January 30, 2011 by Andy Dreitcer
Today, again, we covered huge amounts of territory – if not in geography (hard to do in a land the size of New Jersey), at least in the range of information input and sensory experiences – and the stories that came with them. The first blast in the morning came from the television in the lobby as it keeps running (as it has virtually non-stop since we arrived) Al-Jazeera-beamed scenes of a seething Egypt. It may be that the network’s cameras are no longer live, though (cut off by the government?), since in one 20-min period the same 3 or 4 segments (including happy civilians on a street shaking hands with smiling soldiers and tanks blocking a sparsely-populated street) repeated 4 times. In any case, we leave and enter Bethlehem’s Shepherd Hotel to recurring images of chaos.
These constant bits of image/info bombardment are a bit unnerving, but in the streets of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the surrounding villages and towns, there’s no obvious suggestion of the unrest that’s only a few hours away. (The only hint of protests came yesterday in Hebron, as marchers were gathering for peaceful demonstrations in response to Al-Jazeera’s release of the Israeli/Palestinian negotiation documents.) We were soon reminded, however, of a different version of unrest when we met with staff members of two organizations working to ease the injustices and conflicts in Israel and Palestine. Each had a particular story to tell.
The first, the director of the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program in Beit Sahour told of his program’s work, which includes therapeutic, legal, and educational help for children (10-17 years old) who have been arrested by the Israeli military, interrogated, “mildly tortured,” and held for many days or weeks without official charges. The second, a staff member of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), used Power Point charts, graphs, and maps to tell a tale of creeping Israeli encroachment (the ARIJ would use stronger words) into Palestinian territory. It was a stark, grim story, full of data that could lead to hopelessness, I thought. But ARIJ continues undaunted (www.arij.org).
These morning narratives turned my attention and memory to other stories I’ve encountered since arriving 3(?) days ago. And since my postings, as I’ve promised, will be focused on the stories I hear that define and frame the lives of the people of this land, I will offer a few more, noticed or remembered this day.
Ø The Jerusalem Post (seen on a table in the lobby during a lunch stop at the Church of Scotland church in Jerusalem) contained an advertisement from Just Peace for Israel (www.justpeaceforisreal.com ) that tells of how the boundaries of the land of Israel were set 3,000 years ago, were internationally recognized in the 20th century, and are not legally negotiable.
Ø An Arab, Palestinian, Christian man, a Bethlehem carpenter (no, I’m not making that up), told me: “The troubles between the Jews and Muslims don’t affect us. They just fight among themselves. Killing, killing. They do their own thing. We go on with our lives. Sure, we can’t go to Jerusalem. Have you seen the wall? Come, look, I’ll show you. You can see it right outside in the back of the house. Yes, it makes things hard. But it’s not so bad. We just go on with our lives. We’re not free. But what can we do? Would I leave if I could? Of course! I’d rather we moved away. We’re not free here. I’d like us to go be with my brother in America. Or better, with my other brother – in Australia. I love it there. But it’s okay. We just go on with our lives….”
Ø A very liberal Jewish Israeli (who abhors the “settlements” and whose husband refuses to let their soldier son be one of those who guards the settlers) offered this: “I do get frustrated. The Arabs were in this land for hundreds of years before the modern state of Israel was established, but they didn’t build a nation. And for the 60 years Israel has existed, the Arabs could have built a nation. But they haven’t. We did. We are. If the Arabs can’t stop playing victim and establish a nation….”
Ø The director of Siraj Center, a Palestinian organization that seeks a just peace for all peoples in the land through education and service, said that there are two reasons why the Palestinian people will not declare statehood, in spite of the fact that such statehood is endorsed by an increasing number of nations: “(1) because there are no established boundaries, the Palestinians risk an even more fluid, contested, conflicted situation, as Israel would respond by taking more land, and (2) any such concrete step would risk a major action from Israel, including cutting off necessary resources such as water and energy and access (all of which Israel controls) in an attitude of ‘if you want to be a nation, here, go ahead and try.’ If that happened, we would fail; we have no resources to succeed. We have no access to resources to succeed.”
Ø A 17-year-old girl I talked with is in the midst of applying for the division of the Israeli military service she hopes to enter (e.g., medical or IT or combat; as she explained to me, those entering may apply for the type of service they prefer). When she enters her mandatory 2-year military service (before heading to university) she will be one year older than some of the children that are being arrested (that is, the age of those who are doing the arresting). She moved from the U.S. to Tel Aviv when she was almost 12. She said, “It’s strange for me to read on Facebook how my friends in America are all visiting and applying for colleges. They’ll be so far away from their families. But when I’m in the army I’ll be able to come home every weekend. And they don’t seem to have a real purpose. They’re just going away to school….”
Ø A progressive Jewish Israeli who is engaged in cultivating reconciliation between Israeli Arabs and Jews (and who has sons and daughters in Isreali military service, and whose father was the first person born in a kibbutz in Israel) tells this story: “One time in a reconciliation group of Arabs and Jews I was helping to facilitate, an Arab woman talked about how afraid she is of the Jews, afraid they might hurt her and those she loves. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she’s afraid. THEY are afraid of US? But I have always been afraid of THEM! All my life I’ve heard the story of how if we hadn’t won the early wars the Arabs would have raped and killed us and pushed us into the sea. But we won and we invited them into our country! We were gracious winners. Our military is the most gracious in the world! How can they be afraid? I suddenly realized she has lived according to a completely different story than the one that has shaped my life. I’m still trying to make sense of that.”
Trying to make sense….indeed….