I've asked Mark Eaton to post this on my google site until I'm at another place. I cannot reach it through the normal channels on this computer so he will be my go between. Additionally, I'm trying to type on a computer that has arabic characters first and english second so please bear with me. If I look down at my hands I'm lost! I'm sitting at Mike's Center in Jerusalem tonight. Mike's Center is a traveler's dream. It is a spot down from the Golden Gate Hostel (in the Old City) where Steve and I are staying with the CPT delegation while in Jerusalem. Mike's has one washing machine and dryer, a photocopy machine, 5 computers (all in private phone booths for use) and 5 booths for international phone calls. He also provides tea and coffee! He seemingly has tapped into all the important needs for the 21st Century traveler. You enter through the shopping tunnels at the Damascus Gate and his upstairs shop is guarded by about a dozen feral cats who sleep in pizza boxes and any loose junk that happens to be on the roof. In Jerusalem, "Cats Rule" - the rooftops anyway!
Our days have been a whirlwind so far. Yesterday, we worked through our tentative itinerary, discussed cultural issues, got to know a bit of the Old City in Jerusalem, exchanged money, and desperately tried to get into the right time zone - even in the surroundings of Jerusalem where it could be any time zone. Walking the streets here really takes you back in time. As an important site for many religious traditions, Jews, Christians, Muslims, all have history and tradition oozing from the cobbled stones and steps that take you everywhere and you begin to think about who also walked these steps - makes me a bit of a time traveler.
Today was packed with a stop at SABEEL, an ecumenical organization that focuses on liberation theology and connecting its ideas and philosophy to the Palestinian Occupation. We heard first hand stories from the founder, Cedar, who was a 12 year old when her family was forced at gunpoint to leave Haifa - never to return. We also heard from a variety of others on the diverse staff who present, write, raise money and provide aid for Palestinian families and Palestinian peace organizations. The most interesting speaker was a young African-American woman, who introduced herself as a Mennonite Feminist from Elkhart, Indiana. She is working on environmental issues for Palestinian families and communities. The afternoon took us all over East Jerusalem. We were led on this bus tour by a 20 something Israeli woman who began working with social justice for Palestinians when she was a teenage. Chaska, whose father comes from Zimbabwe and mother from the UK, works with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition (ICAHD). She talked about the over 500 villages destroyed and the 27,000 Palestinians who have had their homes demolished by the Israeli military since 1967. The destroyed sites are stunning and incomprehensible when you compare the Palestinian homes to the Israeli apartments and settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Our last stop was at the home of a Palestinian family who has had their home destroyed six times and are still building another. The perseverance is amazing and as I gazed at the walls recently built to "contain" the Palestinians, it reminded me of a federal prison with huge cement structures topped with razor wire. The only difference was that these walls were full of graffiti - words of liberation, despair and hope - all on the same wall reflecting the aspiration and fears of a "caged in" people.
I must quit for now - I'm paying by the minute for computer use and I need to head back to the hostel. Hopefully, in a few days this computer issue will resolve itself and I can post directly. Until then - thanks Mark.
The craziness with the computer remains so Mark is helping me out again. Today I felt as if I was hiking on the dry, craggy slopes of the Rockies - without the altitude. We left early to meet our German/Israeli guide and Tamara took us to Lifta. This is the largest remaining Palestinian ruins that remain from the 1948 war. It is literally situated in a deep valley below the middle of Jerusalem. The four lane highway and Jewish settlements border the village remains. It was a long, steep hike with rocky switchbacks until we came to this beautiful spot with stone remnants, an underground spring, fruit and date trees, with a spring-fed pool that served as the village water site and bathing spot. The sun baked us as we traversed up and down to and from the site. We also passed some tourists and Orthodox Jewish men who go to pray and bathe. The guide told us that Jewish scholars believe that in the book of Joshua this water-blessed place is mentioned although with a Hebrew name. Although it has been empty for over 60 years you can still see and feel the place - it remains peaceful and spirit-filled amid the large stone remnants of the mosque (one for men and one for women) and the homes - some as large as five or six rooms built into the hillside. Moving from her German Jewish family in Cologne, Tamara was an excellent guide as she shared her story and read to us from survivor stories about life in the village before the Nakbah (the term that Palestinians use for the Jewish take over - it literally means "the catastrophe"). The stone buildings had a certain architectural design, simple yet graceful, surrounded by what had been a very beautiful and peaceful valley.
In the early afternoon we participated with "Women in Black." This is a group of Israelis (women and men) who have met on the same traffic circle since January 1988. They stand with signs, "Stop the Occupation" (in English & Hebrew) and usually a counter demonstration forms across the street. Today was no different. There were approximately 50 demonstrators with Women in Black - young to very elderly Israelis and assorted international visitors who come, like us, to support their cause. Each Friday for 24 years they have met on this corner to simply stand for an hour and hold placards. It is a very busy intersection and protesters must brave cursing, honking, and one-finger salutes from 1pm to 2pm every Friday. My CPT group assigned me as the main "photographer" (not sure why!) and I tried to capture the action with still shots until a yelling match broke out between protesters and individuals not happy with their presence. I switched to video on my camera and tried to catch the interactions, which became quite heated, mostly in Hebrew but with some English thrown in. Steve walked over to the counter protest and took an opportunity to talk with some of the men. Once I had finished my camera work an older women came to me and asked me to hold the end of her large, black banner and she shared her story with me. She was born in Michigan and came to Israel as a young bride with her husband in 1950. She has been on this street corner every Friday since January 1988. She feels very strongly about the Palestinian cause and all the protesters seemed very grateful for our presence and support.
Late this afternoon, we got a rare opportunity. Don't know how many of you know the name, Dr. Mordechai Vanunu, (you can google or You-tube him) but he was a young nuclear physicist who became a whistle-blower concerning the nuclear program he worked on from 1976-1985. He was disturbed about his work on this project so he took documentation of the Israeli nuclear program (which was not known to the world at the time) to the London Times. His story sounds like a Hollywood movie. He met an American women in London after taking his documentation to the newspaper (he later learned she was a spy) and they traveled together and while in a hotel in Rome he was drugged and kidnapped, taken by boat to Israel for trial. He spent 18 years in prison, 12 in isolation. He sat with us today in the Jerusalem hotel and told us why he did what he did in good conscience, and what his life has been like since. He has since converted to the Anglican faith and resides at St. Georges here in Jerusalem. He cannot leave the country and has corresponded with both Daniel Ellsberg and Hillary Clinton for help in obtaining permission for him to leave the country. A fascinating, thoughtful man who simply told us his story, his ideas on peaceful resistance, and let us ask any questions we wished. It was an incredible opportunity for all of us.
All for now. I'm headed back from Mike's Center for dinner and relaxation at the hostel.
Yesterday, our delegation left for the Negev Desert. We picked up our Israeli guide, Amos, and headed to "unrecognized" Bedouin communities. The Arab Bedouins are officially Israeli citizens but have few of the rights of citizenship. "Unrecognized" communities means that they receive little or no services. They survive and thrive on generators for electricity and only water they can find or bring in. They've built schools and homes under very difficult conditions. They have few legal options for redress and cannot even count on the police to provide them security. Amos, a conscientious objector from military service, has been working tirelessly over many years to help the Bedouins and keep them from being displaced, forced into cities, and having their villages destroyed to make room for Israeli settlements and military restricted areas. They are a people of the land who have thrived for centuries in the rural areas. They are approximately 17% of the population but own barely 2% of the land.
We met up with Aziz, a leader in the first village. He welcomed us after we bounced our way through horrendous back roads to a Muslim cemetery that has served the village for almost 100 years. Because of Israeli policies and the Bedouins refusal to sell their land to Israeli developers, their village has been bulldozed, wheat and barley fields burned, cisterns destroyed along with sheep and horses. They bevy of 75-year-old olives trees were also destroyed. What remains is the cemetery and assorted tents or tin sheds with roofs. We were warmly greeted by Aziz and a few other men, with small and large children playing about. If we were in the U.S. we would say that we were in the "middle of nowhere." But this land, through Aziz's eyes was alive and life affirming. We gathered under a large tent where a small fire was being tended by one of the men. A young girl, the only female other than in our delegation, resided on pillows next to her father. The tent was incredible. Covered with rugs and large pillows the tent floor was beautifully decorated. We sat on the floor pillows in a large rectangle and were immediately served espresso and later tea in very small porcelain cups. I rarely drink espresso or tea but these were delicious and had been made from the heat of the fire and carried to us in ornate brass pots. This was an incredible culture clash with centuries-old hospitality, traditions, and customs existing alongside a modern generator that provided electricity for their one laptop and assorted cell phones. Even the poorest people have cell phones and use them extensively to communicate. This is how they network with each other. We were treated with great respect. After Aziz told his story of the multiple destructions of his village and home, he wanted us to walk the land with him. His son galloped over on a gorgeous Arabian horse and demonstrated some tricks for our benefit - having the horse bow to us. It was clear that Aziz was proud of his son and the beautiful horse. "Animals grow with us," he said, "we love them." Finally, it was very important to him that we see the cistern he has replaced 5 times; but, what he was most proud of were his olive trees. After being bulldozed and burned some of the trees refused to die. There, below the surface, roots revived and sent sprouts out of the ground again to start over. Delighted that the trees refused to succumb to destruction, he gently touched each one, smiling broadly telling us the trees refuse to leave - like the people.
This will have to be my last post until I return home next week. Lack of equipment, inconsistent electricity, internet connections, and other primitive conditions make it difficult to post online. Although I am disappointed, this is nothing compared to the quality of life struggles that exists for Palestinians in the West Bank on a daily basis. I have incredible stories to tell and thoughts to share but they must wait for my return. All is well and Steve and I will see all of you next week.