I got back a week ago from Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. This was a first exploratory step for me, to learn about what CPT does there, the situation and culture(s), and to see if I want to be involved with CPT in the future. The answer to the latter question is "yes," if they'll have me (us). My husband is going to go on a delegation (the same kind of trip I just did) in November, hopefully, and then we'll do the month-long nonviolence and conflict resolution training, and then we'd like to be reservists and spend a month each year in Palestine, taking our son with us. So hopefully that will work out. (The picture is me in an Arabic newspaper called Al Quds. I'm at a demonstration against the wall being built around the West Bank.)
Today I'll give some initial impressions and thoughts, and then in the coming days I plan to write about some of the people we met and their stories. Each person we met asked us to share their stories so that the world knows what it's like to live in occupied Palestine, or to live as an Israeli within that system, so I want to share those stories with you. But today I'll give a general overview of what we did and what I thought. And I'll try to be brief...
The trip was two weeks long. There were 14 of us in the group, and I liked every person on the team. It was fun getting to know other peace-minded folks. Many of us were from "peace churches," but we also had a couple of Catholics, a Baptist and a Mormon, as well as a couple of people not affiliated with a denomination. We were from all over the USA and Canada, one from the UK and one from Italy. (The Italian is already working with CPT but came on the delegation with us.) We ranged in age from 20-67.
When I got to Jerusalem I thought it looks a lot like southern California. There are some fairly high hills with sage-brush-type stuff on them, there are palm trees, and there are lush areas that are being irrigated. It's very hot, and women had to wear long sleeves and long pants all the time out of respect for the culture, so I was really hot for two weeks!
We spent the first couple of days in Jerusalem, then went to Hebron, down to At Tuwani, back to Hebron, Bethlehem and back to Jerusalem. We visited with many organizations working for peace in these areas, as well as individuals who told us their stories. We experienced amazing hospitality from people whose lives have been devastated in many ways. At most stops we received Turkish coffee, Coke, hot tea, and an assortment of snacks if not full meals! We all made sure to stay hydrated since it was so hot, and our leader told us last time he led a delegation half the group ended up in the hospital on IVs because they were dehydrated. But we managed not to get dehydrated even with all that caffeine!
There is so much to explain that it's hard to know where to begin. My overall sense is that the Palestinians are not terrorists any more than Americans are terrorists--and probably even less. There are of course individuals in every culture who use terror as a weapon to try to get their way, but the Palestinians have been painted by the media as a culture that as a whole breeds terrorists, and this is not the case. We met amazing people who are working nonviolently for basic human rights. We met patient people who refuse to be treated as sub-human, and have a high value for human life. These people are not terrorists: they are individuals like you and me who want a decent life for themselves and their children. And this decent life is by and large not being allowed them.
I can see the situation from the Israeli side to some degree. The Jews have been mistreated by so many other groups for so long that now that they have the chance to have a homeland they are not going to give up that chance for anything. This is a place where they can supposedly be safe to live as they please. The problem is, there were already people living on this land when the rest of the world gave it to them. So what do they do with those other people? They do what the European nations did to the native people living in the Americas: they push them out, they legislate inhumane treatment of them, they vilify them so it is easier not to feel guilty about ridding the world of them. They build walls to keep them out and hold them in, they make it difficult to live in the area so that hopefully they'll flee, and in the name of "security" they impose 24-hour curfews for years at a time to starve them and break their will.
The problem is, there are many more Palestinians than Jews, so it is hard to destroy them all and it is difficult to keep them under control.
And as I see it, as long as there are people who are suffering and who are in dire need of basic necessities, there will always be a security threat. There will always be desperate individuals and groups who will do anything to get rid of the opposing force. Imagine if another country came into the United States and took over more and more land, kept Americans from getting access to education, food and transportation, and put their military in control of entire areas. Would Americans not fight back? Would Americans sit around and acquiesce to whatever this occupying force wanted them to do? Of course not! Americans would fight back using whatever tactics necessary to gain our freedom back. And yet, when Palestinians use such tactics, the world calls them terrorists.
One thing that stood out to me was that someone pointed out that the Palestinians use home-made explosive devices, basically whatever is on hand, and they have no way of aiming them, and even if they manage to hit something they don't do a whole lot of damage. (Suicide bombs are another thing entirely, but still they don't kill that many people compared to a regular bomb.) This is called terrorism, because it is not authorized by a legitimate government and those who do the acts are not garbed in some sort of army uniform. Israel has the 5th most powerful military in the world for a country the size of Rhode Island, I believe. They have all the conventional weaponry including nuclear bombs. Their military kills many more Palestinians each year than Palestine's puny attempts at harming Israel. And yet, they are not seen as terrorists because their government is "legitimate" and these attacks are military endeavors. What we fail to notice is that Palestine is not given the right to have a "legitimate" government (when they had democratic elections in 2006 and elected Hamas leaders, the world refused to recognize this "terrorist" government), and they are not allowed to have an army. So they resort to guerrilla tactics, as most people would. I'm not saying these tactics are right, but they are certainly understandable.
So to me, one of the main issues here is the worldwide media picture of this people as a huge group of terrorists. This is just not true, unless we're willing to face the fact that our own governments are terrorist organizations that are much more effective and lethal than the Palestinian "terrorism." There are many Palestinians actively and nonviolently working for peace, and a majority of Palestinians just want to be left alone to live their lives. The media is encouraging the dehumanization of the Palestinian people in order for western ideals of conquest, capitalism and wealth to gain more ground. This is cloaked as a religious battle, but really it is a battle of cultures, with the front line in the Holy Land of three ancient religions.