Palestine Blog #4: I leaned more today than I have any other day of my life

 Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

I leaned more today than I have any other day of my life.

In the morning our amazing tour guide, took us to the Old City—the section of East Jerusalem enclosed by original wall built by the Romans—and we saw most of the holiest sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. After going through a couple of security stations and metal detectors we began our tour by going to the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque—considered the third holiest site to Muslims. On September 28, 2000 Ariel Sharon disrespected the Palestinians entering the grounds of the Mosque with some 1,500 riot police, which touched off the second intifada (uprising), or what’s know as the “Al Aqsa intifada.” While our guide was explaining the religious significance of the mosque and the political history of its link to the intifada, a group of Israeli settlers, escorted by the IDF, came to the grounds of the mosque to provoke the Palestinians. In a show of resistance, the Palestinians began chanting “Allah Akbar”—“God is great". As their chants grew louder and more IDF showed up, it became quite tense and the even the IDF realized that the settlers should move along.

We then proceeded to some of the most sacred places to the three major monotheistic religions—including walking the path that Jesus took while he carried his cross to his crucifixion and the tomb from which he was resurrected.

In the afternoon we met with Micha, a former IDF soldier and now a member of the Israeli Committee against House Demolition (ICAHD). Micha was also the founding member of Breaking the Silence, an organization of former IDF soldiers speaking out against the occupation. He gave us a great history of the Zionist movement and the founding of Israel and at each point in his talk he explained the lies he learned in school and the reality of life for the Palestinians.

Afterwards, our delegations traveled with him on a tour of Jerusalem where he showed us this reality—and how the Israeli system of Apartheid works to control and degrade Palestinians. Since the 1970s, all of city of Jerusalem is part of Israel--divided into East Jerusalem where Palestinians live, and West Jerusalem where Jewish Israelis live.

We drove down a road in west Jerusalem with nice sidewalks and tree-lined streets, only to see it all disappear into the East Jerusalem ghetto. The first thing Micha pointed out was the small water towers on top of all of the houses because Israel doesn’t supply the Palestinians proper water.

He showed us Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem housed in trailers—no gym, no playground, no science labs...I immediately thought of the school/trailers in Haiti that the Clinton Foundation provided in Léogâne that was recently exposed to be filled with formaldehyde and the kids had to end the school year early because they were getting sick…Ahhh, occupations… Micha explained that as the textbooks in these Palestinian schools wear out they are increasingly receiving Israeli textbooks, which describe the founding of Israel as great movement for independence instead of a genocide and disposition.

He showed us a home that had been bulldozed by the Israeli government and explained the policy that has led to hundreds of Palestinians losing their homes; Palestinians have to get permits to modify their homes or build new ones, but they can only get these permits if they have the original documents and blueprints for their buildings. Since only wealthy Palestinians can have someone draw up these documents, the vast majority of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem can be deemed illegal and subject to demolition. The Israelis will post a note giving warning and then they will show up unannounced, remove the furniture from a home while most of the family is gone, and bulldoze it to the ground. Micha told us of one student who brought his favorite toy to school every day because it wasn’t sure when the bulldozers were coming.

Next he took us to a section of the apartheid wall—so called “security barrier”—that broke up East Jerusalem. The wall is really overwhelming; thirty feet in the air and spans some 600 miles. Micha broke down why the wall has nothing to do with Israeli security. There are enough gaps in the wall that anyone motivated enough to conduct a suicide bombing would probably be up for driving the extra couple of hours out of the way to get around the barrier. Moreover, Hamas has renounced suicide bombings. The real reasons behind the wall became clear to us on the ground—cut off Palestinians from important resources, such as the aquifers, and to cut off Palestinians from their land to open up space for more Israeli settlers to take over Palestinian land.

But as someone spray-painted on the wall, “The hands that build, can also tear down.”

-Jesse Hagopian