Impressions & Reflections

Thoughts and incidents as I recorded them in my journal from my trip to Israel and Palestine in April-May, 1992.

April 30, mid morning, on a bus in Jerusalem
As I was riding on a city bus, taking in the sights of this new and renowned city, I was surprised as the bus suddenly stopped. The driver opened the door and stood up. Everyone else in the bus also stood up and as I looked around everyone on the sidewalk was standing still and all the other traffic had stopped, as well. It was a very solemn moment. I saw the shadow of a bird flying and a thin tree bending in the breeze, but these were the only hints of motion in what had been seconds before a bustling city street.

Knowing that it was Yom Ha Shoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I assumed it was a commemoration (which turned out to be true). I tried to imagine such a uniform commemoration of anything in the United States, and couldn't do it.

Earlier that day on a bus from Tel Aviv I heard a news broadcast which included an interview in English (which I greatly appreciated, since I couldn't understand the Hebrew). A refugee who had just come to Israel from Bosnia-Herzogivina in Yugoslavia where the fighting was now very intense was being interviewed. It seemed wonderful that he was given such an opportunity to speak and that he was so appreciative of the chance to escape the war and come to Israel. However, I was reminded of the sectarianism of Israel as the interviewer seemed solely interested in the difficulties facing Jews in Yugoslavia. Later on when a small part of the interview was replayed, they chose only the part directly focussed on Jews. Where is the universalism which to me is such an integral part of Judaism? How do we remind people that our responsibilities extend beyond our families, ethnic groups and religions to all life?

May 2, Sair, a Palestinian village near Hebron on the West Bank
My host Jamal has taken us visiting to the homes of various friends and relatives. I am overwhelmed by story after story of arrests, beatings, people gone for who knows how long... it is painful to hear, painful to know that without the $3+ billion my government gives Israel each year it would be impossible for the occupation to continue. On the way here I see sparkling new Israeli settlements on the hilltops, receiving steady streams of water, electricity, etc. Meanwhile, here in Sair the lights flicker on and off regularly, and water is scarce. I find the people unbelievably generous considering their limited resources and unclear future hopes for a better economy.

A week and a half later I read in the newspaper that Israeli soldiers shot and critically wounded two Palestinians in Sair on May 7. The soldiers opened fire after stones were thrown at them. I wondered if the people killed were among those I had met, or perhaps I had seen their children walking to school the week before.

May 5, Kibbutz Palmach Tzova
On our tour of the kibbutz we stopped at the dining hall. Just inside the door was a display featuring photos of over a dozen Kibbutz members who had been killed in various wars. Many were young men, practically boys. That night we attended the kibbutz' Memorial Service. Feeling the grief and pain of these Israelis was important to remind me that conflicts are rarely simple or one-sided.

May 5, walking from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem
Walking from East Jerusalem at perhaps 9:00 pm at night I see many soldiers, and wonder what they're doing. I am afraid of them, despite my white skin and Jewish background. I want to see what they're doing and be ready to talk with them or try to intervene, but I wonder if I will have the courage. As I leave East Jerusalem I recognize that I feel no general fear walking the streets here at night. Despite the fact that I don't know my way very well, it seems safe, except near the soldiers.

May 6, talking with students at the Friends School, Ramallah, West Bank

The young people here are curious about this group of Americans invading their school. As I would expect, many are shy. Other people from the delegation I am travelling with bring out a quilt which was presented to their organization, EarthStewards Network, by the Idaho Peace Quilt Project. The beautiful quilt has many pockets of various shapes and types. They are designed as message carriers, and many of the pockets bear messages from young people in the US for these Palestinian youth. The purpose of the quilt is described to the young people, and many search for notes, and begin writing their own messages to be carried across the globe. A young woman asked, "How many of the pockets should we fill, so that we leave enough room for other people." I was surprised and impressed with her question. Concern for others and their rights and needs was important enough that she didn't want to use more than her share.

May 6-7, Jalazoun Refugee Camp, Ramallah, West Bank
Our delegation is crowded into a small second story room talking with our hosts. After awhile I begin to feel like I am in prison again. We are often reminded that we need to keep our voices down so as not to disturb neighbors or to attract the attention of the soldiers who frequently patrol the camp. We sing some songs, but can never open up to the real joy of the music. I don't like the feeling, but remember that part of my purpose here is to feel what life is like here, and that my hosts face this every day.

On our second afternoon here we walked through the camp. People were very curious, especially the children. Women and very young children were shy, ducking into their houses as we approached. Our group is like a magnet to the children accumulating groups of up to 50 or more with us, until some of our hosts shoo them away. At times, I feel they are too harsh, but I don't know the risks. The children wanted us to take their pictures, made the Intifada victory sign, and like other children pushed and shoved for attention. I felt some tension from children wanting gifts, thinking that we were rich Americans who should be flowing with money to give them. As a contrast, when I spoke with my hosts that night, they asked me what my monthly income was. When I told them they looked at each other bewildered and said, "You are poor."

On the way to their home that night we stopped at a neighbors house where they had a ping pong table out in a shed. They insisted that we play right away, since we were guests. There was no score keeping, no games which began or ended. Yet there was still a competitive spirit. When I was playing well they kept bringing in new people to try and beat me. I had a similar experience earlier that day playing basketball with some of the students at the Friends School. When another American and I were winning, the people we were playing with kept bringing in better and better players to try and beat us.

May 8, Women in Black Vigil, French Square, Jerusalem
I arrived a bit early and saw a small group, primarily young men, standing on the square holding signs. I didn't think this was Women in Black, but I couldn't understand the signs which were in Hebrew. After a few moments, women dressed in black began drifting in. When their numbers grew larger than the initial group, the smaller group walked across the street for what I learned was their counter-demonstration. I spent much of the vigil having a not very productive discussion with some of the counter-demonstrators. Observing the vigil, I had a feeling I have often experienced at demonstrations in the U.S. It seemed devoid of emotion, like a well rehearsed ritual in which all the parties knew their roles and played them faithfully.

May 10, Workshop with Teenagers, Kibbutz Shomrat, outside Acre
In the mid-afternoon Avi, one of the more outspoken and not always positive participants says to me, "I feel like I'm high but without any drugs. I wish I could put this in a bottle and sell it." After the workshop was over, some of the adults told me the story of Avi stealing a tractor when he was 12, plowing up several families' lawns and then parking it in the swimming pool. Dorit, one of the teachers who set up the workshop expressed her surprise, "If you would have told me our kids would say the things they did at the end of the workshop I wouldn't have believed you, it was like a miracle."