This morning we took the bus to the city of Bethlehem, which is Zone A section of the West Bank. According to the Oslo II Accord Zone A is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Zone B is under joint Israeli- Palestinian control. Finally, Zone C is under complete Israeli control. To enter Bethlehem we had to through a military controlled gate and watchtower. The city is surrounded by a massive grey wall, and barbed wire.
Our first stop was at Badil, a human rights group seeking to protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees, and displaced people. The amount of information provided in the PowerPoint presentation was overwhelming. One of the issues that stood out for me in particular was the policy of silent transfer created by Israel. This is accomplished by discriminatory zoning and planning, segregation and institutionalized discrimination, and denial of natural resources, and access to services. As an example a farmer who has a farm outside the walls of Bethlehem must exit through the checkpoint, which requires a permit, to get to their land. Once the farmer reaches his land, he has no access to water, and is unable to irrigate the farm. This same farmer is also unable to teach his children the family trade, and they must find other ways of living. Soon the family will loose their right to the land because they are unable to farm on it. Further, Israel issues 1%-4% of the building permits requested the Palestinians. If an individual adds to, or makes improvements to their home without a permit, they will be evicted and the house will be demolished. These are just a few examples on how the state of Israel makes everyday life difficult for individuals living in the West Bank.
While in Bethlehem we also met with some local representatives. They spoke about their perspectives of life in occupied Bethlehem. They spoke about houses being demolished, and a strong desire for elections and representation. They emphasized how that they do not hate the Jews, but they are against the occupation, and feel as though the Palestinians are being punished for crimes that happened abroad.
“We love you, your foreign policy needs to be adjusted” – Wi’Am.
Before leaving the city we met with Nora Kort a Community Development Consultant with Kairos Palestine, a Christian Palestinian movement. She spoke to us about the importance of respecting other religions and differences. She explained that we should not use the holy books to justify political actions.
“If you do the will of God you are chosen” – Nora Kort
Nora also talked about Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). She described it as a tool of resistance that is attempting to take away extremism. It is a nonviolent and creative method that is something we can do as individuals. Palestine is completely dependent on Israel, and BDS attempts to bring back awareness.
Lastly, we returned to Jerusalem and met with Sahar Vardi, an Israeli Refusnik. She spoke a little about her experience when she refused to join the military, and gave a presentation on the militarization of Israel. Sahar explained that everything surrounding Israelis is completely militarized from a very young age. Off duty soldiers can be seen with guns in shops, and on the streets. Military images are included in school worksheets. Soldiers educate other soldiers as well as civilians, usually in underprivileged schools. Soldiers are invited to schools to talk about leadership as well. Students get a week of military training in the 11th grade. Youth are taught that if they do not join the military the Jewish people will be persecuted. By the time individuals reach the age to join the army they can find no reason not to. However, there are young people that do refuse. One group called New Profile asks young people, do you want to serve, and why? It is a feminist movement for the demilitarization of Israel Society. They offer support to individuals who are conscientious objectors.
Today was packed with a lot of information, and experiences that I have not completely processed. I think the message overall is Palestinians and Israelis are human beings and should be treated as such. Both groups are victims of the military forces. International pressure is important to help bring about change.