By CPT UK steering committee member, Louise McGechaen
When people with direct experience of the struggle against the Israeli occupation speak, the challenge to do something in response can be overwhelming. I was unprepared for every story I heard but I understand that we grow when we thrust ourselves into the unknown. Some experiences just don’t leave you alone, attaching themselves to you, like a recurring loop in your consciousness. Here, I share some of the truths I experienced as a participant on a CPT delegation. I hope this inspires and challenges you to go and take a look for yourself.
This delegation was well structured and led by Amy from the German Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania. The days were long, hot and tiring both emotionally and physically. Each member took it in turns to share their reflection at the end of each day, we also had a mind, body and soul check in. This was a very helpful time as emotions ran high and we supported one another.
The first half of the delegation was based at a hostel in the Arab quarter of the old city in Jerusalem and the second half at the CPT apartment in Hebron.
The delegation was arranged so that we heard from different perspectives on the Israel/Palestine situation. Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims provided us with hospitality. We also visited a mosque and attended both a Christian service and a Jewish Shabbat service.
Visiting Sabeel, a Christian Liberation Theology Centre, we met Cedar, born in Haifa in 1935. She recalled how people of different ethnicities and faiths, lived together until the human Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. Her family were amongst 700,000 – 900,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled or fled in fear, from their homes, in the areas that became the State of Israel. From Haifa, people fled to Lebanon on boats and others to Nazareth whilst the Zionist militia shot at their backs. This, she described as an Identity Nakba.
She explained how, once the conflict began, she and many other Palestinian Christians began to experience a theological Nakba, losing their Christian identity. She returned to her faith once she realised how skewed the Western theology brought by the missionaries had been, whereby the Palestinians had no part in the promised land.
We also heard from Military Court Watch, who monitor the treatment of children in Israeli military detention. It is barbaric that children as young as seven are handcuffed and blindfolded and sometimes held for weeks, accused of throwing stones, without access to parents or a lawyer.
Tamar, a Jewish tour guide and history scholar took us to Lifta, a village in Jerusalem, abandoned when people were driven out and feared for their lives, during the Nakba. We saw many derelict houses where people had once lived in peace. Tamar read an incredibly powerful first person account from the book; ‘One Country’ about life in Lifta before the Nakba. I could imagine people inhabiting the place, living with mutual respect towards their neighbours and this made the terror of the Nakba all the more disturbing.
Tamar guided us through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in West Jerusalem. She was incredibly knowledgeable and explained in detail the horrific plight of the Jewish people in Europe in the 1930s and 40s as the Nazi regime sought to remove the Jewish people from the land through violence and terror. I can see some parallels between this sad history and what the Israeli regime is now doing to the Palestinians.
Amos, our Jewish tour guide, took us to meet his friend, Sheikh Sayah Al Tur, an Israeli citizen and elder of the the village of Al-Araqib. We listened intently, sitting on the floor of a large Bedouin tent whilst the Sheikh passionately shared his stories. The Bedouin are a persecuted minority and their way of life has been destroyed by the occupation, their lands confiscated, despite documentation from the Ottoman era. Demolition of unrecognised Bedouin villages is a central Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli settlements. This village has been demolished 122 times.
Since our visit, the Sheikh has been imprisoned, found guilty of trespassing on his own land.
Israel is a wealthy, resource rich state and yet the Bedouin are forced to live in 3rd world conditions, denied access to electricity, water, gas and yet expected to contribute both their labour and taxes. The inequality is a scandal.
Being struck by the resilience of the people and the local champions we met, I wondered about the people we didn’t meet, those that struggle to find any purpose to their existence. I found this day disturbing.
We visited Aida Refugee Camp and watched a film, ‘We Have a Dream to Live Safe’. I reflected on the difference between my children’s life and life for the young people in the camp. There is no comparison between what these young people have to endure on a daily basis and the lifestyle of my children’s upbringing and yet the children looked just like mine did at that age. Then again, the 18 year old Israeli soldiers also bear a strong resemblance to my sons. None of this makes any sense.
The experience of settlers on segways, armed and aggressive towards our Palestinian guide Fairuz from Grassroots, made me feel angry and I don’t know how she remained so calm.
Separate road systems, water in plenty, walls, check points, hostility, apartheid. Children throwing stones, parents feeling helpless, oppression everywhere and yet, there are some who still deny its existence.
‘The world is well prepared to win the war, but not well prepared to win the peace.’ -Marie Dennis
We had so many experiences and visited many more places. For the full trip report please click here.