Since our first week in Yanoun, teammate Rachel has said “We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole” a la Alice in Wonderland. And this has become our team mantra. There have been many evenings when I have been grateful for the book of Sudoku puzzles I packed in my suitcase. After a day of no logic to any of the things we are seeing and experiencing, I find comfort in the fact that at least on that page there is one right answer and I can find it!
This week we were elated to hear that the Yanounis had been given permission to plow the olive fields and that IDF protection would be provided if necessary. Plowing aerates the soil and (unfortunately for Birgitta and I) gets rid of all those beautiful wildflowers that compete for the precious water. Of course this was good news and we spent several hours yesterday working with the villagers, hauling away large dead branches from around the bases of the olive trees. But this is only the first step, and in another month or so there is no assurance that they will get permission to prune the trees. And if that weren’t enough, in October or November there is no guarantee that they will be permitted to harvest the olives. The pattern over the past few years has been to allow two or three days for harvesting instead of the two weeks needed, and the remainder of the fruit is left to rot on the trees. Whereas the potential yield is in the thousands of tons of olives, they are now lucky to get a single ton.
This kind of ‘logic’ extends to virtually every aspect of daily life under occupation. There is much hue and cry over the opening of a checkpoint with no mention that it has simply been replaced by another two km down the road. And I’m still not sure why Palestinians are required to pay the cost of having their homes demolished!
In another vein, we have been told repeatedly that while our presence and support is necessary and appreciated, especially the advocacy work we do after returning home, it is ultimately up to the Israelis and Palestinians to work out their issues…and I believe this is true. But in order to support and advocate effectively, one must have hope and I think that all of us at this stage in our time here are having to work hard on that piece. Each day is a roller coaster ride. We have seen things that give us hope and things that make us despair; we have witnessed oppression ranging from actual physical brutality to the most callous disregard for basic justice and dignity, as well as acts of kindness and compassion; we have been present during joyful events (one of which Swiss teammate Peter described as “holding a freshly born child”), and held people’s hands in times of great sadness.
Last Saturday I attended a protest rally against Israeli policy in East Jerusalem, specifically the intention to demolish 88 homes in the Bustan neighborhood. The event was organized by the group Combatants for Peace and was held at the Wall in Ar-Ram (northeast Jerusalem). It was attended by approximately 150 members of CFP and a smattering of other supporters along with local and international press.
I wasn’t familiar with the group prior to this event, but we had an opportunity for extended conversation with two young women who are members. The group is relatively new on the scene having been formed in 2005. In a earlier blog, I wrote about the Parents Circle – Family Forum organization, made up of Israelis and Palestinians who have come together around shared grief over the loss of family members due to the conflict in the region. In contrast, Combatants for Peace is composed of Israelis and Palestinians who themselves have taken part in the cycle of violence…the Israelis as soldiers (IDF) and the Palestinians as a part of the violent struggle for freedom. Their website states that after brandishing weapons for so many years and having seen one another only through weapon sights, they had decided to lay down their guns and fight for peace. They believe that only by joining forces can they break the cycle of violence, the bloodshed, the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people.
The group holds monthly meetings during which they tell about the violent actions they have taken part in and the turning point that led them to understand the limits of violence. Over time they have discovered that they have more that unites them than divides them. Like the PCFF they operate in pairs, lecturing in universities, schools, youth groups and other public forums. They have programs both on nonviolence and on the history, culture, and needs of each people. Like New Profile, Breaking the Silence, ICAHD, PCFF, Machsom Watch and others, they give me hope. Though they are often viewed in their communities as at the very least naive and at the worst traitors, they remain committed to their goals and their hope for a better future for all.
And as a counterpoint, I think of the young soldier we spoke with at the checkpoint yesterday. He first questioned our right to be there (that’s OK, it happens) and then stated that we couldn’t cross to the Nablus side of the checkpoint. When we assured him we could and not only had been doing so for three months but actually went into Nablus every week to worship, he asked how we ‘found’ Nablus. We replied that it was a beautiful city and we liked it very much, to which he replied “I hate all Arabs. I would like to shoot them all.” We asked him if he actually knew any Arabs and he answered that of course he did, that he saw them there at the checkpoint every day. He said you couldn’t trust them, that they would smile in your face and then stick a knife in your back. He went on to say that he knew we hated the soldiers and we were only there to take their pictures and spread them around the world to make them look bad. I’m afraid our attempts to stress government policies rather than individuals were not taken in and again I felt despair at the sight of another hard young face. Where did I put that darned Sudoku book?!