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Friday, August 9, 2013

In the News

A couple of days ago I received an article from a friend about Israeli doctors who are tending to Syrians. I don't remember all the details, but essentially Israeli soldiers are getting some of the more seriously injured Syrians to Israeli hospitals near the border and the Israeli doctors are taking care of the Syrians.  My friend's preface to the article was about how the story was a different perspective from mine and equally real.  It was a heart-warming story, there is no doubt about that. I am so glad that some Syrians are receiving life-saving  care they couldn't get in Syria, thanks to the benevolence of some nearby Israelis.

Nevertheless, I was troubled by the article and the preface.  I was troubled by the article, because it showed Israelis in one of the two ways Israelis are most often portrayed in the mainstream media in the US - as heroes or as victims.  Heroes as "the only democracy in the Middle East" or victims of Palestinian violence; in this case, they were heroes.  I was troubled by the preface, because it implied that somehow my perspective does not allow for any positive impressions of Israelis.  I replied to my friend that I know some great Israelis and am sure to meet more, but that while the article was wonderful and the actions described in it are real, they in no way change the structural injustice, aka the Occupation, that is going on here.

"Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.
The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and Apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its Apartheid policies."  

Last week CPTers intervened when Israeli soldiers tried to detain a 3-year old and a 4-year old for throwing rocks (who may or may not have actually thrown rocks).  In the last few days we have witnessed soldiers detaining other children, older this time - around the ripe old age of 7 or 8.  One child had a small knife. A soldier commented on the danger of the knife.  As if the large weapons they carry are benign.

Today another CPTer and I stood outside the Ibrahimi Mosque, which stands above the Tomb of the Patriarchs (where it is said Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried) as Palestinians were entering for Friday prayers.  Before I go on, let me give some background information:  To enter the area near the mosque, which  is actually half mosque/half synagogue, one must go through an Israeli checkpoint.   To enter the building, whether the Muslim or Jewish side, there is further security. Sometimes Palestinians are detained and/or harassed going through the checkpoint or as they enter or leave the mosque. Part of our normal work as CPTers is to stand near the checkpoint/mosque entrance and monitor to make sure that those who pass through the checkpoint are not mistreated.

We had stood in this area for about an hour.  We were having a nice conversation with two Palestinian teens (I was excited I understood a little of what they said and even managed to speak a sentence or two!) when a border policeman told us we were not allowed to stand there.  More background:  The job of the border policemen is to deal with settlers when they cause problems.  More often than not, border policemen do nothing when settlers cause problems.  They do, however, sometimes intervene when CPTers or people from other NGOs exhibit such threatening behaviors as standing outside the mosque. That is what happened to us today.  We asked for clarification as to why we had to leave: Under what order?  Could we get a written copy of the order?  Why were we not allowed to be there?  Where exactly were we not allowed to be?

The border policeman said he just got the order.  He said we should know where to get a copy of the order.  We responded that we keep asking where to get a copy of the order (this is not the first time such a conversation has happened), but have never gotten a straight answer.  He randomly inserted into the conversation that we should go work in Syria where there's real trouble.  He told us that we should stop asking questions and just leave (though he didn't say it so nicely).  We said we were simply trying to understand why we were being told to leave.  We sought clarification. When we asked where we couldn't be he said, "Here."  We asked where exactly "here" was.  His response, "I don't know."  "Does it include that area over there?" we asked while pointing across the street.  "I don't know.  Just leave."  We wondered aloud how we could know where we supposedly could and couldn't be when he didn't seem to have the answer.  He finally pointed us down the road past another Israeli guard post and we left and visited a friend in a shop past that post.

After visiting with our friend, we walked back through the mosque area to return to our house.  The border policeman showed up again and told us we couldn't be there.  We told him we needed to go through to get to our home.  This time, after repeating some of what he'd said before, he asked if we read the Bible.  When we said yes, he said that we should know that this land is their land. In other words: This land is our land, not yours.  So much for the Biblical notion of welcoming the stranger. As we walked away, he said, "God bless." I was not convinced of his sincerity.

These examples are only very minor examples of what goes on daily in Palestine. I struggle to finish this post because I want to say so much more- about water control, about home demolitions, about the firing zone- but the words aren't with me yet. Perhaps I'll close with this:  I told the CPTer who was with me at the mosque that I'd write my first Hebron blog about being kicked out of the area.  He's here with CPT for the third time and his response to me was, "I don't write in my blog anymore about Israeli soldiers kicking me out of places.  It happens too often for it to be news."  So begins the beginning of my non-news news.

Addendum:  This evening we again went on patrol, this time up the road that the settlers take to get to the synagogue (which, as noted above, is the same building as the mosque- it is divided into two parts, a story for another day).  During our walk, two wonderful exchanges happened:

A soldier politely stopped us and asked us about CPT.  When we told him both the general ideals of CPT and the work we do in Hebron, he commended us for the work we are doing and wished us success.  We told him he should come join us.  He replied that he still has a lot of time left in his military service.  We told him we'd probably still be here when he got out.

When we walked back through the mosque area on our way home, another soldier stopped us. "You can't wear your hats and vests here."  We asked why not and where we could find the written order saying so.  She translated our questions to the five policemen standing behind her.  A lively discussion commenced.  Her comment while it went on was, "They're fighting."

After a few minutes, she waved us off.  "Sorry," she said.

"What?"

"You can go."

When we walked through the actual checkpoint seconds later, still wearing our hats and vests, the soldier there asked, "Did you understand?"

"Yes, we understand we can wear our vests and hats."

Comment by fellow CPTer: "That was the best walk EVER." 

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