Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Mistake of Militarizing

Several more days of house re-building have passed without any further run-ins with border police or their West Bank counterparts: stone-throwing children. We “activists” have become a well-oiled, if largely unskilled, building machine. A Palestinian contractor and a handful of Palestinian tradesmen are doing the skilled labor, but we are doing most everything else including mixing mortar, moving bricks, pulling nails, standing around and drinking water. The Palestinian tradesmen are, like us, defying an (inhumane) Israeli law except that they have so much more to lose. We might get kicked out; they can be detained, imprisoned and worse.

On most days we are joined on the site by a handful of others from groups with names like International Solidarity Movement, Ecumenical Accompaniers, Rabbis for Human Rights and Combatants for Peace, as well as an occasional journalist or film crew. It adds up to a fast moving, cheerful, even playful scene: Arab children weave among us serving grapefruit juice, sweet mint tea or Arabic coffee, older Arab men recline, smoke and talk under a nearby tarp, and the rest of us banter or wax political while we work.

In addition to our labors at the site, ICAHD schedules for us daily lectures by different groups (sometimes the very group that joins us on site that day) and arranges “alternative” tours in Israel and Palestine. Two days ago was a trip south into the Negev to encounter the endangered Bedouin whose traditional lives have been torn apart by Israel’s relentless land expropriation and population relocation policies.

Yesterday we journeyed up to Ramallah. My distaste for traveling by private tour bus is intensifying. It feels so insular and voyeuristic in contrast to public travel by (Jewish) sherut or (Arab) service taxi. Petty complaints aside, the group trek to Ramallah meant we were able to meet with Maen Areichat, the articulate Director General of the Palestinian Authority Negotiations Affairs Department. After a warm Palestinian welcome, he reflected on the January electoral victory of Hamas (attributing it to the failure of Fatah to make headway in negotiations, corruption with Fatah party leadership, and Hamas’ organization and successful campaigning), the status of unresolved issues that divide Israel and Palestine, and the crises in the Gaza and Lebanon. His poignant reference to the Palestinians’ “mistake of militarizing” the resistance to the occupation hung in the air. Either this man is a consummate politician in command of all the right clich├ęs or he’s someone whose thoughts the world needs to hear. I’m going with option two.

Today’s lunchtime conversation was with the Combatants for Peace, a newly formed group of Israelis and Palestinians whose members have participated directly, on opposite sides, in the institutionalized violence of the conflict—Israelis in the IDF and Palestinians in the resistance. They now see that violence has utterly failed to bring peace, liberty and security and they’ve determined to meet together, across the divide, to tell each other stories and to build a movement that may one day transform public opinion among both peoples. One can hope. One must hope.

Our day ended today with a screening of The Iron Wall and a conversation with assistant director Terry Boullante, a Palestinian woman whose film responsibly depicts the ideology—religious and political—behind Israeli settlements and the Wall. Most disturbing was the substantial footage from Hebron where obsessed settlers maim, shoot and kill Palestinians under the noses of the IDF. We’re heading to Hebron in a day or so; no doubt I’ll have more to say on this topic shortly.

For now I can only ask: how can Jews so zealously religious be so hateful and malicious? Is this the same righteous zeal that drove Phinehas the priest to drive a spear through the sinful Israelite and his Midianite consort (Num. 25:6-13)? The same indignation that compelled Saul (Paul) to set out for Syria to seize and bind Jewish converts to Christianity (Acts 9:1-2)?

Or is this something more sinister? What oozing darkness flows within people who burn homes, destroy property, beat old women and stone children? Equally, what kind of society knows this goes on and does nothing about it? And what kind of world knows about such things and offers its tacit approval?

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