Friday, July 15, 2011

"Zionism Is Racism"

concrete block closing off a street in Hebron

I spent this year's Independence Day with an unusual degree of patriotic feeling. My wonted pessimism about America and its many ills and failures was balanced by an appreciation for the nobler principles on which this nation is founded: democracy, civil liberties, equal protection under the law ...

Perhaps one of the worst misconceptions Americans have about the state of Israel is the idea that it is "the only democratic nation in the Middle East." It may be the most democratic nation in the region (I reserve judgement) but the very concept of Zionism, on which the state of Israel was founded, is radically opposed to what I think most people would understand as democratic ideals.

Zionism sees the state of Israel as "a national Jewish homeland"--not just "a national homeland for the Jewish people" (a country where Jews would always be welcome) as the British wanted to define it, back in 1948--but "a national Jewish homeland"--meaning, an ethnic Jewish state. (This is not just my forumlation, but how it was framed by a journalist from The Jerusalem Post.)

It is simply astounding that people would be so blind to the blatant racism of this idea. How is it supposedly different from a Caucasian-American declaring that the U.S. should be a nation for people of European cultural and racial extraction ("And we don't want no immigrants comin' in here dilutin' the purity of our heritage")?

Our group spoke with a guy from the leftist Meretz party (they hold 3 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament). A student asked how Israel could be so hypocritical as to condemn the genocide in Darfur while denying their own human rights abuses. His answer: Actually, Israel has not been condemning of the genocide in Darfur. On the contrary, Israel has been trying to get rid of the refugees who have come from Darfur and refuses to give them refugee status.

So, in fact, the state of Israel has been chillingly consistent, and no one should be surprised; Zionism is a racist concept.

It's hard to believe that this could be happening in the 21st century, but in Israel (and I'm not talking about the West Bank and Gaza, but within Israel itself) the schools are officially segregated. WTF? We ought to be beyond this by now! Surely I needn't inform you that there is a vast acheivement gap between children and youth in the Jewish versus the non-Jewish school system.

It also appears problematic that the Palestinians seem to want a system that is "separate but equal." That is the basic idea of a "two-state solution": Israel for the Jews, Palestine for the Arabs. (And as for African refugees ... the question remains).

As an American, I most agree with Palestinians and Israelis who will admit that the establishment of two ethnic states is not a "solution" at all, but may be a huge step forward in moving toward a political future where concepts of race and national identity are less important than the recognition of our universally shared humanity.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"a people cannot be oppressed forever"

It's so much harder than I thought it would be, trying to put this into words--I said on facebook that my time in Israel/Palestine was so much more than I had imagined--by which I meant, mostly, anything I could imagine would not compare to the actuality; to being there, in the very place, seeing with my own eyes. So, I very much doubt that anything I write will do justice to the experience. But ... I'll try.

As you may have gathered from my last post, I went with a heavy heart, sick with despair, hardly daring even to think I might find any reason for hope. Now, two weeks later, I have become a witness to the stunning resilience of the human spirit.

I had heard much about how the Palestinian people suffer under the occupation--and of course, we all know that many have thrown stones, a small minority have turned to terrorism, and growing numbers are choosing non-violent forms of resistance. But having heard all that in the news is nothing like walking the streets of a refugee camp in the West Bank, guided by one of the residents, a man whose father was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers for trying to cross the street--a man whose friends and neighbors told him he had every right to become a suicide bomber, but who chose instead to "use the power of pain" to work toward a just peace.

He tells us that even though they are in "Area A," supposedly under full Palestinian control, they are still subject to curfews; many roads, including a main thoroughfare through the middle of the camp, are for Israelis only; soldiers regularly come on raids; the Israelis keep water and electricity cut off much of the time--but he says to us, a group of fifty Americans, if we want to help, "Do not send food or water; what we need most is education. We need education so they will see us as human beings."

We heard this from the lips of virtually every Palestinian we talked with: "We want to be treated as human beings."

It was absolutely incredible to me, the patience with which they spoke--about situations that have me boiling over with rage--they seemed to have a calm determination--as exemplified in the matter-of-fact statement of Palestinian Authority cabinet member Nabeel Shaath, "We know that we will win, because a people cannot be oppressed forever."

Here is a sign I really liked at a community development center in the Dheisheh refugee camp.

The guy at the center was telling us that when they were constructing the place, Israeli soldiers came in the night three times and destroyed the place. They had planned to just call it the Dheisheh Community Center, or something like that, but because they had to keep rebuilding it from ruins, it's now called the Phoenix Center. Someone in the class asked why the Israelis would want to destroy a community center. The response: "That is my question! They usually don't give a reason ... We are in Area A, but it is controlled by the Israelis."

Salaam li'l Quds - Peace for Jerusalem
(with thanks to Vicki Tamoush, for translating!)

Anyway, I thought that was such a brilliant image: the phoenix--no matter how hard the powers-that-be try to crush the people's spirit, they will rise again.

"A people cannot be oppressed forever."