Friday, April 11, 2008

Letters from Palestine, Turkey, and Japan

March 8, 2008

I went to Hebron yesterday and I was quite tired physically and mentally. Hebron is a town where the most aggressive settlers live. Palestinians are almost gone because of the settlers’ horrible violence.

The day before the tour, there was a shooting in Jerusalem. 6 Jews were killed by the shooting and 2 Arabs were killed by the police. During the tour, a man came to the organizer and started shouting at him a few inches away from him. The man shouted a hundred times, “He is helping the last night’s killer!” The organizer ignored the man but it was painful to watch. The organizer used to be a soldier in Hebron. Now, he started this tour and brings tourists to Hebron and say, “This is what is happening here.”

During the tour, some soldiers were looking at us and following us about 20 meters away. They knew who the organizer was and what kind of tourists we were. One of the soldiers were holding a gun and aiming at us. Nobody reacted because the organizer told us not to react and to just ignore. But it was the first time for me to be pointed at by a gun, and it was scary even though it was 20m away. I felt like Israeli soldiers can do anything they want. It wouldn’t happen in other countries. What kind of soldiers would point their guns at 'tourists'?

Anyway, what makes me sad is this. I am staying in Israel with Jewish people. People who don't think they have prejudice or any kind of discrimination started to 'protect Palestinians' after I told them that I am in Israel with Jewish people. That is what I am tired of.

This is the reality of the people in Neve Shalom -Wahat as-Salam. From other Jewish people, they are treated like traitors. With Palestinians, they have a difficult time dealing with the guilty conscience because they have nice houses and good jobs.

It is not easy to just live in this land. I have been here for 6weeks, but I got many kinds protest from 'outside', usually from the Japanese who never visited here. The things are so complicated and it is not only Israeli/Palestinian issue.

Yesterday, Daria and Henry and another volunteer went on the tour with me. It was just a day after the shooting and people were tense. It is very dangerous for Jewish people to go on this tour even without major incidents like this shooting. But I insisted to go on the tour, because I wanted to see the settlement myself. Daria and Henry also wanted to go, but they knew how dangerous it was for them. It is OK for a tourist like me, but it is not OK for Jewish people to get into West Bank, especially the day after a serious incident. But the tour is welcomed by Palestinians. Palestinians know what kind of tour this is. The organizer was always welcomed by kids and residents.

Palestinian situation is terrible but they cannot change the condition by themselves because of the laws that forbid every kind of human rights. If they break the law, they will get arrested immediately. What we can do is to encourage Israeli activists, spread information to the Jewish communities and to awaken them. They have the power to change. That is what NS-WAS and other Jewish activists are trying to do. On the other hand, Japanese NGOs are trying to help Palestinians develop skills to earn money.

It is not easy to explain, but I hope you will understand.


March 9, 2008

H. sent me his article.
It is about the trip we went to yesterday.

His origin is British, but moved in USA with his family, then came here from VA. He told me he felt like he was a minority all the time in his life.


The Hebron Trip

The TV news brought the story of one Pinchads Zlotosvsky, a former neo-nazi thug, living in Poland. One day his mother revealed to him his Jewish origins. He shifted gears and became an ultra-orthodox Jew. I thought of this story when we visited Hebron yesterday. Our tour was led by Yehuda Shaul, a former IDF sergeant who served in Hebron, who now leads groups of Israelis and foreigners on informative tours of the city. On the bus he described an evening when, as a soldier, he and his unit went joyriding in the city, shooting at street lights and the windshields of cars. He told how sometimes, in the early morning hours they would begin firing into the city, not in response to Palestinian fire, but in order to deter the Palestinians from shooting, in case they would start.

Our tour of Hebron took in some of the same streets that Shaul used to patrol as a soldier - just like those we saw in the city. They are from the same Nahal Brigade 50th Battalian in which he served. "This is probably the most leftist unit in the army", he chuckles. "That leftists came to do the things we are talking about may be the best proof that there is no good way of doing what we are doing." Breaking the Silence, one of the two organizational "hats" worn by Shaul on this trip (above his yarmulka) does not adopt a political line, but wishes to bring home to Israelis the direct consequences of the occupation, so that civil society can make its own decisions.

The soldiers who serve there are young. It is usually their first time in Palestinian cities, and many of them don't know why they are serving there. Shaul describes how, at the beginning of his service, he attended a welcoming talk for the army by settler leaders. When the speaker praised the IDF for sending its best soldiers to safeguard the city's Jewish heritage, many of the soldiers walked out in disgust.

The soldiers have very little in common with the settlers they are sent to protect, but what they do share with them is the alienness of their presence in Hebron. The settlers, who number between 800 and a 1,000 amongst a population of 166,000 Palestinians, seem only able to live there because, in place of this current reality, they see an image of the city's distant past, and a future when the city will be Jewish again. This is well illustrated by the sequence of four murals that now adorns the closed bus station on Shuhada Street. The first of the murals shows the Biblical city, the mythical world of Abraham. The second shows the return of the Jews to Hebron, a few hundred years ago. The third shows the destruction of the Jewish community in 1929. The fourth shows the future of the city, with settlers and soldiers and the Messiah entering on his white donkey. There are no Palestinians in this final, idyllic picture. But even today the centre of the city is largely off limits to them.

A few minutes after seeing these murals drawn by the settlers, we were in the home of a Palestinian who lives under the shadow of the Tel Rumeida settlement. There, on his living room wall was another idyllic picture, of a future peace. A tropical paradise - sun, sand, palm trees, distant islands, and Palestinians on the beach. Some of these are wounded and bleeding. Why? "It has two images", explained our host - "the present, where people are suffering - and the future, when there will be peace."

This vision of an imagined peace appears to have little to do with Hebron or Palestine. Hasham's house lies directly beneath the Tel Rumeida settlement and his yard is littered by garbage which he claims is tossed down from above. Among the smaller items is the front page of a settler newspaper, which testifies to its source. Among the larger items is an old washing machine, which Hasham says was aimed at his head. Despite acts of daily humiliation and occasional settler violence, Hasham is happy to meet with Israeli peace activists, tell his story and share his perhaps unrealistic vision of peace. He views these meetings as a political act, an act of nonviolent resistance.

After leaving Hasham's house, we stood on the main access road to the Tel Rumeida settlement - an ugly mass of linked caravans on an ancient archeological site of the city, perhaps from the Bronze age. While our guide was trying to answer whether the site was historically Jewish, a settler woman came down, passing the soldiers who stood between us and the settlement. With a baby in her arms and another two children in tow, she had come to express her anger that this day especially, after eight yeshiva students had just been shot in Jerusalem, we had chosen to come to show support for Palestinians. She had a bellyfull of grievances to declaim, although few of the group, unfortunately, understood Hebrew. Those who did, including my wife, began to argue, which I think is unfortunate because of all the people we had seen today, I thought this woman was the most interesting. I felt I understood the Palestinians. Their story is evident and hardly needs a commentary. I understood Shaul and his change of heart, after serving in Hebron, and through him I understood the behaviour of the police and soldiers we had seen. But this woman, who had chosen to raise her children as a feared and hated minority among 166,000 of her enemies, was finally interesting. Even, or especially, for a person like me who has chosen to live among Palestinians and Jews as friends.

The mind and motivation of the settlers of Hebron probably cannot be understood without entering into their world, but I think we can reach some sort of approximate understanding from our own human experience. These people are on a kind of trip.

Our own trip to Hebron that day had been surreal and hallucinogenic: passing through tunnels that burrowed under Palestinian towns, traveling along apartheid roads protected by concrete barriers and then on into a city centre become ghost town, its shops barred from the front and occupied from the rear by settlers. In this landscape, we were an alien presence, looked upon with scorn from the settlers, viewed with incredulity by most Palestinians, and regarded as a potentially troublesome bunch of leftist crackpots by the police and soldiers. The Jews who had chosen to live in Hebron are similarly alien but have decided to put down roots. Nobody minds being a stranger for a day, but to make a life of it requires courage, determination and the zeal of a zealot.

Settlers will tell you that their activities are just a natural extension of Zionism. (Their enemies probably agree with them.) America had its westward drive, Europeans had their empires. In Israel, the frontier is the 1949 armistice line, with the lands beyond it providing room for greedy expansion. The radical fringe of the settler movement establish outposts on remote hilltops or carve out ghettos in Palestinian cities like Hebron.

Settlement in hostile territory, the return to religion, political activism, and the bored violence of soldiers are all ways in which individuals seek to fill their lives with excitement or meaning. The neo-Nazi thug mentioned at the beginning of this article became the ultra-orthodox Jew of today. The Nahal soldier who served in Hebron yesterday is now a political activist educating about the evils of the occupation. The settlers, all of whom knew him well, taunt him constantly, "Hey Yehuda, tell 'em what you did to the Arabs when you were here..." The Bronx accents of these settlers reveal their city kid origins and their own journey of personal fulfillment. Guarded by the army, but still vulnerable, these settlers present an easy target for other Hebronites to escape their own inertia by joining the liberation struggle.

The Holy Land is the Hollywood set where bored actors seeking adventure can play out their wild fantasies, many of which are highly dangerous to the ordinary people, Jews and Palestinians, who just want to live out their lives, raise children, and enjoy their grand children, while maintaining a modicum of personal dignity.

It might not be so bad if only individuals were involved, and these individuals were not empowered and protected by powerful political or economic interests, but the Middle East is one of the few places in the world where radicals can determine the destiny of nations. The settler woman who came out to greet us in Hebron deserves respect. She has proportionately more power in Israeli society than untold numbers of mild leftists. As Shaul said, "the presence of the settlers in Hebron is a political act with which we cannot compete."

When Baruch Goldstein, a resident of Kiryat Arba, the large settlement that adjoins Hebron, went into the Cave of the Patriarchs and killed 29 Muslims at prayer, Rabin had the best possible opportunity to evacuate the settlers from Hebron, but found himself powerless. The following year he was gunned down by a rightwing radical who said he was inspired by Goldstein's act.

See the http://picasaweb.google.com/info.nswas/TheHebronTrip for pictures, and http://nswas.org/article745.html for an earlier article on the same subject by Felix.

March 10, 2008

Henry told me an interesting story.

He went to Arabic lesson this morning. The teacher is a Palestinian who lives in this village. Arabic teacher gave him some food made by grasses around here. It was so nice and tasty. Usually, we don't know much about grasses or trees around us, even their names. But natives like this Arabic teacher knew how to use it and what kind of nutrition we can get from the grasses.

He said that giving name is a very important thing because it is a kind of start to know what it is or who s/he is. I think it is true. Our interest usually starts from memorizing the name of some ‘thing’ or a ‘person’

March 12, 2008

…İ also want you to know the Jewish people’s effort of peace making. What they are doing is not very easy. They face double discrimination, from other Jewish people because they are considered as 'traitors’ and another from the outside world because they are 'Israelis.' They are trying to make peace, but no one but their friends can understand.

Palestinian situation is more difficult but you probably knew that sometimes people from Arab countries discriminate against Asians. Because of this, it was difficult to get along with the Palestinians the first time. Finally, İ managed to get along with them, but it was a bit difficult in the beginning.

Now, I am in Istanbul! İ can tell you a story about me overcoming my weakness. (İ am a bit sorry for the people now, but feel really good)

İ was at the Ataturk airport again, a catch salesman for a shuttle bus came to me. First time I refused, but I couldn’t find a way to get to the hotel, so İ decided to take the shuttle. It sounded too expensive as what I was told was 30 by taxi, but shuttle is 50. But he said it was cheaper than taking a taxi. “5minutes wait at the Starbucks around the corner, İ will call you.” I waited for 30 min. but nobody come. İ feel pretty bad because again, they used me because İ am a woman, alone, an Asian, and did not look so strong and looked stupid. İ decided to go to the counter, gathering my courage and shouted at them, “You said 5 minutes waiting, but I’ve been waiting for 30min! İ want my money back right now!”

after that, whole story has changed. İ will tell u later.

March 15, 2008
(blog diary)

This is my fist time visiting Turkey. I spent 2 nights and 3 days in Istanbul, just walking around the hotel where I stayed and seeing Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and the Underground Cistern etc.

In this tourist area, people are very open-minded, probably to catch their customers. Perhaps, a Japanese woman who is walking alone in this area is one of the best targets for them, and I got caught several times.

I walked down to the beach this morning which is 5 minutes from here. A Turkish man who runs a small cafe offered me a cup of tea. We exchanged some usual conversations about our family, country and religion for almost 10 minutes. We had a nice time in front of the beach and I asked how much the tea cost, but he didn't accept because, he said, the shop wasn't open yet.

I am confused now.
People are very nice and open here, but totally materialistic. After the 6 weeks of visiting Israel/Palestine, it is very hard to accept the reality and the atmosphere of the capitalistic world. Conflict zone is now familiar to me and this sounds like Esther in "The Zahir."

March 14, 2008

I’m leaving Istanbul today. Only two days’ stay in Istanbul gave me a lot of energy and healing power. İ also learned about myself from this trip.

Anyway, Turkish people are very open, but economy doesn’t seem to be as good as it used to be.

İ am happy to be seeing mom at the airport. Thanks for telling me.

I will start to write something after go back to Japan.

March 14, 2008
(email from Turkey)

İ am leaving here in a couple of hours. This is one of the most beautiful places to visit. People are so open and some of them are trying to catch customers very hard. It is very difficult to protect myself from the salesmen everywhere around. İ almost bought a Turkish carpet for 1000 dollars.

But it makes me sad and makes it difficult for me to accept this kind of openness after visiting Palestine. People are sill dying but here, they are just talking about money and love, the same as other countries.

Turkey is Westernized, but some people are very religious (not many in Istanbul...)

İ am quite tired right now, so I would be happy to go back and rest in my bed.


March 27, 2008

I got back from Israel on March 15. The days in Israel seem like a dream after I've been back in Japan. However, this calmness shows me the differences of the situation in Japan and in the Middle East, so it makes me much sadder.

During the Hebron Tour, a man came from Australia said, “Palestinians just want to live an ordinary life. They don't ask anything special. Why, then?”

Usually, we don't think about Palestinians in our daily life although the invasion and the occupation are still going on there. It has been 60years since Israel established their country and that means almost an entire generation has passed.

I was stunned to find out that there are many Kurdish people in Turkey, but they are not allowed to speak their language outside. The Kurds have the third largest population after the Arabs and the Turks. Unfortunately, before they tried to be independent, people discovered oil and water in Kurdistan. The independence plan has changed. Since then, Kurdish people have not been able to have their own country (from Pelletiere, Stephen C., The Kurds: An Unstable Element in the Gulf. 1984, Westview Press: Boulder)

I think it would be better to go back to the beginning. Every land belongs to God, not to a certain ethnic group or people.

I see the same sadness in the eyes of Palestinians and Kurdish people.

My trip ended with this inexplicable feeling.

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