Wednesday, March 21, 2012

ME:JEWISH. you: palestinian

Me: Jewish, You: Palestinian

If I had been born Jewish in South America, the US, Africa, or any nation of the world I would be an automatic citizen of Israel with all rights contained therein.
You, had you been born Palestinian in the West Bank or Gaza, could never have citizenship in Israel, nor could you travel in Israel without a special permit. You could not fly out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, but you would have to travel to Jordan to fly internationally.

I would travel throughout Israel and Palestine on new, 4-lane highways specifically designed to make sure I do not see Palestinian villages, but which go directly to all settlements and to all major cities. All roads are protected by either the wall or electronic fences so no undesirable person could get onto them.
You would only travel over Palestinian roads, all in poor repair, many with enough water in huge potholes to swallow up a Volkswagen. You could not take your car into Israel even if you had a pass. You could go, but the car cannot. You are prohibited from being on Israeli roads. It will take you much longer than it used to because now you can only take the back roads as the newer roads have been declared Israeli only.

I would have proper plumbing that allows me to throw toilet paper into the toilet.
You would have to put used toilet paper into a bin next to the toilet, and if you failed to do so the toilet would back up unmercifully.

I could repair my roof, add a room to my house, and go onto the roof as I wish.
You can do nothing without a permit, and permits are not approved in area B or C. If you happen to live in area A you can apply for a permit and it may be granted. If you lived in area C you could not even repair a broken window, and if you went up on your roof you might have soldiers shooting at you.

I can marry anyone I want and bring that person with me to Israel and they will also be granted citizenship.
If you lived in one of several of the smaller villages, if you marry someone from another village (which you will want to do because you are related to everyone in your village) your new spouse will not be able to enter your village.

I could tear out your olive trees and plant cabbage. The court might order that the cabbage be removed, but every time you plant anything on your own land I can tear it up without having any consequences. And as I get funding from the US, I can plant over your crops until you give up.
Your crops will be in danger of being polluted by my sewage which runs down the hill and into your land. Then, because you cannot plant, I will declare your land to be untended and can legally take it from you. When we get into planting wars you will lose lots of your own money continually buying new plants. You can go to court every time and while you will win, I can bankrupt you after a few cases in court.

I can travel wherever I want whenever I want.
You will have to pass through checkpoints where you will show your ID and fingerprints, you will go through a metal detector, and depending n the time of day it might take you up to 2 hours to get to the other side. Your hours inside Israeli territory will be limited as per your particular pass. Once on the other side you are limited to public transportation. Your children will never see the Mediterranean Sea, cannot travel to Haifa or any other part of Israel, and you may be denied the opportunity to pray in one of your holy places at certain times of the year.

All of my holidays are observed nationally.
Your holidays are not observed unless they coincide with my holidays, and often the checkpoints will be closed on my holidays so you cannot get to work or go through for any reason at all.

I have the freedom to vote, to be protected by soldiers wherever I go, and to due process.
You can vote in Palestinian elections, soldiers will always protect the Israeli, and in any situation you are likely to be detained for weeks or months without formal charges being made. If you are a male you are likely to spend time in jail before you reach adulthood. Your family will have to pay the cost of food and housing while you are in jail. That money will have to be paid before you can be released.

Which would you rather be?

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Village of Khallet Sakariya

The village of Khallet Sakariya is located in a beautiful, agriculturally fertile valley just south and a bit west of Bethlehem. Five illegal settlements completely surround this small village, leaving one passable road that will soon be permanently closed.

Nadir, who is the advocacy officer for EAPPI in Jerusalem, invited Hannah and me to a meeting that was sponsored by UNHCHR (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) and included representatives from UNICEF, YMCA, representatives from the Danish and Belgium Consulates, ACTED, ICADH, (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), and the Palestinian Authority. The purpose of this meeting was discussion of the laws regarding Absentee Land Confiscation. Instead it focused on annexation, a much more serious legal step.

The meeting took place in the home of one of the villages' families. The home is a one-room stone structure impeccably kept. There were about 50 of us in a home that is probably 15 x 15' that includes a bed, a table for cooking, no indoor plumbing whatsoever, minimal electricity for the hot plate and tea kettle. We were standing, sitting on chairs, on the bed, on the floor. Palestinian hospitality greeted us with coffee as we entered, then sweet tea, home baked pita bread, and sweet bread, all served by the matron of the home and two adult daughters.

There are a few factors that make this village a different type of case study as it is the victim of systematic, well-planned, well funded settler violence led by the Women in Green, a legal not-for-profit organization who solicits via its web-site for donations sent to New York City. On its web-site this group states as if fact that the Palestinians are well funded by Saudi Arabian oil money and money from the Arab League. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The web-site also lists the number of Israeli casualties caused by the terrorists, failing to cite that Palestinian casualties are more than ten times the number of Israeli casualties at the hands of the Israeli military. The disturbing aspect is that this organization, funded through The Central Israeli Fund, is among right-wing groups targeted in a recent publication of MAAN located at This is a direct quote:

Im Tirzu, which describes itself as "an extra-parliamentary movement to strengthen Zionist values", requests that supporters send contributions to the Central Fund of Israel (CFI), a non-profit which funds a number of right-wing Israeli groups.

These include Amitz, which funds settler militias; Magen Yehuda, which assists with military training for settlers; and Women in Green, a right-wing group which opposes the return of land captured during the Six Day War of 1967 and promotes the "transfer" of Arabs to neighbouring countries.

As reported by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, Women in Green supports a yeshiva whose leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, has tried to justify the killing of gentile babies because of "the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents."

"What we're seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "One of Israel's outstanding strengths has been its vibrant civil society and its flourishing public debate, so these developments are particularly worrying."

An IPS investigation into tax records has revealed a number of the biggest donors - those who gave more than 300,000 dollars - to the CFI since 2005. Contributions to the CFI are tax-deductible.

The Palestinians have deeds for the land dating back to the early 1900's during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire. The Israeli settlers claim ownership of the land as given to them by G-d. The two parties have engaged in a back and forth: one week the settlers uproot all of the olive trees and plant their own crops. As soon as the villagers can get it together, they go and uproot the plantings of the villagers and replant olive trees. The settlers once more uproot the olive trees and so on. The Women in Green receive funding through the Central Israeli Fund to continue to purchase plants and trees. The villagers, on the other hand, have few resources and cannot continue to play this game which deprives them of a livelihood of an olive harvest. It is also ironic that the settlers choose to target the olive tree which is a universal symbol of peace.

A new twist arose in the conversations and this is regarding the annexation of this land by Israel and is being negotiated by the Palestinian Authority which may be willing to swap this piece of land for other concessions in the peace process. This totally blind sighted me and many others as while we had observed the maps, the separation barrier, and the apparent surrounding of this large part of the West Bank that is inside the 1967 green line, and thus illegal as per International Humanitarian Law. We had viewed this as land that Israel felt necessary to protect the settlements and the settlers. Each village within the wall has been fully focused on its own problems and has not talked about or mentioned annexation, at least not to us. This annexation would put over 24,000 Palestinians inside Israel with no rights to their land. The Israelis will be in a perfect situation to starve out the Palestinians as they control water, electricity, the roads, and passage from one area to another. We have seen in another village (Al Nu’man) that the Israelis can enforce the inability for the villagers to bring in goods for their own sustenance, for feeding animals, and for bringing in fuel to burn for heat. The Israelis totally control who can come in and go out of the village, splintering families where a daughter marries a man in a neighboring village. The daughter may be allowed to return to visit her family if her name has been on the list, but the husband will not be permitted to enter. Israelis and internationals have the ability to come and go as they please.

The villagers in Khallet Sakariya are getting tired of challenging the settlers because they get fined for their actions and have no money to pay the fines. The participants in this meeting identified one serious issue as being the Women in Green and propose an all out campaign to discredit them. They also identified advocacy work as critical to bring this issue forward to world leaders to put political pressure on Israel. I personally fear that the diversion that Netanyahu has placed on the immediacy of Iran is a cover for action to annex this land while the world focuses on nuclear weapons and Iran.

The Street Where I Live

It is easy to be critical of Palestinians and the way they live in comparison to how we live in the States. Most would say everything looks dirty. I was walking home today from the Intercontinental Hotel where the evangelical conference "Christ at the Checkpoint" was taking place. The route took me on a now desolate street of auto body shops and vacant businesses that is bordered by this 35' wall built for security. This road was once the main road from Jerusalem to Hebron, now divided by the "security barrier." I walked along the wall, which curves uphill and meets with Caritas Street or "the street where I live." There are few sidewalks and the road is rutted and uneven with large potholes. As this area next to the wall is military area, the roads cannot be repaired. The wall has been spray-painted with amazing artwork, come crass and ugly and some done by famous artists from all over the world. There are many sayings written on the wall, i.e. "The Spirit if the Palestinians is stronger than this Wall."

There is a lot of trash on the side of the road. There is a dumpster on the corner that is overflowing with trash and today two cats were fighting over the good stuff. There is so little infrastructure in Palestine that trash collection is a nightmare. We take our household trash across the street to a dumpster-- a very small dumpster according to our experience-- and hope it doesn't spill over. It doesn't really matter if the plastic bag is well secured because the cats will gnaw through anyway and what they reject will be tossed out into the streets.

It's treacherous to walk up the road to home because we walk on the poorly paved road which are more shoulder than street, with two-way traffic and no white line down the middle. Fortunately drivers are courteous and will honk so you have time to jump aside. These roads remind me of back roads in remote communities, not municipal roadways.

Another part of the topography is the rocky soil. I have watched my grandsons' absolute inability to put down rocks as they are such a delicious toy to a small child-- irresistible. Rocks are more abundant than weeds, most of them about the size of a fist. It is easy to understand why children might throw rocks at soldiers. There are also many building sites along this road with half-built buildings. The workmen are working on sites where the building materials are stone, rebar, and mortar. Every wall is constructed by hand using hand tools that look like they belong to another century. Along the road is a bridge over a deep ravine that houses several dogs on long leads, building materials, several flat bed trucks that may work, the carcass of a 1957 Chevy with no engine or seats. It is ugly by my standards. Vacant lots are not cared for. There is dog feces on the few sidewalks that do exist, raised at least 8" above the road, about 12"-18" wide, and normally only go the length of the lot onto I which it was built. The gardens are strewn with garbage including carpets, mattresses, piles of building rubble, and perhaps a small vegetable garden. Gardens are not the norm because water is precious and in small quantity. Watering a flower garden is a luxury that one cannot afford if they want to bathe, have drinking water, and irrigate their vineyards and olive groves.

In the village of An Nu'man that is in no mans land, Siham's house has been demolished. There are no trucks allowed to enter the village and certainly no way to haul off the remains of a house demolition which carries memories like the children's small shoes, toys, clothing, furniture, contents of kitchen cabinets, appliances, rugs, electrical wiring, etc. The debris will be removed by one villager's bobcat and will be scattered throughout the village. When archeologists unearth this village they may have difficulty figuring out what exactly happened to cause the debris from one home to be so scattered.

On the other hand the Palestinian home is pristine. The wealthier homes have two parlor areas, one close to the kitchen, small, warm, and with a flat screen TV, cable TV and a VCR. The other parlor is more formal with heavy wood- trimmed, overstuffed, matching sofas, love seats, and chairs to seat at least twelve. The tea is always ready, followed by coffee, and if you stay there enough there will be a freshly baked cake.

I spent a few days in Tel Aviv and noticed something I did not expect--lots of trash, unkept yards and gardens, balconies full of trash and building materials, lots of solar panels, no recycling. I have also seen a spirit that is difficult for me to understand or identify with, and that is the firm belief that G-d has given the Jewish people this land and that is an absolute. It requires no purchase of that land, no title or deed, regardless of who has the deed or can prove the purchase of the property, as this land belongs only to G-d, and as G-d has deeded this land via a promise to Abraham, no one could have owned it or sold it who was not Jewish, so all titles and sales are thus void.

If I take a step backwards and take a broad picture what does it contain? It contains trash, rocks, filth, under resourced municipalities, and poverty. That poverty is offset by the number of large, gorgeous homes, expensive cars, thriving merchants and dying businesses. Rich and poor living together in the same neighborhood. Christians and Moslems sharing neighborhoods. Street vendors, taxi drivers with Masters Degrees, and a people who are so resilient that hope cannot be taken away by any oppressor. The oppressor sees itself as the victim whose land has been mis-appropriated by a people who have no right to live on this land. It is all about three communities of faithful people who believe in a just God. I do not know what the Jewish people want, but I do know that the Palestinans want to love, will not be forced to hate, will continue to see God in the faces of the "other", and will not lose hope that the occupation will end.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The ABCs of an Occupied Land

All of the land in the Occupied Territories has been designated to be either A, B, or C. Area A is under complete Palestinian control with its own police and governance. West Jerusalem is largely area A as is the center of Bethlehem. A building permit can be applied for to the local Palestinian officials and is normally approved as long the property line is not expanded.There is no presence of Israeli soldiers except for the checkpoints. Life is calmer in area A. Israelis cannot go into Area A. They do come however at great personal risk.

Area C is land that has been designated to be State Land or necessary for the military. If you are a Palestinian living in Area C your property is subject to demolition or seizure. A resident of Area C may not apply for a permit to improve, add to, build a new structure, or go on their roof for any reason at all. Most of the land in Palestine is Area C. In these areas the roads are virtually impossible to drive on, and cannot be improved. In these areas Israelis drive on roads built by Israeli authorities and Palestinian cars are not allowed on these roads. There is no agriculture allowed so those in Area C who have land cannot plant on it. They are virtually refused a livelihood.

Area B is sort if in between. This area is generally near settlements and falls under Israeli governance. This means that there is mostly no police presence, these areas are more dangerous to live in. If you call the police for any reason they will not respond because this area is not controlled by Palestine nor by the Israelis. In area B you may apply to the Israeli Government for a building permit, but not one has been issued. So, you may not repair, add-on, you cant even add a window to a bathroom. Roads cannot be repaired, no additions, no new building at all. If you add anything to your building it will be cited for destruction In both Area B and C, any structure built after 1967 is subject to demolition. ICHAD is an Israeli org that rebuilds demolished homes, but with very poor construction. One woman we met had her home demolished. The rubble still sits and next to it is an ICHAD home which they cannot live in because of the mold. Their house is now under demolition orders once more.

I found it a bit humorous that when we were at the boys secondary school the Head Master, the English teacher, and a staff member were arguing about whether the school was in B or C. They knew it wasn't in A because a donor had given enough money for a new school, but the Israelis refused to give the permit. These boundaries are forever changing and they are never certain. Under the Oslo Accords the areas designated B were supposed to have been turned over to Palestinian governance. What we are seeing is the opposite--that more of area B is being designated C in order to protect the settlers.
Then there are exceptions. There is a village called An Nu'man that resides in the new Israeli definition on Jerusalem. The village is virtually surrounded by settlements and the main access road is an Israeli road. We had traveled to this village for about 30 minutes, where the taxi let us off at the checkpoint and then we had to walk the rest of the way to the village--a long uphill walk. On this, my second visit, we were picked up by Efrat, an Israeli woman with a PhD in anthropology who has written several books about the socio-economic issues surrounding the occupation. We met Efrat on the Israeli side of the checkpoint and she drove on the beautifully groomed and paved roads and we were in An Nu'man in about 10 minutes. As she has Israeli plates we zoomed by the checkpoints. The soldiers were searching trunks of other vehicles, but were not concerned about us. This village is not in A, B, or C but resides in the municipality of Jerusalem. however, in order to enter the village your name must be on the list, you must be a foreigner, or you can be an Israeli. The residents of An Nu'man have not been given Israeli or Jerusalem ID because in the original census of 1967 they were told that as their mufta lived in another village they would be registered there. So, officially no one lives in this village. As no one may enter without being on the list,the population cannot grow and eventually will die or be forced to move out. The 89 school aged children have to go through a checkpoint on their way to school and home. From the age of 5 they are carrying their original birth certificate.

You and I may have difficulty understanding why the villagers would remain under such circumstances. Yusef was born in this village, his father and grandfather also. He has a lovely home and 6 beautiful children. While his English is poor he stated clearly, "The village lives inside us; we do not live in the village."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Life goes on

This morning brought the first signs of spring. I was on the run to the school in Tu`qua. This is a beautiful village located to the north and east of Bethlehem. The Israeli's have built a settlement on a hill above the village and another one on a hillside just west of this village and the access road is also the road the Palestinians must use to get to Bethlehem. We used the Palestinian roads until we reached the bottom of the valley. There it is permissable for the Palestinians to use this portion of the road, but once they get past the turn-off to go up the hill to Bethlehem they are no longer allowed on the road and there is a checkpoint. If your plate is yellow you pass through, however if your vehicle carries the white Palestian plates you have to turn around. The Israeli roads are well cared for and have no potholes while the Palestinians have no money to repair, and in some areas are not allowed to repair them.

We go to this village twice weekly because the soldiers stand close to the school, bearing arms, and terrifying the children. This school is a Girl's school for kindergarten to 9th grade, and it is also the school for boys up to the age of 10. Up until age 10 school is completely co-Ed, but then the sexes are separated.

The Israeli army presence is to protect the settlers who live on the hill and who travel to Bethlehem or Jerusalem from potential rock throwing by the children. They often bring a jeep with 2-3 soldiers. Today they did not come, and that has been consistent since our team arrived. If we are there the soldiers do not come; if we are not present the soldiers harass and frighten the children.

This morning I was greeted warmly by many of the 900 students. With big smiles they said "Hello" and " what is your name.". They repeated my name with curiosity and then told me their names, after some prodding. Mohammad, Ahmet, Abet, Hamad, and for girls Sihma, Sharn, Qebet. Joyful, happy children. The headmistress told me that on some days the soldiers are present. We decided as a team to vary the days we go to catch them off-guard.

I will admit to you that not all is horrible in Bethlehem. While most of the children walked down the hill from two directions, some came by car or bus. I noted a 7 passenger van with 20 children inside. Four were sitting on the front passenger seat, and the rest crammed in. But there were also many very nice cars like Kia, VW, Subaru, and the occasional Mercedes.

Life in a "cell" of a city still goes on. There are small shops, vegetable vendors, grocery stores, but quite small in comparison to the average supermarket in the US. The hotels are quite nice and clean, there are lots of people on the streets shopping. Most Moslem girls wear a hijab, but with lots of make-up--okay guys, is hair really that sexy? They are all well dressed but conservative whereas the christian women wear western style clothing including a bit of bare midriff. There are theaters, all seem to have big screen LCD TVs in their homes, even in the refugee camps--they may sleep 7 people in a room on the floor on mats, but the flat screen TV is given the prime location. The EAs wear vests that tend to make us stand out. They all know why we are here and they are very cordial. Yesterday I was invited to tea in a small shop and they didn't even try to sell me anything.

Hospitality is the one thing you know-- wherever you are you will be served tea or coffee.