Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 9B

Marty Federman, the co-chair of the Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, is traveling in Israel and the West Bank. On his trips, he always keeps a journal of what he sees as well as his observations. I have asked for his permission to post each entry on this blog and he gave his approval.

As I said Journal Entry #9 was longer than usual so I divided it into two installments. The previous one was #9A and this one is #9B

Journal Entry #9B

Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

Trip to Ramallah

Left Beit Sahour and came to Ramallah today – this time to stay for a few days.

Can’t write this without saying something about the landscape between Bethlehem and Ramallah again. It’s simply incredible – much of it is stark and the hills are daunting – and yet for millennia people have found their way here and built their homes – and lives – as if emerging organically from the hard earth. The olive trees here are a metaphor for the people who have relied on them for all these centuries: there is no explanation for why they survive, much less thrive, in this harsh environment, and yet they flourish with their bushy, pale green foliage shouting across the awesomely deep valleys, “we’re here and we’re not going anywhere!”
It occurred to me today part of why the settlements are not only politically and emotionally offensive but why, despite – or in part because of – their modern, architecturally (some think) pure excellence. Just like the very idea of the “neighborhoods,” they create, these buildings are imposed on the top of hills from which they have not emerged naturally like the villages they overlook and, in many cases, replaced. It makes me think – or perhaps only hope in some vengeful way – that, despite their conviction that this is “their” land, the settlers will never feel that they are part of it, because, of course, they’re not. Unlike the olive trees that declare their resolve, the red-roofed homes of the settlements shout out their invasiveness, declaring only how much they do not belong in these hills. Earlier I said that I could understand why so many people want this land. I realize now that the Palestinians (and perhaps some of the idealistic, hope-filled Jewish “pioneers” a century ago) love this place – the settlers, I think, only want it.

In Ramallah

Settled into the hotel (not great and overpriced, but it will keep me for a couple of days) and went out to explore. Walking through the city is very different than driving through in a Service Taxi. Ramallah is not quite as impressive as I thought last week now that I have seen Hebron, but it is quite the city none-the-less. There is a remarkable conglomeration of the traditional (i.e., old) and the modern. Many stores were closed since today is Friday, the traditional day off for Muslims, but there was plenty of bustle – I’m told it will be like this through Christmas (even many Muslim shopkeepers take advantage of the season) and the New Yorker in me is looking forward to what it will be like in the coming days.

Had an interesting lunch. Walking down one of the “spokes” (the five main streets that emanate from the central “Manata” literally, someone told me, “lighthouse” but generically a central circle/”round-about”) a voice called from above me. I looked up and, on a second floor terrace two young men in fast-food uniforms were asking whether I wanted to eat the “best food in Ramallah.” When I indicated that I would be curious to know where one would find the best food in Ramallah they motioned to a large sign for “Authentic Chicago Cheese Steaks” and told me that this is where I would find “real American food.” I explained that I had not traveled half way around the world to eat food I could get at home. Very good naturedly they acknowledged that they understood, but if I wanted some good American food I should come back.

After exploring a couple of the “spokes” and the smaller streets and alleys that run between them, something told me that I needed to, at very least, have a diet coke at “Chicago Cheese Steaks,” so I found my way back and climbed the stairs inside to a shiny, spotless fast-food restaurant that one might find in any American City. The young owner, Eshan (“everyone just calls me Sam”) sat and, after some questions about what a Chicago fast food joint was doing in the center of Ramallah, Sam’s story emerged. Born in a suburb of Ramallah, he grew up in Chicago, moved back and forth, ran a Cheese Steak place in Cicero and recently returned to Ramallah with his wife and, four days ago, opened this restaurant. Sam’s father, came in and sat with us. Bob was born in the same village as Sam. His father had lived in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century, served in the U.S. Army during World War I, moved back to Ramallah where he was born and lived for many years before going to Chicago and joining the Marines with whom he served during the Korean War period.

But nothing in this place is as simple as that. As we talked, I asked Sam about what passport he had and how he continued to come back and forth between the States and Palestine. Although born here, by virtue of his father’s status, Sam is an American citizen and has both an American passport and Palestinian ID. The last time he came into Ben Gurion he showed only his American passport (as he had in the past), expecting to be able to go through and go home. This time, however, they checked the computer and found that he also possessed a Palestinian ID. They asked him why he had lied to them, told him that he could only come into Palestine by the Jordan/Allenby Bridge route, and sent him back to Chicago! I needn’t spend any time sharing my feelings about this.

Saturday, Dec. 15th – Ramallah

Spent the better part of Saturday with CB, a Mennonite from Canada who has been back and forth to Palestine, mostly with the Friends (Quakers) since 1982, has been in Ramallah for a the last few years on a series of six month visas and the Ministry of the Interior has refused her last request for an extension. It would be totally impossible for me to try and summarize in a few words the draconian process involved for people to renew visas, get work permits, etc. Apparently more and more people working for NGO’s, humanitarian and church groups have been denied visas or work permits or are being denied entry into Israel. As to renewing visas (including for people who have been here for years) I have noted to a number of people that what is going on relative to people who want to stay is eerily like nothing as much as what the Jewish refusenicks in the Soviet Union went through when they applied to get out! CB has been sent from office to office, told that she needs documents that no one ever looks at, called any number of officials and semi-officials and, in some cases, treated incredibly rudely. And, of course, with each new requirement or denial the bureaucrats have no obligation to explain their decisions or explain the basis on which their decisions are made. As I write this her visa extension was denied from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior and has submitted a new request through the Palestinian Ministry which is being forwarded to the Israelis. (Once again an example of the Palestinian Authority’s non-existent “authority:” the Palestinian Authority can validate her application to stay in Palestine but only the Israeli authorities have the authority to authorize the validation!) KB is due to find out if the Ministry of the Interior has granted the extension on Sunday.

After a wonderfully restful day finding out all about KB and sharing information about my trip – and my work in the U.S., KB took me for the most wonderfully civilized meal I’ve had in a few weeks - at Darna (“my house”) not far from my hotel. Good food is not in short supply in Ramallah – in fact, walking around the city I’ve thought that I probably haven’t seen as many places to eat crowded into a space outside of Manhattan. And, in a place like Ramallah, the options and quality run the full gamut. Because of budget and schedule considerations my diet has tended overwhelmingly towards the falafel, hummus, salad at street stands and “cafes” as well as pita and cheese at the guest house or from little groceries. (There is no shortage of my particular addiction: diet coke – although caffeine-free is a concept that is about as evident as “no-smoking” signs.) Saturday night, however, i had the opportunity to eat at a “fine” Palestinian restaurant with food and service standards equal to the U.S. but without an attempt to be inauthentically “western” (except for a few touches like the hamburger and fries listed on the children’s menu). Refreshingly, this somewhat more upscale eatery had many diners, including a group that was celebrating one of it’s member’s birthday including a large chocolate cake with a huge, celebratory sparkling candle.

It’s difficult to know what to do with conflicting feelings: on the one hand it is reassuring to see that there is an ongoing “normal” life evident here, that there are people who still have both the means and the inclination to maintain and enjoy their way of life. At the same time, it is hard not to remember that (I wonder how conscious the diners at Darna are of this as they eat and talk and laugh) they cannot travel more than a few kilometers away from this restaurant, or that the people of Tuba barely subsist on what the settlers who have stolen their land have left for them. An then I wonder how many of us, while dining in the myriad of restaurants serving every possible kind of cuisine in the better neighborhoods of Boston, New York, LA or Chicago, think about those leaving in trailers outside of New Orleans or in the ghettos of those same cities. Raises some interesting – if troubling – questions.

Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007 – Ramallah

Went to the Friends Meeting House this morning with a small group of Ramallans and visitors. The Quaker presence in Ramallah goes back to the middle of the nineteenth century, and the meeting house (built primarily with the support of the Quaker Meetings in Baltimore and Philadelphia) is a wonderfully spare space with oddly soothing stone walls that, despite their innate coolness, seem to warm the space and the people in it. The plain white wooden benches are arranged around a simple wooden table, the only ornamentation four long, thin red candles set in a small arrangement of Christmassy greens. At first it was strange for a nice Jewish boy like me, used to the anarchy of davening (praying) in Conservative and Orthodox shuls (synagogues) to sit in silence waiting for people to be moved to share their thoughts with the meeting. In time, however, SC’s and JZ’s sharing moved me enough to share some thoughts of my own.

Each of them talked, in different ways and from different experiences, about a sense of “open-ness.” At Darna last night KB and I had talked, among many other things, about Yitzchak (Isaac) and his brother Ishmael, and the relationship of the two stories read on the two days of Rosh Hashannah (Ishmael’s exile with his mother, Hagar, and near-death on the first day and the binding of Yitzchak on the second). At dinner CB had spoken of these stories and what they reflected about the idea of chosen-ness, and its relation to the current situation in Israel and Palestine – and the significance of the brothers’ reconciliation in Hebron when they come together to bury their father, Abraham. This morning, however, “open-ness” roused a different memory for me: the midrash (commentary on and/or explanation of the text by the rabbis) on Ishmael and Hagar. The text tells us that Hagar put her son, dying of thirst, away from her so that she will not have to watch him die, but God speaks to her, telling her of her son’s chosen-ness and God’s promise to him and “Hagar’s eyes were opened and she saw a stream.” Where, the rabbis ask, did that stream come from? It was, they answer, always there, but only when Hagar was “open” to the experience were her eyes opened and she could see it.

In the midst of all of the horrible things I have seen and experienced the last few weeks I have felt depressingly closed. It is difficult to see the possibility of resolution, much less justice arising in this place – and it has, as I have spoken about with some frequency, seriously challenged the beliefs and traditions that have been the foundation of my Judaism/Jewishness. I have felt a very unnerving, in Kalman Resnick’s words, “estrangement from my Judaism” and a powerful sadness, even emptiness, at the thought of that. At the same time, I have seen and heard a variety of insistent examples of hope and optimism, mostly coming from people – and in places – that were jarring. Tubans with barely anything serving us tea and bread; Israelis who continue to defy Israeli law to stand with their Palestinians friends even though they know that their presence can only help for the moment, but feel that they have to keep coming partly because these people ask them to be there, partly because it is something they feel they have to do for themselves; Christians who manage, out of their outrage at the situation, to do everything they can to actively support Palestinians’ resistance to all the manifestations of Occupation without somehow dismissing or demonizing Israelis or Jews – even settlers. As I sat in “meeting” I realized how much I long to tap into that “higher” nature, an instinct that is at the core of the best in Judaism – and how difficult it is for me to be open to those yearnings. Among a strange and diverse assembly of people, over a long, uncommon Shabbat, I was able to identify some of those feelings. It will probably be a while, perhaps a long time, after the end of this particular journey before I am able to see if I can be open enough for the hope to return and settle inside me.

Monday, Dec. 17, 2007 - Ramallah

Had the opportunity to attend a planning meeting of the Right to Enter Campaign (see www.righttoenter.ps/). They are working on issues of entry, re-entry and family re-unification. The more I hear about these issues the clearer it is that Israeli policy in these areas can only be for the sake of two objectives: 1) to minimize the Palestinian population in both Israel and Palestine by keeping as many Palestinians from returning if they leave, or pressuring Palestinians to leave because their options relative to maintaining their families are so limited and untenable, and 2) to keep as many “internationals,” activists and humanitarian aid workers out of Israel and Palestine in order to make life more difficult for Palestinians (therefore aiding in objective #1) and to minimize the number of “witnesses” to the excesses and abuses of the Occupation. The stories – and the insidiousness of the stories – just grow in number and intensity. KB who for years has simply helped, in innumerable ways, to support Palestinians, having her visa extension denied, is just one example I’ve seen of humanitarian aid workers being pressured to leave – or not allowed to enter. But, as destructive as this is, the stories about Palestinians in any number of categories, being denied re-entry into their own country and homes or suddenly forced to leave for any of a seemingly infinite number of absurd justifications (or, often, no justification at all). Examples:

1. A Palestinian American (born here, had been living in the U.S., so carrying a U.S. passport and Palestinian ID) who returned to Palestine many years ago, married a Palestinian and had two children. For 14 years she has lived here on a series of renewed visas. She is currently entering her ninth month of a pregnancy and restricted to bed due to complications until the birth. According to the “law” – which she has followed for all these years – she is supposed to leave the country (which for most people means going to Amman, Jordan) and returning in order to get a new visa. Because of her condition she applied for a humanitarian exemption so that she could get a new visa without having to travel – and was denied!! Her options are to risk her pregnancy by traveling out of the country – and having no guarantee that she will get a new visa, or to stay where she, illegally, which means she can be deported at any time or, if she leaves Palestine at any point would almost certainly not be permitted to return.

2. A Palestinian businessman, born in the U. S., who chose, fourteen years ago, to return to Palestine and invest in the Palestinian economy. He has built housing, a modern mall, created hundreds, perhaps thousands of jobs and pumped a tremendous amount of capital into the economy. He, too, has renewed his visa every three months for as long as he has been living here, in his home. This month he was denied a visa extension and living here quasi-legally while he goes through the draconian process of applying for a different status in order to be able to remain here, where he has lived for years.

3. (From the right to enter web site: In a continuing demonstration of Israel's arbitrary denial of entry policy, and disregard for the Palestinian population’s right to practice their religion and worship freely, Father Faris Khaleifat, priest of Ramallah's Greek Catholic Melkite Church was barred entry to the West Bank on Friday, 14 September. Father Faris, a holder of both Vatican and Jordanian passports, commented: "For the past six years, I have been traveling regularly between the West Bank and Jordan on church affairs without any problems whatsoever." Just one week ago, Father Faris traveled to Amman for several days and returned without incident. However, on Friday, his multiple entry visa as a clergyman serving in the oPt, valid until February 2008, was canceled by Israeli authorities at the Al Sheikh Hussein Bridge without explanation and he was forced to return to Jordan. His de facto deportation has left the Ramallah parish without its sole clergyman.

The questions, of course, that these examples (which are only a couple out of tens of thousands) raise have to do with why the Israeli authorities would deny these requests. There is absolutely no way that they can be justified on grounds of “security” so there must be another agenda or agendas. It is difficult for me to see any explanation other than, as I noted above, a desire to minimize the number of Palestinians, not only in what is currently Israel, but in Palestine or any part of the country that might at some point be either Israel or Palestine, or an effort to exclude anyone who might be a witness to the situation and would carry that information back with them to the “outside world.”

The main topic of this evening’s meeting was planning for a meeting tomorrow in East Jerusalem with leaders of a couple of dozen church groups headquartered in and around Jerusalem. The goal is to begin creating a coalition that can speak out here and abroad to bring visibility to the issue. The frustrating part of the conversation centered around cautions that the group not move to quickly or assertively since many of the churches have already indicated a hesitation to go to “public” since they are afraid that each time they “rock the boat” the Israeli authorities respond by being even more harsh in administering permits and visas. As in the example above, many clergy and church-related lay people have recently be prohibited from entering or forced to leave. The reality is that as disgusting as Israel’s intimidation tactics are, they are also all too effective!

Tuesday, Dec. 18th – Jerusalem

Came to Jerusalem with KB early this morning so that she could go to the Ministry of the Interior to re-file her request for an extension. Were met there by an Israeli friend who was to accompany her. We had some coffee and a particularly good almond croissant in a cafe across the street from the ministry until they went in – only to find out that the office doesn’t open until 11:30 a.m. KB and her friend finally went in, and after something of a wait she was told that they could not even look at her situation since (although it was recommended by another office that she come in today) she did not have an appointment! She was given an appointment for next week (only because she was able to convince the person she spoke to that she should set this up as an “urgent” appointment). The good news is that, with this appointment, KB will be here for the next week more or less legally. If suggested to her that there may well be an office somewhere in Jerusalem who’s only purpose is to devise way to add to KB’s anxiety!

When KB set off for her meeting I had lunch and made my way to the ICAHD office to meet Jeff Halper who just returned early this morning from Europe. He and one of his colleagues helped me check a few possible places to stay and finally, based on the rates for even the cheapest places in West Jerusalem, I have ended up back here at the Faisal (which is now owned by different people than were here the last time I stayed here. The place is full and, since I need a “private” room in order to work and maintain my sanity (I’ve moved into the stage, and have to much “stuff,” where “dormitory” living for over a week just doesn’t cut it!!) I am spending the night in a tiny room with a mattress on a a kind of shelf at one end for which one needs to climb a rickety metal ladder – much like the beds over the cabs of Winnebago-type campers! They’ve promised to squeeze a bed in for the night and switch me to a real room tomorrow when some people are leaving. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I have a work surface, it cool and comfortable tonight and there’s free WiFi – not to mention a “free” dinner of a huge portion of rice (with small pieces of, I think, eggplant and plenty of salad. More interesting, the place is full of (amazingly young) people. I sat next to Jurgen (as in Yoor-gin), a young man who is cycling from Germany to Egypt and back. He left Munich sometime in September, cycled with a friend through Italy and, I think Albania, Syria, Jordan and into Israel. Somewhere in Europe his friend’s “holiday” ran out and he flew home and Jurgen is continuing on his own, averaging, he says, about 75 kms./day (but some days, like in the mountains of Albania, he could only do around 35 kms in an eight hour day since the mountains were so steep at some places he had to carry his bike! I’m exhausted – and my legs ache – just thinking about it all.

Have gone down the street and purchased a nice big bottle of Mitz Escholiot (Grapefruit Juice), will do as much e-mail as I have the stamina to attack, hope that my bed has arrived and go to sleep. I begin meeting with Israelis tomorrow.

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 9A

Marty Federman, the co-chair of the Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, is traveling in Israel and the West Bank. On his trips, he always keeps a journal of what he sees as well as his observations. I have asked for his permission to post each entry on this blog and he gave his approval.

This entry is longer than usual so I am dividing it into two installments. This one is #9A and the next will be #9B

Journal Entry #9A

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007 – Jenin

As I had hoped I was able to get to Jenin in the central far north of the West Bank.

The trip to Jenin began like the earlier trip to Bi’lin, but this time, instead of going directly to Ramallah we went by way of (not through) the Kalandia checkpoint. Our rather spontaneous decision to make this trip was motivated by the fact that DM from Seeds of Peace was going to Jenin to meet with some people there and he had transportation from the Kalandia checkpoint already arranged.

SJ and I took a Service taxi to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint (as a Palestinian with the “wrong” ID he would not be able to cross to the Jerusalem side anyway). The ride was mostly uneventful, except for the one checkpoint between Bethlehem and Kalandia. As we got to it there was a very long line of vehicles (autos, taxis, Service taxis, trucks of various sizes and buses). We sat for a couple of minutes and then, suddenly, our driver pulled out into the oncoming lane and began speeding down the road towards the checkpoint. I would guess that he drove the better part of a kilometer, passing all the cars in our lane and, miraculously not encountering any traffic coming the other way. When we got to the checkpoint itself (where a group of four or five Palestinian drivers were out of their vehicles and yelling, pushing and shoving one another, apparently because someone had tried to break into the line! We, however, were stopped only briefly and waved on. When we arrived at Kalandia I asked SJ why we were able to do this – both pass all the other cars and breeze through the checkpoint – and he told that “the driver has tricks.” When I pushed him to say a little more all he would share was that it’s totally up to the soldiers at the checkpoint what to do and that we had simply been lucky and, had they stopped us, ‘we would have had some problem.” I chose not to pursue the conversation.

A Half Hour at (not going through) Kalandia Checkpoint

Being at a checkpoint can be a fascinating experience even if you’re not going through it. SJ and I had arranged to meet DM at the Kalandia checkpoint – SJ, as a Palestinian can’t cross into Jerusalem them but DM, with his American passport, has no trouble crossing out. We arrived a little early and waited, first at the (what appeared to me to be) undisciplined intersection, with its frenzied traffic feeding mind-bogglingly frenzied traffic feeding into it from five non-linear directions. We stood in front of the small groceries that guard the roads, far from the checkpoint itself and I watched what appeared to be the random entrance and exit of a steady stream of vehicles – cars, trucks and the ever-present variety of taxis – coming in and out of the junction. At some point I was astonished to realize that there was no traffic light or any other kind of traffic control, and felt my level of anxiety rise as I tensed, waiting for what seem, logically, to be the inevitable collision to happen. As I stood and watched for a while, however, it began to become clear that there was, in fact, some hidden logic to the traffic pattern. Vehicles entered the intersection, rarely seeming to slow down, appearing to be headed for some other vehicle as if they were all large, enclosed bumper cars. Instead of crashing, however, The cars in these five steady streams seemed to know instinctually where the oncoming vehicles would be and the lines blended/wove into each other (horns, of course, always tooting as if to shout “I’m here, I’m coming, stay in your space”) creating some strange and wonderful continuously moving visual tapestry. Frequently individual cars or taxis would pull out or the stream, drift in front the groceries and stop, like NASCAR racers pulling out and over for a pit stop. When their drivers were finished with their business the vehicles would blend back into the ongoing flow of traffic, apparently with not much of a second thought.

One can’t help but wonder whether the ability to negotiate complex junctions like this one near Kalandia is genetic or if one could, in time, acquire the skill.

We waited on our side of the checkpoint for DM and met him beside the van he had arranged to take us to Jenin. Given the fact that I had had very little for breakfast I was grateful that DM had a large box of middle-eastern pastries with him – like any nice Jewish man whose mother has brought him up well, I guess he wouldn’t go visiting – even to Jenin – without bringing “a some nice danish!” From there we drove through the same incredible (and incredibly hilly) landscape, on the same roads that snake their way to Ramallah. This time, however, since we had the luxury of the van taking us through to Jenin, we didn’t have to change vehicles in Ramallah, so we skirted the city and headed into the more luxurious hills of the North. This area has a different feel from the South – less stark and, in places, more lushly green than the incredibly stunning starkness of the South At some points, however, the incline is no less intense – or frightening – than “down South.” And, of course, there are the inevitable checkpoints. We were stopped twice, asked for our documents, but as soon as DM showed his passport (and the driver identified us as “tierin” (tourists), we were waved on. This was very different than the last time I had gone to Jenin, when it took four different modes of transportation to go from Israel to Jenin (one to get to the border, three inside the West Bank plus two long hikes from one vehicle to the next). This time we were able to drive – one can’t say straight – through, on roads that wind around the settlements springing up in the North, probably adding at least an hour to the drive compared to what it would take to use the kind of direct roads available to and from the settlements.

On the other hand, the last time I was there, in 2003, was less than a year after the “Battle of Jenin” or, as the IDF called it “Operation Defensive Shield.” I have two especially strong memories of that trip, the first being the wonderful doctor who directed the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in the Jenin district, and who treated my foot (which had been injured during a demonstration earlier in my trip). The other recollection is the utter devastation, despite obvious clean-up attempts, of both the refugee camp and the city itself. I said back then that Jenin must have been a lovely city at one time – broad, tree-lined boulevard-like roads coming in and out of the city, many trees, and that impression is still clear.
We drove through the city of Jenin to a lovely residential area I had not seen the last time I was here, until we came to a beautiful house surrounded by a garden of lush trees, which houses the offices of UNICEF and, apparently, other NGO’s. We sat on the front porch, sipping Arabic coffee and talking with RR who works with UNOPS. UNOPS is involved in a number of programs to identify what the nature of Palestinian society should be in the future, e.g., in 25 years. One initiative brings diverse groups together and working with them to find ways of transcending their differences and focus on their common goals, ending the Occupation, addressing poverty and economic issues, etc. One aspect is non-violent resistance training, including lobbying (Palestinian) government officials in support of this strategy. They work through schools and universities, have created venues in which to bring rival political groups (i.e., Hamas and Fatah) together, something that is particularly difficult, but apparently there have been ways, while these factions won’t meet officially (there is generally “word from above” (from faction leadership) that their people are not to talk with one another, they have managed to bring them together for “off the record’” dialogue. RR emphasized that in these cases they avoid “political” issues and focus on issues of civil society, issues that the factions share a common interest. One interesting aspect is that they have had particular success working with prisoners in (Israeli) prisons, something that is apparently possible for two reasons: first, factional separation is less in the prison (since they bond against their common jailers) and secondly, prisoners and former prisoners have a particular credibility within the Palestinian community – as has been seen by published statements that some prisoner groups have issued. UNOPS is attempting to get a statement of this sort together that would put forth the message “Hey, get back to Palestine!” (as in: don’t get caught up in your factional, divisive and ultimately self-destructive factional stuff.

Politically RR observed that the failure of Oslo, in part, was that it was “talking at the top,” leaders talking to one another but excluding the people at the grassroots. This also left space for Hamas to move in, setting part of the foundation of their election success in ’06. So, RR contends, there is a need for an internal dialogue between Palestinians and Palestinian organizations to build to a unified position. Israelis, in another way, also need to do this and, if neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis (“real people”) are ready to do this internal work (and that seems to be the case in both places) then dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians only tends to push people with already set opinions into even more extreme positions. These observations led to a fascinating conversation about the value of “dialogue, intra- and inter-group/faction/society, and (given the presence of people from Seeds of Peace) young people and the adults who work with them. There was some feeling that “dialogue” between Palestinians and Israelis is not really possible because dialogue must be between basically equal participants and, given the current situation, that is not possible, because of he “occupier/occupied” relationship and because Israelis due to this situation, come to the table with much more than Palestinians possibly came. On person made the point that in situations like Seeds of Peace there is an attempt to make everyone equal and as much the same as possible (e.g., when camp begins everyone gets the same tee-shirts) – but the reality is that this is a manufactured equality, the Palestinian kids are not socio-economically in the same place as the Israelis, and, whether they identify it or not when they are in the program, when they return to their communities they cannot help but see (now even more clearly than before) how unequal their situations are. This seems to be true even for those Palestinians (as we had discussed at Samer’s last week) who come from (relatively) elite families. Another example that someone pointed to was that leaders of programs like these try to create activities that everyone can participate in not always with a sensitivity to the fact that some of the things they are doing are not within the experience of the Palestinian kids, even though they are for the Israelis (e.g., some kinds of sports that are played at camp.)

The result of all of this is that there really can’t be “nornalization” since the situation – and the relationship between the two peoples – are inherently not normal. In order for “dialogue” to be successful (with adults and kids), Israelis need to acknowledge that there is an Occupation and that reality in a basic way defines the relationship between those trying to talk to one another. One person in our discussion said that “if Israel groups are doing their job in Israel (re: ending the occupation), and they come here to support what we are doing, then I’ll talk to them. But don’t ask me to “dialogue” with Israelis as if we are equals.” Someone else made the point that treating young people to a “good time” outside of Palestine often had a serious – and destructive – backlash. Some of “Arna’s Children,” for instance, wanted to go to Italy and were taken there, shown all sorts of wonderful things and given a great vacation – an escape from the lives they were leading in Jenin. The result, however, was that they were made much more intensely aware of what they didn’t have (in their real world back in Jenin) that some turned to much more extremist politics and, in some cases, even became Suicide Bombers.

Two particularly interesting (to me) views that were expressed:
One of the people in this discussion explained that the leaders of Fatah do not fundamentally understand Hamas’ relationship to the hundred year long history of the Islamic Brotherhood – and that they can’t dialogue from that point of view which is rooted in an inflexible theology. If this is true (I think) it presents some very pessimistic implications – and dilemmas. We should (many of us have said) accept the results of a clearly democratic election (which Israel and U.S. asked for), but perhaps the hardliners in Israel and the U.S. are actually right, i.e., Hamas is extremist (and/or a “terrorist organization,” and ultimately we can’t talk to them. (SJ actually compares Hamas to Neturei Carta in the sense that they are both extreme groups whose views (and expectations) of “nationhood,” though very different, stem from a fundamentalist – fundamentally extreme – theological place, each waiting to bring on it’s own “messiah.”

And, something SJ said which I found very thought-provoking: “The Jews occupy our land, but we occupy their dreams,” he said. When I asked him to elaborate he explained: if you have to use violence to control another (as in asserting your power through occupation) you have to live constantly with the fear that motivated the need for your control.

From the UNICEF building we headed for the refugee camp. As I mentioned earlier, when I was last here, less than a year after “Defensive Shield,” the camp (as well as parts of the city) still clearly showed the devastation of that invasion. In the years since then the camp, which is the largest and most city-like of the camps I’ve visited, has undergone a significant revival. New buildings have risen, including a new school, many residences and other structures. This should not be misunderstood as suggesting that living in the camp is a good thing – and certainly the majority of these resident refugees are living in what most of us would consider sub-(our)standard. But, things here are marginally better than they were, and the commitment of the people living here to forging the best possible life is amazing.

No place in the camp is more impressive than the Freedom Theater. At the risk of resorting to a cliché, the theatre has risen like a phoenix from the destruction of their original (very rudimentary) facility to become a more than respectable regional theatre with a small print and much larger media library, various programs and activities, all above and beyond the core theatrical pieces that are being produced in their small but impressive theatre. Struggling with the inevitable fiscal challenges, and the difficulty of audiences beyond the Jenin district getting to the theatre, they have created an impressive institution, sitting in a unique place.

A couple of last travel-related thoughts. We came back to Beit Sahour rather late, making the trip doubly nerve-wracking. First, the winding, steeply ascending and descending roads are, if it is possible, even more anxiety producing in the dark – a reality that was reflected in the way that our driver leaned progressively further towards the windshield, obviously squinting in order to see the twists and turns that seemed to come at a breakneck speed. Despite the difficulty, we arrived safely back at Kalandia checkpoint where SJ and I switched to a Service taxi. Secondly, the checkpoints, and the teenage-looking soldiers that people them, seem even more sinister at night than in the daylight. This may be a aspect of the innate “fear-factor” that comes with darkness, it may be that I senses an extra level of discomfort on the part of the soldiers. In any case, we were stopped at three places along the way back, plus a long detour through and around Abu Dis due to a military incursion which, I found out later, was tied to the search for Palestinian terrorists in the village. At one of the last checkpoints I and the five Palestinians in the taxi were told to get out. As I was stumbling (my cane got stuck on something) off the vehicle one of the soldiers became very annoyed at me, repeating something in Arabic that I didn’t hear at first or, of course, understand when I did hear it. SJ called over and said, in Hebrew, that I was an American and wasn’t being disrespectful, that didn’t understand what he (the soldier) had said. The soldier then turned to me and asked if that was correct, was I an American. I told him yes and he asked for my passport. After looking at it and confirming that I was born in New York, living in Boston and was a tourist returning to Bethlehem, he handed me my passport and told me to get back in the van. I sat for five or ten minutes and watched as the soldier checked my fellow-passengers’ documents, asked some questions that I would not have understood even had I been able to hear them, and finally allowed them to return to the vehicle. As he sat back down next to me SJ said quietly, “it was much easier than usual because you were with us,” which triggered a form of the feeling I have frequently when confronted by Israeli security people. On the one hand, I am glad that my presence can make things easier for people. On the other, I am furious that that is the reality. Why should someone like me have to be present for it to be “easier” for people who live here to get through checkpoints that shouldn’t exist in the first place? (One answer, of course, is that when I – or any American/International – am around the soldiers are more likely not to want to be seen as being unreasonable or abusive.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Will One of These Organizations Change the World?

Will One of These Organizations Change the World?
(or at least 11289 square miles of it)

I often think about the quote attributed to Margaret Mead

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Do you ever consider the possibility that there is such a group right now which might, with support, effect a just peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

Would you like to do a little research to try to discover it?

If you find what you believe to be that group, you might want to make a year-end financial contribution to, or you might want to devote some time working with, the organization. Who knows, you could, by what you do, change that small sliver of the world.

Here are some organizations to consider. I support and know much about some, know a little about some others and know almost nothing about the rest. In this post, I am not making any recommendations. I am leaving any decision up to you based on your knowledge or your research.

The Abraham Fund
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Friends Service Committee
American Jewish World Service
Americans for Peace Now
Amnesty International
B’tselem:The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Code Pink
Doctors Without Borders
Facing History and Ourselves
Friends of Sabeel - North America
Gush Shalom
Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership
Human Rights Watch

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
International Solidarity Movement
Interns for Peace
IPCRI Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
Jewish Peace Fellowship
New Israel Fund
Jewish Voice for Peace

American Friends of Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam
One Voice
Parents Circle of Bereaved Parents
Partners for Peace – Jerusalem Women Speak
Rabbis for Human Rights
Seeds of Peace

The Shalom Center
Tikkun: Institute for Labor and Mental Health
United for Peace and Justice
U. S. Campaign to End the Occupation
Women in Black

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hanukkah - The Rest of the Story

What a great story. The evil Syrians (Greeks? Babylonians? North Koreans? who cares?) tried to assimilate us Hebrews. About 167BCE Mattathias and his five sons fought back and defeated the enemy. The Temple (the 2nd) was in rough shape. There was not enough oil to last the eight days until the rededication but - a miracle - it did. And today we light the eight candles and celebrate Hanukkah.

Funny thing, the rabbis hardly ever mentioned the Maccabees in the Talmud.

What gives?

As Paul Harvey says, here is ----- the rest of the story.

(I acknowledge taking nearly all of what follows, including the quotes, from Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. For a more complete description of the events from 167BCE to 135CE, read Chapters 64 to 80)

(There is so much in this history that is relevant to the present situation. I will simply lay out excerpts from the book but encourage you to post comments with your thoughts.)


Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria (175-163BCE) was a tyrant whose actions led to the successful revolt of the Maccabees.

Also known as Hasmoneans, they became oppressors when they got power. “Unfortunately the Maccabees were more noble in opposition than in power. They had grown so accustomed to fighting that they seemed incapable of working with anyone who disagreed with them about anything.”

Mattathias' descendant “King Alexander Yannai executed 800 of his Pharisee opponents after first forcing them to witness the murders of their wives and children. While the slaughter was going on, Yahhai was present, hosting a Greek-style drinking party. (For Jews the episode was doubly tragic; it was as if the descendants of the Marranos had later become the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition.)”

The Maccabees terrible moral and religious decline explains why there is almost no mention of them in the Talmud. Today, in fact, when Jews think of the miracle of Hanukkah, they are less apt to think of the Mccabean rebellion than of the small cruse of oli that burned for either days when the Temple was rededicated.”

During a civil war in 63 BCE between Mattathias’ descendants, the Romans were invited in. “It is one of the less proud facts of Jewish history that Rome occupied Jerusalem in 63 BCE not by invasion but by invitation.”

“The tragedy was now complete. The original Maccabees had freed the Jews from foreign rule; their corrupt descendants now returned the Jews to subjugation under an alien (and Pagan) power.”


“The Jew’s Great Revolt against Rome in 66 CE led to one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish life and, in retrospect, might well have been a terrible mistake.”

The zealots, active since about 6CE, were anti-Rome and believed that all means were justified to attain political and religious liberty. The revolt began in the north and no help came from Jerusalem.

When the north fell to the Romans, the zealots came to Jerusalem, started a suicidal civil war, killing every Jewish leader not as radical as them. Some great figures of ancient Israel, like Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, opposed the revolt.

By 70CE, the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans and the Temple was destroyed leaving only one wall standing (the Western Wall – the Kotel).

It is estimated that one million Jews died in the Great Revolt.


After the fall of the temple, the surviving Zealots fled to the fortress of Masada. The Romans laid siege as the Zealots had been in revolt for nearly 70 years and had started the Great Revolt. Eventually the Zealot men killed their wives and children and then each other.

This episode is not mentioned in the Talmud. Why? Perhaps there was Rabbinic anger at the extremist Zealots who had died there. “Furthermore, at a time when the rabbis were desperately attempting to reconstruct a Judaism that could survive without a temple and without a sovereign state, they hardly were interested in glorifying the mass suicide of Jews who believed that life without sovereignty was not worth living.”

The story of Masada was a more or less forgotten episode until the 1920’s “when the Hebrew writer Isaac Lamdan wrote “Masada” a poetic history of the anguished Jewish fight against a world full of enemies.”


Simon Bar-Kokhba organized a rebellion again the Romans in 132CE. The reasons for the revolt are unclear. There seems no evidence that the Romans were trying to eradicate Judaism. Rabbi Akiva (135CE), perhaps the Talmud’s greatest scholar, was a strong supporter of Bar-Kokhba, saying that he was the Messiah.

When it was over and the Romans were victorious, nearly the entire land of Judea lay waste. Fifty percent of the Judea’s population was dead. Rabbi Akiva was executed by burning. Jews were outnumbered by non-Jews. Tens of thousands of Jewish men and women were sold into slavery and other women were forced to become prostitutes.

“In the opinion of many Jewish historians, the failure of this rebellion along with the Great Revolt was the greatest catastrophe to befall the Jewish people prior to the Holocaust. It led to the total loss of Jewish political authority in Israel until 1948.”

“This loss in itself exacerbated the magnitude of later Jewish catastrophes, since it precluded Israel from being used as a refuge for the large numbers of Jews fleeing persecutions elsewhere.”

“As a rule, people regard bold actions they admire as courageous, and those of which they disapprove as foolhardy. In 1980, Israeli General Yehoshafat Harkabi shocked Israeli public opinion by arguing that one of the great Jewish national heroes, Simeon Bar-Kokhba, the leader of a second-century revolt against Rome should be placed into the category of the foolhardy rather than the courageous” arguing “that Bar-Kokhba initiated a revolt that was unnecessary and unwinnable.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 8

Marty Federman, the co-chair of the Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, is traveling in Israel and the West Bank. On his trips, he always keeps a journal of what he sees as well as his observations. I have asked for his permission to post each entry on this blog and he gave his approval.

Journal Entry #8

A special hello to S-O-L-O-M-O-N-I-A (apparently he was upset that I spelled his name wrong), So glad you're monitoring my e-mail, perhaps you can learn some of the truth.

To everyone else, hope you're all well - I am.


Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007 - A Day in Bi’lin
Part I: the ride to Bi’lin

We began in Bethlehem where we picked up B and her mother, and started out to Bi’lin via Ramallah in comfortable Volkswagen Service (pronounced ser-veece) taxi that SJ had arranged for us. Bi’lin is Northwest of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, directly west of Ramallah so the fastest way there would be to skirt the western side of Jerusalem and follow one of the fast roads up towards Bi’lin – but this would take us through Israeli territory where SJ and our driver are not permitted. Instead, we drove around the East side of Jerusalem ( precisely the wrong direction) and over secondary roads that snake through the Judean hills, avoiding the vast areas of the many parts of the Maale Adumim settlements, in order to curve around and enter into the heart of Ramallah from the east, drive through the city and out towards the West and Bi’lin. I would guess that this route adds an hour or two to the trip compared to the route if it was permissible to go directly.

The advantage (to us as basically American tourists) is that much of the area through which we drove was incredibly beautiful: large hills that roll into deep valleys with areas of stark, earth-colored panoramas, broken by sections of lush greenery blanketing the slopes. What is amazing are the olive trees that grow even from the rock and earth on otherwise barren hills, defying one’s expectations of what a tree needs to thrive. And there is no way to fully describe the feeling of traveling (excuse the cliché but there’s no other way to say it) the ribbon of highway that snakes through the hills, turning back and forth on itself in order to negotiate the repetitious descent and ascent through the mountains. Needless to say, our driver managed the drive without any appreciable slowing down as he maneuvered around the hairpin curves as if they didn’t exist.

The route took as past and through numerous Palestinian villages including (I believe) Eizariya, which dates from the crusades when the European armies passing through deposited a group of thieves and criminals that had been traveling with them from France (a kind of Australia-like story in the heart of the holy land!). In another village, SJ pointed out a mosque and church next to each other which were constructed cooperatively by Christians and Muslims in the village, and whose mosque’s minaret is the tallest structure in the West Bank.

Ramallah (During the Day)

Ramallah is a real city! The last time i was in Ramallah was in 2001 when we went to meet Yasser Arafat at the compound that he was restricted to by Israeli authorities – and that time we drove directly to the compound without ever seeing any of the city. Today we drove through the heart of the city and realized both how large it is and how vibrant – with all the wonderful things [restaurants, shops of all kinds, high fashion, coffee shops and people) and not so wonderful things (noise, unbelievable traffic, congestion and (too many) people]. I will definitely have to come back here when I have time to explore.


Finally we arrived in Bi’lin which sits in an area of about 1,800 people, with beautiful, rolling farmland all around it. Not surprisingly there are a number of settlements growing nearby which have already taken a significant amount of this land. Bi’lin has been the subject of an unusual amount of media attention because of weekly demonstrations along the route of the Separation Fence that has gone up between the village and the settlements – and because of a suit filed in Israel’s Supreme Court demanding a return of the land. It has especially received attention in recent weeks because the village actually won its case and the Israeli authorities were ordered to re-route the Fence giving, not all but a significant part of the appropriated farmland back to the village. The problem, of course, is that the court in Israel has no power to implement its rulings, leaving that, in this case, to the military authorities who have been order to reroute the Fence “in a timely fashion.” No one really knows what the military defines as “timely” so there is real doubt as to whether the land will really revert to the village or not. Experience says that the Israeli government will milk the decision for all it’s worth, showing that “the only authentic democracy in the Middle East” has an independent judiciary and then do little or nothing to actually make it happen, hoping that, as usually is the case, people will simply forget about Bi’lin.

I asked EB, one of the local coordinators about what effect the decision has had on the energy around the demonstrations. Large groups of Israelis and Internationals have been coming pretty consistently every Friday for the demonstrations at the Fence, and I asked EB if he thought this would end, or at least decrease, now that people think “We’ve Won!” One response to this concern has been the organization of the Bi’lin Friends of Justice and Freedom Society, with an office (which, just having been opened in a house in the village, currently has a desk, a couple of plastic chairs and a computer) and a web site. The idea is to create a network of people to keep the energy around Bi’lin high as well as to help surrounding villages which are also threatened but do not yet have an organized resistance.

We drove to the site of the demonstrations and, once again were able to see the Kafkaesque way that the Wall/Fence/Barrier snakes around settlements, through farmland and between villages. At this point the Barrier is a stretch of the 50 meters or so wide open land, fence, empty space, electrified fence, security road, empty space. There are plans to construct part of it as the 30 foot concrete wall if the new route (should it happen) goes closer to the settlements. I am including no “commentary” about this – everything that can be said about this horrific “Barrier” has already been said.

The bright spot of this visit to Bi’lin (as is often the case) is it’s children. The data on trauma amongst children throughout the occupied territories is growing, but, at least on the surface, it is amazing how resilient they are. EB’s house (quite lovely) is filled with his children, none cuter (or more aware of her own cute-ness) than Mayad, his daughter who I would guess is five years old or so. In their house she played with us, mugged for our cameras (and took some shots with B’s camera) and later, in the BFJF office walked around giving us snacks. A heartbreaking moment (for me, anyway) came on the hill next to the Fence. As we were standing there observing the path a couple of Israeli soldiers appeared on the crest of the hill in the direction of the settlement. Mayad began running towards her father, not so much frightened as startled, repeating something in Arabic which we were told was “the soldiers are coming, the soldiers are coming.” I’m not sure what was more upsetting, the fact that children like Mayard are subjected to this ugliness, or that she seemed to react as if this was nothing unusual, just a part of her young life. Meanwhile, one of her brothers picked up a small cardboard box, apparently from “rubber” bullet cartridges. What a life!

Ramallah (At night)

The trip back began in a not-so-nice Service taxi which bumped it’s way from Bi’lin to the edge of downtown Ramallah where he dropped us off to change to a vehicle to take us back to Bethlehem. B, her mother and I followed SJ as he weaved rapidly through the early evening crowded streets. Ramallah at night is like a strange combination of Kikar Tzion (Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem), Damascus Gate and Time Square (the old Times Square before the rehab). Brightly lit with neon signs up and down the main streets, a glorious mixture of modern, high-fashion shops, oriental spice shops, fast-food restaurants and businesses selling cheap, gaudy toys, candies and souvenirs. I only wish we could have taken the time to take it all in – our only pause was at an ATM where B’s mother and I both tried – and failed – to get Shekels from the machine. Then we returned to scurrying after SJ. After walking through the center of the city we turned off the main streets into an area that somehow reminded me of leaving Times Square and walking towards Eighth or Ninth Avenue, where we cam to a spot with dozens of Service and regular taxis, and a sea of drivers shouting to us, asking where we wanted to go. SJ just walked past them all (with us in tow) and headed for “Tenth Ave.” where there was only one yellow Service taxi which SJ walked directly to and motioned us to get in. Who this driver was, how he knew to be waiting there and how SJ knew where he would be waiting is a mystery that is beyond my understanding. I have learned that SJ knows people, knows where to find things, and how to maneuver through the morass that is the craziness of this Occupation – and I don’t question him! We drove back through the hills between Ramallah and Bethlehem, most of the time with my eyes closed, partly because I was exhausted but partly because I did not really want to be aware of what it was like to drive these roads and through these mountains in the dark. Before i knew it, we were in front of the Beit Sahour guesthouse and SJ, B and B’s mother were on their way back to Bethlehem.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 7

Journal Entry #7

Marty Federman, the co-chair of the Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, is traveling in Israel and the West Bank. On his trips, he always keeps a journal of what he sees as well as his observations. I have asked for his permission to post each entry on this blog and he gave his approval.

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 7

Sunday, Dec. 2, 2007 – Arab Women’s Union Guesthouse 11:00 p.m.

Had a very laid back day trying to recuperate from the stress, physical and emotional, of the trip to Twana and Tubah yesterday. Did some reading, then walked to Siraj to “connect.” They were closed (it’s Sunday near Bethlehem, of course) so I sat in the stairwell and used the WiFi to catch up with some e-mail (including the distressing one from Alan re: my appearance on the Solomonica blog. Got lost walking back, but nice people in a little store (which was open) directed me home.


This evening I had a fascinating meeting with two Palestinians – one a sociologist from a major university here, the other from a big NGO, both with ties to Fatah – who SJ brought to the guesthouse. We talked for a couple of hours, but here are some of what for me were particularly striking things (not necessarily in a coherent order:

The professor made an interesting distinction between Palestine and Palestinians. You can talk about the geopolitical aspects of “Palestine,” he said, but that doesn’t really deal with the real people, the “Palestinians;”

Jerusalem is critical: for some, you can give us all of Palestine without Jerusalem but we won’t accept it, but we will accept Jerusalem without Palestine.

Arafat, who made many mistakes, was a symbol of Palestinian unity. Abu Mazin (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) had an opportunity early on to transform symbol into a new approach to what Palestinian unity should be, but he lost the chance. There is no one or group who currently has the ability to bring the people together like the symbol of Arafat did. (And this from loyal Fatah people!)

We are at a crucial place once more, in Palestine, in Israel and in the U.S. Nothing will break the logjam unless it is imposed from the outside, and the only one who can do this is Bush/U.S. – not Europe, not the U.N., not the Arab nations – which leaves us in a terrible – but, in their opinion not impossible – situation.

Finally, the greatest threat to the Palestinian people is the loss of hope. “They took our land, took our water, took our livelihood, even took our lives, but they could not take our hope.” Now, says the professor, unless something happens to change the course, Palestinians risk loosing their hope.

Monday, Dec. 3, 2007 – Arab Women’s Union Guesthouse – 7:00 p.m.

This morning I watched a DVD that was out on the literature table in the entryway – a well-made, somewhat disturbing film: The Garbage Cage (Sadaa Media: Marndooh Afdile; Rima Essa; Yair Sagi Alternative Information Media. 28 minutes, Arabic with English subtitles) The blurb on the package:
Trapped in the Separation Wall, many people from the hebron area are forced to make a living by digging or metal in the Yatta dump yard. The Garbage Cage describes the life of these people, many children among them, who in spite of their so called low position hold tight to their dreams and hopes, their childhood games and small fights, their laughter and pain, their struggle. Their humanity.

The film plays somewhat like a Dickensian (or maybe Kafka-esque) novel: These people need to hunt through garbage for metal scraps because they have no money for food, but if they are arrested doing this they can be fined 1500 shekels or more, amounts that they don’t remotely have (or else they wouldn’t be going through garbage for metal scraps to raise ten or twenty shekels) so most often they have no choice but to opt for jail (usually 30 days) during which they are away from their families and can’t go through garbage for metal scraps to raise ten or twenty shekels to feed their families. Got it?! And, needless to say, the children are the most heartbreaking.

The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) – Beit Sahour Branch

This isn’t your father’s – or your brother’s or your son’s YMCA!!”

Spent a few hours with Nader Abu Amsha, director of the YMCA Rehabilitation Program and Beit Sahour Branch. It only took a few minutes to realize that this was a very different kind of Y than we are used to. To begin with, Nader is responsible for both a thriving Y (i.e., social, athletic) program with a larger component of advocacy and grassroots activities as well as a rehabilitation program that services a large number of people throughout the Bethlehem area (and beyond). Some of the things I learned about the Y:

The YMCA is part of the International YMCA and, through that body, has relationships with Y’s throughout the country. They have support from Y’s throughout the world (e.g., Norway, Switzerland, UK, etc.), but not the U.S.A. which, due to its much more mainstream politics, stays away from involvement with Palestinians. In fact, historically the Y’s in “Palestine” go back to the nineteenth century and the big Y in West Jerusalem, created by the U.S. YMCA, was the “Palestine YMCA” in Jerusalem and had a mostly Palestinian board and staff. In 1948, with the partition, the Jerusalem Y switched to a mostly American board and fired their Palestinian staff, most of whom were forced out of Israel and became refugees. In fact, the East Jerusalem Y was first organized to offer services to refugees, even before UNRWA was involved. In 1955 the East Jerusalem YMCA was built. Even with the reunification of Jerusalem there is little or no connection between the two Jerusalem YMCA’s – since the West Jerusalem branch receives funding from US AID through specific “projects” that must comply with US AID guidelines, they adhere to a basically U.S. political agenda. Currently the West Jerusalem Y has a $60 million project that includes building a huge facility that will house income-generating offices and commercial space.

As for the branch in Beit Sahour which services the Bethlehem district, it is technically a branch of the East Jerusalem Y but their interaction is limited due to Israeli-imposed travel restrictions. (Nader Abu Amsha, as a Palestinian, is not able to travel the few minutes from Beit Sahour to East Jerusalem so he is limited to the facilities around Bethlehem.)

Nader is very proud of the fact that his organization’s programs and activities are based on a strongly committed Christian ethic, rooted in the biblical/church concept of all humans being “created in God’s image” (consequently everything they do is available to anyone regardless of religion, etc.), and a concept “love” that, he says, is not only an idea but something to be put into practice. Jesus, he says, didn’t just talk, he healed, helped the sick, the poor, etc., etc. and based on that model the Y’s core mission is ACTS.

This basic philosophy had led the Y here to develop a huge set of services for psycho-social rehabilitation and vocational training. They work with institutions like the Arab Rehabilitation Center in Beit Jalla (which our delegation visited last week) which do the physical/surgical response to wounded and injured individual who are then referred to the Y’s facilities. They have an impressive staff who are not only trained to deal with issues like trauma and other psycho-social problems, but, given the experience they have had because of the nature of the conflict here, their staff has been involved in – and trained professionals in – places like Chechnya, Bosnia and Columbia. They have been pioneering various techniques for the treatment of trauma and have an amazing, and modern, facility for assessing a wide range of physical and emotional abilities in order to direct disabled individuals into appropriate vocational training.

Along with this aspect of the Y’s services there is a highly developed advocacy program which addresses the issues of occupation and methods of non-violent resistance. I first learned about some of this from the first-rate literature that was available in the foyer of the guesthouse in which I’m staying. They sponsor various programs and activities including a “”Journey for Justice” program that brings groups of young people (17-27) from abroad to see the area (both Palestinian and Isreli) and meet with appropriate people from both sides and all parts of society. Not surprisingly the majority of participants come through YMCA’s from Europe and South America – very few from the U. S. That is really too bad!

I could go on, but I’ll just say that all the things that hamper Palestinian society in general – the Wall, checkpoints, Israeli incursions, shellings – all effect the Y’s ability to service its clients. The rehab facility was attacked and part of it’s upper floors destroyed, staff has trouble getting to clients and clients to the facilities, and the intra-Palestinian financial problems and factional conflict all interfere with their ability to provide services, and yet it’s amazing what they are able to accomplish.

A quick observation: it’s amazing what people have to contend with here. When I said something to Nader about how different this was from the Y’s back in the U. S. he smiled. “You have basketball,” he said simply. I’m not so naïve as to think that most people have an agenda, no less so here than anywhere else, but I’m impressed with what comes across as such a sincere desire to forge human relationships that will lead to some kind of resolution that is based on human values, an approach that takes concepts like justice, humanity, international law, etc. seriously, not just catch-words.

Let there be no mistake, Nader Abu Amsha, in addition to obviously being a sophisticated professional, is a political being – his passion for his people and for justice for Palestine is up-front and clear. But his commitment not only to non-violence, but non-violent resistance and advocacy (a word he repeats frequently) permeates everything he talks about. I admit it: I was impressed.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry #6

Marty Federman, the co-chair of the Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, is traveling in Israel and the West Bank. On his trips, he always keeps a journal of what he sees as well as his observations. I have asked for his permission to post each entry on this blog and he gave his approval.

This message, Entry #6 is longer than the previous messages but worth reading especially the section where Marty describes "An Awful Day in Twana and Tubah" and then gives some highly personal observations about the Jewish settlers of that area.

(As is obvious, when I cut and pasted his text, I lost the photographs he included in his Entry.)

Journal Entry #6

Thursday, November 29, 2007 – Arab Women’s Union, Beit Sahour 10:30 p.m.

An interesting conversation this morning in the guesthouse dining room. There are two young men from Amsterdam staying upstairs and they were in the kitchen with Steve, a Welshman (although he doesn’t identify himself as Welsh anymore) who is married to a Palestinian woman from Beit Sahour. We all sat at one of the tables, sipping Nescafe (seemingly the universal national drink – after, of course, “Arab coffee” – and talked about the situation here. For the most part I sat and listened, neither being asked nor offering much about why I am here and what I am doing, intrigued by the conversation and so, choosing to be the proverbial “fly on the wall” albeit a rather large and unavoidable fly.

There was little that I heard that I particularly disagreed with, but I have to acknowledge some discomfort that was somewhat difficult for me to identify. I know that there was something off putting about the self-important way in which Steve presented his having left Wales behind, found love with a Palestinian woman and thrown his lot in with the Palestinian people. I did not derive this feeling from any particular thing he said, but rather a general sense that is difficult to “put one’s finger on.” It is a bit harder for me to articulate my discomfort with the two Dutchmen – really quite nice and seemingly sincere. There was a sense, however, of absoluteness asbout their experience of Occupation – very little that I haven’t felt myself, but with an edge that did not only reject any and all Israeli/Jewish viewpoint, but did not seem to acknowledge that there m might be one to reject. It is an absoluteness that I have felt from many of the “Internationals” I’ve met – even more so, in some ways, than from Palestinians. Many Palestinians, of course, carry a much deeper anger towards those they experience as occupiers and oppressors – but many with a more nuanced point of view that does not completely discount the possibility that there are people on the other side who have feelings born out of their experience that cannot, or at least should not be simply discounted. This is, by no means a universal perspective, but I have found a wider range of perceptions and ways of seeing the situation amoung Palestinians then I have among Internationals.

Later in the day I caught up on my e-mail using the WiFi at the Siraj/Rapprochement offices. There I overheard the phone conversation of one of their journalists who I had heard earlier had been beaten by Palestinian security forces yesterday. There is a complicated set of political realities within Palestinian society that rivals that of the Israelis. The sense in the West Bank (as opposed to Gaza) of support for Fatah rather than Hamas – but a simultaneous (appropriate?) suspicion of the aims and motives of Fatah’s leadership. Consequently, there is a lot of hostility towards the much vaunted possibilities of the Annapolis conference. Yesterday there were large demonstrations planned in opposition to the conference, but Palestinian (i.e., Fatah) security was instructed to stop or at least minimize them in order to avoid the appearance that the grassroots opposed, in any way, Mahmoud Abbas’s participation in Annapolis. The police attempted to make this journalist leave one of the demos, he refused, there was a scuffle and, ultimately, he was beaten, somewhat severely, an attempt was made to take his camera and notes but he eventually was able to leave.

It would be easy for me to write obsessively about the unfortunate kind of infighting that is clearly present within Palestinian society – and how destructive it is for their cause – but I will leave that, perhaps for another time. I’ll only say that it is very depressing for me to see this playing out here.

I had the opportunity later to spend some hours with three people from the Michigan Peace Team group. Like the CPT (Christian Peace Team), they are committed to having a presence at various hot spots in order to support Palestinians and offer some buffer in places where Israeli security is less likely to mistreat Internationals than Palestinians, and sometimes less likely to mistreat Palestinians if Internationals are present. They have considerable interaction with CPT, their main philosophical difference being that, while CPT is fully faith-based (supported by a number national church groups), MPT is not, although they have people who are affiliated with churches, but they take a more “Ghandian” approach to there work, which has, as M, one of the people I spoke to acknowledged, a significant spiritual if not religious component. M stressed that they have a open acceptance of “non-believers.” At the same time, the major practical difference they have vis-a-vis CPT is numbers. MPT is a group that formed locally some years ago to engage in domestic non-violent, third part intervention and branched out over time to address the situation here. They never have more than a handful of people here, so there role is somewhat limited and they are struggling with how – and whether – they can have an ongoing presence in some particular region similar to what CPT has been doing for years in the Hebron area. I was impressed by the approach, commitment and general attitude of these three – and they certainly have a well-developed philoshopical base for their work. At the same time I have serious questions as to what effect thay can have over time unless they are able to recruit a larger core of people on the ground here. For now they are sharing some space – and living – in the building where Siraj and the Rapprochement Center are and their commitment to staying and making a difference is clear.

Ended the day with supper and conversation at SJ’s house – and to bed to rest for tomorrow.

Friday, November 30, 2007 – Arab Women’s Union, Beit Sahour 11:30 p.m.

Demonstration Against the Occupation/Wall near Masara Village (Southern Bethlehem Region)

Another amazingly full day, with two major firsts: A taxi driver who asked me to put on a seat belt this morning, and another this evening that actually used his turn signals! Now I think I’ve experienced everything there is to experience in this world – or at least in this part of it!

Began the day by taking a taxi (ordered by SJ) to the area where most Fridays a group of villagers along with Israelis and Internationals come to demonstrate against the Occupation and the extension of the Wall that will run between the ten villages in this area and the settlement of Efrat and a number of smaller settlements that pinch the area of the villages and will eventually take a large chunk of Palestinian farmland for the “natural growth” of the settlements. The starting place of the demonstration was changed and we had to drive around a bit. At one point the driver, who was, I think, trying to be nice but was impatient to get going and nervous about a couple of Israeli APC’s (Armored Personnel Carriers) sitting on the side of the road we were on, told me he would be happy to leave me anywhere I’d like or take me back to Beit Sahour. While I did not want to have to return, I definitely did not want to be left alone on the side of a road in the backwoods of the “Bethlehem District” with Israeli soldiers and a bunch of settlements around me. As we sat there an IDF vehicle came down the road in the opposite direction, slowed down and, to my great discomfort, made a u-turn and stopped next to the taxi. He asked for the driver’s license and travel permit and my passport. We explained that I was a tourist who was to meet someone who was going to take me around the area but we had gotten lost and were trying to get my “guide” on the phone (which, in fact, I was since SJ was my only contact with anyone who knew where the demo was to take place. The soldier looked dubious, but too harried to really hassle us any further and handed us back our documents and waved us on. I was finally able to get SJ on the phone and, after some back and forth with the driver we found the first group of demonstrators down the road. I got out of the taxi, thanked and paid the driver – despite our pleasant conversation and good connection, he seemed extremely

I introduced myself to a couple of the protesters who seemed quite happy to meet me, and they explained that they were waiting for a few more people before they started down the road I had just come up on and headed towards Efrat. Eventually there were about two dozen people, more than half local villagers, about four or five Israelis and a few Internationals, three of them with the World Council of Churches Accompaniment Project. About three villagers held very large Palestinian flags on poles that flapped assertively as we began to walk.

After walking only a few meters we were joined by three or four Israeli soldiers who had gotten out of a vehicle and now began to walk behind us. As we got near a back road that seemed to me to lead in the direction of Efrat we had accumulated a healthy squad of soldier-chaperones, spreading out within our line of protesters like some sort of squad sent to protect us. All of the people in the group totally ignored our uninvited escorts until we reached the road, where an additional group of soldiers informed us that we could not go any further. There was a good deal of (contained) give and take with these new protectors which involved a couple of the leaders from the village an an Israeli, SP, who seemed to be the most knowledgeable and in control Israeli with us. After a conversation, in mostly Hebrew and a little Arabic, the soldiers were asked why we couldn’t proceed given that we had not done anything wrong and were walking peacefully on what is, the soldiers were reminded, Palestinian controlled land. This, of course, made no difference what-so-ever to the soldiers and, after a few minutes more of this “discussion” the group formed around the beginning of the dirt road and one of the villagers picked up battery operated megaphone, stood on a rock and began the Muslim call to prayer. After a few minutes of this he came down to the road and, in front of a half dozen men sitting on the side of the road gave what appeared to me to be a rousing traditional Islamic sermon – after which the men stood and began their mid-morning prayers. I actually found it quite moving to see these somewhat hardened men, in the midst of a protest against the Occupation, bowing in the dust as devoutly as if they were on their prayer rugs in the local mosque. All of this took place, of course, under the watchful eyes of a large group of Israeli soldiers standing nearby.

When the prayers were over, the group coalesced by the side of the road, there was a bit more speechifying (in Arabic, of course) and we began the walk back to to where we had first grouped. On the way back I had an interesting conversation with one of the Accompaniment people, an older German woman who has been in the area for some months and will be staying for a few more – and was walking this morning with her husband who is on holiday and visiting her! We talked a little bit about the complex situation in Germany given the history of the holocaust and how that colors the conversation in German, as well as the growing anti-Muslim/Arab/immigrant mood there. Finally we got to our starting point where there were a few cars that people had come in, and the mayor of one of the villages, Masara, invited – or perhaps instructed me would be a better word! – to come with him in his car back to his home for a cup of Arabic coffee.

In the car we had a very interesting, enlightening and thought-provoking conversation. He asked me what I was doing here and, when I told him about our Cambridge/Bethlehem People to People Project, he began to share his thoughts about “twinning” with Bethlehem. He had, he assured me, no problem with people supporting the city of Bethlehem, or the population centers in Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour – his problem, he told me emphatically, was that there are “dozens” of cities around the world that have some sort of “twinning” arrangement with Bethlehem. “We are” he informed me, “ten villages with 10,000 people spread out over a vast area of some 60,000 dunams, and no one ever makes it past Manger Square to come to us.” These villages, despite the fact that they are part of the Bethlehem region, get little or no funding from the city, the Palestinian Authority and certainly not the Israeli government. If we want to help them, he stressed, they need support for education (particularly a kindergarten), health care and economic development. By the time we reached his house he had done an admirable “pitch” for his village and those around it. Inside we were able to sit for a while, talking, learning about the area, exchanging contact information and sipping coffee. When I left with a “service” taxi, MZ gave me a warm, hearty handshake and expressed his hope that we would be in contact with one another.

The “service” dropped me off at a major intersection (I think on the edge of Beit Sahour) where there wer many taxis whose drivers began to yell at one another as soon as they perceived that I was looking for a taxi. When I showed one of them a card from Siraj to show him the address I was going to, he took it out of my hand, walked to his taxi and got in as he motioned me to get into the passenger side. I asked a couple of times how much the trip would coast and got no useful answer, only the repetition of “I know where you are going” over and over. By this time there were four or five taxi drivers shouting at “my” driver and beckoning me to there own cars. I was able to get SJ on the phone and, after retrieving my cards, was able to find a driver who spoke a bit of English, gave me a fair price to get me back to Siraj to do some computer/e-mail work.

Later in the evening I had a chance to meet Daniel Moses over a lovely dinner prepared by SJ’s mother at their home. Daniel is a lovely, incredibly well read man who works with Seeds of Peace. Our conversation was fascinating and, as it related to Seeds of Peace, complicated like everything else here. There is no question that Seeds of Peace is doing important work, creating connections not only between young people, but with parents, other adults and the “Seeds” that go on to be “Delegation Leaders,” fostering, if not agreement on everything, at least some understanding and friendships that cross the awful lines of conflict here. At the same time I was disappointed – although not surprised – to hear that Seeds of Peace, like virtually everything here in Israel and Palestine, is burdened by a full complement of personal and political issues. On the Israeli side the choice of participants is carefully overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Education with those chosen thoroughly prepped on how to present Israel in the most positive way possible. On the Palestinian side there is, not surprisingly, much less of an organized process making the choice far looser. On both sides, the influence of the elite, policy-makers and powerful plays a significant role, many of the “seeds” apparently coming from the ranks of their children. Never the less, it would appear from what Daniel described, the effect of the program (which, by the way includes participants from a number of other countries) is extremely hopeful and its true value probably won’t be seen or felt for some time to come.

Saturday, Dec. 1st, 2007 – 9:00 p.m. – Arab Women’s Union Guest House

An awful day in Twana and Tubah

SJ had me picked up by a taxi early this morning and I met him at the YM/YWCA. Our day began with a taxi to the edge of Bethlehem where we were picked up by Ezra, an Israeli activist who drove us in his van, to a large action in the villages of Twana and Tubah. This was the beginning of one of the worst days I’ve had since Yom Ha’atzmaut (“Israel Independence Day) in Hebron in 2001.

Twana is a tiny village south of Hebron, near the settlement of Ma’on – one of the most vicious of the settlements. After waiting a little while in the “center” of the village, two busloads of people, mostly Israelis, with a significant number of “internationals,” began arriving. Our charge for the day was to march to the village of Tubah, about two miles away, and sit while the people of Tubah plowed their land. The whole thing sounds simple, a reasonable walk to do something that shouldn’t need doing to begin with.

[Just something of a side comment: The village’s mosque was demolished, I believe someone said around 1998. Recently the village rebuilt an amazingly simple structure and this past week they received new demolishment orders, apparently because the village could not obtain the proper rebuilding permits.]

We started out along a narrow dirt road that moved up and down rolling hills - a bit challenging but certainly nothing overly difficult. As we marched a number of Israeli vehicles, both police and an array of different kinds of military vehicles, fell in line in front and behind us. Before long the road curved and soldiers appeared in front of us and we were told that we were forbidden to continue. There was a small amount of conversation between the soldiers and the leaders of our group and we were instructed (by Israeli demonstrators) to continue on. With that the 200 or so marchers surged forward, making it impossible for the soldiers to do anything but allow us to pass. What I realized at that point is that our movement had taken a new direction, off the already challenging road, and across the open hillsides. It is difficult to describe the terrain – mostly it is hard and rocky, with hill after hill that make San Francisco seem like thte flatlands of Iowa. As I trekked along, trying to keep up with the mass of people, I would climb up a hillside and feel a great surge of success having made it to the top, only to realize, as we reached the crest, that we had only arrived at another huge (and, thanks to the rocky terrain, even more difficult that going up) another steep descent into a deep valley with another hill on the other side. At one point, trying to direct my mind away from the discomfort of this trek, I imagined that this is what it would be like to do the Walk for Hunger or run the Boston Marathon on the tracks of the largest roller coaster at Coney Island. Attempting to navigate a terrain that was not meant for two-legged creatures, actually made a tiny bit easier by my cane, I began to fall back a bit. A number of people stopped as they passed to make sure that I was OK and ask whether I needed help. A wonderful young Israeli man, Asaf, actually slowed down and, with no fanfare or explanation, began to walk with me as we struck up a conversation about him and about what I was doing there.

All along this tortuous route we were watched from the distance by residents of the Mo’an settlement, whose large, modern agricultural buildings were obvious on the hilltop to our right. There was obvious interaction between the settlers (dressed almost all in white) and the many soldiers and police officers also on the ridge. As the few of us that had fallen a bit behind began to climb the next hill we were confronted by about half a dozen settlers screaming in Hebrew, telling us to go back, leave them alone, and get off their land. Since I was looking mostly at the ground, trying to negotiate the ever-present rocks, I was suddenly surprised by a woman, i would guess in her 30’s, dressed in an ankle-length skirt, long sleeve top and head scar, all in white, who began screaming at me to go off with my “Arab friends,” to “get off our land,” and repeatedly asking me what i was doing there. I continued to walk, trying to ignore this near-hysterical woman and avoid any direct contact with her, until she began to push me back down the hill and, at one point, attempted to grab my cane. As I maneuvered around her, trying to minimize the intensity of the interaction,

I was aware of a number of Israeli police officers about 50 meters away, watching everything that was happening without moving, talking or taking any kind of action. Finally, the woman pointed away from the settlement buildings and told me “go with your Arab friends, you Nazi!” I was relieved that I was then able to go off, with Assaf and a friend of his, and make our way up the hill.

When we finally arrived at a hilltop where the group had gathered, most people sitting on the larger stones or on the ground, listening to speakers talking through battery-operated megaphones (this seems to be a staple of these demonstrations) I was somewhat confused as to what was going to happen, but grateful that we hade apparently reached our destination. I cannot adequately express my feelings when I realized that we had, in fact, not yet reached our final destination, that this was merely a rest stop and, as one of the “veterans” was kind enough to inform me, “the roughest part is ahead of us.” This turned out to not be empty words. After informing us that, when we got to the fields of Tubah, we would form around the perimeter allowing the Tubans to plow the field unmolested by the settlers who regularly harass them when they try to work their land. When we arrived, we sat around the large field we had come to and watched as a middle-aged man riding an ancient tractor drove back and forth across the field, while three older teenage boys walked behind two donkeys pulling crude plows. I asked someone what they would be planting there and was told that they are expecting to grow coarse grass for their sheep!

After about an hour of this the plowing was halted and the word spread that the residents had invited us to their homes. As we began moving over the (thank heaven) last ridge I was told that either the soldiers or the police (it’s not always clear which of them is responsible for what) had halted the plowing because the settlers had demanded to see official maps confirming that this field did, in fact, belong to the residents of Tubah!

Over the ridge we arrived at the “village” of Tubah. If Twana is a small village, Tubah is barely an encampment. With virtually no permanent structures, these Bedouin-like people live with no electricity, no running water and no sewerage system, in lean-tos, semi-structures built with and into the rocks around the area, with kerosene lamps and “stoves” and virtually no furniture. And yet I was not particularly surprised when the women and children began distributing large circles of a a rustic, pita-like bread to all of us, and, from one of the shelters down the side of the hill I saw a man emerge with a tray of about half a dozen little glasses of, tea. The almost obsessive hospitality of these people is almost surreal – and adds to the overwhelming feeling of shame that I feel in situations like this.

After a while we began our hike back. An attempt was made to leave by way of the dirt road that circled the settlement (circuitous, but without the rock climbing), but the soldiers/police/settlers barred our way and we continued back the way we had come. About what I would estimate was a quarter of the way back I slipped on some rocks and pulled my knee. When i sat down to rest a number of people came over to see if I was OK. A very lovely – I was to find out later – professor of Indian literature and Sanskrit at Hebrew University, originally from the U.S. many years ago, identified himself as a medic and asked if I needed help. Although I told him that I thought I’d be alright he insisted on walking me over to a group of police officers nearby and, after some conversation I could only partly follow, the two of us were escorted to a group of military vehicles. I was ushered into one of them, protesting that I did not want to go without DS – but he insisted that I take the ride and was soon off on the dusty, rocky road from the settlement. The four soldiers (three men and one woman) were pleasant, although we had very little meaningful interaction, even offering me the first cup of ice water I’ve had here (from a tank in the back of the vehicle). At some point we converged with the line of returning protesters who had found their way back to the road leading to Twana and I asked the soldiers to let me out. When I got out a number of police officers came over and began speaking to me in Hebrew. I asked the one who seemed to be in charge to speak a little slower since i couldn’t understand everything he was saying – he then asked if I spoke French (!), and when I said no, English or some Hebrew, he asked if everything was alright and whether I had been treated well (I told them I had been), He then asked me my name and told me that I should go back to America and tell everyone how well I had been treated by the Israelis!!! Amazing. I happily rejoined the group and limped the final lap back to the village.

Back in “downtown Twana,” after some speeches thanking everyone for coming, SJ and I headed for Ezra’s van, and started back to Beit Sahour. After a couple of kilometers, however, Ezra began a frenetic round of calls and circled back to where the buses back to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were loading their passengers. After some conversation with the people there we headed down the road again and stopped at the paved road to the settlement. In a few minutes the two buses arrived, pulled to the side of the road and people began moving from one to the other. I was finally able to ascertain that, as we were leaving Tubah, some settlers had beaten a boy from there and stolen his donkey – and now part of the group was going to remain behind and walk to the settlement to demand that the donkey be returned. As I write this in my room at the guest house in Beit Sahour I don’t know how that situation was resolved – and I don’t expect to find out at least until tomorrow.

As if this wasn’t a enough, heard some distressing news on the way back: earlier I wrote about having stopped in the village of Funduq which was closed because a settler had been shot (not by someone from Funduq). Yesterday a band of settlers went through Funduq, beat up local residents and apparently destroyed a significant amount of the town and some homes. When I heard this news I was overcome by the feeling I had a half dozen years ago in Hebron witnessing the effects of what can only be described as a pogrom perpetrated by the settlers there on the people, stores and homes of the people there. A horribly fitting cap to my experience in Twana and Tubah.

I hate clichés, but today I felt as if I was in the belly of the beast. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting at my desk in the Arab Women’s Union Guest House – my feet ache, my knee is still throbbing (just a little), I’m exhausted – but mostly I’m emotionally totally drained. At the beginning of this entry I said that this was one of the worst days I’ve had since I was in Hebron on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in 2001. My feelings stem from much of the same place that they did then: it is impossible for me to understand or internalize the ugliness of people who identify themselves as observant Jews committed to their people and Jewish values and yet do what the people of the Ma’on settlement are doing. Here is a community of people who identify themselves as devout “Torah-true” Jews who are merely attempting to reclaim a land they believe was given exclusively to their ancestors – and, by extension, themselves – by a loving, caring God. They would have you believe that they have God’s blessing to do anything necessary to claim the land, clear it of anyone who is in the way of their special destiny. Anyone who challenges them, especially other Jews, is at best misguided, at worst a traitor and – as I was called today – a “Nazi.” These tsitsis- (the fringes worn by orthodox men at the corners of a special rectangular cloth) wearing hooligans have expropriated the land of the people in the villages in this region, pushed the legal owners out, created an exclusive enclave for their own use, and yet they still want more, are voracious in their quest to claim the land and vcious in their desire to cleanse that land of anyone who is not, well, them. It is impossible for me to express how I felt – when the woman called me a Nazi, when I saw and heard the ugliness of the settlers arrayed on the crest of the hill on which their transplanted agri-business is affixed; when bearded men in Sabbath clothes shouted filthy epithets at peaceful walkers avoiding their land, when these criminals made use of a legality that is never applied to them and finally, when I see that today in the “Jewish homeland” beating an unarmed boy and stealing the animal he relies on is apparently an acceptable Shabbat afternoon activity.

I will read this tomorrow, after what I hope will be a reasonable night’s sleep, and decide if it needs to be edited. As I write, however, I cannot help but think “If this is the face of ‘Torah-true Judaism’ I want nothing to do with it.” I know of no one with a greater potential for fomenting anti-Semitism than these ugly, vicious people. I have worked diligently to help people understand that they must listen to the stories of the other, not necessarily to agree with them or what they do, but, if not for any other reason, because they are their stories and they help to understand why another does what s/he does – and it gives us an opportunity to find the good in the other if it is there. I cannot, however (and heaven help me) find anything good in these people, nor does their story offer me very much insight into why they act as they do. Arthur Waskow talks about those he “stands with” and those he “doesn’t stand with.” I do not stand with these other Jews, not on anything or ever – and that saddens me. It saddens me because I have always believed that, underneath all of our self-created schisms, we Jews shared a core of values that transcended what divides us. (And make no mistake. As much of an idealist as I am on one level, i am a realist at the same time and have always known that there are those in our community (as there are in virtually all communities) who are extremists that live and function outside of those values. I do not know, however, where to place these people on the spectrum that is the Jewish community – if they are there somewhere it shames all of us who identify ourselves as Jews, and, perhaps worst of all, these people are not only condoned, but embraced by an Israeli state that has jettisoned the values of our tradition along with the platitudes that our Zionists forefathers/mothers built the dream of a special place on. And the institutional Jewish community in the U.S. – along with individuals with seemingly endlessly deep pockets – justify and support behavior like this? And how do I begin to explain, much less justify, my self-absorbed inner struggle with SJ, a Palestinian who sees his land, life and his past being stolen by my people.

Around 1:00 p.m., about the time that many synagogue-attending Jews might have been ending Shabbat services and, possibly, singing “Oseh Shalom” (“Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom alenu, v’al kol Yisroel, v’imru, imru amen.” – May the one who creates Shalom, grant Shalom to us and to all the people of Israel, and let us all say Amen) when a few people sitting on the top of a hill near the village of Tubah began singing the familiar tune, substituting “kol olam” (the whole world) for “kol Yisrael” (all Israel). I want to believe that we other Jews can take back our Judaism, our Jewishness, from those who have tried to highjack it, but, as I sit here I just don’t know.

Just a couple of observations (written the next morning) to end on a little bit of a brighter note: Along with the 200 or so demonstrators were at least three children who walked the entire way with their parents and one baby in a carrier on her father’s stomach. The beautiful little girl in the picture here went off with her abba (daddy) who was carrying a roll of toilet paper thoughtfully carried from home! I’m not sure exactly where they “went” since there are few trees here, accept in the area taken for the settlement, but they returned a few minutes later, the little girl skipping happily.

I must say that one can understand why the settlers want this land – aside from the ideological desire to own and control it, it is a magnificently beautiful, even if stark place. Looking out from the top of the hills one has a vision of truly biblical proportions which risks one seeing the place in nostalgic, picturesque ways, rather than in terms of the political realities. But one cannot deny the grandeur.

Finally, while I’m tired and my knee still hurts, it only hurts a little and I actually feel quite well, better after doing much more physical exertion than the last time I was here and my heart feels 1000% better! I’m watching myself carefully, but sometimes surgery actually does make a difference!