ICAHD’S 11th REBUILDING CAMP ENDS SUCCESSFULLY
Director of ICAHD UK and the 2013 ICAHD Rebuilding Camp Coordinator
Beit Arabiya, a Palestinian home in Anata, demolished six times by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt each time by ICAHD, was rebuilt as a memorial site where visitors can walk through the ruins of a demolished home and view exhibits on aspects of the Occupation. Reconstructed by 30 volunteers from around the world, during ICAHD’s 11th annual rebuilding camp, Beit Arabiya will be a place where Palestinian and international artists can perform and where Palestinian and Israeli activists can meet to strategize.
The Rebuilding Camp Participants
The camp combined the rebuilding aspect along with an extensive educational programme. The following is a compilation of some of the blogs written by participants to provide a flavour of some of what they learned during what for them became an unforgettable experience of non-violent resistance to the Occupation.
Hanna and Karine from Norway wrote about Palestinian hospitality, water shortages and demolitions.
During a walking tour of Anata we talked to the mayor and experienced some of the wonderful Palestinian hospitality. But more importantly, we saw the Israeli politics in practice. Did you know that the Palestinians on the West bank only get water every third day? Or that they have to store it in black tanks on the house roofs, to have water the rest of the week? Keeping in mind that less than three hundred meters away, the Israeli settlement, Pisgat Ze’ev, is provided with water every single day. Not to mention that in the past Anata was fully capable to provide water to the citizens of the village and Jerusalem. Now they are not able to sustain themselves because Israel authorities have confiscated all of the water supply.
Also during the tour we saw several demolished houses. It is devastating to think about how every house has been a home and belonged to a family. Later Salim told us the story of his family and described it like this “The house was all my savings. It was destroyed and we were left with nothing… in 15 minutes it was all gone.” It felt good to work in the ruins of the demolished house, carrying away the rubble, piece by piece because by doing hard physical work it helped to process what we had seen and heard.
Pauli from Finland also wrote about Anata.
We visited a little Bedouin community next to the military camp on the edge of Anata. The community also lives under the threat of demolition. Two men from the community told us about their lives. They weren’t too positive about their future and the politicians representing them. Ongoing peace talks are a joke to them; they’ve seen it all before. They told us that they have no problem living side by side with Israelis, even if it is in one state.
Caitlyn from the US describes the Judaization of Jerusalem
Yesterday during the Matrix of Control tour with Jeff, ICAHD campers were confronted with countless manifestations of the Israeli government’s attempts to Judaize Jerusalem—a process whereby Palestinian spaces, both public and private, are transferred to exclusively Jewish ownership. Each discussion of water rights, housing issues, and freedom of movement further evidences Israel’s status as an ethnocracy: a democracy for many of its Jewish citizens, yet something quite different for the rest.
Caitlyn and Linda building
Ted, also from the US, focused on the field trip to Tel Aviv and Jaffa
Sun, sand and surf. All parts of an ideal tourist landscape, yet behind it all lies a darker story seldom heard. It is Friday and the ICAHD summer camp participants are in Tel Aviv however whose Tel Aviv are we in? Adjoining the modern skyscrapers and swank beach hotels is the older city of Jaffa, a city with a complicated and troubled history that belies the party atmosphere so close. Since 1947 Israel has pursued a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing and by1949 only around 3,000 Palestinian residents of Jaffa remained and most from professional classes had gone. There has never been a zoning plan for Jaffa and by the 1980s as Arab families were crammed into increasingly tight and dilapidated houses the city was discovered by Jews as a hip place to live. Clear attempts followed as rich Jews moved into the grand, old houses and massive apartment buildings constructed that were decidedly not open to Arabs.
Jonas from Finland described the evening three Jewish Israeli peace activists visited the camp
We heard about the scant success of the refusenik movement which indicates a general weakness of the Israeli Jewish left and peace movements. Many organizations among the Israeli peace camp aim for a two-state solution, arguing that a Palestinian state is necessary to unburden Israel of its Arab population. These arguments expose an underlying demographic and racist logic to Zionism on both the right and the left, alienating the non-Jewish populations. The Zionist left and peace movements also tend to see the settlements as the central issue of the conflict. They are unable to acknowledge the foundations of the Jewish state as the root of the problem. In order to actually become a democracy, Israel needs to treat all its citizens equally.
They called for strong international pressure on Israel, including use of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign to help force Israeli politicians to reconsider their policies.
Mary from the US reflected on the field trip to the Jordan Valley
At the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign Friends House we sat under a roof made of palm fronds surrounded by walls made with traditional mud bricks. We had a delicious Palestinian lunch of MaHshi and the ever prevalent cucumber and tomato salad that is served with every meal here, cooked by the caretakers of the house. The father is disabled and the family of seven has struggled to survive since their home was demolished. The mother spoke to us about her desire to simply be able to work and live, stressing that they had very simple needs and that they “are not trying to travel to the moon; we just want clothes and food.´´
While driving through the Jordan Valley our
group quickly noticed that the wall takes many forms, one of them being enormous ditches and dirt piles that impede Palestinian movement. We saw several foreboding red signs throughout our trip warning us in three languages that entering certain areas was dangerous to our lives. Others explained that certain areas also happened to be military firing zones for the IDF.
Scott from Australia wrote about work at the building site
Whilst human chains shifted buckets of rubble and dirt away from the ruins, our contingent collected rocks in the field next door to build a demarcation wall. During the day a makeshift wooden pagoda was built in front of the men’s bathroom and vines that have survived six demolitions were hoisted on top to restore this shaded area.
With excitement, the folks unearthing the remains of Beit Arabiya reached the floors for the bathroom and kitchen. The toilet, shattered under the weight of concrete and metal, was found in its original position. Only the base of the sink and a few crushed cupboards were identified in the kitchen. Finally we were able to sweep the floor to reveal the speckled tiles below and we wound our way through the shadow of the home’s former living space.
Anne from the UK described what it meant to unearth the artifacts at Beit Arabiya.
The distinctively familiar green of the lid of a bottle of washing up fluid winked at me from amongst rocks, tiles, rubble and dust presenting a goal to accomplish within the perplexing confusion of smashed walls and broken support wires sticking up like skeletons. Heaving away buckets of rubble then scratching around stones and finally scraping through the dust I loosened the plastic and I gently extracted the near full bottle. A dishwashing sponge sat dutifully at its side. No need to carbon date this exciting find for the exact date of Arabiya’s home is known, 1 November 2012.
These everyday objects symbolize family life especially Arabiya’s, wife of Salim, mother of seven and now a grandmother, whose kitchen has been part of family life over decades. Everyday symbols of ordinariness conveying the extraordinariness the shock, the terror of having a home demolished time after time after time after time. How could the authorities, how dare they arrive time after time, on the flimsiest of legal pretexts? It is my rage at these demolitions and their profound impact upon the family life and the children that has bought me here. Triumphantly waving my washing up liquid bottle I am also sharply reminded that the work here might all be again undone for the seventh time. So why persist? Why take expensive time out to live and work here in heat over thirty degrees, and less than comfort, to rescue a bottle of banal washing up liquid? Simply to make my own statement about the shocking disregard for the rights of the 28,000 Palestinians whose homes have been demolished. Simply to draw attention to the profound trauma suffered by the entire family and particularly the children. I have never forgotten Salim’s story of the first time the home was demolished and his six year old son who so traumatized he ran and hid in fear all day and still as an adult has psychological problems. We as a group of thirty at the very least a voice alongside Salim.
In the end a moving memorial to demolition and displacement emerged from the ruins. We had turned a pile of rubble into striking exhibit that told the story of Beit Arabia as people walked through the exposed ruins.
And…during the camp Alex, a product of the 2011 camp (child of Cody, the camp’s building supervisor and Efrat, Jeff’s daughter), celebrated his first birthday. Mabrouk!
Cody and Alex
JEFF’S ADVOCACY TOUR TO
NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA & MALAYSIA
Immediately after the rebuilding camp, I boarded a plane for another advocacy and fund-raising trip abroad – this time to New Zealand and Australia, countries I last visited in 2004 and 2009, and to Malaysia. ICAHD takes advantage of the many invitations it receives to organize speaking tours throughout the region. Our advocacy trips are very labor intensive. I was invited to a conference on Human Rights in Palestine at the Australian National University in Canberra in early September, which paid the ticket to the area, and around that I built the tour. Rather than just coming to a place, speaking and leaving, ICAHD prefers that its speakers spend 3-4 days or more so that they can make as deep an impression as possible. We meet activists for updating and strategizing, as well as different local groups: the wider activist community, trade unions, universities, churches and, if possible, members of the Jewish community. We present not only in conferences or political meetings, but also to the general public. We give interviews with newspapers, radio and local TV. If possible, we meet with political or other public figures. So, by the time we leave a community, we have met several times with activists, listening to them and developing an infrastructure for follow-up; have shared our views with key constituencies, whether supportive, somewhat hostile or uninformed; and, in return, have raised meaningful sums of funds for our work. And in order to do this our trips take time; in this case an entire month.
Reporting on a month-long advocacy trip in brief is difficult. Here are the highlights.
New Zealand: Beginning in Christchurch, hosted by our long-time supporters Martin and Lois Griffiths, I appeared on three radio programs and made two public presentations, one at the law school of the local Canterbury University, the other in an activist center. In Wellington and Hamilton I also spoke at local universities, before arriving in Aukland, NZ’s largest city. There I was welcomed by Roger Fowler, a key figure in the Palestinian support movement in NZ (called Kia Ora Gaza <http://kiaoragaza.net>, his activist wife Lyn, and Billy Hania, a Palestinian living in Aukland (who reconfigured my worn-out computer). I also met again with David Shearer, a Kiwi who I had worked closely with a decade and more ago when he organized OCHA, the UN Humanitarian Affairs agency that he made into a key source of accurate and critical information regarding the conflict. David had become the head of NZ’s Labour Party (though he resigned from that position just before I arrived), a valued friend and colleague.
Jeff giving a lecture
Jeff with David Shearer and Roger Fowler in Aukland
Australia: I began my visit with a conference on “Dispossession and Discrimination: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” at the Australian National University, organized by Dr. Victoria Mason of School of Politics and International Relations. Among the participants were Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Sarah Roy, perhaps the foremost academic authority on Gaza, who also weaves her experiences in Gaza with those of her parents, Holocaust survivors from Poland. Steward Rees, head of the Sydney Peace Foundation and other Australian academics and activists also participated. In Canberra I also presented an assessment of the political situation at a meeting of APAN, the Australian-Palestinian Advocacy Network.
Moving on to Sidney, I was hosted by Prof. Peter Slezak, a professor of philosophy and a central figure in Independent Australian Jewish Voices. There I met with my friend Antony Lowenstein, editor of the book After Zionism, and others, during which the idea of founding an ICAHD Australia chapter arose and is moving forward. I spoke at the University of New South Wales, met members of the NSW state parliament and met with local activists, including members of the Palestinian community.
Travelling south to Melbourne, I was hosted by APAN activists (and Coordinator Jessica Morrison in particular). There I spoke to World Vision, an ICAHD donor, briefed members of the Victoria State Parliament and the Victoria Trade Unions Council, spoke at the university, and exchanged views with former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. (I tried out on him my thesis that governments do not resolve conflicts but only manage them. He agreed with one proviso: they also create them!) I had a very animated conversation with about 20 members of the local Jewish community on my last evening – most leaning towards a critical understanding of the conflict, of course; I admit that I seldom break through to the wider “unconverted” community – and an equally animated conversation over breakfast with 15 young Palestinian-Australians. Certainly I left Australia with a much stronger connection between ICAHD and Australian and NZ activists. Peter and some others will pursue the idea of ICAHD Australia, which will be coordinated with Lisa Arnold of the labour movement, who has led many union groups to Palestine. ICAHD Australia will become a member of APAN.
Jeff with Former Australian PM Malcolm Fraser
Malaysia: My last stop was Kuala Lumpur, where I was hosted by the Viva Palestina Movement. I found this fairly rare breaking out of our Euro-American circle both enlightening and heartening. I started by briefing VPM activists on our work – they haven’t met many Israelis – and especially on our strategy of reframing. I then spoke at the International Islamic University, at an assembly of Malaysia high schools, at the Malaysian Council of Churches and at the British-based Nottingham University, where my presentation was live fed to the Islamic University in Gaza. I also appeared on a Malaysian TV talk show. After four days in Kuala Lumpur I felt we had broken new ground in our international advocacy and we will continue to work with our Malaysian contacts and, through them, with other compatriots in Asia.
Jeff with his hosts from the Viva Palestina Movement, Azra Banu and Norma Hasim
ICAHD Participates in Zochrot Conference on
Practical Steps for the Refugees’ Return
At the end of September, Jeff was invited to give a presentation at a conference sponsored by Zochrot entitled “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees”. Going beyond the question of the Right of Return itself, the conference asked: what form will the Return take and what practical measures can we begin to realize it. Jeff’s paper within the session entitled “State, Regime and Space: Return Where?” suggested seven principles that must underlay any approach to peace, followed by an exploration of how a consociational state (sharing power) based on the twin principles of individual democracy and collective bi-nationalism might actually be constructed.
The conference was both moving and thought-provoking. Listening to the young generation of Palestinian citizens of Israel planning ways to restore their lost communities, even down to detailed architectural plans, showed how restorative justice could actually work. Since 84% of the land from which Palestinian villages and towns were removed in 1948 is still available, being forests, parks or agricultural fields, not only could many Palestinians be restored to their home communities but those rebuilt towns and villages could serve as centers for development and even tourism, as well as addressing the Right of Return and providing attractive and meaningful environments for the Palestinian population today locked into crowded and dilapidated urban centers with little economy of their own. Imagine if the Israeli authorities invested in al-Arakib, providing a humane, culturally significant and economically vital environment for its Bedouin citizens, rather than demolishing it 59 times (and counting). Israel will have to decide whether to remain at war with many of its own citizens or, finally, to seek peace and co-existence – which, having eliminated the two-state solution, will inevitably result in a single state of all its citizens.