Friday, October 31, 2014

Two Farmers, Two Stories, One Occupation

October 17 - Today our group picked for three different farmers in the Makhrour Valley. I was helping "Im" Mohammed, also known as Jamila Ilayan. She needed help with her 60 trees because settlers come to harass them. Israel's military occupation does not allow her to bring a tractor to plow under the trees - part of the maintenance they need, but she can hire a mule for the job. Her biggest problem is that she can't construct the simplest shed to store her tools or to take a rest from the sun. Every gardener and farmer needs tools. Just to pick the olives one needs tarps to spread under the trees to catch the olives, ladders to climb to the higher branches, buckets to collect olives from the tarps and ground, and sacks in which to put the buckets full of olives to take to the olive press. That is the bare minimum. One should also bring pruning sheers and a small saw, not to mention water and hopefully food for the mid-day meal. Without a shed in which to store most of this equipment, it must be transported back and forth every day in a car or truck.

Im Mohammed used to be able to come by foot, a half hour walk from her home, and it was pleasant. She and her family liked to stay sometimes until dark or even to spend the night in the small stone shelter that has crumbled to the ground because even maintenance is not allowed. Nor would the night be safe anymore. The settlers see to that. A poster I saw today said, "You are free to do whatever I tell you to do."

There were many volunteers today, we internationals and a lot of Palestinian university students from E. Jerusalem, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem. The young men climbed up in the olive trees and belted out traditional songs, making us forget for a while why we were needed there. I met one woman who had been a professional athlete, a competitive swimmer on a team representing Palestine. She was just back from a year in Spain, getting a degree in sports education. Anyway, all together we were able to finish harvesting this farmer's trees, which otherwise would have taken a week and required hiring farm laborers.


If you live in Wadi Fukin and want to go to the nearest center of commerce, which is Beit Jala, you have to pass under the Israeli super highway via a tunnel. It is symbolic of the status of Palestinians who are allotted a subterranean passage --easily blocked off by military order --while Jewish Israelis travel above ground on roads only they can use. . Likewise, we international volunteers had to go through the tunnel to get to the village to pick olives.

Beitar Ilit settlement, now boasting 52,000 residents, is built on Wadi Fukin land, and it continues to swallow Wadi Fukin, as new construction moves down the side of the hill toward the spring-fed valley below where the village grows its fruits and vegetables. Settlers send their kids to play under the village's olive trees in order to provoke the ire of the villagers and to make the statement that they are taking over this whole area. Soldiers appear immediately to protect the settler children.

Abu Saadi has trees right near this creeping monster, and the settlers try to prevent him from harvesting them. Today, he preferred for us to pick trees a little away from Beitar Ilit's buildings in order to avoid a confrontation. But his kids are afraid to venture into the valley anymore.

Wadi Fukin will lose an additional 1480 dunams (370 acres) to the new settlement that Netanyahu just announced he would build in this area. Israel claims that the 4000 dunams it is confiscating from 5 villages to build this new settlement is uncultivated land. But by what rule of nature or men must you cultivate every piece of land you own? Yet Israel passed a law in 1950 to assure that any land not cultivated for 3 years should revert to the State. Then all they had to do was make it impossible to get to that land in order to expropriate it. End of story.

Well, not quite. There is more. Settlers recently dug up Abu Saadi crops and trees, and Abu Saadi has to pay the bill for this destruction! The rationale behind this bit of madness is that the farmer planted in the buffer zone between the village and the settlement. Since this buffer zone keeps changing with the expansion of the settlement, Abu Saadi didn't know its boundaries -- as if it were legal for Israel to have built the settlement and its buffer zone in the first place.

One Man's Reaction to Gaza's Suffering

Fadi is not your average Palestinian, not that I can tell you who is. Just he has a great sense of humor that he uses to flavor his astute analyses of world affairs and his efforts to make a difference for his country and his family. One example of the latter is that for the last 2 years he accepted an invitation to participate in a dialogue program sponsored by Holy Land Trust, a large NGO in Bethlehem. He opened his home to Jews who had come to Jerusalem from abroad and wanted to meet Palestinians. They came for dinner, conversation and to spend the night. The idea was to let them see Palestinians as real people and thus change their attitudes towards them. Fadi thinks he may have made an impact in this way, but after what happened in Gaza, he simply has no stomach for hosting Jews any more. He thinks they know what Israel is doing in their name, and he wants them to do something about it, not come to his house to talk about it.

P.S. Fadi knows there are Jewish Israelis doing good things. He mentioned the Army Unit that spies on Palestinians using the internet, and how some of the soldiers in that unit refused to partake of that activity.

P.S.S. Fadi is a father of 4, ranging in age from 24 to 14, a hospital receptionist, a loving husband, and a superb soccer player. I first met him when I was a paying guest in his home in 2008.

Tensions Mount

JOURNAL # 15 - wi'am's OSAMA
Osama is a Christian in the best sense of the word. He is devout, he serves his community, he is generous, and he believes in non-violence. He tells us he has hope, and I realize he has more hope than I do.  At the same time, he said, "We are tired. We are sick of the occupation. Israel is creating more apartheid, and in the short run there will be more 'domestic problems.'"  Osama thinks that changes will happen soon due to social media, which raises awareness which leads to action.  He derives hope from the BDS movement, from articles he is reading , from Jewish prophetic voices, and a belief that this cannot last forever - that the Wall will fall.  I asked what will be left of Palestine when the Wall finally falls.
 "Nothing."  Settlements have become the "normal". They have the land and water and power. Palestinian villages are not the normal anymore..  These conditions plus the dead economy are creating a vice grip of tensions.  Women take it out on their children. Men take it out on their wives and children. Fights break out over nothing. Everyone is in debt and can't afford to pay back their loans. Osama himself sometimes works 20 hours in a day, not just at Wi'am, (a Christion NGO serving the poor) so he can so he can keep ahead of the bills. But it means he's never home.  In addition, there is a brain drain as five thousand Palestinian students study abroad every year and only 20% of them return home. This is a brain drain.
On the question of whether there will be a Third Intifada, Osama and most people I talk to say no - at least not a violent one.  But Israel may be trying to provoke one by allowing Jewish presence on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third most holy site in Islam.  Osama thinks this behavour will cause some fare-ups of violent resistance and transform the conflict into a Jewish-Muslim conflict "which is very dangerous."   The Knesset is about to pass a new law making it legal for Jews to be on the Al-Aqsa compound.  Then the Israeli army will be able officially to arrest anyone who resists this presence. Faced with detention, the resistance will weaken.
 I ask what will happen once Jews have free access to the Al-Aqsa. Osama thinks they are moving toward  building a synagogue in one corner of the of the compound's garden.  Jews have been pressing for this to happen since 1929, but the British Mandate government gave authority over the mosque to a Muslim entity called the Waqf, and, by agreement with Israel,  Jordan now controls the Waqf.  The Knessets' new law will essentially negate that authority.
There is no doubt that Israel is playing with fire by the way it is handling the Al-Aqsa Mosque and compound. The only question is, how much will the fire consume?

Suddenly Israel Welcomes Palestinians

October 29 - Last night I was with Fadi and Abeer in their living room, sipping herbal tea, and sharing conversation with them, their other American guests, and occasionally one of their young adult children.  Abeer said that she had applied to her church for a permit to go to Jerusalem this Friday for a major Lutheran church holiday. Typically such pernits are for one day only. What she received was a permit lasting 3 months and allowing her to go anywhere in Israel she wanted, even to stay overnight, as long as she didn't come by car. At first I couldn't believe my ears.  Abeer showed me the paper permit and translated its contents from Arabic.
Why is Israel suddenly opening its borders to a free flow of (only Christian?) Palestinians, when just last week I was interviewing a married college graduate whose husband had to sneak illegally into Israel to find work?  My mind was swimming, as we all sought to answer this question.  We came up with several overlapping reasons, none of them complementary to Israel.
First, Israel's economy is in bad shape and will benefit from Palestinians shopping, especially during the upcoming Christmas season.  Second, during Gaza Palestinians boycotted Israeli products on a broad scale.  That boycott is effectively nullified if Palestinians go do their holiday shopping in Israel.
Third, travel into and out of Gaza has been severely restricted, such that family members have not been able to see each other for years.   By giving Christians in Gaza permission to enter and stay in Israel AND the West Bank and East Jerusalem,  maybe, just maybe, some of them will not want to return to their imprisonment in Gaza. years.  In that scenario, Gaza would become exclusively Muslim, and thus more easily isolated by propagandists as a terrorist enclave.
Fourth, happy Palestinian shoppers will forget about the attacks on Gaza.  For Fadi this would be the worst outcome of the new permits.
Fifth, if Palestinians spend their money in Israel, they will not spend it in Palestine, further undercutting the already devastated economy.
Sixth, but probably not last, desperate Palestinians will use the 3 month period to get temporary jobs inside Israel (even though work is not permitted under these new regs).  This fact makes it harder for churches to take a principled stand against the permit. If churches oppose the new regulations for the reasons I have just stated, they will also be blocking a possible source of income for families that are really hurting financially.
Further, Israel  might have made this move as a way to drive a wedge between Christian and Muslim Palestinians, something they have been doing by other means in an effort to divide and conquer.
We should keep in mind that the Christian population of Palestine, once as high as 10 %, is now at about l.2% and they continue to emigrate in disproportionately high numbers.  Some of my Christian friends say that from forty-five to eighty Christian families from the Bethlehem area left Palestine  just since  the recent war on Gaza. They worry that soon there will be no more Christians in the land of Jesus' birth.
I later learned that just last Sunday, (Oct. 26) the Knesset voted to allow  Palestinian males over 60 and females over 50 to enter Israel without a permit, just by showing their ID. Even lacking details about how this will work, it sounds like another corollary to the new "leniency" with dubious motivations.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Educated, Activist Women Amira and Deena

Amira founded Al Mirsat (The Anchor) in 2011, operating out of her house. It is a center for boys and girls ages 14-18 who are directionless and/or potential school drop outs. She goes to local schools and recuits about 20 kids each September.

To support their return to school and develop their enthusiasm for leaning, Amira got them to adopt a prominent building in the Old City and do research on it. She introduced them to libraries and got them using photography and sketching to document their findings.

Amira graduated from American University in Beirut, Lebanon as a Political Science major. Then became a History teacher, then got her masters in Education. She comes from a well-known family with a long history of involvement in the culture and development of Palestine.

Deena's family also has a proud history. Her childhood home is now a large museum. Both women are in their 60's and are very active in their communities, looking for ways to serve the less privileged and support victims of Israel's aggressions.

We talked about ISIS. Amira and Deena believe that the U.S. created ISIS to destabilize the Middle East. They said that Edward Snowden has written about this - which I didn't know and must look into.

It counts for something that these educated activist women give Hamas credit for standing up to the fourth largest army in the world when Israel attacked Gaza last summer. They think the unity government between Hamas and Fateh may hold up this time. Fateh seems to have the upper hand, but has implied that they will allow Hamas to be a shadow government. The ceasefire agreement with Israel must open the borders of Gaza and allow for unrestricted access to the West Bank, or Hamas will have failed. Amira is most angry with Egypt for not opening the border with Gaza.

My friends informed us that the Israeli Defense Minister just pronounced that there will never be a Palestinian State; there will be a demilitarized entity with limited self-rule. As for one state or two states, Deena said there is already "de-facto" one state, and reminded us that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization, founded in 1965 to resist the State of Israel), always called for "one democratic state." Absent either two states or a democratic state, disaffected Israelis are emigrating to Germany and the U.S., "and we'll be left with the Zionists and ISIS." She added, "You can't make sense of a situation that doesn't make sense."


Important Data Explaining Zionism's Goals & Strategies

Our olive picking group heard a presentation by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residence & Refugee Rights. BADIL describes itself as a "lobby for Palestinian refugee and internally displaced rights," and emphasizes that it is a "rights based" and not a "humanitarian based" organization ( Lubna, an American-Palestinian, gave an excellent power point talk describing nine distinct Israeli policies designed to displace Palestinians from within Israel, sometimes called the "on-going Nakba." ( She asked us to keep in mind two questions as we listened to her: l) Is Zionism racism? and 2) Is Israel a Jewish or a democratic state?

BADIL represents two classifications of people: Refugees, and Internally Displaced Persons, but both are forcibly displaced persons, and as such are 66% of Palestinians, both inside Israel and in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. That is, two-thirds of Palestinians have been forcibly removed from their original homes, and only one-third continue to live in the home of their choice. BADIL defines "forcibly" as resulting from armed conflict causing eviction or flight, and from the imposition of conditions to make life intolerable.

I won't try to duplicate Lubna's talk, but share some details from my notes.

**Israel cannot legally claim "the right to defend itself" against Palestinians, because it is an occupying power with the responsibility to protect the population under occupation.

**Between 1922 and 1947, under British Mandate rule, 150,000 native Palestinians were displaced. In 1948, 750,000 were displaced to create a Jewish state, an event Palestinians call the "Nakba", or Catastrophe. In 1967 450,000 more were displaced during the Six Day War. Since 1967 displacement in smaller numbers constitutes the on-going Nakba.

**In order to create a nation-state, Zionists presented Jews as an ethnicity, not as a religion. Thus there are "ethnic Jews" which include "religious Jews".

**Three obstacles to the Zionist goal of a state in all of historic Palestine: a) the presence of an indigenous population; b) land ownership; and c) the need to colonize (settle) the whole area. To confront these obstacles, the Zionist leaders crafted "Plan Dalet", which went through 13 drafts in order to find the best way to displace the native population instead of massacring them. One result was the depopulation (evacuation) of over 500 villages, most of which were quickly razed to the ground so there would be no possibility of return of the Palestinian villagers. Plan Dalet is a strategic plan still being carried out today in one form or another. Some Christian villages were treated a little less harshly in order to avoid international condemnation.

**To deal with Palestinian property rights, the new state of Israel passed laws declaring that anyone who had abandoned their property (even if fleeing from war) forfeited the property, and anyone who was internally displaced became a "present absentee" with no right to return to their home. The language itself tells you something about the twisted logic that gave Israel control over 78% of historic Palestine, even though the U.N. partition plan had only granted 55% of the territory for a Jewish state.

**The "Israeli Nationality Law" distinguishes between Jews, who are "nationals", and non-Jews (i.e. Arabs) who are "citizens". Fifty other laws discriminate between these two groups. However, the legal definition of "Jewish" is left vague. It is "as determined by the State." This allows the Zionists to manipulate definitions to suit their colonizing needs. For example, when one million Russians applied to enter Israel, they were accepted as Jewish, even though at least 200,000 were known to be Christians.

**Gaza is surrounded by a buffer zone that reaches 3.5 to 5 kilometers into Gaza to include 40% of the richest agricultural land. No one is allowed to enter this zone, let alone farm it. Many Palestinians have been shot at and killed trespassing into the buffer zone.

**Oslo granted fishing rights to Gazans up to 20 kilometers into the Mediterranean. In 2002 this area was reduced to 12 miles, in 2006 to 6 miles, and in 2009 to 3 miles. Given the loss of a sewage system due to Israel's bombs last summer, raw sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean, undoubtedly polluting the fish in this limited area.

**According to BADIL, 60% of Palestinians would chose to return to their original lands and villages, given the opportunity.

Who is a Zionist? A Zionist is anyone who believes in the Zionist Project, which demands that the whole of historic Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and between Lebanon and Egypt, be an exclusively Jewish state.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Olive Trees vs Military Orders

Jab'a is a rural village on the Green Line, the supposed border between the West Bank and Israel. We picked olives there for the farmer Abu Firas. In past years he has been the recipient of olive tree saplings from the JAI program that is now sponsoring us to help with the harvest. He needed those saplings to replace the 170 mature trees that Israel uprooted to build the military checkpoint on the border. The saplings were planted on another plot of land, However, they were also uprooted. Again volunteers came to plant more saplings. After the second planting, soldiers returned with the bulldozers and this time issued a military order not to plant anything else on that plot of land, nor try to cultivate it in any way.
Abu Firas will soon be losing another 200 dunams (50 acres), as Jab'a is one of the 5 villages whose land will be among the 4,000 dunams confiscated for the new settlement that Netanyahu announced in September. Of the original 13,000 dunams (3250 acres) belonging to Jab'a there will be only 1,000 left (250 acres).
I asked this farmer what future he sees coming for his sons. He hopes he will have land for them to inherit. He hopes for peace and justice, but, "I see the opposite." Then he asked, "What is justice?" and answered quixotically, "The Qur'an teaches love between the three religions."
On our way out of Jab'a, our bus stopped so we could view the border checkpoint. The olive trees on the Palestinian side did not produce any fruit this year, so it is possible they were poisoned. The trees and land on the other side, though once belonging to Jab'a, are no longer accessible by the previous owners.