Israeli and Palestinian Women Working for Peace: Realities, Struggles, and Visions for the Future
Report One: In the Midst of Destruction, We Witnessed Courage to Hope
Amsterdam, July 30
On this delegation, like several in the past, our connecting flight in Europe came after a long layover in Amsterdam. Delegates had the better part of the day to explore Amsterdam to learn about the Holocaust, Dutch resistance in World War II, and current European initiatives to work for peace in Israel/Palestine.
Europe and Israel/Palestine: Glimpses from the Past and Present
In the spirit of democratic decision making, our group voted to visit the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. Thinking we had found it we wandered into what turned out to be the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a three-story building that had been a Dutch theater. In 1942 the Nazi occupiers used it as a way station for Dutch Jews being shipped to death camps.
Today the theater’s walls and stairways are filled with Jewish family pictures of everyday life, celebrations, and happy faces. Two young children stand side by side smiling into the camera, wearing their identifying 6-star emblems. Another photograph shows a group of very young children being fed by a uniformed caregiver. These babies were taken from their parents and housed across the street from the Hollandsche Schouwburg. We learned that more then 500 had been saved by the employed women, who hid them under coats and ran with them to passing trams.
The picture gallery of unsuspecting Jewish faces and elegant remnants of long ago stage productions form a moving backdrop to the stillness of a long stone wall etched with hundreds of family names and an everlasting flame embedded in the floor of this building, a haunting memorial to the Holocaust in Amsterdam.
We walked back out into the fresh air and proceeded around the corner to the Museum of the Resistance. This exhibit winds its way chronologically through the years of Hitler’s occupation of The Netherlands using photographs, artifacts, and audio clips. One is struck by both the courage and the creativity of the Dutch resisters. Each pillar of the community—religious political parties, schools, and unions—participated in some way. A railway strike really provoked the Germans and resulted in the first deaths. A bishop spoke from the pulpit and encouraged the resistance. Despite widespread starvation the resisters prevailed, the community gathered in the city streets and sang “Don’t fence me in” and “We’ll meet again” and “Keep the home fires burning.”
Our last meeting of the day was in a handsome Victorian dining room at the central train station. Here we met with Mieke Zagt from the Interchurch Organisation for Development Co-operation. Better known by its Dutch acronym, ICCO, the organization’s mission is to “work towards a world where poverty and injustice are no longer present.”
Mieke described her current work on developing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaigns to exert economic pressure on Israel that will lead to peace and justice. When asked about funding for ICCO Mieke said it comes from the Dutch government. This was an epiphany for us as she stressed the present conservative Dutch administration does not sanction this work. Even more startling to our American ears Mieke went on to explain, “That’s how our Democracy works.” A full day of remarkable learnings. On to Jerusalem!
—Martha Di Giovanni and Tish Gardener
Jerusalem, July 31
Devil in the Details
Our first day in Jerusalem began with a meeting with Jeff Halper, founder of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Jeff spoke to us about the importance of exposing the underlying complexity within the mainstream media’s presentations of land-for-peace arrangements. In his words, “The devil is in the details.” He talked with us about a way to explain these complexities such that the details of certain injustices could be better understood.
He explained three major constructs that he feels need to be addressed in a solution for a sustainable peace in the region. They include Control, Viability and Sovereignty (or “CVS”). Control entails access to movement—borders, seaports airports, and airspace. Viability is the need for agreements to be long lasting and workable—- no “band-aid,”, interim solutions. Viability also includes the need to resolve the refugee problem. Sovereignty includes the ability to enact the plans, hopes, and desires of currents and future generations. Sovereignty is the right to determine one’s own destiny. In Jeff’s view, these three elements should be accessible to both Palestinians and Israelis.
To shed light on how the occupation currently deprives Palestinians of control, viability, and stability Jeff talked to us about the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. He said, “Each house demolition is a microcosm of the occupation.”
Katerina Wilson, another member of ICAHD who met with us, told us more about house demolitions. She told us demolitions usually are scheduled to occur in the morning. A crowd of police, bulldozers, and movers appear in a neighborhood. Many people in a neighborhood may have received demolition notices previously, so as the police and bulldozers approach, no one knows for sure which house will be demolished until the final moment.
Approximately 100 workers—typically foreign laborers—take one hour in which they remove furniture. Thereafter, the family is allowed to enter the home and remove any other personal belongings. To do this, they are allocated 30 minutes. Said, our Palestinian tour guide, added that he has lost three homes to the demolition processes.
The Red Cross will provide a tent to those families who have lost their homes. Typically, the families seek shelter in another area often in overly crowed conditions with relatives. What’s more is that the families are financially responsible for removal of the rubble that remains—the Israeli government bills the family for this.
On the up side, the ICAHD has just completed a two-week “summer camp” in which they rebuilt two Palestinian houses. This effort exceeded their expectations to build one home during this time.
Beginning to See the Details: A Tour With ICAHD
After speaking with the group, Jeff Halper introduced IFPB to a tour guide who showed us the myth behind the maps of the Israel/Palestine area. Katerina Wilson from ICAHD took us on a tour to differentiate between what is on the maps and what is not. During this tour we saw houses that had been demolished as recently as that morning. The building that had been demolished that morning had housed several apartments consisting of seven families and 21 people.
During this tour we were able to see the “Green Line” and the separation wall. This wall separates Israelis settlements in the West Bank from what is left of Palestinian villages and suburbs. It also separates Palestinians from other Palestinians. The wall on the Palestinian side is adorned with resistance graffiti against the wall and occupation; on the Israeli side it is often adorned with the beautiful stones that mimic the stones that are used in many local houses.
This tour gave an opportunity to witness the clear apartheid existing in this area. For example, there are bypass roads that connect Israeli settlement to Israeli settlement, but provide no access to the smaller villages of the Palestinians people along the road. Since these roads bypass their communities Palestinians have to travel several hours on back roads to get to other villages—if they are not stopped at a checkpoint along the way. Palestinians also have homes equipped with black water tanks atop their roofs that get a one time monthly supply of water while the Israeli settlements and suburbs of Jerusalem have swimming pools, lush gardens and plants, and a better water supply.
Tel Aviv, August 1
The Erasure of Memory, the Courage to Remember
“Culture, Leisure, and Opportunity!” So reads the real estate advertising billboard in front of the ruined old train station of Manshiyah at the southern tip of Tel Aviv, where the present shining skyscraper municipality stretches out its metal and glass fingers to obliterate the last shreds of Palestinian society on Israel’s coastal strip. The magnificent Hasan Bek Mosque has presided in silent witness over the wasteland stretching from beach to industrial zone serving Tel Aviv, land where once stood this thriving Palestinian city of Jaffa.
The mosque, witness to the destruction of this neighborhood it once served, this community, this station linking its people with the world of the Middle East and beyond is finally enveloped by the urban sprawl and the empty, impotent heavenward thrust of gleaming office and apartment towers. The shopping mall and condominiums will turn the once busy station into kitch for Tel Aviv developers. Only the great Mosque remains—not yet a ruin, not yet a synagogue—too substantial an edifice to be touched. But the new city has triumphed. “The City is eating the mosque,” our Israeli activist friend tells us.
In 1948, the Palestinians of Jaffa were driven into the sea, a panicked rush into the harbor’s waters, boxes of their belongings, their children, their babies on their shoulders. Many drowned, desperate, driven into the sea. The white hot sun and unnamed photographer the only eye witnesses and a world looking on, approving this taking, this conquering, this erasure.
The progress continues. Jaffa, once a hub of Palestinian commerce and culture, of the train connecting to Cairo, Beirut and Damascus, and of winding stone-paved clustered streets rising from the harbor now houses shops selling kiln-fired platters and religious-themed oil paintings for the Israeli tourist market (the latest Kibbutz industry), air conditioned real estate offices, and fish restaurants. The Military Museum built from the ruined house on the beach a backdrop for formal wedding pictures. Culture, leisure, opportunity.
In the meantime, under the surface of an Israeli society devoted to office towers, software development giants, hell-bent highway construction, land taking and military might, under the surface, the struggle for human dignity and peace continues. Today, our delegation met with a number of extraordinary individuals and organizations confronting the madness and self-destruction brought by the conflict, people and organizations devoted to finding positive forms of creativity, connection and power in the midst of conflict, fear, and war.
We visited Combatants for Peace, a joint Palestinian-Israeli group of former fighters, and met Bassam Aramin, imprisoned as a boy for raising the Palestinian flag with his schoolmates, now a passionate fighter for nonviolence and self determination for the Palestinian people. Bassam, whose daughter was murdered by the Israeli army six months ago, who has not wavered in his commitment to bridge the gap between the two societies and meets with Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren to tell his story along with his Israelis partners, men who refuse to put on the IDF uniform to serve in the Occupied Territories.
We met with Sabeel, an organization of Palestinian Christians who follow Jesus’ example in pursuing a nonviolent resistance to military rule and societal oppression. We crossed over the Green Line to meet with Zochrot, a group of Israelis devoted to raising awareness of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of close to 500 Palestinian villages, towns and cities during the military campaign to establish the State of Israel in 1948. And we sat with the men and women of New Profile, Israelis working to create a society fit for their children in the face of the rampant militarism that pervades their schools, media and political process.
And our day ended standing in the hot sun of Tel Aviv, the sparkling blue Mediterranean at our backs, gazing at the ruined railway station, the garish real estate billboard, and the stately, lonely Mosque, symbols of a society in danger of losing its soul, but in the company of some of those people who are trying to save it. In the midst of the erasure of memory, we found a commitment to the preservation of wholeness, respect and continuity. In the midst of destruction, loss, and despair, we witnessed the courage to hope, and the stubborn determination to fight for peace and human dignity.
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