Thursday, July 20, 2006

Of Alternative Tours and Raucous Debate

We pulled away from the camp on Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. bound for Jerusalem. Twenty-four of us hiked up the hill past mute piles of demolished concrete, piled onto a bus, crossed the checkpoint and left the Third World behind. In minutes we found ourselves in modern Jerusalem. Jeff Halper (head of ICAHD) met us at Jaffa Gate where he began guiding us through the Old City, walking through the region's history and geography, its shifting walls and changing occupants, and then leading us on a walking tour from one Quarter to another. I was struck by his account of the Judaizing (or de-Arabizing) going on, openly and quietly, across the city.

After lunch we heard several addresses, one by Ashraf Abo Moch from Daila and one by Shir Hever of The Alternative Information Center (AIC).

Daila is a community center for cooperation between NGOs. It hosts events, distributes literature and promotes connections between East and West Jerusalem, and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, with a view to changing public opinion about what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza.

The AIC is a joint Palestinian–Israeli organization that gathers, analyzes and distributes information concerning the occupation. Shir Hever summarised the various factors affecting Israeli society and conspiring to support the occupation. He encouraged boycotts and underscored the vulnerability of the Israeli economy, given its excessive military budget and the waning enthusiasm of average Israelis for the occupation. Particularly disturbing to me was his account of the Israelis’ welfare-to-work program which erects numerous bureaucratic obstacles seemingly designed to humiliate Palestinians and thereby reduce sharply the number receiving income subsidies.

Our final lunchtime speaker was Jeff who brought out the maps and explained the Israeli government’s plan for isolating individual Palestinian communities and surrounding them with a controlling matrix of walls, checkpoints, settlements, alternative roads and the like. This segued nicely into a bus tour of East Jerusalem which looped around the Old City, traced the Kidron Valley, descended to the City of David and down further into the Palestinian community Silwan, a community that lives under constant threat of house demolition. We saw new and expanding Jewish settlements in an area that has long been entirely Palestinian. From there we moved behind the Mount of Olives and observed how the Wall dissected the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. After a pause to inspect an elaborate checkpoint, we ascended to Maale Adumim, a massive, strategic and ever-expanding Jewish settlement on the east side of Jerusalem that all but severs the West Bank into North and South. The planned non-viability of an increasingly fragmented gaggle of Palestinian cities and towns became clear.

Returning to Beit Aribeia for dinner we heard from two more activists: a pair of members of International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a non-violent, direct action group that participates, at the request of Palestinian communities, in activities that help them fight the occupation. Palestinians, they said (and I have witnessed) are less likely to be hurt or arrested when accompanied by internationals. The talk evolved into a lively discussion which illustrated how much my co-builders know about the issues, and how long they have been involved in efforts to promote peace and justice in the Holy Land. I've been watching from the sidelines for way too long.

1 comment:

fschlomka said...

Tour descriptions and schedules by Daila and the Israeli Committee Against House demolitions can be found at http://www.toursinenglish.com

Hope to see you on one of our tours.

All the best,
Fred Schlomka