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Olive Harvest Delegation |  October - November, 2016  

 

Overview: This first collection of reflections covers the Olive Harvest Delegation's travels in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Naqab/Negev Desert. Seth Morrison places Jerusalem in his historical context; John Barker reflects on the segregation exposed on the group's first bus ride; Robert Mertz distills some primary learnings of the delegation's first few days; and Pam Nice comments on the power of naming.

As the trip moves to Bethlehem and into the Naqab/Negev, Kristin Stoneking recounts a love story which illustrates some basic realities of Palestinian existence; Seth Morrison finds new role models; and Sheila Carrillo plays with the children of the unrecognized village of Alsira. Wrapping up this reflection, Shirley Osterhaus comments on the importance of water and the importance of solidarity from Palestine to Standing Rock; John Barker finds fault in US policy; and a specific experience makes Arlene Lundquest think about the importance of context.



 

East Jerusalem   Seth Morrison - Las Vegas, Nevada

I.
My first visit to Israel and East Jerusalem was in December 1970, and I was overwhelmed by such an exotic place.  This was my first trip outside the US and as a Zionist, I was reveling in the great victory just three years before.  The Old City was a place to bargain for souvenirs, watch interesting people and imagine life in a very different world, with no question that Israelis and American Jews had every right to be there.

Over the years, I’ve visited Israel and Palestine many times and have always returned to the Old City, exploring the markets, visiting the Wailing Wall and taking in the sites.  My last visit was in 2010.  This morning, walking through the Old City with our IFPB delegation, I was amazed at the proliferation of Israeli settlements taking over some neighborhoods and was especially concerned by the number of armed private security guards – two escorting each settler on the streets – who completely changed the nature of the community.  What a sad contrast to see young teen or pre-teen Palestinians walking to or from school with friends, and then to see a somber young settler with an armed guard in front and one behind. 

The Old City sites were the same, with small vendors, tourist shops, and lots of tourists.  But the level of excitement and activity was clearly reduced.  Some stores were closed; many streets were very quiet; and vendors seemed less animated.  I don’t know how much was due to the settlements and how much was due to reduced tourism, but I could definitely feel the difference.

I know I should not be surprised.  We read about the increased settlements in East Jerusalem every day, but to see the settlers and their armed security guards on the streets really brings it home.

II.
Standing in front of the apartheid wall learning about how it separates Jerusalem families, and seeing how it is built far from the pre-1967 armistice line, the last thing we expected was to be yelled at by a passing guy in a white van.  My first thought was that it was a settler hassling us for being in a Palestinian neighborhood.  But I soon realized it was a Palestinian yelling at us about how terrible the wall is and how hard life in East Jerusalem is for Palestinians.  Of course he had no idea that we were not just average tourists.  He seemed surprised when a couple of us went over to him and explained who we were. 

He introduced himself as Shadi.  Needless to say, Shadi was thrilled to learn about our IFPB delegation and stayed to chat, explaining that he had moved to New York City but had to return because he was at risk of losing his Jerusalem residence and also needed to help his parents in a family business.  Shadi’s van was blocking a large truck, so he waved goodbye, and our guide Amani restarted her talk.  

Suddenly, we turned around and Shadi was back – this time with a large box of pastries from his family bakery that he helps operate.  Amazingly, the guy who was haranguing us a few minutes before was now sharing delicious sweets and thanking us for our activism.  What a wonderful way to close the first day of our delegation!



 

The First Bus Ride  |  John R. Barker - Knoxville, Tennessee

Riding the tour bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the driver explains how the Israeli government provides automobile license plates of different colors to reflect and identify the ethnicity (Israeli vs. Palestinian) of the vehicle owner.  Then one learns that the access and usage of the roads are restricted based on the same distinction. 

Similarly, home construction and improvement by Palestinians in villages they have resided in for thousands of years is stifled, while recently arriving Israeli "settlers" have a free hand. Governmental expenditures routinely slight Palestinian schools and communities.

While Americans have attempted to come to terms with their own history of discrimination and segregation, it supports the modern regime in Israel which is rapidly perfecting a 21st century version of this same kind of system that is equally if not more odious and pernicious.



 

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Distillation of the First Days of our Delegation  |  Robert Mertz - Bethesda, Maryland

The first two days of our work have made crystal clear the rapid progress of Israel's planned economic impoverishment and physical displacement of the Palestinian population. Those who have visited here before are stunned by the density of Israeli settlement construction and their constriction of key choke points - around the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Gush Etzion bloc to segment the southern West Bank between Bethlehem and Hebron - as well as the visible economic decline of East Jerusalem and the lack of services there and in Bethlehem.

The government of Israel is moving ahead with its Jerusalem 2020 plan to "re-balance" the demography of Jerusalem by reducing the Arab population from 39% to 30% within four years. The Palestinian Authority is invisible and ineffective.

The Israeli government has developed an elaborate set of laws and mechanisms for this purpose, including most noticeably forced displacement and erecting the "Apartheid Wall" to expropriate Palestinian land while falsely claiming its security objective.  But these are underpinned by a host of less visible but no less insidious measures and policies of "silent transfer," to make life so miserable that Palestinians will leave of their own volition, thus avoiding an international public relations catastrophe for Israel.

What is especially shocking is that these developments are but the capstone of a policy of ethnic cleansing or ethnic purification ("tihur") set forth in the Dalet Plan in March 1948, articulated by Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion in 1937, and steadily implemented by every Labor or Likud government since 1948. The stated objective is to make Israel "a land without [the Palestinian] people."

What is perhaps most surprising, given the circumstances, is that several of our articulate Palestinian hosts and interlocutors were astonishingly optimistic and upbeat during the first two days of meetings. They refuse to cloak themselves in the tattered garb of "victimhood" and profess that only an enduring and implacable optimism can end the occupation which must precede the establishment of equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.



 

Naming Day  |  Pam Nice - Arlington, Virginia

Today, October 27, is Naming Day.  From start to finish, our presenters spoke of the power of naming.  It started with our guide Said showing us the street names in three languages and explaining that they were not direct translations, but rather renamings.  What does this show?  It says that three different cultural communities cannot agree on what to call a street.  It also privileges the language at the top: the name of the street in Hebrew.

Sometimes acts of renaming can be a creative resistance.  As Sami Al Jundi told us, “We must keep the imagination alive!”  If you put me in a “prison,” I will make it an “educational institution.”  He spoke to us of the ways in which Palestinian prisoners created a five-stage educational process for inmates, encouraging the reading and discussion of books on history, philosophy, sociology, Zionism and revolution.

Amani Khalifa rounded out the naming and renaming with her discussion of maps and terminology about Israel/Palestine.  She demonstrated further how renaming can be resistance.  First off, there is no Israel.  All of what we may see as Israel and the OPT are actually all Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1948.  Settlements are colonies.  There is no East and West Jerusalem — only Jerusalem.  The separation or security barrier is actually the apartheid wall — or even more appropriately, the annexation wall.  She also compared the typical tourist map of Jerusalem with the one created by Grassroots Al Quds, which names the original Arab villages that were erased or renamed on Israeli maps.

It is only fitting that Palestinians retake the ground temporarily lost to the Israeli hasbara machine, which invented “security,” “population balance,” and the “center of life.”  Language is power, and naming is a powerful tactic in the battle for describing reality.



 

Bethlehem: Badil and Kairos, and Tent Of Nations  |  Kristin Stoneking - Davis, California

Here’s a love story. A young woman studying abroad meets a young man from her home country, also studying abroad. They share their love of their homeland, they share the special bond of finding someone from one’s own culture when everything around is foreign and new. They study together, talk and sometimes argue, fall in love. They want to share their lives together, and maybe eventually start a family.

Except this love story doesn’t end happily ever after. You see, in this story, the woman is from Gaza and the man from the West Bank. The question of marriage presents an impossible choice. Should they marry and be forever divided from their families of origin and sow that same brokenness into the family they create? Or give up their love? 

Because Israel does not allow Palestinians from Gaza into the West Bank and vice versa, they could not live together where their parents and extended families reside. Their children would never experience the unity of extended family, only being allowed to visit grandparents or cousins with only one of their parents at a time. This restriction of choice, of freedom of movement, or denial of love and family, is not just. It is not right.

The freedom to marry is a right only recently granted to LGBTQ persons in the United States. The painful memory of the state’s restriction of this basic aspect of our humanity is still fresh for me as an LGBTQ person.

When Amaya Al-Orzza of the Palestinian human rights organization Badil shared with our delegation this aspect of the restrictions on Palestinians’ lives and liberty, I felt a mixture of sadness and outrage, the suddenness of tears.

May we all have the freedom to love, a basic human right.



 

Role Models  |  Seth Morrison - Las Vegas, Nevada

Despair is a familiar emotion here in Israel and Palestine.  Many people on both sides of the conflict have given up hope of a positive resolution.  Recognizing the significant imbalance in power, freedom, justice and the economy one would expect to find pervasive pessimism among the Palestinian population, and of course there are many who are understandably negative.

tent of nationsBut two wonderful exceptions are Daoud Nassar of Tent of Nations and Khalil Alamour of the unrecognized Bedouin village Al Sira – two amazing men that I met as part of this IFPB delegation.

Twenty-five years of legal battles to save the farm that his family purchased in 1916, almost a hundred demolition orders, settler destruction of 250+ olive trees, and government destruction of 3,000 fruit trees have not tempered Daoud’s optimism.  As the sign at the entrance to the farm says, “We refuse to be enemies.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Daoud is not seeking a false peace or tempering his demand for justice for all Palestinians.  But he continues to plant new trees, and to educate traumatized children from the refugee camps, while facing more demolition orders, more court dates, and ever expanding illegal settlements all around his beautiful farm.

Similarly, Khalil and his extended family live without any municipal services or public utilities in the Bedouin village where his family has lived since before 1948; and they have the deeds and legal documents to prove it.  But that did not stop the Israeli government from issuing demolition orders, causing ten years of legal battles before the village won their fight not to be destroyed.  Still the village is unrecognized and gets no services.  But of course they have to pay taxes for the services they are not getting. 
alsira

How do Khalil and his family react?  They install solar power and solar hot water heaters, store water, and repurpose grey water, practicing sustainability tactics that we should all be implementing.  Most creative of all is Khalil’s response to Israel’s refusal to post a highway sign for Al Sira.  He had a sign made and added a new international warning sign to send a clear message to Israel: "Do not destroy this community."  The people of Al-Sira are not going anywhere.

Both Khalil and Daoud impressed our group with their warm sense of humor, positive approach to the future, and deep commitment to their land and their future on that land.  Without rancor, but with determination, they forge ahead envisioning a better future for all Palestinians and Israelis.  They are truly role models for us all.



 

Alsira: Founded During the Ottoman Empire  |  Sheila Carrillo - Santa Cruz, California

Pointing to the long silver bus glistening in the desert sun and seeing their faces light up, I reached out my hand to the littlest and spunkiest of the girls, dressed in a long black and red embroidered Bedouin dress matching her sister’s. The three young girls and little boy whose turquoise tee-shirt sported an approaching tiger under the words, “WILD ANIMALS” accompanied me to the bus where they watched me walk up the steps and turn to wave them in.

Filing in a little hesitantly and looking around curiously, they hiked themselves up to see what it was like sitting on one of the big velvety blue seats. Then the adventurous little one walked toward the back of the bus, exclaiming with delight when she saw the rear door opened. Before I knew it, she was leading the pack, running out the back door and in the front door — around and around. While her sparkle and their wild game delighted me, I was worried that Said or the bus driver might get upset, so I reluctantly called a halt to their game.

I assumed that they were used to groups of foreigners coming to their little enclave of cement homes to meet with our host Khalil Alamour — a Bedouin lawyer residing in this desert village, Alsira in the Negev. This land, his ancestral home, is the site of one of the “unauthorized” Bedouin communities which the government of Israel refuses to recognize.  Alsira was founded during the Ottoman Empire, well before the State of Israel was established, yet the village has never been recognized by Israel, appears on no official maps, and receives no government services, no electricity, and no water.

With a demolition warning on his door, Khalil continues to build houses for his grown sons and other relatives, refusing to be moved into one of the seven designated Bedouin cities built by the Israeli government. Here in Alsira, he educates visiting activist groups from all over the world, pointing out to visitors the shut-down elementary school he attended through eighth grade, off in the distance beyond what was once orchards, but is now bare having been bulldozed by the Israelis to create a military landing strip.

I was struck by the children’s open relaxed faces and genuine desire to connect, and wished I had the crayons I had brought with me to give to children. At the same time, I recalled my travels in Latin America where so often the children had trailed after Americans, pleading for money or gifts. I was struck by the fact that these children seemed content. They were warm, open, curious, and satisfied.

While playing with them, Shuchi, another delegate, had given each of the little girls one of her bangles, which they accepted and wore graciously. But when our bus started up, and they saw we were about to leave, each took her bracelet off and reached out to give it back to Shuchi.



 

Palestine to Standing Rock  |  Shirley Osterhaus - Bellingham, Washington

From the land of Palestine to the land of Standing Rock, WATER is a most crucial resource in the struggle for life, dignity and sovereignty.  While listening to the stories of indigenous Palestinians and reading of the indigenous at Standing Rock, we hear the echo of similar struggles.  The need for water and the need to protect and preserve this precious resource in desert land flows from the stories of so many people we have met and talked with here in Palestine. 

Today, we met with Khalil Alamour in a Bedouin village in the desert of Negev.  After the 1948 war and the establishment of the state of Israel, the Bedouins were expelled from their villages, leaving them refugees in neighboring countries or in "fenced cities" in the desert. 

The village we visited today is an unrecognized village by the Israeli government and as such does not even receive the resource of water which  the Israeli government controls. 

DISPLACEMENT, an underlying goal of the Israeli government and military to take more and more of the land of the Palestinians, goes hand in hand with denying people access to water. To deny water is a death sentence - the people can leave the land or resist. 

We witnessed courageous resistance and resiliency. With the use of recycled materials, they are building water systems to capture and preserve this resource, using grey water, building composting toilets, hooking up water catchment containers - amazing sustainability skills.

And they are using whatever legal means they can to not be pushed off their land or have their homes demolished.  The threat looms large every day.

Yesterday, we heard of the same history and struggle of displacement and the need for water from another farmer, Daoud Nassar at the Tent of Nations near Bethlehem.  Like the amazing nonviolent resistance of the people of Standing Rock, we learned about the creative actions to preserve and protect the limited rain water in a desert land and to nonviolently resist the threat of displacement by the Israeli government and military.  

With the Palestinians here and the people at Standing Rock, we stand in solidarity!



 

An Inexcusable Policy  |  John R. Barker - Knoxville, Tennessee

After visiting the Gaza area and talking with Jewish Israelis who live next to Gaza, one is struck at what a predicament they are all in, the Gazans and their Jewish neighbors.  One cannot help but feel that this predicament is in great part due to the US involvement.  If the US had dealt with Israel at arms length, according to American values, then Israel would not have devolved into the oppressive, conflicted society it has become.



 

Context  |  Arlene Lundquist - Elmira, New York

The orientation before the delegation left Washington DC was full of important information.  Several of the sessions focused on our safety and security as a delegation.  For instance, we were informed that it is illegal to take photos of Israeli military installations.  IFPB staff also asked us to be mindful of the political context in Palestine/Israel.  Our actions, they told us, could have repercussions on people in the communities we are visiting. That suggestion certainly left a mark on me.  

Yesterday when the bus stopped at that large Israeli Settlement in Jerusalem, I was taking pictures of it when I noticed an Israeli settler sitting on his porch watching us.  I zeroed in on him and took a close-up.  After I boarded the bus I noticed he was no longer on his porch.  "Oh no," I thought for a second, "he’s upset and has gone inside to call the Israeli military."  For a short time I expected to hear sirens behind us and the military confiscating cameras.  Today, I thought the military might board our bus and ask for passports. 

So far, my fears have not been realized. But I have seen the evidence of a large Israeli military presence in and around the Palestinian communities we are visiting.

 

 

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reflections

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.




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