19/5/12 - 2/6/12 76 °F
Those of you who received these reports from my last trip know they contain joy, fun, and heartbreak, with more hard stuff than light, filled with information vital to the struggle. Just sayin'.....
Myrta and I are getting quite excited about the possibilities when we return! This trip, it turns out, has an environmental theme, and we are going to learn a lot more about land use, water, and pollution here than we ever expected! We'll be able to speak to new audiences with this info.
Left the hotel early, without Anna Baltzer, who only arrived at the hotel about 2 a.m., having spent 10 hours in the little holding room with our fellow delegate who was not allowed in with us. This one ended badly, with S. being the first InterFaith PeaceBuilders (IFPB) delegate to be turned away. It was hard on everyone as we are already forming bonds, but particularly on her traveling partner who is a good friend of many years. Anna joined us later in the day today.
Leaving the hotel at 7 a.m. - returning at 7:00, dinner, group meeting till 8:30, then writing time.Long day! - our first stop was at Al Aqsa mosque - rather breathtaking. It has stood since 691, even as buildings small and large crumbled all around it in various earthquakes. Al Aqsa is built on bedrock, and so is not affected by quakes. A bit startling...
In the huge plazas surrounding the Mosque are many groups of 6 to 15 men as well as groups of women, sitting in chairs, studying Koran or talking. Learned from our group leaders that the purpose of this is to keep a claim to the space via non-violent resistance, as it is right now under the control of the Muslim Wak'f (sp?). Jewish settlers, who live all around the Mosque, come in every day attempting to gain some ground there, for in this place possession is all, right or wrong. Said told us that when the settlers come into the square, the men or women remain seated, but holler "Allau Akbar" loudly and eventually the settlers leave.
Note to myself, and to anyone who is curious enough: check out the Omar Covenant, an old document still in use by Arab leaders in the region as a way of insuring representation of all groups living there. As a result of the use of this document, 10 cities in Palestine have (and always have) Christian mayors, regardless the size of the Christian population.
First organizational stop was at OCHA, or UN Office for coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Presentation was very interesting, in spite of a heating system malfunction that kept heating the room instead of blowing air conditioning. Much of the information I've already incorporated in various presentations, but they had much that was new as well.
OCHA has all the facts and figures that will back up the personal stories we're gathering, but that I will avoid putting into this report. They spoke much about Gaza, but especially interesting was hearing about how Israel "eased" the Blockade after this last summer's Flotilla. Remember that it did not get in, as none but the first one did (someone correct me if I missed a successful one), and yet it caused Israel to "ease" the blockade somewhat. Hardly a victory, but a clear indication that direct action is useful!!!!
Gaza still has a 34/% unemployment rate and still cannot fish its own waters without risk of being shot, so we have a very long way to go!
As I move on to the West Bank, you'll notice there are a thousand unanswered questions here about Gaza, but I can't write everything we learned as there is just too much for a nightly report. Much of it will show up in presentations after we return, though. Just quickly, 30-35% of privately owned Palestinian land in E. Jerusalem has been given by the state to Jewish settlers. Peace Now has a list of settlements and how muchy of their land was taken from Palestinians.
Next meeting, with Jeff Halper, ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), followed by a tour accompanied by a lively, extremely knowledgeable Jewish Israeli anarchist (Anarchists Against the WALL), by the name of Ruth (most of the time last names won't be used). He made an analogy to a fishbone caught in your throat. It's just a tiny, tiny thing, just as this area is tiny, but when it's stuck, everything stops untill you un-stick it!
Jeff's presentation reveived mixed reviews. Some felt he was too tepid about BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction), others felt he was only saying that it was not going to change anything by itself but that it is an excellent tool for Americans to use. At one point, he said "it's all over" about a Two-State solution (no surprise) and that it's also all over for a One-State solution - that WAS a surprise. He says 'one-state" is "not even on the table" as most world leaders do not yet support it, as he believes world leaders are not ready to support "the end tof the Jewish State" and, he says "there is no readily apparent solution that I can poihnt to" but later said he supports "regional organization" rather than One State. My disagreement here, of course, is that the end of a Jewish State, of apartheid and legal racism, would surely be the best place to start!
Soldiering on, he also says he believes Israel is about to Annex Area C in the West Bank. (if you're not familiar with Area C, please google it, or just look at the White area on the Palestine Loss of Land card). Said that "Israel wants to end the occupation" and that one way they can do is annex most of the land, which holds less than 5% of Palestinian population, and this annexation is one way to do that. He believes this could happen evenb before November.
Told us about Obama meeting recently with former chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, and for the first time in history, Israel met with the American president and Palestine was not mentioned. He said "they have succeeded in 'normalizing' the occupation"!
Jeff believes that "Israel does a lot of the dirty work for the U.S." I asked about that, as it's Chomsky's argument too, and he uses that argument to dismiss the power of the Lobby here. I asked Jeff if he would give some examples of the dirty work Israel does for the U.S. but got no answer that actually related to the question. Wish there had been time to explore that further!.
When asked about BDS he said he believed it an important tool to keep attention on during this time. Dismissed the campaign to divest from TIAA Kreff and Motorola, but several amongst us, including both Myrta and me, disagreed strongly. He did speak at some length about the danger Israel presents to our own Civil Liberties at home in a variety of ways and suggests we use that as a way to bring it home to our audiences: militarization of our police tactics and police weapons being just one example.
Spoke about Israel's campaign of "Lawfare" designed to justify unjust wars, and that turns meaning on its head: "Soldiers" are good citizens who need to be protected, and citizens are potential terrorists who need to be neutralized".
Then on to a comfortable bus with an ICAHD volunteer, Ruth, extremely knowledgeable, feisty, lively and quite delightful. Much of what she shared I've already written during my earlier trip in 2010 and/or have incorporated into my presentations. All of that information is available on my blog (CPT Blog 2010 http://www.travellerspoint.com/my_blogentries.cfm?blogid=40720)
One of the new things I heard - Ruth spoke about Family Reunification laws in Israel. As she described the hardships and heartbreak inflicted on only Israeli Palestinians but never Israeli Jews. She spoke of "two things that will change negotiations [over this land]: Annexation of Area C and the "Race for Jerusalem", meaning the frenzied settlement building inside Jerusalem and the same frenzied work to evict Palestinian families in order to replace them with Jewish families.
This policy - an old one, but one now put into force with a vengance, is part of the "Judaization" policy that is being used to destroy the homes of Bedouin citizens and to drive them into poverty-stricken "towns" that have no infrastructure. It's so blatantly racist as to be a no-brainer, and yet supporters of Israel and progressive protectors of Israel refuse to acknowledge his Apartheid that gives the lie to "the only democracy in the Middle East". She recommended, among others, palestineremembered.org.
She told our group about the demolished houses, why it happens, and how Palestinians have to then pay for the demolition of their own homes. I
have a one-page sheet on the reasons this happens and how written after my last trip and will be glad to share it with anyone who asks for it.
She spoke of how a home is the center of life for any Palestinian, particularly women, and remembered a study she read recently that showed that 52% of suicide bombers during that bombing period had experienced home demolition as a child. She told of a friend who had asked the child of a friend why she took her rather large dollhouse to school everday when it was so cumbersome. The little girl replied that her friend's home had been demolished and the friend lost her dollhouse. She did not want this to happen to hers. Heartbreaking...
Because this ICAHD tour was so similar to the one I took with CPT, I'll stop here and ask that you use the live link above to read all the very interesting, infuriating, shocking information these good folks put out.
As Ruth ended our tour she spoke about BDS with great enthusiasm, and strongly urged all to participate vigorously in their own local campaigns. Perhaps it's time to kick our own up a notch in Spokane!
Two good reasons to do that: Caterpillar retrofits their Cats before they go to Israel now, so that they can hold tear gas cannisters and weapons.
And when China needed to evict people from their homes in preparation for the Olympic games there, they sent a large contingent of police to Israel to learn how to do that.
All for today. Dead in my tracks.