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January 29, 2014

I Traveled to Palestine-Israel And Discovered There is no ‘Palestinian-Israeli Conflict’

01/29/2014SR Editor
I Traveled to Palestine Israel And Discovered There is no Palestinian Israeli Conflict

Armed Israeli settler strolls across checkpoint in Hebron, . Photo: Thomas Dallal

By *

The mind has a way of making traumatic experiences seem like distant dreams to those who survive them. As it goes, the more traumatic the experience, the quicker the paramedics in one’s mind rush to dress wounds, resuscitate and stabilize the victim; the victim being you.

I Traveled to Palestine Israel And Discovered There is no Palestinian Israeli Conflict

Ferrari Sheppard

Since returning from 36 hours ago, I find myself confronted with feelings of detachment and minimization of what I encountered. My subconscious has decided the horrors I witnessed in the ‘Holy Land’ were nothing serious–horrors which include a 26-foot-tall concrete wall enclosing the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, and the sniper towers seemingly on every other corner of this open-air prison.

This was my first trip to Palestine–most westerners call it , but I’ll address that topic shortly. I had never been to the country, but I read enough to know the basics: Palestinians and Israelis were fighting over land. The Israeli government was formed in 1948 as part of a vision set forth by a secular European colonial political movement called Zionism, founded by Hungarian Theodor Herzl in 1896. Herzl, an atheist, sought to free the Jews from European oppression and anti-Semitism, with the ultimate goal being the creation of a Jewish state.  He first proposed East Africa’s Uganda as the location of the Jewish state. This proposal also found the approval of the British government which controlled Palestine since the First World War. Herzl, however, later identified Palestine as the country of choice. I knew this.

The history of Palestinians was something I was familiar with as well, only because in high school, my friend’s parents were Moroccan Jews with staunch right-wing Zionist views. They’d go on about how Palestinians were worth shit and how they were sucking off the land they stole, and how they were not from Palestine, but Jordan. Truth be told, my friend’s parents’ passion about their ‘homeland’ made me sick. As a black person living in the United States, I could not relate to their love for their proclaimed homeland because I never had one. My ancestors were captured from various regions of Africa and forced onto ships bound for the Americas. Therefore, when questioned about the geographic origins of my ancestors, my answers were as vague as Africa is big.

Blurt 

Before I go further, I must put to rest a misnomer. Contrary to what’s been reported in the news for years, there is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None, zero, zilch, diddly-squat. I can say with confidence that Palestinians have no agency. The Israeli government controls everything in the country. This total control which is most magnified in the West Bank, concerns everything from where Palestinians are permitted to travel, to how much water they consume per month. Currently, there is no ‘conflict,’ only the omnipresent power of the Israeli government and those who resist it. This is important to understand.

Where was I?

I began researching the history of Palestinians in my senior year of college and discovered that my high school buddy’s parents weren’t only functionally insane, but they were completely incorrect in their claims. Palestinians had not fallen from the clouds and landed on Jewish land, (interpretations of certain religious texts would suggest otherwise) but had inhabited the country for thousands of years. In fact, Palestine hosted several occupations throughout history: Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Philistines, Tjekker, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, Jordanians– a gang bang of military occupations. Nasty.

American author and Professor of Political Science Alan Dowty put it best when he wrote, “Palestinians are the descendants of all the indigenous peoples who lived in Palestine over the centuries.” Moreover, studies suggest, that part, if not the majority of Arabs living in Palestine, descend from a core population that dates back thousands of years.

Perhaps it would be easier for me to believe the story of Palestinians falling from the clouds, or crossing into Palestine from Jordan shortly before the creation of Israel — that is, if my perception were formed by mainstream western media. In the years prior to the events of 9/11, including the initial months of the Second Intifada, media outlets such as Fox, CNN, and BBC, unfolded one dimensional narratives which included bloodthirsty Palestinians blowing themselves up in public places, killing innocent people. Never did they examine the societal constraints and conditions which might drive people to commit such atrocities.

In order for colonialism and to be successful, previous inhabitants of a region must be dehumanized, labeled savages, and finally, their very existence denied. Once this paradigm has been established, any and all acts of horror can be inflicted upon them without recourse. Thus, the stories of the oppressed become irrelevant.

I Traveled to Palestine Israel And Discovered There is no Palestinian Israeli Conflict

Members of our delegation show passports at checkpoint entering illegal settlements in Hebron, West Bank.  Jewish Israelis are permitted entry, internationals must present passports and endure interrogation and Palestinians are not allowed. Photo: Thomas Dallal

Getting in and out

In the weeks preceding my departure from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Tel Aviv, I received travel warnings from The Carter Center, the organization responsible for sponsoring my trip. Our delegation, which consisted of prominent African-American journalists and artists, was provided suggestions of how to increase our chances of getting into Palestine-Israel. It is not uncommon for travelers to be denied entry into the country for absurd reasons such as their father’s last name sounds Arab, or they criticized Israeli policy on a social networking website. I decided I would tell my Israeli interrogators the truth, but be as vague as possible.

If denied entry, travelers could be detained for hours, interrogated and forced to board an airplane back to where their flight originated. Other visitors to the region advised me to avoid saying words like “Palestine,” “Palestinian,” ”solidarity,” and “West Bank” inside of Israel’s airport. I was also advised to sanitize my email in the event that Israeli officials requested my password in order to rummage through my inbox. Unfortunately, this is a common experience for Palestinian-Americans attempting to visit the country. Additionally, I was warned that Israeli authorities, on occasion, provoke visitors by being rude, or asking inappropriate questions–they aim to cause one to feel as though they’ve done something wrong. In my case, this tactic was working. I felt I was committing a crime by wishing to enter the West Bank to talk to Palestinians. Israel was getting to me already, and I hadn’t left my apartment.

How things work

I reached Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and made my way up a flight of stairs leading to a long, wide, windowed corridor filled with travelers speed-walking towards their destination. To my left were palm trees of a country I was hoping to enter, and fixed high above was the sun, whispering the arduous tale of humankind.

I had made it to customs. It resembled a race track betting area with fifteen booths and neon signs fixed to them which read, “Israeli Citizens” and “Foreigners.” I got into the foreigner line. Inside the booth sat an Israeli woman, maybe 20 years old. She looked sad and beautiful.

“Passport,” she said in a dry tone.

I gave it to her.

“What is the reason for your visit?”

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I smiled and replied, “A tour of the holy land.”

She examined my passport, then she examined my face,”Will you be visiting the West Bank or Gaza?”

I said, “No,” without thinking.

“Where will you be going?” she asked.

, Bethlehem and Nazareth,” I replied.

She examined my passport again, “Do know any Palestinians?” she asked.

I smirked and lied, “No.”

I was officially permitted into the state of Israel. I found my taxi driver, loaded my carry-on bag into the trunk, and we were off. Leaving Israel would not be so easy, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Riding from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the first thing I noticed, besides the breathtaking Palestinian landscape with its palm trees, olive trees and immense hills and valleys, were walls and barbwire. There were literally hundreds of miles of concrete walls and barbwire–not the kind one sees on a Los Angeles off-ramp, but those belonging to a prison

I’d later find out that a portion of my 90-minute ride from the airport to Jerusalem gave a brief look at “Area-C.” As it goes, the occupied West Bank is divided into three parts: “Area-A,” “Area-B” and “Area-C.” “Area-C” is controlled by the Israeli government, while “Area-A” is supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority (or PA), a self-governing body established to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip (“Area-B” is under glorified Palestinian municipal control and Israeli security control). The reason I say “supposedly,” is because after spending a week in the country, I began wondering if the area classifications were simply a broad public relations campaign to convince the world that Palestinians have a degree of military, political, and economic power they do not have. This is not a far-fetched inquiry. Since the second Oslo Accords in 1995, the Israeli government has asserted, and the international community has accepted, the notion that “Area-A” is under PA control, but on the ground, the PA acts as a subcontracted enforcer to the Israeli occupiers.

The Reality

In Jerusalem, I witnessed great religious and ethnic diversity. I saw Arabs, Asians, Europeans, Africans, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Christians, all scrambling in Old City Jerusalem towards their various destinations. It was postcard worthy.

The variety of cultures in Jerusalem is outstanding. Similar to many societies however, Palestine-Israel presents a polished version of itself to tourists, where 5-star hotels in Tel Aviv and tourist attractions in Jerusalem cloak its brutal realities. The fact remains that our delegation was subject to a type of racism I’ve only experienced in the southern states of the United States of America. Of course, to a Jew or a middle class Palestinian living in Jerusalem or Nazareth, my observations may sound like exaggerations, but for the African migrant sleeping on the ground in South Tel Aviv, or for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, my evaluations are dead on.

The blatant, systemic subjugation and profiling of Arabs was most pronounced when our tour guide, a middle class Palestinian woman, was forced by IDF soldiers to exit our tour van and pass through a checkpoint on foot. As all Palestinians must do, she was told to place her thumb on a scanner to pass through a turn-style at a checkpoint. The members of our delegation were no exception to IDF scrutiny. The light skinned blacks in our delegation were interrogated and asked bluntly if they were Arab, and if not, what the last names of their fathers’ were.

Palestinians and progressive Israelis told our delegation story after story of the abuses and degradation they’ve suffered at the hands of Israeli settlers or soldiers, and we witnessed some of this treatment first hand. Along with the rampant home and land confiscation in the West Bank (in which settlers receive state subsidies), agricultural violence is on the rise, as settlers uproot and destroy the olive trees Palestinians rely on for income and nourishment. More sinisterly, public beatings, arrests and shootings are common, particularly in the West Bank. Without charges, a Palestinian can be imprisoned and held for months or years under administrative detention. The same law does not apply to Jewish Israelis. In fact, Israeli citizens can commit a range of crimes against Palestinians with near impunity. Furthermore, Israelis benefit from being under police and civil courts jurisdiction, while Palestinians are under military jurisdiction. Human Rights Watch has documented the “Separate and Unequal” legal situation endured by Palestinians.

I Traveled to Palestine Israel And Discovered There is no Palestinian Israeli Conflict

Yehuda Shaul (seen in orange shirt) lectures our delegation near village of Susya.  Photo: Thomas Dallal

Our delegation was introduced to Yehuda Shaul, a former commander in the Israeli army and current Foreign Relations Director for Breaking the Silence, an organization of former IDF soldiers who have dedicated themselves to revealing the atrocities committed against Palestinians, as well as the general corruption of higher-ups in the Israeli government. Yehuda, a heavyset man wearing a yarmulke, still moves and speaks like a soldier. As we drove up and down the hills of South Hebron, Yehuda’s lecture quickly began to feel like a general preparing a platoon for an offensive. He even revealed Israel’s plan to force rural Palestinians away from their land and into West Bank cities, making them dependent on the government.

As a liberal Israeli, Yehuda believes in granting rights to Palestinians and developing a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution. Yehuda is still a Zionist, and beyond lecturing about various land grabs, violence and injustices committed by Israeli settlers and the government, the 31-year-old steers away from revealing his personal story, which likely involves his journey as an IDF commander who terrorized Palestinian neighbourhoods, to the activist he is today who accepts that Palestinians are human.

Yehuda commanded our Palestinian driver to stop on the side of a road near an illegal Israeli settlement in the village of Susya. I point out that our driver was Palestinian because stopping in Susya was extremely dangerous for the three Palestinians in our van. Susya is home to armed, right-wing Israeli settlers who as Yehuda admitted, would “beat up” Palestinians on sight. Our Palestinian colleagues stayed in the van.

For some reason, Yehuda was compelled to conduct his lecture outside of the bus while our delegation shivered from a mountainous chill. It was then that a dusty car stopped feet away from us, engine running, with the driver focusing a murderous stare on our group. Yehuda kept lecturing as though nothing was happening, and our delegation pretended to listen as we remained vigilant for the deranged onlooker. The man examined us for a minute more, then sped off violently to return moments later to repeat this action. Sensing danger, I suggested to Yehuda we get back in the van and leave, but he ordered us to remain outside.

“This will only take a few minutes more,” he said, before continuing his lecture.

The rapid fire gunshots we heard in the distance gave us our cue to finally return to the van. The moment we were about to drive off, Israeli army vehicles pulled up, and a few soldiers peered in at us. They took a quick inventory of the van and then sped off. Apparently, during our lecture, Israeli settlers were attacking a group of Palestinians. I had seen enough.

Zionism has convinced many Jews that they are preserving themselves. The common thought is that if the “savage” Palestinians stop resisting, stop shooting rockets, stop fighting Israel’s inevitable domination, there can be peace. I find this peculiar because during my visit, I felt no danger from Palestinians, only from Israeli soldiers. Perhaps it’s because I’m accustomed to being hunted in America. There is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict; there is only oppression.

I will never disregard the Holocaust which left millions of European Jews dead or scrambling for survival. There is nothing that will ever right the wrongs committed by the brutal German regime. On the same note, I will never minimize Germany’s first, and little-known, genocide against the Herero and Namaqua of Africa, or King Leopold’s bloody reign on the continent. Tragedy is tragedy, one should not be placed above the other, nor should a past tragedy justify the next.

* Ferrari Sheppard is Editor-in-Chief of Stop Being Famous | Sabbah Report: http://sabbah.biz/mt/?p=18572

Geneva talks: Give Syrians a voice

Tuesday 28 January 2014

People are usually surprised when they know I am Syrian, not because I do not have Syrian features as I very much do, but because I do not fit into some of the stereotypes that westerners have about women from my country. I’m a human rights lawyer who decided to take control of my own destiny and oppose a regime that ruled us by horror and abuse for decades. And I am by no means special, as a great majority of my fellow Syrians made a similar choice. They too do not fit into such stereotypes, whether of extremist fighters or of vicious regime apologists. In fact those images are as strange and appalling to us as they are to people here.

For the past three years, I have watched my country falling into ruins due to a brutal regime that turned torture and mass killing into a family legacy.  I have lost close friends and family members, and I have seen the neighbourhoods I grew up in levelled to the ground and schools I went to becoming refuges for millions of Syrians displaced by the shelling and violence.

Having that said, I am one of the more privileged Syrians at home or abroad in the sense that I have not been killed by a brutal regime who mainly targets people like me; I’ve not been abused or tortured in its detention centres nor starved under siege in the cities it still controls. I have not been deprived from my freedom of movement in the areas under the extremists control nor exploited in refugee camps. I also have not seen my own children killed or starved. Other Syrians, however have not been so lucky.

Those of us who grew up under the tight fist of the Ba’ath remember wearing military clothes to school and learning to use a Kalashnikov at the tender age of thirteen. And unlike those who enjoyed using and abusing weapons, this upbringing made me a vigorous opponent of arming and militarisation, and as such, my chances of being heard or accounted for decrease as the fighting continues. Those chances dropped significantly when my countrymen were left with no option but armed resistance against the dictator who was slaughtering them for peacefully calling for freedom.  The violence and brutality kept rising under the sight of a silent world, until the regime used chemical weapons to destroy a civilian neighbourhood, killing hundreds of men, women and children and leaving the rest of us traumatised and hopeless.

Confining the international reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons to a shy request to deliver them was a mistake. It made Syrians feel that it is acceptable for them to die in silence as long as the West approves the means. The international deadlock was another disgrace that left Syrians uncertain about the actual meaning of “international peace and security” and turned the narrative of human rights for all into a mockery. The peace talks today offer the possibility of limiting the continuing harm of those mistakes, and in order for this to be realised, Syrians need to feel heard and represented.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition continues to struggle with many difficulties; however, I still see it as a fair representative of the Syrian people in the process to end this agony. After all, they were the ones who spoke our minds in Montreux when Ahmad al-Jarba declared our opposition to extremists and thugs and praised the recent moves of moderate fighters who forced those extremists to evacuate cities they used to occupy, unlike Assad who got those very thugs out of prison in three pardons in 2011-2012.  And while Assad’s representatives overwhelmed us with lies and threats, it was the Coalition who asked for a democratic Syria in which people like us have a place they can call home.

The peace talks are offering a way out of a vicious cycle, it is one of the very few hopes for the vast majority of Syrians who reject extremism and simply want an end to a bloodthirsty and greedy dictatorship. And the success of those talks is our chance to have a place to go back to and hope to fix what forty years of Assad rule can do to a country and a population.

Laila Alodaat is a Syrian human rights lawyer and a trainer of international humanitarian law. She currently work in a human rights law firm in London.

for more see source

Syria Plea: ‘We Are Eating Cat and Donkey Meat, Have Mercy on Us’

Demo today at 1:00 pm Place du Luxembourg
Sam Dagher/The Wall Street Journal
Emergency aid workers tried to evacuate children, women, elderly and sick civilians from the Yarmouk Camp.

DAMASCUS, Syria—As the Syrian regime and opposition prepared to leave the war-torn country last weekend to take part in peace talks in Switzerland, dozens of emergency-aid workers waited hours for government permission to evacuate some of those trapped with little food and medicine in a rebel-held Damascus neighborhood.

The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher went to the frontline of the Yarmouk Camp, where tens of thousands of people, mostly Palestinians, have not been allowed to leave the area for about a year. Both sides in the conflict have used access to food and medicine as a weapon, according to human-rights groups and aid workers.

Dagher met those hoping relatives inside the camp would be evacuated. “Let everyone out. We are eating cat and donkey meat, have mercy on us,” 45-year-old Qamar Azeema told Dagher when she was finally allowed to leave on Sunday. Dagher wrote this article, reporting on the desperate conditions inside the camp, and shot video footage on a mobile phone.

While at Yarmouk, Dagher met Eman Kanoun:

Her husband Tayseer Bakeer, son Mohammad, daughters Ghinwa and Hanan Bakeer, her husband and granddaughter Lilas were not among the lucky group to leave on Sunday. Mrs. Kanoun escaped in July to bring her family food, but regime soldiers would not let her back in, she told me.

Dagher asked Mrs. Kanoun what her granddaughter says to her when she speaks to her by phone.

Dagher also met Islam, a 9-year-old girl, whose father and brothers are trapped inside the camp:

He met a woman who had escaped from the camp five months ago.

A woman who gave her name as Umm Mohammad said she escaped from the camp in July with her newborn baby girl Tabarak and other children including daughter Islam. Umm Mohammad told me she could not breastfeed her baby and there was no baby formula. She said they used to crush lentils and rice to make bread out of the mix. “It was bitter whatever we put in it,” she said. Her husband, two stepsons and other relatives remain inside the besieged area. Islam told me she misses them all, especially her father.

Twenty-seven people were evacuated Sunday, including 11-year-old Sultan.

Ameera Kalash, 38, was evacuated with her four children, aged between one and five. This is the first time they have eaten bread and fresh fruit for seven months. Mrs. Kalash told Dagher that supplies are scarce and what little could be found is prohibitively expensive inside the camp.

Mrs. Kalash said that her children used to eat things like dried Tamarind all day. “I have no money, I used to beg to feed them,” she told me. A man interrupted saying, “we are eating cow feed.”

Zamzam Khalil, 95, is a Palestinian refugee who fled to Syria in 1948.

I watched as she was given an emergency nutrition pack to drink by aid workers. She told me how children would pick grass for people to eat. Not even Israel did this to us when we fled Palestine in 1948, she told me. The green pigment on her face is from tattoos commonly worn by Bedouin women across the Middle East.

Dagher also met Sheik Mohammad al-Omari, a cleric who is part of mediation group between regime and rebels inside Yarmouk. He had a message to those meeting in Switzerland.

On the same day Dagher also watched as representatives from UNRWA, a United Nations relief agency, negotiate for hours with a Syrian army general and other security force officials permission to take in 400 parcels of food to those trapped inside Yarmouk.

First they said they would only allow 200. Then they changed their minds and said only 100 and that all food boxes would be searched. I watched as boxes were cut with knives. They found bread and small nylon bags filled with flour. These were tossed out because they were “unauthorized” and could be taken by rebels, army officers said. Two small pickup trucks filled with the food boxes crossed the frontline. Gunfire was heard and the trucks returned with their goods undelivered. Syrian regime forces said the convoy was attacked by rebel snipers and that there would be no more deliveries. I watched as the trucks were turned back.

To highlight the plight of people inside Yarmouk and its lack of access, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)] launched a social-media campaign generating more than 31.6 million “impressions” and reaching tens of millions around the world.

“Millions of people heard our plea, that we have seen enough reports of starving children, infants with rickets and women dying in childbirth for lack of medical care. We urge the parties to listen to the voice of the international humanitarian community,” said UNRWA spokesperson, Chris Gunness. “A small amount of food aid has been allowed into Yarmouk in the last few days, but this is a drop in the ocean.”

– Compiled by Sarah Marshall

source

More on this story: Attempts to Send Food, Medicine to Besieged Homs Quarter Falter

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