Monday, August 12, 2013

Carving Out

In my last blog post, I made a statement that the incidents I described - children being detained, CPTers being told to leave areas we monitor or take off our vests and hats - were minor examples of the problems caused by the Occupation.

I have thought more about that statement and would like to amend it. If any of them happened infrequently, perhaps they could qualify as minor.  However, they are common occurrences.  Because they happen so frequently, they become more than minor incidents.  They become central strategies of systematic oppression.

Anyone can get detained for any reason at any age.  As I mentioned yesterday, soldiers have detained children as young as 3 years old.  Palestinian access to water, electricity, and all basic infrastructure is contingent upon permission from Israel, permission that is often denied.  Just last month the Israeli military denied access to a well near the village of Umm al Kheir.  During the dry months of summer, the well was the village's primary  water source (the 2-minute video below is quite powerful). When villagers and activists from Ta'ayush (a wonderful Israeli-Palestinian solidarity group) went to the land, some were arrested.

Constant worrying about what may or may not happen when one walks down the street, when one tries to go to the family or community lands, when one wants to go somewhere outside the West Bank, when wants to do so many things that make up normal daily life, takes its toll. Because it is constant. It is unavoidable. I voiced this idea to a fellow CPTer whose comment was this:

The Grand Canyon was formed by drops of water passing through the same space over and over again.

Subtle forces (and sometimes not-so-subtle forces) carve their way through, deepening their impact through their unyielding presence.  This is what the Occupation is about.  Israel (I'll speak of the state and not of individuals, since these are often two very different notions) is trying to force Palestinians out of these lands through constant pressure, creating a space for Israelis only.

Last night I had the privilege of hearing Miko Peled, author of The General's Son, son of a prominent Israeli general during Israel's early years as a state, and grandson of one of the signers of Israel's declaration of independence.  He spoke of the idea of the "right of return."  The idea is that anyone who is Jewish has the right to return to what is now Israel because of ties from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago.  He pointed out that those claiming right of return cannot actually trace their heritage back to this land.  However, he said, while "right of return" is used as an argument for Jews to come live here, Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys from the houses they fled 65 years ago, who still have the deeds to their houses and lands, are supposed to "forget the past."  There is no discussion of their right to return to the lands to which they are deeply tied.

Miko Peled, speaking at Jerusalem's
Educational Bookstore

Peled spoke of the inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians, that there are two sets of rules that are part of Israel's "brutal racist regime." He referred to the Israeli military as a "horrific terrorist organization."  This is coming from a man whose father had been a high-ranking Israeli military officer.  Incidentally, his father began to question the actions of Israel when he saw how Israel treated Palestinians. Writes Alice Walker in the foreword to The General's Son, "The aftermath of a massacre of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers made a deep impression on him, and caused him to believe that an army of occupation kept in place indefinitely would ultimately lead to the most hideous violence, and demoralization not only of the Palestinian oppressed but of the Israeli oppressors as well."  He left the army, became a professor of Arabic Literature, and also became a peace activist.

Peled talked about his own transformation of heart.  He said it happened after his niece was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem and as a result of talking to Palestinians he met in the U.S.  "It was the first time we were talking as equals.  That is impossible in Israel." When he listened to the stories of Palestinians, he began to understand their reality.  During the presentation I saw, a member of the audience asked if Peled could have had such a change of heart if he'd stayed in Israel.  "I don't think so, because there is no way to be together as equals here."

When another person asked if Peled believes another war will happen to bring about change, he said no.  He believes that it will not be violence that changes things here, but rather popular resistance, a resistance many people outside of this area don't know about.  Resistance that happens every week and every day.  Tireless activists (Palestinians, Israelis, internationals) hold weekly demonstrations to protest the infringement of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands in Bil'in, Ni'lin, Beit Ummar, and many other villages.  Some of these have happened every week since 2005.  Bloggers share the stories of Palestinian oppression and of Israeli brutality, stories of setbacks and successes, stories of loss and of hope. "They will not stop," said Peled.

Peled believes that it is these unyielding forces that will ultimately create change.  These pressures, not the ones I see as I walk the streets of Hebron, will ultimately carve out a society that benefits both Israelis and Palestinians.  I pray that he is correct.

May the forces of love and justice carve out a canyon of hope and beauty, a canyon of peace.

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