Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Those who demonstrate every Friday


For previous posts on the delegation to Palestine, see here and here.

Kobi Snitz is a leader of Anarchists against the Wall. This is the first group which organized civil disobedience in active support of the Palestinians demonstrating against the Occupation. It took, unsurprisingly, a radical organization.

For 9 years, every week, some 40 to 100 Israelis go to demonstrate in the Occupied Territories. They join demonstrations in many Palestinian towns against the ever-growing - there are now 300 in the territories and 200 in East Jerusalem - settlements.

Today in the old city in East Jerusalem, we walked by a wall of the fighters who are buried nearby – the mujahadine in Arabic. The English and Hebrew words are changed. It is Lion's Gate.

Gradually, the Israeli government changes every sign. Soon, the Arabic, too, will be changed.

That government aims to kill a frog in boiling water. Plunge the frog in and it will jump to escape. Boil the water gradually and the frog will die.

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The illegal expansion of Israel is everywhere, in the smallest places, and in the differentiation of Arabs as non-citizens of Israel, as permanent residents in East Jerusalem (gradually being expelled) and in the territories.

Israel is a democracy except that half the people it rules over have no vote (except Arab Israelis, about 20% of the population) and no voice, exist behind or are bifurcated by a wall.

Israel has human rights, except that the Arabs who live under Isreali domination have no right to purchase or build homes. Land is for Israelis, not for Arabs.

Palestinian homes are often slated for demolition. These have been family homes for generations, sometimes hundred of years.

We pass by the rubble.

Arabs are regarded as immigrants, those who conquered as the possessors, the allocators.

Israelis often cease to worry about those beyond the wall. Some feel demonized by nonviolent protest. But what is the policy of occupation and dispossession, the building of homes on top of other people's homes, if not the demonization of those who lived there?

Some are people. Others are non-people.

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Today a wonderful Palestinian actor spoke with us who has been outside Palestine in Barcelona learning his craft. But now, though back here, he will lose his residence in Jerusalem and be expelled next spring.

His family has lived in Jerusalem far into the past. The State of Israel is new, the conqueror of 1967. That State does not allow Palestinians to acquire skills or practice a profession.

He is stateless.

****

Kobi studied in the United States. He learned at Maryland from the anti-Iraq War (anti-American aggression) demonstrations in 2002 and 2003.

22 Palestinians have been murdered by the Israeli army in the protests of Palestinians and Israeli Jews against the Occupation. Kristin Anderson, from the Bay Area, was wounded.

Walking the old city yesterday, we saw young men – barely 18 – with AK 47s.

Israel is a society nurtured on militarism. Guns are everywhere. A t-shirt satirically proclaims: "Guns and Moses."

A settler, not looking at anyone in the Old City, walking with two bodyguards. People draw away.

Is this a way to live?

This was the conduct of Europeans toward Jews. This is what Israeli Jews, bearing, in this respect, the worst and not the best in Europe, have done to innocents.

One must regard the Palestinians as terrorists. Because if they are not terrorists, the suspicion would arise that the state of Israel practices - terror.

Why can those who live in Israel not see?

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The experience of pogroms and of the Holocaust rightly makes Jews fearful. Jews, one might say, are thousand year trauma victims (h/t Paula Bard).

But for Israelis to live in peace, transferring the oppression and fear to others must stop.

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Yesterday we heard Sami Awad speak at a Baptist Church. It was the first time he had been in Jerusalem in many years. He spoke of an uncle who founded a nonviolence center in Palestine when he was 12 and gave him heart. The uncle was deported. Nonviolent opposition is not tolerable in Israel.

Sami spoke of the meaning of “love your enemy.” He whose grandfather had been killed in 1948, his father and uncle orphaned, who had seen only settlers and soldiers in Israel, went to Poland. He went to the death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. He saw.

He speaks of love with the authority of one who works, as an accompaniment to great suffering, to change the world.

The oppression, daily, hourly, of the apartheid wall and a new “transfer” must be stopped.

Sami has not been allowed to come to Jerusalem often. Israel whose only resource is the gun and fear fears nonviolence.

****

At the University of Maryland, the meetings Kobi describes were 95% planning and 5% action. Here they are 95% action and 5% planning.

The demonstrators have made a small space within unhearing Israel for standing up with the Palestinians. The danger is great, the price is high. They are like the SNCC volunteers travelling in Mississippi, once upon a time.

The echoes of the movement are international. Recently, the Quakers divested from Caterpillar and Veolia. Whitney, my step-daughter, is involved in a powerful movement at the Amazing Eggplant at Evergreen State in Olympia, Washington to boycott products from the settlements. She asked me to write a letter of support – see here. Such a movement can give these courageous people space, can nurture doubts, in many people, about the strategic wisdom of Israeli policy and its decency.

The Palestinians in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, Kobi tells us, carefully differentiate between artists who work for imperial projects - those subsidized by the government to further the Israeli "brand" - and those who do not.

This is not anger, though anger is justified. It is seeing what actions exactly contribute to the imprisonment of the Palestians and seeking to break the chains.

Alice Rothchild in our delegation has written powerfully in Broken Promises, Broken Dreams of being as a child caught up in Israel and coming to see the price in human lives, in dignity and to the Jewish spirit. So has Brian Walt, a rabbi who grew up with apartheid, fought it, and then found himself on a road in Hebron – a “sterile road,” Jews-only – dividing the Palestinian houses where people have to climb out the back to go the market or the hospital. This, too, is apartheid.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder”

****

I am moved by the non-imprisoned spirit of Brian and other Jews who collect the fragments of the light (tikkun olam) and seek a Jewishness and a concern for everyone which is not realized in the State of Israel but can be realized in joining to lift up everyone together, to fight for democracy and the human rights for each person.

Kobi tells us of inventiveness. Someone saw the movie “Avatar.” Demonstrators went the next week dressed in blue as Navi. If you can love blue creatures against the overly armed and spiritless Company (American and Israeli privatization of militarism – in Jerusalem, the biggest checkpoint is privately owned…), perhaps the costumes suggested, you can love Palestinians, too.

And Kobi said the demonstrators had creatively flashed mirrors reflecting "Tear Down the Wall" on the front of soldiers' uniforms.

Kobi tells us of looking to ordinary Americans and Europeans and to democratic solidarity – what I call democratic internationalism – from below. The American government today uses Israel as it used the Shah’s Iran or Saudi Arabia as a spearhead to its domination in the Middle East. Some blame the feckless Israel lobby (it has bought Congress, but ordinary American Jews, about 80%, oppose its plans to bomb Iran).

The tail of the dog, lethal as it can be, does not wag the body.

Kobi speaks of the importance of standing up from below. Israel, like South Africa once upon a time, is a small country. It cannot withstand boycott long. Every artist and company take note. There is no honor and no money to be had here. That is a powerful message.

We can bring that message to every town, university and newspaper in the United States. That would help those who, sometimes at the cost of their lives, go every Friday to demonstrate nonviolently against the Occupation.



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Ruth who led the visit to the Wall cutting the Jericho Road, sent me the following clarification:

"Hey Alan,

This is really beautiful and a powerful piece. Thank you for sharing it with me. I would just like to make some clarifications:

1. Jericho road. What is said in the tour is that Jericho is the oldest inhabited city in the world. But not continuously. The oldest inhabited continuous city in the world is Damascus.

2. I said that Israel is not an apartheid state. Its laws and policies all scream of apartheid separation and discrimination. As Kobi so correctly pointed out - every department is the discrimination department.

3. Jerusalem municipality reinvests between 5-10% back into Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Can you please send my kindest regards to the delegation. It truly was a unique and wonderful experience to spend time with you all. What an incredibly powerful and empowering group of people you are. Each and everyone. And I look forward to staying in touch.

Much love, peace, hope, and inspiration

Ruth"

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Here is a post from Alice Rothchild:

"If Walls Could Talk

I have a confession to make; we are still on the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions tour with Ruth Edmond, but my Israel/Palestine PTSD was flaring up and I needed a break. Standing on terraces, looking at the ravaging of the landscape, staring up at blocks of concrete walls splattered with graffiti and topped by curls of barbed wire, the wall (don’t call this a fence) weaving between homes and stores, I experience a kind of grief and exhaustion. We are witnessing the rape of Palestine, and I feel such a sense of violation that is worse each time I am drawn back, like a reoccurring bad dream, stimulating old memories and adding to a growing list of new outrages. Back at the hotel our voices join Vincent Harding’s powerful tenor once again, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Builders Must be strong…. Don’t get weary…” The music from the past propels me into the present, re-energized.

Ruth is discussing the endemic discrimination against Mizrahi Jews from countries like Yemen, Iraq and Iran, who arrived in Israel (were often sprayed with DDT and housed in tents reminiscent of 1948 Palestinians), and ultimately settled in the tough buffer zones at the edge of the State. Now the problems are less pronounced, but Mizrahi are still largely absent from academics and higher positions in society. As has been reported in the news recently, Israel is experiencing a spasm of discrimination against Sudanese and Eritreans who have fled oppressive regimes, walking across the Sinai, entering Israel across the long, poorly guarded Egyptian border. About a month ago there were race riots in south Tel Aviv where shop windows, cars, houses, and even a kindergarten were smashed. (I heard whispers of a Jewish Kristall Nacht with poor Mizrahi Jews, the bottom of the economic ladder, turning their rage and racism like thugs on the African refugees.) One of the instigators, (a member of the Knesset?) called the asylum seekers a “cancer.” The Israeli authorities are building a new prison for the refugees who face round ups, three year prison detentions, and deportation. Physicians for Human Rights Israel recently documented a family that was sent back to Sudan; the Israeli authorities delayed their luggage, two of the four children died of malaria (without their medication) and two were seriously ill at last report.

We stop at a beautifully landscaped Jewish settlement called Ma’ale Zeitim, graceful gardens, stone walls, and neat, well-planned suburban looking red-roofed housing. This looks like a lovely place to raise a family. I, however, am particularly interested in the area of E1 that is visible from the street where we have parked. There is a wide expanse of sandy rolling hills, blue grey in the cloud shadows, splotches of vegetation, and the occasional highway and bulldozed area, possibly for more wall. When I was last here in January 2011 there was much disputing about a police station under construction in E1. There was also a proposal to build a twelve square kilometer development between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This would further isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank, negate the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, expand the Israeli border, and create a huge buffer zone. With the help of US physician, casino owner, and gambling magnet, Irving Moskowitz, I can see the large completed police station (for Judea and Samaria) in the distance on a roll of hills, three taller white buildings and a row of darker structures. This is an extensive facility; obviously capable of holding many Palestinians detainees should there be an uprising in the territories. The old police station was purchased in this deal and is now the site of more settlement housing.

Ruth talks about the violent demonstrations that occurred around this controversy, the fact that it is illegal for Palestinians to build over four stories high (another cause for demolition), the sign on top of a garage in the area, “Kahane [a very right wing ultraorthodox rabbi] was right.” She then turns to the separation (security, apartheid) wall, one meter below ground, eight meters above, 702 kilometers, twice the length of the Green Line, and two billion dollars on completion. Started in 2002, it is 62% completed. In rural areas it is a “smart fence” with various sensors, dogs, and adjacent military roads on each side. 85% of its path is within the West Bank and multiple villages have been severely impacted. One family’s home is actually divided by the wall with the two brothers meeting on the roof when they need to see each other. Israelis often claim that the wall has stopped suicide bombing, ignoring the fact that such bombing stopped in 2004 when many factions abandoned such tactics, the wall was only partially built at that point, and some 140,000 Palestinians still cross illegally from the West Bank every year, mostly looking for work. We park on a bend in the Jericho Road; for the first time in 4000 years, the road is closed; the Israelis have completely obstructed the road with the wall. The graffiti is new since my last tormented pilgrimage: “Israel is a terrorist state,” “We are humans,” “Welcome to apartheid,” “Civil & human rights not white privilege.” For me as a Jew with grandparents who fled the ghettos of Eastern Europe, the most painful one is still there, “Welcome to ghetto Abu Dis.”

She mentions the Palestinian village of Al Walajah which is soon to be totally surrounded by the wall. She talks of a villager who refused to move and now has a home beyond the wall, his own personal tunnel and checkpoint. She reflects on the 55,000 Palestinians who technically live in Jerusalem but find themselves beyond the wall in Shufat or Anata (within the Jerusalem municipality) and must go through checkpoints every day to get to work. The disruptive hassle factor often becomes so demoralizing that it becomes easier to work in Ramallah, and then, they lose their “center of life” qualification and their precious East Jerusalem ID. This is commonly referred to as passive or silent transfer, mostly invisible for anyone who doesn’t care to notice.

Which brings us to house demolitions. Ruth describes three types of demolition orders:

1. Administrative: due to a lack of a permit (permits are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain),

2. Punitive: (which is a form of collective punishment against an entire family)

3. Military: (like in South Hebron where homes were demolished to build a firing zone.

Not only that, the family is responsible for paying for the cost of its’ own demolition. Ruth notes that more than 50% of suicide bombers experienced home demolitions during childhood. After a demolition, families experience higher rates of drug use, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and mental illness. When Jeff’s ICAHD partner Salim recently had his house demolished, his wife stopped speaking for three months.

Past Hebrew University, we head to the expansive settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, population 50,000. The Bedouin Jahalin tribe lives in encampments along the way, most noted for their poverty and lack of public services. Originally from the Negev, the Bedouins moved north in 1948, and have been forcibly displaced a number of times, including to the garbage dump in Abu Dis. Eighteen clans now live on E1, tucked erratically in the sandy hills. The contrast with Ma’ale Adumim cannot be more extreme: a graceful olive tree (uprooted from some Palestinian village) sits in the first rotary, there are lush gardens, blossoming marigolds, green lawns, palm trees, and upscale housing, what has been called “water apartheid.” We circle the Doves of Peace rotary and I count five more rotaries and five more ancient olive trees, sojourning in this disconnected place, creating a false sense of historical continuity.

I can only wonder how this reality becomes normal; how people looking for good housing and schools and a nice playground for their children can live in a place where ghettoizing another people, smashing their homes and building ugly concrete walls that devastate families and once deeply inspirational landscape can be considered a reasonable response to the fear and insecurity and land greed that drives so much of Israeli policy. I fully understand that this type of blindness and cruelty happens all over the world; but here, in the land of milk and honey, it is so up close and personal, so many worlds colliding in the space of one brief afternoon."





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