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May 2015 Delegation to Palestine/Israel
Co-Sponsored with the University of Georgia's Catholic Center
and the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

OVERVIEW: In the second collection of reflections from the May 2015 delegation Lorraine LeBlanc reflects on a conversation with a young Israeli Jew; Christopher Ellingwood submits a trip journal; Ann Hunter looks for sources of hope; Danny Beagle gets under the surface of the issues; and Iley Behr honors the truth.


IT'S OBVIOUS  l  Lorraine LeBlanc – New Orleans, Louisiana

He is tall dark and handsome. Though fluent in English, he's more comfortable speaking in his native Spanish. He is a young Israeli Jew who volunteered to meet with us and share some of his thoughts on life in Israel today. Before we even join the rest of our group for dinner, he tells me that just as Israel is the puppet of the United States, the Palestinians are the puppets of Iran and Russia. He also tells me that his girlfriend is a beautiful Christian Arab Israeli. And on that note we join the others at the table.

He made Aliyah to Israel when he was 15, because of a burning passion to further the vision of a strong Israel that would be a refuge for Jews from all over the world and in reaction to the insults and humiliation he had suffered in Chile as a Jewish child among Gentile neighbors and fellow students. He finished his studies in Israel and then fulfilled his dream of serving in the IDF.  He was placed in the intelligence services and served his three years in Gaza. He tells us of the immense care taken to avoid civilian casualties. He tells us that they would spend at least three hours surveilling a house with infrared cameras to detect and avoid hitting civilians within before bombing the target. He is at pains to explain to us that Hamas uses primarily civilian homes, hospitals, schools and UN facilities to hide their weapons. We have heard all of this before and challenge him. He smiles and says he was there. He knows the truth. 

We learn that this former soldier feared for his safety in making the short walk this evening, through a bustling market area, from the tram stop to our hotel in East Jerusalem. When I ask him why, he answers it's because the Arabs want to hurt him. When we ask him why that would be, his response is "it's obvious." Because he looks Jewish. Because all of the Palestinians hate the Jews. For the same reason, he says that he fears being "lynched" when riding on a bus with Arabs, because the Arabs hate the Jews.

When we make the case that we think Palestinians have just cause for that resentment, his response is "of course, it's obvious!" He tells us he is a liberal, he has Arab Muslim friends, he wants no part of the extreme right-wing leadership. He states that the Jews obviously took everything from the Palestinians. He knows they continue to suffer the gravest injustices. In his opinion no one can deny the magnitude of their suffering. 

He acknowledges that it is normal that Palestinians would resent the Jews and the Israeli state that inflicted this pain on them. But, he says, Palestinians really need to "get over it." They should realize that what happened in the past is over and done. He is not responsible for any of it.  He believes Palestinians should accept the fact that the Israeli state won.  He says it is unreasonable for people to insist on going back to their former homes. He believes the UN does them a disservice to encourage their longing to return to the villages and farmlands they were forced from. He sees no irony in his right of return versus their yearning. He believes the UN should teach them to accept, instead, a peace based on the Geneva accords, with land swaps. Our young soldier considers himself a liberal friend by endorsing this ignominious plan that would have left the Palestinians with a radically diminished state, completely surrounded by Israel, bereft of so many rights and privileges essential to a viable modern, sovereign nation. 

Our animated dinner conversation ranges over a multitude of issues--his view that the Israeli, Gazan and West Bank elite are enriching themselves at the expense of their constituencies; his questioning as to why refugees in Arab countries are still languishing without citizenship, civil rights or advancement when Palestinians who fled to Chile or elsewhere are prospering; his conviction that resistance and rock throwing will never have the effect of Israel begging forgiveness but rather hardens its position--until the restaurant lights are turned off. Several of us extend the discussion over glasses of Chilean wine in the hotel lobby.  We cover many of the same topics and others.  He tells us that the Palestinians and Jews can never live together in one state or side by side because the Palestinians will "obviously" want to attack the Jews who have inflicted such pain. We object, talking of the United States and other places where diverse populations thrive.

When pressed for what he thinks could be a future scenario, we are startled to hear him say he sees no future other than one of ethnic cleansing--either the Israelis forcibly remove all of the Palestinians or the Palestinians remove the Jews because they cannot live together.  But then, he says, there is one other option--for BOTH the Jews and the Palestinians to be educated in the way of peace. That's another possibility. Not likely perhaps, he said, but possible.

The evening ended with handshakes and gratitude for his time.  We offered each other our homes for future visits and he told me I could stay with his family if I visit Chile. He is the same age as my son. He believes in the narrative held out by his beloved country of Israel. He may one day be in a position of influence. I can only hope and pray that continued dialogue might bridge gaps in understanding so that his unlikely scenario--a peace that both sides can truly embrace--will be the "obvious" choice.

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A TRIP JOURNAL  l  Christopher Ellingwood – Cumming, Georgia

Today we traveled to Jaffa and Tel Aviv, which meant that I finally had time to work on these journal entries. Jaffa used to be the cultural and economic center of Palestine before 1948. As we drove through some of the poor Jewish neighborhoods of Jaffa we were informed that these were the houses of the non-European Jews who had long been forced to live in poor conditions without civic improvements and under constant threat of eviction without compensation as the state wants to turn these neighborhoods of increasingly valuable real estate into new buildings. Furthermore, non-European Jews remain some of the poorest people in Israel and have been continuously underrepresented in the government despite being the majority of Jews at the start of the country and still representing between forty and fifty percent of the population. Right before we went to the day's first speaker, we were reminded that boycotts, divestments, and sanctions are illegal in most cases in Israel.

Our first speaker was Kobi Snitz, an Israeli activist working for the Boycott from Within group. Kobi had been working with Palestinian groups since he was at College Park, Maryland. This group focuses on drawing mostly international pressure on Israel with the stated goal to end apartheid in Israel and allow Palestinians to have their legal right to return. Kobi told us that there had been Israeli groups from the beginning working against discriminatory policies, and he listed some examples. We were told that they aimed to be pragmatic in their boycotts as opposed to the blanket boycotts that had been against anything South African. We were told that there were a lot more guidelines today and that they targeted "institutions, not individuals," which is the exact same term that we heard yesterday. We were informed in the questions and answers part that the Israeli Foreign Ministry only funds individuals such as athletes, scientists, and artists to go abroad for the purposes of propaganda and to distract from crimes (according to international law) that they are committing, which is something that South Africa also did during apartheid. That's another thing- we are continually hearing comparisons to South Africa from various speakers on various days. He recommended the book "Sanctions Against Apartheid" by Mark Orkin for the similarities that he believed that the South African regime had in the book had with Israel's policies.

Kobi addressed a criticism that he heard often that his group and others gave Israel special treatment with boycotts unlike places like Syria. His response was that this was true because Israel receives special treatment in the form of western, mainly US, support that justifies the increased attention. He also argued that it was anti-Semitic to say all Jews were Zionist or that Israel spoke for all Jews because that ignores facts such as historical anti-Zionist Jews that fought against the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto whom are ignored in Israeli history books. One of the last things that was stressed was how important that he felt the US was in perpetuating apartheid due to our large military support for Israel.

Moving onto the next speaker we learned that Jaffa is one of Israel's few mixed cities. Mixed cities are cities with both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian residents. In most instances however the two groups of citizens have cities where one or the other group lives almost exclusively.

The next person we met with was Sami Abou Shahadeh, a History PhD student, former representative on the Jaffa, and our guide for our tour of Jaffa. He was interrupted while talking about the pre-Israel history by a man who felt it necessary to loudly remind Sami how lucky he was to live in a democratic society where he could talk about such things. Sami spoke with a lot of passion, but also with great conviction as he described all that the Palestinians had lost when they had been driven from their lands and had their way of life radically altered.

Later in the day we met with Taj from Darfur, Sudan who talked to us about the conditions of African refugees who were mostly from Sudan and Ethiopia. As conflicts broke out in their respective regions, many were forced to flee the fighting and the forcible eviction from their houses. Some, like Taj, eventually made their way to Israel where they sought a six month refugee visa. Eventually Israel took control of the visa process, and there remained no clear rights for the refugees beyond the right to stay. Many want to go back to their homes, but until the more than a decade of fighting ends Taj explained that most want to help and seek help at the community centers that they have established. While Taj was able to stay in Israel because he started studying in college, many other refugees have been evicted from the country and there are as many as 2000 in detention camps. Taj detailed all the work, planning, training that went into making sure that their demonstration in 2013 stayed a nonviolent one.

Our bus broke down on the way back to the hotel, but it wasn't a big problem as it gave us the opportunity to have our nightly group discussion a bit early. A different bus arrived and we met our final speakers of the evening over dinner. Paz, a PhD student in education had been assisting IFPB delegations for around fifteen years by gathering two or three other Israeli students and young professionals together so that we would have the opportunity to discuss some of the things we had seen with them. Or Shaked, who is about to graduate with his B.A. In international relations and business with which he intends to be a diplomat, conversed with the sub-group that sat at the table with him. Or was very well informed on the subject material and delivered his answers well to the admittedly numerous people asking questions. While he felt that Palestinians in the West Bank clearly suffered, he did not think that a quick and clean solution to the problem was at hand so long as Israel was threatened by violence such as rockets from Gaza or attacks on civilians and police. From what I later heard from the other tables, security seemed to be a major concern for other Israelis who met our group. This meant that it seemed to some of our guests that the path to peace was deadlocked due to issues at the state and local level that Israel and Palestine have with each other. Some of the points made resulted in requests for more information, and so I'm glad we both agreed to stay in touch and share news on the subject.  Another day as busy as it was productive.

Ann Hunter – Decatur, Georgia

What are some signs of hope in the Holy Land?

  • Words from Palestinian Quaker Jean Zaru – I am a child of God with the gift of freedom and responsibility to transform “the structure” while loving the person, finding peace for everyone.
  • The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is strong and growing within Israel – Omar Barghouti, Palestinian attorney and leader of BDS movement in Palestine
  • Huge reduction in Palestinian infant mortality from 150/1000 in the 1980s to 18/1000 today; significant increase in training of health care workers in Palestine – Mustafa Barghouti, MD, Palestine Medical Relief Society
  • Change will happen from outside, rather than within – Kobi Snitz, Israeli Jew working with Israeli organization Boycott from Within
  • Strong Palestinian voices speaking truth to power even in the face of harassment – Sami Abou Shahadeh, a Palestinian Israeli citizen and resident of Jaffa, Israel, formerly a Palestinian city before 1948
  • A Polish Israeli Jew interpreting Hebrew to English for our Moroccan Jewish guide leading us on a tour of West Jerusalem neighborhood, our guide’s family home-place before displacement by European Jews in the early 1950s
  • Seven of our delegates are 30 years old and younger, eager to share their stories with family and friends – the future rests with them, a sign of hope
  • A prayer for peace at Shabbat service in West Jerusalem, including words in Arabic – “Oh God – You are peace and peace is from You.

UNDER THE SURFACE  l  Danny Beagle – Oakland, California

Yesterday morning I had conversation with someone who should probably remain nameless, who told me about an effort some years back by Jerusalem Palestinian teachers to strike for higher pay, to match Jewish teachers. He said: it was our peerless leader, Chairman Arafat, who broke the strike by bringing in replacements. Just saying.

I am trying to keep straight the differences between various forms of life in Palestine. A Palestinian citizen of Israel, someone who remained or whose family remained here after 1948, has full Israeli citizenship, can vote, etc. I’m told however that there are many discriminatory laws against them, and hope to learn more about what these might be. But it seems that there is much less spent by the Israeli government of municipalities on infrastructure for their communities, water, transportation, education, etc.  More to come on this.

Then there are those who have Jerusalem residency permits.  It’s a big deal to have a Jerusalem permit, and losing it is a big deal, used to punish activists, etc. It’s also easy to lose your permit by leaving the city for too long, going somewhere for higher education, for example. Part of the Israeli long-term strategy it seems is to use the wall to exclude neighborhoods or villages that have Palestinian majorities from the city of Jerusalem. As you drive around Jerusalem, you see that in every Palestinian community, every home or apartment building has a black water tank on it, because of the irregularity of water pressure. Somewhere in my notes is the information on how often the water pressure kicks off and families resort to stored up rainwater from these roof tanks—but as I recall it’s at least once day a week.

And finally there are those who live in the Occupied Territories, with no access to Jerusalem without a permit, isolated, without services, without much in the way or political or civil rights. The feeling of “occupation” is quite palpable. But more to come on this as well.

Going through the Qalandia checkpoint, the other day, on the way back from Ramallah,  was more than a little distressing for many of us—and our transit was easy, about 25 minutes in a particularly quiet time of day. Palestinians make the case that it’s not about security—anyone who wanted to bring weapons or whatever into Jerusalem could do so easily if they know how to get around the wall. They say that it’s really about demography, cutting off certain sections of Jerusalem, as I mentioned before, and annexing others. Anyway, our Caucasian-ish looking tour group got through it relatively easily, but it’s quite surreal and forbidding;  you feel as if you are walking through an extremely hostile, cold, metallic environment, sort of like a cattle pen. And what if you had to take this time out of your life twice a day, going to and from work, or from one side of you neighborhood to another. We’re told that in the last year some 36 women have delivered babies at checkpoints, and that an unconscionable number of babies have died.

So much more to say, but I don’t want to make these too long. We have a longish bus ride today up toward Nazareth, in the Galilee, then back to the West Bank, spending one night in a refugee camp near Bethlehem. So while I’ll be kind of out of touch for a few days, I hope to use the time to go over my notes and think about the best way to transmit what we’re experiencing and seeing, I especially want to communicate about our visit to the Holocaust Memorial yesterday morning, our group’s collective experience but that would take more time than I have right now as we get packed and ready to go off.

One last note: I think from the US it looks like the PLO, Fatah and its various components, the PA, and then a mass of Palestinians. What I’m struck with is the vibrancy of Palestinian civil society, the number of folks we have met who do good work, non-violent work, from the Quakers, to the medical relief guys I talked about the other, to the Mizrahi Jewish folks we met with yesterday, the young Sudanese man we met working hard to build a community there. There is a great deal going on under the surface that we don’t see from outside. In a dark, seemingly intractable situation, this is one thing that gives some hope.

HONORING THE TRUTH  l  Iley Behr - Nashville, Tennessee

I would have to be inhumane to walk out of the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem,  without tears. I purposely left my writing pad on the bus so I could "feel first" and write later. I can’t recall one writer’s exact words but there sentiment was this: Instead of saying 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust, I wish we would simply say one Jew was murdered 6 million times. I agree, it is more truthful and more personal in honoring of their reality. One artist in the concentration camp drew 3x4 inch portraits as a way to have people remember. With so much to see, I found myself over and over returning to the artists’ room because one of the portraits could easily have been my dad....same cheekbones, same chin, same eyebrows, and an unmistakable widows peak hairline that even as I write brings tears to my eyes. He could have been my dad (he literally looked like my dad), he WAS someone's dad.

Another stop was to listen to Dr. Moustafa Barghouti at the Palestine Medical Relief Society who described the recent horrors of Gaza, at minimum at the latest escalation of violence over 2200 people died or let me say 1 Palestinian was murdered 2200 times. After relief efforts began, one ambulance was attacked 36 times. One relief health worker was murdered 27 times, and in total one entire family was annihilated 91 times. Later that evening I asked a friend about the Holocaust with my main question being someone some country somehow somebody knew and did not even try to stop it. We concluded our conversation with the realization that many were complicit. Chris Hedges has said many times that the real lesson of the Holocaust is that when we have the capacity to halt a genocide and don't, we are culpable. We as Americans give Israel at minimum 8 million dollars per day ($3 billion a year). I as an American have chosen to give a dollar a day 8 million times. This too is more personal in honoring of the truth. 

For me now that I have seen, I know. And now that I know I cannot pretend I don't know. I can no longer say the portrait could have been my dad or I could have been his son (it could happen to anyone), all I can do is look in the eyes of each individual and say, I AM YOU, WE ARE ONE, and respond accordingly.  

I will be one to speak out, to say I know, not be a complicit American in participating in this continued holocaust, and to convince others of the injustices being done here in which humanity's goodness and potential are denied rather than uplifted. 


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