Friday, November 2, 2012

She wonders, I wonder....why are they saying "no"?

Why is it that a school, made of recycled tires and mud, is under a demolition order, while a mile away, there is a community with multiple nice, limestone school buildings? Why do some people, have to go to court to get basic water access, considering they live in the desert, while a mile away, there is an outdoor fountain spilling untold amount of gallons of water an hour for a round-a-bout decoration?

Why do parents have to run into grazing fields to find parts of their children's bodies on the ground after they picked up a booby trapped- explosive watch or other object?

Why should a father and mother have to search for their daughter in the mountains at night...finally realizing that she should have been home from school by now?

These are the questions members of the Bedouin communities in Palestine-Israel are asking themselves....and asking us, as the international community that passively and actively supports Israel's policies. The state of Israel allows for pretty much unrestricted water usage in housing settlements that are illegal under intl. law (because they are on occupied Palestinian territory) just down the road from displaced Bedouins who lives in shacks and have had to fight for just basic water. They also are finding that their land available for grazing is diminishing in greater amounts year after year forcing them to graze their herds illegally......allowing the Israeli military to set booby-traps with explosives in the "closed military zones"....meters away from these herders' communities.

And that is the problem....the Israeli state doesn't see these people as human beings with families and communities, they only allow themselves to see them as terrorists.

So I ask this: why would a state support the demolitions of schools? What kind of peace do you think you could create by denying education? Creating and supporting community infrastructure that builds human capacity is what is needed....not these barriers that tell young children ," I see the evil in you already, before you are allowed to develop the ability to choose your path, your identity, your sense of self and the world...I am going to deny this opportunity to you. I will suppress the opportunity within you."

Is the message we want to send to young children and their families in poverty? I don't. But we allowing these policies to happen supported by U.S. and intl funding and compliance and in our country with our school system. We view children as empty vessels, just needing to be filled with the "right" information instead of cultivating their capacity to flex the human muscle of compassion, integrity, and curiosity. I can't support policies that say no to a child's capacity to develop fully.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Planting Roots of Community

Today we are back in East Jerusalem after being gone with homestays for 2 days. We went to Jenin in the West Bank and had to go through a military checkpoint. U.S. AID had the courtesy to call the "improvements" a "vehicle traffic enhancement" and shared with all on its sign that it is a "gift of the American people to the Palestinian people".  There are various levels of disturbance I have with this. First, "gift of the American people" to enhancing a dehumanizing checkpoint where Palestinians have to wait for hours often to get through, and which most Palestinians can't go through because they live in the West Bank, is really not a "gift". I would call it more of an "addition". Enhancing an Israeli checkpoint is like decorating the bars of a jail cell. Oh look, the colors!

During our time in Jenin we learned about how it used to be the best agricultural land in the area but due to land and farm confiscation by the Israeli government, there is less and less land available to farm, much less farm profitably due to water restrictions. Farmers and civilians in the West Bank have their water controlled by the Israeli government and are not allowed to build more wells without permits which are very difficult to get. Along with many other hardships, farmers have gotten together to create Canaan Fair Trade which focuses on olive oil production. Through the cooperative they are able to afford the cost of production and shipping (it is easier to sell overseas than in Israel because they.....can't sell in Israel) and by doing this, are able stay on their inherited land and cultivate their orchards, livelihood, communities, and culture. Olive harvesting is literally an ac of resistance when you look at all the barriers the government and military put onto them like settler violence where they burn trees...we were told that losing a tree that is hundreds of years old is like losing a child. Especially when you realize that it takes 15 years become fruitful so you lose a generation of income. I'm really looking forward to sharing these stories with folks at Evergreen and the larger small farm movement in the U.S. because I believe that the right to farm is one that crosses borders.

Keep buying Doctor Bronner's all you Olympians...any product that includes olive oil comes from Canaan Fair Trade :)

We then went to our homestays and myself and 2 others stayed with a large farming family who is part of the Canaan cooperative. We were graciously received by their wonderful hospitality (coffee, cookies, coffee, dinner, tea, cookies, more tea) and probably met around 40-50 people that night. About 20 family members alone were constantly coming in and out of the house. The sense of community was so strong and the love among siblings was apparent...constantly playing with each other, trying to teach us more Arabic, and discussing politics, survival, and hope. Palestinians are families who love each other, their community, and want the violence to stop. They want the right and ability to work the land that has been handed down through the generations. Many want to live in co-existence with Israelis...they aren't interested in attacking like the media claims they are.. and its heartbreaking when you realize the brutal force the IDF uses on communities that are at their core, non-violent. There is not any distinction made between civilians and militants.

We visited the The Freedom Theater in the Jenin Refugee camp and learned about the use of theatrical expression to channel such intense emotions...especially with youth where the tendency for violence is higher due to the lack of opportunities for school and work because of the occupation.

Later went to Akka (or Akko in Hebrew) where it is considered a "mixed" city within Israel in regards to Palestinians and Jews. Myself and a few others, stepped across a small wall and walked down to the Mediterranean we sunk our feet into the cold sand, the quiet waves washed over us. We got really silent for a few minutes, all of us thinking about a young woman our age we met in Jenin. She can't, and will not ever be able to if the occupation continues, drive the one hour to the ocean. She has never seen the ocean. She is among many....growing up behind walls, that her and her community are all potential terrorists, they they don't deserve water, education, food sovereignty......always being turned away. Being targeted. Being suppressed.
She has never been allowed to go to the ocean. I remembered our conversation when she asked where we were going next and her face lit up as the word "Akka" was spoken from our lips. "Akka!!! I have always wanted to go there...I have grown up hearing the stories...seeing pictures..."
Why do people think that oppressing youth will ever bring about peace?
We wrote her name in the sand, " Ghuson". I'm sure the waves have washed it away by now, making another name, another voice, nameless.

The multitude of stories we have heard and witnessed are so numerous I can't type them all right now but know that there are many. I hope you'll listen to more once I return. We met with some amazing Israeli peace groups like New Profile, that works with de-militarizing Israeli society and also with Boycott from Within who works with raising awareness of the occupation and putting pressure on the government through boycotts. We also visited Hebron which was one of the most tense places I have much violence. We ended today at a small farming community where this a women's handicraft cooperative and learned about their forms of non-violent resistance and the role women play.

It was a great way to end the remember that there can be success when we come together and are in solidarity. To remember that resistance takes a whole community, every olive tree, every hand.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Just a few days of intensity...

I apoligiz for not having an entry for the past few days and i won't be able to post gain until tuesday...

Right now I am in Nazareth with our group and we are overlooking a valley where Jesus grew up and also where Mary was told by an angel that she was going to give birth the Divine. Talk about one hell of a check-up.


We talk about what we are seeing and hearing everyday, all the time. My ability to understand what is happening is getting better but its painful to hold all of this. Really, I shoulnd't say "but"....I should say "and" because I think too often we say "this oppression is happening and so forth BUT.." and we let our actions and others off the hook when we should be saying "and".."tihs is oppression is horriable, its painful to process AND we have stay committed". I say this because I don't have to live here everyday and experience the occupation. I don't have soliders shooting my friends and I all the time. I don't have restritions on my movement, where I can live, who I can marry, what job I can have. I'm getting an education. Ability to grow food. I can fight for my dignity and the dignity of others without fear of losing my life.

So to feel some deep pain, confusion, and frustration at the occupation for a few's just a few days. It's crazy to think "oh this is so hard" because really, in compariason to the life-squelching fear and pain what Palestinians experience and feel everyday, and the ucomfortablity that Isreali's feel, my discomfort right now cannot be a reason to disengage. Our discomfort can't be reason to disengage. There is joy in finding traction in tragedy and moving through it. Well, not joy exactly...but definitely a grounding sense of humanity. I feel truly alive because I'm recognizing my ability to be effective in this conflict and in others.

One way that I am finding to be effective is by connecting this to other issues around the world and especially, in the U.S. Privitization, movement restrictions, walls, fear, lack of education, healthcare, police brutality, the list goes on and we can find so many similar forms of the effects of settler colonialism in our own country that we need to address. I am really looking forward to returning to Olympia in the States and deepening connections of understanding between these manifestations in order to work together acros issues and work on deconstructing the systems. I am really feeling like we have to break apart what feed s and support these systems so that they can't manifest another conflict of oppressor and oppressed elsewhere right now or in the future.

So what have we been doing for the past few days? I am going to give short descritptions to give an overview and the next post I do will have more of my opinion and anaylsis.


Tent of Nations: This is an olive and wine grape farm near Bethlehem whose owner, Dahar, has been in court for over 20 years with the Isaeli government. Surrounded by settlements on all sides that are populated by Jewish immigrants who were sponsored by Israel and intl. Jewish funds, they have been trying to kick him off his land for 20 years. Bringing him to court to have to show his deeds, writing him a blank check, harassing him, his workers and family and destroying parts of his infrastructure, they make daily life very hard for him. We helped with the olive harvest and learned about his peacecamp that he has with Arab and Jewish children every summer. We also learned that when he has made friends with settlers who question the policies and actions of their communities around him...they haced harrassment in their settlement communities and and in some cases, been forced to move out as well.

So he relies on volunteer help from internationals to not only help him patrol his fields, but also to learn and spread the ord at how hard it is to retain his ability to be Palestinian by staying on his inherited land. It is an act of resistance to just survive and to harvest olives. They are called "zatoon" in Arabic. I also really want to learn more Arabic now!

Then we visited the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem of about 15,000. This camps has been here since 1948 when theearly forces of the Israeli army forcibly evicted people from their homes (al-Nakba or "catastrophe") to create the state of Israel. Check out youtube videos online of violence being done to the residents by the Israeli military (IDF) today. We met with members who help do a youth and community program called Lylac and toured the camp with them while they explained the conditions of poverty they live and the constant threat of violence by the state they face, all supposdly cause they are "terrorists". I think we need to redefine terrorism if children under the age of 16 are being locked away in jail for months and years on end while Israeli youth can't be locked away in jail for terrorist acts like lighting Palestinians on fire with moltov cocktails. Hmmm...looks like the power dynaics are pretty unequal.

There will be much more information about the refugee issue in the next post.

LAter that night we met with Israli Young Professionals and asked them some direct questions about the occupations, their reasons for supporting it, the reality of Israeli politics and how hard it is to influence their government (similar to our issue here in the States) and more about their expeirence in the military since it is requred that every Israeli citizen serve 3 years, 18-21, in the military unless they are physicallly or mentally unable or Ultra next Othorodox.

Next day we walked around the west side of Jersusalem and noticed how different the municpial budgets trash, lightrail systems, flourishing businesses etc. Then we drove down south about 2 miles away from Gaza and met with a member of Kibbutz Urim who is part of the more radical Israeli left. It was very enlightening and more on that later cause I am running out of time to type this before we have to get on the bus.

Nexy day we met with another member of a different kibbutz, Kibbutz Metzer which was settled between two Palestinian communities but splits the two between the Green line so the seperation wall seperates the two communities from each other. This is also the kibbutz that experienced the the murder of 5 of their residents by a Palestinian militant some years ago. He has tried to work on creating a olive oil cooperative business in some sense between the two communitie beause now with the wall, there is an extremely high unemployment rate in the Palestinin town behidn the wall but the Israeli government won't allow it. We had some really interesting talks with him about his experience and I wish we coudl have met with the members of the town.

Now we are in Nazareth and met with more human rights activists and learned about Palestinians and other Arab discrimination within Israel and some students from the Nazareth Academic Insitutute.

Ok we have ot get on the bus but I will post more on Tuesday or Wednesday!!!























Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bureaucratic Violence

We have the full right to build in it. We built in Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem and we will continue to build in Jerusalem,"- Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

This was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post yesterday. The article referred to his comments after being criticized by members of the international community for the illegal settlements Israel has built and continues to build in East Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.

Yesterday, our day was like that of zoom camera (to quote Mike) with us starting out in the Old City visiting many of the Holy Sites (such as al-Aqsa mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall) and then focusing in further on Jerusalem learning about the zoning laws and military mandates that create an apartheid system between Israeli's and Palestinians. We then ended the day visiting a Palestinian family with a heartbreaking story of having been evicted from their home multiple times, harassed and humiliated over and over again,. So we started from the wider view, a similar one to the 3.5 million tourists who visit Jerusalem annually, many making pilgrimage to the various holy sites. But then our gaze became more focused. After about 2-3 hours of walking around the Old City and learning of the political fights between various religions and sects within those religions, such as how all the Christians sects who use the Church of the Holy Sepulchre fight so much over who gets to hold the key that they had to give it to a Muslim to open and unlock it everyday, we began to look into "divisions" of land, or walls, of our ideas of each other.

With Netanyahu's comment and policies outlined above, he speaks to an attitude similar to Manifest Destiny in the United States. The song I grew up singing in gradeschool came to mind..."You land is my land is your land your land..." errr....well, actually, you're land is your land within the restrictions of what I think your land should be. It became clear that this is the sentiment of the government of Israel in regards to  Palestinians' right to land and existence.
What is the reality on the ground of his comment.?
Well here you go:
1967 all of the West Bank and the Gaza strip became under Israeli control, including East Jerusalem.  In their occupation they control water, the economy (there are many trade, travel, and food taxes on Palestinian goods) and the ability for Palestinians to build homes, schools and travel to visit family who live just beyond the wall. The separation wall runs right through Palestinian communities making it illegal for family and friends to visit each other today. They say it is for security but I don't understand why hundreds of thousands of people have to be punished on a daily basis because of the choice of a few to resort to violence.

 Usually when we think of violence, we think of bombs, shooting, stabbing, hitting, fighting etc. But what of the strangling of your life forces?  What are most peoples' life forces? Most likely we will name things like a home, food, water, ability to earn an income, family etc. Thus, what I want to make clear is that the government of Israel uses bureaucratic violence towards the Palestinians everyday by making basic life necessities virtually impossible.

Citizenship: If you were in East Jerusalem you are an Israeli resident but not a citizen. If you do not live in your house and can prove that East Jerusalem is "your center of life" you lose your residency and have to move outside of East Jerusalem economic livilihood and hardship are much worse. There are 66,000 Palestinians in this situation and there is a housing shortage, especially with the separation wall, that does not follow the municipal boundaries, cutting through communities.\

To build, you have to have a permit. You can only get a permit if your Planning Unit has a Master Plan by the City Government. The City Government only has Master Plans for 1-3% of East Jerusalem.   Their argument for not creating more Master Plans, is because the debate around one-state  and two-state still is in the air and they don't want to support building plans if it could become the Palestinian Authority capital "anyday". "Andyday" has been over 50 years. This is systematic discrimination.

To top that, even if you can apply for a permit, it costs about $20,000  to just apply! So then the Israeli government and military comes and bulldozes your house cause if you build it, they say its illegal, but they make it pretty much impossible for anyone to build!

Then, there is also the reality that if they don't bulldoze it, they evict you, forcibly within a 14 day notice and allow for extremist Zionist settlers to come into your house! The family we met with who is part of a larger coalition against these housing occupations, occupations by settlers that are supported by the government, told us their story about getting evicted at 5am, put out on the street without time to change, and then within 30 mins....30 minutes  the settlers came with their truck and moved in ...right in front of them. The Palestinian family then lived in a tent on the street and 17 times the police came and tore down their tent, took all their belongings and gave them a fine for having a tent in a public place. 17 times. Systematic.

Now, they live in a house, that half of it got confiscated by the government and settlers live there part time and harass the family making sexual advances to the women and sending trained dogs out that harass and bite them when they try and leave their house. It sound surreal doesn't it? Most Israeli's are not to this extreme  I have to make that very, very clear. However, it is important that there are also many Israelis that do not hold their government accountable for these systematic oppressive policies done in their name for "security".
This is very similar to our own ignorance of what happens in poor communities in the U.S. We normalize it, justify it through racist and classist assumptions of people. I also need to re-iterate...this is systematic. These settlers have FULL support of the police and they often have police posts created in the front of their "new" apartment buildings to escort them in and out of the building. The government send police to protect only them even though they are the one who are enacting violence. They are kicking people out of their homes and harassing them.
The "reason" for this was because supposedly they didn't have the right papers or house deeds. They had house deeds, but they were from when East Jerusalem was under the authority of Jordan. For some reason, Israel doesn't recognize deeds from that time even though they were legal by international law. This is just a taste, of the court and bureaucratic loopholes that the Israel government has created to systematically force Palestinians out of Jerusalem so they can not only annex Jerusalem  but the West Bank as well. Currently 15,000-20,000 homes are facing eviction or demolition out of a population of 300,000 in East Jerusalem  70% live in poverty due to the inablilty to find jobs (there are huge amounts of discrimination against Palestinians trying to find jobs in Israel.)
They can also lose rights to their homes if they don't pay bills or lose their residency...but if the government isn't helping them create and find can they pay them?

The Israeli government also controls the water and says they "can't afford" to  connect most of the houses into the  water system since so many of the "illegally" built houses are connected without permission and use up too much water. However, as soon as a major settler apartment complexes are built, supported by the government and funded by overseas money, they have water immediately.

And this is for security? How is this keeping people safe? This is systematic oppression. The Israeli government holds all of the control and these policies do not happen at this scale, at this frequency, for Israeli citizens.

We get easily caught in conversations that talk about listening to both sides. I believe though  that when power and access to power, (political, military, economical etc) is deeply one sided...we should pay extra attention to the experiences and policies impacting the marginalized and be more critical of the authority.

Many of us are taught that being an engaged, critically reflective citizen means to be willing and able to question authority. These facts and experiences above are more food for thought when approaching this situation. Israel is the authority in more ways than one and we should be critical, just as we should be critical of the U.S., Britain and other major powers that have historically imbalanced the global plane of power. Israel however, in its most recent modern nation state form, is a recent form of global power and influence, much at the cost of Palestinian lives.

The next day we visited with some Israelis, which I will talk more about in the next post along with a Palestinian refugee camp.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Charity is easy, justice is hard.


Hello! We are now in East Jerusalem at our guesthouse, St. George's Cathedral. East Jerusalem is the Palestinian side with West Jerusalem being the Israeli side. More on that later.

Let's start with our orientation in D.C. What an amazing group of people I am traveling with! We have folks from Palestine, people who have lived in Israel before, North Ireland, New York, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, California, Olympia (yeah!) and so many more places.
What is truly inspiring already is the variety of social justice efforts everyone is involved in. We have retired and active ministers who have been on political delegations for decades and having discussions between the difference of charity and justice, Aaron Dixon who helped start the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party (he is speaking at Evergreen about his recently published book in late November!), someone who works with youth and media around empowerment in LA (shoutout to Celi!), another works for the LA Dept of Public Health doing analysis around urban transportation policies and their impact on health, someone from the Highlander Center in TN (!!!!!), clergy apart of resistance and peace movements in Northern Ireland, social workers, mental health workers, community organizers in Chicago,  teachers, students studying law, Arabic, and Intl Affairs, the list goes on! You'll hear more of their amazing stories over the next few weeks. I have already learned so much from all of them and challenged

Another thing that is also becoming very clear, very quickly is the reality of racism all over the world. During our orientation, we had a huge discussion on privilege and broke out in small groups to discuss 1) what privileges do we have as individuals and as a group 2) how is it a privilege 3) how can these impact our experience as individuals and as a group
Of course people has different ideas around what is a privilege and our debate centered around "choice". Does choice come from certain privileges (like race, class, gender etc) or is it the privilege itself? We finally began to agree that it is more helpful to connect choice to certain privileges in order to see how "choice" manifest differently depending on the context and your own personal identity. We talked about relative- privilege, such as the fact that as a white-American-female,  I have more privilege than a female of color or a female of color who isn't American and that brings up important considerations around my approach to observation and analysis of the situation. What lens am I looking through? Whose perspective may I be using that I am not acknowledging? What might I be blind to?

This came up really strongly as we tried to go through immigration services, which in Israel is called "passport control". Everyone was fine going through. All the white folks that is. The officers pulled aside for further questioning three of our individuals who are people of color: one wearing a head turban, another female in a hijab, and a third. They were questioned for 2 hours and in most of our opinions, completely unnecessarily. You might be wondering about the two Palestinians...well one has an American passport and the other has dual U.S.-Israel citizenship. Amazing the difference a U.S. passport makes in an individual's experience in the world, doesn't it?

As we left the airport, we learned about the surrounding areas we were passing through. We saw how the Green Line (the border agreed upon in the 1993 Oslo Agreements) was illegally extended by evacuating Palestinians from their homes due to armed conflict and saying that they would be able to return once the fighting died down. Those families are still awaiting return but now their villages have been destroyed and a national park put in its place. The original names of those towns are no where to be found. Any visitor wouldn't even know what had happened. This is how history and lives are actively being erased.

We immediately connected it back to land confiscation and appropriation of Native American land in the U.S. I remembered today how I never knew the names of the tribes that lived Texas until I was 19. Until I was 19. Nothing in my public k-12 education took the time to tell us even just the names of peoples who lived their before us, and probably were still in surrounding communities. I also realized that the frustration that I was feeling in that moment that many Israeli schoolchildren are not taught this or don't ask or wonder, mirrors my own experience. I didn't ask. I was maybe wondering...but the sweet lure of ignorance often keeps us from asking deeper questions that would bring up questions of the ethical nature of our presence in our own communities. There is a fear in not belonging anywhere. Where is my home? The Czech republic or Scotland or Whales or Great Britain? I don't even know distant relatives I'm sure we have there. I have no idea how to get a hold of them. Does the fact that the U.S. government encouraged immigration of Czech families to Texas make it ok that we did come and buy land (or in many cases, flat out given land). This was land that was stolen. These were "treaties" that were manipulated and promises still unfulfilled.
So where does that leave me and my relationship to the U.S. and communities who called it home way before I did? This brings up the question of how I should act in relationship with them.

Then we have the issue of transportation restriction. The highways we drove on tonight to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem...Palestinians are not allowed to drive on. There are huge concrete walls on either side. The highways cuts through certain Palestinian towns where Palestinians have to drive miles out of the way to even just get to family and friends a few yards across the highway. WHAT !?!
They had to fight all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court and it was only in 2010 that they were finally allowed to use a certain part of the main highway because it was illegal under intl. law. However, most Palestinians don't use the highways cause the government set up multiple checkpoints and it can take up to 2 hours at a checkpoint for your car to be searched. It's humiliating. You are always searched if you are Palestinian, just like how you are always searched if you are Mexican or a person of color crossing the U.S. border.

And all this from just being here since 2:30pm and it's 11pm now. I can imagine what a full day will be like because of my time in  Venezuela on a kind of political-social justice delegation with Evergreen students as well....very full days with alot of information to process. So if my entries seem lacking in complete analysis, please forgive me for I am literally trying to process as a I type.

A favorite quote  from today: While we were learning that our tourguide doesn't usually give tours of political nature, when he gives pilgramige tours he is often told to specifically NOT talk about politics. He actually got shouted at one time by a passenger who said, " STOP TALKING POLITICS! We are hear to learn about Christ's land and the land of Abrahamic religions."
One of the women near me gave one of those scoff-laughs ad said, " Well then he obviously didn't know what Jesus was all about".
Cause that's right. Jesus was all about politics. I don't think you can care about  and not be political. Opening up our hearts, mind and greater consciousness compels us to be challenged by conflicts of justice. To struggle with the conviction of having worth and dignity and respect for ALL human beings. That is the first principle of my faith as a Unitarian Universalist,. Having a feel good feelings is nice, but the lesson from the life of Jesus (or any other spiritual figure(s)) wasn't for me to just sit around and pray for peace. We gotta do something about it. Charity is easy, justice is hard.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Rhetoric of Engagement or "Why the hell am I doing a blog"

As soon as I got on the Metro right out of the airport, an older lady entered the train and of course, I put my bag on the floor so she could sit down. As she takes her seat slowly, I smiled and said, “Hi! How are you doing today?” with maybe a little more chirp than usual cause …….
HELLO! I’m in D.C. folks! I was super excited.

She gives me a puzzled look, narrows her milky eyes and purses her thin lips with smudged red lipstick and asks, “Are you a psychologist?”
“Cause no one asks “how are you doing today” much less says “hello”.
She then lets out a small laugh, sighs and asks, “ Well, where are you from?”

Then it’s my turn to smile. “Texas” as the curves of my lips turn upward, sensing the satisfaction that like most people, she finds my friendliness amusing and something of a novelty.

With the ice broken, the expected polite conversation follows…what am I studying…why am I in D.C…..what I look forward to seeing….

But when I started to talk about why I was in D.C. , for the training with Interfaith Peace-Builders for the upcoming delegation to the West Bank, she responded with the common, “ It’s so complicated over there.”
Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut…but you know me. I didn’t.

“Well, yes and no. The feeling of complication I think comes more from rhetoric and how the media covers the situation…also, the complexity of Israeli law and restrictions on Palestinians.”
She sighed and turned her head saying, “Welllll....I am more worried about the violence that happens between the two sides.”
“I understand and we have to look at the historical policies that have helped lead to the current forms of violence….”

Then we talked about the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, contradictive British policies between the Arab population and the international Zionist organization, impact of the Holocaust (she volunteers with the Holocaust museum here in Washington D.C. ) and then, as the Metro passes through the Arlington Cemetery, she waves her hand and says, “ Let’s not talk about this anymore. I’m done worrying about the issue. I’ve spent so much of my life studying it and going back and forth. Are you pro-Palestine?”
“Uhmm…yes…but what do you mean by that? ‘Cause by being pro-Palestine, I don’t mean anti-Semitic.”
“Oh, I was just curious….are you American? Are you by chance Palestinian?”
“No, I’m American. My family are Czech immigrants from way back. “
“Ohh, that’s nice. We get lots of folks from the Czech Republic in the museum. I’m pro-Israel myself.”
She pauses and then asks, “ What’s your sun-sign?”
“I’m Taurus.”

And our conversation  continues on until my stop. I realize that I have a long way to go with how I discuss my involvement with Palestine-Israel. I am also realizing that I have so many questions about the rhetoric we use when we talk about it.

People ask me a lot why I want to go “there”. The “there” being the West Bank. The West Bank  in many of our minds, is a casualty of our conscious understanding of what is known as the Middle East. The trigger phrase, “Israel-Palestine” brings wide-eyed acknowledgement that this is a place that is: complicated, dangerous, religious.

But what of acknowledging the experiences of family, hope, pain, and belonging? Too often how we talk about conflict, the people and places involved, is riddled and saddled with academic terms, over-publicized catch-phrases (like “peace process”) and images that show only one side to a person’s humanity.

This is why I am going- to learn and build relationship with the aspects of our common humanity that is too often intentionally hidden from us and to shed light on the true impact of policies on peoples’ lives. I want to help in our common understanding of  how the systematic legacies of colonization, racism, and ideology play into how we choose to engage (or not engage) with conflicts as U.S. citizens.

This is why I am going to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jenin, Akka, Bethlehem and Ramallah. These places must be known by their name and not by the terms we as Westerners give them. The people must be seen and their truths’ and experiences shared and not presented in the over-simplified stereotype that too often gets defaulted to.

I recognize that it ultimately is not my place to speak for anyone. That we must instead support the ability for everyone to speak for themselves and exercise the right to free speech. So I am recognizing my own limitations for what I share and say in this blog. I am asking for critique and challenges to how I am processing what it means to be a white female Unitarian Universalist and U.S. citizen in Palestine and Israel. Wheewww.

I’m also going because I am angry. I am upset that people tell me that it’s too complicated to understand because I believe that humanity is not too difficult to understand. We are all human. We are all living. We are here. So we must witness the life that we embody. What is the alternative? I don’t want to live my life turning away from pain…because I am ultimately turning away from myself. This is an unfolding realization I am beginning to understand better through various speakers at school that we have had and our guest minister at OUUC, Marilyn Sewell the other weekend.

Last year, some folks from First Peoples’ Advising at my college did a workshop where they opened with the poem, “In Lak Ech”.

In Lak Ech
Tú eres mi otro yo

You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti

If I do harm to you,

Me hago daño a mí mismo

I do harm to myself;

Sí te amo y respeto

If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo

I love and respect myself.
     From Luis Valdez’s “Pensamiento Serpentino”

I have learned that this poem has been read at the beginning of all Mexican-American Studies (MAS) classes in Arizona before MAS was made illegal. (  

My peer Dre Avila, who has done amazing extensive research on this issue, brings up the point of the “right to knowledge” in her presentations. She argues that we all have the right to know of our culture, history and language and that minorities and their stories are too often intentionally kept in the shadow of our white-American history. She details how this happens: the laws, policies, enforcement practices, and resistance to any kind of democratic engagement on the part of officials and those in power in order to shape the commonly known narrative of place, people and history.

I believe we are already witnessing the impact that narrow understandings of history, culture, privilege and sovereignty have on our ability to engage critically  with Palestine-Israel. It is so easy as a white American to default to talking about “wanting peace in such a complicated place” but not do anything to try and understand which narrative you are being subjective to and why. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “ you can’t be neutral on a moving train”. I believe that my privilege as a U.S. citizen that is held up by our aggressive military and ideological force, has allowed me for too long to sit idly by, shrug my shoulders, and say, “ Oh, that’s too bad” without anything of major consequence happening to me. This is privilege: the ability to choose engagement with pain. Well, it's one part of it.

So I want to be clear that I am writing this blog and going on this trip to better understand the Palestinian experience in relationship to the policies and peoples of Israel that have the support of historical world powers such as the United State and Great Britain. I feel that too often, Palestinians' suffering gets overlooked or subverted under Israel's claims for security. This is a point that I hope to explore MUCH deeper so if this upsets you, please challenge me and share your perspective. 

I am writing this blog because I want to practice engaging with an issue critically through a specific “point of entry”. I am not going to be able to be all encompassing( how could I? I am only person, one lens).  I don't think there is such thing as neutrality but I am beginning to believe that we can strive for pluralism. However I do believe there is a way to speak truth to power that is held, shed light on human suffering, and hold space for ideological differences. My hope for myself though this is to strengthen my ability to make critical choices around action while holding space for growth.

Thank you for being with me on this journey.

Thursday, August 30, 2012



   I just created this blog and will be posting periodically leading up to my departure in late October. I appreciate you visiting the site and encourage you to check back often for updates and resources.

For more information on Interfaith Peace-Builders:
(I am going on the October 21st-November 3rd delegation)

I am curious why you are interested in understanding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. If you'd like, please leave a comment or message sharing your intention and interest and work you have done around the issue if that applies. I look forward to being in more direct dialogue with many of you in the near future.

Thank you! Please share with your friends and family!