Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Hebron Circus Comes to Town

Being terribly sick for most of the last week, I was eager to get out into Hebron and do something before I head back to At-Tuwani tomorrow. I had heard about a Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron this morning and decided to participate. Breaking the Silence is a group of veteran Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied Territories, largely during the second intifada, who give their testimonies and their stories of service in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories) to a wider audience. Breaking the Silence voices the stories of these soldiers to force Israeli society to address the reality that Israel has created in the OPT.

Part of the continual work of Breaking the Silence is giving tours of Hebron, a large city in the southern West Bank, to both Israelis and internationals. As you may be able to predict, Breaking the Silence has had a difficult time giving their tours in Hebron. Many of their scheduled tours have been stopped before they started because the army has declared the route of the tour a 'closed military zone' to restrict movement in the area. Settler violence has also provided difficulties for these tours. Recently, after appeals and legal proceedings, the Israeli high court has ruled that Breaking the Silence must be allowed to give tours of the city of Hebron.

The tour was set to begin in Tel Rumeida, an area just above the Old City of Hebron that has been taken over by settlers, with the exception of two resilient Palestinian families remaining. When the tour bus of tour-takers arrived with their police escort, we proceeded into Tel Rumeida with little trouble. I would estimate there were 50 people their for the tour and rougly the same number of soldiers/police (both were present and providing escort). We headed up the house is Haani, a Palestinian man who has faced years of harassment, property destruction (his olive grove has been totally destroyed 4 times), and physical attacks against himself and his family by the settlers of Tel Rumeida. Upon leaving Haani's house to continue into Hebron, we were met with a wall of 15-20 settlers.

Many of the young settler girls had whistles. Whistles, what the hell? Right, I was thinking the same thing. I will shed light on the whistles later. Yehuda, a ex-soldier who served in Hebron, who was leading the group turned to us and said, "stick as close to me as possible so we can stay in a tight group in case there are instructions you need to follow." So the crowd of people began to push forward, and at first it was just a mess of bodies and I couldn't distinguish anyone from the next person.

After moving a distance we stop and gather for Yehuda to give some background on the area. By this point I am realizing that our group is completely surrounded by police. The police have formed a circle around us and are creating separation between our group and the settlers.

By this point, I am able to recognize the settlers that are just outside the circle of police and are directing their angry shots and gestures in our direction. As I am able to distinguish our group from police and police from settlers, something splashes at my feet. It's an egg. I look up in time to see some settler youth smiling and throwing eggs at our group. The whistling becomes more and more prevalent and overwhelming. There is also a settler with a megaphone, shouting in Hebrew. The whistling, shouts, and megaphones are obnoxious and make it difficult to hear Yehuda, but we sure aren't stopping the tour. About this time, the leader of the settlers lays himself on the ground in front our group to try to impede the progress of the tour. He is yelling and screaming as he lays on the ground surrounded by police (in order that we may walk by without him kicking us, which he was attempting to do). I asked the women next to me who knew Hebrew what he was saying. She said he was calling out, "YOU ARE FACIST NAZIS WITH THE BLOOD OF JEWISH BABIES ON YOUR HANDS!! HOW MUCH MORE BLOOD? HOW MUCH MORE BLOOD DO YOU NEED? YOU'RE ALL NAZIS!"

The tour proceeded onto Shohada St, just below the settlements, which was a thriving thoroughfare and marketplace for Palestinians until the second intifada (around 2000) when the road was closed to all Palestinians. Now the road is used solely by settlers who are headed to the synagogue. All entrances from the Old City to Shohada St. are blocked by large concrete blocks and spiral barbwire fence. As we proceeded, we were told stories about the mental training that soldiers go through when they arrive for service in the OPT. The leader of the settlers in Hebron comes to talk with the soldiers about their role to protect the Jewish residents, and how Arabs fit into the picture (or don't). For the duration of our two-hour tour, the settlers followed us down roads that are usually their own, and are closed to Palestinians. They continued with their whistles and their megaphone. The megaphone is illegal to use on the streets without the permit, but that wasn't so much recognized. Many of the settlers who tried to disrupt the tour were young adults, 10-16. These had no respect for the police and often yelled at and pushed the police whenever they were thwarted from pushing their way into our group.
*Notice the whistle of the young settler. Also, notice the earplugs of the policeman. Hilarious.

Several things struck me during the tour. First, where the hell am I? This is seriously a circus. Whistles and megaphones? We have the blood of jewish babies on our hands and we're facist nazis? This is a big joke. I can't believe that someone just walking us through this area and telling us the history elicits this response from the settlers. Second, I thought about this kind of behavior in the U.S. The police probably wouldn't allow these people to continue to move along with our group. Also, pushing a police officer would get you handcuffed quick. Third, I think about these kids. What are they learning? So impressionable at this age, and they are learning to hate people. The older men with them are shouting racist slurs against all Arabs. People walking through their neighborhood are called facist nazi pigs. Oh my heart breaks for the young ones. Third, and most important, I think about our tour contrasted with the times when settlers come cruising through the Old City of Hebron. When settlers decide they want to come through the Old City, life stops for Palestinians. Soldiers declare the entire area a closed military zone: shops close, Palestinians are forced to leave the streets, windows and doors and forced closed, and soldiers walk with guns drawn shouting and threatening anyone in the streets.

Settlers simply rule the land. One of my teammates was told by a soldier recently, "if I ever even touched a settler, I would be DONE as a soldier. I would never be promoted again. I would leave the army the same rank that I am now." The settlers are able to say and do anything they want, and the policy of law enforcement is to let it happen.

Similar to our tour, when it comes to Palestinians and settlers, the policy is separation. More than that, the policy is to push Palestinians back and remove them from the situation, so that there is no contact. So if there is violence at the vegetable market? Bye bye Palestinian vegetable market, hello settler side street. A settler massacred 29 Palestinians who were praying at the main mosque in Hebron years aho, so half of the mosque was converted to a synagogue because apparently the attack on Palestinians happened because the settlers didn't have a place to worship. In addition, Shohada St. was closed to provide settlers a clear path to the synagogue.

As our tour draws to and end we reach the Ibrahimi Mosque, that holds the tombs of Abraham and Sarah. Near the mosque, a gate is placed in the street, Palestinians on the left, settlers on the right. Palestinians proceed through metal detectors and frisking before praying, settlers walk freely into the synangogue. This is a sick sick circus with whistles, megaphones, and racial slurs. This is apartheid. Maybe I should change the title of my blog, "The Hebron Apartheid Circus Rules the Town."

Monday, October 20, 2008

John Howard Yoder on God's People and Nationalism

I have been reading from Original Revolution by John Howard Yoder, a series of essays on Christian Pacifism. This excerpt struck me as so relevant for the Israel/Palestine conflict. Especially for those who make claims (often called Christian and Jewish Zionists) based on the Hebrew Scriptures, that Jews, and no other people groups, should live in the Holy Land. This piece by Yoder helps me to understand how "God's people" becomes a more inclusive term, even in the progression of the Hebrew Scriptures.

"From the ancient Hebrews through the later prophets up to Jesus there was real historical movement, real 'progress'; but the focus of this progress was not a changing of ethical codes but rather in an increasingly precise definition of the nature of peoplehood. The identification of the people of Israel with the state of Israel was progressively loosened by all the events and prophecies of the Old Testament. It was loosened in a positive way by the development of an increasing vision for the concern of Yahweh for all peoples and the promise of a time when all people would come to Jerusalem to learn the law; it was loosened as well in a negative direction by the development of a concept of the faithful remnant, no longer assuming that Israel as a geographical and ethnic body would be usable for Jahweh's purposes. These two changes in turn altered the relevance of the prohibition of killing. Once all people are seen as potential partakers of the covenant, then the outsider can no longer be perceived as less than human or as an object for sacrificing. Once one's own national existence is no longer seen as a guarantee of Jahweh's favor, then to save this national existence by a holy war is no longer a purpose for which miracles would be expected. Thus the dismantling of the applicability of the concept of the holy war takes place not by the promulgation of a new ethical demand but by a restructuring of the Israelite perception of community under God."

Quotations from 21st Century Palestinian Wise Men

The first quote comes from a serveece (big taxi) driver in Yatta. He assumed I was from Tuwani because foreigners in Yatta are very rare unless they are from Tuwani. Our conversation continued.

"Min ween inte?" - Where are you from?
"Ana min Ameerka." - I am from America.
"Ah, Ameerka! In Americans, the people, good. But in Americans, the politics, very bad."

Pretty profound. It got me thinking...the U.S. definitely sees Israeli politics as good and Israeli people as good. If only the U.S. would see Israeli politics as bad. The U.S. sees Palestinian people as bad, and their politics as bad. If only the U.S. would see Palestinian people as good.


My second encounter with a wise man was in the CPT apartment in Hebron. We began to speak about the upcoming elections. Palestinians are generally very well-informed about US politics and particularly the upcoming elections. Most Palestinians would like to see Obama elected, despite not holding much hope for him changing anything for Palestinians. At one point in the conversation the United Nations was mentioned. The second wise man quickly retorted, "when talking of the plight of the Palestinian people, there is no United Nations, there is only United States."

I raised my eyebrows and could only muster a descending, "yeah."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Self Preservation

A consistent theme has popped up in two movies I have seen recently. The first film was The Counterfeiters, a German film about Jews in concentration camps forced to produce counterfeit money for use by the Nazis. The second film, Cassandra's Dream, follows two brothers down a dark path of justifying their own violence in order to save their own hides.

The theme that I saw most vividly in these films was the theme of self preservation. In The Counterfeiters, one man being forced to work as a counterfeiter was sabotaging the work because he couldn't contribute to the success of the Nazi regime. His wife had been killed in a concentration camp and he simply couldn't assist in making fake money so the Nazis could sustain their tyranny and kill more Jews. In this film, another character wanted to live, and creating fake money in order to preserve his life was the decision he had made.

The need to survive and to preserve oneself isn't destructive or evil in itself, but what was evident in both films was the danger of self preservation in excess. Self preservation in excess leads to a mentality of, my life at all costs. In Woody Allen's film, one of the characters exemplifies this when he becomes willing to kill his own brother to preserve his own life.

Much violence perpetrated in the world is justified because our "own lives" are to be protected, even if that means killing another human being. As Christians, our view of self-preservation is dramatically different than that of the world's. We are called to lay down our lives and take up our cross. Taking up our cross isn't crazy and it's not suicide, because Christ conquered death on a cross, death isn't the last word.

Self preservation was clearly offered to Jesus in the desert. The temptations were offers for Jesus to save himself, and to assume a position of security, wealth, and power. The road towards self preservation was avoided by Christ in the denial of the temptations and further when Christ condemned Peter for attacking his arresting Roman officer.

Self preservation in excess ends up justifying violence. It also assigns certain lives more value and worth than others. Christ shattered this need for preservation in the resurrection. Fear of our own death doesn't hold us. As John Howard Yoder says well, "personal survival is for the Christian not an end in itself."

Fear and Clouds of Dust

Alena* turned to us and asked, "Will you tell the soldiers to get out and walk with us? I am scared." As my teammate and I try to flag down the jeep to make a special request, the jeep accelerated kicking up rocks and dust. I stood there in the dust cloud and thought to myself, if only it were that easy, if only Alena's request mattered.

The Israeli army escorts the children of A-Tuba and Magayer Al-Abeed to school in At-Tuwani each morning, per the order of the Knesset, the high court in Israel. The order states that the soldiers will walk with the children. The huge majority of the time the soldiers do not walk with the children. More often than walking with the children, the jeep revs the engine to make the kids hurry up.

When Alena asked us to relay her message, I could hear the fear in her voice and I could see it in her face. This isn't routine for her. Walking by the settlement brings up some powerful feelings and emotions for her. This walk illicits enough fear, that she finds some degree of solace in the Israeli military; a foreign military force that occupies her family's land, harasses her brothers as they graze the sheep, and often sides with the very Israeli settlers who have attacked her on the way to school.

The fear of facing sticks, stones, fists, spit, and shouting on your way to school is incomprehensible and unacceptable. I don't think the military escort is a solution to this problem, in fact, it's a poor poor band-aid. But nonetheless, I find it hard to believe that a heartfelt request for a sense of safety from a small child, is met with a cloud of dust.

*Names have been changed

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Phirst Palestine Post

You like that forced alliteration? I knew you would. (You can tell I am severely sleep deprived, based on the fact that I even thought of that alliteration.)

So I am posting from Palestine. I arrived yesterday in Israel yesterday and successfully passed through security. I spent the night in Jerusalem at the Hebron Youth Hostel, a quality place for 30 shekels (8 bucks). I was dead tired around 8pm, from having only briefly napped uncomfortably on a plane in the last 30 hours, so I headed to bed, only to wake up at 3am. So I laid in bed and listened to music for a few hours.

I attended the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem this morning, a Lutheran church with an English speaking congregation. It's always a neat place to go because there are a lot of North Americans working in Israel and the West Bank for worthy causes that attend that church. Mennonite Central Committee, Ecumenical Accompaniment Palestine Project, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Sabeel, and so on, were all represented this morning at church.

After a schwerma (lamb, pickles, arabic salad and other goodies in a pita) we got on a bus to Hebron. Later this afternoon, I am headed down to At-Tuwani, my new home. I'll be happy to arrive because it means I will be done traveling for a little while.

I was sorry that the Cubs got swept. My condolences go out to all Cubs fans. Nate, I hope you can have some healthy grieving moments. Oh and, Go Chargers.