Sophia's Peace Work

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Whose "Generous Offer?"

An old friend wrote me recently to share some thoughts and a book review by Ethan Bronner on the book "The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace" by Dennis Ross, the memoirs of "the central figure of American Middle East peace policies." Ross worked under the 1st Bush and under Clinton and was intimately involved in the 8 month long peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis that started with the July 2000 Camp David Summit.

My friend also encouraged me to seek out ordinary Israelis to get a more balanced view of the complex struggle going on in Israel/Palestine. I really did agree with all of his comments and I found the book review very interesting. I do know that most Israelis just want peace (My team mate, Rebecca cynically cracked, "Yeah, all they want is peace and quiet"). We’ve been told that most of the settlers in the West Bank are economic settlers … that is, they were enticed here with low-interest loans, freebies and perks (when I heard about some of the great deals they get it almost made me want to convert!). Many would be happy to leave if the government would assist them to do so.

I have to admit that I do get a skewed image of Israelis by just seeing the Hebron settlers and the soldiers. But that doesn’t mean I should disregard the situation I’m in to search out a balance that simply doesn’t exist here in any ordinary sense. Its the work that CPT does … putting themselves into a conflict zone where the situation has become so polarized as to appear outlandish to normal, peace-lovin’ folks. There is no way, in the short time I’m here that I can get a complete picture of what is going on. It would take many trips, perhaps over many years, to fully grasp it. In the West Bank you are just overwhelmed with all the bizarre things that are going on … issues that the Israelis I have met (mostly working in the anti-Occupation camp) have told me that Israel proper is largely ignorant of.

I must also admit to being more confused than ever about Barak’s “Generous Offer.” The book review my friend sent me says, among other things, that in the final negotiations Arafat turned down the offer that would have given the Palestinians all of Gaza and 94% to 96% of the West Bank. This has been a highly disputed claim, which Israel often points to this as the definitive proof that it has "no partner for peace."

After reading the book review, I referred to a book called Obstacles to Peace by Jeff Halper, who is with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He quotes Barak as stating in Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper, a year later: “It was plain to me that there was no chance of reaching a settlement at Taba (the final meetings held in Jan 2001). Therefore I said there would be no negotiations and there would be no delegation and there would be no official discussions and no documentation. Nor would Americans be present in the room. The only thing that took place at Taba were non-binding contacts between senior Israelis and senior Palestinians.”

Halper continues by saying, “The 95% figure comes from Clinton’s proposal (of 96% concessions, excluding East Jerusalem); to which both sides felt the need to respond favorably, but with “reservations.” According to Barak, Israel’s reservations filled 20-pages.”

To me this muddies the water as to what was really being agreed to or at least responded to “favorably.” Clearly Clinton and Ross had clarity on what was on the table … but does it follow that Arafat and Barak did? This seems like it was Clinton’s “Generous Offer” not Barak’s. Even if Arafat had agreed to the proposal, was Israel in full acceptance of it? One Palestinian we met said that the offer was simply that Palestinians would get the prison but Israel would keep the key.

Anyway so much has been written on this whole issue and I still don’t know where the truth is … nor do I think it particularly important. I’ve come to the conclusion from my work both in Iraq and Israel/Palestine, that I’m a pretty simple person … although I love history, I have a difficult time finding the trends of cause and effect, of who did what to whom or who got where first. It’s all a difficult tangle that is pretty much beyond me. I don’t really care who is “right” and who is “wrong.” We are where we are. We have Arafat, for better or more likely for worse. We have Sharon who is no sweet package himself.

And I wonder about this oft-quoted comment that “there is no partner for peace.” Is this like Dorothy clicking her heels … the wishing of it making it so? Or is there an element here of the pot calling the kettle black? To have a partner for peace, one must also be a partner for peace.

I’m not sure about any of this but I do welcomed the comments of my friends and readers. I especially enjoyed a quote from Ross's book about Arafat, “He could live with a process, but not with a conclusion.” That describes Arafat and a whole lot more!


And now, as a farewell to my friend David Enders who flew back to the States a few days ago, here's a picture of his last night in the Middle East.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Shabab Go Wild

Just got back from Jerusalem and all hell has broken loose here in Hebron. There is a major prison strike/fast going on in Palestine ... it's hard to meet a Palestinian who hasn't had someone from his family incarcerated. When we arrived back in Hebron and were walking down the hill to the Old City where we live, we heard tear gas canisters popping and there were alot of Palestinian Shabab ("Youth") hanging around ... up ahead we could see more on rooftops throwing rocks down, presumably at soldiers though I couldn't really see them. The Shabab were out of control and some started throwing rocks at us. It was really chaotic. Some of the kids were trying to help us and the rest were taking out their aggressions on us. They pushed Christina, an elderly New Zealander, down on the pavement and I had but ass pinched more times than I could count. We finally got away from them and then down to the square above the Old City.

A TIPH (Temporary Presence in Hebron) patrol was there and told us that it had been going on all day ... apparently it had partially been started by a demonstration by families in support of their relatives in prison. We finally went home, dropped our bags and headed back out on patrol back up to the square. Just as we were approaching we heard another tear gas canister go off ... there were four Israeli Army trucks lined up in the square with lots of soldiers hanging around and up the street, where we'd been before, it looked like an impromptu barracade had been erected.

There were now six of us watching (4 CPT'ers and 2 TIPH's) and eventually things calmed down. As we watched, we discussed the situations and wondered how we could intervene in any kind of nonviolent way.

"The best and only way I've found so far," said Cal, a newly arrived CPT'er, rejoining the team, "is just to observe."

"You know none of this would be happening," said Mia, another newly returned CPT'er, "if the Israeli soldiers just didn't come into the square."

"It's a face off," I said, "Palestinian Shabab against Israeli Shabab."

As we stood there, along with a few Palestinian kids watching, an old woman walked by and admonished the children with us to get off the streets and go home. There were few adults to be seen ... only here and there a few parents rushing their children through the area.

I looked at the kids and thought, "Hmmmm, if I were their age, I'd probably be sneaking out onto the streets too. They probably find this all very exciting."

Finally the Israeli's drove off and the whole show was over. We walked back, through the quiet (thankfully) Beit Ramano Checkpoint and into the Old City to our home. There were some Palestinian boys slaughtering and skinning rabbits on our street ... either for dinner or for market. We didn't stop to ask, slightly unsettled by the sight of the bunny massacre after all the craziness we had just witnessed.

I'm ready to end this day.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Mediterranean Sea: I love that big salty sucker ...

Just returned to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. It was nice to have a few days off for a change and ah, to swim in the Med! Heavenly, even with the crowded beaches. My earliest dream was to live between the mountains and the sea (sounds like my home in Port Townsend, Washington). But in Washington the water is far to cold to stay in for very long ... the Med is a different story though. Oh la la! It was only strange to be in Tel Aviv and Jaffa (one of the the oldest sea port in the world ... we're talking Jonah and the Whale here ... Perseus plucking Andromeda from the rocks with his winged-friend Pegasus). Tel Aviv is just a western city ... with few elements left of Arab or Middle Eastern culture. Jaffa, which has the most Arab flavor, is a tourist attraction. Here is what the Lonely Planet has to say about it's history.

Jews had lived lived here since atleast 1840 and by the end of the century, Jaffa had become a major gateway for boatloads of arriving immigrants. There were tensions between the new arrivals and the existing Arab community and, in 1921, these boiled over into full-blown anti-Jewish riots. The riots were to recur every few years (this is also the time of the Hebron Massacre) until the decisive fighting of 1948, which saw the defeat and subsequent flight of the majority of Jaffa's Arab population, leaving the ancient town in Jewish hands.

I've been told that there are Palestinian families in the West Bank, Gaza and in refugee camps scattered through out the surrounding countries that still have the keys to their old homes in Haifa, Jaffa and other cities and towns of Israel.

What is also striking about these coastal cities is the obliviousness that hangs over everything. Aside from the odd graffiti about Sharon, Arafat or the Occupation, there seems to be little awareness of what is happening only a few miles away to the East. I don't mean that people don't talk about what is going on ... it is all over the newspapers ... it's just that an hour away is a form of Apartied is going on but here it's nightclubing and sunbathing, bare arms and midriffs. It's bizarre and disconcerting to travel from one place to the other.

I have to admit though that after months of walking around in a fish bowl it is nice to be just another anonymous Westerner. Tomorrow I'll attend the service at the Lutheran church in the Old City and head back to Hebron.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I've come to Tel Aviv with my friend David to see him off on his flight back to New York. I was hoping to meet with an environmental group (Friends of the Earth - Middle East) that has an office here. They work on water issues primarily between Jordan, Palestine and Israel. I was hoping to get information about how one does fundraising in this part of the world, but unfortunately the Director is in Jordan so I'll have to come back later. Instead I'll take a few days off to relax before heading back to crazy Hebron.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

How do you write about Hebron

I’ve been struggling with what to write concerning my time here in Hebron. Making the transition from the occupation in Iraq to the occupation in the West Bank has been … unsettling. Strangely, in some ways, I find Hebron less safe than Baghdad. In Baghdad, the danger, though pervasive, was unseen and faceless. A mortar shot from miles away. A roadside bomb concealed in a cardboard box. I didn’t travel to the areas were active fighting was going on and so I never knowingly saw an Iraqi insurgent. Here in Hebron, there is a tension that troubles people’s brow. A settler passing whose face clouds with anger when he sees you. A soldier that is just so pissed at the world for being stuck in Hebron that he wants to take it out on someone. A Palestinian teenager so frustrated and angered by the constant indignities he faces that he walks down the street behind you whispering, “Fuck you. Fuck you.”

You can’t ignore the Occupation in Palestine. It is ever present, hanging over your head like the trash that the Settlers throw down upon the Palestinians in their settlements that are literally built on top of Palestinain homes and businesses.

Nothing I write can really convey the madness that is Hebron. What is going on here is completely unacceptable, strange, and bizarre. And yet, it continues year after year. A few days ago was the 75th anniversary of the massacre of the Jews in Hebron. In 1929, during a period of rioting and unrest caused by the rising tide of Zionism in Palestine, Arab vigilantes slaughtered 67 Jews in the city of Hebron. The Settlers have a museum to commemorate it and a few days ago, during the anniversary, there were marches and speeches made by the Settlers and invited guests. I think there even was a member from the Israeli Knesset who came to speak. I’ve written before that the Settlers either don’t know or refuse to acknowledge another fact about that incident. Before the unrest of the 1920’s there was a period of several hundred years of harmony between the Jewish and Arab populations of Hebron. And during the massacre itself, approximately 400 Jews were saved by their Arab neighbors.

My friend David, a journalist that I met in Iraq, is here with his friend Samantha. Sam has been living on a Kibbutz in southern Israel for five or six months now. A good Jewish girl that was not aware until she started traveling around the West Bank with David just had incredibly terrible this occupation truly is, for both Israelis and Palestinians. Most Israelis never come to the West Bank. If they do, they do so illegally. Just a simple walk through the Old City of Hebron is enough to open their eyes a little to what is going on here.

Since coming here I’ve been able to meet and get to know many Palestinians. When you know someone, when they are more than just a face to you, it changes things. When they have a story, relationships, hopes and dreams that they have shared with you, it becomes impossible to ignore them. Americans are good at ignoring. I was good at it. But now if I were to see Osaid, my Arabic teacher and a pathological joke teller, forced to squat beside some dirty wall at a checkpoint for 15, 30, or 60 minutes in the hot sun and being treated like a terrorist, I don’t know if I could stand it.

Monday, August 23, 2004

A Khalili Joke

Al Khalil is the Palestinian name for Hebron, which is Arabic for “Friend.” The Palestinians refer to people who live in Hebron as Khalilis.

The following is a Khalili joke told to me by a local resident …

There was once a young Khalili named Ahmed and it was time for him to go to Kindergarten but there was no room in the local Arab school, so his parents sent him to the Jewish Kindergarten. But when he went to the Jewish Kindergarten, the teachers all said, “Ahmed! That is not a proper Jewish name! We’ll call you Avi instead.” And so everyday they called him Avi. Avi this and Avi that. And eventually it got to the point where he no longer answered to his real name, Ahmed, but only to his Jewish name, Avi.

His parents were very upset. “Ahmed!” they would call but he wouldn’t answer. Only when they called for Avi did he respond. One day, his parents were so upset that he wouldn’t respond to his name when they called that they got very angry with him. They started to beat him until he was black and blue.

The next day, when he went to his school, his teachers exclaimed, “Avi, Avi! What happened to you?”

“I don’t know!” he said, “Two strange Arabs attacked me!”

… Is there anyone out there that finds this funny?

Sunday, August 22, 2004

I continue to keep tabs with groups in Iraq and I'm assisting an Iraqi Environmental NGO start a Tigris River Envrionmental Education Project. I just got the word that the Iraqi Ministry of Education has approved the project and so it's going forward this fall. Yee Haa!!!

This kind of thing is ideal for me given my previous work experience is related to environmental education projects and water issues in the Northwest. And, I would hazard a guess, there has never been a project like this before in Iraq. My dream would be to eventually set up something like a Sound Experience program on the Tigris. Everyone I spoke to in Iraq about this idea was really intrigued and I've already sent the group I'm working with alot of curriculum ideas from the Northwest.

My job is to help obtain the water quality test kits that the students will use in the program. I've already located a supplier in Amman, Jordan but I'm stymied by the cost of the kits. At a minimum I need about $1428, but I don't have enough left to cover such a cost.

I've got to find a way to raise the money in just a few short weeks and I've written to all the newspapers I know trying to interest them in writing a story about the project ... But I can't help but wonder if the people back home are sick to death of hearing about me and my adventures by now?

Anyway, if anyone feels moved to help me out with a gift to support this project feel free to send it to me at:

Anna Sophia Bachmann, PO Box 287, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

I am NOT a 501(c)3 non-profit, so this would have to be considered a gift, not a tax-deductible donation. (Whew, I hope I've covered myself with the IRS here! Yeesh, you never know with those people.)


On another note: I'm still here in Hebron. Apparently there was some shooting today though some people were disputing this. Sunday is usually our day off, but I took a new CPT'er named Kim out for a tour of the Old City and we found out that in the area just outside the Old City, the Army had begun a curfew. It's strange to walk the streets with all the shops closed and no one around. We did come to the edge of the curfew area and there were alot of kids hanging around as well as members from TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron). Later we heard that the Israelis had arrested a kid for throwing rocks.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Yeah, I fixed the little problem that made the web browser jump to when you tried to go to my weblog. At least I think I fixed the problem. Well, if you are reading this then I must have fixed the problem!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

My good buddy David Enders has arrived in Jerusalem from Iraq (via Jordan). I used to visit David and his assorted flatmates at their hotel on Arasat Street in Baghdad everyday. I lost my favorite translator to the boy! I say boy because David looks far too young to be doing what he's doing - working as a freelance journalist in a war zone. A good friend of David's who I met when I was in Iraq is James Brandon, the British freelance journalist who has been reporting for the Christian Science Monitor. James was in the news recently for having been kidnapped by Sadr's Mahdi Army guys in Basra. He was held long enough for the kidnappers to film and release their video ultimatum to the press (essentially U.S. leaves Najaf or the Brit bites it!). David spent some tense hours on the phone with friends in Iraq trying to get more information and figure out a way to help his friend. Fortunately soon after the video was released, Sadr called for his release and James is now in Kuwait (a little roughed up after a failed escape attempt but he's fine and heading for home). You can go to David's weblog and get the full skinny.

David's come to Palestine to interview Huwaida Araf, a founding member of the International Solidarity Movement (I almost decided to spend my time in Palestine volunteering with them but because of my familiarity with the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq, I came to work with their team in Hebron).

I had to smile when David told me his second assignment. David is a contributing writer to HIGH TIMES and he intends to try and interview the Hilltop Youth. Hard-core Settler youth that are known for setting up outpost and hanging out on hilltops, getting high and taking potshots at Palestinians. With his easy-going "Hey man, what's happenin'?" he might just swing that interview, which will be a very interesting read!

Anyway, I spent the day with David in Jerusalem and he took this picture of me at the Dome of the Rock in the Old City.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Percussion grenades and NVC

I woke up at 2:30 a.m., tossed and turned for an hour, my throat and lungs feeling like a porcupine had crawled in there and died and finally gave it up to come down here and blog for a bit .... which may not be the wisest thing to do. When you're feeling sick and you wake up in the middle of a sleepless night, your mind tends to stray towards a more dour and bizarre thoughts. So take this all with a chunk of salt, OK?

Tonight (or rather last night), we heard a huge booom! To my ear, after months in Baghdad, it sounded very close but didn't sound like a conventional explosion (conventional?) ... more like a heavy metallic crash, but very, very big. Perhaps a percussion grenade. We ran up to the roof and saw soldiers, guns at the ready, shouting commands below us on our street. Then they took off running towards Avraham Avinu, one of a string of four, small, fortified Israeli settlements here in the heart of Hebron. After that we could see little going on and went inside only to hear gunfire in the distance a short while later.

Everyone say that things have calmed down here in Hebron ... gone are the days when you took your life into your hands by risking the Israeli snipers to cross the Bab iZaweyya intersection in downtown Hebron (there were also snipers taking potshots at Israelis from the Palestinian-controlled Abu Sneineh neighborhood of Hebron). But it is still an occupation and you feel it everyday when you see the patrols or cross through the checkpoints. A few days back, a CPT delegation member and I were talking to an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint into the Old City, which was also near the entrance to Avraham Avinu. A settler walked out of the settlement, passed us by and just before turning the corner shouted back, "Why don't you just go home!"

Hmmmm, another case of DbMo, Drive-By Mouthing Off, I thought (I've used this term for a long time to label this phenomenon but I don't really like, perhaps someone can suggest an alternative?).

And tonight, as I tossed and turned thinking of these things, I kept returning to the story that was told to me today by a young man named Jamal. Jamal lives on the road used by the Settlers to connect the Qiryat Arba settlement to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Synagogue and the other smaller settlements nearby. Jamal told me that almost everyday, settler boys going down the road throw rocks at his family's house (I had heard this from another Palestinian family on this same road a few days before).

'Here's a twist,' I thought. We always hear of the rock-throwing Palestinian youth, but never of the rock-throwing Israeli youth. True or not, I started wondering how you would deal with such a situation nonviolently and I recalled the work of Marshal Rosenberg (perhaps I have the name not quite right?) who wrote a book on Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Now I'm new around here and still naive in the ways of Occupation Israeli-style but it seems to me that here in Hebron, as throughout the Occupied Territories, the Peace Process has been about finding ways to separate the Palestinians and the Israelies ... and for the most part, in this one respect the Peace Process has succeeded. Palestinians and Israelies don't communicate with one another (rock throwing aside), don't interact with one another (except via the Israeli Military), and in general don't want to have anything to do with each other (they even have different roads for the Settlers).

I just finished a book written by a Hebron settler woman who has lived here for 20 years. She said that before the first Intifada and before the Peace Process, Israelis and Arabs used to be on good terms (although from a Palestinian perspective this might illicit a sneer). Settlers used to shop in the Arab markets and they were friendly with their Arab neighbors. The Peace Process, according to this woman, ended all that.

But if we are trying to build a lasting peace, it seems that we would need to resist this temptation to sever ties and instead create as much dialogue as possible on as many levels as possible. Some say the problem is intractable. Palestinians and Israelis have competing interests. But in thinking of Jamal's problem with the rock throwing settler boys and in trying to adapt the methods of Nonviolent Communication to the issue, it occurred to me that such dialogues can occur in sneaky, even passive ways.

The formulaic method of Nonviolent Communication (look it up on the web to get a better description) is Stimulus/Feelings/Needs/Actions. For example, when some specific thing happens (a person hits you), you develop feelings (anger and sadness), because you have needs (safety and respect), and so you request a specific action (asking that person not to hit you anymore). It seems stilted, I know (and this is the general beef that people first have with NVC plus I have greatly simplified it) but let's give it the benefit of the doubt and apply it to Jamal's case.

Jamal speaks Arabic and not Hebrew, so he can't communicate directly with the Settler boys and he never knows exactly when they will show up, but he could have someone make him a banner in Hebrew to hang outside his house. And perhaps, in Hebrew, that banner could read:

"Dear Settler Boys, When you throw rocks at my house, I feel sad and afraid, because I need to feel safe in my home as I am are sure you would as well, so would you be willing to refrain from throwing stones at my house? - Signed Jamal"

Now again, I've greatly simplified this (and left out the whole portion about building empathy for it's probably true that these Settler boys have had rocks thrown at them by Palestinian boys in the past) and maybe these boys will just laugh and continue throwing rocks. This is after all the ravings of a sick, sleep-deprived woman. But in my opinion, the prospects for peace will never blossom unless we can keep the lines of communication going as best we can, using any and every method at our disposal.

Ok, maybe I can go get some sleep now.

Monday, August 09, 2004

I've come down with a cold! Nothing works like a cold to make you feel sorry for yourself, though I shouldn't complain ... I've only been sick twice in the Middle East.

Here are a few pictures from the previous week:

Doug Pritchard, new co-director of the Christian Peacemaker Team standing next to the unfinished segment of the Israeli "Security" Wall in A'Zariya.

A poster on a bus stop in Jerusalem

Hashim, a Palestinian human rights activist, with his son Tamer at their home in Hebron.

Another one for mom: Sophia in Jerusalem overlooking the Dome of the Rock

Sunday, August 08, 2004

At the Tomb of Lazarus

Today was a day in Jerusalem, not the Galilee as I had planned. East Jerusalem to be specific ... or was it the West Bank? Even Israel is not clear on this issue. We went to visit the family of Shefa, a widowed mother and four of her nine grown children living in an area of East Jerusalem called A'zariya. In the Bible this area is known as Bethany and Shefa lives just a few doors down from the tomb of Lazarus (that guy that Jesus raised from the dead). Shefa is a Christian who as done the Haj (it’s a long story, but suffice it to know that there are both Christians and Muslims in the family).

The children living in Shefa’s house consists of 50 year old Assa, Khalil, the middle son, Kefah, the unmarried 30-year old daughter, and the youngest Ashraf, who married and later divorced a U.S. Citizen. He became a U.S. citizen, lived in the States for 11 years and is the youngest in the family at 27. Shefa’s family has seen a lot of hardship during this last Intifada.

The area they live in has always been part of Jerusalem but the Israeli government is trying to shut them out. A'zariya doesn't really have any economy of its own to speak of. Most people used to work in Jerusalem but now, since they don't have Jerusalem ID's and the new "Security" Wall is being erected almost within sight of their house there is no more work. Even the modest tourist visits to Lazarus' tomb have slacked off. Everyone in the community is struggling.

Shefa, well into her 60's if not beyond (she doesn't remember her birthday), has a heart condition but there are no hospitals in A'zariya. She needs a permit to go see her doctor or get her medicines. Permits, which are generally only good for the day, can be very difficult and time consuming to come by. No one knows what will happen if there is an emergency and she needs to be rushed to the Mount of Olives hospital in Jerusalem. These days travel for work or to visit family member living elsewhere within the West Bank (Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus) requires a permit. If you lived in some portions of East Jerusalem and raised a family, you could find yourself in a situation where your wife and your older children have Jerusalem ID’s and you and your younger children have West Bank ID’s. You need a permit to even see one another.

Most of Shefa’s children are unemployed. Khalil, the middle son was lucky enough to work on the grounds of the Sisters of Nagrizia Convent (soon to be locked away on the Jerusalem side of the Wall). He had earned enough money to buy some land and was slowly building a house on it. He like many others took the chance to build the house without a permit, since Palestinians can pay the fees and submit the permit requests but are generally unlikely to actually receive a permit to build). It was almost complete when the Israelis came and demolished it.

Then Ashraf, who had returned to A’zariya from the States, was stopped by the Israelis. He showed them his U.S. Passport telling them that he was visiting family but they demanded to see his Palestinian ID, which he no longer carried. Ashraf thought that as a U.S. citizen he didn't need such things anymore. Unsatisfied, the Israelis looked him up in their computer and found his old ID number. They confiscated his passport and he was told he would only get it back when he left the country.

To top it all off, Ashraf got word that he was being called up for active service in Iraq. As a new U.S. citizen, he was required to signup for the Reserves. He leaves Palestine to join the U.S. military at the end of August. I asked him what he would end up doing in Iraq.

"I'm a truck driver," he said, "I'll be hauling missiles around."

I tried to stifle my groan. It is hardly the safest job in Iraq.

When I told the family that I had been in Iraq for five months and this was translated for Shefa, the elderly woman sitting cross-legged on her couch shook her head at me and I could tell that she thought I was foolish to go to such a dangerous place.

Before we left, Ashraf confided to us. "My mother thinks I'll just be returning to the States at the end of August," he told us, "She doesn't realize that I'm going to Iraq."


I received an email message letting me know that I did not fact check this properly. There is no requirement to sign up for the Reserves in the immigration process. There is a requirement to sign up for Selective Service and joint Dept of Defence/INS initiatives designed to encourage immigrants to sign up for Military Service by expediting their naturalization process. But this is certainly not the same as being “required to sign up for the Reserves.”

I don’t believe that Ashraf lied to me at any point in the conversation. I recall him saying that he had been required to join up but I now realized that it is possible that I misunderstood how he entered the Reserves. I do apologize to my readers for not being more certain of my facts in this matter.

Thank you to the reader that called this to my attention.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Spent the day cleaning the women's apartment and then hanging out at checkpoints with Shelly who stayed a few extra days after the delegation departed. We had an interesting conversation with a soldier at one of the checkpoints that it both an entrance to the old city and to a tiny jewish settlement ... a nice, young man of only 18 from Tel Aviv who spoke in slow, broken English. He and his partner were holding a man and his son.

"They came out of the Qasba (the Old City) twice and just looked around," he said. "Their not supposed to come out. We didn't stop them the first time but when they came out the second time we decided to check them."

I wondered allowed what was the big deal with Palestinians using this entrance to the Old City. Right next to the checkpoint was a tall building with Palestinian children waving and smiling down on us.

The soldier pointed to a stone monument nearby with Hebrew writing on it. "A man was killed here by a Muslim," he said. It had been a visitor to the Settlement I found out later. "Only the three families left in this building can use this entrance to the Qasba." Soon after this, the man and his son were released and told never to come back this way again.

I found out later that this rule was not uniformly kept and that the building near the checkpoint used to be filled with Palestinian families but only two or three were left because the constant harrassment and curfews had driven the rest out.

Later in the evening, most of the team took a taxi to the TIPH (Temporary International Presense in Hebron) building for their Friday BBQ. I'd been once before and over a dinner of baked potatoes and BBQ'ed chicken, I'd gotten into a heated discussion with a Turkish man about dams on the Tigris river. I saw my Turkish friend again and he promised to give me a book on the subject. Just what I need more reading!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Beit Ommar Action

Yesturday our delegation headed up to some home stays with families in the village of Beit Ommar. A small Palestinian farming town of between 13,000 to 14,000 people surrounded by plum, grape and olive orchards. The Israeli Settlement of Karmit Tzur lies to the south of the village, which has been slowly eating away at (i.e. appropriating) the farms of Beit Ommar. A few dunam's here (a dunam = 1/4 acre), a few there. The reason that is given? Security. There have also been home demolitions and seven Palestinians have lost their lives in the last three years since the 2nd Intifada began (we are told that not a single bullet has been fired at the Settlers or the Army since 1967 from Beit Ommar, but to be honest, I haven't had the chance to ask the Israeli Military or the Settlers what their statistics are).

As in most places, we are told, the Israelis near Beit Ommar feel insecure surrounded by so many Palestinians and any incident (rock throwing for example) leads to a crackdown by the Israeli army or the swallowing up of more lands by the Settlers (which inturn leads to more incidents).

I had traveled to Beit Ommar the week before and the road block on the main road into town was open but now it was closed and we were told that the soldiers were harrassing the taxi drivers that waited inside the gate to pick up people who walked through the road block.

"Avoid the check point," was the advice of Ghazi, a Beit Ommar Municipality worker and our translator. There are many other "roads" leading off Route 60 (the main road north from Hebron) into Beit Ommar but the Israelis have blocked all of them with dirt piles. We ask our bus to drop us off past the checkpoint, climb over one of the dirt piles and make our way to the home of Edna and Abu Raid (Edna is a Kurdish, Iraqi, Jew and the second wife of Abu Raid, a muslim). The house is filled with children and the older relatives of the extended family.

We find Edna seething ... the settlers have taken a portion of their plum orchard as part of their security zone. It is near the end of the plum season and if they don't pick soon, there won't be anything left but rotting fruit. But to pick, they need to permission of the Israeli Military and that is proving ... difficult. They were given permission on the day we arrived but then told to get out of the field after only a few hours of work.

On that first night into town, the women of our delegation are given a tractor ride out to see the edge of fields that Karmit Tzur is swallowing. We are warned not to go to close as people could be shot if they try to enter the new security zone. That night, our delegation splits into three groups, each to a different family and different stories of the Occupation and its heavy weight in Beit Ommar. Seventy percent of the people in Beit Ommar make their living from the lands around the town. More than just a few people have lost large sections of their fields. People along Route 60 are having their orchards cut down (possible cover for terrorists) and their homes demolished. When we visit the Beit Ommar municipality, we are given a long litany of damages that have been caused as a result of occupation (damage to electrical transformers shot up by Israeli soldiers, damages to the water pipes by the destruction of roads, closed or restricted industrial areas, damage to personal property and over 1.5 million in damages to the agricultural sector of the town).

But our real purpose on coming to this town on this day was the "Shaving the Land" action. Two members of the CPT team and one member of the delegration had decided that, as an act of contrition and mourning over the hardships faced by the Palestinians as a result of the Occupation, they would shave their heads. So after our visit to the Beit Ommar Municipality, we made our way to the demolished home of Ibrahim Alami, which used to stand just about a dozen yards from Route 60 and was demolished because children were seen throwing rocks down at soldiers on the road from behind the house.

Ibrahim, who took 10 years to raise the money to build the house on his family's land, had lost 5 close relatives, all killed by the Israeli army, since the beginning of the Occupation. He had suffered an industrial accident working as a mechanic. A car fell off its supports and crushed his head leaving him in a coma for a year and without any compensation or insurance since, because of the poor economic situation in Beit Ommar, he had sought work without a permit outside the Occupied Territorys in Israel.

But when the Israelies came to take his house, he told us, "They didn't demolish my home. They demolished my life."

We wandered down from his parent's house, where he lives now, to the rubble that marks the site of his demolished house and there, holding a banner in English, Arabic and Hebrew that read "Shaving the Land," Dianne, Lorin and Barbara cut off their hair. It was a small act, one that a several others associated with CPT have taken as well. But even they will say that it is not an act of dispair or defeat.


After returning to Hebron, we went to a meeting with a settler woman from Kiryat Arba (the original settlement here in Hebron) outside the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs). Her name was Maizie ... Whoa, it was something else! Here is my favorite quote from her. In speaking about the early days of the settlement in Hebron, she told us that Palestinians (in her words Arabs) used to take pot shots at them when they were praying outside the Cave of the Patriarchs (i.e. the Ibrahimi Mosque and now also a synagogue where Abraham, Sarah and their kids are buried).

"All we had to protect us were our prayers," she said, then added with a sheepish smile, "And the Israeli Army."

Before: Lorin, Barbara & Dianne

Getting cleaned up at the barber shop


Kevin's shot of Sophia with some curious Israeli soldiers who came to check out the Action

"The outside world has one rule for them and another rule for us."
Maizie, a Kiryat Arba Settler in Hebron, making a point.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Palestinians to Iraq?

I just got out of a meeting with a Palestinian representative of the Land Defence Committee here in the Hebron District (the southern most portion of the West Bank). After six days of meetings and tours, I have to say that I'm filled to the brim with the unjustices of the system here - injustices that seem to drive the two sides in this conflict, Palestinian and Israeli, further apart.

I've read about it but it is a completely different thing to experience and see it with my own eyes. I thought the situation in Iraq was bad ... and it is ... but atleast in Iraq, Iraqis aren't made to feel like prisoners or aliens in their own land (and here atleast I'm talking about both Israelis and Palestinians). Atleast Iraqis don't have to worry about having their ID on them constantly. At least, they aren't on black lists that restrict their ability to travel from one town to the next. Atleast they aren't having their land confiscated. Atleast the American occupiers are not trying to make life so difficult and miserable that they will force Iraqis out of their own country. All these things seem to be true here ... all these things appear to be the plan, voiced or not, of the Israeli government.

Then today I was shocked when the man from the Land Defence Committee told us that one of the reasons that the U.S. invaded Iraq was to give Israel a place to transfer its Palestinian population too. I almost fell off my seat. I wonder what my Iraqi friends will think of this? Will the Iraqis like that idea? Perhaps it was just conspiracy theory talk ... but having seen the Israeli occupation on the ground ... it does seem clear that the Israelis main goal is to make life for Palestinians so difficult that they will just leave (for example and sorry, I can't verify this: we were told by one resident that in the Old City in Hebron, people are allowed to move furniture out of the Old City but not into it).

I keep asking, 'But if that is the Israeli goal, you would think they would have thought it through enough to provide Palestinians with a place to go to. Otherwise, it's simply a policy that will increase terrorism and insecurity for the Israelis. Any cornered animal will fight back eventually unless you give it a way out.'


Today, after visiting the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (as well as the synagogue that is now a part of it), we went to view the Isreali settlement of Kiryat Arba (the first settlement here in Hebron). Jim, our leader was discussing the land appropriation around the settlement when a settler named Mazi stopped by in her car ... she listen for about 30 seconds and then interrupted by saying, "why don't you tell them the truth." We asked her to speak with us and she told us of how all the land of Hebron was Jewish land, that the Palestinian houses around us were filled with Palestinian terrorists released in a prisoner exchange, that the Palestinians massacred the Jews in 1929 and that the Jewish man that massacred the muslims in the Ibrahimi Mosque did so after he was pushed to far by Palestinian violence. She would have said more but there were lots of Palestinian children pushing close and though they were polite, they were making her nervous. We got her name and number and I'm hoping we get to speak to her again.