Saturday, August 9, 2008

Zochrot:: Imwas, Yalyu & Beit Nuba

On August 1st, I participated in a small tour through Canada Park, lead by Eitan Bronstein, Zochrot's Director. Canada Park is run by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and lies thirty minutes outside of Tel Aviv in Occupied Palestinian Territory of 1967- ie. the West Bank.

For hundreds of years, the land where Canada Park was built was home to the Latroun area villages of Imwas, Yalyu and Beit Nuba, where thousands of Palestinian families lived. In 1967, tens of thousands of people were forcibly expelled from these villages by the Israeli military. Within a year after the expulsion, the military completely destroyed the villages including thousands of homes, schools, places of worship, and farmland. And just a few years later, Canada Park was established, “to conceal what happened," in the words of Michal Katorza, in charge of signage for the JNF.

Eitan told us a story of an Israeli they met who served in the military at this site during the 1967 expulsion. This Israeli man said it was the 'black year' of his life. It had been his job to make sure that all the houses were empty before they destroyed them. He remembers entering one house where an elderly Palestinian man remained. The elderly man said, 'for me to leave my home is like dying, so if you want to, destroy my home.' The Israeli man told Zochrot, this was the moment when he understood what he was doing. He naively talked to his superior, saying they should stop, which was promptly rejected and he then obeyed his order to forcibly remove the elderly man from his home. The Israeli man said in front of a Zochrot tour that it was wrong to do what he did.

(photo: Displaced residents flee Latroun villages as soldiers look on. Yoseph Hochman)

In a testimony given by ‘Aysha ‘Ali Hammad who is originally from Yalyu, he said, "I recall my first visit back to my village in 1978 to what is now referred to as 'Canada Park'… I told my children, 'This is the road to my father’s house, the road to the mosque. Here is where our house used to be.' Then I burst into tears... It is all gone."

On August 1st, we walked through areas of the park that have been forested and are rarely visited by park-users. Following signs that said "Roman Bath" in Hebrew (see photo, left) we found a Palestinian Muslim shrine- obvious by the architecture. Eitan said that the one piece of villages that Israeli courts do not give legal mandate to destroy is often the Mosques and other religious shrines. In this case, an excavation found a Roman bathhouse below the shrine, so now, all the signs in the park point to this bathhouse erasing the hundreds of years in between when Palestinians lived here. Next to the shrine is a cemetery with some Palestinian graves still in tact (see photo, right).

On a Zochrot tour of Canada Park a few years ago, they posted signs at the shrine and cemetary telling park-goers what they were. They soon got a call from the park saying the signs were illegal and had been removed. This turned into a public debate within the Israeli High Court creating in a lot of media about the issue and ultimately resulting in a mandate to the JNF to include Palestinian history in Canada Park signage. When the official signs were installed, they were soon vandalized and removed. Zochrot is currently fighting to get the signs back in place. (in this photo the part above talks about the Roman history and the part below (blackened out) is the part about the about the Palestinian villages).

In Canada Park there are commemorative plaques which bear the names of hundreds of Canadian donors to the JNF. In a JNF brochure it states that Canada Park is a “…a proud tribute to Canada and to the Canadian Jewish community whose vision and foresight helped transform a barren stretch of land into a major national recreational area for the people of Israel.” The commemorative plaques meanwhile, are hung on walls built from the stones of the houses from Umwas, Yalyu and Beit Nuba. Included on these plaques is the name Martin Luther King, which almost certainly refers to the famous fighter for human rights- a donation made in his name after his death.

During the last week of my trip, I began working with Zochrot on a project to educate these JNF donors about the violent history of Canada Park which bears their names, with the goal of furthering a public debate about the on-going Palestinian Nakba. If you're interested in supporting or getting involved with this project, please be in touch.

* The photographs and a lot of this information is drawn from: Where Villages Stood: Israel's Continuing Violations of International Law in Occupied Latroun 1967-2007 by Al-Haq in December 2007

Jewish Tradition & Justice in Palestine

Zochrot is the feminine form of "Remembering" in Hebrew and is the name of an organization in Tel Aviv where I volunteered for the last week of my trip. Zochrot [Remembering] is a group of Israeli citizens working to raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948.

Zochrot does many programs including tours of destroyed Palestinian villages within the 1948 borders of the Israeli State; educational programs about the Nakba (catastrophe); sign-posting where Palestinian villages once stood; art actions (ie. posting life size photos of refugees in the villages where they are from); and they recently hosted a conference to discuss different paths for the implementation of return for refugees from/to the Tel Aviv area.

On August 6th, Zochrot had a program different from its norm. Two Jewish community leaders/teachers from the United States came to lead a discussion about engaging Jewish tradition in a way that might be a useful lens for Zochrot's work. Eitan, Zochrot's director, introduced the program. He explained that for secular Jews in Zochrot Judaism has meant only Jewish nationalism- which is at the root of the problems they aim to confront. When we were told we would be looking at a text from the Talmud, the participants looked skeptical- Talmud!? But we began to study the following text...

Pleimo asked Rabi: “With regard to someone who has two heads – on which of them does he lay tefillin?"

We discussed- was this a metaphor for something else? Why was Pleimo asking this question? Perhaps it was legitimate, someone had two heads and they needed guidance about how to pray. Perhaps Pelemo was testing this important Talmudic Rabbi regarding his views on any one who was different. Perhaps Pelemo was mocking the entire tradition of asking challenging questions.

He [the Rabbi] said to him: “Either get up and be exiled, or accept upon yourself excommunication!”

We discussed- Why did the rabbi reply this way? What did it say about Pleimo's question? The Rabbi was expressing that Pleimo's question was out of bounds of what was acceptable. Either the Rabbi was offended because Pleimo was mocking; because a two-headed person deserved no regard; or because the concept of a two-headed person itself was offensive or absurd and thus out of bounds.

Meanwhile, a man came.
He said to him: A baby was born to me who has two heads. How much must we give to the priest?

We discussed- What does this say about Pleimo's question? About the Rabbi's answer? This shows the Rabbi in a bad light. The problem Pleimo brought was reflective of a real life situation that needed regard. Or perhaps this man with the two-headed baby was also an outsider, bringing a problem that would offend the Rabbi.

An old man came and ruled for him: you must give him ten Selah (monetary unit) (twice the normal amount).

We discussed- What does this say about this text? What issues does the text address? The old man lends legitimacy to the question and puts the Rabbi's authority into question.

We were also taught about liberation theology and were asked to bring the following line of questioning to our analysis of the text-- who was it written by? who was it written for? and largely, where did power lie amongst the characters of the story (the person with two heads, Pleimo, the Rabbi, the man with the child, the child with two heads, and the old man)?

We finally got to this- This text brings up the experience of those who raise difficult but important issues- especially about/for those in marginalized positions to those with authority or others who believe that the issue is outside of the bounds of what is legitimate. It goes beyond the idea that your audience thinks the issue is offensive- because moreso, they see the issue as impossible, not true, not existing.

This is true for Zochrot, an organization that raises a history of Palestinian expulsion before during and after the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. Even when Zochrot has concrete evidence (they do tours of destroyed Palestinian villages, for example) Israeli society attempts to deny the legitimacy of what they are teaching.
By the end of the program, the Zochrot members were surprised that a piece of Talmud could describe their experience in the world so well.

This study session was potentially the first of many for Zochrot- looking at Jewish tradition as a context for debate and understanding about their work in Israeli society. For me, the night became a look at, on the one hand, how upsetting it is that for secular Israelis Judaism has become equated with a dangerous nationalism; and on the other, how exciting the possibilities are for reclaiming and transforming Jewish tradition as meaningful and strengthening to the work of seeking justice in Palestine.

Friday, August 1, 2008

ID's, license plates, checkpoints, roads, the wall, watchtowers

Here are some stories / what I learned about the infrastructure of the Israeli State that controls the movement of Palestinian people and maintains a separate and unequal apartheid system...

ID cards issued by the Israeli government:

Blue ID card- 48 Palestinians (live inside the Green Line) aka "Arab Israelis" or Palestinian Israelis or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship; People with these IDs have Israeli IDs and Israeli Passports; they can travel inside 1948 borders of Israeli State.

Blue ID card- Jerusalem Palestinians (live in East Jerusalem); These people have Israeli IDs, but no Israeli nor Palestinian Passports, many have Jordanian Passports, but cannot live in Jordan; they can travel inside 1948 borders of Israeli State.

Green ID card- West Bank or Gaza Strip- Palestinian IDs and Passports; They can travel within West Bank or Gaza but not both (b/c they do not have permits to travel in between these pieces of land) and not within 1948 borders of Israeli State.

Orange ID card- West Bank or Gaza Strip- some elderly people given orange ideas before 1994; can travel within West Bank or Gaza but not both (b/c they do not have permits to travel in between these pieces of land) and not within 1948 borders of Israeli State.

No ID card- West Bank or Gaza Strip- 12,000 people were not given IDs or Passports (some were out of Palestine and returned in 1994) and now Israel is no longer giving IDs out (or at least not easily?); these people have a paper with a photo and a stamp and cannot easily travel anywhere (for some like the residents of Tel Rumeida where there is a check point on the street, that means even leaving the neighborhood is difficult)

License Plates issued by the Israeli government:

Green- Can travel only within the West Bank or Gaza strip not both (b/c they do not have the permits to drive between these two sections of land) and not within the 1948 borders of the Israeli State (Palestinians with Green or Orange IDs)

Yellow- Can travel in the 1948 borders of the Israeli State and within the West Bank and Gaza (only people with Israeli citizenship, blue ID cards or international citizenship (ie. US citizens can rent a car with yellow plates).

Check points and Roads:

This is Hawara check point. I took this photo while accompanying an almond farmer as he and his family members harvested the almonds. He has not been able to get regular permits from the Israeli government to harvest his lands and when he does, has been regularly attacked by local Settlers so he asked IWPS and ISM to accompany him in case that happened.

At the Hawara check point 2 w
eeks prior to me being there, a teenage boy was shot and killed by a soldier. The soldier's excuse was that he saw a wire attached to the boy- it was the headphones from his walkman. The soldier saw a teenage boy's headphone wires and shot him dead. On the day I was accompanying the almond farmer, there were very long lines of people trying to get to and from work.

Also in this photo, you can see a road below the check point. This road is a Israeli-only road. Only Israelis with yellow plates (so in this case, it serves specifically Israeli Settlers living in the West Bank) can use these types of roads despite that they are within the West Bank and cut through Palestinian-owned agricultural land and are often the closest and sometimes the only paved roads that connect to Palestinian villages.

This is the Bethlehem check point where Palestinians are forced to wait on long lines and scan their hands into a machine that tracks their movement. The sign you see is meant to greet foreign tourists to Bethlehem (a historically important city for Christians in particular). The Bethlehem tourist industry is almost entirely controlled by Israeli companies, so Palestinians do not reap economic gains of these travelers.

The Separation Barrier, The Apartheid Wall:

(Photos: 1- outside of Bethlehem; 2- in Bilin; 3- in East Jerusalem/Al Quds)

By now, it is clear I think that this is an apartheid system. I won't say much about the Wall except here it is - illegal under international law - in some places it's 30 meters high made of concrete and in others it is multiple fences eating up large amounts of land, electrified with barbed wire. It destroys or prevents farmers from harvesting hundreds of thousands of olive trees; it prevents people from getting to their jobs or forcing them to sneak through, taking 5 hours for 30 minute commutes, risking being beaten, or jailed; it divides families who lived in one neighborhood now cut in half by the wall; the list of human rights abuses go on. Historically, every wall like this has eventually come down. And so will this.

Watch Towers:

are everywhere watching people constantly.

1- at the entrance of Haris, the village where I was staying
2- Somewhere on the road in the West Bank
3- at the border to Jerusalem / Al Quds (I think but don't remember 100%)