Interfaith Peace-Builders March 2007 Delegation to Israel/Palestine - Report I
Interfaith Peace-Builders March 2007 Delegation to Israel/Palestine - Report I
by Elizabeth Shefrin, Denise Rathman, Phil Schervish
Report One: A Thousand Experiences Settling
March 19-22, 2007: Jerusalem and the West Bank
Nobody is lining up to give me easy answers
It’s hard to believe we’ve only been here since Monday night. These three days have been a whirlwind of information and conflicting emotions. I had thought I would be able to write more specifically, but I need to let a thousand experiences settle.
Actually it’s not that I have heard much that I didn’t already know, but hearing stories first hand and seeing things for myself is a very different ball game. I was prepared for the separation wall to be depressing, but not for the degree to which it is also bizarre. It really does carve Palestinian communities into ghettos where children can’t get to school, farmers can’t get to their fields, sick people can’t get to hospital. We drove around one small town where we passed 4 or 5 checkpoints and drove for miles to get from one man’s home to that of his brother who lived “next door.”
On another occasion we visited Daher’s Vineyard where we met a remarkable Palestinian man named Daoud Nasser. His family has owned the land since 1916 and has papers proving it from both the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, and still he is involved in an ongoing court battle in Israel about the ownership of the land. In every direction around him you can see Israeli settlements built on the land appropriated from Palestinians. He is not allowed to make any renovations or even basic improvements to his land without an impossible-to-obtain permit. Among other structures slated for demolition by the Israelis, due to lack of a permit, are a flagstone patio and a tin roof he has erected to shelter his goats.
And yet Daoud is full of hope. He recognizes that each side in the conflict has a story to tell and human rights that need to be met. He organizes activities with Palestinian youth to keep them on a positive path. He has welcomed settlers to his home, just asking them to come without their guns. The day after our visit he was serving lunch to a group of 45 rabbis.
Visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, today, I was thinking a lot about how Israel was built with so much hope and on top of so much pain. I’ve started asking people we meet with if they can see a way that Israel can continue to be a Jewish homeland and still have full justice for Palestinians. Nobody is lining up to give me easy answers.
On a more positive note I had a wonderful time the other morning doing fabric self portraits with grade 4 Jewish and Palestinian children at the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, one of the very few bicultural schools in Israel.
This is our third full day in Israel and Palestine, and while I feel like I’ve learned a lot already, I also feel like I have more questions than I did before. Part of me wants to try to figure out a way to compare the relationship of the Palestinians and the Israelis to that of other cases of difficulty in human relations so that I can more easily explain what is going on to others who haven’t been here in a way that they will more readily be able to understand.
Is this situation similar to that of the American Indians, as many of the Palestinians’ land has been taken away, and they have been forced to live on a very small percentage of the land that they formerly called their own?
Is it like apartheid was in South Africa, as the Palestinians must be ready to produce ID cards at a moment’s notice?
Is it like the Jim Crow era in the United States, where the schools are segregated by race or national origin?
Could this situation become like that of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, where core centers of the Muslim population were separated?
No doubt that many who settled in this area were persecuted or understandably feared persecution. But,
Are the policies of the Israeli government actually making most Israelis better off in the long run?
Is it the security wall that is under construction that has decreased the number of suicide bombings, or are there other factors at play?
Will the cost of the security harm the Israeli economy to such a degree that it undermines the Israeli economy?
Will the Israeli security policies wear down the Palestinians to the point that they will no longer protest inequitable treatment?
Although I certainly do not expect that I will miraculously find the answers to all of the questions in the next 10 days, I certainly hope to gain some information, background and insight that will help me as I puzzle through these and other questions.
The Word Dies. . .
I am sitting out in the beautiful garden of St. George’s College –an Anglican house of study maintained for the purpose of experiential theological study and creativity in the “Holy Lands”. You just need to walk into the dining room and you meet interesting people with interesting stories and creative ideas.
Our experience has been well scheduled but packed. Mostly introductions to the situation and visits to meet Israelis and Palestinians so that we better can comprehend. Each day’s agenda builds on the previous ones. A very well put together experience.
Although only half way through our third full day, my thoughts and emotions are running wild, unchecked and on top of each other (it is hard to separate head from heart in this land). The gamut could not be broader--from disbelief, to rage, to extreme sorrow, to tears, to despair, to hope, to energy and anticipation for my after-trip activity, to wonder, to amazement, to calm, to not wanting to be calm, to tears, to thinking I have found the perfect place for our retirement group, to wanting to stay, to not wanting to wait to do something, to more tears, to ideas about how to use this for the classroom and public speaking, to tears, all with a remarkable peace I don’t think I have experienced much before. When times are the hardest I just look at our delegation leader, Lisa, and she smiles and tilts her head as if somehow she knows what is going on inside me and is letting me know that someone else feels the same.
Writing to you folks now is probably best described by a quote from one of the Holocaust survivors I found on our visit to the Israeli Holocaust Museum. “The word dies whenever reality demands absolute domain.” Still, I must try. I think I will start with the most impactful events of the last two days. I will tell you of Katarina and Daoud (David).
“If you understand what’s going on, you have to get involved. Of course, you can choose not to understand.”
No you can’t. What I saw and learned today brings new meaning to the idea of teaching by showing. Most Americans know the words but have no idea what they mean –at least I didn’t really comprehend. Our experience began with a meeting with a lovely young woman, half Columbian and half Belgian, who followed her Israeli boyfriend here only about one year ago.
Katarina, from a group titled Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) spoke of the Israeli Matrix of Control that intends, in her words, to “strangle the Palestinian population.” The matrix was assembled after the Oslo Accord and consists of three interacting parts:
2. The highway system
3. Settlement blocks
As part of the Oslo process, Palestinian land in the West Bank was divided into three zones, or areas:
--Zone “C” is land is under full Israeli security control and Israeli civil administration. This zone includes Israeli settlements, military bases and bypass roads (see more below), as well as an undeveloped buffer for “expansion” around these areas.
--Zone “B” lands are under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil administration and are generally smaller Palestinian communities in the countryside.
--Zone “A” includes primarily all the Palestinian cities and major built up population centers. Zone “A” is theoretically under Palestinian security control and civil administration but, since 2000, has experienced regular Israeli incursions.
In order to provide Israelis with a means of transportation between the settlements and Israel proper and to provide a means of swift protective response on behalf of the settlers (who are living in the West Bank illegally according to international law), Israel began the construction of highways throughout the West Bank. These highways are most often four lanes and take the most direct route between point A and point B. For instance, upon our arrival we left Ben-Gurion Airport on Highway 1 and then along 443 that took us directly to E. Jerusalem in about 20 minutes (without traffic). The highway is Israeli owned, Israeli built, Israeli maintained, and available only for cars with Israeli license plates or non-Israeli cars that have been granted special transportation permits. Part of this highway runs through Zone “C” areas of the West Bank and is “protected” by a concrete barrier on both sides of the highway. Strategically, that is not enough so 60 meters on either side of the highway are dug out. An electrical fence topped with barbed wire is in place at the end of the 60 meters.
25 construction still
As I mentioned, this highway is available only to Israelis. Of course, taking the straightest route means that some established Palestinian roads are cut through and blocked off. Some Palestinian towns are cut in half as well. Eventually the Israelis will get around to tunneling under their highway for the Palestinians to use. As one Palestinian put it, “Soon the Arabs will only be able to travel underground.”
Because these highways are restricted to Israeli cars, they must be monitored, thus surveillance cameras and checkpoints are put in place. If a Palestinian is found using the highway without proper permits and papers they can be detained and arrested at the discretion of the checkpoint soldiers. Of course, to get a permit, you must travel to the Israeli civil authority in the nearest Israeli settlement and apply for the permit, but the road that you would use has been blocked by the highway and no tunnel has been built yet. I hope you’re starting to get the picture. We were taken on an excursion that demonstrated the reality of this situation. The word dies when reality demands absolute domain.
The settlements of which I spoke, are illegal under the Geneva Convention and have recently been condemned as such by the International Court of Justice. Israel claims it has a plan of disengagement from the West Bank but the settlements keep growing. It is illegal for Palestinians to be inside one of the settlements–unless you’re hired at one-half minimum wage to help with the building of the settlement or for work in one of the industrial zones connected to the settlements.
I know the idea of a settlement harkens different images for different people. For these settlements, think of blocks and blocks of high-rise condos with swimming pools – real resort communities. Two settlements become part of one larger settlement, and two get connected with three, and three with four, and soon you have a circle of settlements around, what is, Palestinian owned land. The Palestinians on that land find themselves on an island inside an Israeli settlement. The law says they cannot be inside a settlement so they must abandon family homes and farms held for hundreds of years or be arrested, or worse. Hopefully, you are starting to understand. Pictures help and I will have plenty when I return. (Also, see the IFPB website, http://www.interfaithpeacebuilders.org/photos/del21/, where several pictures have all ready been posted).
Children from the Dandees family walk across the ruins of their home after it was demolished by Israeli occupying forces.
I asked Katarina, if she came to this area following her Israeli boyfriend, how did she get involved in ICAHD. Her response was short and to the point, “Once you understand what is really going on you must get involved –of course, you can chose not to understand.” When I asked Katarina what she would say if she could say anything to Americans? Her response was shorter and to the point, “Stop paying for the wall.”
The U.S. sends at least $2.5 Billion in foreign aid to Israel each year for security. It seems that the majority of the money does not leave the U.S. because there is a proviso in the aid package that states that Israel shall only purchase the security equipment from the U.S. –how do you think so many Caterpillar tractors and bulldozers and heavy cranes, etc. got over here for use in building the wall? Not to mention arms and munitions used by the troops and checkpoint guards – an M16 slung over each guard’s shoulder.
“It’s my country, isn’t it”
Daoud is a young Palestinian born in the United Arab Emirates. He works with a Palestinian organization called Stop the Wall. Daoud is a bright, university educated young man. He took his time explaining to us, as one who lives in the Matrix of Control, what the wall really means. Let me sum up with this statistic, the border, as established after the 1947-9 war is approximately 190 miles in length. The planned route of the “security fence” is between 440 and 480 mi (depending on what happens in Jerusalem)–more than double the internationally recognized border. The extra length is caused by the wall’s frequent incursions into and throughout the West Bank.
All this at a cost of $2.5 million per kilometer when staffed. If built as planned, between 10% and 14% of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel (depending on the route of the wall in some neighborhoods around Jerusalem). Daoud gave us another interpretation of disengagement, stating that Israel says it will permit 20,000 Palestinian homes to be built between 2005 and 2025. At the same time, parts of municipal budgets reflect money to demolish 15,000 Palestinian homes by 2020.
Daoud took us around to places where the wall has split neighborhoods, split extended families living next to each other, separated parents from children, children from schools, and laborers from their work sites and home owners from electricity and water.
When asked about the role of nonviolent resistance in this struggle to stop the wall, he responded by saying, “I don’t like that word non-violence. This must stop and non-violence implies that we have given in.” OK, what about the place of unarmed resistance?
“I can talk about unarmed resistance, but when you are staring down the barrel of an M16, or tear gas, or rubber bullets, or a tank or I don’t know what, and you are unarmed, what do you gain?”
*Photos now online at: http://www.interfaithpeacebuilders.org/photos/del21
*Reports also posted online at: http://www.interfaithpeacebuilders.org/del21/
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