Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 7

Journal Entry #7

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

Marty Federman's 2007 Visit Journal - Entry # 7

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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