Fusion Challenge (Vegan MoFo 2015)

Vegan mofo tomatoFor this day’s prompt, I chose one of my favorite meals, pizza! I combined it with my new favorite spice from Palestine, za’atar! This was a simple dish made from what I had on hand in the fridge. I used this easy recipe for a thick sicilian-style pizza crust. For toppings I used Follow Your Heart mozzarella, shiitake bacon, onions, tomatoes, and a nice sprinkling of za’atar. Perfection!
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veganmofo pizza2 - 1-Amber

Palestinian Hospitality is Like No Other (Vegan MoFo 2015)

Vegan mofo tomato
Vegan MoFo Day 14: Share something delicious & vegan with a non-vegan

In our travels to Palestine, we experienced some of the most generous, kind, and accommodating people we have ever met. As vegans, traveling anywhere, let alone abroad can be challenging and even daunting at times. We knew that Middle-Eastern cuisine was fairly vegan-friendly before our travels to Palestine, but knowing we would spend some time staying overnight in people’s homes, we were not always sure what to expect. We were also told that some folks may not understand what is meant by the term “vegan” so we made sure to spell out our dietary needs by saying things like “we don’t eat meat, fish, dairy, or eggs.”

We were amazed beyond belief, time after time, when our hosts spoiled us with vegan fare such as creamy hummus, crispy fried falafel, Arabic salad, mo’ajjanat manaeesh (za’atar Palestinian pizza), vegetable maqlobeh (upside down rice), and mujaddara (lentil and bulgur casserole). When we were staying in Aqqaba, near Jenin with our host Asma and her wonderful family, she surprised us one day with vegan pizza on homemade dough topped with corn, mushrooms, black olives, and other yummy veggies. VeganMofo14 - 1She also made two different kinds of breadsticks stuffed with either za’atar or jelly.
VeganMofo14 - 2 VeganMofo14 - 3 VeganMofo14 - 4The meal was accompanied by a delicious lime drink and ended with a plate of fresh fruit consisting of pears, grapes, apples, and figs.
VeganMofo14 - 5 VeganMofo14 - 6The food, company, and gracious nature of the Palestinian people we met was unmatched by any in our experiences. People gave up their beds for us, allowed us to take showers even if there were water restrictions placed on them by Israel, and were always generous with food, drink, gifts, and laughter. We will never forget their hospitality, nor their struggle.


The murder of Ali Dawabshe & his parents

While we toured Israel/Palestine with Interfaith Peace-Builders, we woke up to the news on the morning of July 31, 2015 that settlers committed an arson attack on two houses in the village of Duma in the West Bank, burning 18 month old Ali Dawabshe alive. His parents Riham and Sa’ad suffered burns over 80% of their body and his 4 year old brother Ahmed was also hospitalized in serious condition.
AlipicPhoto by Oren Siv

Things were tense on the ground that day. We witnessed Israeli border police tear gassing children who were throwing rocks over a wall in protest as well as amplified military and police security all around Old City in Jerusalem in preparation for demonstrations set to happen after the mosques let out. On the news, a small picture of Ali’s face stayed in the corner of the screen as a reminder of the shock and sadness over the loss of an innocent child. The death of Ali Dawabshe launched the hashtag #Hewasburnedalive. When I asked a Palestinian family I was staying with at the time if showing martyrs’ faces continuously during broadcasts was normal, they said no, this was just because it was a baby and everyone was upset by this. *Note, Palestinians use the term “martyr” to denote anyone killed by the state, military, or settlers, not necessarily as the West portrays it as “suicide bombers.”

When the delegation ended, we spent a few days in Bil’in and Aqqaba with some Palestinian friends. When our friends from Aqqaba picked us up from Bil’in on August 9th, they offered to take us to the Dawabshe family’s burned house in Duma. We thought we were just driving by but when we got to the village, there was a memorial service going on as Sa’ad Dawabshe, Ali’s father had just died from his injuries the day before.
Duma - 1
Duma - 2Our friend Samer offered to translate if we wanted to speak with anyone at the service regarding what had happened. He found Nasser Dawabshe, Ali’s uncle, who agreed to be interviewed, describing what happened on the terrible evening of the attack. He also told us that this was not the first time settlers had harassed the people of Duma. Previously they have burned their olive trees and cars, but this was the first time they attacked homes. Sadly, he also described the horror when Riham, Ali’s mother, brought something out of the burning home thinking it was her young son, but once she looked down and saw it wasn’t Ali, she knew he had died in the house.

After we spoke with Nasser Dawabshe, we were offered a tour of the burned home. We saw the bedroom where the Ali, his parents, and his brother slept when they were attacked.
Duma - 15A Quran that was burned intentionally, was pointed out to us.
Duma - 9 (1)Inside the kitchen, a stroller sat with a baby doll wrapped up in a kuffiyeh and Palestinian flag with a white ribbon wrapped around it with the words in Arabic, “He was burned alive” written on it.
Duma - 4 (1)
Duma - 1 (1)The family wants to keep the house as it is so people can see what happened here. When we walked outside of the house, we saw “Revenge” spray painted in Hebrew with the Star of David on the side of the home.
Duma - 20The house right next to the Dawabshes was also burned. We met with the owner who reported that luckily he and his 6 other family members were out of town that night and decided not to come home for some reason. This act potentially saved their lives.
Duma - 15 (1)At the time of this writing on September 5, 2015, I learned from my friends in the West Bank that Ali’s mother Riham just died from her terrible injuries. I cannot imagine the pain the Dawabshe family must be feeling right now or how 4 year old Ahmed lost his parents and baby brother all at once. It’s simply unfathomable.
Duma - 7It was heartbreaking to see where a family was murdered, a village in mourning, and a first hand account from a relative. As of now, while some extremists believed to be responsible for the attack were detained, some were released, and to my knowledge, no charges have been filed.


Hummus pizza (VeganMofo 2015)

Vegan mofo tomatoToday’s theme was about a “weird food combo that you love.” I’m not sure if it’s weird, but it may be unexpected. I like hummus on pizza. I’ve had it before at restaurants and have even had them substitute it for cheese at a local pizza joint. It’s pretty amazing and combines my love of pizza and Palestinian food.
Pizza-1024x678Hummus, tomato, basil pizza on a cornmeal crust was born!


Meeting with Omar Barghouti & Addameer

On August 3, 2015 we met with two inspirational activists in Ramallah: Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer and Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in Palestine.

Addameer was founded over 21 years ago and covers issues about Palestinian prisoners. As per their website:

“ADDAMEER (Arabic for conscience) Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association is a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution that works to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons. Established in 1992 by a group of activists interested in human rights, the center offers free legal aid to political prisoners, advocates their rights at the national and international level, and works to end torture and other violations of prisoners’ rights through monitoring, legal procedures and solidarity campaigns.”
Omar B & Addameer - 8During Sahar Francis’ talk and as a running theme we observed in our time meeting with Israeli and Palestinian activists, were numerous human rights’ violations pertaining to who becomes prisoners, how people they become prisoners, and how they are treated as prisoners in life and death.
Omar B & Addameer - 1Some atrocities and statistics that we learned that stick out were as follows: 160 child prisoners (22 of which who are under 16), 400 administrative detainees (being held indefinitely without any charges), 5,700 political prisoners, charging dead people with crimes and then holding their bodies until their sentences are up, and interrogators using methods that don’t leave marks so they cannot prove torture has taken place.

The Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights has a campaign for the prisoners kept after they are dead, referred to as the Graveyard of Numbers.

Meeting Omar Barghouti
As the co-founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti was articulate and passionate in what this strategy stood for. He described BDS as an inclusive, nonviolent, non-racist (including anti-semitism) movement that is only against Israel because it’s an oppressive regime. BDS is entrenched in the resistance against settler colonialism.

To quote Mr. Barghouti about the goals of BDS, “We’re destroying and undermining a system of injustice, not a people. Undermining a racist system? Yes. Destroying a people? No.”

Since February 2014, Israel has adopted a new strategy for fighting BDS. Netanyahu and those to the right of him have increased funding to stop BDS, used infiltrators, and lawfare which have had a delegitimizing and chilling effect.

In 2014, direct foreign investment in Israel dropped 40%, in part to BDS and the war on Gaza. According to Mr. Barghouti, BDS is reaching a tipping point. He reported that approximately 15% of Jewish people in the U.S. support a boycott against Israel. He indicated that Israel right wing and opposition of BDS “looks like the beginning of McCarthyism in the U.S. This is recruiting a mainstream, liberal support of BDS as a result of this and suppressing BDS.”

He also noted that academic boycotts are against institutions (i.e. no joint research, exchange programs, etc.), not individuals.

Last year, 95% of Israelis supported the attack on Gaza. There is a massive resistance to the ideas of equality. There is no “left movement” in Israel at this point. A theme we repeatedly heard both from Palestinian and Israeli human rights’ activists was that Israel is not going to change on its on and that outside pressure, in the form of BDS, is necessary to implement change.

In regards to lawfare and getting our own referendum shot down at our local co-op in regards to deshelving Israeli products until the occupation has ended, Omar Barghouti had this to say:

More can be read to supplement his thoughts in the video in this article.


A visit to Yad Vashem & the Death of Innocence

Friday, July 31st, 2015 was an overwhelming 24 hour period in Israel/Palestine. We awoke to the story of Ali Dawabshe, an 18 month old Palestinian boy who was burned by settlers in Duma, outside of Nablus right before dawn. We’ll write more about this story in a later post. The day before, several were stabbed at a pride parade in Jerusalem. Solemnly we made our way to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, a Holocaust memorial museum.
test - 1“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
-Pastor Martin Niemöller

Many years ago when I was in college, I took classes in the Holocaust, visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and later as a faculty member at a community college in NJ, helped co-lead trips to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. for my students. The above quote is on a poster hanging in my office and one that I try to live by. The stories of the oppressed have always been something I felt I needed to bear witness to so that I may help to stop the oppressive forces from happening and to create a more just world.
test - 8 (2)Yad Vashem was built on beautiful grounds with striking architecture. One could easily spend an entire day there (or several) really taking in the information and surrounding landscape. Walking into the main building, you look up with walls surrounding you in the shape of an upside down V. There is little light that comes in through the narrow opening at the top. Some on our delegation described it as feeling “tomb-like.” Some thought it felt as if you were in a prison since all of the walls were grey and concrete and it felt very cold and austere.
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test - 11 (1)No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the first main building, so I took handwritten notes of some of the quotes on the displays that really stuck out to us on this journey to Israel/Palestine.

“A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates…” –Kurt Tucholsky, German essayist of Jewish origin

“Slay them not [the Jews]…scatter them abroad.” St. Augustine, 5th century church elder

Modern Antisemiticism
“Myth of the ‘Jewish Conspiracy’ was created, claiming that Jews are engaged in a secret plot to take over the world.”

Nazi Antisemiticism
“…Became a political program by Hitler that demanded an immediate solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’…”

A Journey Through Nazi Germany
“In the autumn of 1935, a Dutch motorcyclist rode from the Netherlands to Berlin. Along the way he photographed anti-Semitic signs posted in the cities and towns as he passed.

“Jews take note – the road to Palestine does not pass through here.”

“Jews entering this place are in danger.”

Third Reich Consolidates
“Germans were satisfied with the stabilization of their political system and most of them accepted the abolition of democracy and the persecution and opponents of the regime.”

Despoiling the Jews
“They confiscated all types of property – homes, real estate, factories, businesses, and artistic and cultural treasures. In Eastern Europe, the plundering continued in the Ghettos. When the Jews were sent to death camps, the local population took control of their homes and property.”

Nazi Policy – East and West
In Eastern Europe, the Germans incarcerated the Jews in severely overcrowded Ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation, poverty, and degeneration and death.

In Western Europe, the Nazis did not establish Ghettos for the Jews, but rather enforced racist legislation and a policy of Aryanization and discrimination.”

“Softly, softly! Let’s be silent!
Graves are growing here.
They were sown by our tormentors.
Green they grown, and fair.
Toward Ponary run roads a plenty,
From Ponary not one
Father disappeared, and with him
All our joy is gone.”
-song written in the Vilna Ghetto in April 1943
-lyrics – Shmerl Kaczerginsky, poet and partisan
-music – Alek Wolkowyski (Alexander Tamir), 11 years old

Upon exiting the main building of exhibits, a wide and breathtaking view of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas greets you.
test - 1 (6) test - 5Other parts of Yad Vashem that we had to rush through unfortunately, included a children’s memorial and exhibit on children in the Holocaust, an art museum exhibit from 1945-1947, and a beautiful garden.
test - 14DSC_0147test - 1 (2)test - 12

test - 3 (2)As you leave the grounds, this is the structure you exit under.
test - 9 (2)test - 7 (2)Things were tense on the ground in Palestine after the murder of toddler Ali Dawabshe by settlers. Upon return to our hotel in East Jerusalem, there were numerous Israeli police and military in and around Old City. Word was there were going to be protests after the mosque let out. Our tour bus couldn’t get anywhere near our hotel because of all of the road blocks, so we had to be dropped off a few streets away to walk back.
test - 10 (3) test - 2 (3)Later in the day we went on a tour with Micah Kurz from Grassroots Al Quds. During our tour with Micah, we had to leave this area of Jericho Road quickly on the border of Abu dis & Bethany (Al izzawiyain) in Jerusalem after some stone throwing over the separation wall met with tear gas by the police/border control. We were shuttled into our tour bus quickly and our beloved tour guide Said did traffic control so that we could get out of there safely.
test - 8 (4) test - 9 (4) -Amber

Jaffa Youth Movement & Boycott from Within

Today in Israel, we met with representatives from two Palestinian advocacy groups. The irony of a Birthright Israel bus behind us as we drove from our tour of Lydd to Jaffa was not lost on us. We are on two very different tours.

Jaffa Youth Movement
With our IFPB group, we took a guided walking tour of Jaffa, a port city in Israel next to Tel Aviv. The city is 5,000 years old and before the Nakba in 1948 was the second largest city in Palestine. It’s a beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea. Not all is so beautiful about it though. Arabs cannot buy new homes in Jaffa (as only Jews can). Arabs are thought to bring the price of the property down, so contractors will not sell new construction to them. They can only buy homes secondhand.
DSC_0100While in Jaffa, we met with Abed from the Jaffa Youth Movement. He talked about the difficulties of life under occupation for youth and the goals of the Jaffa Youth Movement. Three main goals were to have Palestinian youth learn Arabic (many don’t know it there as they are only taught Hebrew), promote Arab women’s rights, and to take part in political activities.
DSC_0074 DSC_0081 DSC_0085 Boycott from Within
Our next meeting in Jaffa was with Kobi Snitz from Boycott from Within, a collective inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid to apply the same type of pressure to stop the oppression of Palestinians. They believe measures such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions are necessary steps to pressure the Israeli government to stop the occupation and to follow international law.
DSC_0102Kobi provided some eye-opening insights for understanding how the BDS movement is reported and perceived in Israel. He indicated that Israelis were more likely to learn about the boycott movement in the entertainment section of the newspapers, when a performer cancels a show there.

He told our group that, “If it’s a real threat, there is going to be a backlash.” He noted that the backlash will be against Palestinians (more violence towards them because it’s easier) and political policing on the Israeli managerial class, having a chilling effect on the boycotts. He believed that BDS was the biggest strategic threat against Israel and that the army and secret service were monitoring those activities. This is called delegitimization of Israel. Kobi pointed out that “The left Zionist group will brag about opposing boycotts” and that the Israeli government believes that their “only hope to slow down BDS is to use the left.”

Kobi noted recently that a large U.S. progressive company with business in Israel met with anti-occupation activists and the Israel Foreign Ministry to learn more about the issues and that Foreign Ministry’s arguments against BDS made an even better case for boycotting than the BDS supporters! He stated the Foreign Ministry only major argument was, “Muslims and Arabs are dangerous and God gave us this land.”

Other activities of Boycott from Within focus on writing letters to artists and people outside of Israel to boycott the country. Kobi reported that they first write personal letters to the artists (and some make excuses for canceling their concerts/appearances vs. directly stating that they are boycotting). If that doesn’t receive a response, they write a public letter to the artist encouraging them to boycott. Sometimes people picket their concerts on their way to Israel. He emphasized, “There is no artist that comes here that doesn’t feel the boycott.”
DSC_0101Kobi also told us about Who Profits, Israeli activists who research Israeli companies who profit from the occupation. Ultimately, he said they call for a general boycott of Israeli products as the entire Israeli economy profits from the occupation. He noted that everyone in Israel believes the economy is hurting because of the boycott.

Another threatening tactic used by the Israeli government to suppress dissent is a website created for students to report their teachers who say anything considered to be anti-Israel, delegitimization, and/or insulting the honor of the army and soldiers. The left on campus has been pretty much decimated. Academics, even with tenure, are pushed out for speaking out about the government. The sense that there is no real academic freedom is disturbing to say the least and something that is intolerable in many academic institutions in the Western world. But again, we are told the lie that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” The veil is coming down and more and more are realizing this to be untrue.


Bethlehem & Israeli Refuseniks

Today was a jam-packed and memorable day. Our itinerary consisted of meeting with amazing activists from Badil Resources Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center Wi’am, Kairos Palestine, and American Friends Service Committee.

We went to Bethlehem for most of our meetings, some light shopping, walking in the historic center, and witnessing the occupation first-hand through the separation wall (aka the Apartheid wall) and walking through a checkpoint. Bethlehem is one of the major cities to be designated as zone A and fully under control by the Palestinian Authority. No Israeli Jews live in Bethlehem and 30% of the population consists of Palestinian Christians.

The energy in Bethlehem seemed different than what I’ve experienced so far on the trip. It was the first time I saw a Palestinian flag flying freely. I saw the Apartheid wall up close, including artwork from Banksy. The vendors and shop workers were very friendly and accommodating. Not as many home demolitions occur in the confines of the town, but the wall and settlements in the distance remind one that this is still occupied territory.
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Badil Resources Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights
Our first and probably most extensive explanation of what has happened and continues to happen with Palestinian refugees was by a presentation given by Lubnah Shomali of Badil. This organization participates in all UN forums and focuses on humanitarian and human rights law. Displacement of Palestinians has been occurring since 1917 and even today in 2015. We learned that the issue isn’t just about land, but really about refugees. We heard about forced displacement and FDP (forced displaced persons), obstacles and solutions, policies of silent transfer, the Israeli regime of forced population transfer, colonization, institutionalized racism, buffer and seam zones, right of return, obligations of 3rd party states, Israeli talking points, and the ongoing Nakba resistance. Lots of free materials on these issues can be found in PDF files on their website.
IMG_0039Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center Wi’am
We had a unique experience of hearing three men discuss life under occupation during this outside meeting in Bethlehem. The director of Wi’am, Zoughbi Zoughbi helped to translate for two Palestinian men who shared their stories. One had taken an extreme risk by talking with us, as he was in an Israeli prison for 21 years as he resisted the occupation in 1967. Speaking with our group could have been considered “incitement” which could put him back in prison for life as a political prisoner. Another man named Shelklu Maher Assaf spoke of being a refugee from a nearby village called Allar when his family was expelled and settlements came in. He stated that “We built good and healthy relationships with Jews before the occupation. It’s not because of Jews, but because of Zionism. The torah says, ‘Do not steal the land of others.’ Anyone who wants to win elections must start war with Palestinians. The war on Gaza was gauged for political reasons to win elections…We are suffering when there is an attack inside Israel, because I have children too.”
DSC_0022All three men hoped to convey their message to the world through us and emphasized repeatedly that their problem was not with Jewish people, but with the occupation, U.S. foreign policy, and apartheid.
DSC_0043 DSC_0044To quote Zoughbi Zoughbi, “The Apartheid wall is choking us. We are in prison. No one can prevent us from organizing in prison. If we were MLK, we’d be writing a letter from inside Birmingham jail.”

Kairos Palestine
We met Nora Kort of Kairos who was a Palestinian Christian of Armenian ancestry and a refugee in her own city of Bethlehem (as she was displaced from Jerusalem when Israel was created). Kairos Palestine works from a Christian Palestinian perspective to tell the world about what is happening in Palestine. It requests that the international community stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering, and apartheid for over 60 years. Nora stated, “We cannot use the holy books to feed our political needs. Here we have three religions who preach love, peace, and justice, but we don’t have that…We have irrational violence all over the Middle East. We cannot attribute to any one religion. Barbarism comes out of lost hope.” On solutions, Nora pointed out that “BDS is a campaign and a tool of resistance and love. We tried the peace process for over 20 years and it didn’t lead to peace.”
IMG_0086American Friends Service Committee
I was excited to meet Sahar Vardi an Israel Program Coordinator from the AFSC in East Jerusalem (and fellow vegan) at the end of the day. This committee has been a leader in promoting speaking engagements in the U.S. of Israeli refuseniks who are conscientious objectors to serving in the IDF, Israel’s military.
IMG_0113Sahar was born and raised in Jerusalem and talked in detail about the militarization of Israel and how completely normal it is to see large amounts of weapons on the streets. She also discussed “teacher soldiers” that are frequently used in understaffed and underprivileged schools, teaching completely unrelated subjects with no training. She talked about the treatment of women in the military as supportive roles and the sexual harassment and demeaning terms used to describe them such as “platoon mattress” and “skirt.” We learned that Israel is the top exporter of weapons in the world and that it’s not AIPAC that has the biggest lobby for Israel in the U.S., but Lockheed Martin. Sahar humbly told our group about how she became a refusenik. She started going to the occupied territories since she was 13 or 14 as a protester in Bi’lin. She stated in regards to the IDF at protests, “When you are shot at enough times by them, you don’t want to join them.” She spent 2 months in prison and another 3 months in detention for her refusal to serve and was released (as many commonly are) for mental health reasons. She told us about a new organization called New Profile, founded as a feminist movement to demilitarize Israel. Sahar is a beacon of hope amongst Israeli society and youth and more light needs to shine on people like her who refuse to take part in Israel’s crimes against humanity.
DSC_0107 DSC_0108Stephanie, Sahar, and me



Our first 24 hours in Israel/Palestine

Our first day has been like a whirlwind. As I sit down to write this, I am exhausted both physically and mentally. We have seen so much in such a short time span that I cannot imagine how it will continue to get even more intense in the days and weeks to come.

Before sharing what I have witnessed thus far, I must remind our readers (particularly my American friends and anyone from a country that was colonized), that we too live, breathe, and work on stolen land. Indigenous people have been driven from their land that has been ethnically cleansed, just as what is happening now in Israel/Palestine. So our history is not a clean and pristine and there are many parallels and connections to be made.

Arrival in Tel Aviv airport
We were warned ahead of time by our IFPB leaders the potential for people to be racially profiled by Israeli authorities upon entering the airport in Tel Aviv. Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and people of color were at the top of the list of who were most likely to be called in for further questioning in “the room” where they could be for 1 or several hours (7+). On our delegation, we have two women of color (a Bangladeshi American Muslim and an Indian-American to be specific) which were predicted to be possible targets for this harassment. Unfortunately and as anticipated, the Bangladeshi American Muslim woman was held up by Israeli security and questioned for well over an hour about what her intentions were in the country, her father and grandfather’s names, her phone number, etc. repeatedly. Luckily she was let go and returned to our group after her questioning.

First Impressions
We were taken by air-conditioned tour bus to our hotel in East Jerusalem from the airport. But on the way, we got a crash course in some sobering facts from our Palestinian tour guide Said. We traveled on highway 443 which we learned that no Palestinians can use (unless they have Israeli citizenry). We saw many large settlements in the West Bank and discovered that settlers use 20 times more water than Palestinians. This is also water that they have taken from the people living in the West Bank. Some Palestinians have water for only 2 days a week as the Israeli government controls their water and shuts it off as they deem necessary (along with electricity).

We quickly learned to tell the difference between settlers’ homes vs. those of Palestinians. Palestinian homes have large water tanks on top of them so when the Israeli government cuts off their water supply, they have a reservoir they can use. Settler homes also have one or more Israeli flags dominantly displayed on the outside.
IMG_2599We noticed a surveillance balloon above the highway as we drove into the West Bank. We saw checkpoints/barriers with heavily armed men and women in olive green military uniforms. We also learned that Gaza (which almost no one can get into now) is the most surveillanced place in the world!

Our tour guide told us of the difficulties of Palestinians living under occupation on a day to day basis. Military laws and orders are frequently used against Palestinians in practice vs. being written in the books. They often use “policies” rather than official laws to oppress them.

Something that was very relevant to our guide’s profession were the limits on how many Palestinians can become tour guides. He told us that Palestinians were not allowed to be tour guides for 25 years! Today only 170 Palestinians can be tour guides vs. over 6,000 Israeli tour guides that exist. In the West Bank specifically, only 42 Palestinians are allowed to be tour guides. One essentially has to wait for a tour guide to die to get a permit on their own. The level of control that Israel has on the Palestinians is very obvious and disturbing, especially for a country that prides itself on being the only “democracy in the Middle East.” This is a myth and a lie.
DSC_0126East Jerusalem & Old City
We arrived in our hotel in East Jerusalem on Monday evening. During our Tuesday morning walking tour of East Jerusalem and the Old City, we learned that the police department just blocks away from our hotel was taken over by the Israeli police. Our tour guide described it as having a “dark future” due to the Judaization of Jerusalem and the high likelihood that it will be taken over by settlers.
IMG_2620We received a detailed description of the different religious buildings and beliefs surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City. More interesting and striking to me however, were the illegal settlements in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City (again, easily observed by the Israeli flags marking the territories).
We met with several young men and women from the Silwan Youth Center on Tuesday. Most of the women had brothers whose fathers who have been jailed by the Israeli government and the men themselves have all experienced imprisonment. We learned that 65,000 people live in Silwan and on November 1, 2004, they began the first destruction of homes in the town to make room for settlers. Palestinians would have to pay a bounty so their homes wouldn’t be demolished. The village also experiences many arrests of Palestinian children. We met one boy who has been arrested 15 times since he was 9 years old. He has not returned to school and has been wandering the streets. When asked what prison is like, he matter-of-factly stated, “It’s just 4 walls.”
IMG_2749Silwan3The Silwan Youth Center and protest tent above the building were developed by young people. The center is funded by the volunteers themselves. They have a soccer team for children whose houses are under threat of demolition and a summer camp for 100 students in the neighborhood. They are trying to help children lead a normal life. A large banner on one of the walls of the center was in dedication to a child who was found burned alive by settlers. It was a sad reminder of the ultimate price so many pay under occupation.
Silwan4Settlers are encouraged to move in by the government. There are currently 60 Jewish families in Silwan costing the government 6 million shekels a month to live in Silwan. Settlers are protected by 340 guards 24 hours a day in four shifts. Settlers are paid 500 shekels a day, given a car, and guards to live in the village. Settlers and their guards have killed Palestinians in Silwan.
Silwan7Silwan12On the flipside, there are no services or infrastructure in Silwan for Palestinians, even though they pay taxes. Families of 8-10 people may live in 2 rooms because they cannot build houses. If a Palestinian doesn’t pay someone privately to demolish their own house, they have to pay up to $5,000 for the government to do it and then another $5,000 for them to clean up the rubble (if they don’t do it themselves).
Silwan10Silwan11Everyday life in Silwan was described as living “between houses getting demolished and being arrested.” We were shown the rubble of a house destroyed in 2008 and were told of a house that was just bulldozed by a Caterpiller bulldozer this morning in the village at 6am. When asked the children’s hope for the future, they quickly responded “rights” and “freedom.” We were told of the joke, “Palestinians are easy to please.” They just want a normal life.”
Silwan5Silwan6Silwan9Silwan14Silwan15Silwan16AFSC Palestine Youth Together for Change Program – Gaza
Since virtually no one can enter or leave Gaza at this time, we Skyped with Palestinians from the AFSC Palestine Youth Together for Change Program in the Gaza Strip.

When asked what life was like in Gaza we were told how the Israeli government is trying to fragment Palestinians by making them in different lands and it will make them weaker.

One woman quickly corrected someone who referred to last summer’s assault as a war and stated instead, “It’s not a war, it’s an aggression.”IMG_2781

Many of the Gazans we spoke with had to turn down educational opportunities such as attending medical school in Jordan, college with a scholarship in Tunisia, and more as they aren’t allowed to leave Gaza. They reminded us that the situation in Gaza is very bad, but they feel they need to stand for their rights. We stand with them.



We are coming to bear witness

In just a few days from now, Stephanie Langer and I will be taking our first journey to Israel/Palestine with Interfaith Peace-Builders to bear witness to the occupation. We plan on meeting with Palestinian and Israeli groups and leaders to hear their stories and gain a deeper understanding and perspective of what is transpiring on the ground. Our goal when we return back to the U.S. is to educate others on what we observed and to influence U.S. foreign policy.

Listen to our interview with Ute Ritz-Deutch’s WRFI Community Radio Human Rights and Social Justice Program in Ithaca, NY on 7/17/15 about our upcoming trip, making the connections between oppressions and more!

In solidarity,
Amber Gilewski