Thursday, November 29, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 5

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 #5
Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007 – Sitting in a Café in Beit Sahour 2:00 p.m.

I’m sitting in a lovely restaurant on the road from Beit Sahour to Bethlehem, having just had a falafel sandwich and waiting to be picked up by SJ.

When the Cambridge delegation left I packed and waited for SJ who called a taxi to take us to Beit Sahour where I settled into The Arab Women’s Union Guesthouse, a lovely guest house/environmental center. It’s a multi-floor building with rooms on (I think) two floors and on the top floor and roof they are planning a center to focus on local environmental concerns. The woman who got me settled is from Utrecht and has been here for a year employed part time at a couple of NGO’s and working on fixing the guest house up. It is quite nice, extremely clean, with what seems to be all three-bed rooms but, apparently they’ve just starting taking guests so there are only a couple of people on the second floor – and me! I have a room of my own on the first floor right next to the bathroom where, this morning I took a wonderful hot shower – not something you can always expect in hostels and “guest house” – certainly not this inexpensive.

After a quick breakfast of pita and (French!) cheese I started out into Beit Sahour. After walking for a while a van stopped and the driver asked me where I was going. I tried to explain to him that I was just walking, but could he tell me where I could get a plug adapter (the one i have is buried somewhere in my suitcase). It took a while for me to explain what it was that I was looking for and finally he told me “I will take you there.” As soon as I got in I had the feeling that this was not just a nice local person offering me a ride but one of the many kinds of taxis that one sees here. And, when he stopped to talk to a woman on the side of the road it was clear that he knew neither what it was that I needed or how to get to where I could get one. The very nice woman – who spoke English well – understood immediately what I was looking for and directed the driver (in Arabic, of course). We arrived a few minutes later at an area with many kinds of stores and the driver managed to telegraph to me whether this is where i wanted to be. Having no idea if it was, but not wanting to ride around endlessly, I said it would be OK, got out and asked how much. Now, I have to say that my experience with taxi drivers here has taught me never to get into a taxi without being clear on how much the fare will be or at least how it will be calculated. Consequently, I was stunned – but not a bit surprised! – when he asked for $10. For a second I thought he said NIS10 (NIS=New Israeli Shekels), but realized that he had definitely said dollars – a fact that was confirmed when he helped me make the currency conversion by repeating “$10, 40 shekels.” I’ve begun to get an idea of what cab rides cost around here and I don’t think I’ve been in one yet that charged more than 15 perhaps 20 shekels – and that includes taking three or four of us quite some distance between Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and/or Beit Jallah. And this ride was, at most, a mile or two. I wanted to tell him how this kind of thievery is what feeds into all the stereotypes foreigners have about Palestinians/Arabs/etc., and didn’t he know how he was hurting his people and undermining the tourist trade around Bethlehem and what about the “we’re all brothers” stuff that everyone tells us, and . . . . but my better judgment – and total Arabic illiteracy – made me think better of my harangue and I was able to convey to him that I was not about to pay more than 10 shekels – which he finally took with a mild sense of annoyance.

Once back on my feet I went into a mobile phone store which did not carry adapters but knew where there was an electrical/hardware store a little way down the street. This led me into a wonderful few hours of walking and exploring Beit Sahour. When I saw the Orthodox Church I realized that I was in the only place I had really been in Beit Sahour the last time I was here, right near where the Rapprochement Center and ISM used to be (they have since moved). I spent my time walking, taking photos and speaking briefly to people I passed. Eventually I had circled back to where my explorations had begun and saw the office of the Alternative Tourism Group. I went in to see what they had and what they had that was of greatest interest was a couple of what appeared at that point to be extremely comfortable chairs, so I took off my jacket, sat down and began leafing through what seems to be a wonderful book by Rifat Odeh Kassis, “Palestine, A Bleeding Wound.” Kassis is apparently a Palestinian who is an international human rights activist who has been involved in many conflicts around the world including Checnya, Bosnia and, of course, Palestine. He now diects a commission of the UN in Geneva. I read a few pages and would very much like to recommend it – it’s a compilation of his earlier essays and writings plus some new material, all put together last year, so it’s pretty up to date. The only problem is that the books doesn’t seem to be available outside of Palestine. I may come back at some point to buy a copy but I’m hesitant to take $20 out of my tight budget and either not get it out with me or have to pay to ship it. In any case, while I was reading and catching my breath, JM, who runs the ATG came out to the waiting area – he is the person who spoke to us when we at the Badil building last week. We had an interesting one-to-one which shed some light on some of the other organizations I’d like to connect with, and made me think of a couple of people who should know, if they don’t already, about what the ATG is doing.

The absolute highlight of my walk, though, was meeting a group of high schoolers from the Lutheran School. As I was heading in the direction that JM told me I could find an internet café I saw a group of typical teenagers doing the typical thing teenagers do: hangin out. I asked them if I could take their picture and, immediately, the girls began to laugh nervously and run away while the boys all mugged like the macho guys they are and jockeyed for the best position in the picture. With a little encouragement they all (including the giggling girls) lined up together so that I could get a picture. After I showed them the shot on my camera screen we began talking. They all attend the Lutheran School just down the street, claim to like school a lot and asked me lots of questions about where I was from and how I like being in Palestine. One thing that struck me was that there were girls there, unlike at the American School where we were told that by high school they only had boys since the culture is such that people don’t see the need to educate their daughters that far – and yet here were two girls out of the five I was talking to, both of whom, when asked what they planned to do when the graduated immediately said that they were going on to college, probably Bethlehem University but possibly Bir Zeit.. Interestingly, when I asked them what they thought of the kids that are going to the American School they immediately made faces as if I had suddenly stuck a not-so-fresh fish in front of them. The clearly have little patience for kids that they see somehow the elite kids.

SJ just came in and I have to go, will pick up later.

Walking through Beit Sahour I am again powerfully reminded that is not some sort of Disney World created for the enjoyment of tourists, pilgrims and marginally engaged visitors. Manger Square in Bethlehem is, despite the significant absence of tourists now, continues to have a sense of not quite reality. As one moves out in any direction, and the hotels begin to thin, one begins to interact with a totally different world. Here people are mostly oblivious to Americans and Europeans who want only to see the Church of the Nativity and experience what the Bureau of Tourism presents as “authentic” Palestinian life (and, especially, souvenirs). They are busy with the work of living a normal life – home, work (for those who have it), schools, living. There are far fewer restaurants as you get away from the tourist centers, and they are smaller, simpler and cheaper. On the other hand, there are more little groceries, produce and spice shops, selling the staples that people need for everyday life. And, in place of stores selling (mostly tacky, occasionally exquisite) olivewood and mother-of-pearl souvenirs one sees shops selling all the wares needed for kitchen, bath and home. I was taken by the number of brightly colored plastic objects I saw as I walked – from house wares to furniture. The people I passed were friendly, and anyone I asked for directions went out of their way to help get to where I was going – but the main activity here is in living – daily, ongoing, real-life living.

11:30 p.m. – Back at the Arab Women’s Union guest House

I’m tired and my feet hurt as if I had run the Boston Marathon – but it’s only a factor of the hills, hills that make some of the streets in San Francisco look like a slight incline.

After lunch SJ picked me up with GR, one of the GRs (GNR & GSR) that I spent the rest of the day with – an incredibly intense learning experience. The first thing we spoke about was Bob and Maurine Tobin who, not surprisingly, they think are the best people they know, and then we talked about the work they are each doing and the many people we know in common. I was totally taken off guard when GNR remembered my name (I introduced myself as “Marty” and he asked “Marty Federman!”) and that I was with him when we took him and NG to speak with Alan Berger at the Globe and Barney Frank in 2002. And then, when we got to their offices, GSR remembered meeting me when I was traveling with ISM in 2003! (Maybe that has something to do with why I was stopped, searched and interrogated for two hours coming into Israel!)
In any case, I took copious notes, especially relative to things I will have to follow up on after returning to the U.S., but here I will only mention some of the key things we discussed.

GNR is the Executive Director of PCR, The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement Between People. Their main focus now is on developing a media project whose mission is to disseminate news and information about the situation in Palestine to and through as many media outlets as they possibly can. It’s interesting the GNR said specifically that they do not claim to be objective, they only claim to be “fair and accurate.” They have five reporters working in the West Bank and two in Gaza, reporting in Arabic so that everything has to be translated in order to send on to U.S. outlets. GNR explained the difficulty with translating not only “words” but the sense of what they are reporting since the original Arabic is written for a Palestinian audience so they have to be sensitive to the nuances that will get the accurate story across to an English-speaking readers/listeners. They intend to get into audio and video broadcasting but logistics and, especially funding is, as always, a challenge. The goal is to project what GNR calls “two lines:” first the suffering and hardship that Palestinians endure as a result of the Occupation and secondly, the real life of Palestinians, i.e., culture, economics, daily life, etc. Funding comes primarily from individual donors rather than the Palestinian Authority, the U.N., or other NGO’s, something that they value extremely highly as a way to keep their independence and avoid being co-opted for any else’s agenda.
GSR is the founder and Coordinator of Siraj, the Center for Holy Land Studies which runs one and two month programs teaching Arabic, taking participants on political and eco-tours (hiking, biking and environmental tours). I asked about their connection, if any, with the Alternative Tourism Group and GSR said they basically have none – their vision is different. “Tourism isn’t static” he tells me, therefore they do not have packaged, one size fits all tours – everything they do is customized for each group based on their needs and interests – but all of what they do is geared towards having people explore the situation in Palestine and see what is “happening on the ground.” A key, even paramount issue in GSR’s view is that whatever is done is done from the ground up and must be administered by Palestinians, not (even well-meaning) foreigners. It’s time, he believes, to cut the ties to colonialist mentality and create a grassroots, Palestinian movement and leadership.

When we leave the Rapprochement Center SJ takes me to meet the director of the cultural center at the Al Assa (?) refugee camp, the third and smallest of the three camps in the Bethlehem area (approximately 1500 people). The director is delayed so we don’t get to meet with him, but I have an opportunity to see their library, computer room and some of the materials available for various classes, workshops and programs. Music/instrumental lessons are apparently one of the main activities and I see a number of violins and sheaves of music (notated in Arabic) in the camp office. Siince it is already dark it is difficult to identify very much, but my impression is that this is the poorest and least well kept of the camps I’ve seen (but this night-time sense may not be a fair assessment).

Say what you will – this ain’t the Lower East Side

An unexpected image re-emerges as we are walking back out of the camp and I hear a woman shouting from an upstairs window – an image that has darted through my head in other camps. There is a sense in these camps that is reminiscent in some odd way of my images of the tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when tens of thousands of Jews were packed into the limited space of Houston, Hester and Delancey streets. Fading memories for we second-generation Jews were enhanced by Molly Picon and others on radio and early TV, visions of mothers on the upper floors shouting (usually in Yiddish) for their children, playing in the narrow streets and running between pushcarts, to come home for supper. The images in some ways conjure up in me a kind of bonding with these people whose words I don’t even understand, a sense of the common experiences of peoples separated by time and place. I must, however, pull myself out of the warmth of this second- and third-hand nostalgia and remind myself of the reality of the profound differences in these two experiences. Despite the yearnings of having left a sense of community in Russia and Eastern Europe, the Jews of the Lower East Side had no real attachment to the places they had left and had always been, in varying degrees, strangers. (I once asked my father if he had ever thought of visiting the town in Czechoslovakia where he was born and I remember the bemused, quizzical look that said “Are you kidding? Why would i want to do that?”) Many of the people in these camps – we are told these stories frequently – continue to keep in treasured place, the keys to houses that mostly no longer even exist, in villages that have been razed and barely committed to the world’s memory. With all the hardships of tenement living, my father’s generation, thanks to the combination of their parents’ hopes and persistence and the (often limited, but ultimately existent) opportunities available to them, was able to lift itself out of the cramped apartments and streets of places like the Lower East Side and become, in the course of one or two generations, a vibrant, productive – and now powerful – part of American Society. I grew up with endless stories of the energy in the cafeteria of City College and the $17 a week salaries of first jobs, different stepping stones to an economically viable life in the New World. The myth of America as the “Goldene Medina” (The Golden Land) was destroyed in the difficult conditions of the tenements, but was replaced by a new reality that held a sense of hope and opportunity for the future. Without discounting the tremendous influence of caring parents and families that strive for the best possible future for their children, after four decades of life in the camps the options and opportunities here (and, to only a relative difference outside the camps) are incredibly limiting. The children who aspire to go to college are inspiring, but undermined by their limited experience of the outside world and the overwhelming restrictions imposed on them in every way. Over time my parents’ generation (not without tremendous effort) found there way to Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey and “The Island,” (or Brookline, Newton, Stoughton and the North Shore – or the comparable new communities around Chicago, LA, St. Louis, Montreal, etc., etc.). Where can the children of the refugee camps go, especially as even the place that surrounds them is being squeezed as if a belt were tightening around it? While we moved into a larger, eventually accepting if not always inviting society and culture, these perpetual prisoners have little place to expand, something that is reflected in the way in which housing, especially in the camps, grows vertically, with additions put on top of dwellings that they can never own but strive to make their own. How long before they abandon the keys for locks that no longer exist and leave them behind with their dreams of a better life for their children in a place that once really was their home? A generation or two later some of us children of the Jews of Ellis Island retain (probably overly nostalgic) memories of our parents’ and grandparents’ life in a place of pushcarts, pickles, pumpernickel and people – what will the children and grandchildren of the refugee camps remember – or will they still be there?

One thing that is obvious – and not substantially different from the other camps – is that the main street into and through the camp is the only playground children have. They run and play in groups, large and small, and are obviously quite oblivious to there being any other place or way of playing. Without knowing virtually any Arabic of course I don’t understand what they are saying and shouting, but they call out hearty “hellos” as I pass and they respond with bemused giggling when I reply with my (probably incorrectly pronounced) “maharbah” (Arabic for hello). As we walk towards the main entrance/exit of the camp I am taken, as I always am, by the energy and apparent happiness of these children, confined in this compact place that is surrounded by a larger, marginally freer prison outside the camp. I can only marvel at their resilience and wonder what the effects of living in this place will have over time.

The day ended in Al Hadr, another village at the edge of Bethlehem where SJ lives with his family.

He lives in a very lovely apartment in a building apparently owned by his family and it was filled with his mother, sisters and sisters-in-laws. We had a nice supper in the living room (rice and lentils, two different forms of yoghurt – which I passed on – home-grown olives and a fresh-baked form of pita). As we were beginning to eat, SJ’s uncle who went to school in Louisiana and has been living in Houston, came in and the three of us sat and talked for a couple of hours. I got a great deal of information – and observations – about the struggle here in Palestine and the people/leaders/groups involved. I was also aware that, even in the home of this pretty radical grassroots activist the women clearly take a background place.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 7

As I mentioned in previous posts, recently on the Israel Palestine Forum there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid. I am posting excerpts from some of my posts where I suggest that international law be used since it says that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

What I would like to do is to return to a discussion about the issue underlying this topic; i.e., do we believe that the Government of Israel has instituted a policy in the Occupied Territories that amounts to apartheid, a crime against humanity and, if so, what should we do about it.

Quote from X
From what I am hearing on this forum, we are already convicted. True this forum is not a court and therefore has the freedom of accusing with no need for proof without doubt. For me, this shows the starting point of any such trial and If I was the Israeli government I wouldn't join this "game" either.

As I mentioned, as of February, 2002, 101 states had signed on to the International Covenant on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (18 July 1976) but NOT the Government of the United States and NOT the Government of Israel.

This would pose a technical difficulty in obtaining jurisdiction over the Government of Israel to try it for the crime of apartheid. While no one should be sent to prison for the commission of a crime without having been assumed to be innocent and having been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, there is nothing that prevents us (or should keep us) from looking at the facts and the law and forming an opinion about whether we believe that the Government of Israel is guilty.

On a website with a Study Guide on International Law and Israel I found a section on Israeli Violations of International Law entitled “APARTHEID: The State of Israel has a formal system of discrimination set up which technically fits the official UN definition of Apartheid”

The section contains the text of Article I and Article II of the International Covenant on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (18 July 1976) followed by "evidence" that the Government of Israel has committed the six inhuman acts which, taken together, comprise the crime of apartheid. What I will do for this post is list each of the inhuman acts followed by the "evidence" presented on the website.

Please be aware that this material has been taken from the website of a group I know nothing about – savepalestinenow – and I make no representation that the “facts” that are alleged are true. I just wanted to point out what the international law about apartheid is and what one group alleges to be the “evidence”.

Do you believe that there is apartheid?

If you do, what should we do about it?

Article I

1. The States Parties to the present Convention declare that apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.

2. The States Parties to the present Convention declare criminal those organizations, institutions and individuals committing the crime of apartheid.

Article II

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:

a. Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person:
i. By murder of members of a racial group or groups;
ii. By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
iii. By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;

Massive violation of human rights and civil rights -- the Israeli occupation is known for massive forms of human rights violations, often applied as forms of collective punishment (itself a violation of international law) against very understandable rebellion, such as expropriation of Palestinian lands (now taking more than 70% of the West Bank), building Israeli settlements on Palestinian-owned lands (now housing more than 400,000 Israeli citizens), a separation wall (displacing more than 250,000 Palestinians), in addition to a network of Israeli-use highways and Israeli military checkpoints that have now cut the West Bank in half and which isolate and cripple Palestinian society and economy. The land expropriations, settlements and wall have all been labelled illegal and violations of Palestinian human rights by the United Nations.

In addition, the Israeli military continues to practice further collective punishment by destroying economic assets such as office buildings, the Gaza Sea Port, factories, olive tree groves, and schools, and essentials to every day life (especially in Gaza) such as destroying the electrical power plant, disrupting food supplies and medical services.

The Israeli military also employs the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, which legalizes imprisonment, deportation, property destruction, area closures, censorship, etc., all without charges or trial (but with limited rights of appeal), and all on either an individual or massive scale.

In addition, the Israeli military practices torture, rebel leader assassination, and random shooting of civilians including children (repeatedly reported by the UN and other human rights organizations), and arming Israeli settlers who do the same.

b. Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;

Imposition of inhumane living conditions, such as poverty -- the Israeli military has crippled the Palestinian economy leading to severe poverty and unemployment both through surrounding them with Israeli controlled land and isolating them and inhibiting movement between them, and through a network of permit regulations by which it also strangles commerce often directly in service of the Israeli economy.

In addition, the take-over of Palestinian lands has been strategically planned to include on the Israeli side the natural resources of the occupied territories (especially water and rich farmlands), which also has crippled the Palestinian economy contributing to the impoverished conditions of Palestinian communities.

c. Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

Society-wide legalized discrimination in areas such as finance, housing, employment, education, as well as access to cultural events, etc. -- the Israeli military has created a two-tier government, legal, economic system in the occupied territories. The system for the illegal Israeli settlements is democratic and tied into the government and economy of Israel itself. The system for the Palestinian communities is run by Israeli military committees and Israeli controlled civic adminstrations. This system for the Palestinian communities is not democratic and every aspect of the Palestinian economy and society are controlled by military permits which studies have shown are used to the detriment of the Palestinian society and economy often to the benefit of the Israeli economy. Obviously, this goes beyond discrimination into the realm of oppression and exploitation, but does involve discrimination because it favors one group over another, and is based in laws (which the Israelis call Military Orders and Proclamations).

d. Any measures, including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;

Isolating the victim group geographically, such as in ghettoes, or "Bhantulands" (term used in South Africa) -- the Israeli government has confiscated more than 70% of the lands in the West Bank in patterns which surround the Palestinian communities with Israeli controlled land, which they then use to strangle those communities both economically and socially. They build on those lands illegal Israeli settlements, walls, military reserves, wilderness preserves, a network of Israeli-use only highways, and the checkpoints which bisect the Palestinian roads further hampering movement between communities further crippling Palestinian commerce and society. This pattern has now cut the West Bank in half, and if the current trends of Israeli settlement expansion continue, the West Bank will soon be cut in 3 parts.

The massive land expropriations, practice of collective punishment, the Israeli settlements and the wall have all been labeled violations of international law, and severe violations of the Palestinian rights of self-determination. The occupation itself has been determined to be a massive violation of Palestinian human rights.

e. Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour;

Exploitation of labor, such as slavery or forced labor or discrimination in wages -- the only form of labor exploitation in the occupied territories has been wage discrimination when Palestinians are employed vs. Jewish labor.

f. Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid."

Inhumane suppression of rebellion against apartheid -- in the occupied territories, the Israeli military employs the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, which legalize such inhumane practices as imprisonment, deportation, property destruction, area closures, censorship, etc., all without trial or charges, and all on either individual or massive scales.

But the Israeli military has also used inhumane measures not covered in those regulations such as torture and rebel leader assassination, and forms of collective punishment, such as demolishing entire neighborhoods (Jenin, 2204) and expropriating 70% of the West Bank for Israeli use, building on that land Israeli settlements that now house more than 400,000 Israeli citizens, and building a massive separation barrier not on the border, but through Palestinian communities such that more 250,000 Palestinians are now displaced by it. All these have been named by the United Nations as violations of international law and the inalienable right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.

Other serious measures of collective punishment have been interfering with food supplies and medical services, destroying the electical supply (especially in Gaza) and government buildings, and economic assets such as the sea port, airport, office buildings, olive groves, and urban infrastructure such as bridges, curbs, walls, etc., and confiscating natural resources such as water supplies and the most fertile farmlands (including almost the entire Jordan Valley on the eastern side of the West Bank away from Israel).

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 6

As I mentioned in previous posts, recently on the Israel Palestine Forum there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid. I am posting excerpts from some of my posts where I suggest that international law be used since it says that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Quote from X
If a court case is unlikely and communication with our government is useless, where does that leave us?

I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where there was a government backed up by a powerful military force which treated me and my family brutally and inhumanely. Then add to it not only would this government not listen to my crying out for justice for 40 years but I could not even gain access to a court for relief. Now imagine you are a Palestinian and you believed that this was your situation. Where would that leave you?

Another Quote from X
To practically help the Palestinians get at least something to start with, there has to be negotiations between the two sides. If I understand you correctly, you are saying there is no use talking with Israel (sorry, the government of Israel) And this is my main point of difference with you.

That is the main point of difference with us. I think that the Annapolis conference is a waste of time.

My perspective is probably best reflected in an article by Gideon Levy in the November 20, 2007, issue of Ha'aretz entitled What do you mean when you say 'no'? which begins with these two paragraphs
A festive day for peace: Israel is planning to announce a freeze on construction in the settlements as compensation for refusing to discuss the core issues. The Palestinians are ecstatic at all the good-will gestures Israel is throwing their way. First came the release of prisoners, now a freeze on construction, and the prime minister has already spoken with the settler leaders and informed them of the decision. They said it was a "difficult meeting," as it always is, winking at each other deviously.

Undoubtedly, Israel wants peace. But a tiny detail seems to have been forgotten: Israel has signed a series of binding agreements to freeze settlement activity, which it never intended to fulfill. Of the 40 years of occupation, only during three has construction been stopped despite all the agreements and promises to do so. There is no reason to believe that Israel will behave differently this time.

Here is the rest of the article.

Did you read this?

Do you disagree with Gideon Levy?

In any event our difference is about whether there is any reason for the Palestinians to even bother to negotiate with the Government of Israel (as you note I almost always use the phrase the "Government of Israel" rather than the word "Israel" or "Israelis" since I attribute the gross violations of laws and moral codes to those who run the Government of Israel not its people. In the same way, it is the Government of the United States, not Americans, which has committed illegal and immoral actions in the United States and in foreign countries.)

There are many who would agree with you and who sincerely believe that the negotiations with the Government of Israel could lead to a just peace. For them (and you?) there is an upcoming conference in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Palestinians will have the opportunity to negotiate with the Government of Israel. Is this an example of what you mean when you say that the Palestinians need to negotiate?

Do I hope that it fails to accomplish anything? Of course not. But we should observe and analyze what happens there and then honestly reevaluate our positions. We can then discuss whether we believe that the Palestinians got, as you say Quote:
at least something to start with.

Would you agree to our doing that?

But we digress. This topic is Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid.

Your issue about the need for the Palestinians to negotiate with the Government of Israel would be more appropriately pursued in the topic Annapolis - Should We Hold Our Breath

After hopefully a good night's sleep, I would like to talk more about apartheid and this comment of yours.

Another Quote from X
From what I am hearing on this forum, we are already convicted. True this forum is not a court and therefore has the freedom of accusing with no need for proof without doubt. For me, this shows the starting point of any such trial and If I was the Israeli government I wouldn't join this "game" either.

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 5

As I mentioned in previous posts, recently on the Israel Palestine Forum there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid. I am posting excerpts from some of my posts where I suggest that international law be used since it says that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Quote from X
And who exactly would be that court of justice, if I may ask? And even if they did actually create that miracle and come out with some judgment, who would enforce it?

Here is part 2 of my response - another potential "court of justice" to appeal to about the apartheid policy of the Government of Israel.

(NOTE – the resource I used for much of this is Wikipedia so please feel free to provide interpretations, comments, corrections, etc.)

Established in 1945 by the UN Charter, the Court began work in 1946. The Statute of the International Court of Justice is the main constitutional document constituting and regulating the Court. In this case, unlike the International Criminal Court, all 192 UN members are automatically parties to the Court's statute.

However, being a party to the statute does not automatically give the Court jurisdiction over disputes involving those parties. The issue of jurisdiction is considered in the two types of ICJ cases: contentious issues and advisory opinions.


In contentious cases, the ICJ produces a binding ruling only between states that agree to submit to the ruling of the court. Only states may be parties in contentious cases. Since the Palestinians do not have a State, the Palestinians cannot be a party. Even if it were or even if another State filed a case over the issue of apartheid, there is no doubt that the Government of Israel would NOT agree to let the International Court of Justice have jurisdiction.

In addition, if a judgment were entered against the Government of Israel in a contentious case and it refused to comply, the matter could be taken before the Security Council for enforcement. However, while Article 94 establishes the duty of all UN members to comply with decisions of the Court involving them, one problem is that if the judgment is against one of the permanent five members of the Security Council or its allies, any resolution on enforcement would then be vetoed. This occurred, for example, after the Nicaragua v. United States case, when Nicaragua brought before the Security Council the issue of the U.S.'s non-compliance with the Court's decision that called on the U.S. to "cease and to refrain" from the "unlawful use of force" against the government of Nicaragua saying that the United States was "in breach of its obligation under the Treaty of Friendship with Nicaragua not to use force against Nicaragua" and ordered the United States to pay war reparations.

Furthermore, if the Security Council refuses to enforce a judgment against any other state, there is no method of forcing the state to comply.

In addition, although the Government of the United States had previously accepted the Court's compulsory jurisdiction upon its creation in 1946, it withdrew its acceptance following the Court's judgment in the Nicaragua case in 1984

No doubt a judgment against the Government of Israel would at the present time be met by a veto by the Government of the United States.

ADVISORY OPINIONSThe advisory procedure of the court, however, is open solely to international organizations. The only bodies at present authorized to request advisory opinions of the Court are five organs of the United Nations and 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family.

When deciding cases, the Court applies “international conventions, international custom, and the ‘general principles of law recognized by civilized nations’”.

On receiving a request, the Court decides which States and organizations might provide useful information and gives them an opportunity to present written or oral statements. Advisory Opinions were intended as a means by which UN agencies could seek the Court's help in deciding complex legal issues that might fall under their respective mandates.

In 2004, the United Nations passed a number of resolutions and the International Court of Justice, following hearings in which Israel did not participate, issued a non-binding advisory opinion 7 July 2004, General List No. 131 (2003-2004) “Legal consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” calling for the barrier to be removed and the Arab residents to be compensated for any damage done: "The Court finds that the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated régime are contrary to international law". Israel had submitted a document stating that it did not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ and supporting its claim that the issue of the barrier is political and not under the authority of the ICJ.

In principle, the Court's advisory opinions are only consultative in character, though they are influential and widely respected. Whilst certain instruments or regulations can provide in advance that the advisory opinion shall be specifically binding on particular agencies or states, they are inherently non-binding under the Statute of the Court. This non-binding character does not mean that advisory opinions are without legal effect, because the legal reasoning embodied in them reflects the Court's authoritative views on important issues of international law and, in arriving at them, the Court follows essentially the same rules and procedures that govern its binding judgments delivered in contentious cases submitted to it by sovereign states. An advisory opinion derives its status and authority from the fact that it is the official pronouncement of the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

What this means is that there is unlikely to be a contentious issue case involving the Government of Israel’s apartheid policy.

There could be a request for an advisory opinion, however.

While any opinion would not be binding, it could contain massive evidence and a powerful condemnation of the apartheid it found. The United Nations General Assembly's reaction might be (after also taking into account the court's ruling against the wall and the refusal of the Government of Israel over the last forty years to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions) to vote to urge and encourage the adoption by human rights organizations worldwide of actions against the Government of Israel such as boycotts, divestment and sanctions (even though the United States would block any attempt by the United Nations to do so by means of a Security Council Resolution.)

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 4

As I mentioned in previous posts, recently on the Israel Palestine Forum there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid. I am posting excerpts from some of my posts where I suggest that international law be used since it says that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Quote from X
And who exactly would be that court of justice, if I may ask? And even if they did actually create that miracle and come out with some judgment, who would enforce it?

Because I took an international law course in 1963, I have continued to try to follow what is happening in that practice area but I have only done so somewhat superficially.

Thank you for that question. It encouraged me to take a little more in-depth look at some of the statutes and treaties.

The first potentially relevant "court of justice" is


The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent, permanent court (not an organ of the United Nations) established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in Rome, Italy, on 17 July 1998 by the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court.

The court tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Rome Statute is an international treaty, binding only on those States which formally express their consent to be bound by its provisions. In accordance with its terms, the Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002, once 60 States had become Parties. Today, 105 States have become Parties to the Statute.

According to Article 5
The jurisdiction of the Court shall be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. The Court has jurisdiction in accordance with this Statute with respect to the following crimes:
(a) The crime of genocide;
(b) Crimes against humanity;
(c) War crimes;
(d) The crime of aggression.

Article 7 defines Crimes against Humanity
1. For the purpose of this Statute, "crime against humanity" means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
(a) Murder;
(b) Extermination;
(c) Enslavement;
(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
(f) Torture;
(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;
(j) The crime of apartheid;

Here are the 105 countries that have signed on

Note some of the countries that have NOT agreed to have its citizens be subject to trial for violations of laws against genocide; crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression - Israel, the United States, China, Great Britain and Iraq.

As soon as the Government of Israel signs on as a party there is the possibility that a complaint could be filed at least against all the living Prime Ministers (Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert) for the crime of apartheid (and perhaps other specific Article 7 Crimes against Humanity).

Following the confirmation of charges, a case is assigned to a Trial Chamber of three judges. The Trial Chamber is responsible for conducting fair and expeditious proceedings with full respect for the rights of the accused. The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the Prosecutor beyond reasonable doubt. Victims may also participate in proceedings directly or through their legal representatives.

Upon conclusion of the proceedings, the Trial Chamber issues its decision, acquitting or convicting the accused. If the accused is convicted, the Trial Chamber issues a sentence for a specified term of up to thirty years or, when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person, life imprisonment. The Trial Chamber may also order reparations to victims.


PS After some further review and analysis, I will comment the other potentially relevant "court of justice" - the International Court of Justice.

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 3

As I mentioned in previous posts, recently on the Israel Palestine Forum there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid. I am posting excerpts from some of my posts where I suggest that international law be used since it says that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Quote from A
The label of apartheid is problematic precisely because it turns-off one of the aggrieved parties (just like the label of Terrorists turns off the other). The research i present in my latest book is pretty convencing in one respect: Most Israelis and Palestinians want to achieve a solution around the Clinton/Geneva parameters. The would do it today if the could, BUT they don't trust each other. ....The use of labels such as apartheid/terrorism might be good for PR. Is terrible for trust building, dialogue, and ultimately reconciliation. SO, the question is, what do you want? Reconlciliation? Then drop the labels and work towards dialogue. Pressure and activism? Then by all means, go for them. You will indeed "rally the troops." And continue the bloodshed.

Before I return to apartheid, a question. What does it mean to say that the Palestinians don't trust the Government of Israel? Are you saying that they would not permit the Government of Israel to stop demolishing their houses, not permit them to stop uprooting their olive trees, not permit them to stop destroying power plants, not permit them to dismantle settlements, not permit them to tear down the Wall? Trust is not an issue for the Palestinians vis-a-vis the Government of Israel. The Palestinians just want the Government of Israel to stop violating their human and civil rights.

I am not sure if you read my comment above about apartheid. If not, I recommend it to you. Apartheid is much more than a PR gimmick. Apartheid is an international crime. In 1973, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which entered into force in July 1976. By February 2002, it had been acceded to or ratified by 101 states. Would it surprise you that I could not find the Government of Israel and the Government of the United States on this list?

It is possible that some Israelis might get upset when the Government of Israel is accused of establishing a state of apartheid. Many people who are accused of a heinous crime react in a negative way. So what? The reason folks take out a criminal complaint is not to win friends with the accused. It is to seek justice. It is to ask a judge to find the accused guilty or liable and to punish the wrongdoer.

By the way, what makes you think that the Government of Israel is really angry about being accused of apartheid? The major offended party seems to be The Israel Lobby. Now that I think of it, perhaps The Israel Lobby knows what it is doing and is not just "insulted". Likely it is quite aware of the international crime of apartheid and is just working hard to defend the Government of Israel against this legal charge.

Trust building and dialogue have gotten the Palestinians the 88 vicious hate-filled Jewish squatters in Hebron in 1968, 11 Jewish settlements by 1972, 53 Jewish settlements with 12,500 squatters in 1980, 120 Jewish settlements with 100,000 squatters in 1992 and 123 jewish settlements with 250,000 squatters now.

Quote from B
In Israel, apartheid is practiced to achieve a more sinister aim than just separation of Jews and non-Jews ( as we see more blatantly in the occupied territories but stealth apartheid nevertheless exists in Israel). The aim of all of this oppression and separation is to ultimately force people out of their country. In South Africa, while transfer of population took place within the country, moving blacks to bantustans, Israeli aims to push the natives outside of the country

If you assume, as B and Jeff Halper say, that the endgoal of the Government of Israel is to finish 1948 and dispossess the Palestinians, the Government of Israel will use Annapolis to continue a charade of being willing to talk about being willing to talk about being willing to talk.

Dialogue with the Government of Israel is not an option.

I was fortunate enough to have acted as a divorce mediator for 15 years. The process was one which the parties entered voluntarily. What I knew was that if one party had much more power than the other and was not willing to work towards a fair and just agreement, the mediation would be unsuccessful. Since the Government of Israel has all the power and is unwilling to pursue a just peace, negotiations are doomed to fail.

You recommend reconciliation. That is premature

Quote from Wikipedia
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like body assembled in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. Anybody who felt he or she had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard at the TRC. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution. The TRC was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa and, despite some flaws, is generally - though not universally - regarded as successful.

After Aparthied has ended, then will be an appropriate time for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Again assuming that the Government of Israel's goal is dispossession of the Palestinians, isn't there even more reason to take urgent action.

Pressure and activism is not at all what I am recommending. I favor a trial before an international court. If a judgment is rendered against the Government of Israel as having violated the international law against apartheid, an appropriate remedy/punishment might lead to justice for the Palestinians.

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1, recently on the Israel Palestine Forum, there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid. I am posting excerpts from some of my posts where I suggest that international law be used since it says that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Quote from Y
I see a point in what DOK is saying here. While I agree that Israel's Occupation IS apartheid, I don't think being "right" on this issue" is what's important. And unlike Ron I think it is important that the Israeli government "get it" when it is called a perpetrator of apartheid. You won't achieve a peace agreement by waving international conventions in Israel's face. You can be right till the cows come home about all of this & still not get any traction. So what we peace activists have to do is walk a fine line. We have to pay attention to morality but also to the practicalities of suasion. How do we convince Israel--its government & its citizens to change? I'm not saying that we stop calling a spade a spade morally or legally. But we must realize that being right isn't enough.

Hi Y

We “may” have a consensus that the situation in the West Bank amounts to apartheid (although X is reluctant to use the term.)

We disagree about whether to use the term when approaching the Government of Israel.

We disagree about whether being right is enough.

What I am saying is that being right is an essential precondition to getting to the solution. The solution would then be a moral or legal action.

Let me suggest another way to look at it.

There are a number of values of Judaism that are non-negotiable; one of them is the demand that we “pursue justice”; another is that even in times of war, we do not uproot a fruit (olive) trees; a third is that we do not oppress the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

For 40 years the Government of Israel has steadily taken action that it dreams will one day lead to its annexation of the Land of Israel from the Jordan River west with Palestinians no longer present or forced into small Bantulands totally encircled by Israel.

For that reason NO appeal to the Government of Israel has been effective in keeping it from building 120 settlements. NO arguments have convinced it not to build separate walls, separate roads and over 500 checkpoints. No pressure has kept it from stealing the land of Palestinians, denying them building permits and demolishing their homes. No persuasion has dissuaded it from making the life of the Palestinians a living hell of humiliation, poverty, homelessness and unemployment.

I know that apartheid is NOT a Jewish value?

I would be prepared to provide additional evidence to convince a reader that for 40 years the Government of Israel has violated these three core values of Judaism.

And NO refraining of the use of provocative words (or, in the alternative, the use of diplomatic tactful language) has resulted in its working for a just peace.

I would then conclude that the Government of Israel is “wrong”.

If a reader were to be convinced, I would like to think that he or she would agree that it is important and an obligation for those of us who are Jewish to criticize the Government of Israel for acting contrary to the primary teachings of Judaism; i.e., immorally?

At what point do we decide that the harm and injury and suffering that is being caused by the immorality of the occupation is SO grievous that the "fine line" has been crossed and we can no longer wait for the “practicalities of suasion” to be effective?

And if we have reached that point, as I have, what other realistic and feasible option is there?

I am suggesting that once we have concluded that we are "right" and there has been a "wrong" such as apartheid, we appeal to the world Jewish and other faith communities (cc'ing the Government of Israel) based on its immorality - right/wrong, guilt/innocence, good/bad (and, at the same time, file a lawsuit in the international courts of law based on its illegality under the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.)

And, in both places, seek “judgments” and “remedies.”

Since it IS Apartheid, what should we do? Part 1

A few times I have mentioned the very active Israel Palestine Forum. Recently there have been a number of comments posted on the topic Palestine: Occupation not Apartheid. I have argued that it is apartheid.

One of the members of the forum has made a number of comments generally disagreeing with the use of that word and has objected to my opinion that the path to peace begins by being right (as in going to court and getting a judgment of verdict against the Government of Israel and then having the appropriate body enforce the decision.)

I intend to post excerpts of my comments there to this Blog. Here is the first.

Quote from X
Hafrada means seperation which is what a two-state solution is driving for. The way I see it, we should have this seperation (two states) side by side, until we can have one state that will include all it's citizens with equal rights for ALL. For the near future this seems to be the way to go. Are we going that way? I can't talk for the Palestinians but my government will have to take this view into account at least on election day. ....Without going into the political view of "Apartheide" I would say that bringing it up will not help in getting to that Two-state solotuion. Question again.... What is more important? Going for a solution or being right in an argument?

hi X

I agree that the two state solution is driving to separation. You and I agree that the goal is for all citizens to be treated equally. But you say that the solution is to leave it the way it is for now.

The problem with that is that one party, the Government of Israel, exercises complete dominion and control over, and treats the "other", Palestinians, differently because of the accident of birth. In addition the Government of Israel continues to demolish houses, uproot olive trees, take land, build walls and separate roads. Finally the Government of Israel has developed the Matrix of Control leaving the Palestinians in small cantons in the West Bank surrrounded on all sides by Government of Israel controlled land.

This is not just separation. It is Apartheid. And as some have said, worse Apartheid than in South Africa.

There is another reason to use the word "apartheid" other than that the facts fit the definition and it is responsive to this comment of yours:

Quote from X
Question again.... What is more important? Going for a solution or being right in an argument

The answer is that looking at the situation from a legal perspective - the solution is the result of being right.

Someone manufactures something defectively and a family member is injured, you sue and the solution is a financial judgment.

Someone intentionally strikes you and hurts you, the solution is to have the person tried and sent to jail.

Someone threatens you with bodily harm, you go to court and the solution is to have a restraining order issued against the person.

The solution is being right.

In 1973, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which entered into force in July 1976. By February 2002, it had been acceded to or ratified by 101 states.

The entire convention can be found at

Article I states
The States Parties to the present Convention declare that apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security. The States Parties to the present Convention declare criminal those organizations, institutions and individuals committing the crime of apartheid.

Article II says in part
For the purpose of the present Convention, the term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them: ..... (ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Again, X, the present situation is one where there are NOT equal rights for all and that cannot be justified.

Not only are there NOT equal rights but the treatment of the Palestinians amounts to Apartheid.

The angry reaction of the Government of Israel to the use of the word "apartheid" should be ignored because the initial goal is not to ask the Government of Israel to end the policies and practices it has been unwilling to end for 40 years.

The situation needs to be referred to as apartheid because it is a crime according to the principles of international law.

(This is NOT a "political" view of Apartheid but a legal one.)

The appeal needs to be made to other countries and other international legal bodies with the goal of having either a moral or a legal judgment, with the solution being the Government of Israel ending the apartheid and ending the occupation.

So, we do not have to choose between a solution and being right - the solution follows from being right.


PS I have one question I would like to pose to ALL readers of this message. Forget for the moment that the Government of Israel and The Israel Lobby will get angry if you use the word "apartheid". Is there anyone who has read the messages on this topic, looked at the International Convention on ..... Apartheid and read other materials who would like to present an argument that the situation of the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is NOT Apartheid?

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 4

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 #4

The other jarring reality that we can (almost) see from the roof is the outrageous ugliness that has become Rachels Tomb. Nowhere does the Wall take a more circuitous and disgusting route than around this once holy site. Due to the angle and the blockage of the Wall itself, we cannot actually see the Tomb, but we can see the diabolical way three sections of the Barrier come together, isolating parts of Bethlehem while leaving a narrow, but well-paved road to sneak its way through the area without having to come into contact with anything Palestinian, culminating in a large parking lot built strictly for Jewish sightseers.

What must Rachel be thinking? The legend of Kever Rachel (Hebrew for Rachel’s Tomb) is that Rachel is buried there, on the way to Jerusalem, in order to give solace to the returning exiles. One can only wonder what she thinks as the yellow-plated cars, taxis and buses go through the openings in the Wall and “her children” come to pray at her grave. Her spirit would probably like to join the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs in their shared burial place but that’s only because she has been resting quietly here near Bethlehem for millennia and doesn’t know what’s going on in Hebron!

I continue to think “now I’ve seen the worst and I can let myself relax just a bit and take in what I know will be more of the same.” And then I see something worse – or perhaps it’s simply the cumulative effect. Walking through the gates of the Aida Camp school has to have been one of the lowest points I’ve experienced. We had just walked through the narrow passageways that make up the camp and turned into the school where we saw dozens of young children walking, running and playing in a large open area that seems to function as a gathering place, play area and basketball court. The first impression is of a healthy, thriving, vibrant place – and it is. Then you look across the yard and see the awful specter of that all to ever present Barrier. Once again I am pulled in opposite directions, wanting to feel uplifted by the way in which these people – in this case these children – transcend, or a least have learned to ignore the horrific symbol of their imprisonment, but simultaneously hating the fact that they have to. And I often wonder if I am witnessing the victory of the Palestinian people in their ability to transcend the Occupation, or a victory of Israeli policy in the people’s gradual acceptance of their condition. I try to keep remembering something that someone we met said: “We haven’t won, but we have not been defeated.” I continue to hope that is true, but sometimes it is difficult not to wonder.

In the early evening we have an opportunity to meet again in our hotel with Deputy Mayor George Sa’adeh, one of the people featured in the film “Encounterpoint” about members of the Parents’ Circle of Bereaved Families. He lost his young daughter while driving in Bethlehem and their car (according to the Israeli account) was mistaken for a similar looking vehicle driven by a suspected terrorist. Without stopping or checking them the soldiers fired a barrage of automatic fire at their car, putting nine bullets in George’s side and thigh, wounding his older daughter and killing the younger who would now be in her late teens. (The Sa’adehs have two other children.) Some time after what George remarkably refers to as “the accident,” he was contacted by Israeli members of the Parent’s Circle who told him they would like to meet with him. Since he was not able to go to them in Israel, they met him in Bethlehem and, eventually, he and his wife became involved with the group and its mission.

George is a soft spoken man who attributes his ability to deal with his loss to his Christian faith, and one is inclined to take great inspiration from how he has faced his pain and not become despondent or direct an intense anger against the people who conferred the authority on his daughter’s murderers. He quotes Jesus, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do,” but I cannot let go of the feeling that “they” know exactly what they are doing, or deny my own feelings of fury and amazement that this man wants anything but revenge. In the long run it is people like George Sa’adeh that are a far greater threat to Israel’s leaders than terrorists or suicide bombers. George not only refuses to act on his pain and anger by lashing out violently against his persecutors, but he is working positively to find some piece of justice in the midst of all the horror in this place. That is something that ultimately, regardless of how many “moderates” are discredited, imprisoned and killed, will be the thing that Israeli policy will not be able to destroy. Inshallah. Halevei.

The Grand Hotel: a Good Place to Have an Affair

It was good to see that, although the rooms are nearly empty of tourists, the hotel restaurant (called the Mariachi Room, with, inexplicably, a Mexican theme and cuisine) still brings in a significant number of local people, especially later in the evening and, tonight we found out that they also have a function room that is used with some regularity. Tonight the hotel hosted an engagement party with a huge number of people whose attire took at least some of us by surprise. Everyone was dressed festively to some degree, with more men in stylish suits than I have seen most places that we have been (although I must say that a larger number of businessmen in Bethlehem wear jackets and ties than I remember seeing in other places in the past). But it was the women who took me off guard. There was a full spectrum of fancy clothes, from ornate and luxurious formal gowns (at least one with a surprisingly low, how do you say, décolletage!), to extremely short, tight dresses and skirts, to very stylish outfits with tight pants and high boots. And I don’t remember seeing so many – or so high – high-heels. At one point as I came down the elevator I could hear Arabic music coming from the Mexican restaurant at the same time as “Rhapsody in Blue” was playing in the second floor function room! Can’t explain that, but that’s what it was.

At one point I had a sudden thought: in another time and place i might have imagined that I was watching people coming in and out of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah reception! Life is, indeed, very strange!

Later in the evening we had a needed break from both the physical and emotional stresses of the last few days: we were invited to dinner with our incredible host/guide/teacher/friend Shawqi, his wife and children. We drove to their lovely apartment in Beit Jallah for a lovely buffet supper and much good, fun and relaxing conversation and a little bit of time and space that seemed almost “normal” in contrast to all the things we had experienced in the last few days.

Monday, November 26th – Grand Hotel, Bethlehem

Feeling a bit physically and emotionally drained I stayed back at the hotel for a while in the morning while the rest of the delegation went to Bethlehem University for a tour and lunch. I used some of the time to walk through some of the streets near the hotel and just take in the “hustle and bustle” as one of the people at the hotel so accurately described it. Stopped to have a wonderful falafel sandwich at the corner before walking to the University to meet the group. Walking through the gate of the college one feels like s/he is walking through a passage to a different place. The campus is quite beautiful, with much foliage and an energy not unlike many campuses in the U.S. One thing that is noticeably different is that, along with the very western looking students, and seemingly well-integrated in the general population, are large numbers of women who, while mainly dressed in either western or middle eastern attire, had their heads covered. That is something that is quite normal on the streets of Bethlehem and it is no different here on campus except that all the women sitting in “quad” are holding piles of books or sitting eating lunch on the benches as they read.

We were then driven to the Bethlehem branch of the (Jerusalem) American School. Run by the Assembly of God Church (out of Springfield Missouri) the school was established in Jerusalem some time ago and opened this Bethlehem site about six years ago, serving area children from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. This is both and American and Christian school, with American flags everywhere, flying next to large posters with inspirational quotes from the New Testament. All of the classes are taught in English (although there are Arabic classes) and there are daily “Christian” classes that all of the 230 students attend, including the approximately 10% of Muslim children. (There are classes in Islam offered to the Muslim students in free time after school.) There are currently no girls in the high school which the director attributes to the importance in the local culture of boys getting an education without a parallel inclination for girls. The school puts a strong emphasis in the upper grades on preparing students for one or more universal exams that will help them be accepted in colleges abroad.

After an overview from the director and the high school principal, our group splits up in order to meet with different groups of students. I trek to the top floor to meet with the twelfth graders, a diverse group of young men in a classroom dominated by a large poster of Yasser Arafat on the wall and a smaller one of Arafat facing Palestine’s current president, Mahmoud Abbas, over the golden roof of the Dome of the Rock mosque. We are told that students do not discuss very much politics in class, and the very nice teacher, Mr. Doug (all of the teachers and administrators are addressed as Mr. or Miss first name) appears to be moderately to the right politically, although he went out of his way to note that not all evangelicals are hard right wingers, unquestioningly pro-Israel policy or in favor of the Occupation or the Wall. Never the less, we have a very spirited discussion about how these young men feel about the current situation, living behind the wall, being restricted by the realities of the Occupation. In their conversation as well as the questions they challenge us with, hey exhibit what to me seemed to be a wonderful – and totally appropriate – combination of teenage energy and beyond-their-age thoughtfulness. They banter sarcastically with one another and, at the same time are interested in what we think of the situation, what America thinks about their situation, the Middle East in general and particularly about our intentions in Iran. I introduced myself as Jewish and a member of a national Jewish group working for a just solution in Israel/Palestin and particularly rights for Palestinians, so they direct many questions to me about how American Jews feel about what is going on and JVP’s stand on things like One State/Two States. Alex, a big, exuberant, self-described socialist is particularly interested in those kind of issues and clearly embraces his “radical” image. There do not seem to be many Hamas supporters here – they all talk in terms of everyone relating positively with one another – Christians and Muslims, Hamas and Fatah and Palestinians and Jews. Marwan goes off at one point stressing that when they talk about Israelis or Zionists they do not confuse that with “Jews.” They have, he tells us, no problem with Jews, his problem is with Israelis and (this, I thought, was insightful) although they sometimes may talk about what the “Jews” are doing to them, they don’t mean Jews as in those who follow Judaism, they mean Israelis. We don’t spend any time talking about how Israeli leadership and the institutional Jewish community in the U.S. have conflated the two for their own tactical reasons and then shout “anti-Semite” when the other side blames “Jews.” What is interesting is that, despite their obviously sincere feelings about everyone getting along, some fascinating stereotypes sneak out, such as, when we ask about the proportion of Christians and Muslims in the area they agree that the percentage of Muslims is growing and one young man attributes that not to Christians leaving but the “fact” that “they” have ten or twelve children and Christian families only have a couple (“three or four at the most”).When called on this by one of his classmates he tries to moderate his statement but does not really pull back from it.

This is clearly a prime potential group for an e-mail and/or Skype connection – and they would clearly love that. Mr. Doug does a Skype thing with his mother who is a high school teacher in Oxbridge (?), MA so he’s familiar with the technology and open to arranging this.

The rest of the day is mostly focused, in one way or another, on the fact that the delegation is leaving tomorrow to return to the Paulus Haus in East Jerusalem and preparing to leave on Wednesday for Cambridge.

Tuesday, November 27th – Grand Hotel, Bethlehem 1:30 p.m.

The group left this morning and I’m surprised at how emotional I was. Partly the fact that my “traveling companions” were leaving, partly I think it finally hit me that I’m on my own in a very unsettled place for the next month and, for better or worse, that’s the way it is. I got in touch with SJ who has a much cheaper place in Beit Sahour for me to stay and, although Doha has been wonderful and was ready to give me a “special rate” for tonight, SJ is going to pick me up in a while and take me to the new hotel. Time to pack!! – and I have no idea when I’ll have a WiFi connection once I leave here. Will connect when I can.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 3

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 #3

Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Grand Hotel, Bethlehem, 11:00 p.m.

This morning was an opportunity to talk to a number of people representing various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) sequentially in the same building – they share a building as well as some services in Bethlehem which made it much easier on us to see them all in a fairly limited amount of time.

Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation

Founded in 1960 – in a room in Bethlehem offering basic rehabilitation services for children – BASfR is a basically Christian organization whose support comes significantly from Christian sources – however, a majority of patients and approximately 50% of staff are Muslim – and most patients come from outside of Bethlehem. With the mission of “Health Care for All,” they now offer a variety of services to children and adults, including on-site, day and home care. Along with the expected mission of a group like this, they have the added challenge of never being sure who will be able to reach the facility – sometimes expected patients don’t make it through checkpoints at all, other times someone may show up many hours after expected and their bed has already been given to someone else. Fiscal support comes from German and other European groups and individuals

This group represents some of the kinds of challenges that social welfare organizations when they attempt servicing the people of Palestine. BASfR, for instance, gets money from the Ministry of Health but this money comes very slowly and erratically and, at this point, is owed $4 million, with little idea of when they may get it. Additionally, as we have seen elsewhere, everything coming in and going out of Palestine must go through Israel in some way so that the Wall/checkpoints, besides effecting the people these organizations service, puts a strain on supplies of virtually all kinds. The people who run this beautiful and very modern hospital/clinic are proud of the fact that they do not “warehouse” patients, they follow them from their initial contact through to getting settled in their lives. The issue of the psychological effects on the people of the area comes up again – tensions that lead to an increase in family problems, abuse, etc., etc. BASfR does what it can to address not only the physical problems of their patients, but a kind of holistic approach to their patients.

Imad tells us that his grandfather (and then his father) used to say “it’s not my time.” This observation reflects something that we hear frequently: a sense that Palestinians are a patient people and, even if things are not going to get better immediately, they will improve in time.

Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

This group was organized after the Oslo accords were signed when the founders realized that, amazingly, the accords didn’t include anything about U.N. and international principles regarding refugees. Badil (Which means “alternative” was a response to this oversight, organized to address the issue and to defend the rights of Palestinian refugees.

At the end of the 1947/48 conflict there 800,000 Palestinians were dispossessed. MT acknowledges that the emergence of Israel was, in part, a response to the horrors of the Holocaust but notes that this indigenous population had nothing to do with what happened to the Jews of Europe and asks why they should bear such a terrible price to pay for the sins of others and in order to assuage the conscience of the West.

MT cites the various international agreements and statements related to refugees (e.g., the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Human Beings, UN Resolution 242 and the Geneva Conventions. There are, he says, three possible solutions: the right of the people to return to their homes; financial compensation; and resettlement somewhere else. He then points out that only the first (the right to return) is actually a “right,” the other potential resolutions are privileges which are dependent on and conferred by the decisions and “generosity” of other.

MT makes one of the most directly political statements we have heard: the Zionist establishment, he says, has committed crimes against humanity and, if we were to accept an exclusively Jewish state we would, in effect, be absolving it of its responsibility for these actions. He posits, very assertively, that no modern state should be based on religious or ethnic criteria and, therefore, a Zionist state represents a racist, colonialist and expansionist philosophy – but he stresses that he is talking about the philosophy and the decision makers that propound it, “the Israeli people” he says “are hostages of their own leadership.” MT does add the observation that the Arab countries around Palestine have done little or nothing to ease the situation.

Badil’s response to this situation is to lobby in various venues, disseminate information (through things like its annual report) and provide a legal unit to advocate for the rights of refugees. It is part of a broader group of advocates who are connected through the Coalition of the Right of Return.

Clearly MT harbors a great deal of (understandable?) hostility and this comes out in a number of the things he says: We are not fighting only Israel, we are fighting the U. S. who is bankrolling Israel’s immoral and illegal policies; he rejects the idea of dividing the land – if you want to divide the land, he suggests, “give the Jews the areas they call Judea and Samaria,” the areas that they claim is the heart of their heritage and give the rest back to us.” He also points out that taking Palestinian land isn’t even necessary since 90% of the Israeli population lives on only 14% of Israeli land (no way for me to confirm his figures) so there is clearly adequate place for Israeli’s to settle.

As I listen to MT it seems he is particularly angry at the way in which the Israelis have and continue to not only destroy Palestinian homes and villages, but are, by changing the names of areas and cleansing them of any indications of their existence, destroying even the memory of their having been here. When asked about groups like Gush Shalom he more or less dismisses them as “just the left wing of Zionists. He does, however, speak very positively about the Israeli group Zochrot (Rememberance), an organization that has been identifying the “disappeared villages” and are putting up signs and drawing attention to their existence.

Prisoner Society (? - Member of PA – Spoke in Arabic)

Next we are addressed (in Arabic) by the head of this group who is also a member of the Palestinian Authority. He describes for us some of the circumstances and conditions that the 11,000 political (he doesn’t include criminal prisoners) endure in the 30 prisons and detention centers run by Israel. The “inhuman” conditions he describes are, indeed, harsh and often cruel, with prisoners held for long periods without being charged or brought to trial, not able to see family, physically abused, etc. He explains, for instance, the situation with “cantinas,” in-prison “stores” where prisoners can purchase some limited amounts of food and snacks if they are able to get money from family. The prices set by guards and authorities are twice the usual price or more and the money is frequently simply stolen by those guarding the prisoners. Our speaker also points to the stress this puts on families who by leaving money with their family members in prison, intensify their own economic hardships. He also addresses the issue of torture, which has been outlawed by the Israeli Supreme Court (which, by the way, has little or no ability to implement its decisions) but continues under different names. (As you listen to this one can’t help thinking about the torture issue in the United States right now!)

Israel recently announced that it would be releasing 440 prisoners as a concession to support Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas prior to the “Annapolis Conferenc” but, to date they have not released anyone and, in any case, this would be just a tiny drop in a very large bucket. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas have also agreed to form a joint commission to evaluate the prisoner situation, something else that has yet to happen.

We are told that a few agencies (e.g., the Israeli group B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) have tried to report on conditions in the Israeli prisons but have effectively been denied access and the Red Cross (the only organization that has the right to actually visit prisoners) has been trying to intercede but gets very little response from the Israeli government.

In response the Prisoner Society has 30 lawyers who visit the prisoners regularly and collects affidavits.

Alternative Tourism Group (Jawad)

This group was established in 1995 to promote Palestine as a tourist destination – to disseminate information about life in Palestine beyond just the tourist sights – to expose people to the people of Palestine. They arrange for people to stay with people in homes (they have 30 homes) and send people to spend time with the kind of groups we’re meeting with today – groups that are involved in the Palestinian cause – villages and towns, not just churches and tourist sights

They take visitors to places like Jenin, Hebron, Nablus, areas that most tourists do not ever see and, in 1995, published an alternative guide book, “Palestine and Palestinians” (first in French then translated into English) available at

D’heisha Refugee Camp and Ibdaa Community Center

Spent the rest of the day at the D’heisha Refugee Camp, the first camp established by the UN (in 1948) with the displacement of the people from Zachariya, the village Shawqi Issa’s family came from. This is the camp that the delegation I was with in 2001 stayed when we were in Bethlehem and some things look exactly the same, others are quite different. The general feel, of course, has not changed since there is simply no where for the camp to expand or grow. Since we were there significant parts of the camp were invaded by Israeli forces and certain buildings were destroyed. The residents have managed to do considerable rebuilding and both the facilities and the programs available are significantly better than they were.

We first heard again about the formation of the camps – of people being dislocated from their homes in villages throughout Palestine, with little time to gather their things but carefully locking their doors and taking their keys with them with the expectation that, at some point, they would return to their homes. Initially the UN resettled them in tents in camps like D’heisha and, over time, when it became clear that they would not be returned quickly to their villages, they began to build more permanent dwellings which, over the years, grew organically, primarily up since the amount of space available was finite. It was painful to hear again the stories of large families cramped into first tents, then small buildings without the normal amenities – water, electricity, etc. – that we take for granted. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to relate to the idea of men, women, children and elderly all having to live in the same space, or waiting endlessly for the limited outside toilets. And, when we think of how this was happening to people who live in a basically conservative culture the indignities added to the physical hardships seem unbearable.

Despite (or because of) all of this, in time the camps developed into neighborhoods with most of the facilities and services necessary for any community. At the same time one realizes how stretched some of these services are: as an UN facility the camp does not even receive the meager services that Palestinian municipalities get from the Israeli government so that normal services like trash collection and sewage are a tremendous problem. The camp currently has only one doctor who sees an average of 280 people every day – which leaves, on average, about 73 seconds for each patient! Many of the resources are directed to the 6,000 children who are currently living in the camp.

To make things all the more difficult, for sixteen years D’heisha was under curfew (totally shut down) approximately a third of each year – each period of closure lasting from a few days to weeks, once (during the first Gulf War) lasting for 49 days that people could not leave their homes.

There is a strange paradox that one feels as one walks through the very narrow streets of D’heisha. The streets are narrow, mostly dull, with a kind of oriental tenement feel – and in some areas there is a not-overwhelming but noticeable odor of uncollected refuse. At the same time there are many signs that the residents of the camp have pushed themselves to make this place a neighborhood and not some kind of internment camp. Colorful wall murals alternate with political statements and one can look through doorways and down the narrower alleys and spy courtyards and gardens that surround homes created out of the basic materials of the original buildings. And the children! It never ceases to astound me how resilient they are, unaware on so many levels of the meager material goods available to them. As I was last time, I am taken by the excitement they show at having their pictures taken. In 2001 I was surprised at this, especially when you realize that they will never see the pictures taken with a film camera, which I used then. On my last trip I had borrowed a digital camera which meant that the children could see their images right after they were taken and this added a level of excitement that I would be hard pressed to describe. My great regret is that I have no way of reproducing and distributing the pictures to the kids. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to travel with tiny, low-cost printers along with our digitals!

Our delegation brought bags of the colorful “peace necklaces” that were ordered for the Peace Day celebration in Cambridge a few months ago. I also again brought some pens (this time some that coiled on themselves to form little bracelets and others that can be bent and tied into knots or just played with). We distributed these little gifts in the streets of D’heisha, with, for me, that same mixed feeling that permeates the camp: I admire the way in which the people of the camp have transcended their situation and built a community for themselves, but I abhor the fact that they have to transcend what is basically an indefensible way of life. In the same way, I thrill at the joy and excitement that our trinkets bring to the children of the camp but have an enormously difficult time accepting that children live in a world where a little pen or a necklace worth no more than a few pennies makes such a difference in their lives. I try to dwell on the pleasure – to both them and us – that this brings, and the joy on their incredible faces as they gather around us, but . . . . . . .

After walking around the camp we are taken to the Ibdaa community center for a performance of their wonderful dance troupe which has toured Europe and the US. it is an incredible sight to see these young people who have taken a tradition art (Dabka dancing) and melded it with rich story-telling, beautiful, colorful costumes and a palpable enthusiasm.

This, by the way, was the dance troupe some of whose performances were cancelled in the schools of Old Saybrook, Connecticut after receiving calls from people who thought they were two “one-sided” and “political.” Forget for a moment all the political, free speech and censorship issues – shame on those who would punish young people in order to advance their own sick agendas.

After the show we were walked up to the top floor of the center where, to our (at least my) surprise there is a beautiful, middle east themed restaurant where we had a delightful dinner

Sunday, Nov. 25, 2007 – Grand Hotel (Bethlehem)2:19 p.m.

Spent the morning at the Aida Refugee Camp, seeing a presentation about their Alrowwad Cultural Center, walking around the camp, visiting their school and viewing the Wall through Bethlehem and around Rachel’s Tomb.

The camp is smaller than D’heishah and in some ways in worse shape, in others somewhat better. They have a cultural center that is not as modern as the one that is being built at D’heishah but has a wide variety of programs and facilities including craft workshops, Dabka dancing, a choir, and a bunch of media initiatives which they are hoping to expand. The video program we were shown is really quite good, giving a complete overview of the history, development and services of the camp and the cultural center.

Walking around the camp one sees all the disadvantages of living in such a cramped space with so many people and so many restrictions on what people are and are not able to do. At the same time it is clear that many of the people living here have made both nice homes and a sense of community out of what they have. In some cases it is amazing what people have done with their homes, their courtyards and gardens given the reality that, as UN refugee housing, they can never actually own these little pieces of “home.”

The school is thriving with a tremendous energy, a variety of services (including special education), a wonderful, bright atmosphere – and the Wall (with one of its appalling towers just a few meters behind the schools wall, looming over the large open area where the students gather and play sports. The children are happy, raucous, animated (in other word: children) and seem oblivious the monster menacing them just outside their play area.

From the roof of one of the school buildings one can see a good part of Bethlehem, the neighborhood (i.e., settlement) of Gilo, a bit of Rachel’s Tomb and the snake that is the Wall coiling itself around the hills, insinuating itself into the heart of Palestinian life in the area. Just below the building we were standing on we could see the expanse of beautiful, tree-filled Bethlehem agricultural land surrounded by the part of the Wall just below us and the section in the distance that curls around Gilo, effectively isolating the fields – and the two or three Palestinian homes that are in the middle. The people living there have no where to go, literally. They cannot go to the side of the Wall that is now Jerusalem, but they cannot go to the part of Bethlehem that is now on the other side of the Wall without a special permit. This means that school children who live an easy walk to school must first have a permit to pass through the Wall and walk down to one of the few gates. And the pinnacle of this surreal picture is: the permit the children (along with everyone else) must carry gives them permission to cross “From Bethlehem to Bethlehem!!!”