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Middle East Kevin Dispatch

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Fight for Your Right to Party
January 19, 2000

A Crash Course in Peace Activism

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uri.jpg
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The following is a manual entitled, "How to be a Peace Activist in a Week." To complete this course you do not need any prior experience or degree. You must be curious, cautious, and very resilient. Above all you must care. This manual is not affiliated with the book "Peace Activism for Dummies." The author assumes no responsibility in the likelihood that you get arrested after having read this manual. Please follow the rules carefully. Substances and issues at hand are extremely volatile. Kids - DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

1. Choose an appropriate location that is in serious need of achieving peace. This is often closer to your home than you might think. Look around. If you choose a location that is several time zones away from home, then I recommend you relocate since commuting halfway around the globe is generally inconvenient. I've chosen Israel/Palestine because its high-profile "Peace Process," already in progress, seems urgently important. And besides, that's where the rest of the Trek Team is anyway. Read some literature on the subject. When possible, try to read something by an author that's still alive to give you further technical support. I found a copy of "Israel Without Zionism" in a used book store and was intrigued by its title. Written shortly after the Six-Day War (June, 1967), it's a brief but captivating account of Israel's short history as seen by its author, Uri Avnery. Mr. Avnery left Nazi Germany for Palestine in 1933, lived on a moshav (a cooperative settlement) and joined the Irgun, an extremist Zionist organization, as a youth.

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Uri Avnery and other activists at a mini press conference
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Since Israel's early years, he and his wife, Rachel, ran a newsmagazine called "Ha'Olam Haze" (This World) and Uri went on to serve a total of 10 years in the Knesset (Israel's Parliament). From the beginning, Uri believed that peaceful coexistence must be based on the mutual recognition of Hebrew and Arab nationalism, by way of two separate states that should cooperate side by side. Hey, that sounds roughly like the direction things are moving in now, over 50 years later! He called for the creation of a "Semitic Union," since Jews and Palestinian Arabs are both Semitic people with a shared heritage.

2. Get to know your new friends in the business. I happened to have Abeja with me, but we soon realized that we were part of a 20-person team. The group, known as Gush Shalom (Peace Block), was created in 1993 by Uri and Rachel, along with other concerned Israelis, in response to the deportation to Lebanon of hundreds of Palestinians.

The peace activists of Gush Shalom are concerned Israelis of various ages, all of whom have lots of experience acting on political issues of their country. Some are Sabras (native-born Israelis) whereas others, at one time or another, were once immigrants. But the one thing they all share is a desire to take an active part in shaping their country.

3. Learn about the local terrain and its history. After the easy conquest of Hebron during the Six-Day War, the IDF's Chief Rabbi, General Shlomo Goren, entered the city and hung the Israeli flag on the Mosque where the Ma'arat HaMachpela is today. On Passover, almost a year later, Jewish settlers, under the lead of Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his wife, Miriam, "returned" (a term that Jewish Nationalists use to indicate the continuation of a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael) to Hebron, the second holiest site in Judaism, after Jerusalem. Settlers have lived in Hebron since then (about 500 live around the well-guarded David Ha'Melech St.) They also live in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, where they number over 6,000. All of these settlers have been protected by thousands of IDF soldiers and police since the West Bank was conquered by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967.

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The sultan'slone house on the side of the hill in the Beaa'a Valley
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4. Be clear about your mission. We were on our way to visit a lonely house on a hillside just east of Hebron. Our outing did not begin as a demonstration. We were actually on our way to show support for Omar Sultan and his family of 15, all Palestinians, who live together in the house. The Sultan family has lived on the land since the beginning of the 20th Century, but the settlers insist that they are invaders who have illegally built their home without obtaining the necessary building permit. A demolition order was issued in 1995, but the Civil Administration has stated publicly since then, that the home, while inhabited, will not be demolished, despite the wishes of the settlers.

5. Stay alert and ready for action. Instead of leaving the matter up to the appropriate authorities to deal with, the settlers, often armed, have shown up at the house to terrorize the Sultan family. They vandalized the Sultans' property, and attempted to break into their house. One Saturday night over 200 settlers led by Malachi Levinger, son of Moshe and Miriam Levinger, held a large protest against the Sultans while threatening to destroy their home. The Sultans asked us to be with them in solidarity should there be any further confrontation with these settlers.

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IDF soldiers and police moving towards the house to arrest the protesters
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6. Know your boundaries in case you need to overstep them. When we arrived on the scene we were immediately told by police and IDF soldiers that the area had been declared a Military Zone just that morning, and that we were not to enter. The primary purpose of the order was to insure that there would be no further interactions between the settlers and the Sultans. Soon, however, we also learned that two other members of Gush Shalom (along with two additional activists) who had stayed overnight as guests in the Sultan home, had woken up that morning only to face arrest by police for not leaving the area. The police gave them numerous ultimatums to leave but the two stood behind their right to stay with the Sultans on their property. The arrival of our bus full of supporters, just in time, caused the police to essentially back down and only a few officers and soldiers remained at the scene.

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Palestinian boys greeting us..."Where do you live? Right Here!"
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7. Find out what the fuss is really all about. Abeja and I decided to run up the hill to meet with the Sultan family and the activists who had stayed the night. There were no police or soldiers to stop us--only friendly kids who greeted us. We passed by the remains of a stone wall, near the house, that had been all but destroyed by settlers earlier in the week. Halfway up the hill we reached the house and we introduced ourselves to the various members of the Sultan Family who were gathered on the front porch in the company of supportive neighbors. Omar Sultan was apparently away at work but we were told that he feared leaving his family and home during these tense days. Only a couple of folks on the porch spoke English but all of them welcomed us in Arabic and seemed happy that the trouble had subsided for the time being.

8. Document whatever information you can. We easily recognized the four activists (two of which wore Gush Shalom T-shirts) and we videotaped them as they filled us in on the previous night's events. They told us that the overall feeling in the home was that of fear, an emotion that kept everyone awake until the late hours of the night. Naturally they were very tired. They described their version of the confrontation with police and spoke of their rights as citizens who have come to assist the Sultans. They made it clear to the family that they would only be staying if they were wanted, and had no desire to cause the family any further inconvenience. We took pictures of the house and the grounds and everyone present. Abeja offered to take care of the activists' belongings in case the police decided to make arrests.

9. If you've something to say then spread the word. Since things appeared calm I decided to walk back down to the roadside where the group was standing and holding up signs to display to the passing traffic. The Gush Shalom logo itself makes for a very attractive sign since it's basically the Israeli and Palestinian flag placed side by side as two halves of one circle. Other signs held high said, "TWO STATES, ONE FUTURE", " DESTROYING HOUSES=DESTROYING PEACE", and "THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S FIELD." These signs were written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English and they certainly succeeded in catching the eye of passing vehicles. Some people slowed down just long enough to be puzzled by what the signs and people on the side of the road were all about. Occasionally, someone screamed something out the window at us (maybe something nasty but it was in Hebrew so it didn't bother me), but mostly we got a lot of friendly honks and waves from supportive Arab residents driving past.

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Three activist guests of the Sultan family insisting on their right to stay
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10. Don't forget there's strength in numbers. Gush Shalom wasn't the only group that showed up for the event. We were joined by a similar-sized group of the Christian Peace Maker Team, which is a Quaker organization that has worked to keep things peaceful in and around Hebron since 1995. They also came at the request of the Sultan family and together we held up our signs and showed our support. Considering the sizeable turnout on the side of the road it's no wonder that several video cameras and photographers showed up to record the events. Uri Avnery was even interviewed by a German media organization in his mother tongue, German!

11. Come in Peace and Leave in Peace. Eventually we got word that police and soldiers had stopped several settlers down the road from coming anywhere near the house since it still was officially a Military Zone. But a couple of settlers managed to make their way to where we were demonstrating, and they certainly voiced their disapproval. We decided that it was time to leave, and as we were making our way back to the bus, one of the settlers, an activist named Moshe Ben Zimra, made sure he got in a few words. He told us (actually he shouted) that the Sultans were invaders and that we were defending Arabs on Jewish land. Even though he spoke in Hebrew, I could tell that his words frustrated those in our group, who like him, are also citizens of Israel, but have a kinder vision of "coexistence" with their Palestinian neighbors. Instead of augmenting what could've easily have become a pointless shouting match on the street, we all just got back in the bus and went on our way.

Vocabulary:

Semitic -
pertaining to the Semites and their languages, includes both Jews and Arabs
Ramadan - an Islamic holiday involving daytime fasting during the ninth month of their year
Moshav - a cooperative settlement
Sabras - native-born Israelis

12. When the work is done-go have fun! Activism isn't all tough work. In fact it's a good idea to eat, drink, relax, and chat afterwards. This is especially true if you're demonstrating during Ramadan when eating and drinking and even smoking is considered impolite in the presence of observant Muslims. They save these pleasures for after sunset.

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With Uri and his wife, Rachel, learning the ways of peaceful activism.
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By the time the day was over we all voted unanimously in favor of stopping for dinner at a popular restaurant in Bethlehem. I guess I didn't realize until then just how much some Israelis really love to eat Arab food. We all conversed and got to know one another and I, of course, got more practice speaking Hebrew. It felt good to sit and eat IN PEACE. For at least a day we had seen to it that the Sultan family went unharmed and for that, we were allowed to celebrate. But, sadly enough, there will most likely be other fearful days for the Sultans as long as their neighbors refuse to accept them and their home in this beautiful valley they share. I suppose we'll all have to continue to work for peace, day by day.

Kevin

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kevinmaes@bigfoot.com
 



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