Monday, January 17, 2011

Dread and loathing at the airport

Final thoughts

Dread and loathing at the airport

Last night I purged my belongings of almost all evidence that I had been on the West Bank or that I had associated with NGOs or dissidents in Israel. I took the battery out of my camera and hid my memory cards and minidisc cassettes in rolls of socks.  I emailed myself all the contact information contained in the many cards people had pressed into my hand.  I permanently deleted everything I had written with a handy program called file shredder. When I packed, I strategically placed , “Let’s GO Israel!” on top of all my clothes (which smelled suspiciously of the bags of zetar wrapped in my sweaters). The guide to boycotting settlement products and cards from the Al Rowwad Children’s Theater, were on the bottom, concealed in a bag with shoes. I needed to look “clean,” to look like a nice Jewish lady on a nice visit to the nice country of Israel. 

The cab driver picked me up at 3:15 am from a lovely Palestinian friend in Ramallah, a graduate student in the US whose father lost his Palestinian ID during a university sojourn in America. My friend has a US passport and is fighting to get a Palestinian West Bank ID which ironically will make it impossible for him to go to Jerusalem or fly out of Ben Gurion airport, but will guarantee his right to return to his home, family, and friends in Ramallah. 

The cab driver (who is from East Jerusalem) said we would avoid Kalandia checkpoint where I would be required to get out and go through security, despite his green license plate, and we circle around and sail through Hizma with a quick shalom.  He immediately starts advising me what to say.  “Do not say you were in Ramallah.  I picked you up at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, you were visiting Jewish friends.  Do not say you were in Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqilyia.” He keeps rehearsing the script with me and at the first security check near the airport I stick to the story. I even name my Jewish friends, (pretty good for 4:00 in the morning).

There are multiple security checks within the airport where I could have tripped and ended up with vigorous questioning, various levels of strip searching, and other aggravations. All my Palestinian friends have had to take their clothes off to get out of Israel. I have often been asked to recite a Hebrew prayer, name my synagogue, list Jewish holidays, etc, etc; what I call the incredibly offensive, “Are you Jewish enough to be trusted?” screening. But I was lucky and I had rehearsed my lines: tourism, visiting friends, volunteering with a medical group, smile my nice Jewish smile and say my respectable Jewish last name. I am sure a few gray hairs worked in my favor as well. The intense racial profiling in this country should at least work in my favor here.

And so it was “no problem,” as Palestinians frequently say in moments of extreme disaster. But I am left wondering, what kind of country requires someone like me to scheme and lie in order to leave without being harassed?  

1/14/11 An NGO is not a health care system

Posted by Alice Rothchild:

1/14/11 An NGO is not a health care system

For the second week of the delegation, we divide into different interest groups and the medical folks are based in Nablus, working with Palestinian Medical Relief Society.  On the second day we are standing in the waiting area of the Community Based Rehabilitation offices when a staff member, a beautiful somewhat demure woman with large black eyes and a graceful white hijab framing her face, beams and offers us chocolates. I decline, (I am still recovering from breakfast), but she insists. “You must, my father just got out of prison and we are celebrating.” We learn he was imprisoned for four years. I take the chocolate.

A nurse practitioner, another ob-gyn and I spend four days working and observing in PMRS clinics in Qalqilyia, Tulkarem, and Mythaloon (near Jenin). PMRS provides 40% of the health care in the Occupied Territories and as I have previously described, is a major NGO working on empowerment and education issues as well.  This experience provides us with the opportunity to work in solidarity with Palestinian colleagues and to bear witness to their lives, as well as to see a very intimate picture of health care and women’s lives in this society. 

The daily morning van or car rides involve bumpy travel through stunning scenery, terraced hills, rows of olive trees and other crops, checkpoints that are rarely staffed, and Jewish settlements perched on hills, surrounded by barbed wire, walls, and security apparatus. There are massive USAID road building projects which I am told ironically legitimize the double road system in the West Bank, one for Israelis (Jewish settlers) and this one for Palestinians.

The incredible fragmentation of care between PMRS, the Ministry of Health, UNRWA (for refugees), and the private sector is staggering. Pregnant patients may get free care at an UNRWA clinic, but stop in at PMRS for a prenatal ultrasound. Labs are done at a variety of locations (with variations in quality) so communication and follow up are problematic. Some of the private care that patients reported is best described as creative and unrelated to general medical practice, but clearly lucrative. A 42 year old woman was given a fertility drug to treat abnormal bleeding because her ovaries were “too small.” Bizarre. There is no preventive care outside of pregnancy. Drugs prescribed are often not taken due to cost and lack of insurance. Patients may deliver in an UNRWA hospital, Ministry of Health or private hospital. Fortunately PMRS, in conjunction with a number of other NGOs and organizations, created a prenatal record that each patient carries with her and theoretically contains all her critical information and testing. This is totally dependent on the clinician. They do not get delivery summaries from UNRWA hospitals. There are a variety of protocols for care which seem to be followed differently in each center. 

The women all wear hijabs, occasionally their faces are totally covered except for their eyes, and they flip back the cover when they enter the office. The patients sometimes come alone or often with children, a sister, mother, mother-in-law, or husband, and their level of empowerment is reflected in the interactions that even I can understand. For the exam, the relevant body part is revealed and there is a general reluctance to have pelvic exams. There are no clean drapes and the general level of hand washing and office hygiene is fairly third world, and there is minimal privacy. It seems that IUDs are popular for family spacing, with some women also choosing birth control pills.  Condoms and withdrawal are also occasionally mentioned. Tubal ligations are forbidden for religious reasons and permission is sometimes sought from the local mufti who usually refuses. In the more rural areas, some women are second or third wives (I am told the maximum is 4, but Bedouins may have more, official and unofficial wives) and this seems to be a complex societal phenomenon, frowned upon by the more educated. 

I observe that women are valued primarily as wives and mothers and there is intense social pressure to be married and pregnant, sometimes as young as 15. I am told that a young wife is more easily controlled by her husband and mother-in-law.  Then there is the expectation that the woman will produce sons, and if there are daughters, infertility, or multiple miscarriages (which are common as many marry close relatives and have genetic issues), a man may take another wife. I am told that in Hebron, each wife actually chooses the next one.  (There seems to be a lack of understanding as to who is really responsible for the gender of the child.) In some areas there is a shortage of available men due to deaths in the Second Intifada and marriage may appear to offer a young woman freedom from her father and her brothers and financial security. Then there are economic reasons for more wives and children, commonly seen in rural agrarian populations. In general the women we see are having large families. To me, the newly married women look very young, often unprepared for sexuality, childbirth, and parenting, but they exist within an enmeshed and involved family system. It seems to be that sometime in their early thirties, women often appear to age rapidly, a combination of many pregnancies and their enormously difficult lives.

The three doctors we work with are very different: one from Rumania, who married a Palestinian when they were both in training, one Palestinian born in Kuwait who spent years getting a Palestinian ID and lived illegally in Tulkarem, one from the area and trained in Jordan. The Rumanian doctor has a gentle caring style and her patients clearly relate well to her. She travels every day from Tulkarem and describes the daily checkpoint feeling of humiliation “like an animal in a cage, I feel like a cow,” as if her soul was branded by this experience. In the past she has waited for hours at these checkpoints, or hiked through orchards to get to work, but lately the checkpoints have been easier. She does antenatal and postnatal care, gynecology, family planning, and treats sexual problems, occasional domestic violence, and bedwetting in children. She is trained by UNRWA to treat children if they come with their mothers. She says that it is very difficult for women in this society to be open about their family problems. 

This doctor has lived in Palestine for more than 20 years and arrived as a young wife, totally unprepared to be greeted by the First Intifada and a strict mother-in-law. She was determined to work and described herself as “a kangaroo,” bringing young children to the office and seeing patients and mothering simultaneously. She has three children: a doctor son in London, a doctor son in Egypt, and a daughter studying architecture in Tulkarem. She talks about Palestinian men’s “stupid proudness.” She has a Palestinian ID and has retained her Rumanian passport, “my only chance for freedom.” She also works with her gynecologist husband in a private clinic in Tulkarem.  There is a wistfulness in her voice, a sense of pain, frustration, resignation, and perhaps a profound ambivalence about the life choices she has made and the patriarchal society in which she has found herself. She talks about her “Romeo and Juliette” experience in Rumania as a young woman.  She keeps shaking her head and reiterating that her family comes first and that she has done everything for her children.  

I have described the other two doctors more extensively in my book, Broken Promises, Broken Dreams. 

The first two women do more listening and explaining, the third is very business-like and sees a large volume of patients efficiently. They are all dedicated and hardworking and have faced many struggles as working mothers. The style of medicine is this strange combination of first and third world with the restrictions of occupation and poverty added to the mix. I learn that much that I am seeing is called the “syndromic approach,” developed by WHO for resource poor areas. Nonetheless, I find it somewhat bewildering that almost every woman receives and expects an ultrasound exam, (very first world), but there are none of the very inexpensive materials needed to correctly diagnose vaginal infections. Basically the recommendation is to treat for everything that is likely and if that doesn’t work, to do a “high vaginal swab.” I wonder what the risks are of such an overuse of antibiotics, suspect that it would be cost effective to diagnose and treat more accurately, and I still do not understand the high vaginal swab concept. Clearly coming from the first world, I am trained in evidence-based medicine whenever possible, quality improvement programs, and closer monitoring and training, which clearly are not possible here. 

We learn that breast cancer is common amongst Palestinian women and is seen in women sometimes in their 20s. Good statistics are nonexistent. Because there is no preventive care,  diagnosis usually occurs when the disease is advanced, and mastectomy is done most commonly. There is no radiation treatment available in the West Bank as the Israeli government does not allow radioactive medical materials to enter the region, another example of health care being highjacked by the occupation. Treatment is hard to get in Israel and expensive in Jordan. Chemotherapy is available but there are limited supplies and frequent shortages. Five months ago USAID brought in a mobile digital mammography van which is supposed to do widespread screening. I am told that there have been problems with patients getting their results and it is unclear how successful this program is, although it is promising. The Ministry of Health is also developing mammography programs in the major cities.

One of the most uplifting experiences is meeting with two health workers. These women seem feisty, savvy, and well trained; their job is to make home visits and do family care, addressing both physical as well as mental health needs.  One who describes herself as a political activist, smiles and says, “The women are ruling these days.” The other talks about how she has to build a relationship with the family in order to understand their issues. She describes a young boy who developed bedwetting, personality changes, phobias and stuttering when his home was invaded twice by the IDF when they arrested two of his older brothers. She mentions a case where a young boy was sexually abused by a 15 year old cousin, and a big problem with crystal meth in Qalqilyia. She has had success in treating all of these patients. 

We leave the clinic in Tulkarem and decide to have lunch in a local restaurant that looks like a cave with a huge mosaic/three dimensional clay relief of the Old city. There is a large family enjoying themselves in the restaurant as well. When we are finished, one of the men comes up to us and asks if we are from Machsom Watch, the Israeli women who monitor checkpoints.  We explain what we have been doing and he explains that he is a member of the Bereaved Parents Circle, Jews and Palestinians who have lost family to violence and who come together to heal personally and within their own communities, educating about the need to end violence.  Despite our protestations, he insists on paying for our meal, thanking us for caring about Palestine, bearing witness and hopefully making the lives of invisible people more visible to the international community. 

1/15 My last quiet day

Posted by Alice Rothchild:

1/15 My last quiet day

I thought my last day in Ramallah would be a reflective, low key day to catch up, finish blogging, look at my 700+ emails, and pack, when my host asks me to join him and the US student he is mentoring on an extraordinary visit to the village of Al Walajeh near Bethlehem.  Soon we are in a taxi hurtling along Wadi El Nar Road, with hair-raising rollercoaster curves and more USAID road building projects. My friend reflects on the changes underway in the West Bank: in particular a huge NGO, donor, and governmental focus on security. I have noticed the PA forces in their fresh new uniforms standing on many corners. He tells me that under the guise of “law and order, justice, and building prisons,” there is now one Palestinian policeman, security agent, or intelligence officer for every 50 West Bankers. Prime Minister Fayyad, the World Bank trained technocrat, is getting everything under control. During Eid this year, my friend reports that every kid wanted a plastic gun, wanted to be powerful.

The village of Al Walajeh originally was 17,000 dunams in size. In 1948, the location of the Green Line split off 11,000 dunams for Israel. The settlement of Gilo took 152, and more has been seized for the expansion of Har Gilo and the separation wall which is being constructed through the village, leaving 2800 dunams for the original Palestinians. The local villagers had given land to a convent and when the placement of the wall was announced, the nuns did not protest and are now on the Israeli side, living on their donated land. We arrive at the home of a woman I will call Suha, her house perched on the edge of a rocky road, the separation wall under construction across the street. 

Suha is spunky, energetic, smart, went to Najah University and holds a masters degree in peace and development and another masters in human rights. She was working for the UN on gender, race, and violence in Sudan, and is currently between jobs and working at the local children’s Ansar Center. The student wants to talk with her about justice and the right of return.

Suha tells us her family story while pouring tea and stuffing us with delicious spinach pies. After news of the Deir Yassin massacre which occurred close to this village, in 1947 the women and children went to Jericho for safety.  Gradually they trickled back to the village, but then war broke out, they are forced to leave again and went back to Jericho, spending six months in the Alarroub Refugee Camp. She describes her grandmother as a “wild spirit” who married reluctantly at the age of 28 as a last resort. The grandmother left the refugee camp and returned back to the village which is mostly rocky uncultivated land used for sheep.  After 1948 the family lived in a cave down in the valley for 12 years. Then her mother, another free spirited woman, decided to take her children to family in Jerusalem, renting a house in Beit Jala so the children could get a good education. In 1961, the grandfather started building two houses in the village for his two sons. During the 1967 war the family fled back to the cave as the adjacent land was a Jordanian army station. 

During this conversation, cherubic young nieces and nephews keep popping in with their plastic back packs, looking for hugs and then running out. Suha explains that like all of her village, she has refugee status, but she also has a Jerusalem ID, and her Israeli travel document states that she is Jordanian. She is at risk of losing her Jerusalem ID by living in the village, but she uses her father’s and brother’s addresses in the Shafat Refugee Camp.  As an unmarried woman who is not demanding any services, she is pretty invisible to the authorities. 

So on to the question of justice. Suha explains that there is a word in Arabic that means: justice is purely give me what is mine at any cost, justice is undoing the injustice even if that means creating an injustice to someone who had nothing to do with the original offense. In this context, she argues that there is an individual and collective right of return for Palestinians and that what she does with that right is her problem. Having the right does not necessarily mean exercising it, “I do not think we can undo Israel but Israel does not have the right to exist on Palestinian land. They gained the right by the fact that they exist.”

She moves on to the question of compensation which she sees as not only payment for seized land, but also payment for suffering, both individual and collective. She states that Israelis used Palestinians for construction projects like the port of Haifa, that the British took Palestinian gold when they left. There are lots of questions that need to be addressed. 

She continues saying, “There is an Israeli state. I do not want to fight all these fights and then be an Israeli.” She points out that Palestine does not exist on any official national or international form.  “I want to exist.” She adds that symbolic gestures are important and that Israeli acknowledgement of the Nakba and the creation of the refugee crisis are critical. “Jews invented this concept.  What applies to you, applies to us.” She is not sure an apology actually matters, “I don’t know if I will accept an apology.”

Suha says that she never lost a relative in the conflict, but she lost 12 friends in the Second Intifada. She describes the pain of erasing their numbers from her phone and her inability to attend their funerals because of lack of permits. “What is not natural is our daily life. I do not want to live this life.” She wants to be working on legislation, women’s rights, or just watching TV, but she cannot even decide where she will go tomorrow, if she can keep an appointment.  “This is what I can’t forgive.  I couldn’t study law, so Israel decided my life…I don’t think I can forgive for that.  I even gained weight because of them,” she adds laughing. “If I am sad and angry, I need sugar.  They made me angry all my life.”

Suha has thought extensively on how to actualize the right of return.  She states that refugees need to be offered options and they need to be in control of the decision making. Firstly, “You are allowed to go back and you can get compensation.” She thinks this would be a gradual process, maybe 20,000 allowed per year on some time schedule. Those who choose to stay where they currently are would get more money. Those who choose to move to a different country would get less. She adds poignantly, “Coming back is another leaving.” Clearly she is thinking of a comprehensive and regional solution. She also explains that nobody wants to be a fighter all their lives, “This is burden.” She believes that the number who would choose to return would be minimal, mostly those who are fighters or people with deep emotional attachments to what they had, and experimental types who want to try it and will probably leave. This was also documented in research done by the Khalil Shikaki Center in approximately 2005. She feels that living in Israel will be too problematic for most Palestinians given the racism and economic hardship. People in refugee camps will most likely want to go to a better place like Canada or Australia. “Palestinians are exhausted.” 

This solution needs to be funded by those who are responsible: Israel, the British, and the international community. She also blames the Palestinian leadership who have failed the refugees miserably. She thinks that the refugees themselves should come up with meaningful solutions, present these to the international community, and step out of the victim role. “We are lucky that Jews are news.  Otherwise we would have been dead a long time ago.”

Suha also points out an interesting possibility for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.  She explains that in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrar, the Israeli courts have established the precedent that a Jewish family can claim ownership of a house bought in the 1920s (many claim the documents are bogus) and throw out the current inhabitants. She proposes that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship use this precedent and go after their stolen property. 

The interview is over and I am filled with more questions, but instead we discuss which checkpoints we can pass through, apparently some are not open to people with foreign passports, (another one of those weird unexpected quirks). Back in the cab, my friend continues the conversation about the new Palestinian security forces. Apparently Palestinian police working in Area A (Palestinian control) have to cover their flashing lights if they have to travel through Area B (“joint” control) to another Area A and get a permit from the Israeli DCO, thus the police are effectively emasculated by their occupiers. It seems that Fayyad is busy building a pretend state. As my friend explains, the prisoners are polishing their beds and folding their clothes, but they are still in prison.

Passing the Jalazon Refugee Camp and an UNRWA school on the left, we end up in a wealthy village outside Ramallah where Palestinians who emigrated to the US and did very well have come back and built huge Disneyland mansions. We are invited to a “barbeque” where a staff of four has prepared a magnificent and generous meal. I count five living rooms and one elevator but never got an official tour. I look out across the family land to the imposing Jewish settlement in direct view.  I am told that the family has good relations with the settlers, they pay them to leave them alone. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Day After Zionism

The Day After Zionism
January 12, 2011

As we trudge through the terraced land, ducking under branches of olive trees and trying to avoid prickly bushes, I think about landscape, consciousness, and memory.  We are walking through the land because Israeli soldiers are blocking the road ahead.  They are blocking the road ahead so as not to allow people to arrive in the Palestinian village of Bil’in.  We are going to Bil’in in order to protest the confiscation of the village’s land for settlement and wall construction.  At Bil’in’s demonstration a week earlier, 36-year-old Jawaher Abu Rahme inhaled a lethal dose of tear gas.  Her brother Bassem was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at a protest in the village just under two years ago. 

So we traipse through the olive groves, only slightly out of view of the soldiers on the road, and a line by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish comes to mind: “If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.”  Bil’in has become a battleground, the surrounding landscape a stage for a risky game of cat and mouse.  What kind of consciousness does the land have?  What would it say if it could?  The wall is often described as a scar through Palestine, but right now it is more of a fresh wound.  When the wall falls, will the scar left be permanent? 

Two days before this protest, our group wakes up at the Yafa Cultural Center in Balata refugee camp, Nablus.  We eat breakfast, thank our hosts, and get in a bus with the right color license plate, driven by a driver with the right color ID card, and head towards the city of Yafa.  The Yafa Cultural Center is thus named because the vast majority of people living in Balata refugee camp come originally from Yafa and the surrounding area.  Most of these people have never seen their original villages, or have not been back since their displacement in 1948.  I am hesitant to tell our hosts where we are going, knowing that my visit to Yafa – and their inability to join us – is emblematic of the injustice I try so hard to fight.

On the way, we encounter another fresh wound / scar-to-be.  We have split into two vehicles, and I am driving a small rental car with two Palestinian women from the West Bank, and two of our whiter and blonder American group members.  When we see the checkpoint ahead, we take a deep breath, but we have no reason to believe this will be any different than the many other times I have used my undeserved privilege to “smuggle” Palestinians into parts of their own country that they are not allowed to visit.  But this time is different.  A soldier or security guard (it’s hard to tell the difference these days) signals for us to stop, and my trick of waving and continuing to drive is thwarted by a new metal bar that the soldiers operate.  It looks like a toll booth, only the highway employees are armed and the context much more insidious.  When she asks for our passports, we stumble a bit before saying we left them in a hotel in Tel Aviv.  We say we are five American tourists.  She is skeptical. 

We are ordered to pull over and get out of the car.  It continues from there: questioning, searching, rapid fire questions to the two Palestinian women about their names, their parents’ names, where they are from, whether they speak any languages other than English.  It is maddening and terrifying, and I am standing there wishing we had prepared better, wishing my privilege-driven arrogance – which is often what helps me get through checkpoints – had been mitigated at least enough for us to have had a plan, a story, a mindset that might help us get through this.  We tell the guard we had been in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, visiting a friend.  I am making it up as I go along.  She wants my friend’s name and phone number.  I quickly call an old Israeli friend who doesn’t even know I’m in the country.  He is surprised and happy to hear from me and asks, “When did you get here?”  “There’s a security guard here who wants to talk to you about our visit to your house in Ariel,” I say.  “I don’t live in Ariel,” he says, confused.  “We’re at the checkpoint on our way from your place to Tel Aviv,” I respond.  He catches on. 

At this point I’m only trying to get us out of here, not even to get through, but with every question from the guards/soldiers, our story has more and more holes. Finally we talk our way out of the situation and are allowed to “return” to Ariel (where we have not been).  Hearts are pounding.  I am feeling guilty for my arrogance, and my Palestinian friends are feeling humiliated.  They are not entirely surprised by the way they have been treated, but are deeply upset at the degree to which it has affected them. 

We drive south, towards another checkpoint that is easier to get through, and I think about how much pain and injustice a people and a place can hold.  None of us share exactly what we are feeling – probably none of us are able – but we make a tentative plan for the next checkpoint.  We drive through without stopping, and have a small celebration in the car.  But we feel uneasy.  We are still nervous about being caught.  My friend who would at this point usually take off her hat and put back on her head scarf does not do so quite yet.  We feel the occupation in our bodies, in our minds.  I am not experiencing anything close to what my Palestinian friends are, yet my visceral reaction offers a fragment of understanding of how this system is able to function.

We arrive in Yafa and go first to the sea.  One friend has not seen it since she was a child – except as a reminder from the hills of Nablus on a clear day – and her eyes immediately fill with tears.  She thanks me.  I am speechless.  The last thing I want at that moment is to be thanked for bringing a friend to her own land. 

As we walk around Yafa and Tel Aviv, I am struck by a sense of permanence.  Although I know that the Jewish presence in this city is only a hundred years in the making, while the Palestinian presence is thousands of years deep, it is hard now to imagine the undoing or even the transformation of this place.  There are other parts of the country in which it is hard to imagine the continuation of an exclusively Jewish state, but in Tel Aviv, I often feel an overwhelming sense of the opposite. 

A couple days ago I was talking with an Israeli friend who works with Zochrot.  The organization raises awareness about the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) of 1948.  They visit destroyed villages and place signs there with the villages’ original names; organize art exhibits and lectures; facilitate workshops for school children; and engage in other activities to affect the Israeli collective memory.  My friend was telling me that he will soon start to focus even more on outreach to the Israeli public.  A few minutes later the topic turned to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  He excitedly told me that he has hope in this movement, that it’s clear from his perspective that the international movement is growing, and that only pressure from the outside can change the reality on the ground.  “Then why do you want to focus more on the Israeli public?” I asked.  He thought for a minute, and then responded: “My work is not going to have an immediate effect on the political situation here.  What I’m doing is preparing for the day after Zionism.”

1/6 Who profits from the occupation?

1/6 Who profits from the occupation?

As we learn more about the BDS movement, a critical question emerges: what companies are involved with which activities that ultimately sustain the occupation? In Tel Aviv we meet Dalit Baum, an Israeli member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and specifically, the group Who Profits? She explains that the organization was developed  to understand the economics of the settlement project.  A short haired woman with intense black eyes and an ironic sense of humor, she states that the project aimed to investigate corporations directly involved in the occupation, to figure out the specifics, the financial interests, and who is making money from whom.    After meticulous research, four years later they have a website,, that has a partial data base listing approximately 1000 companies.

The criteria for inclusion on this list involves work in building settlements, marketing settlement goods, using industrial space within settlements, providing crucial services to settlements such as transportation, and  providing equipment to the military such as for building walls and checkpoints.  She notes that Israel has exploited the Palestinian labor pool and the Palestinian market, it is a captive market where Israeli policies have shut down much of the competition. For example, Palestinians are only allowed to grow agricultural products that are not as profitable as Israeli products and do not compete in European markets when compared to Israeli goods. 

Who Profits is a unique grassroots organization that does impeccable economic research with careful documentation using concrete proof with governmental and company documents. They are very careful to stay within the letter of the law, as any suit for damages would be disastrous in the Israeli courts. An example of their work involves “Crossing the Line,” a fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that crosses the Green Line into the West Bank in two sections. The Israeli neighbors did not want the train and noise near their property so the project was moved and this will entail almost the entire destruction of the Palestinian village of Beit Iksa. Painfully there is now a petition to the world from the Palestinian village to put the train on land that is ALREADY expropriated. The train is being built by European and American companies. 

Then there is the issue of financing of the occupation. All six Israeli banks are directly involved in supporting settlements. Dalit reminds us that you cannot separate the economy of the occupation from the economy of Israel from the economy of the US for that matter. For instance, Soda Stream, an Israeli company that makes carbonated water, just went public on Nasdaq. 

She turns her attention to what does it mean to boycott settlement markets. She describes 18 tycoons that control the large corporations that are involved and notes that if they start losing money, they will pull out of the settlements.  She describes living in Israel both as frustrating but “We feel effective.” As an example, her group will go to a checkpoint, they will document the infrastructure, the telecommunications, etc, and then google the companies, do the appropriate research, and put the information on the website.  “Direct action with no gas! We use our privilege to see the occupation.” They also go to security industry exhibitions and meet with people eager to sell a host of weaponry. She focuses on crowd dispersal, what is called in the business, “nonlethal weapons” although everyone knows that these weapons can be lethal in high enough doses or with direct impact. For her she feels this is personal, as an activist who has been faced with tear gas and other methods used at demonstrations. 

Another aspect of this macabre business Dalit describes is weaponry produced in the US. Because the US gives Israel an enormous amount of money to buy American military equipment, there are now Israeli entrepreneurs who establish companies in the US and then benefit from the largesse of our tax dollars.  Thus there are many forces within the US that have strong economic interests in maintaining this lucrative arrangement where the US is basically financing its own war industries.  This lead a group of activists, after a demonstration, to return empty tear gas canisters to the US ambassador. They were promptly arrested for possession of weapons, but the charges were later dropped. 

Dalit reminds us that there is a lot to be done in the US and any effort contributes to the cause. It is important to pick strategic targets that also involve an educational component. She feels boycotting computer companies or generic drug companies, for instance, are not strategic activities. She is very optimistic, both because this movement is lead by Palestinian activists and because there is a response in the Israeli Knesset that implies that people in power are worried. The Anti BDS law in process will make individuals personally liable for any damage to companies. The Association Law aims to outlaw any NGO that provides information to foreign entities that might lead to charges of war crimes against Israelis. The Fighting Terrorism Law targets any Israeli or Palestinian activist who does any activity against Israeli soldiers or State symbols, and vaguely and obscurely defines all of these activities as terrorism. This could include nonviolent, legitimate resistance to the occupation. The Prohibition on Instituting Boycott Law will criminalize Israeli citizens who support local and international BDS activities.  Recently the Knesset began an investigation of the funding of NGOs.

Dalit sees these rightwing trends as plunging into fascism and of particular concern is that these anti-democratic assaults are originating in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which is supposed to be the cornerstone of a democratic society. 

I leave this meeting with the sense that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in the US which is actively enmeshed with the military machinery and corporations that make the Israeli occupation possible. In addition, the “only democracy in the Middle East” seems to be heading rapidly in an dangerous direction; I wonder how many “Israel right or wrong” supporters fully appreciate this and when will supporting the actions of the Israeli government become untenable to a wider group of people. I am impressed that a small group of thoughtful and dedicated activists can have such a significant impact on the process. I only hope that the next time I visit Israel, I will not be visiting them in prison. 

1/6 The skeletons in the closet

Posted by Alice Rothchild on the HaHRP delegation:

1/6 The skeletons in the closet

I have been reading about the Israeli governmental criticism and talk of censorship of left wing academics in Israel and I am eager to meet a professor who has been under fire. Professor Yehouda Shenhav of Tel Aviv University has a way of exploding the assumptions that frame many of our understandings of the conflict. A brilliant and provocative thinker and author of “Bounded by the Green Line,” he describes himself as a member of the radical left. An older man in a light blue sweater and jeans, he starts out stating that peace negotiations are useless, the two state solution is a menace to Jews and Palestinians, and he believes in one space, (not necessarily a state) for two people.

He has definitely caught my attention.  He argues that there is no political theory on which to base the end of the conflict except the symbol of the Green Line which was an arbitrary ceasefire line that most use as a litmus test for further conversation. He notes that the Green Line has been erased by settlements, yet leftist political theory is founded on this vanishing line. He asks rhetorically, can you evacuate 500,000 Jews, or if you leave out Jerusalem, 350,000 Jews, or if you make border corrections, 135,000 Jews. Not going to happen. 

The concept of a Jewish state is problematic as long as a Jewish state is a recipe for the future transfer of Palestinians. He explains that these racist, fascist tendencies are a continuation of 1948. The Jewish state was based on ethnic cleansing, with the destruction of villages, massacres, and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians.  This is the Israeli skeleton in the closet. “Whoever holds on to ’67 as the beginning of the conflict is hallucinating and this is the Israeli left.” They participate in masking the atrocities of ’48 and thus keep that particular skeleton deep in the closet. 

He further explores the ubiquitous refusal to deal with the refugees from 1948 and the anomaly of having Arab citizens of Israel who do not have equal civil rights with their fellow Jewish citizens. Israel is thus an ethnic/racial state which denies the rights of the Palestinian national collective within it. Sovereignty, territory, and identity are all interconnected. He then tells us this painful story of a Palestinian student of his who bought a house in a Jewish settlement on the Green Line. She asked Professor Shenhav if he would be the formal landlord so that she will be safe in case there is land transfer; she wants to be sure her children have access to their home.

Professor Shenhav reminds us that within the origins of Zionism there was tremendous debate on how to emancipate the Jews and the meaning of a Jewish homeland. He emphatically states that Jews have a right to live in this region.  He notes that in 1942 in New York at the Biltmore Convention, the Zionist movement for the first time, clearly stated that it wanted a sovereign Jewish state. That decision led to ethnic cleansing and to the homogenization of identity, but Palestinians and Jews remained entangled. He adds, we live in one state with apartheid, not only in the Occupied Territories, but also within Israel, and this critical point is not understood by the Israeli left.  This is a grave mistake. He questions, “What is the difference between a settlement in and out of the Green Line? Nothing.”  He does not suggest that all Jews return to Europe, he is in fact from Iraq, but he feels it is important to acknowledge that these are all settlements as well. Israeli is a “wannabe” democracy, based on a state of exception with emergency rules, a legacy of British imperialism and Jewish legislation. He reminds us that from 1948-1966 Palestinians within the Green Line lived mostly under a military regime, with permits to move, do business, etc. This is colonialism.  Since 1967 the colonialism has extended into the West Bank and Gaza, so Israel cannot exist as a democratic state without military rule of Palestinians. As examples he cites a series of racial laws that are percolating through the Knesset: the rules against teaching or commemorating the Nakba, the loyalty oath to the Jewish state required of all citizens, demographic laws such as family reunification that prevent partners of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from moving into Israel.  He argues that this is a continuation of the 1948 war by other means. 

He asks, “How does a Jewish racial state cope with non-Jews? There is no difference between Meretz and Lieberman except in degree of sincerity. When threatened, all Jews become [Avigdor] Lieberman. In his analysis, many progressive intellectuals speak from a position in the map of Israeli identity politics as “white Jews.” Meanwhile 60% of settlers are from the lower strata of society. A few months ago in Sweden he was asked what is the best welfare state and he replied, “West Bank Jewish settlements.”  They have full employment, housing, education, health care; this is a very attractive deal for Mizrachi and Orthodox Jews. Should these folks then pay the price for peace when the Israeli government has sent them there and supplied them with electricity, housing, internet, etc? He argues that the liberal Israeli community defines itself through “othering” the settler community that is supported by the government.   
Provocatively, he also believes that while Israeli liberals are proud to be secular, being here is not a secular decision, a Zionist inherently cannot be secular. Jewish nationality is by definition religious and Hebrew is a religious language. In his classes he teaches that there is no “Jewish secularity,” even Barak was not willing to give up “the Holy Places” although he probably did not believe in them. 

He begins to explore the Arab Jewish story, and states that the Zionists used violent methods to get people like his parents to leave Iraq. In 1951 an agreement was made between Israel and Iraq to “denaturalize the Jews of Iraq,” as they had little interest in coming to Israel. Ultimately six bombs went off in five months (one placed in a synagogue) and ultimately the 120,000 Jews of Iraq left; there is a lingering theory that the bombs were placed by Zionists, but the government of Israel claims these files are confidential. The Iraqi Jewish property was subsequently confiscated (somebody profited from this forced migration) and the immigrants arrived in Israel to find themselves second class citizens. The Jews of Iraq were highly educated, even more so than the Europeans, but after ten years of life in Israel, they were at the bottom of the Israeli educational ladder. This discrepancy has only gotten worse and he notes that in Tel Aviv University, 9% of the faculty is Mizrachi and 0.5% Palestinian. 

He then explores the strange case of the recent Russian immigration which has unexpected consequences and shows that it is difficult to divide nationalism from religion. “What does it mean to be a Jew?” Professor Shenhav queries. Today some 300,000 people who came from the Soviet Union are not Jews but where brought here by the Law of Return. Professor Shenhav states that this is the mirror of the Nuremberg Trials: Hitler declared that if a person had 1/6 Jewish ancestry then he was a Jew. Ben Gurion used the same criteria. So now in Israel there are women from Kazakhstan who are Jewish by nationality and Muslim by religion! He hypothesizes that this may create fissures between nationality and religion as well as strange alliances. He sees right wing Mizrachi Jews in alliance with left leaning but ultranationalist Barak and wonders why the Israeli left supports an apartheid system? “If I have a right of return to a Jewish settlement, then why can’t a Palestinian have a right of return from Nablus to Jaffa?” He thinks it is important to rethink sovereignty, a 17th century concept that began with national borders. He claims this concept does not apply here, instead we have a continuous civil war. He speaks of a shared sovereignty that crosses borders, land, and populations where populations and territories can be in a space together with “horizontal sovereignty;” where for instance, a Palestinian in Galilee picks one or dual citizenship. This sounds intriguing, even if this is a bit hard to comprehend. 

I am even more amazed when he states that he doesn’t like identity politics, but he thinks that we have to be focusing on what are the rights of Jews in the region. We all know that the rights of Palestinians are being violated, but who has defined the rights of Jews? He sees that the Israeli right has a totally military solution to that question. But, he states, we need to reverse this. How do we protect Jewish rights when the space is democratically organized? This was first discussed by Martin Buber who famously warned that the first victims of the Jewish state would be the Jews themselves. Professor Shenhav wonders if Jews are much like the crusaders, arriving like crusaders for a limited time, terrorizing the local population with no intention to integrate, and ultimately destined to be kicked out. The white supremacist aspect of Israeli Jews believe that Israel is a branch of Europe. “How many Jews speak Arabic?” he demands. This is all about power relationships. 

Out time is up and we are filled with questions. Clearly this man has many provocative and exceptional observations that rile up Israeli authorities and lead me to want to read his books and understand his views further. If he loses his right to work or to speak and is branded a traitor, then that will be a sad day for whatever will be left of free speech in Israel. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1/6 The nuances of BDS, How can Israelis boycott themselves?

1/6 The nuances of BDS, How can Israelis boycott themselves?

Because most Israelis are opposed to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction movement, I am very interested in hearing from Kobi Snitz, a thin, intense man active with Boycott from Within and Anarchists Against the Wall. Meeting with the delegation in Tel Aviv, he states that the Palestinian BDS guidelines are clear in principle, refined and legalistic, but the applications are subtle. For a supportive Israeli, what can he do? Quit his job? Stop eating? Obviously not, but there are many nuanced decisions to be made, for instance in the world of universities. Kobi outlines some of the intricacies:

International academics can work with Israeli academics but not build institutional cooperation.

If an Israeli academic wants to publish in an international journal, this always includes his or her institutional affiliation which then lends prestige for the institution, but this is OK if the article is more about the academic than the institution.

Internationals can hire individual Israelis but not build cooperative alliances between two institutions.

Giving a scholarship to an individual Israeli is OK, but allocating a general fund for Israeli students is not advised. 

The Boycott from Within group also turned its attention to the cultural boycott, writing letters to individual artists urging them not to perform in Israel. This turned out to be much more successful than expected. Sometimes artists highlight why they refuse to perform, although usually artists make various excuses to cancel their tours. Like the Pixies, the Tindersticks and Elvis Costello, we only hear of the artists who have already advertised their tours and then cancel. Although the reaction to cancellations is often to call the performers anti-Semites, the political connection (ie, this show was cancelled due to the attack on Gaza) is being made more often. While he expected the cultural boycott to be much harder as artists are not usually particularly politically brave and are concerned with their reputations, this aspect of BDS has become a leading edge. Kobi claims that every artist now knows that coming to Israel is a political decision and it might just be easier not to come. 

A handful of academics employed by universities have signed the BDS call. Kobi explains that there is now a letter in the Israeli Higher Education Council addressing this issue. The letter talks of the sanctity of intellectual freedom but states that the call for academic boycott goes beyond the limits and institutions should act appropriately (ie get rid of those faculty). Kobi notes that no one who supports BDS can get tenure and tenured faculty find their lives made unpleasant, do not get promotions, are given the worst courses, cannot get to conferences, (a kind of passive transfer for Jews I wonder). In general, universities are proud of their contributions to the security industry. He explains that the Technion is really an extension of Rafael, a big security company outside of Haifa. Tel Aviv University has a Shabak headquarters (otherwise known as Shin Bet, the Israeli FBI) on the edge of campus. The Middle East department is actually an extension of Shabak, doing political research and intelligence.

The group Who Profits? does economic research into the involvement of Israeli companies in profiting from the occupation. Kobi notes that not only is this easier to do, but this gets to the heart of the Israeli economy as practically every company has some involvement, especially the big high tech and construction companies.

The Knesset has recently formed a committee of inquiry into the sources of funding for leftist organizations, so “things will be interesting.” The Boycott from Within is mostly interested in letter writing campaigns and research, they don’t expect to convince most Israelis, and are looked at very negatively. He finds the media hostile but interested.  He has learned to approve all written interviews prior to publication and to do only live radio and TV interviews, in order not to have his opinions misrepresented. They are now approaching Zionist groups, moving into the world of socially responsible investing, hoping to add Israeli settlement companies to the non-kosher screen along with tobacco and guns. He argues that the settlement economy is the same as the economy of the occupation and wants letters of support from organizations like Peace Now that publically want to end the settlements. If 60% of Israelis support evacuating the settlements for peace, will they be willing to support a socially responsible investing screen that includes settlement products? 

I wonder about Tobi’s personal life as he is a mathematician who works at the Weizmann Institute in neurobiology. His family is supportive and his colleagues are not hostile. The Weizmann Institute was involved in security in the 1950s with the nuclear program, but now does not have that focus. He is excited by the growing BDS movement and finds his work dynamic and hopeful, a refreshing comment from someone on the often discouraged Israeli left. 

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "AJJP - Boston " group.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1/4 I am here to save the Jews from Israel

Posted by Alice Rothchild on the HaHRP delegation:

1/4 I am here to save the Jews from Israel

Saed Abu Hijeh, an intense Palestinian human geographer, poet, and radio host, greets us in his garden in Nablus, explaining that this is where is mother, well known peace activist Shaden Abdel Qader Al Saleh Abu-Hijleh, was assassinated by Israeli soldiers in 2002 while sitting on her veranda embroidering.  His father Dr. Jamal Abdel Al Kareem Abu-Hijleh was also injured and Saed was hit with broken glass. He still keeps the fractured glass door taped, as if this tragedy happened yesterday, and a larger than life portrait of his mother is one of the few paintings in his living room. The case of his mother’s murder is now working its way through the Israeli court system. Saed says he was not granted a permit to go to court and now is in the ludicrous and maddening situation where he has to get a permit to get a permit to go to court to testify.  She bled to death in his arms.

Educated in Iowa Universities, Saed teaches at Al-Najah National University in Nablus and is the founder of the Center for Global Consciousness. Our delegation and several university students sit in a circle in his bare living room and he begins to talk. The siege of Nablus lasted eight years with repeated Israeli incursions and Palestinian resistance, but now things are calmer, “the economic peace of Netanyahu.” I have heard this from others; if the noose is loosened a bit, the checkpoints within the West Bank are relaxed, the economy improves just enough, then Palestinians will not complain about everything else and there will be less talk of resistance.  This is sustained by cooperation between the PA and the US (General Dayton training PA security in Jordan) and the financing of the security system. There are now 60,000 people working in all kinds of security, policing, intelligence, etc, and “they are fed and happy” while Jewish settlers continue to attack Palestinians with impunity. He points to the Jewish settlements of Bracha and Yitzhar and the villages of Iraq Borin, Awarta and Agraba as examples of continued settler violence.  

With a burning intensity he explains that this cannot continue; 62 years of ethnic cleansing have led to both an “apartheid state” and a “settler colonial state.” When he examines what to do, he reviews the unsatisfactory results of both armed struggle and negotiations, and believes that boycott, divestment, and sanctions are the only options left. He is clearly angered that “Israel feels above the law,” the US constantly appeases the Israeli government, Obama “couldn’t stop a single house in a settlement…we are massacred by American weapons, we need to pressure the US.” He also notes that the European Union has done nothing to stop Israel from sabotaging the two state solution. He now sees the goal of this struggle as a democratic, secular state. Saed has been politically active since he joined student demonstrations against the occupation at the age of ten.  He stops to show us his wounds; in 1982 at the age of 15 he was seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers when they opened fire on a student demonstration in Nablus.  He lifts his shirt to reveal a large abdominal scar.

His students are passionate and articulate as well, schooled in the isolated and violent world of Nablus after the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, stimulated and outraged by the massacre in Gaza, and committed to the BDS struggle as their form of resistance. In 2007 they started to develop a free zone on campus, with removal of Israeli products, and they have been working on educating their peers.  Like student activists in the US, they complain of the apathy of their fellow students, who just want to study and graduate. They are unaffiliated with any political party.  Although they are now able to travel more freely within the West Bank, they still fear daily continued attacks and arrests. They note that some factories in settlements have moved within the border of ’48 Israel to avoid the boycott. Their goal is encourage a boycott of all Israeli products whenever there is an alternative.   

Saed takes us on a walk through Nablus which includes a cemetery near the old campus of the university, crowded with graves, including Saed’s mother and many friends and relatives. Since 2000, 1/5 of the Palestinians who have died are from Nablus. The old city is pock marked with bullet holes and evidence of tank activity and tributes to the deaths of “martyrs.” He personally has witnessed five targeted assassinations, including cars being blown up in front of him. He used to love walking in the hills of Nablus, but for years he has been afraid he will be shot. He is deeply committed to the memory of his mother, whose name in Arabic means, “a young gazelle that is now strong enough to walk independently next to her mother.” 

We have dinner together where he reflects on his political passion, his desire to slow down and find a wife and a normal life, and the burning injustices that he continually confronts. His only release is prayer and I notice he is constantly rubbing his prayer beads. He also compulsively feeds us, stopping for sweet hot slabs of kenafe, sesame cookies, and then giving us all prayer beads as well. Like many Palestinian men, he has been jailed five times, “whipped by the only democracy” in the Middle East; his analysis is both smart and blunt, “I am here to save the Jews from Israel.” The distinction is critical for him.

Over the years I have heard Palestinian civil society activists like Saed, many having experienced tremendous personal trauma and loss, deeply committed to nonviolent resistance. Repeatedly I hear a general consensus that the two state solution is no longer possible. The actions of the Israeli government have created a Greater Israel with enclaves of Palestinian cities and villages, “full-fledged apartheid.”  In addition, the steady growth of the settlements and the brutality of the occupation have earned Israel the dubious distinction of a “settler colonial state.” It is time to open our eyes to these painful realities and urgently join forces with activists who are committed to nonviolent struggle. 

1/8/11 Pieces of the puzzle

Posted by Alice Rothchild with the HaHRP delegation:

1/8/11 Pieces of the puzzle

This is a cozy scene.  Three members of the delegation are bent over a Ravensburger Puzzle, Crystals of Enchantment, sorting through the thousand tiny pieces with 11 year old Ahmed and 17 year old Sundus (who loves languages and speaks excellent English) and their mother Fatma.  Their father Hisham is smoking a cigarette and watching a football (soccer) game between Egypt and Uganda. To everyone’s pleasure, Egypt wins by one goal.  Fourteen year old Jusef is playing computer games on his cell phone and the five year old sister, Aisha, is asleep. Another sister is studying in Jordan. We have started by looking for edges and corners and the project feels daunting, much like the day. This week school exams start and the children have spent hours studying. When puzzle pieces fit together, there is a collective cheer of satisfaction.  We have just completed a tasty and filling meal of Maqluba, eating from plates on the floor with newspaper spread out as a “table cloth.” We sit around the edges cross legged, trying not to drip yogurt on our pants. When we feel we cannot eat another bite, Fatma brings out the sweet tea with mint and her homemade pound cake. There is a relaxed, loving warmth between the children and their parents and frequent laughter and physical affection. When I think the feeding frenzy is over, Fatma comes in with a tray of dense Arabic coffee in tiny cups. 

The normalcy of this family is a miracle to me because they are living in Hebron, in H2, in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida where 45,000 Palestinians are held hostage by 600 very racist, armed, and violent Jewish settlers. Their neighbor up on the adjacent hill is Baruch Marzel, a well known Kahanist leader who they tell us brags about two signs in his house: “I already managed to kill an Arab, and you?” and “God gives us the right to kill Arabs and we love it.” He has threatened all of the family members and has said to Hisham, “One day I will kill you.  Every dog has its day.”

Before dinner Hisham told us that in 2006, Baruch attacked nine year old Yusef and smashed his teeth with a stone.  The family brought a complaint to the Israeli courts and 40 days ago (please note over  four years after the attack) finally got to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. The case was postponed and when they returned to Hebron they were stoned by waiting settlers again. 

Relaxing after dinner, (now bananas and apples appear) Hisham mentions casually that in 1992 some Palestinians placed a flag on an electrical tower. Israeli soldiers threatened Hisham and told him that he had to climb the tower and remove the flag or they would kill him. He scaled the tower and was severely electrocuted with major damage to his left arm and hand; he fell to the ground and the soldiers fled. He was taken to the local Allia Hospital and then transferred to Augusta Victoria Hospital where he was hospitalized for 1 ½ months. As his arm developed gangrene, the doctors wanted to amputate, but his brother asked that they wait until he regained consciousness. He awoke and refused, “From Allah, the blood returned.” He was then transferred to Mokassed Hospital in East Jerusalem where he underwent ten reconstructive surgeries to restore hand function with moderate success. In 2007, internationals in Hebron saw his hand and arranged for him to be treated in Tel Aviv at Tel Hashomer Hospital where a surgeon performed four reconstructive surgeries using tendons from his leg. She explained that he then needed physical therapy and when he told her that he cannot easily return to Tel Aviv, cannot afford PT, cannot get assistance from the Palestinian Authority, and has no such opportunities in Hebron, she started to cry. He found the hospital staff welcoming and helpful.  Now he works in a dress shop, “It’s our life, what can we do?”  His wife brings in a large bowl of hot salty popcorn smiling graciously.

I remind myself that while the majority of Israelis are appalled by the settlers in Hebron, the Israeli government and soldiers provide them with full support and protection and thus are fully complicit in their dangerous fascistic behavior.  Last night the IDF broke down the door of a family in Hebron, surprising his wife who was praying, and shot her sleeping husband multiple times in his own bed.  The IDF subsequently issued an apology, it turns out they were on the wrong floor and killed the wrong man.  They did not apologize for their policy of extrajudicial assassinations.  This is a democracy?

This morning feels like it began several days ago, in a funky hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem. We took a taxi to French Hill to meet up with volunteers for the Saturday Mobile Clinic run by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel in conjunction with Palestinian Medical Relief Society. We join a larger gathering of volunteers at a gas station in Tayibe, a Muslim village on the Israeli side of the Green Line not to be confused with the Christian village of the same name in the West Bank that is famous for Tayibe beer. This mobile clinic is always fascinating on multiple levels. First there is the issue of getting to Tayibe which involves traveling down Highway 443, sometimes called the apartheid road. This highway passes through the West Bank between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and can only be used by vehicles with yellow license plates (read Jewish only roads), except following a Supreme Court ruling, there is a segment of the road, book marked by checkpoints, that Palestinians can use to get to their own towns and parallel set of roads.  (Apartheid come to mind?)

The medical volunteers include a dedicated nun and nurse who has devoted herself to work with PHR Israel and Bedouin issues.  She explains that PHR’s latest focus is on refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. 10 to 15 new arrivals appear at the PHR Open clinic two times per week and there is increasing evidence of human trafficking, torture and rape (with requests for abortions)  by a combination of the Egyptian army, IDF and Bedouin smugglers involved in an international network of traffickers. (see the PHR Israel website)

There are four US medical students from the Sachler School of Medicine, a program at Tel Aviv University for US students, taught in English. Many do not ever study Hebrew.  They are incredibly ebullient about the wonders of Tel Aviv, the unique opportunity to live and study abroad for four years, and the lower levels of stress at this med school compared to the US (note author’s amazement). They have come for a variety of reasons ranging from, “This was the only place I got in,” to an unblemished love for Israel. Their MD degrees will be fully recognized by the US medical board and they are not treated as other foreign medical students are with special requirements and testing in order to qualify for residencies in the US. (please note author’s amazement). There are three Israeli medical schools that have this arrangement and I presume that it is another facet of our “special relationship” with Israel.  The students are enthusiastic, but I suspect fairly oblivious to the political realities, so I think that it is important that they join the clinic.  I am afraid though, that without context, they may be coming to help the poor Arabs in Palestine who cannot fend for themselves, a form of occupation tourism.

We spot a rainbow arching through the dark clouds as we drive out heading toward a tiny town in the most northeast corner of the West Bank. I sit next to an acupuncturist, (originally Israeli, lived in London for 20 years and then came back) and a massage therapist (originally from London, came to Israel “because I needed a change.”) They have both worked in Barta’a, a Palestinian village located in the seam zone, the area between the Green Line and the separation wall where thousands of people are virtually trapped without services.   We are unable to settle our disagreements about BDS but have a lively exchange. 

After a massive traffic jam in Jenin, and miles of huge patchwork farms, we arrive in Faqua’a, a village of 4,000 that lost acres of land to the wall and has an unemployment rate of 60%. They have a small clinic staffed by a physician once or twice a week, but their main health/public health/agricultural challenge is lack of water. The multilingual nurse on the mobile clinic translates: their water source is now located on the Israeli side of the wall, during the summer they are dependent on expensive water tankers, in the winter they are dependent on rain. The amount of water is inadequate and the quality is poor so they have high levels of gastrointestinal disease. 

Located in a school with an Israeli ob-gyn in the next room, we set up an office, one desk, a circle of chairs and a mattress on a table.  I have brought a flashlight, hand sanitizer, and some minor surgical instruments. The women mostly have back and pelvic pain, vaginal discharge, and bladder concerns. They tend to have many children and are embarrassed about pelvic exams.  We have endless negotiations about the exam, but the most difficult issue for me is that here we are, a few miles from a country with one of the most advanced medical systems in the world. By contrast, in this village, I have none of the tools that a modern physician needs to provide optimal treatment, starting with the most basic tests for gynecology. For instance, I have access to an ultrasound, but I cannot do any microscopy, preventive health care, or mammography. The right to health is both a basic human right and one of the cornerstones of the work of PHR Israel and PMRS. This right is one of the many casualties of the occupation.   

Posted by Jake Harris travelling with the HaHRP delegation:

Posted by Jake Harris travelling with the HaHRP delegation:

I am in the Land of Milk and Honey, and as I eat delicious Knafe (a blend of Palestinian Cheese and sugar cooked over an open fire) in the 5,000 year old town of Nablus I have a greater appreciation for what this means.  This land is some of the most fertile agricultural land on the planet.  It is quite evident as we have driven through the West Bank, exactly why this land is so desired.  Near the cool mountainous Hebron we find orchards of Pecans and Grape vines, along the coast we find the famous Jaffa Orange and meyer lemons.  in the northern regions of Jenin there are fields of wheat and greenhouses full of strawberries, tomatoes and eggplants.  In the warm Jordan River Valley home to the ancient 10,000 year old city of Jericho we find acres of date palms, and banana groves. And of course in every landscape dotting hillsides we see the resilient Olive tree.
The Olive tree is such a poetically relevant symbol of the people of Palestine.  Olive oil trees need very little water, and little soil, to produce a valuable product that is a critical ingredient in every meal  that I have eaten.  Their gnarled branches are resilient to drought and even fire.  In Sofyia a town near the fabled sea of Galilee, we witnessed the remains of a recent massive forest fire that burned over five million European pine trees that were planted by the Jewish National Fund, using the slogan “making the desert green”.  What remained of the European pine trees was ash and snags, while many olive trees had burnt bark, most already had fresh green leaves only months after this massive fire.  Some Olive oil trees in the region are over 2,000 years old and are nicknamed “Romans” after the ancient Occupiers who supervised their planting.  Like the Palestinians Olive trees are native to this land, Christians will recognize the Arab word for Palestinians “Filistinis” as the biblical Phillistine people that Jesus and many prophets spoke with.  Like the Palestinians these ancient trees have seen the occupation of this land by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Turks, The Ottomans, the French,  the British and now the Zionists.  And like the Palestinians, the olive tree continues to bear fruit no matter how harsh the conditions.
I have become quite taken with this landscape and its people in the 2 weeks I have traveled here.  The Palestinians are as generous as the soil that nutures their livelihood. When you are invited for dinner food is piled high, and a clean plate means you have room for more no matter how much you decline a Palestinian mother will continue to pile more delicious rice, chicken and yogurt or squash stuffed with lamb,  and every meal is ended with sweet sage tea or Arab coffee.    We have had many adventures and experience here and at this point I could write  a book about these two weeks alone,  but tonight I will limit my story telling to three farmers I have visited and how their lives have been affected by the occupation of their lands.
Today I visited the Town of Jiftlick in the Jordan River Valley.  This visit was arranged by Lifesource a water rights organization that seeks to improve water access and reclaim water rights for Palestinians.  The dryness of this region is already a challenge to farming and daily existence, but it has been made even more complicated by Israeli policy and the Zionist settlements it supports. 
Hazem and Hajj are business partners on a produce farm in Jiftlick and their  families have been farming this land for generations.  They are old enough to remember a time when the Jordan River would flood the valley and make crossing impossible, and are saddened by the mighty river that is now a trickle.  The Jordan River is the western border of the West Bank and separates Occupied Palestine from the country of Jordan.  Israel took control of this land in 1967 and has since blocked any Palestinian from accessing this river by designating it Area C, which means the land around the river is “Arab free” and under military control.  Even if Hajj or Hazem could get to the river they would find a phantom of this once proud river.  After the 1967 war Israel began a massive infrastructure project that redirected the Jordan River into what is now Israel.  Now 90% of the water that used to flow goes southeast  through northern Israel and into the industrial regions near Tel Aviv supporting Israeli economic activity.  This has left the aquifers of the region depleted a situation made worse by Israeli laws that prevent well enhancements.  It is Israeli law that forbids Hajj and Hazem from digging deeper than four feet in the earth and Israeli law that denies them receiving even the pipes to improve their wells.  Whats worse is that Israel monitors their water access and implements fines if they go above water quotas that were set 40 years ago.  According to Hajj they have 700 dunums (dunum=1/4 acre) of land and only have enough water to farm 200 dunums, which has left many fields fallow and destroyed their once prized water loving banana grove. 
These same rules do not apply to the Zionist colonizers near by who not only stole an entire farm of grapes from a neighbor of theirs (who was out of the country in 1967 and could not defend his farming right), but enjoy unrestricted water access from their much deeper well that feeds their water loving date palm orchard.
What makes life even more difficult for Hajj and Hazem has been Israeli destruction of their products.  Hajj and Hazem used to sell produce all over the world with a “Grown in Palestine” label through open borders with Jordan, When Israel took control of the border now all produce must pass through Israeli military checkpoints.  Part of Israeli security inspections meant digging a thumb into their eggplants, presumably to check for explosives, than turning off the refrigeration unit on the truck, sometimes up to a week as it sat in shipping.  When it reached its destination in Europe those eggplants became a rotten moldy mess spoiling the entire shipment.  This loss made them change their labels and sell exclusively to Carmel Agrexo (an Israeli company that with the help of Israeli soldiers is run like the mafia) now all products say “grown in Israel” erasing their proud heritage.
Down the Road from Hazem and Hajj is the Shedeh-Dais Family.  The Shedeh-Dais Family is a mother and father and seven sons and all of their wives and kids, 150 people total (Palestinian farmers have lots of kids).   Normally I would have been overjoyed to visit their livestock farm which had several hudred sheep, goats and cows, but today was much more somber occasion.  Across the street from their livestock was another Zionist Settlement which began forty years ago by stealing their farm land. They too had lost a valuable grape farm to the settlers which was now surrounded by ten foot high fences with barbed wire,  I imagined working every day with the livestock and staring at my families livelihood that was taken by an invasive neighbor.   Like I said I wanted to run around and look at all the sheep but our first stop was their former well.  Water is more valuable than gold in this region and their well was one of six  in this town that had been destroyed by the Israeli Army.  They came unannounced 15 years ago with a Caterpillar Bulldozer and destroyed the well that provided sustenance for them and sixty other families in the region.  Once the well was destroyed, one by one each family left leaving only the Shedeh-Dais’s.  What’s more is a month and a half ago the bulldozers returned.  Since Israeli Military law in the region does not allow Palestinians to dig more than four feet into the ground, no foundations can be established, all construction is done with mud bricks on top of soil or tin shacks.  Five years ago the Shedeh-Dais Family constructed two such shacks to house their sheep .  Even though thy abided by this disgusting law, the Israeli army came to bulldoze their sheep sheds.  Once again a Caterpillar was used to smash them down killing 20 of their sheep in the process.  As I took photos of the mangled wreck, my translator told me why the father and brothers had an anguished look in their eyes.  When the Bulldozer came two of the brothers stood in front of it to block the destruction,  they were promptly arrested as a security threat and are still imprisoned today, with little hope of timely release.  I have a hard time containing my anger at this injustice, and cannot imagine what it must feel like for the family as they bear the full force of policies designed to make them so miserable that they leave their land.
The final story I will share this evening from my experiences is on the one hand devastating and the other inspiring.  This is the story of Hanni Amer, a resident of Ma’ Sa.  The Town of Ma’ Sa is near the Green Line which is the internationally recognized border of Palestine and Israel.  Every Zionist settlement in the West bank is determined illegal by UN law because an occupying force is not allowed to colonize an occupied territory.  Still they are being built, and the Ku-Foqasam settlement is one of those illegal settlements.  The Village of Ma’ Sa had 20,000 Dunums of farmland, that they subsisted off of, after the Israeli Occupation began in 67, the settlement of Ku-foqasm was built on their farmland leaving them only 3,000 dunums of farmland.   What’s more is that the remaining farmland is separated from the village by the settlement itself, so in order to reach the farmland the villagers have to go through 4 checkpoints and apply for yearly permits to access their land.  What used to be a fifteen minute walk for Hanni Amer, now can take 6 hours as Israeli soldiers are slow to allow them to pass especially when they are bringing fertilizer for their soil.  Israeli law prohibits the best fertilizer from being used by Palestinians based on an extrapolation that they could be used to make bombs  so Hanni has to use a sub standard Israeli product, and even than is limited to the amount he can bring through the check points at one time.  What’s more is that they only permit the famers to be on their land until 5pm, meaning if it takes 6 hours to get through the checkpoints Hanni may only have 2 hours to do all the work he needs to do on the farm including repairing their water pump which is frequently  vandalized by the Zionist settlers.
Earlier this decade Israel became construction of what it calls a “security fence” to delineate the border of Israel and Palestine.  By international law this wall should have been built along the Green Line which is the established border, but since Israel is continuing its colonizing of the West Bank the fence has snaked into the west bank and is seizing 20 percent more of the remaining land of Palestine.  This gradual colonization is at the heart of the conflict.  The wall was set to run right through Hanni’s home as his family lives on the border of Ma Sa village and the Ku Foqasam settlement.  A common sight in Palestine is the bulldozers set to demolish a Palestinian home and all would have been lost for Hanni Amers Home if international peace activists had not stepped in.  They waged a media campaign and around the clock sit-ins to prevent the destruction of the Amer family home.  The small Amer family took on the seemingly beyond the law state of Israel and were able to protect their home from demolition.  This glimmer of hope, is followed by an equally disgusting act though, as Israel instead surrounded the Amer home with four walls.  Now in order to enter his home Amer must pass through a locked gate that he only recently received the key to.  We visited him in his home and felt the feeling of being imprisoned by Israel as his wife served us tea and his grandson played with the Frisbee I gifted him.  The situation for Hanni is one of desperately holding onto his rightful land.  The farming is long since profitable, and he continues to farm his land knowing that If he is gone for even one week he could find his land taken by the settlement.  Existence is Resistance.
Tomorrow I will meet with the Stop The Wall Campaign and with the Ramallah Farmers market association, and than on to Jenin where I will meet with Canaan Farms and the Palestinian Fair Trade association.  I will be making my way back to Seattle this weekend and am looking forward to educating others about this critical food justice issue as well as launching myself into the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement that I think is the strongest way to hold Israel accountable for its disrespect for international law and basic human decency.
Love and Happy Growing