Cowboys and Indians and Utter Lawlessness

The violence in the West Bank drones on barely noticed by the world. Palestinians are almost always the victims. That changed on January 9, 2018 when an Israeli man, Raziel Shevach was killed as he was driving, presumptively by a Palestinian shooter.  Suddenly the news is big.  Shevach, 34 years old, was a Rabbi and a settler in an illegal outpost near Nablus, the 3rd largest Palestinian urban area in the West Bank.  The tragedy is undeniable. He was a young father of 6 and by all accounts a decent man. But, he was a radical man. He had formerly lived in Gush Katif, an illegal settlement in the Gaza Strip. This was just prior to the entire settlement being dismantled (to the outrage of many Israelis) by the Israeli government when they sealed off the Gaza strip, effectively turning it into an open air prison for the nearly 3 million Palestinians crammed into this tiny strip of land.

So Shevach went  from one illegal settlement to establish another, this time in the West Bank. He was a resident not of one of the monolithic, concrete suburbs sitting atop hills in the West Bank, but rather at an “outpost.” This is an important distinction, because all of the illegal settlements in the West Bank began as “outposts.”  These are  essentially encampments of radical, religious Jews. Many of these settlers stem from places like New York City and Russia. For people like Shevach, they are doing God’s work, and in his case, settling the land of Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank which under international law belongs to the Palestinians. In their minds, Jews have a God-given right to every speck of land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, and even beyond. They pay no mind to the fact that this is in defiance not only of international law and even Israeli law, but of of reality – ignoring the existence of over 6 million Palestinians who legally occupy the region. But what has Israel done to stop this activity?  Almost nothing. They turn a blind eye to the initial outposts, and once concrete starts to be poured, it becomes a fete accompli.

In reading the outraged accounts of his death, I am struck not so much by the rage and indignation.  It was a murder, after all, which by any account is a huge moral wrong and made particularly tragic by the fact that Shevach leaves 6 small children behind, but rather by the lack of understanding with statements like, “how could this happen?” How could this happen?  When Palestinians witness the brutality of occupation every day of their lives, see the tiny amount of land left to them being slowly, but surely gobbled up, having their freedom of movement and their right to the water that sits underneath them denied, what are they expected to do? To be compliant and willing victims?

Shevach’s widow is already calling not only to have her husband buried at the illegal outpost, but now, to have it finally legalized. Pressure on Netanyahu to legalize Havat Gilad.

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The outpost of Havat Gilad

And in the meantime, nearby Jewish settlers are taking matters into their own hands, rampaging on nearby farms, destroying the olive trees belonging to hapless Palestinian farmers who had nothing to do with the murder while Israeli soldiers look on, doing nothing to stop then. Masked settlers destroying olive trees

The whole country of Israel is outraged and a huge manhunt is underway for the murderer. But where is the outrage for what is happening to Palestinians?  Where is the reflection that leads to the obvious conclusion that stealing land and rights from Palestinians can not have a good outcome and that plopping settlements in their midst is throwing gas on the fire?

What will be next?  Perhaps another gruesome kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian youth as happened to Abu Khdeir, an innocent who was burnt alive by Jewish thugs in retribution for the murder of three Israeli youth three and a half years ago.Murder of Abu Kdheir I can guarantee you that many, many Palestinian homes are being raided in the middle of the night and young men and boys are being detained without any warrants or semblance of due process to quell the collective Israel outrage.   Will one wrong be undone by visiting a hundred fold more wrongs?

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Can the Hatred be Contained?

“Who are we that we should bewail their mighty hatred of us? For eight years they have been sitting in refugee camps in Gaza and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and villages where their fathers dwelt, into our estate.”

I think I’ve overused the word irony in these pages, but it abounds like kudzu in modern day Israel. The most obvious and glaring is the abuse and subjugation of Palestinians by Jews, who themselves have historically been  abused and subjugated.  Is it not doubly ironic that the founders of Israel recognized this? The quote above is from Moshe Dayan, words he spoke at a funeral of an Israeli man in 1956 who was killed by a Palestinian in Gaza.

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This photo is from my recent trip. The house was recently destroyed by Israeli forces, ostensibly because the Palestinian family lacked a building permit.  Virtually the only places that Palestinians are allowed to build are in the already very cramped, urbanized centers in the West Bank. The majority of the West Bank is off limits to new building. This makes it extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain new housing. To add poisonous salt to festering wounds, these demolitions are often undertaken at the point that a new home is almost completed.

Speaking once again of irony, this particular house was in the vicinity of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. These Jewish only settlements defy international law and multiple UN resolutions condemning them. The West Bank is an occupied territory, and the law is very clear that the occupied population (the Palestinians) are not to be displaced by the occupying power.  Yet after 50 years of occupation, there are now over 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, huge swaths of land have been confiscated and thousands of Palestinian homes destroyed leaving only a fraction of the West Bank in Palestinian hands. Even during the Oslo accords, new settlements were being planned and erected.  And what remains in Palestinian hands is still fully under Israeli military control as well as all of the resources (see earlier posts about water rights and movement). Is it any wonder that the rage festers?

More reading:

50 years of occupation: displacement and dispossession in Palestine

Land confiscation renders Israel law obsolete

But Someone was Already There

There is a great little Thanksgiving Diddy that my children used to sing, recognizing that Columbus wasn’t the first person to “discover” America. Rather, people had been living there for thousands of years.  One verse goes as such:

Now it isn’t like it was empty space
The Caribs met him face to face
Could anyone discover a place
When someone was already there

Followed by the chorus reciting a list of many of the American Indian tribes.  If you want to hear the whole song, it’s here

It  has only been in recent years that Americans have started reckoning with the historic whitewashing of how the Indians were decimated by the hordes of explorers and colonizers that followed Columbus. One would hope that mankind had evolved enough over the past few centuries to recognize that the destruction and subjugation of an entire population in the interest of colonization is immoral. But, that is exactly how the state of Israel came into being and continues to expand.

Just as we Americans were raised with the notion that America was built by heroes and that the only bloodshed of the native population was because their own savagery, so goes the narrative about Palestinians who predated the modern State of Israel. Contrary to oft repeated Zionist equivocation that Israel was a land without people for a people without land,  the Zionist narrative has whitewashed the tragedy of the expulsion of 100s of millions of Palestinians from their generational homes, the destruction of hundreds of villages and the appropriation of Palestinian culture.

Another oft heard justification for the creation of Israel relies on the the pride of the the accomplishment of the creation of modern day Israel with its booming economy and mighty military. It is true that Israel is a beautiful and thriving country. It’s hard to travel there and not appreciate this. It’s ironic, however, that much of the culture that Israel celebrates including music and art, has been misappropriated from Palestinian culture. When one acknowledges how the Palestinians have suffered and continue to suffer as a consequence of the creation and expansion of Israel, it greatly tarnishes Israel’s image. Most people on both sides of the issue acknowledge today that there will never be a two state solution. Gaza and the West Bank are no longer connected, and what remains of the West Bank for Palestinians are the Swiss cheese holes in what had been designated as Palestinian land by the original UN mandate. So, it is with mixed feelings of nostalgia and deep sadness that I share these last pictures from the olive picking trip of Fall of 2017.

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These two pictures were taken during our tour of the Palestinian quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. The second graphically demonstrates how Zionist Jews are attempting to claim the whole city as their own. Even though the buildings from which the Israeli flags are hanging are unoccupied, somehow the rights to the buildings are owned now by Jews and the message is clear. We belong here – not you. Of course, Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will only further serve to bolster these claims.

We parted from the group in Jerusalem where we spent the night and then left the next morning for Jaffa. Jaffa is the ancient city that eventually was swallowed up by modern day Tel Aviv, the largest city in Israel, and the logical location of its capital. We stayed in the old city where there remains many vestiges of the old Palestinian presence as well as some remnants of New Testament Biblical times.

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The historical site of the house of Simon, the fisher.

IMG_1239Spectacular view from old Jaffa to the Mediterranean Sea – something that many Palestinians living  in the West Bank, only some 30 miles or so away, will never in their lifetimes see.

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IMG_1232My third time eating on the edge of the port of Jaffa at the Old Man and the Sea. No matter what one orders, the meal starts out with this huge display of salads and a large pitcher of fresh lemonade.  It’s an extremely popular restaurant staffed primarily by Palestinians and serving traditional Palestinian foods, but many travel sites tout it as Israeli. The fact is, the cultures are both Semitic and very similar, but this is something that Zionists wish to erase from consciousness.  Of the 48,000 residents of Jaffa, around 1/4 are Palestinian.

 

 

 

Reunions – we are David

During this  picking venture, I had the chance to meet up with some friends from my past two visits. After one morning of work, our group toured the old city of Hebron, where I had spent a month working in 2015. I had written about Leila, a lady in the market. She had become my friend after she  kindly guided me through the confusing narrow streets my first week there. https://kksjournal.com/2015/04/19/dont-you-know-its-dangerous-there-said-the-fox-to-the-chicken/  We initially visited the al Abrahimi Mosque, which was infamously partitioned to create a temple for the 500 or so squatting settlers who had turned this ancient Palestinian city upside after one of their minions, an American, Baruch Goldstein  machine gunned down 30 or so worshippers. Mind you, this had been exclusively an Islamic place of worship for over 800 years.

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To the right is the newly erected division creating in this ages old Mosque a new Jewish temple. Jews were never barred from visiting here, which supposedly sits atop the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, but now, as with the rest of Israel, Jewish rights supersede the rights of the indigenous peoples.
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A little Hand Maidens Tale-ish

In one of the more bizarre twists of the stilted history of the occupation, this flagrant act of violence of a crazy Zionist against the indigineuos inhabitants, rather than drawing protection from Israel, the occupying force for the native inhabitants, did the exact opposite. Shuheida  Street, the Main Street  of commerce in the old city  was closed down, Palestinian businesses were shuttered, Israeli forces were called in, not to protect the Palestinians, but rather the squatters, outnumbering them  by four soldiers to every squatter, and erecting check points severely restricting movement of the inhabitants of the old city.   The injustice of this is so profound, it pains me to recount it. But yet I’m compelled to,  because the pain resides daily in the lives of those Hebronites who remain, struggling to maintain subsistence and a semblance of dignity in the face of such oppression.

I ran ahead of the group afraid that I’d miss the opportunity before our bus was to leave. As I ran through the narrow street, a couple venders shouted out to me to stop and look at their wares. One shouted, “I remember you!” Others cried out to stop at their shops. I replied, “Leila, I’m looking for Leila.” I heard one scoff, “Leila, always Leila.”  Finally, there she was, pretty much at the end of all the venders. Such a sweet reunion. It’s strange how certain interpersonal connections are made. Is it cosmic, in the DNA, the stars?  All I know is that it was instantly and mutually felt. Leila looked much the same, but life had not become any easier. She told me that her son had been arrested two days earlier for having “illegally” sought work in Israel. This, of course could mean six months in jail with no outside contact with the world, abuse/torture, and imposition of impossible fines. it’s hard, so very hard to feel so useless and impotent.  A very bitter sweet and shirt reunion.

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I was also very interested to know what become of Feryal  Abu Haikal. FOLLOW THE TEL RUMEIDA ROAD. When I enquired, all I learned was that she had taken ill. Hardly a surprise given the immense pressure she faces on a daily basis. In Googling I further learned that she had lost her case against the continued destruction and confiscation of her land  in the Israel Supreme Court.   Losses continue to mount The pillage  of the ancestral land of the Abu Haikal family continues under the auspices of archeology, but as one Israeli archeologist pointed out in disgust, who ever heard of an archeological dig being conducted with backhoes? Moreover, ancient finds from the Roman times are found and destroyed only to dig deeper. The only thing of interest in this farcical Zionist venture is to find artifacts dating to the time of King David’s mythical reign to bolster the claim that this is the rightfully seized land of Israel.

On a more positive note,  I was able to meet up with my friend and hiking guide Hijazi Eid who joined us for dinner at the hotel. He also does his part and teaching of the beauty and history of the ancient land of Palestine and its deep shared culture among Jewish, Christian and Islamic peoples.

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We also were able to spent  one night with Mirvate Anwar in Beit Sahour. I stayed with them during my first trip, and have kept contact with her ever since. They have a beautiful house which keeps getting taller to accommodate their growing family. Palestinians are very rarely allowed building permits by the Israeli government  so their only option to expand is upwards. This is why one often sees rebar sticking out from the top of Palestinian houses.

Payne and I also had a chance meeting with her lovely daughter, Natalie as we were wandering the streets of Beit Sahour on our one free day. She was working in a tourist center when we were looking for an ATM. Unfortunately, I didn’t get photos.

The struggle continues, but more and more people are becoming aware and adding to the force for change. Israel has become Goliath and the Palestinians David. Justice will prevail.

 

Pressed

Our final day of picking was the most dramatic in several respects. It was on a farm just outside of Bethlehem on land that has been slowly and systematically being scooped up as part of the strategic plan to encircle Bethlehem with colonies of Jewish settlements to choke off access to Jerusalem. Mind you, this is all being done on land which was to have constituted the state of Palestine, in contravention of international. The farmer in question has held out on letting go of his farm against all odds. He is one of the fortunate ones who has rock solid proof of ownership. Israel has offered him a huge sum for his land and he has been harassed to no end, including having been mysteriously poisoned which put him in a coma for three months. Speculation is that Israel has designs to use it for airport. In short, he could be very wealthy and live a carefree life just about anywhere he might choose, but there is no price he would accept for the land which has sustained him and his family for generations. This has not stopped Israel’s expansionist plans in his area. Israeli colonies are being erecting on all sides of his farm. Although they have not been able to seize his farm, they  haveliterally closed him in by building the wall around him. In the name of security on this land to which they have no legal claim, they have created one of the most absurd and invidious strictures placed on Palestinian land that I have as of yet witnessed.

 

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This show part of the barrier fence that surrounds the entire farm. He now has access through this specially created, huge metal gate through which only the family has free access. If he has guests, he must first get permission from the Israeli authorizes.
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Here is our group entering the gate under the apartheid wall which closes off the farm from the rest of his Bethlehem suburb surrounds. We were allowed entry as the authorities allowed him help to harvest his olives. I guess we should all be grateful.
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This shows one side of the huge steel gate with some words of hope

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This gate blocks entrance to the farm from the road which leads to it, the access to the farm that has been in place for generations. Now the only access is through the new steel gated tunnel under the apartheid wall.

After  the incredulousness of the experience of this draconian barrier to the farm, we experienced the lushest, most satisfying picking of the trip. We were there for entire day, a swarm of worker bees milking the huge, copious olives weighing heavily on the trees. This farmer had the good fortune of the continued use of the well on his farm for irrigation, a luxury that most Palestinians are denied. It made a huge difference in the yield. We picked 105 trees and filled around 80 huge sacks.

we started at the back of the grove which was just feet away from a colonist outpost of mobile units. This is how many of the illegal settlements begin – with temporary structures that are eventually replaced with a quickly erected monolithic suburb.

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The four women from our six person Maine contingent.
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The four women from our Maine contingent. The six of us were the only Americans in our group of around 70.
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Our farmer on the wagon as bags of olives are being loaded
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After a whole day of picking, we suffered only one casualty. Payne sprained his ankle when his ladder toppled. But he got a great send off on the wagon.                                                      

To end the day, we visited the local cooperative olive press where the farmers bring there crop to be rendered into fresh, delicious olive oil.

 

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Dirty business

Picking  olives and apartheid policies are both dirty businesses. I’ll start with the olives. Our second day of picking was for a farmer on the edge of a new colony under construction. We could see and hear back hoes at work as the new buildings sat high looming down over the grove. Because of the proximity to the new colony, the farmer’s property had been fenced off and access to the olive field was restricted except  for a couple of weeks in October for the harvest. How kind of the Israeli government to allow these few weeks of access to his rightfully owned property in order to grant “security” to the illegally erected colony.

It bears noting that the illegal colonies in the West Bank now house around 700,000 settlers. This is up from some 500,000 the last time I was here. Everyone with any knowledge of this situation now  acknowledges that this means the idea of a two state solution is dead. It is also noteworthy that in recent years, there have been over  a million settlers from  Russia and USSR satellite states. While Palestinians are being systematically squeezed out of their ancestral lands, people with no connection with the land  are welcomed with open arms and subsidies if they can satisfy the authorities that they have just one Jewish grandparent. That could be me.

The picking this day proved to be much more difficult than the first day. The trees were higher, the branches more scraggly and the olives smaller and less abundant. After someone had mentioned that it was probably due to the fact that the trees hadn’t been properly pruned, it hit me why. The farmer had no access to the trees for most of the year. Whatever the draconian, life crushing  restriction placed on Palestinians is, the reason  is always “security.” How it inconveniences and demoralizes the Palestinians effected is of no concern, or perhaps one wonders, if that wasnt the aim; in other word, making life so unbearable, as to drive them out.

Adding to the gravitas was the news that the farmer had just lost his son a week or so ago. Our group coordinators had told the mother Minot to worry about providing lunch – that they would arrange it. She insisted all the same, and provided us a beautiful lunch that we shared on the field. Once again, the heartfelt gratitude we received for our help brought many of us to tears. We left the farm covered in dust and  oil stained on the surface, but deeply affected.

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We had to walk a bit to get to the olive grove. The ancient terraced fields from another farm are in the background.

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This is the gate that Israel erected a few years ago to restrict the farmer access to his own fields except with their permission.

 

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This is my friend Bob Schaible, past president of Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights and never one to go for the low hanging fruit.

FullSizeRender 2Our reward after a hard morning’s labor.

Aida means returning

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This is the entrance to the Aida refugee camp, the smallest of the 3 UN controlled refugee camps within the City of Bethlehem. Many of the refugees still hold the keys to the homes from which they were expelled, hence the key as a poignant symbol of the struggle.

After going to that part of the apartheid  wall that blockades Bethlehem from Jerusalem, we visited the Aida refugee camp. This is the smallest of the three UN run camps in Bethlehem with around 6,000 refugees. Dheishe, the largest, houses nearly 15,000. The camps were opened in the late 1940s to temporarily shelter some of the 750,000 to 1,000,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes by Israeli forces in the late 1940s.  Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe refers to this as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

These camps  initially consisted of tents, but. after around two years, it became clear that more permanent structures were needed.  They remain today, nearly 70 years later, ghettos of closely packed stuctures separated by tiny alleyways, with barely a speck of green space.

Many in the camps are now third generation, probably fourth or even fifth.  I’ve heard it  asked, often with contempt, why are they still there? Why don’t they leave? Why don’t other countries absorb them?

First of all, it has to be understood that Palestinians have a very deep connection with the land, and the initial refugees always thought they they would be able to return to their homes. This is a hope that is still alive  – even in the later generations.

Second, the neighboring countries, and particularly Jordan HAVE absorbed 100,000s of thousands of Palestinian refugees. When I visited 3 1/2 years ago, 1/3 of Jordan’s population were Palestinian, and the country was straining to provide for them. Now with the Syrian crisis, the situation is even more dire.

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This wall mural lists all of the Palestinian villages from which the camp’s refugees were expelled.

Finally, the camp refugees are mired in such extreme poverty, that they simply don’t have the option of mobility.  So, the situation is entrenched and generational. This is what is wrought by forced expulsions and ethnic cleansing.

A couple personal notes on camp life bear mentioning. One of our guides was distraught on our bus ride to the olive field. He is a resident of the Dheishe camp. The previous night, the camp was raided by Israeli soldiers. This is always done in the dark of night, doors kicked in,everyone, including terrified children pulled from beds, houses torn apart in searches and people, usually young men, dragged out in handcuffs. I can’t  tell you how many times I’ve heard such stories.  This night, three of his close friends had been taken away.

Under  Israeli law, there is this thing called administrative detention. This euphemism means that one can be held for up to 5 months without any charges filed and without access to a lawyer, family or the outside world. Doe process of law? No such thing for Palestinians. Reasons for detention might be throwing a rock at a soldier, being a journalist writing criticisms of the occupation, an activist of any kind or a union member protesting Israel – who knows. And it almost always involves extreme abuse if not torture’ and very often minor children being detained. And each 5 month period can be extended, extended and extended. A friend of mine recently welcomed his son-in law home after 30 months of detention and fruitless money scraped together by the family spent on legal fees, finally  to see his 2 year old daughter for the first time. His crime – writing about the occupation.

Another incident  involved my friend Leila, the vender of women’s needlework cooperative from Hebron. I was delighted to reconnect with her the other day. But saddened to learn that just two days earlier her son had been arrested, purportedly for the crime of trying to work without a permit in Israel. Who knows when she will see him again.

Finally, the other story that touched me was from the same guide from the Dheishe camp.  We were picking olives in an area surrounded by new Israeli settlements. Their construction involved confiscation of huge tracts of land in the West Bank. The area of olive trees in which we were picking bordered the camp  and was the de facto playground of the camp children who otherwise had no green areas to play in. Well, with the construction of the settlements came the walling off of the entire area, further closing in and ghettoizing the camp. He ruefully described how this was his childhood playground which, alas was now out of bounds for the camp because of the grotesque wall.

Children comprise over 50% of the camps’ population. How will life under occupation form them?

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While at the camp, we heard an explosion. It was a sound bomb tossed into the camp by an Israeli soldier. At the top of the street, to the left, you can see the figure of a soldier menacing with his gun as emboldened children run to the street to face the threat head on.

The graffitti in the camp bears a stark contrast to the graffiti on the apartheid wall. While the wall is a formidable reminder to all of the grave injustice of this colonialist, racist regime, the messages are largely of irony  and hope. The camp graffiti is much starker. suggesting a primal struggle for existence.

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