Three Groups Working to Liberate Palestine from the Israeli Occupation

When the world looks at the future of Palestine these days, the principal question is unfortunately “What will Obama do?”  How far will he go in putting pressure on the new right-wing Israeli government, and how will they react?  Yet, our “messiah complex” which credits politicians with being able to solve everything single-handedly allows the world to forget about the action that is going on on the ground inside Israel/Palestine by both Israelis and Palestinians against the occupation, and the struggles they encounter.
The Palestinian town of Anata is part of Jerusalem, yet is literally a world away.  A wall and checkpoint separate it from the rest of the city to which most residents of Anata never have access; and unlike the Western part of Jerusalem, there is no mail, trash collection, or sidewalks.  Grime piles up on the side of the road or burns on the hills as residents are unsure what to do with their daily waste.   This is where the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) recently hosted their annual two-week home reconstruction camp in which they rebuilt two Palestinian homes destroyed by the Israeli government against international law.  This year the project is being funded by the Spanish government – who consequently was accused of funding anti-Israeli NGOs and meddling in Israel’s internal affairs – in which 60 volunteers from all over the world took part.  One of the reconstructed homes is being rebuilt by ICAHD for the third time and the other for the first time; ironically, both houses are adjacent to a section of the wall splitting up Palestinian East Jerusalem that was completed just last week.  As a group organizing Israeli-Palestinian solidarity activities since its foundation five years ago, to say that ICAHD has developed a bad reputation in Israeli society is to put it lightly.  Having rebuilt over 165 houses for Arabs left homeless by house demolitions in the West Bank, ICAHD has been characterized by the Netanyahu government and the mainstream Israeli press as a radical left-wing organization that supports terrorists by illegally rebuilding houses that were destroyed for security purposes.  However, ICAHD maintains that “Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes [24,000 since 1967] has nothing whatsoever to do with security [but is] purely political: to confine the 3.8 million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to small enclaves, thus effectively foreclosing any viable Palestinian state and ensuring Israeli control.”
On the ride from posh West Jerusalem down to Anata with Jeff Halper, the head of ICAHD, the evidence of the injustice and contradiction passes visibly by through the car window.  We pick up a young American reporter writing about the camp for the Jerusalem Post who made Aliyah just two years ago.  After a few questions it becomes clear that agreement on the conflict will not be easy, as he is initially unsure of the differences between Area A, B, and C, and is interested in “the similarity between illegal settlement construction by Israeli settlers and ICAHD’s reconstruction of demolished homes.”  “They are both equally illegal and putting ‘facts on the ground’ on land that is disputed,” he says.  The end of the car ride was relatively quiet.
Arriving at the camp, Israelis, internationals, and Palestinians are working on a house with an incredible view of the wall winding its way through Palestinian neighborhoods, separating them from one another.  Both sides are technically Jerusalem, yet most Palestinians on the Anata side, like all West Bankers, are prohibited from ever visiting Palestinians on the other side.  “How can this wall be about security when there are Palestinians on both sides?” Halper asks.  The journalist readies his equipment and presses record on his camera; he notifies Halper, “You have thirty seconds to answer this question: Why do you support terrorism?”

Another Israeli group working to end the occupation is Ta’ayush, Arabic for “life in common.”  A self-proclaimed grassroots movement of Arab and Jewish Israelis, Ta’ayush strives to break down the walls of extreme racism and segregation in the state of Israel and the occupied territories by constructing an Arab-Jewish partnership.  While Ta’ayush is involved in many different activities and is open to a diversity of tactics in ending the occupation, on the particular day I worked with Ta’ayush they accompanied shepherds in the desert near the Karmel settlement in south Hebron, not far from the Dead Sea.  This part of the southern West Bank is a difficult zone where settlers have created illegal outposts that divide Palestinian towns from one another and introduce a permanent army presence.  Even when Palestinian children walk to school in the morning to a neighboring town, international volunteers from Christian Peacemakers Team must accompany them as protection from rock-throwing settlers.
Ahmed, Hussein and Tarek are brothers and young shepherds between the ages of 11 and 16 who live between two settler beef farms not far from Karmel settlement.  Though they maintain a modest herd of roughly 250 sheep and goats in a very arid zone of the West Bank, settlers do not allow their animals to graze on the hills surrounding the settlement built just a few years ago.  Ahmed said that they occasionally come out shooting and screaming “go away!” and “forbidden!”  More often the police or the army come to tell them to leave the area, this being the case at least once a week Ahmed tells me.  Even with the presence of a dozen or so Israelis with a few international activists, the army arrives to tell the shepherds that they cannot let their animals graze on the hilltops as it is a security threat.  The soldiers tell Ta’ayush the animals are only allowed to graze in the valley.  Yet, the problem is that there are no plants in the valley for animals to eat.  No other solutions for the shepherds are offered, and it appears the vicious cycle will continue in the future.

Tarek, 11, with his goats and sheepSettler beef farm perched on a hill.  Palestinian animals are not even allowed to graze on neighboring hills as it is a "security threat"Soldiers arrive with their big guns and tell the activists and shepherds to get off the hill.Ta'ayush activists try to reason with soldiers in Hebrew.  To no avail.  They are first and foremost there to "protect the settlers."Palestinian shepherd next to Israeli soldier
Like Americans working against the war in Iraq from within the empire, Israelis must stand up to the incredible injustices imposed by their government on the occupied Palestinian people.  However, in the wake of anti-colonial struggles throughout the 20th century, Palestinians, like Iraqis, understand that the struggle for liberation is ultimately their own.  Mousa Abu Maria founded the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) in the summer of 2006 in the village of Beit Ommar as a movement dedicated to opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land through non-violent direct action.  PSP is not only dedicated to supporting Palestinian communities resisting the occupation, but is interested in Palestinian unity by working with all people and building a movement for all of Palestine.  “Our goal is not for Beit Ommar, but for all of Palestine,” Abu Maria says.  By demonstrating against the continuing construction of the Apartheid Wall, Israeli-only roads, Israeli settlements, removing illegal roadblocks and other structures which intentionally separate Palestinian communities, and working with people most affected by settler and army violence in the area, PSP attempts to address the most pressing aspects of the occupation for Palestinian society.  “It is very important for activists to be non-violent in Palestine because we want people from all over the world to come here and understand the checkpoints, the wall, the settlements, and problems related to imprisonment and refugees,” Abu Maria stresses.  Yet, like in past colonial and Apartheid states, heavy burdens are placed on resisters from the oppressed group by the colonizers.  Like 40% of Palestinian men, Abu Maria has experienced imprisonment and torture, spending a total of 5.5 years in prison on three different occasions since 1999.  His last release was just this past month.
During the month I’ve spent at PSP the emphasis has been placed on keeping Palestinians on their land.  PSP activists have worked with farmers attacked and threatened by settlers, and attempted to raise awareness around issues concerning land, water, and settlement expansion threatening the village on three sides.  While Abu Maria understands the hopes placed on newly elected leaders in reaching a regional peace deal, the most important thing for him is continuing to engage Palestinians in the struggle for their land which is being stolen from them at an ever-increasing pace.  “People here must work for justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians because right now it only exists for Israelis,” he adds.  For PSP, “peace and security are rights not just for some of us, but for all the people of the world. Controlling another person’s life, possessions, future, and thoughts is a crime and a humiliation. We have dreams and hopes of freedom, so we are inviting all the people of the world to stand with us and share in our struggle for freedom.”

View of Beit Ommar, home to PSPAhmed, a young activist and cameraman for PSP holds a flag in front of soldiersTwo international activists were arrested at this action in mid-August after soldiers became violent, shoving people out of the zone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: