Saturday, April 17, 2010

Taking History to the Street

I am walking. 24 of us.100. A thousand. Six million.  We are silent. We are lined up like cattle.  We are walking to where they will strip us of who we are.  We are loaded into cars.  We are marched through the city at gunpoint. We are standing against the wall. Our naked bodies are thrown into the ditch.  We are carrying the dead on our backs.  We are waving flags.  We are chanting.  We are drumming. We are Jews, Christians, Muslims.  We are Palestinians, Israelis.  We are walking through history.

The sky is dark.  I cannot tell where one history ends and the other begins. 

She followed the road leading to Givat Shaul until the memories began flooding back. Standing on the ledge overlooking the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in view of the Jewish Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, the tales of her grandmother came to her. "See right there," she pointed.  "That was my father's stone quarry, and there's the grain mill, the apple trees….."    
In 1949, the Jerusalem neighborhood Givat Shaul Bet was built on Deir Yassin's land, now Har Nof, an Orthodox area. Construction of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center began in 1951 using village houses. A Jewish cemetery lies to the north. To the south, a valley and on the other side of the valley, Yad Vashem."
I am walking in a memorial for Deir Yassin.  Young boys are following our steps. They are laying stones on our path, blocking our return.
It is the day before Holocaust Memorial Day.  I visit Yad Vashem.  I copy down the words.  I write them in bold so I will never forget.
As I emerge, the land spreads out before me. 
A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates.

"They beat on the door.  They entered the house.  They asked me about my husband.  I told them my husband is working.  They entered the room and asked 'Who's sleeping here?'  I told them "This is my son" and they pushed the covers away and held the gun to his head. He was one year and a half years old." 
The higher national committee in support of prisoners said that the occupation forces had detained more than 1400..… 225 of the detainees were children less than 18 years old…the soldiers were increasingly detaining children less than 12 years old……
"They are our misfortune."   "The poisoning of the people will not end, as long as they are not removed from our midst."

'Between ourselves, it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with them in this country.'

April 4, 2010.  Plans to evict residents and build a settlement in Sheikh Jarrah advance. Tuesday,  Simon the Righteous Estate Company inc. submitted a request to evict two more families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.  The settlers are demanding in the statement of claim that the Palestinians be removed from the neighborhood because they "bother their Jewish neighbors."

They're assigned segregated living areas.

"Little bit at first, it was hard, a big change.  People used to come and go.  They could move easily.  But now, they don't.  Now, it is like a big prison. You walk – the same circle, the same circle, always.  Always you feel it.  And we are human beings.  We are not like a zoo where you put the animals inside."

'The Wall is a symbol of a philosophy that seeks a state as ethnically pure as possible.'

They're treacherous. They are labeled as foreigners and traitors to the nation.  They conspire to destroy all of western culture. . 

'Racist rhetoric and measures are now part of the mainstream…..'

Everyone here is not allowed to interact with them.  They must carry Identity Cards.

"Most of my relatives live outside in other countries.  They do not have the document to come back here. If they were not here at the time of the census in 1967, they are not allowed to return."

They are humiliated.

"At the checkpoint, they treat us in a bad way.  They look at us. Who are you?  As if you're nothing.  They don't even think of what you are: a human being."

They were turned overnight into refugees.  They left as refugees in terrible distress, trying to reach any possible destination.

"I witnessed the shocking sight of masses of people feeling, a disastrous traffic, walking, fleeing, on foot, with wheelbarrows, fully packed cars."

He could not help but see how the throng of people thickened with every step.  People were pouring from the side streets into the main street….. men, women and children, empty-handed or carrying a few small possessions, crying or being floated along in a paralyzed silence in the midst of the clamor and confusion.

"God, what's going on here!  Panic.  Mass exodus.  The city waits fearfully for the anticipated arrival of the troops… A neighbour is telling us that we have to leave.  To go where?  … To flee… as far as possible from the danger."

History is lost in the shuffle.  I am trying to unknot the thread.

Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned.

Israeli Textbooks to Drop 'Nakba':  The Israeli education ministry is to drop from Arabic language textbooks a term describing the creation of the state as "the catastrophe." "Nakba" has been used with Israeli-Arab pupils since 2007. "Including the term in the official curriculum of the Arab sector was a mistake that will not repeat itself in the new curriculum currently being revised."

March 17, 2010:  The Knesset voted yesterday in favor of Israel Beitenu's "Nakba Bill", which authorizes the finance minister to hold funds from institutions or groups who question the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or who mark the Palestinian Nakba on Israel's Independence Day.  The bill still needs to pass 2 votes in the parliament for it to become a state law.
"Whoever flees from history, history will catch up with him."

History is overtaking me.

Upon their conquest, they terrorized and repressed them.

I watched the soldiers look over the jewelry of the old women and young girls and brutally snatch it from them. I saw the soldier kick an old woman with his foot and how the old woman, her face bleeding, fell on her back.  I saw him thrust the barrel of his rifle at her chest.  One shot rang out…

They fell into the ditch, their hands and faces sunk in the mud, collapsed in a dense, confused and bloody heap.  Blood ran underneath their bodies, combining with the water from the stream flowing towards the south.

They took special measures against them, they intended to isolate them from their surroundings, steal their property…

Mas'ha, the village, was a quiet farming community.  But the fence cut the village from its lands. The farmers were promised the gates would open.  But this promise was abandoned, and the farmers could not get to their lands, nor the shepherds to their sheep.
They ordered them … They imposed terror, humiliation and abuse

They ordered us to raise our hands in the air and cross them. When one of the soldiers saw that my mother wanted to put me in front of her so her shadow would protect me from the sun, he dragged me from her hands and ordered me to stand on one leg with my arms crossed above my head in the middle of the dusty street.

I have never been so humiliated in my life as when I looked through the gate and saw the happy, smiling faces of passersby laughing at our misfortune.

Through it all the sound of their loud laughter reached my ears….

Despoiling them was an integral part of the policy.  Property and possessions of people who had been part of this country's economic and cultural life for 100s of years were plundered.

"What are they going to do now?"
"They're going to blow up the houses."
"Our houses?"  "Our houses."  "Why?"  "Because I…"
"Because of you?"  "Because I'm innocent."

He, at one time, had a restaurant.  The military demolished it.  Then he had chicken coops for several thousand chickens.  The army demolished them. .So he started a flower nursery in his garden. The army demolished it while building the fence and wall on his property.  Now his family stand to lose all their lands.

With their rise to power, they progressively began banishing them from economic life and established confiscation of their property into law.

Butchers raided by police in Jerusalem.  Five Palestinians sustained bruising Sunday morning after Israeli special forces allegedly stormed a butcher shop in the Old City, detaining five employees. A large Israeli police force was reported to have stormed the shop, firing pepper spray, assaulting customers and owners.

They applied these policies of dispossession and theft to the occupied territories.

Israel seizes 16 dunums in Jenin: Israeli occupation authorities issued a decision Saturday to confiscate 16 dunums from Jalma village, north of Jenin, to expand the military checkpoint…

They confiscated all types of property – homes, real estate, factories, businesses, and artistic and cultural treasures …  The local population took control of their homes and property.

"You can choose a blue house, a green house, whichever house you want.  The people have fled.  Which house would you like to live in?" (Asked of a Russian immigrant to Haifa, 1949) 

They incarcerated them in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls.  They cut them off from their surroundings.

"After the Intifada, everything was closed.  There is no connection or communication with Israel and we can't go around the West bank either.  The Wall is all around our house.  Only in the front of the house, we can enter.  We are closed from all directions.  It's closed economically, the society, everything is closed."

Mass Expulsions. 

IDF order will enable mass deportation from the West Bank : A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years.  When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished.
…cut them off from their sources of livelihood, and condemned them to a life of humiliation.  It became forbidden to enter… forbidden, forbidden, forbidden.  You had to report where you are going…

They stripped them of their civil rights.

The Israeli army attacked a sit-in at the entrance to Beit Ummar Saturday, with organizers saying protesters were beat…..Palestine Solidarity Project spokesman said the "sit-in was organized because of Israel's continued imposing of oppressive procedures on the town, including blocking the entrance and preventing farmers from reaching their lands." 

JERUSALEM. Apr. 5 2010. ­ Leaders of some of Israel's most prominent human rights groups say they are working in an increasingly hostile environment and coming under attack for actions their critics say endanger the country. The pressure on these groups has tightened as the country's leaders have battled to defend Israel against accusations of war crimes…...

They were prohibited from entering restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, music halls, swimming pools, bathing beaches, museums, libraries, exhibitions, palaces, historical sites, sports events, races, parks, nature recreation camps

 "My dream is: I hope my children may see the sea one day."

"I have such shame for my country."

All of us, dying here amidst the icy arctic indifference of the nations, are forgotten by the world and by life.
The committee appealed to international organizations to pressure Israel and to apply the fourth Geneva Convention.
I am walking through history, cutting the wire fence that keeps us apart. 
'After the battle, they took elderly men and women and youths, including 4 of my cousins and a nephew. They took them all. Women who had on them gold and money were stripped of their gold. After the men removed their dead and wounded, they took them to the quarry and sprayed them all with bullets. …'

 Where were you when your brother's blood cried out to God?

"The law (under which they are being imprisoned) is immoral… And we are obligated to actively resist it."

'They ordered all our family to line up against the wall….'

At the end of the street

"My mother always taught me that God created all of us in the same image…"
at the beginning of silence.
Passages from: Israel Occupation Archive, Dina Elmuti, Deir Yassin's inextinguishable fire; Zochrot, Deir Yassin Remembered;;  Neta Golan;  Haaretz, justjerusalem@gmail;  M. Warschawski, Alternative Information Center;  Reham Alhelsi, A Voice from Palestine, BBC News;  Amira Hass-West Bank, IDF, Israel News;; Isabel Kershner,  New York Times.

Italicized passages from Ghassan Kanafani, Returning to Haifa, Paper from Ramleh,
He Was a Child that Day, Sulliman's Friend Learns Many Things.

Passages in quotes from interviews with Bethlehem women, April 2010

In bold: words from Yad Vashem.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Permits, Passes, Passover

Permits, Passes, Passover

"They kept us locked up for 2 days.  It was like a prison cell. It was closed, with metal windows, bunk beds with just a mattress. No cover. I put my sweater over my son to keep him warm.  He was 8 years old at the time. My son was born in Germany.  My husband and I went to university in Germany and we stayed because in Palestine we couldn't find work. I was carrying our German passports when my son and I were locked up.  They said we couldn't pass because I was Palestinian.  After 2 days, they sent us back to Germany."  (Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv)

"I used to go every Friday with my husband and my son.  Every Friday we went and prayed there at noon.  Now we can't pray there anymore."  (Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem)

"After the construction, we couldn't build, expand or add anything to our home. For anything we wanted to build, we needed a permit and Israel won't grant you a permit as everything you do is a threat to their security."  (Route 60 at "Area C")

"I was granted a permit to enter Jerusalem for the Easter holidays.  So were my children.  But my husband was not. In the morning, my family and I
attended the Greek Orthodox service at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.
In the afternoon, my children and I stood in line at the Checkpoint to enter Jerusalem so we could join the procession from Mt.Olive.  It is very beautiful. But they closed the checkpoint and we were not able to pass." (Palm Sunday, Bethlehem, Checkpoint 300)

"Israel will close off the West Bank from Midnight Sunday until midnight April 6 for the duration of Passover holiday, the Israeli military spokesman announced Sunday morning…..

The closure is in keeping with the Israeli practice of sealing off the West Bank ahead of Jewish festivals, fearing militants might try to launch attacks to disrupt the festivities."        Haaretz

We see them:
Palestinians, Israelis and internationals are making their way through an opening in the car gate.  They're carrying white flags and Palestinian flags and chanting. 

I am standing in line with hundreds of Palestinians waiting to pass through the checkpoint -- people who are granted a permit only once a year, if that.  Suddenly, these people are prohibited from passing through the checkpoint. (Palm Sunday, Bethlehem, Checkpoint 300)

We hear that the protestors are met with the military on the Jerusalem side.  Palestinians are beaten and many people are hauled off to jail…

I receive an e-m invitation sent out to Activists Against the Wall:

"Are there folks on this list (locals or internationals, Jews or from other religious traditions) who would like to be at a Seder this year but don't have a Seder to go to where they'd feel comfortable?
 I'm doing a semi-traditional Seder with my friends focusing on the values of social justice, diversity & inclusion, gender equality, animal rights etc..
Will be happy to have people join. The Seder will take place in North Tel Aviv.  Pick-ups can be arranged. Will make an effort to accommodate special needs (dietary, etc.)   Esther

Dear Esther,  I so much appreciate your invitation to a  semi-traditional Passover Seder.  I'm a Jewish American and am working in Bethlehem.. Knowing the reality here in the West  Bank, it is very difficult for me to allow myself to attend a Passover  Seder in Israel - I am more than reluctant to phone relatives  I have in Israel-- as I am not supposed to say anything about "Palestinians"  to them. However,  I also miss being with family back home  and the family Seders I've been part of since childhood.   I would need to work out details about coming to you from here.....

The next day, we get to Jerusalem by taking Bus 21 from Beit Jala.
That bus has been forbidden for use by internationals; but today, they let us on, probably because Checkpoint 300 is closed. 

There are 5 of us in Esther's small apartment: 2 young German guys with whom I work, a Russian couple, myself and Esther. 

There is an orange and an olive on the Seder plate..... 

The second day of Passover, we walk on the boardwalk by the sea.  Performers, balloons, kids on roller blades, bikes, kites flying, families strolling, so many strollers, many pregnant women, the fresh sea air, people at boardwalk cafes, sipping, licking, tasting, laughing... -- all that freedom.  (Boardwalk, Tel Aviv, March, 2010)

It washes over me -- like a tidal wave... 

"Love and Justice in Times of War Haggadah." 

Thank you, Esther, for this bridge allowing passage between two worlds.