Reports and Photos from IFPB’s 47th Delegation (August 2013):
< Report Four: “Out of the Same Place”
Today’s Realities and Tomorrow’s Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
August 20, 2013
Overview from the Editor: In the past several days, delegates have spent time in Israel – seeing Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and West Jerusalem. They have met with many and gotten multiple perspectives on Israeli society, history, and current policy. They have met both Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel and they have explored many different narratives.
Read below for highlights from meetings with young Israeli activists who have refused to serve in the army, with a ‘mainstream type of guy’ in Tel Aviv (his words), and with an Israeli who calls for boycotting Israel. Stories below also detail a visit to the Holocaust Museum and a tour through Jaffa with a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
Meeting Israeli Activists
By Micah Danney
We met with four young Israeli activists today. Three refused to serve in the army, as is required of every Israeli citizen, and two served prison time for it. One, Eran, was a former Israeli Defense Forces soldier who works to tell his and other soldiers’ accounts of what they’ve done and seen in the military. I can’t tell his story any better than he did, so it’s transcribed in part below, lightly edited for clarity due to his English being a bit off at times. This occurred in 2006:
“I’m a seventh-generation here in Jerusalem. My grandpa was born in the Old City. He was actually a half-Palestinian kid, it’s an interesting story – but not for now.
I grew up in a very regular Zionist family. My mother was an officer in the army, my brother was an officer in the army and my father is the head of investigation in the Jerusalem police, real close to here.
I grew up with my grandma, who was an Auschwitz survivor, and we grew up in the same house. For me as a kid, it was this fascinating thing, the Holocaust. I remember just, you know, thinking about it all the time. My first memory as a child is me waking up in the middle of the night to my grandma screaming. She used to wake up and just start screaming. Me and my brother would wake up in our room, really terrified, and my mom used to come in and relax us, calm us down and explain to us that someone did something very bad to grandma’s family and her because she was Jewish.
In the eleventh grade, like most of the Israeli people, the Jewish people, I found myself on a trip to Poland, to the camps. I actually found myself in Auschwitz and I went into the same room as my grandma used to sleep in, the same cot. I walked inside and inside I got a note from our guides. Every family gave a note to the guide, and it was handed out at special moments, and for me it was inside, like, on my grandma’s bed in Auschwitz.
The letter was really sweet, it was really sensitive. It said, basically, you know, ‘Erani, you’re such a sensitive boy. Please don’t take it too hard and don’t take it on yourself. It’s something that happened, I moved on.’
I was very touched. But after I finished reading the letter to the group, my guide came to me and put his hand on me and said, ‘Erani, you understand what your grandma really meant to tell you, right?’ I said, ‘This is not what she wanted?’ He said, ‘No. What she really wanted to tell you is that if you don’t want the Holocaust to happen again, you have to come back home, finish high school and go and join the best unit in the army you can.’
So I did. I finished my high school and joined, well, it’s not the best unit in the army, but I joined the 50 Brigade. For seven months we were in boot camp, and after the seventh month we were preparing for war. I found myself in Hebron. You haven’t been to Hebron yet, right? Well I’m sorry for you. Hebron is like – how can I describe – Hebron is hell. The settlement is something like 800 Jewish settlers in the middle of the biggest Palestinian city in Palestine. It comes to about 180,000 Palestinians, and we found ourselves right in the middle.
After two weeks there, our first mission was to go on curfew, because there was a Jewish holiday and every Jewish holiday there was a curfew [for Palestinians]… During curfew, you can’t leave your home… There were 800 Jewish settlers, 180,000 Palestinians and 500 soldiers. In another unit there was a really good friend of mine. He was inside Auschwitz with me. They went on patrol one night, and we were at the base – I stayed at the base, it was a rare occasion – and around four in the morning they came back and he woke me up in my bed, and I just saw half of the guys like laughing, really happy, it was like this weird scenario, and half of the guys coming in completely shocked. They were completely shocked from what they just saw, and I’m asking him, ‘What’s going on?”
He said, ‘Well I think we just killed a little boy.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you think you just killed a little boy?’ And he said, ‘Well, we’re not really sure. There was someone outside and he was holding something, and we shot, and we killed him.’
And I didn’t know what to do because I’m here to, you know, protect Israel and to stop the next Holocaust from happening. So the best thing I can think about is tell him, ‘Go to sleep. We’ll wake up really early in the morning, we’ll go to the same house and understand what happened. We’ll just go there, we’ll apologize – something will happen.’ And I was really naïve after two weeks in the army. I didn’t have a chance to wake up really early because they woke us up at like 4 a.m. and we got a mission to go to, and all of the soldiers are in it together. And we’re walking, like 100 soldiers, and the special unit, the parachuters, and us, and we’re going into Hebron, the Palestinian side, and my friend tell me, ‘This is the neighborhood. This is the neighborhood we been to last night.’
And I tell him, ‘Let’s finish this mission and we’ll go to their house.’ And we’re going into a street, and he tells me, ‘This is the street we were at last night.’ And we’re getting to a house, and it’s that house that they were at last night. There’s something going on inside the house. And we’re understanding there’s a funeral about to come out. But there’s a curfew, and the funeral cannot come out from the house. And more, the soldiers are afraid, maybe justifiably, that at the funeral, there will be riots. There’ll be stone throwing, there’ll be something. So our job is to keep everybody inside the house and don’t let them come out.
So the father comes out at some point and he starts arguing with my officer, and he did something you’re not supposed to do in Hebron: he touches my officer, like, pushes him aside. At the same moment, you do the same thing you do with everyone doing something wrong in Hebron – you arrest him. And it doesn’t really matter if he’s five or 80, you arrest him the same way. He got handcuffed with [plastic handcuffs] behind his back, a fabric on his eyes, and we’re putting him into the army car. And when we’re holding him, and ready to take him in, the mother of the little boy is coming out. And she’s coming out and she sees we’re taking her husband into the car and she starts screaming. And her screaming is so loud, and it’s so deep, and I recognize the scream. It’s the same screaming I used to hear every morning from my grandma when I was a little kid. It came out of the same place.”
[Eran] ended with this: “I understand that we need help, from people like you, to help us finish the occupation, because we just can’t do it. And we don’t know how. And it’s not even about the Palestinians anymore for me. It’s about me. It’s about my living here, about my family. This is why I’m here, talking to you guys. Because I can’t do it anymore. I need your help.”
This report is excerpted from the original post on Micah’s blog. For the full post, seehttp://micahdanney.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/israelpalestine-delegation-day-5-israeli-activists/.
Meeting Israeli Activists (Another Perspective)
By Kristian Davis Bailey
ED: Kristian shared the story of Eran above and added the following. . .
Eran said: “I understand that we need help from people like you to finish this occupation,” Eran concluded to us. “I need your help. I’m asking you to join the call for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).”
To this day, Eran’s grandmother remains the only member of his family who speaks to him. At first when he relayed his experiences serving in the IDF to her, she did not believe him. But as she learns more and more, he said, his grandmother has come to say “this is not the Zionism I want.”
During the question and answer session, Eran responded to a question I posed about how Zionists and their supporters on American campuses claim that BDS is offensive to them as Jewish people, as Israelis, or as allies of Israel. I noted that these people frequently invoke guilt of the holocaust and fear of others being seen as anti-Semitic to intimidate conversations on justice in Palestine.
“The Zionist movement didn’t only colonize Palestine,” Eran said. “It killed my traditions as a non European Jew. Zionism doesn’t represent most of the people living on this land from the river to the sea.”
Eran noted that his family was from Iraq and Morocco and that Zionist Mizrahi Jews dressed up as Arabs and bombed synagogues to spur Jewish emigration to historic Palestine.
Another member of the panel added on, saying, “They don’t have the right to speak for me – they have no right to speak for anyone but themselves.”
This report is excerpted from the original post on Kristian’s blog. For the full post, seehttp://postcardsfrompalestine.com/post/58462263860/nothing-in-life-is-free-former-israeli-soldier-speaks
In Which We Interview an Average Bro from Tel Aviv
By Alice Su
The most illuminating part of yesterday by far came when we spent an hour with this young Israeli in Tel Aviv. Self-described as “not really into politics,” this 32-year-old agreed to share his views with us as a look at mainstream attitudes toward the conflict.
32 years old, with parents who came to Israel from Poland and Slovakia during the Holocaust, he now runs Tel Aviv nightlife tours for foreigners at a youth hostel. Unedited quotes from the interview below.
You say that you’re “not really a political person” – why not?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is kind of worn out. After a while you lose interest. You lose hope. It’s like a defense mechanism. A lot of us are kind of worn out, like, it’s just another peace talk, more negotiations, whatever. I think it takes a certain kind of politician to do this well and we don’t have that. Also our political system is really fucked up.
Do foreigners ever come and tell you that Israel is committing human rights violations and you should do something? Do you take offense at that? How do you feel about these accusations towards Israel?
First of all, no, I don’t hear that much because I’m in Tel Aviv and people like Tel Aviv. Secondly, I’m kind of like you. I see these things on TV, settlers taking Arab lands and things like that. I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone to do this to me but if you look at life realistically, maybe you just have to close your eyes. That’s life. The strong survives, like it or not.
Do you know any Palestinians from the West Bank or in Israel? Have you met any settlers?
I haven’t met any Palestinians or settlers. I’ve met a lot of Israeli Arabs. They’re good people for sure. They work hard and they’re really nice, I have nothing bad to say about them.
What should Americans do to achieve peace?
That’s kind of funny, because if America really wanted peace I think if you sanctioned Israel and threatened Israel economically, it would work. But you don’t do that, so I guess it’s up to us and our two sides here.
Do you think it’s your role to pressure your government to act?
I don’t think there’s something I can do and I don’t think it’s fair to ask me to. That’s life. Like I said, the strong survives. I just want to live my life.
Can you tell us about your experience in the Israeli Defense Forces?
Look, 18 is a problematic age. There are social pressures. You are exposed to everything that society tells you. And Israel is a militaristic society. Since you were a kid, day-to-day conversations have had militaristic character. It’s natural if you do that, to join your army for your country. Wouldn’t you go defend your country if it was threatened? Actually, I think the army is too lenient… The laws should apply to everyone. Like if settlers set an Arab field on fire or something, send them to jail. Fuck them hard! They’re too lenient.
You said earlier that if the two sides really wanted peace, you’d have it. Which side do you think it is that doesn’t want peace?
It’s more in [the Palestinians’] interest than ours to have peace. We’re doing OK. Not ideal, but OK. They’re living way worse than us. So at some point they’ll have to say stop, just do whatever you want and we’ll take peace.
But you know what we fear? If tomorrow, say we have an agreement, hooray, there’s no more conflict. They have a country and they start developing. In 50 years it becomes well-developed. They have an army and they want more territory. They want to expand. So what do they do? They turn on us. I don’t want this to happen. The question is what’s better: what’s happening now, or the hypothetical in 50 years?
We hear a lot of talk about the Holocaust and how Jews remember what happened, so they have to be the first to step up when others are suffering from injustice. How does this match up with Israeli treatment of the Palestinians?
As Jewish people, we have to be the most sensitive people in the world for these things. But the Holocaust also created a narrative of the Israeli… In order not to have the Holocaust again, you have to be strong. But in order to be strong, you have to hurt other people.
Don’t you think that change has to come from the bottom up? How can you wait for a leader to come along and change things unless the Israeli people mobilize and elect him?
You know, I’m just like you. Like the mainstream type of guy – he has his life and routine and stuff going on. Even though you want to change things, in the end of the day I go to bed in a nice place. In the end it doesn’t affect me as much as someone else. Ask yourself if you would want to run around with signs in the West Bank when you can just be in Tel Aviv and just live your life.
We’ve heard of some popular organizing around the issues of healthcare and how Israeli military spending is detracting from the social welfare systems. What do you think about the potential in that kind of activism?
That’s futile, because people in power are connected to the military system and in the end, they have the ultimate weapon: your existence. The Ministry of the Treasury always wants to cut down the military budget, and the army says no, we can’t defend our people. So what?
What do you think about the redefining winning as coexistence rather than a matter of take-all or lose-all?
After like 7 or 8 wars in 70 years, you start to get skeptical about coexistence. It’s easy to think that if you show weakness, which is what that olive branch looks like, you’ll get taken advantage of. You’ll get attacked. Everything would improve for Palestinians, but not for us. We have more to lose here, so as time passes, more over there will say ‘Yes, we want peace,’ and more over here will say, ‘No.’
I’m an American Jew and in my country I’m a 2% minority. What if the USA decided to declare that we are a “democratic Christian” nation? Or a “democratic Anglo-Saxon” nation? Or anything that is “democratic + ____” that I am not a part of? If you were me, how would you feel?
First of all, I’d feel like shit. Secondly, it depends on what rights are given to the minorities. The country can be a religion or ethnicity or whatever but it could still treat the minorities fairly. Also, if this happened 70 years ago I’d say wow man, you’re fucked. Today I’d say, come to Israel! Maybe America is a Christian state. We have a Jewish state here!
What would you be willing to give up for peace?
Not a lot. Why should I? It’s a noble cause. But it’s not like I feel the urgency.
This report is excerpted from the original post on Alice’s blog. For the full post, seehttp://aliceysu.tumblr.com/post/58439114145/in-which-we-interview-an-average-bro-from-tel-aviv
Today we focused a lot on narrative. Who gets to claim truth, how they do it, and how it gets reinforced for generations. This is especially pertinent for me as a citizen of the US, thinking about all the aspects of our history that have been rewritten or not told. From the indigenous people whom we wiped out from the get-go, to slavery, to the rich culture of resistance that exists among our people.
We went on a tour of Jaffa this morning, which was originally the capital of Palestine before 1948. Our tour guide was Sami, a Palestinian writing his dissertation on the history of Jaffa during the British Mandate. He is also a self-proclaimed political activist.
Jaffa was a port, and therefore central to the Palestinian trade economy (Palestine exported oranges and soap, to a name a few things). In 1948, 120,000 Palestinians were expelled from the area to make room for Jewish refugees. About 3% of the local Palestinians stayed, and still are living there.
We talked about all the aspects of these people’s lives that have been erased. Like most historical cities, Jaffa is littered with plaques telling a story of something which was once there. We never once saw one that mentioned the people who were here already when Israel was created, or what/whom exactly they were being freed from when it was supposedly “liberated” in 1948.
The thing that disturbed me most was my sense of comfort when I walked over cobblestone and gazed at the infamous teal of the Mediterranean, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants style. It felt like any other vacation in many ways. I found myself looking at the little shops and restaurants, or the lights hung through the trees and thinking how beautiful this place must look at night! or boy do I wish I could lay on the beach right now. As I took a moment to reflect on these feelings, I felt disgusted. Disgusted at how easy it was for me to look around and feel a sense of normalcy, a privilege I have in most of my day to day life.
Though I do try to push myself to do so regularly, it certainly does not come naturally for me to look around and thinking about what has been erased on every street corner. The only history we see in the US on plaques like these is a history of white colonialism. A story over which I have no ownership and feel no connection.
It made me think of my own neighborhood at home in Philadelphia. Recently the public high school down the street was closed, along with over 20 others in Philadelphia after budget cuts this past winter. Now it is just an empty building and we have no idea what it will be filled with. Across the street from that is a beautiful old court house or city center that has been abandoned and locked up. There hasn’t been any widespread attempt at telling the story of this place, or what happened in it.
What will my own neighborhood look like in 20 years when I bring my kids back. Will it be gentrified in the ways that much of my city has? Who will be displaced and forgotten? Will I be here to put up a fight?
This report is excerpted from the original post on Lauren’s blog. For the full post, seehttp://icometothehomeoftheabsent.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-history-rewritten.html
I’d been thinking about the quote pictured here for a few days before I stumbled upon it at Yad Vashem. That’s the Hebrew name for the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, which we visited yesterday. I’ve been to several genocide and massacre sites – Dhaka, My Lai, Nanjjing and so on.
When I was 16, the genocide memorial in Dhaka ripped my teenage heart out. Wait, people really do this to one another? Kill little girls, neighbors, women and innocent people with no second thought?
I’d read Anne Frank’s Diary at age 10, knew lots of facts about horrible historical things, but that day I saw it for the first time. I was sobered. I bought a poster with an Allen Ginsberg Poem on it, and resolved that I would of course fight against atrocities like this forever.
In Vietnam, I read guestbooks filled with American remorse. “How could we? I am so ashamed of what my country has done.” Agent Orange babies contorted themselves into my memory and I noted to myself that America is not a bright beacon of righteousness, that we’ve done disgusting things in cool self-interest, and that many newspapers and activists fought to bring public attention to our government’s Wrong before it stopped.
In Nanjing, I took an analytical approach. By now I was morphing into a little academic, anthropological fluffwords filling my mind as I pondered Chinese construction of the Nanjing narrative and its effect on Sino-Japanese tensions now. I was analytical and distanced, thinking more about building structure and spatial memory arrangement than about anything messy like Suffering or Death.
So yesterday was Yad Vashem. Walking through the exhibits, I play a caption game, taking pictures of all the quotes and pictures that are just a word or two away from describing what’s happening to the Palestinians. I feel sick, not with the 16-year-old “Humanity! No!! Why!!!” sentiments but from a deluge of irony that twists my conscience inside out. I feel like my brain wants to throw up . . .
. . . At one point, I turn a corner and run into Vic, the oldest member of our delegation. “I have a feeling I’m going in circles.” His words are quiet and slow. “I have a feeling I’ve been here before.”
It takes me a moment to realize he’s actually physically lost, looking for a path to exit the exhibit.
We’d spent the previous day in Jaffa, biblically known as Joppa, where St. Peter received a vision telling him to eat pork and go to the Gentiles. It’s a seaside town that’s been occupied by almost every imperialist power you can name. Babylonians, Romans, Persians, Ottomans, British, the list goes on. When Napoleon got tired from his failed attempts to control Egypt, he let his troops loose here for two days and nights. “Take a break and do whatever you want,” Big N said, and the French killed thousands of Jaffans, raped their women and looted the town. They also brought the bubonic plague. Napoleon killed his own sick soldiers because he didn’t want their contagious germs touching him. Then he went home and commissioned this painting, which shows him visiting the sick French soldiers out of his good kind heart. It’s sized over 17 x 23 feet and hangs in the Louvre today.
Sami, our guide in Jaffa, is all about narratives. He’s involved in a new initiative where guides lead groups of mixed descent around Jaffa. At every stop, they give the Zionist and Palestinian narratives of what happened there. Then there’s a big compare/contrast/how-do-you-feel discussion.
A lot of leftist Israelis come on these tours thinking they’re open-minded, Sami says, but by the end they can’t even listen to the Palestinian guide anymore because “he is so biased.”
Many Palestinian group members say the same thing about the Zionist guide. Sometimes people acknowledge some value in the other narrative.
“So if you were minister of education, would you allow the Palestinian narrative to be included in school for kids?” Sami asks. The Israelis are shocked. You’re crazy, they say. Maybe in university you can mention this. But not for children, no!
“States teach history not for education, but for political reasons,” Sami says. “You teach to make the German kids believe that they are Germans. But now that we know more about history, we know nations did not exist. We invented nations, y3ni? We should teach children to think.”
Kristian and I have lunch on a park bench with Said. We sit on a slope overlooking the Mediterranean, away from the buzz of scantily clad tourists buying artisan jewelry and pricey pastries on the main street. Said’s been the IFPB guide for years and he knows Palestine like the back of his hand. He’s also a political realist through and through.
The occupation is in America’s best interests, Said says. If the United States really wanted to end the conflict, it would take half an hour max. But even if Israel is our special buddy in the region, it’s good to keep her distracted with this annoying Palestinian problem. Just so Israel knows its place, remains the lesser ally, doesn’t get too cocky or try to compete with us for hegemony.
“It is like if you have a spoiled child or a dog,” Said says. “You let it do what it wants, but you still have to clip its nails.” All this talk of religion, ideology, and institutional interests is farcical, in Said’s opinion.
“So it’s just about balance of power?” I ask.
“It is always about power!” Said laughs. “OK. Now I told you two the truth, I charge a shekel each.”
Back at Yad Vashem, I’m reading the guestbook. Every page is the same. “Never again,” “How could this happen? I am so sad,” “Humanity must love,” “世界和平!”
Thoughts flood my mind. Surely the people who signed that guestbook meant what they said. They wanted peace. We want peace. If we knew there was some great injustice happening, oppression without reason, a repeat of the Wrong that has cursed us through the ages, of course we would stand against it. So how are we letting this happen?
In Tel Aviv, we spent an hour talking with this guy who’d volunteered himself as an “average” Israeli voice. He’s a 32-year-old nightlife tour guide, parents came from Poland and Slovakia during the Holocaust, now chills in a balmy beautiful beach town showing foreigners a good time, and frankly was super chill. I liked him. I could see him fitting in at my Princeton eating club. But he was full of contradictions.
My friend Micah has spent a lot of time working at a Holocaust memorial. “At our events, I always heard things like, ‘These atrocities have taught us that we Jews especially must step up first when we see others suffering,’” Micah says. “How do you reconcile that with the Palestinian situation?”
Tel Aviv bro pauses. “Yes. As Jewish people, we have to be the most sensitive people in the world for these things.” Beat. “But this is life, you know? The winners survive. In order not to have the Holocaust again, you have to be strong. But in order to be strong, you have to hurt other people.”
My 22 year-old heart, mind and conscience are erupting because I want a) Knowledge, b) Moral Consistency, and c) Comfort all at the same time, but I’ve found myself in one of those games where you can ONLY have 2 of the 3, and I’m really, really, really attached to the 3rd.
I’m walking towards a falafel stand after the Holocaust museum, trying to talk all this out to my friend Lauren and suddenly tears are streaming down my face. I’m raving like a lunatic, “Maybe that guy yesterday was right, I should just agree with him, maybe all this talk of humanity and empathy is crap and you have to hurt people to be strong. Is that true? Is power everything? IS IT?” Lauren’s a Quaker and a great listener. “Alice,” she says, “No.”
“I brought this upon myself,” I tell her. “I should have just stayed in my America bubble. Why do we have to know things anyway? I could be oblivious in New York right now, like, Instagramming a mojito.”
A second later, I laugh. “But of course I wouldn’t be able to stand that. I have to be here. I came here to see. It’s OK. I’m just uncomfortable” . . .
This report is excerpted from the original post on Lauren’s blog. For the full post, seehttp://aliceysu.tumblr.com/post/58650866636/circles