A gentleman from the Sholem Community introduced the two women. When he stood to speak he said, "We are a community of secular Jews who refuse to see ourselves as chosen" What a refreshing statement!! Zionists would like the world to believe that all Jews are Zionists but this is simply NOT the case.
Taghrid spoke to us first. She explained that in 1948. there were approximately 950,000 Palestinians living within present day Israel. When the Nakba occured, some 800,000 Palestinians fled the country believing they would be able to return. We know that was not the case, but approximately 150,000 Palestinians remained and they and their descendents now make up roughly 20% of the population of Israel. But of those who remained, many became internal refugees, uprooted from their homes and forced to move to other villages. Taghrid's own family remained in Tira. In 1948 her uncle was a student in Cairo and when the census was taken, he was not counted, therefor, he was unable to return as were all the Palestinians who were not counted in that census. Taghrid's husband was from another village, Misque (I think that's what she said). They were not able to stay in their village because it was unsafe to do so. In 1952, her husband's family went to Ben Gurion to ask for permission to return to their village. He refused to see them and the next day the entire village was razed. What was once 12,ooo acres of land was reduced to 2,000 through land confiscation laws. Every year they return to the village twice, on Nakba Day and Balfour Day. The former villagers and their descendents meet together and the elders tell the younger ones what happened and where their houses stood. Taghrid told us that this keeps the NEED alive in her children, because they FEEL they NEED to live where they formally lived. The land is empty, why can't they build there? But the Israelis will not allow them. Why I ask? Why? This is thievery and discrimination at it's worst.
Taghrid also spoke of the myth of Israeli democracy. Because Israel was founded as a JEWISH state, all others, NON-Jews as they are referred as, do not share the same rights. They cannot marry a Palestinian from elsewhere and have them move to live with them in Israel. Their family who left in 1948 with the plan to return home, they are not allowed yet Jews from anywhere "who cannot even find Israel on a map" are allowed to live in Israel and become instant citizens under the Law of Return. Laws have been created to KEEP Israel Jewish, and therefor, this is NOT a democracy. The Land Laws which restrict Arab land ownership are also discriminatory. (If you are an American and are reading here, please note, NONE of this is allowable in our own country!! Yet we hold Israel as our friend, support it financially, militarily and refer to it as the only democracy in the Middle East. I'd like you to think about that thought if you believe it.)
She also spoke of the fact that Israel does not have a constitution:
Israel does not have a formal constitution, but has drawn up a series of Basic Laws that form a constitution in evolution. Prior to 1992, none of these Basic Laws guaranteed any basic rights. However, in 1992 the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom was passed (2) which subsequently authorised courts to overturn Knesset laws that were contrary to the right to dignity, life, freedom, privacy, property and the right to leave and enter the country.Specifically, however, it did not include the right to equality. Further, section 1A of the law states that it aims to anchor "the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." Given the lack of an explicit law that constitutionally protects equality for all citizens, this emphasis on the Jewishness of the State again compromised the equal rights protection for the Palestinian Arab minority.
She spoke also of the political party rules and regulations:
Palestinian Arabs rights to run for elections to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, are also limited by their acceptance of the notion of the Jewish state. These limits are expressed in the Law of Political Parties (1992) and, in particular, the amendment of section 7A(1) of the Basic Law: The Knesset which prevents candidates from participating in the elections if their platform suggests the "denial of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people." Under this section a party platform that challenges the Jewish character of the state, that for example calls for full and complete equality between Jews and Arabs in a state for all its citizens, can be disqualified, as lists have been in the past.(4) The law demands that Palestinian Arab citizens may not challenge the state's Zionist identity.
She spoke also of participation in the military. If you do not enlist in the military you do not enjoy the benefits (medical, housing, pension, etc). But on a personal level, her daughter applied for a job at a boutique. When the shop owner asked her if she had served and she replied no, the shop owner immediately denied her the job based on this alone. Her daughter had NO recourse to this discrimination.
In closing, Taghrid addressed the Sholem Community by telling them "I want you to KNOW about this, because maybe if you know, you will want to change it. It cannot remain the same. We are so separated, if you want to meet, it takes so much effort. We do not meet in schools, not in clubs, nowhere. Everyone must ASK for democracy. I am THERE, I am NOT GOING TO LEAVE, it is MY HOME. I am not just complaining, I believe in mixing. Join the Jewish WITH the Palestinians in Israel. We need you as Americans to ask Israel to be democratic. We MUST ask you do this. It's in BOTH party's interest"
Next, Daphne Banai spoke. She is a founding member of Machsom Watch, a group of 400 women who go every day to the checkpoints in the West Bank to try to both document abuses and try to help the Palestinians. She began by stating, "I am an Israeli who CARES about my country. The occupation is WRONG. My best friend doesn't have the same rights that I do, andI cannot live with that.. Most Israelis ignore the occupation and the problem of Arab-Israelis not having the same rights, they are not considered fully human beings. You MUST turn to your congressman to stop supporting this because the pressure will not come from within Israel, it will ONLY come from outside, from America. "
She spoke of the many checkpoints in the West Bank, and that 85% of them are WITHIN the West Bank, NOT between Israel and the West Bank. She showed pictures of not only the checkpoints but also of mounds of dirt and concrete blocks blocking the roads so that the Palestinians cannot drive past them and are forced to walk, no matter how old or infirm. Since 1967 no building permits have been issued in the West Bank, so most buildings are illegal. The IOF can tear down any building they deem necessary (or just for retribution). Some have been torn down to make way for the wall, others to erect illegal settlements and for the Jewish only roads. In addition, the IOF can seize any house they wish for up to three months. In that case, the family is forced to move out without warning. In one case, a settlement complained that the wall was blocking their view and the sunlight, so the Israeli government simply moved the wall to where it completely surrounds a Palestinian home surrounded in barbed wire. Often times the settlers climb up the wall and hurl rocks at the Palestinian family living there.
Dahpne spoke to us of the Palestinian fear of their group because they are Israeli. She read to us an email from a Palestinian woman that Machsom had helped at a checkpoint. I will paraphrase, "When I first saw you, I thought no, no, I cannot get near her, she is Israeli, no no, they have killed us, they have killed my family, I cannot let my guard down. But as I saw that you were there to help and I so needed help, I listened and asked Allah to protect me. Now you were there and I want to thank you as one human being to another for helping me today"
Daphne also told us a telling story. When her son was in elementary school, his teacher called her about him being bullied at school. The teacher asked her, "What kind of soldier is your son going to grow up to be" I find this UTTERLY amazing that a teacher would react in this way. But Daphne told the audience (as I have heard also from other Israelis) that Israeli society is highly militaristic. In elementary school?!! Daphne said that it is nearly impossible to speak to soldiers while they are serving, that they follow orders no matter what and have a disconnection from what they are doing but that many after serving have severe psychological problems. I suggest they have severe psycological problems to begin with if they think they can treat people in this manner no matter WHO tells them to.
In closing, questions were asked. Of course there was a trouble maker who wanted to raise his own voice against these women's efforts towards peace. He said something to the affect, "What do you expect Israel to do with suicide bombings." Daphne spoke to this, her son had been wounded in an incident. It did not stop her, just as Abir's death has not stopped Bassam Aramin in his quest for peace . Let us all pray that NOTHING stops the quest for peace.
Note: Please read "The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel" a report issued in December 2006