May 2016 Delegation
Incarceration, Detention, and Political Prisoners
Co-Sponsored with the American Friends Service Committee
Overview: This second collection of reflections from the delegation could have been called "complexities and cages." As Johanna Jozwiak explains, "complexities" is the word the delegates chose to describe their second day in Palestine/Israel. Salem Pearce captures these complexities powerfully in her reflection.
The rest of the submissions deal with "cages" of some form or another, powerfully symbolized by Katie Archibald-Woodward's observation. Cages can be physical, psychological, historical, institutional, and bureaucratic. All of these come into play when David Kerr speaks of segregation; Cathy Sultan of demolitions; Emily Sedgwick of military plans; Laila Liddy of permits; Thomas Banyai of systems of domination; and Jennifer Susskind of ghettos and expulsions.
This is Segregation | David Kerr - Omaha, Nebraska
After attending a silent protest for Women in Black, an anti-oppression mobilization organization, I experienced Israeli people yelling things in retaliation. Statements like, "there is no occupation" and "there never was a Palestine". Yet I walk around and have my eyes wide open.
Call the country and the people what you will, criticize their apparent lack of national identity but it's all irrelevant. There are 2 sets of laws, 2 court systems, 2 road networks, a wall, checkpoints and different identity cards for different people. Make no mistake. This is segregation. This is oppression. This is an occupation.
Demolition Order | Cathy Sultan - Eau Claire, Wisconsin
She’s twelve years old. She’s heard her parents talk in whisper when they think she’s asleep. They’ve received a house demolition notice. They have two choices. They can either pay to have their home demolished or they can wait for that as yet unspecified day when soldiers will pound on their door in the wee hours and give them fifteen minutes to leave before the bulldozer arrives.
She’s seen the devastation, heard the inconsolable sobbing of her neighbors as they’ve watched their prized possessions destroyed. This won’t happen to her. She puts her stuffed animals, her precious few toys in her book bag and carries them with her to school every day.There are 22,000 Palestinian homes under demolition order.
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Plan Dalet | Emily Sedgwick - Boston, Massachusetts
We had another very full and incredibly informative day today. We spent the day in Bethlehem, and our first meeting was with the organization BADIL, which researches issues relevant to the rights of Palestinians, and how Israel has systematically taken them away from 1948 until the present.
One part of the presentation that really struck me was how Zionists were able to overcome three obstacles to creating the State of Israel. I will just talk about one of their strategies that particularly disturbed me.
The first obstacle was there were already Palestinians living in the land. The plan that Zionists developed was called "Plan Dalet". Their soldiers would surround a Palestinian town on three sides and then move in, forcing the Palestinians to flee in the desired direction, where a ship or trucks would be ready to take them into exile. 530 Palestinian villages were wiped off the map. And until now, Palestinians have received no justice for the lives that were destroyed in this process.This "ethnic cleansing" set the stage for all the injustices we are learning about throughout this trip. I feel honored to be a part of this delegation.
Palestinian Man With a Bird Cage | Katie Archibald-Woodward - Atlanta, Georgia
A Palestinian man passes the annexation wall and checkpoint tower as he walks through the streets of Aida Refugee Camp, just 2 km from Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine. The camp was established by internally displaced refugees mainly from the Jerusalem and Hebron area in 1950 as a result of the war and establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In 1953 the UN took down the tents and began to build houses in their place.
The refugees have mostly remained, awaiting their right to return to their homes, many of which are in areas now known as Israel.
Installment of Permit Regime | Laila Liddy - Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Over one hundred types of permit are issued by the Israeli government for the purpose of controlling every aspect of the daily life of every Palestinian. Examples of activities that require permits are: travel from one village to another, going to medical appointments/treatments, leaving home to go to college/university, construction work (whether building a wall for one's garden or adding a room to one's home, etc.), working as a tour guide, working in construction, etc.Applying for a permit is a long process. Once a Palestinian has applied for a permit, it goes to an "Admission Committee." The committee then does a background check not only of the applicant but all members of his/her family as well. Every case is unique, with many factors (including age, marital status, security records, etc.), playing a role in whether or not a person is granted a permit.
Visit to Yad Vashem and Aida Refugee Camp | Thomas Banyai - Decatur, Georgia
Today I had the privilege of going to the Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem. I am haunted by what I experienced in that place. Growing up as American, I had been exposed time and time again to the World War II story. I had seen movies, documentaries, and dramas revolving around the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. I had thought that I was emotionally immune from the impact of the story.
That was until today…
Concentrated at the World Holocaust center was the distillation of the effects of the Nazi machine. As I worked my way through the exhibits, I was once again reawakened to the horror that was Nazi Germany. In many of the exhibits, artifacts from slain people were on display. So that I could try to grasp the experience, I took off my rings, glasses, and watch and placed them on the glass above the exhibit. It was then that I realized that I was no different than those who had died during that occupation. The same holds true for seeing their pictures.
I also found myself touching what I was allowed to, concentration camp bunks, recreated street car rails, and the like. This only made the experience more real to me.
What is also becoming very real to me is the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Jerusalem. Yesterday, I was on a tour of the Aida Refugee camp. I found myself touching things there too: the walls of the camp buildings, the bullet holes left by Israeli soldiers, the water tanks used by the refugees, etc. As I listened to the stories of the camp, I was struck by the possible similarities by the two experiences.
Here are only a few of the obvious points that I can see for now. Like Nazi Germany, the Zionist Israelis use their belief that they have the absolute right to do the things that they do. They both deny the legitimacy of a certain group of people to thrive. They both deny property from people without legitimate reasons to do so. They both create a system that drives people to live in walled off areas. They both exist (and existed) in a world that for many years did nothing to stop this from happening.
To be fair, there are of course certain points that the Zionists Israelis are not like Nazi Germany. There are no box cars carrying captured Palestinians to the gas chambers. There are no notions that the Zionist Israelis are on a quest for world domination (although they have made an art of appropriating land that suits their purposes). There are no grand speeches that Zionist Israelis are some sort of Master Race (although, many of them say that they have a God given right to the land).
I guess that I may be over stating my viewpoint considering my role as a current delegate for IFPB. But what if I’m not...?
One of Them | Salem Pearce - Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
I step back into my hotel room from the balcony and turn around to put away my tallit and tefillin. I’ve just davenned Shacharit, the morning service, and ended my prayers with the traditional refrain: oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom, alienu v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teveyl, “may the one who makes peace above make peace for us, for all of Israel, and for all of the earth’s inhabitants.” As I turn I catch a glance of myself in the mirror, the thought flashes through my head: “I look like one of them.”
I’m in East Jerusalem, traveling with Interfaith Peace-Builders on a delegation to the West Bank, with a special focus on the effects of incarceration and detention on Palestinian society. This hotel is our home base for the 10 days we’ll spend learning about the occupation. There are 27 of us, mostly non-Jews from the States (with a Scott thrown in for good measure), plus a handful of Jews.
For me the difficulty started as soon as our bus drove out of the airport: “This is the Jewish neighborhood of [x],” the guide intoned, “built on the Palestinian town of [y]. It was called [a], but now it’s called [b].” This has been a constant refrain over the past three days.
“One of them,” of course, has become Jewish Israelis, and specifically religious Jewish Israelis, whose racist government continues to systematically oppress the native Palestinian population. As has been said more than once, the Nakba, the Palestinians’ word for what Israelis call Independence Day — May 15, 1948, the day the state of Israel was established — is ongoing.
I identify as a religious Jew. But what really brought me into my Jewish practice was social justice. I understand Judaism as requiring that I act in pursuit of the liberation of all people. All of my social justice work is rooted in Jewish values. And those values are antithetical to destruction of homes, and building of walls, and detention of children, and forcible removal of peoples, and use of Biblical names as a signal of colonization. To witness the devastation that religious Judaism has wreaked in this land has been . . . well, devastating. For the first time in my life, I have felt ashamed of being Jewish.
Yesterday, we visited the Palestinian town of Yaffa (Jaffa), now annexed to the city of Tel Aviv. (The latter is officially called Tel Aviv-Yafo.) Our guide told us about the private construction of an apartment building on municipal land: The religious Jew who won the bid declined to rent units to non-Jews, with the excuse that they would not “respect Shabbat.” When asked whether apartments would be let to secular Jewish Israelis who would respect Shabbat, the answer was affirmative. Just not to Palestinians — even if they agreed to “respect Shabbat.” The extensive litigation process by a Palestinian activist group was unsuccessful in preventing this discrimination.
Shabbat is sacred to me, essential to my survival as a Jewish seeker of peace and justice in this painful world. As Heschel said, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” To hear about the use of Shabbat as a tool of racism is heartbreaking. More than once I’ve felt like I literally cannot hear anymore the onslaught of the catalogue of Israeli crimes. And then I feel guilty, because Palestinians live this reality every day, and they cannot opt out of it.
I know this is part of my process of learning and of integrating that new knowledge into my identity: What does it mean that these human rights violations are perpetrated in my name, as a Jew, and what is my responsibility in responding? How do I deal with the internalized anti-Semitism that I’ve been experiencing? I feel confident that I’ll eventually work it out. It’s been hugely helpful to have two Jewish leaders who have gone through this process — as well as being able to get and give support to and from the other Jewish participants on the trip.I will note that this is just part of my experience. I have criticisms of this delegation and its speakers as well. There are things that aren’t being talked about (as there are in a Zionist narrative), but I also think this is not the trip for me to point that out. My job here is to listen to what Palestinian civil society has to say.
Stories of Oppression, Stories of Hope | Johanna Jozwiak - Midland, Michigan
Another full day filled with “complexities” - the word chosen to close our group meeting this evening.
We toured Jaffa and listened to the stories of the historical and current Jaffa, following the expulsion of 97% of the Palestinians; met with and listened to the story of a Sudanese refugee about his treatment and imprisonment upon arrival in Israel; and finally met with Achoti (a Mizrahi Feminist Organization) who shared the story of the oppression of the Mizrahi Jews and provided a tour of South Tel Aviv ("the ghetto").
Today I struggle. I am physically and emotionally tired. I vacillate between a sense of hopelessness and hopefulness. Yet, the people here living in the midst of horrible injustice every day and who must continually be physically and emotionally exhausted, continue to hope and share in their stories of oppression, stories of hope.
What a blessing it was to see at the close of this day this picture posted by one of the great photographers in our group!
Ajami | Jennifer Susskind - Berkeley, California
We toured the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa with a Palestinian graduate student and member of the Balad political party. Ajami is a “mixed” neighborhood (rare in Israel) home to about 5000 individuals within 1 sq km.
Here are a few highlights of our visit to Ajami:
- Jaffa was the economic center of the region before 1948.
- 148,000 Muslims lived there, but 97% were expelled/fled during the war, with only 3,900 remaining.
- The Israeli government rounded up all residents into the Ajami neighborhood. At first, the military general in the region refused to participate, but then Ben Gurion dismissed the general. According to our guide, “The Jews taught the Palestinians a new word: ‘Ghetto’”. (Apparently, mid-century Jews were not immune to the ideological influences of the time, particularly the ethnic/religious nation-building projects prevalent after the breakdown of empires. While the Nazi project was perhaps the most insidious example, the ideology also defined the mentality of many other cultures, including that of some Ashkenazi Jews).
- Netanyahu, when he was Finance Minister, stated publicly that the threat to Israel is not from Gaza or the West Bank. “For this there is a solution [meaning, occupation and containment]. The biggest threat is the Arabs within Israel.” Lieberman’s solution is expulsion. Some members of the Israeli left agreed publicly that Palestinians within the ’48 borders were the biggest threat, but they “disagree on the solution”. It is unclear what the Zionist left’s solution is.
- We passed by one vacant lot that is slated for a Jewish-only apartment building. The land is owned by an Israeli settler in Hebron who bought it as a result of a supposedly closed auction (he bid about $2000 more for the land, suggesting that he was tipped off by the auctioneers). A group of Palestinians and Jewish activists took the case to court and lost. Interestingly, when asked why they don’t want Palestinians living in the housing development, the settlers explain “it’s for cultural reasons. That the Palestinians don’t respect Shabbat.” But against secular Jews, they do not discriminate. “For them we make an exception.”
- Liberal Zionists from Los Angeles have paid for an Arab/Jewish Community Center in a park by the Sea. It’s beautiful and functional, but our guide reminds us that bringing people together without a political agenda does not transform society. That the children still attend separate schools and learn prejudices, power and privilege from their families and their religious institutions overshadow these “multi-cultural” projects. Institutions that attempt to build trust but do not challenge inequality and discrimination will not succeed.
- Our guide Sami says, “I don’t care about one or two states. This is not important. All regimes should be built on human rights.” He explains that this is considered an “extreme” position within the Israeli Government. His political party is constrained. They don’t want to be part of the coalition government because they don’t want to be responsible for the government’s actions. It is hard to get their constituents to vote for the same reason. He believes that the only solution can come from the international community in the form of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reflections. As such, reflections are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals. Submitted reflections may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations. We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reflections with others.