Thursday, December 27, 2007

Big Cage, Small Cage

I was invited to a New Years' party in a town 35 kilometers from my home, but I can't attend. I'm not legally allowed to visit that town.

Since the beginning of the Intifada all large Palestinian towns have been out of bounds for Israelis by decree of the military. The party is in Tul Karem, just east of the Israeli city of Hadera. I called a friend who sometimes sneaks across the lines to visit Ramallah and asked him how easy it would be to go to Tul Karem "under the radar" of the soldiers at the checkpoints. He said Tul Karem was completely out of bounds and if I did get in, getting out would be highly difficult. If I'm caught by the Palestinian authorities while in Tul Karem, they are obliged to turn me over to the Israelis, who would then have to interrogate me about my contacts with the enemy.

Just to be clear. I don't have enemies in Tul Karem. The people there who are furious towards me don't know me, because I'm not allowed to go there and converse with them. The people on this side of the wall who are afraid of people in Tul Karem can't think this fear through. They are not allowed to visit and get to know their scary neighbors. What a brilliant way our leaders have found to perpetuate war.

The ban that forbids me from going to Tul Karem, to Ramallah, to Lebanon and to enormous chunks of Africa and Asia is minuscule compared with the travel bans imposed on the Palestinians by Israel. We are talking about millions of people who are not allowed to leave their towns without going through an often humiliating inspection, who must travel unpaved, winding roads, while Israelis zoom by on roads paved only for them, who are barred from visiting the holy city of Jerusalem, found mere miles away from their home, and the Mediterranean coastline that they can often see from their windows. These are people for whom international travel is virtually impossible. Their world is as narrow as their village and the nearby town - if they're lucky. In times of turmoil, Palestinians are often placed under curfew, sometimes for months on end. They are not allowed to leave their houses under threat of death.

The security considerations cited by Israel are not legitimate. Yes, there have been terror attacks in Hadera, Tul Karem's neighbor to the west, as well as in my city of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo. Yes, I also want security. I love life and I benefit from the fact that this year had seen less Israeli victims than any year since the 80s, but nothing justifies the bending of human rights. We want security? let's find a legitimate way to gain it. Such a way exists. The current policies only offer symptomatic, temporary relief while nurturing disdain and anger that would later stir more violence.

As someone who loves travel, the condition at which my neighbors are placed by my government is infuriates me. Israel has turned the West Bank into a terrain of concrete walls, barbed wire fences, intimidation and sadism. Gaza, in turn, became a besieged disaster zone where multitudes are allowed to rot and die, trapped away from the public eye. Tonight a "critical mass" bike ride will take place in Tel-Aviv to protest limitations on travel. I bought a bike so I could join in. It's a cheap bike, but let's paddle it forward. The freedom to move is a basic right of every human being. Something has to change in 2008.


Rachel said...

Very nice. But what means would you suggest to bring about a complete balance of security and freedom for all? The Palestinian leaders' lack of negotiation skills seem to force Israel to carry out heavy action for security.

On a side note, I wouldn't point an accusatory finger at Israel for violation of human rights. ("...nothing justifies the bending of human rights") You could say much about the Israeli government (and I do have my complaints), but I don't believe violation of human rights would be high on a list of accusations toward them.
(The Maghreb is a place of high interest to me. So as an example of actual human rights violation, I would say check out here:

3asl said...

Rachel, Yuval is completely "in line" in his post, and indeed, his assertion that the human rights of Palestinians are violated in the name of security.

These are "actual" human rights violations. And blaming Palestinian leaders "lack of negotiation skills" is a misreading of the entire political process. Human rights are not a political issue! They are basic rights that human beings regardless of their leadership are entitled to.

If you are indeed highly interested in the Middle East and North Africa, I suggest you also take a look at the material human rights watch and organizations like B'Tselem ( publish on this matter.

Yuval, lovely post.

Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel said...

3asl, firstly, my comment was not meant to criticize Yuval's post. (Hence the "very nice" at the head of the comment.) As to your comment, I hear you. I really do. Yet, there is still so much to reply to that. But I don't intend on turning someone else's blog into my forum to discuss this.

Yuval said...

I personally can't think of a better fate for this blog than to become a forum for ideas and I'm grateful to both of you for writing.

I think both sides have flawed negotiation skills, but both sides are not equal. The Israelis have far more power and hence carry more responsibility. Throughout the sharon period Israel refused to converse with both Hammas and Fattah. Having a dialogue with Fattah would have strengthened it and weakened Hammas before it got in power. our own negotiation skills proved to be nonexistant, so I can hardly blame the other side for theirs' being flawed.

Now to the definition of human rights violations. Rachel, You bring up another example, but don't clarify why this one isn't relevant. Do you think barring an entire population from the right to Travel isn't a human rights violation? Bear in mind that Palestinians aren't citizens of any soverign state, don't have any privacy and safety rights nor the right to due proccess, aren't given much water in their taps, etc. etc. all by decree of Israel which still is, with all due respect to the PA, the de facto ruler of the West Bank.

Of course what's hapenning in Algeria is severe and deserves your care. There are many human rights violations taking place around the world, I concentrate on the ones caused to my neighbors, justified by my other neighbors, imposed by my government and funded by my tax money. It's possible to empathize with all people who are suffering harm. Moreover, it's possible to love and appreciate Israel and still be critical of it. looking away from it doesn't make it a better place, working to improve it does.

Right next to my home in Jaffa is a military court where people get sentenced to interminable prison terms without being given the right to be properly represented. The media can't cover the trials, no one is allowed to watch. The prisons to which the convicted are sent have been deemed "unfit for humans" by human rights organizations. I pass this building every day on my way to buy milk. Human rights violations take place right on my block. I love my country, I love my block, and I have no intention of staying silent.

Rachel said...

You're right, Yuval. Human rights issues are still relevant to Israel. I took 3asl's suggestion to look at, and I have been looking over it and I plan on continuing to do so.

Now, what I'm about to say is not to say that all Arabs are bad. Far from it. One of the incidents I read on was about soldiers rampaging through a Palestinian home, making a mess of it. Tell me if I'm wrong, but to me, that just made the Israeli military sound like a rowdy bunch of cruel idiots. Could it be true? The first thing I did was ask a friend of mine (who just finished his military service this past summer) what he thought of that. To summarize his reply, he said that those stories were absolutely true. But the mess was made in order to search for weapons. They actually go into a house, risking their own lives, to do so. They could just bomb the place, but they don't want to hurt any innocent civilians in the process. How much more humane can they possibly be without having each soldier killed? I'm not saying this to make up for what you told me. You're right, but this view also has to be taken into account.

Yuval said...

First of all I'm awed by the fact you actually went and read further material. Rachel, you may be the first person in the history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict to show actual open mindedness!

As for breaking and entry by combat units. Just imagine an army unit that doesn't speak your language (except expressions like "Shut up!" and "Down on the floor"!) breaking into your home, keeping your family (including the elderly grandmother) hostage with machine guns in order to maintain a sniper position (this happened in Nablous to people I know,) and wreaking havoc.

Now imagine someone telling you that they were being humane because They could have just bombed the place, but they don't want to hurt any innocent civilians in the process. What would your reaction be? Of course they are humane, by comparison to whatever more ghastly example we may find, they are also protective of themselves and they have a right to be, but what led them into the house to begin with was not their need for survival. It was the needs of the occupation.

This occupation does not serve me, it doesn't make me safer, it doesn't bring the Messiah nearer, it doesn't serve you, it doesn't serve the elderly grandma, it doesn't serve those soldiers. It's turned Israeli society nervous and violent and Palestinian society impoverished and desperate. It drains our funds that should go to education and growth. One approach is to say those soldiers took over the house when they could have bombed it. I say those soldiers took over that house when they could have been putting their energy and youth into working to actually improve this place. Our tactics so far: maintaining the occupation with barely any regard to the humanity of the occupied, avoiding open political dialogue and thinking short term haven't proven to do so.

One more thing about taking over houses. Over Rosh Hashanah, Sukkos, Passover, Shavuot and Purim, many Israelis flock to the Israeli controlled section of Hebron, (where 20,000 Palestinians live, next to 600 settlers). The celebrating mob has a tendency to break into Palestinian houses and throw stuff out the window. The soldiers do nothing to stop them. I've seen footage of it and it's difficult to watch.

Now, the festive surprise guests may beat the residents around a bit (those who didn't hide well), but no big deal, and they don't throw babies out of the windows, so it's not a pogrom. Thing is - it doesn't have to be a pogrom to be very bad, and what we have going on here is very bad.

3asl said...

Rachel, I echo Yuval's kudos for going to the B'Tselem sight.

Unfortunately, the vicinity of Hebron is in the news today and not because of a pilgrimmage...four people are now dead, and we can only hope that during the search for those who fled the scene and the funeral procession tomorrow more will not be hurt.

Rachel said...

I did not know these "pogroms" take place, and that's very unfortunate.

But still, I would not tag Israel as the occupiers/oppressors and the Palestinians as the impoverished victims. As horrible as what you told me is, I still think these roles go both ways.

Yuval, even if you look at the Israeli military as occupiers, the fact that they put their lives on the line while searching homes in order to avoid killing innocent Palestinian civilians is amazing, especially for a group of "occupiers." It is rare to find any such group doing so anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, you don't find the same care on the part of the Islamists. They don't just aim to kill the soldiers, but they aim for Israeli civilians. Even if you were to look at the Israeli army as inhumane on the part of Israel, I would say the Islamist groups are a thousand times worse on the part of the Palestinians.
And even if you were to look at down on the Israeli military for guarding checkpoints before Palestinians enter Israeli towns, the Palestinians are still able to be in the Israeli cities with complete safety. (This can't always be said the other way around.) To go further, although most of these Palestinians are civilized, there are still those that come into these Israeli cities and use it to kill innocent civilians.
Now you could say that the Israelis had it coming, that the Israeli military oppressed them to the point that they became angry enough to kill innocent people. But I would think thats wrong. How can anyone say that when we know that many of these children are taught to hate Israelis/Jews at such a young age? They are taught to hate before they can even think enough to come to their own conclusions. When I was in Israel this past summer, I was flipping through some television channels when I found a childrens' show on an Arabic channel. It showed a muppet mouse giving an excuse to his teacher about why he did not have his homework. This was the excuse: Some Jews came into my house and burned it. How can anyone teach their child that? My parents never so much as allowed me to make a racist comment about anyone, ever.

I still take your word, Yuval. You are right. There should be more humanity, and the Israeli military should be looking to improve the situation. But to do so, they would have to get to the root of the problem, which I believe is the Islamist groups (as is in most Arab countries). But then that just takes us back to searching homes, etc.
Maybe the most hope can come from the civilians, on both sides. Maybe peace will come from them speaking and interacting on a human level. Afterall, that is what my ancestors did for centuries when they lived in the Middle-East, Jews growing up side-by-side with Muslims.

Yuval said...

You know, one time Israel bombed a Hammas official in Gaza from the air and killed 15 other people among them kids. This was one event in a long succesion of such bombings. In almost each case innocents died. The one I mention was simply the case with the most casualties, so I remember the number.

Later, head of the Israeli air force, Dan Halutz, was asked what he feels when he bombs 15 innocents from the air. he said: "a slight move of the wing", meaning the wing from which the bomb was released. This man was later made chief of staff.

So it's not black and white. We also kill people without much regard. We are also racist (the lives of these people did not count as real human lives to Halutz. They are Palestinian lives). Our chldren learn hatred - trust me, I've learned plenty of it as a kid, Which doesn't mean the Palestinian kids don't. they certainly do and this needs to change.

"It's a hard life wherever you go / and If we poison our children with hatred / then the hard life is all that they'll know". - Nancy Griffith sings that, and I agree with her. We need a change of paradigm.

I find it hard to believe that searching homes will rid Israel and Palestine of Islamist organizations. the IDf has been searching homes since the eighties, and these organizations have only grown stronger since. Not much that is done today is solution-oriented. I would like for us to think towards solutions and blame doesn't get us far in this sense. I trust that you are making every effort to look beyond it, and I thank you - This very dialogue plays a microscopic part in moving ideas forward.

Anonymous said...

I especially like reading your more political posts Yuval. From what I know of you I trust your thoughts, opinions and information that you share. I was glad to see this entry on the blog and the following discussion, yet reading all of this has also given me a sense of sadness. Can I tell a personal story from my own experience?...

When travelling in Israel and Palestine this summer I went with another girl I'd met to Hebron for a day. We went from the Islamic hostel we were staying in in Jerusalem's old city and caught the local Arabic bus to Bethlehem, then another to Hebron.

As the bus began passing the outskirts of our destination I began praying, simply asking God that we would meet and be looked after by good people in Hebron. We arrived, got out, walked through the streets making our way towards the Ibrahimi mosque, we got deeper and deeper into the market. People were pleased and curious to see us and nobody hassled us in the slightest way. As we carried on we went into the old souq where, as it's narrowness and darkness enclosed us, a Palestinian lady gently approached me and touched my arm. She asked me 'Please would you come and look at my stall?' There we were, stood next to it already. She ran the business herself, selling the embroideries of women who work in their homes in and around Hebron. She was kind and genuine.

My friend and I were invited to sit inside the little shop and given tea while we looked through selections of little purses and other souvenirs. I had brought money with me that day especially to buy gifts for friends at home and was pleased to find all that I wanted on her stall.

A peace keeping volunteer from North America came and joined us. I asked her what work she did as a peace keeper. She summed it up in saying that where there are different groups but an unbalance of power they tried to give those who are unheard a voice so that they can speak and be heard rather than using violence to make themselves heard (my words). I had never heard of peacekeeping put this way before.

It turned out that we could not visit the mosque/synagogue that day as it was closed for a special Jewish day. We walked back and stopped again at the shop of this sweet lady. We were warmly welcomed and sat down again, invited to stay at the family's house in a nearby village (unfortunately our schedules meant we couldn't take up this offer). Before we returned to Jerusalem our now hostess arranged for her husband to come and pick us up in the car. We had decided to go back in a service taxi simply because it was more direct, so he took us to the service taxi, stopping briefly on the way. As we left him for the taxi he handed us both a bag of fresh food and drink from the cafe where he'd stopped.

We were both touched and to be honest humbled by these people who genuinely welcomed and looked after us so well. For me God had directly answered my small prayer that morning.

I was surprised when sharing this story with family, friends and strangers back in Israel by their concern for me, one girl even seemed to be disgusted and definitely disapproving.

A strange thing happened when I got back to the U.K. My visits to occupied Palestine seemed to have had a deeper affect on me than I'd realised. If I began to talk with friends about them I became upset and began crying but could not understand or explain why. I asked God about this and had a picture - an angel with a book who told me that I needn't worry as God had written down my tears in this book and He reads them and understands them. It is only more recently that I have actually read in a Psalm of God keeping a record of our tears written down in a book, as well as hearing of my friend's mother returning from a year in Bethlehem and being reduced to tears whenever she has tried to talk about it with others.

I believe that God looks at people's hearts rather than the outward identities that we are born into or create for ourselves. He sees beyond our races, religions, politics and is big enough to write down all of our tears.

In 2008 I'll be praying for good leaders with strength for both Israel and Palestine.

Hope you don't mind me sharing this stuff here Yuval - please say if you do.

Girl who speaks in tongues

Yuval said...

Of course I don't mind at all. The humanity and sensativity of your point of view are precious.

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