Zochrot: Bending the arc towards justice – Alice Rothchild in Palestine and Israel, part 18

July 8, 2014

June 22, 2014 Tel Aviv

So why should Jewish Israelis care about what happened to the people they defeated 67 years ago?  The Arabs rejected the Partition Plan, there was a war, (they started it), we won, yalla, move on. That is what I call the dominant paradigm in both Israel and the US. Eitan Bronstein, founder of an organization called Zochrot, (Remembering) is a little older and little greyer than when I last saw him, but still driven by the need to bring the history of the Nakba, the Palestinian experience of 1948, into Israeli consciousness. His intensity and conviction is powerful.  I am pleased to see he has a new office that reflects the growing success and activities of the organization.

In 2001, he was touring a Jewish National Forest and noted that while there were signs about Roman ruins, and biblical sites and Mamelukes, there was no documentation of an obviously neglected Palestinian village, (Imwas).  “The houses were shouting to me,” the cemetery, the stones, “like an obvious blindness.” He was working with Neve Shalom, Wahat Salaam, the only consciously Jewish/Palestinian village devoted to co-existence in Israel, talked with his friend Omar, and they decided to put up signs reflecting the more recent history.  This got picked up by a journalist, there was an article in kibbutz newspapers, then a list of Palestinian villages on sites of kibbutzim. Tom Segev wrote about this in a column in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, and the idea took off. Read the rest of this entry »

Memory keeper – Alice Rothchild in Palestine and Israel, part 17

July 7, 2014

June 21, 2014 Saffuriya, part three

I first met Abu Arab and his museum of artefacts from destroyed villages last year. Jonathan warns us to be respectful and to remember that, “this is his Holocaust,” Abu Arab, a tall man with thick greying hair and a twinkle in his eye, recognizes me and greets me with a warm handshake and smile.  First we wander among old dusty farming equipment, peddle powered sewing machines, tattered clothes, rows of pots of multiple sizes, a cross between a museum and a cemetery holding a life gone by.  Listening to his story reminds me of the speak bitterness talks I first heard from elderly Chinese women in the 1970s and from a host of subsequent traumatized people from all over the world.  I think of Edward Said’s words to the effect that people survive by telling their stories. I remember Herzl’s comments about Palestinians (he probably said Arabs) “No culture, no folklore, no heritage.” What did he know?

Abu Arab was born in the vibrant town of Saffuriya in 1935; he remembers a time of peaceful relations between Arab and Jew. His family were peasants and fled in 1948. They were attacked during Ramadan, bombed by two aircraft, 80% of the 7,000 villagers fled, mostly north to Lebanon.  After 28 days, they were taken by the Red Cross to Beirut, and then to a village in Syria, but ultimately returned to their village. There is a quiet intensity to his voice, which rises with indignation, hands gesturing for emphasis. Months later, the villagers received ID cards and months after that were told to leave in 48 hours or be shot. They were told to remove all the furniture from their homes and their possessions were confiscated. The villagers appealed to the courts; they had IDs denoting place of birth, (Saffuriya), place of residence, (Saffuriya), occupation (farmer).  Over the course of five months 80 villagers were killed, shot while collecting food for their families. Some ten Jewish settlements and moshavim were built on the bulldozed site.

Abu Arab wants recognition of this crime and the right of return for internal and external refugees.  He states this conflict is all about land, it is a struggle against Zionism, not Jews. He advises us: “Tell the truth, do what is good.” School children come here to learn the stories of their grandparents and to understand that these discarded artefacts are actually the treasures documenting village life. I can imagine the village women cooking and embroidering, the families collecting olives, the collections of sisters and brothers and cousins playing in the fields. I am always impressed by the simple humanity and dignity held in Abu Arab’s memories and words.

In the past few years, I have heard so many of these narratives and poured over hundreds of historical photos in the course of making my own documentary film, (www.voicesacrossthedivide.com, my contribution to telling and owning the story of the Nakba.  I have come to understand that it is not only a tragedy for the Palestinians but the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is an integral part of the history of the creation of the State of Israel, just as much as the history of Native Americans or African slaves is part of US history. There is no “dual narrative” here.  The Nakba is not an alternative history, it is the narrative that is invisible in Israeli society and the textbooks for all Israeli children, Palestinian and Jew. It is a story that must be heard.

Alice Rothchild MD, is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She serves on the steering committee for American Jews for a Just Peace- Boston, and has worked with medical delegations to Israel and the Occupied Territories with the AJJP Health and Human Rights Project. She is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience (Pluto, 2007; 2010) and director of the 2013 documentary Voices Across the Divide.

Can you be an Israeli citizen and what does that mean anyway? – Alice Rothchild in Palestine and Israel, part 16

July 6, 2014

June 21, 2014 Citizenship

I know Jonathan Cook explained this last year, but the topic is so contorted and bizarre I am going to give it another try and forgive me if it is not crystal clear.  We are sitting in the charming Al Mutran Guest House surrounded by glass cases of embroidery and pottery in what was once a Palestinian home, patios and garden on the second floor, serene views, puffy clouds.  Looks can be deceiving.  I notice that a hulky four wheel drive vehicle has actually driven up the stone stairs to park in front of the guest house at a 45 degree angle, either out of desperation for a parking space or perhaps because Nazareth is a place of angels and miracles and unimaginable possibility.

So one of the first dilemmas facing the new State of Israel, (after giving all the Jews in the world the Law of Return which entitles them to Israeli citizenship and theoretically a safe place from anti-Semitism) is how do you know if a non-Jewish Arab type person is a present absentee/refugee from 1948 or an “infiltrator” who has snuck back in to harvest olives, retrieve belongings, take revenge, etc etc. The “kosher” Palestinians were giving residency and in 1952, official citizenship, but since Ben Gurion and his friends are building a Jewish state here, the other goal is to limit the number of Palestinian citizens in any way possible.

So here, according to Jonathan, are some of the more quirky facts: Read the rest of this entry »

There was no farewell – Alice Rothchild in Palestine and Israel, part 15

July 5, 2014

June 21, Nazareth, Saffuriya

Today, Jonathan Cook, a brilliant British journalist and writer now living in Nazareth with a Palestinian wife and family and Israeli citizenship, broke my heart. We were wandering through the scattered stones in the cemetery of the destroyed village of Saffuriya, admiring the gorgeous towers of saber cactus, laden with fruit. The saber cactus, (or in Hebrew, sabra) is a symbol of indigenous nativeness for both Jews and Palestinians, he explains. For Israelis, the cactus is associated with the return to the land, the creation of the muscular, tough, farmer-Jew deeply rooted in the land, prickly but sweet.  For Palestinians, it is a symbol of existence as a resilient indigenous people and of being physically connected to the earth: the cactus was used to denote property boundaries and is virtually impossible to eradicate, so it is a constant reminder of a past that many prefer to forget.

The problem, Jonathan explains gently, is that the saber cactus is not a native plant and was imported from Mexico 350 years ago.  Who knew? As proof he notes that Israelis and Palestinians only eat the cactus fruit, while his Mexican friends know how to cook the entire plant because they have done that for centuries.

It is somewhat fitting that my cactus fantasy has come to die in a cemetery. I look around at the jumble of stones and grave sites.  It seems that this cemetery is not well maintained, even though the Saffuriyans went to court to obtain the right to care for the site, because they are so harassed by the local moshavniks who engage in what Ilan Pappe has termed “memoricide.” I think I will stick with the saber/sabra mythology out of loyalty to my complicated cactus loving heritage and in memory of the people buried here.

Rothchild T02025But I am getting ahead of myself. The main international news I can glean as we drive from Beit Sahour to Nazareth, is that the New York Times is now referring to the kidnapping of the Yeshiva students as a “disappearance,” which sounds like we know even less than before. Hamas is asking Netanyahu for proof. Meanwhile three Palestinians (human beings with mothers and fathers) were killed yesterday and 330 (likely young men, also human) were arrested in the past week. Yesterday in Hebron the IDF, (20 and 30 somethings, also human with mothers and trained by one of the most powerful armies in the world) fully armed with the latest in military hardware, (most likely kicked in doors doing house to house searches), was faced with rocks, gasoline bombs, grenades, fireworks, and improvised explosives.

We pass signs to Hebron where the Arabic lettering has been spray painted red, (this is a frequent problem with Arabic signage), and see the large red signs at the roads to Palestinian villages and cities warning Israelis not to enter and to beware of the extreme dangers that await them. We drive through a number of checkpoints and are only stopped at one. The soldier (one of five including a woman who looks 15), checks our driver’s papers and then opens the van, welcomes me, asks where I am from, wishes me a nice day, and gives me a thumbs up. I restrain myself in the finger department. As we drive north, the streets of Jerusalem are eerily quiet, probably because it is the Sabbath.  I keep pondering the idea that the insanity in Hebron where fanatical Jews backed by an out of control military devastate and control a city of Palestinians (who have a right to feel angry), is not actually deviant behavior; perhaps Hebron can be seen as the vanguard as the Israeli Jewish population becomes dominated politically and demographically by the ultra-right and the contradictions of the Zionist dream become revealed in all its painful racist and colonial contradictions. I guess I am still recovering from yesterday.

Jonathan’s focus is on the history of Nazareth and Saffuriya and the meaning of the Nakba.  He does incredibly careful research and reporting and I always learn about the nuances and consequences of historical events that are mind boggling in their complexity. The village of Saffuriya before 1948 consisted of a wide expanse of land (100,000 dunams) with 7,000 people, three mosques, one church, and two schools. In the 1920s it was a leader in the Arab revolt against the British.  In the 1930s and 1940s, Jewish soldiers scouted all the Palestinian villages, taking advantage of Arab hospitality, to acquire a detailed database about each town, but they could not get any information about Saffuriya.  When the war began, they attacked it early and fiercely. After the bombings, refugees fled to the nearby forests, to Lebanon (Sabra and Shatilla) and to Nazareth; 40% of Nazareth is originally from Saffuriya. When the significance of the refugee crisis became apparent, Jonathan states Israel asked for a special agency and UNRWA was created with the understanding that no camps would be situated in Israel. (Ah hah moment!) The original village was destroyed, (the last structure bulldozed in 1967) and the fenced in area became a closed military zone (shoot on sight-Prevention of Infiltration Law) and Jewish National Forest. Today the rest of the village is the Jewish moshav of Zipora.

Jonathan wants us to pay special attention to the trees. This area was once a thickly forested site of pine trees, fast growing and familiar to Jewish Europeans.  The trees prevented Palestinians from returning to rebuild, but they also ruined the agricultural land by changing the acidity and destroying the native flora and fauna like nut trees carobs, citrus, and olives. The trees were thinned out after the massive forest fires: in the 1990s near Ein Hod (a Palestinian village that is now an artist colony with a bar thoughtfully built in the former mosque) and in 2010 with the devastating Haifa-Carmel Fire.

We stop at a field of purple flowers and the original village spring, an area that is now part of Jewish National Fund Land, where a Palestinian family is picnicking, (staking a claim to their heritage even if only for lunch) The water is supposed to have special powers and is referred to as “Viagra on tap” by some in the moshav. The local Palestinians are present absentees as are 25% of all Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, (i.e. present when the state was founded, but absent from the property from which they had been expelled. You can’t make this stuff up.)  There is also an archeological site that is controlled by a settler organization.  Not only are there Roman ruins here, but this is where Jews fled after the fall of the temple, so there are some who think that the Palestinian villagers of Saffuriya are the original descendants or at least converts from way back then.  This is what I love about history!  It is so clear.

Jonathan tells us of a Nakba commemoration in 2008 in Saffuriya, Palestinians marched into a nearby forest with their children and their memories, because right wing Jews had taken over the field. In the midst of the commemoration, thuggish police arrived, charged the Palestinians using tear gas, stun guns, and grenades, revealing just how threatening historical memory can be. This year the Nabka March was enormous (some 30,000 people) celebrated in the town of Lubia, and so crowded it lasted for seven hours. This was the first time Jonathan did not feel intimidated, a major psychological breakthrough.  The older generation is dying, and the young people are reenergizing the event with all the newfangled social media and youthful optimism at their disposal.

We pass through a gate into the moshav which was founded in 1949 for Bulgarian and Rumanian refugees as a dairy farm, confirmed by the strong smell of manure.  At this point, most members work in the cities and acceptance into the moshav is protected by the suitability law that is designed to keep Arabs (as well as gays, disabled folks, single moms, and other undesirables) out of nice Wonder Bread Jewish towns.

We walk along the barbed wire and come across a shrine to the poet Taha Muhammed Ali, the brother of a Nakba survivor we will visit later. Standing in front of the rocks, Jonathan reads us some poetry fragments, softly touching the feelings evoked in such a sad and exquisitely beautiful place:

The Place (Extract)

And so I come to the place itself,

but the place is not
its dust and stones and open space.
For where are the red-tailed birds
and the almonds’ green?
Where are the bleating lambs
And pomegranates of evening-
the smell of bread
And the grouse?
Where are the windows,
and where is the ease of Amira’s braid?

There was no Farewell (1988)

We did not weep
When we were leaving-
For we had neither
Time nor tears,
And there was not farewell.
We did not know
at the moment of parting
that it was a parting,
so where would our weeping
have come from?
We did not stay
awake all night
(and did not doze)
the night of our leaving.
That night we had
neither night nor light,
and no moon rose.
That night we lost our star,
our lamps misled us;
we didn’t receive our share
Of sleeplessness-
So where
Would wakefulness have come from?


(long deep breath)

Further up the hill is an orphanage run by the Catholic Church for Palestinian children who are not from Saffuriya, (we don’t want to get any right of return ideas here). There are lovely geraniums and cacti, a welcoming Franciscan priest from Venezuela, and a large ruin, Saint Anna’s Church. We are stunned to learn that this unmarked church, rows of fallen columns, no roof, ancient carvings, piteously meowing cats, and a jumble of stones at one end is the birth place of the Virgin Mary!!! Even I, a devout secularist, understands that it is totally weird that this is not a major tourist pilgrimage site. Jonathan thinks that some kind of deal was made between Israel and the Vatican such that the Vatican could keep the church and the orphanage, but no pilgrims would be encouraged because then they would see the destroyed village, barbed wire, and ask annoying questions. Three shlumpy people arrive, but they are Russians from Haifa and do not seem that impressed by the Virgin. The Israelis also will not issue a permit to restore the church, or at least put a roof over the site for protection. Got to love religion. The only surviving house in Saffuriya is now a B&B with a big Israeli flag.

We are now headed to Nazareth Illit (the word means “above” but also implies some moral superiority). The mayor erected some ginormous Israeli flags as a clear message that he intends to keep out the Arabs.  Now this history is messy and confusing. The main points are that in the 1950s, our friend David Ben Gurion announced the Judaization of the Galilee with some comment to the effect, “Why so many Arabs?”  They were supposed to have been run out during the war. The focus was on Nazareth, the only successful thriving Palestinian city that could potentially become a cultural and political force. So he confiscated thousands of acres of Nazareth (lovely man that David Ben Gurion) and built a Jewish neighborhood and a resorption center for incoming Jewish refugees, while the Palestinians in the city below lived under military rule, and the IDF built an army of Palestinian collaborators through various devious ways with a desperate population.

The goals of Judaization are to contain, isolate, and fragment the Palestinian community so Nazareth Illit is shaped like an octopus and the surrounding villages have never coalesced into a political or cultural force.  The next goal is to redirect resources from Palestinian citizens to Jewish citizens, so the imposing administrative offices were built on land confiscated from guess who, this is ringed by a road also annexed to Nazareth Illit The Israeli army annexed land as well and the fancy Plaza Hotel was built in Nazareth Illit to capture tourist dollars from Nazareth which I will remind you is a very important religious site. Then there are the industrial areas also annexed to N. I. (including unfortunately a delicious chocolate factory).  You get the pattern. The final goal is to build a system of surveillance on hilltops which let’s just say happened in spades.

The Israeli legal system kicked in with a variety of laws and rulings that recognized only 124 of the 204 Palestinian villages still in Israel, determined the blue lines for city expansion (Jewish towns get a lot, Palestinian towns get nothing beyond the 1965 boundaries and can only build up to four stories), communities can use compatibility laws to keep out Arabs, and no one in the Jewish cities will sell to a Palestinian family. And the list goes on and is quite disgusting I must say, especially since we are talking about the only democracy in the Middle East.

The mayor of Nazareth Illit, after describing Nazareth as a “nest of terror,” had difficulties attracting new residents but he lucked out when one million Russians arrived looking for a place to live.  Now, immigration is at a standstill, Russians who want to get out of this less than desirable place are willing to sell to middle class Palestinians who cannot find housing in Nazareth.  The clever mayor seeing that 20% of Nazareth Illit is now Arab, has morphed the absorption center into a Hesder Yeshiva, a center for orthodox Torah study and military preparation, in other words, a real nest of terror (finally!) Oh and he has also invited right wing settlers originally from Gaza and other West Bank settlements to move in. And for extra credit he is building a neighborhood of 3,000 only for Harredim families, thus creating tension between the religious and the secular, so there are now modesty patrols, women attacked with acid, shops burned, and we are not in Tehran (yet). This makes the modern Christian Palestinians with their short sleeves and tight jeans wonder if it is time to leave.  Interestingly the mayor is under indictment for corruption, but he was still elected in a landslide.

While this all may seem a bit crazy, the important concept here is that this whole exercise is about Judaization, getting rid of the Palestinians and creating a Jewish state by any means necessary, and that is the fundamental flaw of Zionism as it is now practiced. This is not a sustainable model for Jews or for Palestinians; trying to make everything “Jewish” (whatever that means and I would argue that most of what I have described is far from “Jewish” but falls under topic headers like racist, prejudiced, Islamophobic, ignorant etc.) and is not what the richness and grand multiculturalism of life is about. It also is not a good strategy to protect against anti-Semitism which exists in the world. As Jonathan explains, it “turns us into monsters.” Nazareth and its big sister are just a microcosm of this growing national tragedy.

Alice Rothchild MD, is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She serves on the steering committee for American Jews for a Just Peace- Boston, and has worked with medical delegations to Israel and the Occupied Territories with the AJJP Health and Human Rights Project. She is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience (Pluto, 2007; 2010) and director of the 2013 documentary Voices Across the Divide.


And for extra credit: Hebron – Alice Rothchild in Palestine and Israel, part 14

July 4, 2014

June 20, 2014 Hebron

We leave for the tortured city of Hebron later than expected (tear gas, food, and embroidery) and H. tries to explain to me the intricacies of her permitting process.  She has a West Bank ID. She can only apply for a new permit to enter Israel if her old one has already expired (it generally lasts three months). Fortunately she does not own a car or a donkey; that would also require a permit.  And she cannot apply until it actually physically runs out.  Are you following this? So, her permit ran out Thursday evening, the earliest she could apply is Friday, but Friday and Saturday are holidays and you cannot get any permit unless it is an emergency. If you have paid 140 shekels a year for a magnetic strip card that indicates you do not have any security issues, it will take one day to get the permit, otherwise it takes two, but of course the permit is never guaranteed. So the earliest she can apply is Monday, but she needs a permit to come with us into Israel to Nazareth on Saturday which in this crazy world is now impossible.  Now let me remind you that she has just graduated from a prestigious US university, has no criminal record, has a great sense of humor, comes from a respectable family and poses no security risks except perhaps the risk of speaking her mind which the last time I checked was still legal in most modern democratic societies.  If she decides to take her chances and sneaks in (happens a lot) and the driver gets caught, he is fined, which is really not fair to him.  Under these circumstances, she would not carry any IDs, so the Israelis would not be able to punish her since they cannot prove she is who she is and you can bet I am not going to help them either on that one.  So does this sound sensible? Related to security? Keeping the folks in Netanya secure in their beach chairs sipping their pomegranate mojitos? Valium anyone?

At Kalandia we spot two soldiers crouching in a rotary hiding behind an olive tree, their weapons are loaded, hands on the trigger, not sure if it is tear gas or bullets.  I learn that a 13-year-old Palestinian child was killed yesterday. Ma’ale Dumim sprawls across distant hilltops like a giant snake slithering across the territories, there is an IDF jeep on the road, we come to a checkpoint with three IDF soldiers.  On the radio the woman reports a loud explosion in a town near Hebron. The IDF stole 15,000 shekels during one home invasion and the Palestinian Authority is completely invisible except for traffic cops who are not doing much. When the Israelis are planning a major incursion, they send their colleagues (that is too nice a word) home. The city feel eerie and tense, young men cluster on sidewalks, looking thin, hungry and ready for trouble; large dumpsters have been placed across the roads, some already brooding smoke. Despite this, people are out on the streets, shopping, biking, driving, smoking. Read the rest of this entry »

From tear gas to maqluba – Alice Rothchild in Palestine and Israel, part 13

July 3, 2014

June 20, 2014 – Bil’in

Feigning bravado and an ambivalent sense of group confidence, our delegation sets off for the West Bank village of Bil’in (see the documentary Five Broken Cameras), for the weekly demonstration against the separation wall. There is no direct travel service on Fridays, so this involves several taxis and lots of negotiation.  A group of Palestinians from Ramallah who hold annual conventions, (usually in someplace like Detroit), for all the former inhabitants and descendants of the city, is celebrating in Ramallah this year and they are unusually joyful, keeping their memories alive and grappling with today’s ugly realities.  One uninitiated 20-something was shocked to learn that there are Palestinian refugees, camps, and other inconveniences his protective and perhaps traumatized parents had wished to avoid. Black flags and posters are everywhere portraying a strong man breaking his chains over his head, in solidarity with the prison hunger strikers that are very much on everyone’s minds. We hit one massive traffic jam, a combo of a checkpoint and a wedding and an army of frustrated testosterone driven drivers.

I think how much our delegation has really been traveling in a bubble.  We have had calls from a variety of frantic family members, basically demanding, “Do you know where you are and what is happening there????” Our next door neighbors, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon are imploding in various dangerous ways, the Israeli press and the Palestinian street are full of calls to avenge the missing Yeshiva boys and as usual every Palestinian is a suspect.  Every cab driver we talk to thinks this whole episode is a ploy to give the IDF reservists some target practice before the big post-Kerry bang. We have had almost no checkpoint delays, no anxious humiliating interrogations (expect of course for our Palestinian leader, but that is normal for her which just shows how distorted normality is around here). We slept through the night house raids, were too far away to hear the first Israeli raid in 14 years at Birzeit University which involved rounding up (and emasculating) the university security guards and confiscating flags, banners, and posters from the student union, as well as searching the campus. And we live with our unconscious mostly white American privilege, presumptions, and passports that allow us to walk the streets of cities that our Palestinian hosts can only dream of.  Why we are not hated is still unclear to me, but the warmth and generosity is truly genuine.

Rothchild T02025So today we set off for some blunt reality, an unarmed resistance march against the separation wall in the town of Bil’in. Mohammed Khatib, one of the leaders of the organizing committee wearing a tee shirt that says “Water and salt = dignity,” a reference to the diet of the hunger strikers in Israeli jails, meets us at the entry to the town. He explains that Bil’in has 2,000 inhabitants, and another 2,000 living elsewhere, and 5,000 dunams of land. 3,500 was confiscated by the wall, 1,500 returned after a long struggle. Soon we are sitting under a tarp on plastic chairs in his patio, sipping mint tea, and admiring his beautiful stone polished home that he has poured years of work into creating.  I see a modern kitchen, a sunken living room with a poster of a young Arafat, and an amazing fireplace carved into an ancient dead olive tree. His five-ish year old daughter coyly joins him, wearing a traditional embroidered dress. Our cab driver joins us too, this is after all a grassroots struggle.

The story of Bil’in is the common tale of land confiscation, the building of a wall starting in 2004, the massive growth of an expanding Jewish settlement, Modiin Illit, (later we can see the cranes and high rises).  In 2005 the Palestinian villagers started to get creative, tying themselves to their olive trees, placing themselves on the land in cages, coffins, and shocking the Israeli soldiers with their nonviolent resistance.  This drew media attention but no changes on the ground. They built a caravan on the land taken by the settlements (reminiscent of the right wing Jewish hill top youth that often stake out claims before the official settlement is approved) which slowed the construction; the IDF said that mobile homes are illegal (except of course for Jews). So in one frenzied night, they built a fixed home with a door and windows, to the appropriate specifications, and this stopped settlement growth for one year.  Ultimately the Israeli construction company actually went bankrupt. (A victory for our side!) Then the route of the wall was changed to return some of the Palestinian land and the settlement construction resumed.  The Palestinians are still not allowed to work their land that they won back, though they built a (truly shocking) brightly colored playground on it, (you never know what these terrorists will do) so I am not yet calling this a victory, especially since the battle is really about the end of the occupation.

Mohammed has a sense of humor born of struggle. While much of the world was focused on the World Cup in Brazil, (sorry sports fans), he helped organize a soccer match in front of the Ofer Prison where prisoners are on a serious hunger strike. He was arrested a day before an action to block highway 443 which cuts through the West Bank and when the police asked him for information, he referred them to social media, (I always worry that the FBI and Shin Bet just sit in their offices reading our facebook posts).  When they were surprised by the action, he said, “There are no secrets, but there are surprises.”

Today many will not be at this march because there was a call to pray and march at Beitunya in support of the Ofer prisoners.  We set off in a row of battered cars, a motley crew of muscular looking Palestinian men with flags, press with large cameras and face masks, women of all varieties, internationals, and Israelis, and parked under some olive trees.  After a short discussion on safety (avoid getting bonked on the head by a tear gas canister, do not rub your eyes, do not run, cover your face with a scarf-done! do not panic, tear gas will not kill you, it will only make you feel like you are about to die, your eyes will tear and your throat will burn, sniff an onion, an alcohol swab, anything with a smell, and DO NOT walk down wind.  The IDF only use rubber bullets when stones are thrown and nobody dies from a stun grenade.) That seemed like a pretty long list to me, but we set off. We began the march down the dusty, hot, rocky road, my brain giving me fairly strong messages about getting the hell out of there ASAP and my legs inspired by the struggle against a long list of historical injustices.  My knees were sort of in between.

Before a stone could be thrown, the tear gas started and was blown up the hill to the stragglers like me, I cannot imagine how it felt at the front of the line. Europeans remarked that this tear gas seemed much more powerful than they were used to and others mentioned that Israelis are always field testing new weaponry.  Great! I found myself a cluster of olive trees and some other less than brave protestors, and tried to remember the rules of engagement.  There were single canisters and then showers of canisters, the occasional stun gun (very loud boom) and then rubber bullets.  I am told that the Jewish settlers on the other side of the wall, cheer the soldiers on and play inspiring music while they do battle with the dangerous terrorists on the other side who would like to plant their vegetables, tend their olive olives and otherwise lead normal lives. If the wind (and the tear gas of course) is blowing towards the settlers, (one can only hope), then the IDF moves more quickly to rubber bullets.  The settlers consider the blow back as some sort of badge of courage in the fight for Zionist domination. (This I confess is my own theory).  I make my way across the rocky field to where people even more frightened than I are watching, when tear gas spirals through the air and lands 10 feet from me.  This keeps happening, reminding me again that there is actually no safe place and that the soldiers have been known to come into the town and throw tear gas into people’s homes.  Last week one child was shot with a rubber bullet and injured. The important thing to remember about a rubber bullet is that it is indeed a bullet.  Such lovely people, these soldiers, “the most moral army in the world.”  Sometimes the hot canisters start small brush fires in the dry grass.

The demonstrators feel that the soldiers have been more vigorous due to all the tension around the missing boys, (remember not a single stone was thrown), and the aggressive incursions and arrests that are going on all over the West Bank.  Everyone talks about how these weapons are made in the US and that the solution to the conflict lies in changing the policies of the US. Congress, are you listening? This is really important if you can take time off from fundraising and getting ready to bomb the next people in need of democracy!

The demonstration finally winds down, although that burning feeling in the throat drags on for a while and suddenly we find ourselves invited for lunch at another organizer’s house where his wife just happens to have maqluba (remember that chicken and rice dish from yesterday?) and salad for some 15 people,  (she must shop at the Palestinian version of Costco). So we gather around, eat to our hearts’ content, buy Palestinian embroidery from the women’s cooperative, and struggle to make sense out of the insanity of occupation, land grabs, racism, hatred, entitlement, military hardware, and the power of determined resistance by ordinary people desperately trying to create political change and to build the kind of lives that we take for granted.

Alice Rothchild MD, is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She serves on the steering committee for American Jews for a Just Peace- Boston, and has worked with medical delegations to Israel and the Occupied Territories with the AJJP Health and Human Rights Project. She is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience (Pluto, 2007; 2010) and director of the 2013 documentary Voices Across the Divide.



‘The reckoning: the future of the Venezuelan Revolution’ – Mike Gonzalez in the ISJ

July 2, 2014

Pluto author Mike Gonzalez has written a new piece about the future of Venezuela, almost a year and a half after the death of President Hugo Chavez. We’ve reproduced a section of the article below, and you can read it in full on the International Socialism Journal website, here.

Click on the cover image for more information about Mike’s Revolutionary Lives biography of Chavez.

Mike Gonzalez

Gonzalez T02812Hugo Chávez’s final testament, before his death in March 2013, was the Plan de La Patria 2013-19. It opens with a combative reaffirmation of the project for “socialism for the 21st century” that Chávez memorably announced at the Porto Alegre World Social Forum in 2005:

This is a programme for the transition to socialism and the radicalisation of participatory democracy. We should not delude ourselves—the socio-economic form that prevails in Venezuela remains capitalist… This programme is aimed at the “radical suppression of the logic of capital” and a continuing transition to socialism. For new forms of planning and production for the benefit of the people to emerge requires “pulverising” the bourgeois form of the state that is still reproducing itself through its abominable old practices.

Yet it is in many ways a confession of failure, a recognition of the unresolved contradictions of the Chavista period.1 From the perspective of 2014, one year into the government of Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s appointed successor, it seems increasingly like rhetoric, fine words that do not reflect the reality of life in Venezuela.

Las guarimbas: the return of the barricades

In April 2013 Maduro was duly elected, but with a majority of less than 1 percent. There were protests and the street barricades or “guarimbas” made a brief but violent reappearance. The official right wing opposition, which had backed the candidacy of Capriles Radonski, gained confidence from the result and prepared for the next electoral challenge under the banner of the MUD, the United Democratic Forum. The new Voluntad Popular (People’s Will) organisation, however, led by María Corina Machado and Leopoldo López (both members of Venezuela’s richest families), called for continuing direct action. Their rhetoric was inflammatory and their methods confrontational. Read the rest of this entry »


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