Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Peace be With You"

I wish it were possible to prepare myself for returning to Palestine.
When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I wrote the address of an Israeli contact
on my entry card. The woman behind the glass asked me only two
questions before stamping my passport and waiving me through. I was
elated to receive a visa so easily and stepped out of the airport
feeling buoyant and hopeful. Then I took a taxi to Jerusalem and
entered a land of ever-accelerating military occupation.

When I visited Bethlehem a year ago, the Israeli settlement of Har
Homa seemed scattered and small, hardly worth mentioning. Now it
dominates the view from the hilltop of Bethlehem. One year ago, the
checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem was a gap in the wall,
manned by a soldier and his gun. Now the checkpoint is barely
recognizable. The soldier has been replaced with a terminal– a huge
complex of lanes, interrogation rooms, high tech cameras, and
soldiers. One year ago, I could still see Rachael's tomb inside
Bethlehem. Now the Wall, 25ft of seemingly impenetrable cement,
surrounds this holy sight. The settlement, the terminal and the Wall,
each feel to me like a paralyzing ache. For the first time I feel my
optimism flagging. I wonder how Palestinian nonviolent resistance can
possibly keep pace with the occupation of the world's fourth largest
military power.

On the side of the new terminal, the Israeli government has erected a
sign which reads in Hebrew, Arabic, and English "Peace Be With You." I
am left to wonder what sort of peace the Israeli government has in

I arrived in Jerusalem in time for an annual event that Israelis call
"Jerusalem Day." Jerusalem Day commemorates in the anniversary of the
unification of Jerusalem – when Israel took over control of East
Jerusalem from Jordon in 1967. I heard Israelis describe the event as
a festival– with flags and singing and dancing– but I watched as
Palestinians had to close their shops early so that Israel protestors
could march through the Old City much in the same ways that
Protestants and Catholics march through opposing neighborhoods in
Northern Ireland. The arresting image for me was of Israeli
demonstrators walking down the steps to the Damascus Gate and lifting
up a red plastic police line to cross under it.

I remember another plastic ribbon from one year ago. This one was
yellow and tied between two olive trees in the village of Sulfit. I
stood in front of this yellow ribbon with a group of Palestinians,
mostly farmers and young men, who wanted to go to their olive groves
before they were removed to make way for the path of the Wall. Between
us and the olive groves was a thin yellow ribbon– and a line of
soldiers behind it. With guns and tear gas, they made sure that we
understood that crossing the yellow ribbon would be dangerous, that
they were the people with power. As I stood in Jerusalem and watched
Israelis cross under the police line without rebuke, I remembered the
sting of tear gas and I realized again just who has power in this
situation.What peace will be offered to the Palestinians? Will it be a
peace of justice or a peace designed to keep Israelis powerful and
Palestinians weak?

Over the next few months, the Olmert government is expected to make a
"peace" offer. The Convergence Plan is expected to, at best, claim an
Israeli border along the Jordon River, and offer Palestinians most of
the West Bank, but divided into north and south sections. Israel will
remain in control of the Bethlehem-Jerusalem-Ramallah corridor. This
area represents 95% of the Palestinian economy and most of the
potential for economic growth. By depriving Palestinians of an
international boarder and the ability to freely develop in Bethlehem,
Jerusalem, and Ramallah, the Israeli government will create a
Palestinian state wholly dependent and easily exploitable.

Many analysts expect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make this offer and
for the Palestinian Authority to reject it. When that happens, Israel
is likely to once again claim that the Palestinians are simply not a
partner for "peace." My question is, will Americans again be duped?
Will we finally be able to see the effects of what the Israeli
government calls a "peace plan"? Or will we once again side with the
Israeli government and call Palestinians terrorists for simply wanting
an independent, prosperous state?

On the side of the new terminal, the Israeli government wishes peace
to all who pass through. The peace they offer, however, is the
so-called peace of walls, colonization, and economic subjugation. It's
the sort of "peace" that must be enforced by the barrel of a gun. It's
the peace that Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected when he embarked on
nonviolent protest against segregation and economic exploitation of
African Americans. It's the peace that the Palestinians people reject
when they use nonviolent protest to demand real, meaningful freedom
and justice for themselves and their families. It's time for the
American people, who could hold so much power in this situation, to
see through what the Israeli government calls "peace" and demand the
peace that will come once the military occupation of Palestine has
ended. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve the true peace that will
come only with justice.


Halla said...

Very well said!!

Hot Toddy said...

Joy, I read your story in Just Out and wanted to come show my support for your journey and for you as a person. Thank you for being a compassionate woman and for educating those of us who need to broaden our understanding of what is going on. You are a gem. I'd love to meet you someday!

joy_in_palestine said...

Thanks! It's great to hear from people who read that article. I'm glad you were able to find my blog. And I hope we will be able to meet someday!