So it has been about three weeks without update here in Israel and Palestine (now Palestine). I think because I am so far behind and there is an overwhelming amount to write about that I am just going to blog for my time here with the Christian Peacemaker Team, filling in some stories here and there and then going back at the end for my wonderful three weeks with the Bedouins and then with my dad traveling around.
As I lay down to sleep under the Bethlehem stars last night on my thin mattress on the rooftop of a house in the Deheisheh refugee camp (with four other CPTers surrounding me), I could not help but enjoy the cool breeze and the intense wedding drums and fireworks shooting off somewhere nearby. It was an experience of an odd blessing, a relief from the intense conversations of the day, a chance for digestion of the delicious Arab dinner of chicken and rice, and a moment of forgetting the daily struggle for the people sleeping only a floor below me. But only a brief moment. I could not escape the stories we had spent the day hearing of the refugee camp we were in—a camp started by families from 59 of the 531 Palestinian villages (12,000 residents) destroyed in the so-called “War of Independence.” The camp was only supposed to last a year or two—here, 60 years later it stands as a permanent residence (though the tents have changed to tightly knit houses) with not much apparent evidence of change. In fact, from the night rooftop view, one can see the ways in which the situation is growing continually worse—settlements rising in every direction, huge bypass roads on Palestinian land only able to be accessed by Israelis, and a 25 foot wall encircling Bethlehem and its nearby villages, cutting them off from their own land and from access to Israel. The firsthand stories were equally disturbing. The man who showed us around told of his administrative detention—prison without trial or charge and the ways in which that is now used to deny him all chances of permit or visa out of Palestine. He told of the increasing limited access that won’t allow most of his family to be present at his brother’s wedding in Gaza (his mom may be able to go if Israel will grant her a permit) and of the ways in which the camp used to be patrolled and put on lockdown for periods of weeks at a time. These stories were not new to those of us who have been traveling quite a bit, and indeed went along with the many statistics we had heard from human rights workers on both side of the separation wall.
A delegation of fifteen, a motley crowd of people old and young, have spent the first few days of the Christian Peacemaker Team delegation meeting with organizations—both Israeli and Palestinian—working for peace, taking alternative tours of Jerusalem and the surrounding suburbs and seeing firsthand the policies of Israel as they push into the West Bank, and discussing ways of nonviolence in the midst of the conflict. It has been extremely hard for me—all of this. I have been traveling for over three weeks here now, hearing stories, visiting organizations, working with Bedouins, delving into things with my dad who was here for two weeks. I have had the opportunity to see many of the things we are continuing to delve into here and have also had a chance to travel through Israel to the beaches, holy sites, and the desert climbs. I have had great times—soccer with the Bedouins, afternoons on the beach, Shabbat dinners with friendly Orthodox Jews, hikes with my dad, and wanderings through the markets (all things I will write about after this delegation). But then there has been the other side, that realization of the other reality: the experience of it at checkpoints as I watch Palestinian men give their handprints and show their permits after waiting hours in line just to go to work in Jerusalem, tearful stories of the crippling effects of the walls on Palestinian families, discriminating soldiers in the streets, destroyed villages once full of women and children, histories and memories. Not to mention multiple conversations with Israelis who say they just try not to think about it—for politics are politics and they can live their lives apart from it. It is more than overwhelming at this point. The stories and sights have piled up. And inside I struggle with what to do with it all, how to respond. It has been constant—the overload, the frustrations, the building resentment for the powers that allow this to happen. For us in America, who continue to expand our “security” regardless of the lives of those on the other side of our walls. Can we not learn from history? I have been trying hard to listen closely, to question everything, to hear as many stories from both sides of the wall. But with each day, I have more growing frustration toward policies of oppression and militarization on the part of Israel. And today, it continued to build more…
This morning after my night on the porch, the message was loud and clear: “your livelihoods aren’t even worth our shit.” We visited a Palestinian village (Ertoz?) near Bethlehem, a village with a fertile valley full of beautiful apricot trees that have helped support the livelihood of the families living there. These last years, the Israeli government has begun to build three settlements around the valley (settlements are suburb-like communities built illegally in West Bank territory), cutting the Palestinian village from some of their land. Then, construction for the wall (again on that land) began, and now, Israel is building a septic tank in the valley for the settlements, one that will clearly overflow with sewage, pouring into the part of the valley not already destroyed by the construction. Thus, this beautiful fertile land of apricots is being turned into a huge sewage dump—and all illegally. What is an interesting sidenote to mention, though, is that these policies are not the thinking of cruel Israeli settlers moving in; in fact, a majority of these bigger settlements are created by the Israeli government as suburbs of Jerusalem with LOTS of incentives—tax breaks, cheaper houses, great schools, easy access to the surrounding area and even nice walls to block their view of the neighboring villages and their new sewage lines (though there are the ideological and violent settlements, most of them are not near Jerusalem and are not widely accepted by Israel). The government (military could be inserted here), then, is trying to expand Israel well into the West Bank through these settlements that they don’t even refer to as such. Meanwhile, the fault of the Israeli settlers in these parts is mostly just their ignorance (at least that’s my perception) or their acceptance of Israel’s plan without having to see the realities of it because of the sick brilliance of the wall. Why not move to these beautiful communities that have been built on supposedly empty land? And thus the powers of Israel are able to push even further. Domination systems, anybody? A bit different from what our media shows us?
We walked there today as part of our peace action, joining locals and internationals for the weekly walk of protest to the tank on their land that they are no longer able to walk on. It was a sight to see: settlements up the hill, Israeli soldiers pointing their M16s at us from the road above, and this huge, ugly concrete tank already taking over some of the rich land. There was no confrontation today, thankfully. For the first time in two months, the local Palestinians were able to make it to the end of the valley and stand momentarily on their old land without hassles from the soldiers. But that was it, all we could do was be in solidarity for the walk. As we trudged back down the trail and into the village to load the bus for return, a little boy hung out of the balcony. “Thank you” he said with a broken smile.
In every place we have been there is still the mention of hope. Today, it was a man in the refugee camp who said, “Of course we have hope. We have nothing but hope.” May we all hope for a peace that allows us to break down these separation walls on our land and in our hearts—on all sides.
Tomorrow we head south to meet with Bedouins in the Negev before our journey to Hebron, the culmination of the trip. Sorry if this has seemed too slanted or depressing or boring. It is the first thing I have been able to write in days. I’ll include a mix of stories next time. Love you all!