Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"We Refuse to be Enemies"

I want this post to be mostly pictures.  Now that I am home there is just too much to say to write it all out – and I know that pictures with a little explanation is often a better tool to show more people parts of what is going on than writing it all out.  I will post later, after the pictures are up about more particulars, and my reflections on the whirlwind of a conference that was no less than life changing for me.

However before commencing into the picture book, I want to tell a short story about my journey home…. Just to put a few things in perspective.

SO  Israel is the best in the world at “security” – a word that is meant to make people think they are safe, when really the actions of such measures  are based on the instillation and spread of fear into obedience and compliance – we MUST be aware of choice of words in our world today, because they are specifically chosen to convince us of something – from all sides.  Through decades of being the number one receiver of “aid” from the United States, and through not having to be accountable to how they spend that “aid” to the public, Israel has created a state of high security – now one of their biggest exports, including back to the United States themselves (e.g. the tear gas scenario that happened with Libya recently if you know what I am talking about).  Not only has this created a country that constructs beautiful places for Israelis to live by pushing the unwanted to crippling enclosements and hiding them behind a wall with roads that steer clear of reality – but their entrance in and out of the country is so tight that it reinforces their power as one enters and as one leaves the not so holy land.

When you go to fly out of Israel, security is heightened. Immediately upon entering the airport, at the first security check, you line up and speak with a security guard about who you are, where you were, and what you were doing.  They ask some more questions and put a sticker on your passport and each piece of luggage, and give you instructions on where to commence.  Each sticker has a number from 1-6: 1 being the safest, and 6 being the target for high risk.

I initially received a level 5 – I am thinking I was probably profiled because I am a young person traveling alone in Israel and not Jewish who attended a Christian conference – which partly took place in Bethlehem, which is part of the West Bank.  It wasn’t until they searched my checked luggage and found “Sabeel” items and books about the Occupation that I was immediately re-stickered a level 6.

Sabeel is the organization that held the conference – they are an amazing Palestinian Christian founded peace group that works in the West Bank and internationally.  Note the word peace – the whole conference and work of Sabeel focuses squarely around non-violent resistance in the face of occupation – how to literally love your enemies and resist in a way that promotes justice for all – far, far away from promoting anything dangerous to anyone – except to the strength of the empire themselves.  Though they claimed to be looking for weapons that would pose as a threat to others, the real danger that I carried was the promotion of Peaceful resistance, which is the real threat to the power structure.  What they really wanted to push was an instillation of fear in me – but they were not successful.  I knew my rights and I knew everything would be fine – and I wanted to show them that I wasn’t afraid of them, nor was I ashamed of the material I possessed and the stance I had.  I was guilty of nothing.

So anyways, the young guy – around my age by the looks of him and many of the others working there,  was at first slowly searching my bag, but not too intensely, and I thought I’d be fine and make it through without any hassle… until I watched him pull out from the bottom of my luggage the dozens of pamphlets, notes, and books with the words “Occupation” “Palestine” “Settlements” “Justice” “Peace “Jesus” “Nakba” “Hope” etc. – words the state of Israeli doesn’t like to face.  He looked at me and asked, “why do you have these? Where did you get them from? Did somebody give them to you? Why do you want them and what are you going to do with them?”  I answered that I picked them up during the course of the last week, no one gave them to me as presents, that I study International work, and that I intended on reading them.

Level 6.

Within 5 minutes my bag was surrounded by a dozen security guards literally going through every nook and cranny of my belongings, spreading them over 4 counters, scanning and taking samples of each and every object, re scanning and handling my computer, camera, electronics, etc.  I was just standing and watching (keeping careful tabs on everything) and smiling as all of this happened, talking to the guards and making sure my things were respected and my rights maintained. At one point a skinny young guy was given the task of scanning each and every piece of paper, pamphlet and book that I had. I watched him read the titles with the words I mentioned above repeated over and over again. He looked at the pictures and flipped through the pages; I wondered what he thought of everything -if he denied it, mocked it in his head, if any of it sank in or affected him.  I prayed that the images and words would affect him more than he would realize – especially when they were coming from a young woman (me) who was smiling and joking with him previous to all the commotion and was clearly not that crazy (I hope so anyways, haha).  I wish I could get inside some of these people’s heads… then again, maybe I don’t.  Once again too, I want to reiterate – not every Israeli is for the occupation.  Many of them are, many have been indoctrinated (especially because everyone is in the military and thus goes through much training, which includes mental and psychological work), but there are individuals who are involved that have a chord in them that does not agree, and many end up being forces of change later on – though rebelling against the powers that be is far away from an easy task.

I just want to keep saying that so that we are clear: not all Israelis nor Jewish people are for this insanity, please, please understand this!! Individuals must not be lump-summed into the whole group – and that goes for Palestinians as well.

Moving on.  So, for two hours they search my things – all while I am standing there keeping tabs on everything (I’ll add that I hadn’t slept at that point for 23 hours, it was 4:30 in the morning – by the time I was escorted to my plane it was 27 hours without sleep, so this actually kept me occupied more than anything haha).  Anyways, so part way through the investigation of my underwear, jewelry, camera, shampoo, etc., two women approached me and said I needed to follow them to have a mental check done.  I told them I did not want to leave my things just strewn about – my laptop and all electronics, souvenirs and valuables just everywhere.  I wanted them packed before leaving.  They pressed me that they did not have time to wait as they had to get everything done before my plane took off. But I knew what I was allowed to insist on so I said I would wait until the inspection was done and then we would go (half of that was strategic so that they’d have less time to spend with me in the “mental check”).

So, because it took me forever to pack back at the hotel, and I knew that legally they had to repack my things for me because they unpacked them, I gave jobs to some of the security who were involved with going through everything, including the women waiting to examine me, and then thanked them for helping me while showing concern for how my things were being treated and hopes that they would not break in the repacking process – while pressing for respect, overtime many smiles were exchanged… though of course many of them maintained their hard core composure.

So eventually we finally packed everything – and for them to try to unpack it again and tamper with anything while I was being questioned and repack it without me noticing would have been a difficult task, and I knew where I’d placed it all so that I could easily check before leaving that all was well.

So they escorted me and scanned me into a private area and then a room where I stripped down to my tank and tights, turned to face a blank wall, and was physically examined to make sure I had nothing on me.  Then they questioned me the same as before, and the women who were doing the questioning softened and we ended up having kind of a nice conversation as I explained the exiting touristy places I had been to.  After they must have deemed me as sane and not a threat (lol), they escorted me out – the three of us holding doors for each other as we went.  We retrieved my bags, and they escorted me to my gate, where I made it just in time for take off.

I’m kinda glad it happened.  One of the only things that went through my head once the Sabeel material was discovered was the realization that I did not only represent myself, and peace activism in the West Bank in the eyes of the Security, but I represented Sabeel as an organization who is known to them for the work that they do.  I just hope that through that whole process, something clicked even slightly in the minds of the people dealing with me – for them, only doing their job, but hopefully perhaps realizing a little something more as they scanned the images and titles of the things I possessed.

Who knows?

Anyway, so I wanted to share that story just to kind of put it in perspective for you as you view the images that come next.  How truth of corruption is a threat to the occupier, and though I was leaving the territory with messages and intentions of non-violence and peace, this information is not what Israel wants its people to see, let alone the international audience.

…hopefully I can explain some of these pictures enough!  This is just a few things that I encountered while in the West Bank, though obviously much more than this goes on I was only there 6 days – so these are just the observations that I made while there…

There have been over 24 000 illegal house demolitions in Jerusalem by the Israeli state over the last couple of decades. This one was a recent home demolition that we visited in East Jerusalem.  The family has lived in this neighborhood for generations and hold all the documentation to prove it.
This man explained his story of struggling with the judicial system in Israel and fighting for his rights to keep his home for his family.  As I've mentioned before, homes are frequently demolished with little or no warning, after Israelis win the rights to do so through the judicial system.
Palestinian families are also sometimes forced to leave - at times invaded in the middle of the night and given half an hour to gather their things in order for an Israeli family to come in and take their home.  The crazy thing is that this happens ALL the time (2-3 times each week). In this particular case, this little boy (Mohammad, 8 yrs old) was home alone eating breakfast while his dad drove his older sister to university. Soldiers broke in, overthrew the table and food he was eating. They harassed the young boy asking him why he was afraid and didn't let him call his father - before his Dad arrived home the demolition was half complete.

The family has won the case in court (after hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees) to keep the land temporarily), right now they live in this tent and the one room that they managed to keep standing (once the dining room) determined to build again.
The unfortunate part is that much of the time the families who are able to keep their land (after all the legal fees and battles) often have whatever they rebuild torn down again.  This father though is determined to stay and do things "legally" so that they can never be forced to leave based on "legitimate" reasons in the eyes of the international community.  Israel's actions will speak for themselves, he says... hopefully one day this will be true.
Mohammad was silent and solemn the whole time his Dad was speaking until Sawsan asked him what happened and then he burst into tears describing the horror of being alone and what the soldiers did and said to him.
A picture of the house after it was demolished the morning it happened.


An orthodox Jewish family - first, not all Jewish people look like this -obvious to some but not all realize that so we must not stereotype and secondly, this is what must be kept in mind too - many Israelis are also desiring a place to raise their families and make a life for themselves. This is what makes the argument from some individual's standpoint - that fundamentally what most people simply desire is a good life for themselves and their children.  What comes into question (and like I mentioned, some Israelis DO question this) - is the morality behind being part of illegal activity to achieve such a life.

Qalandia Checkpoint.  We met a women here who is part of an organization of Israeli women who are against the Occupation.  Their work includes taking shifts and being present at various checkpoints in order to keep the lines moving and make sure that there are little or no human rights abuses taking place more than already are. They have been doing this for ten years now.

Israeli soldiers - all Israelis must serve in the army and the majority of the soldiers we encountered are literally my age. I can't tell you how strange it is to see/interact with people who look so similar to me yet are holding massive guns - some smiling, and some acting out on complete and disturbing power trips.

The wall in Jerusalem with military trucks in front.

Jerusalem is a divided city - not free for all who live there.  On the other side of that wall is a part of Jerusalem that must cross in and out of the checkpoint to the right of the picture

Israeli mother explaining her work and the film she made using footage and pictures of the transformation of the checkpoints from their beginning until today. The film includes stories of what she has seen ranging from mothers giving birth to children in the line of the checkpoint because they weren't allowed through, to people dying because they couldn't get through the line to receive medical aid, and children, women, and men being abused by Israeli soldiers, etc.

Israeli settlement in Jerusalem called Pisgat Ze'ev....
This is a view from a park in Pisgat Ze'ev - a vally where just across the way is a refugee camp built for 1,500 people and is forced occupied by 20 000 people.  You can see the wall, and garbage from here.  Both sides of the wall pay the same taxes but the camp receives no garbage disposal, extremely low water supply for which they pay 5 times more than Israelis do, and very low electricity.  The thing that is even creepier about this is that there were Israeli children playing and laughing behind us while we were here... growing up with this view of a literally oppressed people right before their eyes... it was actually one of the more disturbing times of the trip for me that made me physically and emotionally upset - really hard to be there... but this is normal for them...

Another viewpoint from the Israeli neighborhood overlooking the Palestinian refugee neighborhood.

...we should remember too that though this is internationally recognized by the UN as extremely illegal occupation, America - Obama - has vetoed (and continues to) action against stuff like this.. and so it continues...


 Sunset in Jerusalem viewed from the Mount of Olives (as recommended by Prof. Desjardin's :)) - dome of the rock to the right, unfortunately I was dumb and it's blocked by a pole
... More sunset

I want to add too that part of the "beautification process" of Jerusalem involves uprooting and taking illegally thousands of Olive trees from Palestinian farms and  replanting them around Jerusalem - Israeli parts of Jerusalem.  Tourists think they are beautiful, but have no idea...

Garden of Gethsemane

We had a service in Church of the Nativity, on the Mount of Olives

Last week after the service on the Mount; there were only a handful of young people at the conference so it was nice every so often separate from the old fogies ;)

Bethlehem at sunrise; view from my hotel room <3 - woke up and went to bed to this every day.
So when I zoom in on the beautiful view of Bethlehem, we see an Israeli settlement just beyond Bethlehem walls.  There are separate roads for Israelis only going in and out of the neighborhood and walls/fences blocking anyone else from going in or out.  Isolation of Israelis from Palestinians is one way that the state protects itself from Israeli citizens questioning what is really going on -  it is much easier to be blinded if one is separate from the issues and able to "peacefully" live their lives in denial - even though reality is facing them just across the road... it's crazy. "Settlements" - a word which I am not a huge fan of, is not something that is just temporarily set up - they are "permanent" neighborhoods/towns built in the West Bank, on Palestinian Territory.  Now, Israel considers this their land even though it is not internationally recognized. By building these areas (pushing Palestinians out and walls some of them in into the less fertile land and cutting their water/hydro resources) Israel is attempting to put facts on ground - makes it harder for Palestinians to fight for their rights to a state when that state now has thousands of Israelis settled and living in it.  It's all highly strategic.  Ethnic Cleansing, anyone? :s

George, a resident of the home you can see peaking over the rocks behind him, explains the situation that is pictured below - which was right across where he was facing and we were standing:

Village called Na'aman" on the other side of the fence/checkpoint.  A now small area of land (the reduced it and cut off families/friends from each other and split farms/properties a part) where Israel has declared it "Israeli land" but the Palestinians that already live there cannot have Israeli citizenship, so whenever they build, they are doing so illegally, and Israel demolishes anything they try to build, including schools and hospitals which they were but off from when the fence closed them in, and the Israeli state demolished many of their homes and tear down anything they attempt to build again - all this an effort to get them to leave the area.  Citizens, if they need an ambulance can only call one to the check-point, where they carry the individual in need of care to, wait sometimes hours in line.  No one is allowed to enter but the people who initially lived there... so if someone dies and there is family/friends on the other side who want to be a part of the funeral, they must take the body through the checkpoint and hold one somewhere outside their town/village... same with weddings, etc. - any time they want to meet friends and family from outside their town.

Beautiful Olive Trees, which are often cut down/burned as act of treachery against Palestinian farmers - whether for the purpose of taking the farm land and building on it illegally by settlers/the state, or simply as a way of pushing Palestinians out of the area, as without the trees farmers have no source of income.

Watchtower and fence in the background of the farm.
Olive and Almond trees :). Settlement in the background.
A house on the outskirts of the town we were standing in...

Okay so the shadow is from the house pictured above, and originally these homes were a part of the same area, but now are blocked off.  A girl recently got married to the guy living in this house of the house where I am taking the picture from, and now lives in it - and in the house in the background live her parents.  It takes her parents two hours to come around the wall and through the checkpoint - even if they are allowed out - and so often they just visit by yelling across the fence gap.

Almond Blossoms :).

A settlement

"Patriarch Way" is the name of the street going into this settlement - note that we are driving on a different road than the one leading to the settlement.
So we went to this INCREDIBLE place called "The Tent of Nations", where a Palestinian family has lived for a couple of hundered years (with deeds and everything from throughout the Ottoman Empire and Jordanian rule), and has continuously fought and spent millions of to keep their land though there are settlements surrounding them on every hill and their water and hydro resources have been cut off.  The turned their farm into a place where they gather internationals, Israelis and Palestinians to come and work together/be together to learn and promote peaceful resistance.  This rock is on the road to the top of the hill.  Honestly, their story is actually amazing.
Dehisha Refugee Camp - in place since 1948 Nakba Crisis
Don, a Palestinian film student living in the refugee camp - showed us around

Mikey and Chloe - loveloveLOVE


A "cutie-patootie" (in the famous words of Carissa ;)) who followed us around a bit

Lacking proper waste management opportunities
Graffiti all over the camp - Key symbol again, and also camp images of the initial Nakba Crisis in 1948 when the Refugee camp was first created after thousands of Palestinians forced to flee their homes.


More Graffiti

Image paying tribute to an innocent youth who was jailed and tortured and eventually killed for resisting.
UN Water resource center - they try to collect and distribute water as much as they can to the thousands living in the camp - calls into question Israel's slogan of "Making the Desert Bloom" (which parts of the desert and with what American money is not specified in this statement!)
Our group was given lunch cooked by a couple of families in the camp :) - sooo good.


Munir Fasheh - a retired Harvard Professor questioning our modes of education, and promoting the value of learning wisdom and working on/feeding our spirit just as much as our minds... amazing, amazing, amazing.

Ex-combatant from the Israeli army who is now highly involved in peaceful resistance all over.  Here he was describing his journey from being a fighter pilot (and loving it) to going against the grain and becoming an Israeli peace activist.  He talked about his experience last May being on a 9-person peace boat trying to go into Gaza with kids toys and medical supplies (no weapons whatsoever) and the experience of being surrounded by hundreds of Israeli soldiers on military ships/subs/helicopters with floodlights and guns... and the process and treatment of being arrested and jailed from that experience and many others.  He is interviewed in a doc film called "Little Town of Bethlehem" if you are interested - I haven't seen it yet, but heard good things.

We were privileged to see some students from the internationally esteemed Edward Said School of Music perform - incredible (<3 Ed Said... arts students, do your readings! Amazing man).

Sawsan :), one of the head organizers of the conference

Girls Children's choir also performed for us

John Dear, peace activist ended off the conference on the last day - nominated many times for the Nobel Peace prize and arrested and jailed many times more.. but still at it - awesome/inspirational/encouraging guy to talk to!

The only pic of the three of us!! Not exactly a touristy place to take pics together :p

Must include picture with man who tremendously impacted my life - thank-you, thank-you, Munir!! Conversing with you and hearing you speak changed and affirmed and inspired and encouraged me more than you'll ever know - wish the world were more like you!! :)

Hand Crafted Peace Dove carved by the Bethlehem Olive Wood company as a gift to Sabeel for all the work that they do.

Images from Old City, Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity (supposedly built over the place Jesus was born back in the day). In 2002 there was a 40-day siege of the church by the Israeli army if some of you remember hearing about it.  All who were captured inside (including tourists and monks) were left starving - eating the leaves of a couple of the trees in the courtyard in order to survive.

Our final service on the last night, in an old store house in Bethlehem.  Gorgeous... but freaking freezing.
Lemonada - mint, lemon, sugar = best ever.