June 21: The Last Day–with Sikkuy, by Meagan Dashcund

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Our last meeting was with Sikkuy, an NGO comprised of both Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens who work within the Green Line to create complete equality for the Arab Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. The name, Sikkuy, is actually a shared Jewish and Arabic word that means opportunity or chance, which demonstrates the commitment this organization holds for equality through changes in policy. Founded 25 years ago, Sikkuy has shared roles with both one Arab and Jew for each organizational position from co-chairs of the board, co-executive directors, and co-program directors. We learned about one Sikkuy initiative on shared regional tourism in which Israeli Jews experienced Ramadan by visiting with Israeli Arabs during the holy month. Even though these citizens were practically neighbors, they had never truly seen each other as more than “the other side.” Hearts and minds were changed after participation in this program, and the Jews particularly started to see the Arabs as a people and a society.

We then were told more about Sikkuy and the goal of its programs. Overall, it focuses on two very key aspects: equality and shared society. Equality focuses on the material things such as government budgets. We learned about how the organization targets discriminatory budget allocation and our speaker, Gili Re’i, highlighted the problem with the gap between Israeli Jewish and Arab society. She told us that the larger the gap gets, the bigger the discrepancy between the needs of the two groups. Sikkuy first identifies discriminatory policies against Arabs and then focuses on breaking down the barriers that prevent the policies from being overturned. They then create recommendations to the local authorities, the Israeli government, or Arab municipalities on how to make the policies more equal. With regards to equal budget allocation, Sikkuy was able to make the Israeli government realize that it was not in the Israeli economy’s best interest to allow this gap to continue to widen. In addition, Israel faces pressure to close the budget allocation gap  because of its recent acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED). Shared society, on the other hand, focuses on feeling at home in the society, beyond the need for material equality. As a democracy, Israel must address the legitimate need for Israeli Arabs to feel at home in all public spaces in the country. The current state of affairs favors the comfort of the Jews. These public spaces need to reflect the existence of both Jews and Arabs which means that there has to be an equal use of Hebrew and Arabic in these spaces, among other adjustments, including a national anthem that cannot be sung by 20% of the population.

Sikkuy was a perfect wrap-up for our course as a whole. Not only did it provide us hope when Gili told us, “The government doesn’t want our work to be done, but we do it anyway,” but it solidified the concept of shared space and equality, and ultimately, the entirety of the course. The fundamental goal for Sikkuy and many of the NGOs and speakers we have met with is equality in resources and equality of shared space. It’s not just about material equality, though. The need for both Jews and Arabs to be able to move freely, interact without discrimination, and feel welcome in Israel is a part of the beginning of the end of the conflict. People throughout this month have told us that this is not a religious conflict, but it most definitely is a personal one. The feeling of being at home and Ofer Shinar’s comment on positive self image are just as important as the legal negotiations and policy equality that the Israelis and Palestinians have to work out together. Through the varying perspectives and the barriers to peace involved in this conflict, everything will come down to whether or not the Jews and the Arabs can see each other as people and societies, and not just the “other side.”

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July 20: Reconciliation—Lecture with Ofer Shinar, by Lisa Teitelbaum

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After a short break, we began the second lecture with Ofer. This section focused on the reconciliation process following intractable conflicts and the psychological barriers that impact it. First, he looked at the peace process from the perspective of attending to basic human needs. He briefly explained Abraham Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs. The most fundamental needs such as food and shelter are paramount. After that need is met next comes safety, then love, esteem, and finally self-actualization.

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Chart representing Maslow’s original theory

Ofer built on this theory to create his own hierarchy of needs that present themselves in an intractable conflict. They are knowing, mastery—control of the situation, safety, and positive self-identity. Ofer pushed us to understand why a positive self-identity was important for those involved in an intractable conflict. We theorized that how you see yourself dictated how you felt you deserved to be treated. Meaning, if you saw yourself or your society as less than another, then you begin to justify the mistreatment you face. While Ofer liked this idea, he also described an even more basic reason: in order to justify your actions, or the actions of your society, you need to view yourself in a positive light. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this meant that both Israelis and Palestinians needed to justify the actions of their side against the other in order to avoid guilt. Further, individual identity can influence and be influenced by societal identity. Even when someone tells themselves that “they” are doing that but it’s not me, they can not wholly disengage from the conflict. Often they reframe the situation to make it easier to digest. This can present itself as willful ignorance or the creation of explanations that make one’s personal or group’s actions justifiable.

We then looked at the socio-psychological challenges that an occupation brings. Firstly, “occupation” bears a negative connotation. It is characterized by inherent conflict, violence, wrongdoing, a negative attitude towards occupiers, and a temporary nature. At the same time, being an occupier is associated with greater power. More power means more responsibility. Slowly, the occupier becomes burdened by their occupier status. Ofer argued that even if the occupation can be justified for security reasons, it can’t be sustained because the Israelis can’t avoid feelings or guilt and shame, which is directly in conflict with the need for a positive self-image. As a result, occupiers, in any conflict, rarely accept the reality of their occupation. It is easier to perceive yourself as the victim, because as the victim you can’t be held responsible. He told us that it is difficult for Israelis to continue this self-exculpatory reasoning because there is so much media coverage presenting them as occupiers and oppressors. Often, even Israelis that are working for peace feel morally burdened. They feel responsible for the actions of the Israeli government and the deaths, even the deaths of Israelis caused by Palestinians. It’s difficult for people to wrap their heads around this, therefore they build barriers between reality and their perception of it.

 

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Map without 1967 lines displayed in Israeli schools.

Ofer also explained that these differences in reality and perceived reality often come from a lack of information. He demonstrated this with a map of the land that hangs in every Israeli school. This government-issued map does not make any distinction between Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, or the Golan Heights. This goes back to a secret (at the time) government decision made after the 1967 war not to mark the 1967 lines, the internationally recognized borders that mark the “occupied territories.”. To Israeli youth, this map presents an image of the land as all being Israel. It obscures the issue of occupation. How can the settlers be living in “occupied territories” if there is no boundary on the map to show that there is a distinction between Israel and the West Bank? The result of these warped realities are that Israelis don’t understand the true extent of the occupation.

Ofer concluded his lecture by discussing a new approach to resolving the conflict by building two states in one space. He screened this short video to introduce us to the concept, and referred us to the document that he and others (including Riman Barakat, our guide during our 5 days in the West Bank) worked on under the auspices of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. We have provided these links to the video and the full document since our group was struck by how different this approach is to the much-discussed “two-state solution” and we think more people should hear about it.

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Screenshot from Youtube video explaining two states in one space proposal.

Ofer presented a system similar to the European Union in which both states have separate sovereign identities but are economically and governmentally connected. He said that the formation of a joint governance body would have to happen gradually.This will enable a fostering of mutual, deep-rooted trust. By merging their industries, like Germany did with the rest of Europe, another major violent conflict can be prevented. He did not think this would be a stretch because both Israel and Palestine share the same currency and there are a number of private industries that operate in both territories. The difficulty Ofer sees in this plan, or any plan really, will be the two sides coming to terms with their own guilt. Unless they are able to negotiate their own history, they will not be able to move on.

 

June 19: Community Conflict Resolution, Dialogue and Mediation, by Selena Gould

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Today, we had one meeting in the morning with representatives of three organizations that work with community mediation and social services:

  • Baruch Sugarman: Director of the Department for Community Services, Ministry for Social Services/Social Welfare, and Inter-Ministerial Committee on Community Dialogue
  • Joni Ohrbach: Regional Manager, Center for Consensual Conflict Resolution
  • Orit Yulzary: National Director, Project Gishurim

Together, these government agencies and the NGO’s contracted to provide services aspire to increase community building, participation, problem-solving and empowerment through community-based work and services. Each program is specially designed for each community to ensure a high quality of life and equality according to the community’s specific needs. This follows a “bottom-up approach” by creating change starting on a grassroots level rather than the national level. Furthermore, these organizations address interpersonal and/or local conflicts, including those that are not related to the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as those that are inevitably linked by virtue of involving Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens.

Baruch described the overall direction of his agency’s programs as promoting community resilience through cultivating strong leadership and responsibility for local problem-solving among the different members of the community. He emphasized that solving community conflict is urgent because by addressing and solving conflict situations closest to their source prevents escalation into more difficult conflict or even violence. He also talked about his agency’s support to creating resilience centers that can deal with natural and man-made crises with emergency response teams. With resilience, the community can aid those in need in incidents that happen in their community.

Another initiative is community-based economic development regarding employment, the utilization of the community’s economic capacity, and urban renewal. This initiative focuses on consensus building at the local level in order to come to a decision that can influence the way that the state-level economic development proceeds. When not done with a community-based approach, urban renewal can destroy and displace communities.

As we transitioned to the more specific work on community mediation and conflict resolution, we learned that these programs are located in urban centers and rural areas, in Israeli Jewish towns and cities, in mixed Israeli Jewish and Arab cities, and now for the first time, in Arab towns. Cases can be referred by the police, the courts, schools, psychological services, community services or self-referrals. we heard about the range of issues that this program addresses:

  • Veteran Israelis in relation to new immigrants (which often involves significant differences of cultural background)
  • Secular in relation to religious Israelis
  • Formerly urban dwellers moving into rural villages
  • Daily life conflicts among neighbors involving such mundane but problematic issues like noise, trash, animals, parking, etc.
  • NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) attitudes towards government-supported programs for physically or mentally disabled people

The program approaches conflict as a natural and normal part of community life, and helps to give people the resources to constructively manage these issues so that a community is strengthened rather than torn apart. Mediators come from the communities themselves. They are volunteers who are trained.

When these daily conflicts involve Israeli Jews and Arabs, there is always the potential for the local conflict to turn into a flashpoint for national conflict, or vice versa, national-level tension can take a “simple” neighbor conflict and cause it to escalate quickly. For this reason, the program not only approaches its work by “reacting” to conflict situations, but also approaches conflict pro-actively. For instance, significant effort is put into building alliances across religious and ethnic lines so that when a national-level incident occurs, they can prevent violent reactions at the local level.

Baruch stressed that these mediation programs are connected to social services, since an individual conflict case may be a symptom of larger issues of inequity or a gap in social services. The mediation case may lead to the involvement of other municipal agencies or state-level ministries to get involved to identify appropriate programs and services.  

A key issue that emerged in this discussion of local conflict involves differences in culture, whether between Israeli Jews who are Ashkenazi, Mizrachi, Ethiopian, Russians, etc. or between Israeli Jews and Arabs, or between various social divisions within the Israeli Arab population. The programs work to build strong multicultural communities and cultivate leaders who can work across these differences. Community “dialogue” is a key element of the program’s work. Dialogue does not always solve a conflict but aims to at least break down some of the barriers and create understanding for both parties. An important aspect of this community dialogue is understanding how the expression of emotion is different among different cultures.

Our presenters shared particularly powerful example of a pro-active intervention. In 2008 when the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, and the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, fell on the same day—one a serious, somber holy day and the other a celebratory festival—there were incidents of tension, and in the city of Acre, riots broke out. When they realized that the same coincidence of timing would happen again in 2014. and this time with the added tension of following the summer 2014 Gaza war, the Gishurim program made a serious commitment to prevent tension and violence. The staff developed brochures and videos, recruited local municipal and community leaders, and got the endorsement of the Muslim sheikh and Jewish chief rabbi. They promoted a “Acre City of Peace” campaign in Hebrew and Arabic, explaining the holidays and encouraging calm. Muslim and Jewish leaders proclaimed “Our role is to build an equal society without violence and without racism.” The video, “Two Holidays/Two Nations—One Day”  is clearly a powerful statement of building a shared society:Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha 2015.

Joni talked about “restorative justice,” which in some ways is like mediation, but goes beyond the immediate victims and offenders to involve their support systems and community members. She gave the example of working with a Palestinian taxi driver who was assaulted by ultra-religious Jewish youth when he accidentally drove through that neighborhood on the Jewish holiday Purim. He was badly beaten, and his car was badly damaged. Not only did the offenders and the ultra-religious community provide the driver with material compensation, but the rabbis communicated to their community how important it is to respect others and treat them with dignity, even and especially on Purim when the religion allows and encourages drunkenness and excess. The point of restorative justice, Joni explained, is to not only address the specific case but also to repair community relationships that have been affected by the actions of specific individuals.

At the end, our speakers reflected that this work is like running an ultra-marathon. They quickly added that the reason this work is effective is that while their work is always in the shadow of “The Conflict,” they are working on local, solvable conflicts and tie their work to resources for community development. Baruch’s closing words were, “It’s a long-term commitment. We all live here. No one is going anywhere.”

June 17: But I Know How You Make Pickles, by Sally Matlock

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Today we met with Dr. Simon Lichman and Ms. Rivanna Miller of the Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage. This group runs a School-Community Pairing Programme primarily between Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Israeli schools, and in some cases with Israeli Jewish students and Palestinian students from refugee camps in the West Bank.13479432_10209532707378415_1801873369_n

The schooling system in Israel is divided between the Israeli schools and the Palestinian schools. One of the many problems with this system is that the two groups do not learn about each other. The goal of The Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage (CCECH) is to bring the two classrooms together. CCECH works with the natural desire for young people to both break with their families to establish their own identifies and yet stay connected with their identity group and heritage. The CCEH pairs two schools (one Palestinian and one Israeli) for a two-year commitment from each class. CCECH works in the schools independently throughout the school year, and brings the children of the same classrooms together 3 to 4 times a year.

In the first year, the topics have to do with play and the evolution of play through the years and through different cultures. CCECH draws on a pedagogy called “folk arts in education” which uses attention to everyday activities and students as active learners. In both classrooms, the students, grades 4th to 6th, ask their parents and grandparents about what games they participated in as children. Through this learning, the students realize that they themselves are part of larger historical processes and cultural traditions. They learn to see themselves within a changing world.

For example, almost all societies have some form of “hopscotch” that the children play. However, across the world, the game varies. European Jewish versions have Abraham, Moses, and Isaac at the top because the game symbolizes going up to heaven, which actually contrasts to a European Christian hopscotch version in which the player has to avoid the top spot which symbolizes hell. Common Arab forms of the game have the path form flower shape. The children are expected to ask more questions about how their grandparents grew up playing. The point of this exercise is to help the kids learn by involving the family. It is to show the students that what they take for granted was not always there. For instance, when a student’s grandfather tells a story about how he used to play in the empty lot by the school which is now a mall the student gains insight to how the world around them grows and changes. After the children from both schools learn about the different toys and games their grandparents participated in as children, it then comes time for the two classrooms to come together to teach and play together.schoolcommunity

The joint events have parent and grandparent volunteers along with teachers trained by CCECH staff. Simon described the beauty of two groups of school children, teacher and family members that widely are seen as opposing groups coming together. The parent volunteers teach the Israeli and Palestinian children in small mixed groups the different games they played as children.

Simon described one instance where he saw a mother of a Palestinian girl looking at her daughter being taught a game by a Jewish student’s mother. Simon asked the Palestinian mother if she was okay, for she had taken a seat and seemed to be thinking. The Palestinian mother responded that she never thought she would see a day where a Jewish woman would be teaching her daughter with such love.

This group brings together children that have been told their whole lives that the “other side” hates them; however, when they are brought together and allowed to spend time together to play and learn, they take the beginning step to understanding.

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Students from both Israeli and Palestinian schools making pickles together

In the second year of the program, the same two classes meet several more times. This time instead of teaching each other different yard games, they will learn about each other’s food ways and religion. Almost everyone in Israel, Simon explains, has their own pickle recipes; therefore, in the second year, the two classrooms often make pickles together along with many other foods. In this meet-up, the children (along with volunteer family members) will bring in their recipes for making pickles. The classes come together to share and make the different recipes. Other times they will make their traditional bread recipes. All of this is in the name of learning about each other, but even more important are the casual conversations between the groups. Through the stories shared over the cooking and baking, the students and parents learn about the other groups’ everyday lives, along with their commonalities and differences. CCEH does not force the groups to talk about politics or the conflict; instead, the group is encouraged to just learn about each other through these interactions that are such rare occurrences for both sides, breaking the image of the Israeli as “army” for the Palestinians and of the Palestinians as “potential terrorists” for the Israelis. By making things together and teaching each other, the groups are humanized.

For example, there was a meet-up of two classes that had a few grandparents volunteers. One of the Jewish grandfathers asked Simon if he could say a few words before they started making their recipes. The grandfather then shared with the joint class that he was a Holocaust survivor. As he sat in the concentration camp, he promised himself that if he ever got out he would eat his favorite food, sauerkraut, every day for the rest of his life. He then shared his recipe with the class. His story not only touched the room, it also allowed the Palestinian children to be shown the horrors of the Holocaust through a personal story– something they would never get from a class in their school.

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Ikram talking to Dr. Lichman about teaching

Also in the second year, the two groups teach the other school about their religion. They go to synagogues and mosques with religious leaders who show the children the sacred texts and other objects associated with prayer and study. This is important because each child’s society has misconceptions of the other. By teaching the children and telling the stories of the religion, CCECH works to end some of these misunderstandings.

Through these lessons the schools form relationships with each other. After the devastating loss of a faculty member and student at a Jewish School in Jerusalem to a terror attack, the Palestinian partner school responded by sending letters of condolences. Even more than the relationship that the children build is the ripple effect it can cause by sharing their stories. When people go to a place that is foreign to them or they think is dangerous, and then this misconception is proven wrong the effect can be profound. CCECH focuses on the multiple contacts between the schools. Simon emphasized that it takes more than one meeting to end prejudices. For this reason, CCECH insists on the two-year partnership commitment. In fact, CCECH has continued to work with some of these same schools over a much longer period of time, and now has seen parents come in as volunteers who actually participated in the CCECH joint programs as children! The program works. CCEH looks at the feedback from the alums of the program, and the group receives loads of stories saying how the program helped open their minds. After yesterday with Yahav Zohar who was so cynical and critical of NGO peace building work, CCEH was a reminder that NGOs do great, life-changing work, even if in this case it is on a small scale.

June 16: Bedouins- An Invisible People, by Norma Park and Taylor Lezhen

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Negev Desert

Introduction

Today our group traveled to the furthest point south we have been thus far in Israel: the Negev Desert. Here we spent the day learning about the Bedouins, which are an Arab semi-nomadic group whose Arabic name literally translates into “desert dwellers.” Our guide for the day was Ali, a Bedouin who grew up in a Hura, a governmentally recognized village (we will expand on what this means a bit later). We learned early in the day that the Bedouin, though Arabs, identified with Israel after the 1948 war and are one of two Arab groups in Israel (the Druze in the Galilee) that can serve in the Israeli army.

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View of the Negev Desert from our bus

On the bus ride to our first destination Ali gave us some background information about the Bedouin people who live in the Negev desert. This group came over from Saudi Arabia and the Sinai desert in the mid 19th century. Today about 450,000 Bedouins live in the Negev desert, making up about 40% of the Arab population in this area. These Bedouins who live in Israel are the first in the world to give up their nomadic lifestyle and live in towns. Bedouins who live in the Northern Negev lead less traditional lives than those in the South and are more connected to Israel and modern society. Bedouins were nominally Muslims since the 7th Century, but according to Ali did not become “religious” Muslims until Islamicization entered their culture in the 1970s from Gaza. Today they hold traditional Islam practices such as fasting during Ramadan, praying 5 times a day, and have mosques in their villages. Many Bedouin villages are unrecognized by the Israeli government. Without recognition Bedouins face the risk of being forcibly removed from their land at any moment as they are technically there illegally, despite the fact that they were on the land long before the establishment of the Israeli State. In attempt to consolidate this people, Israel forcibly moved them into different parts of the Negev in the 1950s, yet they still technically do not have ownership over the land. These unrecognized villages do not receive electricity, water, infrastructure, or other basic necessities.

 

Al-Sira

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Sign outside of Alsira (spelling error on the actual sign) which was made by the community itself, not the State of Israel

Soon we arrived to our first stop, a village called Al-Sira. Here we met Khalil Al-Amur, a kind and hospitable Bedouin man who invited us into his home and showed our group around, all despite the fact that he was fasting for Ramadan and must have been thirsty and hungry. He told us this hospitality in receiving guests is a trait of Bedouin culture and apologized for not feeding us. Khalil began by letting us know that Al-Sira is an unrecognized village and is thus “invisible” to all who are not Bedouins. Their community has no signs and does not appear on maps. To raise awareness of their existence, Al-Sira created their own road sign at the entrance (see attached picture), which has their village name and a symbol to show how the Israeli government could demolish their village at any moment. Khalil and his community do not see themselves as victims and are working to be recognized. Due to their lack of recognition, this community has no public transportation and is not connected to the electrical grid.

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Khalil showing us the solar panels

Despite the lack of State provided resourcs, the citizens of Al-Sira demonstrate ingenuity in the way they use their local resources to create fulfilling lives in the Negev desert. For energy, this village uses a generator for emergencies and solar panels for basic everyday needs such as LED lighting, washing machines, and sometimes to watch television. When Khalil noticed the olive trees on the land were dying, he rigged a grey water system to revitalize them. The oil production of these trees tripled since the system was put in place. Khalil also set up transponders that successfully brought Wi-Fi signal to the village. The community is able to have a functioning library, mosque, and youth center for its citizens. These are just a few examples that demonstrate the resourcefulness of Khalil and his fellow community members.

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Blue dots = unrecognized villages; Green spots = Israeli built Bedouin towns; Red square=newly recognized

Upon sitting us down and serving us tea and water, Khalil presented a map of the Negev that was created by representatives from the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages of the Negev representing 45 unrecognized Bedouin villages, in order to show what the land actually looks like, since these villages are not acknowledged on official Israeli maps. According to Khalil, the purpose of this project was to say, “We are here, we are not invisible, you can see us” to the Israeli government which refuses to recognize them. Since the completion of this project in 2006, 11 out of the 45 villages have been recognized. The 45 Bedouin villages continue to fight for 100% recognition.

Khalil went on to describe the historical context of the Negev, also known as Naqab in Arabic. In 1948, at the time of the declaration of an independent Israeli state, 19,000 Bedouins lived in the Negev. Israel expelled most of this population out to Jordan, Egypt and the West Bank. Today Jordanian and Egyptian Bedouins have distinctly different accents and cultural traditions to those living in Israel. After the 1948 war many Bedouins were displaced to a reservation area within the Negev desert named the Siyaj after their land was confiscated due to the absentee property laws. While there was no fence or physical force keeping them confined, Bedouins were under military rule until 1967 and needed permission to leave the area. Only 11,000 Bedouins stayed in the Negev area after 1948, with the rest of the population in diaspora.

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Khalil showing us the Bedouin made map of Israel

In 1969 Israel created 7 towns to “solve the Bedouin problem” and concentrate the people into towns rather than have them spread out throughout the desert. Israel has offered the Bedouins in unrecognized villages to move into recognized villages and gain all the benefits associated, but in order to do so they would have to forfeit 4/5ths of their current land holdings. The goal is to take the Bedouin land and change their nomadic lifestyle, thus placing “maximum Arabs into minimum space.” The citizens in these 7 towns, which are recognized by Israel, make up about 50% of the Bedouin population. After Israel had to withdraw from the Sinai in the 1980s after the Camp David Accords, the State proceeded to confiscate 80,000 dunams (20,000 acres) to create new bases for Israel’s air force.

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Building where we drank tea and listened to Khalil

Are these recognized cities good solutions for Bedouins? Khalil described the violence, poor education, and high unemployment that exists in these areas compared to the rest of Israeli society. For example, since 1998 the village of Al-Sira has relied on a 1-inch pipe to provide for their water access. Israel continues to push Bedouins into cities and encourages this with house demolitions, which have been increasing. Last year 800 Bedouin “illegal” houses were demolished in the Negev! Even Bedouins who serve in the Israeli Defense Force (Bedouins have their own units and have served with distinction) have returned from war to find their homes destroyed. According to Ali, Israel doesn’t want co-existence, they want to replace Bedouins with Jewish villages.

During the Gaza wars that took place over the past 10 years, the Bedouins in this area were especially vulnerable to attacks. Since the army saw the land as an open area, when rockets came over from Gaza and hit innocent families no one talked about it and the State of Israel refused to answer any questions. Unrecognized villages are not allowed to build protective shelters since they are living on the land illegally, thus making these Bedouins especially at risk. Upon hearing this, our horrified group asked Khalil what his family would do if they heard a rocket coming. First he explained that his community has no sirens to warn them of incoming rockets, unlike Israeli towns near the border. The only thing families in the unrecognized Bedouin villages can do is pray.

Um al-Hiran

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Our groups looks out to the Negev Desert

After successfully driving through very rocky terrain in the hills of the Negev desert, thanks to the skill of our bus driver Ze’ev, we arrived at another remote Bedouin village: Um al-Hiran. Here we met with a village leader to hear the story behind this village and the struggles the community faces as unrecognized Bedouins in the State of Israel. Upon arriving, our host greeted us with “It is nice to meet you, especially during this holy month [Ramadan]. There are 500 people in this village, and all 500 welcome you.” This brief introduction was extremely touching; a man we had just met and who lives so differently from any of us, was so willing to welcome us into his home. This is similar to the warmth we received from Khalil. Our host continued the introduction by telling us how his village is a thriving and productive one with everyone working or attending school. Despite the lack of services they receive from the State, he said that this village boasts a 0% unemployment rate and an ability to make the most of life.

Um al-Hiran came into existence after the 1948 war and is mostly made up of refugees from other parts of the Negev and Gaza. This Bedouin village, like many others in the Negev, is unrecognized by the State of Israel since villagers cannot produce the Ottoman-era land claims to prove their ownership. As a result the community faces constant risk of demolition. After being dislocated several times by the military, the people of this village were finally placed in the land where they live today in 1954, with almost nothing to their name. Between the 1950s and 2000s the village survived many challenges.

Just a few years earlier the State of Israel planned to build 11 Jewish towns in the Negev without consideration for the Bedouins. As a result, Arab leadership created a committee to fight for reconsideration. This led to Israel promising Bedouins that 25 out of the 45 villages in the area would have recognition, however by the time official documents came to fruition, many fewer villages were actually recognized than originally promised. While Bedouins have made it clear that they are ready to co-exist with Jewish neighbors, it is clear that the government wishes to replace the area with Jews rather than create a mixed community.

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Ali shaking hands with the village leader we met

In 2004 the government created a plan called the Be’er Sheva/Negev Development Plan which aimed to demolish Um al-Hiran and move the citizens to a neighboring village. The process of leaving everything behind and starting over in a new location that could also be demolished in the near future was not an attractive option for the Bedouins. Citizens from the village went to the courts to protest these demolition orders; however, the courts sided with the Israeli government. About 10 years later in May of 2015, the government gave this village a few options to choose from instead of living on the land where they are currently located, which they still planed to demolish to make room for a new Jewish moshav. For example, the minister of agriculture suggested the Bedouins leave the land for 3 years and then buy it back after the demolition is complete. They could also live in nearby Arab villages, however these Bedouins view this area as having lower living conditions than they currently have. Essentially this community is trapped with no good choices of where to build their lives.
Our host concluded by saying that Um al-Hiran is once again in the process of applying for recognition. He hopes that other Bedouin villages as well as the Israeli government can learn from their experience and realize that co-existence is possible. The village will continue to work hard and spread their optimism and devotion through community service and tourist meetings such as this one. Meanwhile, we observed work already proceeding to clear space for a new Jewish village which will be called Hiron.

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Our group with Ali!

After grabbing a bite to eat in Beersheba, we sat down with Ali to hear about AJEEC/NISPED, an organization he’s involved in which aims to help Bedouins develop socially, economically, and politically within the Negev desert. There are 3 departments in AJEEC/NISPEDD: children and women’s health, economic development, and youth volunteering. The children and women’s health department sponsors campaigns on how to avoid disease and illness, for example informing citizens that inhaling smoke while working can lead to cancer which is quite common among Bedouins. They work to convince women to go to doctor’s visits and check for breast cancer since many do not understand the actual risk breast cancer poses. They even created a hotline where women can call to ask medical questions and have mobile clinics where they can have checkups. They also have campaigns to prevent intra- family marriages and underage marriages, which both have high rates in the Bedouin community. Since the 1990s education among Bedouin women has become more common which has led to increased health outcomes in recent years, although there is still much work to be done.

Next Ali very briefly touched on the economic development sector of AJEEC/NISPED. The organization teaches shepherds to be more effective in their field of work and also teaches them to deal with cattle so they have a larger skill set in their agricultural field. He also talked about Wadi Attir, which is home to one of the largest agricultural projects in the Middle East. Here they are learning how to fight desertification, using the Negev as their laboratory. They also take Bedouin products from this area and share it with the world.

Finally Ali talked about the youth volunteering programs that he was involved in right after high school. Ali had devoted a full year to national service instead of joining the army. There are two program options for youths: helping in your own community or in a joint Jewish/Arab program which partners members from these two communities together to volunteer in schools and communities. Ali explained that in this collaborative program, students are able to see beyond nationality and language and see their peers of the opposite community for the first time. He described his work in a village called al-Sayid which has a large deaf population due to high rates of intra-family marriages. He discussed how his time volunteering there was an eye-opening and emotional experience, and how despite their disabilities, students in the al-Sayid school were extremely talented and good at math. Overall despite the different backgrounds of the Israeli Jewish and Bedouin kids who volunteer with this organization, they all have similar interests and find ways to work together towards a better future for Bedouins.

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Sitting in the mosque in Um al-Hiran waiting for our host to welcome us to his home.

Conclusion

At the end of the day Ali concluded by discussing the identity issues that most Bedouins face in their lifetime. When looking to their family, tribal, Arab, Palestinian and even Israeli identities–all of which may all have conflicting goals and ideas–it’s difficult to understand where one belongs. Many Bedouin youth try to be like Palestinians or Israelis in an attempt to fit in. Ali believes that violence, crime and Islamic radicalization that exists in the Bedouin Negev community stems from this identity crisis, making it a serious issue. Overall it was an amazing experience to be able to hear about the struggles of the Bedouin people first-hand from some amazing speakers. Bedouin are just one of many neglected groups in Israel

 

June 15: “The House Is Burning as We Speak” Revisiting Jerusalem with Yahav Zohar, Shisheng Zhou

Ticho

In the afternoon we sat down with Yahav Zohar, a tour guide who has been involved in many NGOs. After we introduced ourselves and our motives to come to Israel, he warned us about the over-representation of the NGOs we have been exposed to. In his opinion, the NGOs feed on foreign attention but they do not represent any mainstream viewpoints regarding the conflict and cannot do much to bring about a change. He also said that we have been fed an NGO bias from left-leaning groups.

As he began his tour, he started by arguing that 1882, when the first Aliyah began, was not the key date for understanding the beginning of Zionism. In 1831, the Egyptians conquered Palestine. They were later pushed out by Ottoman Empire with the help of European powers in 1840 with the condition to open up the country. He argued that 1840 is the true beginning of the Zionist story because European influence has begun to sweep over the region. With European merchants and tourists entering Jerusalem, the locals developed the region according to their European fantasy to satisfy Europeans’ oriental fantasy.

Jerusalem is neither a port nor a crossing point of rivers. So what makes Jerusalem one of the most important cities in the world? Yahav argued that people who feel emotionally connected to Jerusalem contributed to and shaped the city more than the locals did. Therefore, the first Aliyah was the result of 1840, after which Germans and Britons started to come to Jerusalem to prepare for the second coming of Jesus.

We first visited the Russian compound. The first sight that I saw was the Holy Trinity church. In the 19th century, Russian Orthodox Christians took pilgrimage seriously, thus making the Holy Land a must-go destination. To accommodate incoming Russian pilgrims, hostels and a consulate were built. Following the emergence of the Soviet Union, pilgrims stopped coming and the place was confiscated by Britain. The hostels for pilgrims served during the British Mandate as a prison for Palmach members and other pre-state resistance forces. After the establishment of Israel this compound continued to serve as a prison. Yahav mentioned a specific interrogation room called “Room No. 4,” where terrifying interrogations against Palestinian teenagers took place during the first Intifada.

RUssian compound

The Holy Trinity Church

Then we walked past the Holy Trinity Church to a parking lot that used to be camps for the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. During his visit in 1898 the Ottoman Sultan gifted this land to Wilhelm II, who marched into the city with long sword and armor. This particular event, argued Yahav, created tension between Jerusalemites and the Europeans because the sight of Wilhelm reminded them of the crusade.

Meanwhile, Herzl perceived Wilhelm’s visit to Jerusalem as a great opportunity to meet this potential Zionist partron, and made his visit on October 18, 1898. However, Yahav said, the German Kaiser gave Herzl little attention. Throughout his entire life, Herzl had only spent two weeks in Jerusalem. Yahav noted that Herzl was not trying to fulfill his Zionist dream from the inside of Jerusalem, but rather through European diplomatic efforts. As a product of European education, Herzl foresaw that the Ottoman Empire will eventually be conquered by the European power, and he believed that all he needed to do was to get “his piece” when the empire crumbles.

Walking into an alley, Yahav pointed to our left, identifying the houses that once belonged to the Jerusalemite (Palestinian) Nashashibi clan. Diverging from many Jewish narratives, Nashashibi families welcomed immigrants in 19th century and tried to break down the religious and cultural barriers by persuading the immigrants that they are a part of the country/city. The Grand Mufti of Palestine (of the rival Husseini clan) at the time viewed Zionism as a colonial scheme by Europeans to conquer Palestine, but the Nashashibis rejected this idea and continued to offer support to incoming Jews. After the Balfour Declaration, street attacks against Jews emerged, and the Haganah (pre-state Jewish defense forces) was formed in response to the violence. The Nashashibi families were in support of the Haganah, as they deemed it reasonable to defend when being targeted. Despite the strong support from a Palestinian clan before the creation of the state, the Nashashibis were seldom mentioned. There were plaques that honor the Haganah force in front of the former Nashashibi houses, but the the Nashashibi family that supported the Jewish immigrants never appeared.

In the same neighborhood, we visited the house where Eliezer BenYehuda wrote the Hebrew dictionary and essentially revived the Hebrew language from an ancient, sacred language of prayer and holy texts to a modern language. Using Hebrew language in daily life was considered sacrilegious at the time. However, Israel as a new nation needed a national language as part of its identity. Ben Yehuda even forbid his children to speak other languages than Hebrew.

Across from Ben Yehuda’s house stood an Ethiopian church, indicating the strong historical religious ties between Ethiopia and Jerusalem. Ethiopians trace their connection to Jerusalem back to the days of King Solomon, who married an Ethiopian queen. According to Ethiopians, their queen bore Solomon a son, and for that reason, the Ethiopian Church is the true heirs to King Solomon’s legacy.

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While we sat outside the church in the shade on another hot summer Jerusalem day, Yahav told us about the life of Boris Schatz, a Lithuanian Jewish artist who was appreciated by the newly found Bulgarian state and worked towards creating prototypical images and sculptures that help forge Bulgarian figurative tradition and history. He later founded the Bezalel School in Jerusalem, and helped build Israel’s national artistic culture in the visual arts. Schatz too lived in this neighborhood.

The next stop was the former B’nai Brith library, also in this neighborhood. Founded in the early 20th century, this library later turned into the National Library at the Hebrew University. The famous scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, was connected to this library. Although he was secular himself, he became a major figure in the modern scholarly work on Jewish religion and its holy texts.

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The B’nai b’rith library

 

Yahav argued that Zionism was built upon two pillars: one being the history of persecution of Jews and desire for safety, the second being a core of Jewish religious ideas. The first pillar is crumbling, Yahav claimed, because if Jews want safety, the best place to go is the United States. A Jew is more likely to be killed for being a Jew in Israel than anywhere in the world. Yahav noted that Gershom Scholem advised against the use of the second pillar, and in his day, warned Zionist leaders that they cannot expect to build a democratic, secular Jewish state using a religious basis.

Lastly we visited Ticho house, where Dr. Abraham Albert Ticho worked as an ophthalmologist. He performed free optic surgery for people all around the Middle East. During a Palestinian riot in 1929, Dr. Ticho was stabbed and wounded. Arab countries condemned this action. Yahav regarded 1929 as a turning point of this conflict. Yahav also mentioned Dr Ticho’s neighbor Rabbi Kook at the time. Rabbi Kook also recognize the power of religion, but he encouraged the secular Zionist leaders to use the classical Jewish motifs and ideas as a way of framing the Zionist enterprise, and in a way, to “fool” secular Jews to returning to the holy land. At one point he even described secular Jews as “the Donkey that carries Messiah into Israel.”

Ticho

Ticho House

As a closing comment, Yahav warned us again about the dangerous illusion and bias that NGOs gave us. He described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “more attractive conflict” that has almost become a tourist attraction. Also, that this conflict is central to the story of the Western civilization. Conflicts that take place elsewhere such as in Sudan and in Syria are far more deadly and inaccessible. Lastly, he asked, what can outsiders to for this conflict? Less, was his answer. His view is that foreign powers should stay away. What can we do, he asked? Ask critical questions about American policy. Take a critical look at the role of Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. policy towards Israel-Palestine. And finally, encourage a more informed view of the conflict back in the United States.

 

PS:

Yahav said his house was literally burning as we spoke.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/huge-forest-fire-rages-in-jerusalem-outskirts/

June 15: B’Tselem

Years of Occupations

We began our day at Hebrew University with Danya Cohen, a speaker from B’Tselem, which is a human rights organization that documents the thousands of human rights violations that have occurred during the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1989. B’Tselem is a Hebrew word that recalls that the Hebrew Bible’s reference to God creating humankind “in the image” of God. B’Tselem, “in the image,” is a fitting name to an NGO devoted to human rights.

Danya emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability, two facets that Israeli society lacks severely, and explained that the intent behind their work was by no means malicious as the government contends. Rather, B’Tselem attempts to introduce transparency and accountability into the fabric of Israeli society by exposing the hidden realities of occupation that persist to this very day. Danya explained that B’Tselem does not advocate for any particular political stance, and confines its activity exclusively to documenting and disseminating Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories.

Danya initially described the size and scope of the organization, which was truly surprising. I was shocked to hear that B’Tselem employs only 37 individuals, 11 of whom are Palestinians that “act as eyes and ears on the ground” in order to collect pertinent information in regards to human rights violations that Israelis are unable to due to several barriers. During the 2014 War in Gaza, for instance, approximately 2,100 people were killed as a result of Operation Protective Edge (literally translated to Cliff’s Edge), and B’Tselem’s 3 Gazan employees worked tirelessly to collect all the data that was required to analyze the casualties which would otherwise never surface. In addition to documenting and publishing human rights violations.

 

B'Tselem
btselem.org

Danya also mentioned that B’Tselem used to coordinate with the IDF’s military investigation unit in order to indict military personnel that were involved in the violation of human rights during their service. Since the year 2000, B’Tselem has brought over 700 cases to the IDF for military investigation, which have essentially bore no fruit and as a result, B’Tselem decided to publish a document entitled Operation Fig Leaf on May 24, 2016 to share the IDF’s reluctance to search for justice and propensity for cover-up (hence Fig Leaf). In fact, Danya said that the military investigation unit was “twice as likely to lose [a] file than reach an indictment” of one of its military personnel.

Danya also elaborated on house demolitions, which are familiar phenomena in the occupied territories. She described the difference between “punitive” and “administrative” house demolitions, the former being an act of retribution in response to a terror attack and the latter being a legal strategy to displace Arabs/Palestinians from their homes and property. After B’Tselem filed a law suit against the punitive house demolitions, and the IDF determined that the demolitions did not act to deter terrorist acts but instead acted as a trigger and justification for retaliatory acts against Israel, the Israel government suspended punitive house demolitions in 2004. Under Netanyahu in 2014, these illegal demolitions have been reinstated. Danya also raised this notion of “demolition rage,” in which hundreds if not thousands of homes were demolished in a relatively short period of time. In April 2016, for instance, the number of demolitions over the course of four months surpassed the number of demolitions from the entire year of 2015.

Regardless of the countless challenges B’Tselem faces on a daily basis, they believe it is of the utmost important to continue documenting and publishing the countless human rights violations that the Israeli government carries out against Palestinians in the occupied territories, since the occupation is nearing its 50th year and will continue if the reality remains suppressed. Danya noted that the results of a public opinion survey that B’Tselem conducted within Israel suggest that Israelis “know more than we thought” about human rights violations in the occupied territories, but that “willful ignorance” is widespread. “People don’t want to know” even if they are aware, Danya said.

 

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btselem.org

June 14: Iftar with Omar-A Young Israeli-Arab’s Perception of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by Ikram Rabbani

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Once our morning session with the Parents Circle ended, there was nothing left on our agenda for the rest of the day. The truth of the matter, however, is that most if not all of us were emotionally exhausted and felt depleted after hearing such heart-wrenching stories. It was only 13:00 and we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Although some took advantage of this precious time to stimulate the Israeli-Palestinian economy in the Old City of Jerusalem, others felt the need to spend some time alone either catching up on work or sleeping on a very comfortable couch before meeting for dinner and our next informal session with Omar, my roommate at Hebrew University.

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Omar, Shisheng, and Ikram’s Apartment

Omar is a 23 year old Palestinian student at the Hebrew University, studying pharmaceutical engineering and currently finishing up his last semester at Hebrew University. Over the course of our trip, I have had the privilege of being Omar’s roommate and had phenomenal conversations about life in Israel-Palestine, especially the countless challenges he faces on a daily basis because of his identity. In addition to hearing the opinions, perspectives, and experiences of adults involved in a myriad of organizations, we thought that it was also necessary to listen to and understand the experience of youth in Israel-Palestine. As a result, we organized a dinner and conversation with Omar in order to learn about his narrative and how he perceives life in this intractable conflict. Although we attempted to invite more Palestinian students to this event, some were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts and others simply refused to participate for varying reasons.

Omar began by sharing memories from his childhood in Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish city near Tel-Aviv. He described growing up around both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, which was apparently not as common as he thought once he entered Hebrew University. Omar distinctly remembers coming home from school and watching both Israeli and Arab shows, as well as hanging out with his friends that came from all walks of life, and this significantly shaped his identity and how he perceived himself. Once he left Lod to attend Hebrew University, however, Omar began to question his identity due to a wide variety of interactions and experiences that left him unsettled. Although Omar’s identity as an Arab was less provocative in Lod, he immediately noticed the “preferential treatment” that Arabs received in other areas of Israel-Palestine. Speaking Arabic in public, for instance, became an action that drew a great deal of unwanted attention and Omar began to “feel eyes on [himself] all the time.” In fact, simply “looking Arab” was a sufficient reason for Israeli police or military to stop, interrogate, and search Omar at any time. As a result of these experiences and countless others, Omar was compelled to engage in a process of self-identification and redefine himself, an arduous journey that continues to this very day.

Omar described the difficulty he faces calling himself an “Israeli-Arab” since the Israeli government and Israeli citizens, specifically Jews, will not accept him as an Israeli, even though he was born in this land. In addition to this, he struggles to claim his Arab and Palestinian identity due to the inevitable and potentially dangerous conflict that these identities create in the current state of Israel. He says, “This is my land. This is my home. But people tell me otherwise, so where do I go? Where is my home?” In addition to this internal conflict that Omar and many others like himself face on a daily basis, Omar also discussed the societal impacts of having such conflicting identities. Omar believes that there is a disturbing level of segregation and inequitable treatment that exists in the state of Israel, and unfortunately Arabs like himself are perceived and treated as inferiors to Israeli Jews. He describes the stark differences that exist between Arab neighborhoods and Israeli neighborhoods, specifically the lack of infrastructure, water, and basic social services such as sanitation and law enforcement. Issawiya, for instance, is an Arab neighborhood that is right next to French Hill where the Hebrew University student dorms are located, and it is perhaps one of the most disadvantaged communities in Jerusalem, if not all of Israel-Palestine. The extremely high rates of violence, poverty, and unemployment are only exacerbated by Israel’s negligence, which is why some locals refer to Issawiya as “Little Gaza.” The reality that Arabs in this community are forced to contend with, even as Israeli citizens, is truly disheartening and lead Arabs to believe that the Israeli government does not actually care about them as human beings. Although Omar believes that the Israeli government should be held responsible for the unspeakable conditions that many Arabs live in, he also feels that there are many issues that exist within Arab society that contribute to its deterioration.

 

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“The Beginning”: Entrance to Issawiya

 

Surprisingly enough, Omar was one of the first Arabs that we have met that openly shared his criticisms of Arab society and argues that it is just as important to hold a mirror up to oneself and acknowledge shortcomings or weaknesses. Arguably the most destructive aspect of Arab society, according to Omar, is violence. He explains that heated altercations within families and social circles are very common, and often result in violence or death, which is unfortunately a component of their culture. Additionally, the fact that there are poor socioeconomic conditions in these neighborhoods, such as a lack of adequate education and recreational activities for youth, contribute to a significant increase in the amount of intra-Arab violence. Furthermore, the accessibility of weapons in Arab neighborhoods only expedites violent activities and creates a cycle of violence that is nearly impossible to eradicate. Although these issues exist within Arab communities, Omar also believes that the lack of law enforcement contributes to the continuation of violence and high rates of homicide. Even when Arabs require the services of law enforcement, they are certain that they will not receive any assistance and no longer bother to call the Israeli police. Omar compared the response to an Arab killing another Arab to a Jew killing an Arab, and believes that there would be no investigation or justice served. He said, “I’ll leave it your imagination why this occurs.” The response to an Arab killing a Jew, however, would be as easy as picking up an object from a table, which he demonstrated in front of us. Regardless of these challenges, and countless others like them, Omar still believes that it essential for him to be hopeful for a brighter future.

Omar described the overwhelming prevalence of pessimism and lack of hope that exists within Israeli-Arab society. He believes that this further deteriorates the conditions of Arabs. Instead of perpetuating despair, Omar feels as if it his responsibility to have hope for a better future and encourage the younger generations to emulate this as well. He said, “If I lose hope, then who will have hope in the future? I need to have hope so that others may have it, as well.” Although Omar acknowledges the difficulties he faces, he feels blessed to have the opportunities to study and make an impact on his community, and chooses not to dwell on the pain and suffering that exist all around him. Omar finished by explaining why he thought it was important to share his perspective, experiences, and opinions to a group of American students that might not ever have this opportunity again. He believes that many forms of media paint a negative image of Arabs and present a one-dimensional perspective that is stigmatizing and highly inaccurate. Subsequently, he felt the need to share his narrative and encouraged us to search for many others as well, because this conflict and the lives of the people affected by it are multi-faceted. It is impossible to understand such complex issues without adopting a multi-narrative approach.

 

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Graffiti in Issawiya

June 14: Shared Pain, by Meagan Dashcund

For what turned into the most emotional experience of the trip, the group had gathered into a Hebrew University International School’s classroom. We first met with two individuals, Moira Jilani and Rami Elhanan, from the NGO Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. This organization is responsible for bringing together families –Israeli or Palestinian – who have lost loved ones in the conflict. Joint activities, education, and public meetings, all are resources for this organization to demonstrate that reconciliation between the two nations is possible.

It was in the fluorescent-lit classroom that Rami and Moira shared with us their heartfelt stories. Moira is a mother of three, originally from Barbados. She moved to Houston, Texas when she was ten-years-old. She met her husband, Ziad Jilani, at the University of Houston, where he was studying to be a pharmacist. When he proposed to her, he said three things: he will eventually return to Palestine, his children must be Muslim, and he will never be divorced. When she asked about the possibility of multiple wives, he claimed he was a poor man and that even though the law would allow for him to have four wives, he was in love with her, and that was that.

On June 11, 2010, Moira said goodbye to her husband for the last time. He had gone to Al-Aqsa mosque to pray while their three daughters, Hana, Mirage, and Yasmin, stayed home with Moira after having just finished their final exams. The family had plans to go to the beach when Ziad got back. At 1:30 PM, Moira called to inquire the whereabouts of Ziad. She assumed he had left his phone in the truck when she received no answer. Half an hour later, her niece came to the house; her face red and filled with tears. Moira screamed Ziad’s name. Her niece told her that she should come to her mother-in-law’s house next door, and although Moira was only dressed for the beach, she ran down the street. 500 men were gathered outside and confirmed what Moira feared to be the truth.

There were three customary days of mourning. In that time, Moira received thousands of people at her house to support her and pray. Although she only knew a few hundred of those who came, she explained that it was customary for everyone to come out when someone is shot and killed in Jerusalem. For the most part, Moira had only heard that her husband was killed for his “terrorist actions.” Knowing that Ziad was neither a political activist nor a violent individual, she yearned for the truth. Three days later, Moira met Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist known for her reports on Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. It wasn’t until Amira asked if she could go and discover the truth that Moira was able to find out what actually happened that day.

Amira found out from eyewitnesses that Ziad had been in his truck, coming back from prayer, when there was a demonstration causing a traffic jam in Silwan. Protestors from the demonstration threw rocks that shattered his windshield. When he attempted to get out of the situation, the side mirror of his car bumped into an Israeli soldier, who fell down. Israeli soldiers suddenly started screaming at him, calling him a terrorist. They started shooting wildly, hitting a young girl waiting for her father outside of a butcher’s shop, another elderly man nearby, and Ziad. Much later, when Moira walked into the Israeli High Court of Justice court room to for a hearing about the two border policemen who killed her husband, she told them that she expected nothing from the courts. She said that it was clear she was considered a second-class citizen in this country and that justice would not be found by these judges for the man who shot her husband. Approximately 30 people – friends, family, and neighbors, some who had come all the way from the US – showed up in court to support Moira. There were both Palestinians and Israeli  members of the Parent’s Circle present. Moira looked back to this time and said that even though she did not get justice against Ziad’s killer in court, the hope she received from the support of these people was a different kind of justice. When one of our group later questioned her if she felt anger, Moira claimed that she does not believe in revenge. She has seen the soldier who killed Ziad, and he is a much different man now than he was before. She said, “God is doing His thing to him, more than I could ever do.”

After hearing Moira’s story, we were all deeply touched. This was a woman who had suffered so much, and was still able to tell her story over and over again, without shedding a single tear. In Amira Hass’s report on the Israeli news website, Haaretz, she wrote that Ziad was shot and left lying on the ground. Even when he was still alive and still not a threat, Palestinian eyewitnesses claim they saw Israeli soldiers shoot him in cold blood and hit one of Ziad’s family members for trying to help him. What hurts even more to read, is that the Israeli media at the time was reporting that this was a failed, vehicular terrorist attack in which the terrorist was killed. If you care to read the article, you will find many more inconsistencies with what you might think is proper law throughout the investigation of Ziad’s death.

http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/otherwise-occupied-why-they-shot-him-in-the-head.premium-1.510669

Nevertheless, Moira ended her tale with a glimmer of hope. She talked about the women’s group, Steps for Peace, and how she was welcomed in for a “jamming session” hosted by an Iraqi Jewish Israeli woman, during which women made jam, ate Iraqi food, and shared recipes. Moira lightly joked about how difficult it was for Palestinian women to give up their recipes, but how important it was in this moment to share. Not only were these women sharing recipes, but their stories. The key, Moira claimed, was simply to sit over food and share stories.

We then heard from Rami, a Jewish Israeli. He smiled as he told us his name and leaned over, gesturing to Moira. He said, “This is my sister. She is one of the closest people to me, even closer than some of my family, because we have shared pain. She is a leader. She is a light in the dark.” Rami was born in Jerusalem, a 7th generation Jerusalemite. His mother, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, was also born in Jerusalem. His father spent one year in Auschwitz After his liberation from the death camp was later nursed to health by his mother, and that is how Rami came to be there today. He introduced himself by saying this: “I am an Israeli, I am a Jew, but first and foremost, I am a human being.”

Rami explained that 42 years ago, he was an Israeli soldier fighting in the Yom Kippur War (1973). He lost many friends in the war and when he had finished his service, he was bitter and angry and wanted to detach himself from the pain. He went to art school and became a graphic designer. He married, had four children, and 23 years ago on Yom Kippur, welcomed his daughter, Smadar into the world. Rami smiled as a spoke, telling us how amazing she was – she swam, played piano, danced, was filled with happiness. He was working as a graphic designer at the time for anyone who would pay him, left wing, right wing, it didn’t matter. He had completed his goal and was fully detached from the atrocities of the outside world. Nineteen years ago, on September 4, 1997, two Palestinian suicide bombers took their own lives in Jerusalem along with the life of 14-year-old Smadar. Rami said that it was the beginning of very long and cold night – one that continues to this day.

Rami explained that there are seven days of mourning in Jewish culture, called shivah. During this time, he questioned what to do. He told us that revenge was easy to feel, natural even. But he had to stop and ask himself, “If I kill the whole world, will she come back? Will killing anyone ease the pain?” For almost a year, he tried to go back to his normal life as if nothing had happened. He recalled the day when a very stereotypical left wing-looking Israeli man named Yitzchak Frankenthal invited him to talk about peace amongst a group of parents who had lost children. This man had also lost a son to Hamas. At first, Rami was angry at this man for even suggesting peace was a possibility, but curiosity got the better of him and he eventually agreed. Palestinians came to be with him, crying for his loss and their shared pain.

This was the first time Rami had ever seen Palestinians as human beings. It was this moment that convinced Rami to devote his life to spreading his message, “We are NOT doomed. We can change it and end this cycle. We MUST talk.” Rami explained that he believed people can learn to listen. The price of the other way, he claimed, was much too high. He then told us of their one great ally, which was the power of shared pain. He said that people could use it to bring darkness and destruction or to bring light. And just a little bit of light can get rid of a whole lot of darkness. He told us that we all bleed the same blood and feel the same pain. Even though the Jews are a people with 3,000 years of victimhood and fear of extinction runs in their DNA, he refuses to use his victimhood to victimize others. For a race that never forgets, he claims, reconciliation is the only hope.

The Parents’ Circle/Family Forum’s website has dozens of stories just like Moira and Remi’s. Some are written as letters, while others are warnings to families who may have not yet suffered. After a while, unfortunately, the stories begin to blend. Every loss was an unexpected bomb in someone’s life and a transformative period for each family. The how’s and why’s almost stop mattering because the sense of loss is the overwhelming force that drives each story. However, out the of pain and the suffering, there is one shared pain that with it comes one shared message: hope. Moira and Remi emphasized their demand for us: not to necessarily be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, but pro-peace. Through dialogue and understanding the humanity of the other side, there is hope for these two nations. All we have to do is share.

http://www.theparentscircle.org/Home.aspx

Afterwards, we spoke with Maya Kahanoff, who, along with a Palestinian co-researcher, took on the role as evaluator of the dialogue work of Parents’ Circle/Bereaved Family Forum. She began by speaking about her daughter. When her daughter was in 11th grade, she went to see the concentration camps as a part of a school trip. When she returned, she asked Maya how something like that could have ever happened. It was a question that we had heard at Yad Vashem and many times afterwards, and it is a question I am sure we will continue to hear. It was this experience as a mother that made Maya interested in the work between Israelis and Palestinians. She continued with statistic from the Bereaved Family Forum’s Dialogue Encounters for Youth: 1,400 Israeli and Palestinian youth, 63 dialogue programs, and one transformative process.

In general, Maya said, the Palestinian youth enter with anger while the Israeli youth are ignorant. While there are many narratives heard in these dialogues, the Israelis are often unaware and are hearing these perspectives for the first time. Maya claimed that this ignorance was a defense mechanism and talked about an Israeli “siege mentality,” which is a shared feeling of victimization and defensiveness. She told us that it is this sort of mentality that prevents dialogue, and it is this mentality that leads to apathy. In the Israeli society, apathy has led to a lack of trust, narrow perception, black-and-white judgements, and the blocking out of the suffering of others. To that end, Maya argued that empathy is necessary, which does not entail agreeing, but simply being willing to feel for the pain of all.

Maya repeated the message of Rami and Moira, and told us to try to understand, but not necessarily to choose sides. In her graduate-level course, Maya also tries to teach her Palestinian and Israeli students to respect the pain, empathize, and especially to be more reflective and critically analyze the information given to them. She told us about a particularly religious student who gave a presentation on an NGO that involved religious Jewish settlers talking to Palestinians and how, although she was skeptical at first during the presentation, she was reminded afterwards of the importance of including everyone’s perspectives.

Maya then spoke about the Holocaust. She acknowledged the existential threat we have heard about since our first day from Dolev and the powerful role it continues to play in Israeli society. She spoke about how the Israeli government often uses these powerful emotions to intensify the fear of the people and abuse its influence. Physically, the Israelis are stronger. Through resources, land, economy, international aid and support, the Israelis are the stronger party. However, mentally and psychologically, the situation is more difficult. She told us that from what she has seen in her class, it is important to discuss pain and create opportunities for attitude change so that both sides stop dehumanizing one another. Dehumanization only leads to the legitimization of killing. Maya ended her talk in a similar fashion as Moira and Rami: with hope. The only way to break the apathy, she claimed, was to raise hope even when the political leaders were using fear. Peace building requires this. She would know firsthand. According to her evaluation, 77% of the participants of Dialogue Encounters for Youth said they had an increase in their positive impression of the other side.

The take-away message was the same as many we have heard before in this course. Respect the other side, empathize with the pain, critically analyze everything you are told. Something that was particularly fascinating about Maya’s evaluation, that we have also heard in other talks, was the non-linear transformation in perspective. She described two phases. First, there’s euphoria. There is a sense of revelation that there is a completely new side to this conflict. Then (and this is the much longer phase) there is contradiction, and here you move forward and backward and hopefully forward again. This phase involves constant debate between what to believe and what to change about one’s beliefs. It isn’t easy, and one doesn’t have to agree with everything you hear from the “other side,” just respect the pain and empathize. In Maya’s words, “See others, but then see yourself in the others’ eyes.” Only then can the peace building begin. She noted at the end that in her view the most powerful work takes place behind the scenes, not in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue sessions, but in the sessions for Palestinians and Israelis separately and in the interior work that each participant undertakes.