Four: Final Impressions
Due to a lost email sent at the
end of the March delegation, we never received their last and final
report. We’ve now received the pieces and send this out as
final reflections from the delegation.
Children: Hopes and Values
for the Future
It’s so hard to know where to start: so many
images and conversations, so much pain and frustration, glimpses
of hope, and the incredible need for serious concern and ACTION…
One of our meetings was at the Plaza Shopping Center
in El Bireh which is next to Ramallah. In the midst is a store called
CUTE KIDS (which had very trendy clothes for kids in the windows,
including a bejeweled tee shirt with the slogan “I AM GORGEOUS
The children here are all gorgeous, as are the children
in Israel, in the United States, in Iraq and everywhere else. As
a mother of two, stepmother of three, and grandmother of eleven,
and exchange student mother of four (Mexico, France, Ecuador and
Russia), I truly believe that children are not only our future,
but how we treat them reflects our hopes and values for their future.
We met a student from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
She grew up in a settlement where her family still lives. She and
her siblings, along with her friends, rode a school bus to school
that had bullet-proof glass windows to protect them from rocks being
thrown at the bus. She'd had friends who were seriously injured.
We met with a group from Combatants for Peace, an
organization that brings together former Palestinian fighters and
former Israeli soldiers who agree that there is no military solution
and that the cycle of revenge must be broken. They have ongoing
dialogue to share their stories, build trust, and call for action.
This is particularly challenging work since barriers, checkpoints
and the need for permits make it extremely difficult for them to
meet. Our Palestinian host shared that he'd been involved with the
work for almost two years, and, then, in January 2007 his eleven-year
old daughter was shot in the head with a rubber bullet and died.
She'd been with a group of friends, including her ten-year old sister,
whom we met. A rock apparently was thrown from somewhere near the
group. In his grief he recommitted to this work of peace. He said
he is not pro-Palestinian, but PRO PEACE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, HUMAN
RESPECT, AND SECURITY FOR ALL.
Here are some facts which I’ve recently learned…
• During the first Intifada Israel closed
Palestinian schools in the occupied territories, on and off from
1988-1992, for kids in Kindergarten through university.
• University students at Birzeit University near Ramallah
cannot live on campus, because if they do, or if the university
is even open at night, the university will be continually checked
by Israeli soldiers, jeopardizing the existence of the university
and the safety of its students. Commuting, however, is also difficult
and time consuming (very unpredictable) because of the wall and
• Israel's national budget is decreasing per capita spending
for education and social services as costs to increase security
• In Israel government responsibility for children shifts
from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Defense when
children are 16 years old. Upon graduation from high school boys
must serve three years in the military and girls must serve one
year-nine months. If they attend college it is AFTER they have served
in the military where, perhaps, they have learned power and intimidation.
For all of our children who are gorgeous, vulnerable,
and worthy of all human rights, I commit to action. Standing aside
is the crime while people of the world are destroying each other.
Variations on a Theme of Oppression
A pattern has emerged as each day of our tour of
Israel and the occupied West Bank unfolds. Our schedule includes
talks with individuals or representatives of different organizations
each day. We have been told of many instances of oppression by witnesses
or the victims themselves. As we ride our bus we can observe certain
modes of oppression with our own eyes. Today it was easy to lose
count of how many checkpoints we traversed going from Jerusalem
to Beersheba, because all our driver has to do is say "These
are Americans". This makes the Canadian member of our delegation
wince, but the Israeli soldier or border guard waves us through.
Not so if you are a Palestinian. You may be waved
through also, or stopped and have your car opened for inspection,
perhaps cursory, perhaps detailed, or even have your body strip-searched.
The system is set up so YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. A lot is
left at the discretion of bored, apprehensive, 18 or 19 year old
kids. Most checkpoints through which we passed were located between
Palestinian neighborhoods or towns, and a few were between Israel
and the West Bank or in approaches to Jewish settlements. Thus one
assumes that control and harassment are more the object than real
The constant invasion of privacy and frequent humiliation
take their toll in ways you might imagine, but the most disturbing
to me was the observation made to me by Art Arbour, a Canadian peace
volunteer observer with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the city of
Hebron. He commented that as the youth of that city witness the
humiliation of their elders, they lose respect for them. These youths
are a generation out of control, which has caused a large increase
in the crime rate and great stresses to an already impoverished
For any Palestinian male up to the age of 45, and
especially for students commuting to their classes, the variability
of time required to traverse the fixed checkpoints makes trips that
should take 30 or 40 minutes last as much as five hours. Scheduling
timely arrivals to classes or hard-to-find jobs is impossible. So-called
“roving” checkpoints add to the unpredictability of
Another daily sight were the “Separation”
or “Security” barriers, large concrete walls or chain
link fences that separate the occupied territory from Israel, or
parts of the occupied territory from other parts of the same territory.
As with the check points, these barriers are erected in the name
of SECURITY to control the movement of people. In built up areas
the walls are a standard height of 9 Meters (about 28 feet, the
height of a two-story house) and made of concrete, at a cost of
about $2.5 million per kilometer of length. The length of the boundary
between Israel and the occupied West Bank is about 310 Kilometers,
and the planned length of the separation barriers is about 750 KM.
This means that more than half of the barrier will be inside Palestinian
territory, blocking all access except as permitted by Israeli authorities.
Most of the barriers within the occupied territory surround illegal
Israeli settlements, supposedly to protect the settlers from hostile
incursions. In practice these barriers often encompass more land
than required by the settlers, often land owned by Palestinians,
in anticipation of future expansion of the settlements.
Some of the barriers I have seen perform no security
function because they separate Palestinians from Palestinians. They
cut through long-standing neighborhoods to no apparent purpose except
to force the people to make trips of several kilometers to accomplish
what formerly had been a short walk. In some cases, the area on
one side of the barrier is reclassified so that its residents are
no longer eligible to travel to visit their former neighbors caught
on the other side of the barrier.
If you just travel from one Israeli settlement to
another you would not necessarily be aware of another way your movements
are constrained. First of all, to be allowed to drive into such
a neighborhood your car would have to have yellow (Israeli) license
plates. Palestinian cars have green plates and are not allowed to
use the super highways that connect Israeli settlements in the West
Bank. Instead, they are restricted to secondary roads that are often
poorly constructed and are not even provided with intersections
with Israeli roads except at certain limited checkpoints.
Another feature of the Israeli-built roads in the
West Bank are visual barriers so the occupants of the vehicles are
unable to see Palestinian villages or neighborhoods. The security
aspect of these barriers might be to make it impossible for armed
Palestinians to take pot shots at passing Israeli vehicles, an unlikely
tactic these days because of the Israeli tendency to destroy any
house (or even group of houses if the exact source can’t be
determined). A serious (and likely suicidal) sniper can easily find
open space from which to launch an attack, so the more telling result
of the visual barriers is to make Palestinians even more invisible
to Israelis than they already are.
Another sight often seen as you travel in the West
Bank is the bare or rubble-strewn house lots where houses have been
demolished, either by Israeli military action or by order of Israeli
Civil Authorities. Titles to land or buildings dating from the Ottoman
Turks, British Mandate, or Jordanian control (1948 to 1967) are
often ignored by the Occupation authorities if a dwelling is deemed
to be in the way of a military fortification, separation barrier,
or even Israeli civilian real estate development. The Israeli laws
applied in the occupied territories require expensive building permits,
($20,000 per dwelling is not unusual) which in many cases are not
granted anyway. These rules do violence to Arab cultural tradition
where married sons usually move in with the nuclear family. Thus,
when a Palestinian marries, his family would typically add several
rooms to the family home and it has been Israeli policy to forbid
such additions. If the additions are then made without Israeli authorization,
the likelihood is that an order will be issued to demolish the entire
house, at the owner’s expense.
Everything I have described thus far is readily
visible to anyone who drives around in the West Bank Palestinian
areas. Of course most Israeli Jews don’t do that so the vast
majority haven’t a clue as to how the oppressions of the occupation
weigh on typical Palestinians.
Besides the visible evidence of oppression, we became
aware of other ways Israel violates basic human rights of Palestinians
far beyond any conceivable justification on security grounds. Another
delegate, Phil Schervish, and I spent one afternoon and overnight
with a Christian Palestinian family in the town of Beit Sahour.
Even though Jerusalem is a holy city for Christian, Muslim, and
Jew, Palestinians of any denomination are totally excluded from
holy sites (or anywhere else) in Jerusalem unless they are among
the lucky few who have permits to work in that city. Thus, our host
family, who used to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
every Easter, have not been allowed to for the last nine years.
You cannot tell by just walking or driving around
the West Bank that every person you see has to carry an identity
card or be subject to arrest. If a person is away from his or her
home village, a travel permit is necessary too.
You also won’t see the 9000+ Palestinians
who are currently in Israeli prisons, or the several hundred being
held by Administrative Detention, a concept by which a person is
arrested and held with no charges filed for up to six months, without
access to a lawyer, nor any semblance of a trial. This form of detention
can be extended for any number of additional six month intervals.
Until Israel, the United States, and the rest of the world face
and take responsibility for these facts, justice cannot live in
the Holy Land.
A Distinction on the word VIOLENCE…
I need to share a quick insight we learned on the
We met today with people from The Holy Land Trust,
who, among other things focus on Non-Violence Training. They make
the distinction between Structural Violence and Personal Violence.
Structural violence is that violence which is not
necessarily easily seen: the wall, the need for permits to move
about, checkpoints, etc. It is built into the very fabric of lives.
Personal violence is the reaction to structural
violence, is easily seen and creates more fear. Examples would be
acts of terrorism, including, but of course not limited to, suicide
bombings. This violence is very newsworthy.
We often see the structures as imposed after the
personal violence, when, in fact it is all a large cycle of escalation:
the increase in structural violence causes an increase in personal
violence, which causes even more structural violence, and even more
personal violence. As a global community we need to support stopping
this cycle. I suggest we examine the structures to see what it is
that causes the radical next step which is personal violence. (And,
I might add, the personal violence leads to increased detentions,
arrests, and acts of collective punishment which become part of
heightened structural violence.)
I end with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.,
which appears in the Wi’am (Palestinian Conflict Resolution
“…Returning violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness
cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive
out hate: only love can do that.”
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