Like grant proposals through the hands of USAID, these are the projects of my life!

Peace Corps Response 2011-2012
Peace Corps Response 2010-2011
University for Peace! 2008-2009
Supercross08! 2008
Peace Corps! 2005-2007

An obligatory disclaimer: Everything I have written, has been written by me. All of my own views, expressed hereinafter, are my own views. If you needed to read this disclaimer to know these things, you're a silly goose!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Israel Ironic... Don't You Think?

My short trip to Palestine was heart wrenching and overwhelming. The nausea I experienced through utter disgust was worse than any food poisoning episode in all of my world travels. Israel is a terrible, horrible, awful place. 
I went to visit my good friend Trevor, who has been working in Ramallah for over a year. Our first night was an ex-pat house party in the center of town. It was a good time, with lots of idealistic, passionate, and good people from all over. I was quite surprised to see how many expats, working on development, there were in Ramallah. But as each day brought new insights, I quickly learned that this is a place in desperate need of help.
My mind-blowing, eye-opening adventure began with a trip to Bil'in to watch the weekly Friday protest for peace. Unfortunately, our speed in the morning was not conducive to attending regularly scheduled events. We arrived just after it ended. We took the opportunity to have a peaceful look at the barbed wire which protects the settlement wall from the barbaric indigenous people.

Every Friday, for years, Palestinians gather in Bil'in and have a peaceful march to the new edge their property, where they make noise until Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers fire tear gas into the crowd to break it up. These peoples' land was stolen from them by Israeli Settlers, who erected a wall to keep them out, and protect it constantly with IDF soldiers. The people of Bel'in are simple farmers, and lost a lot of their farm land with the development of the settlement. It's easy to understand their discontentment and even their meager attempts at retaliation. But in the end, the settlement is huge, the wall is concrete, and the sharp barbed wire holds signs that say trespassers are endangering their lives. The rocks thrown in frustration and retaliation to the tear gas are hardly effective against high-tech body armor, and a thick concrete wall - and they certainly don't warrant the gun fire that occasionally follows. Recently, a young boy was shot in the chest and killed for throwing rocks at soldiers. It's a messed up situation.
Not much grows in these rocky fields; mostly patches of grass, but there are some olive trees and a few grapes. For all the Bible-talk of this being fertile land, I'm pretty unimpressed with its agricultural growing potential, and generally astounded that people are fighting over the land in the first place. Maybe it's because I come from the Willamette Valley, or maybe I just can't understand the magnitude of the conflict here. Since 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinian olive trees have been cut down by Israelis for "security reasons" or random vandalizing by Israeli Settlers, resulting in a loss of approximately $55 million from the Palestinian economy! It's quite clear that their motivation is to destroy the land in hopes that it will then be undesirable to the Palestinians. I'm not good at understanding social injustices like these, but I understand perfectly well the environmental impacts of intentional desertification of the land. What a stupid tactic! I just can't get over this method of displacing people for eventual land annexations...
That evening we went into Jerusalem and walked around the old town until we came upon the Wailing Wall.
It was a giant stone wall that was supposed to be the only remaining piece of something from someone important. Religious significance is really lost on me. Anyway, it was a Friday night, the night Jewish people party and welcome in their holy day, Saturday. Outside, there were large groups - dancing and singing - it looked like a really fun time! I wished I knew what they were singing! Trevor and I found an indoor-room that attached to the wall and went in. As we entered, the fun and dance and song gave way to intense prayer. I've never seen anything like it. Shoulder to should guys in funny hats and hair were chanting as loud as they could.
Eyes closed with intense looks on their faces, their bodies would sway and rock back and forth with passion. I was awestruck! I felt like I was floating through a room filled with things that my mind just couldn't possibly comprehend! Trevor turned back to me and said, "Wow, dude! Shit just got real!" Haha! That brought me back to having control of my feet and we walked through the masses to observe for a few moments before deciding we probably weren't allowed in there.
On Saturday, we took a road trip to Hebron to watch the weekly intimidation march of the Settlers. These settlements are large communities whose locations are a blatant violation of international law. A new one pops up every now and again as Israelis find new Zionists who want to live on the frontier. In fact, their locations are very strategically planned out. As you monitor their coming into existence, you can see, quite clearly, there's an end game. Right now, that game is breaking up the West Bank into sections, which restrict indigenous movement as roads "have to" be built and protected. Ultimately, I believe that Israel would like to see the Palestinian population living on reservations of sorts, isolated and out of the way. Ah, that brought things close to home. Just because my country was founded that way, doesn't make it right.
In Hebron, a group of Settlers and Birthright tourists march through the old town, literally surrounded by a human shield of IDF soldiers - guns at the ready.
Said guns, btw, and other military supplies are given to Israel as aid every year by the USA to the tune of 3 billion USD! Birthright tourists are people who are given a free trip to Israel for being Jewish.
The hope is that they will be recruited to the Israeli cause, and maybe even to living in a settlement.
During the tour, Palestinians are forbidden to pass through their own streets as tour guides spout biased historical stories that justify their fanaticism.
It's true that the Jewish people have been severely oppressed at several points throughout history. Trevor brought up an interesting point that a Jewish state has every right to exist, but it should exist in Germany - where they were most recently victimized, displaced, and exterminated. But I'm missing the logic that affords them an excuse to kill and steal from the Palestinians who were just trying to live their lives in peace? Being oppressed doesn't justify oppressing someone else.

With the situation as it is, the Palestinian people are remarkably tolerant. I spoke with a number of them who speak of the situation matter-of-factly. They don't talk about hate or wanting to kill - they just want to live their lives. One young Palestinian man, 20, was clubbed upside his head when he was a boy for walking down the road. He had to have stitches in his eye. More recently for him, he was trying to cross town to get to his university for an exam. He was detained by the IDF for three hours and missed his test despite his pleas. I saw kids being detained by these soldiers - for no good reason at all. Just to inconvenience them and make life hard on them so they'll leave the city. These people are harassed daily, but it's the Settlers who are the real dicks.
International observers often have to help Palestinian children walk to and from school because Settlers will throw rocks at them. "They're crazy fuckers," said Trevor, as he once again brought me back from emotional overload. Sadly, I'm sure these stories are endless - this is just what I've encountered and it was disgusting.
Perhaps even more disgusting than the queasiness I got from being on the other end of so many guns, was the extreme candor with which the Settlers and Birthrighters approached the situation. "Take lots of pictures" they would taunt - completely oblivious to the fact that we were looking at them like savage beasts in the wild.
A few of them continued to try to engage us with crude arrogance in a display of power over another group of human beings. It made my blood boil. I understand an appreciation for history, and I appreciate efforts made at maintaining a culture, but I can not see how demeaning a group of people can ever do anyone any good.

The taxi driver that took me back to the airport early Monday morning was a friend of a friend. He was a really good guy that tried really, really hard to have a conversation with me with his limited English. In order to not have problems at the IDF checkpoints, he instructed me that I flagged him down on the street at 3am and that I had been staying in Jerusalem at the Avrahim Hostel. Those are easy hoops to jump through. Along the way, we talked a bit about travel and he said he's not allowed to have a passport. Traveling is my biggest passion - one that I wish everyone could experience, but these are the rules for Palestinians. =(

The first checkpoint was met with only mild hurdles. The second was a breeze. At the third one I got grilled by an IDF soldier. How long have you been here? Where EXACTLY did you go? Where did you stay? It's really nerve-wracking having some young punk with an American-made M16 give me the 3rd degree. I hated it! When we got the approval to pass, I complained to Basim, the driver, that even though there were no more checkpoints before the airport, I still had to go through all the security in the airport! His response was, "I live here. This is my life." I don't think I've ever been a more insensitive jerk. My heart sank. Israel is a terrible, horrible, awful place.


Anonymous said...

Now go at it from the other side. Get into Israel, and listen to their stories about the crazy Palestinians and the injustices they've suffered at their hands. It can't be as black & white as this trip makes it seem.

Andrew! said...

It's true that there have been/are Palestinian terrorists, but the magnitude of their impacts are simply incomparable to Israel's policies of oppression.

You're right, in that the situation can't be as black and white as this trip made it seem. Which is why I've spent every day since, reading and researching - and am now appalled on an academic level in addition to my emotional shock.

I certainly don't condone Palestinian terrorism, but it's very clear that Israel's policies bare the burden of blame - as well as have the power and control to pave a path toward peace.

Inquisitive Mind said...

Andrew... i don't know where to begin...honestly... i haven't felt so moved by a piece of writing as this is, in who knows how long. I wish your blog was required reading for high school kids! It's so easy to understand and relate to how you express yourself, and the accompanying photos always add that oomph and realness to your words. i've always been perplexed on the tension between israel & palestine; thanks to this entry, i finally have a good second-hand glimpse into it. unfortunately that look only intensified the disgust i already had about it. well, now back to catching up on the rest of your entries (i'm thrilled to see so many since i was last here!)