I'm back States-side after a two-week visit to Palestine and Israel. I was immediately inspired to write about my family's treatment at the border by Israeli military. That was an easy diary to write because I was already familiar with this aspect of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It did not take time for me to process because of my extensive experience in Palestine throughout the 1990s.
I've been reading the accounts of individuals, particulary Jewish Americans, returning from their first visit to Palestine trying to come to terms with the magnitude of the occupation, the Wall and the checkpoints. They are not easy to accept, write about, or explain; the racism behind these policies is ugly and unjustifiable. Here's Philip Weiss on the subject:
A typical scene in Jewish life is when a Jew walks away from Palestine reeling with shock and turns to Jews in his delegation who’ve been there before, and says, What do the Israelis think? Or, Have American Jews seen this!!??
And one of the other Jews says, "They don’t know about it." And another says, "They don’t want to know about it."
I think the second answer is the wiser one. Most Jews just don’t want to know. All the information has been in their laps, they know it’s true at some level, but they’re turning away, turning away, turning away.
Like these witnesses, I am finding it more difficult to write about the rest of my trip. I hope you will bear with me in this diary as I reflect on what I saw and heard. Here's my main message: The hatred between Jews and Palestinians, both in Israel/Palestine and in the United States, is manufactured by the right-wing powers that be, and when we give in to that hatred and misunderstanding, we allow the right wing to win.
Discourse in the United States is finallly opening up on criticisms of Israeli policies. This is especially important among Jewish Americans. For too long, Jewish Americans and progressives who support Palestinians have been unable to come to agreements on the way forward. This is unfortunate. The whole discourse of conflict, I believe, has been based on misunderstandings, rather than disagreements on final outcomes. Progressives agree that the occupation must end.
The separation of Palestinians and Israelis is not about security. Many would have us believe that the Separation Wall that cuts deep into West Bank territory (I could see the wall from the western mountains of Ramallah) is about keeping out suicide bombers and keeping Israel safe from a hostile population of Arabs.
First, it is important for Americans and Israelis to understand that the Wall is not about security. If the Wall was about security, the Israelis would have built it on the 1967 green line instead of snatching up Palestinian agricultural fields and cordoning off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The Wall does not provide security. This point was driven home by witnessing how the Wall is permeable.
My Palestinian-American cousin from Ann Arbor was also visiting the West Bank while I was there. She has a West Bank ID issued by the Israeli military so she is unable to travel to Jerusalem without permission from the Israeli military. The process to apply for a permit to go to Jerusalem is frustrating. It takes a full-day of standing in line at the military headquarters and approval is at the whim of the Israelis. My cousin has applied several times in the last several years with no success. After 11 years of not going to Jerusalem (the old city is a mere 5 miles from Ramallah), she decided to take her chances and take an alternate route into the city where the checkpoint was not as difficult to get through as the infamous Qalandia checkpoint.
The main road to Jerusalem from Ramallah is blocked by the metal maze of the checkpoint at Qalandia. Here Palestinians are lined up in troughs guarded by metal bars on everyside, including above. Palestinians must stand in lines for up to an hour or two to cross. You present your papers to a teenage Israeli soldier sitting behind glass in air-conditioned comfort. When my family when through Qalandia, my elderly father-in-law was yelled at and my 7-year old son was caught in a metal turnstile when the soldiers had determined that enough people had passed for the moment. When we tried to explain that our son was stuck and that we would not pass through the checkpoint without him, we were met with sneers and indiference from the Israeli woman behind glass. And our trip was a one-off touristic venture. Imagine facing this treatment each day to get to work or to visit a sick family member.
So when by Ann Arbor cousin made it into Jerusalem using another road into the city and was not even asked to present her papers, I had to wonder what is the purpose of the Qalandia checkpoint. Obviously, anyone with the desire to commit murder and destruction in Israel would be aware of the gaps in security and would be willing to take a risk without permits through the more lax opening to the city. Why is there such an elaborate system in place merely in the name of security?
It is clear to me that the Israelis are engaged in a game of social engineering with the aim of keeping Jews and Palestinians separated, not for security, but for purpose of fueling the conflict. How can people make peace when they can't interact with one another? The Israeli soldiers behind the glass can't help see the Palestinians has an inhuman mob. The Palestinians can't help but see the Israelis in charge as merciless and corrupt. It is clear from the conversations I heard that both Israelis and Palestinians have fallen into the trap of blanket condemnations of each other. We are being duped.
I attended a beautiful concert at Birzeit University of the Palestinian Consveratory's youth camp. The music was extraordinarily rich and beautiful, ranging from classical to jazz. There were several youth participants with European features. When I asked my friend if these kids were Israeli, she scoffed. We don't believe in dialogue for dialogue's sake, she told me. They were Italian exchange students. Her statement is a commentary on the divide between people living so close.
I heard many diatribes against Hamas while in the West Bank. There is no tolerance for their tactics or their social goals. There is an active progressive community that is fighting the conservatism that has infected Palestinian society. These progressives agree that success on the political front is needed to confront the stranglehold of Hamas on Palestinian society in Gaza.
In Haifa, I visited Palestinian Professor's cousins and their allies who are active in Hadash, the Israeli Communist Party, whose members are both Jewish and Palestinian. Their voices were so hopeful, open and liberal. They are immune from the social engineering machnications of the Wall and these Arab and Jews find common ground on progressive values for a better society.
What if we were to recognize the common values and goals of the left in Palestine and Israel? Woudn't we be a whole lot closer to bringing down Bibi, Lieberman and Hamas? Shouldn't this be the goal of progressives in the United States? If we fall into the traps of the right-wing nuts of Israel and Palestine, aren't we the fools?
Here's a video of the action of a group of Palestinians and Israelis who are not falling into the trap.
hat tip: zannie, mondoweiss