Reports and Photos from IFPB’s 47th Delegation (August 2013):
Reports and Photos from IFPB’s 47th Delegation (August 2013):
Delegation 47 Announcement
Report 1: Our Long Arrival
Report 2: Multiple Faces of Jerusalem
Report 3: Against These Odds
Report 4: coming soon
Behind the Screen and Under Siege
By Joel Wool
Trapped behind the screen and behind a sealed border, five Gazan activists speak to our interfaith delegation through video conference.
They are teachers, coaches and youth workers. They are leftists and leaders in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. They’ve given up on external forces to build a stable society and have taken action themselves.
The needs of communities in Gaza are great, and they are improving their society internally by teaching teenagers, particularly girls, to be independent. By empowering young women to lead more than domestic lives, they build prospects for a societal liberation into the future. The next generations bear incredible promise for Palestinian society.
And yet, they know this is not enough.
“You cannot actually talk about the suffering of women without talking about the political oppression which we are facing as a whole,” says Aya. “It’s natural, when you are politically oppressed, that you become socially oppressed as well.”
Trade blockades and military occupation create virtually unlivable conditions for Gazans, who lack economic opportunities and many of whom lack basic resources. Even as many outside of Palestine continue to blame the restricted freedoms of Arab women on extremist branches of Islam, the same women suffer from racist and violent social policy – and Islamophobic media hide the economic and colonial origins of their struggle from much of the Western world.
That doesn’t mean that Aya, or her friends, support Hamas – or Fatah, for that matter. They believe in social freedoms; their politics do not match those of the parties they can choose from. Selecting the lesser evil each election is draining; what’s more, the party that wins must contend with an occupying power. Israel, claiming land while tightening the region in a vice grip, continues to lay siege.
Intervention by foreign governments has done nothing to improve the scenario. Gazans, Aya included, have given up on the United States to broker a just peace. Negotiations without equality, without dignity? They are not enough.
On Passover, Jews celebrate the reprieve from harm, an emergence from times of trouble. We celebrate the Exodus, and say “Dayenu” (it would have been enough) for each act of the divine that the old stories document in the flight from slavery. These acts range from ones of mercy and generosity to acts of vengeance. It would have been enough “if G-d had brought us out of Egypt…provided for our needs in the wilderness… given us the day of rest.” It would have been enough “if G-d had brought down justice upon the Egyptians…slain their firstborn… drowned our oppressors.”
What would be enough today?
Aya wants nothing more than to travel to the West Bank – a part of her own country, restricted to Gazans. When she was lucky enough to study abroad in the United Kingdom, she could not accompany a group of student who traveled to Palestine. Her ability to move is insufficient because her humanity is judged insufficient by those in power. It is not enough.
In a reverse Exodus, her half of the country is being pushed into subordination, pushed toward the border into Egypt, and pushed out of existence. Aya and her friends have no need for narratives of violence. They have no desire to exact vengeance upon anyone – simply to live freely, with the ability to work, travel, play, to access food and water.
Would that be enough?
Aya and her friends have no faith in global powers. They look instead to a movement of international solidarity, people all over the world who will lift up their voices and call for a Holy Land that extends its blessings to all peoples. A movement willing to stand in the open, to be criticized and harassed and shamed, to shoulder burdens, to call out hypocrisy and shirk privileges. To call for basic human rights and an end to apartheid.
The grace to appreciate the pain of an(other) oppressed people, the grace to stand with them in their struggle instead of standing on their necks. Dayenu. That might be enough.
VIDEO: Speaking With Gazan Activists
By Joel Wool
The Gaza Strip is isolated and its residents sealed in, but West Bankers remain in contact with their fellow Palestinians. When visiting Ramallah in the West Bank, an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation was able to speak, via video conference, with activists in Gaza. This video features Aya, who had profound comments regarding the status of women and the weight of economic and political oppression.
Speaking Through the Prison Cell: Video Call with Gazans
By Kristian Davis Bailey
. . . In Ramallah, we began with a video conference with student and youth activists from Gaza. For the majority of the conversation, we spoke with three women – Aya, Louba and Samar. We began the conversation by acknowledging what a privilege it is to be talking with them – and what a privilege it was to be in the West Bank.
During our chat, one of our delegates asked how they compare life under Hamas (the government of the Gaza Strip) to life under Fatah (government of parts of the West Bank). The student responded that she can only talk about life in Gaza because she is not allowed to visit the West Bank. She can currently never know what life is like for her fellow Palestinians living just miles away due to the restrictions Israel has placed on the ability of Palestinians to travel in and out of various areas.
I had heard about these restrictions before and have heard them mentioned while talking to students about why they should support justice in Palestine, but it wasn’t until this moment – writing this blog post – that the restrictions really set in. Aya, Samar and Louba cannot see their family or friends, cannot know what it’s like to live under direct Israeli occupation (in the West Bank), can only know these experiences through online interactions and secondhand information. They cannot go to Palestinian universities in the West Bank or to universities in Israel. (Only three Gazans have been permitted to study in the West Bank since 2000, when Israel began its restrictions on movement.)
To me, no additional information should be required to see why the occupation is wrong. No legal codes need to be cited – this is about a simple and fundamental human right – to have the freedom to move, freedom to travel, freedom to visit family and friends.
Aya recounted how, during the year she was studying in the United Kingdom, she thought she’d be able to visit the West Bank and Jerusalem under a tourist visa since she was no longer in Gaza. My friends in the UK could visit Jerusalem, but I cannot – she told us.
“It took me 22 years to realize I was living in a prison,” she said – alluding to the metaphor I’ve heard so many people use for the Gaza Strip – the world’s largest open-air prison.
Caged in on three sides by Israel (through land, sea and air) and on the fourth by Egypt, Gaza’s 1.5 million residents live in an area that is 25 miles long and 4 miles wide. It is one of the densest urban populations in the world and by 2020, it will be unlivable.
The youth also described the conditions facing people in Gaza – shortages in water, electricity, medicine, food and gas – among other necessities – because Israel controls what can be let in/out.
“We joke with people – don’t get sick, because even if it’s something small, you may die,” Aya said.
Aya also told a joke about electricity, but first some context: Israel provides Gaza with 120MW of power; Egypt with 22. Gaza needs a minimum of 350 megawatts to provide basic services for hospitals, schools and other infrastructure. There is only one privately owned power station in Gaza.
Aya told us that, one day, the power stayed on the entire 24 hours and people thought of calling the electricity company to tell them they forgot to shut off the power. Funny, right?
It’s not funny when students have to take finals in the dark, and it’s even less funny when we’re talking about life or death situations in hospitals.
Learn more at Visualizing Palestine:
http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/gaza-water-confined . . .
This report is excerpted from the original post on Kristian’s blog. For the full post, see http://postcardsfrompalestine.com/post/58452146591/speaking-through-the-prison-cell-video-call-with
The Voices of Israeli Refusers
By Shamika Norman
Today, like all of the other days, was very informative. But, what made this day distinctive is that we had the unprecedented access to four young Israeli dissidents who did not agree with their government’s policies towards the Palestinians and refused to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
This is bravery on their part since they can be ostracized from their respective communities. Israelis are expected to fight for their country. They are going against societal norms by refusing.
The stories that all four of them told were very moving and chilling to me. However, the one that stood out to me the most was the one that one of the men told.
He told us how when he was in the army before his refusal he was stationed in Hebron when there was a curfew placed on the local Palestinians. One of the Palestinian men went out to attend a funeral during restricted hours. This caused the Palestinian man and one of the Israeli army officers to get into an argument. Things escalated when the Palestinian man touched the officer. He was arrested as a result.
The official government’s testimony was that the Palestinian was a terrorist who opened fire. This disgusted the young Israeli dissident. He also shared how the Palestinian man’s wife came out of the house screaming while her husband was getting arrested. The woman’s screamed reminded him of the screams of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, would cry out when she was having flash backs.
That experience became overwhelming for him. Now, he is an activist speaking out on behalf of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. In his own words, he described Hebron as “hell on earth.”
I think that it is important for Israelis to speak out because they have more credibility. People will see how serious the situation is if it comes from unlikely voices.
The Long Road Back
By Nadya Raja Tannous
In no way did I want to go to West Jerusalem.
My head told my heart that it needed to push itself out of its comfort zone, “you are here already aren’t you?” Inside I knew that I should give that experience another chance but I suspected all too-well what waited for me.
I had little desire to step off the bus, little desire to stand only two streets over from where Mr. Netanyahu lived in his gated home, where a small fountain sprung with fresh water, where the main streets reminded me of the boutiquey-streets of Europe, lined with cafes and small tables with big umbrellas, and where white-stoned apartments lined the quaint side-streets.
All this while, less than a mile away, the fountains were dry, the buildings were old, the streets were scattered with trash, the same streets did not have the luxury of appearing to be anything other than utilitarian (and in many cases strangely beautiful in their ancient character), and the styling of the neighborhood came from the creativity and resourcefulness of the people with little support from the policy makers.
West Jerusalem was a scene of mod-apartment complexes and artisanal tents reminding me of a San Francisco street fair. People moving in, families filling them in, any cracks in prosperity neatly tucked away behind the glimmering façades.
On the other side of Jerusalem, access to building permits are systematically withheld and restricted from most of the community’s inhabitants. Increasingly, people are forced to move away from the Old City center. Families grow into themselves as new generations are born; the homes become crowded, the neighborhood is crowded. Small streets with full-up living spaces.
The contrast was too much. “No I don’t want to be here. Not here and not now” I thought.
My feet moved forward through the aisle and down the coach steps onto the street below. My legs were stiff and my shoulders were taught. The constriction in my throat and my hesitation’s origin were not a mystery to me. The mystery was that I had taken this all so personally: the obvious result of my visceral reaction to protect myself from being swallowed up into the scene by which, I felt, I did not belong amongst the irony that logically I should belong.
This was the selling point. I asked myself: “why opt for comfort if it is by means of self-segregation?” Separating myself from this issue, from my feelings is destructive in its own manner for therein lies ignorance as a willing creation. I’ve lived too few years to restrict myself to a bubble. I resolved to stay on the pavement and find a prime spot for people watching.
On the way back from lunch in the afternoon, myself and two other delegates made our way back to the small fountain in order to participate in the Women in Black’s Friday vigil. Upon nearing the intersection across from the small traffic island where a modest number of people held up black signs with “End the Occupation” or “Enough Occupation” in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, there appeared a single woman holding a large Israeli flag and a small sign-board. Two other delegates stood beside her in attempted conversation as to why she stood across the street from the vigil, what she was opposed to, what her thoughts were on this protest etc. Each of the delegates on the corner, myself included, spoke little Hebrew while she appeared to speak little English. The result was a few sentences in a hostile tone whose content was not understood but the sentiment of which was unequivocally angry.
The light changed, still engaged and distracted, we did not cross. We all looked at each other. Then, in very clear English she stated “I love Israel. This is my country. I love Israel.”
One delegate asked her to elaborate on what loving Israel meant, “They love Israel too” she told her. “Lo lo lo [No no no]!” the woman proclaimed. “I. LOVE. Israel. They. Do. NOT. LOVE. Israel. I. LOVE. ISRAEL. THEY. DO. NOT. LOVE. ISRAEL. THEY. ARE. ARABS. THEY ARE ARABS!”
She pointed her finger accusingly across the street to the group of predominantly light-skinned protestors who, in the majority, appeared to be of European-stock. Arabs? Where? The only Arab I could see was the one standing beside her at the intersection: Me.
I had thought often about the terms “Arab”, or “A-Rab” as many North Americans would pronounce it, and “Muslim” being used as slurs in my lifetime, especially post 9-11 and particularly in the context that I had found myself in, more often than not, around the topic of Israel’s national policies. Our group shook our heads and crossed into the intersection.
The interaction was jarring, not due to the apparent racism, fear, and intensity entrenched in her words but because of the déjà vu that I was undergoing, one particular memory coursing through my mind.
A couple of years ago, a close friend of mine, a self-proclaimed Zionist who grew up in a conservative and wealthy Jewish community in Argentina, came to the realization that the Occupation was, in fact, not a myth but a terrible reality. Upon traveling to Israel to visit, he got in touch with an old friend of his from the same close-knit community in Buenos Aires who had also been a camp comrade for many years in the organized Zionist youth-events that took place every summer. When they met in Tel Aviv, he told her about his newly-found realization that the Occupation was real, was violent, was ignored and was denied by people just like them. After just a 2 minute introduction on his thoughts, his camp comrade apparently stood with her mouth agape, took a big step forward and shouted into his face: “Well…you’re just an Arab Muslim!” and stormed off.
At the time, we laughed at the encounter. My German-descended blonde hair, blue eyed, pale skinned friend could not understand how in the world she had decided upon her nonsensical decree that he was an Arab and a Muslim when she knew very well that he was neither. In a more serious tone, we both admitted to the other that those two descriptors were probably the worst slurs she could come up with in order to describe her feelings for him and his “otherness” to her after his acknowledgement of a reality that she could not accept.
Approaching the silent vigil and grabbing a sign from the black bag, I knew that the two encounters were neither humorous nor misunderstood in their intentions.
It’s like what John McCain said during his electoral race against Barack Obama in a town hall meeting when an elderly woman stood up and accused Obama of being “an Arab”. “No ma’am” Mr. McCain assured her, “He’s a descent family man, citizen…he’s not [an Arab].”
The mainstream newspapers were silent the next day.
I do not remember when “Arab” and “good person” became antithetical to one another. Where did this essentialism come from? How does one undo or cut apart a vernacular that has become so tightly twisted around the mind of its users and receivers? Where is the origin and how do I stop the tail from tying more knots?
Please help me look. I don’t know where the scissors are.
“Don’t Waste Your Breath, They Won’t Do Anything Anyway – A Call to Fight Hopelessness in Sheikh Jarrah
By Kristian Davis Bailey
The title of this report were the translated words of a 94 year old woman living in East Jerusalem whose family is being kicked out of their home in Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) by Israeli settlers and the Israeli government.
In 2001 settlers evicted the Al-Kurds from the front portion of their home – claiming it belonged to Jews – occupying the house and forcing them to live in the back.
In 1948, fearing violence against themselves, the family fled from their home in Haifa (which is now part of Israel) as refugees to East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem was then under the control of Jordan. They’d been living in the house since 1956, which was given to them under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Over the years, settlers have used dogs to intimidate and harm members of the family – including Maysa el-Kurd, the 54-year-old daughter of the family. Settlers also forced the family to hang up towels and laundry in front of their windows so the women in the family do not have to see the settlers expose themselves and do other lewd things.
In 2008, an Israeli court ruled that the house belonged to Sephardic Jews under the Ottoman ruling of Palestine and ordered the family out. Muhammad al-Kurd, the owner of the house, died of a massive coronary attack two weeks after the ruling. This family’s case was the first time in Israeli history where the judge came to her house and took the keys away from them. The family is still fighting the eviction to this day, with evidence that the Ottoman-era document showed that Sephardic Jews rented, but did not own the house. The al-Kurds have spoken countless times to delegations from around the world.
And their eviction is not the only one in Sheikh Jarrah – by 2009, 28 families in the neighborhood had been evicted, leaving over 60 people homeless. In December 2012, the Israeli court evicted another family, leaving an additional 10 people homeless, including six children.
I already knew most of this story coming in because I had heard it so many times from others who had been to Palestine – from Dr. Clayborne Carson, my academic advisor and director of the Martin Luther King Research Institute to Drs. Angela Davis and Gina Dent, whom I heard speak about their time in Palestine last summer.
Sitting listening to this family pour out their suffering to us didn’t sit right to me, and when we got on the bus to return to our hotel I understood why.
A Palestinian member of our delegation got on the microphone and translated something he heard the 94 year old mutter over and over again in Arabic to her daughter during the presentation: “Don’t waste your breath; they’re not going to do anything anyway.”
It didn’t feel like there was anything we could do for this woman and her family beyond relay the story back home. Sydney Levy, a staff member of Jewish Voice for Peace and one of our delegation leaders told us later that night that she was right.
We are not going to get this woman’s house back, Sydney told us.
“She has every right to feel hopeless because of what she’s seen and what she’s experienced. Your job is to take that feeling and move yourself into action. Your job is not to feel hopeless,” he said. “Our job is to convey messages of hopelessness here, not so people home feel hopeless, but so they can be moved to do something.”
I wish I could tell this woman that we are doing something – many of us are working on various campaigns to end the occupation from campuses and community organizations around the United States. And speaking for myself and my student group at Stanford, we will not stop until justice is realized for people across Palestine and Israel.
I had asked during the question and answer session, what can we do to be the most helpful to the family. The answer of Maysa al-Kurd, the 54 year old daughter of the family, was a new one to me: get your legislators and your president to end these injustices.
As someone skeptical of the electoral process, this suggestion was new to me. We try many things in our campus work, but reaching out to legislators is not one of them – and is likely something that most of our group would disdain. But to hear this call from someone who is directly and seriously affected by the occupation, I commit to putting this in my arsenal of tools to contribute my part.
This report is excerpted from the original post on Kristian’s blog. For the full post, see http://postcardsfrompalestine.com/post/58446070541/dont-waste-your-breath-they-wont-do-anything
A Story Your Reps Should Hear: House Evictions in Sheikh Jarrah
By Megan Iorio
. . . I’m in Israel/Palestine right now on an Interfaith Peace Builders delegation, meeting with Israelis and Palestinians to better understand the situation on the ground.
Just days before our delegation departed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build over 800 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But settlement construction isn’t the only way Israelis are extending their control of areas the Palestinians intend to comprise any negotiated state.
Families in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem, are being evicted from their homes and replaced by Jewish settlers. Earlier this week, our delegation met with the al Kurd family, whose 94 year-old matriarch was displaced from her Haifa home in the 1948 war and has resided in Sheikh Jarrah for nearly 60 years. The family lost half of its home to an Israeli settler family in 2008 – and is currently under threat of being evicted from the rest.
When we asked Maysa al Kurd, the daughter of the matriarch whose family lives in the section of the home remaining in its possession, what she hoped we, as Americans, would do to help her family and other Palestinians facing eviction, she said she wanted us to tell their story to President Obama and Congress.
We just happen to have an easy way to do just that!
Click here to take action for Sheikh Jarrah:
The building in which the al Kurd family lives is comprised of two houses. The one that was confiscated by settlers was the home of Maysa al Kurd’s brother and is situated in the front of the compound. Getting from the street to the section of the home in which the al Kurd family lives requires walking past the settler-inhabited house, one window of which is adorned by an Israeli flag, a constant reminder of a most personal occupation.
So how can Israeli Jews move into a Palestinian home? Well, prior to 1948, the land which comprises Sheikh Jarrah was owned by two Jewish trusts. Under Jordanian rule, the land was managed by the Jordanian government, which in 1956 resettled 56 Palestinian refugee families displaced by the 1948 war. In 1967, when Israel seized control of East Jerusalem, the Israeli government ordered all land that was managed or registered to the state of Jordan to be transferred to Israeli control.
By law, if the land transferred from Jordanian control was the private property of a Jewish entity pre-1948, it was to be returned to that entity. So, the two Jewish trusts petitioned for the return of what was, pre-1948, their property, and began eviction proceedings for its Palestinian inhabitants. Ultimately, ownership of the land was transferred to an organization that began settling Jewish families in the Palestinian families’ homes following court orders from the state.
The fact that the Israeli government recognizes Jewish land rights to pre-1948 property but not Palestinian rights to the same thing is hugely problematic. If the Jewish owners of Sheikh Jarrah can reclaim their property, then the Palestinian inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrah should be able to reclaim the land they left as refugees. But the Israeli government has no intention of ever allowing the latter.
The US government needs to step up and use its leverage over Israel to compel a moratorium on Israeli settlement activity.
Tell your representatives to support substantive US action:
Thank you for all you do to help bring about a more just US foreign policy,
This report is excerpted from an action alert on Megan’s blog at Just Foreign Policy Click here for the full post: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1439/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14153
Who Wants a Greencard?
By Sydney Levy
If you are an immigrant in the US, you know the drill. You gotta get a greencard, and eventually you will be given citizenship as well. This is sadly an unfulfilled promise and an unmet dream for millions of undocumented immigrants, who are stuck in the twilight between one bad congressional immigration reform proposal and the next.
It turns out that in Israel greencards and citizenship carry totally different meanings.
Let’s start with citizenship. Israeli citizenship is diverse; roughly 25% of Israelis are not Jewish, most are Palestinian citizens of the state. Israel lobby advocates love to tell and retell the story of Israeli democracy (‘see, Arabs even get to vote over here,’ trying hard to make their point while depriving these citizens of their Palestinian identity.) Well yes, Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote. They are citizens of the state of Israel, but they are *not* nationals of that state. In the US, you are citizen and a national of the United States. In Israel, these two concepts bifurcate.
Israel refuses to recognize the concept of Israeli nationality. But wait, it gets weirder. According to Haaretz, Israel recognizes 137 nationalities, including Abkhazi, Assyrian, Druze, Georgian, Jew, Russian and Samaritan. Anything – you name it – except for “Israeli”.
There is no Israeli nationality. Why? Because Israel is a state where non-Jews can be citizens, but only Jews can be nationals. It is a Jewish state. And Jews living abroad, even those who are not citizens, are part of the Jewish nationality and are privileged over non-Jewish citizens.
One would hardly call this a democracy. At its core, in its very foundation, it is an ethnocracy.
And now we get to discuss the Israeli greencards, or rather the greencards that Israel grants to Palestinians who are not citizens of the state.
Enter Sam Bahour (pictured here, showing his Palestinian greencard).
This is not the first time I’ve seen him, but today, in Ramallah, he helped me and my friends understand what is an Israeli-issued Palestinian greencard.
His father had left Palestine in 1956. When Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, it conducted a census of the Palestinians living there at the time. Since his father was in the US, he lost any possibility to go back to Palestine. To this day, Sam’s father can only visit the house where he was born with a tourist visa.
Sam moved to the West Bank a year after the Oslo accords were signed. He had an American passport, but no possibility of residing in the West Bank. For 15 years, he survived on three-month tourist visas, leaving Israel and entering back four times a year, just for the privilege to have a house and form a family in the West Bank. He was the eternal American tourist, a Palestinian foreigner in his own land.
This coming and going is not only financially draining and time consuming, but it takes an emotional toll as well, when you know that at any moment Israeli authorities may deny your re-entry into the country, forced to say goodbye to your wife and children every three months, not knowing for sure if you will be allowed back in. Think about that for a second.
His fears eventually became true. One of the times he entered through Ben Gurion Airport, as he had done countless times, his visa stamp had a note: “last permit.” In other words, these would be his last three months. No more renewals. Go back to the US where you belong. Israel welcomes American Jews, not Palestinian Americans.
Sam did not want to leave his land, his house, his wife, and his children, so he applied for a Palestinian ID. He got it. This is an Israeli issued greencard that allows Palestinians like him to reside in the West Bank.
He picked it up at the appropriate office. As he was leaving, he was stopped and asked for his papers. No longer the eternal American tourist, he showed his new greencard.
What did he get in return? He was told he could not drive anymore with the same license plates he had had on his car for years. Why? He had been classified as a Palestinian from the West Bank. From one day to the next, he lost access to Jerusalem, he lost access to Israel, and he entered into the world of the wall, checkpoints and travel permits that define the Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation.
His American passport was of no use.
Sam said, “The only places in the world where I cannot be American are Israel and the West Bank.”
Read this again. Think about it.
Any other American can use his American passport as his travel document outside the US. When inside the US, any American is entitled to be recognized as such.
But Israel – that strategic ally of the US and great friend of the US – shamelessly treats American citizens according to its own ethnocratic rules. In Israel, Sam is not American. He is Palestinian under occupation. As such, only Israel dictates whether he gets to reside in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or Gaza.
That is the meaning of a greencard over here. It is a document that closes doors and opportunities, that boxes you in against your will.
Shame on Israel. Shame on the US for allowing such blatant discrimination against its own citizens.
For more info and to take action, go here:
By Lauren Ballester
. . . [In Ramallah] we had lunch with some young Palestinians who are actively working to empower their communities. We met in small groups.
Our group spoke with Rawan who works for the organization Palestinian Vision. She brings young people together to talk about issues of belonging and identity, and helps them understand their history in a way that the school system does not allow them. She described how it is sometimes difficult to motivate them because they just want to live their lives and not think more than they already have to about all the ways in which they are oppressed.
She told us that she went to a summit for Palestinians and Israeli entrepreneurs to start businesses together but quickly rejected the idea. “How am I supposed to work with someone who served in the military who could have killed my family members in Gaza in 2008/2009? This is not going to work.”
She told a story of how her family took a case to the courts when the Wall was planned to be built over her grandparents’ graves, but to no avail. There it stands.
Just as the women in Gaza, or Sam Bahour, all of this is normal everyday life for her, and she is not giving up the fight. This made me realize that there is absolutely no reason why I should not be putting up a fight as well. There is no one killing my family, no one restricting my access to my hometown, no one defining my identity by a piece of plastic that allows me only certain rights.
From here we took a walk around Ramallah. Ramallah has this reputation of being a haven of normalcy for Palestinians, and from what I observed this is true. People are living their lives as we do, with little IDF presence or mobility restrictions in the city itself. People did not have fear in their eyes . . .
. . . After walking around Ramallah, we made our way to the office of Defense for Children International (DCI) which gives children who are imprisoned and interrogated legal help and works to change some of the military rules that any Palestinian (as opposed to their settler counterparts) is accountable to.
A staff member of DCI named Brad spoke with us about the interrogation process, which is not video or audio recorded. Many times these children (99% boys) are harassed into confessing either by being told they will be let go, or by forcing them to sign a confession written in Hebrew, without telling them what it is, landing them in prison for at least a few months. While these are certainly traumatic experiences for any child (the charges will not be expunged when they become adults), Brad stressed that their guilt or innocence is of little relevance. DFI works for the rights of children whether they are guilty or not, to a fair trial, attorney representation and to respect and dignity.
We then had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with Omar Barghouti, who helped start the BDS movement in Palestine. If you don’t know anything about BDS, definitely check out the website. I don’t have a ton of time to go into the basics here.
Omar talked to us about the importance of BDS’ commitment to the Right of Return for Palestinians, since 69% of them are refugees or internally displaced persons. He also emphasized that BDS does not aim to boycott individuals, but to boycott institutions that are complicit in creating and perpetuating the systematic oppression that exists here.
He told us that after the Brand Israel campaign began in 2005, any artist who performs in Israel must sign a contract which ensures that they will portray Israel in a positive light and will not criticize any of its policies, obviously a blatant disregard of freedom of speech and artistic expression. For this reason there is a call to boycott any concerts, movie screenings… etc. that come to Israel to normalize the occupation. . .
. . . We left Omar to return to the hotel in Jerusalem. On our way back, we walked through the Qalandia check point. This was a very emotional experience. My eyes swelled up as we walked through small caged queues to be herded towards the front to have our passports checked. There were a series of gates to walk through, and ominous voices on the loudspeaker yelling at passersby. It was incredibly dehumanizing, even as someone who is seen as more “human” than many as an American citizen.
After seeing all of these powerful young people speaking out, it was very enlightening to have even a tiny taste of what it is like to have your morale slowly chipped away at.
They are working against so much more than we are (or at least I am, with all of my privileges). It is time to take action.
This report is excerpted from the original post on Lauren’s blog. For the full post, see http://icometothehomeoftheabsent.blogspot.com/2013/08/living-loudly.html