Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When Yachad Doesn't Mean Together

Here's the flyer and itinerary outline for the recent UK Yachad student tour this summer:

First of all, that "together" mantra (or is it meme?), does not mean "Jews all together now".  It means if you really want "peace", the way the left, radical, liberal and progressive camp of political incorrectness wants "peace" (that is, the long journey from Brit Shalom, Ihud and HaShomer HaTzair on to Peace Now, B'tselem, J Street, etc.), you have to be together with Yachad.

Secondly, if you review the above, you'll notice the lack of balance, diversity and, on the other hand, the monolithic nature of the indoctrination.

They didn't hear from Avner Gevaryahu this time (he was at Limmud) with who I was at the Haaretz Israel Peace Conference:

However, thirdly, if you review the impressions of one participant, for example, you will realize the emotional affect the program had rather than an intellectual one (these are students, after all), you will be astounded.


Day 1 of the Yachad Student Trip to Israel and the West Bank. We took a Breaking the Silence trip to Hebron, met with activists from Youth Against Settlements (a Palestinian non-violent protest organisation) and a group of Israeli advocacy students from the Hebrew University called Tafnit.
A very difficult day to start. Saw and heard so many 'truths' today. Many were incredibly challenging to deal with. Seeing roads that I could walk down but Palestinians couldn't. Other roads that Palestinians could walk on but not drive on. Empty homes that used to belong to Palestinian families and many other difficult stories, sights etc.

On the other hand, we heard truths from Shai from Breaking the Silence and the Israeli students about the need to defend our nation. The threats posed by our neighbours. The conflict that some of those students and other soldiers who we met during the day experienced first hand from the streets of Gaza.
It was a very difficult and troublesome day....

Day 2 of the Yachad Student Trip...
The themes of multiple truths can to the fore again as we spent the day travelling through the West Bank with a Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch representative Daniella and then had dinner with a former resident of the settlement of Efrat who was representing the Yesha Council (the body that governs the settler movement). Our first main stop was just south of Qalqiliya to meet an owner of a plant nursery called Omar. He told us of his dissatisfaction with the current situation but actually gave us some of the most positive sentiments of the day. He was very clear to say that it was not the State of Israel that he was unhappy with or even Israeli soliders. He said instead that 'The Israeli and Palestinian people are the same. They are both victims of their governments'. It was so pleasing to see him wanting to make his area an example of how both parties can work together as people and his wish for that to be transferred to a governmental level.

However, our next stop brought one of the most troubling parts of the day. The Habla checkpoint is opened 3 times a day for Palestinians to cross between the West Bank and the Seam Zone. We witnessed one of these openings. We all had many issues with the checkpoint (the normalisation of proceedings from both sides, the difficulty to gain permits, the inflexible times etc.) but as a Hebrew speaker I noticed a soldier in conversation with a Palestinian so I went over to overhear the conversation. He simply asked why she had only let through 1 man and his donkey and not the regular 5 people at a time. Her response reminded me of Student Officers in school who would staff the lunch queue and due to the power they had, they would abuse it for whatever reason. She told him it was none of his business, you're just a Palestinian... and using much worse language than that!...

The other moment that troubled me the most during the day was in the town of Kfar Kadum where we met the former mayor who told us that every Friday the residents peacefully protest the closure of a road that took them straight to Nablus. Since then I have found examples of protests in the area that were not so peaceful from the Palestinian side to say the least...

In a complete change of direction, our evening with a rep from Yesha Council [not me. in fact, it seems that even as an observer I was not welcome - YM] brought to me even more troubling questions as I found myself finding these multiple truths. He spoke of positive things that settlers do with Palestinians including the story of Dr Glick from Efrat who goes to the neighbouring Arab towns on a monthly basis to treat the sick. Of course this means that for some Palestinians, the presence of settlers has had a positive impact on their life. But at the same time, the checkpoints and barriers in place due to the presence of the same settlers for reasons of security negatively affect the lives of those same Palestinians.

The other seemingly contradictory multiple truth is one of the actions of Palestinians. Over the last two days we have met with many amazing Palestinians who are simply trying to make a change to improve their and their families' lives. At the same time it is also true to say that there are some Palestinians who due pose a grave security threat to Israel and need to be stopped. It seems that both sides are able to use examples of some Palestinians to further their claims. However, the need for security (as accepted by many to be through outer checkpoints and other small scale military presence) the current occupation seems far gone from the objective of security and has instead incorporated elements of control over Palestinians for seemingly no justifiable reason...

Day 3 of the Yachad Student Trip. I think this will be the hardest one to write so far so here goes. We knew that this day was going to be intense but I don't think any of us were really prepared for what lay ahead. The day was spent with Military Courts Watch (MCW), learning about the military court process and structure, visiting Ofer military court and finally visiting Palestinian families who were either in jail or have family currently in jail.

We started with a briefing by the co-founders of MCW at a hotel in East Jerusalem. They explained the legal nature of a military court structure in an occupation and how it can work well in a temporary situation (ie not 47 years and counting...). He praised the IDF for its incredible achievement of keeping relative calm in what could be a very volatile area in the West Bank with having so few boots on the ground. But the psychological occupation that he went on to talk about and that we saw lots of evidence of during the day seemed to us far worse than every Israeli soldier being deployed as a military presence in the West Bank.

The constant night raids, a town we visited in the afternoon had 16 night raids just in the month of May. The breaking down of doors if they are not answered quick enough. The fear instilled into young children who are woken up by soldiers with large guns. The aggressive nature that soldiers speak to families of the person who they have come to arrest. The silence of soldiers when asked why the person is being arrested. The blindfold and plastic zip ties placed on the arrestee that are often left on for hours, long after the journey to the interrogation facility has ended and sometimes even after the interrogation has ended. The failure to read them their rights, especially of a right to a lawyer and a right to silence. The metal floor that the Palestinian is placed on for the journey when all seats are taken up by soldiers in the jeep. The threat or the use of violence against the person for confessions or even just 'horseplay'. The wait between the arrival during the night at the interrogation facility and the interrogator to start work in the morning. The use of Hebrew documents (a language not spoken and especially read by many West Bankers) to confuse and intimidate suspects...I think this is a good point to pause on some of the devastating things we heard today and put it in some perspective. These are not injustices because the army is targeting a bunch of innocent people. Many, in fact I would say the vast majority of those arrested are guilty, usually of either stone throwing or infiltration (going from West Bank to East Jerusalem or Israel without the correct permit). It is also true that none of the above is legal under Israeli law but are instead practices that go on without repercussions. I'm sure some people reading this will tell me that all of the happen in such a small number of cases and the soldiers are brought to justice for it. But the evidence suggests it is much more widespread than that. 12% of cases were informed of their rights. 46% were transferred on floor of vehicle. 5% consulted with a lawyer before interrogation. Again I could go on...

...We arrived at Ofer and after going through security, we sat in the waiting room and heard from a couple of mothers who were waiting for their sons' trials and from an incredible Israeli defence lawyer, a man who gave us all so much strength to get through the day.

MCW found us a courtroom/caravan (remember its a temporary occupation right?) with ongoing trials. The 10-15 minutes sat inside this room broke most of the group. We sat in a row of seats at the back of the room, mine next to the father of the next defendant. In our conversation with his limited hebrew, he told me his son, 22, was arrested for working in the West Bank without a permit. He started to well up when he son stood up for the start of his trial and turned to his father and smiled. The proceedings were nothing like I have ever seen before. Army officers running around and chatting on phones. The army translator who clearly was not translating the full court proceedings to the defendant, backed up by our guide later and was often told off for not listening to the proceedings and forgetting to translate...

Day 4 of the Yachad Student Leaders Trip...this morning's tour of East Jerusalem almost seemed normal in comparison to the days gone by. The tour was slightly changed from the route that Daniel normally takes due to the current tense nature in some Palestinian towns and the frequent violence that has taken place since July.

The morning was spent driving from viewpoint to viewpoint and then Daniel explaining what we could see and some background to Israeli policy. He told us about the demographics between Jews and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, different statuses of each group in terms of citizenship, freedom of movement etc. He told us about the dangers to the continuation of the 2 state solution project with possible building in E1. He told us that in effect, the borders have already been drawn as lives of Israelis and Palestinians are so separated, especially in East Jerusalem. He told us that the only way for there to be a 2 state solution would be for Jerusalem to be divided with the 190,000 East Jerusalem Israelis in large towns (Ramot, East Talpiyot) staying as part of the Israeli capital of Jerusalem and the rest to be made as the Palestinian capital of Jerusalem. The only issue left would be the 2,400 Israelis who are currently living in Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem. He told us how those settlers drove Palestinians out of their homes claiming right of return, seemingly supported by the Israeli government who must have simply forgotten their ongoing opposition to the nature of right of return. Or maybe that was only ever meant for Palestinians? Surely not?!

...A full blog reflecting on the trip as a whole will be written at the weekend or some point next week but want to mention a few things here.

1) The inspiration we have all taken from each other as a group. 12 of us, Yachad student leaders and youth movement workers, have, in just 5 days, created a close knit community that wants to come back to the UK and work to make change both for the British Jewish community and in Israel/Palestine. The support we have given each other during some truly terrible days have been amazing and so I thank you all.

2) The inspiration drawn from those who are working to make a change. The Israelis and Palestinians we have met this week are all dedicated to changing the status quo and improve the situation for Palestinians. I would like to thank Shay, Daniella, Omar, Neri, Gerrard and Daniel plus many more who have shown that there are people on both sides who are working towards a better tomorrow.

3) The positive way we have been able to end the trip. I am very glad that the whole group have seen their Zionism enhanced and our willingness to stay involved to end the occupation and bring about a 2 state solution strengthened.

I'd like to end this with a quote from Daniel Seidemann that sums up why it is so important to be involved in Yachad. "Being pro-Israel and critical, like Yachad, is the most pro-Israel thing you can do. Friends do not let their friends drive drunk."

Watch out England, these activists are returning to your shores.


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