I have been out of touch with my family and friends for the past few weeks. IWPS’s computer network was down and the man who usually fixes it was put in prison.
Last weekend, I went to a meeting of ISM coordinators in Jayyous, a small village of about 3,000 inhabitants in the Qalqilya district. The Wall started in Jayyous last fall, despite resistance by villagers and internationals, who managed to prevent construction for three days before the army brought in more force. The Wall now winds its way through the surrounding countryside, separating a house from the village and the village from its land, all six water wells, and the Tel Aviv skyline in the distance.
ISM is devoting several months to reevaluating the effectiveness of the organization and revising its mission statement. It was useful to go to the meeting and meet the Palestinians and international volunteers who help keep the movement alive, and to hear them talk about the problems that can occur. For example, many foreign volunteers arrive in Palestine anxious to see some action and save some lives. ISM—and IWPS, for that matter—is not about “saving” anyone; it is about supporting Palestinians in building their own movement against the Occupation. It is arrogant to think that we Westerners can “educate” the Palestinians in their own resistance. The few weeks that most ISM volunteers stay for is not enough time to be properly trained and to begin to build trust within the community that could facilitate proactive collaboration in the future.
Last week, I went to a Salfit community meeting of local residents, internationals, and Israelis interested in setting up an anti-wall peace camp in Deir Ballut. A few dozen people attended the meeting, including the mayors of several villages and representatives from Palestinian political organizations who are all interested in working nonviolently. At the meeting, people shared ideas and feelings about working together against the Wall. One Israeli woman shared her story:
I am a Jewish Israeli. I am not here to give you an example of a good Jew, I am here to tell you how much my family hates me. I have two children almost eighteen years old, and unlike most mothers who are proud to see their children grow into adults, I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach because I know it is time for them to decide whether they will join the army or suffer the consequences of civil disobedience. I brought them here to the West Bank to show them the system that they could choose whether or not to be a part of, and they hate me for it; they hate me for showing them the underside of their privileged lives.
There was a missile that destroyed part of the Wall recently, and although destroying the Wall is a good use of a missile, we all know that the Wall will only be built up again, even stronger, with more supporters. If we keep that in mind, whatever you decide to do I will be there in support, with friends and with the conviction that nonviolence is the bravest and most effective strategy.
Munira’s husband Hani, whose family has been caged in by the Wall in Mas’ha, was also present at the meeting and spoke with conviction:
I am not here because the Wall damaged my house and my family. I am not here because I am Palestinian. I am here because I am a human being who wants the best for humanity. I understand that nobody can stop the Wall, but at the very least let people say in the future that it did not pass without resistance. We must demonstrate to show how wrong this is, and to support the people whose lives continue to be ruined by the Wall. When the land around my house was being destroyed, there were so many people who called, who heard my story, and who stood in solidarity with me. The media was there too, and it all made a difference to me, even if it did not stop the Wall.
It was Hani’s first sentences that struck me the most. When I tell people in the United States that I’m working in the West Bank, they always ask the same question: “Which side are you on, the Palestinian or the Israeli?” I never know what to answer; the question sounds so absurd to me. This is not a struggle between Palestinians and Israelis, it’s a struggle for freedom and basic human rights. I would be doing the same work if the roles were reversed.
What does it even mean to be on the “Israeli side?” It’s not easy to find two Israelis who agree about the situation, let alone unanimity in the whole country. There are Israelis all over the political spectrum, and to say that Israelis support the Occupation is to ignore the considerable heterogeneity of Israeli opinion.
While Palestinians agree that they want the Occupation to end, they are far less unified regarding what they would like to happen after that. A large number of Palestinians, for example, would rather see a binational secular state for both Jews and Palestinians than a country called “Palestine” for Palestinians only.
So which side am I on? I am on the side of human dignity and self-determination. I am on the side of those who seek equal rights for all, regardless of religion, nationality, or ethnicity. This is the struggle of everyone sharing those ideals, even if today the victims are Palestinian. Tomorrow they could be you. This is your struggle, too.