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The Omnipresence of Settlements
Jerusalem: July 28 - 29, 2009

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"It is Harder than Using a Gun.”

Goodness gracious. I cannot pretend to know everything, and am thankful for that, because I imagine I would be very lonely. I am not an expert on the situation, but I am an expert on my experiences. Bearing this in mind, here they are.

Opening Comments
I am in love with my fellow delegates. We come from many different religions, generations, countries, and personalities. Everyone is remarkably bright, and I trust I will learn from all of them. For most of the trip, we're staying at St. George's Cathedral Guesthouse in East Jerusalem. I've made pals with some of the staff here, one of whom, Mousa, made a birthday cake for one of the delegates! (Mark from the UK turned 21. We sang him happy birthday.)

Getting Here
The flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv was eleven hours long. As I got of the plane, I lightheartedly shared my relief of being freed from that entrapment with my fellow delegates. Who wouldn't? When I went through passport control, the woman behind the counter looked bored. She irritably, and with a great sense of resignation, asked me a few simple questions, looked unimpressed with the stupid haircut in my passport picture, and let me go through.

Samya was not as lucky--her father is from Palestine. She has a fairly common Palestinian last name. She has relatives in the Gaza Strip, though she's never met them. Samya was detained for six hours. The rest of the delegation waited in baggage claim for a few hours. Eventually, we decided that the leaders of our delegation should stay, and then rest of us should get the hotel. But even though I hadn't slept properly for 3 days, I couldn't sleep. The blatant injustice of it all gnawed at me. So - I stayed up and waited for her to get home. When she finally arrived, it was with a chipper attitude. "It's ok," she said. "I expected it."

And while I didn't expect it, I was impressed by and would like to pay homage to the solidarity of those who stayed at the airport. Samya is Muslim, as is Shakeel, one of the delegation leaders who stayed at the airport; the two women who stayed behind to help Samya are Jewish.

Today our group met with a representative for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Sarah M. After a short presentation, replete with very useful maps (all of which you can find on their website) she took us on a tour of settlements.

The first one we saw was Nof Zion, which reminded me of gentrified townhouses in my home town of Cincinnati’s neighborhood, Over the Rhine (OTR). The settlement, built by and advertised to wealthy Jewish internationals, advertises a clear view of Jerusalem, the City of David, and Mount Zion to name a few. Similarly, pre-fab communities in OTR boast of development, historical significance, and security.

Most importantly, they both lack even simple recognition of the communities they are overtaking. A block away from the OTR complex is an African-American ghetto, the likes of which most of my audience has an understanding of, and I won't further detail. The valley across which residents of Nof Zion might view important cultural and religious sites houses a Palestinian community, which Nof Zion cuts off from other Palestinian communities in the West Bank. As Sarah M. put it, these development industries "manipulate the view to create this myopia." You see what you want to.

In fact, Nof Zion is east of the Green Line, within the Palestinian West Bank. It is part of a ring of settlements around the Old City of Jerusalem, surrounding the area like the layers of an onion.

Nof Zion changed my perspective on Israeli settlers. I thought all settlers were gun-toting religious fanatics. In fact, most settlers are not religious, don’t carry weapons, and have little knowledge of the geopolitical game they're involved in. They're unaware that settlements cut between Palestinian territories. Nof Zion and the park leading up to it didn't look or feel like Palestine. There aren't physical boundaries. I wouldn't have known I was in the West Bank if no one had told me.

Sarah described this deception as purposeful. The ring around Ramallah (for example) makes it almost impossible to get to or from the city without going through a settlement. And, despite Nof Zion's half-a-million-dollar price tag, most settlers are not rich. They can't afford to live in the main cities, and move to settlements because of the government subsidies. In return, settlers function as the eyes and ears on the ground for the Israeli government.

The moment settlements are built, that land is de facto instantly annexed to Israel. It's easier to act first and ask questions later: If you physically change the map, you force legal change. Settlement naturalizes the occupation.

Walking in the Old City of Jerusalem
Beautiful. The city of Jerusalem, our incredibly thoughtful and informed tour guide Rimon, told us, had been leveled over ten times. You'd never know.

There are four main areas of the Old City: the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter. It is quite easy to tell which communities the government prefers by the cleanliness of each neighborhood. The Jewish Quarter is spotless with a few shops, but mostly residential and religious buildings. The Armenian and Christian Quarters run together in my mind, honestly. But the Muslim Quarter was something altogether different. It was like a bazaar replete with shops selling everything from tacky touristy t-shirts to religious artifacts to bras and panties. I saw women in hijab selling tank-tops to tourists. Lacking any dumpsters, people and shopkeepers pile trash outside their buildings to haul it away at day's end.

Israeli Settlements pepper the Muslim Quarter. We saw armed guards escorting Jewish children to their settlement homes within the quarter. I don't blame the parents for wanting to protect their children with arms here. After all, they are occupiers. Most of the Muslim inhabitants, however, seemed unfazed. They were used to it. I have to wonder at the dedication of these settlers. What would it take for you to move your children into an area in which you feel you must send armed guards with them?

Parents of the pioneers of the integrated schools in the US sent their children to school with armed guards. Yet, somehow, imposing oneself as a settler in an ancient religiously and historically Muslim neighborhood does not seem quite as noble. I do understand why they think it is. I happen to disagree.

A Word on Hope
When we got back to the hotel (after a very, very long day), we asked Rimon what he thought about the whole thing. Rimon is a Christian Palestinian, he is 48, and he has lived here his whole life. He told us that his grandfather (who is buried at the Garden of Gethsemane) was the first martyr in Haifa in 1948. His son has to reapply for resident status in Jerusalem and his entire family is subject to detainment, imprisonment, and worse, whenever those in power feel like it. And yet, he said that he believes peace can be achieved. Rimon said that it might not be in his lifetime, but his son might one day see it. Diligence and patience are what he spoke of. "It is harder than using a gun," he said. And, like me, he believes that a two-state solution is not viable. One state with equal rights for all is the only way this thing is going to work. His final comments were filled with "inshaallah," (Arabic for “God Willing”), and I could not help but find myself silently repeating his prayer.

-- Nancy Paraskevopoulos

Full version originally posted at: http://cincinnancy.blogspot.com/2009/07/it-is-harder-than-using-gun.html

The Dual Impact of Settlements

This is my third trip to Israel and Palestine in three years. This is my third time to tour the settlements in and around East Jerusalem. And sadly, each time there have been huge new settlements to see. How can there be any possibility of a two-state solution when there are over 500,000 Israelis living illegally in East Jerusalem and the West Bank?

And each time I have toured the settlements, I have seen new illegal communities created with money donated by Irving Moscowitz from his casino profits in Hawaiian Gardens, California—a town only a few miles from my Long Beach home. That gambling operation not only exploits the poor in the Los Angeles area, it also exploits the people of Palestine. For years my friend and college classmate, Rabbi Haim Beliak, has public ally challenged Moscowitz's funding of settlements but very few have been brave enough to join him

It is sad to see how diabolical the settlements are and to know at the same time of this close connection to my own life in the United States.

--Rev. Jerry Stinson


-- Jerusalem is a city that is both all I dreamed it would be as well as nothing I thought it would be. Its ancientness and beauty are both its strength and its curse as it hides some of the horrors that lie within its walls.

-- It reminds me a little bit of apartheid South Africa and segregated USA in that Israelis are living better than Palestinians and the system in which they live in is designed to keep them down.

-- I need to see more!!

--Toivo Asheeke

Short Term vs. Long Term Planning (or the lack thereof)

After being here for two days with the delegation and touring a few settlements, I already have too much to say to condense it in a digestible form. What comes immediately to mind is the ways in which the Israeli government deals with the Palestinian question. Settlements are a hot topic now, but when you see the tunnels and roads that bypass Palestinian communities and see the maps of how they engulf all of the contiguous ethnically homogenous communities, you begin to see a more thorough-going plan.

The settlement of Nof Zion strategically sits looking out at prime real estate as it encroaches on East Jerusalem, an important area of the city that Palestinians claim as their future capital. Sarah M. of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions showed us clearly how this portion of the city is being challenged by Israeli law. From the random demolitions to the insurmountable fees for construction, you begin to forget what side of the Green Line this area is in. The narrative in the West about this region is that there are two different lands in conflict but the reality is that one is in the belly of the other. After visiting the separation wall in Abu Dis, a Palestinian community on the outskirts of Jerusalem thought of as a possible secondary capital, I began to realize how the settlement locations and the wall are short term plans that hinder the development of a cohesive Palestinian community near and within Jerusalem.

Everyone and their mom in the West is bringing up the two-state solution as a possible answer to the conflict. But as I see it, there is no "Palestine" outside of this growing Israeli empire. This poses hard questions for the time when the expanding Palestinian and non-Jewish population within the lands that Israel controls outnumbers the Jewish inhabitants. This could happen within two decades. Will Israel be prepared to become less and less democratic for the sake of a Jewish identity? I do not see a long-term plan coming from the Israelis. I only see a short-term remedy that involves the dehumanization of one people, and borderline racism within the nation of Israel.

--Brandon West

Hating vs. Understanding

After spending the day seeing the settlements that slice through East Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter of Old Jerusalem, the separation wall, the random harassment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, demolished homes, and other forms of structural inequality, it is difficult to not feel a strong disdain for Zionists.  The challenge then, is to try to understand the perspective of those who make the occupation a reality. Otherwise, I am left with a sense of hatred, which is not a feeling that I want to leave with.

--Jen Lauda

Looking Forward

While everyone on this delegation has been very moved by our tours and meetings thus far, some have expressed a yearning for an Israeli perspective. While we should honor the fact that our settlement tour was conducted by an Israeli Jew, many felt that they still don't understand Israeli motivations for continuing occupation and apartheid practices. Hopefully tomorrow's trip to Sderot and several kibbutzim in the area will provide some insights.

 --Katherine Fuchs


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