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.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From North America to the Middle East: Honest People Trying to Make a Living

The South Hebron Hills often remind me of the San Diego/Tijuana region.

I recently visited Jinba, just 1/2 km north of the Green Line (the border between Israel and the West Bank). Contrary to much of the West Bank, the separation wall is not constructed in this area. The reason that construction of the wall hasn't been completed in this area is most likely because of a string of settlements which lies 5km north of the Green Line which would be included in the West Bank, not Israel, if the proposed wall route is completed.

From Jinba you can see the rolling hills of the desert trail off to the south, beautifully unhampered by 30 foot high concrete walls. Yet, the scene isn't always so beautiful in Jinba and the South Hebron Hills. Due to the open land in the area, the Israeli army acts as the wall.

The village of Jinba is a major conduit for Palestinians trying to travel into Israel to find work. Unemployment rates are high in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and work is much easier to find in Israel. Therefore, many Palestinians cross to work for the week and return home for the weekend. To curb these 'illegal workers' from entering into Israel, the Israeli army heavily patrols the area. We often get reports that the army damages cars (smashing windows, puncturing tires, removing license plates), confiscates IDs, and physically assaults people who are caught crossing the border illegally. Something that hasn't got any press that I am aware of is the Israeli paramilitary groups that patrol the area. These paramilitary groups don't have the same accountability as IDF soldiers especially given that they are in unmarked cars and don't wear uniforms. From the reports we have received, it appears the mission of these groups is to use physical violence against Palestinians crossing into Israel as a deterrent to these 'illegal' crossings.

After visiting Jinba, I couldn't help but think of the US-Mexico border and the countless workers that try to cross into the United States with the hope of some financial security. The U.S. economy is very dependent on workers from Mexico, but treats those crossing very harshly. Work is more abundant in the United States, and it pays much better than Mexico. Replace Mexico with Palestine, replace the United States with Israel. Very similar situation.

Shortly after we had arrived in Jinba, we heard shouts that the army was in the village. We ran outside to see that the army had stopped a vehicle as was removing the license plates. The villagers told us that often the army is much more violent and forceful with people, but maybe because internationals and cameras were present, only the plates were removed.

As we returned to Tuwani, several army vehicles were seen patrolling the area. Each army vehicle swooped down the hillsides towards the vehicle we were traveling in, each time taking a good look at the vehicle and passengers and speeding off when cameras were seen. Also along the journey, every time two Palestinian vehicles passed each other, they stopped to ask one another whether they had seen the army, and if so, where. It's an area where avoiding the army is crucial, because of the potential consequences of running into the army in this sensitive area.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Question of Palestine.

UN Headquarters , New York, 24 November 2008
President of UN General Assembly

Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to open this plenary session in which we take up the Question of Palestine. This morning, with heavy heart, we observed the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I joined the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, H.E. Ambassador Paul Badji, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to voice our ongoing concern for the terrible situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and express our solidarity with this long-suffering People

We heard the comprehensive report of the Chairman on the current situation of Palestinians living under occupation. As well, the Secretary-General summarized the complex initiatives that are being undertaken by the international community to move forward peace talks and the establishment of the Palestinian state.

I urged the international community to raise its voice against the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, a policy which we cannot tolerate. We demand an end to this massive abuse of human rights and call on Israel, the occupying Power, to allow humanitarian and other supplies to enter the Gaza Strip without delay.

I spoke this morning about apartheid and how Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories appear so similar to the apartheid of an earlier era, a continent away.

I believe it is very important that we in the United Nations use this term. We must not be afraid to call something what it is. It is the United Nations, after all, that passed the International Convention against the Crime of Apartheid, making clear to all the world that such practices of official discrimination must be outlawed wherever they occur.

We heard today from a representative of South African civil society. We know that all around the world, civil society organizations are working to defend Palestinian rights, and are trying to protect the Palestinian population that we, the United Nations, are failing to protect.

More than twenty years ago we in the United Nations took the lead from civil society when we agreed that sanctions were required to provide a non-violent means of pressuring South Africa to end its violations.

Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its violations.

I have attended a great many meetings on the rights of the Palestinian People. I am amazed at how people continue to insist on patience while our Brothers and Sisters are being crucified.

Patience is a virtue in which I believe. But there is nothing virtuous about being patient with the suffering of others.

We must endeavour, with all our heart, to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian People.

I have great love for the Jewish People and this has been true all my life. I have never hesitated to condemn the crimes of the holocaust or any of the many abuses committed against our Jewish Brothers and Sisters.

However, their suffering does not give anyone the right to abuse others, especially those who historically have such deep and exemplary relations with the Jewish People.

Having said this, I would like to remind our Israeli Brothers and Sisters that even though they have the protective shield of the United States in the Security Council, no amount of arm twisting and intimidation will change the Security Council resolution 181, adopted 61 years ago, calling for the creation of two states.

Shamefully, there is no Palestinian state to celebrate today and the prospects are as distant as ever. All explanations notwithstanding, this central fact makes a mockery of the United Nations and gravely hurt its image and prestige. How can we continue like this?

I call upon our dear Brothers and Sisters at the decision-making level in our Host Country to end the policy that only retards justice in the Middle East.

The international community should spare no effort in assisting both Israelis and Palestinians to reach a solution that will fulfill the goal of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. The United Nations has an ongoing responsibility to resolve the question of Palestine in all its aspects and in accordance with international law. Let us be sure that this not become a permanent responsibility.

The enmity between our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters is a bitter and self-perpetuating tragedy. We must find new ways to defuse this enmity, to enable both peoples to reassert their historic bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.

I urge the international community to defuse the political deadlock that cynically perpetuates this hatred, isolation and abuse. Our solidarity must prompt concrete action to realize those elusive rights that most of us can take for granted.

Thank you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Um al Kher Demolition

The Israel military rolled in with bulldozers and demolished homes in a Palestinian village named Um al Kher. It's incomprehensible and completely inexplicable.

I won't write extensively about the demolition because there are news agencies that covered it and CPT released an
urgent action. I wanted to post a picture, because I think it says everything. The picture shows a woman and young child sitting on the rubble of their demolished home. In the background are the newly built homes of the illegal Israeli settlement that sits adjacent to Um al Kher. The settlement homes are large, protected from the weather, and vacant.

I cannot convey the injustice of this image.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Shepherd Snapshot

K., from the village of A-Tuba, had kept his flock out an unusually long time this morning. The sheep and goats were probably happier than usual because an inch of grass has grown in some places because of the recent rain. Although, the grass is just short enough that the sheep have a tough time eating it. It reminds me of eating a pomegranate. It takes so damn long to get those little kernels out, and after you eventually get them all out and eat them, it doesn't even put a dent in your hunger. You probably lose calories eating a pomegranate.

So after some hours of grazing, some of the goats found shade under rocks and some of the sheep found a cozy spot in the dirt to lie down. K. tied up his donkey to a fence post and took some items out of the bag that hung off the donkey, a sort of makeshift saddlebag.

K. scoured the area for dried brush. Once he had a sufficient amount he searched for stones. Assembling the three stones in a triangle, he placed the brush in the center of the triangle. Out of K.'s sack next came the corner piece to this puzzle, the tea kettle. The rest of the process was pretty straight forward. Cistern water in a canteen was poured into the kettle, along with a healthy Palestinian amount of sugar, and finally the tea leaves. K. lit the brush and manicured it to keep the flame under the blackened kettle. Once the tea was ready, K. called Sean and I over. We had been accompanying him and his flock this morning and he graciously insisted on sharing his lunch with us.

We feasted on hard-boiled eggs, freshly picked olives from K.'s recent harvest, fresh bread, dried goat cheese, with tea to wash it down. Throughout the meal, K. urged, "kull," meaning, "eat!" This is very common in Palestinian homes. Hosts will insist that you eat, eat, eat, until you assure them several times that you are full. Offering a humdulilah (praise be to God) will usually terminate the playful negotiation.

K. packed up lunch and told us he had kept his flock out so long because he was going to milk them today. I gathered that the strategy was to graze them a long time, feed them well when they get home, let them rest, and then milk them. I can't make sense of this, but I fully trust K. to get the best out of his flock.

This is what shepherding in the South Hebron Hills is supposed to be, it at least seemed closer to normal than is often the case. K. wasn't harassed by settlers or chased off the land by Israeli soldiers. In fact, as we sat to eat lunch in the cooling November air, it seems that we momentarily forgot about the outpost and the settlement behind us. Instead we enjoyed our surroundings, the food, and the company of one another.

Praise be to God.

Wall Art - Ayda Refugee Camp

Ayda Refugee Camp lies on the border of Bethlehem, and is a camp for Palestinians who were displaced from their lands in 1948. Ayda Refugee Camp is also bordered by the Separation Wall (also referred to as the Apartheid Wall).
The dwellings in the camp are crammed together and don't seem to be built in any consistent manner or form. People are left to build what they can. Trash litters the camp, especially the area near the wall.
Despite, the trash, the wall is one of the most captivating parts of the camp. From a high rooftop in the camp, you can see the illegal Israeli settlement which lies on the other side of the wall (yet still within the West Bank). There is a stark contrast between the modern, clean, and roomy homes of the settlement and the shantytown that is Ayda Refugee Camp.
One of the forms of resistance in this camp, is art (read: grafitti). The ugly wall boxes these people in and separates them from lands to which they should have access. Nevertheless, much of the wall has been transformed in a wall of resistance. It has become a place to voice your anger, concern, frustration, or your dreams of a revolution. Some people paint pictures, some write phrases, but all seem to challenge the status quo. All the art points at the injustice that this wall is and that this occupation is. Here is a sampling of the art of Ayda Refugee Camp. Enjoy.

This one really got my thinking, when people ask me whether I support the one-state or the two-state solution, as a Christian I should say, "I support the no-state solution. God's kingdom isn't divided up by people groups, walls, or nation-states. I support coexistence. I support love."

Both of these show the image of the key. Many Palestinian families were told they needed nothing more then their house keys because they would return in a matter of days. The key also represents the belief that one day, Palestinians will return to their homes and villages.

And finally...turning this occupation upside down.