19/5/12 - 2/6/12 96 °F
Finally back in Jerusalem again after 4 days and 3 nights gone, with no time the first night to write, and no internet access for most of the rest of the time. And no showers either, if anyone cares.... which we mostly didn't.
It's been an extremely difficult 4 days emotionally and often physically. But before I tell you some of what we did, saw, heard, a couple of other things are important.
Those of you who read my daily reports last time know that I was often overwhelmed emotionally by the sadness and the anger I felt as I experienced the things first hand that I've been learning and talking about for so many years, and that I worried about overwhelming folks with such an intensity of emotion and harshness of life that they would feel paralyzed. I'm always aware of that, and we spoke of it a bit today.
I'd like to recap very briefly some of that thinking because it affects all of us who do this or other difficult work. People have asked how I or Michael can do this work so intensely when it's so sad, the brutality unrelenting, the situation unchanging or deteriorating. Michael said it best, that we simply had no choice. We had do to it because we are aware, and we can.
Today, Joe Groves, one of our IFPB group support, focused it more tightly. He had spent some time with Daoud Nasser, the owner of a mountain top farm called the Tent of Nations, which has been under attack for many years (more about them later). Daoud said (I'm paraphrasing here as it came to me second hand) "you know, despair is contagious. If you just tell your people back home about how hard it is for us here, they, too, will despair. Palestinians need for our supporters to go deeper into whatever grounds them, whether it is faith, ideology, whatever it is, to find what sustains them".
Joe then put a name on what Michael has been saying, and what has keep me sane. "Samoud". Steadfastness. The same steadfastness that has brought Palestinians through this terrible time and kept them determined to keep struggling. Joe said "doing this work is a commitment, and calls for commitment". And this goes for all of you who work on other hard issues: anti-death penalty, anti-war...... The simple belief that the work has to be done, and if we can do a part of it, we must. In the words of one of our travelers who has also been doing this work a long time, "I have faith in the unfolding."
Enough philosophizing -Going to give a little bit about where we went, what we learned. There was SO much packed into these days that there's no way to capture it all without making it a book!
I have found out I can walk up more and longer hills and in far higher temperatures, not to mention more stairs, than I ever thought possible. Bit the dust today in the South Hebron Hills - completely lost my dignity, but all skin and joints intact.
Because this tour focuses on Environmentalism and Susatinability, we have visited a number of organizations who either work in this area, or whose work touches on it.
On Saturday, we went to Nazareth where we first met with Friends of the Earth Middle East, who talked about water and sustainability. Mohammed (I won't be using last names of Palestinians) spoke of water issues that I've spoken about at length before so will only recap using his figures, both of which are slightly higher than those I got inb 2010. He said Israelis use 400 litres per person per day and West Bank (W.B.) Palestinians 120.
Israel does not allow them to collect rainwater in cisterns, and has destroyed them, but they do have a small recycling program here. Recycling is not yet on the radar in Palestine, and, he said, Israelis don't recycle either. I've never heard before whether they do or don't.
From there to the Kibbutz Metzer, near Nazreth, a lush and lovely place. We spoke with Dov whose last name I don't have. He was quite personable, a "lefty" many of us would be happy to share a beer with. His Kibbutz was attacked by a Palestinian at one time and he said five people were killed, but he told us how he maintained his compassion toward his Arab neighbors. But he made it clear that the land is Theirs, saying several times "we won". There was more, but we'll share it when we return.
On to the village of Sakhnin and a tour of destroyed villages. When the state was declared, the Haganah and other militias expelled inhabitants from more than 500 towns and villages. Most were destroyed and left in rubble. Some were left as they were. Refugee camps have murals with the names of those towns.
Jewish-only housing has been built on top of many of them and others have been overplanted with trees - trees paid for by millions of unsuspecting Jews all over the world.
Several on our delegation remember the trees-for-israel campaigns from their childhood, remember the dimes and the quarters they collected. It was very painful to see now what those trees were used for, and that IS what it was for. The Jewish National Fund oversees the contributions and the planting, and is a major player in the ethnic-cleansing infrastructure of Israel.
So much more information from here!
Went to dinner at the home of our guide Ali, whose two daughters have recently graduated college in the U.S. - one from Columbia, don't remember where for the other - and have returned to Palestine to work there. His wife is Dutch, and she and the family prepared a lovely dinner for us - all 30 of us!
Next day we had lunch and a tour with Jonathan Cook - Yes, I said Jonathan Cook! - and got pages of details about the issue of Citizenship in Israel and the differences between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. Details of which would have you all fuming.
Then to Bil'in, the village many of you probably have read much about. They confront the Israeli army every week at the Wall near their homes, and this is where a number of people have been killed, but these folks have a serious victory. When the wall was built the town took the state to court. They fought for 5 years, but finally won,and the Wall was moved. A small victory, but one that gave much encouragement. Much more about Bil'in in our presentations.
Time is getting short. Have to abbreviate. Spent a night at Tent of Nations, in the hills above Bethlehem, now completely surrounded by settlements on the hilltops, settlements that are working very hard to force the Nasser family from what is left of their land. But they, too, have a victory. They have been there for 22 years, struggling every single day to stay, sometimes under extreme conditions, but they are still there! And many times, it was the presence of internationals that turned the settlers or army away!
This one deserves a report of its own, as does the visit in Hebron, first with a member of the Jewish Community there and then with Issa, a courageous Palestinian man working with Youth Against the Settlements. I was surprised when I first saw him as I had become so familiar with his face from the pictures I took the last time. He was leading the Open Shuhadeh Street weekly demonstration and was in for forefront with the army clearly very angry with him.
Went also to Deheisha Refugee Camp, but it's getting late, and can't stay awake much longer. Just two things: One is to point out the absurdity of the "Security" argument for why the Apartheid wall was built ("security" is the reason for any manner of nasty action against Palestinians). The wall can be defeated in any number of places, and yet there have been no "suicide bombers" in many years. Streets in Hebron and other communities are blocked off and yet all it does is make Palestinians get to the same place the long way around. They don't keep anyone out, and are not intended to, but only to torment.
SO much more - we've learned about sustainability programs, the use of solar power in VERY poor villages, recycling but it will have to wait. Can't emphasize enough the importance of coming to Palestine. First, you simply will not believe what happens here unless you see it yourself, for in many ways, it is beyond human ken.
Hoping for more time tomorrow to share more.