Hope you enjoyed the pictures from the last post – they’re uploading as I type this one, so I’m not going in chronological order but you should! Because I’ll undoubtedly make references to them in the following.
With 4 days left of our trip, I’m beginning to reflect on quite a few things. One of them is bias. “Do I have a bias in this blog?” I asked myself while we were walking through Nazareth yesterday. I have been trying to present what I’ve been doing and seeing reasonably objectively, with a smatter of personal opinions here and there. Stephanie’s opinion is that since I don’t have a personal connection to the conflict, I don’t have a bias – because it has to do with personal feelings. It’s hard to look at my blog, though, and see the Israeli narrative at all. Partly this is because I hadn’t seen it, partly it is because I think the Israeli narrative has alot to do with ignorance – for example, Israeli schools are not allowed, by law, to teach the Arabic narrative of history. Max reflected on a conversation with his friend, an Israeli professor, who remarked that she was ashamed of how little the kids know about politics. Well, today, some of my presumptions were confirmed, some dispelled, and some left in doubt, as oso many things in this life are.
Today we toured the West Bank with the group, “Breaking the Silence,” an incredible group of ex-Israeli Defense Force soldiers who are now speaking out against the occupation and leading groups of both Israelis and internationals into the West Bank to learn about the conditions that really exist there. Our tour was in the barren landscape of the South Hebron Hills. Boy, was this one really a shock for me. Here is a picture of the Palestinian village of Susiya located there:
And here is a picture of the Israeli settlement right next to it (I can’t remember it’s name):
As you’ll see in the gallery at the end of this post, the Palestinian villagers here really live in primitive conditions. Our guide told us about the history of Susiya, how all of the constructions (loosely defined to include their tents) are slated for demolition as “illegal” by the Israeli state. Their original cave dwelligns (pic in the gallery) were already demolished and those who are here returned illegally to hold on. Their only source of water, an underground cistern, is now unfit to drink from because Israeli soldiers were ordered to push a car inside to block it off. When they were ordered to pull it back out, as a human rights violation, they could not – and instead pushed it in, rendering the water unsafe to drink. Meanwhile the settlement nearby has running water and electricity. I won’t even try to get into the legal process that guides this, but suffice it to say it’s based on a selection of whichever set of laws is more convenient for Israeli goals: be it British Mandate (RJ2 is the name of the survey they use, I believe) Jordanian law, Ottoman law [one part states that anyone who works their land for 10 years is entitled to it, if it lays fallow for 3 years it is the sultan’s property – aka Israel’s. As a result of that specific one, many settlers put baby trees in barrels and grow them on the side of the hillside, to present a pretense of tending the land]).
Our guide related tales that many soldiers tell about settlers who will attack the villagers, and even attack soldiers who attempt to protect them.This may sound awful, but one thing I cannot stress enough that our guide emphasized is how firmly the IDF troops believe they are doing right, that they are moral. If they are ordered to demolish a house, they truly believe it will aid their mission of fighting the terrorism that exists in a tiny percentile of Palestine (if that). In addition, he reflected on two separate settler narratives: economic settlers, and ideological. The economic settlers only live there because they housing is subsidized (by the US, mostly) and costs 1/10 of the cost to live in, for example, Tel Aviv. Ideological settlers subscribe to the Zionist narrative – they are the ones who attack villagers and burn their crops. When soldiers try to stop these events, given their strict orders not to use force against Israelis, they must call local police – who often show up a day late.
Now keep in mind, these narratives were presented by an Israeli Jew, ex-IDF member, who has seen the occupation firsthand. He relates that he and other soldiers felt immoral when searching houses, how their “red line” of things they would never do to Palestinians kept inching further and further. This is why he and over 800 other soldiers have joined Breaking the Silence.
Later in the day, (after I took a nap and missed out on the church in Bethlehem where Jesus was supposedly born, [ps more on that church next time, as many of our group had strong reflections on it] being the sick fellow I am this sun is no good for me!) we visited the Wi’am center, an Arabic word meaning, I believe, the equivalent of coexistence (Correct me if I’m wrong!). They work and educate using an Arabic style of conflict resolution/mediation called Sulha, in which the resolution is reached with coffee as the stakes! We had an incredible talk with Zhougbi Zhougbi, the administrator there, who described their mission as comprised of four messages: coexistence, transformation, hope and Shift away from blame, guilt based narratives. They also run a summer camp there, and kids on their playground can be seen in this, if i do say so myself, awesome picture:
Now, Zoughbi did a wonderful job of, in his words “injecting hope” into me, and many other members of our group. However, the center cannot overcome bias. I believe I am unbiased, because I base my evaluation of the situation here on the facts on the ground, and the narratives from (now) both Israelis and Palestinians. Tomorrow we will go to the Holocaust museum, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say after that. As to any questions ya’ll have, I’ll be sure to answer any comments but tonight I am jsut too exhausted to write any more. Cheers!
Oh, PS here is a gallery: