New State of Palestine VISA

I am the proud carrier of a new “State of Palestine” VISA. No, I am not proud that we have IDs that must be stamped at all. In fact, if this conflict has taught me anything, it is that it is part of my duty as a human being to make those “borders” less powerful. To create a world where gender, religion and national identities are no longer life threatening issues, where being a human being is enough to guarantee your human rights.

But in the meantime, I’m going to use my American and Israeli passports to advocate for human rights by stamping them with a new State of Palestine VISA, issued by Ramallah based artists Khaled Jarrar. Even though 100 states recognize the State of Palestine, the PA does not issue a VISA. What does that say about their thinking? Who is more powerful — 100 states or the Israeli occupiers?

I don’t know why the PA hasn’t issued VISAs. But I do know why I am going to be carrying one:

At conception, I was given two identities: human being and female — not woman. When I emerged from my mother’s womb, my parent’s gave me a gendered name and the state gave me a national identity. I was raised as a Jew and at thirteen, given the choice to be in or out. I chose to be in, had a party (Bat Mitzvah) and joined the Jew Crew for life — or so they say.

By 21, this Jewish identity ran into Zionism — and a Zionist narrative that uses the horrors of Jewish genocide and the power of Judaism to mobilize Jewish people for a nationalist cause. As a result of my Birthright journey, I became the Zionist dream, used the racist Right of Return for Jewish people and became an Israeli citizen. Boy, Jews can be stupid sometimes.

But if I’m a little easier on myself, in some respects it was a practical, adolescent decision. I was empowered by the Zionist narrative which took me out of the Jewish minority in America and placed me in the Jewish majority in Israel. I wanted to further explore my American relationship with Israel, a state which receives more American military aid than any other nation and which claims to be representing the Jewish people. The Israeli government made this easy by offering cash, subsidies, tax breaks and other privileges – Jewish organizations also chipped in and offer to fly and ship a bunch of your worldly belongings at no cost to the “Jewish Homeland”. And so, in the land where national identity, ID cards and passports are life or death issues, I naively became an Israeli citizen.

After living for three years in Tel Aviv, enjoying the beach, boys and booze,  my bubble was burst by the Israeli War in (and on) Gaza (2009) and I felt a need to see another face of Israel. I became a border crosser, leaving the seemingly occupation free Tel Aviv for more thorny territories (Israeli soldiers, walls and checkpoints–Oh my!), and lived behind the wall in Palestinian villages — Nabi Saleh (Ramallah) and Beit Ummar (Hebron), Beit Jalla (Bethlehem) and Al – Ram (Al – Quds or Jerusalem). Over the course of two years, I  lived with Palestinian families and engaged Palestinian officials and taxi drivers, artists and accountants to see Israel from their’ eyes.

Rarely was there a day when someone carrying a machine gun didn’t require me to show him or her my ID. “Where are you going? What do you do there? Where are you from?”, all common questions along the journey which determine your fate. But more powerful than the words you say, the disposition you hold or the attitude you carry, was my ID.

To my surprise, my Israeli ID is the easiest to move with. Like all IDs, it provokes questions. When I spoke Hebrew or English to the soldiers, they asked me if I was Jewish. When I started to speak Arabic to them, I got a lot less questions — in fact, life was easier, for this cute, secular dressing girl. Other girl friends of mine, who look more Arab and cover their hair, have a much harder time and boys — well they have it the worst.

Over the past two years, my American passport has become increasingly difficult to move with, since I no longer carry a VISA. A year ago, soldiers would just wave me through — it seemed to be a courtesy to tourists. Now, foreigners enjoy heavier harassment as the Israeli government attempts to intimidate international activists. Deportation of human rights activists has become common place and as a result elaborate schemes have been devised to visit Palestine, even if activists will never go to 1967 Israeli territory.

As a Jewish Israeli citizen, it is illegal for me to enter what was deemed by the Oslo Accords as Area A — all of the cities in the Palestinian territories. If I am arrested by the Israeli Occupation Forces, I can face thousands of dollars in fines and possibly jail time. However, I can move about Area B and C freely — areas that are still under Israeli military control, but were supposed to transition into full Palestinian control within five years. This freedom has enabled settlers to colonize the West Bank and so — in these areas settlers and Palestinians live side by side.

My Israeli passport is by far the easiest to move with since it doesn’t have any indication of my Jewish identity on it.  My Israeli ID on the other hand, has my mother’s Hebrew name on it. In the recent past, the IDs used to explicitly state your religion, while today the identification is more discreet. Of course, this doesn’t stop soldiers from asking questions about my identity and in protest, I answer the question “Are you Jewish?” by telling them that I’m Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Granted that this harassment is nothing compared to what Palestinians  carrying green Palestinian or blue Israeli IDs (Israeli – Arabs) experience, it touches on how powerful an ID is here in a place no larger than New Jersey.

Aside from daily harassment and intimidation, many people face incredibly difficult life-long struggles to stay in their homeland, where they were born, or to return to the land of their parent’s and grandparents. IDs become a weapon which the Israeli government uses to deem who is in and who is out. And of course, this isn’t some haphazard plan — it is an incredibly systematic way to displace Palestinians, win the “demographic dilemma” and to construct the Zionist myth that Israel was “a land without a people, for a people without a land”.

Since I have the inhumane and unwarranted privilege of crossing checkpoints daily, my ID has become one of the most essential objects I carry daily. When Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar approached me (in Ramallah) with his “State of Palestine” VISA and invited me to stamp my passport I was ecstatic. It enables me to make fun of the current border control system and to create contradictions that the official system doesn’t have a protocol for — yet.  His project provides me with a new tool for protesting the Israeli occupation and an outlet for freedom of expression that was unavailable before.

Luckily, I had the perfect place for the stamp — directly above my Israeli immigration ID, which the Israeli Ministry of Interior put in my American passport. Even though many of my Palestinian friends also carry two passports, due to their green ID registration, the Israeli Occupation Forces will not let them pass the wall into many Palestinian cities (most notably Al Quds / Jerusalem).

American passport with “State of Palestine” VISA (top, left) above Israeli immigration document

Next week I will have my Israeli passport stamped and will be leaving and entering Israel with the State of Palestine VISA in June. Additionally, I will be publishing the numerous stories that I am sure will be prompted by this eloquent project here.

If you would like to have your passport stamped or be involved with the project on other levels, please contact Khaled Jarrar. Additionally, you can support the project by liking the facebook page, “Live and work in Palestine” (which in 24 hours got 500 likes!) and add the State of Palestine VISA to your profile pictures.

Now writing for PolicyMic

I’m excited to announce that I will now be writing for PolicyMic, “an online political platform that promotes high-quality political discussion amongst young thinkers.” PolicyMic is still in beta, but I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen so far. You can check out my article “Netenyahu Institutionalizes Settlers’ Price Tagging Policy” on the site or read PolicyMic’s brochure here.

Since it’s March 15th, the day of Palestinian Unity, I also want to call attention to Fadi Quran’s article, which was published on PolicyMic last week, “On Shuhada Street, a Non-Violent Rap Global Revolution in Palestine?“. Fadi and others have been working to bring the democratic revolution to Palestine — calling for unity and an end to the occupation — and I wanted to wish them, and all the Palestinian youth, the best today.

Thoughts on the Fogel family and their murderer

Berkeley, CA – All weekend, as I attempted to submerge myself in the Network of Spiritual Progressives at Tikkun Magazine’s 25th Anniversary, the murder of the Fogel family was laying heavily on my mind. The shocking initial news reports, followed by the high turn out (20,000 people) to the Jerusalem funeral and then the incredibly disappointing “emergency” decision of the Israeli government to approve 500 more homes in settlements, all left me nauseous – to say the least.

But it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, when a facebook contact posted a Google Album of the murdered family on my wall that I started to write this entry. These images, while graphic and incredibly disturbing, will come to represent thousands of words people will write, say and think about this tragedy and the tragedies that are following.

That being said, it is the caption that my friend used when posting the link that inspired my response. He said:

X has hesitated, but decided to share the link exposing the corps of the Israeli family slaughtered by a terrorist this weekend. These are very disturbing images of what Israel’s enemies are capable of.

Firstly, these are the photographs of a family that was murdered this weekend. They are human beings, who were murdered by another human being — being a victim or murderer is a human experience that goes beyond national identity.

Calling this family an “Israeli family” and the person who murdered them a “terrorist” only furthers the type of violence that resulted in this murder. Arguing that these images are “of what Israel’s enemies are capable of” colludes an already dangerous, violent narrative  of “us” vs. “them” with nationalism.

I understand, that in moments like these — where we are shocked into disgust and anger — that we feel the need to bunker up, to know who is “us” and who is “them”. In fact, I think that’s a part of human nature. But this part of our human nature does not serve our needs as human beings. Distinguishing between the “victim” and the “murderer” will not help us end the cycle of violence that inspired this act.

In the future, we will probably come to know the Fogel family more — we will see pictures and videos of their children and their family. We will hear from their neighbors, friends and maybe even their remaining children. Surely, official representatives of both the Israeli and Palestinian nations will use their names to make political statements and hopefully to try and call for an end to this violent cycle that we are trapped in.

But one voice that I think is most important for us to hear, a voice that will probably be silenced, is the voice of the murderer and his / her family. What led this person to commit such a terrible crime? What message were they trying to send to the majority of Palestinians and Israelis who are working to end this cycle of violence? And most importantly, but surely difficult to ask is how is this murderer a victim?

Both the Fogel family and the murderer were highly dedicated to their national causes. The Fogels felt so strongly about their either national or religious convictions that they became a part of the settler movement — a movement that’s central values deny others their basic human rights and are far from the values of most Israelis. The murderer felt so strongly that the situation in which he / she was living in was so unjust that he / she had to take justice into their own hands and break one of the most central commandments G-d gave to all people — something most Palestinians would never dream of doing.

So on this eve, of yet another tragedy in our Holyland, may we find the courage to move beyond “us” and “them,” may we come together now and in the future against murder — Israeli and Palestinian alike — and never forget, to look beyond the binary.

The Palestine Papers and the Road “Home”

With The Palestine Papers on my mind, I start my journey “home” from “work” in al-Ram, on the other side of the separation wall. I climb on the Palestinian taxi and we drive along the road lined with grim realities on both side; to the left massive concrete blocks and agonizing graffiti block our view, on the right ghostly shops ravaged by the separation wall’s presence stand counting the days.

Picture of the wall in Al-Ram before it was sealed off from the rest of Occupied Jerusalem. Photo Credit: Newsifact.com

Qalandia checkpoint—I get off the bus, press past children selling black market goods for a quarter or two, squeeze between the metal human corrals and gates built by Jews, x-ray myself and my bags with Tel Aviv technology and prove that I’m a “legal” human being to teenagers with M16s.

Once validated, I escape to the safety of a Palestinian bus with Israeli license plates. I pay my ticket fare to the “Arab-Israeli” driver, slip on my headphones and try to disappear into Fairuz. We start making our way towards Jerusalem, past the same concrete blocks that cast shadows on the other side–on this side the wall is empty and silent. Passengers divert their gaze as we make our way past the Israeli checkpoint guarding the illegal Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, the new light rail cutting through occupied East Jerusalem, the demolished Shephard Hotel in Sheik Jarrah… until we reach Damascus gate.

Now at the junction, waiting for a green light at the cross walk where settlers and Palestinians freeze, up the hill across the former green line, huffing and puffing I make it to the Israeli Interrogation Center a block from my house. I pull out the keys to my tiny apartment on Yaffa Street kiss them unconsciously and drag them across the iron prison fence. Past the coffee shop packed with American-Jews drinking cocoa, into the alley lined with Jerusalem’s best bars and up the stairs to apartment 18.

Here, the road “home” is never easy.

Round Up: If it weren’t for +972 we’d think there were no leftists left

“Its got to get worse before it gets better,” a South African filmmaker told me this summer as he shared his experience of apartheid South Africa with me. At the time, I didn’t quite see the wave of “worse” coming, but now I think its fair to say — it’s here.

Since we rung in the New Year there’s been nothing but a new wave of bad news (or perhaps good news) gracing the blogosphere. Starting with the IDF killing Jawahar Abu-Rahma, a non violent Palestinian activist from Bi’lin, and Mohammad Dragma, a 21 year old unarmed Palestinian from Tubas, the situation has quickly worsened. If it weren’t for the critical information and commentary that the tireless journalists and activists at +972 magazine provided, I (as well as many others) may have thought we were alone in being outraged. Instead, +972 and the slew supportive facebook comments from Palestinians and internationals alike has made me realize that even though we “leftists” are few, we’re mighty — and we are breaking official sources’ (like the IDF and the Israeli government) monopoly on “news.”

As Virgina Wolf wrote at the end of Three Guineas, “We are not passive spectators doomed to unresisting obedience.” May we carry these words until the end of this madness.

Here’s a round-up of how leftists are being rounded up by none other than our beloved country.

IDF Tries to Spin Bil’in Death

Yesterday the IDF held a select press conference for their favorite bloggers and journalists to address the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah, the activist who died of tear gas inhalation fired by the IDF in Bi’lin. Noam Sheizaf did a brilliant job of dissecting the IDF’s version of the event.

Activist’s Home Searched

This morning one of the activists arrested over the weekend for protesting the killing of Bi’lin activist, was greeted by Israeli Police Special Patrol Unit who demanded to search the activists home. According to +972, the police did not have a search warrant and the activists denied their entry.

Israel is handling this protest as an attack committed against the United States. The US State Department, however,  does not view the protest as an attack. Asked yesterday by AP reporter Matt Lee for a comment, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley stated clearly that the protest was not an attack on the US. Video link starting from minute 22:30:

Human Rights Activist and Film Director Targeted

An Israeli nonprofit called “The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel” wrote a letter to the Israel Broadcasting Agency that Ta’ayush activist and independent filmmaker Nissim Mossek should have his work censored because of his participation in “extremist” politics. You can read the article and letter published by Mairav Zonszein.

Witch Hunt Committee Established

This Knesset passed a decision to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to “examine the activities of Israeli organizations involved with the collection of information about soldiers and follow their funding sources”. Of course, this proposal brough forth by none other than MK Fania Kirshenbaum from Yisrael Beiteinu.

Israeli NGOs Respond

The New Israel Fund responded in a Haaretz article by stating, “The political persecution of human rights group causes great damage to Israel across the world, and that is precisely what will lead to the delegitimization [of Israel] and the representation of it as a McCarthyite state in which a witch hunt is taking place.”

B’Tselem, one of the targeted organizations, issued the following statement this evening:

We are proud of our work to promote human rights in the Occupied Territories, which is conducted legally and with complete transparency. Persecution and attempts at silencing will not stop us. In a democracy, criticism of the government is not only legitimate – it is essential. B’Tselem calls on all members of Knesset to hold an informed debate on the information provided by human rights organizations, instead of harassing and smearing those who dare to question and criticize.

It is absurd to claim that a committee of enquiry with no real powers can uncover information unknown to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits. The purpose of the inquiry is not to establish the facts, they are well known. B’Tselem’s list of donors is available online. Our financial reports are available at the office of the NGO Registrar, which just recently issued B’Tselem a Certification of Proper Administration. Therefore, it is clear that the motive behind the investigation is an attempt to hinder our work through smears and incitement.

If the Members of Knesset who supported this decision genuinely care about Israel’s international standing, they should stop promoting parliamentary initiatives that will only cause it to plummet even further.

And since I must end on a lighter note, please watch this clip from Aretz Nehederet, a satirical Israeli television show (or the Israeli version of Jon Stewart). It captures the mainstream discourse in Israel so well, you might as well forget about your next vacation to the Holyland.

Riot Material

Its two days into the new year and my heart is aching–well perhaps screaming.

Saturday, after a demonstration of nearly a thousand people in Bi’lin, we lost Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, who died from the inhalation of tear gas fired by IDF soldiers outside the Occupied Palestinian West Bank village of Bil’in. In response, hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv and a group of activists returned the American manufactured weapons used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the American embassador.

Then, this morning, Israel bombed Gaza and Israeli soldiers killed a 21 year old Palestinian in cold blood at a checkpoint outside of Nablus (no longer a story on the front page of Haaretz or Ynet). When I walked into work, this was the first thing my colleague mentioned–not happy new year. It didn’t leave my mind all day and now, in the evening, in Jerusalem, I’m distressed at how few Israelis are aware of this atrocity. I’m going to try to not take too much out on my neighbor, who last night told me that I shouldn’t be upset about the Gaza War because “Israel is the most moral army in the world.”

This is the post that I wrote about the Gaza War that I’m still waiting to be approved by Huffington Post and a call from Gaza Youth that I’m republishing in solidarity. If most of the human rights activists in Israel weren’t exahusted from the weekend or sitting in jail, I’d be looking for the nearest riot to attend.


A Former Supporter of the Gaza War Reflects, in Shame

 

It was two years ago, when Israel launched the Gaza War, or “Operation Cast Lead” as the Israeli military calls it, that I had an Israeli experience Birthright didn’t prepare me for–trauma. Even though I was a peace activist my whole life–organizing demonstrations against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at age sixteen–during the Gaza war, like many in the Israeli peace camp, I became pro-war.

Boxed up in my tiny Tel Aviv apartment, I struggled to understand how my life could go on as normal while blood was running through the streets of Gaza,  just one hour away. For hours I glued myself to the news via television, radio and internet — looking for a way to touch the trauma, to become a victim of the war machine. The IDF warned, that for the first time ever, Hamas missiles could reach Tel Aviv — I cursed my south Tel Aviv apartment and wondered why I didn’t pay higher rent to live up north. At any moment, a missile could land on our house and we would be like the Israelis in Sderot, suffering from shock, shrapnel wounds and property loss — thank G-d I was renting.

A few days after the war started, I had to go out of the house. I had to go to this office and that office, pay this and that bill. I had to, as many of my Israeli friends said, “go on with my life.” But the war wouldn’t let me go — there was no normal life to be had. In every car and shop, the radio and television blared with images of army generals and angry journalists, who were locked out of Gaza and could only stand on hill tops overlooking plumbs of smoke. Every once in a while, we caught a glimpse of a mother lying over the body of her child. A father standing in front of his demolished house — the coffin of his family. In every office I visited, a distraught family member sat behind a desk on the telephone speaking to her or his loved one, who was putting on his uniform and heading to war. The city was suddenly filled with soldiers, carrying heavy bags on their backs and expressions on their faces. The Tel Aviv bubble had been penetrated.

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Photo by Wassam Nassar

When I returned home, I closed the big medal door on my bedroom window, which doubled as a bomb shelter. I posted myself in front of the television, keyboard on my lap and started writing. Many of my posts (which I removed later) reached levels of deep distress and hysteria. A few of my Israeli and American friends tried to  help me break through the fear and see how cruel and inhumane “Operation Cast Lead” was — I couldn’t hear a damn thing.

Months later, when I returned to the United States, I started to recognize how absurd my state of mind had become. When a military plane crossed over my college campus, I thought it was Iran. When students brought up the war, I accused them of being anti-Semitic.  And most notably, at my graduation ceremony, in a crowded auditorium I heard someone speaking Arabic and I immediately thought I was going to be the next victim of a terrorist attack. I was traumatized.

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Photo by Wassam Nassar

This mild experience of the war, for someone so new to Israel — at home, safe in Tel Aviv — just touches on how manipulative fear is. For Jews (Israeli and non-Israeli alike), whose identity is so deeply defined by fear of the “other” — from the stories of Purim and Chanukah warning against assimilation, to historical tragedies like the Spanish Inquisition, Pogroms and the Holocaust — our fear continues to serve as a justification for brutal retaliation. Rest assured, we were victims. But wake up, we aren’t any longer.

When I returned to Israel, I started looking for a way to keep my fear in check. I looked for a community that could weather the war storms and not let fear flood us with nationalistic tendencies where we forget what “nation” we’re really apart of, the human one. During the Gaza flotilla raid, an event which only posed danger to Israel’s reputation, I became critical of how quickly journalists picked provocative language and published round-ups and articles, like “‘Lynch,’ ‘Attack’ and ‘Massacre’ – Shooting Down Words in International Waters,” to try to de escalate the fear and nationalistic tendencies that were rising. These posts connected me to a group of thoughtful journalists, most notably two Israeli photojournalists and former soldiers, who travelled regularly to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). They invited me to join them in Nabi Saleh, and slowly I started a journey of recognizing and breaking down my fear of the “other.”

This journey included living in the OPT for six months. During this time, the people that I formerly only saw in the media as “terrorists” vanished. Not because Israel’s endless “security” measures have repressed them, because the security fence has stopped them or all terror cells have been cleaned out — but simply because today 99.9% of Palestinians do not believe that terrorism is the way to freedom.

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Photo by Wassam Nassar

But what about that 0.01%? The dozens of families that I came to know from Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin all had one striking thing in common: at least one or more of their family members was killed or imprisoned by the IDF. There is strong evidence that most “terrorists” have a prior history of violent encounters with the IDF that resulted in an immediate family member being killed or in some cases the attacker her/himself being injured or arrested (see statistical analysis here). And yet, even though Israel continues to collectively punish the entire Palestinian population for the violence of a few, Palestinians recognize something the Israeli government and most American-Jews do not yet understand — violence breeds violence and war will never lead to peace and security.

Now, two years after I shamefully supported the War in Gaza, the murder of 1400 people who have every right to hate and desire revenge, I am sure that I know who the terrorists were and who supported them–it was my democratically elected government, it was my military and it was me. Gaza, I am so sorry. You should not forgive me, or us, but perhaps if I work for your freedom, one day we will be able to reconcile. Until then, all my love.

Gaza’s Youth Manifesto for Change

I was inspired by this post that I found on facebook today. Its inspiring, especially considering that Israel bombed Gaza again today, during the two year anniversary of the Gaza War.

Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom. We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.

There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope. The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30th November, when Hamas’ officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization (www.sharek.ps) with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated. We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under. We barely survived the Operation Cast Lead, where Israel very effectively bombed the shit out of us, destroying thousands of homes and even more lives and dreams. They did not get rid of Hamas, as they intended, but they sure scared us forever and distributed post traumatic stress syndrome to everybody, as there was nowhere to run.

We are youth with heavy hearts. We carry in ourselves a heaviness so immense that it makes it difficult to us to enjoy the sunset. How to enjoy it when dark clouds paint the horizon and bleak memories run past our eyes every time we close them? We smile in order to hide the pain. We laugh in order to forget the war. We hope in order not to commit suicide here and now. During the war we got the unmistakable feeling that Israel wanted to erase us from the face of the earth. During the last years Hamas has been doing all they can to control our thoughts, behaviour and aspirations. We are a generation of young people used to face missiles, carrying what seems to be a impossible mission of living a normal and healthy life, and only barely tolerated by a massive organization that has spread in our society as a malicious cancer disease, causing mayhem and effectively killing all living cells, thoughts and dreams on its way as well as paralyzing people with its terror regime. Not to mention the prison we live in, a prison sustained by a so-called democratic country.

History is repeating itself in its most cruel way and nobody seems to care. We are scared. Here in Gaza we are scared of being incarcerated, interrogated, hit, tortured, bombed, killed. We are afraid of living, because every single step we take has to be considered and well-thought, there are limitations everywhere, we cannot move as we want, say what we want, do what we want, sometimes we even cant think what we want because the occupation has occupied our brains and hearts so terrible that it hurts and it makes us want to shed endless tears of frustration and rage!

We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore. ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control, limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!

We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and in such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted.

This is the Gazan youth’s manifesto for change!

We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves, we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect.  We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance. We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under. We will build dreams where we meet walls.

We only hope that you – yes, you reading this statement right now! – can support us. In order to find out how, please write on our wall or contact us directly: freegazayouth@hotmail.com

We want to be free, we want to live, we want peace.

FREE GAZA YOUTH!

The Fire We Kindled – Alison Carmel Ramer

Photo from The Political Assistant

 

In the wake of being burned by my facebook “friends” and family over criticizing Israel during one of the most horrific natural disasters in the nation’s history, I am going to try to rekindle my ability to articulate my compassion for our crazy little country. Because you have to understand, I love Israel – no, not the nation of Israel, for I do not love nations, but I have a love for all the life that is on this land; the Jews, Muslims and Christians, the God fearing and the unbelievers, the plants and the animals, the flowers and the cacti–all of them.

And yet as I emphasize my humanity, the essential life I share with all human beings, I will not deny that we are living in an unequal world. There are power dynamics at play, and with all power comes responsibility. As Utah Phillips, an American labor organizer, once said, “The Earth is not dying – it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.”

So when I hear people asking the question, “Who started the fire?” Our answer should not be about the Druze or the Jews, who were smoking argeela or nargeela on Mount Carmel. No.

Our answer should not be that it doesn’t matter, “Right now we just need to come together and put the fire out.” No. Someone is responsible for this.

If you hold an Israeli ID, you are responsible for kindling the flames long before there was smoke in the forest.

If you have the ability to vote, but didn’t — you’re more responsible for the fire than the people who did – because at least they tried to change something in this “Jewish Democracy”.

If you are Jewish in Israel, today you have more “power” and privilege than anyone else in this land. So whether you voted or not – you are even more responsible. Yes.

For years the smoke from the shoah has been blinding you, the Jews. Yes, it has been blinding us. Our preoccupation with maintaining the occupation led us to spend billions of dollars, hours and resources on electing people who want to build insecurity fences and risk the lives of our youth protecting fire starting, water-stealing settlers.

But I’m not going to blame it all on the Jews. No.

Because there is someone more responsible than the Jews. His name is Eli Yishai, and he is the Minister of Interior. As Noam Sheizaf wrote in “Israel’s deadliest fire ever: Eli Yishai must go,” he  is directly responsible for drying up the fire department’s funds and the money allocated to all the people in this land – Israeli and Palestinian alike – about the real threats we are facing– from land (earthquakes), water and fire.  Yes, there is someone who is responsible for this – but it is not the Druze.

So as our hearts beat heavily, as we witness the cold, blue sentiment of “national disaster” rushing through our veins, let’s not reach for the familiar cloak of victimhood. Let’s not act as we do in wartime and blind ourselves to cindering self critique. Let’s come together and struggle to breathe in the little oxygen we have left here, so perhaps next time, when people are screaming FIRE before the flames (article written by Aviv Lavie in Maariv), we’ll be responsible enough to stand up and put it out.

Two More Homes Receive Demolition Notices in Nabi Saleh

On Sunday, Palestinian Independence Day and the day before a week long holiday in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, two villagers in Nabi Saleh received notice from the Israeli Civil Administration that their houses must be demolished in one week’s time. According to the notice, they can either demolish their own homes or to pay the Israeli Civil Administration after they demolish them. Both houses were built with permission from the Israeli Civil Administration in 1978 and 1980. Since then, they have each added an extension of one room (an inclosed porch and a kitchen) to the homes. While both homes reside in area C, one of the homes is built in area B as well.

Due to the urgency of the situation, the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition will issue a letter to the Israeli Civil Administration requesting a delay in the demolition due the holiday and explaining that the families and lawyers are unable to deal with the matter this week.

Since December 2009, when settlers from Halamish furthered their illegal confiscation of the villagers land and the Israeli army refused to protect the villagers, the villagers joined the unarmed struggle against the occupation, or the Popular Struggle. Since then, they received ten housing demolition orders. The previous orders targeted the homes of leaders in the struggle and were issued several months in advance of the date of demolition. On the other hand, the two new orders were issued just one week in advance, falling on the first day of a week long holiday where no lawyers are working. “These housing demolition orders have been placed on these houses in order to put further pressure on us to stop the demonstrations and the resistance,” said Bassam Tamimi, one of the leaders of the resistance and a previous recipient of a housing demolition order.

How to Struggle Against the Occupation in Tel Aviv

The other night, when I was coming back to Tel Aviv after spending nearly two weeks in Occupied Palestine, I fell asleep on the bus. When I woke up I was underneath the overpass next to Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. In my exhausted state, I thought that the column of the overpass was the base of one of the many watchtower throughout the Occupied West Bank — I was carrying the occupation into Tel Aviv.

While some of the most active human rights activists and Palestinian supporters live in Tel Aviv, the majority of people live isolated intellectually as well as physically from the situation in Occupied Palestine — that is the point of Tel Aviv — to feel normal, to be isolated, to enjoy human rights like art and culture, drink and dance. I myself did this for a number of years, due to a desire to know a “normal” Israel. However, since I started engaging the occupation and traveling to the Occupied Palestinian Territories three months ago, I’ve found it very challenging to move between the near ghetto that we have created in the West Bank and Tel Aviv without saying something.

When I come back, I feel a responsibility to engage my Tel Avivian friends, who rarely think about or discuss the conflict — I must bring the occupation to Tel Aviv, confront the Tel Avivians. At the same time, I know that it has to be done gently. In order to have an open constructive dialogue, I have to be thoughtful about how I engage my friends and neighbors. One example of this, is using art.

In this post, I want to share with you a photograph recently taken by Ben Kelmer, an Israeli photojournalist, in al-Arakib (August 4, 2010), the day the Israeli Land Administration, came to the village for the second time in a week and destroyed the temporary homes (why? read here) — which were built in solidarity with Jewish – Israelis (If you don’t know about this issue, you can view this video which was released the same day that the re-demolition happened).

In order to create an opportunity to discuss the occupation with a friend of mine from Tel Aviv, I shared this photograph with him. In a short analysis of our chat conversation, I try to show how a structure created and reinforced by politicians, the media and other powerful actors creates and uses fear — typically attributed to Hamas — to justify violence and make the population compliant with the occupation.

Resident of al-Arakib next to home rebuilt with aid from Jewish – Israelis and redestroyed by the Israeli Land Administration by Ben Kelmer, August 4, 2010


Analysis

This conversation, like many others I’ve had, reveals how perceived threats and fear result in disengagement with the conflict and compliance with the occupation. The photograph, which can be interpreted in many ways, creates a space for us to have dialogue about violence indirectly.

After my friend agrees to have a conversation with me about the photograph, he looks at the photograph and immediately connects to the human struggle. He says, “It shows the hell and heaven living together in this woman’s life”. Knowing that this woman has just seen her home demolished by the Israeli government a second time, he tries to ease his pain and guilt by saying, “It seems she is happy at this point when the pic was shot, because she knows this is how it goes, it’s a hard life.” Thus, in order to affirm his lack of responsibility, he frames her life as a victim of a force that cannot be changed, she becomes a bi-standard in a life that is predetermined to be horrific or “hard” as he puts it.

In order to blame someone for the pain he sees, he starts arguing that I am biased and demonizing Israel.  ”What bothers me is that you only show the weak side, which is the Palestinians…[Israel] has to sacrifice in this situation and prove to the world that its not its fault.” I remind him that this woman is a Bedouin, who lives in the Negev (not a Palestinian) and ask him, “Who is responsible for this?”

Even though I provide him with an answer, the Israeli Land Administration — the Israeli government — he continues to evade my question and starts to de legitimize my choice to write about the oppressed. He does this in two ways that journalists will be familiar with: one by telling me that a good journalist doesn’t take sides — a good journalist is “balanced,” “objective” and must remain neutral (or silent), two because I haven’t lived here long enough.

When we start to go into the history of the conflict, using the “facts” that he so desired, he tries to use the “let’s agree to disagree” card to end the conversation. I ask him as a friend to continue in dialogue with me, and to know that this conversation is framed to be a win-win situation for us both — it’s about listening to each other not about solving or conquering.

Once we regain common ground, he engages again in dialogue and admits that sometimes Israel is wrong. He also opens up and speaks about how he personally did not want to go to the army “to kill people” but justifies this act because he needed to protect his home. This thinking shows how Israelis view service in the army as a the solution to their fears — a way to feel secure.

However, the army and the army spokespeople are responsible for creating a perceived connection between fear and military service — protection and “legitimate” violence. Hence, I ask him what is the connection between protecting your family, home and the army? “Is it possible that you could protect your home better by listening to people, forgiving and building trust with your enemy?”

And then we arrive at the most common site of legitimate fear Israelis can articulate — Hamas. ”As long as the Hamas is there, Israel will never help [the Palestinians],” he says. According to him, Israel wants to talk to Hamas, they are just waiting for Hamas to change. This puts the responsibility in the hands of Hamas — not in the European Union, the United States or Israel which declared Hamas a terrorist organization and ended all dialogue with the organization. While my friend acknowledges that the seige is created to communicate how strong Israel is, he isn’t able to acknowledge that Israel doesn’t want to open dialogue with Hamas. Instead, as I try to explain to him, Hamas is used as a legitimate excuse to keep people scared, to keep them complicit and continue accepting of the seige and the occupation.

This is the end of our conversation, which starts with a photograph of physical violence and ends in a discussion about the subtle violence of politics and rhetoric — the violence that is created and amplified in order to make the population fearful and compliant with further human rights violations and violent acts (Lisa Wedeen, “Ambiguities of Domination”). In addition to traveling to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and demonstrating amongst supporters, we must also struggle against the occupation in our minds — we must speak with people that we don’t agree with and bring our anti-Occupation work to the Tel Avivians if we ever hope to see the end of it.

Full Text

Engagement

me: I have a picture I want to show you and I want to know what you think. Interested?
Friend: sure
After seeing picture.
Friend: it is very symbolized
me: in what ways? what does it remind you of
Friend: it shows the hell and heaven living together in this woman’s life
me: oo i like that interpretation. i like that it’s in black in white–it reminds me of the connection of this moment to history, how many times this moment has been experienced
Friend: it seems she is happy at this point when the pic was shot, because she knows this is how it goes, it’s a hard life
me: and some how she smiles.
Friend: yes that’s the whole point

Who is Responsible?

Friend: yes but showing one image make people believe that all Arabs in Israel are suffering and it makes Israel looks liked its blamed while it really has to sacrifice in this situation and prove to the world that its not its fault
me: Who is responsible for this?
the Land Administration, a government organization
our Israeli government
Friend: As i said you don’t live here long enough to understand all history that is responsible for this shit
but you should not blame Israel
This situation is existed even before Israel was announce as an independent country
you see now the results
me: Yes, these villages existed before
and colonization existed before Israel
the British

This is Just One Side

Friend: What bothers me is that you only show the weak side, which is the Palestinians
You need also to show the hard side of Israel
to remain balanced
and not take one side or opinion, it will make you a better journalist to be objective
at this point its very clear you are totally subjective
this makes all the world watch the reality and judge it, you need observe and not to take a side if you work for the press
me: not necessarily, i think this perception of a need to be objective has to change.
Friend: its a choice
me: no, it’s impossible to be objective. you can strive to be, but you will never be purely objective.
i should not listen to two sides and pick one
me: i should listen to many sides and create places for dialogue
Friend: the media need to show all facts and not be a part of it
me: there is no such thing as facts
“facts” are created and defined by the media
as well as the people
governments
economies…
there are several groups that make something “true” or “fact”

Making a Change, Accepting Some Responsibility?

Friend: ok i dont want to get into this again
we wont agree
but its ok
me: well it’s important to discuss
this is the way to make a change, it is to talk with your friends
i’m trying to share something with you, and you me — you don’t have to be fearful that we won’t agree
perhaps just being thoughtful and learning from each other is enough.
Friend: i understand you side
which is very important
i’m not saying that Israelis are innocent
me: yes, that is good. we must accept responsibility
Friend: i really don’t say it
me: no one is purely innocent.
Friend: i even didnt want to go to the army
to kill people
but
i know where is my home
and i need to protect my home
me: well what does the army and killing people have to do with protecting your home?
Is it possible that you could protect your home better by listening to people, forgiving, building trust with your enemy?
Friend: this wasnt what i said
Israel in one hand need to protect itself and from the other hand need to help these people rebuild themselves and live like normal people

The Problem Is Hamas, God and Fear

Friend: the biggest problem Israel is facing is Gaza, which is controled by Hamas
And as long as the Hamas is there
Israel will never help them
Once Israel will see someone that they can have a dialog they will do it
me: I wish that were true
I dream that some day
we will come to that place
but I think that today, we don’t have a leader that wants real dialogue
he wants to say he tried
but creating a space for dialogue is not what’s important to him
Friend: Israel see everything
they just ignore
its easier
me: no one can see everything
no government
no religion
only god
and we can’t see god
Friend: I never said Israel doing good things here
god isn’t here, this is the issue
The issue here is that Israel want to show the world that she is powerful
me: The Israeli government doesn’t want only to show the world, but Israeli population as well — we need to be fearful and have our material comforts, or else we won’t comply with the status-quo.
So tragedies like the flotilla, become opportunities to scare the local population, and cry to the world that they came to harm us so we had to respond with disproportionate violence.
A long pause.
Me: so much in a picture :)

Alison Avigayil Ramer is a writer, independent journalist and new media consultant who specializes in using the internet to engage people in peaceful political dialogue. If you would like to hire Alison for consulting or donate to her efforts you can send a donation to her through paypal.

Also free to join the lively, peaceful conversation here, on Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to Alison Avigayil’s Dispatches via email.

Removed YouTube Video of Israeli Soldiers Dancing in Hebron

Just as a new YouTube video of IDF soldiers dancing in Occupied Hebron started to go viral, the creator of the video removed it from YouTube. Luckily, I was in the middle of writing a post about the video and was  able to capture the video online.

Using song, dance and humor in conflict zones is a topic that I will definitely be further exploring. Perhaps the IDF soldiers were inspired by the US soldiers in Iraq who recently published their a remake of a Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” What do you think about the video?


Alison Avigayil Ramer is a freelance journalist, entrepreneur and communications consultant who specializes in using the internet to engage people in peaceful political dialogue. If you would like to hire Alison for consulting or donate to her real and virtual reporting efforts you can send a donation to her through paypal.

Also free to join the lively, peaceful conversation here, on facebook or subscribe to receive Alison Avigayil’s Peace Dispatches via email.