[written by participant 'Schway']:
So I know I have not written in a while, my bad. Well this whole conflict is bad. I mean seriously, living and learning here changes things. I have been processing much of my experience in the last week. My perspective has changed a bit since my last post. It is difficult to explain the emotional and academic experience that has become a vital part of my journey here. But I will start with the trip we took to Hebron.
Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank. It has a sad history and the present isn’t much better. I will make it simple and just say that Hebron used to be a Jewish city, then an Arab city, synagogues were turned into mosques and then turned into the cluster of tension that is Hebron today.
Today the city is split with Arabs and Jews both living in the same community, but not being communal, I think you get what I mean. In 1994 a Jewish man entered the mosque and opened fire on Muslims that were praying, killing 29 people and wounding over 100. The Muslims caught him in the church, took him to a corner and beat him with a fire extinguisher until he died. The cities solution was to split the holy place in half. When I say holy I mean the Abraham mosque, where Abraham and Sarah’s tombs are. So needless to say, the tension of that day still lives in Hebron. Hebron is the only city in the West Bank where there are settlements in the city.
The presence of the settlements breeds a new tension. It was common when walking the city to see soldiers on top of settlement buildings, trash a foot high in the Arab balconies below them, and fences atop market places. The Arab vendors in the market for protection built fences above the walkway to catch the trash the settlers were throwing. When walking around the city everyone has guns, even though there are soldiers everywhere Arabs and Jews are carrying guns too. A man who was running a Jewish Museum and school in Hebron was quite keen on telling us all about his pistol.
We went to the Museum and took a tour and then listened to a lecture. He talked about the history of his people in Hebron and the fear they now face. He told a story about a time during the second Intifada when bullets from the Arab villagers entered his home and just missed his children. There are now holes in his wall to commemorate this event.
It was in his reverie when he made reference to his pistol and that he carried it at all times for protection. This was also the time when he stated that Muslims were trying to take over the world. Oh yes, he said that and it caused a stir among the highly educated students of the PSE program. I took that statement into consideration when taking a tour of the grounds.
When touring the outside and playground, I saw children playing under the watchful eyes of their mothers with their large purses over their shoulders and men in plain clothes with rifles over their shoulders.
As a saw these children their mothers and protectors on the playground I realized how much fear both sides of the conflict were living in. It was at that point that my narrative became a little deeper and my scope a little wider. I have always felt that to pick a side in this conflict would negate the victimization of the other and I just cant do that. It was then with the “other side” looking up at me that I finally saw my reasons. Before that moment my reasons were purely academic. But they were no longer, there they were, the flesh and bone of why this thing that we call the Arab-Israeli conflict is so complex. And why maybe, just maybe hearing both sides and praying for both sides is more important then picking one side.
Tent of Nations
Tent of Nations is a little place outside Bethlehem with a huge story and an even bigger heart. It is the home of David his family and a group of volunteers who make the farm into a shining beacon of hope for peace in Palestine.
David’s family has owned the 100 acres of land since 1916. His grandfather bought the land in 1916 and moved his family from Bethlehem onto the farm to live in a cave. At that time the land of Palestine was under Ottoman rule and it was required that owners register their land and pay taxes. Many people did not and if they did lets just say that the 100 acres became one acre. Not David’s grandfather he registered it all, saved the papers, paid the taxes and cultivated his land.
The papers came in handy under the British Mandate and the farm remained in the family. After 1948 the papers were not enough for Israel. David has spent over $170,000 trying to prove in court that this land is his and he will stay on it. He is still battling this and now the case is being heard in the Supreme Court.
His court battle started with ownership, then it was surveying the land to make sure all of it was his, third it was building permits and demolished structures, now it is blocking of access to the outside world. We had to get off the bus and walk because the road to his home was blocked off. His home is on a hill and his land also consists of the valley below. All around is Israeli settlements. He has done battle with soldiers and settlers, the Israeli courts and yet he still seeks his right to be on his land and states these rights through non-violent actions.
He also states his rights and mission through education. The home is now a summer camp. Kids come and learn about the struggle and the non-violent way to peace. They also learn the importance of heritage and of "mother earth," David’s words not mine. He teaches them about solar energy. And shares the story of until two years ago they had no electricity and now they run on solar power. He shows them how they use rainwater because they do not have running water. He teaches them how to plant trees and tend to crops and animals.
You get where I am going with this? Yea let me just say that this place is incredible and I was so moved being there. I also have a little Tent of Nations story to tell about myself…
A Little Arab Man Put Me On A Little Arab Horse
I got to ride a horse while I was there! I thought I heard horses when I was walking up the hill with the group. I asked David and he pointed to where they were and said to go with his brother. The little Arab man led me, just me, to share a few moments with a little Arabian horse named Radi.
Gosh, they are tiny! I had forgotten how little Arabians were, she was so cute. Well, she was cute when she wasn’t trying to bite me. J
When she wasn’t trying to bite me I was on her back. The little Arab man, I don’t remember his name so he will forever be “The Little Arab Man”, gave me a boost and let me ride her. He was completely comfortable after I told him I once owned six horses. I, of course, was completely comfortable riding bareback.
What a cool experience! I got to see the gorgeous mountains while trotting around the hill and saying horse commands in Arabic. I learned that to make an Arabian horse in Arab lands go you say, “D, D, D” instead of making the “click click” sound. And of course you use the Arabic word for go which is “yella”. Ah yes, it was very cool to smell like horse again.
Clarity on Settlements and Soldiers
So I was talking to someone who has a very negative view of settlements and those who live in them. It was actually a very intelligent conversation about the misconceptions of the occupying forces. I shared my feelings on the topics of settlements and soldiers in the context of the occupation. I thought it would be important to share them with you as well.
There are two types of Israeli settlements, economic and religious. Economic settlements are the ones that most Pro Palestinian’s tend to forget about. And I admit, until this conversation, I had forgotten about them too and how important they are in keeping that “deeper narrative and wider scope” I mentioned before.
To be Jewish does not solely mean that you are of the Jewish faith but that you are of Jewish descent. If you can prove that descent you have the right to live in your homeland that is Israel.
So lets say that you are a starving mother of five children in the Ukraine. Your family has still not recovered from pre and post World War I, and the scars of the Holocaust have yet to heal. Your starving, your kids are starving and Israel is offering you a place to stay, good school systems and health care. You take the offer for your family, your children, and their families. You arrive in Israel with your children and your grandparents, your taken to a hilltop that is the “subsidized housing” we call settlements. In the Ukraine you didn’t have access to TV or the internet and never bought papers because feeding your children bread was more important then feeding them knowledge. So here you are, in this new country and have no idea that settlements are illegal under the UN and that along with the worldly powers that be your Palestinian neighbors across the way think you have no right to be there.
You now live in an economic settlement, a conflict zone and 24 hours ago all you wanted was a better place to raise a family. What would you do?
Religious settlements are simple, they have their own synagogues and most residents are extremely religious and are the type that would tell you without hesitation they are Zionists and they should have their homeland. These are usually the settlers that are causing trouble, if you can believe that. The concept of “loving your neighbor as yourself” seems to be lost in this conflict.
When she made a comment about Israeli soldiers I reminded her that in a way the Israeli military occupation of Palestine has caused a conflict in the psyche of it’s own military. Most of the soldiers are just young adults, 17 to 24 is the average age of a person serving in the IDF. The adults are suffering too. The rate of drug charges, domestic violence, assault, and even sexual assault is off the charts among military vets. And remember there is nothing to truly measure the trauma these young adults have to face, and may never face.
I think our conversation opened her eyes a bit wider as the visit to Hebron did for me. I hope the same can be said about you and this post. After this post I hope that you have a better understanding of the occupation and how I am beginning to see it. If you don’t understand and don’t know how or what to feel, that is okay. You can pray and if you are not religious then maybe you can agree that life would just be a whole lot better if you “loved your neighbor as yourself.” And you can start today…