Interning with ICAHD, the stages so far
I am a barrister from the UK and have been volunteering as an intern for ICAHD since November 2014. Arriving here and finding myself immersed in the political and social problems afflicting this part of the world, I have found myself going through something like a mini version of the 5 stages of grief: ‘denial’ that the Occupation is happening – that the problems must surely be exaggerated; that no government could legally push a population from their own land on the basis of race; that surely there must be a rational reason, somewhere, that explains why homes are demolished in the middle of the night; that Palestinian neighbourhoods have their water and electricity cut but Israeli homes do not; there must be a convincing reason why British politicians have continued to support Israel’s policies largely uncritically.
Then I began to meet with people. Kind people, eloquent people, enraged people. I saw that Israel has shaped international law to suit its own ends. That it is a master at utilising the narrative of ‘terrorism and national security’ to disguise a proactive policy of displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people. The ‘anger’ stage set in. Hearing how people like Atta Jaber, who lives near Hebron, and his bright family continue to steadfastly ‘live on’ despite continual instances of settler violence on their doorstep which, of course, go unpunished by the Israeli authorities.
My research in uncovering statistics such as the number of Palestinian homes demolished in the 1948 ‘nakba’, (51,500) reminded me of how blinkered and shamefully forgetful UK politicians remain: how dare we talk of ‘terrorism’ without acknowledging the many seeds of injustice that we, as supposedly Western ‘civilised’ countries, have sown in the Middle East through our political decisions and foreign policy ‘initiatives’.
In an effort to discover how resistance efforts to the Occupation can be unified, I have conducted interviews with human rights organisations like Zochrot as well as ‘Hebrew-Palestinian’ author and politician Uri Davis, and Israeli activists like Moriel Rothman, to discuss collaborative plans for the future as well as thoughts on the power of non-violence in resistance efforts.
As the realities of Israel’s ‘town planning’ policies continue to develop: from the displacement of 7000 people from Bedouin and herding communities, to the ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, to the matrix of roads slicing their routes through the West Bank, as well as tireless settlement expansion, it became apparent there is a danger in fighting for a ‘two state solution’; would it lock the Palestinians into their current Bantusans? Would Israel truly relinquish control and remove the ‘facts on the ground’ it has created? Is it 15 years too late for that? Can there be peace between two physically separated peoples? The sense in working for a bi-national one state solution, in which both peoples’ individual and collective rights are respected within a human rights framework, became increasingly apparent after these conversations and after exploring Professor Jeff Halper’s insightful analysis on this issue.
The ‘bargaining’ stage of the process has manifested itself as a continual grappling with the weight of powerlessness and malaise versus a strong intuitive sense that every little effort towards justice counts, even if the visible effects are not seen. Agonising questions come to the fore, like: “what should ‘they’ – Israeli society/the international community/Palestinians’- be doing to change things”; to “maybe I’m not doing enough, how can I do more?”, to “What is the answer when all methods seem to have been tried? Maybe if I write this report or that project that will bring an answer…”
The ‘bargaining’ phase demands confronting the paradox of both individual and collective change: the whole world doesn’t depend on you, Messiah complexes must be avoided at all costs; nothing depends finally on your efforts alone. Yet at the same time it all matters. Every letter sent, every word spoken, every pound donated; even the most trifling of reactions to injustice is so profoundly important, especially at the times where it seems fruitless and futile.
I have had moments of ‘depression’ and of ‘acceptance’, but I think neither of these mindsets should be embraced here; they lead to inertia and complacency. As I continue to write reports, share stories, and explore campaign proposals, I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s quote: “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals”. When enveloped in an environment riddled with discrimination, abuses of power, injustice and oppression, it is easy to become cynical, impatient, bitter, fatalistic yourself. And on that point, Walter Wink, author of ‘The Powers That Be’, offers an important vision to aspire to:
“Evil can be opposed without being mirrored. Oppressors can be resisted without being emulated. Enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed.”
To see Chris’ blog go to https://conversationsinjerusalem.wordpress.com/