Sunday, March 16, 2008

Letters from Palestine (III)

February 23, 2008

The night I visited Mr. A. was one of the most unforgettable nights.

Mr. A. is the person who gave lectures in Japan last year (in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka) on 'Dialogue among religious leaders on Palestinian/Israeli Conflict’. He is a lecturer at al-Quds University in Jerusalem and teaches Islamic Studies.

I caught a bus that runs on a highway to Jerusalem (Daria took me to the bus stop from nswas.) It was my first time to go outside of the village. I was a little bit nervous but excited. I got off the bus at the West Jerusalem bus center and went shopping to buy something for my friend who offered me to stay overnight at her place in Jerusalem. She has been working in Japanese Volunteer Center in Jerusalem for 5years, and goes back and forth between Israel and Japan. She was the translator for the lecture that Mr. A. gave in Japan.

I bought some presents and went to the bus station to go to East Jerusalem. When I was crossing the road, there was a policeman standing on the corner. When he saw me walking down the street, he came straight to me and asked me to show my passport. These things happen here frequently to people like me (i.e. Asians and Arabs). Fortunately, I was warned about this from some people and was prepared for this.

"Are you a Filipino?" I told him my nationality. Then he asked me to show my passport. I asked him where the bus station was to go to East Jerusalem, but he told me 'After you show your passport, I will tell you where it is.' Fair enough, Ha! I searched for my passport in my big backpack but there were many things in it, pajamas, books, a lamp (for a present), cookies, water, coin case etc. and it took me about 30 seconds to find it. During this time, he found another victim who wanted to pass by my side.

She had a bit of dark skin and thick black hair. The girl who was stopped by the police showed her ID card and explained something. The policeman seemed to be very mean to her. She was forced to sit on a stone by the pavement and looked up at him with fear in her eyes. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, but his attitude scared her. He didn't scare me as much because I am Japanese. What if I were a Filipino ? What if I came from Thailand?

I took a bus and left the bus station. It was almost 4:30pm when I reached the Yaffo Gate, the west side of the Old City. I ran into the Old City and went straight to the Damascus Gate. I couldn't find the shortest way, but I think I did well. But after I get out from the Old City, I wondered around on the streets for almost 20 minutes.

When I met Keiko at the Jerusalem Hotel, it was almost 5:00pm.

Keiko is really nice. She is something else. I have a kind of talent for recognizing nice people as soon as I meet. I had a kind of intuition, like 'I really like her' when I met her the last time.

Mr. A. is a handsome man who has 7 children and a beautiful wife. He lives on the edge of West Bank close to a refugee camp. We enjoyed ‘zahki’ dinner and conversation with his family.

He drove us to the bus stop where we could easily find the bus to East Jerusalem. When we went through a refugee camp, some Palestinian young boys around 12-15 years old were riding on the back of a pick up track. One boy got off the track and rushed to put a paper on the wall beside the pavement. "It is a poster of 'Mujahedeen' , isn't it?'" some one asked Mr. A., but he didn't answer. Probably, he was concentrating on driving on that narrow road where cars were coming straight to us with horrible speed. Or was he thinking about the police?

We safely reached the bus stop. We got on the bus and said good-bye to Mr. A..
After a few minutes, two young soldiers got on the bus at the check point. They asked us where we were from and we answered. They didn't ask us to show our passports and let us go with a smile. How is it possible for young men (they looked 23-27) like them to change into a person who could beat a little boy?

Traveling to Ramallah to visit Arafat’s grave and refugee camp was, again, postponed by the snow. I am not sure if I can visit there during the time of my stay. Instead, I asked my friend to reserve my seat of the tour around Hebron. She said I was on the waiting list, and she informed the agency of my leaving date.

I was told that I am quite lucky to be coming here around this time. "Some volunteers are good, but some of them are not. We've got the best members now," someone said. I admit that I am acting strange, probably as weird as I am in Japan or even more. But thanks to God, people are so nice and kind.

I will send you another story next time.


February 23, 2008

I got this from Henry. I asked him if it is ok to put it on the web. He said its ok, everything you want.

love and lotus,

Dear Kiriko,

I thought, when I began to read your journal, that it might be helpful to you if I would take some notes to correct any obvious errors, or comment on things that you might need to think about more. I found just a few items (less than I expected).

"Hebrew is also the official language in NS-WAS. Not many Jews can understand Arabic, especially people who are immigrants from different countries."

Well, if there is such a thing as "official language" in a village, we do try to keep both languages as official, despite many obstacles. In almost all written notices, for instance, both languages are used. Recently we passed a rule that all department heads must be fluent in both languages and, if they are not, they must learn Arabic within 2 years.

In the meetings, people can speak in either language, though when Arabic is spoken, there is the obstacle that some of the Jews won't understand. Protocols for general assembly meetings are kept in Hebrew, partly because these are records that must be available for review by state authorities. Israel itself has Hebrew and Arabic as official languages - but this is a rule which isn't properly implemented.

"Jewish people in NS-WAS study Arabic once a week, but it is not enough to communicate with Arabs. Actually, they don't need to speak Arabic because Arabs speak Hebrew perfectly. There is no need, but people in NS-WAS knew that it was not fair. That is why they try to learn Arabic."

Not all Jews here learn Arabic weekly. Daria is the only Jew from the village currently attending A.'s classes. Many Jews in the village do know Arabic at a level that permits them to understand, even if they can't speak it well.

Languages don't just communicate ideas. They also communicate feelings and various subtle things. Even when a person is fluent in another language, she might not be able to communicate well nuances of feeling, etc.

"Jewish people know what they are doing to Palestinians more or less. But some people are afraid of leaving Israel. Once they express or accept the things they are doing, they think they have to leave. .."

I'm not sure what you mean here. As a straight statement about Israeli Jews in general, I'm not sure that it is true. Many Israeli Jews know very well what they are doing, and can offer many arguments for continuing. Other Israeli Jews reject what their government is doing and decide to stay and struggle against government policy.

"...However, people that I met here became angry at seeing what the settlers and soldiers were doing to the people in Palestine. Every Friday, women gather and demonstrate against the settlers in front of the old city…"

I don't think the people you heard about in the Women in Black demonstration are simply targeting the settlers as "the bad guys".

The situation regarding settlers is complex. First of all, there are at least two kinds of settlers: those with ideological or religious motivations, and those with practical or economic motivations.

Historically, the first settlers had a religious and ideological motivation. But later, the government came with its own motivations, and offered cheap housing plans to settle Jews on land occupied since 1967 (Gaza, the West Bank, parts of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Sinai (though the latter was later returned). So many Jews went to settle in these places simply because it was an attractive option. The majority of the settlers are therefore just ordinary Israelis. Those who live in the parts of occupied Jerusalem don't even see themselves as settlers, since these parts were annexed. Some of those who live in the Golan Heights say that they would be willing to give up their homes in the case that peace is established with Syria.

The point I am making is that settlers are not necessarily villains, and that it is the Israeli government that allowed them to be there, or put them there, which must be held responsible. I think that this would be the position of most of those who attend demonstrations against the occupation.

There are comparable situations regarding deliberate settlement of occupied territories in other places in the world, such as Tibet, Northern Cyprus and the Kuril Islands (northern islands of Japan).

For an interesting sidenote on the legal aspects of Israel's settlement policies, there is an article that discusses Road 443 - the road you traveled on when visiting Wissam in Beit Sira.

"Tyranny in Tar" (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/948033.html)

Denise is a secretary of the mayor(?)

"Denise", like me, is working in the Communications and Development Office, mainly as a writer. Usually, she writes proposals, applications and reports for foundations and friends associations that support the village.

Best wishes,

February 24, 2008

I visited two Arab families. They treat their family and relatives so nice. Keiko in JVC explained that. They support each other because of the conflict. Sometimes they have lost a family member who used to support their family. A big family is good as they can support each other, even though they don't have enough people to provide support the family. They are helping each other.


February 25, 2008

I will go on this tour in march!
My friend, Shelly from the US (she is great!) booked a seat for me.

Tours to Hebron

For the past two years, Breaking the Silence has been giving guided tours to Hebron- a place where many of us have served as soldiers.

The purpose of the tour is to introduce our audiences to the complexities of the Occupation.

Route of the tour: Baruch Goldstein's burial site in Kiryat Arba, The Tomb of Patriarchs, a walk through Shuhada st. (including the five settlement areas and the wholesale market), and a visit to a Palestinian family in Tel Rumeida neighborhood.

The tours are in cooperation with the organization, "Bnei Avraham".

For further information, please contact :


The next tour will be on: 22.02, 07.03, 28.03 It is possible to organize a private tour for groups. All tours are coordinated with the Israeli Police in Hebron

February 26, 2008

I saw this (Gaza protest) on the web with Howard. There were almost 50,000 people to protest the siege.

I also got an email from a Japanese girl who is interested in this area. She sounds young and had a lot of anger inside of her. I don’t think I can handle it. I just want to leave it.

It sometimes happens. People are speaking about 'peace’ but spread their anger into the world. We have to protest against injustice, unfairness and everything like what the Israeli government is doing now. But I don’t think it is a nice way to throw the anger at people who have different opinions.

She didn’t even check the meaning of what I really said. I am tired of it.

By the way, I got a nice email from Mr. A.. He is so nice. Did I write about that?


March 2, 2008

I am back from Bethlehem and Jerusalem now.

I went to a refugee camp last Friday. JVC(Japanese Volunteer Center) helps Palestinian women to have jobs and teaches them how to make things like bags, coin case, cushion cover, etc. They have extremely professional techniques in embroidery, so if they teach the women how to make a bag or something using a sewing machine, they can sell all of those things easily. It is very difficult to find a job for the people in refugee camps. Sometimes young girls work very hard to make money to go to university.

I will tell you all the stories of this place later. It was really nice to meet a family there.


March 3, 2008
(blog diary)

My thought on peace-making

…From my experience, sometimes we have to face the difficulties of dealing with our feelings and emotions. Working with people in conflict zone requires many things like remaining calm, hearing their opinions, trying not to judge, having compassion, treating people with respect, sharing their stories, staying centered, finding exact meaning of a word, and so on. Probably, you will find some contradictions in these statements: It becomes very difficult if you have your opinion, but it would be much more difficult if you don't have one.

Also it was good for me to learn that I have to be careful in using words that "group individuals in one category" such as "Israelis do..." "Japanese are ..", "people here are like.." etc. I met many unnecessary emotional resistances from people by this kind of stereotyping comments. We need to be very careful when we say something if we really want to bring "peace" into the land. Some people are quite sensitive in this area, so we can easily hurt people not by guns, but by our words (by accident.) We must know what kind of language we are speaking, I don't mean "Hebrew" or "Arabic," but whether we are speaking "the language of the people in power" or those of the oppressed and without power. If we use the language of the people in power, it would not work very well even when we talk about peace. I think "violence" can take different forms. The violence that goes on here is not only physical violence, but cultural, economical and political violence. It is easy for me not to use the military weapons, but I can use the power of words and pens. It is still very difficult for me to find a peaceful, non-violent way (to express myself). Unfortunately, the people in power sometimes don't exactly know what kind of power they have and/or use, or they don't even realize they have power. I met a Japanese woman who has spent 5 years here (back and forth between Japan and here). She perfectly knows who she is. She knows what kind of "energy" she creates and how to bring it here. It is a bit complicated, I have no idea how to explain it, but probably someone else does.

Besides, there are hundreds ways to deal with the conflict and thousands of opinions as to how to make peace between the Jews and Arabs. We can't protest each method or choice even if it looks totally different from ours. Likewise, there are many ways to contribute to bring peace in this area, for example, one works as a volunteer in refugee camp, the other becomes a journalist or photographer while his/her friend is trying to be a mediator. Their approaches are very different. The mediator is expected to be centered, but the journalist can take one side. We usually don't judge or even decide which is better for the people here.

In order to overcome any shortcomings in finding out the best way for them, I am trying to look back to our history and find out who I am. This is my approach as a Japanese in studying conflict reconciliation or conflict transformation. This is only my point of view, but before I say something to the people and the soldiers in Israel, I have to see what we, the Japanese, did to the Asians during the WWII In contrast to Germany, we, our government, still refuse to apologize to China and Korea and other countries, as you know. In Israel, the textbook of Israeli history is not the same as what we are told. It sounds similar to what the Japanese government did as it erased the facts, like what happened in China and Korea, from our history. In my memories of school years, I couldn't find much about Nang King Genocide, 731 troops, Nakano School for Generals in my history textbook.

It is easy to put our issues aside and be here as a peace maker between Israel/Palestine. But how is it possible to make others try to reconcile with their enemies, when we can't make good friendship with neighbors because of our past?

That is why I thought it was 'not enough to blame the Israelis.' I really have to face these Japanese problems if I want to continue this challenge; it is kind of changing the world from the inside out. I know this is not your concern/problem, but is mine that I have to deal with.

Thank you for reading.

peace be upon you all,

March 5, 2008


It is so hard to accept things happening here. I hear the sounds of jets every 2 minutes, probably going to Gaza.

On the contrary, we don't have any bombing here, as you know. I went to Haifa (northern part of Israel) yesterday to attend a funeral. I met a nice woman who came from the U.S., who also spent several years in Mexico. She is a resident of nswas (Daria’s good friend), and her mother passed away a few days ago.

Daria and Rucy, another friend of Daria and who now become my friend, took me to the city of Haifa. It is an old city and has history. We enjoyed walking down in an Arab town. It was beautiful and people were so nice.

I had a very bad experience in Jerusalem from a tour guide. It is also my fault, but I don't think he was a good man. I almost wanted to stay away from all Arab people because of him. But I tried to use the bad memory in a good way. It took a couple of weeks. Now I am OK with everyone.

Anyway, it was nice to visit Haifa.
However, it is still hard to enjoy anything during a time like this.

My friend had a hard time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is related to the things that are happening here. Some of the volunteers tried to extend their visa, but was denied. It took a few more days to get the 'volunteer visa.'

I think I'd better go and write every experience in Japanese as well.


March 5, 2008

…I just want to tell you something about the activities here. I asked if it was OK or not to attend some demonstrations.

It is not safe to take part in some activities here even when there are many Jewish people within the group. A few years ago, a policemen shot at the people who were peacefully walking down the street and killed 13 people there. Also, last month, a Japanese tourist attended a demonstration and got attacked in his eyes and he is in danger of becoming blind.

It is not only about the risk to me, but about bringing the risks to Palestinians. JVC member (Keiko-san) in Jerusalem said there are many different ways if we want to bring peace to the land. It is OK to demonstrate in my country, but not here.

Things are not easy here...

Well, we will see....

March 6, 2008

…about Kiriko’s ‘bad experience’ in Jerusalem…

I don't think it is uninteresting, but it is not just his fault. He was not a good man, but I learned about my weakness from him. He was a guide of Old City in Jerusalem. I didn't ask him to guide, but he followed me and started to guide. After few minutes, I realized he was a guide but I didn't stop him. Then, he asked for 6600 yen ($66) for providing 20minutes of tour guide around the area. The place he asked for money was in a dark basement. I was so scared and wanted to go out because there was no one except us. I paid the fee and asked him if he was a Christian because the place he guided me through was a place where Jesus was taken. He wasn't a Christian, but a Muslim. I was disappointed when I found out about it. That's all.

I am OK with Arab people except for this memory. I know this is my weakness. That is why it is so painful for me. I am trying to accept my weakness but it is still difficult. It wasn't his fault even though he wasn't a good man.

bless him.


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