Two West Marin Mothers View Palestine
By Janelle Kate Hart
Inside West Marin's Lagunitas Deli my friend Chantal invited me to come with her and her Global studies class on a fact finding tour into Israel's Occupied Territories, (Where they were to meet with President Arafat on Nov., 18).
I accepted and on the twelfth of Nov., only one day after the death of President Yasser Arafat, under a veil of mystery, we left for the world's most significant conflict zone.
I joined 12 others from New College's new "Middle East Center" and arrived in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport late at night. We had previously been grilled on how to pass through Israel's famous security by someone who has been to the Middle East over 30 times.
"Don't say anything about going into the Occupied Territories or they won't let you in Israel, they'll think you're with the ISM and they're not letting any Internationals in." we were told. "Say you are touring with a student group," which was all true (just some things were left out).
"Joseph," our Christian Palestinian guide from ATG (Alternative Tourism Group) picked us up at the airport. He had a special permit that allowed him as an Arab to drive on the "Israeli only" bypass roads into Israel and pick us up.
Late, I fell asleep in awe in my bed at the YWCA in Bethlehem. I was awakened at 4:20 am to the beautiful and mysterious sounds of the nearby Mosque calling the faithful to prayer.
We left Palestine and paused in nearby Jordan getting to know one another's positions on the occupation.
At the Israeli controlled Allenby Bridge checkpoint we crossed the Jordan River and spent three days in Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum, visiting the hypnotic Bedouin Arabs, riding camels and horses.
To my surprise besides the professor, Chantal and I were the only "Palestinian activists" on board almost everyone else was still uncommitted, just learning about the occupation of Palestine through their Globalization course at New College. Clark was the one person in our group raised Jewish; he was undecided about the occupation. "He wanted to see the occupation for himself before he came to any conclusions." I had a feeling by the end of this trip we would all be activists...
Back in Bethlehem we stayed at the Paradise Hotel which was destroyed by the Israeli army in 2000. We were the first guests after rebuilding. For one week from our perch on the fifth floor, videos in tow, sharing breakfast, lunch and Dinner, we set out with ATG to gather the facts of the occupation and its effect upon Palestinians.
We were confined to visiting the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, where one and a quarter million Palestinians are sealed in a huge prison ghetto by the Israeli military, was off limits to us.
In all we visited occupied Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablas, and Jenin, then towards the end of the trip we would stay in Nazareth, at The Saint Gabriel Hotel, near Mary's Well, visiting Haifa, Aka, Yafa, and then finally Tel Aviv, all in Israel.
We visited four refugee camps. Dheisheh, Askkar, Ayda and Jenin, we listened and taped old Palestinians tired with sadness in their eyes, "Who could remember The Catastrophe," as if it were yesterday, and told brutal accounts of transfer and murder for land in 1948.
We learned Palestinians were not allowed by the British in 1948 to use the paved roads to flee what the Palestinians refer to as "Al Nakbah" (The Catastrophe). They explained they were forced out of their homes by "armed European Jews with armed British soldiers" and forced over rocky deserts and mountains from beautiful olive and orange filled villages. Hundred of thousands of people fled or were killed, "all our animals were slaughtered by the Jews and the British". Thousands were forced into refugee camps with no blankets or shoes, in some cases hundreds of miles away. Through tears I was told some were forced to leave their babies behind.
Sadly these same people remain refugees under Israeli occupation and curfew for over 50 years. Since the second intifada began in 2000, Hebron alone has been under curfew for over 600 days. Under inhumane conditions they wait with new generations of Palestinians for 'The Right of Return' which the Palestinians continue to justly and demand as their right.
We visited two to three Human Rights organizations a day sometimes more.
One day with distant gun fire and rain around us, we went into Rahmalla, first passing through another Israeli checkpoint. We visited' the "Muquatta," President Arafat's destroyed compound. We gave our respect at his surreal tomb and hung out with friendly Palestinian soldiers whilst waiting to meet with Qaddura Faris, the Palestinian minister of State.
We toured Ramallah's Birzeit university and talked with students about current events and the upcoming elections, and finally, to ADDAMEER- a Palestinian Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association in Ramallah. Here in small office prisoners cases are monitored. From two female lawyers in one hour we learned that Israel is holding over 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, 200 of them "rock throwers" under the age of 14.
Prisoners are held in what is called "Administrative detention" (illegal according to international law). They are often arrested without charge or trial and the detention is indefinably renewable. Prisoners can be interrogated for 180 days, during which time they can also be denied lawyer visits for up to 60 days before eventually going in front of a military court. Palestinian lawyers are not permitted any special travel privileges in order to defend their clients. They are subjected to the same travel restrictions as all Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Torture is legal during interrogation in Israel and prisoners have died in custody as result of torture. Confessions extracted through torture are legal in court. Prisoners can't have visits from any family members that are 15 to 45 years old. They are held in several different camps without facilities for visitors, many miles away from their homes, without proper medical attention, food, water or shelter, some in undisclosed locations. Sometimes whole families are held as collective punishment until the wanted relatives can be found.
Prisoners are considered heroes to the people. The release of all political prisoners is a requirement for peace. "In the consciousness of the Palestinian people the prisoners are a symbol of sacrifice and resistance to the occupation and their suffering for the sake of freedom is greatly appreciated at all levels of Palestinian society," says Dr. Majed Nassar, founder of the Beit Sahour Medical Center/Greek Catholic Convent Clinic and present director.
We toured universities in Bethlehem, and Nablas and Rahmallah. We discovered Palestinians are historically well educated and go without basics to attend school. A great majority of Palestinians attend university (51 percent women) and speak English, certainly helping us to better understand the conditions they suffer under constant occupation and curfew. In fact at Berzeit university in Ramallah, the oldest university in Palestine's West Bank, with 6,500 students, even though Arabic is the official language most of the courses are taught in English.
Everywhere we went our Palestinian hosts were patiently waiting for us, graciously providing us with tea, powered milk, powered coffee and wafers before beginning presentations. In Dheisheh refugee camp where there are 6.000 children water is 5 times more expensive than in nearby Israel. Water is controlled by the Israelis' and is only pumped in twice a week, coming through a nearby Israeli Settlements water system. Our guide through the Dheisheh camp told us the Israeli's say, "First our dogs then the Palestinians."
Israel completely controls Palestinian access to water for profit and to control the Palestinian economy. Showers are short. Milk is very expensive and generally unavailable in Palestine because Palestinians don't have enough land to graze cattle; thus Israel controls the market in milk also.
In Jerusalem we met Jeff Halper and Angela Godfrey Goldstein from The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions.
Angela, an ex-Zionist from South Africa gave us a tour of East Jerusalem's New Israeli Settlements and the Separation Wall that separates Palestinians in East Jerusalem from the rest of occupied Palestine, (preempting any possibility of transferring East Jerusalem to the Palestinians). The Wall is 25 feet high; twice the height of the Berlin wall and separates the Palestinians from each other, their fields, schools and work. In Northern Bethlehem alone the Wall is 30 miles long and will segregate more than 17,500 acres of Palestinian agricultural land planted mostly with Olive trees which belong to both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. Angela our guide is an Israeli citizen who considers herself a Christian. One of her parents was Christian and the other Jewish, Angela a gray haired radical was caught graffiting the wall a while back by soldiers and is now caught up in the Israeli legal system, she is charged with acts against the Jewish state. Somehow I think Angela will be OK, she speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Dutch, French, Spanish and English. We will be keeping up with Angela who works with 500 other Israeli /Jewish women to monitor checkpoints and other places where Palestinian and Israeli/Jews interface. Anyone who wishes to contact her in Israel may do so at www.machsomwatch.org
Being in Occupied Palestine was like being a part of one big family. Both men and women are very affectionate. People unified with a single cause thrive and I will miss this overwhelming feeling of unity. One thing young people in Palestine said over and over again was," It's not the Jews, it's the Occupation;" demonstrating the generous nature of the Palestinian culture.
Continuing to censor dialogue of the Palestinian question in the schools and the papers will only prolong the problem. We are looking forward to presenting our trip as a finished slide show with verbal presentation along with others from New College.
If anyone is interested in booking an ATG tour for Palestine, or our presentation, please contact us.
In closing I would like to end with the words of Israel Shamir, ([email protected]) who, broke the law, and sneaked into Bethlehem to go to church with me, hang out and buy some of the world's most famous olive oil.
"There can be only one solution in the Holy Land that will bring peace to the World-that of full equality of Jews and non -Jews in the whole of Palestine, of deconstruction of the Supremacist Jewish State and conversion into a true democracy for all-there is no other way."
Janelle Kate Hart
FRIENDS OF PALESTINE
Box 536 Forest Knolls Ca. 94933