dimarts, 6 de setembre de 2011

When a "See you Soon" becomes a "Farewell"...

I arrive at Ben Gurion Airport with sadness about leaving Israel. To be honest this experience has been intense and very interesting in all aspects, but especially in the personal one. I feel like I will come back to this place for sure. And I will do it not only for academic reasons, but now also for personal ones, as I leave here really good friends I would love to see again.

When I arive at the security checking I find a very nice guy standing there who asks for my passport. I give him my passport and he asks me politely to wait for a minute. He comes back and tells me to follow him for a 15/20-minute interview in which he will ask some questions. I really do not know what to say and what not to say and decide I will be cautelous with the information I give them, but will try not to lie about anything. After all, I am not guilty of anything. I came to Israel out of academic interest in the peace initiatives present here and the possibilities they have to create change and bring peace. I think there must be nothing wrong with doing this, or probably there must?

He asks me about my time and trips within Israel, my professional occupation in Spain, my trip to Jordan, the way I'm paying for my trips, other countries I have visited in the world... I explain him about my MA in Peace and Conflict Resolution, I explain him about my trip to Jordan for a Peace Conference organized by an American Organization. I explain him about my trips to Turkey, Georgia or Athens, also related to Conflict resolution... He is quite nice and conversation flows normally. At a certain moment he warns me that a security checking of my belongings will take place. Please don't take this personally, I hope this does not discourage you from coming back to Israel again, he says. I have been nervous about this moment all day.

After the questions, the nice man talks to other security officers. At least three of them come to take “my case”. He and the other officers talk on the side as they look at my passport. A small and quite man comes to look for me. He asks me to follow him to a room where he will body-check me. I get into a small cabin, 1x1 m, very similar to a photobooth. They tell me to take off my shoes and belt and all I have in my pockets. They go X-ray these items. The quiet man comes back. I have to take off my pants. Please sir, turn around and open your arms. He searches with a metal detector over all my body. Then he leaves. I wait for around 20 minutes there, while I hear a whole family of Arabs (father, daughter, old grandmother) being checked all the way too. Minutes go by slowly and I start wondering what is taking them so long. The quiet man comes back, now with a superior officer. Kol besseder? I ask him. Ken, ken, you speak Hebrew? Where did you learn Hebrew? I speak a bit, I say, I went to Ulpan. Which Ulpan? I tell them the name of it. Why did you go to Ulpan? He asks. I thought it would be good to integrate in the culture, I answer. Yeah, maybe if you want to become a citizen, he laughs ironically looking at his colleague implying I could never do that even if I wanted.

He says they have found some kind of metal in my trousers. I am amazed. I am wearing thin cloth trousers (summer ones). I tell them, of course there is metal for the zip (the only beep they heard was when going over the zip) but they ignore me and tell me to take my pants off again. I do that. They check over all my body again with the metal detector. Now more carefully, as though really trying to find Excalibur under my summer trousers.

Both men leave. 2 minutes later the quiet man comes back with a white stick with a piece of cloth at the end. After I learn it's a bomb detector. He asks me again to take my pants down again. He takes it over all my body and clothes again. He makes me turn around and open my arms again. Then he keeps it aside. Please sir, turn around and open your arms (for the third time). He puts on some gloves and checks with his hands aaaaall over my body. He checks every inch of me while I'm standing there with my pants down. What exactly are you looking for? I ask him. He says, it's just security procedure.

After this, the superior comes back and asks if I have other shoes in my suitcase. I answer affirmatively. The quiet man brings my shoes and belt back and tells me I can dress. He says we can go out of the 1x1m room where I've been kept for the last 30-40 minutes. I go out to the airport lobby where my suitcases are waiting for me.

Another security officer asks me to open my suitcases. I open all of them. In a moment I see around 4 new security officers (apart from the 3-4 that are already looking at my electronic devices) that start taking all my stuff out of them. I cannot believe what I am seeing. They start checking every piece of clothes, using some kind of bomb detector on all of them. They take all of my books out, try to look between the pages, they ask me to take all my electronic devices out. It's like a live episode of CSI based on me and my belongings. I am a really suspicious man, I think ironically.

I have an old cellphone I've been using with an Israeli card, a smartphone with my Spanish card, a laptop, a camera and a laptop cooler. They x-ray all of them and ask me to turn all of them on. They ask me to see pictures in my camera. I tell them I have most of them in my laptop. They check the ones I have on it, mainly about the demonstration in Tel Aviv that same night. They check my smartphone. They say it's ok. Then they want to check my laptop. My laptop broke a month ago, it is not working properly. They ask me to go into the BIOS of it to check my harddrives. I do it for them. They comment everything in the laptop is in “Sfaradit” and after realizing their impotence to understand it ask me to turn it off. What are you looking for, I ask the man? You have already checked everything I have, why do you need to see pictures or data in my computer? This has nothing to do with security, right? As long as planes don't blow up in the air, we'll be ok, he answers to me.

I go back to the four tables now occupied with all my belongings. I wonder why I cared to fold things and make a suitcase for a while in the evening, when now everything is just a mess. The guys tell me I have to put all electronic devices in my suitcase, I cannot take them in my handluggage. I agree to it without any problem. Then a supervisor comes. She starts overviewing all my stuff and speaks to me with an extremely arrogant tone, looking at me in the eyes and lifting her chin, as though she was an attorney talking to an accused in a trial.

What is the reason for your trip to Israel? She asks. (I have answered this so many times already, I can't believe it). Tourism, I answer. Tourism? Are you sure? There is no other reason for your trip to Israel? No, I answer, tourism. Why do you have so many books, she says? I am a student, I answer. But you didn't come here to study, did you? No, but I like reading. Yeah, but you're on vacation, why do you have so many books? I like reading, I say again. You like reading? But why so many books? You didn't come here to read, did you? She asks now rising her voice and looking at me as though accusing me of something and expecting me to tell the truth about it. I don't really know what to say. I like reading, I say again.

She starts checking all my papers. I have my sheets from Ulpan and from the Arabic class I attended at the NGO I've been working with. Ah, you're learning Arabic? Why are you learning Arabic? I am interested in the Middle East so I am learning both Hebrew and Arabic. Ah, you learn Hebrew too? Where? In an Ulpan. Why? Cause I wanted to learn the language (by now this is far more than exhausting and annoying). Why did you come to Israel? Why didn't you stay in Spain or go to deal with other conflicts? I am interested in Education for Peace in the Middle East and I was invited by some Israeli institutions. She continues looking at every piece of paper I have. She sees my ticket from Amman to Petra. This is from my visit to Petra, I say. Oh, how long did you stay in Jordan (third time they ask me this)? I was there about a week. Why did you go there? I went there to a Peace Conference with people from an Israeli NGO. What is the name of the Israeli NGO? Its name is Wounded Crossing Borders. What do they do? They create dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. How do they do? They meet with them? Where? I have no idea, I just met them in our trip to Jordan (I think this is getting a bit too far).

The woman continues looking through every sheet of paper I have. She sees a map of the settlement I have, edited by B'Tselem. Ah! You also visited B'Tselem? (she says, as saying: “not only you are a dangerous European who reads books about Israel and the conflict, but you also visit organizations like B'Tselem!!!!). I answer that I didn't visit them, a friend gave that to me. Which friend? What's his name? I give them my friend's name. They don't even care about it. They have asked me repeatedly about names of Israeli friends, but they never really wrote them down or cared to call them, even if I offered to give them their numbers.

Another man just comes asking me about the shoes again. I think I can count around 10 people just working on me (the only one on the security counter by this time) He wants me to give him my other shoes. I give him my summer shoes to be x-rayed again. He brings the shoes back. Now he asks me if I can change shoes and wear my summer shoes instead of the ones I'm wearing (Adidas classic shoes). It seems these shoes can be dangerous too. They say they will take my Adidas shoes in a different cardboard box, as they can't be checked in with my regular luggage. I agree without a problem.

A guy comes and says I can start repacking the 3 tables spread with my stuff. They won't help me do it, even if they have messed every single piece in my luggage. He also tells me that they have to keep my laptop for further checking and they will send it in the next flight. I cannot believe what I'm hearing. I have to sign some piece of paper and give again my details. When I arrive in Spain I cannot find my cellphone amongst my belongings either. They must have kept it too, probably “by accident”.

My feelings are betraying my integrity. After having been bodysearched 3 times, checked my personal belongings, questioned inquisitively and violently, accused of I do not know why (at least felt like it), confiscated some of my belongings... I really feel like crying. Now not only have I been naked physically in front of the Israeli Authorities, but also naked intellectually, personally... They will know everything about me, from the color of my shorts to the names and phone numbers of my friends, the books I like reading and the music I like listening, my personal writings in my harddrive, the articles I read, or the webpages I frequently visit... I am shaking and have a mixture of incredible fear and sadness in me. I cannot imagine the trouble coming back to this country will be after this. I wonder if it will ever be worth trying again, expecting at least a similar treatment or, not to mention, a possible deportation for "security reasons" or not even being let on a plane at home airport. I try to tell one of the officers how I feel and ask him why all this was necessary. He sees my sincere feelings and answers: I will be frank with you, superior security officers have profiled you for certain reasons as potentially dangerous. That is why we had to apply all these security measures.

A young European man travelling in Israel becomes a high-rank “potential threat”, just because. I understand the security concerns of a country with terrorist threats. It's not like in Spain we don't know about it after having lost around 1200 lives in the last 30 years and having suffered the worst terrorist attack in Europe ever. It's not like I don't feel fear and great concern every time I get on a regional train in Madrid, in the metro in Barcelona, in the car parking of any of our airports, in any left-wing demonstration...

EnllaçOn the other hand, how many Europeans or Spaniards have perpetrated terrorist attacks against Israel? How many Europeans have been proved to be planning any violent action against this country? What features made me become a “potential threat” against the State of Israel after checking I have neither weapons, nor metal, nor bombs, nor obvious intentions to do it? What made me a potential threat after several letters, calls and visits with different Israeli individuals to the Ministry of Interior, proving the veracity of my academic background, experience and motivation to come to Israel and after getting a special visa based on these?

It is not difficult to understand that the threat I pose has nothing to do with security but with politics. It is not difficult to understand that the insistence on my lectures, books and visits to Israeli NGO's has more to do with the danger of knowledge than the danger of terrorism. Thus security officers are not representing the interests of the Israeli population, but rather those of a certain Israeli government. It is not difficult to understand that what I've gone through in the airport had more to do with having a psychological effect on me, rather than with any real security threat.

My experience in Israel

Some days ago I was talking to an Israeli friend who openly considers herself a right-winger. From the first moment she knew I was coming to Israel to work with a Peace NGO, she kind of classified me as some kind of left-winger, hippy, idealist, pot-smoker and anti-Israeli. She kept asking me inquisitively about my reasons to go to Israel and how I would feel if everyone came to my country trying to tell me what I have to do. I answered that this happens to me all the time, as we also have conflicts in Spain and many people in the world come and talk about them. She insisted on the fact that she lives there and I don't, and she knows and suffers what is really happening there. I answered that living in a place does not make you omniscient or completely objective about what happens there. Then she kept on joking and praising the way the Israeli authorities treat foreigners at the airport, observing that it is “good and necessary for security”.

I would like to tell her and everyone thinking like her that I did not come to the Middle East to tell anyone what they had to do and I never tried to do this with anyone. I came to the Middle East to understand the situation, to learn about the reality of life in Israel and the Occupied Territories, to evaluate the role European organizations and governments can and should play in solving this conflict. I came to the Middle East as a student of Peace and Conflict Resolution, as an observer to one of the longest and most stuck conflicts in the world. I came to try to understand and see from an objective point of view a conflict that is yet unresolved and seems not to move anywhere. This turned me into an intruder, a danger, a potential terrorist, a man guilty of something that has to be checked and questioned severely to prove otherwise. This turned me into someone that deserved inhuman treatment and humiliation in the eyes of the Israeli authorities and some people in the Israeli public.

Probably this time she, those thinking like her and their security authorities will have won. I might not want to go back to Israel again. They left clear Spanish guys like me are not welcome in this country, just because. Neither me nor any member of my family or friends will want to go there ever, as I don't need to explain here their reaction of panic after me telling them my experiences at the airport, both on arrival and on departure. Probably they can be happy that humiliation and dehumanization works as a way to scare the hell out of those that want to go to their country to “tell you what to do”, instead of letting them, Israeli-born and omniscient peace-makers that have proved to solve zero conflict in 60 years, do it by themselves. Probably they will even celebrate the fact that eventually no one will want to go there and they will be left finally alone, without anyone hating or wanting to harass them. Probably they think that this is the only way to really live in peace, finally, after a long story of suffering and hatred against them.

However, I just hope if they ever come to my country and are harassed and humiliated half as much as I have been in them (it took 5 minutes to the whole Israeli passage in my flight to arrive to the luggage lounge, once in Barcelona), they will tell me, because instead of laughing or praising it I will be the first one to protest against it and let everyone know how unfair it is what happened. And it's not like extremist Christians and extreme pro-Israeli right-wingers are no threat for us in Europe, too. However, I just hope that by the end of the day, just before it is too late, and for their sake and that of their country, they will come to realize that imposing, dehumanizing, humiliating, letting the other know who is in power and how much they can do against him if they want, is no way to end with hatred, rage and willingness to engage in violence against them. Rather the contrary. And now I know it from my own personal experience, just a few hours ago.

dimarts, 23 d’agost de 2011

Visit to Haifa (III). A trip About Historical Memory.

(Contd. from Visit to Haifa II). After the visit yesterday, I am full of thoughts. It has been a very eye-opening experience about what happened and currently happening in this country (I like to think that people are actually waking up to it). My friend proposes to pay a visit to his paternal grandparents today. I doubt this experience can be more interesting and thought-generating experience. I am definitely wrong.

We arrive to the grandparents' house, on the side of Carmel Mount. A woman opens the door. The woman has a really clear blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes. My friend talks with her in fluent Arabic, although she has a strange appearance to be an Arab. I come in and am introduced to her and his grandfather. They both speak English, which to me is already a big surprise. I ask her about it and she answers, of course, I speak six languages! English, German, Polish, Russian, Arabic and Hebrew. Really? Yes, I'm actually Polish. The woman explains me how she was born in Warsaw before the second World War. It seems her family was exterminated by the Germans and she was put into an orphanage. She was Jewish.

The children from the orphanage fled from Poland to Russia, trying to avoid the war and the Holocaust. They spent some years in different Soviet regions (even in Azerbaijan) and were finally taken to Israel (probably still named Palestine at the time). When she arrived here, she became integrated in the local society, learnt Hebrew and Arabic and met my friend's grandfather, a Christian Arab from Haifa. When they married, she kind of decided to convert to Christianity, "in order to avoid problems", they say.

The woman talks about the past with contempt and grief. It seems she still remembers her parents and brothers and mourns their loss, even more now than before. I explain her my work here with the Peace NGO and she opens her eyes with awe and illusion. "What you do is amazing", she says. I explain her that it is tough, however, as conflict here escalates in every moment, and people are not convinced that peace is possible. "Nothing is worse than what the Germans did", she says. She seems to remember how heartless, unscrupulous and inhuman the Nazis were with families and children like hers. "But let's talk about nice and beautiful things now, that belongs to the past!" She shows me the pictures of all her grandchildren, and tells me how proud she is of all of them.

I kind of want to ask the grandfather if he still remembers what happened here in 1948. He was 13-14 by the time, he says, and he remembers how they all had to leave Haifa, escaping the war, to go to Nazareth. In Nazareth he spent some months and then he was able to come back to Haifa. I understand he was very lucky, especially compared to what happened to the other branch of my friend's family.

I cannot be more amazed with the live historical testimonies I just had the chance to talk to. One is a victim of the Nazi Holocaust and the war, the other, someone who was present during what the Arabs call the Nakbah, even if a relatively lucky one. It is amazing how history in this region is still alive. Some might say that's probably what prevents this region from evolving, from becoming adapted to the current reality. People are still attached to their old fears and beliefs, their grievous experiences in the past, the loss of the beloved ones. However, as this charming old woman says, maybe it is not such a bad idea to talk about the present situation positively, about the reality of nowadays. Probably it would be better to try, little by little, to leave in the past what belongs to the past.

dilluns, 22 d’agost de 2011

Visit to Haifa (II). A Trip about Historical Memory.

My friend from Haifa is a Catholic Palestinian and has a very interesting family history, which I am able to learn while I visit his family on the mother's part, during a trip around the North of Galilee. They used to inhabit a place called Kfar Bir’em, a Christian Maronite village near the border with Lebanon. I am happy about learning my friends history, but I am not sure what I’m going to find there. The first surprise comes when we arrive at where the village was supposed to be. There is some sign for a new Jewish village nearby, which has a similar name (Bar’am) but sounds more Hebrew. However, this is not the place, they tell me, we are going to the old Arab village.

When we arrive, there is some kind of barrier and a cabin. What? You have to pay to visit an old village? Yes, we have to pay because this has been turned into a National Park now, it is a place to visit but not to live in any more. As I get off the car I see a kind of a park with some devastated ruins, something that does not resemble a village in any way. I learn the whole population of around 1050 inhabitants was expelled from it in 1948 with the excuse that they would be able to come back in two weeks. They were told it was for their own security. When the inhabitants tried to go back to their houses they were attacked by the army and had to flee. Some of the inhabitants tried to go back in 1949 to take care of their houses, after the hard rains of that winter. Chief Police Officer of Safad gave them permission to do it. However, my friends tell me that when the inhabitants arrived at the village the Army took all of them to the Police Station in Safad. There they were given an expulsion order, and were taken to a small village called Zbuba, near Jenin.

My friend’s family and many others started an exodus that took them from Jenin to Nablus, then to Amman, to Damascus and lastly to the South of Lebanon. They walked all this way with no money or possessions, without anything to do but to ask for money in the streets to survive. Once in Lebanon, some of them achieved to cross the border and most of them settled in the empty houses that the refugees from the Naqba had left in a little village near Bir’em, called Jish (or Jasqala).

Eventually, the authorities took over all the abandoned lands, on the grounds of not having been used by their owners (who were not able to go back to them in any way). Therefore, most inhabitants from Bir’em live currently in diaspora or in small houses without any lands in Jish.

The people from Bir’em filed a complaint to the Israeli authorities and they recognized their right over the land and the error the Israeli Army committed with them. However, in the last 60 years the village has remained uninhabited, and only the church has been rebuilt and used again from time to time. The reason the Israeli Authorities give not to let them back is that doing that with them would mean doing it with the remaining more than 500 villages documented that were occupied during the 1948 war and in the years after it. There is a complete historical review of what happened and the current legal status of the village in these links.

Bir'em's church is the only building that could be renovated and is still used sometimes

The place nowadays seems to be quite touristic and I wonder what people think when they learn this amazing story. They are not told about it, my friends say. There are some ruins of a Synagogue here, they come to visit them and are told the rest of the ruins are just “ancient ruins”, they tell me. You know what? Actually, my mother used to own a house near the synagogue, look how now they cleared everything, it seems there was nothing here ever, my friend’s mother says. I can see the grief in her and the feeling of impotence, when visiting this place and remembering where she comes from.

What is currently left of the village of Bir'em

As we are here, we can actually see a group of people attending a tour on the place. Some of them hear us talking and come to answer. A couple of them seem quite annoyed. They tell my friends that they actually know what happened at this place and they feel really sorry and ashamed for it. However, they seem to have taken the criticism too personally, as from my own experience I can have the feeling that, unfortunately, the knowledge of this kind of events is not widespread in current Israel. At least not amongst those not related to Palestinian refugees.

We stop at the family’s cemetery. They want to visit their relatives. It is a Christian cemetery, where the names of all those that died and were not able to come back are written.

A monument remembering all the dead people that should have been buried at Bir'em's cemetery

Scriptures at the cemetery. Notice that Christian Maronites would originally not use Arabic but Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.

After this visit, we drive just by the border fence with Lebanon. It is amazing how close it is. We can see some villages just some hundred meters away and a huge pole with a yellow flag on top. Of course that is no Lebanese flag, but the one from Hizbollah. I cannot believe how close we are to them and start thinking about the fragility of the area I’m walking on at the moment. I want to take a picture, but my friends do not want to stop the car and be seen doing it.

As we drive back to Akka and later to Haifa, I try to think about my friends and their impressions after visiting this destroyed village. We are refugees inside Israel, the father says. The process happening in the West Bank is just a continuation of what started here in 1948, Arab villages are demolished and Jewish settlements are built. The Arabs have, either to leave or to stay in very bad conditions. My friends explain how they could never consider themselves as Israelis and how the very concept of Israel as a Jewish State undermines theoretically and practically their history and identity as inhabitants of this place.

History repeating itself

Listening to Palestinians currently living in Israel has made me wonder about the validity of a Two-State Solution for both Israelis and Palestinians in this area. They definitely oppose the idea and want to live in freedom and democracy in a state of its citizens, not Muslim, not Arab, not Jewish, just Democratic (i.e. including all of them but at the same level). For me it seems the most reasonable solution given the circumstances, but it seems unattainable nowadays, unfortunately.

As a matter of fact, a few days after visiting this village I learn about the situation of Bedouins in the South, who seem to be suffering from their own catastrophe, still nowadays. A good friend of mine and a great blogger used to work with them and filmed this small but impressive documentary about a small village that has become their icon for struggle: Al-Araqib.

I cannot but wonder if history is repeating itself, if we have not learnt anything from the past, from the errors and catastrophes that we suffered and we caused to others and still stay in our conscience. It seems the idea of nation-state is trying to be implemented in one of the most diverse areas in the world, with the biggest diversity of nations and religions. To be honest, I cannot really think about any feasible solution that goes further than I what I already stated (democracy, no ethnicity on top, freedom of religion). To be honest, I feel more skeptical than ever with the so acclaimed Two-State Solution after having experienced this and hearing my friends' opinion about it. This conflict becomes more confusing and complicated than ever, finding solutions will not be easy, but I can definitely foresee there is no good that can come out of all this bad, for none of the parts.

Visit to Haifa (I)

Last weekend I had the chance to visit a good Palestinian friend in Haifa. My friend is a Catholic Palestinian with a very interesting family history, which I am able to learn while I visit the city and surroundings, which are much more than the archi-famous Baha'i Gardens.

I spend the first day in the city having a general view of it. Haifa is known to be the city of coexistence, because Arabs and Jews live together in it. Arabs (most of them Christians) in Haifa constitute around 10% of the population in one of the very few populated centers not seggregated ethnically. However, my friend explains how in practice this coexistence takes place in theory, but there is not real life together. Arabs live generally in certain areas and Jews in others and unfortunately it does not seem this will change soon in any way.

My friend wants to show me an area called Wadi Salib. Wadi Salib was one of the most prominent Arab neighborhoods in Haifa. After the Nakbah, most of its residents had to leave and were never allowed back or were taken their properties by the Absentee Law. Nowadays, the area is inhabited by some Arabs and Mizrahi Jews, who occupied the empty houses. However, most houses are empty and in ruins and my friend explains me that permits to renovate or rebuild these houses are seldom given by the government. The area looks like it was a really nice Arab neighborhood. Nowadays it looks miserable, as we can see in the following pictures.

My friend expresses his opinion when walking around the area. For him this is just another strategy to wipe off any Arab trace from the face of Haifa. First they changed the names of the streets, then they changed the names of the cities and villages, now they want to destroy the Arab heritage of Haifa.

The local government planned an office area for the region. That would imply eviction of families (most of them have no permits as they are occupying houses that belong to Palestinian refugees), demolition of houses and a complete new appearance for the area, more modern and less historically linked to the Arabs.

diumenge, 21 d’agost de 2011

Visit to Kibbutz Hatzerim

Two Saturdays ago, I had the chance to visit a good friend in a Kibbutz near Beersheva. Kibbutz Hatzerim was established in 1946 (even before the creation of the State of Israel) by people from other Kibbutzim and other Jewish immigrants from Europe who came to Israel through Iran.

The visit allows me to get a bit the feeling of what life in a Kibbutz is like. The first shocking element is that inhabitants of the Kibbutz have almost no private property. They live in terrains that the Kibbutz gives them and have to pay only for building their house. They have a house for every family, but meals are usually done all together in the main building. In the same way, the kibbutz offers the inhabitants laundry service, a shop, some basic food elements (milk, bread, rice), etc… everything is given for free or in exchange for some special currency within the kibbutz (there is no real money). The Kibbutz has a Primary School, a swimming pool, a little farm, a factory and an Ulpan for the Olim Hadashim (new Jewish immigrants to Israel), or visitors that come here to volunteer in the summer (usually Jews from Brazil, they tell me). Most people work here in the different services for the Kibbutz, the farm, the jojoba crops or in the factory (it seems they are pioneers in irrigation systems and sell their products around the country). On the other hand, if someone wants to work outside, his payroll must come into the kibbutz as part of the community, and they will be allocated the same amount of pocket money and services as everyone else working in it. Most surprisingly, not even cars are private here. When you want to take one, you can reserve it in the office and pay in return for the km you have done with it. If you break something, the insurance for the Kibbutz will pay for it, but bear in mind that everyone will know you did it and how, so you'd better behave. The philosophy here is "give what you can, get what you need". A very interesting way of looking at life in community.

I have dinner with my friend's really charming family near the Kibbutz, almost in the desert, actually. The family is a mixture of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, some of which live in the USA and others in Israel. My friend's uncle is an Englishman who came to Israel some decades ago ("when Israel was still popular", he says) as some kind of support for what was being created here. He had been a soldier before in the British Army and just after arriving enrolled himself in the Israel Defense Forces. At a certain moment in our conversation I tell this man I generally dislike armies. Nobody likes them, he answers, implying they are nonetheless necessary. He explains me how after the time in the army, he came to the Kibbutz to have a new experience and eventually ended up staying forever, forming a family and even converting to Judaism, a hard and complicated process he endorsed in, in order to take responsibility about his new family and new life in Israel, he explains me.

After my visit to this amazing family and their curious lifestyle I am full of thoughts. On the bus trip back to Tel Aviv I keep thinking about the validity of this model to be implemented in larger communities (or even countries) some way. It is definitely more humanizing than the current harsh capitalism based on reckless competition we currently have. On the other hand, I cannot but wonder about the complexity of Israeli society. People would come to this country just to go to war for it, in order to live with their neighbors a communitarian life impossible to find anywhere in the Western world. I wonder what it is that allows us to live in perfect harmony with the ones we consider to be "our community", but makes it impossible for us to live the same way with others, to the point that we need armies, even if we don't like them.

I also cannot but ask myself about the possibility of having mixed Kibbutzim with the Arab communities. Would anything actually change or have to change because of it or to make this possible? I try to think if, in the same way I saw in the Kibbutz, it would be possible for everyone living currently in this country to have a common understanding of life and a commitment to equality that might include the difference too. After all, it's humanity what unites us, not ethnicity, not religion, not origin or language (and Israel is a perfect example of this, with the huge diversity of languages and origins it has). I know this might sound crazy or utopian to anyone living in this region now, but that does not mean it wouldn't be logical and reasonable to be achieved. After all, we all need virtually the same to live happy and in peace with our neighbors. If we actually think about it, differences belong more to an abstraction of ideologies, than to the reality of what we actually are.

dilluns, 1 d’agost de 2011

Peace Conference in Amman (III)

In this last part about the Peace Conference I want to talk about the most interesting part of it all. Amongst the participants we had a group of Palestinians and Israelis who usually meet. They were prisoners, people wounded from both sides… mainly people who without taking any specific political position have realized it is necessary to bring the other into the conversation and try to build something together. The group in question is called Wounded Xrossing Borders.

One of the most interesting testimonies is that given by Mohammed and Dudu. Mohammed is a Palestinian man on his early sixties who was detained 4 times and spent around 20 years in an Israeli prison. He explains how, as a prisoner, he discovered the concept of humanity and the value of life, as he had a lot of time to think. He realized the uselessness of war, killing and destruction, the stupidity of these in order to achieve any objective. Mohammed is imprisoned while his wife is pregnant and is never able to see his newly-born daughter. This obviously affects him and makes him think about what kind of future they are actually creating for her. Therefore he considers dialogue as the only way to solve the conflict, to achieve real solutions and some better future for his daughter.

The other speaker, Dudu, is an Israeli citizen who participated in the 1973 war. He explains how horrible war is. You can see dead people, injured people, ambulances, helicopters. The last thing you want to do is continue forward. However, once you’re in the battle you change all your feelings, you start to walk on automatic pilot. Once you’ve been at war you become mentally injured. Everyone who has been to war becomes mentally injured, he explains.

Dudu worked as a prison warden in an Israeli prison for many years, there he met Mohammed. During his stay there his daughter was born. He felt happy and heard that a prisoner’s daughter had just been born too and tells the prisoner he can have the visit of his wife and daughter, in order to see her for the first time.

When Dudu tells Mohammed, he rejects immediately and drastically. Such a thing cannot happen in prison. Everyone is the same and there cannot be any exception between the prisoners. Solidarity and union between the prisoners is the only thing they have left, Mohammed explains. Dudu explains how amazed he felt after having this answer. The night he explained the story to his wife, he says, he knew there were at least two women crying about it.

Dudu also lost five family members during the Second Intifada. Three of them were close relatives. He felt and saw grief everywhere every day. He could not stand it anymore and started to think about the necessity to talk to the other side.

Mohammed thinks Dudu was just “following orders”. He explains how for him between them “there were no differences”. Therefore they became part of this dialogue group and have toured many places for workshops and Peace conferences. Dudu insists several times to all the attendants of the conference on the idea that if they, prisoner and warden, eternal enemies before, are able to sit and talk together, face to face, dialogue is possible with anyone.

The group has other Palestinian ex-prisoners and refugees and Israelis that are also activists in other Israeli Peace Organizations. At night, I talk to some of them at a shisha bar. They tell me how their aim for dialogue and their peace activism is not related to their political positions. Some of them, they tell me, vote for right-wing parties and could be considered conservative. Some others are a bit more progressive and left-wing.

I ask them about their position on the possible solution, bearing in mind that they know Palestinians and have confidence in them and the possibility of a reconciliation. They tell me there cannot be other solution but a Two-State Solution. Why? I ask them, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a full democracy in the whole region? Oh, no! They answer, impossible! If we apply a One-State Solution we’ll definitely end up like the Balkans, killing each other till extermination, and we Jews, are the minority here, we would end up like the Bosnians.

The words of these people really make me wonder about this. They seem so convinced that the worst would happen that they sound really convincing, and I really have no arguments to say they are wrong. The Jews would be indeed the minority in a big state for the whole region, and they are really surrounded by a big majority of Arab countries. However, I would like to think, as Dudu said, that reconciliation is possible and it would be possible to end with ethnic hatred in the region, because this hatred is modern fabrication. I would like to think that once the basic needs of both populations were met, once no huge structural and direct violence was present and with an effective program of Conflict Resolution, Post-Conflict Resolution and Education for Peace, the current cultural violence would eventually fade away. However, nowadays, I really have no definite answers and arguments to counter the advocates of the Two-State Solution, especially those that have already been victims of violence. Probably another interesting option might be the confederation of the two states, like some people already have pointed out, that might eventually be turned into the same country (allowing a common market, free movement of its citizens, etc...).

What I can conclude is there will not be any possible solution for this conflict unless confidence between the parts is regained. No bridges are built with a Two-State Solution or a One-State Solution if the solution comes aseptically without any further program to be applied in the region. In some way, political decisions might end with the suffering and violence both parts but none of this will be indeed effective unless real dialogue takes place in order to overcome the huge fear and hatred still present in the region.

dissabte, 30 de juliol de 2011

Peace Conference in Amman (II)

The conference still continues for 2 days more after the Palestinian group leaves us. We keep having the structure of “workshops” in the morning and open mikes in the early afternoon. The result is a monopolization of the Conference by the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. This conference was supposed to be about tools for Conflict Transformation, like this or this especially oriented for youth. This is the field I am especially interested in and the reason why I came to the Middle East. The result, however, has been very useless in this sense. In the personal level things worked normally, at least. We all celebrated Shabbath with the Israeli group (not all Arabs were present, but some were) and we all went out together (here all mixed and all together) during the nights in Amman. However, I don't feel satisfied with the contents and development of the conference, and considered we might have taken advantage of this special situation of having Arabs and Israelis in the same room, ready to have some kind of dialogue.

I am happy that at least I have had the chance to experience what happens when you have groups in conflict and there is not an appropriate mediation or conduction of the discussion by someone, that is, I learnt what we should never do. Those who were supposed to be expert mediators reduced their role in the discussions to maintaining an order for the speakers and handing the microphone to the person talking. Mediation, to my understanding, is much more than that. The result is that by the end of the 4th day, the discussions were stuck at the same place that they were on the 1st day, or even worse (read a bit more and you will see). Both sides focusing on their own pain but refusing to identify or understand the other, not to mention to find the possibilities to work together. And the rest (non-Middle-Easterners) most of the time watching in silence. It is a fact that the Israeli-Palestinian is not at all a balanced conflict. The occupation implies a big dose of structural violence on the Palestinian people everyday and you can tell the erosion that this has in their lack of hope. However, people seemed to have forgotten that this conference was not between political leaders but between normal people from both sides. This was the chance to talk in person with "the others" and try to understand why the think like they think. This conference, if focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should have dealt with peoples' necessities, fears, hopes, personal conceptions of peace and justice and possibilities to discuss them. The participants however forgot this and, of course, the mediators also forgot to remind them.

In fact, the last open-mike session really left me petrified, as it really ended up showing the typical stereotypes and tags used on both sides of this conflict, and proving the conference had not changed anything in the participants. A Jordanian participant took the microphone and said he and most Arabs were in favor of peace and had never had any problem with the Jews, they only had problems with Zionism, as the root of the oppression of Palestinians and other Arabs in the region. Then an Israeli participant took the microphone and said she was really astonished at the things she had heard in the conference about her country. She said she was a proud Jew and a proud and convinced Zionist. I wonder if the tag “Zionist” meant the same for both of them, and I am sure it did not (see for example the big difference between this and this understanding of the same term for two Israeli writers). However, we will never know what they really meant with it, as without proper mediation we witnessed a basic conflict of absolutes (pro-, anti-, with or without, us or them, etc…), where no solution seems to be possible.

After this, another of the Israeli participants took the microphone and gave his final speech. He wanted to leave clear that there could not be any peace in the Middle East until all the Arab States acknowledged the right of Jewish People to have a state. After that, he emphasized that the opinion of most Israeli population and of their representatives there was not so different to that of the Israeli government, and that everyone should accept that in order to reach any agreement.

Once again, I felt like hearing the words of a politician, rather than those of a civilian seeking for dialogue with “the other”. I did not understand the appropriateness of this man to consider himself as a representative of the Israeli population, or even, the Israeli government. I wonder how we can expect any civil peace iniciative to work if we still repeat what our governments say, and cannot think for ourselves. I wonder how we can expect any civil peace initiative to work if we acknowledge the fact that we do not speak for ourselves but for our government (would he then consider all Palestinians there voters of Hamas and therefore fierce anti-Israelis or even Judeophobes?).

After some time in this area I am starting to understand that conflicts here are not so different to conflicts anywhere else. I remember when some former and current politicians in Spain were strongly prasing peace, while going to an Iraq war we never were called to, expanding Spanish weapon’s industry with people like Gadafi, or talking about the end of Basque terrorism, while infuriating the whole national political scene and confronting all the regions in the country, and taking part in human rights violations against Basque prisoners or illegal war on terrorism. Can someone really believe in the good intentions of the political class? Why do policy-makers never listen or accept what experts in conflict resolution say, and usually do just the opposite? I can only see two kinds of people here: it’s not about Palestinians and Israelis, it’s not about Jews and Muslims, it’s not about Westerners and Easterners, it’s just about those who really want a real Peace at any price, and those who say that want Peace but also have other agendas (political interests, economic benefits, etc…). Most politicians (anywhere in the world) belong to the second group, but until we don’t realize it and work from the grassroots level, people to people, focusing on our real needs and fears, and not on our ideologies or believes, they will be the ones deciding for us.