21/7/10 - 3/8/10 104 °F
After a leisurely and very good breakfast (boiled egg, hummus, cucumber, tomato, cheese, labaneh [Greek yogurt], jam and pita bread), we spoke of non-violence and of sexual harassment, both of which are important issues to CPT's work.
We're told not to be surprised if we meet with harassment in Hebron, and possibly even a stone, as, while CPT is well known in the area, there are times the young men seem to equate "white people" (non-Arab) with the "white" settlers. Or don't differentiate between Americans and what the American government pays for....
There was a worship service. I am a part of them, in that I am in the service, though I don't pray. I want to be "with" the group even though I cannot participate, but also want to avoid making them uncomfortable with me. While they know I am atheist, there seems to be no judgment. These are such good people, all religious and fun to boot!
We were asked to speak of what we want to get from this trip. Some of the responses:
- to learn what life is like under occupation
- to learn compassion for the other side (Israel)
- one woman - probably the most deeply religious of the group - said that she, in fact, did not have much compassion for the other side any more, which is also where I am.
- to be sure not to hate
- to remain neutral
- to be open, not to confirm what we know, but to learn new things
Temperature was very pleasant in the very early morning, but by the time we left, about 9, it was HOT!
Before we left, we heard chanting coming down the street of the market (our hostel is inside the souk). There were no shoppers at that early hour. We heard many, many young men passing by, went out to see what it was about. It was a VERY large group of men and women making haj to Jerusalem (it's the third (?) most sacred city after Mecca, and a haj here is almost as important as one to Mecca). Young men walking three abreast, dressed all in white, most pulling rolling luggage. After they passed, chanting, came the young women, all dressed in black, also pulling luggage. All were chanting, but no one knew what the chant was.
Walked out to Damascus Gate and took three taxis into the edge of West Jerusalem to the Sabeel office, where we heard from a former CPT Board member who now works for Sabeel here. Her story was compelling, though much of it was about God and Jesus, with which I could not relate yet understood. Her explanation of dispossession and oppression did not differ from my own second-hand perception of it. Also met (again) Father Naim Ateek, whom we had met at the February Sabeel conference in Seattle. An Episcopal service, then lunch, then a bus back to the hostel with some free time this afternoon (so here I am...).
Tomorrow it's Women in Black, and an action in one of the targeted Palestinian neighborhoods here.
At Sabeel, the young man Jonathan Brenneman from Ohio was talking about his Palestinian family (mother's side). I asked him what their last name was - Kuttab! Are you related to Jonathan and Daoud? I asked - yes, he said, they're my uncles. !!! Small world!!!
For all but the leader of our group, Steve, this is the first trip to Palestine. They seem to have a good understanding of the situation, though not necessarily a lot of history of it. This is Steve’s third, his first as leader of a delegation, and he has deep knowledge of the history and the conflict.
Saw a bit more of the city - it is indeed all cream color, and so bright overall that I am looking for sunglasses, which I normally never wear. I asked about why (seems like someone, somewhere, would have painted some of the buildings - you CAN paint stone). Jonathan B. said that the stone sheds sparkly bits on you when you rub against it, and we wondered if perhaps the stone simply doesn't take paint. ??? Good thing – it would be a shame to see this beautiful stone painted!
Everywhere you turn there is an historic or religious wonder. God, I wish I could visit this whole area as a tourist! But not while Israel controls it.
I find I tense up when I see soldiers or police - always in groups of minimum of three, always armed to the teeth. This even when they're groups of baby-faced 18 year olds, for they shoot unarmed people with the same casual attitude as a 30-year old, and I don't much care whether they're scared or not, for their bullets kill and maim as certainly as those from one without fear. It would be good if I learned that there are mitigating factors, but I simply have no room for the usual Israeli excuse of "shooting and crying", which I find to be a morally bankrupt concept.
At this point, I have no interest in learning to love them or to understand their perspective (been there, done that), and suspect that by the time I hear the stories, I will be even less inclined. Still not sure what I will come home with, aside from the roaring outrage I brought here with me. It will be interesting to hear what other folks come through this with, and even what I find for or about myself.
Enough for today - dinner soon. We all take turns providing dinner, and one of us is Vegan, which makes it challenging. Last night was Steve's night, and I had offered to help him so I was the chopper and he was the cooker - this was before I found out we would team off in pairs to cook dinner. Boy, was I glad I had offered to help the first night! That took care of my turn, yay! I don't have a clue what to fix for a Vegan and the only kind of group meal I ever cook is Spaghetti or lasagna or Macaroni and cheese - all of them a no-no.
Forget if we have something planned for evening. The itinerary is jam packed for the most part, with today being what I suspect might be the least interesting of our days (that's not to say today was not interesting - just that I prefer action to meeting).
This one is a little longer, and more "thinking" than doing.
Last night we spent 2.5 hours with Sihama Abu Awad (?) and Aaron Barniyah , a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man from the Parents Circle (parentscircle.org), who are bereaved families. It was very powerful, very compelling, very sad, and yet gave what may be the best hope in this struggle. They both are working for "reconciliation", as the people of South Africa, Rwanda, Guatemala did, and as we have probably all hoped might happen here. But their hopes are not pie in the sky, nor do they call for the old "dialogue" that has stopped our work cold so often in the past.
I'm not sure I can articulate it well here in this hurried morning post, with a computer that has a mind of its own. What I think I want to do is share just some thoughts about it right now as folks are already getting up and we will soon leave - today is first Halper's Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, then to stand and to talk with Women in Black, then to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood here in Jerusalem to demonstrate with Palestinians who are about to be evicted so Jewish families can move in, or whose homes are demolished in order to build housing for Jews.
Sihama and Aaron spoke their stories - very hard to hear, and sometimes surprising. The Palestinian woman raised her siblings from age 14 because her very political mother was in prison for 4 years. Her brothers Yussef and Ali were also imprisoned for resistance. In 2000, her mother and Yussef were both released (I don’t know when Ali was released), and on the way home from a celebratory party for Ali, Ali was shot (but not killed) by an Israeli settler. The same day, Yussef was shot in the head by a soldier, and killed.
Aaron’s son Noam was fighting in Lebanon in 1999, even though he did not agree with Israel’s policies that had him there. He was killed when he was defusing a bomb – a job for which he had volunteered.
Sihama, Ali and Aaron joined The Parents’ Circle as a way of dealing with their loss – being with other bereaved families was a healer for both of them, as is the work they do to end the violence. The group speaks with Israeli Jews and with Palestinians, primarily high school students. They hope their stories and their work will help the young people to see the humanity of the other side, though I’m skeptical about that – as we saw with Noam, acknowledging your “enemy’s” humanity doesn’t seem to stop many people from killing them anyway – the Israelis are the world’s experts at “shooting and crying”.
I asked whether they have any way of measuring their success. Aaron said they do not, but they must keep doing this work (aside from any concrete success in bring peace, the work clearly is an important ingredient in many families’ ability to heal). He said his biggest surprise was his discovery that, overall, the higher the economic level of his audience, the more antagonistic the response to their mission.
The challenge for me after listening to them had to do with "dialogue". Before the First Intifada, it was almost not possible to raise the issue of Palestine.
Silence was required, and anything that was not silence was anti-Semitism. Particularly coming from my own place of once also not having allowed discussion in my presence if I could prevent it, I know the thinking behind this - sort of like if you know you're guilty of beating your children, the last conversation you want to engage in is the ethics of beating your children. So shut up.
So, when finally the Intifada broke out in 1988, the number of people who wanted to work on Palestinian issues and support their struggle grew quickly, and all of a sudden, the very people who would not allow discussion or criticism of Israel (by that time I was thankfully no longer in those ranks) entered the fray, not to support justice, but to say "Stop! We must dialogue first! You must understand our pain, and why our position is just".
Many people stopped working for justice at that point to engage in dialogue about it. Stopped working and started talking. I believe in talking, I believe in communication, but we watched that "dialogue" be used as a way of diverting attention from current injustices to past injustices, from action to talk, from who IS a victim to who WAS a victim, never discussing how to move forward.
It was frustrating also, because those of us who did not want to "dialogue" were accused of anti-Semitism, and were considered fringe. But finally (after several years!) people in the movement began to see that "dialogue" was getting nowhere. For the most part, no minds were changed, no work got done but enemies did get made. It was a terribly destructive element.
But we got past it, and work happened. So here we are now, 20 years down the road, dialogue didn't work, action didn't work. The only bright spot was that Palestinian people were still there, still "samed" - steadfast, still struggling. Under unbelievably inhumane conditions.
And now, I think we know we have to figure out some more and better ways of working. Palestinians are working on their end, intensifying their own non-violent resistance, which has been alive and well for 40 years (though Americans don't know it for it is either ignored or twisted in our media and in our schools) - and that non-violence carries its own risks. Each time non-violence has strengthened here, and/or one of the factions held a truce for "too long", Israel has attacked in order to break it. But Palestinians remain Samed, they remain in the struggle.
Our challenge is to figure out how to work differently in the United States, and I believe the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement is the work for us. Here in Palestine and in Israel, from what I heard last night, from how it feels this morning, I am thinking perhaps the time has come at last for talking - but not "dialogue". Rather, as one of this wonderful CPT group put it last night, "encounter".
This one is still loaded for me though. Aaron said his work to ensure a Palestinian state ensures that his Jewish state remains and both states will be safe, so that at the end of the day, he does his work to support apartheid. I’m looking for where the compromises are made, who has to give up what, and what role the American movement plays in it all. We have to take our lead from Palestinians of course, but Which Palestinians? It's just all damn difficult.
What was not addressed last night, in this coming together of two people who had lost loved ones to the violence, which sort of leveled the playing field, was an acknowledgement of the asymmetry of the struggle – overall, this playing field is NOT level. And that's a whole 'nother issue, isn't it?
Well, didn’t mean to go on so long. Will write up their stories to share with you all, as well, but have to go for now.