Justice is Love made Public
—Dr. Cornell West
Based on my current work in Palestine-Israel March – May 2015, my view of the situation depends on my location.
If in Israel, I do not notice the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, nor does most of the population. If noticed, the Israeli Jewish citizens and the leadership largely support the injustice—95% of Jewish Israeli’s were in favor of last summer’s attacks on Gaza. The recent elections that returned Prime Minister Netanyahu to office are confirmation; they mark another step toward a right-wing government. Exceptions exist of course, and I try to locate and support them—Gush Shalom is one, led by Uri Avnery.
Purim in an East Jerusalem settlement, March 2015
If in the West Bank, again depending on location, I learn that the occupation can be tolerable and mostly invisible, as in Jenin, where there are no neighboring settlements (altho the Israeli Occupation Force regularly raids the refugee camp looking for people, usually young men, that they accuse of threatening Israel). Or it may be a huge annoyance, as in Ramallah, especially if one needs to pass thru the notorious Kalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem. It can be regularly violent, as in Hebron where the settlers are particularly vicious or in the villages of Nabi Salih and Bil’in near Ramallah which every Friday for years mount nonviolent demonstrations to regain their ancestral lands. They’ve had some success. I visit and support the activists there. Or the occupation may be a continual threat, as in Sheik Jarrah, a district in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews frequently take over Palestinian homes with army and police protection.
Downtown Jenin, April 2015
A nonviolent demonstration, Nabi Salih, March 2015
And if in Gaza (I was last there in 2013), the region is not only the largest open air prison as it’s commonly called, but a graveyard, as a friend confided to me during my first trip there in 2004. Last summer some 2,500 people were killed during the Israeli assault, about 75% of them civilian. Entrance and exit are now so tightly restricted that I’ve not been able to enter on this trip and many notable Gazans such as Dr. Mona al Farra, who was to speak at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts in May 2015 as part of a tour, are unable to leave. (Two Boston-based friends and colleagues of mine, Alice Rothchild and Bill Slaughter, both medical professionals and thus more able to visit Gaza, may speak at my meeting in Mona’s place.)
Trauma program, Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza, 2013
On my current journey, my 9th since 2003, I’ve attended a 2-day conference called Global Village Square in Bethlehem drawing some 70 young Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians to work together on solutions. I’ve ridden the Freedom Bus thru the West Bank to learn about popular resistance in villages and East Jerusalem. In Jenin in the northern section of the West Bank thru the renowned Freedom Theater I’ve taught photography to young adults who are already very proficient in the craft but need encouragement and tools to portray their experiences under occupation. I’m about to photograph more of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, a project combining hydrology, history, geology and politics in a multi-layered approach. I will photograph for Grassroots Jerusalem as part of their political mapping project to portray Palestinian experience in East Jerusalem. And finally, if plans hold, I will be with Israeli Jews living within 2 miles of Gaza, often attacked, but who formed an organization called Other Voice courageously critical and outspoken about much of Israeli policy.
Global Village Square, Bethlehem, March 2015
Here in Palestine-Israel, the vision is bleak. I doubt I can find many who believe the conflict will be resolved soon, if at all. To counter this despair I tell people about the hope I feel erupting in the USA because of growing awareness, more frequent visits to the region, increasing activism among young Jews and others of Arab descent, and most importantly the growing BDS movement—boycott, divest, sanction—with its accompanying support of the One State Solution: one land, multiple peoples, with equal rights for all.
I joyfully wear my Martin Luther King Jr button. Many notice and either recognize or ask. I answer, a great leader, a man of love, compassion, intellect, and sumud. Steadfast in his quest for justice. He died for his truth, a shaheed, a martyr. And people seem to instantly recognize his value.
TO BE CONTINUED