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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Response to the Bombings of Gaza

As you can probably imagine, the sentiment among Palestinians in the last days, is very emotional. People are in mourning, people are angry, people want to respond. What happened in Gaza was a massacre, the images of killed babies and children is running on television all day long. As I came into Hebron yesterday, many youth were throwing rocks, chanting, and burning tires in response to the massacres. Roads were blocked with stones and tire fires raged and youth paraded with Palestinian flags. The Israeli military was responding with live ammo, concussion grenades, and teargas. As I came into the Old City of Hebron, a kind gentlemen showed me an alleyway towards my house, which would avoid all the teargas. I was able to avoid much of the teargas but my eyes were still stinging from the lingering teargas in the air.

Leaving Hebron today, the scene was very similar. One youth grabbed my arm and pulled me into an alleyway. Just as we rounded the corner, a sound grenade went out, scaring the hell out of me. I thanked him for this gesture, and he proceeded to ask where I was from, I said, "Ameerka." Instantly I could tell that this wasn't a popular answer at the present moment. He asked me if I had said seen the pictures of babies killed in Gaza. He said that America is responsible for those dead babies. He told me that America needs to be destroyed. He demanded to know if his statements were true or false. "Haada mazbuut," this is true, I said. He told all his friends around him that I was "Amreeki," which garnered many grunts of disapproval. Another sound grenade went off nearby and I figured it was my time to leave.

As I walked away from this situation, I became immediately upset, with the United States' unconditional support of Israel, especially their recent claims that the conflict needed to end, with Hamas ending their rocket-fire into Israel. Yes partially true, but you aren't going to say anything about the 350 Palestinians that Israel has killed by bombing one of the most densely populated places on earth? After my emotive thoughts, I wondered why these youth had such a negative reaction to me. I realized that I am the closest to an American representative that these youths have seen since the bombing of Gaza. I don't think they viewed me as personally responsible, but I am seen as closer to the source, closer to the money flowing from the U.S. to buy Israeli F-16s used in the bombings, closer to the decision-makers giving Israel planes the green light.

And about America needing to die. I don't think he was saying that all Americans need to die. The sense I get from people, is that America as we know it, needs to die. The America that has funded an apartheid regime like the State of Israel, and provides the financial and military resources to occupy the Palestinian people for 60 years, that America needs to be destroyed. If that's that what this young man was saying, "mazbuut," that is correct.

As I boarded the bus to Bethlehem, where I change buses to go to Jerusalem, I got into another conversation with 3 men. One man on the bus looked remarkably like Yasser Arafat, and other men in the bus were giving this man a hard time and trying to get him to do an impersonation. Incidentally, he already had a impersonation of Yasser Arafat saved on his phone, brilliant. I got into the conversation when they asked me if I was a good impersonation, I thought it was. They then asked me where I was from. When I said America, they again asked about Gaza, if I had seen the pictures and the videos. They then asked what I was doing here. In my limited Arabic, I explained that I work near Yatta, in a village called Tuwani. I struggled to find the words to describe the work..."I live with Palestinians who have many problems with Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers. The foreigners with me, we have video cameras, and we try to help, and try to tell our country about what's happening." There was some conversation among the men as I think they attempted to put together the pieces of what I said, and what they think my work is. Then the 'Yasser Arafat look-alike' reached across the aisle to shake my hand. "You are welcome here in Palestine," he said to me, in the first English spoken in the conversation. The other men shook my hand and asked what my name was and where I was going. After I told them my travel plans, they insisted I come with them in their friend's car and they would drop me off in Jerusalem to catch the bus. Upon entering the car, the driver offered me food and tea, and told me I was welcome here.

These two encounters strike me as profound. The more I think about them, the less I think about them in terms of one being positive and one being negative. The second story really tells about the kindness, hospitality, generosity, and humor of these people. They refused to let me take the bus but instead went out of their way to give me a ride which meant I didn't have to stand in the rain. They also gave up food which had been made specifically for them, to feed a strange foreigner with long hair. So so generous.

The first story is more difficult, but I am starting to see it in this way...that I was an outlet. So often the only face of the oppressor that Palestinians see, is Israeli soldiers. Often settlers are distant and Israeli or American politicians are a world away. These youth wanted to speak to someone who is partially representative of the oppressor that has held their people down for 60 years. That's fair, I can't argue with that. If I was in any small way I target of that response, that's ok with me. It seemed a healthy release for these youth to be able to tell an American citizen, that the America that supports these bombings and these killings of their sisters and brothers, needs to shrivel up and die.

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Life goes on in the West Bank, as it limps along in Gaza. Palestinians are angry, they want answers, and they want their voices to be heard. The trouble is that the international community has created an system where the voices of Palestinians in regard to this conflict, are so rarely heard. I pray that Palestinians take up a movement of nonviolent resistance. I fear that rockets and suicide bombers of an imminent third intifada will be used as justification for the bombings of Gaza and the continued occupation of the West Bank. La rèsistance nonviolente!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Day in Palestine

12.25.2008

I awoke to the sound of light rain on the tin roof. Quite pleased after checking my watch and realizing I slept in much longer than usual, I stepped outside to find an unusual morning. Light rain was falling and fog had enveloped the valley in which At-Tuwani lies. The Palestinian town to the north was obscured by the fog, as were Ma’on and Havat Ma’on, an Israeli settlement and illegal Israeli outpost, respectively. The South Hebron Hills, the name that denotes the greater area of which At-Tuwani is a part, is usually marked by clear skies and clear visibility for miles. This Christmas morning, the scene was different as Ma’on and Havat Ma’on were seemingly disconnected from At-Tuwani due to the fog.

The residents of Ma’on and Havat Ma’on are significant perpetrators of the system of oppression that makes life difficult for Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. Ideologically-driven Israeli settlers inhabit these areas and often carry out acts of violence and terror against Palestinian farmers, shepherds, and schoolchildren.

As I stood in the fog and stared into the grayness which covered Ma’on and Havat Ma’on, I was struck with the significance of this image on Christmas morning. The Christmas morning fog obscured the locus of violence, oppression, and hatred in this area. Instead, all that was visible were signs of life: rain watered the parched land, children played with marbles, and villagers constructed a room that will display pictures of the nonviolent resistance in this area.

These images were especially significant on this Christmas morning because the incarnation of God, celebrated on Christmas, dealt a decisive blow to the powers of violence, oppression, and hatred. Nonetheless, these ugly powers haven’t been completely vanquished in our world; they still are manifested against people like these farmers, shepherds, and schoolchildren.

The Christmas rain continued to fall throughout the day, providing the possibility for life and for growth in this land. The incarnation of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, was a means of offering the possibility of life to a world dominated by violence, oppression, and hatred. May the Kingdom of God continue to break into these powers and systems of violence. May God’s Peace reign.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Come O Come Emmanuel

O Come O Come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appears.

As I sat in a church in Jerusalem listening the words of this beautiful Christmas song, I became immediately uncomfortable. Living in a place where immense injustice is perpetrated in the name of, and by, Israel, the hymns and Old Testament references with almighty and righteous Israel make me uneasy. I understand it's a gross misreading of Scripture to equate 'Israel' with the State of Israel, in fact, it's much more accurate to equate 'Israel' with the people of God. But nevertheless, the word Israel conjures up some negative feelings and emotions inside of me because of my experiences in Palestine/Israel. But, as the verses progressed and eventually came back to repeat the first verse, I was struck by the power, hope, and the significance of these words.

It's clear that "captive Israel" is a reference to the Roman occupation of the Israelites in 1st century Palestine. Palestine was probably full of Roman soldiers imposing curfews and checkpoints. I imagine this Roman occupation made the life of the people in Palestine very difficult, the Israelites wanted a way out.

The situation in Palestine today, 2000 years later is very similar. Palestine is still under military occupation, not Roman but Israeli. Land is confiscated, populations are segregated, curfews are imposed, walls are built, people are killed. The Israeli occupation has made the life of the people in Palestine very difficult, and Palestinians want a way out.

The words of this song ring true today, as they did 2000 years ago. The holy land of Palestine is still under occupation, but it's the Palestinians instead of the Israelites who are now held captive under occupation.

This Advent Season I pray that the captives of this occupation are ransomed, that the refugees who mourn in lonely exile will be allowed to return to their homes. I pray for the Son of God to appear, for the Kingdom of God to break through in its fullness.

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace.

One Country

An excerpt from Ali Abunimah's One Country, in which he calls for one country, a bi-national state made up of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. Abunimah finds the two-state solution not viable at this point, and makes good points as to why. I tend to increasingly agree with Abunimah as I spend more time in Palestine.

"One of the things that the violence-obsessed media coverage conceals is that nonviolence is and has always been integral to the Palestinian resistance. The word for it in Arabic is sumud - steadfastness. When Israeli walls and roadblocks prevent people from moving, and yet children and old women, workers, students, mothers each day, every day climb hills and mountains to get to where they need to go, that is sumud. When Israeli occupation forces uproot trees and farmers replant them, that is sumud. When Israel uses every administrative and legalistic means to force Palestinian Jerusalemites to leave the city for good, but instead they stay, even if it means being painfully separated from family members in the West Bank, that is sumud. Millions of Palestinians practice nonviolence everyday, yet this is ignored by the media and by politicians and is totally invisible to the vast majority of Israelis."

The excerpt really speaks to the situation in Palestine, specifically the West Bank. It certainly speaks to my time spent in At-Tuwani. Sumud is immensely pervasive in Tuwani, as villagers resist the occupation each and everyday.