Thursday, March 29, 2012

Limitless Kindness and Bottomless Cruelty

I have to admit that as much as I love living in Palestine (and I REALLY love living in Palestine!), there are days when I selfishly wish that I had just remained ignorant of the injustice here. There are times when all I want to do is crawl in a hole and never hear another word about apartheid, occupation, or international politics ever again. Sometimes, it just hurts too much. Sometimes, it's just too overwhelming. Sometimes, instead of motivating me, it cripples me. 

Some days, I see the tangible results of my efforts here - one more family can pay their medical bills, or send their kids to school, or have food to eat that evening - and I feel like what I'm doing is making a difference. Other times, I feel like I'm not doing nearly enough. If I can't change the world, then what's the point of trying? What's the point of helping people survive from one miserable day to the next if I'm not working to change their circumstances. I am just one person. I cannot end this occupation, and when you get down to it, that is the root of the problem. Things will not, CANNOT, substantially improve until the occupation has ended. And therefore, if I'm not helping to end the occupation, then am I just wasting my time?

I cannot offer a short-term solution, send up a two second prayer that things get better, and move on. I must work for justice, because my humanity is tied in with your humanity. And your humanity is tied in with the humanity of the boy down the street. And all of our humanity is tied in with the rest of the world's humanity. If the humanity of those living in Palestine is being ignored and undermined, then my own humanity is undergoing the same treatment. All of humanity suffers with the oppressed - consciously or not.

Earlier today I was catching up on my friend Courtney's blog and saw a quote that totally articulates these hard moments:
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
–Mark Jenkins
"Limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty;" this is what I'm experiencing here in Palestine.

Today, the cruelty so overshadows the kindness that I struggle to remember a time when I wasn't frustrated, brokenhearted, and exhausted; I have given all that I have, and I am completely spent, totally drained. Today, as I walk past packs of soldiers, teenagers with machine guns, all I can see is the occupation and the pain that comes along with it. Today, as I walk along the wall, all I can feel is claustrophobic, caged; I feel like a prisoner.

But tomorrow will be different.

Tomorrow, I will remember the kindness of people - on both sides of the wall. Tomorrow, I will begin again, working for peace in my own small way, one family at a time. Tomorrow, I will be able to appreciate the beauty of this place, despite the suffering that is happening here.

But today... today, I just can't, and here are a few reasons why:

Israeli soldier aims his gun at Palestinian civilians in the old city of Hebron. 

Two 10 year old students were shot by Israeli forces during class in a United Nations school in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers come to oversee the demolition of a Palestinian family's home in the West Bank.

Israeli soldier shooting at school children in the West Bank city of Hebron.

"Haaretz [Israeli news source] found that dead babies, pregnant women, mothers weeping on their children’s grave, a child in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle and blown-up mosques are just a few of the images with which IDF soldiers decided to mark their graduation from a training course or tour of duty... 
The Haaretz inquiry brought several examples of such prints: An infantry snipers’ T-shirt with the writing “better use Durex” running alongside a dead Palestinian child, a weeping mother and a teddy bear; another sniper course shirt showing an aim taken at the belly of a pregnant woman, with the slogan “One shot, two kills;” a shirt from the Haruv battalion with the picture of a Samurai and the caption “we won’t chill before we verify the kill,” and many more."

A mother trying to shield her children from the crosshairs.

Cattle grates used to herd people into the checkpoints.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner") is a quotation from a June 26, 1963, speech by President JFK in West Berlin. He was underlining United States support for West Germany, 22 months after the Soviet-supported East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West.
That wall fell. This one will too.

Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever be able to piece my heart back together again.

Friday, March 23, 2012

This Duck is an Apartheid Duck

Israel is an apartheid state. Here, on the ground, there is no denying it. It's indisputable. Often, instead of trying to argue with the facts, Israelis or Zionists try to argue over technicalities by using convoluted logic: "Don't call it apartheid! That was in South Africa. This isn't South Africa, therefore it's not apartheid." Well, no. It still is apartheid. It's just Israeli apartheid, not South African apartheid.

In fact, if you talk to people who lived under apartheid in South Africa, there is a recurring theme to their opinion on Israel:

"I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about."
 - Archbishop Desmond Tutu  
"Israel came to resemble more and more apartheid South Africa at its zenith -- even surpassing its brutality, house demolitions, removal of communities, targeted assassinations, massacres, imprisonment and torture of its opponents, collective punishment and the aggression against neighbouring states."
 - Former South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils. 
"But what is interesting is that every black South African that I've spoken to who has visited the Palestinian territory has been horrified and has said without hesitation that the system that applies in Palestine is worse."
 - Professor John Dugard, Former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine.  
"...we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."
-Nelson Mandela
"When I come here and see the situation [in the Palestinian territories], I find that what is happening here is 10 times worse than what I had experienced in South Africa. This is Apartheid."
 - Arun Gandhi 
"As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of Israel's actions make the actions of South Africa's apartheid regime appear pale by comparison."
 - Willie Madisha, in a letter supporting CUPE Ontario's resolution. 
"They support Zionism, a version of global racist domination and apartheid based on the doctrine that Jews are superior to Arabs and therefore have a right to oppress them and occupy their country."
 - Current COSATU President, Sidumo Dlamini.
"It is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it, so to speak; sharpened it. For instance, we had the Bantustans and we had the Group Areas Act and we had the separate schools and all of that but I don’t think it ever even entered the mind of any apartheid planner to design a town in such a way that there is a physical wall that separates people and that that wall denotes your freedom of movement, your freedom of economic gain, of employment, and at the same time is a tool of intimidation and dehumanisation. We carried passes as the Palestinians have their ID documents but that did not mean that we could not go from one place in the city to another place in the city. The judicial system was absolutely skewed of course, all the judges in their judgements sought to protect white privilege and power and so forth, and we had a series of what they called “hanging judges” in those days, but they did not go far as to openly, blatantly have two separate justice systems as they do for Palestinians [who are tried in Israeli military courts] and Israelis [who are tried in civil, not military courts]. So in many ways the Israeli system is worse. ... 
Another thing that makes it even worse is that when we fought our battles, even if it took us a long time, we could in the end muster and mobilise international solidarity on a scale that enabled us to be more successful in our struggle. The Palestinians cannot do that. The whole international community almost conspires against them. ... 
Palestinians are mocked in a way that South Africans were not. In a sense, the UN tried in our case to follow up on its resolutions to isolate the apartheid regime. Here, now, they make resolutions against Israel one after the other and I don't detect even a sense of shame that they know there is not going to be any follow up." 
- Reverend Allan Boesak

"Don’t patronize us! We lived apartheid, we suffered apartheid, we know what apartheid is, we recognise apartheid when we see it. And when we see Israel, we see a regime that practices apartheid." 

Now, the point of this is not to de-legitimize South African struggle by saying that this one is "worse." It doesn't MATTER which is worse, because both are unjust and painful. Both go against the spirit of Christ. As a follower of Jesus, I cannot sit back and remain silent in the face of injustice and dehumanization. I am called to love my neighbor, and I cannot do that if I am ignoring my neighbor's cries for help. If your neighbor was drowning, you would not just sit back and watch her die because you didn't feel like getting wet. 

The title of this blog post was inspired by an article with the same name, written by Yousef Munayyer. I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it articulates the situation much better than I could. Here's a quote from the article that really struck me:

Apartheid, like genocide, has an internationally recognized legal definition. For genocide, the definition was institutionalized in the aftermath of World War II. Obviously genocides differ with respect to policies, severity, and method: compare the Rwandan genocide and the Nazi Holocaust, for example. But few would argue that what happened in Rwanda was not genocide because it looks different from other genocides.

And given the definition of Apartheid, Israel’s domination of the Palestinians fits the bill. 
The 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court defines Apartheid as actions or policies “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

As Munayyer so bluntly put it: "If it walks like a duck, if looks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, what is it? It’s a duck. This duck is an Apartheid duck." 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Checkpoint and The Separation Barrier

After living in Palestine for the last seven months, there are plenty of facets of this conflict that I am capable of explaining. I can talk about curfews, electricity cuts, water shortages, sanitation issues, demonstrations, Israeli attack dogs being used on Palestinian civilians (ohhhhh yeah, that post is coming soon), constantly being surrounded by soldiers, economic deterioration, harassment, bombing, the apartheid system of having different social structures for Israelis than for Palestinians (different courts, different roads, different laws, etc.), the dangers of normalization, and plenty of other things in a way that someone who has never been here can understand. Unfortunately, there are also things that I just cannot begin to articulate. There are parts of life here that unless you see for yourself, you would never believe, and could not begin to understand. Two of those things are the checkpoints and the separation barrier (or as many Palestinians refer to it: "the apartheid wall").

Now, if you go back through my blog posts, you'll definitely see me reference these things, but you may notice that I have never gone in-depth and tried to explain them. The reason being that it's simply not possible. I cannot possibly come up with language strong enough to express the way in which the hundreds of checkpoints and this wall, more than twice the height and four times the length of the Berlin Wall, negatively affect the life of each and every person living in the West Bank, and it feels hollow for me to even try. Nothing I can say would adequately explain the realities... you need to see it for yourself.

Since it's obviously not possible for everyone to hop on a plane and see the conflict first hand, Porter Speakman, an incredible filmmaker from the US who has spent a lot of time in Israel/Palestine and is the Media Director for the Christ at the Checkpoint Conferences, has made two short (5 minute-ish) films to help people grasp the realities of both the checkpoint and the apartheid wall. I watched them both today, and let me tell you, they are the best summarizations that I have seen so far. I highly recommend that you take the next ten minutes and watch these two short films. I promise that it will go a long way toward helping you understand these two very confusing concepts.

(If you click play and it tells you that you need some sort of flash player that you don't have, just click on the link in the title of the film directly below the video to go to the Vimeo site where it'll play without having to download anything.)

The Checkpoint from Christ at the Checkpoint on Vimeo.
"Traveling from one end of the West Bank to the other, a distance of perhaps 80 miles, takes me as an Israeli an hour and a half or two hours in a car and takes a Palestinian - because on some of the roads I go he can't go, some of the checkpoints I pass he can't pass through - it would take him a day."

The Separation Barrier from Christ at the Checkpoint on Vimeo.

For more detailed information about the barrier, I recommend reading Is it a Fence? Is it a Wall? No, it’s a Separation Barrier and B'Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories)'s Separation Barrier Explanation.

Life changing, right?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I'm Home

Today as I was walking down the hall on my way to lunch, I ran into some of my friends who are students at the college. "COME ON!" they said excitedly, as they grabbed my hands and dragged me with them into a meeting room full of American tourists who were visiting BBC. "What's going on?" I asked the coordinator. "Oh," he told me, "this is a group from Notre Dame. They wanted to meet some Palestinian Christian students while they were in the West Bank." I turned back to my friends. "I'm not supposed to be here," I told them, getting ready to leave, "they want to meet with Palestinians, not me."

"It's okay," one of the students assured me, "you are one of us now."

Stunned, I sat down between Jabra and Sally, and it began to dawn on me that I really am one of them. Slowly but surely, Palestine has become my home, and I have begun to belong here. After introducing ourselves, we broke up into smaller groups and I sat with my friend Haneen, an absolutely beautiful soul from Ramallah who lives at the college. (Even though Ramallah is only 14 miles away from Bethlehem, because of the Apartheid Wall and the checkpoints, it can take Haneen anywhere between 1.5-4 hours to get from her home to the Bible College, so she lives in the dorms here at school.) She complained about how terrible her English is, I complained about how terrible my Arabic is, and then we took deep breaths, linked our arms together, and emotionally prepared ourselves for the difficult task of discussing the occupation with people who had never encountered it before.

I realized something, right then and there: it is going to break my heart to leave these beautiful people who have become like family, and this incredible place that has become my home.

Honestly, in four months when it comes time for me to head back to the United States, I don't know how I'm going to be able to do it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

As the Bombs Drop Over Gaza

I had planned for my next post to be about the incredibly fantastic and successful Christ at the Checkpoint conference that the Bible College put on last week, but that is going to have to wait, because unfortunately, there is something more urgent that needs to be spoken about.

How many of you know that right now, as I am writing this, bombs are being dropped on Gaza? How many of you know that Jabaliya Refugee Camp has been a target of this Israeli bombing? How many of you know that 17 Palestinians have been killed, including a 12 year old boy, and over 40 have been injured? (Update: latest reports as of Wednesday, March 14th indicate at least 26 dead [the most recent being 7 year-old Baraka Al-Mughrabi] and over 80 injured - mostly women and children.)

Palestinians women react during the funeral of 12 year old Ayoub Assalya killed in an Israeli airstrike in Jabaliya Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, Sunday, March 11, 2012. The worst round of violence in more than a year between Israel and Gaza Strip Palestinians deepened Sunday with deadly Israeli airstrikes.
The whole thing began on Friday, when Israel dropped bombs in a (successful) attempt to assassinate Zuhair al-Qaissi, a Palestinian resistance leader. After his death, militants from Gaza retaliated by firing rockets onto the Israeli side, and things have escalated from there. The extremist groups of resistors are no match for the Israeli Defense Force; one side has a few rockets that they can shoot into the mostly empty southern Israeli desert, the other is capable of leveling the entire country.

A Palestinian tries to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.

Even though Israel started the bombing, even though there was probably a better way to assassinate someone than to rain bombs down on their country's hospitals and schools and refugee camps, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the people of Gaza will take the blame for this. Gaza does not have multi-billion dollar Public Relations spin machines like Israel and the US, Israel's number one supporter. The only thing Gaza has are the small voices, like mine, saying "We are in this land. We are on the ground. We are seeing what is being done. Friends, family, please CARE about this! These people matter. These lives matter. These are your brothers and sisters who are being slaughtered. These are Children of God who are being murdered. Please, care."

But my heart breaks as I realize that it's not enough. It's never enough. My voice is not loud enough. My presence, not powerful enough. I cannot change the world, and I cannot solve this conflict. I cannot stop the bombs from raining down on these precious people. Together, we could. A public outcry, would. But the world remains silent as terrified Gazans sit in their homes and pray that God will spare their children.

Imagine if this was happening in your country. In your state. In your town. Imagine the pain and the terror that you would be feeling. Imagine how desperately you would want the world to speak out in order to end your suffering. Imagine your devastation when no one said a word.

I want to share this letter written on Friday by Waleed al-Meadana, a 21 year old student in Gaza. I think it resonates more deeply than anything I could even begin to articulate.

A letter from Gaza under attack

by Waleed al-Meadana

March 9, 2012

I am writing to all people of the world in solidarity with the oppressed and suppressed around the world. Right here, in Gaza, right now, being under attack, I have no place to polish my language; I have no time to choose my words. I am just being spontaneous, for every second counts. One hour later, I may have no chance to write you, lest being dead -- I have the same things in mind now all Gazans have. (I am Gazan at the end of the day).

The only thing I hear is the bombs; it is not too far away. At some point, the dead were 3. Some few minutes later, they were 6. One minute after, they were 7. And time is still counting! How many do you think they would get by the time I finish writing this or you finish reading it ?! Ambulances, rushing in the haunting streets, are also heard. I, like all the poor living things here, can feel the shakes, resulted from the bombs. Fear is easy to notice on the eyes of the children; they, however, show toughness and challenge that they never cry and they speak up their minds. It has been reported that 3 more people were killed in an Israeli raid, hitting the Palestinian legislative council.

The names of the dead are aired now: Moatasem, Fayyeq, Shadi, etc. But it does not matter any longer, for what keeps my mind busy now is "Who is next? What next? When is this all over?"—I wish I could think of an exact answer. Many thoughts are popping to one's mind at these moments: family, friends, poor people, the lovely past, the bitterly present and the bleak future. But we never lose hope of a better life. And a better future. While I was lost in such thoughts, dad asked me about the first name one of my friends has. He was actually listening to the radio when the dead were named. I felt like my heart jumped up to my throat. I panicked!
‏I will sleep, though I am being bombed. I will have some sleep, though I am being terrified. And I will dream of a better tomorrow.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hey Guys, Apparently I'm Going to Hell.

Life is insane right now. Seriously CRAZY. I'm busy preparing for the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference being put on next week by the Bethlehem Bible College, and the pushback we're getting is ridiculous. This is our second international conference, and we currently have around 500 people registered to attend. Our basic mission statement is that we aim "to provide an opportunity for Evangelical Christians to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation in the context of the realities on the ground in the Palestinian Territories." 

Our goal is to begin a dialogue about the roll of the church in this conflict. We will have many different speakers, from well known Americans such as Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne, to British Reverend Steven Sizer, to Messianic Jews, Palestinians, and many others. We have a range of people attending, from very conservative to very liberal. We have Zionists attending and speaking. We hope to have a full range of opinions and beliefs present, so that we can have a truly open discussion about the issues surrounding peace and justice in Palestine.

Unfortunately, for the last few months, we have been drowning in hate mail. While we have an incredible number of people excited and supportive of the conference, we also have people who have ignorantly believed the awful articles likening us to Nazis and terrorists. My heart breaks every time I read a new article saying that we are evil and that there's a special circle of hell dedicated to people like us. I'm going to hell? For believing in reconciliation? For loving people who are the "wrong" nationality? For working toward justice for all of God's people? I don't think so; I know my Lord better than that. Obviously someone important is getting nervous, because the Israeli authorities have pulled my Palestinian bosses into meetings with the Israeli military twice now.

The craziest thing I've read so far came from The Jerusalem Post. Not only were we slandered, but our ideology and beliefs were completely twisted into something hatefilled and evil, and completely misrepresented. My favorite quote from this article is "Also presenting is Porter Speakman, Jr., who produced the horridly biased and widely viewed film, With God On Our Side, that urges Christians not to assist the Israeli brutalizing of Palestinians through the support of Christian Zionism." Why yes. I WOULD agree that we urge Christians not to brutalize Palestinians. What is wrong with urging Christians to avoid the brutalization of a people? How could anyone possibly argue that brutalizing Palestinians is an okay thing for anyone, especially a follower of Jesus Christ, to do?

The conference begins next Monday, and life will be chaotic until then.

In an effort to relax this evening, I went out to dinner with a dear friend here in Palestine, a British journalist named Emily, to a little bar in Beit Sahour, a village neighboring Bethlehem. It was POURING rain (as it has been for the last few days), and so when we were finished, we decided to have the bartender (who coincidentally is a good friend of Emily's) call us a cab instead of walking.

As we're headed back to our homes - she lives in Aida Camp, the refugee camp near my host family's house - the driver turns on his CD player, and on comes this guy rapping about ending the occupation in Palestine. I immediately googled the lyrics upon returning home. Turns out, the song was "End the Occupation" by Abu Nurah. His bio says "The son of Mexican immigrants, Abu Nurah grew up in Los Angeles' notorious Pico-Union neighborhood and went on to graduate Cum Laude from Harvard." Sounds like a pretty cool guy.

I felt like the first two verses were so powerful, and so I decided to copy them for you all:

It's essential for a people to govern their own affairs
and return to the land of which they're rightful heirs;
Living in exile is like life suspended
for people back home the misery never ended;
Those who resist are accused of terrorism
for refusing to accept conditions worse than a prison;

To the world, much of the suffering is invisible
mountains of evidence held to be inadmissible;
Occupations dehumanize populations
their strongest supporters are the world's wealthy nations.

It's the women and children who suffer most from occupation
their stories should be broadcast on every U.S. station;
Maybe then the people would push the administration
to suspend the billions we give the Israeli nation;
And maybe one day mothers could breathe a sigh of relief
and their hearts begin to heal from the decades of grief;
Enough of roadmaps and Israel's iron fist
the immoral state of affairs must cease to exist;
How do you explain a 3-year-old shot in the head
or an 80-year-old being crushed to death in his bed;
Bishop Tutu has said that Palestine is a replica
of what Blacks had to endure in apartheid South Africa;
Many see the connection, others choose to ignore it

they say no to divestment but back then they were for it.

If I could ask for anything from you over this next week, it would be for prayer. Pray for this conference, that God would use it to help bring about peace and reconciliation in the region. Pray for all of those attending, that they would be able to make it through the border without being stopped or turned away. Pray for the Israeli government and those making important decisions. Pray for the Palestinian government in both the West Bank and Gaza, that they will stay strong and non-violent in their quest for freedom. Pray for me; sometimes I feel like my heart is just going to shatter from all of the tragedy here - pray for strength and stability.

I probably won't be writing until March 9th, when the conference is over (since I'll be there from 5am-10pm every day). So until then, dear ones, have lovely days!