Thursday, February 7, 2008

The reality of life on the West Bank and Gaza

In the summer of 2002, I went to Israel-Palestine for several weeks, as part of two different peace witness delegations. One of those was with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization I highly recommend.

I spent time in Jerusalem (especially Old City, which is beautiful and which I loved), Hadera, Megiddo, Jenin, Jenin Refugee Camp, Hebron, and Beit Ummar.

Hadera and Meggido are in Israel proper; Jenin, Jenin Refugee Camp, Beit Ummar, and Hebron are in what is commonly called "the West Bank" -- the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Jerusalem is on the edge of both Israel and the West Bank, and is primarily Israeli-administered.

(Two geography notes: 1: The West Bank of what?, I used to wonder. Of the Jordan River, with the country of Jordan to the east. 2: The other Occupied Palestinian Territory is the Gaza Strip, in the southwest, on the border with Egypt.)

One of the things I learned during my time in Israel-Palestine that summer is how little we Americans understand of daily life in the Occupied Territories. What we hear, read, and watch in the news bears little resemblance to the reality of life on the ground. There is, really, no way we can grasp it from what's available to us in the media.

Spending a little time living with Israelis in Israel, and then Palestinians in Jenin, Jenin Refugee Camp, Hebron, and Beit Ummar, I witnessed first-hand what life is actually like there -- in the West Bank, both for Palestinians and for Israeli soldiers. I made a commitment to share that reality when I returned to the States.

Why should we care what is happening in Israel-Palestine, any more than what happens anywhere else? Aren't there enough peacemaking opportunities right here at home? Enough hungry and homeless kids in our own cities? These were arguments I made when I found myself led to go half-way around the world. I had plenty to do in my own backyard in Philadelphia, thank you. And it always irritated me when people hared off to other places rather than paying attention and doing needed work right where they were.

But there are huge links between us here at home in the US and what happens in Israel and Occupied Palestine. My tax dollars, and yours, are one of the largest sources of external funding for the Israeli Defense Force. As Americans, we need to understand what is being done with our money and in our names.

There's an organization called Breaking the Silence, staffed primarily by volunteers who are former Israeli soldiers, which does work geared to helping ordinary Israelis understand that is happening in their backyard, in the West Bank and Gaza. They are now bringing their work to the US, to help ordinary Americans understand what's really happening.

Here's how I first learned of them:

personal blog entry, February 15, 2007

I was listening to the radio -- NPR's Day to Day -- on my way to work today, when I heard this piece on an Israeli organization called Breaking the Silence. Staffed by former Israeli Defense Force members, they offer tours to ordinary Israelis of the Israeli-controlled portion of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank [of the Jordan River].

Thank you, Goddess. When I was in Israel and Palestine, it was so clear that most Israelis had no idea what is going on in their names, no idea what the reality in the Palestinian territories is that accompanies the violence Israelis and Palestinians live with every day.

I am familiar with almost everything they presented in this story. I have walked through H2. I have walked down Shuhada Street. I still receive CPT updates about accompanying Palestinian children past the settlement on their way to school. I can't tell you how wonderful and refreshing it was to hear reality presented through more mainstream media.

I wish I could be in Philadelphia or Boston while their exhibit will be here. I encourage folks to attend.

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