Posted by CODEPINK Staff
Ariel Vegosen, a Jewish peace activist based in New York City and CODEPINKer, has been visiting Israel and Palestine for the past month and was there when Israel began its attack on Gaza. She wrote this piece on her experience from Tulkarem, Palestine:
How do you stop a war? A genocide? A mass killing?
First, you have to know its happening. Then you have to understand that we have all been conditioned to believe this is how it has to be. Then you have to recondition yourself, step into the pain of realizing it is governments who prosper from war, corporations who prosper from war, but average people that carry out the actual acts of war. Average people who suffer the consequences, the torn up families, the death, the post traumatic stress.
Here in Palestine, the news stations are very different from America. Back at home it is rare to see the blood, the screams, the burns, the mothers in tears. Here it is on 24 hours a day. Every home I have been to from Nablus, to Tulkharem, to Jenin has the news on, pumping out images of blood streaming from Gaza. I have seen little children covered in blood. I have seen faces of old woman half burned off. And I have seen people lying in stretchers and the hospital looking too full to help them. These are the images I see on Palestinian TV of Gaza. What do you see in America? What do you see in Israel?
I stand in Tulkarem at my friend's farm. A piece of land with some sheep, cows, and chickens. He tells me before the wall went up his business was much better and he had four times as many animals. The occupation is not just checkpoints and walls. It is an economic strangling of a people. At one point the people in this area of Tulkarem could sell to both Palestinians and Israelis. Now half their business is gone. Now there is a wall separating them from their neighbors. I look out past the wall and I can see street lights. The wall is too high to see anything else. My friend tells me that is a colony. This colony if there was no wall would be close enough to walk to. Maybe a half-hour or 45-minute walk. An easy drive. These people are neighbors, yet they will never see each other. The colony is a Jewish settlement.
I wonder who allowed this wall to go up. Did these settlers want this wall? Who does this wall benefit? Why would you want a wall? My friend says there has never been a conflict between these specific people living in the settlement and the Palestinians. There have been issues with the army, there have been tanks and invasions. But these two neighborhoods could live near each other. This wall divides them, causing Palestinians lack of movement and causing Israelis to not see what their neighbors are living through. And the clincher....the cement used to build the wall was bought from a Palestinian leader, a member of Fatah. And everyone knows it. People talk openly about it. And I wonder how could someone sell their people out? How could a Palestinian sell the cement to the Israelis to build the wall? My friend says, "that's business."
This is the part I want people to understand. War is profitable for some and devastating for others. Profitable for a select few. So the war in Gaza, in Iraq, and Afghanistan will continue as long as some are profiting and these people do not care whose life is lost and who suffers.
As we sit in my friend's truck headed from his farm to his house, he asks me what would I do if this car was mine and I was allowing him to sit in it. All of a sudden, he started pinching me. I said I'd ask him to stop. "And what if he didn't stop?" he said. "And if then I cut your electricity, your water, your job, your ability to move, your access to your family. Then what? Wouldn't you punch me back to keep your head up? So doesn't it make sense that Hamas is sending rockets to Israel." I responded, "No, it doesn't make sense because as a strategy it doesn't work." Let's just take the small car example: My friend is twice my size. So if I punch him back, what will happen? He will knock me out. Israel has tanks and an established army. Israel has funding from America and F16s. Palestine has hand made rockets and guns and rocks. You tell me who has the upper hand? So if you throw a rocket, what will happen? To me, it's clear violence is only adding to more violence and more death. It is time for a nonviolent uprising. And I mean on both sides. On all sides. We in America need to nonviolently resist because we are financially letting this war on Gaza happen. Israelis need to nonviolently resist by refusing to fight, by educating themselves, by doing their best to see what is behind the wall and what the policies of their government are really doing to a people. The international community isalready on the ground needs to witness, needs to stand at checkpoints, needs to bring food and aid to those suffering. The Palestinians have to stop the rockets and find another form of uprising, a nonviolent uprising.
Sure, from the comfort of my American upbringing where I did not personally face violence this is all easy to say. Yet I fully see that if we as a people are violent that comes back to us. So when Israel creates a state where everyone must serve in the army, that means everyone is bringing that violence back to their homes. How can you go to war and not have it affect how you treat your spouse, your children, your loved ones. Look at our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. Now imagine a small area and everyone being part of the violence. A whole nation of PTSD. That is what I see here.
And people split by a wall. And sometimes the wall is splitting two Palestinian villages. One given Palestinian IDs and one given Israeli IDs. So now your family might be on the other side of the wall. What used to be a five minute drive to see your sister is now impossible. You can try and go all around the mountain side, but their are still checkpoints and these checkpoints prevent Israelis from entering Palestinian territory and Palestinians from entering Israeli areas, unless you have a permit. And getting a permit is more than a bureaucratic nightmare. So what happens is people don't see each other. Imagine if you live in Washington, DC, in Adams Morgan, and you want to go to DuPont Circle but there is a checkpoint in the way. You could normally walk there, but now you are not allowed through. This is how it is here in Palestine. People can not get through. This is the breakdown of connection.
When we can't see the other it is easier to wage war. In America, it is easy for us to ignore the atrocities in Iraq because unless we or our family member is in the army or we are actively struggling for peace we can go about our daily lives and not see the violence. So here the area is smaller, but a wall is very helpful in not seeing the pain.
If I don't know you why should I help you or trust you or live with you? If I am Palestinian, and the only Israeli I see is at a checkpoint, or when I see a settler through the barbed wire or when there is a clash over land why should I trust Israelis? And if I am Israeli, and I live in an all Israeli community and the only time I hear about Palestinians is as suicide bombers, and I don't go to Palestinian neighborhoods to actually meet the people, then why would I trust or help or want to live with Palestinians? If I am told they are learning to hate me in school and that they wish to throw me into the sea, why would I make an effort to see them or to go to their neighborhoods?
And who profits from our fears? Who wins by having the whole state be part of an army? Who wins by selling cement to build a wall to divide people? Who wins by us never seeing the other as our selves?
So, now all of us peace activists and ordinary citizens have to work hard to overcome fear. We have to work hard to see the other. Because here with walls and checkpoints it is not easy. The thing to remember though is without soldiers there is no war. So I call on people to resist. Without people to shoot the bullets and without people to drop the bombs it can not be done.
And yes, I realize asking people to resist is asking people to sit in jail or face government punishment. But it has been done. There are war resisters in the United States, in Israel, in Europe, in Latin America. I don't think governments are going to stop the war. It is not to their benefit. And even if the Israeli government stops their fire in Gaza, when will they start it again? The only way it is really going to end is a movement by the people. It will end when Israelis can see the other. When the wall comes down. When freedom of movement is restored. When an Israeli says I refuse to fight because those people are not my enemies, those people are my neighbors and friends.
This situation is complex. I haven't even gotten into Arab-Israelis, or Palestinian-Israelis or Jewish-Palestinians, or the Samaritans, or the Bedouins, or the Druze. The lines in between the lines. The 40 unrecognized Arab villages inside of Israel. People living with Israeli citizenship but without electricity and without acknowledgment. The racism that Jews coming from Africa, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq face. The taking away of Jewish culture that does not match white Ashkenazim Jewish culture. The way Arab Jews are put up against Palestinians in an effort to show just how Israeli they are, as a way of survival against the oppression they face.
What about all the Russians that live here that are not Jewish? And what about the Christian pilgrims that come for Christmas to Bethlehem but pay no attention to the wall or to the fact that economically the people of Bethlehem are in a major struggle. So we can pray to our God and ignore the atrocity around us. This I have seen from many religions in the region. All religions that I know teach love, yet they are being manipulated to continue this conflict.
So I call upon religious groups to stand up and say not in our name. It is not Jewish to wage war in Gaza. I encourage people to put down their fear. The fear that we won't exist that someone is out to destroy us. And look I'm not naive, some folks do want to destroy Israel. But it has been shown that violence is not the way to solve that problem. So why don't we try a new path. Why don't we find out just how many of us know and believe that we can live together. Non-violence is a slow path. This will not happen overnight. Forgiveness takes time. I think it is a worthwhile investment. A worthwhile commitment. It is either commit to living in peace or commit to a continuation of the devastation that exists right now. Its our choice. Not the governments. We can take back our power.
While your head is spinning on how to create change and how much work we have to do, I want to share with you something really deep: there will be no peace in Gaza, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in America if the gender divide continues to exist. As long as young girls are not sent to school, women are faced with rape, boys are the first to be sent to war, and violence exists in people's homes there will not be peace. It is not enough to just stop the siege of Gaza, there is so much more work to do. And maybe you in America are not even sure how to do it or where to begin. So here are some ideas: put pressure on our government to stop the financial support of Israel, personally stop paying war taxes, refuse to be in the United States army, and most of all treat people in your life well. End the violence in your own life.
One of the most inspirational ways I have seen Palestinians resisting is through a course in non-violence. I was privileged enough to be invited to attend their class. What they learn is how to talk to their families. How to acknowledge their own hurt and anger and then shift that into positive communication. The class focuses on their daily life, on their families, and members of their community. This is the first step -knowing how to communicate within our communities, then we can take the next step of communicating to the other. I have always said I cannot stop the war in Iraq if I am fighting with my mother.
I call on activists and citizens to take inspiration from the powerful drum beat for peace that was started in October in Washington, DC by 13 indigenous grandmothers. How we speak to each other is important, how we love ourselves, our families, and our friends is important. How we organize and teach each other is important. I encourage Americans to do their best to get the full story on Gaza since I know the media is not telling us everything we need to know.
For example, did you know that Israel has hired private security companies to work at some of the most intense checkpoints? Think Blackwater in Iraq, well it is a similar situation here. Did you know that as I write this 219 children in Gaza have been killed along with 21 medics. By the time this reaches you more than 700 people in Gaza will have been killed. It looks like things are getting worse. And people in Israel have been faced with rockets in Sderot, Ashkelon, and now in the North - although no group has claimed responsibility for the action in the North, Israel is hitting Lebanon back continuing the violence.
I'd like us to claim responsibility for peace. I'd like us to wage peace as hard as these folks are waging war. Let's educate our communities, our children, our friends, lets teach ourselves a new way of living. Let's work as a community to be as creative as possible to shift this culture of war.
I have seen that people on all sides of this conflict - and there are many sides, not just Israel and Palestine, but many complex side - desire community. I went to a settlement in the West Bank called Ma'ale Amos to understand the other. I think of settlers as the other. I wonder why they would want to settle in a place that is going to cause another group of people harm. Part of living in a settlement is that the army guards your area and barbed wire is put up all around your community. We have seen similar things in America. Gated communities. And we have seen similar things to low income villages, we call it the inner-city. And refugee camps here remind me of ghettos in America. So why would a group of people want to live in a settlement?
In Ma'ale Amos, people started in trailers and now they have built homes and it looks like a quaint suburb. They put effort into establishing this place as their home and their community. They are surrounded by Palestinian shepherds, small Palestinian villages, and land stretching out to the dead sea. And barbed wire all around their neighborhood and 6 soldiers in little huts, plus jeeps on the security road guarding the space. They are a religious Jewish community. It is small - 43 families. Everyone knows each other. Neighbors come over to ask for coffee and borrow things when needed. There is a belief of safety. Children walk around at night and there is no fear of crime. The view of the dead sea is amazing and the stars are bright and numerous. The air is clean and you can buy a house for 55,000 to 65,000 U.S. dollars. Yes, you read that right: $55,000 for a house.
If you over look the fact that the land is not yours, that you had to put up barbed wire to feel safe, and that six soldiers are forced to guard your community daily - it's a wonderful community. (You have to overlook the fact that your children are going to grow up considering Palestinian people the other, dangerous, and therefore less deserving.) You might think that people in this community also worry about their children growing up to be soldiers to defend their land choice. Only the reality is these people will not become soldiers because religious Jews who are studying Torah daily do not have to serve in the army. So most of Ma'ale Amos will never serve in the army. Complex, right?
Here these people have chosen to live in a place that forces the army to guard it, yet they are not willing to actually guard their own community because they are busy learning Torah. And what exactly are they guarding the community from? When I read Torah and learn Torah it teaches me to love and live with my neighbor, to create community not borders. So why put up a giant barbed wire wall, why create a boundary? Why create a difference? Anyway, I thought we as Jews have overcome barbed wire. I thought we left behind ghettos and barbed wire for liberation. Now we are choosing another form of ghetto-more barbed wire. I personally think there are other ways to create community that we all long for, desire, and need to survive.
Jews and Palestinians have so much in common when it comes to creating community. Both people have a great sense of hospitality, feeding strangers, welcoming people, celebrating through music and dance, cooking, giving charity, getting a strong education, giving gifts, and spreading love. They don't get to see this in each other because there are walls, checkpoints, guns, and bombs in the way. People want community and love. Governments and corporations live off of greed and money.
Now is our time to rise together. To believe we can create a better brighter future. To believe we can forgive each other and to believe the land can forgive us for tearing up the trees, for blowing up the soil, and for polluting the water. I encourage you to see the other whoever that might be in your life. And find out the other is not so different from yourself. My goal is to love the enemy into peace, not pieces.
I hope all of you in America know that as a community we have power to create change and make a difference. As war is being waged globally please continue the work of peace. Thank you for all you are doing - it is not easy nor simple, but it is worth everything.