Trips and why I do them

Neve Gordon writes in the LA Times today about boycotting Israel as an Israeli Jew. His article was the final push of inspiration I needed to finally sit down and write this post. I am a few days later than I promised, but at least it's done.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I recently spent 10 days taking a group of 12 Americans around the West Bank, Jerusalem, and "Israel"/Palestine '48. This was the third such trip I have led. I originally agreed to do it because last year I was not working, was in dire need for something to do and a little income. However, during the first trip and increasing since then I have come to embrace this as my brand of activism. There are two things I very much believe about the situation here: first, that any otherwise uninformed and unafflicted American who is presented with raw facts about what is happening here will undoubtedly agree that Palestinians have certain rights that are consistantly and systematically being denied. Once they know this, many Americans will use conversation to convince others of this. I believe that the average American is a decent human being who, once they have right knowledge, will want a just solution here. Secondly, I see the American government as the third party in this conflict. They are by no means an impartial unbiased negotiator for peace. They are perpetrators and invested partners of the Israeli regime. That said, I think much of the power to end the occupation and bring about just peace lies in the hands of the American people's responsibility to hold their government accountable. This can happen through tax-refusal, sanctioning, aid reform, and voting but also through grass-roots efforts such as boycotting and divesting. This is why I bother to do these trips. The Global Exchange trip is not perfect and I actually believe there are better trip out there, but for now this is the opportunity I have and one that does a damn decent job at achieving what I have in mind right now.

So, what do we do? First, participants are given a pretty substantial amount of reading material to prepare them for what is happening here. This is historical, contemporary, and political. Then, participants come and see. We spend 10 days meeting with organizations and individuals who are working for a just solution. On the Palestinian side, this generally includes a day in Dheisha refugee camp, Addameer, Hani and Muneera, the Right to Education and many others. On the Israeli side, this includes ICAHD, Zochrot , B'tselem, Who Profits and others. We also meet with several "joint" projects with both Israelis and Palestinians working with them such as Combatants for Peace and the Alternative Information Center. We visit as many people and places as we possibly can in ten days. On this past trip, we got to Jerusalem (including the Ma'ale Adumim settlement), Ramallah, Hebron (including the Efrat settlement and one of its outposts), Bethlehem/Beit Sahour, Jenin, Jayyous/Qalqilia, Yaffa/Tel Aviv, Rahat/bedouin villages in the Negev, and drove through/stropped briefly in Nablus and Jericho.

Generally speaking, at the end of the trip the participants are feeling tired, overwhelmed, and eternally greatful they took the time, money, and energy to come. One of the complaints I have of the trip thusfar is that its participants tend to not do as much when they go home as I'd like. I think this is a problem with all such trips to anywhere in the world. However, the most recent group is giving me hope. Several of them seem quite enthusiastic and energetic to get to work.

Palestinians active in the boycott campaign tell me that the boycott in some ways is secondary to the primary goal of the education campaign. The more people who come here and see it first-hand means there are more people in American who know someone who came here and saw it first-hand. As the people who came here make presentations and have conversations, the more it spreads. Israel has, since its creation, consistently spent billions of dollars and uncountable man hours to develop its PR and media machines. Palestine is now developing this in a very grass-roots way and it is starting to have an effect. I have watched general public opinion among Americans shift quite substantially (in a good way) just since I first got actively involved in this issue maybe five or six years ago.

The third thing I believe about the situation here is that one possible way the occupation will end is that America will say it has to end. I am no Obama-is-going-fix-the-world believer, but I do think he is in a unique position of having the trust and interest of a lot of people on both sides here. I think if we, as Palestine activists, play our cards right, he could be an ally to creating a just solution here. However, I think grass-roots efforts, supported by trips like these, will have the most power effect long-term.


A Truely Motley Crew

I am well aware of the fact that I have been slacking over here lately. Part of it is that I've had too much to say and can't find the ambition to put it down in an organized way. Part of it is that I've actually been really busy with various things. Part of it is sheer slacking brought on by inherent laziness.

So, over the past three weeks or so I've had a few interesting experiences that deserve being written about. First and of least political importance, the hubby and I have cooked several new and delicious things. I have photos of these at home and will post about them this week. Second, I led my 3rd delegation of Americans through the organization Global Exchange around the West Bank and '48 (Israel). Third, I had the pleasure of my first "tweetup" in Jerusalem with four very different people. For today, I want to write about the tweetup and deal with the other two topics later this week.

This past Friday I met up with Glenn, israelimom and dad, and yeshivaguy in a West Jerusalem coffeshop creatively called, "Coffee Shop". Heh... When I first walked in with Glenn (who I met in East Jerusalem and shared a cab over with), Israelimom and I shared a hug and kisses. When I sat down, I was reminded that in this part of this land people walk around casually with M-16s precariously slung around their bodies and no one around them flintches. I am continually suprised by this when I cross the Green Line. It's so weird to me. The guy in the cafe actually had an attachment for firing tear gas on his gun. Yes, I notice these things.

But I digress... Glenn, Israelimom, her husband, and I talked for awhile about different things. I really like them all. I have been talking to Israelimom since just after I joined Twitter in late-May-ish, so it was great to meet her. She has a warm feeling about her and a relaxing energy. Her heart is in the right place, and part of me really wishes more people like her stood up and did something about what they think should happen.

After about half an hour yeshivaguy showed up. I must admit, when I first saw him, I was prejudice. I expected someone politcally extreme. This guy dresses in a long black coat, black slacks, white shirt, black kippa under a big black hat. He was sans "keys to Heaven" and beard, but otherwise fully decked out. You can imagine what I may have thought. He proved me wrong. He's a young American studying here and planning to leave when he's done. He, and many of the people he studies with, are basically apolitical, but generally see the Israeli state and the methods that have been used to found and maintain it contrary to the teachings of the Torah. He is smart, witty, and easy to be with.

To be honest, he reminded me of this. I'm not saying that yeshivaguy agrees with these people, as he seems simply non-political (as oppossed to anti-Zionist), but the article came to my mind, connected by the thread of "Orthodox Jews who would be fine living in a joint-state situation". The article is in Arabic, but basically this group is called Natori Karta and they are against the Zionist government. After Hamas was elected, they sent a delegation to the PLC to show their support. They were welcomed by Aziz Dweik. Also in this category would be the Samaritan Jews who live in Nablus. From what I understand, they hold Palestinian IDs and they have a seat in the Palestinian Parliament.

The thing that struck me about the meeting is was how much time was spent talking about what Ramallah is like, if it is safe here, what people are like, how religious they are, etc. I know this is curiousity speaking, but it's shocking to me how little Israelis know about how Palestinians actually live. I know there is no way for them to know, as their own government makes it illegal for them to come here.

After spending about two and half hours with this ecclectic bunch, I went back to Ramallah and told Ash all about it. He couldn't believe I sat with an orthodox Jew, but kept saying how much he wished he could have been there. The whole time I was sitting with these folks I felt the same: I wish he could have been there. It's not that he didn't want to. It's not that his own government or people tell him he can't. It's not even that it's impossible. But it would be a big risk, bigger than he's willing to take to meet some interesting people. Collective punishment is a powerful thing. And in the end, for me, it's all about the power imbalance and finding the right people who have both the power and the will. Which, tomorrow, will lead into my second post of the week...the Global Exchange trip.

UPDATE: For another take on this tweetup, read Israelimom's version here.