Glimpses of the People

These are some stories of people I met on my trip to Isarel-Palestine in April-May 1992. The paragraphs in italics are their own words.

Khalil Mashi, Principal, Friends School, Ramallah, West Bank
As an educator and concerned human being Khalil has struggled a great deal during the Intifada. I found him to be an inspiring example of a nonviolent activist. Khalil told wonderful stories of using nonviolence not only with this Israeli authorities, but also in working with his students. His concern for the students came through strongly in the way he sought to maintain a supportive and positive school environment under such repressive conditions. His humility and hospitality were evident when he brought out a tray of cold lemonade to our group as we sat meeting outside the school one warm afternoon.

"The two biggest problems we face as a school now are first that the school has been closed by the military for 24 months during the last four and a half years and second that there is great danger for our young male students. During the past three years we have been merging separate boys and girls schools into one school, divided into two groups by ages. Not only have we had to deal with the logistical difficulties this would entail in any situation, but we have also had to face strong opposition from the Islamic Fundamentalist movement, Hamas.

There is an army camp next door, with a guard on duty all the time. If you look out the window you can see a guard up on the rooftop outside the classroom windows. We recently installed a closing metal gate to prevent the military from simply bursting into the school. One time three armed men came into the school and put guns to the heads of a group of boys playing basketball. They frisked them and took two of the boys. It turned out that they wre police and they took the boys to the police house for interrogation. We had no idea who they were, since they didn't identify themselves. This is only one of many instances of harrassment and violence from the Israeli authorities.

In 1988 (after 3 or 4 months of closure), we decided to defy the authorities and hold school. About 20% of the students showed up (with their parents). The military came and said we must close the school and threatened to teargas everyone and smash the cars. There was lots of media here. I suggested to the students and parents that everyone go home rather than risk having many people injured, since we had already made an important point. After some discussion, we agreed to disperse.

Another defiant step was taking education to the students--"popular education." It was illegal to teach in this way, with possible fines and imprisonment. The school issued work packets for the students to work on at home. In the process of creating these packets we needed to come up with resources for home-based, self-paced learning. When our school is able to stabilize, we hope to change our pedagogy through increased use of this self-paced learning. As a result of these efforts we initiated the "Educational Network," an organizing group working against school closures. (They publish a newsletter in English).

Joel Dorkan, Kibbutz Palmach Tzova
Joel is a wonderful example of what I imagined of the old time socialist, idealist Kibbutznik. He was clearly dedicated to the principles of equality and justice, yet his vision in relation to the Palestinians seemed limited to me. His kibbutz is part of the more mainstream of the three kibbutz federations.

I came to this kibbutz after being released from the military in 1949, following the War for Independence. Others had already begun working the land and establishing the community here. The kibbutz is based on the idea of voluntary socialism. Our emphasis is on four areas: 1) health (mental and physical), 2) education, 3) culture and study (all young people are entitled to at least three years of higher education, even if they leave the kibbutz, this applies to adults as well), and 4) social security, rather than retiring people we encourage people to gradually work less. Our educational model is like an equal sided triangle with the sides representing family, formal education and the kibbutz.

In the early days we believed we were creating a new type of person here on the kibbutz. "Homo Kibbutznikus" was the new species we expected after one or two generations of living such a healthy, egalitarian life. Yet this has not happened. About 2/3rds of the children leave the kibbutz and don't return. We have made less progress in breaking down sex role stereotypes than we had hoped, and we still have not found a truly effective way to deal with interpersonal conflict on the kibbutz.

Nonetheless, we have a functioning democracy here, with all positions of leadership being rotated every two years. There is currently no connection between the "personal income" and amount or type of work one does on the kibbutz. Though there are some who would like to see this. There has been a trend toward greater privatization in the kibbutz. Some of this is good. For example, years ago my son was given a nice wooden rocking horse by his grandparents in the city. When the people who ran the childrens' house learned about it they made him bring the rocking horse there so that all the children could play with it. He was very upset by this, and of course, the rocking horse didn't last so long with so much use. Now, such personal gifts are allowed. In addition, the children no longer live in the childrens' house, but home with their parents. This change was initiated when the first generation of kibbutz children became parents.

The Zoughbi Family, Bethlehem, West Bank
Zoughbi Zoughbi works for the Middle East Council of Churches. He is an important contact person for many delegations coming to Israel and Palestine. When I met Zoughbi he was anxiously awaiting the return of his wife Elaine and their daughter Marcelle. Elaine is not a Palestinian and so has been denied a residency visa by the Israeli authorities. She is currently able to come only on a three month tourist visa. It appears to be Israeli policy to prevent Palestinian families from being together in cases such as this. (The Palestinian Human Rights organization Al Haq has begun a "Family Re-Unification Campaign", they can be contacted at P.O. Box 1413, Ramallah, West Bank via Israel.)

When I met Zoughbi I also met his mother, brother, sister and nephew. His sister Hanna is 22 years old and a student at Bethlehem University.

Have you seen the newspaper, today? There was a killing last night in Beit Sahour (the neighboring town). He was a classmate of mine at the University. Anton Shomeli was shot at point blank range by the Israeli soldiers. When will the killing stop?

Nafez Assaily, Director, Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence, East Jerusalem
Nafez was a student at Nablus University in 1979 when he decided to write a term paper about nonviolence after seeing the movie Gandhi. In 1983 he met Mubarak Awad the founder of the Center and became involved in its work. When Mubarak was deported by the Israeli authorities in 1986, Nafez became the acting director. (Mubarak is one of some 1600 Palestinians who have been deported by the Israeli government from Israel and Palestine since 1967. Short of death, it is the ultimate sanction Israel can use. In Mubarak's case, even the intervention of the US State Department was insufficient to stop his deportation.

The Library on Wheels Project is our main project right now and is going very well. The idea is to take books with a positive message out to children in rural areas where there is no access to books. As a spin-off the parents and other family members read as well. International support has made this effort possible. We need to begin at a basic level with nonviolence. The history taught to Muslims is full of violence and blood. People need to learn other ways. I dream about starting an Islamic Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.

People are very frustrated. Palestinians in rural areas and villages don't seem interested in the political situation but want a peaceful life with enough water, food, bus transportation, education for their children, ability to visit cemeteries.... They had earlier been hopeful about the peace process. I'm always an optimist. Change will take time. Yesterday, I was at Moses' shrine near Jericho (Moses is also a prophet in Islam). There I found a Moslem group working with drug addicts. If we deal with our own internal problems, than the occupation won't be so hard to change. With those problems the occupation is very difficult to challenge.

Chaya Beckerman, West Jerusalem
Chaya is an Israeli peace activist who emigrated to Israel six years ago from the United States. She is one of the few women who is active in both Women in Black and Women at the Wall. Women in Black is an organization of Israeli women united around their desire to "end the occupation." Soon after the Intifada started they began gathering on Friday afternoon at a busy intersection in Jerusalem with signs shaped like hands which said "end the occupation" in Hebrew and English. Women at the Wall is a group of religious Jewish women who have asserted their right to read the Torah at the Western Wall and been arrested for it. (Although most Israelis are not actively religious, the small right-wing religious movement has great power and has been able to pass legislation controlling life in many ways.) Chaya has also been active in a variety of nonviolent initiatives and in the dialogue group with Beit Sahour.

Khalil and Omkhalil, Beach Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip
They have 4 sons and 3 daughters. Khalil was four years old during the 1948 War when his family fled from their large farm in Ashkelon (now within Israel proper) and came to the refugee camp. He still feels the pain of losing his family property. Their 3 older sons have all been imprisoned. The oldest, Khalil, 22 years old, has been arrested 8 times. The last time he was shot in the head, and then denied proper medical treatment. As a result he has continuous health problems.

Under Egyptian occupation Gaza was closed completely. The economic situation was terrible, but people felt secure. Today it is much worse. Even if you are asleep in your house you aren't secure. Every night there are soldiers in the camp. It is natural that we express our frustration about years of occupation. People maybe miscalculated a little in the beginning and were overly optimistic about things changing soon. The fall of communism and the Gulf War have also had a large effect on our situation. UN resolutions were applied immediately to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, but not at all to the Israeli occupation.

Just tell the American people the facts. We're not terrorists as they try to make us out to be. We love life and respect all people in the world, even the American people, though we hate the American government.

Omkhalil is known in the camp for her bravery in directly confronting the Israeli soldiers and intervening to try and prevent neighbors from being arrested or beaten.

We aren't afraid of the soldiers. Their treatment only encourages us to be stronger in our feelings against the occupation. One time soldiers came to arrest my son and beat him. I tried to stop the soldier and ended up fighting with him and was beaten up. I have been beaten many times. We have to live in dignity. Otherwise why live. The Intifada has alot to do with dignity.

Majeda, student at Bir Zeit University, Ramallah, West Bank
Majeda is an English studies major. She is one of eleven children in her family. She has been arrested four times during the Intifada. She was held for short periods each time, with no charges filed. The military was looking for her brother who was wanted from the beginning of the Intifada for political activity. Although she was not beaten, the authorities were able to get information from a male friend by threatening to beat Majeda. Her brother was arrested and has been held for 27 months without charges.

The University has been closed for four and a half years by the authorities. On April 29, they opened up the new campus which serves the engineering and science departments. My part is still not re-opened. So, our classes meet at an old hotel. My education has been delayed for over a year and a half thus far by the closing of the University.

We must have freedom, no prisoners, no detainees, be able to fly our flag, no checkpoints, to educate our children the way we choose. Israel is now a fact. No one can deny it. We must differentiate between Judaism and Zionism. Jews are humans who have suffered too much. We Palestinians need our own state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, alongside Israel. All Palestinians want that, but when they're faced with soldiers they want to kill them. But there are many cases of Palestinians helping injured Israelis. When we think about Israel we feel two things: the loss of our homeland, and the behavior of the soldier and government policy.

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, Jerusalem
Jeremy was born in the US, but has lived most of his life in Israel. As a Conservative Rabbi he is shut out of much of institutional Judaism in Israel because the Orthodox are so dominant (for example, Jeremy can't legally conduct marriages). He has been active in various Israeli peace groups including Yesh G'vul, Israelis and Palestinians for Nonviolent Action and recently initiated the Clergy for Peace group.

As a pacifist I am very isolated in Israel. Nonetheless, I must continue working for peace and justice. I believe that a single, democratic state in Israel and Palestine, with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians is the best solution to the conflict. I don't support a two state solution on tactical grounds. It doesn't address the fact that the Zionist movement was a colonialist movement from the beginning. It was, however, the only colonialist movement without a home to go back to....

The biggest problem we face is ideology. There isn't much on either side (traditionally) which speaks of peaceful coexistence. Judaism is ethnocentric. It is not only fearful because of the past actions of others, but also because of what we believe. Both sides must learn to let go of fear....

Israel is an idol to American Jews because it is an expression of the Jewish life they don't have.

Fadil and Saleem, Jalazoun Refugee Camp, Ramallah, West Bank
Fadil and Salim are two of a group of politically active young men who hosted us at Jalazoun. The camp is a very intense place, with the houses jammed together. At first glance I was surprised not to see people living in tents. But as I thought about it I realized that this camp has been here since 1948. Between seven and eight thousand people live here. There are 800 residents from Jalazoun currently in prison. Tear gas is fired in the camp almost daily, beatings and arrests are also commonplace. On our tour of the camp we were shown several houses which had been demolished by the authorities to punish political activists and their families. Saleem originally came to help translate for Fadil, but he had so much that he wanted to say that he kept answering our questions himself rather than translating for Fadil.

I was jailed for four years in several different prisons. For us prison is university. We study history, economics, politics, and more. Many of us were imprisoned at a young age, before we had received much education. While I was in prison we studied for about six hours each day.... Palestinians want peace, but not any peace. We want a peace based on justice. (Fadil)

In 1990 I spent six months in Ansar 3, a prison in the Negev Desert. At that time there were 7,000 prisoners there. While there, my friend Assan Harb had a pain in his ear. He complained and finally was able to see a doctor. The doctor looked in his ear without even using a magnifying glass and said there was no problem. He went back about five times as his ear got worse, but each time was told there was no problem. When he got really sick they took him to a hospital at another prison, but he died before he got there.

My uncle was interrogated for 40 days. He went on a hunger strike to protest his treatment. They forcefed him and injured his stomach badly, causing internal bleeding. When they realized what they had done they threw him out of the prison. Luckily he was found by a friend who took him to a hospital where emergency surgery was needed.

For me there are big points and small points. Of course, there may be individuals who feel like they want retribution, but that would never be our policy and we wouldn't want people to act on those feelings. I must think about more than just myself, and so would not seek revenge. (Saleem)

Dr. Fadil Abu Hein, Director of Research, Gaza Mental Health Center, Gaza City
Entering the gates of the Mental Health Center, I felt that I had entered another planet. The barren, desperate feeling of Gaza seemed distant as I gazed at the colorful, well-kept flower gardens outside the new building. Without an appointment I was welcomed and given a lengthy interview with Dr. Abu Hein. At the end of our visit I asked him how he kept going through all the pain and difficulty, and he seemed almost not to understand my question. Unlike many of us in the United States, most Palestinians don't see any choice but to be involved in seeking to create justice and peace for their people.

I have recently completed a study of trauma and violence in children ages 8-18. We measured self-esteem, fear and anxiety levels. The strongest finding was that the biggest division was between children who had been beaten themselves, and those who only saw beatings, arrests, etc. Those children who were directly beaten had higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of fear and anxiety. Their direct participation served to empower them to be able to deal with the violence in a healthier manner. The primary patients of our clinic, which is focussed on children, are children who have only witnessed the violence.

The children are the first victims in our society, at home, in the streets and in schools. Adults pass on the violence they experience under the occupation. Over 30% of the children in the Occupied Territories have been directly beaten or humiliated by soldiers. We now often see people whose symptoms match those identified as "Post-Tramautic Stress Syndrome." (a condition experienced by many Viet Nam veterans).

Three days ago a teacher was shot and killed in a school here in Gaza. Today our clinic received a call saying that the children weren't coming to school. So, we sent out five social workers to talk to the children and their families. The biggest danger is that the children are growing up with so much violence that it is becoming part of their personalities. This is the future generation of Palestine. They are learning that violence is the appropriate response to conflict.

Last year I did a study entitled "Mental Health of ex-Political Prisoners in Gaza." It focussed on the effects of torture. More than 46% of these former prisoners suffered from paranoia. The effects on Palestinian society, to say nothing of the individuals themselves are devastating. The Israeli authorities also use a type of psychological torture with collaborators and the threat of collaboration.

As therapists one of our biggest difficulties is that the source of peoples' psychological problems are frequently associated with all the violence they experience. We can treat them, but when they go back out to that same situation, their fears and anxieties come back out, returning them to where they started. One family we have worked with over a year, and we recently advised them that the best thing for them to do now is simply keep their children inside the house. Despite all these difficulties, the Intifada itself is a type of psychological treatment for the Palestinian people.

Roni Ben Efrat, activist and publisher, Jerusalem
Roni is an Israeli woman who has been involved in a variety of efforts for justice for Palestinians and peace. She helped found Hanitzotz/a-Shahara Publishing House to advance understanding between Jews and Arabs in 1986. I was startled to hear from Roni that the Israeli Journalists Association has no formal position on censorship.

By supporting publications which pursue this goal we hope to help break the wall of ignorance and hatred which separates the two peoples. We have published numerous publications related to Oriental Jews, freedom of the press, and democratic and peace forces in Israel. Our main project was the publication of two biweekly papers, Derech Hanitzotz and Tariq a-Shahara in Hebrew and Arabic respectively. The outbreak of the Intifada resulted in the growth of the popularity of these two papers, greatly increasing their circulation in a short time. The papers and their editors became targets of attack by the Israeli authorities who were engaged in a crackdown on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Arabs in Israel and Israeli peace forces who were in solidarity with the Intifada. The two papers were banned by use of the Mandatory Emergency Regulations (1945) in February 1988. In April the six editors were arrested. Four of us were charged and sentenced to prison terms. My nine month sentence was on the short end with others being jailed up to 30 months under harsh conditions.

The authorities will no longer grant us a license to publish a newspaper, so we have joined with others to begin publishing Challenge/Etgar a bimonthly magazine in English and Hebrew. Additionally, we are publishing booklets in Arabic addressing issues such as the effect of the Intifada on Arabs in Israel, land confiscation and Arab Women.

By defining Israel as a Jewish state you are accepting a racist standard. If the Arab population ever increases beyond that of the Jewish population it will either mean the Jewish state will end, or apartheid will be necessary.

Hatim, Gaza City
On meeting Hatim, I was immediately struck by his inner strength. He is a man of few words. My discussion was more like an interview than any other on my trip. He was arrested in 1970 at the age of 15, and sentenced to 30 years for being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and for participating in a military operation. After 15 years of imprisonment, he was released in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange. He has been arrested twice during the Intifada and served 8 months and 6 months in administrative detention. When I spoke with him he had been out of jail for 20 days, and his three children kept coming in to the room to check on him.

During my imprisonment, the political prisoners studied together and prepared for the continuation of the struggle upon release. I participated in many actions to create greater rights for prisoners, including five hunger strikes of more than 12 days. There was tremendous solidarity among the prisoners.
I believe that the Israelis don't want peace, so the peace process won't help. An International Peace Conference is needed for a good solution. An independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is my goal, with Jerusalem as the capital. But I don't believe this is possible in my generation. I can forgive the Israelis, for sure. We're not against Jews, we're against Zionism.

Tell the American people that our people is a nice people, who can forget the hardness and difficulties with the Israelis. Our people have sacrificed a great deal. Our struggle is not just for Palestinians, but for all people to live in peace and freedom. We hope people understand this. We Palestinians are able to be compassionate and human through all the suffering and humiliation we have experienced.