<  Reflection Four:  "Now that I've seen, I am responsible"

July-August 2015 Delegation to Palestine/Israel



Overview: In this report, John Dworkin begins by weaving together many experiences from the delegation, riffing on a theme of 'normalcy.' Nina Stein describes meeting two Israeli women with different perspectives. Rebecca Katherine Hirsch relays experiences from the last days of the trip, concluding "now that I have seen, I am responsible."

Additionally, featured below is a photo essay from Bili'in village and 3 video clips taken by IFPB delegates in Hebron, Lifta, and Jerusalem.


Relative Normal | John Dworkin

Normal - that's the watchword. During our 2015, July/August Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation's first meeting here in Palestine, the phrase “a normal life,” and the general idea of “normalcy” was repeated by those speaking to us at the Youth Center in the al-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan. Our guide for the day spoke of just wanting a normal life. His village of Silwan suffers regular home demolitions which systematically displace Palestinians as part of this ongoing Israeli public policy. It's also known for its high rate minors (children) being illegally apprehended by heavily armed soldiers, often in the dead of night, and taken into administrative detention.

Muslim, a 15 year old boy from Silwan, spoke to us about being arrested 15 times - presumably for throwing stones - since he was 9 years old. For Muslim and hundreds of other minors subject to administrative detention, being arrested often means being beaten, deported out of your hometown or village, being separated for extended periods from your family, being afforded no legal representation, having no formal charge lodged against you, etc... One of Muslim's arrests had him jailed for 8 days, forcing him to miss a good amount of school while he was confined to a prison cell. When asked by a member of our delegation what the jail was like, he replied, “4 walls. No sun. No air.” This is the current “normal” in Silwan and many other Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

Our delegation's next meeting, via Skype, was with an American Friends Service Committee youth group in Gaza. Throughout the discussion with these young adults from Gaza (which is quite literally the world's largest open air prison), the desire for a “normal life” was specifically mentioned again. Despite being periodically assaulted over the last 6-7 years (2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, 2014 Operation Protective Edge, etc...), leveling their infrastructure, killing thousands, including hundreds of children, creating mass unemployment, etc., these kids keep moving forward. This is their “normal” since the illegal blockade of collective punishment was imposed on Gaza by Israel in 2007. These youth somehow remain vital and actually retain a sense of humor in their talk with our delegation. It is near miraculous.

In solidarity circles, the term “normalization” is oft used and is a big term in the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement. Our meeting with one of the main leaders of this movement, Omar Barghouti, touched on this normalization concept. There are many interpretations and shades of what this concept means, but in a general way, it means if one tries to simply make the occupation more comfortable to live under, as opposed to resisting it, one “normalizes” the occupation. Situation normal... SNAFU.

When we met with Nomika Zion (Other Voices) in Sderot, she told us that in most all of Israeli society, [T]he occupation is second nature... [This] means you don't see it anymore.” This is another way of saying that it has become normalized. And she meant this in the most negative sense. She also directly referred to the situation between Sderot and Gaza as “abnormal.” Since the illegal blockade of Gaza, Sderot is one of the Israeli towns close enough to the Gaza border to consistently receive their retaliatory rocket fire. Nomika's two references to normality were extremely tame compared to other criticisms she had for Israeli action, policy and society. For someone who has lived under the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza to still be so honestly self-critical of her own society's behavior and policy is brave and illuminating. She is a living lesson.

When Benjamin Netanyahu and countless other politicians and pundits refer to Israel as “the only Democracy in the Middle East,” they are trying to convince the West that we share a similar standard of democratic “normalcy.” And when seen through the prism of other colonial enterprises historically, Israel's illegal occupation and systematic abuse of International Law can appear, in away, normal. But in another much more profound way, when seen up close and in detail, it's gruesomely abnormal. They've transformed a perverse abnormality into their own, relatively unique, normalcy.

Israel's normalization of the abnormal is mirrored in the U.S. by the alarming rate of our cops killing our own innocent, unarmed black civilians. The situation in the states is not as bad as in Israel, but the parallels are clear. And this is not to minimize what is happening to black men and women in the U.S. It feels like it's getting noticeably worse by the week. Reading about another U.S. police officer killing another unarmed black civilian in our newspapers back home is becoming way too normal.

Last March in Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer wrote this of Israelis' relationship to their own country: “Deep down, they know normalcy is an illusion.” But it's not an illusion. It's a choice. They're choosing supremacy over normalcy.

So what's the “normal” bottom line? I see both Israel and the U.S. espousing a desire for creating a normal situation for the Palestinians and Israelis, while actively working against one. Their conception of “normal” for the Palestinians seems unfortunately, and thoroughly, linked to their own control and repression of another people. On the other hand, everything I've heard and seen here from the Palestinians themselves during our delegation points to their conception of “normal” as containing true universal and equal human rights. Something much closer to what true democratic (and hopefully still, American) ideals represent. It's about freedom, equality and justice. Got Normal?



Two Women, Two Perspectives| Nina Stein

After our visit to the village of Lifta, containing the abandoned homes, in various stages of decay, of Palestinians who were driven out in 1948, and which is now an Israeli park, we had successive meetings with two Israeli women from different kibbutzim in the area of Sderot near the Gaza border.

The first was with Liora Lyon of Kfar Aza.  This kibbutz, built in 1956, is one of a string that were built “in order to create a border.”  By doing this, in my opinion, they were putting themselves in a vulnerable position, so that it is not surprising that they have been subjected to repeated rocket assaults from Gaza.  The many bomb shelters we saw were a visible manifestation of this vulnerability.

Liora does conflict resolution work between secular and religious Jews and has also worked with Palestinians.  Unlike the majority of Israelis, she appeared to be sensitive to the plight of the Palestinians, and viewed them as neighbors and human beings who deserve to have their rights.  However, like the majority of Israelis, she has underlying fears associated with the Holocaust, and believes there should be a Jewish state.  To many of us, she appeared to be conflicted on these issues.  However, she spoke honestly and sincerely, and I respected her even though I do not agree with everything she said.

The second meeting was with Nomika Zion of “Other Voice.”  She gave a very moving talk about how the repeated cycles of war under which these people are living has traumatized the entire nation, so that now they are numb to the violence being perpetrated around them.  She wants to reach out and share stories of fear and pain with those on the other side, and refuses to accept the dehumanizing situation under which they are living. 

“Israelis have lost their ability to see Palestinians as human beings; they are invisible.  You only hear about them when there is violence.”  “We lost our ability to feel empathy for others.”  When this happens “you lose part of your humanity.”  “This is a sick society.”

Unlike Liora at the previous meeting, in which memories of the Holocaust created an underlying fear and a perceived need for a Jewish state, Nomika feels that the lesson of the Holocaust is to “never, never victimize others.”


 Photo Essay: Bili'n

IFPB has been visiting the village of Bili'in since 2005; it's always one of the highlights of the delegation. This trip was no different. Delegates met families from both Bili'n and Nabi Saleh who are resisting the occupation of their lands. Here are some photos from the visits.


Delegates walking back with Iyad Burnat after seeing an
Israeli settlement (background) close to Bili'n village.


Amber and Stephanie with Mayar in Bili'n. Check out Amber and Stephanie's
writing from the delegation here: http://vegansagainsttheoccupation.com/


The entire delegation with members of the Tamimi family from Nabi Saleh
and members of the Burnat family from Bili'n.

 The Last Few Days| Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Many days have passed, the trip has ended and now all we have are the memories! It ended all too soon!

After a whirlwind stretch of traveling through several West Bank towns, cities and refugee camps around Nablus, Jenin and Bil'in and staying with incredibly kind and welcoming families, we traveled to Ramallah and Hebron and back to our home base in East Jerusalem whence we ventured south to the Gaza border and the Israeli border town of Sderot.

So much. On the side of official narratives, we were treated to a cathartic description of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, the mission of which is to make art about oppression that (psychologically, if not politically) un-oppresses Palestinians, despite their being physically trapped by oppression. Extremely sophisticated and psycho-socially dumbfounding: the power of art to honor emotions and resilience that the occupation is explicitly meant to suppress. There were tears. The young people at New Askar Refugee Camp dabke-danced with us, feted us, gave us shelter, told us all the harrowing tales I've come to expect but still freak me out: all the commonplace violence by Israeli soldiers, especially during the second intifada but continuing with military incursions and nighttime child arrests to this day. The protests of Bil'in are legendary for their weird-creative energy in the face of blunt and stupid violence: The live ammunition and point-blank teargas used by the military on local and international protesters. 

Unofficially, Ramallah felt like a sleek futuristic video game; a rural apocalyptic luxury condo town. A good place for night-walking. Omar Barghouti is an incredible speaker, despite my incredible fatigue (and not because of it!) I was riveted. Adameer and Al Haq: we were treated to such discussions on (il)legality and crimes of humanity. Hebron was another ho-hum nightmare of arrogant segregation and foolish soldiers browbeating our own guide, a young Palestinian fellow who used the situation as an object-lesson on the absurd/expected tenseness of living under occupation. We talked about the H1 and H2 sections of the city; Youth Against Settlements; heard a good tale from a market-seller. 

The two Israeli women on kibbutzim with whom we met in Sderot were very moving in their separate but similarly troubling takes on the violent conservatism of their society. I was incredibly touched by both of their stories of either connection to Jewishness and/or connection to all people who are suffering.

We visited Lifta, a depopulated Palestinian village. We heard a deconstructionist talk on the erasure and belittlement of Palestine and Palestinians in Israeli education. Holy moley. We did so much. And those were just the last few days.

"Now that I've seen, I am responsible." I think we all feel obligation and gratitude to everyone for confiding in us and sharing their stories. For me, I'll be thinking about narratives of mainstream Zionism and the dynamics of oppressors that transcend eras or peoples, from the DEATH TO ARABS graffiti on the Lifta houses and Stars of David spray-painted on Palestinian houses in Hebron, like so many Stars of David painted on Jewish houses in Nazi Germany. There was also a swastika vandalizing a Lifta house. Unsurprising oppressor parallels I hope we can all counter by seeing them; breaking myths of superiority by exposing them, exercising accountability as Americans and (for some of us, like me) as Jews. I've been thinking a lot about fear as a guiding force in Israeli society. I hope we can honor and confront our fear, like Nomika Zion in Sderot, as a bridge to empathize with others rather than a catalyst for violence. 

 Video: YouTube Playlist

Delegates have also been adding short video clips to IFPB's YouTube account during the delegation. Below are three examples.





To see the entire 12-clip playlist, click here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOPgxvZssjDy0ZoPgW_gaVwv1dqYKBR4y



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