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A Summary of Oppression and Freedom

March 22, 2013

I was only gone a two weeks, but it feels being weird being back in Australia. I’ve heard that compared to Afghanistan and Iraq, Palestine is “like the Bahamas” in terms of stress and danger. It certainly wasn’t dangerous (stray IDF bullet or copious amounts of Turkish coffee and Arabic tea aside), but I’m seeing now how stressful it was. It’s weird how quickly humans normalise what would otherwise be seen as outrageous behaviour.

For instance, Zleihka, in Hebron, used to have a very short walk to the main Mosque through one of the main markets and busiest parts of town. Now she has to walk half an hour through checkpoints and all of the shops on her street are closed. There are a lot of check points in Hebron and everyone just deals with it. Soldiers pull people over and search people’s bags who are just walking to work or to go shopping or even worshipping at the Mosque.

In Bethlehem, people line up for four hours in the morning, just to get to work. There is a line for women and aid workers that is routinely closed and forces them back to the start of the queue. The Old City of the City of Police is often filled with Israeli “Defence” Force personnel. In fact seemingly Christian tourists pose with the IDF outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, apparently not seeing the irony that I see. The violence of the State is pervasive and as a result people learn to live with it. Each Palestinian I met I asked “Will things get better?” and they just about all replied “Well, it could be worse, at least I (insert one of the different answers here)-

live in Jerusalem”

don’t live in Bethlehem”

don’t live in Hebron”

am an Israeli citizen”

don’t live in Gaza”

The violence is normalised to the point that despite severe harassment and dehumanisation is shrugged off as normal or as at least not having it as bad as other people in Palestine. Every morning whilst we’re grabbing a coffee and slinking off to work, someone in Israel is going to work either in the Israeli Government or the Jewish National Fund (or both) and they are literally being asked by their superiors “Ok, how can make the Palestinians life so bad today that they’ll leave the country WITHOUT pissing off the international media?” and the response of most Palestinians and seemingly all of the Israelis as well as the international community is one of “Well, it could be worse…”

Normalised oppressive violence from the State of Israel has created an atmosphere of hardship and fear. The air is heavy with possible physical violence. I wonder if this is why people feared me being abducted or blown up by Arabs. Once you’re there, it’s hard to feel threatened by the Palestinians everyone is friendly and hospitable, kids playful and the people patient and hard working. But the media portrayal of soldiers constantly armed and checkpoints communicate the possibility of violence and tension. I believe that if these things were wound down, you’d actually have less chance of violence and less tension from the Palestinians. Maybe more of the tourists who gyrate on a rock that Jesus was said to have been anointed in balm (a balm, what you doin’ bringing a balm inside? It’s a dangerous animal) would get to see the Palestinians around them and we’d come to see the people are people, not just Arabs or potential terrorists.

Either way, right now, Palestine is a tough place to live. It’s only when you leave that you and return to a place where the violence is elevated to the Higher State Level (i.e. just the multi-billion dollar arms industry that I don’t see in my everyday life) that you see just how tense the life is for Palestinians AND the Israelis.

At this point, I would like to mention Cedar Duaybis of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem. Cedar told us that she believed in a two state solution that left most of the current settlements in the West Bank. As long as the IDF withdrew and there were no new outposts or settlements, leaving Palestinians with just over half of the West Bank to try and build a sustainable State, Cedar believes that this is the best possible way to build peace. Cedar believes an Israeli State must exist. Partly because we must understand that it has come into existence out of the severe persecution of the Jewish People in other place of the world (Hitler’s Holocaust for example). In other words, some of the strongest voices for peace on the Palestinian side are willing to make huge cessations because peace and stability are viewed as more important than economic gain. When both sides (indeed all of us) start thinking and acting like this, wow, this place called Earth could be a paradise I think.

I get why some Jews feel insecure and want a Jewish State, I would disagree with them as to what real security it gives them, but in Realism terms, I understand why they want it. I just don’t think it’s going to offer them any real security whilst their using their “Defence” Force to shoot children who stray into unfenced military zones, kick people out of their homes, harass people on their way to work or destroy the livelihood of Palestinian People.

When you’re destroying a whole People’s culture and way of life, you decrease the security of your own State.

In the opinion of some, me included, the Occupation of Palestine has become worse than apartheid in South Africa. At a uni market stall before I left I saw a students for Israel stand. I didn’t even baulk at the time, I just started looking for a students for Palestine group. Imagine in the 1980’s a students for South Africa group, it would not be allowed to function or it would at least be severely protested. The Jews of history have been severely oppressed and now some seek security from guns, bombs and big walls, in doing so they have become the oppressors and threaten their own security.

The only way for the Palestinians to seek change is non-violent resistance for two reasons.

Firstly and most importantly, an unoccupied State of Palestine would threaten its own security by being armed or having factions launch small attacks on Israel. Israel is fed and supported by the massive Military Industrial complex. High tech weapons and social oppression are some of Israel’s biggest exports (think about that the next time you think blockading Max Brenner is the best thing you can do for Palestinian Freedom- blockade the Arms Industry people!). They’re good at it. Trying to attack the Israel State with violence, apart from hurting some innocent Israeli citizens which I deem unacceptable, would be outside of the resources of the Palestinian State, maybe even most Arab States. Being a client State of the United States in the Middle East, the World’s Superpower keeps Israel well supplied with funds and arms.

Secondly, despite all of the pain and the frustration, I think, on both sides, most people are over it. They want peace and non-violently appealing to the oppressor’s humanity is the best chance of achieving peace and Palestinian independence. Breaking down the barriers that have Israeli’s view Palestinian’s as nothing but potential terrorists and Palestinians seeing that Israeli’s are more than soldiers and bulldozer drivers is the best chance at a lasting peace.

In fact the laws that I saw enacted by the Israeli State, such as the shutting down of Shuhada Street in Hebron are about keeping the humanity in Palestine from contacting the humanity in Israel. If the State is actively trying to stop this from happening, perhaps this is the great weakness of the occupation and one which the Palestinian resistance must seek to overcome.

So yes, I not only still believe in non-violent resistance, for Palestine I see it as the only option on the table. The problem is they can’t do it alone. The first uprising from 1987-1993 was notable for its strong focus on boycotting and non-violent resistance.

North American countries threatened to cut aid to Palestine if they did not lift the boycotts and strikes. Now, Isreali settlements have taken over the best agricultural land and water supplies in the West Bank, so the Palestinians, since 1968 have been a long way from self-sufficient. They rely on aid. To cut them off is to starve them. If we want to encourage peace in the Middle East, which would give a major lift to global peace, then we need to encourage our governments in the West to continue aid to the Palestinians throughout any future non-violent resistance. In short, the Palestinians need your support and advocacy, otherwise the problems they face from Israeli Occupation and violence through to corruption in the Palestinian Authority, poor living conditions and living standards rely on all of us to recognise that Palestinian oppression is the responsibility of all of us.

We all need to resist our States that contribute to and feed the military-industrial complex which helps fund the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinians. Our taxes help to pay for Israeli guns and bombs and huge billion dollar aircraft. We are therefore responsible for what happens with them and how they affect a Palestinian family when they have a father or children gunned down for straying over a line on a map, like in Jenba, where 12 kids have been killed since 1999. That is my fault for not resisting strongly enough the Australian State which buys it’s weapons and “defence” systems from Israeli companies.

The next time the Palestinians put themselves on the line and non-violently resist the state, we can only blame ourselves if it fails. If a Palestinian turns to violence through a small arms attack or suicide bombing, it is our fault for not giving her an alternative way to express her anger. It is our fault, because through our own government’s we have said to the Palestinian suicide bomber “Violence is all we use or understand.”

The Israeli Occupation is my Occupation. The Oppression of Palestinians is my Oppression. Therefore my freedom is tied to the freedom of the Palestinians.

Hooreyah and Peace.

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2 Comments
  1. Valerie Joy permalink

    Welcome back Greg. There is a great difference between reading about Palestine/Israel and experiencing it. I hope you will get together with others in Brisbane who are concerned to work for this eventual peace from here. Nicole Erlich convenes a meeting on the 2nd Tuesday of the month at the Trades and Labour Council, 11Peel,St, South Brisbane at 7pm. Quakers would also like to learn of your experiences.
    I look forward to seeing you also, Valerie Joy

  2. Clair permalink

    Thanks, Greg for taking the time to compose these very educational experiences and especially this overall reflection. Looking forward to meeting you in person someday soon, I hope!

I would be honored if you espoused your narrative here.....

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