11 July 2006

silver linings.

Although I had to wake up obscenely early (well, by my standards anyway) to go with Hagit and Visaka to Ramallah today, it was worth every second of lost sleep. En route, we picked up Shelly, an Israeli woman tracking and fighting against the path of the security wall who told us more about the issues surrounding the wall. In Jerusalem, we drove along the path of the wall to see exactly how far it deviates from the Green Line to encompass settlements and exclude Palestinian neighborhoods. Near one IDF outpost at an unfinished section of the wall, we met Terry, a Palestinian woman also working against the wall. Her husband's family owned land all over their neighborhood, but now the wall cuts straight through the middle of it (see pictures starting Thursday). Her house is next to the wall (on the Israeli side) while the hotel her husband's family used to own is across the street, on the other side of the wall. The IDF confiscated the hotel to use it as an outpost to prevent crossings of the wall. She was married in that hotel, as were most other couples in the neighborhood, and now we couldn't even walk across the fence to see the municipality sign designating Jerusalem from the West Bank. I've hated the idea of the wall since I first encountered it, but seeing the human side of it makes me all the more passionate about it.

When ID cards were handed out via census for Jerusalem residents, residents of Terry's neighborhood received blue Jerusalem or orange West Bank IDs depending on where they were that night. Terry was at home, but her husband was working at the hotel that night, and thus received a West Bank ID. He, and many others, are now considered illegal residents in their own homes. There is a lengthy appeals process to attempt to receive a Jerusalem ID for cases like his, but it can take years and appeals are seldom approved. One of Terry's neighbors' daughters lives on the West Bank side while her fiancee is in Jerusalem. Her father joked that they will hold the wedding at the hotel as always, and they'll have the honeymoon through the fence. Out the backyard of Terry's house, we saw the winding path of the wall to include empty land for expanding settlements while snaking around Palestinian neighborhoods. The absurd path of the wall is obvious on a map, but I didn't realize how blatant it was until I saw it zig-zag through areas as narrow as a city block. The wall is being marketed as a security measure to separate Jews and Arabs (nevermind the inherent flaws in such a plan), but the wall runs straight through Palestinian neighborhoods, separating communities and even families. I just can't fathom any logical, moral, or legal reason for the wall, especially its current path. Having come from Berlin only a few weeks before this trip, the impact of divided cities is all too fresh in my mind, and I can't see how anything good could ever come of this.

After the wall tour, we went with Terry into Ramallah for a brief tour before meeting with a group of Palestinian women activists. As we drove through the checkpoint, I saw some of British "painter" Banksy's public art/graffitti on the wall, which I know will make some people jealous. Driving through the city, I couldn't help but notice the absurd numbers of satellite dishes atop homes and apartments. Ever since someone pointed this phenomenon out to me in Morocco last year, I've been unable to ignore it. While I disagree with nearly every Israeli government policy, things like the satellite dishes are part of my frustrations with the Palestinian people in this conflict. As an extension of this, Ramallah is drowning in trash. Ditches alongside roads, gutters, sidewalks - everywhere trash is piled up. And I'm not talking about a few stray bottles or newspapers here and there - it's more like mini-landfills throughout the city. This lack of resepect for their city saddens me to some degree, but angers me so much more. If this land is so contentious, and the Palestinian people yearn so desperately for a state of their own, you think they'd take a little more pride in the land they do have. People speak of the poverty inside the occupied territories, yet money is being spent on satellite television instead of food.

The Palestinian people are the most educated in the Arab world - more college degrees per capita, thousands of people studying in the States and Europe, and yet promising young people feel they have no other options besides martyrdom as a suicide bomber. Even worse, Palestinian society condones and in some cases encourages this attitude. The Palestinian territories are awash in wasted potential, and it angers me beyond belief that they are wiling to sit back and let a generation of young people fall victim to extremism. Suicide bombers are on the whole young, educated, middle-class, and relatively secular, so this isn't about poverty stricken idiots falling prey to brainwashing. That's what is so frightening - this is a choice that's being made over and over again. While the Israeli government needs to reexamine its policies, the Palestinians need to take a long, hard look at their own society before peace will ever be possible. I support and despise both sides - I want a two state solution, but I can't understand why both sides are doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result. Wasn't that Einstein's definition of stupidity?

Disappointed in Palestinian society, I looked forward to meeting the Palestinian feminists for a roundtable discussion with Visaka, Shelly, and Hagit about the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement. Visaka shared her life story again (which I'll probably be able to recite word for word by the end of this trip) while I took pictures of the meeting. Once the discussion started, I sat back and absorbed. It's fascinating to meet the women I want to write my thesis on. In talking about Visaka's strategy of appealing to both sides as mothers, everyone discussed the idea of having Gilad's (the missing IDF soldier) mother appeal to the IDF to stop shedding more blood in the name of peace. I think it's a fascinating theory, but the cynic in me doubts that it would ever work. There's a relatively large contingent of Israelis opposed to occupation, the wall, the Gaza "summer rain" operation, and the settlements, but their voices aren't being heard, so I find it difficult to believe that one grieving mother could turn back the tide of a large scale military incursion in Gaza. But if wishing made it so...

While the women were full of ideas for cooperation, their means of talking about the Israelis (and not just the government) made my stomach churn. They complained that the Israeli peace movement wasn't doing enough, that many of "them" supported Sharon/Olmert's unilateralist policies, and it was impossibe to tell if "they" were really supporting a fair peace. The disgust in their voices can't be captured in print, but it reminded me (to a lesser degree) of the Israeli foreign ministry advisor's disdain for the Palestinian people as a whole ("Islam wants to send us back to the dark ages"). I wanted to stand up and point to Shelly and Hagit, two dedicated peace activists and feminists sitting in their office taking the blame for their entire country. When everyone mentions American policy and arms selling in the region, there's always an apologetic glance in my direction as if to say "we're not talking about you specifically, just your government." But there was none of that in the Palestinian women's criticisms of Israelis. While I'm by no means a fan of the Israeli government, I'm careful to direct my disdain towards those who warrant it, and not the nation in general.

This victimization attitude is prevalent on both sides - no matter who's speaking, there's this sense that they can do no wrong and it's the other side who's to blame for everything that's gone wrong. As an outsider, let me assure you no one is innocent here, including third parties like the United States. As long as we stay in this zero-sum, us v them mindset, nothing will ever change. I've said it before, but it bears repeating - when will both sides wake up and realize the other one isn't going to magically vanish one day? The sooner people realize this, the sooner we'll be able to move past finger pointing and "well, they started it" arguments to real progress. I hope it happens in my lifetime. So many see this as a long, protracted conflict, but people were also saying that about the Cold War up until just before the wall fell. In that I see hope that my children will learn of this wall as history, not breaking news. In sha allah...

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