Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Resistance Solidarity and Hope - A report from Israel/Palestine by Jaqueline Hall

My Overview of the Women’s Witness Trip to Israel & Palestine - Jacquelyn L. Hall


Our tour began in the Bethlehem District, Palestinian territory under occupation.

I want to explain what occupation in Palestine means. It means that the occupying force, in this case, the Israeli Government, has taken land usually by force, from the Palestinians and paid Israeli families substantial amounts of money to move into housing developments in the West Bank. The developments are large clusters of homes usually built on the highest ground in the area. Israeli army troops protect the settlers.

Many Palestinians are not opposed to living as neighbors with the Israelis as they have done so peacefully since before the time of Christ. The objection is to Palestinians being forced to leave their homes, often with twenty-four hours notice. Many we re told to leave temporarily with the assurance they would be able to return. When they left, they found soldiers would not allow them to return. There is an Israeli law that if one does not occupy the property for 90 days, it is considered abandoned property. If Palestinians did not return to their land, even though they were physically prevented from doing so, the land was given to Israeli settlers. Usually, the Israeli settlers have no idea they have been given stolen property.

What if the Palestinians don’t leave when ordered to? The Israeli ‘s modified Cat bulldozer arrives and not only bulldozes their home, but bulldozes the old and valuable olive trees from which the Palestinian families make their living. Many Palestinians have practiced non-violent resistance by refusing to leave and rebuilding their house only to have the Israelis bulldoze them again. These steadfast Palestinians have continued to rebuild as many times as necessary just to keep their property.

To “protect” the settlements, the Israeli government has built walls separating the settlers from the Palestinians (except for the few who keep rebuilding their homes).

They build these walls well away from the settlers so they further encroach on Palestinian homes. In Bethlehem, we were invited to a beautiful Palestinian home with gorgeous landscaping. This home used to be located on a large main highway to Jerusalem. Now, a very narrow path in front of the house makes it necessary to walk to the house and park the car on a side street. We were told there had been a lovely view of the surrounding hills. Now there is a cement wall that is higher than a three-story building. The walls look like, and effectively are, prison walls complete with circular barbed razor wire at the top and guard towers on the corners with cameras and guards monitoring the wall.

The Palestinian people write messages and draw murals on their side of the wall. The statements tell their stories and encourage peace and non-violent resistance. Messages on the walls talk about faith and hope of return to their homes. Many pictures of keys are everywhere. The key is symbolic of the fact that Palestinians often still have the keys to the homes they were forced to leave even up to forty years ago. They haven’t lost the hope of return. There is a picture of a young Palestinian boy posed facing the wall with his hands behind his back. The story is that he dreams of returninhome and will not turn around until the occupation is over. The walls built by Israel to separate the occupying Israeli settlers and their soldiers are nothing short of apartheid.


Another problem created by the occupation is the forced separation of families. People are confined to the area surrounded by the walls. If some members of your family live on the other side of the wall, you not only won’t be able to see them, you won’t be able to talk with them as there are telephone transmission jamming devices built into the walls. The stated reason for this is fear of terrorist attacks, but the underlying reason is really an effort to so demoralize the Palestinians so that they will just leave Israel. The Israeli GOVERNMENT’S plan is to make life intolerable for the Palestinians by severely restricting their ability to move about. I have read at least two books in which members of the Israeli Government have actually stated that fact. One book is The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim and the other is Palestine, Peace not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter.

Furthermore, if an Arab Israeli, a Palestinian who live s in Israel, were to marry someone from the occupied West Bank or Gaza, then this is the choice: Either the Israeli Arab gives up his/her citizenship, and as a result, the freedom to move about the country in order to live in the West Bank or Gaza, or the husband and wife live separately because the person in the occupied territory cannot move to Israel. The other option is to move to another country. The children are usually raised in Israel so they will have freedom and opportunity. Once they reach the age of 16, the children are no longer given a permit by the Israeli Government to see the parent in occupied territory.

In addition to the settlements and the walls, the Israeli government has built an elaborate highway system for Israeli settlers. Palestinians must have a permit to use these highways that are built right over the land taken from them. Permits are very difficult to obtain and the entrance to these highways is controlled by Israeli checkpoints manned by 18-21 year old soldiers carrying AK47s, usually with their finger on the trigger. Palestinians who have a permit are still often detained at checkpoints for as long as the soldiers wish to detain them. 

Palestinians who live in the occupied territory seldom are issued permits to use these highways. Instead they are forced to drive miles out of their way on poor quality roads taking two or three hours when the highway would take ten minutes. To further frustrate the Palestinians, the Israeli soldiers block different roads on different days, so one could drive for two hours on a bumpy road only to arrive at a pile of rocks or dirt blocking the road. The soldiers also set up random checkpoints on Palestinian roads. Palestinians with medical emergencies have been detained at the checkpoint so long the patient has died.

In the occupied Palestinian Territory, the Israeli settlers have diverted the water supply to the settlements. The settlers take 80% of the water and the other 20% is rationed throughout the West Bank of Palestine. We first stayed at the Bethlehem Hotel on the occupied West Bank. The shower only trickled with water. Later, at Aida Refugee Camp we learned that the water only comes every twenty-one days! In fact, the person who talked with us said her family had been two months without water. When the Israelis turn on the water for the Palestinians, they call the PLO and the PLO notifies the Palestinians in the West Bank that there will be six hours of water so they can store up as much as possible during that six hours. If the call is missed, the family will have to wait another twenty-one days for water. I watched families draw water from a public faucet and lug it home. In Hebron, where settlers are occupying right in the market place complex, children pointed to water barrels on the roof of their home, showing us holes shot in the bottom of the water barrel by the Israeli soldiers who guard the settlers occupying the adjacent building.

Human rights violations in the occupied territory are especially disturbing because Israel is considered to be a democracy supported by the United States. However, democracy does not apply to non-Jewish residents within Israel or the territories under occupation. Arabs are tried in military courts with unequal representation and more severe punishments for the same crimes committed by Jewish Israelis. The most disturbing stories I heard were in respect to arrests of children. Parents describe being awakened in the middle of the night by soldiers who enter their homes with AK 47s pointed at them. Their homes are searched and one of their children, between 12 – 16 years of age, is arrested for throwing stones. If the child had been seen throwing stones, it would be reasonable to arrest the child during the day. To arrest in the middle of the night creates terror.

One mother described being on a bus with her 4 year old child when the soldiers entered the bus and took the child at gunpoint and held the mother back at gun -point. The child was screaming for his mother. Many Palestinian children have experienced serious emotional trauma from these types of activities. Defense for Children International, Palestine Section has published a book of research entitled BOUND, BLINDFOLDED,  and CONVICTED: Children held in military detention (April 2012). The book has many case studies and interviews as well as the number of cases and types of abuses inflicted on Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinians refer to the unholy trinity of the Israeli occupation: the settlements in Palestine, the walls built around the settlements separating and cutting off transportation routes and keeping families apart, and the refugee camps.

The moderate Israeli and Palestinian people praised the Oslo Agreement, which provided for a phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the West Bank, the establishment of a Palestinian governing authority with officials to be elected, and a five -year interim period during which the more difficult and specific issues would be negotiated. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin all received the Nobel Peace Prize for reaching an historic agreement in 1993. Unfortunately, there were radical individuals on both sides who opposed the Oslo Agreement. Hope for peace was severely damaged when an Israeli right-wing religious fanatic, who declared that his goal was to interrupt the peace process, assassinated Prime Minister Rabin.

For years the peace process has been stalled. Meanwhile the Israeli Government has been busy building as many settlements (more than 300), complete with the walls and segregated highways, and grabbing as much land as possible in an effort to prevent a contiguous area of land for the Palestinians to have a Palestinian State. 

The resilience and steadfast hope of the Palestinians in the face of extreme hardship and cruelty is amazing. Women, with whom we met, spoke honestly about the evolution of feelings. For a long time they felt very angry about the daily injustices the Palestinian people endure. One woman told us as she continued to evaluate the circumstances; she realized that anger and hate just make one weaker and stupid. She and others have learned to fight the enemy with peace and love. They do not see the Jewish people as their enemy. Instead, the enemy they are fighting is greed, exclusivity, and the abuse of religion. By using non-violent resistance, they give no justification for Israeli aggression. Violence gives an excuse for more repression. The pattern of Arab/Israeli violence needs to be broken, because all efforts towards peace become invisible when violence erupts. The two nations don’t know each other very well and the media feeds the extremes.

There are efforts among both Palestinians and Jews to establish dialog between the citizens. Through dialog each side discovers the feelings and fear of the other side and they see the humanity of each other. Instead of clinging to traditional ideologies and turning their pain into more violence, many have begun to try to understand the other side by sharing their pain and humanity. The Parent Circle and the Bereaved Family Forum are examples of a gathering network of survivors of victims who share their grief, their stories of loved ones, and their ideas for a lasting peace. Israel can’t deal with the holocaust and Palestine can’t deal with the repression. A personal narrative breaks down barriers and enables restorative justice to begin.

Kids for Peace is an international organization that takes 4 Jewish kids, 4 Muslim Kids, and 4 Christian kids and sends them to summer camp for two weeks in July. The kids are 12 years old. The two boys and two girls chosen from each religion are called The Children of Abraham. Prior to the camp there are 10-12 meetings for the kids and parents, one every two weeks.

The Women’s Witness Trip provides a forum for Palestinians, Israelis and Christians to tell their stories, their reality of life today to people who can carry their stories back to churches and communities throughout the United States because the United States Government has a powerful influence on Israel.

Collectively, citizens of the United States can subsequently have a powerful influence on Washington. America bears responsibility for Israel’s behavior because we have been complicit in their actions. Israel has a right to define their interests and stand up for them, but just because Israel defines its interests, doesn’t mean we have an obligation to go along with human rights abuses that are being inflicted daily on a people, strangling t their freedom and dignity. This is a situation where one group of people is being stepped on daily by another. We are treating Israel like a spoiled child that no one will say “no” to. When the United States says we have Israel ’s back, but don’t call them out on their behavior in a way that gets their attention no matter what they do, then what does that make us? Not a good friend.

A primary reason that the Arab countries hate Israel and the United States is due to the way Palestinians are being treated. The United States needs to demand that Israel treat the Palestinians with dignity and freedom and tie further financial aid to a just and permanent two state peace solution. Only then will the Arab countries have better relations toward Israel and the West.

The people have awakened around the world and are using non-violent popular resistance to achieve freedom and dignity, a right of every human being. There are thousands of Jewish, Palestinian, and Christian voices for Peace. With steadfast hope and faith, their voices will be heard and influence the government so that a just and fair peace will be achieved.

                         Praying that God's Shalom of peace and justice may come on earth.   - Jackie

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