Sunday, March 16, 2008

Both Sides of the Green Line

Because public speaking about the injustices of the Israeli occupation are growing more and more taboo, in so called-democratic discourse, and because so many of us know so little about the complexities of life in the occupied territories as well as in Israel itself for its own Palestinian citizens, I share with you a letter, the classic form of reporting from between the cracks, below the gaze of controlled news accounts. A text of dreams, lost ways, crumbling streets and complex courage.

Dorothy Zellner reports from Israel/Palestine, March 12, 2008:

Hello, all--So far, I've been in the Ben Gurion airport (very gruelling security process), Ramallah, Budrus and Jenin on the West Bank, and so far in Israel, Haifa*, Arrabe* and Sakhnin* in Israel...The city names with the stars indicate Palestinian locals within Israel itself: I remind you that 20% of the Israeli citizenry is Palestinian.

Certain Outstanding Impressions

The checkpoint between Jenin,WB, and Afula, Isr (Jalma). Never have I seen such an edifice. Kafka himself would have been delighted. You get there and see no directions, just a full-height turnstile (like in the subways), a disembodied voice telling you to go ahead, but the turnstile is locked, so you have to shout, "Open the door!" Then you walk along a winding corridor, next turnstile-door, also locked, so you have to shout. This is repeated seven times. The corridors wind this way and that. (I think Dante referred to the seven gates of Hell.) Meanwhile you see nobody in authority, just a few Palestinians coming the other way, obviously the favored few who have obtained a permit to go back and forth from the West Bank to Israel and vice versa. We have permits obtained by the Jenin Freedom Theatre. Finally, the end of the corridor, only there are three doors, none of which are marked. Where to go? we shout. Disembodied voice issues some directions. Aha, people at last! A female guard in a windowed office by a turnstile, waist high, accepts our passports. We wait. We see above our heads a runway with an armed guard, automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, peering down on us. Two men appear to question us: where have you been? How did you get to Ramallah? F. answers tartly that we came through the checkpoints where a soldier was asleep. Who do you know? etc. Finally Y. alertly says that we have permits--oh, says he man, and in a few minutes we go through yet another subway-style turnstile and are---out in the free air, in Afula, in Israel. Last night I dreamed I was blind. I mean I didn't dream that I was blind in the intellectual sense: I mean, I opened my eyes in the dream and everything was orange: I couldn't see. A later dream (I haven't been sleeping well on this trip) is about a friend from college who no longer speaks to me because we disagree over Israel/Palestine. today I understand the first dream--it was about my being unable to find the way out of that building at Jalma....

By now, midway in our trip, we have been in three Palestinian cities/towns and there is simply no way to avoid the fact, even if one wanted to, that Palestinian citizens of Israel are disadvantaged, as the foundations like to say. Not only is there less expenditure for schools, health care facilities, etc., which you probably know all about, but I learned on this trip that public tax money exists in the form of matching funds to all Israeli towns. Needless to say, the Palestinian towns cannot put up enough funds to obtain significant to obtain significant matching funds, so garbage is obviously uncollected in various areas, the electricity suddenly goes out, etc. Also needless to say, there is less industry (not enough investment) and much fewer shops (same reason). There are also many unfinished floors in buildings with gaping windows. Unemployment is higher. The list goes on. The people we visited have organized women's groups, local health care initiatives and more, and we met today a representative of an Arabic theater, herself a Jewish Israeli. So there are many efforts being conducted on the ground.

Here's an interesting twist to the two -state solution issue: several Palestinian citizens fear a so-called state organized along the so-called road map because they are afraid of transfer,i.e. expulsion to the so-called new Palestinian state, which will be composed of several discontinuous fragments. This fear is not paranoia. Members of the Knesset, Lieberman and others, have withing the past three weeks openly called for transfer. Everyone who gave their opinion about this said they would refuse to go--they won't go anywhere--this is their country, too--they will resist.

Well, my traveling companions are waiting for this computer and I am hoping for a decent night's sleep, so I will end. This will at least give you an idea about my trip. I should add that everywhere we have gone in Israel proper and the West Bank we have met fascinating, courageous, intelligent people--I am not talking about supposed wild-eyed militants. I am talking about ordinary people who are in a terrible situation and doing what they can to make things better. They don't fall into any neat ideological categories--they are using what they have on hand on both sides of the Green Line to bring justice here, in many different ways.

I hope to continue when next I have a half hour, which I estimate will be in two or three days! We are busy every second with back-to-back meeting and getting lost in the car or at a checkpoint, and there's a whole lot more I could and will tell you.

Best to all,

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