‘We Refuse to Be Enemies’: A brief account of my trip to Israel/West Bank with Quakers Voluntary Action
By Patrick Leach
4 February, 2015.
From the westernised wealthy (at least on the surface) city of Tel Aviv to the poor but vibrant Eastern culture of Ramallah, and with the fractured and confused multi-religious nature of Jerusalem, where every religious faction claims ownership, the whole area is contested by different ideologies and factions; Zionist, Nationalist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, politicians, pacifists, militarists, paramilitarists and countless others.
We met many individuals on all sides of these divides. Amos Gvirtz a disillusioned and desperate pacifist, Israeli, born on a kibbutz in the 1950s. His leitmotif was ‘warfare without guns…’ the idea that the Israeli attack on every facet of Palestinian life and culture… while it is slowly(?) stealing the land… i.e. those ‘facts on the ground’, is no less a war than its military attacks.
Ruth Hiller one of the founding members of New Profile, whom we met at another kibbutz, told us of her experiences in supporting her son as a pacifist conscientious objector and the endless difficulties that they faced. The organisation supports and advises conscientious objectors and at the same time advocates against the increasing militarisation of Israeli society.
We visited The Christian/Palestinian pacifist family at the Tent of Nations. Their logo ‘We refuse to be enemies’ is painted on a rock at the entrance to their farm, a brave statement whilst surrounded on three sides by increasing, hostile settler development. The government continues after 25 years to attempt to deny their legal ownership despite their having generations of documents going back to Ottoman times.
‘We refuse to be Enemies’ painted on rock at Tent of Nations, a Palestinian Christian
farm besieged by encroaching settlements on three sides.
We visited, albeit as paying guests, Ardie Geldman, whose business card announces ‘Israel Talks’. This right-wing settler invited us into his house (at a fee) to tell us that Palestine never existed nor its people… ‘a land without people for a people without a land’. He thought Ilan Pappe’s mental wellbeing was in some doubt! And his reply to the question, ‘had he ever met any Arabs?’, was that yes he did. He saw them in the local supermarket! Our visit a fine example of the belief that ‘dialogue on dogma is a lost cause’.
In Ramallah/Al Bireh (municipality) we met Adel Yahyah. This archaeologist and head of PACE (the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange) was born in a refugee camp over 40 years ago. He had been imprisoned on more than one occasion and carried shrapnel and scars. He showed us where, as a child, he would run over the walls of the refugee camp to escape the soldiers. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. He pointed out the maps of National Parks (often created arbitrarily on Palestinian land), where they are shown as Israeli despite being in the West Bank. This practice is especially rife in East Jerusalem, thus barring any Arab developments. He also pointed out the selective approach to archaeological sites, as they are only deemed of interest if they promote Zionism, otherwise they are abandoned and left to ruin. This is further exacerbated by the illegality of trade in Israeli antiquities but not Palestinian.
We went to several olive farms. One olive farmer said that before we arrived he had been talking to ‘my olive trees, they were telling me not to be afraid’, a clear example of the genuinely physical connection Palestinians have with the land. His son’s house is in threat of demolition as it was built without permission. They are big houses. And there is lots of building going on all over. I don’t know where the money is coming from, but would point out the irony of USAID, which is a dirty word locally. They finance the Israelis to destroy the buildings and they claim gratitude for funding the re-building.
We went into the Quaker school in Ramallah where the Quakers have had a presence since the late 19th Century. It is privileged and Quakerless, mostly children of Canadian and American Palestinians. One schoolgirl said that, yes, they talk about the situation but that it had to be approached carefully because passions run high, and a schoolboy when asked about how he was affected replied, ‘our friend was shot dead two weeks ago, we built a chapel for him’.
The size of an allocated space for a refugee family. Two units.
These children re-enforced the ‘new perspective’, that the younger generations are more concerned with human rights than land. ‘They can have the land but they get us too’. These are the second and third generations since the Naqba. They do not have personal memories of ‘former lives’ in Palestine before 1948.
One very suspicious twenty year old girl in the municipal offices of Al Bireh showed us a film of settlers attacking a woman’s farm, her husband dead, her children moving away. The girl was sad and said she was jealous of us, she just wanted an ordinary life, where she could visit family and friends, travel, worship in Jerusalem. She softened to us when she realised we had been picking olives. (Maybe there is a bit of tourist voyeurism going on because there is this circuit of political education? Perhaps she feels our interests don’t last beyond our visit?)
TECHNOLOGIES OF CONTROL
Sam Bukar is a middle class businessman, who quite often crops up on the political scene, recently having his comments published in the New York Times. He described his farcical experiences. Married to a Palestinian holding a USA passport his residency in Palestine was renewed every 3 months for years, until one year the authorities inexplicably stamped his USA passport, which gave him total freedom of movement, ‘final permit’. So, he applied for Palestinian citizenship and after months of negotiation ended up being granted residency, not citizenship.
Not only was he now without citizenship, merely residency, but they had also overstamped his USA passport negating its inherent rights. He also told a story of trying to set up a 3g network. Yes, that right was under the control of the Palestinian Authority as per the Oslo Agreement, but to get the wavebands needed he required Israeli permission. He needed 5 bands but they would only give him 2, which meant double the number/frequency of masts.
He ordered the necessary equipment from Ericsson; exactly the same as used by Israelis. Both consignments arrived in port at the same time. The Israelis’ was cleared in two weeks, his in 3 months. In addition to which, he incurred dock and storage charges. So, the Oslo Accords were in everybody’s view an absolute disaster because they gave the impression that the Palestinians had been given a governing authority when in fact everything still had to be cleared by the Israelis. The only thing that Palestinians were guaranteed was to incur the costs of occupation, i.e. of running hospitals, police, schools, etc., which lets the Israelis off the hook because under international law they, as the occupying country, should be financially responsible for such costs.
A further example of the sham of ‘Palestinian Authority’ is that when the Israeli military drive into Ramallah, Area A, under Palestinian Authority ‘governance’, the police turn to face away from the road and put their guns down so as not to be shot for being an armed threat.
Suburb of Ramallah showing the extensive need for rooftop water
storage due to Israeli arbitrary control of water supply to Arabs.
And yet despite all of this the Palestinians have expressed hope because otherwise they are defeated and will cease to exist. But they know that time may have run out. 600,000 settlers live under their obligatory red roofs, which distinguish them for the Israeli Air Force, should they need to bomb. Compare this identifying feature with the black water tanks on the Palestinians roofs necessary because they have their water cut off, unpredictably, and sometimes for months, in which case they have to buy it from Israeli supplied tankers—much like they have to pay for the demolition of their own houses should the courts or the military so decide.
Most surprising among all this was to hear the Palestinian Christian couple, the economic middleclass (who the businessman pointed out are, most worryingly, the ones who are leaving) strongly supporting Hamas’ right to commit violence because their simply is no alternative if the Palestinian is to survive, for the Israelis simply will not give an inch.
And then there is Jerusalem, positioned on the divide between Israel and Palestine but encircled by the wall that in fact separates it from Palestine, itself divided between East and West Jerusalem. And the old city which is in East Jerusalem, quartered into Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian sections.
UNHOLY IN JERUSALEM
History at every corner together with militarised police. Arab spits on Jew, Jew on Christian. Arab youths throw rocks and firecrackers, Israeli military fire tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire, daily. And this is where Christ agonised and was crucified. We stayed in a convent where Ecce Homo was uttered by Pontius Pilate, this is where Muhammad ascended to heaven, where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, where the Third temple is to be built… maybe.
It’s here that every scrap of archaeological evidence of biblical history, David’s city, is used to further the Israeli State’s grip on the Palestinians’ rights and land and consolidate Jewish religious supremacy. By digging under the Al Aqsa mosque, to find the definitive evidence of the first temple the Israeli government not only inflame tensions, they are literally undermining the foundations of the mosque. And if the mosque were to collapse literally or metaphorically, well… we daren’t imagine. It is after all the 3rd most important site after Mecca.
I got a smack on the head and a bottle thrown at me for straying into an Arab youth stronghold, much as you would in any major city of the world with youths that have much less cause to be angry than Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem, who have residency permits not citizenship, and they make one think of the comment that the state of Israel ‘born’ a mere 66 years ago is itself acting like an adolescent; nobody understands me, every body is against me, I don’t know who I am… a child moreover from a dysfunctional past.
An impermanent farm structure which can be covered with tarpaulin
when necessary at Tent of Nations. Any more solid structure would invite
demolition by the Israeli Occupation Forces.
No, there is nothing simple here in this beautiful landscape, this holy land that’s full of unholiness, where hope seems like a distant prayer and politics plays games with peoples’ dignity. Where truth has no place and facts are ‘on the ground’. And the Palestinians are welcoming and thankful because they are as prisoners being visited and they feel better for knowing that people out there know of their plight and who are wanting to support them. And they passionately ask for ‘us’ to promote the BDS movement (Boycott Divestment Sanctions).
As for me I feel this is like pre-war Germany where you have an extreme form of nationalism, a chosen people claiming a legitimacy for an extreme right-wing ideology, a Jewish State that is racist and determined and indiscriminate, and that one’s opposition to Israeli colonisation/occupation should be on humanist grounds, irrespective of any political or religious ideologies, and supported by international law.
One final impression and in many ways the one that I find most important in trying to gain any understanding of what drives/haunts the Israeli mind-set. When I stayed in the trendy old Arab town of Jaffa, the ancient port adjoining sophisticated Tel Aviv, in a backpackers’ hostel straight out of The Rough Guide, where you make your own breakfast on the open roof, internet cafes and trendiness, young clientele, young staff, young management. Here is where you would expect to meet the liberal-left, the pacifists, the future, the progressives, and that’s probably what they were, and yet everywhere: Nationalism; the Israeli flag, the photos of Zionist politicians, Ben-Gurion to Golda Meir in every room.
That Jewish/Israeli identity is inviolable and one will only gain insight into how the government can so easily manipulate the ordinary and even secular Israeli (96% supported Israeli action in Gaza) by understanding how desperate they are to feel secure in their identity and have a homeland to go with it. As an example of the confused convoluted Escher-like mind-set, I give a quote from Golda Meir:
“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
All photos by Patrick Leach.