Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finding Hope

Over the last several weeks I have found myself getting increasingly angry about the occupation. As I have thought through it, my anger is seated in an increasing sense of hopelessness. As I stand at the checkpoint early in the morning with 800 sad faces looking to me for some kind of solution to their daily misery, I cannot help but get very frustrated by the fact that there is little I can do but feel their pain. It is easy for me to see how they have slipped in and out of hopelessness over the last 40 years of the occupation.
I now have only three weeks left here. It is amazing to me how fast my time here has gone. The next team will arrive this week and we will begin the long handover process, so that they can carry on the work that was handed to us eight weeks ago. We are the 30th EAPPI team. With our team, there have been over 500 people from around the world who have participated here to try to make life better for those caught in this struggle, but more importantly, to share what we learn here with our friends, neighbors, associates, church members, political leaders, and the wider public upon our return to our home countries. In many ways the work we have begun here is just getting started. With that in mind, I have made the choice to focus my remaining time here on finding the little pockets of hope for a solution to this deep and abiding crisis. I have found many points of light that give rise to the potential of a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. Over the next three weeks I will focus on the people and organizations that embody hope.
Last week our team went to visit Beit Arabeia (Arabeia’s house), in Anatta, another nearby village that has been cut of by the wall. We meet Salim, the owner of the house. Salim grew up in the nearby Shofat refugee camp that is literally the slum of Jerusalem. He learned the building trades and worked 10 years in Saudi Arabia. He supported the rest of his family back in the refugee camp during this time, but also was able to save enough money to buy a nice piece of land in Anatta to build his own house. He returned to Palestine to get married and raise a family. He had by this time saved enough money to build a home for his new family. He applied for a permit to build a house and paid the $5,000 application fee. After a year, he was turned down. He was told to try again, but he needed to pay another $5,000 fee. He applied again. After another year he was denied again. He was prepared now to build the house without a permit because he now had three children and needed a home for them. When he talked to the local building supervisor he was told that he would receive support for his permit if he tried again. This time he would get the permit for sure…but…he need to pay the $5,000 application fee one more time. He applied again. A year later he was turned down because he was missing two signatures of some people in Anatta but he was not told who they were. He literally got the signatures of every person in Anatta and took them to the housing authority and asked them to pick out the ones they needed. All he got was silence. He proceeded to build a home for his family on the land he had now owned for a decade.
In 1994 after living in his home for 4 ½ years, now with 6 children, the army came one day waving a demolition order, forced him out of his home and demolished it. For the next four years he lived in a tent next to his demolished home. Over that time he developed a relationship with Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions ( www.icahd.org ). Together Israelis and the Palestinians rebuilt Salim’s home. They started it on July 9th 1998. On August 2nd the family moved into the unfinished house. At 4 am on August 3rd the army came again to demolish it. When he refused to leave, he was dragged from the house and beaten by the IDF soldiers. His wife Arabeia, locked the door. The army shot tear gas through the windows of the house. Arabeia and the children were forced out of the house. The army promptly demolished the house for a second time.
The home was rebuilt a third time…..this time with the help of over 600 Israeli, Palestinian, and international volunteers. It was finished on April 3rd 2001. On April 4th with many of the volunteers who had built it watching the IDF came and destroyed it for a third time. They thought they had squashed this fledgling partnership. Not the case. The group can together again and rebuilt the house for a fourth time. This time the family was able live in it for a while, but in 2003 the army came in the night once again and destroyed the house for the fourth time.
Salim and his Israeli friends were committed. This time they decided to rebuild the house as a peace center where Palestinians and Israelis could come together to fight the demolition of homes and to provide a place to stay for volunteers who want to come to help rebuild demolished homes. They rebuilt Beit Arabeia, over a two week period in 2003 with a huge international volunteer group, in the memory of Rechel Korry, the American woman who was run over by a bulldozer by the IDF while defending a home they were demolishing, and a Palestinian woman who also lost her life in this cause.
The house has been the temporary home to hundreds of volunteers who have come from around the world to work together with Israelis and Palestinians to rebuild destroyed lives. Each year they host a two week summer camp from the 15th to the 29th of July. During the two weeks they have built two homes each year since. This year they will host two camps because of the popularity and demand. The government of Spain will build a home for one displaced family. A few years ago they received a donation from a wealth Jewish American family that has allowed them to rebuild 120 homes. To date they have rebuilt 162 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 13 of those in Salim’s little village of Anatta. His building trade experience has now been put to use rebuilding lives as he now leads the rebuilding effort as an employee of ICAHD. His kids are now in college.
Beit Arabeia still has a demolition order hanging over it. It has been standing now since 2003 as a monument to peaceful resistance to the occupation. They and I hope the wall that is being completed just below the house will stop and the occupation will end. Salim, Jeff and their thousands of friends around the world are working every day to that see that day and they will keep rebuilding this house until it does.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Israel - have you become the evil you deplored?

This is one of many things that have been written on the wall. Some are humorous, others are angry, some like this one you just cannot get out of your head. I have given this image a great deal of though since I took this picture several weeks ago. As I have talked to people, read the newspaper, and seen for myself how Palestinians are treated by the State of Israel, this question has popped back into my mind time and again. It happened again last Friday while I was reading Haaretz, the most read newspaper in Israel which is published in both Hebrew and English.
One thing you have to say about Israel is that they have never suppressed freedom of speech. Everyday in Haaretz there are articles and editorials that express both right and left wing views on everything that happens here. Articles questioning the actions of the state hit the front page of this newspaper that would never even get a mention in newspapers, much less television news, in the United States because of the censorship of any news that might put Israel in any kind of bad light. In last Fridays edition, the front page headline article was titled, “IDF killed civilians in Gaza under loose rules of engagement”. The article reveals testimonies provided by IDF soldiers who were engaged in direct action in Gaza. Here are a couple of the quotes from those soldiers:

"There was a house with a family inside .... We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sniper position on the roof," the soldier said. "The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he ... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."

According to the squad leader: "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.  "I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.

Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered.  The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader's soldiers complained that "we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist."

For the full text of this article you can follow this link: http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072475.html. In another article in the same edition of Harretz there was an article about the various t-shirts that Israeli Army units have printed to celebrate the completion of their training. Here is some of that article:

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, "Bet you got raped!" A few of the images underscore actions whose existence the army officially denies - such as "confirming the kill" (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim's head from close range, to ensure he is dead), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants.”

For the full text of this article you can follow this link: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072466.html. These reports speak for themselves. One cannot help but question the morality of a society that produces the kind of hate evidenced here. Amazingly, I searched several of the major US print media website to see if these widely reported stories in Israel, Europe and the rest of the world got picked up. Sadly, I did not find it anywhere. If any of you heard about this in the states I would love to here from you.

As part of our Israel exposure week we visited Yad Vashem, the very impressive Holocaust memorial park and museum (http://www.yadvashem.org/). There were many young Israeli army trainees there when we were there as well as current soldiers. They visit Yad Vashem several times during their training and after. The exhibits are very impressive, moving and powerful. As you walk through the museum you trace the history of oppression of the Jewish people culminating with The Holocaust. As I walked through the exhibits related to the Nazi occupation of Poland and specifically the walling up of the Jewish neighborhoods I was completely struck by the parallels to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians. History is clearly repeating itself. One is forced to ask where it will end and who will end it. For the sake of the world, I sincerely hope it ends differently than it did the last time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Village Divided

This past week I meet Abdallah Zahayka. We were waiting along side the road in a remote part of the West Bank south and east of Bethlehem where there is a checkpoint that we monitor for the UN. This particular checkpoint serves no security purpose. It is nowhere near Israel or any of the settlements in the West Bank for that matter. Its sole purpose is to disrupt commerce between the north and south within the West Bank. We gather statistics regarding delays and inspections. Abdallah noticed our vests, stopped his car, hopped out and introduced himself in perfect English.

This is a difficult place for us to get to because of where it is. As the crow flies it is not far at all from Jerusalem, and the nearby village of Sawahra is a historical part of Jerusalem, but it takes us over an hour to go the 40 or so miles from the approved checkpoint to here. Abdallah lives in what is now called East Sawahra. His English is so good because until recently he worked for the US Consulate in the commercial branch helping develop business relatioships between US and West Bank companies. His uncle who also lived in Sawahra worked for the US State Department for 39 years.
Sawahra is just west of Al Quds University and like the university, and the town of Abu Dis, on the other side of the university, it lies just outside the wall that was built to keep them out of Jerusalem. In the case of Sawahra……only half of them out, which has presented an unimaginable hardship on the people of this village. The wall, which is actually an electrified fence in this hilly region, divides Sawahra almost in half. Today 5,000 residents of Sawahra live on the Jerusalem side of the fence, now known as West Sawahra and 7,000 people live on the West Bank side in East Sawahra.
The village of Sawahra was built by the 11 families of the Sawahra Bedouin tribe over 100 years ago when they abandoned their nomadic life in favor of the community they now live in near Jerusalem. The original 11 families are still here on both sides of a small valley with homes and businesses occupying hilltops and flat areas along the hillsides. Every family has literally been divided by the wall. Abdallah lives on the West Bank side but his two brothers and a sister live on the Jerusalem side. He is not allowed on the Jerusalem side unless he applies for a special permit. He needs such a permit to visit his family.

When the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem were redrawn by the Israelis in 1967 they were casually drawn through the middle of this community because of the valley they share but the fence does not even follow this municipal boundary. As I have explained before, Palestinians have one of two different ID’s that define their ability to move freely. Those who live inside the municipal border and pay taxes to the city have “Jerusalem ID’s” which allows them to travel to and from Jerusalem. The rest have "West Bank ID’s" which restrict their movement to the West Bank, and now only outside of the wall which takes much of the West Bank for Israel. Like other areas near Jerusalem, many of the families in East Sawahra have Jerusalem ID’s and their cars have yellow Israeli plates allowing them to drive in Israel, but they live on the West Bank side of the wall.

Israel’s clear policy is to force as many Palestinians as possible to the West Bank side of the wall in many creative ways such as canceling the Jerusalem ID of anyone who marries someone with a West Bank ID forcing them to live in the West Bank. One of the most blatant of these measures is simply walling them out. Tens of thousands of Palestinians with Jerusalem ID’s having jobs, schools, family, churches, etc. in Jerusalem, now find themselves having to spend hours each day at checkpoints to have their ID’s checked, their pockets emptied, articles x-rayed, and their fingerprints analyzed, just to go to work in the morning. Nowhere is that anymore obvious than here in Sawahra. They have their own private checkpoint that school children and workers pass through daily on foot as they have now been restricted from driving through even if they have Israeli plates. Those that want to drive need to take the forty mile drive trip we take through Abu Dis and Bethany to a different checkpoint. They are not even allowed to pass through the driving checkpoint we monitor in their town (on land owned by Abdallah) because that checkpoint is only for cars with green Palestinian plates.

Only those people with their names on a list are allowed to even walk through the Sawahra checkpoint. A large and successful dairy products company is located in East Sawahra. Most of their employees, and the owners, live on the Jerusalem side of the fence which causes them many problems. The employees must find transportation to this remote gate and then get picked up on the West Bank side and transported to the factory every day. In other places where towns have been divided like this, Israel has without any advance notice just closed the gate permanently. This happened since I have been here in the community of Ram north of Jerusalem. One Wednesday morning the gate used by the residents of Ram, most of whom have Jerusalem ID’s and work in Jerusalem, found the gate converted to a “ Closed Military Area” which is IDF code for “because we can”. All of those people must now travel to Ramallah and cross at the Qalandiya checkpoint which we also monitor, making the lines even longer then the typical 1 to 1 ½ hours in the mornings. They still however must pay their taxes to the municipality of Jerusalem. The residents of Sawahra are convinced this is their fate as well.

While this movement restriction is obviously demeaning and onerous there is one particular aspect that is particularly upsetting to the families here. It involves funerals. The cemetery where all of the villagers have been laid to rest since the founding of the village is on the Jerusalem side of the fence. When someone dies the Israeli army limits funeral attendees passing through the checkpoint to 50 people over the age of 45. Arab culture is very family oriented and their large extended families are very close. In almost every case, grieving family members are stopped at the gate and prevented from attending even their closest family member’s funeral. Abdallah’s uncle, who worked for the US State Department, died late last year of a massive heart attack literally as he was stepping through the gate at the checkpoint one morning. Abdallah was not allowed to attend his funeral. He was forced to stand and contemplate his uncle’s life at the place where he died…….the checkpoint.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Update - Um Kamel and Home Wrecking

Um Kamel
As promised I want to update you on the case of the woman who was evicted from her home that she has lived in for over 50 years, a couple of months ago, after she won a law suit to remove the settlers that were living in half of her home for three years. For those who did not read the original story you can find it in the archive on the panel to the right. A few weeks ago Um Kamel had her date in court that I told you about. The court room only holds eight people, four on each side. There were lots of internationals and press on hand for the trial. They had to stand outside. Um Kamel picked my teammate Alice from Sweden out of the crowd to sit next to her in the court room. Alice did not understand a thing but was glad to be able to comfort Um Kamel during the proceeding.
The foundation of the settler’s case is that the UN and the Jordanian government had no right to the land that the 22 refugee homes were built on in 1956. They claim that the land was leased to a Jewish family under a 100 year lease in the late 1800’s and that this Jewish claim precedes the claim by the Jordanians. The document they have presented as evidence has been shown to be a forgery but that has not seemed to put this issue to rest. Um Kamel’s lawyers traveled to Turkey prior to this court session and located a legitimate Turkish document that proves that the land was Arab land. The judge’s comment was, “Why didn’t you present this before as it changes things”.
Noting that the case is slipping away from them, the settlers attorneys are now demanding that the judge step down from the case and give it to a more senior judge on the basis that the other judge has been on the bench longer and can render a better opinion because he knows the area better than the current judge. The other judge is known to be sympathetic to the settlers. This is where it was left. Um Kamel has no idea when a decision will be made as to weather the judge will continue and make a decision in the case or if he will step down and it will effectively start over. It goes without saying that the judge is now under tremendous political pressure to step down. This case is clearly not about law or what is right. Courts here are completely political.
In the mean time, the housing authority is busy trying to create additional “facts on the ground” before the Um Kamel trial is completed and precedent is set. Two additional families living in two of the other 22 homes included in the area the settlers are laying claim to have received eviction notices that are set to be executed this Sunday. They were evicted once before a few years ago and won the right to move back into their homes. Even though they won at that time, one of the family members was put in jail for moving back into the house because he did not have the written proof of the decision in hand when the army came to his home after they moved back in. He got out of jail after three months only after the proof was presented by his attorney.
These evictions affect 52 people including two people in their 80’s. Members of International Solidarity Movement are staying with these families and will resist the evictions. Many other support groups, including us, will be standing by to document the evictions and report it to the world. If this sounds too bizarre to believe, I assure you this is the way justice happens in this “democratic” country.
Home Wrecking
Home demolitions have not only continued but have accelerated. I visited the home of one family in East Jerusalem that had their home demolished last week. Like all of these cases the family built their home on land they owned after they were unable to get a permit. The army arrived unannounced last Wednesday morning while the father was at work. The family was not allowed to remove their possessions from the home. The army spent a few minutes removing a few things which they video taped so they could say they removed the personal items. As soon as the video camera was turned off they stopped removing items from the home and demolished it. All of the family’s clothes are on the bottom of the pile. I took these pictures of one of the children standing on the rubble of what was their home. The bulldozer driver made a point of driving over this boys bicycle as it approached to home. This family of 8 including 6 children is now living in a tent next to the pile that was their home.
I am reading a book called Separate and Unequal that was written by Amir Cheshin who was the Jerusalem mayor’s advisor on Arab affairs from 1984 to 1993 and two other local government insiders. The book was written in 1999. The authors were directly involved in the development and implementation of specific policies that were, and still are, designed to force Palestinians to move out of the Jerusalem area. During their tenure the authors were a weak voice within the government for cohabitation with the Palestinians. Their voices were squashed. In the book they outline the secret meetings and unstated policies that were focused on increasing the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem by taking land for Jewish only settlements and strictly limiting the increase in the number of Palestinians. Unfortunately since this book was written 10 years ago, the policies they talk about have continued unabated while new and more evil strategies have been developed like home demolition.
In another recent development a long running case involving 88 homes, 140 families and 1500 people has reemerged. These 88 homes have demolition orders on them because the municipality wants to build a park on the site. The site is immediately adjacent to a settlement that is in the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood. It too was taken to be an archeological park but the park soon became Jewish only houses.
In that same area a demolition order has been issued for an apartment building that houses 150 people. That order is supposed to be executed this Sunday as well. Close by there is another apartment building that was also built illegally and also has a demolition order on it. That building was built by Jewish settlers. That demolition order was issued 18 months ago but it will not be demolished. There is lots of precedent for those buildings getting permits through political and administrative channels after they are built. This happened with a whole neighborhood that was built illegally by settlers in another part of East Jerusalem. In that case the judge decided that it was too much of a hardship to remove the whole neighborhood. After a long court battle with neighboring Palestinians to have the settlement demolished, the settlers were issued building permits for the buildings they had built illegally. They are still living there today. It is apparently not a hardship to displace Palestinians only Israeli’s.
People in the West often wonder how a person could be so desperate that they strap a bomb to their body and try to kill others along with themselves. Most, of the suicide bombers come from families whose homes were demolished and their lives destroyed as a direct result. They literally had nothing left to live for. The truth is that Israel has created these threats with their insidious and ongoing ethnic cleansing policies in and around Jerusalem.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Different Faces of Zionism

This past week I met two very different faces of Zionism. Bob, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank and Lydia who lives on a Kibbutz in Israel proper, both fervently believe in the fundamental Zionist principal of a homeland for Jews. They do however differ radically in how they execute their Zionist beliefs in everyday life.

Wikopedia defines Zionism as, “the international Jewish political movement that originally supported the reestablishment of a homeland for the Jewish People in Palestine, after two millennia of exile”. The constitutionally protected rights to religious freedom we cherish in the United States tend to lead the uninitiated to think that Zionism was a religious freedom movement. The founders of Zionism were not religious and the focus of the movement was not religious freedom but a way to escape persecution based on ethnicity. While the fundamental principal of a homeland for Jews remains central to Zionist belief, the movement evolved and fractured into four different views of what it means to be Zionist and how those views should influence Israeli governance and policy, particularly as it relates to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. These different views of Zionism can be related to different political parties in Israel today and to the wide variety of historical backgrounds that immigrant Jews bring with them to Israel.

Wikopedia goes on to define the different strands of Zionism and how they relate to current politics in Israel as follows:

Labor Zionism: Labor Zionism originated in Russia. Socialist Zionists believed that centuries of being oppressed in anti-Semitic societies had reduced Jews to a meek, vulnerable, despairing existence which invited further anti-Semitism. They argued that Jews could escape their situation by becoming farmers, workers, and soldiers in a country of their own. Most socialist Zionists rejected religion as perpetuating a "Diaspora mentality" among the Jewish people, and established rural communes in Israel called "kibbutzim". Socialist and labor Zionists are usually atheists or oppose religion. Consequently, the movement has often had an antagonistic relationship with Orthodox Judaism.

Labor Zionism became the dominant force in the political and economic life of the Yishuv during the British Mandate of Palestine and was the dominant ideology of the political establishment in Israel until the 1977 election when the Labor Party was defeated. The Labor Party continues the tradition (although it has weakened) and has in recent years taken to advocating creation of a Palestinian State in the West-Bank and Gaza.

Liberal Zionism: Liberal Zionism was initially the dominant trend within the Zionist movement from the First Zionist Congress in 1897 until after the First World War. General Zionists identified with the liberal European middle class (or bourgeois) to which many Zionist leaders such as Herzl and Chaim Weizmann aspired. Liberal Zionism, although not associated with any single party in modern Israel, remains a strong trend in Israeli politics advocating free market principles, democracy and adherence to human rights.

Nationalist Zionism: Nationalist Zionism originated from the Revisionist Zionists led by Jabotinsky. The Revisionists left the World Zionist Organization in 1935 because it refused to state that the creation of a Jewish state was an objective of Zionism. The revisionists advocated the formation of a Jewish Army in Palestine to force the Arab population to accept mass Jewish migration and promote British interests in the region. Revisionist Zionism evolved into the Likud Party in Israel, which has dominated most governments since 1977. It advocates Israel maintaining control of the West-Bank and East Jerusalem and takes a hard-line approach in the Israeli-Arab conflict. In 2005 the Likud split over the issue of creation of a Palestinian state on the occupied territories and party members advocating peace talks helped form the Kadima party.

Religious Zionism: In the 1920s and 1930s Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine) and his son Rabbi Zevi Judah Kook saw great religious and traditional value in many of Zionism's ideals, while rejecting its anti-religious undertones. They sought to forge a branch of Orthodox Judaism which would properly embrace Zionism's positive ideals and serve as a bridge between Orthodox and secular Jews.

While other Zionist groups have tended to moderate their nationalism over time, the gains from the Six Day War have led religious Zionism to play a significant role in Israeli political life. Now associated with the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim, religious Zionists have been at the forefront of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and efforts to assert Jewish control over the Old City of Jerusalem.

Religious Zionism is largely Modern Orthodox but increasingly includes (more traditional) Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Although the Sephardi party Shas is not directly associated with the Zionist movement, the party generally pursues an Ultra-Orthodox Zionist agenda

Bob is a Nationalist Zionist who lives in one of the large well established Jewish settlements or “neighborhoods” in the West Bank near Bethlehem. He was born in New York in an Orthodox family and immigrated to Israel after college 20+ years ago. Bob is a PR guy who was at one time the PR director for the settlers association. He has been the mayor and city manager of different settlements and had a lead role in founding some of them. For him Israel is all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and he does not want to give up control of one inch of it. He believes in a one state solution with the Palestinians coming under the rule of Israel. Bob says that while he believes in democracy and that their settlement has a good relationship with a neighboring Palestinian village, “Arabs” simply do not like the Jews and that they must aggressively defend themselves from suicide bombers and missile attacks. He does not believe in the wall however. He does not think walls make for good neighbors and their settlement is fighting the wall between them and the nearby Arab village. Others in his community believe in the wall. While he did not come out and say it, I got the impression that the reason he did not like the wall is because it is a psychological barrier to the continuing expansion of settlements throughout the West Bank and could demand the removal of some of them if a Gaza style unilateral withdrawal were to take place to territory on the Israel side of the wall.

When asked about the impact of demographics on the balance of power in a democratic, single state solution, Israel, Bob indicated that he did not see it as a problem because he felt sure that a Jewish majority would be maintained to assure that Israel retains it Jewish character. My take on Bob is that he believes in the old south concept of ‘separate but equal’ that perpetuated human rights violations of southern blacks for decades; equality as defined by the Jewish majority. Based on the recent election, the Bob’s of Israel and those to the right of him are in the majority today.

Lydia is dieing bred in Israel. She is a Welsh born, atheist Jew who came to Israel 30 years ago to escape racism against Jews in Wales and England. Growing up she experienced Judaism as more of an ethnicity than as a religion. After completing school she moved to London and had difficulty getting a job simply because of her family name which is Greenberg. She changed her name to Green and all bias toward her disappeared. She still witnessed deeply held bias against Jews in London. After an incident at here work where her supervisor indicated that, “Hitler should have finished the job” she changed her name back to Greenberg, quit her job and went on an exploratory trip to Israel. She lived and worked in a Kibbutz. She met and married her husband and has never looked back.

Lydia, like Bob, is a very committed Zionist who believes deeply in the founding principals of the State of Israel and the need for a homeland for Jews. That is where the similarities between her views and Bob’s end. Lydia is a Labor Zionist. She lives in one of the last of the real Kibbutzim communities in Israel. It is a completely Socialist community where everyone contributes their work and any outside income to the common community funds. Everyone in the community gets an equal share of the profits of their work in the form of housing, food, clothing etc. Over the last two decades this model has died out and most of the Kibbutzim today are educational or vacation based centers where people go to experience what it was like for their forbearers. Interestingly her Kibbutz has been able to retain their way of life because of Capitalism. They hold the patent for the plastic covering used on large hay bales world wide and today they have factories around the world making that product. She said, “I started out a hippy with nothing but a dream and ended up a shareholder in a multi-national conglomerate!” She indicated that they too are on the verge of a vote to change to a system whereby everyone has their own money and pays for services they buy from the Kibbutz such as housing. Young people simply do not want to lose control of the wealth generated from their efforts as most now work in jobs outside the Kibbutz. They are simply not in a position to fight that any longer.

Lydia is a firm believer in the two state solution. She believes that like Israel, Palestinians have the right to autonomy over their own territory. She is active in organizations that are trying to build bridges between Israeli and Palestinians and does not believe that war is the answer. She is the mother of four sons who have all served in elite military units in the army and she is very torn between supporting her sons and her pacifist beliefs. She is also very worried about the shift right in Israeli politics. She does not see it as a good sign for the future, but she remains optimistic that peace can be achieved. She is clear that it needs to happen by becoming closer to the Palestinians not farther away or by building walls to divide them.
There are a wide range of views as to how to solve the differences between the Palestinians and Israelis on both sides. As long as there is a healthy dialog, which frankly seems to be slipping away on both sides, there is a chance for peace. It is clear that time is not the friend of peace and that the parties need help to move toward resolution. While the visit of Hillary Clinton this week was encouraging, more needs to be done by our government to bring the parties together and it needs to be done very soon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sights, Sounds and Smells

This past week my daughter Lauren was here in the Holy Land as part of a group from the University of Michigan. It was great to spend time with her and share the richness of this place with her once again. We were here together in 2005 so it was great to visit our local friends together and to meet new ones. As I traveled around with the group I had the pleasure of seeing this place through the eyes of people who were seeing it for the first time, and to rekindle the sense of awe that is invariably invoked here. While they spent much of their time seeing the impact of the occupation, as that was their primary goal, they also visited the holy sites and did much of what the other thousands of tourists that are here in any given week do, like shopping in the souks of the Old City.

This is without question a magical place that for any religious person instills a feeling of coming home. All of the places you have heard and read about since you were a child are here in front of you and you realize, perhaps for the first time, how tangible they are. From the vantage point of the guest house I live in here on the top of the Mount of Olives I am surrounded by olive trees that look the same as they did 2000 years ago. I can look down to the west to see the Old City, the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the spot where Jesus was crucified and the Western Wall that is holy to Jews. It is a short walk down the hill to the Garden of Gethsemane. In a few hours I will walk down the Mt of Olives to the Old City as I do many days. Today I will reflect on Jesus’ walk down this hill. I will be thankful for Laurens visit and the renewed lens to look at this place through that the U of M group gave me with their visit.
I have said in the past that you use all of your emotions when you come here. You also use all of your senses. Jerusalem is visually dynamic with a new and exciting thing to see around every corner. While I have walked through the narrow lanes of the Old City many times I see new things each and every time. In addition to being visually rich, you are reminded of the religious significance with the mixture of sounds that are unique to this place. As I am sitting here writing this, the second morning call to prayer has just ended. The first still wakes me up each morning at about 4:30. Like most people, I simply go back to sleep. The melodic call is sometimes done by men and sometimes by young boys and is quite beautiful to hear. The various mosques sometimes overlap but for the most part they take turns out of respect. This mealody mixes with the church bells that ring in different churches at various times throughout the day and the din of the vendors in the souks pitching their wares.
As you walk though the maze that is the Old City, you smell the fresh herbs that the ladies sitting on the ground are selling out of large bags that they have hauled here early in the morning, to get the very best spots to sit for the day. The spice sellers compete for your nose with the fresh fruit vendors and the sweet smell of honey drenched treats. Of course the ever present Arabic coffee vendors are not to be outdone as they constantly grind fresh coffee to mix into the pallet of smells. This truly is a magical place.
I have updated the slide show that is running below to show from this past week to give you a sense for that side of the Holy Land. At the end of the day, it is a place that you have to see for yourself and I encourage you to do that sometime. In the mean time over the coming weeks of Lent, if you would like to you can take a virtual tour of the Holy Land that has been put together by Christian Aid UK based world-wide aid organization. Each day they will visit a new place and allow you to experience both the grandeur and the challenge of this place.
Here is a link to the tour: http://lentpilgrimage.christianaid.org.uk/
I would like to thank all of you for your prayers and thoughts as a reach the halfway point in this journey. I am particularly thankful to my wife Julie and the rest of my family for looking after all the aspects of daily life in my absence. I miss you all very much and look forward to seeing you. If the second half goes as fast as the first I will be with you in the blink of an eye.

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