work with kids, start therapy, then go to schools and treat traumatized teachers.
They try to move people to constructive responses to aggression, not criminal attacks on civilians. The day after the World Court said no to the wall, there was a suicide bombing. This is not rational.
Today’s violent activists, he tells us, are children of the first intifada, looking for a replacement father and finding him in the armed groups. The current intifada shows the results of kids growing up seeing their parents acquiesce to occupation.
Israel sends a message: You have no place here. Response: We have to die to defend our honor.
To understand Palestine, Eyad says, you must understand the tribe. The tribe persists when political organizations falter or are demolished. Local isolation feeds tribalism; this facilitates survival, but not democracy.
The chaos is planned, like the wall, to prevent a Palestinian state. Israel erases land, streets, buildings and civilians while keeping Arafat in place. This keeps chaos going and society unchanged. The mental destruction of the people is another tool to destroy society, wear people down, hope they’ll leave or become resigned.
There is anger and violence in the family and tribe. There is defiance without reconciliation in the community. With the intense energy at present, internal fighting looks likely to increase. If Islamist groups take control, it could be like the revolution in Iran.
Since ’48, the culture of dependency has grown, nurturing a cycle of poverty, ignorance, disease, and more children. This leads to extreme emotions, defiance, martyrdom.
Eyad had predicted that Arafat’s return from Tunisia would result in militarization, corruption, and dictatorship. The struggle is now rudderless. Eyad was Human Rights Commissioner of the PA, succeeding Hanan Ashrawi. He found killings in detention, but got nowhere. He called a press conference and was arrested by the Authority. Released without charge, he was re-arrested and beaten, framed and arrested again. Eventually he was charged with beating the cop who beat him. Familiar? This is worse than rudderless.
Eyad wrote to Bush and Blair regarding Iraq: we want democracy and human rights. We are against terrorism. But you’re starting at the wrong end. Start in Palestine. If Arabs feel you’re honestly for peace and justice here, they’ll be your friends.
But they want to be the enemy of the Arabs, to have an enemy, so they can keep power. In ’96, the same group that would later plan the Iraq attack advised Netanyahu not to withdraw from Hebron. This would be Wolfowitz et al. Consultants are very important.
Gaza Needs No Prison
Before the question of Return, always brandished as the death knell of Israel, one should answer for the dignity and hope of the nation. You cannot put a boot on my neck and demand “do you want the right of return?”
In Beit Hanoun, Gaza, houses were occupied by Israel two weeks ago for seven days, then bulldozed. One week later the tents came. US AID plants trees here, while paying for bulldozings.
In Rafa, Dr. Yusuf is explaining maternal childbirth mortality
They’re shouting in the streets below
Here’s the computer room
Machine gun fire down below
Here’s the playroom, see the children’s drawings
Sorry, I couldn’t hear you
Wait a minute for the shooting
It’s ’48 all over again
Except we’re not leaving
I went to a housewarming ceremony in Anata, hard by Jerusalem, in area C of the West Bank. Area C means there’s no pretense of Palestinian control. It also means Israeli citizens can go there legally, which they can’t do in the Palestinian population centers. They might see something they didn’t know about, which would confuse them. That could be a problem, if it leads to thought.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is a mixed Israeli-Palestinian group led by Jeff Halper, an American who married an Israeli and works out of offices in West Jerusalem. Their work in Anata has included rebuilding houses that have been demolished four times. Naturally this work is partly symbolic, and also an effort to communicate to the world that there is Israeli resistance to the occupation, and that Israelis and Palestinians can share values and work together.
A group of Bedouins was displaced from the Negev Desert and came to live here, but they are again in jeopardy. The house being dedicated today is for a Bedouin family of 23, comprising three generations.
Young girls dance the traditional dabke in colorful costumes, a blind poet declaims with his posse of young singers, and the head of the tribe welcomes and thanks the internationals who have come to lend their elbow grease. A five year-old girl recites a poem about a three year-old girl who was killed. After this fiery recitation, we plant four trees in front of the new house and repair to a brilliant dinner offered up by our hosts.
The next day I sat down with Jeff Halper and Lucia Pizarro, a young Mexican immigrant who coordinates ICAHD’s international work. I came with my usual question about hope, and another: why is Palestine so important to the world? Why not Darfur or Congo, where such large numbers die? Why not the Kurds or Tibet?
This struggle is emblematic, says Halper. It is a battleground between the old world order of militarism and the new one of human rights. Victory for occupation would bring bad tidings for other human rights struggles. Further, Palestine is a key test of whether justice can prevail against raw power. Here we see the lone hyperpower in the world backing a rogue state in the seizure and displacement of a people, and no other force is able or willing to stand up against it. Public opinion must force the hands of governments somewhere, anywhere, to say no to these rogue elements.
And then of course there are the small matters of United States $6 billion/year, Israel’s key role as arms manufacturer (10% of the world’s arms) and sub-contractor for the United States to distasteful dictatorships, and its body blow to the Jewish human rights legacy. It’s worth recalling that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written by Rene Cassins, a French Jew motivated by the Holocaust. The United States opposed it (along with the Geneva Convention and the World Court). But the credibility and gravitas of the Jewish people at the hour of Cassins’ contribution helped carry the day. Today there are no human rights that Israel is bound to respect. Today Israel carries on the longest-running internationally condemned occupation – an aggression that is at the heart of anti-Western sentiment in the Arab world.
There is good news. A new human rights order is emerging at the civil level, through the various Social Forums and the International Court of Justice, for instance. The language of human rights is becoming a standard in Europe if not yet in the U.S. The World Court’s decision on the wall gives impetus to a UN discussion of Palestine next month, and there are increasing calls for sanctions against Israel. The Israeli government is nervous about this, and looking for ways to mollify the world.
And within Israel, despite the blinders imposed by the national myth, there are indications of unrest, of tentative reaching out for truth, of possible breakthroughs on an individual level. In the throes of economic woe, in the out-migration, with the international pressure, one can imagine a tipping point, like that of hard going in the Iraq war, that could enable a new consciousness that would not be easily obliterated.
Romeo and Juliet was presented in Tel Aviv by an Israeli-Palestinian group, in Hebrew and Arabic, with titles in both languages on a screen over the stage. The Montague-Capulet metaphor was inescapable. Naturally Shakespeare wasn’t describing anything like the power relations of occupier and dispossessed we confront here, but it’s a start. There are Israeli activists persevering in their work to open their country up to its buried crimes. I’ll talk about some more of those groups next.
I met with women from Bat Shalom (Daughter of Peace), a feminist organization working in tandem with the Jerusalem Center for Women, a Palestinian group. They are part of a coalition including Machsoum Watch, a group of women who intervene at checkpoints, Women in Black, The Fifth Mother, Noga, and Neled (Women for Democracy). Another member is New Profile, which works for the de-militarization of society, focusing in part on the militarization of language, advertising, kindergartens – all the usual war fronts.
One of Bat Shalom’s projects is “Reconciling Narratives,” in which they interview Palestinian and Israeli women who were present in 1948. They will produce a book and perhaps some video from this.
The group is also working for the formation of a Women’s Commission comprising Palestinian, Israeli and international women, and they are networking abroad to find partners. They are pushing the UN to implement its Resolution 1325, which calls for giving women a place in peace negotiations. This proposal constitutes a democratization of the struggle for peace, and a gendering as well, since women suffer in particular ways from wars that men make: the wall, the refugee situation, increased domestic violence, childbirth at checkpoints, all these demand a seat for women at the table.
Bat Shalom has erected a peace tent at a major crossroads in the north where holidaymakers travel. They are inaugurating a photo display on the wall there and inviting other groups to participate, and to increase efforts to bring travelers in for dialogue.
Militarism has progressively degraded Israeli culture, say the Bat Shalom folks. Combined with nationalism, it has created generations of violent and self-righteous youth as the occupation becomes more brutal. But a variety of initiatives point to new directions for resistance and the growth of justice consciousness among Israelis. A group of ex-soldiers have made an exhibition of themselves, literally: they have set up a gallery show in Tel Aviv about their tenure at checkpoints, their abuse of Palestinians. They present personal confessions and eyewitness testimony of their experiences at Hebron, one of the most sharply contested points in the West Bank. One soldier testified: “What I understood finally, after six months, was that we were guarding the Palestinians from the Jews; we weren’t there to guard and protect the Jews. The Jews are the ones who threaten the Palestinians more in this area.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1245950,00.html – find more info at http://middleeastinfo.net/forum2302
Meanwhile Parents Circle – Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian Families’ Forum for Peace and Reconciliation – holds encounters and shares testimonies. They did a workshop at a recent peace festival . One Israeli woman writes, “Two nations live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and neither intends to give up…as bereaved families it is our duty to find ways to build bridges and advance ideas that will push our leaders and peoples to peace, reconciliation and tolerance. At a Courage to Refuse rally, one of these parents spoke: “We have paid the price of political games with the blood of our children”, said Rami Elhanan, who lost his daughter in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. “You are the true heroes” he responded to the Refusenik activists. For more on Courage to Refuse activities, see http://www.couragetorefuse.org/english/news.asp
And yesterday a Justice Ministry legal team urged the government to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention to its treatment of the occupied territories, which Israel does not recognize as occupied. Such application would invalidate settlements, the inhuman treatment of the occupied occupants, and the whole drive to Judaize the area. Steam has been gathering since the World Court’s decision on the wall, giving the mainstream the feeling that they are headed for South Africa-style sanctions and isolation. Israel watches international opinion anxiously, hoping the Olympics will overshadow the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners. Demonstrations of thousands around the territories have included a march of children of prisoners. New initiatives on the Palestinian ground, combined with international stirrings, could bode well for truth, justice and the human rights way. In September, watch for a Palestinian initiative at the UN, when there will be a session to discuss the separation fence/confiscation wall.
Prof. John Dugard, the UN rapporteur for Palestine, who was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, called for an arms embargo of Israel following the May incursions into Rafah. Israel not only receives billions of dollars in arms from the US annually, it also produces 10% of the arms in the world. Further, Israel is the major subcontractor for the US arms industry, reselling weapons to regimes the US prefers not to associate with openly.
This strategy for a nation’s survival can only provoke a downward spiral for its own people and those it conquers. If at some point there is another model in the world, another alignment, another way of living together, beyond nationalism and militarism, there is much that Jews and Palestinians have in common and can build on. They not only share cultural elements, but Zionism ironically has brought together people from around the world here in this land. The anti-Zionist left as well as society as a whole is peopled with Latin Americans, Europeans, North Americans, Africans. Stripped of its role as a gendarme and war-maker, Israel could refashion itself as a San Francisco or an old-style Sarajevo, with youth dancing to the regional music and society dancing to a different drummer than today’s war drums of land theft and racism.
One can dream. In fact, one must. Before we can get there, things must change in the larger world picture. The US must be cut down to size, and alternatives to fundamentalism must come to the fore. Social forums are an indication of the growing urgency felt by organizations in civil society around the world. Two facts on the ground in the Holy Land give me hope: the fact that Palestinians on the whole blame oppression and not Jews for their troubles, and the persistence of Israeli solidarity activists in their struggle to open their society’s eyes to the crimes committed in their names.
So we must do in the US. Israel’s occupation of Palestine is the problem, and the US’ occupation of the world is the problem.
Even as we fantasize a future beyond injustice, we must look for the mechanisms of transitional justice, say Bat Shalom. The indicators are there in the refuseniks and the ex-soldiers’ testimonies, the international rumblings. We must talk of truth commissions, and we must go where the US 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows have gone, to reach people with the hidden history of their society and with a fresh vision of the way out. Meanwhile, people on the ground lay the groundwork for peace by tearing back the official story and meeting the truth and each other.
A group called Zochrot (Remembering) puts up signs of history: “Square where Majdal Arabs were collected and deported to Gaza.” They appear by the dozens around the country, and then go up once again when they’re torn down. The group was formed by Eitan Bronstein, also the director of the binational School for Peace at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, near Jerusalem.
One member grew up on a kibbutz built on the site of a formerly large village. When she found the history, “In one fell swoop my perception of my childhood was transformed. I realized that we are all living in denial and ignorance.”
Tel Aviv University was asked to put up a sign recognizing the village destroyed on the site of the campus. No response.
By calling attention to the names of hundreds of Palestinian villages obliterated from the map as well as the landscape, and to the circumstances of the obliteration, Zochrot challenges Israelis to confront the mirror of their national narrative: the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. Nakba is an Arabic word slowly making its way into Hebrew discourse.
To get to know and identify with the story of the other side is an experience
of being liberated from everything that has been stuffed into our heads. It’s
pretty clear to us that it’s impossible to take responsibility for 1948 and say
that you don’t support the right of return. Deep down, most Israelis know that,
and that’s why they don’t want to learn or know what happened in the Nakba…we
are afraid of what we have done…I expect every person who lives in a place from
which people were expelled to put up a sign honoring the memory of those who lost.
In response to a Zochrot inquiry, we are informed that “The Jewish National Fund “doesn’t get involved in political matters.” Translation: they don’t put up signs for former Arab villages. They just tear the villages down. But they leave the sab’er (prickly pear) cactus, because it’s a symbol of Israeli-born Jews. And also, for the other narrative, an indicator of where the destroyed villages were. Perhaps the future flag of Jeff Halper’s Palestein will feature a cactus.
The Nakba is interred deep within the Israeli consciousness, below thick levels
of repression and silencing. The face of the land constitutes a mirror image of
the frame of the mind. – Aviv Lavi, Zochrot
See the Zochrot English language site – http://www.nakbainhebrew.org/index.php?id=49&search_word=english
Sitting in a grand, stately, faded glory 1920’s apartment in Jaffa, I’m told by the tenant that her search for the identity of the owners evicted in the grand, stately expropriations of the 1950s has been stymied by a closed archive. It seems all Israel is a closed archive. One is not allowed to know in whose house one is luxuriating.
Jaffa was here before Tel Aviv, which was built next door early in the 20th century so that Jews could get out of the majority Arab town that sits anciently on the Mediterranean. Jaffa decayed, and today it’s being gentrified bit by bit.
The mixed Palestinian/Israeli group Ta’ayush (“living together”) started with the current intifada in 2000, when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by police while demonstrating in solidarity with the West Bank uprising. They worked to publicize the resistance to the fence/wall in numerous points along its path. This is difficult work if only because Israelis are not allowed to be in those areas of the West Bank. One may settle another people’s land, but not unsettle one’s own government. Ta’ayush feels that the fence, and the orders against Israelis crossing it, are designed to stop contact between the peoples.
Still they endeavored to conduct tours for Israelis interested in finding out what their government and its subject people were up to. And they organized demonstrations, one with 400 people. But wherever a demonstration goes, orders are issued closing the area. For six months they have been unable to get delegations through. It’s important, though, to get even a few people through to the Palestinian demonstrations as the presence of Israelis or internationals sometimes prevents the use of live ammunition. The non-violent resistance to the fence constituted at its outset a new phase in the intifada, but the Palestinian Authority has been less than helpful, increasing the sense of a leadership vacuum. The indirect cooperation of local resistance groups is reminiscent of the first intifada, before the Authority came to organize everything. Or nothing.
Ta’ayush has been trying to push the media to report the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, but with little success. Physicians for Human Rights has made strong statements, but the authorities are set on silent. At best.
The group has chapters around the country and members of all ages. At present, with some change in the intifada in the wind and many people exhausted by repression, they are exploring new strategic possibilities.
Look Back in Anguish. Look forward in Hope.
I went, I saw, I was wrong. It is not an occupation – it’s a land grab.
I have an idea. Let’s plant a bunch of Europeans somewhere and call it democracy. Then, if they dress and pray differently than us, we can call them backward and take their water. And then declare ourselves a western nation. Then we can have our young men walk down the street, without even a uniform or an Uzi, just with a handgun, drawn and ready. Then if anyone asks what are you doing here, the young men will have the answer at their fingertips.
Anti-Semitism has plagued us in Europe for millennia. So let’s leave Europe and do it to someone else.
Why not? It worked in British North America. Worked in Australia. Granted, not in South Africa. In fact, it hasn’t been working lately. Why doesn’t land theft work any more? I’m guessing it’s got something to do with the trend to independence from empires, growing world consciousness, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which happened because of the Holocaust.
There are two possible lessons of the Holocaust:
1. Never again to the Jews.
2. Never again, period.
I remember when I was young they used to urge us to give money to plant a tree in Israel. Seemed like a good idea at the time, rescuing a desert and an empty land. Now the trees are used to cover over former villages, or to hide the Wall. Or they’re Palestinian olive trees being moved to Israel. So when you see a tree, it may not be the beautiful thing you think you see.
An entire country of hillsides terraced over hundreds of years, people re-arranging nature to protect olive trees, and they say no one was here.
Traveling here reminds me to always look beneath the surface appearance to the history, which is likely to be sordid. It’s more pleasant to look at the positive, but this is likely to be misleading. Any beautiful arty neighborhood probably used to be a village full of people who can’t come here now. Any nice town probably has blood in its ground.
And the old man cried when he saw us, remembering a time when he had friends among the Jews.
Gentrification (Judaization) in Jerusalem is familiar from United States cities. And out in the territories it’s the same, augmented by rural encirclement. Settlements expand simultaneously in circles and stars – circles like arms reaching out to embrace in a chokehold, stars of David turning into Stars of Goliath.
In Israel, they say, everyone is a soldier. In Palestine, others say, everyone is a prisoner. 40% of Palestinian males have been in prison. And the entire nation has become a jail.
Let’s suppose there were several possible Israels. Is this the best of all possible Israels? An Israel where people got along was once an idea. But it wasn’t the idea of the decision-makers. With a model of evicting your own neighbor, no God can help you.
Israel was like Pleasantville, or Disneyland, only a lot darker. An entire nation in willful denial, but because of its small size and the close proximity of those denied and the present-time operations, far more stark and extreme than what I’m used to, home. It’s like the Old West: guns everywhere, and a single, obvious, commonly agreed upon enemy: terrorists who refuse to get along.
Five million Israelis can’t be wrong, can they? Why not? 50 million Elvis fans were. Everybody who supported the Vietnam war was.
One good thing is, there are different kinds of Israelis. Though never enough.
In his new book, “Twilight Zone: Life and Death Under Israeli Occupation, 1988-2003,” Ha’aretz reporter Gideon Levy says “This is a book about us. About what we do to others. About what is done in our name.”
Knesset member Michael Melchior declares that “The Jewish Democratic State has become one of the most immoral states in the Western world.” With glaring income gaps among its people and its own children in the street, “it treats its foreign workers like animals; a social worker has to devote an average of two minutes to a family in distress. Such a society is neither Jewish nor democratic.” He further decries “bulimic privatization,” accusing the country of “privatizing itself to death.”
Meanwhile Zochrot is remembering, Ta’ayush is living together, soldiers are denouncing brutality and refusing to colonize. Though never enough.
“I want to see a continuation of Jewish life, which can only be guaranteed by a continuation of Palestinian life,” says Lucia Pizarro, quoting Jeff Halper, who’s quoting Salim Shawameh, the host of the internationals who rebuilt the Jaddua’ah family’s house in Anata.
Peace depends on justice. What a novel idea. I think I’ll look into it.