An Uphill Climb by Sophie Schor

I was slowly walking up the hill to my apartment, sleep-deprived after a few dusty days and nights at Sarura, carrying a backpack and the scent of wood smoke in my clothes and hair. A man was standing at the corner, at the top of the incline. He smiled, uninvited, and asked in Hebrew:

?עליה קשה Aliyah kesha? [Hard climb?]

It might have been the general exhaustion or the heaviness of his question that led me to shake my head yes and shrug my shoulders as in defeat. He motioned to my backpack and asked, in that tone that only strange men who want to engage in conversation with a lone woman on the street have,

 ?רוצה עזרה  Rotza ezra? [Want help?]

To which I shook my head defiantly, smiled, and said, "No, I'm strong."

In Hebrew, the word la'alot has many different connotations. It means to rise up: you use it when talking about alighting on a bus, about climbing a hill, about achieving another level, about arriving specifically in Jerusalem, and also it is the word used to describe a Jew who has immigrated to Israel. The rationale for the later use is that by arriving in the holy land, your soul is rising up closer to a level of spiritual enlightenment and communion with God. However, the use of the word has by and large lost its religious meaning amongst day-to-day use when describing Jewish diasporic immigration to Israel.

Three years ago, I made the decision to olah to Israel.

My mother applied for my Israeli passport for me before I could walk—she took me along when I was only six months old to introduce me to the family—but my citizenship was not "active." My interaction with my Israeli citizenship was limited to the vague memories of standing in a different customs line at the airport in Tel Aviv than my dad who lined up with other non-Israelis.  A few weeks before I turned 18, we were finalizing forms for my college registration and my mom suddenly said, "Oh! We should get you that exemption from the army!!"

For a split second I felt the different life path if I had been living in Israel. Rather than going to college, with the glimmering nearness of independence and learning and new friends and adventures, I could have been entering the Israeli army. Yet, since I had grown up in the States, the idea was ephemeral and quickly brushed to the side; I never was called to serve.

At age 19, I came to Jerusalem to study Hebrew for the summer on a grant from my college. It was my first time visiting my family in 6 years, my first time engaging with them as the young adult I was becoming, and my very first time able to connect with them in their own language and words.

The summer was transformative; I felt deeply that I had found a place where I belonged. People looked like me, people danced like me, people were intense like me, and my heart felt full to finally be in the bosom of the tribe of our large, loud, and loving family. Having inherited my mom's dual-citizenship, I grew up with a foot in two different places. I was seeking to unify the pieces of our lives and our families.

Since that summer, I continually tried to find ways to come back for extended periods of time: another summer on a grant to study Zionism, another winter studying Hebrew, and finally my MA studies in Jerusalem. Each time I visited, it felt like more than a visit. The place spoke to my bones, there was something there that I was supposed to learn, connect with, and do. Life in Israel is in high-definition, it's almost as if living in the US had been 2D and Israel was 3D; colors are brighter, tastes are more tasty, every day feels filled with meaning. I felt like I was finally awake and truly living.

It would be reticent of me not to also admit that I felt naively capable of making change. Of making an impact beyond my own circles and friends. Having grown up with Building Bridges for Peace, an American organization that brought together young Palestinian and Israeli women for 3 weeks of dialogue in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I had grown up knowing that there were two peoples and a conflict and I was taught that the solution was for the two sides to meet and talk. The founder of the organization was a dear family friend and a mentor to me.  She challenged me when I told her that I was going to move to Israel. She asked me,

"Are you going there to become a part of the system, or to change it?"

I responded, in a burst of tears, "To change it."

So, June 2014, I packed my bags, held onto my immigration papers that claimed my status as a "returning citizen" and I “rose up” to Israel.

I was welcomed as a new immigrant, an olah hadasha. My life the first few months was preoccupied with making sure my aliyah was smooth and daily struggles with Israeli bureaucracy: opening up a bank account, sorting out taxes, applying for health insurance.

Then, only a few weeks after my arrival, the war with Gaza began.

The summer was traumatic for me—both in experiencing violence, war, and death up close and also in suddenly feeling a deep rupture with the State of Israel. For so long, I had wanted to move and be a part of the culture, the society, the citizenry. And yet, suddenly I was faced with a situation (in my mind) of unjust retributive violence surrounded by a populace that was frightened and unable to encounter the humanity of the "other," and ineffective politics that used that fear to justify actions and atrocities.

I wanted nothing to do with it.

That rupture was painful, beyond what I was able to admit for many years. It pushed me to want to pack my things and leave. I felt lost and alone.

Then, in January 2015, I went to the West Bank for the first time on a tour with Extend. I walked through the ghostly quiet streets of Hebron where Palestinians are forbidden to live or even walk, I met the activists of Nabi Saleh village and held rubber bullets and used tear-gas canisters in my hand, I held the green-identity card of a Palestinian man who shared his story with us and explained the ways that green card limited his movement and freedom to breathe. I learned about the intricacies of military law and courts and the daily occurrence of children being arrested: I heard how occupation is not just about occupying a land, but occupying the minds of a people.

My life went from 3D to being 4D. I reconnected with the reasons I had come to Israel beyond family and belonging. I came motivated by a belief that human connection overcomes walls, that seeing things for yourself challenges your assumptions and leads to space of authentic learning and transformation. Hearing the personal story from a person is powerful, and learning to hear stories, in their original language, became an important part of my life. I had found my purpose. I connected with a community of local activists; I was challenged to think differently, to see differently, and to step outside of my comfort zone.

Everything shifted then. I felt challenged and had much to learn, and learn I did.

I am currently sitting on the plane and typing this entire post on my phone as I head back to the United States. I am leaving now because I reached a point where I feel, yet again, that I have so much to learn.

Was it a hard Aliyah? Yes.

But, I am strong.

If I learned anything from these years living in Israel and Palestine, it is that.

I am leaving Jerusalem because I am starting my PhD focusing on the impact of conflict on female political agency at the University of Denver this September. This path of studying is a continuation of the conversations that began in Israel and Palestine, and I am excited to return one day with more tools and new frameworks to challenge what we think to be true. The movement is only beginning to grow now, the seeds have been planted and I am excited to see what it will grow into next.

 

 

Leaving the Cave by Sophie Schor

Plato is famous for his allegory of a cave. In it, he employs a metaphor that if you were born in a cave and lived in a cave your entire life, captive and unable to turn your head, only seeing shadows cast on the stone wall, you would know no other reality than that. But if you were to leave the cave and walk under the sun and see the real world outside—not the world of the shadows, rather the world of light and dark—how would you ever begin to describe it to those still sitting in the cave and watching the wall?

How can I even describe the last forty days of Sumud: Freedom Camp and living in Sarura?

Against a backdrop of desert hills, a terraced valley with newly planted olive trees, and the mountains of Jordan peering at us through the hazy distance, we built a movement.

Beginning on May 19th, a coalition of five groups launched Sumud Freedom Camp [Sumud is an Arabic term for steadfastness, resilience, and resoluteness, it is an often invoked term in Palestinian political discourse]. Members of the Popular Resistance Committee of the South Hebron Hills, Holy Land Trust, Combatants for Peace, All That’s Left: An Anti-Occupation Collective, and Center for Jewish Nonviolence came together in an unprecedented joint effort. Since then a community of activists have rehabilitated the ancestral caves of the villagers, flattened roads connecting Sarura to adjacent villages, planted gardens, maintained a constant presence on the land, and established the camp as a defiant embodiment of co-resistance to the Israeli occupation. (You can read the full statement by the coalition here)

For 40 days and 40 nights, over 500 people passed through Sarura, an unrecognized village located in Area C of the West Bank in the South Hebron Hills. Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, and international justice seekers joined together to carry out a direct act of civil disobedience and solidarity with the Palestinians who live in Firing Zone 918—a closed military zone of about 30 square miles that was established by the Israeli army in the late 1970s.

For 40 days and 40 nights, the Popular Resistance Committee of the South Hebron Hills held down the fort and put Sarura back on the map. Young men from the village of Atwani spent twenty-four hours a day in the caves and on the land, leading construction projects, leaning against rock walls smoking nargileh, and teaching us how to dance duhiyye.

For 40 days and 40 nights, local Palestinians from the nearby villages of Umm al-Khayr and Susiya (both of which are unrecognized by Israel, both are only meters away from settlements, and both currently have standing demolition orders on the majority of their homes) came to Sarura to stand in solidarity with the residents and would quickly set about to building fires and making sweet tea for everyone who visited.

For 40 days and 40 nights, Israeli and international activists, having been invited by the local Palestinians of Atwani and Sarura, took shifts to be present and to lend the privilege of their passports and their identity to protect the space.

For 40 days and 40 nights, we spoke a new language: a language of nonviolence, of empathy, of compassion, of commitment, of resolve, of steadfastness.

For 40 days and 40 nights, we were Sumud.

When I was in Sarura, I adjusted to a different rhythm: in the morning I would wake to the sound of goats’ hooves on rocks, which sounds like rain. During the 4AM night-watch shift, I learned to recognize the East star that signaled the sun would soon appear. I learned the names of the plants that became my savior when the dinner from the night before would not settle. Even the winds that brought the cool air from the sea became familiar. I close my eyes and I see the rocky hillside imprinted in my eyelids. I feel the vibrations in my bones as I traipse up and down the slope jumping over the prickly bushes with the heels of my boots bouncing off the rocks.

It was the month of Ramadan, so I also adjusted to a different pattern due to the month-long fast: our Palestinian partners slept during the day so that the fast would go by quicker while we worked and organized, and then made the nights lively, full of tea and sweets and watermelon served with salty cheese and laughter around fires. Our days passed slow and fast, depending on the temperature. Hot days slipped by in a sticky wave as we tried to work earlier in the morning in order to rest in the shade of the cave during the hottest part of the day. Yet, around three o’clock in the afternoon, the sun would lower just enough, the breeze would return and whip dust into our hair, and we would feel alive enough to continue working.

As the sun set, the camp would become quiet as the Palestinians returned to town to join the evening prayers. Then, all at once, in a flurry of movement, a car would arrive honking its horn and everyone at camp would rush up to the top of the hill to help carry down steaming pots of hot food, bottles of sweet date juice, and chicken made by the women of Atwani for our dinner. We would spoon out masses of rice onto plates and then all gather together around the food, sitting on the floor, pick up a plastic spoon and dig in. The plates were communal, I picked the meat off bones while Sami from Atwani sat in front of me inhaling the food and ladling yogurt onto the rice on the corner of the same plate.

Once food had was gone and cigarettes were lit, the place became alive. Someone would go off to fetch the tractor and the generator from the nearby village and we would have electricity for a few hours; everyone would clamor over the outlets to charge their phones. Suddenly, the camp, which had been quiet only an hour before, would become alive, as all of the locals would come back for the evening. The young men would plug in speakers and blast a local Bedouin music that has been meshed with techno beats and stand around clapping to the beat. 

Some nights I would stay awake the entire night, high on the conversations and the company. Other nights I would collapse in exhaustion, surrounded by others who continued to talk over the fire. Someone would cover me with a blanket and I would later wake up in a pile of people sleeping, the Milky Way staring down at me.

The 6-7 AM conversations became our golden hour: that was the moment when most people would wake up because the sun was too bright, too hot, and too lively to sleep anymore. They would stagger to the top of the hill to join us who had stayed awake the whole night watching the skies, the hilltops, the settlement, and the road. They would sit down with us in a pile of mattresses and blankets and ash from the night’s fire—coffee would be made or reheated, and then the conversations would flow. Conversations about the place of violence in revolutions, conversations about the mistakes we’ve each made in learning a new language, conversations about religion or capitalism or feminism. We would spend those golden hours sharing experiences of frustrations, of hurts, of trauma, of anger. We would take that time to try to understand the reality surrounding us, we would educate each other from what we knew about history and occupation and military law and challenge each other to humanize and empathize and see through the eyes of an 18 year old Israeli soldier or a 60 year old Palestinian woman.

On the hillside of Sarura, we cleaned out the debris of twenty years since the families had last inhabited their homes. We rebuilt stone walls that had fallen, we built a new garden, we carved a new path into the ridge, we evened out the dirt road. On the hill of Sarura, we did our best to clean out the debris of hate, of anger, of trauma, of fear, of impotence, of stereotypes, of assumptions. On the hill of Sarura, we grew, we healed, we cared, we laughed, we connected, we loved, and we became the agents of change that we needed to become.

The hillside of the settlement Havat Ma’on was an unremitting reminder that we were not welcome there; the non-native trees on the crest of the desert hill seemed to be teasing us—a constant reminder of the quantity of water required for them to grow and which the settlement had in ample supply; the dogs barking at night seemed to be warning us; the flickering lights from the houses made the darkness that much darker; the interlacing antennae of the cell phone station was a reminder towering over us that those living on the opposite hill had access to everything and we had nothing.

One morning I joined Salim for a drive to Yatta to buy breakfast for the group. Salim was born and raised in Atwani, the village next door to the camp which had been hosting and supporting us in Sarura. Salim is 22 and a half (which he likes to add) and is kind, quick to laugh, and one of the most considerate individuals I have ever met. We began talking about life in Atwani, a village located in Area B of the Occupied Territories, about his experiences growing up in a village that had no water, no electricity, and no school. He told me about the community-led nonviolent resistance, which over ten years acquired attention from the PLO and Arafat, and pressured the Israeli army into allowing them to build their homes and their school and be connected to the water and electricity systems. His parents are among the leaders in the community and he watched as his father was arrested almost monthly for disturbing the order and for challenging the system to provide basic necessities for his family. His mother, full of love and smiles and a talented cook beyond compare, is known for standing in a line of other women in front of Israeli bulldozers and preventing them from demolishing a school room. I was blessed to spend time in her company learning the secrets of how to make date ma’amoul cookies that are made special for Eid (the final celebration at the end of Ramadan). We sat around the table holding ancient wooden molds and smacking dough filled with date paste on the table. That evening the women joined us up at camp and began singing and drumming a song using the name of each person there and saying “Kifa’, she is strong. Sana’, she is strong. Asinat, she is strong. Nour, she is strong, Heba, she is strong.”

Salim shared with me the time the Israeli army was looking for him to arrest him because he was supposedly at the scene of an attack on a settler from next door, and he joked about the three times they came to his house looking for him.

Salim, smoking nargileh in the cave, Nikon 35mm, Kodak Portra 400, copyright Sophie Schor

Salim, smoking nargileh in the cave, Nikon 35mm, Kodak Portra 400, copyright Sophie Schor

The first time, the army officers walked into his house and asked him, “Where is Salim?” to which he replied, “At work.” The second time, they came and asked his mother, “Where is Salim?” to which she told them, “At university” (he was in the house next door). The third time, he woke up to a gun to his head at 2AM and an officer asking him “Are you Salim?”

They detained him in Kiryat Arba detention center for 3 days with no access to a lawyer. He was driving us down a bumpy unpaved road to the nearby bakery to buy fresh pita while smiling and telling this story. “Then they roughed me up.” “What do you mean they roughed you up?” “They beat the shit out of me,” he said still smiling. He shrugged his shoulders and said in Arabic, “ 'Awdeh—normal.”

This is the normal here.

My heart sank.

I have seen with my own eyes the ways in which the Israeli army prevents Palestinian life from growing and living. For one month I have lived it. That is nothing compared to Salim's life where every single day for 22 and a half years, he has lived it. 

In the Occupied Territories, there are the de jure legal rulings that declare that there is a building freeze in Area C of the West Bank—an effect of Oslo Accords and the supposed freeze on settlements. So it is forbidden for Salim to even build a room on his own land next to his olive trees. Each time he begins stacking cinder blocks to build a wall, the army arrives and knocks them down. Then there is the de facto reality—the practice on the ground that enables Jews to build and live and thrive. Sarura is flanked by Ma’on, Havat Ma’on outpost and the nearby outpost Avigail which was built in 2001. Since the beginning of these settlements, some in the 1970s, they have continued to build and expand. Only three weeks ago Israel approved plans for 2,100 new settlement housing units in the West Bank.

However, for Sarura, it was illegal to build any new structures, even though it is private land and the Palestinian families have the original documents from the Ottoman Empire that give them a legitimate right to live there. It was illegal for us to put up a shade tent at Sarura because it is considered “building”; it was illegal for us to add a door to seal the second cave because that would be considered “building.” Any time a tent was erected, the army would come and dismantle it. Any time we put up the shade, the army would come and surveil us. Jeeps would arrive, tumbling over the rocky road and sit on the hillsides watching us. Once they came with a bulldozer in order to confiscate mattresses, blankets, and food—all the items that were enabling life in an “illegal outpost” according to the only military order that they ever arrived with. Meanwhile, the “illegal outpost” of the Israeli community in Avigail sits on the top of the other hill connected to water, connected to electricity, with a paved road lined with flowers.

Worse than the army was the Regavim security cars that would sit for hours haunting us. Regavim is a settler organization with the goal of “selective implementation of planning and construction laws, encouraging the state to demolish Palestinian homes or public buildings” (article about them here). They fly drones around the caves and the land, watching us, and would join the army each and every time that they arrived to force us to dismantle or leave. Their presence felt more threatening and controlling than that of the young Israeli soldiers who were driving by in their jeeps with the Israeli flag fluttering in the wind.

We had no access to running water. We had no electricity. And every night, we would sit staring at the hillside of Ma’on settlement and see their lights, their gardens with water, their safe gated and guarded community. I began to see through the eyes of Salim—someone almost my age who has grown up in the shadow of a settlement his entire life seeing that they have everything and knowing that he has to walk 45 minutes to a school in a nearby city, which may take him closer to two hours if the army decides to put up a floating checkpoint and harass him; seeing that they have water, and roads, and protection, and access to land for agriculture, which is actually Palestinian land.

I told Salim about the emotions that all this stirred in me, and I asked him, “What do you do with your anger? How do you channel it into something good rather than something bad? How are you still smiling?”

He responded to me, “I’m still asking myself that question too,” and my eyes cloud over in memories that echo with the image of Salim scooping up his three year old sister Tasneem and throwing her high up in the air until she collapsed in a fit of giggles, of his face appearing in the morning and offering me a coffee as I rub the sleep out of my eyes, of his passing me a piece of pita without me even having to ask.

I am back in Jerusalem now, I am letting the experiences sit and settle like the desert dust: those moments where joy and celebration was quickly overshadowed by fear and uncertainty as the army came or a settler appeared on the hillside watching us. Those moments when I heard my heart in my ears and I had to remind myself to breathe and keep calm. Those moments when I would catch the eye of someone from our camp and remind myself that I trust that person with my life and we are in this together. The moments of joining the women of Atwani cooking dinner and realizing that I now speak enough Arabic and can join in the gossip and the singing. The moments when Fadel Aamer passed me the coffee and the paper cups and informed me to serve the visiting guests coffee because this is my home too. The moment when the Sheikh from the nearby village gave me a new name: Sophura (the Arabic version of Tzipora) which sounds like a combination of Sophie and Sarura. The joy of racing on the top of the hill with kids on our backs shouting with glee. The casual wave to the shepherds as they walked by with their sheep—the subtle yet powerful acknowledgement of another human being’s existence. The quiet moments of solitude and reflection as we sat in a cloud of cigarette smoke watching the darkness turn to light.
 

I have left the cave behind now; the locals from the Popular Resistance Committee are still there with the families of Sarura. We are on call if anything is to happen, and I know that if the army comes, we will gather our friends in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, in Bethlehem, in Hebron and drive south immediately. We are giving space and quiet for the families of Sarura to now settle into their homes and their own rhythms in the desert.

I have left the cave behind and am walking in the sun. The images I see are frightening and uncomfortable because I can no longer hide from the devastation of occupation or the blatant inequality and supremacy that exists in this land. I can no longer hold my head high as an Israeli-American and say that this is for the good of all. Throughout my three years of being here, I have engaged in this work, I have exposed myself to the lives of others; I have tried to understand the feeling of waking up at 3AM to cross through Qalandiya checkpoint and be harassed only to get to Jerusalem to work a construction job that still doesn’t feed your family. I have driven past the concrete wall that separates and have tried to imagine what it feels like to wake up every single day and have that be your view. I have tried to breathe in the frustration at not being given a visa to travel or the utter inconvenience of not being allowed to use an airport that is thirty minutes away, rather having to cross a bridge into another country. Yet none of that truly captured what it is to live under the shadows of oppression.

Reality is bright, the sun hurts my eyes, but the people I have met and the bonds we have created strengthen my heart and tell me that we must go on. For a moment in time and space, we all walked outside of the cave and saw a world beyond the shadows. We saw a reality beyond what we ever could have imagined. And we built it together.

This may be the end of Ramadan in Resistance and the end of Sumud Camp as we know it at Sarura, but it is not a moment, it is a movement. Join us at the Combatants for Peace Freedom March next Friday, July 7th, as we celebrate together the lessons we learned at Sumud, follow Sumud Camp on Facebook to see where we go next, and spread the word. This is only the beginning.

We are asking for monetary support to raise money to replace the items that the Israeli Civil Administration confiscated from us [including an electric generator, a projector for a film screening, 47 mattresses, blankets, and the personal car of one of the home-owners].

Every donation helps. 

Donate here: 

 

 

We are Free: 10 days at Sumud by Sophie Schor

I woke up this morning feeling free: free from despair, free from helplessness, free from disappointment, free from cynicism, free from the feeling that the future cannot be changed.

Sumud Freedom Camp freed me. 11 days later and the camp is still standing at Sarura, I spent 8 nights there in the desert over the last week. I joined with my full heart in building the physical camp, in building the intentional community that has been born there, and in building the world that we as Palestinians, Israelis and Diaspora Jews want to live in. Two attempts by the army to dismantle the camp have been overcome, and our resilience is stronger than ever. The family has been approved to stay in their old home, so long as no new construction happens.

With hope comes action, and we have learned that we have agency as individuals and that the tiny actions of washing dishes or picking up trash from the hillside or clearing rocks for a road can make an impact. The Aamer family has returned to their home. Fadel Aamer hosted the first Iftar (breaking-the-fast) meal on the first night of Ramadan in his home for the first time in twenty years. His grandson Muhammad dished out rice and chicken for the over 50 guests who came to celebrate. His younger grandchildren and the boys from the local village of a-Tawaneh were running back and forth offering juice to one and all. The members of the steering committee, the residents of the camp, and the volunteers and activists from Center of Jewish Nonviolence, Combatants for Peace and All That's Left nibbled on dates and danced under the stars together. The celebration was exuberant; smiles graced the faces of all as we gratefully ate and looked around in surprise that we were still standing. Music was blasted on speakers, which had been lugged down the rocky road to the camp, songs were sung, instruments were played, and laughter flowed on the winds. Our joy echoed across the hill to the nearby settlement of Ma'on.

The evening was interrupted as reports of army vehicles entering a-Tawaneh were passed to the camp. Within minutes, we had dissembled and hidden the tent, the new generator had been ran off to the village, and we gathered together, ready to face whatever was coming our way. They never approached the camp, but the tension was palpable. It highlighted once again just how quickly lives in the West Bank can switch from joy to fear and apprehension, every moment is lived waiting to see if life is about to be interrupted by violence and control and domination.

As we waited to see if the army jeeps would arrive to camp in the dark, I walked up to Fadel Aamer, the property owner and our host. He was standing at the top of the hill and gazing intently into the darkness, protective of his guests below, determinedly waiting for whatever was to come. It was one of the few times I saw his face not cracked into a smile. Over the course of the week, his love has filled the camp and is the continuous beating heart that has kept me from leaving to return to my bed and a shower. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes and told me that towards everyone in this camp, he is our father and will protect us against anything forever. At Sumud, we have all become family. We have cooked together, built together, stood in the face of the army, guarded each other from the neighboring settlements and the threat they carry, and grown together. The bonds that have been created run deeper than blood.

Sarura is now entering a new stage, one in which we work to rehabilitate more homes for Fadel's family members to move into. We are currently clearing away the rubble in a second cave-home nearby which Fadel's son and three grandchildren will hopefully move into. We take each day slowly, we take each moment as it comes. With Ramadan now here, the days are longer and hotter and as internationals, we attempt to keep busy as the families sleep in the cool shade of the cave and fast. Our rhythms have shifted.

But the nights are lively. The night-watches walk the hills and keep an eye on the shadows on the horizon of the hill of the settlement Ma'on. Having now made a stand against the army twice--and having now agreed to not build any new structures so as to avoid further provocations--our bigger concern is attacks by the settlers and their surveillance of our camp. The outpost at  (called Havat Ma'on) was reported as being a particularly violent and disruptive settlement, a hotbed of violent extremists, in 2013 by Ma'an News and Ta'ayush activists frequently join with Operation Dove to escort Palestinian children to school past the settlement.

So night shifts walk the hills, sit at the windy lookout at the top of the hill and learn about stars and each other. Once you have made it through the early morning hours and see the sun brightening, often you choose not to wake up the next watch and wait to see the sun crest over the far hills of Jordan: proof that we have made it through the night and that Sarura stands to see another day.

We need help to continue! We are still raising money through crowdfunding in order to buy more tools, to potentially buy a water tank to provide easier access to water at the camp, and food and transportation for the activists and the community living there. Our sweat and love has gone into this camp, anything that you can contribute as well can make a huge difference for us. At Sumud, I have been learning how my freedom is tied up in the freedom of others. Please join us in this struggle, donate here.

With love from the South Hebron Hills.

#WeAreSumud

We've also been featured in a Ha'aretz piece, see here: The Young Jewish Americans Coming to Israel to Fight the Occupation
 

As well as on +972 Mag: PHOTOS: A week of joint struggle in Sumud Freedom Camp, WATCH: Israeli forces dismantle West Bank protest camp Palestinians, Israelis and diaspora Jews build West Bank protest camp

And in Al-Jazeera and AJ+: 

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/israeli-forces-raid-sarura-protest-camp-hebron-hills-170525110933587.html

WATCH: https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/964954773646030/?pnref=story

 

We Are Sumud by Sophie Schor

72 hours later and I am sitting in a coffee shop back in Jerusalem [a dead quiet Jerusalem, as the 45th President has arrived for his official visit and most roads have been closed off for security].

Yesterday morning I woke up in Bethlehem after 3 hours of sleep after leading a group of international Jews (mainly North Americans) away from the site where the IDF had dismantled our tent.

The day before that I woke up in a sleeping bag on a rock on a hillside being offered coffee from Musa as the sun was rising. Musa had driven 6 hours from Qalqilya the night before to join us at the Freedom Camp. I was offered mulberries to eat and Ahmed was busy fixing me up a sandwich of pita and fresh labneh.

And here I am in this coffee shop, listening to Sam Cooke's “A Change Gonna' Come” being piped through the speakers and trying to think of where to even begin. So, let's begin at the beginning:

20 years ago, Fadel Aamar and his family were pushed off his land in the area known as Sarura, located in the South Hebron Hills, by the Israeli army. The area where his family had lived for generations had been declared an official closed military zone, and was subsequently called Firing Zone 918. Fadel's family's lands were confiscated, his family was intimidated, and they eventually abandoned their home and moved to Yatta (the nearby city where most people living there have a similar story).

Fadel Aamar

Fadel Aamar

Three days ago, Fadel used his key to open the door to his family's cave-home and entered his home again for the first time in twenty years. Three days ago, over three hundred Palestinians, Israelis, and diaspora Jews arrived to Fadel's family lands to be there for him to open his home and return. The joy in the air was palpable as groups propped up a tent on the ruined rock walls of a home from the village of Sarura, as new walls were built, as the cave was cleared of dust and dirt and made habitable. Teams were established to be on clean-up duty and sort out a system for recycling and trash. Other teams were busy preparing the roadway to be repaved to ensure that water could be transported to this remote location and enable quicker transport in an emergency if someone needed to get to a nearby hospital.

I remember walking the hills of South Hebron two years ago (link to that blog post here and a blog post from solidarity action in Susiya and Umm al-Khayr here) and feeling the futility of helping these communities. Ringed on all sides by settlements, what is the point? I remember hearing stories of a cycle of violence between the settlers attacking the Palestinians who continued to live there, and the retributive violence that led one home-owner to be in the hospital leaving his wife all alone in a house in the middle of nowhere. She stood resolutely next to her doorway and said, "I will not leave here, I prefer to die on my lands." I thought to myself that we could draw attention to this family and that maybe they could stay for one more day, and then they would eventually give up and move to Yatta. I could already picture the expansion of the settlement into the valley; I couldn't wrap my head around why this is productive.

But, I spoke to a friend who told me a sentence that has remained ringing in my ears since then: Existence is Resistance. These communities stand at the frontline of occupation and discriminatory policies of violence and land annexation in Area C in the West Bank. They are the most vulnerable communities—often living in remote locations, without access to basic services such as water, electricity, or roads.

They are also, in my eyes, the strongest communities. Adhering to the principle of "Sumud"—roughly translates into English as steadfastness or resilience—they refuse to give up. Homes may be demolished, but they return and rebuild. The army may intimidate them, but they stand up against it. Settlers may attack them, but they return. This is their home.

So, the Sumud Freedom Camp began, in an attempt to join forces together and to oppose the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, the daily injustices, and to adopt the steadfastness of our Palestinian partners in the fight. The idea was dreamed up by an unprecedented coalition of Palestinian, Israeli, and international organizations and inspired by the Standing Rock camp back in North Dakota, USA: Holyland Trust, Youth Against Settlements, Combatants for Peace, All That's Left Collective, and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (which included a delegation from the group If Not Now).

The groups adhere to strict principles of nonviolent creative actions to oppose the occupation and to draw attention to the persistent problems of the Israeli Occupation during its 50th year. The intended goals of the Camp were to reclaim Palestinian lands, rebuild ancestral homes, and rehabilitate historic wells. Led by Palestinians in the coalition, this was the largest direct action of diaspora Jews to date.

I arrived to the Camp Friday morning on behalf of the women’s group from Combatants for Peace. We arrived in high spirits astounded to see a large tent of circus-like proportions propped up and surrounded by Palestinian flags. It had been 6 hours since the beginning of the camp and it was still standing. A similar protest action (called Bab al-Shams) had been attempted four years ago and was quickly shut down. I was greeted by hugs and waving hands as friends from all over the world and the region had congregated on this hillside. I was flooded by the feeling of community and pleasantly surprised as many of my worlds collided: a family friend from Denver who had been present at my baby-naming was there as part of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation. Friends from various phases in Jerusalem had returned as well, friends from All That’s Left, and my partners in Combatants for Peace were all present. We came from Jerusalem, from Jericho, from Tel Aviv, from Yatta, from Belgium, from Australia, from Ramallah, from Hebron, from Tarqumia, from Umm al-Kheir. We came together to build the future we want to see.

In the shadow of the Israeli settlement Ma’on, we built tents, we built a community center, we picked up trash, we made walls, we cleared a road, we painted tires to mark the road, we made food, we told jokes, we taught each other our languages, we laughed, we danced, we prayed.

In the shadow of the settlement, on Friday night, the Jewish delegation conducted the Kabbalat Shabbat service as the young Palestinian men connected speakers to the solar-panel generator to blast Arabic music and began dancing around fires.  Standing by the old well, a rabbi conducted the Jewish services to welcome in the Sabbath and the prayers rose to the setting sun. Jews wearing t-shirts that said “End the Occupation” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew sang in Hebrew to the hillsides. Fadel joined the services and sat listening and smiling.

Kabbalat Shabbat as the sun was setting.

Kabbalat Shabbat as the sun was setting.

The fires were lit, the dancing began, and the smiles abounded.

I stayed up late laughing with a group from Combatants for Peace as Aziz, a member of the movement and an actor, recounted stories and relived moments when he tricked Israeli soldiers into thinking he was a mute so that they wouldn’t stop him, stories that left us quaking in laughter. Inside jokes were made, songs were sung around the fire. I fell asleep with my Palestinian friend Lubna, who is a member of the woman’s group, and my friend Ahmed under the stars keeping an eye out for settlers or army.

The dawn broke, a new day began, and we rubbed the sleep out of our eyes grateful to still be standing. New people came, new work projects began, signs were made to welcome people to the camp, tasks were divvied up and we began.

There were a few instances of settlers approaching from the hillside to check out what was going on below, but they walked away.

The day was productive, and was generally quiet. The sun set, and we were still there. The entire group reconvened and gathered under the big tent to conduct the havdalah ceremony—that which separates the holy from the profane and marks the end of Shabbat and the return to the normal weekday.

A barbecue was announced and fresh chickens were cooked over the fire. We were just laying out mattresses in the big tent when whistles were heard: the army had arrived.

The entire atmosphere changed quickly to one of serious action. Groups were organized: those willing to be arrested went to the front, arms linked, and began to sing songs with Jewish values imbedded in them. The army went straight for the generator; Isa Amro of YAS shouted out “Protect the generator,” a group went towards it to stand between it and then army. A scuffle broke out, an officer hit one of the nonviolent activists, he was pushed to the ground against a table. The generator was taken, the lights went out. The darkness was punctuated by flashlights and the flash on cameras that were filming all. Live streams were uploaded. The singing switched to chants, “The World is Watching YOU” as the tents were dismantled. Under the cover of darkness, the IDF arrived and took away all the buildings, supplies, and necessary materials. The group was threatened with tear gas and pepper spray. Palestinians and Jews sat in the middle of the tent as they were dismantling it, singing, chanting, and refusing to leave.

 

The army left, no arrests were made. No serious assaults, no broken bones, no tear gas, no skunk water, no rubber bullets, no stun-guns, no live fire: none of the usual methods against Palestinian activists were used. The group reconvened, reckoning with their privilege as Jews and the way in which their bodies were protected and how that protection was extended to the Palestinians present as well.

I was with the group that had opted to not be arrested, and at a certain point we had decided it was best to leave in case a closed military zone was declared and the army would then begin arresting everyone who was there. We led the group to the nearby village, which had partnered with the action, and then organized buses to return to the group’s home base in Bethlehem. 3 hours later, I was awake and trying to find a way back to the camp. I had to go back, I had to see my friends, I had to know that they were okay. Those who had remained behind had stayed the night were left without tents, without mattresses (the army had poured water over many of the mattresses and blankets to make them unusable) and without water.

A few hours later, I returned with my women from CFP women’s group, bouncing over the rocks of the road in a car with Ali Abu-Awwad, of Roots, and Suli Khattib, one of the founders of Combatants for Peace. The camp had been relocated, and it had been rebuilt. Fadel and his family were moving into their cave home, his wife was making fresh bread over a fire for the first time in twenty years. The group was gathered under the tent as Fadel, beaming, welcomed us into his home. The sleep-deprivation was worth it.

I remained for the day yesterday as a new tent was rebuilt, as we sat and laughed and hugged, and were rejuvenated by each others’ presence. We returned, we rebuilt, we are resilient. We are Sumud. 

Please follow this project as it continues and expands via sumudcamp.org, and the hashtag #WeAreSumud. It is day 4 of the camp, and we are still there. However we need help to keep going and to make the space sustainable for the families of Sarura to return!

If you are in the region, please consider joining a shift and being at the camp, either in the day or during the night. Rides are being organized from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to get there. Please be in touch with me if you are interested or want to know more about how to get there. Having internationals, Israelis, and Jews there is incredibly helpful and provides a buffer of safety from the IDF for our Palestinian partners.

If you are abroad, we need monetary support! We need money to replace the generator that was taken, to buy the supplies to rehabilitate the wells, and to support the families in their efforts to rebuild. Follow this link here to donate to the crowdfunding of this project.


Follow #WeAreSumud online:

Why We March by Sophie Schor

Women Wage Peace, March of Hope, Jerusalem, October 2016.

Women Wage Peace, March of Hope, Jerusalem, October 2016.

Yesterday, the world rose up. 673 women-led marches sprung up from Antarctica to Washington.

The internet is teeming with images and text and videos and songs and memes and today, the day after, here comes the analysis.

I was unable to attend the march in my body (wisdom teeth removal, so a weekend of ultimate self-care filled with ice cream and binge watching of ‘The Crown’). But, I sat at home in Jerusalem, glued to my computer and my phone. Flicking between live-feeds, instant photos, news reports, friends’ text messages from D.C. and L.A. and New York and Tel Aviv, my mom’s photos from Denver, and Facebook: the energy was palpable. Even now, I close my eyes and see images of sign bearing, grinning women and men, pink hats, and crowds that do not end.

Hundreds of thousands of feet marching, walking, dancing, prancing, chanting, singing, yelling, smiling, laughing, traveling with a message.

Hundreds of thousands of feet from coast to coast, from continent to continent, marching with a purpose: to be heard.

The beauty of yesterday is the ultimate diversity of ideas and values that were brought together by a banner of inclusivity: equality, climate change, Black Lives Matter, access to abortion, wage-difference, indigenous rights, LGBTQIA rights and recognition; no to DAPL, to misogyny, to corruption, to rape culture, to separation of undocumented families; yes to embracing of Muslim communities, to standing against Occupation, to healthcare, to access to education, and to organizing unions. The issues brought to the streets were vibrant, were passionate, and were diverse—just like the lived experiences of every single person who was marching.

I watched the main stage in D.C. as an indigenous woman opened the ceremony with a song from her tradition, as black women sang their hopes and fears, as women took up space, as the past of feminism collided with today in all its glory. I listened with baited breath to role models Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem and began to repeat the names of new women who will lead us into tomorrow: Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, and the countless others who worked to make yesterday possible.

Yesterday was not just a march; it is a movement. Women of color are on the front-lines, they are speaking from the stage; it is time to listen.

I think back to that glorious day in October when 20,000 people marched to Jerusalem under the banner of Women Wage Peace (I wrote about it here on Jerusalem Post, and here on my blog). There is something radical about the love of women extending to all, across all borders, all political ideologies, all divisions. That love is frightening to some who do not wish to see a new order, a new world, a new day dawn. It is wildly powerful and exciting.

But in order for a movement to rise, to grow, to monitor, to transform, it must keep working. That anger that fires up and inspires one woman who has never joined a protest before to get on a plane and pick up a sign, that anger cannot dissipate because we marched and yelled and screamed for one day. That anger must continue, must charge forward, must motivate to picking up the phone tomorrow, or committing to attending a meeting, or deciding to run for office, or deciding to start that uncomfortable conversation with ourselves about oppression. We must wake up every day and challenge our previous conceptions of where we are from and where we are going.

The movement begins again today. March on.

Women Wage Peace, March of Hope, Jerusalem, October 2016

Women Wage Peace, March of Hope, Jerusalem, October 2016

Something Broke. by Sophie Schor

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We have it in our power to begin the world over again. -Common Sense, Thomas Paine, 1776.

Something broke last week and a deep grief set in. I was surprised by the heaviness of my mourning. Hillary Clinton’s climactic denouement and Donald Trump’s decisive rise to power has left me spinning in an emotional tidal wave. I wake up in the morning and my limbs feel heavy. My heart hurts. My brain races and runs. My instinct is to throw the covers over my head and hide away, to play soothing music and close the blinds and sit in darkness.

I’m not surprised, I’m not shocked.  But I am sad. Tears bubble up again as I relive watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. To be a young woman watching her stand with poise and grace under the most unimaginable emotional duress, I was inspired by her bravery. I sat there broken by the realization that very idea of a woman running the country could be so divisive and elusive. I watched her standing tall and I was deeply moved by her as she spoke about dedicating her life to public work and challenging all those young women watching to do the same with their lives. To fight for what is right.

Yet—it is hard to bounce back from watching a woman come so close, yet still be unable to attain the highest-office, the symbolic house that equates the highest power in our world. It is with this heavy heart that I went to Beit Jala this weekend for a continuing seminar with the women activists of Combatants for Peace. I was emotionally burnt out and exhausted, yet I knew I had committed to the process and so I went.

Sixteen of us arrived: Palestinian and Israeli women ages ranging across multiple generations. Speaking no common language, we picked up our headphones and tuned into translations of Arabic and Hebrew and English. We were shy at first, reserved. We have already met once as a whole group, and other times amongst our “national-groups.”

Those meetings have been, interesting but uneventful.

This weekend was different. We worked together to make a timeline of the history of the conflict, we shared our personal timelines, and we discussed what makes a moment important. We discussed how being a woman colors our experiences, we discussed how being women could be a strategy in resistance; we discussed what leadership in the movement looks like and could look like. We opened up, we laughed, we shared cookies.

But most important, we marched. Every month, Combatants for Peace organizes a march alongside Rte. 60 (I have written about it before here). The march fell exactly during our weekend workshop, so we went. The point of this group is to plan actions amongst the women in the Combatants for Peace organization and to highlight the role that gender plays in conflict. As a group, we said, “Let’s do something special at the march…” but we didn’t know what to do.

We arrived at the meeting point. The march began as it normally does, the crowd mills around. Signs are handed out and passed around. Friends say hello and hug. The soldiers pace back and forth.

But as we actually began marching, suddenly it clicked. We found each other, linked arms, and pushed our way to the front. We led the crowd. Women standing together against the Occupation. We held the sign of Combatants for Peace: “There is another way.” We held the front. We chanted cheers, and as the routine phrases were shouted through the microphone we feminized them in Hebrew and Arabic. We picked up the megaphone and led cheers, lending women’s voices to the hullabaloo.

I shouted with all of my heart. I screamed with all of the emotions that this week has left me: desperation, fear, hurt, anxiety, anger, confusion, and determination. I was lifted up this weekend by the voices of the women. I was healed by our conversations, our kindness, our dedication, our indignation at injustice, our work. Women have a role to play and we will not be silenced.

The fight for justice is one that rages every single day all over this planet, from Israel and Palestine to the United States. The great experiment that is the United States is not yet finished—we are living and breathing and actualizing it every single day.

We are the people we have been waiting for. We are the voices of our time. And the time is now.

So what do we do on a day like today? A day that feels dark and foreboding and full of tyrannical elimination of freedoms that the generations before fought for? A day that feels as though the very pillars of our illusions of democracy are crumbling? A day that feels out of control?

We return to our core values. We find strength in our local communities. We re-read those documents that inspire, bring strangers together, and bind us to a shared destiny. We re-read the Bill of Rights. We re-read the Constitution. We stand by it and awaken to protect it. We support those who do (like the ACLU).

Something broke, so now we build.

Let’s get to work.

Hope Keeps Us Warm by Sophie Schor

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Originally published by The Jerusalem Post,  online here.

SOPHIE SCHOR 11/03/2016

It was hot, 32 degrees, yet the warmth I felt was coming not from the desert heat, but rather from the company I was with. I was surrounded by thousands of women clapping in unison. Hope rose in waves around us.

Women Wage Peace, an Israeli women’s peace movement founded in November 2014, organized a massive event called the March of Hope, in which, for three weeks, women marched throughout the country demanding a return to diplomatic negotiations and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beginning this Succot in Rosh Hanikra near the Lebanese border, 20 women walked 250 km. to Jerusalem. En route to the capital, they met with different communities and organized solidarity marches, and they were joined by hundreds of people for different legs of the journey. The march culminated on October 19 as thousands of women wearing white wound their way through the streets of Jerusalem from the Supreme Court to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

The organizers claim that the crowd reached 20,000 people.

Women Wage Peace was founded two years ago, after the 2014 war in Gaza.

Women from around Israel organized around the belief that the cycle of violence must end. The organizers claimed that women’s voices are valuable, but ignored. They believe women should be included in diplomatic negotiations.

They believe women possess the power to transform a deadlocked conflict into one that can be resolved, and seek to reconnect fractured groups in Israeli society by connecting women to each other based on communal female experiences.

The one thing they highlight again and again is that everyone wants the same thing: peace.

In their attempt to unite Israeli society over this topic the group does not provide any specific details of what “peace” might entail, which some may target as a weakness.

I originally had my reservations about this movement: I had doubts concerning their a-politicism, as everything here is political and the lack of a defined solution seemed impractical.

However, the ambiguity is working.

In the past two years, more than 10,000 women from around the country have joined the movement. On the morning of October 19, I joined as well.

The morning of the march, I stumbled bleary-eyed at 7 a.m. to the bus to head to the Dead Sea. The joy was contagious as we made our way through the South. We snaked through back roads and were flagged down by ladies in white standing at junctions waiting to board. Women from the entire country were gathering, from Eilat to Umm el-Fahm. When we arrived, there were buses as far as the eye could see. Women disembarked and joined the ever-growing crowd, being welcomed in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “From Nablus! From Tel Aviv! From Ramallah! From Jerusalem! From Haifa! From Kalkilya! From Eilat! From Afula! From Hebron! From Ashkelon! From Jenin!” shouted the organizers. “Welcome!” The choice of location was important: Qasr el-Yahud is a pilgrimage site holy to the three monotheistic religions, but it is located in Area C, so both Palestinians from the West Bank and Israelis can go there. It is one of the rare spaces where a meeting like this could take place.

The event itself was even more unusual: 4,000 Israeli and Palestinian women marching next to the Jordan River.

The energy was palpable as Leymeh Gbowee mounted the stage. Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Laureate and leader of the women’s peace movement in Liberia that succeeded in ending her country’s civil war, has joined forces in solidarity with WWP. She stood there as a symbol of what could be achieved. She started chanting with the crowd: “When I say women, you say: peace! When I say peace, you say: Yes! When I say war, you say: No!” The scene was magical as we marched beside the river – thousands of women in white walking in the desert as far as the eye could see: women wearing hijabs, women wearing high heels, women with kids on their shoulders, older women carrying canes and portable chairs to sit on, young women linking arms and singing, teenagers snapping selfies. That morning was a loud declaration: there is a partner for peace.

The march continued that afternoon in Jerusalem. We began next to the Supreme Court, waved to the Knesset, blocked intersections, and as far as the eye could see, there was a wave of white.

At one point I looked back at the crowd; there was no end in sight. Women around me held tambourines, banged on drums, began chanting, created new lyrics to old peace songs. WWP has done the unimaginable: they have brought back the word “peace” to Israeli society.

The event was an affirmation that there are women from both sides who are willing to meet, march, stand together and find a solution. Hope was the word of the day.

However, their work is not over. Since the march, the women have been sitting in a succa in front of the prime minister’s house. On October 31, I marched with them from their succa to the Knesset.

Hundreds of women stood outside the Knesset during the opening of the winter session, singing songs of peace and coaxing representatives to come out and join them.

The women have organized shifts to be present inside and outside the Knesset to pressure the government to put negotiations with Palestinians on the political agenda. Now, while the winter cold is starting to creep in, hope is keeping me warm. 

The writer is the editorial coordinator of the Journal of Levantine Studies at Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. She previously completed her MA at Hebrew University of Jerusalem with her research focused on Women Wage Peace. She can be found at www.sophieschor.com.

Women Wage Peace by Sophie Schor

4,000 Israeli and Palestinian women march at Qasr El-Yahud. 19 Oct 2016

4,000 Israeli and Palestinian women march at Qasr El-Yahud. 19 Oct 2016

It was 32° C (90°F), sweat dripped between my shoulder blades while I stood still. But the warmth I felt was not coming from the desert heat, rather from the company I was in. I was surrounded by thousands of women wearing white who were clapping their hands in unison and leaning forward to hear every word the speakers were saying. Hope rose in waves around us.

Women Wage Peace—the Israeli women’s peace movement that I researched for my masters degree—organized a massive event where for the last two weeks, women have been marching 250km from Rosh HaNikra, the northernmost point of the country next to the border with Lebanon, to Jerusalem. Along the way, they have stopped and met with different communities, and organized events and solidarity marches across the country. All along the way, people met the women and joined them. It culminated on Wednesday with thousands and thousands of people wearing white snaking their way through the streets of Jerusalem from the Supreme Court to the Prime Minister’s house. The organizers claim that it was a crowd of 20,000 people.

The march was a year in the making. I remember sitting at a group discussion at a Kibbutz in the Negev last April the first time I heard the idea mentioned. Shoulders were shrugged: “Holding a march is a huge project”, some said. “During Sukot? By the Dead Sea? It will be too hot!” others said. “With Palestinian women? It’ll never happen.” Yet that didn’t deter the organizers and a year later a complex, multi-faceted event was taking place.

Women Wage Peace (WWP) is an organization that was founded two years ago after the most recent war in Gaza. Women from around Israel began organizing around the belief that the cycle of violence must end. They officially emerged with their action the “Peace Train” in November 2014 where women rode the train from the North to the Southern city of Sderot to show solidarity with communities that had endured the heaviest attacks from Hamas’ rockets that summer. They organized a march to the Knesset in March 2015 to counter rhetoric of violence and demand a political solution. They organized 120 women to be standing with 120 placards addressing the 120 member of the Israeli Parliament on their first day in session. Their largest event to date, before the march, was their fifty-day fast in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem corresponding to the one-year anniversary of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

The organizers of the movement claim that women’s voices have worth and have been neglected in Israeli discussions of security up until now and that they must be included in the conversation regarding political resolutions. The group appeals to Israeli mainstream society by connecting women to each other based on the notion of communal female experiences overcoming political divides and emphasize the power of women to transform a dead-locked conflict into one that can be resolved. They emphasize again and again the need to reach all factions of Israeli society and underlie the belief that everyone wants the same thing: peace.

However, they do not provide any details of what “Peace” is, they do not engage in divisive terms, they do not say the word “Occupation.” I originally held many reservations about this movement: in the context of political life here, organizations appear and disappear on the scene of conflict-resolution incredibly quickly. Personally, I had issues connecting with their a-politicism and vague promises, as I felt (and still feel) that everything here is political and it is best to name the evils we face in order to face them. And yet, in two years, they have amassed over 10,000 members from around the country. They have done the unimaginable: they have begun to reintroduce the concept of peace to Israeli society.

This is a larger project then what may appear at first glance. Israeli society has increasingly become disenchanted, disengaged, and disinterested with anything having to do with “peace” since the collapse of the Oslo Accords and the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. For an in-depth reading and explanation, see Tamar Hermann’s book The Israeli Peace Movement: A Shattered Dream. Since then, a general malaise and penchant for maintaining the status quo has colored most political conversation. Security is the word of the day here, compared to the Palestinian realities that focuses on the Occupation (West Bank), or Blockade (Gaza). Violence is justified by claims to security needs for the Jewish Israeli populace within and without the official borders. Peace has turned into a dirty word within Israeli camps, and equally so in Palestinian camps. The peace of the Camp David Accords and the famed handshake on the White House lawn seemingly accomplished nothing for either side.

Yet here is an organization, a movement, rallying around cries for Peace. Yet here we were, the morning of October 19th, 4,000 Israeli and Palestinian women walking 800m next to the Jordan River and the spot where Jesus supposedly was baptized. Yet here we were, 20,000 people walking the streets of Jerusalem that evening and the crowd was singing old peace songs from the days of past.  

Peace was the word of the day, hope was the word of the movement, and women were the ones leading it.

***

Women Wage Peace had been busy since that meeting when the march was brought up over a year ago. The group began fundraising, organizing, and strategizing. They continued their “parlor-meetings” where women shared their experiences with war and discussed and debated what peace means to them. They continued creating spaces that encouraged women to be confident in their expertise, their voice, and their opinions. They unleashed a project called the “Israeli Salad” which was led by local community organizer Ya’aloma Zechut in the small periphery town of Ofakim, which focused on brining diverse voices from all sectors of Israeli society to the conversation. They became involved with an Israeli organization of lawyers called Itaah-Maaki (With You), which has been tasked with implementing a national action plan to implement the UN Resolution 1325 that focuses on the role of women in conflicts and in peace-building initiatives. WWP has been highlighted as the grassroots organization in touch with Israeli women and best able to undertake the project. They have also been hosting film-screenings across the country of the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell about the success of Liberian women’s peace movement that pressured their political leaders into ending their civil war.

All of this work culminated in the two-week event which WWP dubbed the “March of Hope.” Beginning at Rosh Hanikra, a group of women began hiking the 250km to Jerusalem. The kick-off event included a moment when another Israeli women’s movement called the Four Mothers (Arba Emahot: known for increasing public awareness and pressure to evacuate Israeli forces from occupying South Lebanon in the late 1990s) passed off the literal torch to this new movement. Interestingly it also coincided with the women’s flotilla attempt to break the maritime blockade of Gaza (interesting piece comparing the women’s activism of the two groups here).

Every day, while the women hiked from the North to the South, brandishing banners that read “We will not stop until [reaching] a political solution,” they sang a song written specifically for them and this week. Called “Prayer of the Mothers” and written by Israeli and Palestinian women: Yael Deckelbaum, Lubna Salame, and Miriam Tukan.

Meanwhile, events were held around the country daily.

The day before the main event, there had been solidarity marches across the country. I joined the march in Ashkelon that began with a gathering at the southernmost Israeli community that shares a border with Gaza called Netiv Haasara. As we stood there, we could see buildings in the Gazan city Beit Hanoun and yet again I was struck by how close everything is. We stood there at the wall that obstructed the two communities and provided the neighborhood a sense of security but also stood as a reminder of the trauma that the last three operations in Gaza had caused. We met at the wall because a member of the community has transformed the space into a collaborative art project where visitors are invited to add ceramic pieces to the mosaic that she calls “A Path to Peace.

Another woman from the community who is a part of the organization Kol Aher (Other Voice) spoke and then picked up the phone to call a friend of hers in Gaza. By holding the microphone to the speaker of the phone, we heard Maha’s voice as she shared with the crowd the realities of life in Gaza: the inconsistency of electricity, their fears, how it feels to be locked in a prison. As her voice cracked with desperation, barely pausing between sentences to breathe, Vivian Silver (an organizer with WWP) stood up from the crowd impromptu and grabbed the phone and spoke up.

“Maha, we are all here to tell you that there is hope. Thousands of women from around the country are now marching. It’s in all of our interests, Palestinians, Israelis, Israelis from all sides of the political spectrum, we all have one interest. That is to live in security with hope for the future for us for our children and for our grandchildren, and we send you a big hug from all of us here and say to you that we want an end to the conflict and we are pressuring our governments to reach a diplomatic agreement.”

***

The next day we stumbled bleary eyed at 7am to the bus to head to the Dead Sea. The energy and the joy was contagious as we made our way through the south and picked up more and more women. We snaked through the highways, made our way to an old kibbutz founded in 1939, and were flagged down by ladies in white standing at junctions waiting to board. The bus filled up. We heard news that over 20 others buses were making their way to the meeting point at Qasr el-Yahud and that another 60 buses were expected to meet us in Jerusalem. Women from Eilat, Ashkelon, Ofakim, Afula, Beyt Shean, Kfar Saba, Umm al-Fahm, Tel Aviv, from the entire country were gathering. When we arrived at Qasr El-Yahud, there were buses as far as the eye could see. Women wearing white were disembarking to join the ever-growing crowd and were welcomed in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

“From Jenin! From Nablus! From Ramallah! From Eilat! From Tel Aviv! From Haifa! From Qalqilya!” shouted the organizers. "Welcome!"

The choice of location was important: it is a pilgrimage site that is holy to the three monotheistic religions, but it is also located in Area C which means that both Palestinians from the West Bank and Israelis are permitted to be there. It is one of the rare spaces where a meeting like this can take place.

The energy was palpable, and then Leymeh Gbowee mounted the stage. Gbowee is the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and leader of the women’s peace movement in Liberia. She riled up the crowd and started with a chant: "When I say women, you say peace! When I say peace you say: Yes! When I say war, you say: No!"

And we were off, marching down to the banks of the Jordan River. The scene was magical—thousands of women wearing white walking in the desert as far as the eye could see. Women wearing hijabs, women wearing high heels. Women carrying kids, older women carrying canes and portable chairs to sit on. Young women, teenagers snapping selfies.

The event was a loud declaration that there are women from both sides who are willing to meet, to march, to stand together, and to find a solution. Leymah Gbowee spoke, the air was vibrating listening to her. Here stood someone who had accomplished the unimaginable, and here she was telling this crowd that they too could restore justice to their children's futures.

We boarded the buses yet again, and took off for Jerusalem riding on waves of hope.

***

The march was remarkable. We began next to the Supreme Court, we walked past and waved to the Knesset, we walked and as far as the eye could see, there was a wave of white shirts and placards reading “Demanding a Political Solution.” At one point, as we stood at the top of a hill looking back at the crowd behind, I could see no end in sight. Women around me held tambourines, banged on drums, began chanting, created a new chant to the tune of “The Saints Come Marching” where they repeated over and over again “Women Wage Peace.”

The night was remarkable: the march ended at the street in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence and speaker after speaker built up on the energy of the crowd.

Two women who had marched the entire distance from the North spoke: one Jewish Israeli, one Palestinian Israeli. The Palestinian woman began in Arabic, and then remarked on what a powerful feeling that was to be able to speak in her own language here with this crowd.

Hadassah Fruman, the widow of Rabbi Fruman, spoke alongside her daughter-in law Michal Fruman. The two live in the religious settlement of Tekoa and called on women to join the movement and push for peace and justice in the region. The symbolism of their speeches was clear: Michal Fruman was wounded while pregnant in a stabbing attack in 2015, and as she spoke, Hadassa held the tiny baby girl who had been born after that. Michal was the only one on the stage to say the word occupation.

The Palestinian-Israeli mayor of Sakhnin spoke in tandem with the Jewish-Israeli mayor of the Eshkol region in the South.

Huda Abuarquob, Palestinian regional director of ALLMEP (Alliance for Middle Eastern Peace), spoke with conviction and pride and said loud and clear to the crowd that it is time to put to rest the myth that there is no partner for peace. She emphasized that while this day was big, the real work starts tomorrow.

Leymah Gbowee returned to the forefront and with a strong voice that echoed against the walls of the Prime Minister’s house, she shared her experiences in Liberia and commended the women of Israel for saying that enough is enough and demanding that their leaders be held accountable for earnest peace negotiations. She raised her hands high and told the women sitting enraptured, “Today, you are making history.” She commanded the crowd with grace, integrity, and kindness. She called up her experience that morning, dancing and marching with Palestinian and Israeli women and spoke to the crowd in Jerusalem, “You definitely have partners for peace.” She emboldened the women by sharing her own early cynicism of the power that women could change the reality in Liberia, and shared how her experiences disproved that cynicism. She emphasized again and again that women do have power to make change:

“My sisters in Israel, this is your time. This is the moment that the spotlight it on you. It is your time to stand up for peace, it is your time to stand up for justice, it is your time to stand up for freedom, it is your time to stand up for equality. It is your time to say no to war and yes to peace.” 

Their work is not over. Since the march, the women are still sitting in a Suka in front of the Prime Minister’s house. They will march on October 31st to the Knesset to be there for the opening session and they have planned shifts of women to be present inside and outside of the Knesset during the upcoming winter session to put negotiations on the political agenda again. While the winter cold is starting to creep in, hope is keeping me warm.

Public Transportation in Jerusalem: Locus of Separation or of Integration? by Sophie Schor

I had the pleasure of writing a final paper for my Masters degree on the public transportation in Jerusalem. By focusing on public transportation in particular, I hoped to understand the ways in which the patterns of mobility are shaped in a city of conflict like Jerusalem in order to further understand the inter-communal relations. Is public transportation a locus of separation or one of integration? What are the effects on intergroup relations? By analyzing these spatial politics, I sought to understand the ways in which public transportation in Jerusalem either brings different ethnic groups together, or keeps them apart. From my own observations from living in Jerusalem for a year, and by placing it in a context of existing literature, I used these observations for analyzing the myriad of borders that crisscross through the city. This will be a summary of my findings.

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The Hills of Nabi-Saleh by Sophie Schor

A photo has been circling around the web in the last three days of an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian child in a headlock. I stumbled across the video of the entire encounter. The video was posted on Facebook and it began playing without my consent (you know that annoying feature where your newsfeed suddenly comes alive?). I couldn’t look away.

There, a soldier grabs a young child, tightens him in a headlock and the kid is screaming. His arm is broken. Someone starts yelling that the soldier is strangling him. He can’t breathe. I had a flashback of Eric Garner saying the same words as he fell to the ground as a police officer of the NYPD choked him.

A crowd of protesters and women begin to surround the soldier. Grandmothers surround him and try to wrestle the child free. The women hit him; their fists balled seemingly more in anger and frustration than an ability to cause harm. A young girl emerges. He hits back violently. He slams the kid against a rock. I cringed. A crowd of photographers also emerges; a Palestinian flag crests over one of the hills. The soldier is alone in this crowd. One of the women snags the soldier’s facemask. Suddenly, this soldier becomes a person. Until that moment, he had been this anonymous, terrifying figure with a giant gun, eyes peering out of holes cut in a balaclava wearing army fatigues. But then, this monstrous man suddenly transformed into a boy. And you see that he is surrounded by a large crowd of people seething with hate and fear trying to rescue their own child. His fear and insecurity is palpable as well. Other soldiers arrive, they separate the soldier from the crowd, and as they walk away they throw a tear-gas bomb, like magicians pulling a disappearing act in a cloud of smoke. Over 3,000,000 people have watched the video.

In less than 3 minutes, it captured everything that is wrong with the occupation.

Occupation corrupts the occupiers as much as it destroys the dignity and future of the occupied. This video captures that. This situation is not limited to only a struggle of good versus evil, right versus wrong. It’s not just the Israeli who transformed from David into Goliath and that the Palestinian child is throwing stones at him. It is all wrapped up in a system of injustice that compromises the very morals of the people within it. Anshel Pfeffer writes in this article in Ha'aretz about the incident and calls out that the reason this soldier is wearing a mask is due to shame. No one wants to return home to their family on the weekend and see videos posted of themselves "manhandling women and children on Youtube." 

The occupation is not just soldier versus Palestinian--it is boy against child. It is the women and a village that through weekly non-violent protests attempt to draw attention to their plight. It is the international and local activists and news media that flock to the hills and surround the two actors. It is the whole situation of multiple players, institutions, narratives, motives, tactics, strategies, and politics that taint the reality.

Yet, even with all these cooks in the kitchen and all complexities and nuances aside, this whole ordeal is chilling. I can’t breathe.

I’ve walked those hills and those rocks. I’ve seen the white buildings of the settlement Halamish that is right next door. The entire affair happened in Nabi-Saleh, a well-known spot of resistance to the occupation and weekly confrontations. The video is produced by Bilal Tamimi, of the Tamimi family, protagonists on the stage of anti-occupation protests. (I wrote a post in April about my conversation with Manel Tamimi in her home.) We sat in her living room where the centerpiece of the coffee table was a collection of rubber bullets. I’ve heard firsthand the frustration, the desperation, the fear, the hate, and strangely, the hope that one-day, this will all change. Maybe a video like this will help.

Photos taken while on a tour of the West Bank with Extend (a different take on Birthright trips) in January 2015. Click on an individual photo to see it larger.

You can see the full video here:

Southern Comfort by Sophie Schor

"And the Desert will bloom"- Ben Gurion

The South is scattered with memorials and shelters. This weekend I visited my family down  at the Kibbutz and we hopped in the car and drove around the area. The South, the periphery, is often overlooked in the news about Israel and Palestine. My aunt and uncle crafted a tour winding through agricultural roads and memorials.

We began at a huge memorial protruding like an industrial scar in the face of the desert that had been built in the 1977 to commemorate the war with Egypt. The memorial honored the 180 lives lost in 6 days and stated that, "The true heroes are the ones who do not return." The whole thing had been constructed in an Israeli town that used to be in the Sinai desert, but after Israel gave back the Sinai in the peace agreement in 1978, the whole memorial was dismantled and transported within the borders. We climbed to the top and from the edge could see the Gaza Strip. So close, we could make out buildings and different neighborhoods. As we scanned from our birds eye view and got the sense of how close everything is, my aunt suddenly pointed to the ground and squealed. "Ah! Look!" Someone had used stones to spell out, "Noah, will you marry me?" and propose to his girlfriend. She could only see it if she climbed up all the stairs to the top, and rather than looking out towards Gaza, looked down towards the ground nearby. 

We drove past fields of peanuts, melons, potatoes, greenhouses filled with cherry tomatoes, orchards of avocados, lemons and oranges. We waved to the Thai workers wearing facemasks against the sand; they replaced the workers who used to come from Gaza. We passed Bedouins who act as guards for fields.

And then to another memorial, this time for a young soldier, who died in the tragic helicopter crash in 1997 when 73 soldiers were on their way to  (then occupied) Beirut and died. The Asaf Siboni memorial sculpture is composed of pipes and gongs, when the wind blows it becomes a wind chime. The haunting sound set the background as we looked out again at Gaza, at the neighborhood Shejaiya, and at Gaza City. My aunt and uncle pointed out how the tunnels that Hamas built last summer had entrances there, she points to the gulf in the nearby valley, and there, to the hill right next to us. She shared the fear of the purported plan of Hamas to build tunnels into the dining halls of the kibbutz near the border and plan a surprise attack during Rosh Hashana (new year) dinner. She expressed great relief that the plan was thwarted last summer when the IDF destroyed tunnels. 

The neighboring towns and agricultural fields go right up to the border with Gaza. My aunt described all the hope in 2005, after Israel evacuated the settlements, that something would be built and that something would come out of the newly liberated Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority built an airport, and a port. There was talk of a road being built that would run directly from Gaza to the West Bank and thus connect Palestine. There was talk of commerce, new plans for economic partnerships. And then Hamas won the elections in 2006 and rockets began falling in the South. 

We drove right up to the Erez Crossing point at the border. It was dead quiet. Not a soul. It would not have seemed out of place if tumbleweed had rolled by at that instant. But the building was brand new: sparkling bay windows, a parking lot built for people's cars. The whole place looked ready for large crowds of people to pass back and forth. 

But today there were no people. Not even a single guard at the entrance. The only sign of life we saw was the boot of one soldier as he propped his feet up against the window of a watchtower. Alone. 

The whole day, the conversations that we had revolved around either pride at the accomplishments of the Israeli agricultural project in the desert, or fear that from every side there is an enemy that wants to destroy you. My aunt talked about the recent rockets launched up north from ISIS near the Golan Heights. We discussed the booming we heard the day before, and the subsequent text message that the residents of the southern area received alerting them that it was “just” Egypt dealing with the current problems in the Sinai near the border with Israel. We talked about Hamas in Gaza and how there are still rockets that are launched over the border all the time, “You just don't hear about it,” said my aunt. She shared her fears of the weakening northern border and Hezbollah. 

This drive-by was eye opening again to the larger geo-politics that are playing out in this region. It is easy to get sucked into the details of Jerusalem and the West Bank, but it's much easier to forget Gaza and all the political, security and economic implications of that tiny blockaded strip.  This reminds me of an Israeli photographer, Roi Kuper, who took photos of the border with Gaza: beautiful large, landscape shots. The point of the project was to point to that which was forgotten and ignored and overlooked everyday. The project is called Gaza Dream. Kuper describes the project, “It’s like a mirage – a city perched beyond the horizon, like one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. We’re used to seeing Gaza either in aerial photographs or in shots taken amid destroyed houses, but not from this distance. Not from the fields that are so immediate to those who live in this area. As I work on the project, I keep asking myself: what will grow in these fields?”

Roi Kulper's "Gaza Dream" at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Roi Kulper's "Gaza Dream" at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

People just want to live, said my aunt. Yet with everything that happened and happens in Gaza, the whole surrounding area in the South feels frozen in time. No chance for true advancement and development, no trust that things will remain quiet or be prosperous for either side. 

We stopped for a brief dip in the Mediterranean Sea at a nearby beach. Only a few kilometers from the northern tip of Gaza, people were lounging, yelling at their children, applying sunscreen, eating watermelon out of the cooler. The ice-cream truck was parked right near the entrance and the obnoxious tune repeated in an array of jarring notes that you couldn’t ignore.

More than anything, I was struck again how there can be so many different bubbles and realities that live practically on top of one other and don't intersect. Realities that aren’t real to one person or another depending on where they are.

And as we drove on the highway, we whipped past bomb-shelters, which had been planted on the side of the road next to every bus stop. For just in case. For the next war. 

In two days it will be the one-year anniversary marking the end of the last year's operation in Gaza. I'll be at the tent of Women Wage Peace for their final day of their fast. They are a group of women who claim to represent all the political and ethnic spectrums in Israeli society who are demanding for a political solution to the conflict. They call for peace and they call for it now. They have just held a 50-day fast in front of the Prime Minister's house in Jerusalem in order to commemorate last summer’s war. Every day a different group of women fasted and sat underneath a tent outside. They invited speakers, supporters, and passerby to engage in a conversation about peace and what could it mean to all the peoples living here. They began to organize after last summer as many women joined forces in the face of the never-ending cycle of conflict. I’ll be sure to share my findings of my research once it is done. Until then, read more about them here.

 

Between a Wall and a Hard Place by Sophie Schor

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We were walking in the corridors of no-man’s land in the Northern corner of Jerusalem municipality at the edge where the Neve Ya'akov settlement ends and the grey concrete wall that separates Jerusalem from where the West Bank begins. Our professor pointed towards a flat concrete court that was overgrown with brush and prickly plants and mentioned, “Arabs and Jews used to play football there. But that was before they built the wall…”

We were standing in the corner of Neve Ya’akov, a neighborhood that is often classified as just a suburb of Jerusalem, which lies across the green line and hugs the curve of the separation barrier. The distinguishing characteristic between the houses on the left and the houses on the right were striking. One side was clearly Jewish, Jerusalem stones turned yellow with time, white water-boilers speckling the rooftops. The apartments on the right were Arab, bright new stories built up to house more families, black water-boilers dotted their roofs.

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These areas are smack in the middle of East Jerusalem and called the “Ring Neighborhoods.” By international definition, they are considered settlements, however Israeli legal definitions do not agree. Most Jerusalemites would hear of these areas and consider them as just a normal suburb of Jerusalem. If you ask anyone living there, they will see a huge discrepancy between how they see themselves and how they see settlers who live across the wall in the West Bank/Occupied Territories. Most people living in these areas moved there for the economic benefits of living in Jerusalem, but slightly outside of the city center and the lower housing costs. Just like any story of suburbanization in any city. 

However, this is not just any city. This area is clearly demarcated on maps as being across the green line of the 1967 borders established after Israel’s military victory. Where we were standing was once Jordanian land. Off in the distance from a hilltop, we were able to even see the uncompleted construction of the King Hussein’s summer palace. The skeletal structure was left standing as a sort of strange tribute to the king. The surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shu’afat technically reside under the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, yet often the services that should be provided by the Jerusalem municipality are overlooked and the people who live there hold residential status in Israel, not citizenship. The Jerusalemites are only Jerusalemites--many of them hold Jordanian passports, or simply a travel document, or laissez-passer paper, from the Israeli government. Ir Amim, an organization that monitors the status of East Jerusalem, published a scathing report about the education system and how it is not meeting the needs of its Palestinian students (read here). For more information on the legal status of Palestinians in Jerusalem read here and Ir Amim’s report here.

However, as our Professor was quick to point out, these simplifications between here/there, us/them are not clear-cut. While one may be quick to judge that Jews living in Jerusalem have an easier and better life, that’s not the always the case. These homes in Neve Ya’akov were built in the 1970s in order to house poor Jewish immigrants from central-Asia, and later Russians and Ethiopians after waves of immigration from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia in the 1990s. Called the Bucharim, these communities were not provided access to resources or aware of their rights by the state.They were given housing, and then more or less isolated and forgotten about in this corner. Out of sight, out of mind. Since then the neighborhood, which is connected to the larger Jewish area of Pisgat Ze’ev, has experienced many waves of transformation--mainly towards becoming a ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, like most areas outside of central West Jerusalem. These neighborhoods are under strict building permit restrictions, and it is almost impossible for the younger generations to afford an apartment near their families. However, while no new apartment complexes are being built, you can see a large new school and a brand new yeshiva (place for religious Jewish study). The neighborhood is keeping up with the needs of the religious community, and the growing families (who have an average of 8 children).

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The neighboring Palestinian neighborhoods of Shu’afat and Beit Hanina appeared to be much better off. This is noticeable from the road, again looking at the buildings, the homes of Beit Hanina were detailed: porches, porticos, arches, new glass windows that sparkled in the sunlight. These two neighborhoods are relatively rich compared to other Palestinian areas of Jerusalem. However, reality on the ground has shifted since then, especially since the wall separating Jerusalem from the West Bank was built. Residents of these neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are also under strict restrictions for building permits and the limbo that they live in impacts their everyday life. A friend of mine from Beit Hanina and I were driving down the road one day on our way towards Ramallah and Qalandia checkpoint and she pointed out the window and said, “That’s where my family’s house is.” And suddenly our view of the tiny cluster of homes and apartments and shops which had been right outside the window of the bus, was cut off by the gray, concrete wall. “We had to move to the apartment where we live now because they said that they were going to continue to build the wall right here and cut us out of Jerusalem.” Her family didn’t want to lose their status as Jerusalemites and be relegated to the chaos of the West Bank, so they began renting an apartment in an area that was clearly within the borders of the wall and Jerusalem. The wall hasn’t been finished being built, and her family can visit their house, but they can’t move back in their for the fear that is hanging over their head that their entire legal status could be thrown into the limbo the moment that the construction begins again.

Since 2000, there is now a wall that snakes through Jerusalem and divides communities from one another. In some places, the wall stands 25 feet, or 8 meters tall, surrounded by barbed wire fences. At other locations, there is a fence. In yet other places, no barrier has yet been constructed, but by tracing dotted lines on maps, you can see the planned construction.

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“The real tragedy of all this,” our professor lamented, “is that the separation wall worked. It worked both to prevent suicide bombing and attacks, but there is also an entire generation that grew up separate from one another and never played football together or ran around through a neighborhood together.” This separation fortifies the demonization of the other.

As we walked across the gravel in Neve Yaakov towards the wall, the sickly sweet smell of hot garbage in the nearby dumpster wafting towards us, we discussed the legal concept of proportionality. In discussing the construction of the barrier, there are two main things to keep in mind: the legitimate security concerns of Israel, and the human rights issues of the separation and continued occupation of the West Bank. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2005 that the construction of the wall was illegal as it violates humanitarian law, 14/15 judges. The one dissenting judge claimed that the truth of the security concerns of Israel was not adequately represented in the case nor discussed by the court. As more cases have been brought against the construction of the wall, including the case brought by the village Bil’in in 2007 which argued against the barrier because it would cut off the village from over 1,500 dunams of their land, these have been decided on a case-to-case basis of whether or not the construction of the barrier will harm the lives and human rights of those Palestinians whose villages and neighborhoods and lands will be divided versus the security gains to be made for Israeli society.

We were trying to understand the sociological, political, and economic outcomes of the legal realities. As we were talking about these technicalities a man drove up to where we stood. He works for a company that maintains the wall, he is a Palestinian from Shu’afat. Our professor challenged us to lay aside politics and interpretations and describe what we saw. He asked us to try to understand the ways in which practical life creates demands that can be very separate from ideological sentiments. Someone living in one place or another may not be because they believe politically in the symbolism of living there. For example, a Jew living in one of these northern settlements in East Jerusalem or a Palestinian who chooses to live within the borders of Israel. Neither living situation can be simplified into just a political statement.

The lines of Jerusalem are constantly blurred—even while there seem to be clear separations and divisions and worlds that are isolated from each other, there are always moments of overlap that surprise you. The moment that you think you’ve begun to begin to understand the situation and pack everything in nice, neat boxes and tie them up with a string, something comes along that unwraps everything.

We ended our class standing on a hilltop of Pisgat Ze’ev. The sun was starting to set, the breeze was coming from the Judean desert, and music from a nearby synagogue and celebration of the arrival of a new Torah was drifting our way. Above our heads floated a surveillance balloon: a white tiny zeppelin with a camera attached. Our professor pointed out what it was surveilling, Shu’afat Refugee camp. And just like that, my heart sank.

Shu'afat Refugee Camp in the distance to the right (in the shadow of the hill), new apartment in Pisgat Ze'ev in the foreground.  

Shu'afat Refugee Camp in the distance to the right (in the shadow of the hill), new apartment in Pisgat Ze'ev in the foreground.  

Piles of apartments were packed into a valley and rose to the top of a hill. Trash was scattered everywhere, windows were broken, dogs were barking. Our professor told us about how this area was cut off completely by Jerusalem by the wall and by choice. Israel’s policy when building the wall clearly decided to not include the refugee camp in Jerusalem municipal boundaries, even though it is technically Jerusalem. The camp is known for terrible crime rates, and neither Israeli nor Palestinian police are willing to go inside. A friend of mine joined a group of activists on a tour for solidarity and wrote about it here, it is well worth the read. Our professor then pointed to the new apartment buildings in Pisgat Ze’ev that have been built whose windows face the refugee camp. These Jews will wake up and look out their window every day and see the tiny enclave encircled by the wall and suffocated by the situation here. The lack of housing in Jerusalem is so bad that people will choose to purchase a home in a settlement that overlooks a dilapidated refugee camp. If that’s not absurd, I don’t know what is.

The organization Terrestrial Jerusalem keeps an eye on all the developments surrounding the use of land, exploitation of policies, and the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem. Check out their site for good maps.
For more information, or to join a tour of the Northern Jerusalem neighborhoods, see Ir Amim. They organize monthly tours.

The Old City by Sophie Schor

 

Even after over a year of living here, I find myself wandering around the Old City of Jerusalem with eyes wide open, absorbing all the sites and sounds and smells of this contested and beating heart of Jerusalem. My feet find their way over the familiar stones and roads, but with the curiosity and knowledge that there will always be corners of this walled-in area that I'll never see and never know.

As I was walking down the main road that connects Zion Gate to Damascus Gate in the heart of the Muslim quarter, I was struck by this feeling. Surrounded by shop-owners coaxing me to buy t-shirts with either Israeli or Palestinian flags, Arabic music floats towards me on wafts of incense from a Christian shop, Palestinian mothers herd their children into a shop to buy ful and hummus, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by a large group of Christians from Africa. They were clapping and singing and wearing bright, printed, purple cloth wrapped around their bodies and crying out for their lord and savior Jesus Christ. I stepped to the side of the narrow road to let them pass, and in that moment an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on a bicycle tries to make his way straight through the crowd—payot flying in the wind. 

This is Jerusalem: so many different cultures and groups interacting in such close quarters.

I've designed a tour of the Old City for the friends who come visit; it is mainly organized around food and my favorite corners. We walk through Damascus Gate and the Muslim quarter, grab date ma'amoul cookies from the vendor whose cart sits right under the arched entrance way, stop to sit in Jafaar's for the best knaffe in the city (an insanely delicious Arabic pastry that combines salty cheese and sweet syrup), and a walk through the Church of Holy Sepulcher where we see pilgrims sobbing over the rock where Jesus was said to have lain. I point out the Mamluk architecture, the water fountains of Sultan Suleiman, and the stone Crusader motifs that have been reused and incorporated into new constructions before we stop at the Austrian Hospice to enter an old-school European, Imperialist oasis and eat Apple-strudel. We then wander our way to the Kotel (Western Wall) and stare stupefied at the large and divided crowds of Jewish men and women pushing their way in the plaza for access to the ancient stones. We always attempt to get up to Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) and see al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock where Muslims lounge around under the shade of trees and the gaze of soldiers, but the hours are sporadic and often we miss the moment to take in the intricate mosaics. I then lead the way back up the hill to pass through the gift shop of the Institute of Temple Studies (where an organization has founded the construction of all the necessary accoutrements for the Third Temple according to the specifications in the Bible. You can buy a build your own Model-3D Third Temple kit). After being overwhelmed by so much belief, I drag tired friends straight to my favorite corner near Zion Gate: Dormition Abbey with the tomb of Mary, and David's Tomb.

The Dormition is, I claim, the most feminist corner of Jerusalem. In the basement there is the crypt, where a statue of the Virgin Mary seems to be asleep, her face looking up towards a giant mosaic of Jesus’ face. Yet surrounding his image, and her sleeping space, are mosaic portraits of every woman character of the Bible. In this quiet, cool basement, away from the heat and the crowds, I always find a sweet moment to catch my breath and give my dues to the women who are often overlooked in these grand narratives.

David’s Tomb is, again, a tiny corner of Jerusalem where you see the overlapping of worlds. Located right outside the exit of Zion Gate, this small building houses a different story on each floor. The ground floor supposedly has the tomb of King David, and has become an important site of pilgrimage for Jews. Local religious Jews come daily to pray at the feet of the Biblical King. The second floor is supposedly the site of the Last Supper which was converted into a mosque under the Ottomans. I’ve often stumbled upon large Christian tourist groups experiencing a moment of religious ecstasy with the mihrab pointing out the direction towards Mecca behind them. Then if you climb a flight of stairs and stand on the roof, the minaret and dome above the building tell you that the entire building was once a mosque under the Ottoman Empire. The experience of climbing the stairs and walking through different rooms and levels of narratives without ever leaving a ten-foot radius is always astounding. It begins to make you question the idea that Jerusalem could be divided under different authorities—how do you divide three different floors of one building?

If you walk around in the Muslim Quarter, this sentiment is echoed even further. From the rooftop of houses, you can see the pockets of Jewish apartments that have been purchased in the Old City, and are now under constant surveillance and security, large Israeli flags marks their presence. Inspired by Ariel Sharon’s purchase of an apartment in 1987 over a main street in the Muslim Quarter, the movement to purchase homes and “Judaize” the other quarters of the Old City further solidifies the question of dividing rule. Organizations like Free Jerusalem keep an eye on the eviction of Palestinian families and you can see these settler houses marked clearly on the maps compiled by Terrestrial Jerusalem here: http://t-j.org.il/JerusalemAtlas.aspx

I once had a tour guide who used to be a security guard for one of these apartments. He led us through winding paths deep in the Muslim quarter where I had never been before. He shared that the experience was harder than when he had been in the army. They were required to accompany the residents anywhere they went when they left the building complex and faced constant threat from the Muslim neighbors who did not want these families living there. As he double-checked that the magnetic lock of the door had slammed behind us, he said he has never feared for his life, until he began working there. He quit after only half a year; the experience was too trying emotionally, mentally, and physically. He opened a door, and led us onto a rooftop with an incredible view of the entire Old City and the sparkling gold Dome of the Rock.

The Old City is used as a focal point for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and often it simplifies the history into just a fight between religions. I always shy away from this conclusion; I don’t think it is correct to say that this is just an age-old story of Jewish and Muslim tensions. Such a conclusion overlooks the very vibrant and intercommunal relations that existed between these communities, and that still exist today. Simplifying the conflict of national determination and geopolitical context into a religious battle of will also overlooks the nuances of the narratives of the many groups who live here and have lived here before. Religion may play a role in the problems that are impeding a solution or that pour oil on an already simmering fire, but this ignores the historical contexts. 

The Old City is a never-ending experience of many different realities and narratives. I've heard rumors of secret networks of tunnels that connect the monasteries of monks, and I wouldn’t be surprised. That would add one more layer under our feet to this multi-layered place.

 

Same, Same, But Different: Cyprus by Sophie Schor

I've been off the grid for the last 10 days in Cyprus with a group of Palestinians and Israelis who have joined together for the next year to work on cross-community conversation and dialogue. We have sat isolated in a village for the last week discussing our shared values of justice, empathy and transformation. We cried, we laughed, we made up new lyrics to songs, we connected to each other as people.

We also traveled around Cyprus and learned about the Turkish invasion and the current separation between Northern Turkish Cyprus, and the Southern, Greek-Oriented, Republic of Cyprus. We walked through a checkpoint and crossed the green line and watched as everything that had been written in Greek suddenly transformed into Turkish. We shrugged and laughed uncomfortably as a feeling of déjà vu descended upon us as we discussed the conflict there with the locals. The same cactus we have here, grow there. So much was the same to our conflict back home. Same, but different. It added a larger perspective. 

But while we were there, living in an intentional, loving community, Israel and Palestine was burning. A one and a half year old Palestinian baby burned to death in his own home after a settler threw a Molotov cocktail through the window. His parents and 4 year-old brother are in the hospital in critical condition—the mother has 3rd degree burns over 90% of her body and the father is not faring much better. 

A 16 year old girl was stabbed and died after attending the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade. The attacker was a radical religious man who had a previous history of violent acts. 5 other people were wounded for their mere presence at an event that he disagreed with. 

A 17 year old Palestinian, and son of a professor at Birzeit University, was killed while at a protest. 

A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a car driving through Beit Hanina in Jerusalem and an Israeli woman was seriously injured.

This all happened in one week. 

It's really challenging to come crashing back into reality after we spent a week together building up hope and our potential and sharing our dreams. I'm optimistic about returning however, because when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I have a group of 15 incredible and talented individuals who are committed to bringing their skills and passions to their communities, to build channels of communication and teach new ways of listening. We are Building Bridges

Follow the Facebook page, I'll be working on the visibility team in the next year and there's tons of new projects that will be rolling out: work with Bedouin girls and boys in the Negev, women leadership and empowerment in Jerusalem and the North, and migrant worker rights. This is an organization that inspires me and breathes hope into a hopeless situation.

For great coverage and reflection on the events that happened last week, see The New Yorker: Israel's Jewish-Terrorist Problem, David Grossman's reflection in Ha'aretz, and Moriel Rothman-Zecher, "A Night of Horror: Stabbing at Jerusalem Pride; Murderous Burning in the West Bank."

 

Ruins by Sophie Schor

Jerusalem in the not so distant distance.

Jerusalem in the not so distant distance.

Walking the paths of Lifta.

Walking the paths of Lifta.

Professor leads our conversation.

Professor leads our conversation.

View of the Valley

View of the Valley

Once a week, my class goes on a tour of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. To begin, our professor took us to the "Corridor," or the narrow but important sliver that connects the route from Tel Aviv to the heart of West Jerusalem. (Demarcated by the narrow yellow area between the borders and the Occupied territories here.)

We discussed the history of this area from the moment when the UN declared the proposed partition plan November 29, 1947 and the inter-communal war broke out between communities of Jews and Arabs who had been living in British Mandatory Palestine. Our professor led us to the preserved home of an Ashkenazi-Iraqi family named Yelin in the Motza valley and we learned the history of one of the first Jewish land purchases in the valley outside of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1860. Yellin and another Jew from Baghdad named Yehuda purchased the land from the neighboring Arab village Qalunya and set up a new Jewish community in the valley. From the upstairs porch, our professor pointed out the hill opposite from us, the terraced land, the clumps of prickly-pear bushes, and to a tumble of ruined walls. "There," he told us, "was where Qalunya was. A prosperous Arab village and neighbors to this new community. And that," he said pointing to the broken down walls, "was the summer home of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini." Sitting on this land now is a suburb of Jerusalem called Mevaseret. It's also the location of the new bridge which will be the new highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The construction for this project is massive, and our tour guide at the house shrugged her shoulders as she mentioned that this location was ideal for its springs, but they have since been blocked by all the dirt from the building of the bridge. As noted by our professor, the track for the train runs directly on the green line in some places, and beyond it in others. 

We discussed the relations between the two communities in the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Before the tensions broke forth after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the rising pressure of Jewish immigration and the subsequent Arab revolts in 1929 and 1936-1939 respectively, and the White Paper in 1939, these two communities interacted daily. Either by sharing work and agricultural labor, nurses, nannies, using the same routes to travel, the Jewish and Arab communities overlapped and had close relations. According to the information video in the visitor's center, this all broke in 1929 as the riots reached the valley and several Jews from Motza were killed, including the entire Maklef family in the Jewish Moshav that was brutally murdered by some Arab villagers from Qalunya. Suddenly the neighbors were fearful and distrustful of one another. A new book is coming out by Hillel Cohen, an incredible Historian from Israel, which deals with this historical moment throughout the country: 1929: Year Zero of the Palestinian Israeli Conflict.

As we climbed back in the bus to our next destination we began unpacking the questions about the importance of this location to the relations inside and outside the city. Why does a Jewish village outside of the walls of Jerusalem carry so much importance? Why was this the locus of battles in 1948 between the Hagana and the Palestinians? 

The corridor is the last point before Jerusalem and a valley surrounded by high hills. That means that strategically, there are many points to conquer and use to protect convoys that were using the old Roman road. The Jewish communities pre-1948 were mainly consolidated on a coastal strip in Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas and up to Haifa and the bay, the western plains, the Yizrael Valley, the north and east of the Galilee, within a few spiritual cities such as Tzfat and Tiberias, and within the Old City of Jerusalem. The Arab communities were the majority in the more hilly area of mandatory Palestine-- including all the central ridge of Judea and Samaria and central Galilee, the inner plans, and in the Negev (the Bedouins). For the Jews it was thus imperative that the corridor was kept open to bring supplies to the Jewish communities in the Old City. From the top of a hill nearby, we were able to see the view and began to understand the geo-political importance of this place.

We then went to Liftaa Palestinian village right outside the entrance to Jerusalem. When I say right outside, I mean right outside. A two minute walk down a pathway from where the main highway (Route 1) meets the Central Bus Station, we suddenly found ourselves in a disintegrating paradise. Right there on the hill under the highway is an entire old Palestinian village. This is exceptional as post-1948 most villages were completely destroyed and you can only notice their remains by the lingering cactus plants which dot the countryside or by impressive forests planted by the JNF. But Lifta is practically all still standing. Our Professor explained how this is due to its liminality: it is both inside Jerusalem and outside Jerusalem. Because of its amorphous location, it has been left untouched. Neither here nor there.

We walked down a dirt path and arrived at a spring where an entire group of Haredi men were bathing in a intricately constructed basin which connected to a sophisticated system of water and aquifers. Nah-Nakh from Brasilov graffiti smiled down from the walls, and plastic Coca-Cola bottles and trash littered the area. We made a right turn down an intricate and sturdy cobblestone pathway and our professor led us to the village mosque, acknowledged the neighborhood oven where families would bake bread, and we sat underneath the shade of fig trees as he recounted the personal narrative of a Palestinian named Ya'akub who now lives in East Jerusalem and fled from the village with his family to Ramallah at age 8 in 1948. 

Ya'akub would describe Lifta as a paradise surrounded by fig trees, almond trees, pomegranate trees, carob trees, olive trees and a thriving agricultural industry. These were the seven species found in the Garden of Eden that are named in Jewish tradition. Lifta was not just a village, it practically owned most of contemporary central and north- central Jerusalem, all the way to Nablus gate and the French Hill. At that time Jerusalem was confined to within the Old City Walls, and the surrounding land was owned and rented out by Lifta. In 1946, 7,780 Muslim Arabs lived there, 756 Jews rented land and 20 Christians. There are sources which claim that this area was settled all the way back to the time of Canaanites (and or the Ancient Israelites, it depends on who tells the story), and the spring of the village is mentioned in Pharaonic texts. A 1553 census from the Ottoman Empire documents that 71 families lived in the village. It was a collective based community, and the heart of the village was the spring that we had already walked by. It served as a plaza for communal gatherings, women and children, and the elders. Decisions over how to divide the communal land (masha') were made while sitting under a mulberry tree next to the water.

As the tensions rose in 1947, the Lechi-Stern group threw a grenade into the café of the village and 4 people died. Ya'akub's family fled to Ramallah. Residents from Lifta are now scattered around the world, but the community continues to nurture its bonds with centers in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Chicago, Amman, Zakra and Austin, Texas. If there is a wedding, there is no invitation—it's assumed that you'll be invited. If there's a funeral, everyone goes. No question. 

Crossing the threshold.

Crossing the threshold.

People come to this village today to sit in the abandoned buildings and look out across the incredible view or go swimming in the springs. Haredi Jewish men use the spring as a mikveh on Fridays to perform the ritual cleansing before Shabbat. Our security guard (who we were required by the university to have trailing behind us on the excursion) mentioned that Lifta is known for being a smoking spot for Haredim and Kahene extremists. There is graffiti everywhere, damage everywhere, marks of fires. The general disrepair is in such contrast to the intricate details of the stone arches, the thoughtful placement of paths, the lingering blue paint which shows how luxurious this home once was. In one building, the foundation stone in the doorway had been removed and it is just waiting to collapse. As the history of this valley sunk in, I couldn't help thinking how strange it felt to be walking through ruins of a community who is still living. Their ghosts seemed to haunt the high vaulted rooms. It's not like walking through a Roman amphitheater and feeling the immensity of an ancient empire. There are broken tiles on these floors that a living generation walked on not so long ago. And here I am crossing the threshold without an invitation by the true owner and I'm slapped in the face by the graffiti marking the walls which says "Death to Arabs" and "Lifta is revenging the Arabs."

As we gathered on the bus to return to university, our professor challenged us. Both these locations carry a certain narrative, how do we take a step back to put it into historical context? My thoughts ran, but I couldn't find words to answer. The history is still unfolding around us daily, and the story of Motza and Lifta are not far enough removed to be stared at objectively. The schoolhouse of Lifta is surrounded by the shopping mall near the bus station which I see every time I take a bus back to Jerusalem from elsewhere. The red roof-tiles and old stones glare at the city which has developed around it. Jerusalem is city that is ever-evolving and never-forgetting.

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Lita carved in Arabic on a cactus plant

Lita carved in Arabic on a cactus plant

The illusion of insecurity? Or the delusion of security? by Sophie Schor

Jerusalem, January 2015.

"It's fine until it's not fine." This sentence has been echoing in my head for a long time now. Especially when it comes to walking through neighborhoods I'm "not supposed" to be in, or villages I'm "not supposed" to see, or people I'm "not supposed" to meet. 

Riding home on the bus last week, our entire way was detoured as the road was blocked. Stones had been thrown at the light rail station by Palestinians in the neighborhood Shuafat, police were looking for the people who had done it. But that moment of seeing the red tape across the lampposts and the flashing lights, my heart was in my throat wondering what had happened. How bad? To whom? 

Meanwhile, up North sirens blasted warning the incoming of a possible rocket, and people were told to go to shelters. Only to be alerted minutes later that it was a false alarm. Twitter is a tricky flirt to follow.

Or everyday I take the bus into university, the bus stops as a security guard climbs on the bus to walk down the aisle to "inspect." By inspect I mean, it generally is the same tired looking woman with her hair in a messy ponytail and chipped nail polish, headphone playing music into one ear, who walks up and down, glances at people's faces and somehow gives the nod that it's okay. We then get off the bus, pass through metal detectors and a check of our student IDs before being ushered into the university. 

I've begun thinking about the implications of these daily checks and these accidental sirens or the intensive double screening at the airport that my non-Jewish friends endure before flying. Our emotions are hijacked and kept in a state of fear and insecurity. I wonder how much of these security measures are actually necessary versus how much of it is perceived as necessary. 

These fears aren't rooted in complete disillusionment though. I am also aware that I am here at a time of relative calm--it's not the 90's or 2000s with the Intifadas and buses and restaurants blowing up in Jerusalem. My Jerusalamite roommate told me of the time she was in her room and a molotov cocktail was thrown through her window. She only lives in apartments now that have metal bars on the windows. There have also been many attacks on Israelis in the previous days (see last post here) as well as several Palestinians who have been seriously wounded or killed. The situation while "calm," is not fine. Yet I go to school and make dinner and see friends and buy toilet paper as normal as can be. 

This live on the edge mentality, that everything is fine until it's not fine, dictates life here. Limits people, pushes other people to extremes, highlights tensions, makes it hard to sleep. 

I had a conversation with my cabdriver one day and he threw his hands in the air when I mentioned something about politics and just said, "Everyone living here has high blood pressure. We are all sick. This needs to end so people can just live."

Conflict is real. Something that I have to keep reminding myself as I take a deep breath. 

Walls by Sophie Schor

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Back to Jerusalem and back to school. I have one class that looks really exciting, it's all about Jerusalem as a multi-layered city and the inter-group relations that play out within it. The professor had us read Georges Perec and we sat around discussing what it is that we see when we look at something. 

Stumbled upon this chapter in the book about walls: 

"Walls:

I put a picture up on a wall. Then I forget there is a wall. I no longer know what is there behind this wall, I no longer know there is a wall. I no longer know that in my apartment there are walls, and that if there weren't any walls, there would be no apartment. The wall is no longer what de limits and defines the place where I live, that which separates it from the other places where other people live, it is nothing more than a support for the picture. But I also forget the picture, I no longer look at it. I have put the picture on the wall so as to forget there was a wall, but in forgetting the wall, I forget the picture, too. There are pictures because there are walls. We have to be able to forget that there are walls, and have found no better way to do so than pictures. Pictures efface walls. But walls kill pictures. So we need continually to be changing, either the wall or the picture, to be forever putting other pictures up on the walls, or else constantly moving the picture from one wall to another."

-Georges Perec, Species of Spaces

This felt apropos as I looked out the classroom window at the separation wall right next to the university which divides "us" from "them" and "there" from "here."

In the last 10 days while I was lucky enough to be on holiday, a 17 year old Palestinian from the Qalandia Refugee camp was shot three times and killed. A friend of mine recounted how he doesn't believe the "official" story that is being circulated around. Supposedly Muhammad al-Kasbeh threw a rock at an officer's car and destroyed the windshield. B'tselem just posted video footage of the event. 

 

A few days previously, a 20 year old Palestinian woman attempted to stab a female soldier near Rachel's tomb; a molotov cocktail was thrown at a bus that was driving through the West Bank and an ambulance driving through the West Bank's main highway Route 60 was shot at; then there is the shooting and death of an Israeli in the West Bank who was driving to a spring, and 4 more Israelis were shot at a junction in the West Bank. 6 attacks in 10 days (Ynet News)

To put this into perspective: 

"An average of two Israeli civilians per week have sustained injuries by Palestinians so far in 2015, with one Israeli killed, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

In the same time period...an average of 39 Palestinians have been injured by Israeli forces per week and 13 killed, including two since the beginning of this month." (Maan News)

This all coincides with Ramadan and the one year anniversary of last summer's war. June 30th was the day when the 3 kidnapped Israeli boys were found dead. July 2nd marks the kidnapping and murder of 16 year old Jerusalemite Muhammad Abu Kheider, July 8th was the first official day of the operation in Gaza. July 18th will be the beginning of the ground invasion. 52 days when you weren't sure if the nightmare would ever end. I remember the feeling of isolation I felt last summer. Of hearing bombs dropping on Gaza from the swimming pool of the kibbutz. Of the surrealism around the dinner table feeling alone in also counting the deaths of Gazans. Of how shallow my breathing got every time the news came on the radio in case there was news of my cousin. Of the back and forth between guilt and fear. 

Women Wage Peace, an organization I've been following this year for my research that was founded last summer after the war, has been sitting outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem where they have begun a 50 day fast. They call for an end to the cycle of violence, negotiations with Palestinians, and the signing of a political agreement. They're calling it Tzom Eitan meaning Eitan's fast, a play on words for the Israeli name for Operation Protective Edge, Tzok Eitan. I'll be there later this week for interviews and will be sure to report back. 

Welcome back to Israel and Palestine, where the coffee is strong and the conflict is never ending. 

Yes or No: Greece by Sophie Schor

View of Athens from the Acropolis hill--the temple is for Athena the namesake Goddess of Athens.  

View of Athens from the Acropolis hill--the temple is for Athena the namesake Goddess of Athens.  

I write to you the eve of the election for the referendum in Greece. Sitting in the hotel lobby and the concierge just grew tired of the news and switched the channel to football. The Greek people are being asked to vote tomorrow either Oxi or Nai. Yes or no. 

The demonstration yesterday

The demonstration yesterday

Yes means to agree to the reforms and restrictions imposed by the troika—the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission—in exchange for yet another bailout so that Greece can pay back its debt. No means to refuse the reforms and maintain a bargaining chip in the current financial negotiations. Yesterday I found myself in Syndgma Square (Constitution Square) in Athens during the large protest in favor of No. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was set to speak, but to get the large crowd in the mood, several speakers stood up and riled up the emotions with their rhetoric. Each speaker had a partner who repeated their lines in another language—German, French, Spanish, English—and then it was translated into Greek. "This is not a problem only of the Greek people!" One person declared. "It is a problem of all the European people!" A mother next to me thrust her fist passionately in the air yelling "OXI OXI OXI." A speaker chanted, "Oxi means democracy. Oxi means dignity. Oxi means sovereignty. Oxi means future. Oxi means hope." 

Syndgma Square before the rally

Syndgma Square before the rally

Syndgma Square during the rally.  

Syndgma Square during the rally.  

The measure being voted on is for the acceptance of austerity measures in response to Greece's serious financial predicament. But how did Greece reach a point where it seems to be hanging on a cliff's edge and dependent on the mercy of Chancellor Angela Merkel?

Let's break it down: Greece has racked up serious debt since entering the European Union (and some would say on mainly false pretenses as they proved their financial status on fallacious documents). This has been exacerbated by several factors, one of which being the incredibly high employment rate in the public sector. Over 30% of Greeks are employed by their government. Compare that to the United States where only 16% work in the public sector (according to 2013 numbers found here). The government has to pay all these people, yet the income isn't there. 

Why? Because of the incredibly high rate of tax evasion that has occurred over the years. The government had no system in place to truly collect taxes which has led many who are privately employed to avoid paying taxes all together. This reached a tipping point in 2008 during the global economic crisis and Greece's internal debt was laid bare. 

Since then, different privatized companies have bought Greece's debt, mainly French or German or other European companies. The European Commission imposed severe austerity measures and government budget cuts in exchange. Greece had the last 5 years to pay them back. But then Greece wasn't able to pay back its debts and we've arrived to the current crisis. 

Meanwhile, you have the politics of the European Union creating stark dichotomous ultimatums: Greece is either in the EU or out. The EU will either bail out Greece again or cut it off and leave it to fend for itself. This would begin by defaulting on their loans, leaving the Eurozone, and reintroducing the drachma. A friend of mine was explaining these complexities to me and concluded that if Greece ends up defaulting on its loans, who knows what will happen. Not just to Greece. Not just to the European Union. But even to an economy of another country on the other side of the world. Everything is so interconnected. 

Will Greece stay in the EU? 

Will Greece stay in the EU? 

I'm here now attending a 4 day seminar on Eastern Mediterranean relations with participants from Greece, Jordan, Israel and more. We took a ferry four hours from Athens and were immediately shuffled into a restaurant with the doors open to the Aegan sea. The place was packed—it had been booked by a local family to celebrate the christening of their child. Musicians strummed at their instruments, people were clapping and dancing, and the director of the program explained to me how island music is happier than mainland music. "We call mainland music the blues." And yet its upbeat tempo and light notes seemed to still ring with an air of positivity. The participant sitting next to me kept leaning over to make sure I noticed that this was a really good song. "It's a classic!" He explains how the accompanying dance is of someone swirling around as if they're drunk, falling closer and closer to the ground as if gravity was winning. Meanwhile I leaned across the table to chat with a professor from Egypt who will be lecturing during the conference and shared my salad with a participant from China. The Greeks at the table next to me were debating whether Greece will end up more like Venezuela or Argentina. 

I began polling my new Greek colleagues, would you be voting yes or no tomorrow? Vibrant conversations struck up. Most people on this program would vote yes, they are students in European Studies programs. They agree to the measures because it's what is required of them in the current system. But it's not without concessions. One participant declared loudly that he would vote no, and that Europe is full of neoliberal fascists who are overstepping Greek's sovereignty. The debate raged on. One of the directors explained to me, "As Greeks, our minds say yes, but our hearts say no." And with that, she checked her watch and said that she must get to the bank to withdraw her daily allotment of 60€. Her mother is bed ridden you see, she needs her money. 

Athens, July 2, 2015

Athens, July 2, 2015

I took a picture of a line of people standing outside of an ATM while in Athens. The second my shutter snapped closed, a woman came up to me and began yelling at me. "Do you think this is funny? To watch old people in line standing to try to get their money?" Another woman came over and it felt as though she was cursing me in Greek. I tried to explain calmly that, no, I did not find their situation funny, rather it is historical. My heart was pounding in my chest. She threw her hands in the air and walked away. 

If I've gathered anything in the last four days, it is that the Greek are a proud people. From their immortal marble monuments to their constantly full glasses of wine, there is a certain air of confidence that they seem to carry. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but for now I'm content to listen to the waves lapping against the shore. The mainland blues sure seem far away from here on the island. 

For context on the current situation, check out the This American Life on the original crisis in 2012 here: http://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/455/continental-breakup

And be sure to follow John Cassidy's reporting in The New Yorker for updates. 

***For updated analysis after the referendum with a 60-40 win to Oxi and the results of the bargaining between the Greek government and the European Union, see this thoughtful article written by Spyros Katsoulas.***

More than just Numbers by Sophie Schor

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I just covered 384km in 12 hours to sit at an army base where 387 soldiers, now officers, and 21 women, now officers, stood for 3 hours in 36 degree heat. They paraded around the yard. Left. Right. Left. 

My cousin just finished his officers course in the army, and I hitched a ride with the family to the base down near Mitzpe Ramon, aka the Deep South, far from any semblance of urban life and surrounded by desert.

We estimated that there were about 4,000 people there. Families came from all over the country, many carrying coolers full of food to share with their sons (and 21 daughters). Many families were wearing matching shirts; some homemade, some professionally done, with the name of their soldier next to a photo of him in army fatigues holding a huge gun. "We salute you our officer," was written across the back of one shirt. There were a few families of women wearing hijabs—Bedouin or Druze. My cousin's girlfriend shared with me that she loves how the army is a melting pot, everyone is a part of it. 

The ceremony lasted hours, marching, standing alert, standing at rest, saluting head officers, saluting at nothing, standing. (All to the tune of the army band which added an air of circus excitement to the whole affair).

My cousin finished the course as one of the top soldiers. His name was called, to our family's surprise, and he jogged out from the pack to stand in a line at the front. The Head Commander of the Armed forces saluted him personally. My mom equated the ceremony with Harvard graduation with my cousin in the Magna Cum Laude. In this militarized society, his social capital just went way up; the world of start ups, tech jobs, and politics is open to him.

Pride. 

And confusion. 

I share this post apprehensively, wrestling with my own personal discomfort at this system we're trapped in here in this country, and with my pride for my cousin who has accomplished something impressive. I stared out across the yard at the unknown faces and felt my stomach drop. It felt like a presentation of all those who will suffer in the next operation—because there will be another. Quiet never lasts for too long here. All these young faces, their serious expressions breaking to beam at their family members, who knows what will happen to them next?  Soldiers are not just a blur of faces—they are individuals with hopes, dreams, frustrations, families, favorite songs, girlfriends, boyfriends, inside jokes, restless nights, early mornings, sweet smiles and loving hugs. And most of them are 22 or younger.

As I hugged him goodbye, he told me he was glad that I came and could see it from another side. To see the people behind the army. "It's all for the good," he told me. 

My heart broke hearing him say that. I remember last summer, when he was serving in Gaza and I couldn't focus in class or remember what groceries I needed to buy as I worried for his own safety and watched the death toll tick higher. I have a hard time calling last summer "for the good" for anyone. 

Yet, in his world, what he is doing is all for the good. I remember as we drove him back home after he left Gaza. He shared how as he was with his troop on their way to Gaza, their bus drove right past the kibbutz where our family lives. He shared how at that moment, he knew he was going into Gaza for a reason. To protect his family. To make the rockets that threatened their lives stop. To prevent any underground sneak attacks from tunnels. He felt at that moment that what they were doing was right. 

And guess where his appointment as a new officer is taking him? To Gaza. 

I sat talking with his friend's father tonight, and we tried to find the words to describe our new officer. Pure. A big heart. Innocent. Kind. The father shared how when he was an officer leading a troop in Jenin in the West Bank, he had a hard time trying to convince one of his soldiers to go to the territories. He took him out for coffee to convince him that they had similar politics and were both against the occupation. "But we have to go, so I need you to help me do it in a way that's different." I asked him how they did it differently, and he said to lead an example at the checkpoints and treat people with dignity. They can't get rid of the checkpoints, he said, but they can still try to do the best they can.

16 months, 70 weeks, 486 days, 11,664 hours until my cousin is released from his service. March 17, 2016. It can't come soon enough.






Thyme to Build A Road: Solidarity Action in South Hebron Hills by Sophie Schor

It was after the end of prayers and suddenly many young men from the village showed up, pick axes in tow. “The Shabaab will break the ground, you will put in the plants.” We quickly settled into a rhythm, conversations flowing and laughter ringing across the field as we watched row after row of thyme settle its roots into the dirt.

The young man next to me, Omar, swung the pickaxe into the dirt and told me about how he finished his B.A. at Hebron University in Agricultural development and wants to do a Masters in water. I smiled encouraging words as I pushed away rocks and broke up dirt to place yet another thyme plant in the ground. Tariq, another young villager, described what life is like in his village. There's a difference when you read that some villages only receive two hour of electricity to when someone looks you in the eye and tells you this

As the journalist next to me asked Muhammad about the village, I overheard him respond in broken English, “I was born here, I live here, and I will stay here.”

The fierce desire to remain rooted in a place, in the face of so much violent opposition, bureaucratic antagonism, and a prejudiced system almost seems naïve. Yet, existence is resistance. That line has been echoing in my head all weekend.

This weekend, an unprecedented event took place. Over the course of 36 hours, 71 people spent time working in Susiya, Bir el-Eid and Umm al-Khair in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank.

Here’s the catch—most of those people were Jews.

This all began almost three months ago, the eve of Netanyahu’s re-election, a living room was packed with members of All That's Left discussing the potential of organizing a large action of resistance to the occupation (full disclosure, I am a member of this group). Shay, an Israeli working with Breaking the Silence, told us the news that in Susiya, there was a request for a large group of people to come and help build a road. The meeting ended at exactly 10PM as the election results came in. The group dispersed, and the morning after, a sense of determination had taken root.

Months of planning become reality this weekend.

The South Hebron Hills is located in Area C of the West Bank; there are numerous Palestinian villages that are “unrecognized” by the Civil Administration. These villages do not exist on the “master plan,” do not receive basic services such as water, roads or electricity, and most concerning, are under immediate threat of demolition. They are banned from construction or development. Meanwhile the 125 Israeli settlements and approximately 100 illegal outposts are not only overlooked, but also in many cases supported.

Susiya has been in the news as of late after a failed attempt to bring a case to the court to have it acknowledged on the master plan. Groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Ta’ayush have been working with the families in Susiya through the legal channels to challenge the current demolition order. Unfortunately, as of May 4th, the case was denied and the threat of displacement was renewed. This is all part of a larger policy, similar to the situation happening to the Bedouins in the Negev, where the Israeli government is trying to consolidate people into cities, remove them from their land, and ultimately annex the entire area. This is especially worrisome in cases such as the South Hebron Hills—map here—as the annexation of these lands would be the death of a 2-state solution, as it would inhibit any continuity of Palestinian territory. 

So, on a Friday morning, we showed up with the intention of spending the full weekend there completing several different work projects. We were quickly ushered by Ahlan waSahlans into a shaded tent structure with that was flanked by Palestinian flags, and large poster with the smiling face of Abbas and Arafat looking down upon us. A tent was spray-painted on the side that said “Susiya forever.” Two young boys, about 7 or 9, began walking around the circle of chairs pouring and passing out small paper cups of strong, dark coffee. A much needed gesture of welcome for those who woke up early that morning to get there. As sips of morning courage were sipped, Nasser, a villager, began sharing his story, and that of Susiya, with us.

He told us that when he was young, the village of Susiya was kicked off their land in 1986, his father carried him over the hill to where they settled today. His father’s father had carried his own sons when they were expelled from their village before. He looked around the circle and said, “I don’t want to have to carry my sons to a new village.”

After introductions, we split off into work groups. One group of about 20 people stayed in Susiya to help clear rubble off the road and plant flowers. Another group went to Bir el-Eid to clear another area off rocks and pick-axe at the stones to smooth out the road running from Firing Zone 918 to the main road near Susiya, and we went off to Umm al-Khair to plant thyme.

We arrived a bit late. Flustered and already feeling the heat, we were greeted by Hamed. Hamed Qawasmeh is a story in and of itself—a one-man show who is single-handedly organizing projects all throughout the South Hebron Hills: kindergartens, toy-collections, school scholarships and more through his organization HIRN. His ingenuity and generosity are creating small acts with large impact. He helped us organize the project we were about to do: plant 1,000 thyme plants with the villagers. The thyme is a sustainable source of income for the villagers, does not require much water or care, grows well and is sold everywhere for use in making Za’atar, a popular spice mix found here. The money was to go to the villagers to help them support themselves and also to pay for their kids to go to university.

Umm al-Khair sits in the shadow of Carmel settlement. When I say shadow, I mean literally the red-roofed houses of the settlements cast a shadow on the tents next door. The fence marking the edge of the field in which we were planting turns into the automatic yellow gate, which opens and closes for cars of settlers to pass through; the manicured green lawns in the middle of a desert are only overshadowed by the humming air-conditioners jutting off of the houses.

The yellow gate of Carmel settlement with new caravans right behind it--a sign that the settlement is expanding.  

The yellow gate of Carmel settlement with new caravans right behind it--a sign that the settlement is expanding.  

Hamed gestured behind him and said, “Just a fence separates the 21st century from the 17th.” His words struck a chord as we glanced around at the dilapidated, crude structures, the donkeys wandering around the yard, and then were quickly greeted by three young boys who began running to show us how to enter into the dirt area where we would get to work. “Yalla Yalla!” they shouted, gesturing for us to follow. We reached a hole in the metal fence and one pointed to a ladder gesturing that we could either climb over or walk through, and then he skipped over the fence and jumped into the dirt.

Twenty of us then stumbled our way through the field to the edge where the planting would begin. Several village members and three other volunteers had already begun. There to the side, were the thyme plants. We were handed sticks, told to dig deep enough to cover the roots, plant at intervals, and get going.

As we broke dirt, scraping with our fingers, I felt both out of place and incredibly present. It’s amazing to be with people who work the land—backbreaking, callous-building work. It’s not as easy as it looks, I kept thinking to myself. Meanwhile a 6 year old began pointing, directing, digging and planting like a fiend. None of us could keep up with him. Until one participant, began to dig with him. The two of them began to dig and plant and communicate by pointing and grunting. The six year old, Bassa, would not let Aaron rest nor work without him. Pointing and shouting “Huna huna! Here here!” he told Aaron where to dig as he ripped the black plastic off the roots of the plant, scrambled to make the hole the right size, and then plopped it in. Their partnership was one of the highlights of the day. 

We took a break, and hot tea was passed over the fence. Warm and sugary, we debated whether hot drinks really do cool you down in hot weather or not. Before we knew it, the work was done. We looked on our work, and one volunteer said, “Many hands makes for light work.” In three hours, we were already reluctant to leave our new friends, content to continue playing in the dirt under the hot sun and creating something together.

We returned to Susiya to organize with the rest of the group. Some were leaving that evening, many were staying the night and would be there the next day. I was leading the Friday group, and as we organized ourselves and got back on the bus to return to Jerusalem, my heart sang.

After catching up with other members of All That’s Left who stayed for the whole weekend, the beauty of the two days is starting to settle in.

My friend told me how on Saturday, they mainly worked on clearing the roads until an afternoon break with workshops and learning about honey, non-violent resistance, and Arabic. While the group was distracted, some settlers showed up.  The young settlers came and began cutting off tree branches in the olive grove. Nasser, one of the villagers, showed up to scare them off, and the settlers began throwing stones at him. The soldier on watch did nothing. Some of the participants joined and the police were called. The situation ended where the police actually investigated the event and the teenagers who had been throwing rocks were arrested. As my friend Robin said, it was bad that the weekend ended like this, but it was also amazing to see that our presence had an impact. We were there to bear witness and to be present.

The impact of this weekend is not the signs that were painted, the rocks moved off the road or the plants that were planted. It’s the tiny moments of sharing between people. One member of our group wrote that he bonded with two young boys who said to him that they’ve never known a Jew who wasn’t a settler or a soldier. They’ve made plans to hang out again. Another friend shared the conversation she had with one young man about the sea and who puts all the salt in it. He had only visited the sea once in his life, and still couldn't wrap his mind around it. My friend Elham, a Palestinian from Jerusalem who joined us this weekend, was overwhelmed by the work this weekend and seeing the lives of her fellow Palestinians who live under such different circumstances. Others felt enriched by the conversations they had over dinner, or by the quiet moments they had in the morning.

I keep thinking back to a moment that stayed with me. As I was walking down the rows of thyme, picking up wrappers from the plants, I saw my friend asking Omar if this plant was okay--he was pointing to a little thyme, short stubby branches, without many leaves. Omar nudged the plant with his foot and reassured, “It will grow, it will grow.”

In the face of systemic oppression, gridlock politics, ignorance-is-bliss mentality, and the perpetuation of occupation, hope seems like a futile pursuit. What is one day going to do? What is one conversation going to change? How can one shared plastic cup of sugary tea create a future? Yet, this weekend was something. Our dedication to end the occupation brought us here, and the small difference in one individual’s life is worth it. It was the beginning of a movement. And it will grow, it will grow.

(Taken by a member of All That's Left) 

(Taken by a member of All That's Left)