How much help should we accept?

Should we be accepting support from Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Believe it or not but many Israeli Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and in Israel condemn the actions of their government and put their lives at risk to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and justice. I have met on more than one occasion Israelis who work for organisations like B’Tselem, which document human rights abuses.

For the longest time though, I felt this to be a massive contradiction. So you want to help our struggle but yet you are also living in a settlement? You are living in the homes of our parents and grandparents but yet somehow advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people? How can that be right? So I began to question things. Was I just being unfair on people who are choosing to extend their hands to us and want to help?

This took me back to 1947-48 when everything really went wrong for the Palestinians. In 1948 when the state of Israel was established and following the aftermath of the Holocaust, many Jewish families were paid to come and live in Israel. The reason behind this was to encourage mass immigration to the region – a very smart strategy if you ask me. Jewish families from all over the world began to immigrate to Israel being lured in by the prospect of a better life, financial support and benefits.

This was combined with a lot of hostility towards Jews from the MENA region as a reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel. (Whether this was a fair or reasonable reaction is a debate we will leave for another time.) Nevertheless there was uncertainty about their fate in the Middle East. Don’t forget it had also only been a few years since the end of the Holocaust and so most Jews still felt insecure about their future.

Now putting yourself in their shoes in the context of what had just happened and the reaction of the Arab countries, would you have said no to an offer of a better and more secure life in Israel? Really the question comes down to this: should we be standing against the Jews who chose to immigrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens or should we be accepting help from them as Palestinians because ultimately we all would have made the same decision?

I decided to investigate this question a little further as I wasn’t sure what to think. One part of me understood how simple the decision must have been for them but then the other part of me thought how cruel these people must have been to be able to live in homes that did not belong to them. These were our homes, our land, our trees. How could a person make such a selfish decision and live in the home of another family, knowing full well it was not their own and yet not say anything?

One man in particular really made an impact on me and helped me come to terms with the reality of what happened in 1948 and I want to tell you his story. Let us call him X.

X is an Israeli, originally a Moroccan Jew whose family has lived in Israel since the 1950s. I was curious as to how he could live with himself knowing he took over another family’s home (of course I didn’t say this to him but that’s exactly what I was thinking) so I began to question him about things and I was completely taken aback by his response.

X was a young boy – no more than about 8 or 9 years old – when his family emigrated to Israel. They were previously living a comfortable life in Morocco until the late 1940s when riots broke out against Jews all over the Middle East in response to the establishment of Israel. More than 18,000 Jews fled their homes in Morocco in 1948 and 1949 alone seeking a better life.

X’s family were offered money by the Israeli government to come and live in Israel – a life they could not even have dreamt of in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East at the time. Of course, his parents did not hesitate and they packed up their things ready for a new life in Israel.

On arrival, he described to me how he walked into the new house given to him by the military and he could feel the presence of another family. The house almost felt ghostly with the carpets, antiques and belongings of another family. They had obviously belonged to the Palestinian family that had lived there before them.

I then asked him whether his parents had said something, asked who the family were, demanded to be moved to another house and his response was this:

“No one spoke about it. We just didn’t ask. We knew, but we didn’t ask.”

For them it was very straightforward, they were told this was their new home and that was that. They made it their own. Until this day, they still do not know the Palestinian family who used to live there.

After hearing his story, it made me question how I would have reacted in the same situation. When I put myself in their shoes – would I really have said no if someone had offered me a life in Israel in the context of 1948, only several years after Hitler’s killing spree of the Jews? Would I have made that choice, as most Jewish families did, of a better quality life for my family and just turned a blind eye to everything else?

They didn’t physically remove us, heck most of them didn’t even see us thrown out at the time. They were invited into empty homes and many of them chose to simply not ask questions. Would you have asked had you been in their position?

Of course, hundreds of years of suffering is not an excuse to justify what happened and what continues to happen to the Palestinian people. Palestine was not an empty land when the Jews began to immigrate in and as each year passes, we watch as the land we once called Palestine is slowly engulfed by Israeli settlements and the 400 mile long wall.

I do however accept that at the time the state of Israel was established, the Jewish people needed to identify themselves with a land and they needed a place to call home. This is a point of fact not an opinion. And unfortunately for us, this was at our expense. Being Palestinians though, we must understand their struggle and their need for a homeland. After all, we are now a people without a land.

I remember reading a book about Judaism and something really stuck in my head: “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man.”

Religion advocates justice, peace, righteousness, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I believe in both our rights to live in the land and I believe we have the potential to live together; if we could do it before we can do it again. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it isn’t possible. Wounds can heal, painful memories fade and hate can be overcome.

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[The wall in Bethlehem, West Bank]

Let’s create a community where we accept each other’s existence and focus on what both people have in common rather than dwelling on our differences. Let’s bring together the new generation of Palestinians and Israelis and recognise both peoples’ struggle and right to self-determination.

The power of change is in our hands. It is us – the new, young generation of educated Palestinians and Israelis – who can prevent more suffering. Let’s make sure we all have a good future and our children and grandchildren do not suffer as our ancestors did.

We need as much help as we can get from inside and outside, from Palestinians and Israelis, from Arabs and non-Arabs, from Jews and non-Jews. Do not shut out people who extend their hand to you.

Let’s create a democratic state and home for us all.

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A letter to Mr Johnson

Anyone get the chance to see the wall put up just off Piccadilly Circus in London? It was up for 10 days just after Christmas Day in front of St James Church organized by the group, Bethlehem Unwrapped.

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[The wall in Piccadilly, London]

The wall is a replica of the 8-metre wall ring-fencing the citizens of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the first city Israel targeted with the construction of settlements shortly after 1967 because of its water resources, religious significance and proximity to Jerusalem. There are currently 20 fully developed settlements in Bethlehem and many more are in the process of construction.

To put things in perspective, the wall imprisons the Palestinian communities in Bethlehem and in some areas, stretches as far as 20km into Palestinian territory. Most of the land confiscated for the purpose of constructing the wall was taken from its owners, the majority of which represented the Christian community in Palestine.

The aim of the replica wall put up in London was to bring to light the struggles of the Palestinians in Bethlehem who are systematically prevented from visiting the holy land of Jerusalem for Christmas. With the wall and checkpoints in place, the people of Bethlehem are unable to visit Jerusalem without a permit from Israel (which by the way is most often refused) and even then, a journey that would normally have taken 10 minutes, now takes more than an hour.

I commend Bethlehem Unwrapped for the steps they have taken to raise awareness of what happens on the ground in Palestine. Reading and seeing pictures of the 8-metre high wall is nowhere near as powerful as when you see it in real life. The gravity of the situation and the injustice of it all really hit you when you see it with your own eyes.

So each night Bethlehem Unwrapped organized a different event and the one I attended that night was a panel talk called: “Both sides of the barrier: separation or security?”

Unsurprisingly, before stepping into the church, we were confronted by a backlash of Zionists waving the Israeli flag in our faces and chanting the Israeli national anthem. It is always a pleasure dealing with irrational and aggressive Zionists.

I heard some absurd claims made by one of the panelists Alan Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at the British Israel Communications and Research Centre and so I would like to take the time to respond to some of these claims.

So Mr Johnson, in your 20-minute speech you spent two minutes telling us a story of a 17-year-old Israeli girl who was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. This girl should not have died and I am truly sorry for this loss of life, like any other.

Seeing as you mentioned the loss of life, I assume you are against the killing of innocent civilians? On this basis, is there a reason you failed to mention the hundreds and thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed over the past 65 years? You spoke about how you could sit all day naming the Israeli children who have died, but then how long would it take me to name the dead Palestinian children?

You talked about having a ‘moral calculus’ and that one must incorporate this into one’s opinion of the wall. I totally agree with you. Yet when there is an imbalance of power with an oppressor like Israel terrorizing Palestinians, ghettoizing them, killing men, women and children, stripping them of their sense of being, their homes and any hope of ever having a future, shouldn’t this be part of the moral calculus too?

Sir, have you forgotten about the 28,000 Palestinian homes that have been demolished since 1967? Have you forgotten about the war crimes of your government – the men women and children who had their limbs blown off and insides burnt from the white phosphorus and drones that were used? You call the Palestinian suicide bombers ‘terrorists’, but then what do you call the actions of the Israeli government?

Sir, have you somehow forgotten about the open-air prison Israel has created in Gaza? Have you forgotten about the hundreds of Palestinian children who until today are kidnapped in the middle of the night and thrown into prison for throwing stones? What about the children who die of starvation and freeze to death in refugee camps because they were forcefully exiled from their homes? What about the orphans who are forced to grow up without parents because of the violence and out-of-proportion reactions of the Israeli military?

I can keep going if you’d like?

Sir, with all due respect you cannot talk about decontextualizing when your whole speech was filled with “half sentences disconnected from the entire event” (those were your words if you remember). As panelist Jeff Halper nicely pointed out, the word ‘terrorism’ was mentioned 21 times in your speech, and somehow you did not once mention the word ‘occupation’ or ‘state terrorism’ when discussing the wall.

It is certainly a very complex situation and there is no way we can disagree on that fact. When we look at statistics, the wall has been effective in reducing the number of suicide bombers and facts are not something one can dispute, that is true. A government must be reactive to external events and protect its citizens, which makes sense.

But this wall is by no means bringing us any closer to a long-term solution for both sides. The sooner it goes down, the sooner a solution can be found.

Regardless of my own opinion on a two-state solution, the wall has shattered all hope of this ever happening anyway. Had the wall been built on the internationally recognized 1967 borders and not cut so deep into the West Bank, then perhaps we would still have something to talk about.

Mr Johnson, if the Israelis do truly want peace perhaps it is about time an Israeli official addressed the Palestinian people and took responsibility for their wrongdoing.

When the Israeli state denies the Palestinians their right to existence and their right to self-determination, this certainly does not bring us closer to a solution. When the hardship and suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people is not recognized by the state nor by spokespeople like yourself, you immediately shut off the possibility of ever achieving peace.

When that happens Sir, maybe then we can talk.

The great Israeli project; the $2 billion wall

You wanna know what really frustrates me?

When people refer to the apartheid wall as a ‘security fence’.

Israel says the wall is being built to protect and safeguard Israeli citizens from Palestinians, right? Today I would like to explore this theory. I would like to understand how the wall is intended to protect Israeli citizens and I would like to understand the justification behind spending $2 billion on such a project.

2 billion bloody dollars.

Lets start by taking a look at the village of Baqa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[Apartheid wall in Baqa village, Tulkarem]

Baqa is a Palestinian village. Can you see the long grey wall running through the middle of the village? That’s an 8-metre high concrete wall topped with barbed wire. This is Israel’s security fence that supposedly stops terrorism.

The houses on the left and right side of the wall are all Palestinian houses by the way. The wall separates Palestinian from Palestinian, neighbour from neighbour, brother from brother. The wall divides the community right in half, between West and East depending on which side of the wall you are on.

This used to all be one village. Baqa has become a large ghetto, enclosed by this so-called ‘security fence’. Please could someone help me understand how this part of the wall has protected and secured the safety of Israeli citizens? I can’t seem to get it.

The next two pictures are of the apartheid wall in East Jerusalem.

separation wall[Wall between Sawahreh Sharqiyya and Abu Dis]

separation wall 1[Wall between Sawahreh Sharqiyya and Abu Dis]

Notice how the wall zigzags through the villages cutting people off from one another? Again, could somebody please explain to me how it makes Israel any safer to cut Palestinians off from their own land and family?

85% of this ‘security wall’ is actually built inside the West Bank. The wall has imprisoned people and created ghettos within Palestine itself. Often to move from one village to the other, people have to pass through checkpoints guarded by Israeli occupation forces. We need to ask their permission to move within our own country. How does this make Israel any safer??

To make matters worse, the wall has been built on some of the most fertile land in Palestine. Thousands of homes had to be demolished and continue to be demolished until today to make room for the wall, water wells have been confiscated and hundreds and thousands of olive trees have been uprooted. These olive trees by the way are supposed to be protected under international cultural heritage laws. They are of historical importance to us because they have been part of our landscape for thousands of years.

The production of olive oil is also important for our economy and for some farmers, it is their only source of income. Israel is making it impossible for people to live. This ‘security’ fence is destroying any hope we have of ever sustaining ourselves. With no way of earning an income, no way of obtaining building permits and no way of moving around villages to find work, younger generation Palestinians are being forced to move elsewhere.

9 whole years have passed since the International Court of Justice deemed the wall illegal and yet it is still there and continues to grow. I can’t help but feel disgusted when I look at the wall and its even worse when you see it in real life. The pictures don’t do it justice.

The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long and the average height was between 3-4 metres. Do you know Israel’s Wall is more than 4 times the length of the Berlin Wall, standing at almost 400 miles and in some areas it is twice the height?

berlin wall[Berlin Wall – 3.5m]

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[Apartheid Wall around Qalqilya, Palestine – 8m]

If the wall is intended to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian ‘terrorists’ and ‘militants,’ then please answer me this:

– Why does it not run on the internationally recognized borders?

– Why does 85% of the wall cut through the West Bank?

– Why are Palestinian communities being divided from one another?

Did you know the circumference of the wall is longer than the circumference of the whole of the West Bank?

The racist, colonialist Israeli state is using the apartheid wall to forcibly expel Palestinians from the land, to imprison innocent people in “ghettos” so they do not expand their villages and segregating Palestinian and Israeli communities. The devastating reality is this ‘security’ wall is destroying every aspect of Palestinian life.

Palestinians are thirsty for life and thirsty for freedom and just like any other, we deserve to live free.

Please stand with us and help us fight for our rights as human beings.

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The harsh realities of living under occupation

I have always wondered what it would be like to live in Palestine, to spend a few months living and breathing under occupation. I had always heard what it was like and read about it but I am the type of person who likes to experience things myself. Having been here for a month now, I have never been more grateful and appreciative of my own life back in England.

Since being here, I have seen and experienced first-hand the techniques used to intimidate, humiliate and discriminate against us. Being in Palestine has given me a taster of what it is like to live as a third-class citizen in your own country. Here, being Palestinian means the law is not on your side. It means you are not accepted as a citizen and it means you are born with a black dot beside your name.

Just to give you a small example of what I’m talking about – two days ago, I was telling one of my work colleagues about my trip to Jaffa and Tel Aviv last week and about how beautiful the old city of Jerusalem is. I started showing him pictures on my phone and going on about the little markets in the old city and how we should all plan a trip together for work. Cheeky me was hoping this would be an excuse to take a day off work and go on a trip.

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[One of the pictures I took in Jaffa]

Once I’d finished my story, he smiled and asked me to see the pictures I took again. He then told me he has not been to Jerusalem for 15 years because every time he applies for a permit, the Israelis refuse his request. He has not been on a beach or seen the sea for even longer than this.

The sad thing about it is people here have lived under occupation for so long that it has become part of their everyday lives. They have learnt to cope with the struggles of every day life that comes with living under occupation as best they can. I, on the other hand have spent my whole life in England, where I have never felt being Palestinian held me back. I tasted what freedom felt like and I vow to never take my freedom for granted again.

Not only has Israel robbed people of their land and homes, it does not even acknowledge the existence of the indigenous Palestinian population before 1948.

People seem to forget the only reason Jews are becoming a majority here is because of the forced exclusion of hundreds and thousands of Palestinians from their homes. Do you know 95% of the new Jewish communities were established on expelled Palestinian land in 1948?

They say Israel is “a land without a people for a people without a land” – sounds a bit strange when thousands of Palestinians had to be expelled to create their country, no?

In the West Bank, although Palestinians are the majority and make up more than 80% of the population, Israel continues to restrict our water access and usage. We are only allowed to use 20% of the water from the main underground aquifer. We have to apply for permits to build on the land from Israel and most often these permits are denied, which means houses are built illegally and can then be demolished legally. Israel maintains the domination of its people at the expense of our people. It is apartheid at its finest.

Just look at the separation wall that continues to grow. It is more than three times the size of the Berlin wall and stretches over 400 miles. Israel has caged us in like we are animals in a zoo. Each time I come here, the wall gets longer and longer and it makes me question how the Israeli regime is able to get away with such a horrific war crime.

Every time I see the wall, I feel like crying. I feel like screaming out about the unfairness of it all. Why is nobody doing anything about? How does the wall keep growing when it is internationally recognized as illegal?

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Wall

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The international community calls on us to negotiate and engage in peace talks, how can this be expected from a people who have never been allowed to assert their identity legally? How is this going to be possible with the existence of the apartheid wall and illegal settlements all around the country that continue to expand?

To imagine what it is like to live under occupation is only a fraction of what it actually feels like. I pray that one day the world will wake up and hear the cries of the Palestinian people, I pray that one day we will rid the world of discrimination and injustice and I pray that one day the Palestinians will be free from the oppressive Israeli regime.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King