Thursday, September 14, 2017

Why young Jews don't trust what their institutions say about Israel

It was the summer before eighth grade at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, a Jewish summer camp affiliated with the Conservative Movement. I was 12 years old. Each camper was handed a copy of Mitchell Bard’s Myths and Facts, long considered a foundational hasbara textbook, and we were told that the author would be coming to speak to us.

No Palestinians — and not even a liberal Zionist — were ever invited to speak. By inviting Bard to talk without challenge or counterpoint, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires effectively taught us that the occupation was an anti-Semitic myth.Most campers ignored the book and didn’t pay much attention to Bard’s presentation. One particularly precocious camper, who actually read through the book, took the time to highlight misleading arguments and logical inconsistencies, and challenged the author during his lecture. Bard made light of the critiques and brushed them aside, insisting that every accusation against Israel was rooted in anti-Semitism, and that there was no way human rights violations had anything to do with Palestinian discontent.
I grew up at the intersection of the Modern Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities of New York City. Five days a week, I attended an Orthodox day school, where we learned that the Torah came from God, and that any inconsistency in the text can be explained by ruach hakodesh, prophetic foresight. On Shabbat, at my family’s Conservative-affiliated minyan, or prayer community, Jewish academics shared divrei torah, literally words of Torah, suggesting that the Book of Esther was a Judaization of the fertility myths of Ishtar and Marduk. They sketched out models for understanding inconsistencies in the Torah as proof of a multiplicity of biblical authors, and different eras of the text’s construction. Learning non-traditional interpretations as a child strengthened my relationship to Torah, and ensured that critical approaches to text do not threaten my religious practice.
American Jews from IfNotNow march at an anti-occupation protest, San Francisco, October 9, 2016.)
American Jews from IfNotNow march at an anti-occupation protest, San Francisco, October 9, 2016.)
While the Conservative movement embraced nuanced Talmud Torah, that approach never extended to discussions of Israel. The blind support for Israel found in Conservative movement spaces, on the other hand, is reminiscent of a far more Orthodoxy approach to Torah study and Jewish thought.
No one within the Conservative movement ever discussed the rabbinic texts that oppose the Jewish people’s return to the Land of Israel. Questioning Zionism was verboten. And no one knew, and still, to this day no one knows what the occupation looks like.
In May, I joined the Center for Jewish Nonviolence for a week of Palestinian solidarity work in the West Bank. Since returning, I have been discussing my experiences with some of my parents’ Conservative friends — the same friends who visit Israel annually, send their children on year-long trips there, comfortably speak Hebrew, and identify as liberal Zionists. Friends who compare various South Jerusalem synagogues and minyanim and read the latest Hebrew novels, but have never visited the Educational Bookstore, a prominent East Jerusalem landmark covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with novels and political analyses by Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian, and Egyptian writers.
American Jews from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence meet with Palestinians in the West Bank. (Gili Getz)
American Jews from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence meet with Palestinians in the West Bank. (Gili Getz)
I told them about how Israeli forces prevented a group of American Jews from going on a Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron while allowing a right-wing delegation to pass unhindered. I told them about a settler drone that came and took aerial photos of a Palestinian village. I told them about the complex systems of laws, military orders, and arbitrary decisions that comprise the daily nightmare that is life under occupation. They were dumbfounded. Because they don’t know, and they don’t want to learn. Their love for Israel requires them to ignore the occupation.
I won’t ignore the occupation, just like I reject simplistic interpretations of Torah.
My relationship to Torah is stronger because it is simultaneously a divine text, a primary source, a work of literature, an ethics manual, and the cornerstone of my people’s canon. My gratitude is to those teachers and commentators who were not afraid that presenting their own textual and theological doubts would somehow delegitimize Torah, demonize God, or hold Jewish narratives to a double standard.
If only Camp Ramah had the same confidence and was willing to tell their campers about the human rights abuses and unequal “justice” systems in the West Bank, and about the resource disparities between East and West Jerusalem. That honesty could have led a generation of Conservative Jews to trust what their religious institutions say about Israel. Instead, my generation knows that whatever the Conservative movement says about Israel is likely misleading, and missing a significant chunk of the story.
Eliana Fishman is a graduate student at Columbia University studying Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences.

Monday, June 19, 2017

אלה מסעי אליענה

The problem with falling behind on travel blogging is that all of the stories that have happened since your last update become too many, and the thought of blogging becomes overwhelming. I am fighting that overwhelmingness, simply because so many things from just the past two days desperately need to be blogged. As a compromise, below is a list of stories that I’m not going to blog right now, but should in the future:

How 42 HaPalmach became the Grimmauld Place of the Jewish resistance
The difference between prepping for an American anti-Occupation action, and an Israeli anti-Occupation action
Economic solidarity, blocking the Damascus Gate and body positivity
Confronting Mizrachi Olami in Hebron, or reminding Modern Orthodox Jews that anti-Occupation Jews reside amongst them
Losing Simchat Yom Tov, or realizing that Palestinians are more intimately familiar with the Jewish calendar than nearly all American Jews
The Hartman Institute still sucks
If I don’t under Rosenzweig at a normal hour of the day in English, why did I think that I would understand him at 2AM in Hebrew?
Travel insurance showdown
Navigating Hadassah while left-wing
Why is there no HIPPA in this country?
Medical Hebrew
Diving with shitty dive company and 15 Russians
Playing rugby underwater
Diving with fabulous dive company and a father-daughter expat pair
Green snapping turtles, moray eels, Napoleon and trevallys
Ramadan in East Jerusalem vs. Aqaba vs. Petra vs. Amman
Bedouin kindness on the trails of Petra, part one

Now on to the actual stories that I’m going to tell…

Sunday was my third and final day exploring Petra. At this point I have wandered through the edge of town and hiked the monastery, and done the Khubtha trail, so I figured that I’d gotten the lay of land. Ha. All that’s left to do is hike to the high place, where human sacrifice once occurred. No biggie, I know what I’m doing. Ha.

Unlike the monastery, which has only one path, which you both take up an take down, there are at least three ways to get to the High Place (which, by the way, Bedouins refer to as al-madbah). There are also far fewer kiosks selling trinkets and drinks. So I’m basically alone on the way up, and even more alone on the way down. It really does seem like I’m following the track specified in my guidebook—although my guidebook was published in 1994, and does not include the fairly major excavation of the Great Temple of Dushrat which was started in 1993. Maybe less trustworthy than I had assumed?

After a few forks in the road with minimal guidance from trusty guidebook as to where to go, I randomly choose the downhill option, thinking that when getting lost, it will be the less exhausting form of getting lost. Worth mentioning: at this point I’m out of water. I come across three children, riding three donkeys. Each donkey carried two large canisters of water. They inform me that down the hill is the stream. The exit and all of the other sites are, in fact up the hill. So much for my brilliant downhill strategy. But will I come to their house and drink tea? Heck yeah. And not just because I’m craving the water currently on your donkeys.

Manal, who looks nine but is actually thirteen, then offers to let me ride her donkey for five dinar. Hon, I am all over that deal. Setting this up involves transferring her water to her brother Qasm’s donkey. She and Qasm will ride her donkey while I ride Qasm’s with the water. While my previous donkey rides in Petra involved a raised platform that makes it easy to swing mh leg over, this jump is going to happe  from ground-level, which will involve leaning quite a bit on tiny, looks-like-she’s-nine Manal. Obviously, the kids are cracking up that 28-year-old white girl can’t even get on a donkey. In spite of their giggles, I get on donkey, and am all set to head up, when Manual and Qasm’s father, Ibrahim shows up (child number three, Mariam, isn’t related).

Ibrahim has a truck. He offers to take me, by truck to the family’s house, drink tea, then take me to the snake monument (hadn’t heard of it until that point, but Manal, my new bestie, is quite insistent that it shoild be sedn), and then take me to my AirBnB in Wadi Musa, all for 50 dinar. I negotiate him down to 40 dinar, and we are off. He tells me (by the way, all conversations described are combo English-Arabic, with more Arabic with the kids  and more English with Ibrahim) that he has six children, four boys and two girls, and his wife will give birth to their seventh child in 2 or 3 days. After meeting his wife... this is an entirely plausible scenario. And yet she’s still sitting on the floor. The remaining boys are Abdullah, Sami, and Mohammed.

Potentially due to the upcoming birth, Mariam (this one is related), the eighteen year-old, gets charged with bringing me water. Thank you!!! I compliment her henna-decorated hand, which, naturally, means that Ibrahim has Mariam bring out her henna, and once again, my palms are decorated. She also decorates her siblings’ hands, and Ibrahim puts some in  his hair. Mariam will be marrying a relative in one year’s time. As Mariam is busy, Manal is responsible for pouring tea, which only Ibrahim and I drink (it’s clear that no one is observing the fast in this family—Ibrahim had just gotten them each a juicebox from a store). Manual very kindly fills my waterbottles from the family’s water supply. Ibrahim’s wife, who’s name I have forgotten is very concerned with my sunburnt cheeks

Ibrahim takes me, Manal and Samir to the Snake Monument, which is very close to their home. To be perfectly honest, it’s nowhere near as impressive as the other monuments that I’ve seen in Petra, but it is very off the beaten track, and I feel like one of the very few tourists who gets to see it, so that’s pretty special. And then, after dropping off the kids, Ibrahim takes me home, where I pack up before heading to Amman.

Today, on the recommendation of my former roommate, Aaron, who lived in Amman for two years, I hiked Wada Mujib, a fresh water hike. The way in is very challenging, and you’re fighting the current the whole time, and pulling yourself up with ropes over slippery boulders while water sprays your face. The way back involves lots of floating on your back, which means that by thighs and butt  got quite scraped. I can now sit comfortably in a chair, but that was not the case a few hours ago. Prior to the Wada Mujib hike, my guide had suggested going to the Dead Sea after the hike. I firmly nixed that afterwards—not with all these scrapes on my backside.

Tomorrow to Jerash, and then back to the US on Wednesday!

*Title refers to the listing of destinations in Bemidbar chapter 33 that the children of Israel visited during their forty years in the desert, some of which I’ve been to this week.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

אין לנו על מי להשען

When I was 18, I did a yearlong AmeriCorps program called City Year. Oren and my parents joined me on MLK Day for a service project in a high school. I told them that they would be painting, and my parents wound up painting murals of famous African Americans and prominent DC figures (Oren met George W. Bush. Different story).

At the conclusion of the service day, my dad commented to one if the City Year administrators that he had been expecting to do more “substantive” service, like painting walls of crumbling paint. Most people who work with volunteers in direct service probably recognize that response, and would criticize it for centering my dad, the volunteer’s need to feel like he’s doing something substantive, over the needs of the person or organization being served.

The point of our service in Susya was very much not the service project. It reflects the reality that the only thing keeping Susya from being demolished is international attention. In some ways, it’s really sad that the people in Susya have to turn their village into a tourist attraction just so that they can stay in their homes. They have to come up with “service projects” and offer activities like horseback riding, cheese making, goat milking and henna painting just so that internationals will have something to do while they’re in the village. Because every day that internationals show up is another day that the bulldozers don’t come.

Which isn’t to say that the people in Susya are wonderful, and kind, and so thrilled to have us—they are, they are all of those things. Fatima told one of our trip leaders that her only fear is that we’ll stop coming back.

Our three-day work project in Susya centered on one project, at least in theory. Susya has a lot of international visitors, because international visitors are the only reason that Susya hasn’t been demolished. Our project involved creating décor for the entrance to the restaurant for international visitors. When I say restaurant, what I really mean is a small, dark room with concrete walls and a tarp as a roof, 20 broken plastic chairs, two filing cabinets, and a teacher’s desk. The original plan had been to expand the room, but their lawyer warned them that could lead to demolition.
On Tuesday, we painted several tires, which were going to be used as planters for the large rock outside the restaurant. On Wednesday morning, before we arrived, a drone from Regavim, a rightwing NGO arrived to take pictures of what we had done. Regavim claims to operate in the name of “law and order” and “rule of law” but what they really do is collect photographic evidence of Palestinian villages, and send it to the army in the hopes that Israel will demolish the village.  Clearly, a settler from the settlement of Susya (confusing, I know) had noticed a big group doing something, called Regavim, which sent the drone.

The conclusion of the project on Wednesday involved arranging the tires, filling them with dirt, and planting flowers in them.  Susya isn’t allowed to plant anything new on their own land. By planting within the tires, above a rock surface, they are pushing the boundaries, but not breaking the law.
In addition to our service project, on Wednesday we did art therapy with the women and children in Susya. We asked them to draw their hopes and dreams for Susya and for peace. Most of the children drew Palestinian flags (general rule—whenever you give Palestinian children art supplies, they tend to draw Palestinian flags. Kinda like how I always used to draw the same outdoor landscaper involving a two-story home, a sun, grass and a tree. The longing of a city kid for the suburbs?). Many of the women drew the homes that they want to build, and the trees that they want to plant. My favorite was Danya, a seventeen year-old in a polka-dotted hijab. She drew the beauty salon that she wants to build, which immediately made me think of In the Heights (both the beauty salon, and the line “everybody’s got a job, everybody’s got a dream”).

After some dancing, lunch and flower planting we milked goats (!!!!!), got henna designs done, and did some yoga. And then we left.

About 60 members of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence arrived in Al-Tawaniyyeh on Thursday night, after a full day of nonviolence training, know your rights training, and making the all-important decision on whether to accept a high-degree of risk with our action, or stick to the lower risk pool. At Al-Tawaniyyeh, we met up with activists from some of our partner organizations (All That’s Left, Combatants for Peace, Popular Resistance of the South Hebron Hills, Holy Land Trust, Youth Against Settlements), and went to sleep on the roofs of a partner’s house (yes, he has two roofs on the two different sections of his house). Friday morning, after assembly-lining stacks of pita/humus/pickle/tomato sandwiches (the first of many assembly lines…) we hiked about half an hour to Sarura, the home of our Sumud Freedom Camp, where we waited for the remaining CJNVers, plus another 150 activists who would join our work camp on Friday. Our mission: to return Fadul ‘Arad to his home, a former resident of Sarura to his home, using thru model of Standing Rock camp, where activists from all over the world can stand in solidarity with Sarura.

A few words about Sarura: In 1997-1998, the residents of Sarura were evicted from their homes and their homes demolished as collective punishment for the murder of an Israeli settler. There is no evidence that the residents of Sarura, nor the other villages that were also demolished had anything to do with the murder. Sarura’s residents are allowed to return to their homes… but every time that they try, they face settler harassment. Under Israeli military law, of a settler and a Palestinian get into an altercation, the army may arrest the Palestinian but not the settler. Thus, if a settler shows up on Palestinian land, the Palestinian has no recourse—if the settler attacks her, and the Palestinian defends herself, the army will arrest the Palestinian. The civilian police rarely show up if called, and they’re unwilling to take action against a settler in a settler/Palestinian dispute. Even light settler harassment (like just showing up) is very dangerous for Palestinians.

About five years ago, firing zone 918 was established adjacent to Sarura’s lands, but no one seems to know the boundary of the firing zone. Chavat Maon is between half a kilometer and a kilometer away from Sakura, so it seems implausible that the village of Sarura is within the firing zone, but not the settlement, but no one actually seems to know.

As soon as we arrived at camp, we set up our banner, and got to work clearing rocks and thistle from what would be our sleeping location—the large foundation of a demolished home. I connected with Anna, my friend from Laos who sat down next to me at a storytelling performance, and met her husband. Later, while we were clearing rocks, assembly line style, from some of the caves where future families would live, a Regavim drone flew overhead, taking our pictures. This was not the only settler harassment that we faced that day—just before Shabbat three settlers drove up on two motorcycles and an ATV, and the ATV drove around some of our flags that we left on an adjacent hillside. Later, we passed concrete assembly line style from a truck to Fadul’s cave, where the non-shomer Shabbat contingent of the delegation laid the concrete on Saturday.

On Shabbat morning, Fadul sat with us during our discussion of Parashat Bihar, and of the mitzvah of Yovel, and the restrictions on oppressing someone who has a shared relationship to the land. I’ll be honest, usually Parashat Behar passes me by as being about mitzvot around land that bear no relationship to mitzvot that I actually observe. Not this year.

For the rest of Shabbat, I napped, schmoozed, ate, and sang Seudah Shlishit songs. Just before Havdalah, my friend Nina led us in some stretching, that all of us fruity American Jews were totally into. The Palestinians behind us… not so much. They were cracking up at a bunch of Westerners all blindly following a leader in strange motions.

Saturday night… still trying to find the right words. We had a barbecue dinner, danced debka, and were screening a documentary about Combatants for Peace. I had napped a lot over Shabbat, and signed up for a 4-6 AM watch shift. To watch for the soldiers and settlers that we feared would attack us. I head to bed early.  Before I could fall asleep, I heard “everybody up! They’re here!”  I woke up the former SNCC organizer lying next to me, and ran out of the tent. I could see the military amassing, their headlights blazing. I gathered with my pod. We had prepared for this scenario. But from that point on, everything is a blur. I remember linking arms with the people next to me and singing as the army stole our generator, at which point we had no light. As they ripped up the tents we had erected, and tore down the signs we had drawn. At one point a soldier shoved me to the side as he ran past. I forgot to scream. Later I learned that several of us ran into our giant community tent, and sat down in it, literally holding up the tent as the soldiers tore it down around us. Soldiers bent back fingers and elbows, and jabbed torsos and legs with blunt objects. I stood outside, singing and chanting, and asking the soldiers questions, while they destroyed our work of the previous two days.

The soldiers were there for about an hour. At no point did they produce an order to destroy our tents, or steal our generator. After they left, we slept outside, unprotected from the wind. I did my 4-6 AM watch shift. Then, we carried our supplies over to Fadul’s cave, and rebuilt our Sumud Freedom Camp outside. And now, for the first time in 20 years, Fadul and his family can sleep in his cave.

The camp is still under threat, with soldiers and settlers regularly scoping it out. Our fear is that the violence will be worse next time, if there are fewer internationals and Israelis.

On Monday night I went to a friend’s wedding. It was joyous, she looked beautiful, it was so good to see her family, and I danced all night. But every time that I looked at my forearms and saw the henna designs that Danya from Susya had drawn, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Susya was scheduled for demolition the following day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

זה מאמר שנאמר במערבא

Yesterday, we heard from three Mizrahi women. I won’t give their names, as it is illegal for them to be in Bethlehem, as it’s in Area A. They spoke about how the Ashkenazi discourse dominates the Israeli narrative, and ignores or redefines the Mizrachi narrative. The Ashkenazi narrative is grounded in zero sum game—there is no way that coexistence with Palestinians can exist, because they all want to kill us. This is rooted in Ashkenazi trauma and experience with Christians. While there were moments of violence against Mizrahim, for the most part Mizrahi Jews found ways to live with their Muslim and Christian neighbors—they found models that work, and they have familial knowledge of how it used to work. When they came to Israel, one of their grandfather’s brought a Koran with him, because it was part of their culture. After he realized that trick that Ashkenazi Zionists trapped on them (poverty, crappy housing, kidnapped children and medical experimentation), and how poorly they were being treated in Israel, the pictures of Herzyl and Ben-Gurion came down from the walls, but the Koran stayed. Despite the fact that the women that we spoke with have right-wing relatives, some of whom are openly racist against Arabs, the “trump card” that they hold against anti-Arab racism is saying “that’s not what our grandfather taught us”. Their grandparents’ memories of Arab neighbors were positive.

A friend compared the effect of the West Bank settlement process to the Homestead Act. Just like poor whites were given really cheap land in exchange for being the first line of defense against Native Americans, so, too, economically disadvantaged Mizrachim, who are very much not ideological settlers, are given highly subsidized housing in settlements in exchange for putting their bodies into the settler project. They are also investing their savings in housing whose value may rapidly diminish if a settlement is uprooted.

The women spoke about racism within the Israeli left. Mizrahim are not offered policy jobs, salaried positions, or leadership roles. During left-wing protests, Ashkenazi Jews harass Mizrahi and Ethiopian soldiers. Ashkenazi left-wing activists act patronizingly towards Palestinians because it reinforces their dominance. During the 2011 tent protests, the main protests that got the most attention were started by Ashkenazi students. These were called “gift” protests. The police treated them quite well. On the other hand, other tent protests that were started by Mizrahi single moms and homeless families (“need protests”) were beaten up by the police and the protest camps destroyed.

They specifically addressed the way that the Mizrahi narrative (that there was violence against Mizrahi Jews, and that they were kicked out of their homes) is weaponized by hasbaraists (they actually compared it to pinkwashing, calling it Mizrahi washing). None of their families want to return Iraq or to Yemen. And while in some places there was violence from local Muslims and Christians against Jews, there were also Zionist recruiters who promised them the world, and gave them the short end of the stick. Also, when they wee asked about the stereotype that Mizrahim are more right wing than Ashkenazi, they call it “fake news”. Ashkenazi built the settlements, and Ashkenazi expanded the settlements.

Later, we returned to Susya. When I first arrived in Susya, I wasn’t prepared for how temporary all of the homes looked. There are no solid roofs on any structure—they’re all just tarps. We worked with the Rural Women’s Association, a coalition of 120 women, both rural and Bedouin, from about 24 different villages, who focus on the special needs of women under Occupation, including access to education, economic development and water needs, but also that because they are constantly fighting for survival, they don’t have opportunities to play with their own children. They are turning one of the structures into a restaurant to feed international visitors, and we were there to help with décor. Fatima, our host, is a “Punters Queen” and has lots of ideas about using tires as colorful planters. We painted a bunch of tires, and put up a fence around the kitchen so that the goats can’t get in (yes, we built a fence in the West Bank). The women had originally wanted to expand the restaurant, but their lawyer warned them that any form of expansion would risk the army using it as a pretense to demolish the whole restaurant.

 After, Fatima, our host, started playing some music, and the kids pulled us in to dance. I put Ahmed (about 11), on my shoulders, and realized that this is what dancing on Simchat Torah has been preparing me for all of my life. We also watched women turn labneh into pyramids of goat cheese, which they sell in Yatta, the closest city.

Both yesterday and today, we were served lunch in Susyah, which included homemade pita, and goat cheese/goat butter, which kind of tastes like mascarpone cheese. Yum.

*Title means "this is a statement that was made in the West," meaning Jerusalem. I'm sure it's from somewhere in the Gemara, but I just know it from the Avraham Fried song:

Monday, May 15, 2017

והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר

I woke up on Sunday morning full of excited and nervous energy. After herding my three houseguests out the door, we just missed the #13 bus (which was three minutes early) and stuffed our bags into the back of a cab to the Inbal Hotel, where we met up with the rest of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation. During check-in, I learned that a stranger from the trip has been reading my blog (!!!), and she recommended it to her daughter.

Surprising thing about the Center for Jewish NonViolence delegation—out of 130 participants, at least 30-40 are over the age of 40. Yay for an intergenerational movement!

We were supposed to go through the Kalandiyah checkpoint, as an experience of solidarity with Palestinians. However, a week and a half ago, the Israeli government announced that they would start enforcing a rule prohibiting international visitors from entering the West Bank without prior written permission, so we used a settler road instead. This, combined with the closed military zone on Friday is starting to convince me that Israel is working hard to keep the Palestinian territories hidden from international observers.

Our tour guide in Bethlehem said that he hasn’t had tap water in 45 days. Before Oslo, Israel allotted 120 million cubic meters of water for Palestinians per year. Though the population has increased, water allocation for Palestinians has gone down to 90 million cubic meters. This includes water allocation for East Jerusalem. While, supposedly, our tour guide lives in Area A and the PA controls his water supply, when he goes to the water supply office, or when Palestinian refugees go to UNRWA, the response is “we can’t help you, Israel controls the water”. I know lots of Jews who are obsessed with Area A/B/C, but, in reality, Israel is calling the shots. Later, I learned that residents of Susya have to buy their water for 30 shekels per cubic meter. It costs Israelis (including settlers) five shekels per cubic meter.

Today (Monday) was both our first day in the field, and Nakba Day. We started off by hearing from Sami Awad, the founder of Holy Land Trust, a non-violence organization in Bethlehem. Surprisingly, he is way more Zionist than I am. He, like most Palestinians, deeply identifies with land-as-identity, and thinks that just like Palestinians want access to the whole land for the sake of their identity, so, too, Jews want access to the whole land for the sake of their identity. I asked him what Palestinian identity looks like when it isn’t defined by the trauma of 1948. Aside from generalities (culture, language, habits, food and family unit) he also mentioned two specific things: hospitality, and the memory of coexistence among Jews, Muslims and Christians.  Coming from an Ashkenazi Jewish culture that oftentimes defines itself by otherness, victimization and xenophobia, I was surprised at how central the coexistence narrative is to Palestinians (or at least to Sami Awad).

After, around 40 of us drove to the South Hebron hills, and got a tour from someone from Ta’ayush. The South Hebron hills are entirely in Area C. When the British, and later the Jordanians, started mapping the West Bank, and granting ownership papers to Palestinian residents, try started in the north, and worked their way to the south. By 1967, they had gotten to about Ramallah. Israel, of course, claimed that they were only there “temporarily” so they stopped registering land. That’s why it’s easier for Israel to claim land in the south.

The Israeli military uses multiple tactics to try and make life difficult enough in the South Hebron hills so that Palestinians pick and move to cities (Area A).

They establish “firing zones” near Palestinian villages (i.e., the base is near the village, but the firing zone is in the village). Villagers who live in firing zones can go in and out of their villages, but no one else (including doctors or repairmen) can visit.

In 2016, armored military vehicles did a training exercise on a Palestinian field. All crops for that season were lost.

The government builds highways through agricultural land so that Palestinians have to go out of their way to access their land.

Infrastructure needs are denied (there is running water in Bethlehem, but not Susya). However, even supposedly “illegal” outposts (all Israeli settlements, including Gush Etzyon, are illegal under international law), immediately get access to municipal services.

If Palestinians build water systems they get demolition orders.

Police harassment and military searches.

The Israeli military confiscates cars and tractors.

Israeli settlers join in by poisoning water supplies with dead chickens which can destroy all of the water that has been collected over the course of a year, damaging olive trees, which take five years to grow enough for production, and, in one particularly gruesome incident in 2006, spreading rat poison all over the land, which killed sheep, gazelles, mice, snakes, dogs and birds of prey.

Beit Avigayil is an illegal outpost which was built in October of 2001. According to the “Roadmap” it was a post-March 2001 settlement on the slate for demolition. It is currently in the process of legalization, which means that they are building constantly—once they get legalized, they’ll need building permits, so better to build first.

For “security reasons” all hilltops are declared state land, even when Palestinians can prove their ownership. Then, settlements are built on those hilltops, and Palestinians are denied access to that land. There is one guy who has to coordinate with the army when he can actually tend his land.
Stories from specific villages: In 2000, the settlers from Chavat Maon started attacking students from Tuba on their way to school in Tawiyyeh. In 2005, the courts ordered the military to escort the students to school. The military kept shortening the route that they would escort the students. Sometimes the military is late. Sometimes they just don’t show up. While the straight walk to school, past Chavat Maon is a half-hour walk, the indirect path to avoid the settlement takes 2.5 hours.

After our tour, my working group of about 20 women headed to Susya. We heard from Abu Jihad, who was born in 1946—as he says “I’ve been here two years longer than Israel, and Israel’s telling *me* that I can’t be here.” Abu Jihad was born in Tel Arad, and his family owned all of the land between Tel Arad and Susya. Pre-48, the Haganah killed 12 people in Tel Arad, and his family had to move to the city of Arad. In 1948, they had to move to Susya, on the other side of their land. Then in the 1980’s, Israel decided that it wanted to excavate an old synagogue in Susya, and build a settlement nearby, so Abu Jihad and his family had to move to New Susya, where they are now. In 1991, New Susya made a Master Plan so that it could build on its land. The Master Plan was rejected. Now, while he cannot be kicked off of his land, every building there is illegal, and under a demolition order. The room that we were in has been destroyed 4 times. Abu Jihad described this as “Nakbat,” multiples Nakbas that have taken place over 70 years. Within the American Jewish community, we tend to only talk about 1948 and 1967 as being moments of trauma for Palestinians. That’s just not true—Abu Jihad said that every day is a Nakba. Displacement, land grabs, and demolition happen frequently—much more frequently than just 1948 and 1967.

Something really challenging that Abu Jihad said: Jews learned tactics around rounding up Palestinians and exiling them in 1947/48 from Hitler. I don’t think that’s true, but I deeply understand why he said it (hurt people hurt people).

We asked one of his daughters (in-law?) about how they teach their children about Nakba. She doesn’t—at least not yet, because the stories are hard to hear. “The stories are from our ancestors, the suffering is our’s”.

The stay for Susya’s next demolition order for is May 23, 2017.

Today ended with an incredibly powerful mincha/ma’ariv minyan—the first time in a long time that I have prayed with people who share my values.

*Tile means “On that day, you shall tell your child.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

הסתר אסתיר פני

Reading about the Occupation? Check.
Watched movies about the Occupation? Check.
Understanding the Occupation? Nope.

If a Palestinian thirteen year old and an Israeli thirteen year old are both caught throwing stones, the Israeli army can arrest the Palestinian. They have no legal authority to arrest the Israeli. At best they can call the police to “deal with” the Israeli. If the police come, they can’t arrest the Israeli, because he is a minor—adulthood starts at 16. By contrast, for Palestinians, adulthood starts at age 12.

I participated in a Breaking the Silence tour with a J Street U group on Friday. We were supposed to do a full tour of Hebron with Ido, a former soldier who served there between 2002-2005, talk to a leader with a Palestinian non-violence group, and then the J Street U group was going to meet with a settler leader (Leanne, DMH and I were not invited to that part).

Our tour started in Kirat Arba, specifically new Kiryat Arba, which is actually pretty far from old Kiryat Arba. There's a long highway between them, which divides Palestinians from their agricultural land. Ido pointed out that if old Kiryat Arba simply wanted to build more houses for their community, the sensible way to do it would be be building houses immediately adjacent to old Kiryat Arba. Instead, they stretched a highway between two different hilltops, so that Palestinians would be forced to hike around the new settlement before reaching their land. We saw both a memorial to Kahana, and the grave of Baruch Goldstein (I opted not to place a stone, but refrained from pushing off the stones that were already there. Restraint, right?).

We are pointed to a "settlement" that is a tent which serves as a shul between the settlement of Kiryat Arba and Giva'at Ha'Avot. Ido said that soldiers refer to this tent as a "Condoleeza Rice house". Whenever a U.S. Secretary of State visits Israel, the army destroys a few settlements to make it look like they're serious about peace. This particular "settlement" which is less stable than a kosher sukkah, has been destroyed over 40 times.

When we got to Ma'arat HaMachpelah we crossed to the other side of Shuhada Street to listen to Ido. Right away, a settler approaches us and first starts to play music, and then starts playing a video of a previous BtS speaker. He claims that because a tourist bus has to wait a few seconds for our group to move out of the road in order that it can pass, we are breaking the law. What struck me was how blatantly obvious this guy was being. Clearly, he didn't want us to listen to what Ido was saying, either because he was scared of what Ido was saying, or because he had something that he wanted to hide.

As we were proceeding with our tour, all of a sudden we get told that the main street, Shuhada Street, right past where we are standing has been declared a Close Military Zone. The street, which had been guarded by only two soldiers sitting in a military stand, now has six soldiers and a giant tank blocking the street. Apparently, this has happened 10-12 times in the past year. Not only do the soldiers recognize all of the Breaking the Silence tour guides, but every four months, when new soldiers come, the settlers show them pictures of the BtS guides to "warn them". Apparently, if you ask to see the order declaring the area a CMZ, the army is supposed to produce the order within a certain amount of time, or let you pass. This rule is rarely applied, and even after the time expires the military won't let you through. As we are waiting for the order to be produced, we see another tour group, led by a settler, go through. When Ido asks why they're allowed through, he is told that CMZs can be applied selectively.

After waiting for over an hour, the J Street U group, along with Ido, turn back to meet with a settler representative. DMH, Leanne and I are not invited, so after separating from the group in front of Ma'arat HaMachpelah, we turn back towards where the road was blocked. Now, there are only two soldiers there, and no tank. They ask us (in Hebrew) to see our ID cards. Leanne responds that we are American, so don't have ID cards. They respond "even better." When I show one of the soldiers my passport, he (like many Israelis) compliments me on my Hebrew. I initially go to my fallback response (my father talked to me in Hebrew until I was seven)  and then realized that really I should be emphasizing my religious day school education. They let us through.

We head up Shuhada street, where we saw the cages that the military put over Palestinian windows and porches to prevent them from climbing onto streets where Palestinians aren't allowed to enter. Those Palestinians have to climb onto their neighbors' roofs, and walk through their neighbors' homes in order to go outside. All along Shuhada street we see beautiful institutions (synagogues, community centers, batei midrash) made of Jerusalem stone, bearing the names of American Jews.

We crossed through the checkpoint into H1, the Palestinian side of Hebron, and walked through the Casbah, or marketplace, where most shops have closed up. Before the Goldstein massacre, 35,000 Palestinians lived in the Old City of Hebron. Now, only 20,000 live there. This is a result of a combination of factors: the military banning Palestinians from being on streets where there shops once were, the military banning Palestinians from driving on other streets, regular 24/7 curfews with only a few hours of freedom offered every few days, settler harassment, etc. It's of note that while theoretically, Israelis are banned from H1 (it's area A), on Fridays, shabbatot and chagim, settlers lead tours of the Casbah, flanked by Israeli soldiers.

Other thing: During the 1929 Hebron riots, 67 Jewish residents of Hebron were killed, but 350 Jewish residents of Hebron were saved by Palestinians in Hebron. Somehow we don't tell their stories, and there's no plaque for them in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

I could write about this experience for pages, and pages, but it's 2:30AM, and sleep beckons before the Center for Jewish Non-Violence trip starts tomorrow.

Other things: On Sunday I walked the 11km from Fira to Oia on Santorini, along the Caldera edge. At one point,  the wind was going to knock me over. On Monday I hiked on Neo Kameni, ghe largest volcano in the Meditarranean. Still active, dormant sincd 1950, you can still see steam, and smell pungent sulphur. This was followed by swimming hot springs, and exploring Thirassia, the only other inhabited island in the Santorini Caldera.

I arrived in Israel very early on Wednesday morning. On Thursday, I took several busses to Yaffo, where I met my cousin Tal for brunch, and got to meet her new baby, the adorable Itamar. This was at least the third long conversation with a relative on the Fishman side which descended into psychoanalyzing our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

On shabbat afternoon I lead shacharit at Sod Siach (no one sang with me--sad!), and then hosted 6 IfNowNowers for shabbat lunch--three of whom are staying with me tonight before CJNV starts tomorrow.

More soon!

*Title is from Deut. 31:18 meaning "I will hide my face". Check out the full context

Sunday, May 7, 2017

פשט, רמז, דרש, סוד

Samaria Gorge: 530 AM wakeup call to catch a 6AM bus. Mind you, this is the day after I hiked the Imaros gorge, and didn't go to sleep until after 11, when I had finished my last blog post. I stashed my 13.5 kilogram backpack underneath the bus, with the assurance that it will meet me in Sfakia, on the southern coast of Crete. We hit the trailhead at 8AM, and started descending. Nice thing—there are freshwater hoses every 1-2 kilometers, so I only carried a half liter water bottle. Seven kilometer descent before actually entering the gorge. At that point I’m already feeling blisters on my toes which have been hitting the fronts of my hiking boots. The gorge itself is 6 kilometers of rocky bottom followed by one more kilometer to the exit. Add in the two kilometers at the end to the village of Agia Romeli for a 16km day. I realize that my round-trip hikes to Segulah were longer, but this was certainly steeper, even though it was all downhill. Post-hike, walking upstairs was fine, but going downstairs made my knees feel like I was eighty years old. Also, I need better-fitting hiking boots.

From Agia Romeli, we caught a ferry to Sfakia, where our bus, including my backpack met us for the trip to Hania. After arriving in Hania at 845 pm, I caught the last bus of the night to Iraklio, where I don’t have a hotel reservation—this part of trip was a last minute change of plans. I get off the bus at 1230 AM. The first hotel that I find wants to charge me 150 euros/night. Um, no thank you. The next hotel is full. The third hotel doesn’t have 24 hour reception. I start to contemplate sleeping on the streets. Fortunately the fourth hotel has a receptionist, and availability for 50 euros per night, which is still twice what I would normally pay, but I realized is inline with on-season, prices in Iraklio. Plus desperation is setting in. I think I fell asleep at around 2AM.

The next day, after sleeping in a bit, I went to both the newly renovated Archaeological museum of Knossos and to the site of Knossos itself. At Knossos, I wanted to do a group guided tour, and waited over an hour for even one other English speaking tourist to join my group and make it financially viable for Maria, my late-50s tour guide. While waiting, I learned that pre-crisis Maria had been a teacher, but since she already has training as a guide she quit teaching to save the jobs of one of the younger teachers. Now she gets guide work with an agency roughly twice a week, and waits at the entrance to Knossos in the hopes of finding interested tourists the rest of the week. There are 90 guides at Knossos, and they have a schedule to attempt fairness for each guide, but oftentimes guides return home empty-handed. Maria was particularly angry at a guide who managed to cheat the system, and “steal” customers from her. During my hour of waiting, I even offer to translate for an Israeli couple, if they’ll join Maria’s tour. No luck.

Finally, Maria decides to give me an individual tour, as, clearly, no other tourists are coming. Knossos was the economic, political and religious center of the Mycenaean kingdom, until 1450 BCE when an earthquake struck. The earthquake both caused a tsunami which destroyed the Mycenaean navy, and also led to a fire at Knossos, where huge jugs of olive oil were stored. The myth of Theseus and the minotaur represents the outcome of this earthquake: The Minos kings (like the Pharaohs, Minos wasn’t the name of an individual king, but of a dynasty) wore a bull mask during religious ceremonies (hence, the half-man, half-bull Minotaur), and used a double-headed ax called a labyris to sacrifice bulls, hence the word labyrinth (also the palace at Knossos certainly has labyrinthine rooms). There are labyris drawings visible in the ruins. Mycenaeans taxed the Athenians (mythologically represented by sending Athenian boys and girls to feed the Minotaur), and Theseus, the patron of the city of Athens, killing the Minotaur symbolizes Athens breaking free from Mycenaean subservience.

Other fun things from Knossos: I saw the world’s first board game at the archaeological museum, and the Minos’ mikveh. The museum had a poster describing how Mycenaean myth affected contemporary culture, and while they mentioned The Shining, there was no Hamilton reference (“You have married an Icarus. He has flown too close to the sun”). Suggestions for the next renovation…
On Wednesday I took the ferry to Santorini, and then got on a shuttle bus to Kamari, the beachtown where I’m staying. On both Thursday and Friday mornings I caught the bus to Fira, so that I could go diving. Highlights include a really big octopus, several starfish, a family of barracuda, and lots of rocks from the volcano. George, one of the instructors I dove with, is a Cypriot, and was pushing diving in Cyprus pretty hard. We shall see!

I spent some time on Thursday wandering around Fira. It is very touristy, but the white limestone houses are beautiful. I’m planning on hiking from Fira to Oia (pronounced ee-yah) this afternoon, and watching the famous Oia sunset.

*Title refers to the four traditional means of explicating a Jewish text: Literal, Hints, Midrash, and Secrets