Prison of Ghosts (The Village of Hebron)

By Eddie Falcon

I walk the haunted halls of Hebron
A cage within a cage
Tiers of cells
Cold and dampened by the tears and blood of village ghosts
Metal bars upon metal screens
The silenced screams of children
Scarred by spikes and stones
Thrown from the balconies of stolen homes
Little boys and girls skirmish
Laughter echos the gauntlet
Painful passages etched and carved through concrete walls
But cannot escape the prison
They gather and gaze across welded, wounded windows
Searching for a horizon of hope
Only to stare unto a hollow hill of broken bones
With broken hearts
Imperial sentinels in the fortress of phantasms
Torment and terrorize the vestiges of villagers
From dawn
Until dusk
A time when they must climb back into their sorrowful cells
Sleeping and dreaming through the darkness
Ghosts chained to a memory
Forgotten
Feared
Forced into a cage within a cage
The settler slings sand at my face
For my face is just as the phantom’s face
Her eyes
My eyes
Our eyes are many mirrors over
Sharing the vision of a world
Without prisons
And living ghosts.

Metal screen covering Palestinian marketplace to protect from objects thrown by settlers.

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The Architecture of Apartheid

By Sarah Lazare and Clare Bayard of Dialogues Against Militarism

The word “Revenge” is scrawled in Hebrew on a Palestinian school in Hebron. The windows are covered with screens and the play yard obstructed with more screens tipped with barbed wire, to obstruct the stones regularly pelted down by Jewish settlers. The space between the school and the neighboring building is blocked off with large, wooden slabs, to ensure that Palestinian school children do not encroach into settler territory. Nearby checkpoints and cameras placed on rooftops serve as constant reminder that these kids’ every movement is monitored and contained.

This schoolyard scene, on an empty weekend day, illustrates the separation and containment that has become written into the architecture of Hebron. In this city where 1,500 Israeli soldiers are stationed on any given day, the 170,000 Palestinians living here are kept under constant watch, their movements restricted while their safety is under constant threat. The Jewish settlers who have been moving in since the late ’70s, now numbering 800, are known for repeatedly attacking Palestinians while Israeli soldiers sit idly by.

Walking into Hebron literally feels like a nightmare. Shahuda Street, one of the main roads, is traveled only by settlers on foot or in speeding cars, soldiers and police, and packs of fighting dogs. Palestinians living on this street have to climb into their houses from the rear, either cutting across neighbors’ rooftops, carving holes in their walls, or, like one little girl we watched, scaling a rope to the second story. Their front doors have been welded shut or barricaded with rusty metal, like the countless shops in Hebron, closed by military order. Streets are sealed off with concrete and bales of ribbon wire.

“Security is the magic word here,” says Hisham Sharabati, a journalist who has been living in Hebron for most of his life, gesturing towards an Israeli military checkpoint at the entrance of the Abraham Mosque, in the middle of the Old City. “Israel uses that word in any way it likes, so that it can justify denying Palestinian human rights.”

In 1994, a settler named Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the mosque at Abraham’s tomb, a sacred site to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. We saw the torn marble, bullet holes in the arch that points towards Mecca. 29 Palestinians were killed while praying, then more when the military opened fire on people trying to run out of the mosque. The response? Palestinians were placed under 30 days of curfew, the fruit and vegetable market was shut down, and the “system of separation” developed. Since then, Palestinians living in Hebron have been controlled by the military and attacked by settlers – a “security” structure that many say was intended to push out Palestinians to make way for settlers. The city was carved up into the H1 Area – controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the H2 Area, controlled by the Israeli military. Within the H2 area, Jewish and Palestinian quarters were cordoned off by a matrix of roads, many of them off-limits to Palestinian use. Vibrant marketplaces and city centers were shut down, some of them slowly taken over by Jewish settlers, others turned into ghost towns guarded by military checkpoints. Israeli soldiers now patrol every street in the H2 area, in a tactic that serves as a constant reminder of the Israeli military presence.

Jewish settlers claim that they have rights to the land, invoking a bloody massacre in 1929 that left 67 Jews dead. There are varying accounts of this tragedy: Mikhael Manekin from Breaking the Silence, a group of former IDF soldiers who now speak out about what they witnessed and acts they perpetrated, told us that many of the murderers had come in from surrounding villages. He claims that several Palestinian locals risked their lives to defend the Jews, and some of them were granted certificates of appreciation by Jewish organizations for doing so. Local settlers have used the 1929 massacre to justify pushing Palestinian Hebron residents out of their homes, with a sign placed in the middle of a settlement that reads, “These Arabs are living on stolen land.”

What happened in 1929 is horrible, but it does not justify mass displacement and systemic degradation of a people. The massacre is being used to target Arabs and perpetuate racism in a way that has not been directed towards European populations guilty of massacring Jews on a far larger scale. The painful landscape of Hebron is an example of how trauma can beget trauma: a population of Jews, traumatized by a history of violence and discrimination, has turned around and traumatized another people, and in doing so, is causing untold damage to their own community. Settlers here occupy a city that has become a hotbed of religious/ethnic tension and blatant racial discrimination. This is not good for anyone who grows up in such an environment, whether Israeli or Palestinian.

Hisham guided us through the city all morning; in the afternoon, we met with Mikhael, who as an Israeli, could take us into the areas Hisham is prohibited from entering although he’s lived in Hebron his whole life. Mikhael explained that there are 2 or 3 soldiers per settler, a ratio clearly intended to control the large Palestinian population. Rather than correlate the military presence to the amount of settlers; the logic is based in military containment and control of the “enemy,” under the guise of protection. Mikhael served as an officer in Hebron, and now is one of the Breaking the Silence members who leads tours there for Israelis and internationals.

The settlements within Hebron have been declared illegal by the Geneva conventions. The official city maps, which are the documents used by Israeli courts, are wildly inaccurate. They claim that ghost streets, long sealed off by concrete and metal, are functioning thoroughfares and marketplaces. Walking through the streets of Hebron, you find a city carved up by the violent military presence and constant threat of settler violence.

Some roads have a concrete barrier running along the edge, leaving a few feet for Palestinians to walk along while two wide lanes are reserved for settlers. The souks, Old City markets, have wire screens or makeshift netting overhead: insufficient protection for attacks from settlers living on the floors above. The wire screens are heavy with trash, bricks, giant concrete chunks, and exploded plastic bags that contained sewage and urine when they burst onto the people and racks of goods below. Hisham told us one young man was in a coma after a sharpened metal rod came through the screen and penetrated his skull. Now, when you look up, you can see piles of objects that got caught in the screen: crowbars, bricks, stones, chairs. While walking through a market, we saw a settler woman throw sand from her third story apartment down at a crowded market where Palestinians were shopping. It fell on a Palestinian woman’s head, as well as on one of our delegation members, Eddie, who because of being Mexican-American has often been perceived to be Arab on this trip.

An older man who lives at the edge of Shahuda Street, in the last meters Palestinians living on that block are allowed to walk up to, explains that he has to apply for permits if his children or grandchildren want to visit his home. He is not allowed any other visitors, like every Palestinian who remains in their home in H2. On the other hand, settler children take field trips on his street. We watched a group of elementary school-aged settler children walk down Shahuda, accompanied by a few adults including with some with assault rifles strung over their shoulders.

Standing on a rooftop overlooking the old city, we could see concrete and stone buildings, punctuated by military bases in the center of the city, and on opposing hills. These military installations have either expelled or built on the rooftops of people living in top floor apartments. Many of the rooftops held water tanks, important storage for a neighborhood whose water is diverted to the nearby settlements and sold back at higher prices to Palestinians.

In the hills south of Mount Hebron, settlers attack Palestinians going to graze their sheep. A friend told us about a village that was expelled in 2000, and until a few weeks ago, was living in caves near their lands. The Israeli court actually ruled that they could go back to their village, and on Friday settlers attacked their flocks and killed a lamb. When Israeli solidarity activists called the police, who came hours later, the police accused the elderly Palestinians of having killed their own animal to frame the settlers. Olive harvest accompaniment is prioritized not only because the olive trees sustain many people, but also because legal loopholes are used to take away peoples’ land if they aren’t able to reach it for a certain period of time. It is reminiscent of the eminent domain laws used to steal people’s land in the lower 9th ward: if displaced New Orleanians weren’t able to return to the city to cut their grass regularly the city would claim their plot– often an overgrown lot with only the foundations left where the house was blown away by the wall of water.

Solidarity work in this area sounds like it mostly takes the form of accompaniment, whether it’s escorting children to school to protect them against stone-throwing settlers, or walking with people to their grazing lands. Settler children throw stones at Palestinian children on their way to school- children under 14 cannot be held responsible, Mikhael told us, so they are careful about who throws the stones. One school finally had to change its hours and days so that the children would not be walking to school when settler children were home to attack them- they’re the only Palestinian school not open on Saturdays, and the kids have no recess so they can leave early enough to get home safely. Every day. “The Palestinians are the ones who take the burden of the separation policy into their lives,” Hisham says.

Palestinian residents of Hebron have been organizing to revitalize their communities and challenge military occupation and settler violence. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee fixes up battered neighborhoods to encourage people to come home, planting gardens and repainting dilapidated storefronts. Youth Against Settlements has organized creative direct actions: a recent protest involved setting up mock checkpoints next to Israeli ones, getting arrested after five minutes but still drawing attention to the conditions they live in.

Hebron is situated in the center of global power struggles and alliances situated around Israel. This city is the logical conclusion of a religious/ethnic state – a city where military occupation is woven into the fabric of daily life and residents are forced to build screen fortresses to protect themselves from stones and bricks. From the shut down city centers, with welded doors and security cameras pointing towards the emptiness, to the settlement military bases that sit in the center of town, this is the reality of the current state of Israel. This is what we, as U.S. citizens are supporting, when our government sends military aid so that Israel can buy tanks and weapons to patrol these streets.

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Bil’in Demo Against the Wall 11/13/09

By Haitham Al Katib

 

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Palestine is a Compass Pointing Towards Freedom

By Clare Bayard of Dialogues Against Militarism

When we crossed the Egyptian border at Taba, into the 1948 boundaries of the Israeli state, I ran over to the earthy cliff beside the road and touched Palestinian soil. Hours later, after dusk, we swam in the bathwater-warm Red Sea, and I felt this place soaking into my pores. I got involved in Palestine solidarity organizing when the second intifada began in 2000, and ached to come here for years. But the pain of being able to walk right in, holding my U.S. passport, into the homeland that millions of Palestinians in the diaspora are not allowed to return to, kept me focused on the work I believe is primary for U.S. citizens anyway: working within the U.S. to change our government’s policies, and to build popular support for Palestinians trying to live in peace.

The brutality of “Operation Cast Lead,” this winter’s attacks on the already besieged population of Gaza, jolted me over my block about coming here. When I became involved with the Dialogues Against Militarism delegation, it became clear to me that this was the way in which I needed to finally come to Palestine. The fundamental connections between anti-occupation resistance here and anti-war organizing in the U.S. has the potential to reshape the direction this world is going. For generations, Palestine has been a keystone in global resistance to imperial wars, one which the governments and social movements of different countries have aligned themselves in relationship to. During apartheid South Africa, Israel and the United States lined up against most of the liberation movements of the world that supported an end to white supremacist rule in South Africa. Palestinian and South African anti-racist movements have connections going back decades. Now with the global call for boycott/divestment/sanctions to pressure Israel that Palestinian civil society issued in 2005, and with the continuing exchanges between South African and anti-occupation workers here (both Palestinian and Israeli), we are being asked in the U.S. to consider more deeply and then act upon how Israeli colonization is creating apartheid in Palestine. Adding this to the power of the G.I. Resistance movement in the U.S. to end our undisguised colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… yes, there is potential here, potential to change direction.

We didn’t reach Palestine, as currently defined, until a few days ago. When we left Jerusalem and entered the West Bank, I broke down in joy and rage. Leaning against the window looking at the apartheid wall, my fists clenched, gripping the seat, wanting to kick out hard and scream. Joy at finally being here and the rage at what my U.S. tax dollars are subsidizing here.

50% of the West Bank is being annexed by the apartheid wall. In 2002, Israel started building a wall through Palestine in, detouring outside the “Green Line” 1967 border wherever there is desirable farmland, water sources, or in the occasion of Qalqiliya, a city it wanted to entirely surround with a wall and leave only a bottleneck controlled as a military checkpoint (i.e., a jail). 100,000 olive trees, some hundreds of years old and most the primary income of their cultivators, have been uprooted, chainsawed or burned. People are cut off by a wall from their fields, their families, from visiting each other, from jobs, from grazing land for the animals that are their means of subsistence. The military gas bombs the animals people raise for food and income, blows up home water tanks, and has occupied schools and used them as interrogation centers for kids as young as 13.

The wall has also solidified Israeli control over the freedom of movement for people with West Bank residence IDs. Permits are needed to visit other areas and are routinely denied. Over tea in Ramallah, a young man named Mustafa told us he was denied permission to his CAT scan appointment at a Jerusalem hospital. Women and infants die in childbirth at checkpoints. As Ariel Sharon famously said in 1989, “You can’t force people to leave, you have to create the conditions so they will have to do it themselves.” The pressure cooker of apartheid policies dividing up peoples’ civil rights and land rights, and the military enforcement of a Bantustan system reminiscent of South Africa, works to push people out and keep the remaining population virtually enslaved.

“There is no future in occupation,” says Jamal, coordinator of the grassroots Stop the Wall campaign, which coordinates representatives from 54 committees based in the villages fighting the wall. He describes the tightening net of occupation in the West Bank moving towards a virtual slave labor system, with Israeli industrial areas inside the West Bank and a captive population with its domestic economy destroyed. This is what Stop the Wall fights, by coordinating youth committees with the committees based in the villages, building the civil resistance campaigns of direct action against the wall. In villages like Bil’in, Ni’lin, Jayyous and many others, villages have mounted for years steady campaigns of putting their bodies on the line. Last week in Ni’lin, where 5 people have been killed and 1000 injured in the last 2 years of protests, the youth tore down a section of the concrete wall on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The discipline of people living every day in the shadow of a wall built through their farmlands, villages, and directly through some homes, who continue organized civil resistance to the wall, the military, and the blatantly racist policies of this occupying force… I can hardly wrap my mind around it. http://Stopthewall.org contains fact sheets and resources.

Finally, we are in Palestine. Not yet a free Palestine, but not ’48, where everything conspires to a specter of a little European colony placed in a Disney-esque layer onto this ancient land. I can’t describe how good it feels to be in the West Bank. Something like being held and bared at the same time, like sweet oil on raw skin. My nerves are tinging with pain at seeing what people are dealing with here, but I am also absorbed in the laughter, music and hospitality.

We’re staying at the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh Camp, one square kilometer holding 13,000 refugees, just outside Bethlehem. People here come originally from 45 villages to the west, in the area that in 1948 was seized to create Israel. From the top of Ibdaa, we look out at the rooftops across the camp. People atop many buildings are hanging out in the only available public spaces in this camp of narrow streets, where many walls are spray-painted with the “intifada newspaper,” announcements of demonstrations, deaths, news made available in a camp where newspapers were prohibited. During the first intifada, Israel bombed houses with writing on them. Sometimes Israel shuts off the water; last summer, for 45 days straight. Street-level pumps send water up through thin pipes, sometimes snaking down the block where neighbors share their pumps with families several houses down.

Where we can see land without buildings, it’s green scrubby hills stippled with pale stone. Mosques rise above the concrete houses that residents and the U.N. Started building in the 1950s to replace the tents. Each generation builds the next floor on their family’s structure, which can take a decade to finish. Dheisheh Camp is ascending because it’s not permitted to spread.

My housemate Rahula, a longtime activist for Palestinian self-determination, asked me to bring her something back from the West Bank, like a pebble. Palestine is full of stone, old neatly jigsawed walls, hills rippling with veins of rock stained red with fertile earth. But to bring her a memento from the West Bank, concrete is a better signifier. It’s everywhere, from the flakes suspended in roadside olive trees to the rubble marking where the army demolished another house. Concrete is what people build their futures in. It’s cheap and available, except in Gaza, where basic building supplies are still blockaded even after the devastating attacks this winter that left thousands of people homeless, schools and hospitals torn apart. Concrete is a facade of permanence, so easily destroyed by Israeli heavy equipment, like the Caterpillar tractors that have taken down thousands of homes and several lives. And here in Dheisheh, it makes this almost look like a city, where I can almost forget that this is actually a refugee camp, housing refugees from the world’s longest displaced population. Until Shadi, who is taking us around, invites us to peer in a window of a tiny room. It’s a typical structure built by the U.N.in the ’50s, a single family dwelling that would house maybe 10 people in what looks like not enough space for them to all lie down.

DAM’s first day in Ibdaa included a meeting with 15 teenagers from Dheisheh who are involved with the youth programming that kick-started this center into existence in 1994. They dance dabke (traditional Palestinian dance), rap, study, and keep Palestine fresh. Over the course of a few hours, they asked us why we are here, what do Israelis think of the occupation, our perceptions of refugee youth, what do we plan to do with this when we return home, what do we think of the Ft. Hood shootings, and many other probing questions.

They told us about army invasions of their houses, being 12 years old and raided in the night. About friends and parents being shot, giving up on rock throwing, about their steadfast commitment to struggling for freedom for their lives. They talked of going home to their families’ villages, one boy of going to his family’s house that his grandfather explained how to find, in their village that’s been deserted since the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 but that the residents are not permitted to return to. A girl spoke about navigating the challenge of what you do over the specific houses that Palestinians still hold keys to, that are currently inhabited by Israelis. She said, “We need something new, not the old solutions.”

They described visions of a free Palestine where Jews and Palestinians have equal rights in a secular democracy, as we have heard from many older Palestinians as well. They talked about how the generation of young Israelis born here are natives too, and how to live together.

These young people talked about their sense of connection to indigenous people in the United States and other parts of the world. They spoke of their denied right to just go to Jaffa and swim in the sea. And then they busted out some rhymes for us.

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“Don’t Worry, the Occupation Will One Day End.”

First part by Sarah Lazare, Second part by Stephen Funk

About 25 of us trudged towards military prison 400, just outside of Tel Aviv, coils of razor wire and lookout towers looming above us, fields of mud and dry grass to our right. As we walked past, soldiers in the towers yelled out to us in Hebrew: “We are prisoners, too” and “We don’t like the cops either!” referring to the two police vehicles trailing us. When we reached our destination – an opening in the field, nestled between the fences marking the perimeter of the prison – we began setting up the sound system and preparing for the day’s goal of reaching earshot of Or Ben-David, a young Israeli being held in prison for refusing the army draft.

Our gathering consisted predominantly of young Israelis who had themselves been conscientious objectors, some of whom had been held in that same prison quite recently, some of whom had just refused and were scheduled to report to prison in a few months. The crowd also included some older radicals, a smattering of internationals, and of course us – U.S. War resisters, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and anti-militarist organizers, here to lend our support to Israeli and Palestinian movements against occupation.

Raz Bar-David, a military resister who had spent time behind those bars, explained that we were at the point where we could best be heard by Or. And it is a good thing she could, because the sounds being emitted over this barren military landscape were worth hearing.

Solar powered speakers attached to a bicycle blasted reggae and punk songs as people sang along over a hand-held microphone. The music stopped at several points so that people could chant in unison, “Don’t worry, the occupation will one day end.” And a special ritual of support, crystallized in the most recent generation of refusers involving changing the lyrics to popular Disney songs to infuse them with political meaning, turning the Pocahontas theme song into a ballad of struggle. Later, we found out that Or called her brother from within military prison to let him know that she was thrilled to hear her friends and supporters singing.

Israeli youth find themselves situated in the middle of one of the world’s most contested occupations. With mandatory conscription for all graduating high school seniors, their bodies are used to enforce Israeli occupation and war: 18 and 19 year-olds become the arms of an apartheid state. In the United States, young people, often from low income or marginalized communities, are sent off to die in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, with sharper distinctions maintained between military and civilian life. Here, the war is in your face, with every city, town, bus station, and beach crawling with teenagers with machine guns slung over their shoulders.

Our hosts explained that the darker skinned Israeli soldiers are given the most undesirable jobs, being used as border police, and known for routinely beating and injuring Palestinians. As in the U.S., sexual assault in the military runs rampant, and suicide is a major killer, as those who traumatize others are themselves traumatized in the process.

The occupation here is present everywhere, from the all-white neighborhoods where residents never have to see a Palestinian, to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, where the wall in the distance marks the boundary between those lives deemed valuable and others deemed dispensable by the Israeli state. As we move through this painful terrain, we are getting a better sense of just how high the stakes are for those resisting occupation from within Israel, as well as those fighting for their homes, their lands, and their lives.

An increasing amount of Israeli youth are refusing to lend their bodies to Israeli policies of occupation. In August of last year, 100 Israeli high school students signed an open letter to the government of Israel stating they would not enter into the mandatory two years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upon graduation and instead risk imprisonment. Another group of high school students made a similar refusal this August, citing their refusal to participate in the Israeli occupation. An increasing number of soldiers are speaking out about the atrocities they witness in combat, with several coming forward during the recent attacks in Gaza to testify about war crimes, through organizations like Breaking the Silence. An untold number of Israelis quietly refuse with 56% percent avoiding military service for different reasons. Many conscientious objectors are being released on “mental health” grounds (Profile 21) so that the Army does not have to publicly acknowledge ethical objection.

We have come representing the growing ranks of U.S. soldiers refusing orders or deployment. Army soldiers are refusing to serve at the highest rate since 1980 with an 80% increase in desertions (defined as absence for more than 30 days) since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press. Over 150 G.I.s have publicly refused service, facing the threat of court-martial, severe prison terms, and dishonorable discharge rather than fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. An estimated 250 Iraq war resisters are residing in Canada, one of whom was deported and court-martialed last month. A 2006 Zogby poll, the most recent poll of its kind, found that 72% of all U.S. troops serving in Iraq wanted the U.S. to exit within the next year. While there have been no polls since then, evidence suggests that such sentiments continue.

During our time in Tel Aviv, we have learned much about Israeli war resistance movements and how they are situated in the broader movement against occupation. Local activists tell us about dialogues amongst the Shministim emphasizing the importance of following Palestinian leadership when fighting the occupation. Refusers have talked to us about being isolated from their families and peers, in a society where military refusal is often treated like high treason. Former soldiers talk about their experiences carrying out acts of brutality and occupation, and the work they do now to fight for justice.

Just as in the U.S., Israelis understand the importance of showing solidarity for those making difficult choices and facing harsh consequences. The solidarity action had a heavy emotional caliber, despite the fun and dancing, as many of the demonstrators have been recently released from prison or are slated for detention in the coming months. We have witnessed a strong collective sensibility amongst the Shministim, who write letters of unity and refusal with each other and turn out en masse for each others’ jail support actions or off-to-prison parties. I think that GI resistance support movements in the U.S. have much to learn from this collective approach. – Sarah

At the military prison solidarity action, Stephen Funk, Iraq War resister who spent time in prison for his refusal to serve, was struck by the similarities between U.S. and Israeli resister solidarity, and remembered how important it was to him to have support. Here are his reflections:

When I was imprisoned for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq, I nearly had my ‘good time’ taken away because a protest was being convened outside the base in my honor. The “Free Funk” protest was the first time during the war that a rally had been organized outside a military base in support of a war resister. I was shackled, handcuffed, and brought before the commanding officer of the brig who threatened to extend my time in prison unless I called off the protest. They also told me they would not let my mom visit because she was coming down in a caravan of activists who were coming from New York City and Washington D.C. and would therefore be likely to cause trouble. This macho Marine with a strict high-and-tight was afraid of my little 5’1” Asian mother. I didn’t play along with his game. I told him that I couldn’t call off a protest that I didn’t even organize, that they couldn’t take away my good time and that I would tell the media if they tried. I also asserted that my mom posed no threat and that she couldn’t be prevented from visiting me.

The day of the protest I beamed from ear to ear the entire day. Knowing that people were just on the other side of a wall supporting my freedom and the conscientious choices which landed me in prison gave me moral support to make my time more bearable. Other prisoners found out about it which made them curious about me and helped me make more friends. More importantly, the Free Funk protest signaled to future war resisters that they would receive support by the antiwar community. It was nice to see my mom as well.

Today was incredible. Having the chance to return the support from the other side of the wall for an Israeli resister reminded me of how much it meant to me and why this type of support is crucial to ending war. DAM is about building international solidarity in the demilitarization of the world. -Stephen

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The Graves of Be’er Sheva, The Graves of Bir a-Sab’a

By Eddie Falcon of Dialogues Against Militarism

Graves
Graves of children
The graves of soldiers.
British soldiers buried by World War I
Graves of soldiers from many wars
lost or won.
’48, ’67, Lebanon,
Suicides from the endless war within.
18, 19, 20, 21 years young with a loaded gun
A mother’s son in the bottom of a grave.
Mass graves, forgotten graves under concrete and commerce.
Hidden graves mirror the hidden bricks in the walls of the settler.
Stucko sprayed over and over
But you can’t hide
Your guilt
Your shame
Your hate
Your crime.
Unrecognized graves like the unrecognized Bedouin villages of the Negev
Intruded upon, homes razed, fruit trees uprooted
Family and friends pushed around and imprisoned by police.
Yet they resist and rebuild
And organize towards recognition.
They struggle and strife
To hold on to their homes
To hold on to their graves.

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Be’er Sheva’s desecrated Muslim graveyards

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“Good Luck and Welcome to Israel.”

Tanks

Tanks used to conquer city of Be'er Sheva now stand as military memorials.

By Matthew Edwards of Dialogues Against Militarism

Before leaving for Israel and Palestine, a friend of mine from California who has lived in Tel Aviv for the past four years sent me a message that included, along with the expected invitation to sleep on his floor, a plea for sensitivity. He suggested that there are things I just might not understand about how Israeli society functions, and while the delegation might be able to speak openly about militarism and its effects with those in the small yet elite ranks of the radical left, if DAM wants to penetrate deeper into the wider population of Israeli Jews we must remain sensitive and aware of just how powerfully linked the IDF (Israeli Defense Force, also known as the Army) is with every aspect of Israeli life. This warning was a good sign that DAM had chosen the correct place to send a delegation of anti-militarists: if mere questions and conversations are going to be seen as attacks against the State and Army then we are exactly where we should be.

Our first working day found us in Be’er Sheva (Bir a-Sab’a), the largest city in southern Israel, an immigrant boom town drawing many Russian and Eastern European Jews. Home of the southern Desert Command, this city has a proud military history—in ’48 the Negev Brigade “liberated” Be’er Sheva from Palestinian control. Streets are named after famous battles, and military hardware, such as tanks and jets placed in the middle of roundabouts, is dedicated to fallen soldiers.

Sitting at a café at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, DAM met with four activists who not only comprised a significant percentage of the total number of peace activists in the city, but also represented a large number of different peace groups. This model seems to be the Israeli norm: a small number of activists engaged in many different organizations, each serving a specific purpose, offering a specific critique or based on certain ideology. Like Israel’s Knesset, the radical left is held together by coalitions.

One of these four activists, a once proud solider who later refused to carry a gun, joined the military for much the same reasons I did- a sense of altruistic duty and responsibility. He grew up on a kibbutz and explained to us how besides the mandatory nature of service, there is intense social pressure to join the army. He shared that while growing up, he was told that the highest rank an Israeli could achieve was that of a casualty. Morbid but true.

It is apparent the militarist system DAM is being shown did not develop on its own: 62 years of unending war and occupation don’t just happen. So why the collusion between the state and the army? Was there a plan? It seems to me that the IDF has been used as a nation-building tool. This nation-building extends beyond the physical borders created by the IDF and moves past the steady and constant expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Despite the fact that today, less than 50% of each graduating high school class goes into military service, the idea of mandatory service serves is a unifying tool for the Israeli state. This state-building functions in multiple ways. For those born in Israel, service is clearly a rite of passage for entering into adulthood, and for men, is intensely linked with manhood and masculinity. For immigrants, it is the clearest way to show that one is part of society; willing to serve and “do their part.”

Militarism in Israel is not just about induction into the army: it is seen in every aspect of daily life. Armed guards and soldiers are everywhere with guns in plain view. There is constant reminding of regular folks that they are unsafe, at war, and should be on the look out for Palestinian terror attacks, Hamas rockets, teenagers flinging rocks, Hezbollah border incursions, Iranian nuclear weapons, being pushed into the sea, and the ultimate fear of the destruction of the state of Israel, the liquidation of the Jews as a race, and the next Holocaust.

There is an attractiveness to militarism that is important to recognize. It does offer a kind of solution by creating a false veneer of protection against the fears that are taken as reality. Kids are inundated from birth by both the legitimacy of militarism and are taught to recognize that the main antagonists for most of these problems are Arab or Muslim. Fear and racism mixed with militarism. Scary.

Before leaving Be’er Sheva, DAM stopped at one of the many unrecognized Arab villages of the Negev. These Bedouin communities sit on the outskirts of established Jewish towns that were once their ancestral lands. The people living here are “citizens” without state services: no running water, electricity from the power grid, sanitation, access to state education, or civil society. They are also exempt from mandatory military service, except in very special cases, possibly because Israel does not fully trust the loyalty of their Arab Bedouin Palestinian Israeli citizens.

These villages are illegal under Israeli law. DAM learned that home demolitions are common, even for families that have one of their sons serving in the IDF. Originally forced off their lands during the early conception of the state of Israel (much like the indigenous population of the United States), there has been a steady return of Bedouins over the past generation that is being met by the military and border police. Soldiers arrive in Jeeps, destroy homes, set fire to buildings, and uproot crops. From airplanes and helicopters they also spray animals, humans, crops, and villages with the pesticide Round-Up which is causing untold harm as medical services are also limited to these Bedouin and is in clear violation of the directs on the Round-Up bottle saying that it should not be sprayed more than 10cm above the ground and not at people or animals. You’d hope they’d read the warning.

As we were being driven to catch the train to Tel Aviv, one of our Be’er Shevan refusenik hosts left me with this to think about. She said, “In the U.S., there is a separation between Church and State. That is not so in Israel. In the U.S., there is a separation between the State and the Army. That is not so in Israel. With those things being true, there is no separation between the Church and the Army. Good luck and welcome to Israel.”

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