Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reports from Deheisheh and Jerusalem: IFPB delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) fosters a network of informed and active individuals who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ political, military, and economic role in it. To build and nurture such a network, IFPB leads diverse delegations to Israel/Palestine - http://www.ifpb.org/

Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USC) organized a 23-member delegation to Israel/Palestine. I share here a couple of reports from a member of the delegation. To read more click this link: http://www.ifpb.org/del31/default.html

"To Exist Is To Resist"

As we walked through the winding alleys of Deheisheh Refugee Camp, we saw bashful children standing in doorways and not so bashful children playing in the street, old bleached, curled remnants of martyr posters were still pasted on some walls, but it was the prominent martyr paintings and “Palestine” graffiti that caught our eyes. During the second Intifada, Dheisheh, whose residents had lost so much to Israel, became among its fiercest resisters. The Israeli response was severe, invading the camp and searching house to house, punching through walls instead of entering through doors and traumatizing families. Some twenty multistory homes were demolished by Israelis as “homes to terrorists” despite the fact that made dozens of innocents homeless and only further radicalized those affected. Nearly everyone in the camp knows someone who was killed during the Second Intifada and many of the camp’s men have served lengthy terms in Israeli military prison without trial. Post-traumatic stress would be rampant, if the trauma could be categorized as post rather than ongoing.

Yet, Dheisheh’s residents have held on, remembering their heritage and identifying themselves as being from their home villages. Instead of agonizing, they have organized. Lacking any community space, they pooled their together their meager resources and built the Phoenix Community Center, a place now that plays host to weddings, dance troupes, educational facilities and summer camps. Today, just persisting or being steadfast- sumud in Arabic- is their main way of resisting Israeli military rule that is so hostile to their living an everyday life.
--Dave Matos

"Jerusalem: To share or not to share"

For our first day on the ground, our delegation tackled one of the central and most emotional issues at the core of peace -making between Israelis and Palestinians: Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a strong emotional connection to this holy city for the three Abrahamaic faiths. But it would be a mistake to simply pigeon-hole the conflict over Jerusalem as a petty squabble over holy sites; rather, it is a nationalistic contest for control of the Jerusalem as their capital city.

Since 1948, the UN's plan to keep Jerusalem as an international city open to all failed miserably. Fierce fighting between Zionists and Arab forces, divided Jerusalem in two in 1948, rendering a Jewish West Jerusalem and a Jordanian-controlled Arab East Jerusalem. Wealthy Arab neighborhoods in West Jerusalem were summarily emptied of their inhabitants to be replaced by Jewish denizens, as our guide pointed out on our bus trip into Jerusalem upon our arrival. However, despite their drive for Jerusalem, Zionist forces failed to capture the Old City, home to the holiest sites. The Old City and East Jerusalem remained an Arab populated and controlled city... until 1967, when Israel conquered East Jerusalem and finally laid claim to the Old City, and the West Bank and Gaza to boot.

While most peace advocates agree that a shared Jerusalem, with Israel maintaining a capital in West Jerusalem and Palestine maintaining a capital in East Jerusalem and negotiated management of Old City holy sites precious to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims, Israeli policies since 1967 have not moved in that direction. As explained in a morning briefing from ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions), Israel "annexed" the whole of Jerusalem in 1969, declaring it the "indivisible and eternal" Jewish capital, a change which the international community has not recognized, and embarked on a set of actions to change the character of Arab-populated East Jerusalem. For one, the boundaries of this new united Jerusalem were carefully chosen to deliver Maximum Land, Minimum Arabs. Open and sparsely populated spaces far to the East fell within the new boundaries; however, traditional Arab neighborhoods often found themselves divided or outside the newly defined city limits. Zoning was then implemented to strictly constrain the development of Arab neighborhoods, much of the open land being designated "green zones." However, instead of reserving these green zones as nature preserves, several of them became home to Israeli Jewish settlements, illegal population transfers under international law.

While Jewish population growth was encouraged, the Palestinian Arab population of East Jerusalem found itself under increasingly discriminatory and onerous restrictions through zoning and permit requirements. It became exceedingly rare for Israel to issue very expensive building permits for Arabs. While many technocratic reasons were given, the gross disparity indicates the true reason for the denial of these building permits was a discriminatory policy towards Jerusalem’s Arab population. The result has been a severe housing shortage, driving the price beyond the reach of some Arab citizens of Jerusalem and putting heavy economic pressure on the rest. One of Israel's cruelest policies to displace the Arab population is home demolitions. We circled the hillside around the Silwan neighborhood (named for the ancient pools of Siloam) that the Israelis call the City of David. Under the pretext of archaeological excavation, some seventy homes in this Arab neighborhood have been placed under demolition order. Again, the disparity between illegal Israeli settlements encouraged by the Israeli government and illegal Palestinian Arab homes that are built anyway for the lack of issued permits shows a grossly discriminating policy. Luckily, US diplomatic pressure has given a temporary stay for these homes, but it is uncertain how long this will last.

To make a peace where Israel and Palestine share Jerusalem will require the world community to confront these policies, specifically the settlements which seem to have become "facts on the ground" to divide and fragment an Arab East Jerusalem. The Obama administration has taken a strong stand against settlements, including those in East Jerusalem. Despite the US call to enforce a settlement freeze, the Netanyahu regime in Israel has thumbed its nose at Obama's challenge. They have declared several new settlement projects in East Jerusalem, most recently 20 units in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Increasingly, pro-Israeli media have become more shrill on the issue. Just last Monday a settler group held a protest at the Israeli Knesset and settler youth have taken the offensive creating some twenty new illegal outposts. Obama is right on this issue and it is critical that we support him and not buckle to pressure from the pro-Israeli right.
--Dave Matos

For more about Interfaith Peace-Builders, see the website: http://www.ifpb.org/

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, go the the blog: A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace, www.blogspot.voicesforpeace.com

No comments: