Sunday, November 25, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 1

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. I wrote to Marty and told him that I had not gotten Journal Entry #1. Here it is.

Journal Entry #1

Monday, Nov, 19, 2007 – Charles DeGaulle Airport (Paris) 7;37 (Paris Time)

Well, I’ve made it as far as Paris! Just a few initial thoughts as I sit here in the one little café I could find in this terminal, having chosen not to buy a $6.00 bottle of Diet Coke!

First, about the format I intend to use in keeping this “journal.” I expect to be keeping a log of what I’m doing – pretty much straight “reporting” which I’ll do in this Arial font that I just switched to. For my more “reflective” thoughts and meanderings I’ll stick to the usual Times Roman. And I suspect that periodically I’ll have some particularly “profound” thoughts (!) that I’ll put in a box of some sort. Hopefully this will make it a bit easier for you to choose what you want to read or not – and, of course, there is always the “delete” key!

My last minute preparations were pretty hectic and I’m pretty tired, but I do have a couple of initial thoughts even before I arrive in Tel Aviv – and they have to do with the changing feelings I realize I’ve had each time I’ve taken this trip. The first time I went to Israel was (Lord help me!) 38 years ago. I had graduated college three months earlier, gotten married six days before we left for “Ha’aretz” (“The Land” i.e., Land of Israel), the fulfillment of a young couple’s dream. In my excitement and apprehension I was overwhelmed – in a disconcerting, but not unpleasant way – by the seeming swarms of traditional Jews (we flew El Al, of course) both in the terminal at Kennedy and on the huge plane. The babies crying, the constant moving about of the passengers and the dozens of men getting up to daven (pray their daily prayers) kept us awake but terribly excited. It felt wonderful to be on that plane with all of “my” people, going “home.”

I had little time to process very much in 2001. Traveling with eleven other people, having been cautioned to expect an entry I could not conceive, I felt connected to my companions and only distantly aware of the rest of the passengers.

By 2003, traveling alone, much had changed in my life and my relationship to “Ha’aretz.” Flying Northwest Airlines and KLM, with a six hour layover in a totally shut down Amsterdam on New Year’s Day, I’m not sure that I was terribly conscious of any feelings other than a sense of anxiety about what I would find when I got to Israel and how I was going to get around on my own.

Today’s flight from Boston (Air France) has so far seemed like some sort of business trip. Going through security is a complete pain in the whatever, and the vast majority of passengers around me were French. The plane was not full so I had empty seats on both sides of me and basically read the Sunday Times and slept a little. The only other thought of note. A few rows behind me, across the aisle, was a noticeably Jewish family (the father had a medium length beard and a large knit Kippah (Yarmulke/Skullcap). 38 years ago I would have felt an instant bond with this family, all of us going to Israel. This time – and I have to be careful about how I say this – I’ve spent the last many years speaking out against making judgments about people based on stereotypes and looks – but the sad truth is that I not only felt no desire to “bond” with these fellow-Jews, but could not help but wonder what they would think if they knew why I was going to “Ha’aretz” and what I would be doing when I got there. And even as I type these words my innate paranoia makes me wonder what my entry this time will be like if, somehow, someone at Ben Gurion Airport was actually able to access this entry. The times are indeed, and always, a-changing.

More than I intended – and time to walk what seems like many miles to the gate.

Monday, Nov, 19, 2007 – Old Jaffa Hostel (Jaffa)
11:45 (Tel Aviv/Jaffa Time)

There is much to write but I’m much to tired to get it all down. Hopefully tomorrow evening I will be able to catch up with everything. Just let me say that my entry into Israel was quite something! I was taken from the Passport Check line and interrogated, and kept sitting for close to four hours. I finally arrived at the Old Jaffa Hostel (more about it tomorrow), met S and R. We went to a café to meet someone they’ve been in touch with, had a bite to eat and now have to get to sleep since we need to be at the clock tower in the center of Jaffa at 6:00 a.m. (!) to meet the women from Machsom Watch. And i still have to repack everything since they took everything out – and I have to do it in the dark since we are staying in a dormitory type room and the lights are off and everyone else is asleep!

Added Later

When I got to Ben Gurion I went to Passport Control and got on line. The line I was on was moving slowly and I noticed that the line to my right was moving much more quickly – the security officer in that booth was looking briefly at each person’s passport, smiling and passing them on. I moved to that line and, in minutes, was at the window, greeted the woman with a friendly “Shalom” and handed her my passport. Almost immediately I new that I was in trouble: she didn’t speak to me but was looking down in front of her, obviously, I thought, at a computer terminal. After a few minutes and asking “yesh baiyah?” (is there a problem?), and getting no answer from her, another security officer appeared, was handed my passport, and asked me to come with her. As we walked across the terminal she asked me what I was doing in Israel (I told her I had lived in Israel years ago, had visited a couple of times in the last few years and was coming back to sight-see, visit friends and just travel). Again I asked if there was a problem but she only said that there was a security issue and I should follow her. I was taken to a small waiting area near what was obviously a security office (I was never able to see into it, only numerous uniformed security people coming in and out), my backpack and fannyback were taken taken from me and placed on the ground some distance away and I was told to sit down and wait. During the time i was sitting there a man in a suit sat down next me and asked me where I would be staying in Israel, how long I expected to be there and – I have no idea why – my father’s name. And then he left.

After what I would estimate was three quarters of an hour or so an officer came out, holding my passport, and put my bags on a cart and lead me across the baggage claim area to a large room (where my suitcase was sitting) off of which were three smaller rooms, two with huge x-ray machines where my things were scanned behind screens so that I couldn’t see what was going through. Meanwhile I was taken to the third room, a tiny space with only a lectern looking piece and a chair. I was told to empty everything from my pockets (not just metal), remove my shoes and belt, and the agent began to run a hand held scanner over every inch of my body. When it continued to beep as he scanned the front of my pants I was asked to open and drop them while he ran the scanner inside them, finally deciding that the offending object was my zipper. He began to leave abruptly telling me that I could put my things back on and I told him that I was feeling somewhat light-headed, probably because I was upset, but that I am diabetic and would it be possible for me to test my blood sugar. He asked what I needed, left and returned with my backpack from which I took my glucometer, stuck my finger expecting, given how I was feeling and the fact that I had eaten very little on the planes, and drunk less, that my sugars would be very low. To my surprise they were unusually high and I asked to be allowed to give myself an insulin shot which, apparently not happy, he said i could. He then took my things back and left.

When I was re-dressed and no one had come back I walked into the large room where my bags were lying on a large square of long tables and everything was taken out of them by about six or seven security people, felt, perused and looked at. Papers were rifled through, anything electric or electronic was opened, scanned and x-rayed, my six weeks of medications were felt, and everything placed on large palettes as they apparently passed inspection. Both my laptop and one that i had brought to leave for someone in Israel were opened, turned on and x-rayed and mine was placed into my suitcase rather than the backpack where I carry it so that it is always with me. I was told that it “might seem unnecessary since i’d be out of the airport in a little while, but that is their procedure. After perhaps an hour they pushed everything back into my bags (with little concern for what they had come out of), two women struggled for a while to zip my suit case and the agents placed tiny red stickers on every zipper and closure on every bag, apparently to indicate that they and everything inside them had been inspected. The man who had led me to this room now put all three bags on the cart and led me back to the waiting area near the security office.

After about another hour a female security person walked out of the security office, handed me my passport with a small paper sticking out of it and began to walk away. By this point my head was spinning and I could hardly think what to do. I must have said something like “does this mean I can go?” because she nodded and pointed towards the exit gate. I took the cart with my things on it, walked to the now deserted gate where a very chipper attendent took what I now realized was a gate pass out of my passport, smiled broadly and, in Hebrew, welcomed me to Israel and wished me a good stay. Since they had buried my cell phone somewhere in my suitcase I struggled with a pay phone, managed to get hold of R to let him know that I had finally arrived, went out and took the first cab available to Jaffa where I met R & S at the hostel we would stay in that night.

A Nice Jewish Boy from Brooklyn isn’t Safe in Israel Anymore!!

I’m titling this reflection somewhat humorously, but the reality is that this may be one of the most difficult things I’ve written. While I sat in the waiting area – and then in the x-ray room watching people go through my things, I had some very unexpected thoughts, which I’ll try to relate, not necessarily in a coherent manner. I have always stressed my connection to this place that is now Israel, and identified myself as someone who was not “anti-Israel” but strongly opposed to the Occupation and the policies of a long line of Israeli governments. As I sat there Monday night I thought, if you want to create an anti-Israelist, this is a great way to do it. What triggered this? What “list” am I on? Who fed the massive Israeli security apparatus with information on me? I remember arriving at at the then Lod airport for the first time in 1969, coming out of the terminal after a simple walk through passport control and customs, getting hit by the light and feeling an urge (although I was too self-conscious to actually do it) to drop down at the first unpaved patch of land and kiss this holy ground. Very theatrical, but that’s how we felt in those days. And I remember almost trembling as the bus drove us down still rough roads, past palm trees and citrus groves and feeling the rush of countless Jewish National Fund movies about the founding of the State pulsing through me.

Now, as I sat in this small waiting area, not knowing what was happening, getting no answers, I was absolutely sure that I was going to be deported, sent back to who knows where, with a tremendous sense of disappointment after all the preparations I had made for this trip. I was nervous – even frightened – unsettled and progressively angrier, telling myself that I had to keep my cool, whatever happened. Even now, a day later, it is inconceivable to me that this could have happened – Jews, as we always said, don’t do things like this. But, of course, I was only experiencing a tiny fraction of what tens of thousands Palestinians endure every day. I just don’t know what to do with all of this.

I will say that I absolutely hate the feeling of paranoia that this experience has created. When I rebooted my laptop Monday night 1500 old e-mails that I had already opened and/or deleted began to re-load off my server. I have heard a lot of reports that the Israelis (using sophisticated software developed in conjunction with US intelligence services) scan and download everything off computers to somehow go through electronically. I had backed-up all my data files before I left and deleted many that I thought might be problematic from my hard drive. What had I not cleared off, I thought and anyway, as any of us who ever watched CSI-type show on TV knows – anything you’ve ever put on your computer stays there for ever and any fairly adept computer geek can find it. And what if (and this was the worst fear today) there was something there that identified the people in the Bethlehem delegation and, after my getting through they were denied entry because of me? Probably ridiculous, and everyone except R and O went right through (even these Palestinian/Lebanese Arabs were only detained for an hour or so!), but it is the fear and paranoia that my experience instilled that most makes me angry. It seems that it has become standard practice for Israeli authorities to keep everyone off balance – make them worry about what can happen and they’re most likely not to do anything we don’t want them to seems to be the object.

The bottom line is that Israel, a far cry from my naïve expectations 30-some years ago, has become (has been?) a militaristic, paranoid state and that is difficult for me to take. In some ways “A Nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn” has become the greatest threat to Israel. If I am on some list, or someone has “outed” me as an anti-Israel provocateur, I am a terrible menace because I can’t simply be discounted like a terrorist or a suicide bomber can be. So, as in all police states (including increasingly the U.S.) people like me have to be stopped, marginalized and/or demonized to undermine any legitimate criticism of Israeli policy or, especially, any active or assertive action might exist. That’s not an easy thing to acknowledge at this point in my life.

Tuesday, Nov, 20, 2007 – Paulus Haus, Schmidt’s Girls School
7;30 p.m.

We’ve been pulled into things right from the start! After a couple of hours of sleep we were up at 5:00 a.m., had a quick bite of strawberry yoghurt, a quarter of a banana and a cup of instant Nescafe and were off to the Jaffa clock tower at 6:00 a.m. to meet ET. E has worked with Machsom Watch (Machsom is Hebrew for checkpoint) for six years, monitoring what goes on at the checkpoints, taking photos (E is a professional photographer), keeping notes and interceding with the Israeli soldiers and security people on behalf of Palestinians who are mistreated or dealt with inappropriately. We drove from Jaffa, past Tel Aviv and into the West Bank On the super-highway, #5, towards the settlement of Ariel, one of the largest of the new Israeli “neighborhoods.” We drove along this settler-only highway, through part of the settlement and then on to the Huwara checkpoint where E had a head to head with a young Israeli (woman) officer. Other soldiers were actually quite pleasant, had no problem with S and me taking pictures and E spoke to a number of the Palestinians crossing through and ascertained that this was a comparatively “easy” day. That, of course, is one of the awful parts of this whole situation: one never knows what is going to happen and, consequently, no one can anticipate how long it will take to get anywhere. In fact time in Palestine has no analogy to what we think of in the U.S. – the arbitrariness of the decisions made by barely out of their teens soldiers who have total, unconditional power over you, means that you can never be sure when – or even if – you will get to work, school or family.

The checkpoint is right in the middle of an area surrounded by settlements and with a number of sprawling army bases. On our way out E took us to a “cafeteria,” actually a small snack shop, where, apparently, many of the soldiers hang out and socialize. The name of the place is “Ach sheli gibor” (My brother is a hero). It’s a simple place with some sandwiches and lots of junk-food, snacks and drinks – and owned by a young settler who is charming enough that ET admitted that, “even though I don’t want to, I can’t help the fact that I kind of like him.” She also acknowledged that his is one of the few places with Sherutim (literally “services” – in this case toilets!)

On our way back towards the Green line we passed through the village of Funduq. At first we wondered why we saw so many Israeli military vehicles along the very modest road that passes through Funduq – and then were suddenly startled to realize that everything was closed and there were virtually no people on the streets. At one house a small group of young men were on the steps of a house and E stopped to ask them why everything was closed. At first they were somewhat hesitant to talk to her but quickly warmed up and told E that a settler had been shot last night by a Palestinian (who was fairly quickly caught and found out not to be from Funduq) and the whole city was put under “curfew.” Curfew, of course, doesn’t mean the same here as it does at home. It’s not the time we set for our children to ignore coming home – it’s a total lock down where no one is allowed out of their houses, day or night for as long as the authorities decide. We spoke with these men (and their adorable children) had some wonderful, dark, sweet Arab coffee and went on our way after R called an International Solidarity contact to let them know what was happening. Later we heard that some settlers had come to Funduq and set up their own checkpoint, totally unauthorized but neither the police nor the army ever interfere with this kind of action by settlers.

There is an interesting process going on vis-à-vis the relationship between the settlements and Palestinian villages and cities. One of the first things one notices as you drive out of Tel Aviv towards the West Bank are the large highway signs directing you towards Ariel. You drive on super highways that lead to a variety of Israeli destinations (e.g., Haifa) and to these huge new suburbs like Ariel in the middle of the country and Ma’ale Adumim the behemoth “neighborhood” near Jerusalem. The roads allow you to speed to and from the settlements with no indication that there is any difference on either side of the “Green Line” (the 1967 border between Israel and the Palestinian territories). There is, in fact, nothing that indicates that you have crossed the Green Line, and a large swath of land on either side of the highway has been taken to allow a buffer for Israeli travelers – and only Jewish Israeli vehicles with the proper yellow license plates are permitted on these “by-pass” roads. The only Palestinian presence that one sees from one’s car are the “quaint” villages set back on the hills, neat and picturesque like a Disney World “Arab-Land” placed in the distance for effect. One need not concern oneself over what life in these not-quite-for-real villages is like. Meanwhile, as we drove towards Ariel early in the morning, with few cars headed our way, we could see the rather heavy traffic flowing in the opposite direction, people on their way into Tel Aviv, Haifa and other work-day destinations. At one point as we drove I suddenly had a sense that we were going south on I-93 watching all the people heading into Boston at the start of another business day. As we approached the settlement we began to see billboards broadcasting the benefits of living in Ariel (there is a beautiful brick wall at the approach into Ariel that declares in Hebrew “Ariel, for a happy and healthy place to live”) and advertising the best places to secure a mortgage when you decide to buy into the settlement. There is nothing here that wouldn’t be completely normal for any new development expanding around any major city in the U. S.

At the same time there are virtually no signs for any Palestinian towns, villages or cities. Later in the day, for instance, we drove right by the ghetto that is Qalqilyia*, a Palestinian city of 60,000 people in the upper west side of the West Bank. Despite its size, as one approaches there are no signs to the city, but there are numerous signs for the relatively small settlement of Tzafon that is nearby. It is clear that this is all part of a process to change the consciousness of both Israelis and Palestinians: settlements like Ariel are just suburbs of the major cities, all memory of them as “settlements” quickly receding in to forgotten history. At the same time the awareness of any Palestinian presence is being erased from people’s consciousness. With no indication that there any distinction between what’s on either side of the Green Line, with the normality of signage and the absence of any Palestinian presence it is clear that Israeli policy is meant to change the very way in which Israelis think (or don’t ) think about the “neighborhoods,” the connection between them and the rest of Israel and the created non-existence of Palestinian Arabs. The other insidious technique is the subtle renaming of places so that the memory of anything Palestinian will disappear – the old town of Kedum, for instance, is now the settlement of Kedumim, an example of how not only the village has disappeared but the very memory has been erased.

*I don’t use the term “ghetto” lightly given its history and its genesis in the enclosed areas like Warsaw where Jews were locked up in Nazi occupied Europe. I am not trying to – and would never – equate the Israeli Occupation of Palestine with Nazi Germany or its people with Nazis – the two are not the same. Still, I don’t know what else to call it. The “Separation Wall” (and it is a mammoth concrete wall in this region) snakes around Qalqilyia, totally surrounding this city of 60,000 people, with only one small area on the Southeast side open – and, discounting any claim of “security,” a small section\s of wall extends from either side, across the opening leaving a small gate as the only way in or out of the city – and a full-time check-point controls all traffic in and out, not across the border into Israel but restricting the movement of the people of Qalquilyia to the Palestinian

Hot Women and the Lubavitcher Rebbe

One of the first things I noticed driving around the last couple of days is the great proliferation of huge, usually vertical fabric billboard-type advertising signs. There are many varieties, but the largest number fall, it seems, into two categories: first are the signs advertising a variety of women’s fashions, perfumes and personal products, all with giant pictures of very sexy young women. They are not too far off the scale – certainly nothing “pornographic,” but these women, along with there, shall we say “fashionable” attire, have exceptionally comely expressions, peering out into the passing traffic.

The other sign that you see many of, and it seems in all parts of the country, is one with the same likeness of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the last leader of the the CHaBaD Chassidic sect who died a decade ago that one sees on smaller posters here and throughout certain parts of the U.S. Even though he’s been gone all this time, some of his followers still wait for his return, as the signs say, as Moshiach (the Messiah).

Ah, what a strange and wonderful place this Holy Land is! To be able to drive down the highway and see giant images of hot women just down the road from towering images of the Rebbe! Now there’s a divine message, even if I can’t figure out what it is!

Wednesday, Nov, 21st, 2007 – The Grand Hotel, Bethlehem
11:30 p.m.

Just reporting that our whole delegation has arrived and come together! Today was another tremendously full – and for me depressing – day. But I’ve just caught up with everything through yesterday and I’m too exhausted to write any more tonight – not to mention that I have to be up in six hours in order to make it to breakfast before starting a very full day here. So I’ll just say, after a night at the Old Jaffa Hostel, and one at the Schmidt’s Girls School/Paulus Haus Guest House with no hot water, this hotel is charming, modern and wonderful. There’s even a TV with cable and two CNN channels! What more can one ask?

I’m sure to feel overwhelmed with catching up with two day’s worth of reporting tomorrow, but now I must get some sleep.

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