Thursday, August 30, 2007

I've decided to change the quote at the top of my blog to better express...the tone I'm striving for. It's a challenge to write a blog about Palestine as a white Christian (Quaker) American. And even more so as a pacifist. Lately, I've felt like I've needed to change my tone and content to both make my position more clear (and less watered-down) and to take my various privileges into account. For some reason, changing the header seemed like a place to start.

This quote comes from a letter written by several community leaders in Bethlehem. Sami Awad read it out loud to a crowd of Israeli soldiers at an Easter demonstration at the Bethlehem checkpoint. I wanted to post the letter in its entirety here:

Asalaam 'alaykum (Peace be upon you),

We in the Bethlehem community have come to you today with a message on behalf of our people. We represent the family members and friends who are imprisoned by these concrete walls and wire fences that now create the Bethlehem open-air prison. You, like prison guards, control our freedom and ability to live as human beings with dignity in this holy land.

Our strong delegation of civilians comes to you without weapons but with great strength and commitment to deliver the message of just peace. In the name of security, you do not permit us to travel, to school and to worship in our holy sites in the city of Jerusalem. Your government deprives us each day of basic human rights to self-determination. Each day you keep us from being with our families at weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays, and religious holidays. Although Jerusalem is only twenty minutes from Bethlehem, we have not been allowed to pray and worship at our holy sites.

Each day as you come to our city, you serve the system of violence that keeps our people imprisoned and without the ability to live a life of a normal human being. With your guns, tanks, and insults, you teach our children to hate.

However, we believe each of you has the power and choice to choose a different ending to this story. We appeal to your conscience and humanity as individuals and as soldiers who may feel there is no way out of this system. Put your guns away—I repeat, put your guns away—and join us in the fight for peace and freedom.

The People of Bethlehem

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's the settlements, stupid. And they aren't going any where.

(This blog has been entirely, disgustingly, self-focused as of late. Enough of that. And now for something completely different.)

The powerful seem to have decided what sort of peace they will impose on Palestine. Everyone whose declared themselves a say in Palestine's future, from President Bush and the liberal elite, are all talking about the same "final-status solution."

I bow to the predictions of anyone with a better crystal ball than mine, but I suspect that this trend has been obvious to a great many outside observers and crystal-clear to many Palestinians: It's the settlements, stupid. The major Israeli settlement blocks will not be returned to Palestine and the consequences of absorbing their land into Israel could be disastrous.

The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, an organization consisting of mainstream Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders, has been pressuring the Bush administration to more actively broker a two-state peace agreement. Their plan is based on preexisting Bush/Clinton policies and includes the following proposals:
  • Israel must withdraw to it's 1967 boarders
  • Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine
  • Palestinian refugees will receive compensation for their lost property and aid in settling into new homes (mostly outside of Israel. Israel would re-admit only as many Palestinian as would allow it to maintain a Jewish majority).
  • Land-swaps would allow Israel to retain some of the West Bank land where its settlers now live.
In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (a book that didn't especially impress me), former President Jimmy Carter outlines a very similar proposal for peace:
Withdrawal to the 1967 border as specified in U.N. Resolution 242 and as promised in the Camp David accords and the Oslo Agreement and prescribed in the Roadmap of the International Quartet...Good faith negotiations can lead to mutually agreeable exchanges of land perhaps permitting a significant number of settlers to remain in their present homes near Jerusalem. (pg. 216)
It's the last point in both of these plans that has me worried. If Israel is allowed to retain land in the West Bank, it's obvious which parts they will choose. The map to the right shows Israeli settlements in the West Bank represented in the darker blue. There are three principle settlement blocks, which I've done my best to circle in read. Ariel, Ma'aledumim and Gilo are home to thousands Israeli citizens. Like all settlements in the West Bank, they are illegal under international law.

Ariel is located in the Sulfit region, an area known as the food basket of the West Bank. Ma'aleadumim surrounds Jerusalem and separates the Northern half of the West Bank from the Southern. Gilo surrounds Bethlehem. If Israel keeps Ariel, it keeps some of the best land in the West Bank. If it keeps Ma'aleadumim and Gilo, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Ramallah will be cut off from each other. These three city represent 90-95% of the West Bank's potential for economic growth.

Over the last 40 years of occupation, Palestine has become increasingly dependent on Israeli goods, and in better days Israeli jobs. Even if Palestine retained all of the West Bank, its economy would have difficulty recovering. But if these settlement blocks and the land surrounding them become a part of Israel, recovering will be doubly difficult.

But Israel would only acquire these lands under a "mutually agreeable" land swap. So Palestine will get some great land from Israel, right? Bluntly, I can't believe that will happen. Israel is not going to give Palestine its most productive land. Palestine wont get the land between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Palestine will probably get some land in the Negev desert. The Negev is beautiful, but it is not economically viable. It's certainly not comparable to the land that Palestine will lose. (Especially if we remember that Palestine has already lost all of the land it enjoyed before 1948.) If you'll pardon me, this is a sand-for-peace proposal.

Once a "final-status agreement" is reached and something approaching peace follows, the international community will, in all likelihood, proceed to ignore Palestine all together. International aid money will dry out. Palestine's economy will remain dependent on Israel's, ripe for easy exploitation. The occupation might end, but I don't see how Israeli colonialism wont.

In this blog, I try to write about the hopeful signs I see in Palestine. It's a tricky business, as I feel no right to declare what looks good and what looks bad for a people I am not a part of, but there are enough people writing about all the terrible things that are happening. However, as I start to really understand the consequences of Israel's "facts on the ground" that the Israeli government has worked hard to create, it's hard to be hopeful.

How can settlement expansion be resisted?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Joy Over the Fall of a 2 and a half foot High Wall

(click for larger photos)

Friday, August 17, 2007

What does Joy do in Palestine any way? A video from Christian Peacemaker Teams.

This is a rather incredible video - not because of the quality, but because it shows CPT work in all of it's messy complexity. This is a scene that plays out regularly in Hebron. The Israeli army tells students they can't go to school. They and their teachers respond with an impromptu nonviolent demonstration. The Israeli army responds with violence. And CPT responds by getting the way of that violence.

I wish that I could narrate this film scene by scene, but I don't have the time right now. I hope this is a helpful look into our work and the lives of Palestinian children.

PS: I'm back! I just spent a couple of months up in the mountains without internet access. It's nice to be home.
Pieces of Palestine Zine - It's Available for Order!