Saturday, June 15, 2013

Khamees by Suhad

My father is 71 years old, he’s the ninth of 10 brothers and sisters, born in Lod, Palestine. On his passport the Palestine part has vanished, as it now appears as Lod/Israel.

He cannot remember where he puts his cellphone, but he can never bring himself to forget the details of what happened on a particular July day, 65 years ago.

I remember him telling my brothers and me stories about that day, but never, ever, did I/we listen. It sounded surreal, far away, and too dramatic. I preferred funny stories from his college years. But now that I am few days away from being in Lod myself, for the first time in my life, and on a human rights delegation, I ask him… I listen to him.

He started drawing lines on a piece of paper, then paused to say “Khamees! Yes, that’s his name. I can’t remember his last name, but I remember his deep blue eyes, his rosy cheeks and cap, he always wore a cap.”

I almost rolled my eyes at him; thinking to myself… there he goes, who the heck is Khamees, and why should I care? I just want to know how to get to my grandfather’s house using this map, but I didn’t want to distract his line of thought, so I blink my eye roll away.

My father went on with his story about this young man in his early 20s, who was known amongst the neighbors as “the rebel.”

He suddenly stops to draw more lines. He fills the squares with family names… Kayyali’s house, Hunaidi’s house, Anabtawi’s house….

 “The British army would kill any Arab caught with a single bullet… a single bullet!” he repeats, “Khamees didn’t have any bullets, he was an organizer.”

More squares fill with names… Abu Tamim’s house, Abu Nizar’s house, Ejel’s house…

He draws a mark at an intersection, “This is where I saw Khamees alive for the last time,” he says.

At that intersection the neighborhood men would gather every night to discuss the political situation, the massacres in neighboring villages, the horrific stories of women being raped by Jewish gangs, and how disappointed they were in Arabs in general and the Jordanian army in particular for disappearing after a brief showcase of military power at the town’s center few weeks earlier.

My father fills the last box on the map; it’s the one by that intersection, Khatib’s house.

This is it. This is my grandfather’s house.

It’s where my father and all my aunts and uncles were born, it’s where I and my brothers and 53 cousins are not allowed to live. It’s why I don’t know half of my family. And, it’s what I have in common with all of them.

I turn to my father, speechless. But when I notice tears pouring down his face, I gaze away shyly. Why would such a distant memory make him cry? Better yet, why would seeing my family’s name inside a box on a piece of paper stir so many emotions in me?

The rest of the story is as follows. The next morning the Mukhtar (the head of the town) bolts to the outskirts of Lod, after hearing news about the Jordanian Arab army marching back into Lod, to save his people from inevitable, unbalanced war and potential massacre. But in no time, he finds himself and the entire town surrounded by massive amounts of armed Jewish gangsters, dressed up in Jordanian army uniform.  They quickly take over the town at gunpoint, and since residents don’t own ammunition, they do not retaliate.

The Jewish gangs’ first move is to kill Khamees “the planner.” They tie his dead body into their jeep and drag it around the neighborhood, forcing everyone to watch.

Their second move is to round up senior males to build barricades. I imagine my grandfather carrying the heavy sand bags on his back, in the heat of July. I wonder what was going through his head.

I imagine my aunts watching their strong, overly handsome father so humiliated by a bunch of boys with guns. 

I think that my father’s tears 65 years later were not about the memory of Khamees’ blue eyes throbbing with life for the last time, but the memory of his father being invincible for the last time.

My heart skips a beat every time I think about being in Lod myself.

I will see the Minaret that everyone in my family who lived in it 65 years ago refers to as a compass, I will see the corner where the rugs and the flashlights were set up at night by men whose worst nightmares came true, I will see my husband’s grandparents’ house, and my grandfather’s house, I will pass by Khamees’s house, touch the soil on the ground and wonder how much of his blood remains in it after all these years.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Not Invisible by Layla

Greetings from Palestine!

I arrived last night after the long and semi-eventful journey from St. Louis to Tel Aviv. 

I bonded with a Palestinian man and his family over our worry about making our flight to Tel Aviv on my flight from St. Louis to Newark after a delay. I also ran with a Jewish family from our gate, down a flight of stairs, onto a bus to another terminal, and to the end of that terminal to get to our gate. I learned that I was out of shape, Newark needs to open more electronic walk-ways, and that I should’ve stuck with the Palestinian family who ended up arriving on a little cart while we were waiting in line.

On my flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, I sat next to a rabbi and a Christian woman who was visiting the Holy Land (and who is also a Cards fan). I thought about how this would be a great set up to a joke, “So a Muslim, a Rabbi, and a Christian sit next to each other on a plane…”

The rabbi told me he would be attending the Israeli Presidential Conference with Shimon Peres like he thought I would be impressed (I wasn’t). After learning I was Palestinian, he asked me where I was visiting. “The West Bank,” I answered. After he outright asked me what I called that territory, I said, ”Palestine” because I’m Palestinian and we can only hold our tongues for so long. But to my surprise, he replied with “I hope. I hope.” Still, I wondered what the heck he calls the West Bank.

He asked me if I ever talked with people of other faiths and backgrounds. I knew he was really asking if I ever befriended someone of the Jewish faith. I spoke glowingly of my friends who came from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and atheist backgrounds. (Go PSC!)

The rabbi, who was involved in some J-Street action, told me he hoped a two-state solution could happen and asked me if I was hopeful. I really, really wanted to talk about my actual beliefs, about how I personally did not think a two-state solution was possible right now. But I was on a plane headed for Tel Aviv, worried about my upcoming interrogation for daring to arrive Palestinian. So instead I told him I was hopeful because I had no other choice. He told me in so many words that he thought what was happening to the Palestinians was wrong and that he thought there should be justice, but he did not know what that would look like at the end and that scared him. I told him I was more worried about the current situation and how the road looked from here. I said things were dire and unsustainable, and a lack of justice scared me more. Our fears are obviously very different.

Once I arrived in Tel Aviv and was predictably pointed to the room I refer to as “the rooms for Palestinians and a few foreigners,” I couldn’t help but think back to the rabbi. I wished I had told him, “Why don’t we go stamp our visas together, you and I?” Instead, I entered the room and immediately asked another Palestinian how long he had been waiting. I was disappointed with the answer, 45 minutes. But after the Palestinian family I had journeyed with from St. Louis complained about waiting for 30 minutes, two girls spoke up and said they had been waiting for 5 hours. I was really worried at that point. I guess I should’ve known they had been waiting a long time. They had a look of worry plastered on their faces. Apparently, the Israelis took their passports and told them to wait. The girls then saw everyone come and go for the next 5 hours without being seen by anyone themselves. When they were finally told they were free to go, the girls just hugged each other and cried. I wanted to tell them, “Stop crying in here. Get out and go!” but I let them have their moment. I noticed the security woman who came in to call in another person for interrogation looked at them curiously. I wondered if she felt any guilt.

Everything’s a mind game with these Israelis. I looked up at the TV and noticed the screen was facing all of us in the room and a TV could be seen from anyone approaching the visa counters, but no one who got to bypass the room would be able to see what was playing on the screen. It was an Israeli version of a Richard Simmons work-out. “Yes, this is torture,” I thought.

I was called in for my first line of questions after half an hour. I was asked the usual, “What’s you father’s name? What’s your father’s father’s name? What is the purpose of your visit here?” I was asked to write down my mobile phone number and email address. What do they do with this information? I wouldn’t even know whom to ask.

After another half hour, I was called into another room and asked questions like how old my grandfather is, where I would be staying, when my parents entered the country, what my siblings’ names are…things they already know most of the answers to. I was asked if I was married or had kids. I was asked if I traveled with anyone that day and why I had traveled alone. I was told to look at a paper printed in Hebrew that had my phone number and email address on it and told to verify that information was correct. All I could think throughout this questioning was, “Just let me through.”

I returned to the waiting room and looked out at all the people waiting in the visa lines who didn’t even notice us. I wondered if this is what it felt like in the 1950’s. Did whites just look past the “colored” entrances to movie theaters? Did they just pretend it didn’t happen or actually believe that it had to be done? Do people look past things that are ugly and right in front of their faces because it’s convenient, or because it’s too ugly to believe? Whatever they do to look past us, they did a wonderful job making me feel invisible in that room.

The man returned and handed me my passport without saying a word. I had to ask him if I was free to go as he walked away. Maybe I should wear a sign that says, “Not Invisible”.

I hope to write to you after I join the Health and Human Rights Delegation



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reflections on the Nakba, May 15, 2012

Some reflections on the Nakba as I prepare to participate in an Interfaith Peacebuilders Delegation to Palestine/Israel May 21 to June 1. I hope to be able to post here about the trip. May 15, 2012 marks 64 years since the Palestinian Catastrophe.


"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." James Baldwin, Civil Rights Leader and Author


Jaffa, 2009

Steve and I decide to take my father-in-law who is 89 years old to his childhood home in Jaffa. From Ramallah, we travel by private car. We must hire a driver from Jerusalem who has the required yellow license plated-vehicle that will allow us to travel from the West Bank over the "green line" into Israel "proper".  When we arrive to the sea, we meet the Jada' family at their pharmacy--the same pharmacy that was operating in 1948. The Jada's are one of the dozen Palestinian families from Jaffa that managed to stay in their homes after Israel's founding or the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe.

 They tell us my father-in-law's house is still there. It is now a rehab center. "Just go. The door will be unlocked," the pharmacist tells us. We enter. My father-in-law is overcome by emotion.


In 1991, I was a young woman in love with justice politics and fell in love with boys who worked for justice. That made the West Bank a very interesting place for a young woman like me. When Kamal and I were dating, his favorite place to go was to his family's village inside Israel. It was nothing but ruins. A few stones marking where people had raised crops and fed and educated their children. He would just sit quietly in one of the old houses for hours.


"I never heard the word Nakba before the nineties. It was simply not present in the Israeli language, or in the popular culture. Naturally, we knew that some Arabs left Israel in 1948, but it was all very vague. While we were asked to cite numbers and dates of the Jewish waves of immigration to Israel, details on the Palestinian parts of the story were sketchy: How many Palestinians left Israel? What were the circumstances under which they left? Why didn’t they return after the war? All these questions were irrelevant, having almost nothing to do with our history—that’s what we were made to think.

 Occasionally, we were told that the Arabs had left under their own will, and it seemed that they chose not to come back, at least in the beginning. Years later, I was shocked to read that most of the notorious “infiltrates” from the early fifties were actually people trying to come back to their homes, even crossing the border to collect the crops from their fields at tremendous risk to their life – as IDF units didn’t hesitate to open fire.

 We were made to think they were terrorists…" Israeli journalist, Noam Sheizaf in "Why Jews Need to Talk About the Nakba"


Genuine recognition is a sine qua non for the process of historical redemption. Peace is a phase of healing that must be established on truth, justice, transparency, and equality. There is no other formula. By recognizing our historical narrative and suffering, Israel will be embarking on a true journey for a just and comprehensive peace. Hanan Ashrawi in today's Haaretz


Monday, August 1, 2011

Report from Palestine 10

by: Michael Berg

July 26

I did an interview for the Real News Network Middle East correspondent Lia Tarachansky.

I think especially interesting are the two interviews between her and Paul Jay "On Reporting from Palestine and Israel", where she tells about her experience growing up in a family of Russian-Israelis on the Ariel settlement in the West Bank. She said that when she went back to here hometown in 2010, she heard the Muslim call to prayer from the nearby Palestinian village for the first time. It isn't that there was no call to prayer when she was growing up - it's that for her Palestinians didn't exist. They weren't part of her life or the lives of other settlers, at least at the level of being ordinary human beings. Even though they were right there, she never saw then and never heard them.

Lia has a lot of insight in what is going on in Palestine / Israel and I was happy to have some time to talk with her after the interview (it's hard to see what my thoughts added to whatever she is covering -we'll see if she uses them). I learned more about the situation that African refugees in Israel face, her views on sexism and homophobia in both Israeli and Palestinian society, and how this affects her work as a journalist who covers both the conflict and the internal affairs of both societies. Rather than write about all of this, I'll just recommend that you watch some of Lia's reports (in general the Real News Network is an excellent source of information).

That night I went to a talk in Tel Aviv on Yiddish Anarchist newspapers in both the United States and Israel. I learned that the newspaper Friya Arbiter Steamer (the Free Voice of Labor) was published out of New York from the early part of the 20th century until 1977. A young Noam Chomsky used to spend time at their office and learned something there about politics. I also learned a little about the suppression of Yiddish in the early stages of the State of Israel. Out of 19 recognized Jewish languages, all but Hebrew were suppressed, in an effort to create a Hebrew state and culture.

July 27
I went back to Ramallah to visit some people. I left from the bus station in Tel Aviv. I hadn't entered the station on the way there, and I was surprised to see how big it is. It's a giant shopping center, with so many stores that it's hard to find the buses.

First I had to take a bus to Jerusalem. The bus was crowded. Although I didn't encounter much security in Tel Aviv, when I tried to leave the bus station in Jerusalem and enter Jaffa Street I was forced to answer a series of questions, a pat down and a search of my bags. This is why it is often a good idea in Israel to take the shared taxis that gather outside the bus station instead of the buses. The taxis cost the same and you don't have to go through the questions and the searches.

I walked through West Jerusalem to the Damascus Gate of the old city in order to get a bus to Ramallah. When I got to the Damascus Gate it hit me all of a sudden how dramatically and quickly everything changed. The streets were more crowded, the smells were different, the language was different, everything was different. All of a sudden I back in Palestine.

July 28

Today I met with my German Palestinian friend Suhail in Ramallah, and the sociologist Salim Tamari. It was good to talk with both of them.

From there I went to Jericho, a very beautiful and hot Palestinian town in the Jordan Valley. Jericho is an oasis town. It is part of Area A, under control of the Palestinian authority. Jericho is the only part of the Jordan Valley in Area A. The rest of the Jordan Valley is being rapidly settled by Israelis and cleared of Palestinians, as I wrote about before.

After eating a lunch of bread and greasy eggs, I decided to walk to the Mount of Temptations where Jesus supposedly contemplated for 40 days. I began to walk up the hill in the 110 degree heat. A man passes and says, "Como estas? Entra!" So I get into his car, and he tells me that he lived all over in Spain, and then he takes me some of the way up the hill. When I tell him I'm American he says that this is strange, he's worked in tourism in Jericho for years, and the Americans usually don't openly and proudly pronounce where they are from.

He says that he is originally from Hebron. He has 52 dunum of land but he wants to sell it to Israelis. I asked him why. He said that the settlement in the area is looking to take it anyways so he wants to get something for it. Then he mutters something about settlements.

He drops me off near the monastery, where Jesus supposedly contemplated for 40 days. It is spectacular - embedded into the mountain. I hear people talking in American English. We introduce each other and they ask where I am from. I tell them St. Louis. I ask the man in the group where they are from. He says Dimona.

I ask, you mean where the nuclear bombs are? The guy laughs and says its not the same exact place, but they are from Dimona.

The man is one of the Black Hebrew Israelites and he was in Jericho to see the holy sites. He was with two of his three wives and 6 of his 21 children. We all climb up to the monastery. Every once in a while the man would give his theological thoughts on what we were seeing. He and the rest of the family were all very friendly people. Because of the heat and the eggs, I became increasingly nauseous as I climbed.

The monastery is run by the Greek Orthodox Church. Inside the monastery you are supposed to maintain silence. When I got to the rock where Jesus supposedly sat, my nausea was so strong that I almost vomited on the rock. Luckily I was able to wait until I got back on the path to climb down again. After vomiting I drank a little water and dunked my head into one of the fast moving channels of water that run through Jericho. That made me feel a lot better.

July 29
I spent the day in Bethlehem meeting with friends I had made during my first week in Palestine. I also walked around and saw some of the area I hadn't gotten a chance to visit before. I was planning to go to one last protest in al-Walaja, but it was canceled for some reason.

At night I went back to Jerusalem, so that I could get up early the next day and get to the airport. I got a ride with my friend Dominik to the Gilo checkpoint, so I could go to the other side of the wall. Looking at the wall one last time, I noticed once again how sad and ugly the thing is. Like the wall in Berlin, that wall must come down.

In order to leave Bethlehem at Gilo, I first walked through a long metal tunnel. Then I got through the first control after shoing my passport.

Then I wait through another gate, where you wait for a mechanical revolving door to let you in, before you even see a person in charge. You only see the metal detector machine in front of you, and whoever is before you going through it. The lady in front of me had to go back and forth four times before it didn't go off. She looked very frustrated.

After having to show my passport another time, I went through all this passages with all these "Welcome to Israel" tourism posters. I don't know if the person who put those up thought it was really welcoming or if was just a sick joke. Or maybe its just another way to humiliate Palestinian. I don't know. It is important to remember that under international law, when you goes from one side of the Gilo checkpoint to the other, you are going from the illegally occupied West Bank to another part of the illegally occupied West Bank.
Finally there is a place with twelve turnstiles, all with booths for border control people, none of them manned. All twelve had red X's. This was the final hurdle.

I couldn't figure out what to do - then I was joined by a man who also couldn't figure out what to do. Finally he decided - let's just jump the turnstiles. I looked at the cameras everywhere, shrugged and we both jumped the turnstiles. We left the Gilo facility with no problem after that.

There were no buses and no taxis. I started walking with the man. His English was good and we started talking. His name is Isam, and he told me that the Old City of Jerusalem was 5 kilometers away. He lives in a town near Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of the wall. He studied electrical engineering in Russia, and spoke four languages. He called his brother, and after we walked about two kilometers his brother picked us up.

He asked me why I was here and told him about the whole Welcome to Palestine action. He knew about it, and started telling me his thoughts. He said that it is strange that Israelis can live with so many weapons. He told me that he has many Israeli friends, and they are very nice people, but he doesn't understand how they can serve in the military, act like they do in the military, then come back home and be nice people.

When we got to the Damascus gate Isam thanked me for coming and told me that one day he would like to come to America and support us. I told him to please come and do that.

Knowing that I was leaving the next day, I walked for hours until very late through the streets of the old city of Jerusalem. Jews were celebrating Shabbat and in the Muslim quarter people were putting up lights, preparing for Ramadan.

July 30

I took an early shared taxi to Ben Gurion airport so I could come home. I had done around 20 media interviews since I arrived where I had given my name and age. Many of these in I thought this might affect things at the airport. I've heard stories about people getting interrogated for hours, full body searches, that kind of thing. 160 of my colleagues were detained at the airport while coming in on July 8, some kept for well over a week, and not allowed into Israel / Palestine. This happened to them simply because when asked where they were going they said they were going to Bethlehem, Palestine. So I prepared in my head for what might happen.

I did see several people at the airport being taken into special rooms. I saw people get their entire luggage searched. But this was not what happened to me, and I didn't even have to lie.

When I got to security, a lady asked me if I had been to Israel before. I told her that I had a Bar Mitzvah here in 1987. She then asked if there was anywhere special that I had visited in Israel. I told her that it was important for me to visit Kibbutz Ein Gev, where my mother used to live.

She then got back to the issue of the Bar Mitzvah. Where did you study for your Bar Mitzvah? I told her that I had a private tutor.

What was his name? Rami Pinsburg, I told her. He was a good teacher - I think he's a professor now.
Didn't you go to a synagogue? she asked. I told her I did.

What was the name of the place? B'nai El.

Why didn't you learn Hebrew there? I don't know, I guess they didn't teach it well.

Didn't you learn any Hebrew there? Sure, Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, the basic things.

Do you ever go to synagogue now? Sometimes, during High Holy Days.

Do you know any of the prayers? Yes, I told her, and I recited a prayer.

Ok, enjoy your flight. She put a yellow sticker with some numbers and a bar code on the back of my passport. I then put my bag through an x-ray machine one time. During the rest of the customs procedure, several people looked at the yellow sticker, but I was not asked another question or forced to do anything else.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Report from Palestine 9

by: Michael Berg

July 24

I went up north to see Acre and Haifa.

Acre (or Akko in Hebrew) used to be a fortified crusader city. After Saladin conquered Jerusalem from the crusaders (I believe in 1187), Acre became the crusader capital. It was a largely Palestinian city until the birth of Israel in 1948, when 3/4 of its Palestinian inhabitants were pushed out. It is now a mixed city - about 70% Jewish and 30% Palestinian.

The old city is quite interesting, the way you would expect a medieval fortress to be. Its inhabitants are almost all Palestinians, but the Israeli tourism department controls the interesting crusader sites, so you need to buy a ticket from them to enter the tunnels. When you get out, you are in an Israeli gift shop, selling all sorts of things, including a wide variety of IDF merchandise.

(On a side note, this makes me think of how it struck me that so many of the Palestinian stores in the old city of Jerusalem sell both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli t-shirts and knick-knacks side by side. They are obviously looking to maximize sales over any ideological conviction).

I slept that night in Haifa, the holy city of the Baha’i faith. Haifa is also a beautiful town. It is a port, and immediately there is a hill. The nicest places in town are on the hill. It also has a strange underground cable car subway system going up and down the hill. There is one line and six stops.

When I got to Haifa I had trouble finding an open bed to sleep in. Walking down a street I saw a tiny sign on a door that said "Dama Guest House". I paid the man running the hostel for a dorm bed. He said he had no change, so I had to go down the street to look for change. Nobody had change down the street. I came back and told the man that it was his duty and not mine to find change. He agreed and put me in a room with this other woman, whom I was supposed to treat like my sister. I actually never saw the woman awake. I went to sleep early and when I woke up she was asleep.

July 25

In the morning a noticed in the front of the guest house there was a book of the writings of Rachel Corrie, the young woman who was run over by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza in 2003. I asked the young man running the guest house (his name is Alfred) about the book. He told me that Rachel Corrie's parents, Craig and Cindy, often stay at the guest house and that they are very nice people.

Alfred told me that he admires the Corries and that he used to be involved in politics, but he got burned out because it is frustrating to have your leaders ask you to take action and then sell you out by shaking hands and cutting deals with the people that they had recently called your sworn enemies.

He said that in 2001 in Haifa a Jewish man stabbed and killed a Palestinian while yelling something like "Death to Arabs!" The man ended up serving two months is a mental health facility and was then released. Palestinians in Haifa got upset and blocked streets, but nothing really came of all the action.

Alfred said that he was the only Arab in an all Jewish school. He is glad he attended the school - he got a good education, he made a lot of good friends and he learned very good Hebrew. He thinks that all Palestinians in Israel should study more Hebrew so they can communicate better in the dominant language of the country.

He also said that other kids at the school were scared of him. At the beginning of his time at the school kids would peek into his classroom to see what an Arab looks like (he actually doesn't look any different than most Israelis). He said he enjoyed having the ability to easily spook people and that more than once he broke up fights between kids by coming to where everyone was gathered and yelling "Allahu Akbar", which would scare the kids, who would then scatter.

I headed from Haifa to the Ein Gev, where my mother used to live. On the way it really struck me how many people in Israel are carrying loaded machine guns. Most of them are uniformed soldiers, but in addition there are a lot of people in civilian clothing carrying weapons.

Ein Gev is a kibbutz on the eastern bank of Lake Tiberias, or the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Kinneret (the body of water has a lot of names).

When I got off the bus I was a little unsure about what I was going to do. So I walked to what seemed like the center of the kibbutz. I ran into a young man and I asked him if he is going to eat lunch. He is and I go to the central lunch hall with him and his father. The man is named Ma'or and his father is Aria, otherwise known as "Aria of the Bananas" and also known as "Mr. Knows It All".

We had lunch together. They told me about the history of the kibbutz, from its beginning in 1937. He said that when it began there was nobody around except for the Arab village of Samach. I asked him if the people of Ein Gev and the people of Samach got along. He said sometimes yes, and sometimes no. He said the Arabs were not stupid, and they knew what was happening. The people of Samach left in 1948. I don't know the details of their leaving, only that they weren't allowed back.

The two men explained how the kibbutz began the way many kibbutzes began - through the Wall and Tower method. The early Zionists knew that if they took a year or so to build a kibbutz, they were likely to be attacked, even if they had title to the land they were building on. The neighboring Palestinians correctly saw the Jewish kibbutzes as a threat to their well-being. So Jews would send hundreds of people to an area and in one day they erect a wall and a watch tower, kind of like the Amish do. Most of the builders would leave that day, and a small number would stay and begin building the community.

Ein Gev was a very ideologically communal kibbutz. It still retains some of its communal structure, although according to both men I talked to it is not like it used to be. It really began to change in the mid-1990s, with the community deciding that it needed changing, because of financial realities and the fact that many of the members felt stifled by the traditional structure. For example, all meals used to be eaten in the central dining hall, and all food was available freely to everyone at any time. Now the dining hall is only open for lunch, and members are charged kibbutz credit according to what they consume.

Aria told me that he didn't really like the changes, but what can you do? I said you could fight them, and he told me that he tried, but it didn't work. Ma'or thinks that like privatization everywhere, a few people in the kibbutz have profited off others, but that whether or not this is true is a very contentious issue.

Ma'or told me about a hike I could take up the hill near the center of the kibbutz. I got some water and began hiking. The view was nice. It was really, really hot - over 105 degrees. I eventually had to come down because I felt like I was going to pass out. I doubt that Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee in the summer, because if so he would have only taken a few steps before he jumped in the water to cool himself off.

I hitched a ride from Ein Gev to Tiberias together with an young orthodox Jew who was also leaving Ein Gev. The older man who picked us up had a heated conversation with the young man I was with. When both of us left the car, the young man told me that the guy who gave us a ride was mad that the young man wore a yarmulke (kipa) on his head. He said the man said that people like him were a problem and then blamed him for killing Yitzach Rabin.

"Politics," the young man told me. "I just want to live. This is how people think on the kibbutz."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Report from Palestine 8

by: Michael Berg

July 18 and 19

I went from Hebron to Ramallah - a journey that shouldn't take more than an hour or an hour and a half, but took three and a half hours because the shared taxi had to evade the wall and checkpoints.

After checking into a hotel in the center of town I took a taxi to the Snow Bar in order to see a Dutch brass band whose leader is a relative of Samia. They are touring Palestine, mostly playing in refugee camps. The Snow Bar was their first gig. They sounded great.

The Snow Bar is a really fancy nightclub type place. Many of the people there were Palestinian-Americans. I met a really nice Palestinian reporter for the Russia Today news channel - since the moment I arrived at Ben Gurion I've been running into Russia Today.

There are many really fancy places in Ramallah, with new fancy buildings everywhere, malls, restaurants, banks, office buildings. I had lunch with an American-Palestinian businessman named Sam Bahour who came to Ramallah from the US after the Oslo Agreement in order to make a life in Palestine and invest in the city. He manages building project but says that the recent boom is pretty much on hold, because business people are afraid to invest. They don't know what the future holds - will there be another Israeli lockdown or another invasion, like the one in 2002?

Speaking of the 2002, I visited the compound where Arafat was holed up in 2002 and where he is now buried.

In addition to the private businesses, Ramallah is full of non-governmental organizations and Palestinian Authority office buildings. I saw the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior and I laughed. The Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction only over Area A in the West Bank. There is nowhere in Area A where you can't walk for an hour and find yourself in Area C, under full Israeli control. So where is the Interior? How do you fit an interior into these isolated dots of an area?

This reality hit me this morning. I had three hours before I was to meet with Sam Bahour and I foolishly thought that I could use this time to walk to Beitin. I know that Banan and Sharif and Badia are from that village, and Colleen told me that there was an Arch market there. I looked on the map and it’s just a few kilometers northeast of Ramallah. So I walked northeast, and in about thirty minutes I had left the Ramallah bubble. I hit an Israeli military base and an Israeli checkpoint. I walked around the base and checkpoint, but then I saw soldiers everywhere and I felt scared. So I walked back.

Then I took a taxi to Beitin. It took about 25 minutes and the driver completely ripped me off. I should know to negotiate the price before the ride, but I wasn't in the taxi mindset (I had not expected to use one today). I did get to the Arch market and took a photo, but by the time I got there I had only a few minutes and had to go back.

That night I had a great dinner on the top story of a really fancy hotel in Ramallah with Sandra's cousin Merna and her fiancé.

July 20

I came back to Jerusalem today, through the Qalandia checkpoint. It is a monstrosity, a highly militarized opening in the Wall. It took a long time to get through. The procedure is both tedious and humiliating. One of the people on our bus was forced to go back to Ramallah.

After dropping off my bags I walked from the old city to Mt. Herzl in order to see the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. I wanted to take the new light rail train, but when I got on the train and tried to pay, the conductor yelled at me to get out. The trains seem to be mostly empty - I think they are only sort of in operation. That's too bad, because I love being on trains. I jump on the Metrolink every time I can (and I jump off also when I am done riding).

At the northeast corner of the old city there were a bunch of people camping out with a bunch of signs in Hebrew and a sign in English that said 'Rent Control Now'. I asked a man named Roy what was going on. He said that it is almost impossible for young people to find housing in Jerusalem. The monthly rent for a small hotel in Jerusalem is 3500 shekels a month, but the minimum wage is 22 shekels an hour. He told me that so many of the apartments are bought up wealthy Jews from Europe and the United States who only stay in them for a week or two a year, leaving a lot of empty apartments.

I took about 1 1/2 hours to walk to the museum. Walking there I noticed that West Jerusalem has a very different feel from East Jerusalem and anywhere I've been to in the West Bank. The streets were not nearly as crowded with people and the streets were wide. I passed some pretty poor Jewish neighborhoods where people seemed to live pretty cramped.

When I got to Mt. Herzl I saw something that you never see in the West Bank - a forest of pines. Pine forests are all over Israel, often on top of what used to be a Palestinian village. I'm not a botanist, but I don't think that pines are native to Jerusalem. Pine forests seem to be a way for Israel to mark its territory, make a claim to the land.

The first thing I noticed at Yad Vashem was that there were drinking fountains with potable water. It was nice for me, I was thirsty. I thought about how in Bethlehem and Hebron people go weeks without access to running water (water that is not potable from the tap).

Yad Vashem is very well done. From my understanding of history, it gives a mostly correct and at times overwhelming account of the history of European anti-semitism, the rise of Hitler, the concentration camps, the death camps, and the liberation of the camps by the Allied powers.

The troubling part of the museum for me is the Zionist narrative that runs through it. At the very beginning, in the first room, it reports how the German anti-semitic publication Derr Strumer would publish the slogan 'Jews should all go to Palestine!' At the time this was the goal of both Zionists and anti-semites, and it is why German Zionists had a functioning agreement the Nazi government in the mid-1930s where the Zionists would help break economic boycotts of Germany and the Nazis would make it easier for Jews to emigrate to Palestine. (Yad Vashem does not mention this early Zionist / Nazi pact). In the 1940s, when the Nazi atrocities got worse and worse, culminating in genocide, Zionist militia did fight the Nazis bravely, along with other Jewish resistance. The museum does an excellent job describing the resistance movement in the Warsaw ghetto and the way Jews who were divided by ideology came together once they realized that everybody was being sent to death camps.

In no other location, outside of this first room is the word Palestine mentioned in the museum. Where I am now is always referred to as The Land of Israel, even though in 1930s and 1940s it was inarguably correct to call this place Palestine. So in the whole museum the word Palestine only comes from the lips and pens of Nazis and other anti-semites.

At the end of the museum you hear children singing the Hatikvah and see pictures of Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion. The message is clear: from the ashes Jews have created themselves anew in Israel. Then you look over the valley where the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin once stood. In 1948 many of the village’s inhabitants were killed by Zionist forces and the rest driven out. It is now full of pine trees.

Having come directly from the West Bank, two quotes at the museum stood out in my mind:

"A country is not just what it does, but also what it tolerates."

"In Eastern Europe, the Germans incarcerated the Jews in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation and poverty."

Those quotes struck out but I think I need to make it clear that I am not equating Zionism with Nazism. The main difference is that for the Nazis, Jews were a highly destructive source of unchangeable evil in the world - thus mass extermination was the logical culmination of their project. For the State of Israel, it's not so much that Palestinians are evil - they're just in the way. Palestinians have experienced and still experience expulsion, exile and occupation - not genocide.

I do think it would be useful to have a Yad Vashem / Nakba museum, where instead of the Hatikvah playing at the end, the museum goes right into an account of how the birth of the modern State of Israel was a still unresolved catastrophe for the Palestinian people. Both Israeli Jews and Palestinians should be spending time in this massive museum. The two events were not equivalent in their scale and horror and the Palestinians bear no responsibility for the Holocaust, but it might help both sides understand better where the other is coming from. I don't know if this has changed, but a couple of Palestinians in the West Bank that I talked to said they learned nothing about the Holocaust in school. Israelis I've talked to said they didn't study in school the reality of what happened to Palestinians in 1948.

July 21 and 22

I spent two days working on a house in the town of Anata, just outside of Jerusalem but separated from Jerusalem by the Wall. I joined the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions international team. We worked on rebuilding a home that had recently been demolished. It was the same story I've been seeing everywhere - the home was built without a permit, because it is impossible to get a permit. The Israelis destroyed the home and offered no compensation. No reason was given for why the home had to be destroyed, except that it didn't have a permit.

I slept with the other volunteers outside on a mattress. This was within a compound owned by a Palestinian man, overlooking a giant Israeli military base. Near the compound is a small Bedouin encampment for about 30 people. The Bedouins live in shacks made of material they have scavenged from the town of Anata. They have many animals.

I witnessed the Israeli civil authorities show up at the Bedouin encampment and deliver demolition order papers for all ten of the community's buildings, including their three foot by three foot outhouse. We talked to the people - they have no idea where they will go if their buildings are destroyed.

We also took a trip to Sheik Jerrah, near Jerusalem, and I saw something like I witnessed in Hebron, but even stranger.

In 1948 there was a sizable Jewish community in Sheik Jerrah. This community was pushed west after the war, into West Jerusalem, and many of the buildings were settled by Palestinians who were pushed east. Jews are now allowed to reclaim properties in Sheik Jerrah (Palestinians who now live in the West Bank are not allowed to make similar claims on land in what is now Israel.)

We went to a house where for some reason a couple of fanatical religious settlers were allowed to take the front half of a house. A Palestinian family still lives in the back house. The settlers have injured the Palestinian children by sicking their dogs on the children. While we were there the settler put on a little show for us - they unleashed the dogs and had them snarl at us through the bars in the home. The Palestinian woman who lives in the back spit at the dogs through the bars and the settler spit at the woman.

July 23 and July 24

I came to Tel Aviv. It is a large and very modern city. Around the bus station people seem to be mostly Africans and Asians. I got a chance to walk around and I went to the old city of Jaffa and saw a view of Tel Aviv from the hill.

I also went with some activists to Al-Araqib, in the Negev. This is a Bedouin village which has been destroyed by Israeli forces at least 24 times in the last year. It gets destroyed and then rebuilt - like a game of cat and mouse. The Bedouins are Israeli citizens, but since they don't have titles to the land that are recognized by the State of Israel, the state has decided that there is a better use for the land. This better use is to make the land a forest funded by GOD TV, the organization of Pastor John Hagee, who is both a Christian Zionist and an anti-semite.

According to people in the village, the first destruction was the worst. There were helicopters and around 1000 troops, and they used rubber bullets, even though the people were unarmed and were waving Israeli flags.

The people I went with were circus people, and so we all played with the children doing circus things like juggling and rolling hoops.

At night I went out to what it turns out was the largest rally in Israel in a long time. At least 10,000 people, mostly young, were marching to demand affordable housing. I didn't think I knew anybody from Tel Aviv, but on the street I ran into the first person I met in Israel, the lady from Russia Today who interviewed me at the airport. She introduced me to some friends, and then later I actually ran into some anarchist activists that I knew from demonstrations in the West Bank.

So I thought that I would only check out the rally for a few minutes, but I ended up staying out pretty late.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Report from Palestine 7

by: Michael Berg

July 17

Today children spat on me.

I left Jerusalem and headed south to Hebron. When I got there I was looking for a hotel and a woman name Leila with a small store invited me to stay with her family for 50 shekels, so I decided to do that.

She lives in the old souk their store is kind of like a grotto in the Souk. The souk is an amazing place, but it is also sad, due to the occupation.

I went through the souk until I got to the checkpoint to get into the Ibrahim Mosque. The situation seemed familiar - I did this before 12 years ago. Leaving the souk there is a revolving door into the mosque area. Israeli soldiers control when the door does and doesn't move. At the gate they ask your for ID and then ask what your religion is. I remembered from before - the correct answer is Christian if you want to enter both parts of the mosque where Abraham and other biblical people are supposedly buried.

Israeli soldiers frisk all who enter the Muslim side of the mosque. When you go to the Jewish side they just look to make sure that you are the right type of person. The Jewish side consists of well over 3/4 of the mosque.

The mosque was divided after radical settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 people and injured around 100 more with a machine gun in 1994. (The Palestinian man who ended the massacre by hitting Goldstein over the head with a fire extinguisher was put in prison for years for murder). An almost equal number of Palestinians were killed in the subsequent Israeli quelling of the popular anger that came of it. Goldstein's grave is now a revered shrine for settlers in the area.

For settlers, however, the most important massacre in Hebron's history occurred 65 years earlier in 1929. In this year Muslim Palestinians killed 69 Jews. They were responding to a false rumor that Jews were planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. This attack devastated the already dwindling Jewish community in Hebron. It abandoned the town completely, then some people briefly returned, then they left again.

The Hebron settlement movement began in 1969 when a rabbi checked into the Park Hotel in Hebron and refused to leave. The Israeli government convinced the man to move into a military outpost near Hebron instead. From there he attracted followers and bit by bit they expanded the outpost into the settlement named Kiryat Arba. From this place on the edge of town settlers took over 5 other locations in the middle of town.

In other West Bank cities the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction over the central urban zones, but in Hebron a large section of the city is completely controlled by the Israeli military.

The settlers say that they are reclaiming the Jewish property taken in 1929. This is a bit of a stretch as a legal claim given that the settlers are not the decedents of the displaced Hebron Jewish community. But the principal is a just one - the hundreds of members of the Hebron Jewish community pushed out in 1929 and their decedents should be allowed to return. Of course, if this principal is applied fairly, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pushed out from their homes and farms in 1948 and their millions of decendents should be allowed to return to what is now called Israel.

In reality settlers have no real concern with the concept of fairness. I think that all the rhetoric about the 1929 massacre that I saw in the Gutnick museum and on plaques on their streets is there only because it gives a veneer of sanity to their lunatic ideas. They will not be content to control all the previously Jewish owned buildings. They want to control the entire city and kick all of the Palestinians out. To them God gave them this land - the people who are there right now are just in the way.

The settlers refer to Palestinians as rats and cockroaches. They call "Nazi" all who support the Palestinian right to, say, walk without having acid or urine or stones thrown at them. They are extreme - maybe the most extreme - but that are part of the same Zionist narrative that unfortunately shapes this land from Eilat to the Golan Heights: the colonizer sees himself as the native and sees the native as a colonizer.

I went on one patrol mission with the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). In 1994 after the massacre Arafat threatened to pull out of the Oslo process unless the UN came into Hebron to protect Palestinians from settlers. Israel would not allow the UN, but they did allow the multinational TIPH.

TIPH monitors the situation. They take photographs and make reports. They never touch anyone. Their people come from various European countries, mostly Turkey, Switzerland and Norway. A good friend of my family knows a member of the TIPH team from Switzerland. I had dinner with he and his wife in Bethlehem, they are very nice people, and they invited me and his sister and brother-in-law to see what TIPH does.

We started the patrol by walking down Al-Shuwadeh Street. This is next to the souk. It used to be the main street of Hebron, until the Israelis blocked it off from Palestinian use after the 1994 massacre. 350 people closed their shops as a result. Now it is a settler street - it looks like a militarized ghost town.

As we walked down the street Jewish settler children and teenagers surrounded us with bicycles. They screamed at us in Hebrew and English that we were whores and sons of whores. Then they spat on us.

It is a strange and not pleasant feeling to be surrounded by angry hateful children and soldiers and know that the soldiers are there to protect the children.

The daughter of the lady I am staying with has also been spat on by settlers, both times with no provocation. Once a week, accompanied by soldiers, the settlers lead a tour through the main souk. They sometimes spit on the Palestinian store owners. The second time a settler spat on this lady he also then shoved a photo of Baruch Goldstein in her face.

The settlers can do anything they want. They are never punished for their actions. A member of TIPH described a time when a settler child badly beat a Palestinian child. The Palestinian child was thrown in prison for 6 months.

Settlers have taken the homes overlooking the souk. The Palestinians have set up mesh wire above their stores to trap all the garbage and stones that settlers routinely throw at them. They also throw bottles of urine and acid. They have even thrown Molotov cocktails into the souk.

The thousands of Israeli soldiers and police in Hebron let them do this. So as crazy as the settlers are they are not an aberration, but instead an extreme case of standard Israeli policy.

One of the Turkish members of TIPH whom I went with told me his experience as a UN peacemaker soldier in Africa. He said he has been all over, in the poorest countries in the world, and Hebron is the most unfair situation he's ever see.

At night I spent time drinking tea with Leila and her family in her house. If you want to say "sweet tea" really really badly in Arabic call is Shy Hello. That's what I did.

The family hasn't had any water for two weeks because all the wells in Hebron are controlled by Israel and the settlements get most of the water.

She told me about a time when her son was getting bread and there were stones thrown in the area. They blamed her son, whom she said was innocent. They kept him for three months and beat him. She went to get him and became too angry and hit a soldier, and another soldier put a gun to her head and said he was going to kill her. She told him, go ahead, if you keep my son I don't want to live.

Her daughter married a man from Nazareth. The two met in Jerusalem. Because Nazareth is in Israel, on the other side of the green line and the other side of the wall, they can no longer be together. They can't get the permits. The man hardly ever gets a chance to see his children and wife, and the woman and children almost never see their husband and father.

I also talked to Paulette, a nun with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. They get between Palestinians and soldiers and settlers. They do what they can to non-violently protect people. She told me how last night soldiers entered a home and put everybody in a room at gunpoint. They then strip searched the family. This happened because settlers complained that their TV was too loud.

She said that the soldiers are constantly harassing people in the souk. 20 years ago the souk was so crowded that you could barely walk through it. Now it is almost empty.

I got a chance to walk around the rest of Hebron also. It is bustling and hilly. There are a lot of perfume shops and spice shops, and excellent fresh fruit. But from everywhere you see the military outposts and settlements.