June 7th, 2005
For photos of Jack’s trip, click here.
As-Salam ‘alekoum! I have just returned from Palestine as our first Peaceful Tomorrows delegate to that region. The trip served several purposes and I thank many of you who supported me along the way and through the difficult emotional “re-entry” into American culture. While in Israel and Palestine I met with peace groups that shared our common message of dialogue and other non-violent means to decrease conflict in the world. Although I am generally a pragmatist wanting to “do” useful projects, our “symbolic” presence in Palestine meant a great deal to the people there and they reported both delight and hope that Peaceful Tomorrows was recognizing their plight and standing in solidarity with all victims of violence and injustice. As a Jewish man, the trip was at once a home-coming and a deeply disturbing grasp of a largely hidden war on the original inhabitants of the occupied lands. For the most part, I was a guest and student of the Palestinians and I was in very good hands throughout my days and nights there.
The greatest impact of the many institutionalized tactics oppressing the Palestinians that I witnessed struck me through my experience within the many refugee camps scattered throughout Israel. Off-limits to foreigners such as myself, Gaza is considered the most densely populated place on earth and “encloses” 1.4 million Palestinians. However, there are dozens of camps in Israel to which one does have full access. While I had prepared myself academically and by meeting with Palestinians in the US prior to my journey, I was stunned to discover the extent of the “silent” war on Palestinians within this Middle East country so central to the escalating Arab-American conflict. I left thinking that the Western media’s focus on the planned withdrawal from the Gaza strip this August was merely a diversion from the full scope of the problems.
I state this because the 3 Gaza settlements contain about 6,000 illegal residents. The West Bank, however, has dozens of settlements with tens of thousands of illegal settlers, yet these do not appear on the radar screen here as an essential element blocking the “peace process.” While any steps toward the reduction of conflict are eagerly welcomed, the US media appears narrowly focused and employs vague terms to denote international human right abuses, illegal oppressive strategies, and apartheid policies currently practiced by Israel’s government. Hence, the “effect” we see in sensational coverage of suicide bombers is divorced from the “cause” of such desperation and the official, military violence that generally precipitates the attack. In this sense, one-dimensional and simplistic reductions of terrorism mirror the highest official explanation of the Nine-Eleven attacks wherein one race, religion, or nation leads a “crusade”of “good against evil” destroying those who (must) hate our way of life! It is an ideological cycle I believe we can wean each other from towards collective spiritual maturity.
My experience of the modern Palestinian as warm, generous, hospitable and largely secularized in religious devotion could not have been further from the anticipated stereotype of the “Arab-Muslim” presented in the US media. However, without the creation of a significantly different “other” threatening our national identity, could we possibly wage war on recognizable faces of a fellow human beings? I am grateful to the many Israelis and Palestinians working to convey this bare truth. I left with renewed confidence in the peoples’ determination to free themselves of the notions instilled by corporations, governments, mass media, militia, and the human fear that serves as their base of operations. The clarity and hope of most every ordinary citizen I met on both sides of the wall have left me believing that people everywhere do value life; thereby making peace ultimately inevitable. Of course, my slideshow is available to anyone interested. Please feel free to contact me at the Peaceful Tomorrows office (212.598.0970) or through the Peaceful Tomorrows office if you know of groups interested in a presentation and discussion.